Sitting in the tiny airport departure lounge in Kos airport, everyone is tanned, looking relaxed and chatting to new friends they’ve made in the past week. Children chase each other, kids from multiple families congregate to play a game of snap on the floor, others sit on their Trunkis and share iPads, showing each other their favourite games. Looking around, I half expect Hugh Grant to pop up, talking about how love really is all around in Kos airport.
We all know that it will soon be time to cut off our Mark Warner wristbands – wristbands that are as close to Glastonbury as any of us will get right now, but that got us access to everything we needed on our holiday. They’ll be cut off and that will mark the end of it. Back to normality. Back to a rainy June in the UK. Back to laundry and work deadlines. But for just a short time, we cling onto that holiday feeling.
Our week with Mark Warner Holidays at Lakitira in Kos was a gorgeous mix of relaxation, fun, family time and solo adventures. And the perfect way for three generations – me, my lovely mum and the six-year-old – to spend time together.
The trip kicked off with a smooth Germania flight from Gatwick – Mark Warner charter flights from the UK and it’s a great chance to have a little peek at the people who’ll be staying at your hotel (and for the kids to make friends!). Germania got a huge thumbs up from us because they played Ice Age 3 as their in-flight entertainment, meaning loads of the kids were happy for a couple of hours. And ‘smooth’ was a theme that continued when we landed, as the Mark Warner reps who met us from the plane took our luggage, tagged it with our room number, only for it to turn up at our rooms shortly after we arrived, following a super quick 15 minute bus transfer.
Our room had two sections – a bedroom for the grown ups and through a sliding doorway, a lounge and bedroom for the six-year-old. This is such an important feature for many families when booking a holiday. Having a separate room for your kiddos means you don’t have to either go to bed at the same time as them, or sit in the dark while they fall asleep, then spend the evening talking in whispers.
Exploring the hotel, we discovered that it was a mix of three storey hotel room blocks and individual two storey villas, dotted along some paths, all painted white and with beautiful pink and red flowers creeping up the buildings. More flowers and plants lined the paths and lush green grass and palm trees filled the areas between the hotel and the beach. It was just gorgeous to walk around.
As someone who is a fan of DIY travel – you know, booking a cheap flight and then scouring the internet for hotel deals – package holidays are a fairly new thing to me. And so are welcome meetings. Welcome meetings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the fear that I might be pressurised into signing up for 6am yoga every morning is enough to put me off. But I’m a planner at heart, and at Lakitira, I discovered that welcome meetings can actually be a brilliant way of quickly finding out where everything is, what’s available to do, how it all works and to meet the Mark Warner staff. There was zero pressure, thankfully and it was a great taster of what was to come – friendly Mark Warner staff and fantastic activities.
In fact, all of the staff that we came across during our stay, seemed to go above and beyond. We bumped into Justine, the Mark Warner Operations manager at breakfast one morning and she had a little chat with us, asking how we were getting on. A couple of days later, we happened to see Jono, the resort manager, down by the beach and he had a chat with us – it was good to see the senior staff walking around, meeting the guests and making sure everything was ticking along nicely. Other members of Mark Warner staff – Ally, the head of kids’ beach for example – were really friendly and chatty whenever we saw them, and the childcare staff were just incredible. All of them took the time to really get to know the kids and by the end of the week, there were around six of them that I could tell the six-year-old had developed a lovely relationship with.
Our week flew by in a haze of sun cream, 30 degree sunshine and the sound of the Aegean Sea.
We quickly fell into a routine of having breakfast at around 9.15am, dropping off the six-year-old at the Juniors kids’ club at just before 10am, finding a shady spot to sit in, collecting the six-year-old from kids’ club at 12.30pm before having some lunch together. After lunch, we’d head for the pool and swim together, then eat ice lollies, before it was time for her to go back to kids’ club at 2.30pm. We’d have a few more hours of chilling out in the shade and then at 5.30pm we’d collect the six-year-old and head for kids’ high tea – a buffet selection of food for the children (and a bar where the grown ups could order an ice cold beer!). Then it was time for showers and baths before heading back out again – the six-year-old would head to the movie night at the kids’ club, while we’d go for a cocktail and dinner.
Did I miss the jazzy trouser memo?
My lovely mum
Of course, everyone’s different, and what I’ve described (spending just a few hours a day with your kiddo) might not appeal to you. But IF I’M TOTALLY HONEST, it was perfect for me, it was perfect for my mum, and most importantly, it was perfect for the six-year-old.
