MY ENDURING memory of flying Ryanair with a toddler is of my two-year-old sprawled out on the runway at Cork Airport. Check in and security had been a breeze.
And then we emerged from the terminal building.
Engines blasting, wind gusting, she froze on the spot. Her little face crumpled. She collapsed in a heap and there she lay, spread-eagled on the tarmac, howling. All the while, passengers scrambled past us — some even stepped over her — in their desperation to find a place on the non-assigned seat flight. My priority boarding passes were of little use to me.
Eventually, panic-stricken that I wouldn’t find two seats for us side by side, I threw my carry on bags at a random stranger and dragged her kicking and screaming on to the plane.
Truth was, no one even noticed. Worse than any rush-hour intercity train, everyone was far too preoccupied trying to secure seats and baggage space in the overhead lockers. I was lucky; I found us the last two adjoining seats.
From then on, flights with kids were strictly non Ryanair affairs.
Ryanair has gone to great lengths to push a new customer-first policy. And with three kids in tow now — the then-two-year-old is now eight, her siblings three and one — we knew we would really put them to the test.
Flights booked and, crucially, seats assigned, we readied ourselves for check in at Dublin Airport. It was seamless. We made our way on to the plane, browsed a very child-friendly on-board menu and savoured a stress-free three-and-a-half-hour flight to Comiso in Sicily. All the while, the air hostesses were on hand to help, heating children’s meals in bowls of hot water, smiling sympathetically when the one year old cried through a bout of turbulence.
It was like flying with a different airline. And it was just as stress-free when we landed. In the good old days, my husband and I were happiest exploring Cuba in a rental car, booking accommodation as we travelled. But, of course, all that changes when you have a young family. These days, with a toddler and baby, it’s package options all the way. And all the better if you can get one that cooks your meals for you.
So we opted for Club Med.
And glad we were of our package option too when we emerged from the flight at 9pm local time to find transport right there waiting for us, complete with car seat. Every box had been ticked, and luckily so, with three kids ready to fall into bed.
Sicily’s Club Med is based in Kamarina, near Ragusa, a 20-minute drive from the very compact and accessible airport in Comiso. Just three Irish families arrived on the Ryanair flight, and five members of staff were there to greet us with welcome drinks. Dinner had been held for us if we felt like it, they told us, otherwise breakfast was served from 7am and there would be a tour of the resort at 10am the next morning. As first impressions go, it was right up there.
We were soon to discover that there was so much happening at the resort, our accommodation — a two-bedroom ground floor apartment — would be little more than a fleeting base for quick showers, short naps for the baby or a little respite from the Italian sun. The only home comfort we missed was a comfy couch to relax with a glass of wine while the kids were in bed. Again, all our baby needs were met, from a cot to a bottle warmer.
We emerged that first morning to a package holiday base like no other. There are no high rise complexes here. Instead, the cobble-stoned, flower-lined pathways are a little piece of authentic Italy. And it’s safe for the kids too — the only vehicles that can travel on them are little golf buggies. We found our bearings quickly enough thanks to our orientation meeting though we both agreed a little welcome pack detailing the facilities and activities would have been a welcome addition to the room.
One of the biggest chores at home with a young family is the constant cooking; perhaps the biggest indulgence of all that we savoured at Club Med was seven days away from the kitchen. We strolled down to breakfast that first morning and had a taste of what was to come. Pancakes, croissants, fruit, bacon, eggs, fresh bread — the list goes on.
Later at lunch, there was a choice of top quality steaks, salads, burgers, pasta (three different types) and pizza (about four varieties here). And at dinner, it was more of the same. Except this time you helped yourself to bottles of wine from the fridge, with beer on tap. And we were regulars at the ice cream counter, open after lunch and dinner.
Somehow, if you were still peckish, there was tapas daily by the bar from around 11am and cakes from 4pm. Throughout the day, drinks, from minerals to beer, coffee to wine, were there for the taking. We loved too that Club Med really strived to serve authentic Sicilian specialities each night. This was real Italian eating, a rare feat on an all-inclusive package deal. Young kids were looked after too, with a special baby food area. It was flawless. There were a few restaurant options for dinner, but we always dined outside in the main venue, Les Dunes. We soon realised our days would revolve around food. Breakfast was followed by the beach. A quick change for lunch, and then it was off to the pool (the kids’ pool was a highlight, with plenty of shade and even little boats for the smallies). A short nap for the baby, then there was enough time for a shower before dinner. It was the most perfect of holiday routines.
