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Review: The Hotel Maspalomas Princess, Gran Canaria

I had such a lovely flight to Gran Canaria.  It wasn’t particularly the plane (with Thomson now launching their new 787 Dreamliners – they start flights to Mexico and Florida in May next year – I wonder if this will free up some newer planes to replace the clunky old Boeing 757-200s that are still being used on the Gatwick-Gran Canaria route?) in fact, I spent takeoff and landing being dripped with icy water from the air conditioning …  No, it was that I was sitting next to a really lovely retired couple (hello Brian and Gail!) who not only came to my aid with a copy of the Financial Times to use as an impromptu umbrella, but also made a very boring flight enjoyable chatting about their travels and family.

Still, as usual the Thomson crew were gracious and smiley (and provided wodges of tissue to dry me off!) and about four hours later we touched down in Gran Canaria.

Arriving at the Hotel Maspalomas Princess we were gobsmacked at the sheer size of the place : the mirror image of its sister hotel, the Hotel Tabaiba Princess (now a Thomson all-inclusive resort) the two form an enormous w-shape with 800 rooms between them over three floors.  A slightly shambolic check-in followed (large reception desk combined with no visible queuing system) but we were soon away and up to our lovely third floor room which was spotless, modern, comfortable and with a lovely balcony overlooking the pools.

We chose this hotel because my Disreputable Dad and his partner have been going there for ten years – the waiters and dining room staff greeted them like old friends – and we wanted to see what was so great about it that it keeps attracting them back.  And here’s what I discovered:

The staff are fab: they work and work and work to make sure everything is perfect.  Happy hour in the piano bar is 5-6pm and we often sat around playing cards and chatting with the bar staff, some of whom we became really fond of.  Oh, and that brings me on to my next point:

The drinks are very good value for a big hotel too.  There were cocktails for just €3 and soft drinks were good value at about €1.90 a pop – important when you have teens with you guzzling soft drinks.

The food is excellent: obviously the main restaurant is enormous and yes, you occasionally have to join a small queue to wait for a table (bear in mind it was half term too), but there is a huge amount of choice, with some dishes being cooked in a ‘show kitchen’ by chefs while you watch, a decent selection of both local and international dishes, plus the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips for the kids.  My one gripe was a lack of decent coffee and juice in the mornings – both were served out of machines and were a bit meh.

The wine list is small but there are some great Spanish wines on there (up to about €20ish – we tried some corkers).  Mexican evening was FANTASTIC with a Mariachi and a magnificent spread of authentic Mexican dishes.

The kids clubs are amazing: this is another area where Thomson excel. We often bumped into a happy band of kids with their Thomson carers.  I always watch the children’s reps and they’re just SO lovely with the kids.  It would drive me mental, but they’re always patient, sweet and kind – even with the more… er… challenging of their charges!  They have a lovely bright playroom inside and often take small groups outside in the lovely hotel grounds too.

The lunch choices were varied and excellent: it’s important when you’re staying somewhere on a half board basis that there’s a bit of choice when it comes to grabbing lunch.  There is a large range of cafés, beach shacks, etc with reasonably priced toasties, burgers (ooh and lovely crab wraps), also a lovely poolside restaurant serving salads, pizza, pasta, etc.

Around the hotel

The place is huge so there is loads to do: mini golf, table tennis, pool, etc.  There is a baby pool, a heated larger pool and then a huge two-part pool on an artificial beach (let down by foot-slicing grit as opposed to sand).  The hotel grounds are lush and beautiful with stunning plants and foliage.

Out and about

If you want to explore, you can easily grab a taxi from the front of the hotel and go to the bustly Playa Del’Ingles.  We didn’t really bother.  Just out of the back gate and across the road (the route to the beach – a good half hour walk, unfortunately) there’s also a lovely café serving toasties, salads, and a decent jug of Sangria.

If you fancy splashing out, walk the route to the stunning white beach at Maspalomas and seek out the El Senador restaurant – a gorgeous, seafront place selling the most amazing seafood.  We feasted on a fantastic fish soup, fresh garlicky prawns, paella and the most amazing fish, plus my dessert – a Galician almond cake with a Pedro Ximenez reduction was TO DIE FOR.  After all this exertion, waddle to the beach and plonk yourself on a lounger (it’ll cost you €7.50 for two beds, though, so don’t do it too often).  If you feel more like walking off your lunch, be careful where you wander, there’s a lot of nude sunbathing areas!

I’m not a huge fan of half board (I’d rather have been all-inclusive in the Tabaiba part of the hotel) as we did spend quite a bit of money, but I can’t complain because that was our choice so that we could be with my Dad, plus you don’t really have to go and stuff your face at lunchtime like we did. There are plenty of good value options to be had within the hotel.  We had a wonderful time, ate some amazing food, and although we weren’t hugely lucky with the weather, it was warm the whole time and we still came back rested, a bit browner and yes, a bit fatter than we went.

Always the sign of a very good holiday.

Oh, and Brian and Gail heartily recommended their own holiday destination, the Lopesan Villa Del Conde, which, they said, had amazing food, lovely staff and a fabulous setting.

Huge thanks, as ever, to the team at TUI UK.

