When Mr AMR and I first had Angelica, we vowed never to take a holiday abroad for at least five years. Just getting to Sainsbury’s was enough of a faff – getting her into the car seat, getting her out again for a feed and a change, stopping for another feed halfway down the dual carriageway, getting her into the buggy – we couldn’t begin to imagine what going abroad would be like.
Then we had Ted, a year and a half later, and the faff didn’t just double – it tripled. Two buggies, or one gargantuan megatron buggy, no other space in the boot for the shopping, relay nappy-changing trips to the toilets, vom-poo-vom-wee-wee incidents, lost shoes, hangry rants at the tills. We very firmly decided that holidays, for the foreseeable future, would not be for us.
But fast-forward a year, through what felt like the world’s longest winter (I thought I’d somehow become trapped in an episode of Game of Thrones) and we were desperate to see some sun. I think I even said to Mr AMR that I would endure anything – anything! – for just a few hours lying on a lounger somewhere relatively hot.
Which was how we found ourselves – against all of our own advice – boarding a plane to Crete with a toddler and a baby and not nearly enough snacks or amusing things to see us through a four hour flight. We had been warned, by many, that going on holiday with small children was a sort of “same sh*t different scenery” affair – you have the same routine, made harder by lack of familiarity, but you perform it in the sunshine whilst looking at the sea. If you’re lucky.
If you’re unlucky, you’ll be stuck in a teeny hotel room with no air conditioning and noisy neighbours who drink boxed wine at 3am and do the conga in their swimwear. If you’re neither lucky nor unlucky, just – I don’t know, normal – you’ll be woken up by your kids at the usual time, even though they’ve had no sleep, you’ll have an empty mini-fridge and be desperate for some water but not know where the shop is yet, you’ll have to eat a cobbled-together breakfast of crisps and an apple that you find in the bottom of your handbag before spending three hours getting ready to walk to the pool, which is already so full that all of the loungers have been taken.
But Domes of Elounda* promised a slightly different experience to the typical holiday abroad, which was – admittedly – the one thing that enticed us along. The five-star Domes of Elounda is a family-friendly resort in Crete, overlooking the amazing UNESCO-protected island of Spinalonga. It’s already luxurious, with its all-suites and villas accommodation and brilliant on-site facilities, but we were invited to test out their new Haute Living concept which promised to take comfort and luxury to a whole new level.
Haute Living is the resort’s new luxury offering which comes as part of the package when you book one of the Private or Luxury Residences (which all come with their own pool) or Luxury Villas. It’s like (and this is the only thing I can think of to compare it with) a First Class upgrade. So you’re on the same plane, so to speak, but your experience on that plane is a very different one.
“HL” benefits include a luxury lounge with 24/7 access and constantly refreshed snacks as well as a long row of fridges with all kinds of drinks, both soft and alcoholic. (Your kids want continual snack-feeding? Here’s your new second home!) There were dedicated villa managers to cater to your every whim – milk for the baby’s bottle at 7am? No problemo. A new baby monitor? There within minutes. A doctor, you say? (Don’t ask.) She’ll be round at five.
Other things that are all rather appealing: private section of the beach with – again – complimentary refreshments; grocery delivery service; pillow menu (I don’t even know why this is a thing but it always sounds good) and an ultra-private in-villa check-in service. This sounded excellent when I read about it pre-departure – no need to wait at reception when you arrive after your mega-journey; a buggy takes you straight to your villa and your manager shows you around before leaving you to settle in. Bingo. Just what you need when you’re traipsing two temperamental toddling humans around with you.
And in practice? Yes. Oh yes. The in-villa check-in was an absolute Godsend – when we arrived at our Luxury Residence we were knackered, the kids were knackered, I just wanted to get them into bed. (Two travel cots were waiting, perfectly made-up and ready to sleep in. A huge proportion of people who stay at Domes of Elounda have babies or small children, so they are well-prepared in that respect – dozens of high chairs in every restaurant, kids’ menus, vegetable purées and mushes widely available…)
The Luxury Residence was very modern and – though reasonably compact – well thought-out. And incredibly stylish – definite modernist influences going on, with huge corner windows and clean, graphic lines. There were two bedrooms, both en suite, both with very efficient air conditioning units as well as ceiling fans. (I hate air con and prefer a fan if the temperature outside is bearable so I appreciated the choice.) Then there was a kitchenette-in-a-cupboard with a microwave, fridge and sink as well as a small hob and then a living area with sofa and chairs and folding glass doors that opened out onto the pool terrace.
