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Travelling with 5

Days out in London with the Kids

Days out with the kids in London - A Free From Life

An inset day is a great opportunity to take advantage of our nearness to London and go for a slightly less busy day out. Now my children are all at different schools, it’s also meant that their inset days have differed, allowing us to make the most of rare one-on-one time.

Back in September I wrote about my trip to the Warner Bros. Studios and the making of Harry Potter. That was my eldest daughter’s day out of choice. My middle daughter chose the Tower of London and so before the October half term, we made our way up on the train one cold and rainy Thursday. It was such a wet and gloomy day, there was fog hanging so low that you couldn’t see the top of the Shard.

Days out with the kids in London - A Free From Life

It was a shame that the Tower has a lot of outside space to see. Not a shame in itself, but a shame when you are huddled under your jacket and keeping your head low. But as my daughter informed me, it’s only rain, it won’t kill you, so we ploughed on.

Be prepared for a lot of walking when you visit the Tower of London. It’s a huge space, almost like a village within the city, surrounded by fortification. Within the ancient walls are numerous buildings of interest, reflecting the military history of London, individual towers that housed prisoners of all ranks and of course the Crown Jewels. This was the part my daughter was most looking forward to seeing and very impressive they were too.

We finished our day out by warming up and drying out in The Perkin Reveller restaurant, where we also enjoyed a lovely lunch before making our way back over Tower Bridge to the station.

Days out with the kids in London - A Free From Life

On the other side of the October half term break, I took my six year old son up to the Monument and St Paul’s. Having studied all about the Great Fire of London at school, he was interested to see where Pudding Lane was and even though it was another cloudy and miserable day, still insisted on climbing the 331 steps to the top of the Monument. Though not a great view from the top that day, plus it made me feel a bit sick going up there to be honest, at least we got a certificate to say that we had done it!

Days out with the kids in London - A Free From Life

My son thought St Paul’s Cathedral was amazing and insisted I take photos from every angle. We walked around Patter Noster square too before heading to Leon for lunch, where he enjoyed a gluten and dairy free lunch and an almond biscuit.

Days out with the kids in London - A Free From Life

It’s wonderful when you can take your children to see something they have been learning about in school. It reinforces their knowledge by bringing it to life – like a living history lesson. That’s one of the great advantages of living so close to the Capital.

My Travel Monkey
Reviews, Travelling with 5

Family time in Sorrento – culture, dining gluten and dairy free and enjoying swings in a cafe!

Family holiday to Sorrento - A Free From Life

Our latest trip with the children took us to Italy, to Sorrento on the beautiful Amalfi coast. Having been there as a couple, many moons ago, we wanted the kids to experience the rich history of the area. They are now at an age where they appreciate a bit of culture and we’ve been taking full advantage of that.

There is a lot to see in this particular area of Italy though and if you do go there with young children, you really have to pick and choose what you want to visit. They can only cope with so much sight seeing and you don’t want to put them off for future trips!

We chose Pompeii and it’s a big site that will take you a whole day to get around. I would advise going on a cooler day, as it’s hard work in the heat. We didn’t even see all of it when we went, but just standing in the main piazza in the shadow of Vesuvius, you really do have a sense of the magnitude of destruction that occurred that day in AD79. The difference between Pompeii and Herculaneum, another excavation site that is closer to Vesuvius, is that Pompeii was covered by ash and Herculaneum by volcanic mud. Only a small site has been excavated at Herculaneum due to the new town being built right on top of it, but what has been uncovered was much better preserved.

Pompeii - A Free From Life
Rare shot of the five of us, sunglasses and all!

My six year old son was fascinated that a volcano could erupt and completely destroy a city in such a short space of time. In fact, he wouldn’t stop asking questions about earthquakes and eruptions for the rest of the holiday. I think he was a bit worried that it might happen again whilst we were there and he was happy to be reassured that across the bay in Sorrento, we would be safe.