 

Thomson offers seven night Platinum holidays to Gran Canaria staying at the 5T Hotel Maspalomas Princess Thomson Platinum Resort on a half board basis, from £609 per adult, first child travels from £324 and from £389 for the second. Price is based on four sharing and includes flights departing from London Gatwick airport on 7 January 2013. To find out more about this holiday or to book visit your local Thomson travel shop, thomson.co.uk or call 0871 230 2555.

The Thomson and First Choice blogger lunch

Over half term, the Death Wish Child and I popped to the Rainforest Café in London to meet up with the lovely team from Thomson and First Choice for their family blogger event. They’ve got some fab stuff going on at the moment, what with First Choice’s move to all inclusive from summer 2012, and loads of new family initiatives. Here’s the stuff that took our fancy:


Holiday Villages

Each holiday village is a resort in itself, with bars, restaurants and spas, offering kids’ clubs for everyone: ‘Twinkle Stars’ for the 0-2 year olds (sessions costs from £9 for a two hour slot), then ‘Little Stars’ from 3-5 years, ‘Super Stars’ from 6-8 years, ‘Mega Stars’ from 9 – 11 and Escape! from 12 – 15. Most of these are ‘just turn up’ free stuff like zip wires and funky stuff like DJing, plus there are special ‘academies’ at extra cost (book before you go) including football, stage and swim masterclasses.

Splashworld

A collection of resorts ALL with their own waterparks. The teens were particularly taken with this idea. First Choice have their very own pool tester, Tommy, who travels to each resort and gives it a score out of ten (what a GREAT job!), presumably for fun and the splashiness factor (the Sun Hotel Sun Palace (so good they named it twice) in Faliraki, Rhodes, scores an amazing 10 out of 10 on the splashometer)

Sensatori

5* gourmet 24 hour all inclusive and utterly gorgeous, these resorts are the creme de la creme. We visited the Sensatori in Mexico last year. Check out our reports by clicking here.

Family Resorts

Thomson also have a range of family holidays (all decent-rated 4 and 5T) with kids’ clubs, interconnecting rooms and lots of family-friendly entertainment. The 5T Atlantica Aegean Blue in Rhodes caught our eye, with its sparkly new waterpark, lovely restaurant with an open-air section so you can dine under the stars and a gorgeous taverna right on the beach. It also offers deluxe rooms which are in smaller buildings on the ground floor.

 

More info:

Thomson offers seven night family holidays to Rhodes staying at the Thomson Families 4T Atlantica Aegean Blue, on an all inclusive basis, from £1009 per person with the first child from £580 and second child from £730. Price is based on two adults and two children sharing, and includes flights departing from London Gatwick airport on 02 June 2012 and transfers. To find out more about this holiday or to book visit your local Thomson travel shop,Thomson.co.uk or call 0871 230 2555.

Where should I go on holiday? Year round climates.

I think I’m quite annoying.  Alright, I KNOW I’m quite annoying.  I’m one of those ‘yay, it’s January! Let’s make plans!’ type people.  And while the rest of the family (and possibly the world) are mired in depression about putting on weight or going back to work, I’ve got a fresh notebook, a new pen and am busy planning where I want to go on holiday this year (Boston, France, Cornwall and possibly back to Goa, if you must know.  Oh and maybe Greece?  Ooh and Italy?  Sicily! Oh I can’t decide.)

Thomson have come up with this nifty little infographic (which I’ve stolen for you – I’m good like that), where you choose the month you want to travel, how hot you want it to be, and then it’ll show you the cities that match your requirements. Magic.

Oh and if you book anything, I’m happy to come along as a consultant, or something.  You’re welcome!


Click image to open interactive version (via Thomson Holidays).

The Sensatori Resort, Mexico: our final destination, Chichen Itza

Right, quick general knowledge quiz here: who can name the Seven Wonders of the World?  Apparently (and I didn’t know this because I have the general knowledge of a small onion) the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World are all nearly gone.  Only the pyramid at Giza remains.  The rest, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes are long gone, so in 2001 it was decided by a swiss-based foundation (you can read all about it here) to choose seven new wonders.  Votes were cast and in 2006, the 7 new wonders were chosen:

The Great Wall of China, India’s Taj Mahal, Petra in Jordan, the amazing statue of  Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Macchu Picchu in Peru, The Colosseum in Italy, and…

Chichen Itza*

A hot, sweaty, bumpy, three-hour drive into the very centre of the Yucatan peninsula takes you to one of the most amazing places on earth.  It takes your breath away.  And that’s not because it’s so hot it’s like falling into a vat of soup.  The place is awesome.  And for all the hassle and annoyance it took us to get there, we wouldn’t have changed our trip for the world:

Over 1000 years ago, the Mayan civilisation at Chichen Itza (or ‘Itchy Pizza’, as it swiftly became known), was bustling and ground-breaking.  Their calendar was created decades before anyone else worked out how the sun could tell us what time of year it was, and the great structures were built there before machinery and, amazingly, even before the wheel.

On the downside, human sacrifice was commonplace (even to the extent that during games in the massive arena, the captain of the losing side would also lose his head – shouldn’t imagine many people put their hand up for that particular role).  Oh and by the way, the reason there aren’t many people in these pictures is because it was so hot, they were all vying for places under the surrounding trees.  Hot.  So hot you feel like you can’t move.

