I know a lot of people don’t take their young kids abroad, but we were determined we’d still travel once we had kids. So far we have reined in our travelling to Europe, however, we are planning to go to America in the next year, so that will change! We have been quite specific in our hotel requirements, which rules out quite a lot of hotels. I do wonder if hubby and I are a bit picky when it comes to hotel and holidays, however, we’ve now had three holidays abroad with kids: Menorca when Toddler H was 18 months old, Majorca when Toddler H was 2, and Baby B 4 months old, and now Lanzarote with Toddler H, 3.5 years, and Baby B, 11 months old. Each has been a success and we’ve had pretty much the same must have holiday criteria and have modified our criteria with new discoveries (kids club!). It does seem like a successful mix, so here are my top tips for choosing our perfect family holiday in Europe. Obviously, these are ideals for us as we are now, with a 3 year old and 11 month old, and we maybe do have to compromise sometimes…
1. One bedroom apartment
Must have a separate bedroom, so we can relax once the kids are in bed without having to sit on the balcony as out of season it can be cooler. Having a separate bedroom also means we have somewhere to sit and extra storage space.
Update: we stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment in Ibiza and it was lovely having our own room while the girls shared. We got to be us too!
This usually ensures we have a fridge so we can store any extra food and keep bottles of water cool.
3. Kids pool
Kids pools, and pools which have a gentle slope or water features are great fun. We’ve now discovered the joys of a heated outdoor pool, although we probably wouldn’t choose a hotel based on if it had a heated pool, but it was a really nice extra even in May!
4. Playpark and/or soft play!
Great for running off energy, and providing some ‘normality’. It’s also great for providing a routine.
5. Kid friendly restaurants
Ikea high chairs if possible. Yes, they’re often visible in photos of the restaurants and we find they are usually so clean, and easy to give a wipe over ourselves. We once stayed at a hotel in the UK and the high hair was so laid back it caused H to choke.
Many hotels also have separate kids buffets, colourful Ikea style plates and plastic cups for kids. The food at Los Zocos was brilliant – carrot and cucumber sticks, pasta, chips, fish fingers, loads of fruit. (Jardin De Menorca, didn’t have a kids buffet, but H still ate fine, so this really is a nice touch). It;s also nice that the kids buffets we’ve seen have been lower so kids can choose their food themselves.
6. Blackout curtains –
Not always easy to find out if these are present but TUI Family life hotels are supposed to have them as standard.
7. Mini disco –
Since H has been 2 she’s loved dancing so this is a lovely way to end a day. Do watch out for timings though as the kids mini disco starts at 8.30 at our hotel in Lanzarote which was too late really.
8. All inclusive –
Meals and unlimited drinks just make life easier. We did stay half board in Menorca at Jardin De’ Menorca and it worked really well as there was a small shop attached to the hotel which sold everything we needed including fresh bread, baguettes, croissants. So every lunch time we popped there bought some fresh bread and kept cheese and ham in the fridge in our apartment.
Hotel within 30 minutes of the airport. We now feel H is big enough for the transfer bus, however still feel B is safest strapped to me in the baby carrier. Given this and the fact that we don’t want to add hours onto our journey before and after a flight, we’d rather stay close to the airport. In Majorca we were an hour away, B was 4 months old and asleep in the carrier, it worked ok, but still felt too far. Safety wise, the girls are both rear facing, as extended rear facing is safer, so the less time they’re sitting in a bus with a lap-strap the better. I also feel that B is desperate to crawl and stand everywhere, never sitting still, so longer on a bus at this stage would be a nightmare.
10. TUI Kids club
The Bon Aire in Majorca TUI Family Life hotel and Loz Zocos in Lanzarote was also booked through TUI, and had a TUI kids club (the brochure/online listings do specify if a kids club is hotel run or TUI run). H went to the creche in Menorca, as she was 2 years 10 months, and the kids club starts at age 3. She went twice and loved being able to play with new toys, read books and do crafts. After two hours she came away with a huge art folder – it was much more creative and structured than she comes home from playschool with! Actually, each day was themed and they decorated the door to the creche every day – hanging fish, seaweed, the works.
Given how much H loved kids club we did try to look for a TUI Family Life hotel again, but as we were booking last minute, we could only find TUI hotels that were over an hour from the airports in the Balaerics, Canaries and Algarve. Instead, we chose a hotel that had a TUI run kids club. The kids club at Los Zocos was fantastic, brilliant themes, and run by some very lovely ladies. TUI kids club leaders are DBS checked and trained in the UK, so we were assured H was in safe hands. Kids must also be signed in and out by parents only (and signatures are checked).
We chose an early morning flight out to ensure we got as much time on our first day and also didn’t risk everyone else being disturbed as they wanted to sleep. We chose not to go to Greece as all the flights we found left late in the evening, arriving around midnight – we couldn’t face 11 month old Baby B screaming overtired, and Toddler H, being out of sorts. For the return flight we chose one at 11am which we thought would allow us to have breakfast before leaving. This is a strategy we’ve used on each family holiday abroad and it’s worked well, albeit excluded quite a few locations.
I have to add that the flying with a baby – an 11 month old – was absolutely fine, and similarly flying with a toddler – an 18 month old – was also fine and my flying tips for travelling with a toddler has helped ever since.
The first thing we actually do after selecting the counries we would like to visit, is to filter by the ‘official rating’ and the Trip Advisor rating if it is an option. Usually we set the official rating to 4+ and the Trip Advisor rating to 4+ as well. If we can get both as 5’s we’ll definitely go for that, but it does seem an unlikely combination – someone always has something to complain about! In reality we usually carefully read Trip Advisor reviews (viewing by 1* and 5*), and look out for any incidents of lots of illnesses being mentioned at the same time, or similar incidents which we’d rather not be part of.
I would thoroughly recommend the hotels we have chosen while travelling with kids, although it’s worth noting that my list above is based on our ideals and Jardin De’ Menorca is half board (to be honest, not a dealbreaker!), and Bon Aire in Majorca is 1 hour 15 minutes from the airport (fine with a 3 year old, but perhaps not really with younger children).
Update October 2018: we’ve now also flown to Ibiza, a 2 hour flight, flying with one year old Baby B and almost 4 year old H – again not the trauma it would have been had we not prepared. I’ve also got better at packing for family holidays as a family of four and packing cubes are a great help!