Hotel Europa Splash

In August 2018, we went to the Hotel Europa Splash on the Costa Brava for a week in the sun. Here is what we thought of the hotel!

Hotel Europa Splash

Location

Hotel Europa Splash is located on the Costa Brava coast, just over an hour north of Barcelona and 45 minutes south east of Girona airport. The hotel itself is on the south side of the seaside town of Malgrat and just north of Santa Susanna.

The hotel is just the other side of the main road from the beach and so getting onto the beach is easy and only a 5 minute walk. There is an underground subway so you don’t have to worry about crossing main roads. As the hotel is located in the town of Malgrat, there are plenty of gift shops, restaurants and mini supermarkets right outside the hotel.

Food

Here is where Hotel Europa Splash could do better. As part of the all inclusive package, you get breakfast, lunch and evening meal, as well as poolside snacks and unlimited drinks.

If I’m being honest, the meals from the restaurant were not great and after a while, they became very bland and same-y. Obviously they have to cater for people from different nationalities and so they have to try and please a lot of people.

We had better success with the poolside kiosk which served chicken nuggets, toasties, chips and hot dogs during the day. These were Heidi’s favourites and we probably ate these more than the normal. Also, the bars served the most amazing milkshakes, but make sure you as an adult taste them before the children, sometimes they go a big wrong!!

If you go to the bar inside, they have a wide array of drinks available, but if you ask for a children’s cocktail, they can make something especially for the children to make them feel all grown up (iti s just lemonade with colouring in!)

If you’re going out for the day, you can ask for a picnic to be made for you. We did this a couple of times and it was always a ham & cheese sandwich with fruit and a drink. If you’re struggling with the restaurant, this might be a good alternative.

Picnic

Accommodation

The accommodation is quite basic, but you don’t really spend much time in the hotel room anyway! The room consists of a double bed, TV, fridge, a balcony and a walk-in shower/wet room.

View from the balcony

The maid service seemed pretty good and we had fresh bottle of water every day in the room. They also arranged Heidi’s teddies on the bed each day which was a nice touch.

Perhaps the most important part is that the TV is in Spanish. However, for some programmes, they have English in the background. Therefore, you need to press the speech bubble button on the remote control and select English. We did this with Disney Channel and it worked every time. Also, the TV carries BBC World News.

Facilities

The Hotel Europa Splash itself has a main swimming pool, a kids splash pool and slides going into a smaller pool. There are lifeguards on throughout and music playing out to the main pool.

The hotel has a wonderful rooftop terrace which is ideal of sunbathing, but also good for taking wonderful photos, as you can see!

There is also a gym, but no-one goes on holiday for a gym!

You also have access to the sister hotel just along the road. Here, the hotel is bigger with more pools/slides, and better food, but the hotel is bigger and you can feel a little lost in there, especially when trying to look after little ones!!

Entertainment

The entertainment team were the best part of the Hotel Europa Splash and worked so hard to entertain the little ones. Check out the notice board for the running order, we found that the evening entertainment was the best part. The mini disco is a bit repetitive but because there is a little bit of time after evening meal, a lot of the children played together and that was nice. Heidi loved this part so much, she wanted to play rather than eat!

Heidi and the entertainment team!

 

One word of warning is that 2/3 times a week, they have various photo opportunities (a snake, parrot, weird looking Mickey Mouse etc!) Please note that these cost €10 each and so be careful!

We did do Kids Club a couple of times as it was nice and quiet (and cool!) but whilst the entertainment team do speak English, it is probably better if you stay with your child, to make sure they understand everything.

Twice a week, they do a walking tour to the beach to the foam party. Whilst it goes on for 2 hours, you’ll only be there for an hour at the most. It is good fun, but make sure you bring a towel or two!.

Foam party!

Conclusion

Overall, we did have a lovely holiday and the Hotel Europa Splash was just the right size for us and what we needed. Would we go back? Probably not, as I wouldn’t want to have the exact same holiday, but for a short burst in the sun, it is a pretty good place.

Continue reading Hotel Europa Splash

Single Parent Holidays

After being on our second daddy-daughter holiday since the separation, I thought that it would write a post on how single parent holidays are different to “traditional” family holidays. Whilst they are different, they are probably twice as fun, but twice as tiring! As such, if you know someone who wants to try single parent holidays, make sure you get them a nice big bottle of something nice upon their return!

  1. It is impossible to suncream your own back!

No matter how well you try to train your young child, they want to go swimming in the water rather than help you out. This usually means trying to face the sun all day!

  1. Family photos are “selfies” only

Selfies are all well and good, but sometimes you want a picture of you and your child in the middle of an incredible view … that’s not going to happen unless you really trust that stranger with your expensive camera phone!

Single parent holidays
Overlooking the Costa Brava coast
  1. You have no-one else to fall out with

Obviously family holidays are stressful and can often bring out the cracks that have been papered over. However, there is just you and your child – no more adult fallings-out.