Our day there was amazing.  And neatly rounded off a trip that was, quite simply, the best I’ve ever experienced.

For us, the highlight of this holiday (if we had to pick just one) was the people.  From the taxi driver who told us that he knew a bit of Mayan as his parents had used it to talk so that the kids wouldn’t know what they were saying, to the amazingly friendly and attentive service in the hotel, through to the wonderful welcome we received in Chumpon at the jam co-operative.  What a fabulous bunch the Mexicans are.

And that hotel:  a white-suited butler who magically appeared to help you find the perfect sunbed spot (and vanished just as quickly), amazing restaurants, wonderful room service waiters who pandered to the Death Wish Child’s cheeseburger addiction with such enthusiasm (I once picked up the phone to order and was asked ‘ah, yes.  No onions for the DWC?’)… the hotel is a modern miracle.  Their devotion to sustainability, from equipping the maids with trolleys fitted with recycling boxes, to heating the pools with solar panels and even growing their own fruit, vegetables and salad in a massive hothouse is just incredible.

The perfect holiday recipe?  A big slice of luxury with a generous splash of enthusiasm… a drizzle of creativity and a final sprinkle of excitement.  All placed on a backdrop of the bluest azure and sparkling white.  I’ll have what she’s having.

A massive thank you to the entire team at Thomson, from the lovely chaps in the press office, to the fabulous cabin crew and the wonderful on-site guest relations team.  We’ll be back! xxxxx

Thomson offers seven night holidays in Mexico at the 5T Sensatori Resort Mexico in Riviera Maya, on an all-inclusive basis, from £1415 per adult, £718 for the first child, and £1058 for the second child, based on two adults and two children sharing. Departing on 28th July 2011 from London Gatwick airport, the price includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and all taxes and charges. To book visit www.thomson.co.uk/sensatori or call 0871 231 5595.

*I think the Pyramid of Giza is still in there as an honorary candidate

Carbon Trust have created an infographic that explains why business holds the key to meeting UK carbon reduction targets. If you click yes on this site, they’ll use your support to get more businesses to prove carbon reduction. www.carbontruststandard.com/cutcarbon

The Sensatori Resort, Riviera Maya, Mexico, part 3: welcome to the jungle

So as you know, a big part of our visit to Mexico wasn’t just to doss about in the sunshine and stuff our faces – a bonus, but no, honestly – there was a serious reason.

Firstly, une petite leçon de géographie: imagine the Gulf of Mexico as a big ‘C’, starting with Florida, curling all the way round past Louisiana and Texas, following the coast of Mexico, and then finishing at the Yucatan Peninsula.  Away from the hustle and bustle of the beach resorts, this is an area of dense jungle, dotted with isolated communities of Mayan people who can trace their ancestors right back to the Mayans who inhabited Chichen Itza 1000 years ago.  The Mayans are reserved and shy – they still speak in the Mayan dialect and don’t really have a lot to do with the ‘outside world’.  If you imagine that the actual resort of Cancun didn’t exist until the first hotel was built there in 1970, you can grasp just how isolated this area used to be.  With few ways of earning money, the Mayan people are increasingly having to leave their families to travel to the resorts in order to find work.  This is a devastating blow, as family, and the protection of their ancient traditions, is massively important to the Mayans.

Thomson and their sister company First Choice work closely with the Travel Foundation, a charitable organisation at the heart of many community projects all across the world, to support a community of Mayan ladies in a village called Chumpon in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula in the running of their own jam production company.  They also buy the finished product from the ladies to use in their own resort restaurants.  We were invited to visit the ladies, to see the jam co-operative first hand. We were beyond excited.

Off we go, then… into the jungle:

Yuri, the manager of the Travel Foundation’s Mexico office, and the main support worker for the Mayan jam co-operative in Chumpon, meets us bright and early at the hotel.  For some reason, I’ve got it into my head that Yuri will be a large, Russian man.  We’re surprised, and delighted, to discover that Yuri is actually a gorgeous Mexican lady with a beautiful smile.  She greets us like long lost friends and we set off with Rene, our driver, on our two hour trek into the jungle.  We snooze in our air-conditioned luxury, heading south past the old Mayan ruins at Tulum, but start to sit up as the terrain starts to change and we head deeper into the jungle.

Arriving at the village of Chumpon, we pass old men dozing on the porches of small, single-story houses, scruffy dogs snuffling in the scrub and the wide-eyed stares of groups of  dusty children.  We step out of the air conditioning into fierce heat, where I manage to resist the temptation to faint dramatically and manage a really naff bit of video. Excuse the mad cat lady hair (I’ve left on the ‘right that’ll do let’s get inside’ bit at the end to show quite how hot it is!!)…

…and are welcomed inside the very neat white building that houses the jam co-operative.  Yuri introduces us to the ladies, who smile shyly and offer us a gorgeous glass of Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) juice.  The older ladies are all dressed in their traditional white dresses with beautiful embroidery all around the neckline.  We chat to Amalia, who used to work in a hotel and speaks really good English.  Amalia and Yuri show us the sparkly equipment that the Travel Foundation and Thomson have provided, including a brand new autoclave machine and jam jar filler.  We also check out the immaculate, white-tiled restrooms and enormous stove.  Sadly the ladies aren’t able to work as the power supply has failed and although they have a generator, it’s not enough to keep the fridges and freezers going and cook jam as well (they need a new generator, please nice Mr Thomson!!).

