21 October 2014

The Pluses and Minuses of our Mark Warner Holiday in Lemnos.

The general consensus of Mark Warner Holidays is that they're hard to fault.  They're famous for their facilities, food and fun factor, whether waterskiing or windsurfing, sailing or skiing.  Not to mention their top quality, comprehensive childcare, enabling all parties to partake.

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:

THE PLUSES.

mark warner lemnos swimming pool1) 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.

mark warner lemnos sailing

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!

mark warner lemnos food


5)  Safety and Security.  There is visible paramounce given to both these matters with a strict Flag and Tag system in practice on the beach and a safety boat is always out to sea with two others on stand by, a permanent 'Spotter' keeping check on all the action with binoculars and kit counts every few minutes.  Lemnos, is, after all, an island and the wind can be changeable.  The Kids Clubs employ their own personalised security systems and I had no qualms with leaving my children in either of them.

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.

mark warner lemnos

  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].

9)  The Entertainment.   There was a quiz one evening, a disco night and a live band at the end of the week. There are three (very reasonable) bars - the beach, the pool and the main one - where dinner is eaten each evening al fresco overlooking the sea.  60-70% visitors never leave the resort but I would recommend going off for a bit and exploring Minera, the capital - a traditional little village a short taxi ride away.  We enjoyed that but never got around to checking out the bar in a cave that the staff recommended.

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.

THE MINUSES

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.

mark warner lemnos pool



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.

mark warner lemnos food


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.

8) The Entertainment didn't start until 10pm which meant I didn't get to dance.  Many might say that is a good thing but it made me sad.  My kids needed to be in bed and out of everyone's way by then, but even if they'd been at their (annoyingly but understandably age-related separate) film screenings, I would then have been without my dancing partners.

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.

CONCLUSIONS.

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.  

A Mark Warner Holiday as a Single Parent.

I mentioned recently that we'd been away on a holiday or two - one to Jersey and another to the Greek island of Lemnos.  Travelling with children is never a breeze, let alone as a lone parent and, frankly, after the first one, I wasn't sure if I could stomach the strain of a second.

Also, seeing as I was being asked to review a family resort, it gave rise to a huge potential for feeling #awkward, again travelling on my own with the kids.  But no matter how tough a job it seemed, someone had to do it ;). 

The reason behind Mark Warner's invitation to visit their Lemnos resort was to experience one of their holidays from a single parent perspective and to share what I found on their blog (as well as my own if I so wished) and their website and magazine that goes out to past bookers.  This is because they have begun a Single Parent Weeks initiative, during which they waive any under-occupancy for their rooms and the whole time is geared towards social activities with group lunches and dinners, excursions etc. 


mark warner lemnos beach
The view from our Hotel suite.
The first took place (in their Levante resort) at the end of September, with an uptake of 90 guests.  It was considered a great success and there are plans afoot for some more, but, crucially, even outside of these, it is the general policy of their sales team to always try and offer the best solution with regards to accommodation so that they don’t penalise single parent travellers wherever possible. 

Here's the official line:- At Mark Warner we are passionate about family holidays and for us single/solo parent holidays are a vital part of that. Our famous childcare, huge range of activities and social atmosphere means that much of the stress can be taken out of travelling on your own with children. A Mark Warner holiday with your child or children can be a great chance to reconnect, share quality time and new experiences, and make new friends.

Mmm.  This is all very well in theory, but how does it work out in practice?  They wanted to know what I really thought, how we really felt and whether we can prove that people like me really can get a break on one of their holidays.

We were sent on a standard week at the end of the summer break - which would be full on family mode, I figured and this made me awfully nervous.  Despite having travelled a great deal alone before having my children - and even used this same holiday company several times previously when going away with friends - to pitch up in a situation like this, just the three of us, was a first.

The statistics speak for themselves though and, although it wouldn't be accurate to say that the one in four families in the UK now being headed up by single parents were proportionately represented, we could see, once we arrived, that we were by no means the only ones without a spouse around. It soon became apparent that I had to do what I always do - blag it be brave and just get on with it - so that we could all make the most of the opportunities afforded to us.

During the day, it was difficult to spot who was with whom anyhow, because most people were off doing their own thing at some point or another.  With free watersports galore, tennis and mountain biking, fitness classes, a spa and optional extras like sub-aqua diving, it certainly wasn't unusual to see someone on a lounger alone reading a book / Kindle, having been temporarily abandoned by their partner!

