Take the stress out of booking baby and toddler breaks with Katie McGonagle’s guide
Becoming a new parent is full of firsts – baby’s first steps, first words, the blissful first full night’s sleep.
As joyous as those milestones are, taking tots on holiday for the first time can be a source of serious worry. How will they cope with the flight? Will they get grumpy in the heat? Is it possible to squeeze a week’s nappies and baby food into a suitcase and still have room for a few clothes?
But fear not: with some careful planning, holidaying with under-fives need not be as stressful as parents expect, and can offer significant advantages such as discounted child places and the freedom to travel outside school holidays. In fact, the only thing they have to worry about is how to adapt their usual holiday style to accommodate a new addition.
Shuddering at the thought of negotiating an airport with a buggy, suitcases and toddler in tow? While it’s not as tricky as new parents might think (see box, left), the British Isles offers plenty of hassle-free alternatives.
Butlins has four-night Just for Tots holidays – from April 28 at Bognor Regis and Skegness and May 5 at Minehead – featuring toddler-friendly menus, flexible entertainment, plus early-morning activities and earlier dining to accommodate toddlers’ body clocks. Prices start at £55 based on four sharing a self-catering apartment in May.
Sister brand Haven also caters for its youngest guests with free entertainment including tots’ discos and puppet shows, plus mini-sports, Learn2Bike lessons using balance bikes (for ages two four) and Messy Mornings where kids’ creativity can run wild. May half term breaks start at £199 per family for three nights.
Running wild is also on the agenda at Hoseasons’ Go Active parks, where the tailor-made Go Junior programme offers fun activities such as Junior Musketeers and Pirates’ Paradise for three to seven-year-olds.
If parents need the odd evening to themselves, babysitting is available at a handful of parks – Devon Valley, South Devon, and Derbyshire’s Ashby Woulds Lodges and Swainswood Leisure Park and Spa – plus there’s a crèche for babies aged six months and up at Ribby Hall Village, Lancashire.
Those looking for even more quiet time might prefer the slower pace of a self-catering lodge. Cottages4you has toddler friendly properties including Heron Cottage near Bideford in Devon, where families can enjoy rolling countryside and coastal walks, or stay home while the kids have fun in two enclosed play areas (£582 for seven nights in May).
The Emerald Isle is equally welcoming to kids, and a ferry journey means parents can pack cars full of baby paraphernalia without worrying about excess baggage.
Irish Ferries packages 20 holiday cottages along Ireland’s east and south coast with a range of crossings, and new ship Epsilon has added more convenient sailing times across the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin. A week at Forest Haven Holiday Homes in County Waterford, including ferry crossings with a car from Pembroke to Rosslare, starts at £643 in May.
HEAD FOR THE MED
Like Goldilocks’ porridge, Mediterranean resorts get it just right: sunny enough to revive sleep-starved parents but not too hot for tots, and far enough to feel like a holiday but close enough for stress-free flying.
Greece and Cyprus are prime examples, with plentiful accommodation ranging from self catering to the five-star facilities of Olympic Holidays’ top picks Le Méridien Spa & Resort Limassol in Cyprus and Domes of Elounda in Crete. The former boasts a crèche, babysitting and Penguin Club for over-threes, while the Cretan property has an under-fours crèche and can provide essential equipment such as sterilisers, baby monitors, baths, changing mats and bottle warmers.
Pre-booking amenities is also a feature of the Almyra hotel in Cyprus, where the convenient Baby Go Lightly package allows parents to forgo packing the essentials and simply order them online (half-board prices from £880 per adult and £275 per child with Western & Oriental, including Gatwick-Paphos flights and private transfers).
Preferred Hotel Group properties Il Salviatino in Florence and Mas du Grand Vallon Resort & Spa in the French Cote d’Azur offer similar equipment, as well as baby purées, children’s menus and child-friendly early dining.
Practicalities aside, family-orientated brands add an element of extra fun to a first holiday. Club Med’s Baby and Petit clubs offer interaction with other children through Baby Gym, nursery rhymes, games and mini-sports – while still leaving time for all important afternoon naps (four-23 months and two-four years respectively, extra cost).
Mark Warner also starts childcare at four months (under twos pay £180 for six half day sessions, over-twos free), with a Funboat to get children as young as three out on the water, plus introductions to other activities. Infant prices start at £150 and adults at £525 half board at Levante Beach Resort in Rhodes, including flights.
Apartments and villas also combine value for money with more space and flexibility. Sardinian Places’ three-bedroom Villa Oro Verde features a pool and large grounds close to the beaches of Costa Smeralda (seven nights in May from £379 based on six sharing).