Thomson and the Travel Foundation have also provided technical help in the form of a consultant who came and taught the ladies about food hygiene, and even helped with that perennial jam-making problem: stopping the seeds all settling at the bottom of the jar!

We head out into the Pitaya fields to check out the cacti, walking past mango and papaya trees heavy with fruit.  On the way, a tiny, beautiful brown-eyed girl attaches herself to Amalia’s leg – it’s her daughter, Ally, who is scooped up onto Amalia’s hip.  The heat and humidity is stifling.  I think the ladies think it’s quite amusing that we’re all red-faced and exhausted (Yuri tells us that it’s their ‘winter’ ahaha). Brace yourself for my next spectacularly awful video (is my voice really that squeaky?):

Here we all are in the pitaya field:

After inspecting the huge cactus field (there’s no machinery here and all the plants are tended organically and by hand), we head back in for more juice and another chat in the cool of the factory. We ask the ladies how Thomson’s support has changed their lives. They’re very grateful, they say, to be able to earn a living near their families – they don’t have to leave their children behind and can support themselves (there’s no welfare state here). Yuri translates that they feel they’ve learned so much, and are proud to be their own bosses. As we leave, Amalia rushes out with an armful of jars of their jam for us. We’re delighted and vow to tell everyone at the hotel restaurant to try their wonderful products. As we drive away, we wave madly at these lovely ladies (and little Ally) and feel so amazingly privileged to have been allowed an insight into their lives and incredibly proud of Thomson for giving a little back to this amazing country. What an awesome experience.

The ladies were absolutely lovely and I just want to say a massive thank you to Yuri from the Travel Foundation, and everyone at Thomson, especially Marc and Claire, for making our trip possible and for arranging this amazing visit. I love you all. Mwaaaah. xx

I’ll leave the last word to this mad blonde woman:

Next time: we’re on the road again to visit the archaeological ruins at Chichen Itza.

The Sensatori Resort, Riviera Maya, Mexico, part 2: face stuffing

So you know me and food.  I just can’t help myself.  I am well known, amongst friends, for slapping their hands away from their food until I have taken an adequate picture.  My family are used to this quirk and sit expectantly, knife and fork in hand, while I finish framing their plate.  They’re well trained, bless ‘em.

So the food then.  Oh the food.  The fooooooood.  On the resort, there were loads of restaurants: a basic all-day buffet of absolutely everything, a Mexican, a Caribbean, an Italian, a tapas, a posh, Heston-style snail porridge affair… add in a fabulous beach-side barbecue and 24 hour gourmet room service and you can imagine I didn’t stop eating from sun up to sun down every day.  Off we go on our culinary tour, then.  Close your eyes… (oh, but open them when you need to look at the pictures, natch):

Breakfast

There is something about an an enormous buffet that brings out my inner binge-eater.  The main restaurant hosts a breakfast selection that is, quite simply, beyond my wildest dreams.  Yes, you can have crispy bacon, sausage and egg if you want (there is a man who will do your eggs any way you like – I recommend an omelette with ham, chilli, cheese and mushrooms but that’s for another day), you can also have pastries, fruits, yoghurts, that weird European thing of having cheese and cured meats… any of fifty different types of breads, pastries and doughnutty things, hell there’s even a chocolate fountain, but you can also have proper Mexican breakfast.  And just for you (purely for interesting copy, you understand), I throw myself headfirst into everything I can find:

Here, clockwise from left, you will find: sweet beans (kind of like baked beans, but home made, a tad smoky and much, much nicer), spinach with cream, scrambled eggs with green chilli, refried beans and tortillas with onion cooked in tomato and chilli sauce with a cheesy topping.  Da brevren obviously question the sanity of eating spinach for breakfast, but hey, when in Rome I say.

Oh wait, and then after I’ve been to Rome, I still have a teeny hole, so I go to the pancake man, who makes me lovely pancakes.  He practically forces me… honest… oh and then I have to walk past a man making those lovely sugary churro things, so I have to try one (it’s okay, I grab some fruit too, which cancels out all the calories)…

… and then I discover that those churro things are really nice, and I have to go back and try a few more.  Just for research purposes, obviously…

After our mammoth breakfast, we waddle poolside, and remain there, replete and burping, until our breakfast has gone down enough for us to bob gently to the swim up bar for a morning margarita (what? we’re on holiday).  After that, we have another margarita, or maybe a daiquiri, and decide where we’re going to have lunch.

Lunch

The Mexican restaurant is a big favourite. The Tequila mussels are flippin’ awesome, as are the quesadillas made with chicken, Manchego cheese, enormous prawns and mushrooms.  This little beauty is a starter of spicy chicken tostadas: a mixture of shredded spicy chicken layered with blue corn tortillas and refried beans (the blue is a reduction of Blue Curacao, which contrasts superbly with the tongue-sizzling spicy chicken).

