The Balsams, an historic grand resort hotel in northern New Hampshire, combines luxury and family-friendly experiences, even in the spa and the dining room.
While I had a heavenly massage, 7-year-old Mary had a facial. In the dining room, where males over the age of 7 must wear jackets at dinner and the table is set with nine pieces of silverware, 4-year-old Jordan seemed to have her own private waiter. After the first evening he brought her chocolate milk without her even asking, and a dish of ketchup for her hash-browns at breakfast.
Mary, encouraged by her “big-girl” treatment at the spa, scorned the children’s menu and elected to order from the long list of adult choices. Our first evening there she began with a chilled Peaches and Cream Soup, and learned how to move from the outside in when selecting silverware. I knew this kid had her full share of my genes when she leaned over halfway though the first course and said sotto voce “It’s cinnamon, I think. We could make this.”
Because reading – especially menu terms – is still a slow process for Mary, she really liked the fine old table d’hote tradition that The Balsams retains: displaying all the evening’s menu items on a table near the entrance to the dining room. She could see how things were served, how much (and what color) sauce they were served with, and which dishes would come accompanied by her beloved broccoli.
Mary seized the opportunity to try as many things as possible over the course of our weekend stay: a cold crab cake with guacamole, gnocchi in roasted tomato cream, chilled coconut soup (good, but a little too sweet for the beginning of a meal, she thought), popovers with maple butter.
Jordan stuck with the children’s menu, which offered chicken fingers, cheeseburgers, mac-and-cheese and a couple of other choices. Her private waiter, Carlos, took her order while we were all still reading the menu, and returned with it before we had finished. I knew from that moment that this was a place with a well-honed sense of what makes family dining pleasant in a formal dining room setting: no waiting for food. When she dropped her napkin, the maitre d’ himself brought her a new one before she’d noticed it was missing.
We coached on the etiquette issues as we went along, but on Saturday morning Mary could have joined a class in dining room manners, part of the regular daily Camp Wind Whistle program for ages 5 and up, and included in the hotel rate. But she chose to go fishing in Lake Gloriette instead, then to play with her sister in the sandbox beside the lake. We were surprised at the number of activities that children were welcome to join – fly fishing lessons, for example, and a whole menu of spa experiences geared to a child’s attention span. But in the afternoon the swimming pool beckoned.
The success of our weekend, like that of other parents we met there, was based on a clear mission of the entire staff to include the whole family. Many resort hotels require that families with children dine early, and have a number of places that are off limits for kids. Not The Balsams. Their attitude is that children are guests, too, and should be treated with the same attention as adult guests.
Camp provides activities for kids and free time for parents all day if they want it, and babysitting is available. But we found that many families chose as we did, to play together for the weekend.
Introducing kids to something beyond the kids menu and treating them as honored guests not only broadens their experience and teaches them how to behave in “polite society,” but it gives them a sense of confidence and a new-found poise.
Not to mention something to drop casually at school on Monday. I can just hear it: “When I was having a facial at the spa this weekend…”