Summer's just around the corner, but there are still bargains to be found Pol O Conghaile rounds up the best family deals for 2013
Island paradise in jersey
Clean, safe beaches. Waterparks. Castles, shopping and walks for all ages. We've got to be talking about France, right? Or Spain?
Actually, no. Just an hour away by direct flight from Dublin and Cork lies the Channel Island of Jersey, an unspoilt oasis that rarely features in package holiday brochures. And Celtic Horizon Tours has seven nights half-board in a three-star hotel from €689 per adult in June.
Think of it as a halfway house between Britain and France, with 20 unspoilt beaches, golden sands, cliff walks, golf and more adventurous activities such as blokarting and sea-kayaking. Child prices are available on request.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-629 2000;
Time out in Thailand
After the 'spring' weather we've been suffering recently, it doesn't take much to make a summer holiday sound attractive. In fact, a single word could suffice, particularly when that word is 'Thailand'.
The Southeast Asian hotspot doesn't have to cost the earth, either, with day-to-day expenses working out cheaper than many European resorts. GoHop.ie has flights plus eight nights in the three-star Patong Paradee Resort on a room-only basis from €819pp, based on a June 27 departure. Trailfinders has seven nights at the four-star Zeavola Resort from €1,229pp for select departures between May 6 and June 26. The price includes flights from Dublin, Cork or Shannon to Phuket.
DETAILS: See gohop.ie; trailfinders.ie.
Summer sales in Spain
Thomas Cook's summer sale has some rich pickings, with hundreds of upgrades and free child places on family holidays. Families stand to save up to €500 by booking early, though reductions are limited to select dates and accommodations.
Among the offers are four-star self- catering on Spain's Costa Dorada from €340pp and the Costa del Sol from €392pp, based on May 10 departures (travel in July, and the price jumps to €547pp). May 11 is another date for bargain-hunters, with flights plus three-star accommodation in Majorca from just €359pp. A month later, you'll pay €513pp.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-514 0322;
Spread your wings in turkey
Once you've lathered the kids in sunscreen, there's nothing like a good waterpark to tire them out. Aqua Fantasy, just 20 minutes from Kusadasi, will do just that. With dozens of slides, wave pools featuring 10 types of waves, shallow areas for toddlers, daily competitions and a Treasure Island-themed zone, this is one of Europe's largest water parks.
Wings Abroad, the Turkish Holidays specialist, has seven nights at the Melissa Apartments in Kusadasi from €1,316 for a family of four, departing June 23. The only extra is government tax of €3pp, and flights depart from Dublin, Cork and Shannon.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-871 9444; wingsabroad.ie.
Driving holidays with a difference in Norway
Think of sandy beaches, and Norway doesn't exactly spring to mind. The country's fjord-indented coastline is packed with hidden gems, however, and July and August can bring surprisingly warm temperatures.
Project Travel suggests a luxury half-board itinerary with De Historiske hotels (similar to Ireland's Blue Book), starting in Oslo and proceeding via Geilo, Flam, Loftus and Oslo to Bergen. Glaciers, ferry rides, railways, adventure parks and a host of other adventures can be found along the way, with the €1,885pp price including car hire and ferries.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-210 8391;
The sunshine state, orlando
With direct flights from Dublin, guaranteed sunshine and all the theme parks a family could possibly require, it's little wonder Florida, and particularly Orlando, has become one of Ireland's favourite long-haul summer holidays.
American Holidays has a super deal based on travel between April and June, with 10 nights at the three-star Quality Inn International Drive and four nights at the Sirata Beach Resort in St Pete's – including four days' car hire – from €679pps. The price is based on a family of four sharing accommodation; quote reference number 839764 when booking.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-433 1061;
Cheap sunshine in gran canaria
Last-minute deals are pretty thin on the ground in 2013, with most tour operators paring back their capacity to reflect plummeting sales in the recession. That's not to say you can't nab a deal, however.
Budget Travel (now a member of the Club Travel network) has been advertising family holidays from €1,299 per family, based on two adults and two kids spending seven days in Gran Canaria from July 5.
Not a bad price for stunning beaches, tasty temperatures, bustling seaside restaurants and mountainous interiors.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-435 0024; budgettravel.ie.
Family packages in portugal
Sugar-sand beaches, great seafood and zippy waterparks make Portugal's Algarve a tried-and-tested sun destination for Irish families.