She was desperate to get to the kids’ club every single day, and I don’t blame her. During the week, they did a variety of things from tennis, pool games and football to going out on the sea to learn windsurfing, sailing and kayaking. In between all of this active stuff, they had down time in the lovely shady beach-side shack where the Juniors club was based, playing games, painting rocks they’d found, drawing pictures of their dream hotel, reading books and making up a dance routine for the end-of-week show that they’d be putting on for the parents.
Hanging out with us would have been just boring in comparison…
And for me and my mum, having a few hours every morning and afternoon to relax was brilliant. We found a lovely little spot under some trees, next to the beach, with comfy chairs and a great sea breeze, which we returned to, most days. My mum would read her book and I’d listen to some podcasts whilst watching the waves hit the shore.
I’ll admit, it took me a couple of days to totally unwind. For the first two days of the holiday, I felt uptight and found it hard to relax. I worried about work deadlines, my mind raced with thoughts, and it felt a bit like I was a spinning top that was still going even though the person had stopped spinning it a while ago. I was racing around, gathering all the bits and pieces that the six-year-old needed for kids’ club, forgetting essentials like her hat, and having to go back and forth dropping things off, keeping my eye on the time, knowing I had to pick her up soon…. I was also hot and grumpy. I wasn’t sure I liked holidays anymore. I was clearly feeling a tad dramatic.
But then… something clicked. I found myself slipping into holiday mode. We got into the rhythm of the place, it all started to feel easy, and my brain slooooowwwwed down. Instead of worrying about work and life, I allowed myself to switch off, read books, listen to podcasts and sometimes…. I did nothing at all apart from watch the ocean.
Most days, my mum entertained the notion of doing aqua aerobics, but only got as far as watching it. I, on the other hand, booked myself onto a snorkelling trip and had an AMAZING time doing a guided swim around rocks, looking for fish and sea creatures.
During the week, I ate my weight in Greek salad and tzatziki. Two of my favourite things in the world. The food set-up at Lakitira for half-board guests like us was breakfast in the main buffet restaurant (or the Greek Taverna – top tip: eat breakfast here if you want a chilled out affair and don’t mind a smaller choice of food. They even cook your eggs to order – win) then lunch can be bought at the beach cafe or you can pay €15 per person (€10 for kids) to eat in the main buffet restaurant. Dinner is either in the main restaurant, the Italian Trattoria or the Greek Taverna (which isn’t included in the half/full board rate, you pay extra for it).
In the spirit of being totally honest here, the food in the main buffet restaurant wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t bad, though. I guess it was pretty standard holiday buffet food. There was a brilliant huge selection of food at all times – salads, local Greek dishes, International food, loads of fish, even sushi one evening – and there was lots of it too. But I doubt anyone would come home raving about the food, saying you’ve got to go to Lakitira to sample the buffet! It says so much about the hotel, though, that despite this, every dinner time was a joy. My mum and I would start with a couple of cocktails (me: a piña colada, my mum: a Lakitira fizz) while the sun set behind the hotel, then we’d head into dinner and if we timed it well, we’d get a table outside on the terrace. We’d drink wine and chat while it got dark, and we’d dot back and forth to the buffet to fill up our plates.
But the food in the Greek Taverna was brilliant – exactly what you’d hope for, with traditional Greek dishes and served in a cute little courtyard tucked away from all of the action.
One evening we even ate with a couple we’d made friends with – which is unheard of for me (not because I’m unfriendly, but I’m just one of those keep-myself-to-myself on holiday types!) But the six-year-old had made firm friends with Daisy, a nine-year-old girl in the kids’ club, and was even given some lunchtime snorkelling lessons by Daisy’s dad. By the end of our week, we’d chatted to them so much that we joined them for drinks and dinner, which was lovely and really sums up the friendly atmosphere of Lakitira.
Everything at Lakitira seemed to be designed to make things easy for the guests, from the ability to charge everything to your room, meaning we never had to carry cash, to the Mark Warner app which had up-to-date info on activities, times, weather and opening times.
My mum and I sat reminiscing about the Greek holidays we went on, when I was a child. They couldn’t have been more different. Back then were all about the children being dragged around ancient Greek ruins and hurtling up mountains to see beautiful views (when, actually, all my brother and I wanted to do was play in the swimming pool). Thankfully, now, because of smart travel companies like Mark Warner, we can go on family holidays where everyone is kept happy.
Huge thanks to Mark Warner for inviting us out to Lakitira as part of the Mark Warner Ambassador programme and in return for this post and social media coverage. As always, all views are my own. Last minute summer breaks to Lakitira are still available or book now for summer 2018.