And it was impossible to work out who had how many kids because of all their comings and goings too - which brings me to one of Mark Warner's biggest selling points - their award winning Kids Clubs (or 'Indy Clubs' for the teenagers).  Full or part time childcare is included in the holiday price from age two - 17.  Although babies from four months and younger toddlers can also be cared for, there is a charge because their staff/child ratio is high.

mark warner lemnos kids club
The older ones aren't made to hold onto a lead like these younger ones are lol! Narrow age bands ensure suiable activities.
Children up to age six can be booked into mornings or afternoons for free and older ones can be kept entertained all day (or come and go as they please) at no extra charge.  It's possible to pay for sessions for the other half of the day for the little ones though and it's definitely advisable to pre-book.

Neither of mine were keen to join the separate ones relevant for their ages, but soon got into the swing of things. I told them that they had to for some of the time, not least, for the purposes of this review and we settled on just mornings for the older one too.  This worked for us all because none of us wanted to be apart all day!

So, it was possible, therefore, to get a proper break.  They made friends that meant our afternoons were much more sociable and both were given sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and tennis tuition they never would have received from me left to our own devices.  Plus they were also treated to time out of the heat, playing indoor games or other stuff outside, but in the shade.

windsurfing, mark warner lemnos
Putting into practice what he'd learned that morning!
I could indulge in some serious sunbathing for the first time since being pregnant with my eldest (which I *might* have mentioned to them more than once) and wave to them as they went about all their exciting business of being on a Mark Warner holiday, or take my own lessons in any of the watersports or tennis, go out on a guided mountain bike ride, or join in a fitness class, all of which are geared around the times of the Kids Clubs.  Or go to the spa for a proper pamper (with ELEMIS products, no less).  Or just enjoy some chit chat.  In the end, in between interviewing the fabulous manager (with the highest rate of client and staff return in the company) and as many of the other incredibly amenable workers as would allow it (told you it was a tough job!) I tried a bit of everything and generally *shock* pleased myself.

But there's more.  Every evening there are two different childrens' film viewings - one for the little ones at 7.30pm and an organized activity followed by another one at 8.30pmfor the older ones, where they will all be looked after until 11pm.  To this extent, some people complained that they didn't see as much of their children as they would like to!

I was stricter with mine, insiting that we ate our evening meals together, which seemed pretty much the norm at the outset of the week, but as it went on, there were less and less young ones at dinner as word got out at how brilliant this babysitting idea was for those who probably wanted to enjoy a peaceful meal with their other halves.  There are beds for the little ones where the movies were shown and some residents just carried their sleeping children home at the end of the night - something I couldn't manage on my own.  Plus, with it being such an active holiday, I wanted the boys more settled.

Not that it worked out like that.  We'd met people who were also on holiday in the resort without a partner at the 'Solo Traveller Drinks and Dinner' on the second night, something I would never have attended without a professional reason for doing so.  This takes place in every centre, every week and, to be honest, I took exception to the invitation to join it because I didn't consider myself to be travelling solo!  Neither, as is pointed out in my article now on the Mark Warner site, was I looking for company, I was looking for (and mostly managed to find, if you read it) me.

Anyway, despite dreading this social event, I was glad to have attended, because it meant friendly faces to engage with for the rest of the week.  We bumped into each other during the watersports or by the pool and shared many an enjoyable meal that meant far later nights than had been intended. Some said they had partners at home, some said they didn't.  Some were made redundant by the additional drinks and dinner alongside our own for 17-24 year olds, but all in all, it added a pleasing dimension to the trip.

And I've since recommended a name change to 'Solo Traveller and Lone Parent Drinks and Dinner,' which covers all bases and doesn't offend in quite the same way!

It would be interesting to see how the special Single Parent Weeks add to the possible social interaction for adults, something which can be sadly lacking with other tour operators, even to the extent of putting people off going away at all.  Plus, with the plethora of activites on offer, there's always a chance to meet like-minded people - even if you're the one avoiding all the action - and that applies to any standard week as well.

As it is, Mark Warner say that around 40% of their custom is made up of individuals, couples and groups of friends, and it's true to say that a very friendly atmosphere pervades.

mark warner lemnos pools and sailing

The food is fab and full board, more of which I've gone into on a second post with a general angle - The Pluses and Minuses of our Mark Warner Holiday.  Think sailing = good, Sex on the Beach = bad.

