If you haven’t noticed, the greatest change in hotel experiences recently has to do with people and their four-legged family members.
Pets, scores of them, are checking into hotels and resorts with their owners, and properties are going above and beyond to pamper them. There are dog dining menus by celebrity chefs. Dog happy hours. On-site dog parks. Even “dog ambassadors” and pet adoptions in lobbies.
Pet travel is cranked up ten notches post pandemic, and I should know. I’ve traveled with my 10-year-old shihtzu, Ruby, since she was a year old. Her tail furiously wags when I take out my suitcase, even now more than ever. She’s noticed the pet upgrades at hotels that treat her like royalty, especially within the past few years. Also, for the first time ever, there are more furry friends she greets on property when we travel, the biggest indication pet travel is having its moment and more pet owners are bringing their pooches on vacation.
PET TRAVEL IS ON THE RISE
According to the 2023-2024 APPA National Pet Owners Survey (americanpetproducts.org/pubs_survey.asp), 66% of U.S. households own a pet, which is a whopping 86.9 million households: 65.1 million dogs in particular. During the pandemic, 23 million Americans brought home a new pet, according to ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. aspca.org), and Americans are most definitely bringing their pets on vacation. The demand is so high, hotels and resorts are amping up pet-friendly amenities. It’s a win-win for both parties, as many travelers now only book pet-friendly hotels. In fact, according to a recent Wag! (wagwalking.com) survey, 60% of pet parents take their dog or cat when traveling, and 81% seek out pet-friendly hotels. 91% said they would trade away at least one common amenity in exchange for more pet-friendly policies.
Needless to say, the rise in pet ownership during the pandemic led to a significant increase in pet travel. According to BringFido.com, 44 percent of U.S. hotels now allow pets compared with 22 percent before the pandemic.
Even Kimpton, the original pet-friendly hotel brand that features a “director of pet relations” has witnessed the significant impact the pandemic had on pet travel. “Kimpton has been a pet-friendly hotel brand since day one, but over the past few years, with pet adoptions skyrocketing, we have seen more guests traveling with their furry friends,” says Kathleen Reidenbach, SVP, IHG Hotels & Resorts Luxury & lifestyle Americas Brand & Commercial. “Our goal at Kimpton has always been to make traveling with pets, no matter their size, weight, or breed, a seamless process for our guests and provide pets with a sense of comfort in being able to stay with their owner.”
Kimpton runs the gamut in what they do for pets, from providing essentials like bowls, doggie bags, mats, and treats, to its partnership with Wag! that allows access to on-property walks and drop-ins for pets. There is no limit on the number of pets, and unlike other hotel brands there is no pet fee or deposit at any property, and never has been.
Hotels that haven’t been quite pet-friendly in the past are adapting faster than a greyhound, and many brands that accepted pets are now actively promoting it, whether on social media or with pet photos on the main page of their website, to ensure guests they truly are pet-friendly. They’re also exceeding expectations with stand-out pet amenities and packages, just like Kimpton.
For example, Hilton Hotels, which released a Summer 2023 Trends Report, increased awareness of its pet amenities and truly went above and beyond with the development of hotel dog parks and pet perks, in partnership with Mars Petcare, to meet the demands of luxury pet travelers. Conrad Washington DC (New York Avenue NW. Tel: 202-844-5900. conradwashingtondc.com), for instance, offers a “Lab of Luxury” package that includes a two night-stay in a Bark View Suite, Hermes pet collar and leash, Tiffany & Co pet water bowl, house-made gourmet treats, afternoon picnics with car service at three dog friendly wineries(one of which has an enclosed dog park), a pet photo session at City Center DC and a $500 donation to the Humane Society of the US, all for $5,999.
At Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock (90 Ridge Trail Drive, Tel: 928-284-4040. hilton.com), the spa offers pet energy therapy (Sedona is famous for its “New Age” and spiritual journeys that attract people from all over the world). The pet energy therapist uses tuning forks for the treatment that calms and soothes the pet.
Hilton partnered with Mars Petcare (mars.com/our-brands/petcare) due to their industry expertise and purpose: a better world for pets. Its Better Cities For Pets program aims to help communities become more pet friendly. Guests at Canopy by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Homewood Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton and Tru in U.S. and Canada have access to Mars PET On-Demand where pet experts are available for any pet-related questions and advice throughout the guests’ trip. Hilton offers more than 5,000 pet-friendly locations globally.
