Ah the annual family summer holiday. Otherwise known as the not to be missed opportunity to cook, clean, tidy, do laundry and feed and entertain kids in an unfamiliar location, with less equipment.
We’ve just got back from two weeks at the Martinhal resort in Portugal (review to follow – short version of which is that it’s Northcote Road sur la mer, with all the good and the hilarious that implies, we even each ran into old colleagues, and the whole thing could have been a JoJo Maman Bebe/Mini Boden shoot, with the parents styled by Birkenstok and Havianas and I SWEAR Hugh Dennis was one of the other parents though Jon continually poo-poohed it and forbid me from speaking to him) and had a fabulous time, but there are some hard earned lessons about holidaying with kids, and twins in particular.
I had been so focused on the potential horror of the airplane with the girls, and actually it was ‘fine’ where fine means hard but bearable. It transpired the airports were the issue.
We’d decided we wanted to go abroad because, even though there are kid friendly hotels with crèches in the UK, we wanted it to be sunny when we had our ‘time off’ and for there to be activities for us to do, beyond just sitting in a hotel room watching Homes under the Hammer. We therefore looked at resorts that were under a 3 hour flight from our local airport, Manchester. Another time I’d be less focussed on the length of the flight – 5 hours max maybe – and more on the journey from the airport to the resort, given old Charlotte Pukey Pants’ inability to cope with a car journey of more than, oo, 3 minutes.
But back to the airport. Queue number one for check-in. If you have infants you can’t online check in, so we had to stand and wait. And wait. 45 minutes with the girls strapped into the buggy and 113 rounds of ‘the wheels on the bus’. And then just as you think it’s all over, the jobsworth at check in saying you’re over your luggage allowance (no we weren’t, the girls got 10kg each which we’d added onto our bags), and the buggy was over 10kg (by 500g, and they technically could have had a pushchair each).
That little contretemps done with, you then have the security check so, again, 30 minutes queueing, and then having to fold a buggy when you’re each holding a baby, with no offer of help from anyone, and then having to open and take sips of their milk for the plane (and now officially feel very guilty as their milk tastes DISGUSTING!)
Finally through that, we then try to give them their lunch before the flight. Given Manchester is the capital of charter flights, and Family Central, not quite sure why in the Food Court there are only three (dirty) highchairs. So the girls had to stay strapped into the buggy and we fed them there.
And so to the plane. If you’re carrying infants there’s a rule of only one per row, as there are only 4 oxygen masks per row of 3, which meant Jon and I couldn’t sit together. We’d booked seats however that were opposite each other on the aisle, and I laughingly predicted that he would be sat next to an elderly lady who would coo over him being such a great Dad and looking after a baby on his own, whereas I would get tutted at every time my baby so much as breathed.
Cue Jon being sat next to an old lady who immediately started chatting to and playing with Charlotte. Hilarious. Fortunately the plane wasn’t full so before take off we got moved to a row on our own.
I’d got a top tip on Mumsnet which was, rather than taking a few big toys, take loads of little ones, and individually wrap them, as that’s then 5 minutes gone unwrapping each toy. That worked. More than that, food is the ultimate distraction. I put aside all nutritional qualms for the flight and they were allowed whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. Cereal bars worked really well – the fact they’re dense meant a good 15 minutes could be taken up eating bits of the bar.
The most useful aide-voler however was (and sue me for being a Bad Mum but) anti-histamine. We’ve got it on prescription because of Charlotte’s car sickness. The non-non-drowsy version. Kerching. Both of them slept for about a third of the flight.
Oo and that’s another tip. If you can squeeze it into your already groaning hand luggage – a pillow. On both legs I was squeezed against the side of the plane and an arm rest and loathe to move, itchy nose notwithstanding, given the girls were sleeping on me. But in absolute agony.
So, flight survived, we then got off the other end and hadn’t clocked the fact that, despite you being allowed to take the buggy to the plane on the way out, you don’t get it back till the baggage reclaim belt. So already aching arms then having to hold heffalumps through Passport Control, and then heave suitcases off the belt with a babe in arm. Not easy.
