Cultural Getaways for Families

By Ellen H. Parlapiano

Family friendly cultural getaways are an increasingly popular vacation option. These destinations and resorts offer families the opportunity to relax, renew, and bond in a culturally significant setting. A number of resorts offer this unique family travel opportunity, with of the best being the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa.

In the language of the Native American Pueblo people, “Tamaya” means a quiet, special place, and New Mexico’s Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa certainly lives up to its name. Built on the Santa Ana Pueblo, a Native American reservation located halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, this family-friendly resort offers a secluded spot for families to reconnect while learning about the customs and culture of the area’s original residents.

Journey into the Past

As you drive down the winding, mile-long path toward the resort, the landscape looks much the same as it did 1,000 years ago, when the Tamayame (the tribal people of Tamaya) first chose this place as their home. The fields are carpeted with scrub grass and wildflowers, and the Sandia Mountains carve a craggy profile against the stark blue sky. It takes a good 10 minutes to navigate the curvy drive, and when you finally arrive at the resort, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back in time.

Your first sight will be a grouping of life-size bronze statues, depicting generations of Pueblo people in traditional Native American garb. In the forefront of the sculpture is “Welcoming Woman,” with hand extended in gracious hospitality. On one side stands “Farmer,” in a cornfield to represent the tribe’s agricultural past; and on the other end is “Water Woman,” a grandmother dipping water out of the fountain to symbolize the pueblo’s relationship with the Rio Grande, which runs through the resort’s property. Finally, there’s “Storyteller,” a grandfather, with two children on his knee, who is passing on narrative history to future generations. This particular figure embodies the true spirit of this resort, which is devoted to “Srai Wri,” a Pueblo term that means “gather children together and share with them.”

Experience Cultural Bonding

The resort reflects the architecture of Santa Ana’s old village, with adobe-style buildings and open courtyards. Many of the recreational offerings are based on Pueblo customs, and the special “Srai Wri” family program includes a variety of cultural activities for you and your kids to experience side-by-side, many of them led by members of the Santa Ana Pueblo. There’s archery, and a “Pueblo Bread Baking” class, where kids will love kneading the dough and baking their own loaves in the authentic clay huruna ovens. The “Journey Through Tamaya” is a nature walk that takes you through the cottonwood Bosque Forest to the shores of the Rio Grande; then to a spot where you can make your own adobe brick to take home. In the “Clay and Culture” workshop, you’ll create your own pottery, alongside a Pueblo artisan. She inspires each person to create their own masterpiece—whether it’s a bowl, a vase or a dinosaur—using the traditional Native American pinch and coil methods. You’ll also want to visit the Cultural Learning Center, an onsite museum where you can view ancient tribal weapons, masks, and instruments. The resort also offers a Camp Hyatt children’s program for kids ages 3 to 12, where children can make dream catchers and learn Native American dances. (Morning and afternoon sessions, $45 each, or $80 for all-day with lunch; evening sessions with dinner, $55.)

Outdoors, you can go horseback riding through the pueblo backcountry to see Native American Petroglyphs and ruins dating back about 1,000 years. Tribal dance groups perform during the summer and Christmas holidays, and a Native American flute player serenades you every Sunday.

Even the swimming pools have cultural significance. The Kiva pool is designed to look like the circular ceremonial chambers used at the Pueblo; the Plaza pool resembles the tribal gathering areas—except for the water slide cleverly hidden in an adobe staircase. In the summer, the pool courtyard is transformed into a marketplace, where Native American craftspeople demonstrate their art and sell their wares. Once the sun goes down, you’ll want to head to the fire pit for the free “Storytelling Under the Stars,” led by Emmett, the last remaining storyteller in the Santa Ana Pueblo. His tales about animals and nature will appeal to all ages—and so will the s’mores served afterwards!

Feeding Body, Mind and Spirit

Of course, there will be more than s‘mores on the menu at the resort’s regional restaurants. The Santa Ana Café serves Southwestern specialties, as well as kid-friendly favorites, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guacamole, sandwiches and finger foods are also available at the Rio Grande Lounge, the Plaza Poolside Bar and Grill, and the Trading Post gift shop/deli. Be sure to set aside one night to eat at the hotel’s upscale gourmet restaurant, The Corn Maiden, where you’ll view spectacular Southwestern sunsets as you dine on its signature “foods on fire”—skewered, spit fired meats, fowl and fish accompanied by roasted vegetables. (Note: This is not a good choice for younger kids or picky eaters. Unless you have teens, or kids with sophisticated palates, you’ll want to take advantage of the hotel’s nighttime kids’ clubs on the evening you dine here.)

When it’s time to work off all those calories, you can jump on a treadmill or stationary bike at the resort’s fitness center, or join a yoga or Pilates class. (Many of the classes are even designed for parents and children to do together.) And don’t forget to indulge yourself at the Tamaya Mist Spa, specializing in Native American rituals and treatments using natural ingredients that are indigenous to the area.