Hilton is not the only hotel to raise the bar(k). Aloft Asheville (51 Biltmore Avenue, Tel: 828-232-2838. marriott.com) has its own rooftop dog run, and the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour (10295 Collins Avenue, Tel: 305-455-5400. ritzcarlton.com) features an exclusive dog park and house-made dog treats. The AAA- Four Diamond Bobby Hotel (230 4th Avenue, Tel: 615-782-7100. bobbyhotel.com) in Nashville partners with Nashville Humane Association to train emotional support animals for U.S. veterans in need as part of its partnership with Pets for Patriots (petsforpatriots.org). The Dog-In-Residence was created when it opened in 2018. Zoe, the hotel’s “dog ambassador” this year, bounces around the lobby throughout the day to greet visitors.
Cool features and partnerships are not the only indication pet-friendliness is becoming a standard (and expected) at properties across the U.S. Hilton’s survey indicated the “pet-friendly” booking filter is the 3rd most engaged booking search filter on Hilton.com. This filter is also in the top 5 for Airbnb, and the filter doubled for Booking.com during the pandemic
Furthermore, travelers no longer need a health certificate for their dog or cat when crossing the border into Mexico (a certificate that cost up to $300, depending on how much the vet charges), and April 2023 saw the inauguration of K9 Jets (k9jets.com), a UK-based private jet charter company founded in response to affluent pet owners who want to skip the hassle of traveling with their pups on commercial flights. The routes from New York/New Jersey go internationally to Paris, Lisbon, London and other international cities, with many flights sold out during the summer of 2023.
Many other private jet companies, such as Surf Air, Blade and Tailwind Air, are all pet friendly (and Ruby has flown all three). Tailwind (flytailwind.com) was her favorite (she loves the window seat). The private jet company offers short flights between Manhattan and gay-friendly destinations, such as Provincetown and Boston.
For Ruby and me, it’s great to see travel companies recognizing pets are part of the family. Here are some of the best pet-friendly luxury hotels in America Ruby and I’ve checked into, and were highly impressed with.
BEST LUXURY PET HOTELS IN AMERICA
WEEKAPAUG INN (Westerly, Rhode Island) I usually like to “save the best for last,” though my favorite pet-friendly property in recent years must absolutely be mentioned first.
Weekapaug Inn (22 Spray Rock Road,Tel: 855-679-2995. weekapauginn.com), a remote, rustic Relais & Chateaux property, is luxurious and intimate with 35 rooms and suites, located right on the banks of Quonochontaug Pond. What I loved most is that it’s completely immersed in nature with a short distance to the pristine, two mile Weekapaug Beach. On property, Ruby had multiple landscapes to frolic in: beach, green lawns, trails along the pond, even on water with the boat excursions.
When I’m asked “What makes a property pet-friendly?” I tell people it’s when you know your dog is just as happy (if not happier) than you are. Throw in pup menus, toys, rabbits to chase, and a genuine dog-loving staff here, and you discover why Weekapaug Inn is truly a pet-friendly hotel, and why Ruby clearly enjoyed her stay here.
For human guests, the inn has all the modern amenities of a resort: Farmto-table dining (outdoor patio for dogs), heated outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, boating, kayaking, bocce and E-bikes. Nature lovers will absolutely love the area no matter the season, especially with its array of activities that include bird watching, stargazing, boat excursions and hiking (Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge is just eight miles away with pet friendly trails).
Ruby loved the sprawling lawns with water views (which makes the hotel perfect for weddings), as well as the Carriage House Suite, one of the newer, high-end accommodation with views of both the pond and the salt marsh cove. The surreal sunsets here had me glued to the outdoor deck, camera in hand, and don’t get me started on the stargazing (or the sunrises along the beach).
