‘Holiday’ takes on a slightly different meaning when you have kids. Gone are the days of lying in followed by a long, late breakfast, followed by a recuperative nap on the sun lounger. Now it really just means moving the schedule and the chaos to an alternative location.
And depending on the location and its amenities, that sometimes seems more hassle than it is worth.
That’s where the Ikos stable of hotels promises to step in. Oceania, where I stayed, and Olivia are both on Greece’s Halkidiki peninsula, with Dassia opening in Corfu in May.
As a ‘kosher vegetarian’ who doesn’t drink much, I’d never felt all-inclusive holidays were value for money for me. I’m not exactly the target market for the buffets and neverending stream of alcohol.
Equally, giving birth didn’t make me long to spend my time off at one of those holiday resorts which are basically one giant kids’ club. Great for little ones perhaps, but not exactly relaxing or luxurious.
Ikos Oceania, however, is both. We — me, my husband and one-year-old — were collected from the airport in Halkidiki by a personal driver, who arrived with an age-appropriate car seat (so no schlepping the Maxi Cosi through airport security). Once in the hotel we were greeted with a glass of champagne and a personal concierge to talk us through all the complex had to offer.
And there is plenty. Four restaurants, a buffet, gym, mini supermarket and even a nightclub if you feel so inclined. Refurbished last summer, the rooms are your archetypal Greek-themed decor, all white wood and cool blue soft furnishings.
We started in a one bedroom junior suite (open plan bedroom and living room, balcony) with a panoramic view over the blue and shining Aegean. For the last two days, we were upgraded to a one bedroom family suite (separate bedroom and living room, with ground floor garden); a very welcome change because sharing a room with your baby does limit your options once they’re asleep.
One of the biggest considerations when going anywhere with a child is food, knowing it will be available at their meal times — and that there’ll be something on the menu your baby will eat.
Happily, the buffet at Ikos Oceania is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and as well as being equipped with highchairs and plastic cutlery, there are also very understanding — and enthusiastic — staff (the amount of food they must clean from the floor in a single shift is daunting!).
The food isn’t just aimed at those who are fully weaned. One of Ikos’ big selling points is a weaning menu for babies, consisting of differently textured purees and food cooked without salt and sugar.
The non-buffet restaurants are a real boon: as a parent/adult you feel like you’re getting a proper restaurant experience with silver cutlery and waited tables (and menus created by Michelin-starred chefs), but the all-inclusive aspect means that you don’t feel you’re spending an extortionate amount of money on a meal your child might not finish. Equally there are baby menus and toddler menus, meaning every taste is catered for.
Ouzo, the Greek restaurant at Oceania, really went above and beyond, laying out a set of plastic cutlery wrapped in a napkin on the table of the highchair — now that’s service.
The restaurants do get booked up so you’re advised to reserve in advance but if you do decide whilst you’re there, the hotel has an app you can download to make it even more convenient.
Along with plastic cups, plates and cutlery at every place to eat, the helpful staff did everything from washing up sippy cups brought from home to slicing an apple we pilfered from breakfast and took for a snack around the pool.
So far, so good — but as this is a break for everyone, next on the ‘holidaying-with-kids’ checklist has to be childcare.
Oceania offers a crèche for babies and children aged four months to four years, a kids’ club for four to 11-year-olds and teen activities in the peak summer months. The kids’ club is complimentary but the crèche has varying charges depending on the age of your child (it’s not free because they maintain a 1:1 ratio for under-fours).
It’s the little extras to make sure everyone’s relaxed which sum up Ikos Oceania though, such as the beach childcare service called Babe Watch where you can leave children aged four and over for 30 minutes.
Ikos has partnered with Worldwide Kids, a well-known childcare provider, to employ the crèche workers and I have only good things to say about the staff. Millie and Polly greeted my daughter by name and with a big smile and anticipated her needs (naps, snacks) completely — knowing she was happy and well-cared for definitely helped me enjoy my own mornings by the pool.
Activities included taking the babies to the beach to play with the sand and see the sea, as well as soft play. The soft play area is also open after 6pm for children who haven’t attended the crèche, and is free.
If you don’t fancy checking your children in to the crèche, there is a free play area available with toys, colouring in materials and a TV playing Disney films on a loop.
And while your kids are having a great time, you can get on with the important business of relaxing in the spa and adult-only swimming pools. In fact, while families make up the majority of guests, there are a lot of non-family guests, especially during our off-peak stay which creates a chilled-out adult-friendly ambience.
One factor is that there are no pool slides, crazy colours or blaring music in the communal areas, just an understanding that children will be around, and of course designated areas dedicated to child fun. As one mum said, you can have a cocktail at the bar while your kids play and not feel guilty that they’re running around.
I’ve accepted that holidays have changed now — for probably the next 18 years — but hotels like Ikos allow the fantasy of sunbathing, reading books and enjoying a meal in a restaurant to continue just that little bit longer. And all only a three-hour flight away.
Four of the best for babies
Martinhal Cascais, Portugal
Part of the expanding Martinhal group, the Cascais hotel near Lisbon has a range of services to make a first holiday with a baby a breeze. The Baby Concierge lets you pre-order essential items, while the Kids Clubhouse is for babies aged six months and up.
All restaurants have a puree menu and the swimming pools are heated — one outdoor pool even has a glass roof with in-built UV protection to protect delicate skin. If you fancy a night off, Martinhal’s dedicated on-site babysitters can look after little ones aged from six weeks in your room.
Doubles cost from around £157 including breakfast.
With its laid-back, elegant take on Mediterranean luxury, the Almyra is perfect for young families thanks to creative children’s menus, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and interconnecting suites.
Kids’ clubs offer activities from rock climbing, to tennis and sailing — for the littlest ones, you can also order baby gear in advance using the ‘Baby-Go Lightly’ service.
Seven nights cost from £1,000 per person with Scott Dunn based on four sharing, half-board, including two Explorers kids club places and flights.
Bedruthan hotel, Cornwall
If you’d rather stay close to home, the Toddler Time Out Break at Bedruthan makes a perfect getaway for young families on the stunning North Cornish coast.
The new package includes up to four hours of childcare per day as well as buggies, a children’s supper club and baby listening equipment.
A three-night break starts from £825 based on two adults and one child staying.
Sani Beach, Greece
Set on the Kassandra peninsula, the Sani Resort is made up of five separate hotels: Sani Dunes, Porto Sani, Sani Club, Sani Beach & Sani Asterias Suites offering services such as baby room service, ‘Posh Nosh for Tots’, breakfast babysitting, a kids club for four to 16-year-olds and Melissa Crèche for babies six months up to four years.
Rooms cost from around £104 in Sani Beach half-board.