By Stacey Lastoe
On my 40th birthday, I sipped a boozy concoction out of a pineapple and declared Jenga victory over my husband, Steve, before jumping in the pool and commandeering a diamond-ring-shaped raft.
The milestone birthday in early 2021 took place at Maui's Hotel Wailea, Hawaii's sole adults-only property until a few years ago.
Among other things, this meant an absence of poolside meltdowns, tantrums and preoccupied parents.
Steve and I had experienced a version of this carefree, how-about-another-round beach resort existence at properties with designated adults-only pools, but the magic of those lazy afternoons broke by dinnertime as boisterous children and their too-tired-to-care parents reminded us of the hotel's family-friendly vibe.
Hotel Wailea's founder, Jonathan McManus, said the impetus for opening the property 10 years ago was the desire to reach luxury markets that were being left behind: “One being adults who love their children, but not other people's children, and the LGBTQ+ market, who generally seek smaller, intimate hotels,” he said.
Joshua Bush, CEO of Avenue Two Travel, sees interest in adults-only properties increasing as people delay marriage and children or choose another path altogether.
“People are putting more emphasis on self-care and finding time for relaxation after some stressful years,” Bush said, noting that these types of properties typically offer high-end experiences, which means a higher price tag. (Though, of course, there are plenty of super luxe, family-friendly properties around the world.)
As a child-free couple by choice, Steve and I appreciate smaller, intimate hotels with stellar food and beverage programmes, and we don't mind paying for quality.
Adult-centric activities, such as cocktail-making classes or in-room couples' massages (amenities often found at adults-only properties), are attractive.
Phil Dengler and Robin England, a New Jersey-based couple in their 30s (no children yet, but maybe one day, Dengler said) stumbled upon their first adults-only hotel by accident.
It was a game changer, according to Dengler, an entrepreneur whose latest digital venture, the Vacationer, is a travel resource.
Dengler described Estate Lindholm, a 17-room bed-and-breakfast on St John in the US Virgin Islands, as one of the "“most quiet, most peaceful hotels I've ever stayed at”. During their stay on St Thomas, Dengler and England's alarm clock was a crying baby staying in the room next to theirs. “I love kids, but at (a) point, I just want to sleep,” Dengler said.
Atlanta-based attorney Lizz Patrick, a regular at the adults-only Triple Creek Ranch in Montana, frequently travels solo and finds it easy to make friends with other like-minded travellers when no children are around.
“I love children. They are wonderful human beings, and they're wonderful to be around. But there's a certain element when parents take their children on vacation –they're obviously focused on their children and their children having fun and being safe,” said Patrick, 58.
When children are absent, so, too, are the accompanying distractions and the inevitable “family pods”.
When all the guests are adults, it can “open up the potential to make other connections and meet people”, she said.
Many of her return visits to Triple Creek Ranch have been mini-reunions, where Patrick has reconnected with fellow horse lovers.
The opportunity to meet people on holiday is easier at adults-only properties, agrees Christa Adymy, who makes a point to seek out child-free resorts.
A break-up about nine years ago led Adymy, then 31, to travel by herself to Club Med in Turks and Caicos.
“I wanted to find somewhere I could meet people and have fun,” she said. Adymy is still friends with some of the people she met on that trip, and has since stayed at adults-only properties in Bali, Jamaica and Aruba.
The impact of not having children around, the lack of a family atmosphere, allows adults to be more relaxed, looser and even a bit childish, Adymy said.
Although Steve and I didn’t make plans to stay in touch with any of the people we met at Hotel Wailea, we definitely found it easier to strike up conversations and engage with couples focused on their own good times – not on their children’s needs or nap schedules – and I also detected a more whimsical attitude, perhaps harder to attain amid familial obligations.
For many parents, an adults-only stay means multiple date nights in a row and a chance to reconnect and recharge, something that Juliet Izon, a lifestyle writer who lives in New York City with her husband and 6-year-old daughter, says is important.
It's a chance to “connect with your partner and just do the little things that you really miss from your pre-kids life. So sleep in and eat a really late-night dinner and drink and not worry about being hung over, caring for your kids the next morning.”
Izon noted that the food options at adults-only resorts, such as Magee Homestead in Wyoming, where she and her husband stayed in 2019, “can sometimes be more exciting, because they're only catering to adults”.
Patrick also appreciates the cuisine typical of restaurants at the adults-only hotels she visits, where “the dining experience is a step up”.
The Alila Napa Valley, an adults-only hotel in a “predominantly adults-only destination”, as Ty Accornero, the general manager, puts it, is heavily invested in the property's culinary chops – evidenced by hotel restaurant Acacia House's enlistment of chef Chris Cosentino, a “Top Chef Masters” winner.
“The property was designed as an intimate retreat, from the architecture and design to the spa and incredible dining on-site,” Accornero said.
The “very private, luxury, and romantic escape” that Hotel Wailea founder McManus said guests love plays out in similar fashion at hotels around the US, such as the Wauwinet in Nantucket, and the Hilton Head Health in South Carolina.
In December, the Four Seasons brand is opening its first adults-only luxury tented resort in the Americas.
Named Naviva, the resort in Punta Mita, Mexico, is a response to what travellers want, says John O'Sullivan, regional vice-president and general manager at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita.
He cited research that revealed “a demand by people – some of whom have children, by the way – who want to have a level of escape and a level of self-discovery which just does not include children”.