In my previous post I talked about travelling with them as a single parent and how they are making their holidays as inclusive as possible for us with their new Single Parent Weeks and waiving under occupancy wherever possible. It's hard not to love them just for that and, having already been a fan of the company before having my children, it's easy to be a bit blase about their standards, but once you become a mum or dad, you look for different things. So when we went to one of their summer resorts, Lemnos, recently I went in with new eyes and just taking a less specialised, more mainstream view, this is what we found:
1) Sports for All - OMG the pools are lush and the kids were in their element, but if you can tear yourselves away there's an enormous range of equipment to play on all for free - from small sail boats to a couple of Catamarans - Lasers, Picos, Kayaks, Hartleys and Bahias, plus windsurfers and supboards. You dont have to be qualified in anything or remotely experienced, as all the staff will willingly assist. Tennis is also a main feature with several courts to use and all hire of them plus equipment is inlcuded in the cost of the holiday too. Social play is encouraged and the courts are floodlit in the evenings for those who find it too hot during the day. Alternatively, there are guided mountain bike rides or hire of them for adults, a range of fitness classes inlcuding Zumba and daily Aqua Aerobics, table tennis tables, sunset walks, water polo and volleyball games, also all for absolutely free. There were plenty of people simply sunbathing though!
2) Kids Clubs / Indy Clubs. Children can be cared for from age four months to 17, payable up to age two years, but otherwise half a day is free up to age six, or all day for age seven plus. Indy Clubs run for the teens and pre-booking is probably a must to be sure of places in each of them. They are entertained with indoor and outdoor games and sports and each other for as long or as much or little as you (or they!) wish. The age ranges are narrow so they are with their peers. The staff / child ratio is high and (outside of meal times) these clubs continue into the evenings until 11pm at no extra charge or you can pay for private babysitting according to availability. Each day they get to try their hands at sailing, windsurfing or kayaking, with free teaching according to their ability and age and it's great to see them coming and going around the resort.
3) Tuition. With prices from a fully inclusive £420pp for a week, you might accidentally find yourself on one of these holidays and not necessarily have a passion for sports. You might not even go home with one, but there are introductory and improver courses within the cost of it, so it doesn't hurt to give them a go! All of the resorts also offer a full range of (payable) RYA (Royal Yachting Association) training and certifiable courses for the ambitious or more regular visitor and there is (payable) personal or group tennis coaching on site too.
4) The Food. Almost everything is locally sourced and it's all fresh and seasonal. Apparently, you'll never see a Greek person eat something that isn't! There are four meals catered each day, including a High Tea for children at 5.30pm, so they can be settled for their evening movies option. A light red and white (also locally produced) wine is served with lunch and dinner and everything is presented sumptuously but buffet style. The variety is generous - traditional Greek, Italian pastas, European cakes and pastries, fruits, and cheeses, plus copious hot meat, fish and vegetable dishes - all great Hotel standard. The coffee is good, dinner on the terrace overlooking the bay is hard to beat and a big bonus for those of us who are always driving is that while we're there we never, ever are, so we can truly relax!
6) The Staff. These young and friendly experts in their fields go above and beyond the call of duty every day. They seem to genuinely love what they do - whether it's on the beach or with the kids. They are / were managed by the extremely affable and gregarious George Virvilis who has been with Mark Warner for 18 years. You can see him saying hello especially to you in the video below at the end of the post!
7) The Resort Itself. This is a perfectly sized bay for what Mark Warner sets out to do. It's safe and warm. I met two families who said they were back for the second time in 2014 - which is pretty impressive seeing as they are only open for five months of the year! Their general visitor return rate is exceptional - around 30% which speaks for itself. The Hotel was recently refurbished and our suite, for one, (also featured on the video below) was beatfully set and spick and span - great to retreat to at the end of a busy day and with its own terrace to relax on too.
8) Extras. I learned to water-ski with Mark Warner years ago, when it was still incuded in the cost of the holiday, but there is now a charge of 21/17 Euros per adult/child for an individual go or a brilliantly priced 75/60 Euros for a development course of four. This also applies to Wakeboarding and Kneeboarding if that's more your thing. There are also taster sessions / certificable Scuba Diving (age 10+), Horse riding, Yoga and Pilates and family boat trips, like a Sunset Cruise. [There's also 'some of the best Kitesurfing in the world' in Keros, on the north of the island].