It still wasn't easy being away alone with two such young children.  I chose not to offload them 100% of the time, but definitely got some well-earned respite, met some lovely people and we all enjoyed messing about on the water and playing tennis.

I came home feeling like quite a different person, having been able to breathe and let go of all the stresses and strains of every day life, feeling assured the kids were in capable hands and having the times of their lives.  We all tried new things.  We bonded tighter and we made some wonderful memories.

It's unquestionably the sort of holiday - together with the kind and quality of catering included - that any single parent can be sure to be able to stomach!

sunset mark warner lemnos


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 seemed fair to share.  As usual, all words, opinions and pictures are our own, obvs.

8 October 2014

Concussion Update.

After I published this yesterday afternoon, I re-wrote it in a completely different light.  This must be one of those cathartic posts that people talk about because I felt much better just writing it all out. Told you I wasn't right, didn't I?!

Here's the new version - a bit like me - the same, but different.

It's not every day you find yourself popping off for a brain scan, but, last week, there I was, sat in the hospital waiting room wondering what what might or might not turn up in the one I was about to undertake.

It was worrying - a no-win situation.  If they discover something they can label after me banging on for over a year now about how I'm still not right since the little one accidentally caught me on the side of the head with the edge of his Badminton Racquet in full flow, then that will be devastating. But if they don't discover anything that can identify and explain what's only presently being referred to as post-concussion syndrome or trauma, it's probably preferable, but still not ideal.

Not feeling right doesn't mean I want something to be wrong, if you get my drift.

It'll be back to square one with the GP, even though I'm barely any further down the line with her anyway.  She has tested my reflexes for signs of a different kind of stroke, suggested anti-depressants and eventually brought me appointments with an eye specialist, a neurologist and now this lovely MRI, mostly to rule things out, rather than to actually help.

The lovely now genuinely late Patrick Swayze.
All progress has been made by my own volition.  Being able to see the top half of my body out to the left of me, proved to be a brilliant incentive!  It reminded me of the film 'Ghost,' when Patrick Swayze's character is knocked to the ground by a robber who he's seen running off after, but his physical body lays down on the ground still, dead. It was really rather disturbing to experience something so close to that kind of thing myself.
    
Fortunately, though, being into all stuff natural medicine, I've been blessed with all kind of help from people I already knew.  A local Osteopath assisted me me to get properly back into my body within a couple of sessions, although I still don't feel 100% there yet and another Cranial Osteopath has greatly reduced the feeling that my head was about four times the size it should be and also soothed my shredded nerves.

Acupuncture has really made a difference with the anxiety induced by all this too, as well as helping to harness everything else, especially the weirdest thing  - which is a severe sort of electrical buzzing at the point of impact on the side of my head.  This is triggered by dehydration or stress and is usually at its worst when the kids are giving me the runaround, especially at their bedtime.  The couple of sessions I've had have had a massive impact on that, but it still occurs somewhat. Heaven knows how it works, but it truly does!

My hormones are up the shoot too, with instantly ceasing periods that have never returned.  Although that is relevant to my age, it's certainly not the natural course events would take.

Less convenient has been another sudden and dramatic effect - on my eyesight.  Again, this could be attributed to me getting on a bit and the general consensus among the professionals is that the bash on the head has basically speeded up the process, but I'm not convinced.  I could read my texts on the day it happened, but not the day after and the prescription on my reading glasses increased a great deal at once.

I can't think like I could, can't do what I could and I now have to pace myself in what would previously be an unrecognizable fashion!  People give me quizzical looks during conversation - they know I am different.  I know I am different.  I am slower.  So, the same, but different.

But the main thing is that I am still alive! The dizziness and fainting that only came on after a month when carrying shopping or being really tired seems to have passed and I can drive for longer spells, so, generally speaking, things (apart from my Bank balance) are looking up.

I've found a new 'normal,' discovered that sitting still can be boon - it really makes a difference, as does real quiet - and appreciate that, on the whole, I am otherwise well and happy, so can cope.

Settling down for this scan, however, forced me to focus on the situation for the first time in quite a while.  As time has gone on and treatments have brought gradual improvements, it has been increasingly possible to put it to the back of my mind.  And it occurs to me now, that, whilst wondering what will happen if they find something and what will happen if they don't, perhaps, I'm actually already winning?!

