Family holidays: Making a break for it this winter
Whether it's winter sun or winter snow you're after this festive season and beyond, the good news is there are plenty of options to choose from. Bernice Mulligan reports
IT will come as no surprise that for most Irish families, what they want at Christmas is sun. "The most popular destinations would be the likes of Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria," explains Louise Jordan, marketing manager with Sunway. "The Canaries are ideal for families: you're basically guaranteed good weather, the flight isn't too long and the standard of hotels is very high."
Despite the recession, Jordan says that, with Sunway at least, Christmas breaks to these locations are almost booked out, with a few options still available for New Year's. However, if the Canaries are not available, she also recommends somewhere like Morocco. "The prices there are fantastic and you will get amazing value in four and five star hotels."
Taking to the slopes
But what if you want to feel snow instead of sun on your skin? Then what are your options?
Carmel O'reilly of Topflight says there are loads of great-value destinations available all over Europe for families.
"In terms of value, Austria and Bulgaria are excellent," she says, advising parents to prioritise convenience. "Choose a hotel near the ski school and ski lifts because, especially with younger children, once they get tired you will be carrying their skis as well as your own."
She also suggests only taking children skiing when they're old enough to enter ski school. "Certainly when they're out of nappies," she says. If this is not possible, she recommends resorts such as Avoriaz in France and Soldeu in Andorra for their crèche and kindergarten facilities.
She adds that in many resorts children can avail of free ski passes and even in some cases free accommodation, so people should read the brochure carefully, talk to their travel agent and compare their options.
In terms of safety, Topflight recommends that all children under 14 years of age wear a helmet. O'reilly also recommends that children go to ski school for the week. Jordan agrees: "The main accidents would occur when people who have never skied before don't go to ski school. They go off on a slope they're not ready for and get into trouble. Once you and your children stick with the ski school you should be fine."
Sunway offers a Club Med ski option, which is all-inclusive. This includes your flights, transfers, accommodation, food, leisure activities, ski passes, ski lessons and facilities for your children. "The other pro is that you ski right to the door of your hotel. On some packages, the hotels are located very far away from the slopes, so the convenience factor is a real bonus with Club Med."
Jordan believes that although a luxury holiday, skiing makes a great family break. "There's such a great buzz; you're doing something every day, and quite apart from the skiing, things like food and entertainment tend to be fantastic on ski breaks."
O'reilly says the same. "There's also something very educational about them. Children are hearing all these different languages and observing different nationalities and cultures, it's a wonderful experience for them."
And she offers another practical piece of advice for anyone thinking of purchasing ski gear. "First check with your friends to see if they have anything they can lend you. If you decide to make the investment, Great Outdoors in Dublin is fantastic, as they have years of experience, especially with boot and helmet fitting. TK Maxx also does great deals."
Remember to ensure that jackets and salopettes (ski trousers) are good quality and boots are waterproof, she advises.
A visit to Lapland has also become popular for families. "It's a once in a lifetime experience for most – it's not something you'd be doing every year," explains Jordan. "But if your children are at the right age, it can a lovely experience."
At Sunway, this excursion will take place over three days and will be a jampacked adventure which involves travelling to the Arctic Circle in Finland, meeting Santa and his elves, riding with huskies and reindeer, tobaggoning and going on snow-mobile safaris. Surely every child's dream?!
Jordan advises that children should probably be no younger than four if you're planning on taking this trip. "You've got to remember it's going to be very cold, plus if they're too young they just won't remember it."
And while thermal clothing is provided, be sure to pack lots of thermal underwear, warm jumpers, and changes of scarves and gloves, which are inevitably going to get wet while the little ones are playing in the snow.
Other than that, all you need is lots of enthusiasm and a big dollop of festive spirit!
Trips to Lapland with Sunway this December cost from €1,179 per adult, €999 per child. Departure dates: Thursday, 15 December; Saturday, 17 December; and Monday, 19 December. Direct flights from Dublin. See www.sunway.ie or t: 01 2886828.
A ski package holiday to Pamporovo in Bulgaria with Topflight on 7 January 2012 for two adults and two children half board costs from€1,908 at the three star Snezhanka Hotel. Ski Packs: Learn to Ski Adults €155; Learn to Ski Child € 115. Seewww.topflight.ie
Mother & Babies