The university of fun
Holidaying in student halls proved a big hit with Arlene Harris and her family
To anyone of my generation, the words 'student accommodation' conjure up images of dark, cramped rooms with the only source of heat coming from a two-bar plug-in heater.
But students today are used to a different type of existence altogether. In fact, so warm and comfortable are their living quarters that staff at the University of Limerick have opened up the accommodation to families during the holiday season.
So we decided to check it out.
The idea of my family of five staying in student digs at UL was strangely compelling. My three boys were excited to be staying anywhere other than home for the weekend, while we adults were intrigued by the notion of experiencing 'student life'.
But whatever preconceived notions we had about the standard of accommodation, all of us were impressed with what was on offer.
Greeted by the onsite manager on arrival, the apartment was roomy, warm and comfortable. There also seemed to be a feeling of security about the place while at the same time it was a hive of activity.
I wasn't quite sure how the bedrooms would be configured, so was pleased to see that the apartment was kitted out with six double bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms.
Two of the rooms were closed off as we didn't need them but all the children (including my nine-year-old) had their own room, complete with study desk, small walk-in wardrobe and their own shower and toilet.
Each room was clean and bright with towels and toiletries provided. And at the end of the corridor, a communal living room (with TV) opened out into the well-equipped kitchen.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants dotted around the campus with the most family-friendly being the Pavilion. Overlooking the sports fields, this bright, modern eatery has a compact menu with something to suit everyone – from Cajun spiced salmon and simple pasta dishes to roast chicken with bacon and child-sized portions for the youngest diner among us.
On our second night at the university we headed across the road to the Castletroy Hotel, which had a smart restaurant with a diverse menu and reasonable prices.
As everyone knows, leisure and social time is just as important to students as lectures, and UL has a lot to offer outside the classroom.
As Ireland's greenest university campus it has an abundance of walking and cycling trails, as well as tennis courts, pitches and an impressive sports centre complete with Olympic-sized pool. There are also art and sculpture trails, a games and pool room, restaurants, bars, live music, barbecues and farmers' markets.
WHAT TO DO
There is a packed calendar of events in the various theatres and concert halls on site so it makes sense to coincide any stay with a show.
We went to see Riverdance, which proved to be just as impressive as it was when I first saw it two decades ago. Afterwards we gleefully avoided the crowded car park and strolled back to our quarters to chill out before we got ready for dinner.
Limerick city is a few minutes' drive away and within the vicinity visitors can explore Bunratty Folk Park, Cliffs of Moher, Craggaunowen Heritage Island and Lough Gur Neolithic Site. And for anyone feeling energetic, the UL Activity Centre at Lough Derg offers sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, archery and other programmes.
NEED TO KNOW
The bottom line: This was enjoyable and a real eye-opener in relation to campus life. For any parent secretly dreading the moment their teenagers are waved off to university, a stay in UL is a must because it is reassuring.
The cost: Campus holidays offer family deals for up to four nights at €399 and €499 for seven nights.
For more information, visit www.campusholidays.ie or call 061 234 178.