30-07-2015

Childcare on a Mark Warner holiday – Our experience of the kids clubs in Lemnos

mark warner childcare

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.

lemnos beach resort mark warner

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.

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Mini 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.

mark warner childcare

Toddler Club

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

21-07-2015

My boy is starting school

I haven’t really given myself time to reflect on Arlo starting school.

It’s partly because I’m not convinced by the school yet.

How can it ever compare to the wonderful experience he’s had at preschool that’s been more than we could have ever asked for? How can the teachers ever measure up to the ones that see him as an individual, and who know him? Will he speak of school as fondly as he speaks of preschool? Will he love going there?

Will I have any doubts that we’ve made the right choice?

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Arlo after his preschool leavers’ ceremony where they all wore handmade caps and gowns. All the emotions.

I know I probably won’t be assured about any of this until he’s started.

It’s partly because the pace of life with children has kept us busy. From small events to large milestones, time is constantly marching forward at a relentless pace.

I’ve been so preoccupied with the process of starting school, on top of all the other general life hecticness, that I have barely had time to realise what this means.

But there’s nothing like seeing your first child in school uniform to do it to you.

My boy is starting school.

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Thank you to BHS who sent us Arlo’s school uniform bits. The stretchy waistband / no button trousers are ideal for reception age children, and we have a lot of love for the plimsolls – they actually fit his super wide feet with no discomfort (we did go up a size).

BHS school shoes

A big change is coming for Rory too.

September will see him take his first steps to independence as he starts preschool. For the first time in his life, he will be doing something that is just for him. Separate from me, and from his beloved big brother who he follows around and copies endlessly.

Starting preschool will be his journey alone.

BHS school uniform

 

Sometimes it feels like life is moving forward with barely a moment to breathe.

Sometimes you just need to stop and look around.

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19-07-2015

Our furniture wishlist | featuring Furniture Village

If Sam had his way, we would never buy anything for our house. His motto is “Why buy more furniture? Just have less stuff”. Luckily, Sam rarely gets his way. However, I do try to remain respectful of our budget and Sam’s wishes. It’s very rare that I buy things for the house, and only after a lot of carefully considered thought. I only ever fight for Sam to relent that we should buy something if it is a good deal (you can easily find a lot of popular furniture items second hand or even free) and we have identified that we really need it.

It’s all very sensible and boring round here.

However, I do have a great imagination when it comes to my ideal home. In my head, our house is a perfectly co-ordinated space where everything matches and there’s a space for everything. (In reality, everything is freecycled and ill-fitting, and none of it does it’s job very well.) I love a planned out space, it’s one of my favourite daydreams. I have wishlists of what I would buy if money was no object. When pregnant with Arlo, I would wander round department stores, mentally picking out my favourite furniture items for his nursery.

Often known to peruse home and furniture websites for my favourite items, today, I’m teaming up with Furniture Village to show you my picks from their collection:furniture villageMy perfect bed would be big enough for the whole family, with handy underbed storage, and a padded headboard. This Super king Hadley Ottoman bedstead would be a dream. Our bedroom is painted white, with white floaty curtains, and it gets a lot of light in the summer months.I often think that with all-light/neutral furniture, our bedroom would be transformed into a really calming, light space.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a corner sofa really would make the best use of space in our compact living room. Our current setup is a two seater and a (broken) armchair. A corner sofa would allow our whole family to sit together, we’d never be short of places to sit when we have guests round of an evening, and it would also grant me my all-important stretching out space. The light grey colour of this Copenhagen LHF classic corner sofa makes a flexible backdrop for any cushion/accessories colour scheme.

The boys share a room. Which means at some point in the very near future, we will be looking at bunk beds. I have heard great things about the Stompa brand, and I love that you can choose between a trundle bed, underbed storage, or just the bunk bed with no storage. We’d probably go for option C, and create our own underbed storage solution. As with all good bunk beds, they are detachable, giving you the option to use them as two separate single beds.

I think sliding wardrobe doors are a great idea for small spaces. I love the colour options of these Welle High Five Slider warbrobes. Cheerful yellow would be perfect for the children’s bedroom, whilst I’d opt for a white or a netural shade for our room. Our existing wardrobes were left by the previous owner. They are brown veneer and I have never liked them. Updating our wardrobes to something that fits in with our decor tastes would make the biggest difference to our bedrooms and I’m determined to get there one day! Dream big.

