July-August 2009 | Driving Range

Easy Escape

Girlfriends' getaway and family-friendly aren't mutually exclusive at this resort in Cambridge, Md.

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My friend Deb and I are sitting at a round table near a two-story wall of windows, listening to soft jazz and looking out over the infinity edge pool and the Choptank River’s inky blue water. We’re on a girlfriends’ getaway with more than just our baggage—we’ve brought the kids along.

Friends have raved about what a great place the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort in Cambridge, Md., is to go during school breaks. As soon as we entered the lobby we began to see why. The resort appears to strike the perfect balance between kid-friendly and adult escape, with numerous relaxing nooks for reading, a game room with air hockey and foosball that looks as fun for parents as for kids, plus a Camp Hyatt program of supervised activities, so that adults can play tennis or relax at the spa.

Deb and I have four kids between us, three boys and one girl ranging in age from 7 to 12.We excitedly look over the hotel’s schedule of events while the kids pass around a plate of calamari at the Water’s Edge Grill—a hotel seafood restaurant with a nautical flair and good pub-style food. We’ve just arrived for a two-night stay, and we’re already wishing our visit could be longer.

Few Mid-Atlantic resorts pack as many amenities into one place. There are scheduled family activities that include cookie decorating, an air hockey tournament, a Chesapeake Amazing Race game, a scavenger hunt with clues and challenges, and movie nights.

Activities you can enjoy anytime include mini-golf, sand volleyball, tennis, basketball, golf, swimming, kayaking, making s’mores at the outdoor fireplace, nature hikes at the attached Blue Heron Rookery, and an outdoor checkers and chess set with pieces the size of a toddler. And at the nearby 26,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge we can all learn about eagles and osprey. For the kids, this is like going to sleepover camp, but with a parent in tow.

After dinner, we head upstairs and the kids dart back and forth between our connecting rooms, calling out who will sleep where. Thanks to a recently completed $7 million renovation project, once-floral guestrooms now are shoreside chic. The rooms feature a hardwood entryway, comfortable beds with super-soft throws, a tawny leather armchair and ottoman perfect for water-gazing, and coastal-style furniture so nice that I wish I could take a few pieces home. These are rooms you can relax in.

Just before they go to sleep, we tell Nick and Cameron, our older boys, that we’ll be downstairs and to call us should Deb’s daughter, Lauren, or my younger son, Colin, awaken. We want to sip a glass of wine in Michener’s Library—the gorgeous lobby lounge with stone fireplaces (named for the author of the epic novel Chesapeake)—before calling it a night. We chat about things we might not talk about in front of the kids, and I suddenly wonder if Nick and Cameron might be doing that same sort of thing upstairs, instead of sleeping. Either way, it’s great to have a brief outing. It’s not something we could do if we were home alone with our kids.

The next morning, we all eat bagels and bananas while rocking in wooden chairs outside the resort’s Bay Country Market, a self-service general store that serves Starbucks coffees and breakfast pastries. The store also stocks snack items like little paper bags filled with everything you’d need to make s’mores at the outdoor fireplace.

The kids already have on their swimsuits And must choose among several destinations. Outdoors are the infinity edge pool that, from the resort, looks like it spills into the river, and a large pool with a slide. We opt for the indoor, glass-enclosed Winter Garden pool, which has a basketball hoop, a football toss and a giant hot tub with a wall you can swim under between its indoor and outdoor sides.

Perhaps the best part for the kids is that rafts are allowed, and the pool shop sells several, including a giant turtle that holds multiple kids at a time. They have so much fun they don’t ask Deb or me to join them in the pool even once. I’m almost offended.

The best part for us adults is relaxing in the cushioned lounge chairs, sometimes chatting, sometimes tossing dive toys to the kids, sometimes reading, and sometimes just gazing up at the faux seagulls dangling from the rafters of the glass ceiling. That’s when I think of my sister-in-law. While expecting her first child a few years ago, she envisioned summertime motherhood as sipping martinis poolside with friends while her baby napped in a stroller.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her then that she most likely would be sitting far from the pool, in the shade so the baby wouldn’t get sunburned, or that until the child was old enough to swim independently, she’d be in the pool most of the time with her. I’m tempted to call her and say, “There is hope for poolside martinis yet!” Then I realize I can have a cocktail right now, and I ask Deb if she wants a margarita or something From the poolside café.

A relaxing hour later, we lure the kids away from the pool for lunch and a change of clothes with the promise of cookie decorating in the lobby before heading outdoors for mini-golf. The kids do not last long. Several hours of swimming—and perhaps all that sugar—made for a few crabby children, and all six of us head back to our respective rooms for a late-afternoon rest.

We all meet up for dinner at the Blue Point Provision Company, a stand-alone seafood restaurant near the hotel marina with striped wood floors and an airy coastal ambiance, with boats gently rocking alongside the docks. Colin and Lauren take turns taking pictures of each other in the restaurant’s playful cutout displays, while Nick and Cameron read aloud “The Rules” on the giant blackboard. Our favorite: “No whining, just dining.”