And this is grouper in a traditional achiote spicy rub with plantain, served on top of a lovely fragrant coriander mash:

The enchiladas are also a favourite: the tender chicken is flavoured with the same achiote spices, and there is cheese and a delicious spicy red tomato sauce… sour cream… green onions… (oopsy, drooled a little there):

The Caribbean restaurant is also beautiful.  It has huge conch shell lights hanging from the ceilings that give the whole place a magical glow (this is the view from below):

…and some very worried-looking lobsters in a huge tank (shifty glances are thrown in their direction whilst ordering: ‘I’ll have the…erm… the lob… the… erm….’):

Dinner

It’s a toss-up between the tequila mussels again, or a return visit to the Caribbean restaurant… (don’t look at the lobsters!!) or wait, there’s the yummy tortillas in the Spoon restaurant too… decisions, decisions…

And don’t get me started on the desserts… peanut tart with white chocolate and Mezcal (a kind of agave tequila)…cakes… gateaux…  Take your pick:

A word of warning, though.  Do not, I repeat DO NOT eat the chillies that garnish several of the dishes.  Tentatively nibble an edge and your mouth will burn with the fire of a thousand suns until at least the next day, regardless of how many frozen lime margaritas you devour.

A quick bath, then…

And it’s off to the mojito bar…

… where you can choose from over 30 different varieties.  But don’t worry, if you drink too many, there are lots of beds handily positioned right outside the door.

So anyone fancy a trip to the jungle, then?

Oh, and don’t forget it’s Shrove Tuesday tomorrow!  You can find my easy pancake recipe at Readyforten.com

The Sensatori Resort, Riviera Maya, Mexico. Part 1: getting there

Where. To. Start.

I could regale you with stories of white-suited beach butlers, of 24hr gourmet room service (so personalised that the second time I rang they said ‘ah, yes, no onions in the burger for DWC, isn’t it?’), of the amazing Mojito bar (30 different varieties) and watching Pelicans clumsily dive into the azure Mexican Caribbean…

…but then you’d just switch off, or throw rotten veg at me or something.  So instead?  I thought I’d keep a diary of my trip, and now I can take you with me.  Grab your suitcase, then…

Day 1

Dublin’s new Terminal 2 is a gorgeous futuristic marvel.  There is a fabulous, sparkly mirrored bar, a Laduree wooden wagon (I resist a macaron thinking of my impending swimwear time) and tons of lovely posh shops.  Aer Lingus is fabulously efficient and in no time at all we are whisked to London Heathrow.  A quick wizz along the motorway takes us to Gatwick, and our overnight resting place of the fabulously swish Gatwick Sofitel.

We walk into an impressive central atrium.  Glass lifts shoot up into the air on either side of us and fountains twinkle everywhere.

I am greeted with a rather sexy ‘bonsoir, Madame’ by suavely dressed reception staff.  The place oozes Gallic charm and we are swiftly and efficiently checked in to our adjoining rooms.

There is a choice of three different restaurants: there’s Gatwick Oriental, serving a varied selection of Far Eastern fare, La Brasserie : a nice. laid back place serving classic French brasserie food, and Le Cafe serving a selection of pizzas/pastas etc.  We settle on Le Cafe and our food is fabulous.  My spicy crayfish tail pizza is delicious, and £65 for the four of us seems pretty reasonable to me.

Our rooms are modern, really nicely furnished and immaculately clean.  The bathrooms stock gorgeous L’Occitane Verbena smellies (you can tell a lot by the products in a hotel bathroom).  Sadly, we don’t spend a great deal of time there as we’re off early, checked out in seconds and through the very handy walkway straight into the North Terminal.

Day 2

A quick mooch around the shops and very shortly we’re up, up and away in a very swanky Boeing 767-300.  English Dad is the aeroplane officionado and declares this one to be ‘quite new and well decked out’.  I don’t know a thing about planes but am particularly taken by the turquoise leather.  Our seats are huge (in fact, they seem just as big as the ones in Premium Class) and the crew are really lovely and friendly.

The press office has very kindly sent word ahead and we’re extended every courtesy (which basically pans out as the Death Wish Child disappearing from his seat on a regular basis and coming back weighed down with armfuls of Peanut M&Ms and Pringles).  Gordon and his lovely team keep me in Mojitos the whole journey too.  I feel like a celeb.  Happy, happy bunny.

An easy journey means that the ten hours flies by (see what I did there?) and soon we’re peering out over the Florida Keys and then Mexico.

We’re met by a team from the Sensatori (A TEAM!!) and whisked into a private car for the short journey to the hotel, where we’re greeted with a blast of lemon-balm scented air conditioning and a chilled glass of champagne.  I think I might faint.

It gets even better when we’re shown to our room:

And then, the long journey just gets the better of me.  I’m afraid I succumb to a little sniffle when I walk out onto the balcony and see….

This:

Much, much more to come.

Our amazing trip to Thomson’s Sensatori Resort Mexico, and packing for holidays, with a little help from The Online Stylist

So it’s just one more sleep until we jet off for our fabulous holiday in Mexico!

It’s an amazing opportunity – we’re going to check out Thomson’s 5T Sensatori Resort Mexico (it’s a funny link – scroll down).  Located on Bahia Petempich beach, the spa hotel and resort is Thomson’s flagship Sensatori property in a long haul destination.  There are six restaurants in the property, and I’m planning on visiting each of them at least once – especially the Mexican restaurant… well, when in Rome, eh?