The suite offers a living room, kitchen, and dining area, and a bathroom with heated everything (towel rack, floors, you name it), as well as a personal lot for your car if you’re driving. Weekapaug Inn works closely with Stand Up For Animals, a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping underserved animals. It’s also the sister property of Ocean House (1 Bluff Avenue, Tel: 855-678-0364. oceanhouseri.com), a Forbes 5-star and pet-friendly property just 15 minutes away. Ocean House is the “grand dame” of the area, and just steps from Taylor Swift’s mansion. In fact, if you book the top suite, you have views of the pop queen’s residence. I also loved the resort’s new private collection of Ludwig Bemelmans’ work coinciding with the 125th anniversary of his birthday (Bemelmans is the artist for the famed Madeline children’s books).
KINGSMILL RESORT (Williamsburg, Virginia)
As mentioned, the best pet-friendly properties are the ones that offer more than wonderful amenities. Often, what’s outside the property matters most, and acres of lawn, beach, forest or scenic pastures will get Ruby’s vote. Ruby is happiest at properties in locations she can freely roam in nature, which makes Kingsmill Resort (1010 Kingsmill Road, Tel: 800-832-5665. kingsmill.com) among one of the best pet-friendly properties we’ve stayed.
I was not only thrilled with Kingsmill’s amenities for travelers (luxurious accommodations, riverfront views, excellent dining, exceptional spa), I was pleased with how much it equally suited Ruby. Kingsmill sprawls 2,900 acres along the James River; there’s more than enough outdoor space for long walks, and the variety of settings made it truly special.
Kingsmill Resort is located in Williamsburg, Virginia (known for Colonial Williamsburg, which created gay and transgender reenactments in 2021), an hour away from Richmond (right off I-95). I generally like to stay near or in major cities on road trip routes, though the hour excursion to Kingsmill was well worth the detour. A destination unto itself, Kingsmill Resort offers 425 guest rooms and suites throughout a beautiful natural setting, as well as standalone cottages (which I booked) right on the river. The historic resort is a Disneyland of sorts for all ages (18-hole golf course, full service spa with indoor and two outdoor pools, a full service marina, four restaurants, the works)— and this also includes pets Ruby had miles of unfurled playground space, from trails in the forest and geese-filled lakes to the waterfront marina and even a private lawn at the base of our riverfront cottage.
KIMPTONS (North Carolina)
Kimpton is the original pet-friendly hotel chain (since 1981), and fortunately for pet owners, Kimpton continues to expand across America, and internationally.
Kimpton offers three properties in North Carolina, considered one of the pet-friendliest states with more than 58% of households owning pets, and Raleigh ranking top 10 “most pet friendly cities in the country” by WalletHub. I’ve had the pleasure of staying at all three Kimpton North Carolina properties: Kimpton Hotel Arras in Asheville; Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in Winston-Salem; and Kimpton Tyron Park Hotel in Charlotte.
Kimpton Cardinal Hotel (51 4th Street, Tel: 336-724-1009. thecardinalhotel.com) in Winston-Salem is one of the most visually compelling and luxurious Kimptons I’ve visited. Taking over the historic, 1929 R. J. Reynolds building, the hotel is an Art Deco masterpiece with old-world meets modern sensibility and flair. Think high ceilings, expensive marble and opulent furnishings. With only 174 guest rooms on the second to sixth floor, it’s intimate and cozy. Ruby enjoyed the Frette linens on the comfortable beds, as well as the recreation area on the lower level that includes bowling lanes. The friendly city center is steps away, as are parks with public art and murals.
Pets are checking into hotels and resorts with their owners, and properties are going above and beyond to pamper them. There are dog dining menus by celebrity chefs. Dog happy hours. On-site dog parks. Even “dog ambassadors.”
On a road trip last fall, I stopped in Charlotte and spent a few nights at Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel (303 South Church Street, Tel: 704-445-2626. tryonparkhotel.com). The hotel’s location in Uptown Charlotte is considered prime, and for pet travelers, it’s as sweet as the tea. Romare Bearden Park, one of the city’s most prized parks that takes up an entire city block, is directly across the street. I was surprised to find three more parks within walking distance, which Ruby loved. The hotel’s rooftop bar Merchant & Trade is a must for any guest (it offers Insta-worthy views of the city), and the signature restaurant Angelines, where all pastas are made in house, offers outdoor seating. Book a room with outdoor balcony that faces Truist Field stadium.
