Independent Families: 'We'll need a sunny stopover'
Saturday 30 December 2006
Q. My sister and I want to holiday together with our mother, husbands and toddlers (17 and 15 months respectively) next Easter. My family would travel from London, the rest from Sydney, and we'd like to find somewhere halfway, with one long-haul flight each, where there will be enough to keep two toddlers and two dads occupied and let three mums relax. Somewhere all-inclusive would be nice, but we're not averse to self-catering.
Ann Roberts, London
A. For hot but not exhausting Easter weather, with plenty of sandy beaches for toddlers, and a good choice of sports for the more active members of your divided family, look for resort destinations within reach of Bangkok or Singapore. Both should be monsoon-free in April. And they are the stopover points between London and Sydney for British Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways, giving you and your Australian relatives a good choice of carriers.
From the airport in Singapore, an hour's ferry ride across the Strait of Malacca takes you to the rainforest and red cliffs of the Indonesian island of Bintan. This has long been a retreat for Singaporeans, and is beginning to find a wider audience. There's not a lot of hardcore culture or shopping on offer, but you will find tranquil, empty beaches and one of the best golf courses in Indonesia: the Gary Player-designed Bintan Golf Club (00 62 770 692 839).
At the front of the all-inclusive deals is Club Med Ria Bintan (08453 676767; www.clubmed.co.uk), a small and - for Club Med, anyway - stylish holiday village arranged around a garden and white sand beach. Two pools and a "Mini Med" play area will keep your babies happy, while you can take your pick from the free activities and lessons: yoga, golf, archery, tennis, sailing, snorkelling and a circus trapeze. The food is plentiful and reputedly good, wine and beer is included in the cost, and children under two get a free Baby Welcome Pack: a cot, stroller, potty and steriliser in your room, and a special corner and menu in the restaurant.
Prices for seven days in April, staying full board in a Club room, start at £1,547 per adult, £272 for under twos, including transfers, membership fees and return flights from Heathrow. The prices on Club Med's Australian site, www.clubmed.com.au, work out much the same, though adults pay slightly less, children slightly more.
If you fancy a day trip, the 40-minute shows and hand-feeding opportunities at the Elephant Park should please toddlers, while a dinghy "discovery ride" through the island's mangroves will get you close to the local wildlife, including fireflies, monkeys and kingfishers. Both of these are bookable via the Bintan tour office on 00 62 770 692 029.
Two years on from the devastation of the tsunami, the tourism-reliant inhabitants of southern Thailand would also welcome your trade. Phuket, an 80-minute flight from Bangkok airport, got back on its feet particularly quickly, yet it could welcome many more visitors. The island is a great destination for families prepared to travel long-haul, giving you access to spectacular beaches, rainforest trips and world-class diving and snorkelling.
The beaches of Phuket are dotted with large complexes aimed squarely at the family market, but not all cater for smaller children. One that does is the spanking new JW Marriott Resort and Spa (0800 221222; www.phuket.com/marriott), an exotic five-star, low-rise complex looking over eight miles of Mai Khao beach. Three huge outdoor pools meander through its acres of tropical gardens, with one separate shallow section with water slides and a bubble pool designed for paddlers and splashers. The children's club here is also in a separate pavilion, with indoor and outdoor sections, and has a busy daily "Little Turtles" programme of activities for pre-schoolers. If this turns out to be too daunting for your children, baby-sitters are on call.
Adults have the whole of the Andaman Sea to play with - the resort provides free kayaks, dinghies and boogie boards, and will arrange boat trips to dive and snorkel sites. Or you can sweat it out in the fitness suite, try free classes in everything from meditation to kick boxing or Thai cooking, bliss out in the spa, or improve your backhand on the tennis courts.
The majority of the accommodation is in luxurious double rooms - some connecting - but the two-bedroom "royal" suite can accommodate an extra camp bed in each room. It also has full cooking and laundry facilities, giving you the option to self-cater should the resort's grill, Italian and sushi restaurants, or its café and deli bar not meet your needs. In April, room rates per night start from US$265 (£147) for a garden room, rising to $2,500 (£1,390) for the two-bedroom suite, with breakfast.
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail email@example.com
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