In the Balearic Islands, Mallorca Farmhouses has self catering properties; reassure nervous parents that gated pools, stair gates, highchairs and cots with linen can be requested, and local supermarkets stock well-known baby food brands. And since mum and dad deserve a break too, Mallorca Farmhouses also offers in-villa spa treatments and golf course discounts. A three-bedroom, two bathroom farmhouse with gated pool starts at £694 excluding flights.
THE LONG GAME
While some parents blanch at the thought of going long-haul, others are keen to inspire a sense of adventure in their offspring – and enjoy exotic holidays themselves.
Dubai’s family reputation is well-founded. JA Jebel Ali Golf Resorts, for example, has a new crèche (four months to four years, with Worldwide Kids Company-trained staff), while Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s 24-hour babysitting gives parents a chance to recharge.
Debbie Goffin, head of sales and marketing at Premier Holidays, suggests flying east to cut down on jetlag – the time difference means kids stay up later in the evening then sleep later to give adults a lie in, whereas going west they’ll wake early and get grumpy later on.
Goffin’s recommendations include Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah, UAE, for its varied meals and accommodating staff; Shangri-La Al Waha in Oman, which boasts a shaded children’s pool and casual dining; and Centara Grand Beach Resort, Phuket, in Thailand, which has sizeable rooms and a lazy river.
Some resorts are so well-equipped they’re worth the longer flight. At Beaches resorts in the Caribbean, for example, under-twos can enjoy 9am-9pm nurseries, with at least one staff member to every three children, while three-to-fives enjoy face-painting, treasure hunts, magic shows and sandcastle building. Children with special needs can have their own nanny ($8 an hour).
Theme-park breaks are another option, especially for families with older siblings to be kept amused too. Emma Paxton, head of retail at SeaWorld Parks Entertainment UK, says: “As a mum of a toddler myself, I can recommend Florida for young families. SeaWorld Orlando has great facilities for those with tots or babies including Shamu’s Happy Harbour, which is solely for younger children, and gentle rides like Shamu Express and the Sea Carousel.
How to fly with tots
Zoe Towers, product general manager, Jet2holidays
- Be organised and arrive early at the airport: getting through check-in and security takes longer with children.
- Feed your baby during take off and landing: this helps their ears to adjust to the pressure.
- Keep your little one entertained: give them snacks on-board or surprise them with new toys they haven’t seen before or new apps on a tablet.
- Always have plenty of water, milk or juice: air conditioning can easily cause toddlers to become dehydrated.
- Don’t over-pack carry-on luggage: many parents panic and take too much, which just adds to the stress.
Debbie Goffin, head of sales and marketing, Premier Holidays
- Book a night flight: in my experience, they will sleep through, which saves having to keep them occupied.
- Stick to the same routine as at home: get them to change into pyjamas, brush teeth and drink their milk.
- Pack your own food and spare milk in case of delays: Boots sells made-up milk and sterilised bottles at the airport, and medicine such as Calpol and Piriton.
- Unless you’re flying with a tiny baby, forget flight cots as they are so small: instead, price up the cost of their own seat – it often isn’t much more expensive and it’s well worth it, as a 12-hour flight with a 21-month-old on your lap is a very long time!
Has it cot the lot?
Does the property have a cot, highchair, baby bath or stair gate for toddlers? Make sure you have the answers to your customers’ crucial questions:
- Cottages4you allows customers to pre-book cots, highchairs, baby baths, blackout blinds, children’s crockery, sterilisers and nightlights. Properties also feature enclosed play areas, safety gates, fireguards and socket protectors, plus a guide to family restaurants, activities, chemists and doctors.
- Eurocamp supplies free baby and toddler packs including highchair, travel cot, baby bath, potty, changing mat and bedrails; cot linen is from £6.50.
- Hoseasons’ Go Active parks have highchairs and cots (linen extra) at most sites and stair gates at some (maximum cost £15). Cots must be pre-booked.
- Sardinian Places provides highchairs and travel cots free in self-catering properties, and car or booster seats for hired cars at £40 each.
- Thomas Cook’s FamilyWorld properties include a free BabyWorld centre with microwave, kettle, steriliser and bottle warmer. Toys and care packs with baby baths, mats and potties can be hired.
- Thomson allows guests at Family and Sensatori Resorts (excluding Mexico and Jamaica) to pre-book Mothercare baby equipment such as cots, strollers, highchairs and sterilisers; prices £10-£25.
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