Single parent holidays
Although children can be grumpy!
  1. You have full control of the memories

You can claim ownership of the amazing memories and culture that they pick up on. I was so proud that Heidi loves reggae music after our holiday to Jamaica. Not because of the music, but more of the fact she has developed as a person because of the holiday

  1. You get to eat all the melting ice cream!!

Unless it is in a tub, or bubblegum flavour – yuk!!

Single parent holidays
No to bubblegum flavour ice cream!
  1. Adult conversation is limited

You may find the perfect holiday buddy when you get there, but you might not. Bonus if you find others on single parent holidays! As a result, it can be quite a lonely experience when your child is making friends on their own.

UPDATE! There is a company called Melon Holidays (https://www.melonholidays.com) who specialise in holidays where single parents with children go on holiday together.

  1. Airports and aircraft are stressful

They are bad enough at the best of times, but having to worry about 2 sets of electronic devices and how to entertain a child on your own for so long is difficult. See here for a blog post about keeping a child entertained on a plane.

  1. Passport Control can feel like interrogation

I fully understand the reasons behind the questions, especially if you have a different surname to your child, but it’s very stressful! If they don’t quiz you, you wonder why they haven’t! Also, make sure you have a passport for both of you. Check out this blog post on applying for a passport.

  1. You build an even closer bond with your child

If you have shared care with your child, you feel as though you miss out on things. However, having just you and your child for company helps you bond and grow that relationship into something even more special.

Single parent holidays

  1. It’s really good fun!!

Perhaps the most important one of all! Going on holiday is meant to be fun for you and your child. You’ll have memories that last a lifetime and they are down to you as a parent and a person. That is something to be really proud of.

I’d love to hear more ways that single parent holidays are different to traditional holidays. If you are nervous about doing a single parent holiday, there are companies who specialise in them. However, I have been halfway round the world with Heidi, and it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Therefore, don’t be scared!!

Continue reading Single Parent Holidays

Coach Trip …. with National Express

What seems like a relaxing way to spend a Saturday with a 4 year old and a 2 year old?? How about travelling across the country to spend the day at Chester Zoo by coach?! (blog post on Chester Zoo can be found here)

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It seemed like a good idea at the time, but with an early start leading to grumpy grown-ups and a new mode of transport leading to overexcited children, it could have been a loooooong day! However, once we all got settled, we had a really comfortable and enjoyable journey to Chester.

So, what did we like about the journey:

Booster Seats

This got a big thumbs up from the little ones, even causing an argument over them!! You cannot book them prior to travel, but the coach going to Chester had 2 available and the one coming back had 1 available and they were very comfortable – apparently!!

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They ended up sat next to each other to compare booster seats

Power sockets

Each pair of seats has a power socket to share and so using your phone/tablet is much easier to do. It has a 3 pin plug as opposed to a USB port, so make sure you bring your plug as well as wire!!

Seats

The seats were surprisingly comfortable and not what I was expecting at all. As you can see, they are leather and have a decent amount of legroom.  Each seat has a seatbelt (legally, you must wear the seatbelt) which makes the journey feel even safer.

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Friendly drivers

On the commentary, the driver going to Chester Zoo seemed genuinely excited to be taking a lot of passengers there and he even talked about some of the animals you could see when approaching the coach stop!! We had a folding pushchair with us, and the drivers insisted on putting the luggage into the coach hold – all you have to do is fold it down and they do the rest.

Last and most importantly,

You can sit and interact with your child

Especially being a single parent, when going by car on a long journey, it is difficult to talk to and interact with your child sat in the back seat. You can spend some quality time with your little one sitting together on a coach. This means you can have fun, chat, play games and, most importantly, make memories.

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You can’t do this whilst driving!!

All in all, it was a very long and tiring day in the sun. It certainly meant that the little ones had a good night’s sleep!! One thing that would have been really difficult was if we had to change coaches on the way home. However, due to the number of routes National Express operate, it is more likely than not, there is a direct service to the place you want to go.

Would we go again by National Express? Absolutely, especially when it gives you the chance to explore the country at a reasonable price.

Full Disclaimer: We were offered free travel for the purposes of this post, although no influence has been made to alter the content of the post.


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Club Mobay – Montego Bay

As you may know, I went to Montego Bay, Jamaica, with my 4 year old daughter, as a single parent. (You can read my open letter to Heidi here.  One of things that made me feel better about the travelling experience was the Club Mobay service both on arrival and departure that we had booked. As they are both different, I thought that I would break them down…

Arrivals

A Club Mobay member of staff meets you as you get into the terminal. They escort you through the entire passport/customs process through to where your transport is.

You do save plenty of time going through passport control as the queues can be long. This is because you get the next available passport control officer. Generally, getting through baggage reclaim and customs is generally a breeze anyway. The best bit is where they direct you to where you need to go once you clear customs.  In a strange airport in a new country, having that helping hand to make sure you’re in the right place really does help.

