Finding a first family holiday abroad for our picky eater daughter who has a dislike of new situations wasn’t going to be easy. It was late in the year yet we wanted a short flight and plenty to occupy and entertain three-year-old Tilly. Twenty years since my last family package holiday, I had a lot to learn.
We didn’t rush to take our first family holiday overseas. Having become accustomed to our daughter’s extreme reactions to new situations we decided to bide our time until we thought she could handle the succession of changing environments – the airport, plane, hotel and all the rest.
By the age of three and a half, it felt like Tilly was ready and it was time to devise a magical first holiday abroad. In short this meant something that offered oodles of activities for young children to enjoy. However leaving it late to book for October half-term there were few family friendly hotels still around with any availability. Keen for a short flight we looked at the Med but a travel agent recommended that in October the Canaries would offer more reliable weather. A four-hour flight seemed a bit much for a first holiday though so took a punt with Majorca, just two hours away, and a regular destination from my own childhood. At the very end of the season, the weather could be unpredictable but it was a risk we’d just have to take.
Fortunately we’d managed to book a thoroughly family friendly hotel. One of the ‘Family Life’ branded hotels by Thomson, the Coma Gran in the resort of Sa Coma promised a splash area, pools, playground, kids clubs, and an indoor pool if the weather is bad. We booked half-board, allowing us to indulge in breakfast and dinner buffets while going out and about for lunch (given that none of us are sun seekers and get restless at the thought of laying on sun loungers all day).
We flew from Luton, using a Monarch flight as Thomson don’t fly much on that route and we favoured the nearer airport to the slog to Gatwick. However, Monarch only offer online check-in for their own bookings, meaning we felt we had get at the airport early to secure seats together. This was middle of the night early with Tilly taken for her slumber, dressed and packed into our taxi for the journey. It paid off though as we got our seats together, and just as well too as there turned out to be several instances of families split up on board who must have checked in later on.
Luton Airport was undergoing a lot of improvement work and while it sounds like it’ll be good when finished, there’s a period of growing pains when the drop off area was rather messy and much of the terminal was without its usual complement of shops and services. Still, it worked quickly and efficiently enough from our experience, despite half-term busyness.
We had bought Tilly a Trunki as part of the holiday process. She helped pack it with activities for the journey and holiday toys and it proved helpful for shuttling her through the airport. Tilly tolerated the airport well and pushing herself around added an element of fun to it all. Having to put teddy through the x-ray was a challenge but we survived with only some tears shed.
Once on board the plane Tilly found plenty to look around at although departure always takes a while, not least at busy London airports so we made good use of her I-Spy at the Airport book. Typically she decided she needed the toilet just as we started taxiing but we managed to hold on until in flight although it felt like a lifetime. Never have I wished a small seat belt light to be turned off so much in my life.
Take off brought its own thrill and once in the air there was a certain magic of seeing Tilly look down on clouds for the first time and take a whole new view of the world, possibly more for me than her.
The biggest hit of the flight was a 99p drawing tablet I’d picked up at Waterstones. Many other families were using rather more sophisticated electronic tablets like iPads as, compared to the previous times I’ve flown, electronic devices were allowed to be used throughout the flight if on flight mode.
Thomson provide an airport shuttle so on arrival at Palma Airport it was relatively stress free to get to the hotel. Part of the huge TUI group, they have a constant flow of buses and a substantial presence on the ground. It’s an hour or so from Palma in the west of Majorca over to the east coast so more travel time but being less exciting than the plane Tilly got some much needed nap time in.
It’s really when you get to the hotel that you can start to forget the stresses of travel and get into the holiday spirit proper. Despite it being late October the weather was sunny and well into the 20s celsius.
Our room, crucially, had two separate sleeping areas – the bedroom and a sofa bed in the kitchen/living area. This is essential in order to enjoy our evenings after Tilly’s bedtime. We didn’t end up using our kitchen much – mainly to store water, as the tap water isn’t generally recommended – and for tea making purposes. However self catering is an option to keep the cost down.
