Best Family Holiday in Greece • Mark Warner Holidays Lakitira Part One
I always think that it's not until the suitcases are finally back in the loft, the tans have faded and the spamming your friends with photos is a distant memory, that you can truly reflect and appreciate a holiday. When we came home from Kos in July we were raving about the holiday to anyone who vaguely mentioned our sun kissed skin. Everyone was in the "holiday mode" swapping stories and making frantic to do lists before they jetted off or ventured closer to home on a stay cation. We blasted friends and family with "Oh it really is the best family holiday resort ever! We would go back in a heart beat and ooh do you want to look through the 1000+ photos and videos we took?1"
Our holiday tales would have got lost in a wave of posts with blue skies and toes in the sea so I wanted to see how I'd feel at the end of the summer, an honest post of reflection. Was it all too good to be true?!
This post is the start of our adventure in Greece, a series of post sharing our first impressions, our lasting impressions and everything in between. I want to share with you all what the rooms are really like, not the empty brochure photos, which as lovely as they are, never show you if there's room around the sink for all your lotions and potions, how crowded the pool is during the school summer holidays, how expensive the drinks are and whether our fears about a week of buffet food (oh please don't let it all be beige!) came true.
There's too much to fit into one, even two posts! So this post is my introduction to our first family holiday. The very first time in 6 years we have been away on our own, without friends or family. I would love to say we missed them but this time together was an eye opener. We realised just how much, as a family, you need that quality time together. I worried that holiday childcare was going to defeat the object of that illusive quality time I read about on other people's blogs, we feared it would feel as though we were shipping the boys off and would feel guilty for having and dare I whisper it, wanting some time to ourselves! As you can see, it didn't suit us at all...!!!!!
I was anxious Rich would get itchy. Restless with a week in a resort instead of our usual routine of renting a car and daily trips out. We have been extremely lucky to have had some wonderful holidays, family homes from home we know and love. But this felt like we were in for a week of real luxury. No driving, no cooking and ready made gangs of friends for the boys. How could it possibly be anything other than bliss right?!
You can tell I had high expectations as we checked in at Heathrow! I'd read other bloggers posts about the Mark Warner experience, I'd even read some blogger reviews of the Lakitira resort itself, and had my hopes set sky high for the same emotional connection to this little corner of Kos.
The boys were thrilled that Granny took us to her work (Mum is ground staff for BA at T5) and she waved to a few colleagues proudly as we waited at the check out queue to drop our bags. It was funny looking at all the other guests waiting to do the same. I spotted a few children wearing similar clothes to the boys, recognised a lovely Mini Boden hoodie that we had in the suitcase and everyone smiled when you caught their eye. It felt calm, mind you at 5am, I suspect half of them felt like I did, bleary eyed and wishing the flight time was a little more sociable!
The BA charter flight sets the tone from the very start. I quite liked being greeted with a "Good morning Madam", so British and proper. We kissed Mum goodbye and headed through security and straight to the gate which was a short train journey ride from the main terminal building. Along with another family we trundled off in one direction, realising a few minutes later that we had followed each other on auto pilot and gone in the wrong direction! We laughed and scampered back hurrying the children to the right gate and instantly bonded over rolling eyes and a few "well at least we are not the last ones on the plane!" Little did we know that a sweet holiday romance between Sammy and their daughter would blossom over the week and they'd spend the return flight home cuddled up together in one seat!
I'd packed enough activities to last the 4 hour flight and flicked through half a magazine whilst they watched an episode of something on the iPad (Which unbelievably for our technology loving boys stayed in the bag until the flight home!!!) and before we knew it we were soaring over deep blue seas and white surf lapping the edge of the Greek Islands. It's a sight to behold. Quite magical in fact, and that's when the Mark Warner dust started to sprinkle over our heads.