The food is much classier than typical kid-friendly fare. Menu items include blue crab, rockfish and Eastern Shore mac-and-cheese, a pasta and cheese dish with lump crabmeat and applewood smoked bacon. Our four picky eaters devour food we never dreamed they’d like: flatbread with prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella, and Maryland lump crab cakes with Cajun remoulade sauce.

The next morning the kids are going to Camp Hyatt from9 a.m. to noon; Deb and I are heading to the fitness center and spa. Camp Hyatt’s pirate-themed facility has several activities to entertain the kids, including a pop-a-shot basketball game, arts and crafts and pirate garb for playing dress-up.

We’re impressed when we drop them off and the two counselors ask the kids what they’d like to do. The campers also can take part in a scavenger hunt around the resort.

Deb and I enjoy our time off running on treadmills in the fitness center overlooking the river and the outdoor chess set. Then after a quick shower, we head to Stillwater Spa, an 18,000-square-foot, sandy-toned sanctuary of burbling water fountains with treatments that range from massages to an anti-aging caviar facial and Riverstone Reflexology, a treatment that promises to make “your chi flow like the Chesapeake Bay.”

Deb and I both choose the budget conscious one-hour Soothing Stillwater Massage for $125 and leave feeling as calm as the bay on a nice summer day. It is a perfect ending to our stay, and further proof that “family-friendly” and “girlfriends’ getaway” don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The Details

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina
100 Heron Blvd., Cambridge, Md.
www.chesapeakebay.hyatt.com
800-55-HYATT

Summer weekend rates start at $319 per night, plus tax and the $12 per room, per night, resort fee (includes use of the pools, game room, mini-golf, tennis courts, equipment rental and other outdoor activities). The midweek Retreat Package is $279 per night plus tax and the resort fee, and is available Sunday through Thursday until Sept. 18. The package includes a $40 breakfast credit per night and a $50 activities credit per stay. Two-night minimum required.

Camp Hyatt at Pirate’s Cove is available year-round for children ages 4-12 (24-hour advance reservation required). Full day (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) with meal is $75 per child. Half day (9 a.m.-noon or 1-4 p.m.) is $40 per child. Evening with meal (6-9 p.m.) is $50 per child.

Booking Tip

For easy access to the pools, game room and morning coffee, request a room in the pool-view section of the hotel. (Note: requests cannot be guaranteed.)

Beyond the Resort

Drive, bike, or walk through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/blackwater, 410-228-2677) and see American bald eagles and a variety of water turtles. For the best visit, go early in the morning, wear insect repellent and print the Wetlands coloring book or fun quiz off the Web site to become an Official Junior Refuge Manager.

Stroll along the town of Cambridge’s revitalized main street and stop in at 447 Studios and Gallery on a Saturday to see artists at work. Try Smith Island Cake (Maryland’s “state dessert”) and other gourmet snacks at A Few of My Favorite Things. Cruise the scenic Choptank River and help raise the sails aboard a Chesapeake Bay skipjack (www.skipjacknathan.org, 410-228-7141 for schedules and reservations).

Getting There

The resort is just under a two-hour drive from Bethesda. Take Route 50 from Annapolis over the Bay Bridge and travel to Cambridge. Parking is free. The resort is also accessible by boat.

Other Girlfriends’ Getaways With Kids Worth Considering:

On the coast: Virginia Beach, Va. Spring Hill Suites by Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront

www.springhillsuitesvb.com
757-417-3982, 888-616-4654

Roughly a 31/2-hour drive from Bethesda. The hotel does not have as many amenities as the Hyatt; however, there is plenty to do nearby. The hotel’s boardwalk location is right in front of a playground, steps from bicycle rentals and a five minute drive to the Virginia Aquarium, plus Spring Hill is one of the few oceanfront properties with both an indoor and outdoor pool.

The hotel’s spacious and colorful suites each have an oceanfront balcony, two queen beds, a sofa bed, two TVs, a mini-kitchen, plus a complimentary, full hot breakfast. Summer rates start at $289 per night for a roomy studio suite and $359 per night for a one-bedroom suite (off-season studios start at $124 and one-bedrooms at $279).

In the country: Lancaster County, Pa. Red Caboose Motel

Stay in one of 38 restored cabooses at the Red Caboose Motel (www.redcaboosemotel.com, 717-687-5000, 888-687-5005). This charming family-run train yard of a motel 115 miles from Bethesda also has a petting zoo, a huge playground and an outdoor movie theater. Rates from $115. Ride the nearby Strasburg Railroad (www.strasburgrailroad.com), America’s oldest short-line railroad; visit an Amish village; or meander through a cleverly designed five-acre corn maze filled with tunnel slides and bridges at Cherry-Crest Farm (www.cherrycrestfarm.com). The maze was named one of the top 25 cool things to do in summer by Sports Illustrated for Kids in 2003.

Christine Koubek has written for The Washington Post, Washingtonian, Ladies’ Home Journal and Budget Travel and is an assistant editor of Going Places With Children in Washington D.C.