My other daughter, the eight year old, was fascinated with Vesuvius for a different reason and wanted to make the trip to see the crater. Needless to say, my son didn’t want to go anywhere near it and neither did my eldest daughter, so my husband took her.
Family holiday in Sorrento - A Free From Life

 

We stayed behind and went to a coffee shop, overlooking the bay and the mountain. We wondered whether the other two members of our family would actually get to see anything at the top of the volcano because it seemed to be shrouded in mist the whole day, apparently they did.

 

Family trip to Sorrento - A Free From Life

Getting around

We rarely take organised tours when we go on holiday, particularly in Italy because we have visited so many times now and know the way things work over there. Train travel is really easy and cheap too. The train from Sorrento to Pompeii Escavi takes around 30 minutes and the entrance to the historical site is a two minute walk. Going one more stop on the line to Ercolano (Herculaneum), you can visit the excavation site there, or you can catch a bus from the station that takes you up Vesuvius. Please note, you can only go so far by bus and the rest is on foot. It’s steep and takes around twenty minutes to get to the crater. Whenever you travel by train in Italy, you must also remember to validate your ticket before you board. This means getting it stamped by one of the machines in the station, with the day’s date.

Accommodation

There are many hotels and apartments in Sorrento, but as usual, when looking for something that would suit the five of us, it wasn’t so easy. We opted for an apartment at Villa Terrazza, which gave us three bedrooms, large living and dining area and kitchen. The Villa is beautiful and you can’t get any nearer to the sea. It’s also a five minute walk to the main square and all the shops and restaurants. The only thing I would say about our apartment is that it could do with a bit of freshening up. It’s a bit dated and being on the lower floor (we had the Paradise Suite), it often smelt musty.

Family holiday in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Eating out

I went with a list of restaurants I’d looked up on Trip Advisor that accommodate for gluten free diners, but I needn’t have bothered. Every place we went to seemed to be aware and could provide something to suit our needs. Unless you are particularly looking for gluten free pizza or pasta, you can find something suitable for a gluten and dairy free diet on the extensive menus. Choose from antipasti including bresaola (dried beef) and rocket, seafood and grilled fish, steaks or chicken. Potatoes are always roasted in oil and it’s not common practice to add butter to the vegetables. If you tell them your needs, staff are educated and understanding. My son was well looked after the whole time we were away. My top picks are:

Ristorante La Lanterna

This was our favourite restaurant and we ate here several times. They offered gluten free pasta, but not pizza, however, they would adapt any dish to make sure if included or excluded what you can or can’t eat.

L’Osteria del Buonconvento

This restaurant has an extensive menu and they also offered gluten free pasta. It’s housed in a old church, which makes for a beautiful interior to enjoy your meal.

Gluten and dairy free dining in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Bar Syrenuse

Right in the main square, this place can get busy, but as we were there late in the season, we had no problem getting in. Although we didn’t eat here for dinner, we enjoyed a couple of breakfasts, including scrambled eggs (made without milk), bacon and gluten free rolls.

You can’t go to Italy without sampling the ice cream and the Gelataria’s over there are like works of art. I was so impressed that we found two places that catered for both gluten and dairy free customers. In addition to the usual fruit sorbets, both offered a chocolate sorbet that was amazing (and I don’t even like ice cream!). It’s made by melting dark chocolate, mixing with some sugar and water and then churning in the same way you would any other ice cream.

Gluten and dairy free dining in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Gelataria Zini is located just off one of the narrow shop lined streets and is a great place to call in for refreshments if you needing a pick me up after all that shopping. There are a couple of tables in there too, if you want to hang around for coffee.

Gluten and dairy free dining in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Puro is a cafe with a difference. Not only can you choose from an extensive range of ice creams, they also do savoury food, hot drinks and alcohol. The difference I just mentioned is this addition to the cafe:

Gluten and Dairy free dining in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Yes, swings, really. I love that they have these, even though they take up space that could be given to two or maybe three more tables.

