Holidays with kids never mean an actual break - they mostly mean a whole lot more work in a different setting - one that doesn't always cater well for kids. But sometimes a change from the daily grind is worth it and if you let all of that stop you, you can basically count yourself out of family holidays until your youngest is 10 (which means 15 years of the daily grind in our case). This year we planned to meet up with my sister, her husband and thier three kids of similar ages to ours, so when a well known 4-star family friendly resort deal popped up onto Luxury Escapes, which included FREE all-inclusive accommodation and Kids Club for four of the six kids in beautiful Phuket, we googled some reviews (all amazing!) and thought 'Perfect! Lock it in.'
'Relaxing' definitely isn't the word I would use to describe our paradise Phuket escape. We did manage our fair share of cocktail drinking and definitely had some quality family time together but thanks to a few things that didn't go our way, along with the fact we had six kids under seven in tow, it ended up being one of the hardest and most stressful holidays EVER. But when you, your sister, brother-in-law and husband are dripping with sweat, holding kids, laughing together so hard you cry over toddler vomit and the intensity of not just the present holiday situation, but also your life in general at this crazy little kid stage - knowing that you're in this together - not even the runs are enough to ruin your 'holiday'...
The five lessons we learnt on our holiday -
1. All inclusive package deals don't work with (our) kids
You know the drill - meal times with kids.. "I don't want to eat that. I want the pink plate. I don't like broccoli. Jemima pulled my HAIR!!! I don't want to take my feet off the table. When can I leave the table? MUM!!!". But meal times in a humid, stinking hot and busy restaurant three times a day took the chaos to the next level. An all inclusive resort package including meals, drinks and accommodation meant impractical set meal times and no self catering: "Darling I know you're hungry but the resort isn't serving any food for another two hours and I know you need to be in bed early tonight but dinner doesn't start until 7pm, which means 8pm is the earliest I will be able to get you to bed. I know you're only 15 months old but do you understand?" Cue monumental public melt downs from multiple children, multiple times a day.
Then meal time itself brought with it starving, tired children - six of them - sat around a table with glasses and steak knives, in an open air restaurant in extreme humidity and heat. Cue sweating desperate parents, splitting up fights, making threats through gritted teeth to get their children to finish their dinner, trying to hold toddlers in highchairs with no harnesses, negotiating with the three year old to snap out of her tantrum and get off the floor, while begging with the five year old to eat her dinner, as she insists on having the same colour cup as the six year old even though there isn't another one to offer. Yep idyllic.
2. Kids Club looks so good on paper
Then picture Kids Club. Dreams of children running off to friendly happy carers with a few other content children all playing beautifully and working on their favourite craft activities, while Mum and Dad swim around the Adult Zen Pool, drinking cocktails and then heading off for a massage. Joyous.
Reality: carers who speak little English and huge hoards of crying and stressed non-english speaking children. Four desperate parents, desperately negotiating with their desperate children who are refusing to go to Kids Club and melting down in giant anxiety attacks - screaming, crying and kicking - to make their point and feeding on each other's antics to fever pitch. Each attempted drop off was filled with those moments of walking the delicate tightrope between wondering if:
A.) Your children need tough love to make them appreciate a new experience; or
B.) In actual fact you're traumatising them for life and perpetuating ongoing anxiety issue, that will require years of therapy to overcome, when they become an adult.
Hmmmmm. Parent guilt wins out after three failed attempts at Kids Club thanks to Option B. Holiday dream over. Cue spending our days dragging around hot and tired kids.
3. Swimming is for swimming instructors
With the humidity and heat ruling out pretty much every other family friendly activity, only swimming was left. Swimming, all day every day. In the central resort pool which hosted pool dance classes set to painfully loud 90's music throughout the day. The Adults Only Zen Pool was now just a distant memory.
Nothing stressful about swimming with six small children, including two small toddlers. What could be stressful about that? Constant head counts, a constant car wash with a few deadweights holding you down, while on constant high anxiety water safety alert. I don't know about you, but being half drowned by six small children to the tune of 'Ma ma ma myyyyy Sherona!!' is my idea of super relaxing. I can tell you're jealous.
Perhaps a break from swimming and a run around the resort. A supposedly family friendly resort, with unfenced ponds and pools EVERYWHERE. Excellent. The perfect match with fearless toddlers. Feeling the Zen. And did I mention the humidity?
4. Holidays are great for weight loss
Now lets up the stakes and see just how much fun we can have. I may not have come to Thailand for a boob job but heck I'll take a weight loss regime. Cue six children projectile vomiting during meal times in the restaurant, on the table, on the restaurant floor, on the way back from the restaurant, through the rooms and in the beds. Add the runs and then combine. Now strike down three out of the four adults. SUCCESS! Weight loss win and holiday heaven. Nothing stressful at all about running between children with buckets, to catch vomit and then having to use the same (full) bucket to catch your own. Paradise.
5. The worst holiday is never over until you walk through your front door
Now fly out day has arrived and everybody is still alive - HOORAY. Off to the airport. But wait! Lets forget an important bag and find out that two flights weren't actually booked, thanks to an incompetent package deal administrator. Bag recovery mission unsuccessful but two more tickets organised. Now to find out that the package administrator has booked your family of five onto a connecting flight which takes off from ANOTHER TERMINAL five minutes after the first flight. RUNNNNN. And catch a bus. And resist abusing the bus driver who drives painfully slow.. and RUN. Oh yes, such a chilled holiday.
Touch down at 5am (night flight with a sleepy baby is better than a food tray smashing bandit baby after all?) with no warm clothes for the kids, which were in the missing bag. 10 degrees and windy wearing dresses/shorts and thongs navigating three grumpy, hungry and freezing cold kids out of the airport through the long term carpark, pulling suitcases of clothes that have been washed but still smell like vomit. Ahhhhh the relaxing post holiday after glow. Lets book again for next year.
Cue perfect paradise family holiday snaps: