Holidaying with a toddler, brave but brilliant. In the sleep deprived fog of new parenthood the thought of long plane journeys, time differences and dramatic temperature swings made the prospect of travelling distinctly unappealing. This meant that, until recently, the furthest my husband and I have ventured since the birth of our daughter Matilda in November 2015, was a simple self-catering cottage in Scotland, complete with pre-ordered Ocado delivery.
Nineteen months later and the lure of foreign travel has started to return.If truth be told the idea of somebody else doing the cooking, cleaning and washing up for a week was also an enticing prospect. A couple of years ago we spent three blissful weeks island hopping around Greece’s Cyclades Islands. This was a deliciously unchild friendly holiday, our route was spontaneous and based on the idiosyncrasies of the Greek ferry system and scouring last minute deals in boutique hotels. Since then we've dreamt of a return the idyllic Greek Islands and when we came across Mark Warner's flagship Levante resort it seemed like the perfect mix of Greek island magic combined with a very child friendly setting.
Let's be honest, travelling with a 19 month old is never going to be a walk in the park but we really felt that Mark Warner go the extra mile in making it as easy as possible. The flights were chartered at very child friendly times, our 08:45 departure, 15:40 return flights and 25 minute transfer meant no early starts or over tired children. We thought we hit the jackpot when we discovered that the couple in the seats in front not only had a little girl exactly the same age but were equally eager to tuck into the onboard gin and tonics!
Prior to this holiday I'd been a bit nervous about staying in a hotel with child in tow. I had visions of us being marooned on a balcony tip toeing to pick up room service night after night, lest we disturbed the sleeping babe. We're clearly not alone in thinking that doesn't sounds like much fun as most of the accommodation at Levante is interconnecting rooms or suites. We stayed in a spacious deluxe suite, which is split into two areas with a large sliding door in between. This was brilliant – it meant Matilda could sleep in her 'wing' whilst we relaxed next door complete with the luxury of light and a blaring TV.
It must be said though that we actually only spent a couple of evenings relaxing in the room. Mark Warner offer both a babysitting service at the very reasonable 14Euro/hour as well as an evening listening service, run by the childcare team, which is included in the price of the holiday. The children arrive to watch a short film and then are encouraged to rest/sleep in the beds and cots provided. Despite my initial worry of Matilda settling for the childcare team she was absolutely fine, receiving lots of cuddles from the lovely nannies and then snoozing in one of the cots. It felt a real treat to go out for adult only dinners out on consecutive nights!
In my opinion the excellent childcare facilities are what really makes a Mark Warner Holiday extra special and wonderfully relaxing. The childcare centre runs for children from four months – 17 years and split into age related groups with time tables jam full of activities. The childcare centre adheres to British childcare standards meaning as well as all the nannies being UK qualified native English speakers, they also follow best practice guidelines. In Matilda's case this was one nanny to three children and a designated key worker, in our case the wonderfully calm and smiley Emily. We also noticed that at key times, such as pick up and drop off there was always at least one other member of staff on hand to assist and all nannies carried a radio with them should they need urgent help.
We were particularly struck by the level of available for children with SEN. As long as Mark Warner are informed on booking then they can provide 1:1 care with a trained nanny. Once in the resort the team assess the child's abilities and put together a bespoke care plan involving the existing children's clubs as much or as little as appropriate.
We found that Matilda being in childcare for half a day worked perfectly for us. We spent the morning splashing in pool or playing on the beach, then after lunch and an afternoon nap (parents included!) we dropped Matilda off at the childcare centre where she enjoyed activities such as swimming, sandcastle making, singing and story time. We then had three whole hours to do lovely grown up things like drink cocktails, sunbathe and attempt the many sporting activities on offer. We were delighted to find Mark Warner cleverly co-ordinates the water sports and activity timetables to fit around the childcare sessions meaning you never have to miss out due to childcare.
After we picked Matilda up from childcare we went straight into children's tea, or rather children's tea and beer o'clock as it was dubbed when we reunited with our friends from the plane. We are trying our best to bring Matilda up to have halfway decent table manners and a varied, healthy diet but it was a relief to see a plethora of plastic plates, bibs and even fishfingers on hand for those fussy days.
If the highlight of my holiday was the quality and abundance of childcare, my husband's was definitely the range of activities on offer. He attempted a different sport each day and did not manage anywhere near everything on offer. There's a beachfront aerobics pavilion, extensive tennis courts, six swimming pools, including one dedicated to lane swimming and a large cycle centre.
Cycling is the newest sport in Mark Warner's repertoire and is proving incredibly popular. We're both keen road cyclists and were kicking ourselves that we hadn't realised cycling was one of the activities on offer, next time we will definitely be bringing out the lycra, cleats and pedals to make the most of the location. However any disappointment we may have had about the cycling was soon overcome by the range of water sports on offer.
The waterfront is the jewel in the crown of Levante. It's immense and there's something to suit all abilities, from absolute beginners like me, to another guest who casually mentioned he was heading to the sailing world championships later that month and everyone in between, like my occasional sailor husband. There are courses available to teach the basics, refresh skills or provide challenges for those who are more experienced. If you fancy something a bit more relaxing you can turn up and sign out windsurfers, water skis, wakeboards, scuba diving (for an additional cost) snorkels and paddleboards. The latter I can highly recommend even if you're a total water sport novice like me. With the exception of scuba diving we were staggered that all the activities and equipment on offer were included in the cost of the holiday. To say my husband was like a child in a sweetshop would be in no way an exaggeration.
If I'm honest before the holiday I was a bundle of nerves. Would travel be okay, would it be horrific staying in a hotel with her and would staying in a resort be a bit too restrictive for us after our previous autonomous travel. It turns out all those fears were entirely unfounded. On the last day my husband turned and said: 'I totally get it, this place is made for people with kids'. Safe to say we're already planning our return next year.
TRIED AND TESTED CHEAT SHEET
When to go:
We went at the beginning of July and it was hot, mid 30s everyday. As we're not yet tied to school holidays and with the benefit of hindsight I would probably have gone maybe a month earlier, in June it's supposed to be mid/high 20s. If you're going with older children during term time it would be worth checking that the children's clubs are running.
Where to stay:
I don't think there is a bad room as the location is stunning. We loved our pool side deluxe suite but couldn't help looking enviously at the apartments that have stunning sea views. Unsurprisingly these book up very quickly.
Do take advantage of the activities included. I didn't really venture down to the waterfront until midway through the holiday and I'm kicking myself that I didn't try the water sports sooner. The staff are so friendly and patient even with complete beginners and the range of equipment is incredible.
We went half board but if we were to go again we would definitely pay the 90Euro supplement to full board, so all snacks and lunches were included. There are tour companies and a car hire company in reception so do take advantage of these to explore the stunning island. Rhodes Old Town is stunning and the ancient ruins at Lindos are not to be missed.
Things to Avoid:
The beach is a bit pebbly especially by the sea, I would certainly recommend packing shoes you don't mind getting wet, especially for little ones. The menu in the main restaurant is the same each week. We stayed a week and were more than happy with the quality and variety on offer, however guests who were staying a fortnight did say it gets a bit repetitive towards the end of the holiday.
For a week's stay at Levante Resort Rhodes, Greece prices start from £699 for adults and £649 for children based on two people sharing.
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