I’m not just visiting for the luxury though, oh no…  The Sensatori Resort Mexico has achieved ABTA’s coveted Travelife Gold standard.  The businesses with this award ‘display a very high commitment to sustainability. They encourage others to get involved, constantly seek new opportunities for improvement, and actively communicate their progress to others’ and I’m looking forward to seeing this sustainable approach to hospitality in action.

While we’re there, we’re going to have the most amazing experience: a visit to the villagers of Chumpon to see first hand how their new ‘jungle jams’ project is getting on.

Thomson recently helped this co-operative of Mayan women to set up their own jam-making business.  They supply local hotels and tourism businesses and the best thing is that they can earn an income without moving away from their village.

I promise I’ll take tons of photos (and maybe even a vlog *cough*) so you can hear all about our big adventure.

But wait – what to wear to such a fabulous location?  Being somewhat fashionably-challenged, I’m very lucky to have a most gorgeous and stylish friend in the form of The Online Stylist, and – excitement! – she’s written a blog post just for me to give me lots of advice for my trip:

‘Dear Wardrobe Mistress’  – The Online Stylist

It’s a hand luggage only affair – we’re only going for seven days and we’ve got to fly from Dublin to Gatwick to catch our flight.  This has caused a bit of head scratching, and sadly the inflatable dolphin has had to go back in the cupboard, but I think I’m there.  Plus, of course, travelling light isn’t just handy for avoiding the dreaded luggage carousel, if a third of holiday makers left that extra 25% of unused luggage at home it would save 7,537 tonnes* of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere each year.  This equates to taking a staggering 2,216 cars family cars off the road each year.**

Here’s my guide to packing light for a week away, with fantastic suggestions by the Online Stylist:

Clothes:

Daytime: hopefully I’ll be on the beach, so I’m taking two bikinis (one drying, one to wear – see below), a couple of cover ups (check out the gorgous kaftans in the Online Stylist article), vest tops, t-shirts (I’ve just been told that the lovely chaps at EcoCreeper are going to send me some of their fabulous 100% organic t-shirts), and a pair of linen shorts. I’d usually take a denim skirt, but weight is an issue (the bag, not me.  Cheeky).

Shoes:

Don’t go mad.  I don’t wear heels, as I look like a drunken giraffe when I do (it’s something about the leg to body ratio – don’t ask), but will be taking a pair of sparkly sandals to do me for evenings.  Add my flip flops (below) for the daytime, some Converse trainers for travelling and for our trip and I’m done.

Beachwear:

The best people to talk to about the world of swimmers are the lovelies at Figleaves.  They always know what’s going on, and I grilled gorgeous Hayley to find out what’s going to be big this summer:

‘In terms of this season, green is a massive beach trend – across all shades lime to grass!’  So these Havaianas from Office should be just perfect:

Hayley mentioned that ‘floral prints were also big news on the Miami swimwear catwalk’, which is good as I have a flowery bikini from Next, and that ‘the nautical theme is always a good bet’, which is also a bonus because it just so happens that I already own Monsoon’s ‘Stella’ stripy tankini top.

I’ve got plain blue bikini bottoms, but they do the complete set too.

Lastly, ‘…the fashion catwalks were big on bright colours, clashing bold shades’, which is fantastic if you want to mix and match a little.

Evening:

dresses are the order of the day – nice and light to pack, easy to wear and you can choose what suits you, from a cover-all maxi dress to a little strappy cotton number.  I got this beauty from Asos.com (free delivery, even to Ireland.  Magic).

I also got a gorgeous stretch jersey wrap from Zara, which I shall be using as an extra layer on the plane and a quick cover-up on the beach, plus I’ve got a cardi in case it’s nippy.  I’m going to do as I’m told and wear lightweight trousers for travelling and also for our trip into the jungle.  Sadly, I haven’t got the bottom (or the budget) for Houlihans, so I got some linen ones from Vero Moda instead.  I hope the Stylish One approves.

And so to packing.  Here’s my top tips:

Roll don’t fold – everything’s going to get squished, but if you roll a couple of items together, it minimises creasing.  Hang it all up in a steamy bathroom when you get there and it’ll soon uncrease.

Stuff all the little edges with your underwear (keep it neutral) and add a sun hat.

Stick your shoes in plastic bags to stop them making your clothes dirty, and pack them next to the wheels at the bottom (if you’ve got wheels).

Electrical items:

Don’t forget the appropriate travel adaptor, and all your chargers – in our case, that’s about 20 with all the phones, iPods, PSPs, laptops, etc…

Skip the straighteners. In fact, skip the hairdryer. Most hotels provide them and if there’s not one in the room, you’re bound to be able to borrow one at reception.  Pack some hair clips and be creative!

Toiletries:

Remember that everything in your hand luggage has got to be under 100ml.

Make use of multi-use items. My favourite is Dr Bronner’s liquid soap, which can be used for everything from shampoo and shower gel to washing your smalls. You can even use it as toothpaste (the minty version is obviously best for this!).  They do a travel size of 59ml too.

