We’ve just returned from a week of complete bliss with Mark Warner at the Lemnos Beach resort on Lemnos Island, Greece. In my head, I’m not back in dreary, wet London. I’m still on a Greek island with perfect sun all day, evenings that feel like you are stepping out into a warm bath, where it’s still warm enough for a sunset swim.
You can imagine the mountain of photos and video I have to sift through. There will be lots more of that to follow, but first, I wanted to write in detail about the childcare, because that is one of the defining aspects of our Mark Warner holiday. Our experience was of the childcare at Lemnos Beach resort, but the kids clubs are run in the same way across all Mark Warner resorts.
Mark Warner kids clubs are available for all ages, from two up to seventeen years old. (childcare for under twos is available, but chargeable). Children in toddler or mini club have a daily morning or afternoon childcare session included in the holiday price. Older children in junior club and upwards have a full day included, but you can dip in and out of activities as and when you like, so they don’t have to be participating in the clubs all day if they don’t want to, or if you want to do a family activity instead.
During our trip to Lemnos, four year old Arlo was in mini club, and two year old Rory was in toddler club.
This is nothing like day nursery childcare where your child stays in their ‘room’ for most of the day. The session is broken down into hour long activities, so the children do around three activities per session. During Arlo’s week, he did tennis, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, pool games, sandcastle building, ice cream trips, and much more. The children get to have experiences that they can’t have elsewhere, especially where the watersports are concerned. Even Rory’s toddler group of 2 – 3 year olds were out on the sailboats and kayaks.
The water activities took place right on the beach or the pool where the parents could watch, so it never felt like we were missing out on seeing them do these fun activities. It still felt very much like we were part of it. And in fact, we felt (and Arlo also felt, Rory is a bit too young to verbalise) that the boys would be missing out if they didn’t go to their clubs. Such is the quality of the children’s clubs at Mark Warner, we didn’t view it as childcare at all, but an enriching experience for the kids that they wouldn’t otherwise get if they were not taking part.
Arlo absolutely loves a preschool setting, so I had no worries about how he would take to mini club. I knew he would adore it, and I wasn’t surprised that mini club quickly came to be his favourite thing about his time in Lemnos.
I was quite a bit more apprehensive about Rory. Bar a few settling in sessions at preschool, he has no experience of childcare. And because I still see Rory as my baby, he just seems so little, and the idea of him not being with me for a few hours every day felt strange. But at the same time, I was really looking forward to my child-free hours.
So, it made a huge difference to our peace of mind that he was so happy going to toddler club, and that his key worker, Jasmine, was so good with him. (Not to mention extremely capable – getting four 2yr olds in and out of swimming clothes like it was no effort, and miraculously getting 4 wayward toddlers to obediently follow her around the resort – she was nothing short of a superhero).
Rory mentioned Jasmine approximately once every half an hour during the parts of the day that he was with us, and whenever I’d see him around the resort taking part in his toddler club activities, I’d hear him laughing or see him jumping around excitedly. Despite him not having much experience of being away from me, I quickly became very secure with Rory being in toddler club.
The childcare qualifications the Mark Warner childcare team need are the same as the qualifications you need in the UK to work in a childcare setting. This may seem like a small thing, but I found it gave me a great deal of comfort in familiarity. Having the same qualifications and a similar approach to what we’ve experienced with Arlo’s preschool meant that I had a better idea of my expectations for the Mark Warner childcare staff and the experience the boys would be getting.
We haven’t had personal experience of the kids clubs for older children, but from our position as casual observers over our week’s stay, they looked like great fun too. Firm friendships were made, the children were always hanging together in their groups at the pool and at dinner, even extending to sitting with each other on the plane home rather than with their families. Be warned – if your goal is to spend quality time with your teenagers on holiday, you might find you quickly lose them to newly-made holiday friends. But if your priority is teenagers not complaining of boredom, or finding friends of a similar age, I really think you can’t go wrong with a Mark Warner holiday.
The holiday routine
If you are doing a morning or afternoon session of toddler / mini club, and then the evening film club, it’s a busy day for young people. Film club starts at 7.30, so the earliest your child will be falling asleep will be 9ish, if they make it till the end of the film. If your children are eating with you at the grown ups dinner, that starts at 7.30, so the earliest you will be able to get bedtime turned around will probably be 9ish too. Then it’s a 9am start for the morning session of kids club. If your children aren’t nappers, this makes for a very long and tiring day indeed.
Rory napped in the afternoon, but Arlo, who has never switched off very easily and was never going to fall asleep at the evening crèche, was going right through the day from 8am to 10pm. He had some pretty cranky moments, but then again, that’s no different from at home, and we are pretty easy going with our routine at home and whilst away. Making adjustments to our day has never been something that has stressed us out.
Security and safety
Upon entrance to every childcare session, the children are given a wristband detailing their name, room number, and any specific allergies or requirements (Rory’s always had a note about needing to use his own specific sun cream). At the evening film club, there is a name card placed at the foot of every bed. At the beginning of our holiday, we were asked to write down a password (a different one for each child). Every time we came to collect our children, we were asked for this password. The childcare team stuck to this religiously regardless of whether they clearly recognised us as Arlo and Rory’s parents. All childcare areas are enclosed spaces with baby gates and doors. For us, this level of security seemed perfect, there wasn’t anything that we felt wasn’t being done well.
