A while ago I wrote about my ten travel essentials and it won me a place as an ambassador for Mark Warner holidays. I know! How amazing is that? The chance to take my children away for a week of rest and relaxation, reporting back on how we found our break, is an absolute dream job, especially as without it I doubt I would have plucked up the courage to travel abroad with two kids on my own.
At the end of May we travelled to Levante Beach Resort in Rhodes, Greece, and had our first adventure abroad just the three of us. I mean we have been away on our own before several times – staying the odd night away in the UK – and last year we went to Portugal with friends – but this time we were going it alone. Little old me, outnumbered by my babies, setting off in search of a good time! A bit dramatic perhaps but it felt like a challenge nonetheless, albeit an extremely fun and exciting one.
The first time I took my two children on holiday abroad as a single parent I wanted it make sure it was as hassle-free as possible. I wanted fun, relaxation, plenty of activities to keep us all occupied but on a practical level I wanted everything to be as smooth and straightforward as possible.
On my holiday wish list were easy transfers, good quality accommodation, a place to swim and play in the water, lovely food and plenty of opportunity for my children Sam, eight and Florence, three, to play together and make friends.
I can honestly say I found Levante to offer all these things, exceeding my expectations and making me wonder when I can fit in another trip!
We’ve never been on a resort holiday before; I’ve always chosen to go self-catering, booking an apartment or villa, our own flights and heavily researching local towns, beaches, restaurants and things to do.
A holiday like this is different in that all the ingredients for a relaxing holiday are right there on your doorstep. Or in our case, within the view of our balcony!
Levante has a really relaxed but luxurious feel to it, everything is pretty new and in great condition. I couldn’t fault the room – we had a suite overlooking the main pool and it was spotlessly clean and kitted out with everything we might need from the beach towels they provide to a fridge, kettle (essential!) with tea and coffee and even a bottle of white wine and fruit for our arrival. There was a king size bed in one room with a sliding door to another which had twin beds and the bathroom. Both looked out onto a large balcony which had its own table and chairs and a clothes airer at one side – essential for wet swimming gear and the inevitable kids’ washing!
The resort has four swimming pools, a large restaurant and two cafes, a tennis centre, cycling centre, play area, gym, spa and a beach. Just a short walk down from our room and we were on the sands, where there were plenty of Mark Warner staff on hand to let us know about the watersports going on down there and how we could make the most of them.
Then there is the childcare. I have never been on a holiday with childcare before so I was pretty excited about this – a bit of break for me and also a chance for Sam and Flo to play with kids their own age without getting too bored of being away just with me!
There is so much to write about from this holiday that I almost don’t know where to start, but I’ve decided to focus this post on the resort and our holiday in general, a second on why Levante is so good for families and a third – and this will be a juicy one – a no-holds barred account on holidaying solo with two young kids!
On a holiday like this you will find people who are heavily into particular sports, experienced sailors say who can just walk down to the beach, sign a boat out and go for a sail; but you will also find families like ours who are total novices but eager to have a go.
Sam really took to it and although he can have problems with concentration managed to stay focused and learn the basics in the time he was there. It even led to a few “Oh I can sail now” comments to his new friends around the pool in the afternoon – he’s never been one to be short on confidence!
With Sam away learning how to sail I had some time alone with Flo on those mornings, as she was booked into childcare every afternoon (more on this later).
The first morning I was itching to get out onto the sea and so booked Flo and I onto a parent and child sailing trip. It’s so easy to book these sessions, you just go down to a ‘shack’ on the beach and book a time, giving your room number so the additional cost – if there is one – is added to your tab.
I really liked this tab system at Levante; every time you order a drink at one of the bars, buy an ice cream or lunch, you have the option of either paying straight away or adding it to your tab. I know this could be dangerous but I found it really handy and it kind of took away the need to keep track of how much cash I had on me each day, as well as cut down on bank charges for using my card abroad by keeping transactions to a minimum.
Getting back to the sailing, the trip was really fun and we went out for about half an hour on a small boat with a member of the Mark Warner team. We had Sarah and she was so lovely, we had a good chat about what it’s like to work for the company (fun by all accounts!) and what the other resorts are like. We also managed to sail over to the boat Sam was on and give him a wave!
Another activity we did at sea was the crazy sofa, a holiday highlight for all of us. It’s a giant inflatable sofa – well more like a circular bed with a back to lean on – which is towed around the water by a speed boat. I’m usually up for trying anything and wanted to let Sam and Flo have a go on anything they wanted, but this was definitely the most fun thing we could all do together. I thought Florence was a bit young but was assured she would be fine, we would all be wearing life jackets and I could signal to the boat if I wanted it to speed up, slow down or stop.
We waded out to a small sailing boat which took us a short distance to the sofa, and the ride was ready to go. It was so much fun being thrown about like that, it was fast enough to make us all giggle and be slightly scared but not so much that it wasn’t fun. Florence was wedged in between Sam and I and loved every second! The ride lasted about 20 minutes and was worth every penny of the 30 Euros we paid.
Aside from the waterfront activities there is a brilliant tennis centre at Levante, and on one of the afternoons where I was hanging out just with Sam we managed to get a game in. A game! Did you hear that? I mean neither of us can actually hit the ball over the net but we had a good half hour of fun trying.
