There are many hotels I like, but few family-friendly hotels that achieve true dream-worthy status. The Marriott Custom House, a downtown Boston hotel, has certainly earned that designation. What makes the Custom House so special is that it is both literally and figuratively smack-dab in the middle of Boston’s history with a fantastic location next to attractions like Quincy Market and the New England Aquarium and a long story of involvement in the city’s commercial life.
The original building (minus the tower) was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century when water used to lap its doorstep and the trade schooners that sailed from Europe with precious cargo would poke their prows into the large and gracious windows of the Counting Room. This is where guests of the hotel now enjoy breakfast beneath a high gallery where guards once patrolled, protecting the treasure and currency that passed through the doors.
Cars now park where ships once docked, and in the early twentieth century the federal government decided it needed more space and built the tower complete with the famous clock faces, notorious for many years for showing four different times, all of them incorrect. It was used for offices until the 1980s when it was virtually abandoned by both the federal and local government and fell into a state of total decay before being rescued by Marriott.
The rotunda from the original building is still visible from the lobby and the first floor, wearing the Great Seal of the United States, the only building outside of Washington, DC to do so. Marriott spared no expense or care in its restoration and the seal, the rotunda, and the main entrance to the building, have all been returned to full glory:
Our suite on the 17th floor was spacious and beautifully furnished. We had a full living area with a nicely appointed kitchen and a fold-out sleeper sofa for the boys and a bedroom with a king-sized bed for me and Matt.
And that’s not the only place to get a good view. The 26th floor offers the city’s only outdoor observation deck. And here’s an insider tip: The public is welcome to visit from Monday to Thursday. Stop by the front desk, pay 3 dollars a person, and you’ll be escorted up. Although if you stay at the hotel, it’s yours for the visiting any time.
A few floors below, the game room offers a place to play some air hockey and check out the clock mechanism, now a single one for all four faces guaranteeing a much more accurate time. One thing I really loved there was the chance to see a small portion of one clock face from the inside.
What other good things do I have to say about the Custom House? There are plenty. Everyone who worked there was friendly and helpful. It was clear that the staff feel a real sense of pride and ownership of “their” historic building. I watched the concierge spend a good twenty minutes helping guests plan their entire day from sightseeing to meals.
In terms of other family-friendly amenities, a pay-per-item breakfast is served in the Counting Room, with decent complimentary coffee. But I’d recommend economizing by bringing your own breakfast food (the kitchen comes equipped with a microwave, blender, toaster, coffee maker, and refrigerator as well as all the dishes and cutlery you’ll need ) or stepping over to Quincy Market across the street to buy something from one of the vendors there. You’ll also find laundry facilities and free wi-fi.
Even if they were a bit old for it, the boys loved the Activity Center on the 20th floor, which comes complete with a small jungle gym and many other toys (I know that had we stayed here when either of them was little, one of us would have been hanging out there with a toddler very early in the morning). In this area you’ll also find a private movie theatre complete with leather seats and surround sound. The hotel shows movies there for guests, but if you bring your DVDs you can also schedule a family movie night (check with the front desk staff to make sure it’s not in use). When you check in, you’ll also receive a full schedule of activities that includes everything from tours of the hotel (which I highly recommend) to a free wine and cheese reception on Fridays to puzzle and game time for the kids.
And last but far from least, there’s the fact that the iconic building is visible from so many spots in the city. My boys loved looking for it and it clearly made Boston feel more like it belonged to them. Teddy in particular would cry out “there’s the Custom House!” whenever he spotted it as if it were a long-lost friend. We saw it from the deck of the USS Constitution,
We were given a significant discount on our suite and free parking at the Custom House. Rates are definitely high during the summer (approaching $500 plus $40 a day for valet parking) but get lower once the high season is over – I found a suite over a weekend in mid-September for $379 a night on their website.
Want more information on visiting Boston with kids? Check out these posts:
- Giacomo’s: A great Boston restaurant for families
- Museum of Science in Boston: Fun enough for a day and then some
- Fountain fun in Boston
- Family fun at Fenway
- Breakfast and books in Beantown
- Walking the Freedom Trail with kids
- A lesson in history at the Old South Meeting House
- Petting sharks at the New England Aquarium
This Monday I’m dreaming of another stay in the Custom House. What about you?