The Amalfi coast is rocky and steep but there are a few beaches and the water is shallow and clear and there is a handy lift you can use to get down to the shoreline from the town.

Family holiday in Sorrento - A Free From Life

The port operates a busy timetable of boats running to and from the island of Capri and also to Naples. In peak season, you can also catch a boat to the other towns along the coast line. We took the children to Capri but they didn’t enjoy it. It’s a pretty place but they found it boring. You can’t win ’em all though can you? Like I said, these types of holidays are what my husband and I used to enjoy before we had the children. Now we’re trying to introduce them to the children, but taking into consideration what might interest them, not just what we want to see. If we’re going to continue taking these kinds of trips, we have to cater for all of us, otherwise they would be no fun for anyone and that defeats the object completely.

As for our next trip, we’re not sure yet. Perhaps you could give me some ideas?

My Travel Monkey
Travelling with 5

Jersey – an island of unappreciated beauty

Jersey, Channel Islands - A Free From Life

What better way to spend a sunny Saturday morning than relaxing on an (almost deserted) beach on an idyllic island. A deserted beach in the middle of tourist season? How can that be possible?

Jersey, Channel Islands - A Free From Life

There is nothing wrong with this beach, in fact the opposite. Jersey is stunning and has some amazing beaches, but if you’re a tourist, you’re more likely to head for St Brelade’s bay (if you’re one of the cool people)

Jersey, Channel Islands - A Free From Life

or St Ouen’s if you enjoy surfing

Jersey, Channel Islands - A Free From Life

Then there’s family friendly Greve de Leq; the list goes on.

Jersey, Channel Islands - A Free From Life

That’s just it. You have your pick of beaches in a space that’s only 30 miles wide. So why were there no people on the beach we went to? Portlet bay is equally stunning but there are two things. One is the steep steps that lead down to it and you know that once down there, you will have to get back up at some point. The other is the Inn at the top of those stairs. Most people don’t make it past the Inn.

The beach has everything you could ask for though, from soft sand, to perfect sandcastle wetness, to rock pools for exploring and an abandoned German lookout tower to climb up to. There’s also a pizza shack, complete with wood-fired pizza oven. We didn’t eat there, but I popped in for take away coffees and marvelled at the pizzas and mouthwatering salads that were passing by me as I waited.

Last weekend was a whistle stop tour to my favourite island to catch up with a friend who lives there. I love going there and a weekend is never enough. Every time I visit, I fall in love with the place all over again and I can’t help but envy my friend and her family for the lifestyle they lead. With a beach within walking distance, what more do you need, especially if you have a dog and a young family? My friend’s three young boys love adventure and the outdoors. They are growing up in an environment where you don’t need to lock your doors, or your cars. It feels safe and free.

I took my middle daughter with me and we set off early for an 8am flight from Gatwick. One of the great things about going to Jersey is the proximity to home. A quick 45 minutes flight and you’re there, but it feels as though you have gone further afield because the climate is much warmer than England and the island has a heavy French feel. It even has it’s own currency of sorts, with the Jersey pound note bringing with it an air of nostaglia.

Unfortunately we arrived to rain, which set in for the day, but with our hotel room made ready early, we were able to unpack our things and use the time to relax and watch a film. I hadn’t realised when booking, but our trip coincided with Battle of Flowers week. This carnival attracts a huge number of visitors to the island and is a spectacle of colour and sounds. We had missed the day parade, but the moonlight parade was scheduled for that very evening and my daughter was desperate to go. I wasn’t so sure, given the rain and the fact it was cold and damp, but I relented and we went along. Although we froze, the parade was amazing and particularly so for seeing the floats lit up. The rain held off too, which was a blessing.

Jersey, Channel Islands - A Free From Life

Saturday provided some much needed sunshine and after breakfast, we made our way over to my friends house and then on to the beach with them. An afternoon tea with my friend, followed by dinner at their house later completed my day. My daughter had a great day playing with the boys and I had to drag her back to the hotel.

