We took our 7 and 9 year-old girls to Mark Warner’s Levante resort on the island of Rhodes for a week of water sports and fun in the sun, and here’s what we learnt…
What is there to do?
No sooner have you unpacked your toothbrush, than you are launched into a barrage of briefings about the facilities and activities on offer. As I can only hold three pieces of information in my head at any one time, by the time we got to the third briefing I had forgotten everything I had learnt at the first two. Luckily by the second day, it all seemed to make sense and we even managed to establish a bit of a routine.
You can do all the same sports as at home, from daily gym, yoga and stretch classes, to mountain biking, tennis and running, but the ‘waterfront’ (Mark Warner’s term for all the water-based sports on offer) is where the holiday really comes into its own. There is a constant stream of courses, events and activities that you can go to, all at no extra charge (apart from activities that involve a power boat, like water-skiing). Or you can go it alone, and just get out on the water with a sail boat, kayak, windsurf board or stand-up paddle board. The staff are all qualified instructors, and couldn’t be more helpful, whether it’s helping you figure out the best windsurf sail for your size and skill level or carrying the wretched thing up and down the beach for you.
They run free introductory courses for all the water sports and we went on the 3-hour beginner’s windsurfing course, which gave enough knowledge and basic skills to have a go on our own. You can pay for private lessons if you want to, and there’s a hefty discount for booking three or more, but there is no hard sell trying to get you to spend more money, and there’s so much to do, there’s really no need unless you’re particularly focused on improving at something.
We also went on the kayak safari (free) which was three exhausting hours of paddling with not much to see, and a quick pit stop at a local café. Although on paper this sounds quite dull, it was actually really good fun, and a good way to meet other people on the holiday. We didn’t manage to make the snorkelling trip (also free), and I’m not sure what else we might have missed.
What’s the kids club like?
Kids club is included in the price of the holiday and the children are grouped by age. Dividing the kids by age means they are more likely to have similar skills and capabilities on the water, as well as more in common to chat about. Our girls are 7 and 9, so were in separate groups and we were a bit worried this might lead to some moaning, but each had so much fun, was kept so busy and made so many friends, that it was no problem at all.
The club runs from 9-12.30 and 2.30-5.30, and there are different activities each day, although every day includes a session at the waterfront learning to windsurf or sail and a session in the pool. This is definitely not a baby-sitting service, as the kids are constantly active. Mine are quite sporty (something they have definitely not got from me) and loved all the sessions on the water in particular.
Every night is ‘movie night’ and (so long as you stay on the resort) you can drop your children off at 7.30 to watch a movie and play some games and they don’t need to be collected until 11. No need to book, no need to pay. If you want to leave the resort though, you do need to pay for the babysitting service. Because the kids spent most of the day apart from us, we only used the movie night option once, as it was actually really fun to catch up with them over dinner and hear about their day.
How safe is it?
I was really impressed by the rigorous approach to safety on the waterfront, from always requiring both children and adults to wear a life vest, to signing everyone out and back in again and keeping a close eye on them from the watch tower and the permanent safety boat out on the water. At one point I was jettisoned head first off the windsurfer and floated beside it for a bit just feeling sorry for myself. Within two minutes the safety boat was over to check I was ok, and whether I wanted to be towed in (I didn’t).
How many swimming pools are there?
If you are the kind of person who likes to boast about how many pools there were at your resort, then this holiday is not for you – the emphasis is definitely on the sports, not lounging by the pool, but having said that…
There is an enormous child friendly pool surrounded by sun loungers and umbrellas. This is the pool for people who like to keep an eye on their kids and are not averse to the sound of other people’s children screaming with excitement. If you haven’t got your towel on a lounger by mid-morning you may find it difficult to get one.
There is a smaller and quite deep (more than 5ft) pool by the beach, also surrounded by loungers and umbrellas. This is the only pool to have a bar area and is quite popular with teens. We used to congregate here for a milkshake and a dip when kids club finished at 5.30.