Asheville is one of the pet-friendliest cities in North Carolina, and there are more pet boutiques and spas than you could imagine, and seemingly every store, restaurant, and bar had a water bowl out front. Kimpton Hotel Arras (7 Patton Avenue, Tel: 828-255-0303. hotelarras.com), opened in 2019, is contemporary, future-forward with its tech and design and minimalist decor. The front desk crew were petting Ruby mere seconds after arrival, showering her with love and pet treats.
Inside the wonderful corner suite that boasted scenic views of Asheville, Ruby was a fan of her pink and plush dog bed, and I loved the spacious bathroom with oversized window (a rarity in urban hotels), local all-natural bath amenities, and the lively District 42 open concept lobby lounge where Ruby met other tail-wagging friends. The hotel is next door to a sprawling park, but Ruby loved getting attention on our city center strolls.
BLANTYRE (Berkshires, Massachusetts)
The Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, famous for its literary history and art galleries as well as incredible nature inside the Appalachian Mountains, is home to Blantyre (16 Blantyre Road, Tel: 413-637-3556. blantyre.com), a turn-of-the-century, 110-acre estate, Relais & Chateaux property. The whimsical and timeless Gilded Age mansion was transformed as an upscale resort with a fine-dining restaurant, Cafe Boulud, helmed by legendary NYC chef Daniel Boulud, which has outdoor seating for pooches.
What made this countryside resort so magical for both Ruby and me was the expansive greenery. We shacked up in one of the resort’s standalone cottages, equipped with kitchen, fireplace and a backdoor entrance to a sprawling lawn, as well as hiking trails that circumnavigated the resort. Be sure to book a cottage once the resort reopens in late 2024.
THE MADISON (Washington D.C.)
The hardest thing about traveling to Washington D.C. is deciding where to stay. Most hotels welcome pets, and they all roll out the red carpet. The Madison Hotel (1177 15th Street, Tel: 202-862-1600. marriott.com) stands out for many reasons. The penthouse suites on the 14th floor offer massive, inspiring terraces with commanding views of the National Monument (the sunset is an absolute must), as well as enough space for dogs to enjoy the outdoors.
The location is unbeatable. The Madison is at the intersection of Logan Circle, Downtown, and Dupont Circle (the gayborhood), which makes it easy to stroll to landmarks, such as The White House. It’s also close to several parks for Ruby. I loved the “convenience” aspect of The Madison, such as the marketplace on the lobby level and restaurant bar serving comfort food, including great burgers and crowd-pleasing coconut shrimp. Ruby had plenty of room to play in the suite, and it was equipped with all the essentials (dog bowl, plush bed, etc.).
KONA KAI RESORT & SPA (San Diego, California)
The West Coast is famously pet-friendly, and San Diego, home to dog-friendly beaches, makes it one of my favorite destinations to travel with Ruby. Kona Kai San Diego (1551 Shelter Island Drive, Tel: 619-452-3138. resortkonakai.com) on Shelter Island has one of the most extensive pet programs on the west coast. Guests checking in with their pooches is common and frequent here, and the resort offers an exciting Noble Paws program, which includes a welcome amenity, custom Vessel Restaurant + Bar dog-approved menu, curated list of nearby dog-friendly attractions and even a Paws dog spa treatment menu at SpaTerre, which includes a 25-minute Furry Flex muscle stretch massage from pet massage certified therapists. The resort also offers “Pupnics,” which are pet friendly, island-themed picnics, as well as puppy paddle boarding sessions at its private marina. Ruby loved the sea breeze on the public shoreline (right across the street from the property), as well as beaches and grassy areas to roll around in.
DESERT HARBOR RETREAT (Sandia Park, New Mexico)
Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Desert Harbor Retreat (4761 Puertocito Road, Tel: 505-252-0558. desertharborretreat.com) is one of the most serene and remote eco-resorts in the country. The 34-acre retreat was built using only eco-friendly materials. It’s powered completely by the sun, and it’s a true retreat: there’s just one guest cottage (600-square feet, which can fit a solo traveler, a couple, or a family with two lofts). The eviivo Collective property is off the grid, and a magnet to travelers on spiritual journeys who want to decompress and escape city life. Desert Harbor is one of few properties I’ve stayed where dogs are encouraged to be off-leash to explore the boundless and unlimited public wilderness. Ruby had a blast chasing lizards and rabbits and of course, tapping into her inner canine ancestry.