We took a stroll through the streets of St Helier the next morning. The island’s main town is where you’ll find all the major stores, plus some local and French ones too. Jersey is famed for it’s food, having an abundance of local produce and fresh fish and seafood at it’s disposal. Plus you can’t forget the Jersey cows. Those big doe-eyed, cute faced animals who produce the creamiest of milk that has a taste all of it’s own.

Jersey, Channel Islands - A Free From Life

There are so many things to do on the Island that a weekend isn’t long enough. Mont Orgruil castle, Elizabeth castle, Durell wildlife park and the Amazin Maze adventure park are just a few of our favourites. Older visitors can immerse themselves in history via the many leftover relics from the German occupation during the Second World War, including the underground hospital. There are also visitor centres for Jersey’s main craft indsutries such as the potteries, gold and silver smiths and Jersey Pearl. You are spoilt for choice when it comes to fabulous restaurants and eateries and then there are the beaches, those lovely bays of which there are so many to explore.

Clean and modern: a mix of culture and history, with trendy bars, restaurants and hotels, Jersey is as far away from a tired and dated seaside resort as you can get. The island is charming and I dare you not to fall in love with it.

Where to stay

We stayed at The Merton in St Helier, which is a welcoming and family-friendly hotel, with a traditional feel. The food is excellent, served in buffet form, with choices to suit every taste. There is a swimming pool, situated directly across from the hotel. This includes both indoor and outdoor pool, plus restaurant and sun lounges and small play area. You can get two bedroomed family suites, or there are some apartments for larger groups.

On previous visits, we stayed at Hotel la Place, St Brelade’s. This hotel is much smaller than The Merton, but has a small pool. The advantage of this hotel for families, is that it has a courtyard of self-catering cottages of mixed sizes. You can enjoy the freedom of self catering, but with the facilities of a hotel right next door, including room service options. We enjoyed breakfast in the hotel every morning and the use of the pool. The food was fantastic, although we didn’t eat there every evening.

Flights

We flew from Gatwick with British Airways, but you can fly there from most UK airports, with FlyBe and Easy Jet. Flights can vary, but average around £100 per person for a return ticket.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

My Travel Monkey
Travelling with 5

Travelling with Food Intolerances – The Ups and Downs of In-Flight Meals

Airlines traveller's guide to In-Flight Meals - A Free From Life

I know from experience what it’s like when an airlines messes up on the meal you ordered. My son, who cannot eat dairy or gluten, was given a child’s meal by mistake (a dairy and gluten fest) on a flight to America last year. There was no alternative for him, apart from a bit of green salad that the team managed to scrape together. It was a nightmare.

The mix up came because I couldn’t order him both a dairy AND gluten free meal. It was one or the other. The alternative was perhaps a vegan meal, but I wasn’t sure if it would suit a five year old child. So I rang up customer services, explained the situation and thought it was sorted. What went wrong (I think), was that they marked him down as ‘child’ and he ended up with the same meal as his sisters – macaroni cheese, yoghurt and chocolate!

There is no way I will go on a flight without taking food for him after that experience, regardless what I order in advance. And after finding the whole process somewhat confusing, I decided to put together some air travel tips for people with food intolerances.

I worked with the team at SheKnowsUK to produce an infographic setting out what the major airlines offer in terms of in-flight meals and how you go about ordering them. You can see the result here. I was amazed at how different the airlines approach their in-flight meal service, but most offer essentially the same choices. When it comes to ordering both gluten and dairy free in-flight meals for my son, it looks like that’s not going to happen any time soon. For us, it will be a case of choosing one or the other and picking out what he can eat, whilst adding to it with our own food.

Have you had any bad experiences with airlines food? Let me know.