Sunway has seven nights at the three-star Luna Club Oceano Apartments (150m from Forte San Joao beach) from €1,878 for two adults and two children under 12. The same resort is available for €1,998 a month later, with a July 14 departure. Family packages include flights, transfers, hotels and a 20kg baggage allowance per person.
Meanwhile, Falcon has seven nights self-catering at the four-star Holiday Village Algarve in Balaia from €632pp departing July 11, with sea views and a kids' club. The all-inclusive rate at the same resort is €808pp for the same dates.
DETAILS: See sunway.ie; falconholidays.ie.
Cruise control on the med
This summer, children under the age of 18 staying in the same cabin as two full-paying adults cruise free with MSC. That could shave hundreds off holiday bills over the course of a week or two, and there's a throng of onboard activities too, including parties, live shows, arts and crafts, and sports tournaments.
Flights and a seven-night all-inclusive cruises on MSC Preziosa start from €899pp, departing Barcelona on June 7 and taking in Marseille, Genoa, Naples, Messina and La Goulette.
Elsewhere, Celebrity Cruises has free upgrades from inside to balcony cabins on select cruises this year. If your kids aren't at school age yet, you can make further savings by cruising in September or May, when Royal Caribbean has rates from €89pp per day.
DETAILS: See msccruises.ie; royalcaribbean.ie; celebrity cruises.co.uk.
Festival time in tenerife
There's more to Tenerife than beaches and waterparks. The sunny Canary Island has a busy festival programme, with one of the highlights falling over the weekend of June 23-24. The Fiestas de San Juan in Puerto de la Cruz sees midsummer bonfires light up on the evening of June 23.
Lively beach parties continue through the night, and when the sun comes up the following morning, the bano de las cabras takes place: an island tradition dating back to when the summer solstice was celebrated by bathing goats.
Going to press, holidaysonline.com had flights and accommodation in Puerto de Las Americas from €483pp.
Sun holiday mecca in morocco
Even the word 'Morocco' has a whiff of the exotic about it, but don't be fooled – sun and family holidays in this North African hotspot can be as comfortable and hassle-free as any package on the Med.
The Atlantic Coast resort of Agadir has come of age with a new marina and prom, and a new highway to Marrakech has cut the journey to two-and-a-half hours, opening up all manner of souks, storytellers and snake charmers to the casual visitor.
Flying direct from Dublin to Agadir, Sunway has a huge selection of Morocco holidays, including self-catering beach holidays from €419pp, twin-centre options including Agadir and Marrakech from €699pp, an all-inclusive Club Med option in Agadir from €999pp, and a surf and yoga holiday in Imi Ouaddar, 30km north of Agadir, from €899pp.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-288 6828; sunway.ie.
Fly/drive in california
You can stay in one place for your summer hols, or you can hit the road. And when it comes to road trips, there's no place like California – a state that rolls cities, coastline, mountains, forests and deserts into one unforgettable, and sunny, vacation.
Tour America has a seven-night fly/drive departing August 14, including flights, four days' car hire and accommodation for three nights in San Francisco, and four in Anaheim, just south of LA. The drive between the two takes in Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay (where you can check out the fab aquarium), several State Parks, Santa Barbara and a legion of beaches. The price, based on four sharing, is €919pp for the week.
DETAILS: 01-817 3535; touramerica.ie.
Make for the lakes in italy
Looking for something different from the usual seaside package holiday? Lake Garda is as close as it gets to an inland sea – both Italy's largest lake and a sunny playground for holidaymakers of all hues. But there's a lot more to it than watersports: quaint villages, mountainous landscapes and daytrips to nearby Verona just for starters.
Topflight has family-friendly bungalows at the Bella Italia resort from €2,699 for two adults and two children, departing June 8; if your kids are pre-schoolers, travel in late September from just €469pp. Bella Italia has five pools, and the packages include rep service, transfers and free baggage allowance.
Another option is to rent a mobile home at Lake Garda. Crystal Alfresco has seven nights at the Altominicio Family Parc from €309pp, based on a May 18 departure. The price is based on six sharing and includes return transfers and flights.