Decant!  It’s always cheaper to buy bigger sizes, so buy travel bottles (check out www.icklebockles.co.uk) and decant into 100ml measures.

Don’t take the mini antiperspirant sprays, they’re a waste of money and don’t last the week.  I like the solid antiperspirant sticks, but if you prefer a roll on, take one of those.

Pack wet wipes. They’re great for freshening up when travelling, and taking make-up off when you get there too.

Before you fly, split your make up and toiletries into a couple of different clear bags. Remember each bag can’t be more than 20 x 20cm and must seal at the top.

I’ve been using Marks and Spencer clear toiletry bags with no problems for several flights, but in Cologne they made me throw them away and use plain ziplock bags, which was annoying.

Towels:

The decision on whether or not to take a towel will depend upon where you’re headed.  I got a fabulous thin hammam wrap/towel from The White Company that doesn’t take up much room but does the job.

Suncream:

I’m sure you can buy 100ml suncreams and after sun lotions, but honestly, if you’re headed to the beach, you know you’re going to need loads more than that – at least 1 bottle per person per week, in fact – so I’m going to buy them at the airport – that way I can buy decent sizes.  My friend, Poppy’s Mum told me recently that she buys ALL her toiletries when she gets to the resort.

Add your camera, sunglasses, a bit of jewellery, a bag for the beach and a small first-aid kit (this will depend on the age of your travellers – I got a little ready-made one from Boots and just top it up when necessary) and you’re done!

My little luxury is a gorgeous travel candle to make the room smell nice (I adore the Jo Malone shop at Dublin airport – I wish I could live there).

So that’s me, then.  I am packed, waxed and ready.  I’ll see you very soon xx

*Based on 1/3 of Thomson’s airline, Thomson Airways passengers packing 25% less luggage. Fuel and carbon calculations based on popular mid haul route flying 223,724 hours.

**Source:http://communicationcentre.thomson.co.uk/2010/07/21/packing-tips/

A green half term holiday? Save me a sunbed!

So who fancies spending half term somewhere gorgeously warm and sunny, then?

Thought so. I’ll be spending half term in lovely frosty Cavan, (yup, I spent ten extra minutes of the school bus run yesterday hysterically chipping ice off the windscreen) but hey, I can dream…

As I mentioned before, I’m loving Thomson’s new Holidays Forever brand.  And just when I’m adjusting to life here, and wondering if I can get away with putting the heating on again, those rotters at Thomson sent me the info on this place, Turtle Bay Beach Club, Kenya.

My dream  half term.  Seriously.

On Monday, then, I’d pack the boys off to learn all about Turtle Bay’s ‘Save the Turtle’ campaign (how cute is that?).

Tuesday, I’d send them on a treasure hunt around the resort to find all the original art made of objects washed up on the beach, like the gorgeous mosaics made from small squares of discarded flip flops.

Wednesday, they could check out the furniture, all made from recycled canoes.

Thursday, I’d let them loose in the very gorgeous ten acres of National Marine Park surrounding the resort.

Friday, they could go for a snorkel on the stunning private beach that’s recently been voted the fifth best beach in the world

Saturday they could take part in the ‘beach clean up’, where guests are encouraged to pick up seaweed and debris, with a prize for the person who collects the most.

Sunday, I’d let them have a bit of R&R, you know, seeing as we’re on holiday and all.

And me?  You’ll find me on a sunbed, with a trashy novel and a mojito.

Cheers.  Now if you’d all  like to post me a tenner, that should just about cover it and I’ll be on my way.

Thomson offers seven night Kenya holidays staying all-inclusive at the 3 Sun plus Turtle Bay Beach Club from £829 per adult, £650 for the first child and £864 for the second child, based on two adults and two children sharing a room. Flights depart from Gatwick on 12th November 2010.

Or for you northern chaps…

Thomson offers seven night Kenya holidays staying all-inclusive at the 3 Sun plus Turtle Bay Beach Club from £699 per adult, £605 for the first child and £659 for the second child, based on two adults and two children sharing a room. Flights depart from Manchester on 28th October 2010.

For more information visit www.thomson.co.uk/kenya or check out Thomson’s Greener Holidays brochure.

Travel News: Thomson and First Choice launch green brand ‘Holidays Forever’

Wouldn’t you love it if it was easier to choose a greener holiday?  As a family, we love travelling, but we’re also well aware of the damage tourism can do to the environment.  Let’s face it, we holidaymakers can be a thoughtless lot, using up vital resources, creating mountains of rubbish and clogging up the atmosphere with our carbon emissions (well, not personally, but you know what I mean).

And that’s when we’re actually ON holiday – what about those armfuls of holiday brochures we gather up in the travel agent, only to sling half of them practically unread, and all the packaging we take in our suitcase and end up discarding abroad?  How do we teach our children to be responsible travellers?

I was really interested, then, to hear that Thomson and First Choice have unveiled a whole new holiday brand called Holidays Forever.  Their plan brings all their green initiatives together under one roof, and aims to raise awareness about sustainable tourism, both at home and abroad.

Holidays Forever encompasses all sorts of commitments including the reduction of weight and carbon emissions from their airline, Thomson Airways (hopefully not by taking the seats out, a la Ryanair), recycling cans used onboard and raising £10 million for the World Care Fund.

