Tuesday 6 December 2016

How to curb the cost of an Easter school break

As a family day-trip can cost €50 or more, you can't afford to rule out freebies, writes Louise McBride

Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30

As a family day-trip can cost €50 or more, you can’t afford to rule out freebies
As a family day-trip can cost €50 or more, you can’t afford to rule out freebies

Parents hoping to book a sun holiday for the family over Easter will find it pricey and tricky to do so - sun holidays for the extended Easter break are already heavily booked. So, too, are flights to Spain and Portugal. Sunway, for example, is already sold out of European package holidays for Easter.

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Aer Lingus's flights to Barcelona and Faro are heavily booked over the Easter holidays - and it could easily cost you nine times as much for a flight in the second last week of March as it would were you to fly in early April instead.

Early last week, Ryanair had one-way flight offers to Barcelona starting from €28.79 - but the nearest to the school holidays that you could book a flight at that price was for April, which is after the school break.

Booking a holiday at home could even be difficult. The Trabolgan holiday village in Cork, for example, is already sold out of its mid-week deals for the week beginning March 21.

The extended Easter break kicks off on March 17, with most schools not reopening again until April 4. So those of us who must entertain our children at home for almost three weeks must face the question: what's the best way to do so - without breaking the bank?

Celebrate the Rising

This Easter marks the centenary of the 1916 Rising. "There are lots of 1916 commemoration events taking place all over Ireland, and many are free," said Fiona Farrell, of schooldays.ie.

These include the ceremonies in Dublin's Garden of Remembrance on March 26 (Holy Saturday) and at the GPO on Easter Sunday, March 27. There will also be a raft of wreath-laying ceremonies across the country on Easter Sunday which will be timed to coincide with 1.15pm - when the Rising's very first shots rang out.

Let's be honest though, most kids (particularly younger ones) won't sit through commemorative ceremonies. Visiting an exhibition of the Rising, taking part in a walking tour, or watching street theatre could be a better way to entertain the kids (again, as long as they're not too young).

The 'Rising' photo exhibition in the National Library of Ireland, which is free, shows the men and women who were affected by the Rising, and how Dublin looked during - and after - the rebellion. It also includes audio recordings of actors reading from selected letters and diaries which give first-hand accounts of the Rising.

An Easter Rising centenary visitor centre will open in the GPO on March 25. The new centre tells the story of the lives of ordinary and famous people who were affected by the Rising - as well as the main events of the time.

On Easter Monday, March 28, there will hundreds of talks, walking tours, music, dance, street art and street theatre taking part around Dublin under an event - 'Reflecting the Rising' - which is being run by RTE.

A walk in the park

A walk (or cycle) in the park armed with a picnic is one of the cheapest family activities you can do - but make sure the park is free before you make your way there.

For example, admission to Powerscourt Gardens in Wicklow is €6.50 for an adult, or €3.50 for a child over the age of five. A family ticket (two adults and three children) is €18. There is a separate fee to see the Powerscourt Waterfall - of €5.50 per adult; €3.50 per child over the age of two; or €16 for a family ticket. The entry fee for the spectacular Mount Usher Gardens in nearby Ashford is €7.50 per adult or €3.50 per child over the age of four.

There are plenty of parks around the country which are free to visit, including Glendalough in Wicklow, Connemara National Park in Galway, Glenveagh National Park in Donegal, and Dublin's Marley and Phoenix parks.

Watch out for hidden extras like car parking and visitor centres.

It is free to walk around the park and lakes in Glendalough - but you must pay into the visitor centre. Parking is free in the car park beside the Glendalough visitor centre - but there is a charge into the car park near the Upper Lakes.

At Glenveagh, the car park, visitor centre and park are all free - but there is a charge to visit or take a tour of Glenveagh Castle. You must also pay for a bus to get from the visitor centre in Glenveagh to the park itself - unless you're happy to walk there (which will take you about 40 minutes each way).

Festivals and treasure hunts

The Dublin Walking Festival, which includes walks on the Wicklow Way and Wicklow hills, runs from March 25 to 27. It caters for children aged six upwards, as well as adults, though there is a charge for the walks. The Galway Food Festival runs from March 24 to March 28. Many gardens have treasure hunts on over the Easter, including Huntington Castle and Gardens in Carlow, and Belvedere House Gardens in Westmeath. There is a charge for these treasure trails.

The Great Indoors

Of course, a picnic or treasure hunt in the lashing rain is no-one's idea of fun - and there's only so much baking and painting you can do with children at home before cabin fever sets in. So have a plan in place should the weather be bad.

There are plenty of museums and galleries around the country which are free to visit, including Dublin's National Gallery of Ireland, Natural History Museum and Science Gallery; the Galway City Museum and the Limerick City Gallery of Art.

Easter camps

Parents who must work over the school holidays are faced with the headache of arranging almost three weeks of childcare for their children.

Easter camps usually work out cheaper than short-term childcare. They're also a good way to keep your children entertained.

But shop around though.

It could cost €210 to send three children to a four-day camp - though that bill could run to €350 or more for some of the more expensive camps. Camps usually cover the hours that your children would be in school. Some camps offer after-camp care until up to 6pm and may also allow you to drop your child off a bit earlier than 9am - though there is typically an additional fee for this.

Trinity College, for example, is running a sports camp this Easter which costs up to €125 per child for a four-day camp, with a €5 discount offered for siblings. That camp runs from 9.30am until 4.15pm. However, for an extra €35, children can be dropped off at 8.30am and picked up at 5.30pm.

"After-camp care can be a little pricey but children love the change of scene and new experience," said Laura Haugh, mum in residence with mommypages.ie. "Places at Easter camps tend to fill up quite quickly so book a place as early as possible. Most primary schools that already offer after-school facilities on site across the country will run an Easter camp with additional after-camp care."

There is a great variety of activities offered by the various Easter camps - including archaeology, science, arts and crafts, acting, dancing cooking, kayaking, surfing, and windsurfing.

Let's Go is running four-day Easter camps which cater for children aged between five and 13-years-old. The camps, which run from 9.30am until 3.30pm, are available in Clare, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Meath, Westmeath and Wexford. They cost €80 for the first child, €70 for the second, and €60 for the third. The camps include a bouncy castle, musical games, and arts and crafts for younger children; and Zorbee ball rolling, Snag golf (which teaches juniors golf) and KMX Karts (essentially, a cross between a BMX and a go-kart) for older children.

Western Bushcraft Skills in Galway runs an outdoor camp which teaches children the skills they need to survive in the wild, including wilderness cooking, shelter building and fire lighting. Its five-day camp costs €120 per person - or €30 a day. It caters for children aged between eight and 16, and runs from 10am to 4.30pm between March 21 and March 25. There are also three-day camps which cost €75 per person - or €30 a day.

For those who want their children to learn a sport over the Easter holidays, Murphy Sweeney Golf School in Roscommon is running three-day Easter camps where children can learn the basics of golf. The camps, which run from 10am until 2pm, cost €50 per person, €90 for two siblings, and €120 for three siblings. Playball Kids, in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, runs Easter hockey camps which cost €65 for three days and €80 for four days.

The website, schooldays.ie, has a good snapshot of camps around the country.

Easter camps won't run on Good Friday or Easter Monday, so should you have to work those days, you will need to arrange care elsewhere.

There's only a month to go now before the kids finish up for Easter - so get organised if you haven't got your plan in place yet.

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