Yes, but do your research, says Graham Horner, author of family travel blog The Trunki Files and director of luxury family holiday operator, Scott Dunn
Whether or not to use hotel kids clubs divides opinion of parents with young children. Some are horrified at the idea of abandoning their offspring during precious time together, whereas others see organised childcare as integral to the very definition of a ‘holiday’. So who’s right?
The answer, of course, is everyone and no-one. It ultimately depends on what makes you, and your family, happy. Speaking personally, as a busy, working father of 3 young kids, I cherish being able to just ‘hang out’ with Leo (8), Genevieve (5) and Rufus (1) on our holidays. That said, precisely because I am a busy working father with 3 young kids, I also want holidays to be a time to recuperate, see my wife and feel like a husband as well as a Dad. Without any childcare, a holiday simply becomes a change of scene. The tantrums continue. The spaghetti still ends up on the floor. The guard never comes down and true relaxation is never achieved.
For my family, it has been about finding a balance. We are fortunate enough to take more than one holiday a year and, most of the time, we are happy not to have much childcare – a night’s babysitting at most. However, for our main ‘two-weeker’ summer holiday, we actively seek out somewhere with structured kids’ activities that will give us some valuable downtime and keep the children busy. We’re finding as the kids grow up, having a built-in network of other children to play with is also becoming increasingly important. And I can honestly say that the summer holidays we’ve had over the last 4 years, when our children have spent some of their time ‘in the club’, are the best holidays I’ve had in my life.
Things to think about
In addition to my own personal experiences, working for a holiday company that specialises in family travel means I frequently hear the concerns parents have regarding using kids clubs. Here’s my run down of what you should think about before you decide:
• What are the carer-to-child ratios? I consider this essential info as the quality of the staff will make or break your children’s experience. Not all hotel kids clubs operate to UK standards – on more than one occasion I’ve walked into a club, seen one or two exasperated-looking staff surrounded by sea of out-of-control kids, and made a sharp exit. In Scott Dunn’s Explorers clubs, we insist our nannies and child-carers are excellent English-speakers, have a recognised qualification and operate strict carer-to-child ratios; for example, the maximum ratio for kids under the age of 2 is 2:1.
• What hours does the club operate and which work best for you? There’s no point having a kids club that only opens in the afternoon when your child is usually napping; or paying to put them in all day when you actually want more of a balance. Think about what will work best for you as some clubs will allow you to book just morning or afternoon sessions and others put on ‘movie nights’ so you can drop the kids off and go out for dinner. Scott Dunn’s clubs typically run from 10am to 6pm, with evening sessions for older kids twice a week; but it’s totally up to parents when they pick up or drop off their kids (invariably, the kids dictate when they want to be picked up!).
• Will they feed your child at the club and if so, what? It’s quite unusual for kids clubs to provide food (Scott Dunn’s do, meaning parents can actually go out for the day or have a long lunch, a real treat); but if a meal is put on, check what’s on the menu. You probably don’t want your children eating pizza and chips every-day.
• Where is the kids club and what’s it like? Make sure it’s not a dingy room in the far reaches of the resort; and also try and find out what’s inside. You really want to know they have some decent kit and not just a box of broken toys. This is particularly important for younger ones who need the reassurance of familiarity – the more the club looks like their nursery or school at home, with the same toys and things to play with, the quicker they will settle.
• What if my child is the only one in the club? This happens more than you think if you have pre-schoolers. I’ve personally taken advantage of low-season rates at hotels in the Caribbean and Mauritius when Leo was little, but that is when the hotels were naturally quiet. We actually found that having the only child in the club was a positive, as Leo got one-on-one attention from the staff – which he loved. Also, when children are very young, a club is much less about making friends and socialising anyone, it’s more about keeping busy and having someone fuss over you.
• Do they take the children off-site? This is fairly uncommon but it’s something Scott Dunn does at some of our clubs in the Med. At Pine Cliffs in the Algarve, the team take over 5s on trips out to a local waterpark and an aquatic centre. My son Leo had experiences he wouldn’t have got with mum and dad (such as encountering dolphins) as we had our 8-week old baby with us and weren’t going anywhere!
• Do you have to pay extra? There is no hard-and-fast rule here; but in my experience working in the industry, long-haul hotels tend to include access to their kids clubs for free (at least for the over-4s) whereas in Europe, it’s typically a chargeable extra. Look out, though, for off-season offers; if you can take your kids out of school holidays, then operators will throw in free childcare as an incentive (at Scott Dunn we typically offer a free kids club place for off-peak bookings). Also, if you have a child that is under the minimum age for the club, it’s worth finding out if they can stay in the club with a babysitter (usually charged extra by the hour), as this may give you the option of a short break. My wife and I did this on holidays in Mauritius and St Lucia and meant we could have a few hours snorkelling together.
• Try and find out from other parents. If you can, try and speak to other people who have been there. Search for reviews online and if you have questions, don’t be afraid to email the reviewer – I’ve done this on TripAdvisor and invariably get a quick response. People are flattered to be asked their opinion.
Scott Dunn, Riverbank House, Putney Bridge Approach, London, SW6 3JD.