Travelling with 5

Visit to Nostell Priory – National Trust, West Yorkshire

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

On last week’s visit to see my family in West Yorkshire, we were hoping for better weather than what we ended up with. I took my National Trust membership card in the hope of getting out and about to see some of the local area and I thought that I wasn’t going to get to use it at all. Luckily though, the week got better as it went on and we finally made it to the nearest National Trust venue which was Nostell Priory.

As I have come to expect with any National Trust property we visit, Nostell Priory is stunning. An 18th Century manor house, it was never actually a priory, but built on the site of one and the name retained. Overlooking acres and acres of parkland (300 to be precise), this is truly a magical setting.

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

I’m so glad my children are interested in these types of places now they are older. They couldn’t wait to go and explore the house and the staff are always so encouraging and welcoming to their younger visitors. First stop for us was the servant’s quarters, where my younger two couldn’t resist getting dressed up for the part.

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

How chuffed they were to be allowed to keep their costumes on as we ventured on our tour of the rest of the house. This amazing doll’s house was a source of fascination, especially after we were told to look for the white mouse, which is apparently moved around in order to keep visitors guessing. We couldn’t find it without the help of one of the volunteers, not surprising though considering how tiny this little thing was.

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

Nostell Priory were running a bear hunt whilst we were there. The children were told that all the bears had escaped from the nursery and were hiding around the house. We had a list of their names and when we spotted one, we had to work out which one it was using the clues from the room we found it in. Now this was not an easy bear hunt and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of each room guide. What resulted, was us learning a lot about the house and it’s previous inhabitants along the way.

On completing the bear hunt and returning the costumes, we ventured in to the courtyard. I was ready for a coffee by then, but my little ones spotted the stables and wanted to go and have a look. We learned about a day in the life of a stable hand and they even did a spot of grooming themselves.

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

No visit to a National Trust property would be complete without a stop in the café. It was late in the day by the time we got there, with most things being sold out, however, I couldn’t resist this beetroot and mozzarella scone. Hmmm, some inspiration for my own baking there I think. Sadly, it wasn’t gluten and dairy free, but on a separate table was a nice selection of free from cakes, so my son was able to choose something that he could eat (for a change). National Trust, you made a six year old boy very happy!

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

Last stop was the gardens at the back of the house, which contain an adventure playground. What I loved about this play area, was the way it blended in to the surrounding woodland. As much as possible, the equipment is made of natural materials, so it complements rather than spoils, the landscape.

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

We had to drag the children away from this as it was nearing closing time by then. They didn’t want to leave, but they were pleased to be able to write a note to say what they had enjoyed most about their day, leaving behind a button to show that they had had a great time.

Nostell Priory National Trust - A Free From Life

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

My Travel Monkey
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Travelling with 5

Xscape – Castleford

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

Did someone move July to autumn? It seems that once again we’ve come up to visit my family in Yorkshire and the weather has let us down.

What to do on a rainy summer’s day? With our plans for going to the beach scuppered, there was no choice but to look for other, indoor, activities. Soft play, yes did that, but once is enough thank you very much. If only we’d brought warm clothes, it wouldn’t have mattered so much to get wrapped up and stay outdoors. But we didn’t bring woolly jumpers and wellies did we? IT’S JULY FOR GOODNESS SAKE.

As luck would have it, there is an amazing place called Xscape just a short car journey down the M62 towards Hull. You could spend a whole day here (and a fortune to boot), with a choice of children’s soft play, 4D glow in the dark golf, Adventure golf, laser shooting, arcades, Gravity trampoline park, bowling, high ropes and rock climbing and skiing. Yes, I think that there is something here for everyone.

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

We opted for adventure golf and bowling and I booked my eldest in to the trampoline park (she opted for that instead of the bowling). In between, we went for something to eat in one of the many restaurants. Our choice was Ask, as I knew it had a gluten free menu. There is also Pizza Express, Frankie and Benny’s and TGI’s amongst others. If only I’d remembered to bring our ski jackets and salopettes, we could have gone for a skiing lesson (real snow by the way). How silly of me to forget them in JULY.