Do you or does anyone you know have any experience of concussion / post concussion trauma?

3 October 2014

Blogging My Own Back Yard.

I went walking recently, as we do regularly living by the coast. Everything seemed to have taken on a prettier light in this extended summer we're having.

Still a numpty with my iPhone but loving these pics, I thought I'd share them anyway. Sometimes, you don't have to be clever with a camera when the subjects themselves are so awesome, although some close ups would have been nice, admittedly.










It's easy to take these views for granted when they're there almost every day, but on this particular Sunday -which I suppose you could call our first Autumnal one they spoke to me differently. Long may it continue!

What do you think?

29 September 2014

If Him Upstairs is Listening.

The other day the eldest pointed at a white car and asked if we could have one of those.  He said he liked it because because it was 'big, flashy and shiny.'

I had to admire his taste.  It was one of those new smaller Range Rovers, we've since discovered to be called an Evoque.  

We decided on a navy one.


After that little chat he said we should really have three cars - the posh one for a dog (which we don't have), our old Ford Focus for every day use (which we do have) and a big fat van for camping (where we never go).

Then he added a fourth too - a Lamborghini - which would be good for me and my boyfriend (also non-existent) to go out on dates. Stop laughing at the back there. 

Anyway, not being a greedy woman, and just in case Him Upstairs is listening, I thought it best to make it clear that I'd settle for just the one.  And it doesn't even have to be navy.  We wouldn't mind the colour, really (although I'm not fussy on the Bronze one), especially now the panoramic roof, rear seat entertainment and gorgeous leather interiors and other amazing extras have been brought to my attention whilst searching for an image for you. 


We hope to get a dog, so promise it wouldn't be a waste.  We'd happily use it every day and be proud to take it camping and wash it lovingly by hand when we got home.  The bits we could reach anyhow.


And, frankly, I'm too old to have a boyfriend who didn't drive his own car anyway.  So it's settled.  


Thanks ever so much.

Anya xx


P.S. I do believe in encouraging children to follow their dreams, don't you?



(Image courtesy Wikipedia).  Excellent taste, my son. Honestly flexible on the colour. Ta.  



26 September 2014

Which Scooter for a 9 Year Old - Micro Scooter Sprite vs Trixx Review.

It's not very often you'll find a middle aged woman googling 

1.  How to bar whip
2.  How to buttercup
3.  How to tail spin

Nor is it very likely you see many watching scooter tutorials.  But that was me a couple of months ago - lost in the language, heart in my mouth, trying to tempt the eldest into trying out a stunt or two on his new Micro Trixx Scooter. 

We'd been sent two to compare - an every day Micro Sprite one and this one, because so many of us want to buy them as Birthday (or, dare I say it, even Christmas) presents and don't know which to choose from the multitude on offer.  

Although he already had one, it wasn't particularly brilliant.  It's a different make and after only a couple of years has not worn very well.  He was due an upgrade and with both the boys having had the very popular Mini Micro Scooters ones when they were littler, I had a feeling that theirs designed for older children would be better quality than the one already in our possession, so we were happy to explore.  

Our job was to see which we would choose for a nine year old.  They're actually quite different to each other and the result might surprise you.

After battling to assemble both of them - a couple of emails, a phone call and a strong bloke for the Trixx later - we were ready to roll.  I've included the instructions at the end of the post because they don't come with any and googling brought up plenty of other people who'd asked the same questions! As has become expected of them though and as their reputation attests to, the service at the company was immediate and excellent and the quality of both the scooters is as we'd hoped for - superior to any others we're aware of.


Micro Trixx Scooter £119.95


Micro Sprite Scooter £79.95
First of all, my son was quite taken with the Trixx (119.95).  It looks cool, it's weighty with a wide deck and thicker wheels that make for a smooth ride and 'better balance' and the handlebars are fixed at a setting he likes.



.



It wasn't brilliant at long distances though.  It's really meant for a skate park and not every day use. He was in love with it nevertheless.  I was too worried to take it anywhere in case it was nicked, plus it's quite big and heavy to lug about if it doesn't like the terrain you happen to be out on.




