Book in a week of family fun with Katie McGonagle’s guide to half-term hotspots
A week is a long time in politics – but it feels even longer in a family home full of bored little ones on their half term holiday.
It’s hard to imagine while summer is still in full swing, but come rainy October, when the kids can’t even run around outside to burn off excess energy, parents have to be ever more inventive to keep them entertained.
So why not suggest leaving all that stress behind with a half-term getaway? Not only will it save mum and dad having to rack their brains for endless activities to keep their brood entertained, but pick the right destination and it will also offer a boost of sunshine before winter sets in. All prices are based on a family of four travelling in half term, the last week of October.
There’s never a quiet time in the theme park capital of the world, but the end of summer does mean shorter queues, fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. The rides, though, are just as imaginative and adrenaline-fuelled as ever, with new openings including the much-talked about Diagon Alley and Escape from Gringotts at Universal Studios, with a real-life Hogwarts Express linking it to the existing Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom has also completed its largest-ever expansion with the addition of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in New Fantasyland, while SeaWorld celebrates its 50th anniversary with two new shows – an evening fireworks display at SeaWorld Orlando, and stage show Opening Night Critters featuring dozens of rescued animals at Busch Gardens Tampa.
Look out for dedicated Halloween activities over half-term, including Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney (separate tickets required), to get guests in the festive mood.
Book it: Funway Holidays offers a seven-night stay at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort from October 25-November 1 from £775 per person, including US Airways flights and Universal three-park bonus tickets.
0844 557 0626
This is a firm favourite with the family market in summer, but Spain has plenty to satisfy autumn travellers too. The Canary Islands remain sunny enough for clients to top up tans, but don’t rule out the Balearic Islands or mainland Spain either: competitive pricing and a lack of crowds make summer hotspots like Majorca and the Costa del Sol a viable option in October, plus parents won’t have to worry so much about smothering little ones in suncream every five minutes.
City breaks to cultural hotspots such as Seville or Barcelona are also far more manageable when it’s not sweltering, so those in the market for a short stay can take advantage of cheaper flights and accommodation to see their favourite cities.
Book it: Jet2holidays offers a week’s all-inclusive in a junior suite at the four star Aparthotel Holiday Palace, Benalmadena, from £2,179 for two adults and two under-sixes, including flights from Blackpool on October 25, transfers and baggage.
0800 408 5587
This time of year sees Dubai cool to a balmy 30C, but families looking to really chill out can make a beeline for Ski Dubai to test out the new 150m-long zip-line, The Snow Bullet, soaring up to 16m above the slopes, from £24 for two runs – not forgetting bobsled rides and tobogganing in the Snow Dome.
There are more thrills to be had at Dubai’s waterparks, from the terrifying Jumeirah Sceirah at Wild Wadi, free for Jumeirah guests, to the Leap of Faith at Atlantis the Palm’s Aquaventure. But kids who prefer seeing what’s under the water to splashing around in it should detour to Atlantis’s The Lost Chambers, or head to the Dubai Aquarium at Dubai Mall where an underwater tunnel offers 270-degree views of more than 80 marine species.
And with gentler temperatures comes the chance to get out onto the dunes on a desert safari complete with camel riding, falconry and Bedouin feast.
Book it: Virgin Holidays offers six nights’ bed-and-breakfast at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi, with Virgin Atlantic flights departing Heathrow on October 25 and transfers, from £1,535 per person.
Families come in different forms, so a one-size-fits-all hotel room doesn’t always cut it. For those who want to bring grandparents, need an extra bedroom to accommodate kids of different ages, or simply want more space, hiring a villa can offer families the freedom to spread their wings.
CV Villas suggests the three-bedroom Islamlar House near Kalkan for its large gardens, giving youngsters plenty of room to play outside in safety, plus a private pool, outdoor terrace with barbecue, shops and restaurants within a five-minute walk, and incredible views of Patara Bay.
Book it: CV Villas offers Islamlar House from £1,440 for the half-term week based on four guests, including car hire, maid service and welcome pack, but excluding flights.
020 7563 7999
Soaking up sunshine is a priority for some customers, but choose a destination that offers local culture along with that dose of Vitamin D and they’ll enjoy a much more memorable break.
The Gambia is certainly home to some beautiful beaches – properties such as the Sheraton, Coco Ocean or Kombo Beach offer direct beach access – but specialist operator The Gambia Experience also reports its cultural and wildlife excursions are selling well.