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Thank you to Furniture Village for partnering with Sorry About The Mess. 

 

14-07-2015

Butlins Skegness or Butlins Bognor Regis?

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This past year, we have been working with Butlins as part of their ambassador program. Our ambassador role saw us visiting two of the three Butlins resorts, taking one term-time trip, and one school holiday trip, sharing our experiences as we go along.

Doing two separate visits at different times of year enabled us to get a really in-depth insight into the Butlins experience. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill one-time review opportunity, but a chance for us to really cement our views on the Butlins brand across a number of resorts, forming a carefully considered opinion over the course of a year.

In September of last year, we visited Butlins Bognor Regis, and a couple of months back, we went on our second trip to the Butlins Skegness resort. (Sam and I have also been to Butlins Minehead several times for ATP’s Music Festival, pre-kids, but we like to think our time there still gave us a good idea of the resort and facilities).

This post will focus mainly on Butlins Skegness, and how it compares to our experience of Butlins Bognor Regis.

The arrivals process

Our first positive impression of the Skegness resort was the drive-through check in for our chalet accommodation. Incredibly simple, there was no queue, and it meant we got our room number before parking up so could park as close to our accommodation as possible. Butlins Bognor Regis had been a desk check-in, also very straightforward, but we loved the convenience of the drive-through check in.

Food

The Skyline Pavilion at Skegness seemed to have more options for snacky or lunchtime eateries – there was Soho Coffee House with sandwiches and soups, and Rock and Salt fish and chip takeaway. At Bognor, the only options for a quick and easy ‘eat at the chalet takeaway’ were Burger King or Papa Johns.

We also loved the Firehouse Grill at Skegness (think Nandos), and it’s happy, colourful decor.

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If you are doing the premium dining plan, you have two dining options: The Yacht Club and The Deck. Essentially, the Yacht Club is an overspill option for busy periods. Otherwise, it’s very much the same as The Deck. The same food is served, except The Yacht Club has none of the ‘made to order’ stations for pasta, grilled meats or omelettes.

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The pool

There is a clear winner here. The swimming pool at Skegness has recently undergone a massive refurbishment and is miles above the pool at Bognor Regis. We found Skegness a far better bet for little ones lacking in pool confidence. As arlo explains in our video, it was very important to him that he could stand in the water in the children’s pool, and he could easily avoid any splashy fountains – not particularly easy to do at the Bognor swimming pool. He also loved the rope bridge that hangs above the pool.

The play areas

The soft play frame at Bognor is superior to the one at Skegness, and it’s better suited for the over threes. On the flipside, the soft play is comparatively underwhelming for babies and toddlers, but the Billy’s Buddies area nearby makes up for that. Bognor’s soft play is in the Skyline Pavilion, with easy access to refreshments and caffeine whilst you watch your child play. The soft play at Skegness was in a separate building, with no shop or cafe, leaving parents a bit stranded for refreshments whilst watching their children play. For this reason, Butlins Bognor Regis wins out for us on this one. However, one thing Skegness had that Bognor didn’t was the Little Stars indoor play area, which Arlo raves about in our video. Ride-ons, slides, Little Tikes Cars – great for younger children and toddlers.

Term time or school holiday?

Our Skegness break fell on February half term, whereas our Bognor break had been during term time. In terms of busyness, I’d say there was no difference. I was expecting queues for premium dining, and shows in the smaller venues at full capacity. We found none of that. We were able to walk into shows at any point, and eat whenever without a wait. The only discernible difference was that, catering to a predominately older crowd of tweens and school age children in the holidays, some of the evening shows had a later start time (8.30pm for skyline gang as opposed to 7pm during our term time break), and the shows for the 0-5 crowd were in Reds, the smaller venue, rather than on the main stage in the Skyline Pavilion.

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Summer or winter break?

Winter seems like a great time to go to Butlins, because it’s notoriously difficult to entertain small children at home, and there is just so much to keep them busy and happy at Butlins.

But I couldn’t help imagining how nice the huge sandy beach at Skegness would have been on a hot summer’s day, and if you are unlucky enough to wind up with a washout weekend, you lose out on the fairground, which is all outside, unlike Butlins Bognor Regis, which has a few of the toddler rides inside the Skyline Pavilion.