And the pool – ah! Now when I say pool, I’ll reiterate that I’m talking about your own pool. And when I’m talking about your own pool, I’m not talking about some tiny patch of water that’s like sitting in a large bucket, I’m talking about a pool you can actually swim in. A proper pool. In your back garden. Bloody marvellous. No collecting together of sunscreens, hats, nappies, more nappies, spare nappies, spare shorts, spare hats, multiple bottles of water, snacks, more snacks, spare snacks: keep all of the crap inside the villa and simply open the back doors.
You want easy, laid-back, no-effort entertainment? There it is, right there, a few steps from your sofa. Of course you’d enjoy it a lot more if you weren’t trying to constantly stop a toddler from running on the wet tiles/throwing himself off the edge of the pool/put his fingers in the jet stream thingy but that’s just called being on holiday with a kid/s. I’ve realised. Nobody can make a holiday-with-babies perfect, unless they provide a free Mary Poppins for a few hours a day to give you a bit of a break (we’ll get to that), but it did seem that Domes of Elounda had gone a long way to making life en vacances a hell of a lot easier.
The best thing about the private pool was that we could lie in the sun for the whole time that Ted and Angelica were taking their afternoon nap – which ended up being 2pm-4pm every day. Two solid hours to just loll around, read books, drink all of the fizzy drinks from the fridge (everything in the fridge was free, by the way, until we used it up – also the drinks and snacks on the middle shelf of the kitchenette, which was CRAMMED with stuff!) and then stand in the shallow end of the pool trying to quietly de-bloat. Had we not had the pool right there, we would have been tethered to our room, perhaps sat on a balcony, but probably using the time to have a nap ourselves in the darkened bedroom. Which, quite frankly, would have been a bit of a waste because the sunshine was so great for our spirits and energy levels. I love the sun – absolutely adore it. I’m sensible in terms of how much time I spend in it, but for me the whole reason to go on holiday is to get to be outdoors, in the warm, breathing in fresh air and feeling my bones heat up.
So in a way, the private pool made the holiday. We didn’t really need to leave our residence. And there was a turn-on-and-offable waterfall feature that was so smart – it sort of neutralised any outside noise when it was on. The Luxury Residences are actually very close together – semi-detached, if you like – but so cleverly designed that you can’t actually see anyone else, and nobody can see you. I sunbathed in just my pants when the babies were napping and felt completely comfortable that nobody could see. Mr AMR did his “washcloth on the privates” sunbathing routine so I bloody hope nobody could see! Haha.
We were in a Residence that was right across from the Haute Living lounge, which had papers and extra snacks and a concierge to answer all of your most obvious and ridiculous questions. Also across the road, the Italian restaurant Blend, which was where we had breakfast every day. It was excellent – a huge array of fresh fruits and yoghurts and cheeses and meats, pastries and breads as well as cooked-to-order eggs and on-demand juices (the beetroot and celery one was great) and an a la carte menu with pancakes and omelettes and so on.
And talking of food, there’s another huge benefit to the Haute Living deal that makes it a very worthwhile thing to do, and that’s the Dine Around concept. It means that you can eat at any of the restaurants (there’s an Italian, a Japanese fusion, a traditional taverna, a buffet-style restaurant) for free, every night. Bearing in mind that a meal for one person in the Italian restaurant, Blend, could set you back around eighty euros, not including drinks, you can save quite a considerable amount. Especially if you have older children eating from the main menu, or you’re travelling in a group of adults. I thought that this was a magnificent perk; if you’re normal half-board then you can eat at the buffet for free, but the restaurants feel like more of a night out, an event. And I like being able to order from a menu and have table service! It’s also slightly more formal, so you can get dressed up without feeling like a berk. When it comes to the bill, you just pay for drinks and service, which you would do anyway at the buffet restaurant.
So is the Haute Living concept good value for money? Well, as I said, it’s only available as part of the deal if you book one of the private or luxury residences or a luxury villa (those look so swanky, but no idea what they cost per night!) so you’re already jumping up a huge step anyway in terms of the accommodation. Your own pool, more space, more privacy. You’d expect to pay more anyway, just for that. But then you get all of the HL bonus balls thrown into the mix – just the Dine Around perk alone must be worth a fair few bob each night. Not to mention the unlimited drinks available in the lounge. I mean, you could just park up there for the night and you’d be dancing with your undercrackers on your head by ten pm. (Unless you have kids with you, obviously.)