The Sprite started out as the poor relation at from £79.95, but as time passed and he picked it up more often than the other one, his heart changed.  He even tried out a few stunts on it whilst I kept asking him which one he'd pick if we were buying just one and he felt OK doing so, but, naturally, it didn't feel as safe after having used one designed for them.  If he'd never known any different, it might not have been an issue.




It has its own stand, is faster and not as fussy about road conditions, is lighter and more portable because it folds, whereas the Trixx doesn't.  Also, we found that we had to make special journeys to skateboarding and scooter parks to use the Trixx and he didn't seem that bothered about making the time to do that. Ultimately, it transpired, that he was a little intimidated by the other, older boys at them and would rather not go.  It might be his nature or because he is only nine.

For all our normal every day out and about activities, this one was more fun.




Therefore, if we had to select between the two scooters, we'd actually choose the cheaper one, the Sprite, but if your child is more inclined towards stunts the Trixx is a brilliant option, especially if you're happy to have a second one in the house / shed / car.  You'll need to learn the lingo though and kit your kids out properly with helmets and proper pads which we failed to do when just pootling.  Bad mother award accepted, thank you.  *Blushes.*

Micro Scooter's stunt riders are called Toren Jarritt and Louie Fulton.  If you pop into Google their names and 'scooter tutorials' you’ll find loads of stuff.  Plus BenJ Friant is the best scooter rider in the world (and rides for them too).  He has tonnes on his YouTube channel.   

You'll be the most amazing, coolest mum in the universe if you can show them that stuff, regardless of whether you're middle aged!

The second option, the Micro Sprite Scooter is the one he eventually selected.  It's also the least expensive one.  #Win!

Disclosure - We were sent the scooters in exchange for an honest review. All words and opinions are our own, obvs.

How to assemble a Micro Trixx Scooter.
1) Discard the black cap covering the lower metal part
2) Insert handlebars and ask someone to hold them steady with the front scooter wheels between their feet whilst you  
3) Tighten the screws with the Allen key provided in the order of bottom, middle, top, then again in that order and then again as necessary.
4) And then you ask a stronger person to do the same because you can't get it secure!

Stop press: You can now watch a tutorial they've made - HERE.

How to unlock a Micro Sprite Scooter.
Put the scooter on the table in front of you, with the front wheels to the left.  Slide your hand between the handle and the deck right up to the wheel.  You will locate a silver push button, press that in with your thumb whilst holding the scooter.  As you press in you should hear a click which should release the handle to come up.

23 September 2014

Our Trip to Jersey with Condor Ferries - No Passports Required.

Yonks ago, I lived and worked in the Channel Islands - in Jersey to be precise.  They're situated about 14 miles north of France but are very much part of the UK.  It's impossible to deny the French influence but English is spoken and they drive on the left like the rest of us.

During the second world war the Nazis took Occupation of them for most of it - that's how close they came to the mainland - and although there's lots to see with regard to their fascinating history, there's an awful lot more to explore.

With me being only 18 when I arrived, much of it was wasted on me, but I left four formative years later with a taste for a decent dinner, an aperitif ahead of it and a yardstick against which to measure other beaches around the world.

I'm still in touch with friends over there and like to pop over when possible, but had put it off for a while thinking all of us needed passports and had never got around to ordering one for the youngest, which would mean an extra expense towards any trip, perhaps making it prohibitive.

Seeing as they're British it seemed silly to need one, but, on making further inquiries, it turns out that it's only necessary for us all to hold passports when flying, for airport security, but it absolutely isn't necessary should we travel by Condor Ferries instead.

I cannot tell you how quickly we tried to book our holiday and seeing as tickets start at £49.50 per person with a car, which I deem to be an absolute necessity over there, it can also work out much cheaper than flying.  #WinWin!

The cost to go at the last minute in peak season summer holidays came out slightly more, naturally, but I came to an arrangement with the ferry company for the purposes of the blog, because I think a lot of parents are in the position I found myself where they hold passports but maybe one or more of their children don't.  Not to mention the fiasco that has been occurring this year with those who've actually applied for them but have spent weeks or months receiving them and had to forego their travel plans.

A break to the Channel Islands is like being abroad - things are different but the same, as I hope you see from the video below.  We went the speedy route from Weymouth via Guernsey, taking a total of four hours. There is also an overnight ferry from Portsmouth but that was out of service at the time.