The terrain is so different to Spain which we know so well, flatter almost and the sea a different shade of petrol blue. Not turquoise and lush like the Caribbean but more soulful, richer, more refreshing. Our boys adore the sea, we have to plead with them to stay out of the sandy waters in Southbourne in the winter and Rich grew up sailing the Solent and wake boarding in the reservoir next to Thorpe Park. The first thing we did when we arrived at the resort after commandeering the cool kids seats at the back of the bus (or rather, the spacious air conditioned coach, with only a handful of guests and no raucous "Are you ready for your holiday? I can't hear you..! I said are you ready for your holiday?!") was leave our bags with the waiting line of red shorts and white tops with their hands behind their bags like sun kissed soldiers and dip our toes in the water. The crystal clear water and have a peek at the beach bar which was built into the sand.
Our rooms weren't quite ready when we arrived so we headed to one of the 3 main restaurants in the resort for a buffet lunch. When you first arrive somewhere new, you scan everything wildly don't you?! I was worried I would miss something, and studied the map in the Reception to try and familiarise myself with the different bars, locate the kids beach and suss out where the boys would head to the kid's club the next morning. Saturdays are a day of rest for the childcare staff and all the clubs and water sports at the 2 beaches are closed. When you spend a week watching the staff drag the boats up and down the shoreline, bounding around helping tiny tots on and off windsurfers and digging giant holes in the sand to make one child smile, you realise you are lucky they only have one day off!
You could spot the 2 weekers, the lucky devils, casually walking through the restaurant in their kaftans and coverups, nodding and waving to new holiday buddies across the tables. I wondered whether we'd be lucky enough to meet some pals ending the week swapping Facebook details and emails, just like my family did when we went on all inclusive resort holidays in the past. We noticed children who had clearly settled into the holiday routine, helping themselves to mini puddings, chatting to the waiter (who worked tirelessly and formidably for the whole week during both lunch and dinner service) and hopping table to table desperate to sit with their Junior and Kidz Club co-hauts.
Buffet food can be a sea of beige but this was a feast for bottomless tummies. We started at the well stocked salad bar and then headed to the hot plates, where a daily range of 3 or 4 meat and fish dishes were complimented with pasta, rice, pizza and vegetable dishes. It felt as though they catered for a British audience, despite the other guests who were not part of the Mark Warner package. Our red fabric wrist bands tied us all together in a sort of not so secret society, like being the majority supporters taking up 3/4 of a rugby stadium during a cup final.
Within half an hour or so our rooms were ready, our suitcases delivered at the door and we excitedly opened the door and the boys raced upstairs. The thing that struck us as we walked around the resort was the varying architecture of the hotel accommodation. No high rise blocks, no imposing mass of apartments over the pool, but simple white painted cottages in the village area nestled between brightly coloured floral beds with the taller more inform shaped buildings tucked behind the tennis courts and overlooking the manicured bridge gardens.
We had a pair of adjoining rooms on the first floor of one of the village cottages. I have to say I was glad to see the stair gate at the top of the marble stairs, even though our boys at 4 and 6 probably didn't need it, and we draped our hoodies from the aeroplane over the top and set about exploring.
I am in awe of anyone who manages to take a photo of the perfectly made up room when they arrive. Our boys ran straight to the beds rolling around, laughing and giggling, begging to change into their swimming shorts and jump in the pool! Instead I want to share over the next week or so, the things we loved about the room. The little things like a handy space to open your case and unpack it, enough hangers not to have to double up your "holiday dresses" and a ledge at the end of the bath wide enough for your shampoo and shaving kit, so you don't end up balancing them precariously every time you take a shower.
We couldn't blame the boys for being so desperate to race to the pool, it was hot and the pool was alive with the sound of excitable children making up swimming races and sat up at the Barefoot Bar slurping slush puppies. It's always interesting to visit a resort during the school holidays, to see how busy the pool actually gets, whether you have to be up at the crack of sparrows to secure a sun lounger and whether you can sit on the edge with a book without it getting soaked by teenagers practising their dive bombs!
The pool was open from 9am until 7pm but as the week went on we realised that people often dropped their towels onto a couple of sunbeds on their way to breakfast. Not once could we not find a spot after the 9am mass exodus from breakfast to the children's club drop off points. There was always a few loungers left by the smaller shallow pool and a few on the grassy area towards the shop. It was nice to have a shop on site and 3 days in we had exhausted our aerosol suncreams and needed to raid their Factor 50 range along with two water squirters and a lilo!