The good thing about it was that we just signed up when we saw there was a free court and there was no pressure to really do more than practice and have fun. There is a full timetable of coaching and social matches if you want to get more involved, but plenty of room for those who just want a knockabout too.
I didn’t try the cycling but that seemed to be one of the most popular activities, particularly with the men (enter the middle aged man in lycra, aka the Mamil!). I might have given it a go had I more time on my own, you can sign up for the group rides or just hire a bike and take off on your own, so I think I would have liked to do that if I was with another adult maybe.
There is a full programme of fitness activities like running groups and mini triathlons but the one that appealed to me most was the beach front yoga. As that was always early in the morning there was no way I could join in but again, it looked like a great chance to have a go at an activity in a beautiful setting.
The childcare is split into two sessions – morning from 9-12 and afternoon 2.30-5.30. The younger children get one session and the older ones can do the whole day if they want to – or look at the timetable of activities and dip in and out depending soon what they fancy doing.
As we were booked onto the Levante trip quite late – I asked to change destinations to allow me to travel from Manchester rather than Gatwick – Sam was only booked into childcare for the last three days of our trip, which is why Mark Warner booked him onto the sailing club at the start of the week instead.
It’s worth mentioning that there is no daytime childcare on Saturdays and most of the activities are off too, meaning people can have a family day or like us, explore somewhere outside the resort on an excursion or by taking the bus to Rhodes town.
This meant that for me, the first four days of the holiday were three days where I had Flo in the mornings and Sam in the afternoons, and one day when we were all together (Saturday).
The final three days I had some time to myself in the afternoons as both children were at the kids clubs – which they absolutely loved by the way.
It meant that I managed to go on two runs (out of the resort and along the beachfront), spend an a few hours reading my book by the adults-only (i.e. quiet!) pool, have a massage in the spa and go for a few proper swims.
I have to say I loved having the chance to spend some time alone on holiday relaxing rather than being mum, but I do think those three afternoons were plenty for me. I like my own company and feel I need it in regular supply to stay sane, but there was one evening when being alone really hit home and I felt pretty low.
There is an evening listening service at Levante, where you can take your little ones in their pyjamas to watch a film in the childcare building just next to the main restaurant. The older ones chill out on beanbags and the little ones – in another room with a younger film – sit together and watch before being settled into sleeping bags on mini mattresses so they can fall asleep during the second half of the movie.
Sam and Flo absolutely loved this, they thought it was so cool that they could go and hang out with their friends and I think Flo was so tired that she appreciated a bit of an early sleep rather than staying up with us until around 10.30pm. Sam watch the film once I think and Florence two or three times; there was just one night when they both went together, leaving me feeling a bit lonely without them there. Who’d have thought it, after craving some alone time, but it really showed me that I need them just as much as they need me!
I think looking back it was just timing but I can honestly say I felt better when I picked them up and brought them back to the room! I’ll go into this more in a later post but just want to stress it was nothing to do with the childcare, just how I was feeling on that evening.
The childcare is run very much like a nursery back at home. All the staff are super friendly and capable and obviously love spending time with the little ones. The activities are really varied and security is excellent. I never once worried about them being at the kids clubs and they really looked forward to going. A bit of a revelation for me on this holiday I must say!
I’ll write more about this side of things in a later post, which will be all about young ones at Mark Warner.
Our holiday was half board so breakfast and dinner were included, with the option of upgrading to all inclusive. We didn’t do that and didn’t really see anyone who did, as most people are out and about in the daytime anyway and enjoy eating in the snack bars which are by the main pool and the smaller heated pool nearer the beach.
We also lunched on our balcony a few times with supplies bought from the shop on site – which is excellent by the way and sells things like food, wine, inflatables, postcards, sun cream and toys.
The food in the main restaurant was so lovely and fresh; there was just so much choice too, it made eating with children extremely easy as they could help themselves to what they wanted without the need for ordering, waiting and wondering if they’d like what they chose!
We ate outside in the covered area overlooking the resort, and there were staff on hand to keep us in full supply of drinks, refilling my coffee cup several times at breakfast (thank you!) and wine in the evening (same again!).
Breakfast for the kids was usually a fresh waffle or pancake, followed by some bacon or sausage for Sam and more pancakes for Flo. There was loads of fresh fruit on offer, muffins, juice, omlettes, about ten varieties of yogurt, cake, even Greek salad was around in the morning – I still can’t understand who would fancy olives for breakfast but each to their own!
In the evenings the menu changed each day but there was always some fresh grilled meat and fish, loads of salad, pizza, traditional Greek dishes, just so much choice that I can’t begin to include everything. There was no chance of you not finding something you liked though and everyone I spoke to raved about the food.
It’s just another thing that makes a holiday like this so good. You don’t have to venture far for anything and it makes it all so easy and relaxing. With everything to hand it leaves time to be as active or as chilled as you want to be, nothing is too much trouble for the staff and you really do feel so welcome.
I know my children would love to return to Levante and I think this holiday has set the standard for them pretty high! I am just so pleased that I was offered the chance to go and review the resort, as without that opportunity I don’t know if I would have plucked up the courage to go abroad with the kids on my own. Now I’ve done it I know I can and we all came home happy, relaxed and if it’s possible that little bit closer.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and if anyone is thinking of booking Levante and has any questions feel free to message me. There will be more on this holiday and single parent trips coming soon!