Before I left for our week away, I did quite a lot of price-searching and comparing and I think that the Luxury Residence (which includes Haute Living) was about £390 per night and a two-bed family suite with jacuzzi (doesn’t include Haute Living) was a hundred or so pounds less. (Bear in mind that this was in late April, the prices are not anywhere near that now it’s getting into season!) The Haute Living that came with the Luxury Residence would probably save around 150 euros a day just in food bills without even taking into account the lounge, snacks, free drinks, beach bar refreshments and so on. And the fact that the room you’re booking has a private garden and pool…
A few people have already asked me about the difference between the Luxury and Private residences. The Private Residences (see here*) are older in style – all of the new Luxury Residences, along with the lounge, look like something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Californian desert. They are so beautifully designed. Quite Frank Lloyd Wright, in a way, and a million miles from your typical whitewashed Grecian holiday abodes! But the Private Residence styling is more traditional, it’s on two floors, larger inside and comes plopped in the middle of a one acre plot, so your neighbours aren’t right on your doorstep. We took a cheeky little stroll up to the private road that they’re situated on and they looked lovely. Amazingly, they were actually cheaper than the Luxury Residences at the time – I think, if I remember correctly, they were just over £300 per night – but the pools are much smaller and, I suppose, the properties themselves are older. Next time, though, I’m booking a private one just so that I can compare – I hate being next to other people, so the idea of a separate villa but with hotel amenities is incredibly appealing to me!
Which, to be fair, is exactly what you get at the Luxury Residence too, it’s just if you like your space (and your accommodation on two levels) then the Private Residence looks like a great bet.
What else can I tell you? I’m wracking my brains.
Oh God, I’ve just actually checked the prices per night for the week after next and it’s £847 per night! If you can, then go at the end of April, like I did, or at the start of May – the weather was hot, but fine for little ones, and the flights were cheap. And the villa was less than half the price. The pool was nippy, despite it being heated – I think that it’s a sort of eco-system they use – but that’s the only drawback I can see for going very early in the season. Or very late in the season. I wonder what the weather is like in October? I have to say, I worried about it being 21/22 degrees and thought that might not be hot enough, but it felt absolutely BOILING when I was lying there on our secluded patio terrace. I wouldn’t have wanted it any warmer. One day it was twenty six and I almost expired – gone are the days when Mr AMR and I would go to Greece in July and suffer temperatures in the forties!
In summary, then, I think that the Haute Living package is a brilliant idea. The fact is, you’d probably pay loads more for the residences anyway, even if they didn’t have the Haute Living, so the HL part is just one massive, money-saving bonus. We felt very special, being able to phone up our manager, Georgia, at any time and get her to sort out our inadequacies and packing oversights, but she also kept her distance and was very discreet. There was no overly-perky social calling or anything like that. Which Mr AMR is allergic to.
The crux of this post was supposed to be whether or not it’s possible to have a luxury holiday with kids – or at least very tiny kids – and I do think that Domes of Elounda have managed it with their Private and Luxury Residences. It’s a good hybrid of self-catered villa and hotel – there’s enough fridge space to store milk and limited snacks for toddlers, but not enough that you’d ever want to cook for yourselves. Which is excellent. The restaurants are fully child-tolerant and friendly, highchairs are plentiful, travel cots are sound, the beach area is small and safe and easy to play on. For the number of babies and small children I saw, there could maybe be a few more areas with play things and slides, or a dedicated kids pool with inflatables and slides, but then I totally see what the resort is doing in terms of their branding; it all feels very adult and luxurious. No Disney characters stuck to walls or garish plastic toys everywhere. Which keeps the premium feel and makes grown-up guests feel as though they are in a five-star resort.
There are pros and cons to this, as a family staying there; I loved that it felt like a grown-up trip away, and that we were sort of smuggling our kids in naughtily yet they were still brilliantly catered for. But some kids’ plates and cutlery in the kitchenette could have been good and perhaps some more facilities to keep them occupied. There was a park next to the creche (the creche is really excellent; purpose-built, airy, clean, friendly and professional staff) but something a bit jazzier might be nice, a bigger park perhaps, with more play things, if they ever want to add another string to their family resort bow. It could always be hidden away behind some stylish screening to keep with the luxury feel!
You can find out more about Domes of Elounda at Mr & Mrs Smith here* – many thanks to Mr and Mrs Smith and the team at Domes of Elounda for organising the trip – we will be back!
(Domes of Elounda provided four nights accommodation for my review, I covered all other costs for the week.)