But you don’t have to be in the spa to sense the spiritual quality of this resort. As you walk the sacred grounds, through the native forest and along the river, it’s easy to imagine Native Americans hunting in these woods long ago. You’ll appreciate the peaceful quality, and your kids will love having plenty of room to run safely. And you’ll all learn lots about the culture of the Pueblo people. Hyatt Regency Tamaya is a quiet, special place indeed.

If You Go:

  • The best time to visit is Spring, Summer and Fall (through late October), when weather is warm, pools are open, and there’s a full roster of family activities.
  • Check out the Tamaya Experience Family Package rates: $195 per night, double occupancy, from November 2005 to April 14, 2006, and $295 per night, double occupancy, from April 15 to November 28, 2006. Packages include: deluxe room, daily breakfast for two, valet parking, and 25% off the resort’s spa, golf course, horseback riding and Camp Hyatt. Visit www.tamaya.hyatt.com, or call 1-800-55-HYATT.
  • Reserve Srai Wri activities ahead of time, and expect to pay an extra fee for some of them: Tamaya Traditions Pueblo Bread Baking, $10 per person; Clay and Culture Pueblo Pottery Class, $25 per person; Trail Rides, $65 per person; Tee Tips at Twin Warriors (personalized parent/child golf instruction) $90 per hour; yoga and Pilates classes, $15 per person; The Sky’the Limit Hot Air Balloon Rides, $170 per person. Storytelling, pony rides, Journey Through Tamaya nature walks, and guided tours of the resort’s art collection are complimentary.
  • Venture off the beaten path. The concierge can help arrange daytrips to surrounding cultural areas (Albuquerque and Santa Fe are both under an hour away); and rental cars are available at the resort starting at $49 per day. The resort offers “Explore New Mexico” driving itineraries with four themes: Native American Culture, a tour of neighboring pueblos; Outdoor Activities, which include hiking, fly fishing, mountain biking, and train and tram rides; Shopping, Arts and Museums, in nearby Albuquerque or Santa Fe; and Golf on the Santa Fe Trail.

More Cultural Getaway Ideas:

Check out these additional culturally rich destinations that are well suited for family vacations:

Ka’anapali Beach Hotel
Maui, Hawaii
At Maui’s most Hawaiian hotel, the complimentary “Aloha Passport for Kids” program, (for ages 3 to 5 and 6 to 12), exposes children to the rich island heritage through hula classes, and traditional crafts like lau (leaf) printing, lei making and ti leaf skirt making. When kids arrive, they receive a passport with destinations to visit around the resort (such as the lush gardens); at each destination their passport is stamped with a Hawaiian word. Even babies (birth to age 2) receive a passport card with their personalized Hawaiian name and a bucket full of goodies.

Willow Valley Resort & Conference Center
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, this resort has an onsite farm, where kids can learn more about the animals and farming in Lancaster country. There’s also a farmlands tour, which takes families through the countryside for a close-up look at Amish life. And at the delicious Bakery at Willow Valley, kids can sample authentic Pennsylvania treats, like whoopee pies, sticky buns, and shoofly pies.

Breezes Curaçao Resort Spa & Casino
Mondays are designated as “cultural days” at this all-inclusive resort on the Dutch island of Curacao. During the day, there are poolside celebrations where event coordinators teach adults and kids the history of the island, and words from the local language, Papiamento. At night, there’s a folklore show, with native dances and music, and a marketplace where local vendors sell arts and crafts that are unique to Curacao. In the kids’ club, children watch a video about the island and historical sites and learn cultural dances and songs.

The Teton Wagon Train
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The Teton Wagon Train takes families on a 4-day trip through the Targhee National Forest, between Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Experience life the “Old West” way, traveling in authentic covered wagons (modernized with rubber tires and padded seats) and camping in provided tents at night. Besides watching elk, moose and deer roaming free, kids will enjoy activities like Old West story telling, chuck wagon food, campfire cowboy sing-alongs, and a Pony Express demonstration.

Lapa Rios Ecolodge
Costa Rica
Set in a private nature reserve spread over 1,000 acres in a protected rainforest, this resort is devoted to lessons on conservation. You won’t find TVs, computers or telephones here, but guests can visit a small rainforest school that was funded from the resort’s profits. You can also take guided waterfall hikes or wildlife treks, where you’ll spot monkeys and other native creatures. This destination is geared toward older school age children, and best enjoyed in the green season, May through October.

Ellen Parlapiano is an award-winning writer who has covered family travel for magazines such as Family Circle, Parents, Child, and Working Mother. She lives in Eastchester, New York with her husband and two children, and has traveled extensively with her family.

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