I’m tempted to say Butlins Skegness for summer and Butlins Bognor Regis for winter, but to be honest, whichever season you go, there is just so much to entertain young children, and I don’t think your experience differs that greatly according to the time of year.

Arlo, as usual, absolutely loved Butlins. Even more so, I’d say, as it was our second visit and he knew what to expect. He has proclaimed himself “The biggest fan of Butlins”. Rory, being six months older than he was during our first Butlins trip, and now a fully fledged toddler, was better able to appreciate all that Butlins has to offer and also had a whale of a time.

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Seeing how much the kids enjoyed themselves, the fact that they genuinely thought we’d taken them to the best place ever, just made it for us. We’ve already discussed going back to Butlins next year if we see a good deal.

To hear more from Arlo on the subject of Butlins, watch the video below where he discusses what he likes about the two resorts we’ve visited; Butlins Skegness and Butlins Bognor Regis.

Butlins is not a holiday for parents to relax and unwind. It is unashamedly an experience for the kids, or, more aptly, an opportunity for the whole family to have fun together. If your preschooler likes the shows and activities featured in my Butlins posts, guaranteed they will be in complete awe.

You might even find yourself with a contender to steal Arlo’s title as the biggest fan of Butlins.

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13-07-2015

Summer Holiday Skincare | Eczema, SPF, and gentle bath products

summer holiday skincare

Our family’s summer holiday skincare can end up looking quite different to the products we use at home. More so for the boys, whose skin tends to become very irritated, very quickly with lots of sun and swimming. We’ve come to rely on certain essentials that I would never think of going away without.

This is what comes with us in our holiday bag:

You know when loads of people tell you to try a product, and then you finally get round to trying it, and realise they were absolutely right? That’s what happened with Green People Children’s sun lotion. This is one of very few sun creams that don’t cause my boys any irritation whatsoever, and it’s now our go-to sun protection for the children.

Finding suitable bath products for my children’s’ sensitive skin has been a complete nightmare. Over the years, I’ve learnt to not bother with anything from a supermarket that claims to be “hypo-allergenic” or “great for eczema”.

At home, it works best not bathing the boys too frequently, and using only water. But on holiday, it’s not that simple – they are in the water a lot more, and need something to wash off the daily accumulation of sun cream, chlorine, and sweat.  Washing with water just doesn’t cut it, especially for their hair.

Since discovering Child’s Farm products, we haven’t looked back. The combined hair and bodywash is perfect for holidays, and amazingly, it doesn’t react with their skin at all. Hallelujah.

After years of trial and error, we’ve found that products that are as natural as possible, and with no SLS, parabens, or drying ingredients, are the best bet for the keeping the boys’ skin happy.

After success with Lush’s Dream Cream as a moisturiser, we went on to try the Dream Wash for bath time and also had great results. The calamine in it leads to a very chalky bath, the residue sticks to the bath toys, and proves difficult to completely wash out of their hair. It is, however, really soothing for eczema. So, although it’s not our every-day choice, we still pack our Dream Wash to use in the event of a flare up.

At the end of the day, easily irritated skin is easily irritated skin. We’ve not yet survived one summer without rashes or eczema yet, but with the help of Green People Children’s sun cream and Child’s Farm bath products, 2015 has been our least rashy year yet. High hopes for 2016.

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And for my own skincare?

Sam and I are happy to use any sun cream going, but I am a little more particular about what I put on my face.

If I’m staying bare-faced, then it’s Body Shop’s Vitamin C Daily Moisturiser SPF 30, which gives me all the sun protection I need and comes in a handy-for-travelling tube.

I like a light, very low maintenance make up routine whilst on holiday. I get so irritated by heavy makeup in warm weather, plus the fact that I just can’t be bothered to put on a full face of makeup when I’m on holiday. At the most, I just want something that evens out skin tone and gives a healthy boost.

Green People DD tinted moisturiser SPF 15 fits this bill nicely. The tinted moisturiser comes in two shades, the lighter of which was still a little too dark for me until after I’d had one summer holiday under my belt already. But at that point, it really came into its element. I LOVE the healthy, natural glow that it gives. It also works brilliantly as a base for your usual foundation on days when you want more coverage. Added SPF factor makes Green People DD cream very well suited as a holiday base.

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Once upon a time, Green People sent us the sun cream and the tinted moisturiser to try. Both products have since been purchased many times over.