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

Anyway, weather aside, we had a great time and probably wouldn’t have gone there had we had outdoor options. To be fair, it wasn’t that busy, considering the rest of Yorkshire could have had the same idea. The kids had a great time. They were exhausted, we were exhausted and we didn’t even do everything. Oh I forgot, there’s even a cinema too and some shops, mainly sports and ski wear shops, but next door is a McArthur Glenn retail outlet, if you’ve got any energy left.

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

Sharing this for Country Kids and Monday Escapes.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Travelling with 5

Family Days Out in London – Greenwich & the Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark - A Free From Life

I love living near London. Within half an hour, we can be at one of three major stations – London Bridge, Waterloo East or Charing Cross, from which we can get to most major tourist areas.

On Monday, I took two of my three kids to Greenwich to see the Cutty Sark. We went by Thames Clipper boat from Embankment, just to make the journey that bit more exciting. Although it probably takes longer that way, you get to see a lot more and it’s fun to spot and point out the famous landmarks that line the Thames.

By the time we arrived in Greenwich though, the three of us were feeling desperately hungry. However, first stop on the list was to collect some gluten and dairy free doughnuts that I ordered from Borough 22 Bakehouse. Having contacted Ryan via Facebook, he very kindly arranged to meet us in Greenwich to drop a box off, even though it was a Bank Holiday. Hand delivered, freshly made doughnuts – you can’t get better than that can you? More about these in a separate post though.

After sharing one of the doughnuts (well it would be rude not to), we went to find somewhere to eat. I didn’t bother to do my usual research, as I felt sure we would find somewhere suitable to cater for my son’s gluten and dairy intolerance. We decided to go for burgers thinking that the modern, gourmet burger joints you see everywhere now are sure to be with the times when it comes to dealing with these things.

Byron burger house is right on the river side, just as you get off the boat. We had to queue for about twenty minutes to get a table, making me think it would have been wiser to book, but by then I realised if we went anywhere else we would have the same problem. My son was ratty as anything by this point. The drop in his blood sugar was obvious by his whinging behaviour. I felt the same, I just didn’t express it in the same way and neither did my eleven year old daughter.

When we finally got a seat, I asked for the gluten free menu but there wasn’t one. My heart sank, but the manager came over to go through what we could have. It turns out that the burgers are gluten free, which is one plus point, but there are no gluten free buns. His choice was to have a kids burger with salad and if he wanted fries, he could have the skin-on chips (not the fries as they are wheat coated). But here’s the thing – they are cooked in the same oil, so if you are coeliac, there is no way you could eat them. My son is gluten intolerant and I knew that given how hungry he was, there was no way he would have enough with just a burger and a bit of salad, so I said yes to the chips. He ate a few, but said they weren’t very nice anyway. His burger was also dry.

As for dessert, ice-cream was the only gluten free choice for children and there was nothing dairy free. Lucky I had the doughnuts then! What smacks in the face in places like these is that they still charged us for the set children’s meal. I should have argued it, but all I wanted to do was get out of there as quickly as possible. The other thing that surprises me is that they are obviously aware of the potential dangers of cooking oil contamination and yet they don’t provide an alternative.

Sometimes you have to write off an experience and that is one of those times. With some energy restored, we went on to tour the Cutty Sark, which both children really enjoyed. It’s very engaging and there are a lot of interactive displays for the children to have a go at. Plus, we also caught part of the tour, which took us back in time to when the ship was at its heyday.

The Cutty Sark was a famous ship in it’s day, known for it’s speedy journeys around the world. A cargo ship, it brought firstly tea from China and then went on to ship wool to Australia in it’s later years. Rescued and restored to it’s former glory, the Cutty Sark is the only surviving tea ship of it’s kind.

Cutty Sark - A Free From Life

Greenwich is a fun and vibrant area to visit. Not only are you absorbed in the maritime history of London, there is a bohemian feel to the area, especially around the market place. In the main square by the Cutty Sark, there was a vintage market on, complete with lindy hop dancers. In the park on the opposite side, was a beer festival with live music, put on by a local brewery. It felt like there was something for everyone.