And then Charlotte vomming in spectacular style at – I jest not – the roundabout at the airport exit. And continuing to do so for most of the 90 minute journey to the resort.
But then we were in the resort, and it was BRILLIANT. One of the loveliest aspects was just having Jon for so long, and without the distractions of home, the temptation of work documents or things that need fixing. It was just so lovely to see him 100% focussed on the girls.
We swam every day. Major military operation to get all of us suitably attired, and with everything we needed for the pool, and to change afterwards, but. They’re officially water babies, and it was lovely.
The crèche was less so. Major learning for me. I’d assumed, because they’re used to other babies at the various groups we go to, it would be fine. What I’d not thought through is that I am always there at the groups; they’ve never been left. Not so good. Charlotte got used to it though and actively enjoyed it (I hope!) Romilly less so, because of being absent with…
The Great Illness. Three days into the holiday Romilly picked up some sort of norovirus. It was horrendous. I will spare you the details but constant vomiting and her inability to keep even water down meant within 24 hours we were at a mini hospital in Praia de Luz. Yes, the place from where Madeleine McCann disappeared; I held Romilly even tighter. And if anyone still harbours doubts about her parents, go and stand in the village and have a look at the old Mark Warner resort. It’s part of the town – there are no gates, no main road in and out, the houses just melt into the village, it’s a kidnapper’s paradise.
Given her inability to keep anything in by mouth, and the continental obsession with bottoms, I was instructed in how to apply suppositories. That was fun. But she rallied. Sort of. We still had 5 days of her being not quite right, and getting overly excited when she even nibbled on a rice cake. It meant Charlotte had to go into the crèche on her own but she was brilliant. It was as if she knew that something was up with her sister and she was just super helpful, to the extent of getting a sticker from the crèche for being brave. Her father and I may have cried…
When Romilly did get almost back to normal though we had a rare old time. I was a lot more cavalier about food than at home – just wanted some to get in them. So in the restaurants the girls successfully had fish fingers, meatballs, jelly, chocolate mousse, hash browns, croissants, waffles, muffins, chips, spag bol…lesson to me in that maybe I’ve been a bit neurotic.
So, other learnings:
Given the opportunity, children will eat grass. Don’t give them the opportunity.
Babies REALLY don’t like having sun cream applied. I was a bit obsessed about it. Probably too much so. They didn’t burn. They got very brief doses of sun when we were on our way to the pool. All fine.
We took their sleeping bags and one sleeping cuddly toy from home. Worked. And assume they will need more micro snoozes than normal, given the excitement, swimming etc.
Take lots of books. They don’t weigh much and are helpful on the plane and on holiday.
Think through your clothes packing. Work on outfits, not just separates. Given how long I’d spent getting ready I’m not sure how I did it but we had five times as many tops as we needed but hardly any shorts.
Assume at least one of your children will have an explosive pooh at the beach and have everything packed accordingly
Also assume they will get ill. Stock up on the Holy Trinity of Calpol, Infant Gaviscon and Bonjela.
If you have amenable relatives…exploit. It would have been VERY handy to have had other arms at the airport. And at the resort. When the girls were having their siesta, one of us could go for a swim, or for a walk…it would have been lovely to do that together.
And then the journey back. Avoid Faro airport at all costs. 45 minutes queueing at check in, with a lady who decides, just as we’re about to arrive at the desk, that her need for a coffee break necessitates us going right to the back of another line. Then 30 minutes at Security where they laughably have a baby aisle for travellers with buggies…which therefore moves at half the speed. And then an entire other queue for passports. It meant, despite being there two and a half hours before the flight, we had no time to feed the girls and got onto the plane hungry and crotchety. And that was just me.
But, all that aside, we had an absolutely brilliant time, we really did, and are already wondering whether Martinhal has a early bird discount if we just block book the next six years…