Travel: We're all going on a Branson holiday

Do Virgin Sun's promises match up? Liz Kershaw was on one of the first flights last week
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The Independent Culture
ACCORDING TO Richard Branson's publicity (and lets face it, there's plenty of it), people have been begging him to take them to the Med. I must admit it had never occurred to me that my holidays to Spain were gagging for the Virgin treatment. Until last week.

A few years ago he heightened my expectations of rail travel when he took over some clapped-out trains, sloshed on the red gloss and slapped his stickers over everything. Suddenly stations were decked out with clipboard- clutching hostesses in tailored suits, their smiles fixed on with corporate lipstick. The actual service was pretty shabby: a case of what my Grandma would have called "all fur coat and no knickers". I didn't hold out much more hope for his holidays to Spain, so what made me hand over my money to Richard's Redcoats?

A combination of curiosity, convenience and cash. I wanted a flight and somewhere to sleep in Menorca and, blitzed by the Virgin Sun adverts, I couldn't resist peeking at a brochure. It started with the usual happy snap of a slim, lightly tanned family laughing together on a beach. Looking on casually in khaki, enjoying a cuppa under a palm tree, the man who brought them such joy. Inside - this time in a blazer - he outlines his gospel. Turn the next page for his comforting thumbs up from the cockpit and the rest of a brochure that's bursting with fun, colour, logos, symbols, bullet points and promises.

I spotted the right place at an unbelievably straightforward price. With Virgin Sun, free child places really do exist and the true cost isn't hiked up by supplements. Lone parents aren't penalised. And after a 5 per cent discount is slipped in, the cost was happily spinning downwards. Fantastic promotion and pricing. But would he slip up on the product?

The Virgin Sun Experience starts with a fun flight. They've taken an ordinary plane, sloshed on the yellow gloss, slapped logos everywhere and given it a new name. So far so predictable. On cue, we were greeted at check-in with the news of a three-and-a-half-hour delay but before you could say Railtrack, they presented us with restaurant vouchers.

Twenty pounds' worth of free food certainly helps to pass the time but, just as the feel-good factor was starting to wane, along came a six-foot sunflower handing out backpacks and copies of OK and the News of the World.

Finally we were ready to board. The brochure stresses how Virgin Sun's in-flight entertainment makes the company different from the rest. So it all got a bit tense when our "pop down" entertainment screen failed to "pop down". We had to strain to catch the welcome message from the boss, a travelogue from Tony Blackburn (fancy him knowing so much about the Balearics) and Anthea Turner asking us for our loose change. Sensing our loss, the crew presented us with a toy plane, a camera and six bars of Toblerone (brochure price: pounds 30).

The Kids Care Virgin (please, these are not just reps) who took over at Mahn managed a comparatively dull transfer (coach trip) to our accommodation. The VIP party by our Customer Care Virgin (look, they're not reps) was endearing in its simplicity: a map of the island cut out and stuck on a pin board and an admission that she hadn't been there much longer than us. Our welcome pack wasn't there to welcome us but she personally delivered one later and it was stuffed with food and wine.

I've had apartments and villas where things needed fixing and nothing has ever been done. But here nothing was too niggling. Maintenance hiccups - jammed patio doors, an erratic shower and a bathroom door lock with a mind of its own - were instantly fixed. When my pre-paid hire car turned up 24 hours late I was given a day's refund in cash. No delay. No haggling. No fobbing off.

Richard Branson had under-promoted this resort. All in all, the product was better than the publicity. Possibly a first for the industry; surely a first for him. He is the People's Package Tour Operator, and I am a wholehearted convert.

Liz Kershaw paid pounds 757 for two adults and two children for one week at Sol Parc near Fornells in Menorca, including flights, self-catering accommodation and car hire. To book, contact Virgin Sun on 01293 432100

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