Many people go all inclusive and we were initially rather put off by having to wear wristbands for the duration of our stay, which are used at mealtimes. However this is possibly a reflection on the length of time since we last did family holidays with our own parents, as it appears to be the norm these days.
Our big hope for the hotel was that it would occupy Tilly well and allow us an opportunity to relax too, taking the stress and chore out of the day. We have to say it delivered well on that front. Tilly spent much of each day absolutely loving the two splash play areas. One is a normal spray area while the second is rather like a playground climbing house set in shallow water with water sprays also turned on at times. It was an ideal size for her age and ability and she played happily amongst older children.
When not in the water there was a decent playground area, where Tilly made friends every day. This offered two areas offering differing levels of difficulty and worked well for drying off following splash play.
We found out about the kids clubs at the welcome meeting on our second day, although by that point it was too late to book for that day but Tilly did go to Bamse Club for the final two days of our holiday, which caters for 3-5 year olds. She seemed to have fun and always returned with plenty of drawings and on one occasion her face painted as a clown to coincide with the clown theme of the day. The Family Life hotels also offer care for under 3s, a 6-11 year old club and a hang out for teenagers.
Each day has a programme of activities for children and adults and although we didn’t try many of these, it’s great to have them available. We didn’t see any of the evening entertainment as Tilly was already ready to turn in after dinner, but I can see in future years this might go down well and it looked popular.
Mealtimes are always tricky with a fussy eater but a buffet format for food makes this easy as can be. Tilly loved browsing the children’s buffet but would often come with us around the grown ups section and indulge in the likes of seafood, fruit, pastries and desserts. For us biggies, the food was consistently very good with plenty of different options each day. Mealtimes were a twice daily treat and with brilliant staff who loved engaging with Tilly. The hotel also held a Halloween themed dinner during our stay – October 31st being too late in the season – which was brilliant with the dining room decked out in decorations, all of the waiting staff dressed as vampires and some brilliant Halloween themed desserts.
Sa Coma and around
Sa Coma itself is relatively small with a few commercial streets around the beach area that are lined with shops, cafes and restaurants serving visitors.
The central beach area in Sa Coma is modest in size but works well. It’s kept clean of seaweed and has basic showers for cleaning off sand. The beach in places drops off and then rises up again, meaning you can stand some way out into the sea but still be in really shallow water. The waves are great though as Tilly and I discovered and getting splashed by them as they rise up proved to brilliant fun. This was Tilly’s first proper experience of the sea and it went down a treat. Yes the sand inevitably gets everywhere but it’s worth it.
An hourly ‘train’ runs to the larger neighbouring resort of Cala Millor. There are more shops and restaurants there and a long beach but on the face of it not a great deal more in services than Sa Coma. We discovered that with a few people a taxi actually works out quite favourably compared to the train and fare boards show indicative prices to many destinations.
Having travelled as an independent adult for twenty years this holiday was a reminder of what a kid-centric package holiday was all about. It’s a hotel tailored for keeping children of all ages occupied with brilliant play facilities and activities throughout each day. For us biggies it’s an opportunity to let the hotel take the strain of feeding and entertaining the family, allowing us a little time to ourselves. At this time of year it’s also an escape from the approaching winter and an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors a little longer. Holiday companies such as Thomsons have a range of holiday types and as the parents of a young child the Family Life hotel type felt a good fit for what we needed.
It’s true to say that we’re not natural package holidaymakers. As a couple we’d opt for somewhere cultural and historic but with a child in the picture it does change priorities a good deal. For our next holiday we’ll probably look to combine the two: use a family friendly base in a location that has some cultural offerings too.
What was your first family holiday abroad? Share your experiences and tips in the comments.
Disclaimer: We chose and paid for this holiday entirely ourselves and all views expressed are our honest opinions of the experience.
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