Our favourite pool was the adult pool. This is the most peaceful of the three and a Mecca for people who want to swim a couple of lengths and read a book or magazine in peace. Like the children’s pool, if you want a sun lounger you need to be a bit German about arriving early and staking your claim with a towel and beach bag.
What’s the food like?
We went half board, but in reality there’s really very little option other than to eat every meal on the resort. Breakfast is served on the hotel terrace and you can eat lunch and dinner there or at the cafe by the main pool.
Breakfast is really good, with loads of fresh fruit, omelettes and pancakes made to order (and you’ve got to love a restaurant that thinks cake should be served at breakfast!). We ate lunch at the pool cafe every day and it’s basic but wholesome and reasonably priced. The evening meal is a buffet, and there’s a huge selection – although I would have preferred less choice but better quality. The main evening meal starts at 7.30, but there is an earlier children’s sitting, which is full of more child-friendly foods. Even at the main meal, there’s all the standard stuff children eat like spaghetti bolognese – although nothing tastes exactly the same as at home. This also goes for the coffee (UHT milk only), and if you like a particular kind of tea other than English breakfast, your best bet is to take it with you (I’m weird about Earl Grey, and have turned into one of those people who take their own tea bags with them wherever they go – even if it’s only a meeting in North London).
What’s the room like?
The room was basic but clean and pleasant, with a large sliding door between our room and the children’s area, allowing privacy if wanted. The bathroom was spotlessly clean, but there was always a slight toilet smell. Apparently the Greeks use ‘grey water’ for their loos (i.e. not water that you can drink, like in the UK), which may account for the slight whiff. There’s also a small fridge and a kettle in the room, and a drier on the balcony – perfect for hanging your swimming stuff out to dry. The air conditioning was very efficient, and my husband had the temperature set to ‘Antarctic’, so the kids slept with a duvet!
What kit do I need?
In theory, you don’t need anything in particular, but in practice I would recommend:
- Day sacks for your kids – they need something to carry their suntan lotion, towels and dry clothes in as they trek from activity to activity
- Baseball caps for the kids – this protects their heads and keeps the glare out of their eyes if like mine, they refuse to wear the sunglasses you bought specially for the trip
- Rash vest /UV tops and shorts for adults as well as kids – the sun is absolutely blistering all day long and no amount of suntan lotion can survive how often you’ll be getting in and out of the water
- Crocs or similar for adults and kids – walking anywhere is like crossing over hot coals, and you want something you can easily slip on and off and rinse off afterwards
- Loads of high factor sun lotion – no explanation needed! Bring several bottles as each child needs their own for kids club and you’ll want to keep some with you as well.
- Board shoes for adults and kids – these are neoprene shoes with rubber bottoms. In theory you don’t need them, but they do give you better grip for board sports. You can buy them quite cheaply in the resort shop, although they’re not very good quality.
Other bits and bobs worth knowing
- Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner are all provided in your room.
- The chamber maid provides clean white towels for the room and brown towels for the beach every day – although being a mummy I religiously hung ours out to dry every evening ‘just in case’.
- The resort shop is not very extensive, but it is reasonably priced and you can pick up most emergency items like toothpaste and sun tan lotion. You can also buy snacks if your kids, like mine, find the gap between lunch at 12.30 and supper at 7.30 too long.
- There is an English nurse on site, and you can just drop in. We made one visit and she got something from the pharmacy in town for us the same day.
- There is a spa on the resort, but we honestly didn’t have time to visit it in between everything else.
- The staff – both local and Mark Warner staff – are a delight, super-friendly and helpful, so if there’s anything you want or don’t know, just ask!
What does it cost and is it value for money?
Let’s be honest, taking a family of four on holiday is never a cheap enterprise. The facilities and food are nice enough but definitely not delux. What you’re really paying for is the amount of activities that are available, so if you mainly want to lie on a sun lounger, you are wasting your money going on this holiday. But if you want to be active, then I would definitely say it’s worth it. Prices vary enormously according to the resort and dates you go as well as the timing of when you book, so the best thing is to check the Mark warner website.
Would we go again?
Absolutely! The kids loved it, and frankly so did I.