Afternoon tea is not for toddlers.
I learned this the hard way a couple years ago at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, an elegant downtown Denver hotel that opened in 1892 and is known for having an afternoon tea steeped (get it?) in tradition.
While my husband attended a conference, I decided to pop down to the lobby to check out the tea with my then 3-year-old and 8-month-old daughters.
Rather than enjoying the affair – think wide-brimmed hats, effervescent piano covers of the Beatles’ “Imagine,” Devonshire cream shipped in from England – I transformed into a circus performer, attempting to juggle the many plates, spoons and tea cups that teetered tantalizingly on our crowded table before they crashed onto the floor.
After turning my attention to the waiter, who helped me navigate the two-page-long tea menu, I looked back to find a clear liquid that looked like Karo Syrup pouring down my 8-month-old’s face.
I glanced at the bowl of sugar cubes, which suddenly looked more empty than it had before, and then to my 3-year-old.
“Did you give her…?”
She shrugged. “Her was hungry.”
OK, so maybe the sugar-cube-eating set isn’t exactly the target audience of the Brown Palace (321 17th St., 303-297-3111, brownpalace.com), but if you’re traveling to Denver with older kids, the afternoon tea offers a wonderful, temporary escape to a different time and place.
In fact, Denver and nearby Winter Park, Colo., are filled with unique experiences that will satisfy the entire family. If you have the time, considering splitting a stay between the two cities, as we did in November, so that you can experience both the ski slopes and city life.
“Colorado just has a real rugged nature to it, real adventure, and a lot of people don’t get that,” said Tom Hickok, a ski instructor at Winter Park Resort (www.winterparkresort.com). “They live in cities and they don’t ever get to see mountains like this or experience the snow in the winter time or the water in the summer and the hiking and biking.”
We met Hickok early one morning for a “family easy start” lesson, which is new this year at Winter Park Resort and includes private half-day or full-day instruction for a family of four, four lift tickets and four equipment rentals.
As a novice skier, I loved the idea of being able to learn as a family, so, even though the program is typically intended for children who are 8 and up, we decided to test the waters with our daughters, now 5 and 2.
Hickok, who has been an instructor at Winter Park Resort for 16 years, was up for the challenge. He coached us each individually and took extra care with our 5-year-old, who started off too scared to even step into her skies and finished the lesson so excited about skiing that she practically had to be dragged off the snow. He even went so far as to carry our 2-year-old — who turned out to have no interest in the sport at this particular time — down the bunny slope so she, too, could get the sensation of moving down the hill.
“If you’ve never done this before, it can be a really challenging and frustrating experience,” Hickok said. “I have young kids up to adults that might have different experiences in their background. Typically with kids (I teach) an adventure-play, fun idea. Depending on the adult it might be similar, but it also might be more technical. They have different realities, different fears. Trying to have them love the sport as much as I do can be a challenge, but it’s also really rewarding.”
After a busy morning on the slopes and a family après ski at the resort’s Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Café, we wrapped up our day with a swim at the Grand Park Community Recreation Center (www.fraservalleyrec.org), located about five minutes away in Fraser.
The recreation center is open to everyone — daily admission is $10 for adults, $8 for ages 13-17 and $7 for ages 3-12 — and includes a rock climbing wall, a fitness center, a whirlpool, sauna and steam room and a natatorium with a 20-foot loop slide, a small lazy river, a zero-depth entry pool, a splash pad and other water features.
Those seeking an off-mountain thrill should head to SkyVenture Colorado (9230 Park Meadows Drive in Lone Tree, 303-768-9000, www.skyventurecolorado.com), where you can experience indoor skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel that generates freefall-speed winds of 160-plus miles per hour.
The experience is open to “ages 3 and up,” says Zach Teters, director of marketing at SkyVenture Colorado, who has not yet tried indoor skydiving himself. (“I’m a chicken,” he admits. “I can’t help it.”)
“We’ve had more than I can count 3-year-olds and little kids,” he said. “They love it. There’s some that are a little hesitant at first, they don’t know what to expect, but they get out there and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is cool, I’m actually flying.’” (Side note: If you can’t make it to Denver in the near future, you can also now try indoor skydiving in Austin at iFLY Austin Indoor Skydiving, Austin.iflyworld.com, which opened in early 2013.)
Other can’t-miss Denver attractions include Red Rocks Amphitheatre (www.redrocksonline.com), which is perfect for a hike or a picnic lunch; the Denver Downtown Aquarium (www.aquariumrestaurants.com), filled with creatures the kids will love to study; and the Denver Botanic Gardens (www.botanicgardens.org), which we hit every time we’re in town, just to name just a few.
It’s also fun to stroll downtown and look at the many public works of art, which sometimes pop up when you least expect them.
And don’t miss the chance to eat out at the many excellent Denver restaurants. For families, I love Snooze (www.snoozeeatery.com) and Jelly Café (www.eatmorejelly.com), both of which have menus filled with mouthwatering options – sans sugar cubes — for every member of your crew.