Greenwich Maritime Museum - A Free From Life
One thing I can say about a day out in London is that it is tiring. The journey, complete with activities and sight seeing certainly wore me out, so I’m not surprised that the kids were on their knees by the time we arrived home. Goodness knows how we managed to save two doughnuts so that my husband and other daughter didn’t miss out, but we did. Apart from the hole in the middle, they were still in one piece too!

 

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Shared with Monday Escapes

Travelling with 5

Family Holiday in Limassol, Cyprus

A Cyprus family holiday - Elias Beach hotel - afreefromlife.com

This year we chose the Elias Beach Hotel in Limassol, Cyprus for our annual family holiday. By family I mean all thirteen of us, from the youngest at aged six to the oldest at 72.

It’s normally difficult enough as it is to choose accommodation that suits the five of us, so you can imagine what it was like finding somewhere for a large group.

The requests were:
Somewhere hot but not too far away
Somewhere with a beach and a pool
A holiday where we don’t have to go anywhere (this one was based on the fact that our usual holidays involve daily trips out and sight seeing)

I added to this list:
A decent sized family room
Somewhere that is prepared to cater for my son (gluten and dairy free)

Normally hotel rooms are for up to four people and not many will guarantee an interconnecting room. This is why we rarely stay at hotels because I prefer not to take that risk. I also hate the idea of the five of us squashed in a tiny room for a week. This holiday, we didn’t have to worry about that though, as my eldest daughter was sharing a room with my mum, so it meant getting a family room for my husband and I to share with our two youngest.

When we settled on Cyprus, it was time to choose the hotel. It’s a long old process, but eventually my sister in law and I found the Elias Beach hotel and it seemed to have the best option for family rooms (one of the largest that we came across). I found a review on trip advisor that said the hotel catered for their gluten free needs, so I was happy with that. We booked five rooms and got a good all inclusive deal.

I was concerned about the all inclusive bit, so I emailed the hotel nearer to our arrival to check that they would be able to provide food for my six year old and they assured me that would be fine.

After a late arrival on the Saturday evening, we were surprised to find that our first day was Easter sunday, celebrated a week later than in the UK. Within ten minutes of being out by the pool, we found ourselves doing an Easter egg hunt (most bizarre I can tell you), much to the delight and amusement of the children. We were later to discover that the entertainment team (affectionately referred to by us as the pink people, due to the colour of their t-shirts) would be out organising games by the pool at intervals during the course of the day: my twelve year old nephew was kept happily amused all week playing water basketball and polo.

Rooms


Our room was a good size, with a separate sleeping area for the children. I was under the impression that it would have bunks beds, but what we had instead were two small sofas converted to beds. I thought that the room was a little dated and the mattresses were incredibly hard. After a couple of days, the children were complaining that theirs were too hard too, so I asked the reception if they had something. To their credit, they put mattress toppers on all our beds, which made a big difference.

Food
It’s always a concern wherever we go when it comes to getting food for our little one. I was so relieved to find a huge buffet of food choices at every meal time and chefs who were able to tell me exactly what was in each dish. The catering team were so fantastic and accommodating that I couldn’t thank them enough. If the vegetables had butter on them, they would cook up a separate batch just for him, if the meat had a creamy sauce or contained gluten, they would make him a plain piece. They kept gluten free bread in the freezer and soya milk in a separate fridge and they even bought some gluten free cereal especially for us. On the day we were leaving, they also made some sandwiches to take on the plane, as we knew we wouldn’t be able to get him anything else.

Being little and cute helped and my son was given so much attention by the chefs, who seemed to take a shine to him. Of course he loved that!

In other areas of the hotel, such as by the pool or in the cafe bar, you could get drinks at any time up until 11pm, as part of your all inclusive package. Sandwiches were available in between meal times to keep you going if you needed them (not that you did given the amount of food you could eat at every other sitting!).