Even though they were reasonably priced you didn't fight a flotilla of inflatables as you went for a dip. There was a slight influx of children at 12.30pm when the morning child care session ended whilst the rest headed to lunch with their families and then a post 5.30pm pick up of older children would descend for diving competitions and ball games, whilst the younger children were invited to eat high tea in the Italian restaurant until 6pm.
The first night began with welcome drinks and a debrief from Mark Warner's management staff. Everyone is invited to congregate at the Greek Taverna restaurant for sparkling wine, soft drinks and a heart hello from the enthusiastic Club Manager Jono Kelly. There was no need for a microphone as they all took it in turns to warmly boom their informative introductions to their respective departments, taking us all through the different activities, restaurants and childcare facilities. You picked up on the camaraderie between the rival department heads straight away.
We loved the banter between them, the diving team confident they had the best water sport on offer and the picture perfect sailing team with their bleached braided locks and deep tans smiling broadly at the new set of lily white guests. We couldn't fault the attention of the staff. On that first night and through the whole week. The management should be extremely proud of their team's commitment to every guest's holiday experience. A well spoken, well mannered young team of trustworthy individuals. And by day 3 we were texting our soon to be 18 year old surf instructor nephew, selling him the idea of applying for a position when he finishes school!
We ended up collapsing into bed early on the first night, tucking the boys into the crisp white sheets and leaving the suitcases half unpacked for the next day. A mix of over excitement, a 4am wake up call and the 3 hour time difference ahead made for 4 exhausted Heaths!
But we woke up ready to face a full day, the boys slept all night with the air con gently humming in the background and I opened the curtains (as I did every morning for the whole week) and exclaimed "Ooh it's a sunny day today!" We tootled into the main Terrace restaurant for breakfast and were spoilt for choice. Row upon row of breads, pastries, cereal jars that stretched towards the ceiling and over 20 choices of hot food from the full cooked breakfast options. Yes I counted! Made to order omelettes which Richard immediately made his holiday essential of a morning, and freshly made smoothies or juices and water. And no silly tiny glasses we've experienced before! Hooray! Proper half pint sized glass you could refill as much as you liked.
As the week went on we realised there were some guests far more organised than us, seasoned Mark Warner fans who slipped into the routine with ease from the moment they arrived. We newbies trooped in at 8.45am and a couple of times, decided to give the boys breakfast first and then go back after we had dropped them off at their clubs for a quiet and more civilised breakfast with less demanding requests for sugared pancakes! We'd spotted a friendly face or two who seemed to do the same, with their little boy the same age as Ollie and their little younger girl. We exchanged smiles and joked that we'd never make the 9am drop off and luckily for us, as the week went on, we all became as close as our inseparable boys in the mini club!
It's not just the place that makes a holiday, it's the people and I don't just mean the staff. Part of a holiday for me is the joy of chatting to people around a pool, listening to their stories and sharing a few drinks of an evening. And it felt like we had been sent on a holiday with a ready made group of like minded friends! People just like us, chatting about their hectic lives, their different jobs, funny anecdotes about previous Mark Warner holidays and the more people we met, the more we realised we might just be the only ones who were first timers!
We became social butterflies for the week, I wanted to chat to as many people as possible, hear their thoughts on the resort and others they have visited and tell them about the great campaign the company run with their blogger ambassadors. Their feedback was invaluable. Almost everyone we met was on their second, third, fourth or more Mark Warner holiday. One lovely family has been loyal to the brand for over 9 years but last year thought they might try something different and rented a beautiful apartment in Spain. They said never again!!! The kids desperately missed all the activities, all the friends they were used to making and the grown ups missed their time to be themselves! To take bikes out, to play a game of tennis and sit by the pool for an hour whilst they watched their youngest from a far having the time of their lives learning to sail and wind surf in one morning.