The evening childcare
The way it works is this: Having eaten at the early dinner session from 5.30pm – 6.15pm, you get your children in their pajamas, teeth brushed, ready for bed, before dropping them off for film club at 7.30pm.
The children watch a Disney or Pixar film whilst lounging on beanbags. When the film ends, usually around 9pm, the Mark Warner childcare team settle the children for bed. Each child gets their own little camp bed with a fleecy snuggle sack. When you sign your children into film club, there is a field to specify their bedtime. We noticed most people opted for “9ish”, after the film ends, but if your child has an earlier bedtime, the childcare team will work to your routine.
Anyone who reads my blog and follows me on instagram will know that my children don’t settle easily at bedtime, and are usually still up way later than the usual bedtime for children of their age. Arlo can fall asleep by himself, but with Rory, there is no way that he would lie on a bed and fall asleep with no help. “You expect me to sleep here? Err..what? No. I expect to be walked around the room for an hour AT LEAST”.
So, we never expected Rory to fall asleep at the evening crèche (and for the record, neither child did, they were always awake and waiting for us when we went to pick them up).
We’d drop them off for a maximum of two hours, enough time for Sam and I to have a peaceful dinner and a drink afterwards, then we’d go and pick them up around 9.30/10pm and put them to bed back in our rooms.
The first night we tried film club, Rory was perfectly happy to be left to watch the film with Arlo. We warned the childcare team that it was Rory’s first time, that he wasn’t used to falling asleep by himself, and if he asked for me, to let us know. Sure enough, after the film ended, one of the team found us at dinner to tell us Rory was asking for me and getting a bit upset. They were happy to keep him and help settle him (tempting), but had come to let us know as that is what we had requested. Being nervous about leaving Rory in a new and unfamiliar situation for the first time, I was grateful that the childcare team had approached our request exactly as we’d asked, and that first night gave me the trust in them that I needed.
The following nights, Rory was much more settled in film club. But although not distressed, he still wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of sleeping. We’d usually find Rory in any number of situations when we came to pick the boys up. A team member quietly reading him bedtime stories, his toddler club key worker giving him a cuddle and walking him around, a team member pushing him back and forth in a buggy to help him settle.
When I later read one of the notices on the childcare board that said any children under the age of three need to be brought to film club settled and ready to sleep, I realised that the childcare staff at Mark Warner really had gone above and beyond with their efforts to keep Rory happy.
If you do have a child who doesn’t settle easily or needs to be settled in a specific way, the childcare staff are very flexible and helpful. I noticed a couple of children asleep in buggies – I think the parents had pushed them around until they fell asleep and then dropped them off at film club to be watched by the staff whilst the parents went and enjoyed dinner. It was good to know that was an option, as that was a method that would have worked with Rory had he been ready to fall asleep so early in the evening (which, of course, he never was).
I’ve gone into quite a lot of detail with this part of the childcare at Mark Warner, not only because it was the part that really impressed us, but because I know that for any parent whose child doesn’t settle for bed in an easy or conventional way, these little details can become a worry and it’s difficult to imagine evening childcare working for your child. With the flexibility we experienced with the childcare at Mark Warner, I think most families would find a way to keep the children happy whilst also allowing the parents the precious opportunity to spend quality time together at the evening meal.
The kids clubs offered at Mark Warner allowed our family to have the balance that we’ve been missing in the last few years. At home, we don’t have uninterrupted dinners. The bit between kids bedtime and getting a meal prepared before we finally fall into bed ourselves is always rushed and hectic. I don’t have scheduled child-free time as Rory is always with me during the days. Sam and I are barely able to find a moment to finish conversations, and after years of broken nights and busy days, we are tired, really tired. This is a standard with life with young kids, and we don’t expect it to be any different. But this holiday really came at the right time for us, or should I say, our most burnt out point, and it’s done wonders in helping recharge the batteries.
The overriding thought that I keep coming back to if someone asked me why they should try a Mark Warner sun holiday is that the whole time we were away, I wasn’t tempted to turn to Sam and sigh “Remember what holidays used to be like before we had children?” That thought didn’t once pop into my head, which is a pretty incredible achievement.
I unashamedly LOVED my scheduled morning time to read books. There were no arguments over whose turn it was to doze on the sun lounger and whose turn it was to make sure the children didn’t fall in the swimming pool and/or run off down the beach. I loved watching my kids doing their morning activities and having such a great time with their key workers, and I loved that by the time we picked them up at lunchtime, I could genuinely feel that ache to see them. I often need a little separation before I feel that, and really appreciate the exhausting but wonderful little people in our lives.
Our afternoons were 100% focused on the boys, and our temporary separation made me approach our family time together with more energy and enthusiasm than I otherwise would have had.
Concentrated time together and concentrated time apart works really well for our family.
We are honoured (and still slightly in disbelief) to be working with Mark Warner. We were given the opportunity to pick a resort and share our experiences on Sorry About The Mess.