After 10 months of changing nappies and recovering from the shock of parenthood (that it is a darn sight harder than they let on in the movies), my husband and I decided to take the plunge and book our first family holiday abroad.
Since every new parent we knew said we should expect to wait about 20 years before a holiday became as restful as it was pre-baby, we prepared ourselves for the worst - early-morning wake-ups and food and babysitter issues. But I am thrilled to report that our week in Eilat was just the ticket for a couple with a baby in tow.
The start of our trip was definitely helped by using a meet-and-greet parking service at Luton Airport. Not for us, lugging cases - and baby - on to a bus in a car-park miles from the terminal. Central Car Storage met us with a trolley as we pulled into the drop-off zone right outside ther terminal. Calm and unflustered, we glided through check-in and boarded the plane hoping that our bag, bulging with in-flight snacks and toys, would ensure a trouble-free travel experience. If there had been any hanging around, there were quiet changing facilities, and a baby-food warming service at the airside restaurant.
We checked in to Isrotel's flagship Royal Beach Hotel and found the huge lobby is perfect for crawlers - or for wheeling round a non-sleeping baby. All the rooms are spacious with balconies, but the family room - to which we were upgraded- meant that we could close Leo off from the main bedroom, giving us some privacy and the option of staying in with room-service, without having to whisper or have the TV on mute. The hotel will also organise babysitting which is, of course, much cheaper than at home - around £4 per hour, plus taxi-fare to and from the hotel.
It was probably the time of year (January), but we found the childrens' pool area a bit blustery, so by day, we camped out by the main pool on double mattresses under shaded parasols.
For a change of scene we headed to the beach or into the poolside kids club. Open each morning and afternoon, the club always had a couple of staff on duty. Babies need to be supervised by a parent, but older kids could be left to their own devices with arts and crafts, games, books and soft-play.
On previous trips to Eilat we have always been exploring - a Bedouin camel safari, scuba-diving and swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Reef. This time, with such a small child, it was easier to stay put at the hotel. But on our next visit we plan to take Leo to the Camel Ranch which has a petting area as well as rides. The Aquarium is another great day out, with feeding shows and interactive stuff for kids.
During winter in Eilat the days are quite short, and it tends to begin to cool off at around four. We took strolls along the promenade, pottered around the market stalls and sometimes headed a little further to the shopping centre where you'll find brands like Zara, Adidas and Nike cheaper than UK prices, as well as great local babywear at Fox Baby.
In the hotel, the breakfast buffet was varied and the staff were quick to bring highchairs and disposable bibs. Lunch by the pool was the usual café-style fare of humous, pitta, grilled meats, salads and chips, while the best falafel in town is at a kiosk on the Royal Beach promenade. Some parents we spoke to found the fast-food style kids' menu a bit limited, but for babies the hotel has it spot on.
Their unique selling point for me is Baby Room Service, available at any time of day, anywhere around the hotel and delivered in (on almost every time) under 15 minutes. Leo was on solids, but a 10-month old baby does not have extravagant tastes, so being able to ask the kitchen to whizz up some apple purée, mashed potato or anything I wanted, took away worries about weaning - and they don't even charge for it. So in Eilat, at least if you're under one, there is, indeed, such a thing as a free lunch.
Longwood Holidays (www.longwoodholidays.co.uk; 020 8412 2522) offer a 7-night package at the Royal Beach from £825 per person (plus £80.50 for flight and cot for an infant), based on two adults sharing a family room. Price includes direct flights, transfers and breakfast. Meet and greet at Luton Airport bookable at www.centralcarstorage.com; 01582 726189.