The best thing about the holiday is that everyone is in the same boat (excuse the pun) it appeared as though 99% were families, no one batted an eyelid at the regular hearing of "Are you sure you don't need a wee?" and "I told you you needed a wee, come on then, this way!" and the Mark Warner pros took us under their wing. I hadn't realised just how much like a British pre school the Mini Club would feel like for Ollie. At Lakitira they have created a home from home for children who attend a nursery or pre school environment. I just wished that the website shared some photos so I could have shown Ollie beforehand and put him at ease.
Luckily for anyone who might be tempted to book this resort if you find this post, I arranged with the childcare manager to pop in and snap lots of photos to share in a post dedicated to the childcare facilities next week. We've always had the boys with us in the evenings, or tucked up in bed upstairs as we sat and ate on the patio downstairs, so even after a week, the novelty of wearing pjs whilst your mama and dada are all dressed up didn't wear off! We gave the boys a choice every night, to eat with us or eat earlier and head to movie club at 7.30pm with their friends. Guess what they chose 5/7 nights?! What a testament to the movie night set up. Happy kids, all snuggled together reading books, watching a family favourite, then bedding down in fleecy sleeping bags and dropping off on camp beds before their parents crept in and carried them home to bed. It is a winning combination. We looked around at 8pm and there were no over tired children moaning in the restaurants that they are bored, no children on their parent's phones and the need for the dinner table to be overtaken with iPads and colouring books to keep them quiet. All the things we do normally!!!! There were some older children chatting to their parents, families from other parts of Europe not on the Mark Warner package and a couple of long tables away from the main seating area in the Italian restaurant taken over by the teenage Indie Club. We talked to the boys, listened whilst they recalled every second of their adventures out on a paddle board and were taught a new song every day (the one about a gorilla picking his nose particularly impressed Sammy - Mark Warner you totally know the way to a 6 year old boy's heart!) at high tea. We sat and had a drink with them as they ate fish, chicken, sweetcorn, peas or broccoli, rice and pasta, pizza and bolognese. If they had a few chips at lunchtime we were mean and said they needed something different at dinner and we didn't feel at any point like we were missing a family experience. There's a reason why it's an award wining formula!
You can see why there's too much to cram into one post, or two! My role as an Ambassador is to really show you what it feels like to experience a holiday at Lakitira. I want you to feel like you have read the first chapter of a holiday book. A taster, a scene setter. I think you are going to like what I share with you next...! And all good holiday reads have a happy ending, right?!
I firmly believe what makes a happy family holiday is stimulated, contented, happy children. They aren't interested in the interior decor of the room, whether it has a state of the art shower and complimentary mini bar. It's about children who talk about the holiday for months to come and in our case, are emailing and messaging their new friends desperately hoping we can all book for the same time next year for a reunion!
We lost our hearts to Lakitira. When we landed at Heathrow and walked through boarder control the officer asked us if we'd just come back from the Mark Warner holiday as he was off to a nearby resort the following week and was regretting not booking with Mark Warner. We didn't want to ruin his excitement but simply said, there's a certain magic you experience with them that we've never had before. So next year make sure you book with Mark Warner!
A month down the line we are still raving to anyone who will listen about our time in Greece and wishing we were back there. Now that's the sign of a truly great holiday don't you think?! I have lots and lots more photos to share, but at the risk of this post taking even longer to load, I will save them for Part 2!
If you are looking for a last minute break check out Mark Warner's fab deals to Lakitira. And if you are not tied to school holidays, make sure you check the prices for September and take advantage of the sunshine whilst we traipse the boys to school in the rain!
If you book your holiday before the 30th September 2015 Mark Warner are offering a £50pp discount on your total holiday price using the code LucyBlog50. That's almost your upgrade paid for for full board!
Disclaimer *I am a Mark Warner Ambassador this year and everyone we spoke to say their holiday was 100% worth every penny. Once you got MW you never want to go back!*
ps. I think Mark Warner need to start a new hashtag #mwmagic ;)
T&Cs: Get an additional £50pp discount on all Summer 15 & 16 bookings made by 30 September. Not valid for free child place and can’t be offered in retrospect.