Travel secrets: well-run children’s clubs contribute to a fun family holiday
There is a line in A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, where the bear says: “We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew that we were having fun.”
That was the case when my children were growing up. But now I am a grandmother and I am aware of the significance of making memories. Many of my friends pay for school fees or take out mortgages; we are not so practical. Instead, we treat our children, and their children, to holidays. Glorious, indulgent memory-making trips – with the added bonus that we get to go along, too.
I could argue that it is educational. Travel expands the mind, and exposing young eyes to different cultures and new experiences is, without doubt, one of the best gifts you can give any child. I grew up in India and travelled widely, an opportunity for which I will always be grateful.
But if I am honest, that is a positive spin-off. The purpose of our holidays is to have fun, and fill the memory bank. Instead of looking at the location in reference to temples, museums and art galleries, or appraising the spa and the restaurants, my first task these days is to check out the kids’ clubs.
When our children were little, the only people who provided activity clubs were companies like Club Med. It looked great on paper, though in practice it was not entirely successful. They took a no-nonsense approach, where children had to be dropped off at a certain hour and not collected until the session was over. Ours would howl when we left them, and a lot of time was spent creeping back, peeking over walls to see if peace had been restored. In the end, we concluded there were more minuses than pluses. There was also the language barrier. My daughter, who was barely old enough to speak English, learnt the word “fini” and, it has to be said, used it often in the context of the club.
Children’s clubs have come a long way since then. Nearly every resort now has one. They are as routine as the spa or the gym, but usually not as well used. Many are rather sad places: large rooms with very few children, who appear to have been dumped there while the parents are at play. Others are used as playrooms, with the parents waiting in the wings, still in charge.
Research is essential. I learnt the hard way. Is the bedroom en suite? Tick. Does it have a kids’ club? Tick. Children are fierce critics, and unless you are the sort of parents who send them whether they like it or not, the chances are you will find yourself in a hotel chosen entirely because it has a kids’ club, with children who hardly use it.
At Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort in Morocco, my grandchildren broke the record. It took about 10 seconds for them to pass judgement. No amount of half-hearted persuasion would make them change their minds. Some kids’ clubs have appealed more, but often because these allow the children to spend most of the time watching films. On that basis, they may as well stay at home with the iPad.
We spent the new year at an English seaside hotel. Most of the guests had first been there as children themselves. Their strategy was not to have a permanent club, but to arrange an hour here and there, for games, a magician or a nature trail. It worked well, and our grandchildren signed up for everything as did most others, but their timetable determined ours. Cliff walks that had to be finished at a certain time, and meals eaten quickly or slowly to meet imposed deadlines.
Over the last four years, though, I have become smarter at reading between the lines. Last month I triumphed when I took my daughter and grandchildren, Naomi 6, and Mabel, 4, to a new resort in the Maldives. I love the Maldives, with its Disney-like islands of pure white sand, pale blue lagoons and towering palm trees. But even though many of the resorts offer clubs for children, the priority offering is for honeymooners and couples wanting to chill out.
Kandima, though, is different. It is a party island geared to families and, in the context of the Maldives, is affordable. Kandiland is thought to be the biggest kids’ club in the country. It has a huge pirate-ship wet area, with slides, tunnels and water cannons. There’s a large water-play zone with misted hoops, water shoots and a sprinkler pad to run in and out of, an in-ground trampoline, climbing domes, a sandpit and a climbing wall. And that is just outside. Inside, there are more playthings than in your average toy shop. Naomi and Mabel loved it.
Every day offers a different programme of activities. Shell finding, crab hunting, dancing, cooking, rock painting, jewellery-making, and an array of arts and crafts. On our first morning Mabel took in a coconut she had found on the ground and returned with it transformed into a fish.
The thing that made it work was the flexibility. Children could come and go as they wanted. Mabel was at the door waiting for it to open at 9am, the fierce air con as much of an attraction as the toys in the humidity. Naomi preferred to spend her mornings with us and go in the afternoons. We signed them in, and they told the staff if, or when, they wanted to leave. Knowing they could leave meant there were no barriers to going.
Best of all, we would tell the staff where we were, and one of them would bring the children back to us at the bar, the pool, the beach or the villa. None of that packing everything up and walking in the heat to collect them. Instead, they would just materialise, happily waving paintings, handmade jewellery or painted shells.
For my daughter, for whom the tyranny of the school run often dictates her days, this was the most blissful thing – and something I have never come across before, anywhere.
As I said, I finally triumphed.
Updated: July 21, 2017 06:42 PM