DETAILS: See topflight.ie;
Take the car to France
Car hire can heap pain on the cost of a summer holiday, so skip the headache (and the airline baggage charges) by taking your own. Brittany Ferries has return fares for a car plus four passengers sharing a cabin from €758 departing June 8 (returning June 21).
Another good price is available for departure on August 17, from €797 (with a return sailing on August 30).
Finally, you can bundle two weeks' campsite accommodation at Le Ty Nadan campsite in Brittany with a return ferry fare from €2,608, based on an August 17 departure. Celtic Link and Irish Ferries also sail to France from Rosslare.
DETAILS: See brittanyferries.ie;
Children of the sun in crete
Greece may be suffering an economic winter right now, but its largest island is definitely open for business this summer. Abbey Travel has seven nights in Hersonissos for two adults and one child from €1,342 – a price that includes direct flights, transfers and accommodation with its July 7 departure date. Diverse landscapes, ancient ruins, great seafood and the birthplace of Zeus await, as, of course, do brilliant beaches.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-804 7100; abbeytravel.ie.
Family magic in majorca
Fancy a week in the sun in Majorca? Direct Holidays has seven nights at the three-star Hi! Bouganvilla Park Aparthotel from €2,018, for two adults and one child. The flights depart from Cork on August 17, and you won't be bored, either: there's a kids' club for children aged three to 11, and a full programme of daily activities to boot.
Another eye-catching price crops up on the Spanish mainland, where a family of four can spend seven nights at the four-star Holiday Palace on the Costa del Sol from €2,104. An all- inclusive rate is also available from €3,023, departing August 17. The Holiday Palace has a Beach Club theme park, with slides, fountains and a pirate ship.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-514 0351; directholidays.ie.
New horizons in north cyprus
Cyprus is the latest territory to topple into the black hole of European bailout, but it's not off-limits to holidaymakers. North Cyprus, outside the eurozone and with its own banking system, is unaffected by the current crisis. In fact, its currency is the Turkish Lira, where an exchange rate of around 2.4 to the euro makes for some great value in eating out, shopping and getting around.
Direct Traveller has seven nights for a family of four from €3,115, flying out of Belfast on June 26 or 29. Accommodation is self-catering at the three-star-plus Ship Inn in Kyrenia, where two-bed villas are surrounded by pools, tennis courts and more.
DETAILS: Tel: 0044 208 547 2857;
From cruises street to cape cod
With online bookings dominating travel these days, it's not often you hear of tour operators opening brand new, and real-life, branches. At 9am on April 8, however, Trailfinders is doing just that, by opening its third Irish branch on Limerick's Cruises Street.
Trailfinders is particularly good with tailormade long-haul travel, and it's not all a backpacker product, either. One holiday to Boston and Cape Cod departing August 23, for instance, offers direct flights, five days' car hire, five nights at the three-star Cape Codder Resort & Spa and two nights in a Boston five-star from €4,349 for a family of four.
DETAILS: Tel: 01-677 7888; trailfinders.ie.
Summer holiday haven with irish ferries
You can take the ferry to France, or you can take a much shorter trip – for a fraction of the expense – to the UK. Going to press, Irish Ferries' Haven Holidays had four-night breaks from €495 for up to six people travelling on June 10. The special offer comes with a two-bed holiday home at Kiln Park, inclusive of a return car ferry crossing. The holiday park is in coastal Wales, with its own footpath down to a sandy beach leading to nearby Tenby.
Activity possibilities range from walks in Pembrokeshire National park to a newly refurbished pool with splash zone. Book by April 22.
DETAILS: Tel: 0818 300 400; irishferries.com/haven.
Lazy days in lanzarote
Holiday bargains will be in short supply in July and August this year, so savvy travellers are looking towards the end of the summer for family deals.
Depart August 20 with ClickandGo.com, for example, and you can bag seven nights for a family of four in Lanzarote from €1,889. The price includes scheduled flights with Aer Lingus and three-star self-catering at the Costa Mar Aparthotel in Playa de los Pocillos. Two pools, a kids' club, playground and evening entertainment are all just 20m from the beach.
Lastminute.com has a four-star option in Lanzarote from €2,628 for two adults and two kids at the Sands Beach Resort in Costa Teguise, based on travel in August.
DETAILS: See clickandgo.com; lastminute.com.
NB: ALL prices correct going to press, but subject to availability and change. Prices include flights, accommodation and taxes, except where stated otherwise