The evening meals had a themed dress code — ‘elegant’ one night for example, ‘red and white’ on another. Us typically cynical Irish smirked and paid no attention, but it was all embraced on the continent. We had a similar reaction to the grown-up dance-offs in the evenings by the bar, reminiscent of the line dancing fad that took over Irish pubs in the ’90s. And even by the end of the week we still couldn’t get our heads around the midday pool workouts.
The list of adult activities is quite something — think tennis, golf, sailing, trapeze and scuba diving. But no one does kids’ holidays quite like Club Med. Our eight year old chose not to take up the top-notch kids’ club option (the itinerary included everything from sailing to holding lizards). But she had no need for it when she met seven-year-old Charley from Dublin. They bonded over poolside swims and after-dinner kids’ discos. There was a kids’ club option for the three year old too, which we didn’t opt for, but it explained the childfree couples by the pool each day who were surrounded by kids later at dinner each night. The childcare staff didn’t stop working when the kids went back to their parents either — they performed stage shows in the evenings after dinner by the bar. We even spotted a few of them performing in the ‘theatre’, a huge circus tent where family shows were performed nightly, from all-singing all-dancing cabarets, to circus-like trapeze acts. If you thought Mrs Rabbit is the ultimate multi-tasker on Peppa Pig, truly she’s got nothing on the staff at Club Med. These shows were followed by kids’ discos by the bar each evening where the children, including the one-year-old, danced the night away. It was our holiday highlight.
We were anxious to show the kids the real Sicily too so we rented a car in the adjoining Club Med hotel and set off for Mount Etna, especially with the eight year old in mind — she was learning about volcanoes at school. Local drivers, we soon learned, regularly overtake on a whim, even if it does mean passing out three trucks on a corner. So we took it slow and steady. Mount Etna, as a result, became a three-hour trip. It was a stunning natural site, but the facilities were a let down, made up of countless souvenir shops and a booth to pay for parking and run down toilets (60c). Nevertheless, it is still my daughter’s biggest talking point of the holiday.
On the way home, we ate pizza and pasta in a real Sicilian restaurant in the beautiful Syracuse, and saved room for some sensational ice cream. If braving the Sicilian roads isn’t for you, then the hotel has tours of the best sites, from nearby markets to the further afield Etna. If you don’t opt to leave the resort — and really, with the facilities on offer you shouldn’t have to — on an all-inclusive holiday like this, there’s no need to put your hand in your pocket. There are two shops on site providing essentials and souvenirs though prices, as can only be expected on a holiday resort, can be steep. Other costs include a €20 fee to hook up to wifi, and a €32 euro fee to retain your room for longer if your flight is later in the day (as ours was). Plus there’s the standard regional travel tax on departure of a euro per day per adult.
But on the whole, the best part of an all-inclusive holiday is arriving at an airport knowing your holiday, right down to an evening glass of wine or an afternoon ice cream, is already paid for. Yes, spontaneous road trips through Cuba might be off limits for now with young kids in tow, but really, you just don’t care when Club Med provides family breaks like these.
Seven nights in Club Med Sicily with Sunway Holidays on an all inclusive basis including flights, airport transfers, 20kg bag, resort representative service and all taxes, starts from €949 per adult and €659 for a child under 12 and €398 for child under five; www.clubmedsunway.ie or phone Sunway 01-2886828
Cork based Dawson Travel has a Fuertaventura special this July staying in the Oasis Duna self catering apartments. The accommodation is a stone’s throw from the Baku Waterpark, a must-visit attraction. Prices start from €2,099 (2 plus 2).
A land/cruise combo is on offer with Insight Vacations departing August 27. The company does not include flights but is quoting a seven-day package for which prices start at €1,149. Included are three nights in Athens and visits to Mykonos, Kusadasi, Santorini, Patmos and Heraklion. Details on www.insightvacations.ie or call 01-7753803.
YOU CAN PLAN NOW FOR YOUR WINTER SKI TRIP TO BULGARIA
Travel Solutions is expanding its business with the launch of a new Balkan Ski division. The Belfast-based company is the only tour operator in Ireland to offer winter ski holidays to Bulgaria, with weekly departures from December 28 until March 15, available from €574 per person for seven nights. Details on www.travel-solutions.co.uk.
STENA Line offers Irish holidaymakers the chance to save up to 15 per cent off self-catering holidays for two adults and up to four children, when booked by June 30. Four-night breaks start from €545 including stays with Haven in various venues. Visit www.stenaline.ie/havenoffers or call 01-2047733.