Mariella Frostrup on a disastrous break at a low-standard resort – and how it’s formed her approach to holidaying with children.

The Last Resort

Family Traveller magazine is filled with mouth-watering pictures of fabulous family resorts, with kids’ clubs providing coveted adult time with your partner.

An early experience of this nearly ended in divorce, though. It sounded perfect on paper: five pools; full-day kids’ clubs; all the gear I needed for my baby in the room on arrival; a white-sand beach and delicious Sardinian cuisine to boot. With a two- and three-year-old in tow, we figured we couldn’t do better than this recently added newcomer to a very reputable group’s portfolio for families. We lasted a night. 

Plan B

We absconded, rented a tiny house on a beach down south and settled into a routine of mornings on the beach, barbecue lunches and naps for all the family in the afternoon. In the evenings, we’d walk into the local village for a bite and an ice cream and then go to bed early. It’s become a blueprint for our summer holidays, whether in a Cornish cottage or the Costa Rican jungle.

Simple accommodation, with good local food and, where possible, a potential babysitter have proved so much more relaxing than that early ‘resort’ experience.

I still longingly peruse the many places that offer entertainment for children while adults get downtime. Does anyone have one they’d recommend before it’s my children who are making our holiday reservations? 

Where it all went wrong

Arriving at 9pm, we found room service wasn’t an option – food was only available in the restaurant and there were no babysitters available (for the whole week!). Our rooms were adjoining but the kids’ room could also be accessed from the hotel corridor, so we dragged a chest of drawers up against it.

Over a bottle of wine (begged from reception), we sat forlornly, illuminated by the laser beams from the stage, 20 metres from our balcony. We were forced into silence by the ‘talent’ miming ‘Barbie Girl’ to a crowd of bored 12-year-olds. It was my husband’s birthday and he’s never let me forget it.

Next morning, we took the kids to the much-vaunted kids’ club, where a loud South African demanded we tick a list of ‘activities’. We watched a toddler sobbing as he was lowered into an ice-cold pool while another sat glumly chewing on a crayon, and we decided to try the beach instead. Described as a ‘short walk’, it was a mile away along a main road. 

At the beach, the musak was on full volume and waiters were busy dancing with each other. We didn’t stay to enjoy the all-you-could-eat lunch buffet, which – despite our location – featured an array of processed cheeses and iceberg lettuce. Sugo di pomodoro, described so fulsomely in the last issue of Family Traveller by Tom Parker Bowles, looked older than me. It was the only nod to local cuisine and was piled, festering, in a big metal pot.