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When loved toys go missing, the best hotels take action

ILLUSTRATION BY JESSICA ALLEN

In the hierarchy of travel stress, losing an electronic device is a mild inconvenience few remember a month later.

But the loss of Piggy — or Teddy or Duckie — can make for a vacation forever marked as a complete disaster.

This knowledge comes from firsthand experience. I live with a 10-year-old who can still summon tears recalling her beloved New Um. That’s the name of her baby blue train blanket lost on a family trip to Cape May, N.J., in 2010. The week was full of joyful memories — days at the beach and waterpark excursions, but neither time nor a replacement blanket has done much to ease the pain seared into her mind on the car ride home when she realized the blanket was gone.

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Calls to the agent from whom we rented the house led to more calls to the housekeeping service. A housekeeper found my niece’s teddy bear, but no New Um.

“It’s about security and stability. Parents go haywire,” said Cary Cooper, a psychology professor at the University of Lancaster in England. “When we’ve lost a teddy at an airport, it’s total chaos, and you wonder where the toy shop is quick.”

In a telephone interview from his office, Cooper spoke with the perspective of a parent as much as a mental health expert. He remembered that his own daughter had a favorite blanket until she was 15. “By the end, it was only a silky bit,” he said.

Hoping to avert potential losses, Cooper bought his granddaughter two identical teddy bears — one that stays at her home with her parents in London, the other at grandpa’s house in the country.

“We’ve left it in a London hotel, and I’ve gone back down to pick it up,” said Cooper. “You can’t fake it and buy another one.”

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No kidding. Many hotels have joined parents in serious games of detective on a regular basis. Justin Grimes, general manager at Hidden Pond, a luxury resort in Kennebunkport, Maine, said young guests lose stuffed animals with regularity.

“We have a bit of a graveyard of stuffed animals that didn’t make it home,” he said. “But we’ve mailed back quite a few stuffed monkeys, stuffed owls, stuffed anything. When they do leave them — and it inevitably happens — you always find out the animal’s name.”

In an effort to distract its junior visitors, Hidden Pond this year introduced a stuffed moose, given to small guests when they check in.

“We haven’t settled on a name yet, but it’s been great,” said Grimes. “It’s a fun thing for the kids to receive, and it creates memories.”

The resort’s 60 acres of grounds give kids lots of places to make memories — and, unfortunately, to lose Boo Boo Bear or Mr. Panda.

“Every one is in a different spot. We find them under the bed, in sheets, in the cabinets. Some are lost in the lodge or common spaces where it’s harder to track down,” said Grimes. “It’s an environment where kids are constantly interacting with the staff. Our housekeepers are adept at looking for those things.”

Two years ago, a young guest from New Jersey left behind a plush moose and stuffed owl. Before returning the creatures, one of the bartenders staged the animals in photographs in different locations on the property (in the cutting garden, on a bicycle).

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“He made a booklet out of it so Clayton knew even though the animals were lost, they had fun without him,” said Grimes. “That family comes every year, and Clayton still has the book and talks about it to this day.”

Though Hidden Pond’s staff tries to reunite lost toys with their owners, Grimes said many remain “in the abyss” and he’s pretty sure “parents are glad they are gone.”

That was the case for Rebecca Stein of Needham, who made sure her twin sons left their ratty giraffe blankets behind on a trip to Cancun several years ago.

“The blankets never returned,” said Stein, recalling how she intentionally “lost” them at the end of the trip. “I threw them away. We said we’d call [the hotel], which allowed for the transition. The [kids] just went with it.”

In stark contrast to the choreographed giraffe scenario was the family’s near loss of Piggy several years earlier. Stein recalled her daughter Annie’s favorite toy went missing the morning they were to leave the Peninsula Hotel in Los Angeles. Annie, 3, started crying, and Stein was frantic.

Discovered in a tangle of bed sheets, the hotel returned a washed Piggy just before they left for the airport. A tag was attached: “Specially cleaned by the Peninsula.”

The Revere Hotel in Boston recently gave a Winnie the Pooh similar pampering. General manager Simon Mais got a call three months ago from a family desperate to reunite their child with his “well-hugged” Pooh.

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“I have two kids, so I understand that huge emotional attachment,” Mais said, reporting that a housekeeper found the bear and the joyful reunion included a photo of the bear’s extended vacation. “With children, it’s so much more pressure to make sure we get it back.”

Mais said his policy on left-behind items is universal: “Always reach out.”

“If you leave a pair of underpants, we’ll give you a call. We’ll even clean them,” he said. “I’m of the belief to be proactive.”

But hotel policies differ, and many, including the Hay Adams in Washington, D.C., won’t reach out. Still, general manager Colette Marquez made an exception to that rule nine months ago when the hotel’s laundry supplier discovered a stuffed lamb named — what else? — Lamby in a bundle.

Andre Yescas, a manager-in-training, photographed Lamby enjoying the historic hotel, and wrote about his adventures in a letter that accompanied the package to the little girl.

“It gives the perception to the child the stuffed animal wasn’t lost but was on vacation,” said Marquez. “Now we’ve made it our policy to do the same thing every time.”

Carnival Cruise Lines takes a similar approach, which was something Jason Aipperspach of Hilton Head, S.C., happily learned last spring when his daughter Ashley, 7, left a stuffed owl on board after a cruise to the Bahamas.

“The second night home, she brought home homework. She had written about what she did on her vacation, and she wrote how upset she was missing this owl,” said Aipperspach.

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The father of two works in the housekeeping department at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa, and has himself returned lost toys to tearful children. So he e-mailed Carnival, and was thrilled when the cruise line sent both of his daughters new owls nearly twice the size of the lost one.

“They went above and beyond,” Aipperspach said.

Clarisa Stollenwerck, director of guest care for the cruise line, said staff practice is to “bend over backward to bring them together.”

“They know behind that e-mail at home there is probably someone crying,” she said.


Jill Radsken can be reached at jill.radsken@gmail.com.