To be able to take your own transport is a godsend.  Although you can get around by bus, they mostly run out of St Helier, the capital and where the port is, but the west of the island is where all the best beaches are so it's good to be based there and pootle about freely.  (You'll need to buy a book of parking paycards, but they're easy to find and not expensive).

Jersey is only ten miles by six so it's possible to even cycle around it in one day, but hiring or having a car gives you the ability to explore bays like St Ouen's (a surfer's paradise) or Rozel, both in the north of the island and all the little villages in the centre, such as St Mary and St Peter, plus, in the east, there are some truly sumptuous restaurants set in seriously scenic spots.  The food is where the French influence is most seriously felt, but it's not formal, just great standard cuisine generally.

Jersey is only 10 x 6 miles - easy to explore by car.
When you can tear yourself away from a world of wonderful coasts, there's still tonnes for a family to do.  There is no VAT in the Channel Islands - they have a completely independent tax system - so you might enjoy shopping even more than usual (think JEWELLERY ladies!) but, best of all for children is Durrell Wildlife Park.

We only just missed Jersey's very own Hollywood star Henry Cavill - the current Superman and Man from U.N.C.L.E. no less, who was born and raised on the island and is still a member of their Rugby Club! (Sorry about the scrunched up Jersey Evening Post rescued from my friend's bin but you can read the full article HERE).

The current Superman -Henry Cavill at Durrell's Wildlife Park the week before we were there!
He has fond memories of being a regular visitor to the zoo (as it was called then) when he was young and remains so passionate about their conservation work that he has become an ambassador for them and the initiative #CavillConservation has been started in support of it.

There's also aMaizin Adventure Park, some magnificent castles and the equivalent of our National Trust - Jersey Heritage - with a variety of gorgeous Gardens growing a wide variety of warmer climate fauna than we're used to in the rest of the UK.  Plus, there's plenty of up to date public entertainment.

When I lived there it was illegal to dance on a Sunday but, gladly, that is no longer the case!

Elizabeth Castle - you can walk there when the tide is out but you'll need a lift back when it's in!
It might be worth inquiring about a Jersey Pass if you want to visit lots of attractions but the jury is still out on whether one of those that gets you into all of them for free, is actually worth the outlay.  It will depend on how much you want to do.  Also, my friends there use a voucher site called JT Rewards and that's definitely worth checking out for daily offers.

They're trying to reboot tourism on the islands with local businesses getting behind a recently launched Visit Jersey.  Hotel prices have historically been high, but many have closed, so they've had to change tack. The industry is reportedly responding to being revitalised and there is a range of accommodation right through from camping and Hostels and Yurts to high end stuff with definite deals to be had.

We loved travelling by ferry.  Being in Club Class rocked!  The supplement is reasonable (£16.50) and gets you their special 52 seater lounge, with attentive but unintrusive friendly waiter service - offering free tea, coffee and soft drinks, biscuits and cakes, newspapers, big, comfortable seats at tables with their own charging stations, and an impressive menu from which to purchase lunch or dinner.  I felt it was worth the extra investment on the way out, but on the return evening journey it came into its own because the eldest wanted to be outside on deck and the youngest needed to sleep, so I flitted about between the two and could see directly into or out of the lounge windows and keep an eye on them both simultaneously.  The staff were very supportive of my position and also helped out.  (Thank you Garry and Ping!)

Children are well catered for on board.  It's easy to get around and there's a Kids Zone with colouring stuff and a TV where we watched a bit of 'Frozen' or 'Tom and Jerry' when they weren't exploring elsewhere or enjoying being outside and there is a Bistro that offers those lunch boxes that they like with sandwiches and stuff, as well as a drink and a treat (£5).

For adults, there is also a cafe bar and a duty free shop (think PERFUME ladies!).  All in all, the time goes very quickly.  The video below shows a few aspects of the ship, including our trip up to the bridge which was very exciting!  We learned that the bigger boats (like the one we were on) must get out of the way of the smaller ones and we watched lots of activity on the radars.

Mostly, it shows fantastic beaches and lunches because we were blessed with perfect weather and that's basically what our holiday was about - hanging out with people we know and love.  If, though, you fancy one that's like being abroad but isn't, and you don't want the hassle of of flying with children, or don't have a passport, then you might like something like this too:




Disclosure - We were provided Club Class tickets by Condor Ferries in exchange for a review of the ship.  I threw all the other stuff in for good measure.  All words and opinions are my own obvs!
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