Interestingly, Thomson and First Choice launched Holidays Forever after a customer poll found that 96% of holidaymakers cared about protecting the local environment and wildlife in the resorts they visited, and  83% welcomed advice about how to make their holidays more environmentally and socially responsible.

I’m surprised and delighted by the figures, frankly.  Who knew we travellers were such a thoughtful bunch?  We’ll be knitting our own hammocks on the beach next.

What do you reckon, then?  Would you book a green holiday?

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What I did in Morocco, by English Mum, aged 40 and a bit

Moving on from gunrunning and rude nightmares, then.  We finally made it onto the plane and were delighted to find that Thomson Holidays’ new pre-flight safety video was being shown.  If you haven’t seen it yet, check this out:

Isn’t that just the cutest darned thing?  I love the little wiggle when pulling down on the life jacket toggle.

This isn’t a sponsored post or anything, but I have to say I was well impressed with Thomson/First Choice all round.  They’ve had a big shake-up recently, scrapping 400 hotels whose customer feedback was a bit ropey, and getting rid of that awful ‘hard sell’ bit at the welcome meeting (where they used to practically force you at gunpoint to go on their excursions) by rewarding their Reps for good feedback rather than sales.  There were no queues at all to check in (apart from those caused at security by a certain gangly teenager and his concealed weapon) and their flight attendants were genuinely friendly, not ‘grit your teeth and smile with venom’ friendly like some other attendants I could mention.

On to Morocco, then, where we were delighted to experience that ‘hot hairdryer in the face’ sensation when stepping off the plane.  Al-Massira airport is beautiful, like a giant sandcastle shimmering in the flat desert.  We were met by friendly people and shown onto an air conditioned coach with seatbelts (how things have changed).

The hotel was lovely, but sadly somewhat ruined by a totally overenthusiastic Moroccan/French entertainment team.  Let’s be honest, as a family, we’re not joiners.  We don’t want to listen to a Christiano Ronaldo wannabe blathering into his microphone (hello, we’re six fucking feet away from you, put the microphone down you pillock), entreating us to join him in ‘du stretching’, or my personal favourite, ‘l’aquagym’, pronounced ‘aquazsheeeem’).  And no, I don’t want to ‘have lots of furrrn’ in some weird group activity that consists of everyone shuffling around the pool and clapping like those Hare Krishna people (without the orange robes or bald heads admittedly).

Every time Ronaldo turned up his Mika CD (God that bloody Mika song will haunt me until I die) and reached for his microphone, we sat moaning and griping like the grumpy old men from the Muppets in our little sunbed stronghold furthest away from the speakers and ‘shut up, you fucking twat’ was muttered from under Mark Billinghams and James Pattersons all round the pool.  The French, however, who made up 90% of the guests and who also cannot queue or be civil to anyone apart from other French people, love a bit of joining in and happily belly danced, ‘du stretched’ and ‘aquazsheeemed’ their days away under our withering stares.

Anyhoo, enough Anglophilia.  Our lovely rep, Andy, who was an absolute star, hilariously funny and a total saint during the whole volcano/ash cloud debacle, recommended that we visit the Souk, so visit we did.  It’s a funny place, the Moroccon Souk, kind of interesting and terrifying in equal measure.  We are shown enormous tagines (‘how the bejaysus am I going to fit that in my case?’), and rubbed with Argan Oil (‘see, you are beyooootiful!’).  The traders lure us to their stalls with weird, Delboy Trotter-like cries of ‘Eeenglish! Come have a shufty!’  #2 happily barters with a stallholder for a Barcelona shirt while another assures me with pride that the tealight holder I’m looking at is ‘100% top-quality camel skin’. Bleurgh.

Happily, Moroccan food is a darned sight better than its entertainment.  We dined every night on a fabulous selection of tagines…

…wonderful roast lamb, chickens cooked to perfection on an amazing rotisserie, salads, dried fruits, jaw-dropping desserts…

I could go on, but I’d get dribble all over the keyboard.  If you ever happen to find yourself in Morocco, make sure you try the saffron potatoes, oh and pastilla – a potentially odd concoction of layers of filo-type pastry, egg and chicken, all topped with cinnamon and icing sugar. Yes I know it sounds horrible but trust me, it’s lovely.  The only thing I didn’t try was the calves’ foot casserole.  Oh I don’t know, just something about the title, I suppose.

Our enforced extra 4 night stay was dealt with admirably.  Andy worked like a lunatic and was often to be seen rushing around the hotel, grabbing various people and giving them updates.  He sacrificed his day off and I personally witnessed him dealing with the odd screamer in a very dignified manner and without shouting ‘it’s not my fault a volcano erupted you arse’ (I’d have punched at least one person).  Happily, Thomson sent a 757 at some ungodly hour to rescue us all (again with the smiles) and we arrived in time for a McDonalds breakfast. Result.

So would I go to Morocco again?  Probably.  Would I check first that my resort had NO entertainment and NO French people? Definitely.  Would I use First Choice/Thomson again?  Absolutely.  While others were struggling to get home, we got an extra four days’ holiday and a pretty good tan into the bargain.  So let’s face is, as my friend Kerry pointed out, ‘every ash cloud has a silver lining’.