If you’d asked us a couple of years ago whether we’d ever consider going on an all-inclusive beach resort holiday, the answer would have almost certainly been, “naaa, it’s not really our kinda thing.”
Because my wife Rosie and I have always liked to think of ourselves as more of the adventurous type, doing everything we can to stay off the beaten track. Renting a little self-catered villa rather than a more expensive hotel room. Avoiding overpriced tourist hotspots and making friends with the locals instead. Discovering amazing secluded beaches and the very best hidden eateries that serve real local food at real local prices.
But since having kids, with all the baggage, routines and restrictions they bring with them, our holiday priorities have shifted big time. Because, quite simply, our old travelling ways just aren’t conducive to a toddler who hates long flights, needs constant attention, structured meal times, afternoon naps and flips out if he isn’t tucked up in bed by 7:30pm.
So when we were offered the chance to try out the new Phokaia Beach Resort in Turkey as Mark Warner brand ambassadors (where free childcare is included as part of your stay!!) we pretty much bit their hand off. Because, bloody hell, did we NEED a holiday…
Although Mark Warner is known for its all inclusive activities like tennis, cycling and water sports, that was the last thing on my mind. Instead, I packed a couple of pairs of swimmers and a suitcase full of books (while Rosie packed everything we would actually need), in preparation for a lazy week of soaking up the sun with a good book, while trying everything on the resort’s all-you-can-eat buffet and extensive cocktail menu.
Ultimately though, my plan was to do nothing much of anything in our own little bubble for the whole week-long trip.
What I didn’t expect was just how much I would get into (and get out of) the whole Mark Warner experience, which meant the holiday I was expecting was nothing like the one we ended up having…
5 reasons why Mark Warner is now top of our holiday wish list
I’d heard that Mark Warner was known for its childcare offering, but I had no idea quite how exceptional it was going to be. We put Teddy into their Kids’ Club for the morning sessions (9am-12:30pm); a special nursery on site filled with seriously lovely, highly experienced and all-British nannies, with all the latest toys, a kitchen with fruit and fresh milk (that we could take back to our room for Teddy’s evening bottle), and even its own mini swimming pool!
Just like a proper nursery, they had a timetable of different activities planned for each age group – from arts & crafts, to swimming, music and even an award ceremony for the kids at the end of the week – with the same nanny (the lovely Sarah) looking after our Teddy each and every day for continuity.
He, of course, was obsessed with their huge selection of cars, so (apart from a few tears when we left him on days 3 and 4) was happy as Larry hanging out with his new toddler mates every morning while we had some much needed time to ourselves on the beach.
But the pièce de résistance had to be the evening childcare arrangements. Every night from 7:30-10:30pm, the nursery was transformed into a big old sleepover for all the kids on the resort, set up with cots and camp beds for little ones to crash (or watch an age appropriate movie), looked after by the same team of nannies that they know from daycare, allowing us grown ups to have supper and a few much needed drinks without a care in the world. Utter bliss.
It’s not just for kids
Because the resort was so geared up for parents, I just assumed before we arrived that it would be full to the brim with children. But in reality, the mixture of guests on the resort was vast, from young families like us, to older ones with teenage and even young adult kids, alongside young child-free couples, older couples and even singletons.
Clearly there was something for everybody at this resort…
Thanks to Mark Warner’s excellent childcare options and some subtle child-free zones throughout the resort, it never felt like there were too many kids around at any one time, disturbing the poolside peace or running riot during meal times. They had their space and the grown ups had theirs, and it worked perfectly.
On that note, one of my favourite unexpected surprises of the Phokaia resort took place every evening at 5-6pm…Kids’ Tea, a specially organised dinner just for kids (think spag bol, sausages and chips, basically all their favourites), meaning that our little tikes could eat their tea a good two hours earlier than everyone else, and be in bed by the time the rest of the resort emerged for supper.
And the cherry on top?
There were always obliging staff on hand during Kids’ Tea to fetch thirsty parents a cocktail or beer from the bar, because – well – Mark Warner really does think of everything.
Never a dull moment
Despite my high-brow, bookish intentions for this holiday, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I only managed to read 16 pages of my book during the seven day trip.
And that’s because I had no idea just how much I would really get into and enjoy all the free activities that set Mark Warner apart from other similar resorts.
It started with a casual go on one of the resort’s many paddle boards that you can take out on the bay for as long as you like. Before I knew it, I’d signed up for a free group windsurfing lesson the next morning and agreed to give tennis a go the following night!
It turns out, while I was by no means a natural windsurfer, I ended up really enjoying it (that’s me with the purple sail above!) and borrowed a board every day for the rest of the holiday while Rosie ‘kept watch’ from the comfort of her sun lounger. I even tried my hand at kayaking and waterskiing too, and religiously took part in ‘Social Tennis’ every evening at 5pm (racquets supplied, you just rock up and play a little match with whoever else is around), which was not only a great way to get some exercise, meet people and top up my tan, but such good fun too!
And the best thing of all? Every one of these activities was included for free within the price of our room (though you can pay a little extra if you fancy private lessons).
Now, don’t judge me, but I’ve been known to be a bit of a social recluse on holiday. Let me explain. In my day job, I have to spend my whole life making small talk with people, asking them questions about their lives, their families, their interests, but getting nothing back in return. So when I’m out of the office, that’s quite literally the last thing I want to do.
But, somehow on our Mark Warner holiday, perhaps because we all arrived together on the same flights, or because a group of us all had kids around the same age, or because everyone was just so damn nice (!), I didn’t just find myself chatting to the other guests…I actually started liking them!
Learning their names. Playing tennis with them. Having lunch together. Arranging to meet up by the pool in the afternoons or at the bar for late night cocktails!
And the funny thing is, it didn’t feel weird or forced…it felt like you were on holiday with a group of friends, which for me was such an unexpected treat.
Going off the beaten track
Given our preference for non-touristy holidays, we were a little worried that resort life wasn’t going to be for us. That the same old buffet and daily routine might get a tad repetitive after seven days and seven nights…
But we needn’t have worried.
Mark Warner organise their week-long holidays as five days full board (all meals included) and two days half board (supper not included). So, on these two half board nights, we could either buy our own supper at the resort’s beachside Jetty Bar, or alternatively venture into the nearby town Foça – a lovely little fishing village, just a £3 taxi ride away – for an evening of our own choosing.
So for these two nights, we hired one of the nannies from Kids’ Club to babysit Teddy in our room (another brilliant service that the resort offers), got all dressed up and went exploring!
And I’m so pleased we did, discovering (thanks to TripAdvisor) two of the loveliest little restaurants that were off the beaten track but right up our street;
The Kavala Cafe Winehouse – a gorgeous local wine bar that serves light bites and pizza, with the best view of the sunset over Foça harbour. A great little find.
Kuzina Foça – a tiny little family-run restaurant, full to the brim with local charm, serving traditional home cooked Turkish food that is 100% authentic and 100% delicious. The fact that it was packed with very friendly locals (rather than tourists) just reaffirmed its quality in my book.
Needless to say, our evenings out on the town were a big success and ticked a massive box for us…showing that, whether you want to be pampered for the whole week or prefer a little more independence off the beaten track, you really can get the best of both worlds with a Mark Warner holiday.
So, now that we’re back home, reminiscing while flicking through all our holiday snaps, I can genuinely say that although we were slightly nervous about going all-inclusive initially, our minds and pereceptions have been well and truly changed.
Would we go on a Mark Warner holiday again?
This honest review has been written in collaboration with Mark Warner, who invited us to try out their new Phokaia beach resort in Turkey (at a discounted price) after it opened this summer.