We found ourselves – against all of our own advice – boarding a plane to Crete with a toddler and a baby and not nearly enough snacks or amusing things to see us through a four hour flight.
We’d been warned, by many, that going on holiday with small children was a sort of ‘same shit different scenery’ affair – you have the same routine, made harder by lack of familiarity, but you perform it in the sunshine whilst looking at the sea. If you’re lucky.
If you’re unlucky, you’ll be stuck in a teeny hotel room with no air conditioning and noisy neighbours who drink boxed wine at 3am and do the conga in their swimwear. If you’re neither lucky nor unlucky, just – I don’t know, normal – you’ll be woken up by your kids at the usual time, even though they’ve had no sleep, you’ll have an empty mini-fridge and be desperate for some water but not know where the shop is yet, you’ll have to eat a cobbled-together breakfast of crisps and an apple that you find in the bottom of your handbag before spending three hours getting ready to walk to the pool, which is already so full that all of the loungers have been taken.
But Domes of Elounda promised a slightly different experience. The five-star family-friendly resort overlooking the Unesco-protected island of Spinalonga is already luxurious – with its all-suites and villas accommodation and brilliant on-site facilities – but we were here to test out their new ‘haute living’ concept which promised to take comfort and luxury to a whole new level.
Benefits include a luxury lounge with 24/7 access and constantly refreshed snacks as well as a long row of fridges with all kinds of drinks, both soft and alcoholic. (Your kids want continual snack-feeding? Here’s your new second home!) There were dedicated villa managers to cater to your every whim – milk for the baby’s bottle at 7am? No problemo. A new baby monitor? There within minutes. A doctor, you say? (Don’t ask.) She’ll be round at five.
Other things that are all rather appealing: private section of the beach with – again – complimentary refreshments; grocery delivery service; pillow menu (I don’t even know why this is a thing but it always sounds good) and an ultra-private in-villa check-in. This sounded excellent when I read about it pre-departure – no need to wait at reception when you arrive after your mega-journey; a buggy takes you straight to your villa and your manager shows you around before leaving you to settle in. Bingo. Just what you need when you’re traipsing two temperamental toddling humans around with you.
And in practice? Yes. Oh yes. The in-villa check-in was an absolute godsend – when we arrived at our suitably named luxury residence we were knackered, the kids were knackered, I just wanted to get them into bed. (Two travel cots were waiting, perfectly made-up and ready to sleep in. A huge proportion of people who stay at Domes of Elounda have babies or small children, so they are well-prepared in that respect – dozens of high chairs in every restaurant, kids’ menus, vegetable purées and mushes widely available…)
Our villa was very modern and – though reasonably compact – well thought-out. And incredibly stylish – definite modernist influences going on, with huge corner windows and clean, graphic lines. But, oh, the pool!
Now when I say pool, I’ll reiterate that I’m talking about your own pool. And when I’m talking about your own pool, I’m not talking about some tiny patch of water that’s like sitting in a large bucket, I’m talking about a pool you can actually swim in. A proper pool. In your back garden. Bloody marvellous. No collecting together of sunscreens, hats, nappies, more nappies, spare nappies, spare shorts, spare hats, multiple bottles of water, snacks, more snacks, spare snacks… Keep all of the crap inside the villa and simply open the back doors.
You want easy, laid-back, no-effort entertainment? There it is, right there, a few steps from your sofa. Of course you’d enjoy it a lot more if you weren’t trying to constantly stop a toddler from running on the wet tiles/throwing himself off the edge of the pool/put his fingers in the jet stream thingy but that’s just called Being On Holiday these days. Nobody can make a holiday-with-babies perfect, unless they provide Mary Poppins for a few hours a day, but it did seem that Domes of Elounda had gone a long way to making life en vacances a hell of a lot easier.
We were in a residence that was right across from the lounge, which had papers and extra snacks and a concierge to answer all of your most obvious and ridiculous questions. Also across the road, the Italian restaurant Blend, which was where we had breakfast every day. It was excellent – a huge array of fresh fruits and yoghurts and cheeses and meats, pastries and breads as well as cooked-to-order eggs and on-demand juices and an à la carte menu with pancakes and omelettes and so on.
And talking of food, there’s another huge benefit: the ‘dine around’ concept. It means that you can eat at any of the restaurants (there’s an Italian, a Japanese fusion, a traditional taverna, a buffet-style restaurant) for free, every night.
I thought that this was a magnificent perk; if you’re normal half-board then you can eat at the buffet for free, but the restaurants feel like more of a night out; an event. And I like being able to order from a menu and have table service.
So is it possible to have a luxury holiday with kids? Or at least very tiny kids?
Well, I think Domes of Elounda – courtesy of child-tolerant restaurants, well-stocked fridges, a small and safe beach area, seamless service and that private pool – have managed it. We’ll be back…
A version of this post originally appeared on A Model Recommends in May 2018.
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