10) The Dress. There are no swimsuits and sarongs at breakfast or lunch here (although if David Beckham wanted to turn up in one, no-one would mind ;) ). It's not formal by any means, but respectful smart casual is the form. Bare chests are rightly saved for the beach. People tend to dress for dinner - discreetly, not blingy.
11) The Wi-Fi wasn't brilliant and I think this was a massive contributory factor in being able to totally switch off.
1) The Time Difference (two hours) makes getting up in time at the outset of the holiday to be at the important talks about what is avalable when and where a bit of a wrench and it's difficult to catch up. The late nights and early starts for the tuition in the Kids Clubs took their toll but allowing both the boys a couple of lie ins and let outs helped.
2) The Pools - The big one is 1.4m throughout - too deep for the little one who couldn't really swim. He learned to get about a lot better in it while we were there but, despite the presence of a lifeguard, I didn't dare leave his side for a second. As much as he and his brother loved playing in the smaller pool, he would terrorise any timid toddlers in it, so we were a bit in limbo - he'd have to vacate that one but wasn't quite ready for the other one.
3) Mountain Bikes are not available to hire for children. Lots of us felt this was a shame.
4) The Kids Clubs - Both of my children were at the top end of their age range in their clubs and claimed to be a bit bored. Because we were there right at the end of the summer holidays, I think they were less well attended than they normally would have been. The five year old didn't want to be with pre-schoolers. The nine year old didn't want to be with six year olds. Another resident's two boys refused to go at all as they would have been separated by age. There were mumblings about more flexibility being preferred but not allowed.
5) Tennis Tuition even in groups for kids, has to be paid for and it's early again - 8.30 am. Private lessons can be arranged at a more civilzed hour! All casual play is free although, for some, it's serious - the holiday is more about tennis than anything else and they bring their whites.
6) The Food - *Horror of horrors,* there was no Kleftiko on the menu. When I asked the Manager where it was, he told me that it's not traditional in that part of Greece - much more so the chicken or lamb and veal chops we'd been served - but noting my devastation at this real #firstworldproblem, he arranged for it to be on before we left and it was lovely. I've been telling my kids about this famous Greek specialty all of their lives so this was a marvellous touch and quite typical of the extra mile that I found all the staff went. Aside from the canapes at the Welcome and the Solo Traveller Drinks and Dinner not being anywhere near the same standard as the meals, some people complained that the buffets were a 'bit samey,' but I didn't mind this at all, because it meant not having to have a mish mash of meals on the same plate in order to try out all the different dishes! I found it best to pick a theme and stick to it and try another theme another time.
7) Sex on the Beach - I was really disappointed to see this as the Cocktail of the Day, displayed proudly on all the blackboards by all the bars on the second day we were there. It meant another difficult conversation with my nine year old - one I felt was completely unnecessary. There's simply no call for it at a nice, middle class family resort and it, perhaps, belongs elsewhere. There are plenty of others to choose from.
9) The Wi-fi - if you really need it, then it can be incredibly frustrating to be confined to the lobby next to all the teenagers who want to play on their phones, but those who run the show in Lemnos, appreciating that it's a present day standard expectation, are in the process of getting it sorted for 2015.
It's true, Mark Warner Holidays are very hard to fault and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. The break from our Foreign Language students, school runs, cooking and chores was awesome, but that could be said of any ordinary holiday. I think what makes theirs unique though is the professional childcare for every age combined with the number of opportunities - for every level of ability - from novice to expert. It's no wonder there are so many devotees.
Top tips - It's an idea to get a bit fit before you go and, despite there being a laundry service and a selection of toiletries replenished daily, it's advisable to pack plenty of Travelwash and to invest in decent hair and sun care products because you're all in and out of the water more than you might imagine.
We came home on a new footing and the feeling has remained with us all. This video was made mainly to capture memories forged and to show you what our holiday was really like, but, be warned, it might tempt you to try one too!
(You can also read my post about my fears of feeling #awkward travelling as a single mum to a family resort on the Mark Warner blog HERE. It's called The Old Me vs. the New Me).
Disclosure - We were invited on this holiday to work with Mark Warner on their new Single Parent Weeks initiative. I wasn't required to write anything specifically for my blog, but such was the goodwill engendered it only seems fair to share. As usual, all words, opinions and pictures are our own, obvs.