Four Wheel Drive and Makasutu Nature Forest, which also includes a stop at a primary school, is one of the most popular, as is a guided visit to the monkey park at Bijilo Forest to see colobus and vervet monkeys, or a birdwatching tour led by Malick Suso, the local guide used by TV presenter Chris Packham.
Book it: The Gambia Experience offers two standard rooms on a B&B basis at Kombo Beach Hotel from £2,796, or a junior suite which sleeps four from £2,950, both with flights departing Gatwick on October 24.
0845 330 4567
At this time of year, clients often have to compromise between warm weather and a short flight, but with just a three-hour flight and low to mid-20s temperatures, Morocco is the exception that proves the rule.
Djemaa el Fna is a touristy but essential stop – wander past its snake charmers and traditional dancers, smell the spices from its street food stalls, and then have a go at haggling in the souks. For added exoticism, stay in a traditional riad; Anatolian Sky Holidays has added several properties this year, though warn clients with young children they only accept over-12s.
Escorted tours were once an almost exclusively child-free zone, but the increase in family-focused school holiday departures from adventure specialists has reversed that trend, letting parents hand over the reins of responsibility for organising activities and giving kids a chance to make new friends.
Morocco is particularly fertile ground for adventure, with the chance for families to explore the combination of mountains, desert and beaches. The Adventure Company’s Kids in the Kasbah trip has proved so popular the operator is offering a second October half-term departure.
Book it: The Family Adventure Company offers the eight-day Kids in the Kasbahs from £784 per adult and £706 per child, including flights, accommodation, transfers, some meals and a local guide.
0808 250 7293
Ask exhausted parents what they want to do on holiday and the answer is likely to be ‘as little as possible’: the Caribbean, home of hassle-free all-inclusive holidays, can oblige. Anyone daunted by the lengthy flight can be reassured that the total relaxation when they arrive will more than make up for it – though the activities at Tobago resort Magdalena Grand could tempt them out of their sun-loungers.
Its new ultra-all-inclusive The Grand Experience package includes dining in any of the hotel’s four restaurants, local and international drinks or milkshakes and smoothies for the kids, plus activities such as tennis, pool volleyball, cycling and an introduction to diving. Guests can also catch the free shuttle to Pigeon Point Beach if they want to swap one sunbathing spot for another, though convincing kids to leave Club Cee Cee, where they can see and learn about turtles that lay their eggs along this shore, is another matter.
Book it: A week on the all-inclusive Grand Experience costs from £1,879 per adult and £1,129 per child with Caribtours, based on BA flights via Port of Spain departing October 26, and transfers.
020 7751 0660
Parents who want to sprinkle a bit of Disney magic on their break, but without the transatlantic flight or the need to take a week off work, can squeeze in a short trip to the French version. Mickey, Minnie and friends will be celebrating Halloween throughout October, so encourage visitors to look out for the extra ghosts and pumpkins dotted around the resort.
Book it: Newmarket Holidays offers a three-day trip with coach pick-up, ferry crossings, one-day ticket to Disneyland Park or Walt Disney Studios Park (Park Hopper ticket at a supplement), plus two nights’ accommodation, from £616 departing October 25.
0843 316 1156
Greece’s peak tourist season has come and gone by October, but Crete’s ancient ruins are just as interesting, its mountainous scenery as bewitching and its taverns and restaurants as charming as ever.Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort boasts an enormous Kids’ Ark area, with acres of outdoor space, waterslides, a playground, and Worldwide Kids Company-trained staff on hand.
Plus, there’s an Arsenal Soccer School programme to nurture budding footballers (up to 16) and, new this summer, a junior make-up day (13-plus) or mother-and-child yoga sessions in the Six Senses Spa.
Book it: Prestige Holidays offers a six-night half-board stay departing October 25 from £1,178 per person, based on two adults and two teenagers staying in separate rooms, with easyJet flights from Gatwick and private transfers.
Egypt’s relatively unsettled political situation might make some families think twice, but Red Sea Holidays’ Jason Hilton is quick to provide reassurance when it comes to the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. He says: “It has never figured in the FCO’s travel advisories and we currently have over 2,000 customers enjoying their summer holidays in Sharm.”
Red Sea Holidays has five of its own-brand hotels in the resort suitable for families, with facilities including waterslides, kids’ clubs, and children’s menus. And with prices still lower than those in 2010, it’s not just the year-round sunshine that’ll tempt clients to book.
Book it: Red Sea Holidays offers seven nights’ all-inclusive for a family of four from £2,516 including flights from Gatwick with Monarch.
020 7332 2678
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