Staff
I’ve already mentioned the catering staff and how good they were. The same goes for all the staff we encountered. They are all incredibly friendly and on the ball and would go out of their way to help you. It’s obvious that they work hard for their tips and it’s well deserved. As I have never been all inclusive before, I didn’t expect the waiting staff to be so attentive when it came to offering drinks. But whenever you went in the café bar, they would come over and serve you and in the restaurants at lunch and dinner time, they were constantly checking to see if you needed water or any other drinks. They never minded re-arranging tables so we could all sit together either, which when there are so many of you, is a real bonus.

The entertainment team worked incredibly hard. Not only were they out by the pool most of the day, they hosted the evening entertainment as well. This included a children’s mini disco with dancing and games, a quiz, bingo and then a live cabaret show. They’re all lovely talented individuals and great sports. I say this because on a few occasions they were performing by the pool to only a handful of people and a couple of times at the kids disco, we were the only ones there. They did their show anyway and our kids loved it. It was much appreciated and certainly made a big impression on my eight year old, who wants to be an entertainer like them when she grows up!

Cyprus family holiday - Elias Beach hotel - afreefromlife.com

This was a holiday of relaxing by the pool and enjoying the sunshine. Unfortunately, the first few days were cloudy and cool and because the pool isn’t heated, it was too cold to go in. My younger two found they were at a loss for what to do, so they asked to go in the kids club (yes they really did). We have never put them in a kids club before and I was surprised to find that it was put on at no extra cost. For two hours on a morning and two hours in the afternoon, the children could go along and take part in the daily activities of crafts and games.

The hotel was very busy during the first weekend, but by Tuesday numbers had reduced. We arrived at the same time as a wedding party of around 60 people and other than a group of German tourists that appeared in the restaurant in the evenings, we were practically the only ones there, which was lovely. This meant that the little ones had the kids club to themselves almost everyday, so they were very lucky.

Facilities
As well as the outdoor pool and splash pool for the little ones, the hotel also had a small indoor pool. It was handy to make use of this when the weather wasn’t so good. It was certainly useful to keep the older children entertained.

For those who feel inclined, there is a gym at the hotel too. I never even took my trainers, but my husband did and he went a couple of times. There is also a path that runs along the beach front that is popular with runners. The beach itself was dirty when we first arrived – full of litter, but after a couple of days was tidied up. The hotel has its own private beach area and beach bar (although it wasn’t open at the time when we went). The beach is man-made, with dark, volcanic sand, not the prettiest, but I have it on good authority that it makes great sandcastles. The only problem was, that three of the children reacted to something on the sand, whether it was the sand itself or something that bit them, but they each had a rash all over their feet and had to stay off it.

We all (well the girls, at least) took advantage of an offer in the spa to have our nails done. Again another friendly member of staff, who made a lovely job of them using the Shellac gel polish. I also had a back massage, as did my husband, which was excellent. There were many other treatments on offer that you could take advantage of if you wished, all reasonable priced.

With a tennis court, indoor squash court and also the opportunity to try out archery during the week, we found there were plenty of activities on offer. Our eleven and twelve year old contingents were kept suitably amused and what was great about the hotel complex was they could have free run of it. Whilst there is plenty there, it’s not too big, so you know they’re never too far away.

A Cyprus family holiday - Elias Beach hotel - afreefromlife.com

The aim of this holiday was that there would be something for everyone, whether that meant relaxing and doing nothing or being actively involved in activities that were on offer. We certainly got that and it was a success all round.

I’m still not a fan of resort holidays. We got lucky in that it was so quiet in the hotel. I can imagine at peak season, having to fight for a sunbed and queue up every mealtime would be a different story and I’m not sure I would enjoy that at all. Having said that, when you go away with a large group, it’s the perfect solution and no doubt we will do it again next year.