I’m playing a game involving pool noodles – with a woman I’ve just met – when it strikes me what this holiday is all about. While I am in the water getting to know strangers, my husband is windsurfing and my two-year-old daughter is playing with her fellow Sea Turtles. We’re all a little outside of our comfort zones, but all enjoying ourselves. We will unite later in the day.
We are staying at Messini Beach Club, in Analipsi, near Kalamata in the Peloponnese region of Greece. The resort is run by a UK-based operator, Neilson.
As I bounce around to Geri Halliwell’s version of “It’s Raining Men”, I realise this is the most relaxed I’ve felt in a while. A few years ago, my parents returned from an “all-activity” inclusive package with Neilson. Then, I was child-free and the closest I got to being active on holiday was the walk between the pool and the snack bar. Now, weighing up options for my first family trip abroad, the appeal was becoming clear.
My husband and I wanted a holiday that offered peace of mind and value for money – the high costs of living, including nursery fees, are affecting us, like so many others. And, while browsing independent trips, the many additional costs such as baggage and transfers put us off.
Research shows that other families have come to the same conclusion: Advantage Travel Partnership, the UK’s largest network of independent travel agents, found that almost half of all bookings taken so far for summer 2024 are for an all-inclusive option.
At Neilson, thanks to the kids’ clubs (for two- to 17-year-olds), my husband and I are getting to zone out and unwind after two years of full-on parenting.
In the mornings, we try out kayaking or sailing as a trio, or take turns to sit on the beach with our daughter while one of us tries a taster session. My daughter loves the warm sea and gentle waves and we love watching her giggling as she flings herself off a paddleboard into her dad’s waiting arms, over and over.
There are also excursions (not run by Neilson, but which can be booked at the hotel), including to the lake and waterfalls of Polylimnio (€45pp) and the archaeological site of ancient Messene (€85pp). With a two-year-old in tow, and some days reaching 35°C, we decide to stay close to the hotel. Activities such as cycling, tennis, climbing, watersports and pickleball mean that Neilson appeals to active families with older children, but there’s great value for those with pre-schoolers like us, too.
We often return to the pool after lunch. Staff may not be corralling guests to join in games, but the more you spend time around fitness fans, the more tempted you are to join in.
It is this that gets me battle roping (with those pool noodles) before enjoying a massage (these cost around €70). Despite this indulgence, Messini is not luxurious – it’s not meant to be – but it is comfortable and spotless.
The healthiest can eat well without compromising variety and there are vegan and vegetarian options. There are also home comforts (HP sauce, Yorkshire Tea bags) and treats (honey straight from the comb, cakes).
Children are far from an afterthought. Our daughter’s club leader, Kaycee, is more of a Miss Honey than a Miss Trunchbull. Activities include mocktail making and slip and slide for the older children and finger painting and kayaking for the younger ones. During our visit, childcare is offered 9.30am to 5.30pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and from 2.30pm to 11pm on Tuesday and Thursday.
There are many single and child-free travellers among us, but we don’t feel out of place. Had I been travelling solo, I would have had no trouble making friends.
I get chatting to Martin Newman, 68, from Bristol. He tells me that he and his wife have been taking Neilson holidays for about a decade, with this trip around his 20th. He’s joined by his son, Michael, 35, from London, who is travelling with his wife, Sophie, and their two young daughters.
While the father and son lament a lack of evening entertainment, Martin, who had booked three separate Neilson holidays for this year, says the main draw is knowing “that all three generations of my family will be entertained”.
Michael adds that “it’s massively good value for money if you come with children, particularly given increasingly astronomical childcare costs in the UK”.
When I calculate that six days of childcare for my daughter back in the UK would cost us more than £400, without any added activities, our accommodation, or the trip to Greece, the value is clear to see (plus, Neilson has frozen its 2024 prices at 2023 figures).
The trip is an upgrade on a beach holiday. Knowing that all activities and childcare – and many meals – are covered means we can enjoy ourselves without calculating costs.
We leave pleasantly surprised at just how smoothly the week has gone and with more confidence to try another family trip overseas.
A seven-night stay at Messini Beach Club, including flights, transfers, breakfast and lunch, four evening meals, children’s clubs and activities, from £749pp, neilson.co.uk.