All-inclusive Holidays: How to keep a rein on your family's Kos of living
Travel tips & advice
All inclusive - where food and drink are included in your holiday price - is growing ever more popular. Mark Evans sizes it up on the sun-drenched Greek island of Kos.
Two hours into the holiday flight, and things aren't going to plan.
We should be somewhere over the continent, but our wheels are firmly on the ground of Dublin Airport. A summer thunderstorm has played havoc with holiday schedules across Europe, and a four-hour flight from Dublin to Kos is just one of the victims.
Landing hours later in Kos Airport - surely a contender for one of the worst you could imagine - it's a madhouse of non-moving baggage belts, no screen information and a scene of huddled masses that would give Dunkirk a run for its money.
Our hotel - Tui's Magic Life Marmari Palace - is a mere 15 minutes away but it's in pitch darkness by the time we're dropped off in the early hours of the morning. Weather is just one of those things, but it will give you a mood like thunder.
Marmari Palace has a lot of living up to do to dispel the gloom.
And it does it with ease.
Next morning the sun's splitting the stones, and the sea - on the far eastern tip of the Aegean - is a stunning blue, with a panoramic view of the tiny Greek island of Pserimos almost cheek to cheek with the nearby Turkish mainland.
First tip is to leave the wallet in the safety deposit box: Magic Life is all inclusive, so you're not going to need that holiday cash.
So what's the deal with all inclusive? It's been growing in popularity among Irish holidaymakers over the past few years but we're still way behind the British and the continentals in getting on board. Well, full board, plus drinks.
That's the big plus: the initial outlay is higher than if you're booking a self-catering holiday, but often not the huge gap you might expect. Drinks - alcoholic, soft, coffee/tea - are gratis. In Kos, it's from early in the morning up to 2am, and without regular trips to the ATM that can wipe that sun-kissed smile away.
Meals are part of the deal too - and you'll never go hungry. Breakfast from early morning up to after 10.30am (great for late risers like myself); lunch from just after noon; dinner from 6.30pm til 10.30ish. If that's not enough, there's afternoon cakes and nibbles and the drink - well, that just keeps flowing.
From the first sip of a fresh juice at the swim-up bar, everyday life back home - even the odd flight delay - is forgotten. It's a resort that's rated four star (from past experience I'd push it closer to the five), that's honestly a match for anything you'd get in the Caribbean or the tropics.
Greece can be a bit laid-back, but service here is top notch, among the best I've ever experienced. In the blink of an eye, that finished plate is gone, and that bartender or waiter will be over after you've sunk that last drop, and check if you want a refill.
Within a day or two, the bar staff will know your order and have it ready while you're still muttering for a round of gin and tonics.
Aimed at the sporty - but also very comfortable for the sunlounger potato - it's got enough to keep even the most active child, teen or adult busy. It's aqua aerobics for the grown-ups in the morning as the kids assemble for the clubs, and a day filled with, depending on age, archery and pool games. The resort is hugely popular with the Germans and British - and the Irish should really get in on the act.
If you're worried about early towels on the sunloungers, relax - the resort has six pools (one very professional half-Olympic size) and is cleverly designed. Big pools are near the main restaurant and bar, a lower tier has smaller pools (kids have four to choose from), and then you've got a private section of beach - again with its own bars and restaurants.
It's a clever resort within a resort idea which gives it that relaxed feel - so relaxed that you might want to do absolutely nothing. If you can motivate yourself, organised bike tours of the island or shorter trips are free, as is the beach yoga and aerobics (a beautiful location for them), the football tournaments and my favourite, the daily - and hard-fought water polo contest.
By night, tourists let their hair down with an outdoor disco til midnight or just chilling by the aptly-named Wunderbar. And do dance or swim or jog - the food is pretty irresistible. The main restaurant has themed nights, so expect Greek salads to die for, Mexican, Indian curries, fresh fish (the salmon's amazing) and, if you're fussy, good old burgers and chips or pizza. If you're on the run, there's a kebab and hot dog counter each day by the main pool.
And for something special, while in the resort you can book two a la carte restaurants.
The Italian has an array of pasta and pizza dishes, and a few regional specialities, and it's a lovely fine dining experience. The alternative, the Greek taverna right on the beach, is all about show - bowls made out of bread, local meze plates of specialities and the chance to catch one of those stunning sunsets for which the island is famous.
Tennis courts, a full (and good value spa), Wi-Fi, a shop, a coffee shop, good value excursions to neighbouring islands, free starter windsurfing lessons - the list is pretty endless. The best recommendation? This is a place where you feel relaxed, the kids can stroll around, safe and secure, you want the week to be a fortnight and you forget to turn on the phone. That's a holiday.
What to do around the island
See another country
Kos has more than enough for a month's sightseeing, let alone a week, but it's worth taking the trip (less than an hour) to the nearest Turkish resort, Bodrum. Sadly, tourist numbers are way down, but it's still open for business - with haggling for 'designer' clothes or excellent value gold and jewellery. Normally I'd do my own trip, but the best way to organise the bus journey to Kos Town's port, Turkish visa and boat trip is through the Falcon rep at your hotel. Expect to pay around €45 - but that includes a short sightseeing trip in Turkey too.
Visit the local town
Magic Life's a short bus or taxi ride (or a leisurely walk) from the sleepy resort town of Mastichari. It's got a hippyish vibe, with laid-back bars and tavernas, and there's no hassle taking your glass of wine down to the white sandy beach from the tavernas.
Go back in time
Big and bustling Kos Town can come as a shock after the peace of your resort, but it's got a wealth of history. Must-sees include Casa Romana, a Roman villa from the Pompeii period, Hippocrates tree - where the father of medicine was reputed to teach students; and Kos castle, built by knights in the 14th century to defend against attacks by Turkish invaders; plus the ancient Greek/Roman ruins of Asklepeion.
Late deal prices for Summer 2016 include:
September 3, Dublin to Kos, TUI MAGIC LIFE Marmari Palace, four-star all inclusive is €1,169pp (two sharing), a saving of up to €360 per person.
The two adults and one child price is €3,059, saving up to €740 per family, while the 2+2 is €3,759, save €760 per family.
To book head for Summer 2017:
May 20: Costs €1,089pp, based on two sharing, The 2+1 is €2,179, including free child place, while 2+2 is €3,419 including free child place.
For more info, see falconholidays.ie, call 1850 45 35 45 or visit a Falcon Travel shop.