Kids' holidays: In search of... children's clubs

Sometimes you need someone else to look after your little darlings while you enjoy the serious business of relaxing. Sarah Barrell investigates

Responsible, caring parents you may be, but it is unlikely that you will want to spend every minute of your summer holiday in the clamouring company of your children. Depending on their age, this probably goes for them, too. Choosing a tour operator, resort or hotel that offers a children's club is the obvious answer, but, with so many variations on a very loosely defined theme, where do you begin?

Responsible, caring parents you may be, but it is unlikely that you will want to spend every minute of your summer holiday in the clamouring company of your children. Depending on their age, this probably goes for them, too. Choosing a tour operator, resort or hotel that offers a children's club is the obvious answer, but, with so many variations on a very loosely defined theme, where do you begin?

How much is it going to cost?

Prices vary hugely. Most of the beach holiday packages run by the big companies subsume the cost of older children's clubs into the price. Looking after babies and toddlers needs more staff and costs more.

Can I trust these people with my children?

How well each club performs is something of an unknown quality, dependent as it is on the individual abilities and characters of group leaders. However, the key questions to ask are: what is the ratio of supervisors to children? (The higher the better.) And how limited is the age range within each group? (You don't want your child to be stranded in a group of much older or younger children.)

Will the children enjoy it?

Most clubs offer child-pleasing welcome packs (T-shirt, sun hat and games); likewise, activities for younger children cover a standard drill: face-painting, model-making, sandcastles, stories, dressing up etc. From around eight years up, the emphasis starts to vary depending on the holiday. Activity holidays and holiday villages tend to focus on team sports and tuition whereas the big sun-and-fun package companies are more likely to offer day trips (water parks, theme parks etc) where additional costs (pocket money for pizza, extra-curricular activities) may crop up.

I need a break. Where do I find one?

Of the mainstream tour operators Thomson (08705 502555, www.thomsonholidays.com) has the largest number of children's clubs in Europe with 117 located throughout the Mediterranean and Canary Islands. The clubs are divided into three age groups that vary depending on the destination. The staff-to-child ratio is, on average, 1:20 and all costs are included in the price of the holiday. Under-threes are not catered for but babysitting/creche services are available at selected resorts from £2.50 per hour.

JMC (0870 758 0203, www.jmc.com) has the best range of age groups at its nine FamilyWORLD and 67 KidsWORLD clubs, located at 27 European destinations. The FamilyWORLD clubs are located at selected family-friendly properties (in Majorca, Menorca, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey) and are exclusive to JMC's UK customers. Clubs are split into five age groups beginning with Beach Babes (at FamilyWORLD properties only) for babies six months to two years. Trained nanny-to-child ratio: 1:3. From three years upwards the clubs (featured at all properties) are free and have a staff-to-child ratio of 1:5.

I want something that's going to tire them out

Increasingly popular with families who want a little more than sun, sea and sand are specialist activity holiday companies offering imaginative, resort-based childcare covering a wide range of age groups (often at very reasonable rates – free for those over two years). The downside of this is that early booking is essential as the staff-to-child ratios are very strict. Mark Warner (08708 480480, www.markwarner.co.uk) is an established family holiday favourite with 14 Clubhotels in the Mediterranean. Baby Club (four to 12 months) costs £200 per child per week and one nanny looks after two babies. There is still availability for bookings this September and October.

Sunsail (023-9222 2222, www.sunsail.com), the activity holiday specialist, has 11 resorts in Turkey, Greece and Antigua and splits its clubs into six age groups. Recommended alternatives are Powder Byrne (020-8246 5300, www.powderbyrne.com) and Neilson (0870 333 3356, www.neilson.com).

My children's table manners are non-existent. Do we have to stay in a hotel?

For those who prefer self-catering but perhaps feel it leaves all concerned needing another holiday, Simply Travel (020-8541 2200, www.simply-travel.com) offers excellent options for creche/children's club with villa or apartment rentals. Pioneers in this field, Simply Travel have childcare provisions in Corsica, the Ionian islands, Turkey and (new this year) Crete, catering for children from six months to 10 years.

For those brave enough to venture under canvas avec enfants, Canvas Holidays (08709 022022, www.canvas.co.uk) has Hoopi clubs at 60 of its 75 campsites in France and throughout Europe. The clubs cater for four to 11-year-olds only and are included in the cost of the holiday. There are wildlife couriers on selected sites. Recommended alternatives: Eurocamp (01606 787878, www.eurocamp.co.uk) and EuroSites (0870 751 0000, www.eurosites.co.uk).

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