You can make use of the arrivals lounge if your transport isn’t ready and there are drinks, snacks and lovely cold towels! We did find that by saving time through passport control, you did end up waiting for other people who were going to be on your coach to the hotel. As such, you don’t really save much time in total.

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Very tired after a long day of travelling!!

However, you are looked after from start to end By the Club Mobay reps and it is a very friendly welcome into Jamaica.

Departures

The Departures service is a bit less personal as there is no meet and greet service. You get a separate lane through passport control and security, which is useful and you get a lounge with food and drinks before your flight. If you are going to have a meal before your flight, it might work out cheaper to do this option.

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Jamaican Beef Patties

As the food is a complimentary buffet, then you can eat as much or as little as you want. These is also a kids play room which is a good touch (not all airports have them!)

One thing I would recommend is to arrange for an earlier drop off at the airport. The check-in process was long when we departed and as a result, we didn’t have that much time in the lounge. As a result, I would make sure you get to the airport earlier to make best use of the service!!

All in all, it is a wonderful little service that is offered and one that I am sure that we would use again. It is perfect for families as it just takes a little bit of the stress out of travelling!!


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Travelling with a 4 year old as a single parent

The thought of travelling as a single parent is a scary prospect.  That is not a bad thing – it shows that you care. However, having been to Jamaica (with a connection in Atlanta) with just myself and my 4 year old, I thought that I would give some hints and tips which might make it easier, especially (but not specifically) if you’re a single parent.

Plan your bags

Chances are that you’ll be in a cramped seating area with your beloved child and they will want everything out of the bag at once – tablet, sweets, drink etc!! The best way to avoid a meltdown is to organise your bags so you know where everything is. That way, you can quickly pick items out of the bag without disrupting where everything else is!

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Food always helps!

Travel and Legal Documents

Most importantly, make sure you have your tickets, travel vouchers for the hotel/transfers and your passport. Make sure your passport is in date and generally has 6 months left when you enter the country. Also, make sure you don’t need any additional Visas or injections. (My guide to applying for a passport can be found here)

Also, if you’re a single parent, make sure you have a copy of your child’s birth certificate and correspondence from the other parent that you have their permission to go out of the country. I never got asked for these, but I have heard of people who have been asked.

Also, take copies of the documents and put a set in a different bag, a set with someone at home and an electronic copy as well.

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Security

Airport security is perhaps one of the worst things in the world to do as a single parent travelling.  One tip is to look really stressed and hope that an airport employee takes pity on you and helps you through the process a little!!

However, when you know when you’re going to be going through it, take all your electronics and fluids out. Either carry them, or put them in a carrier bag so when you get to the x-ray machine, you can easily put them on the conveyor belt and disregard the carrier bag if needed.  Different countries have different rules about children taking their shoes off. As such, either ask before you get to the x-ray machines or just get your child into the habit of taking them off.

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Hopefully the destination will be worth it!

Take pictures

Part of this is to look back at the brilliant time you have had. However, it is useful to take pictures of your bag so you can remember what it looks like when you land. Also, take pictures of your child so that if the worst happens and you lose them, you know what clothes they have on.

If you want ultimate parent points, just go for matching clothes – it really does work!!!

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This combo got amazing comments!!

Have fun!!

Life is about having fun and chances are you’re going on holiday and will have a great time. Relax and it’ll all be fine!

I have blog posts on Flying with a toddler and Flying with a 3 year old if they are of interest too!!

If you have any other hints or tips on travelling, please leave them in the comments below!


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Our First Holiday – an open letter to Heidi

As you may or may not know, I just had our first holiday with my 4 year old. It was the one thing that kept me going during the dark times of stress and separation – it was the one thing I fought so hard for. And it was worth it, totally worth it.

I wrote this on the way home, whilst Heidi was asleep on me. I have to admit that I shed a tear whilst writing it, but it was a tear of happiness (and maybe a bit of fatigue!!). Anyway, enjoy….

———

Dear Heidi

I am writing this somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean, on our way back from our first holiday with just the 2 of us.

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It could have been the most horrendous holiday ever full of stresses and strains and not at all enjoyable for either of us. There were times running up to it where I thought that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was under so much pressure to cancel it.

However, my trust and faith in you was so strong, I didn’t give in and I didn’t give up. I have dreamt of this holiday for a couple of years and I have to admit almost every day of our holiday, there were tears of unbridled joy that we were free and enjoying new adventures.

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Heidi – you have been an absolute star. I always say that I can take you anywhere and you have proved it so much this holiday. We have had fun, made friends, done new things and been living in each other’s pockets for just over a week and we have never got bored or fed up of each other.

So many people have said how well behaved you are or how they think you’re 6 years of age or older because of the way you hold a conversation. You make strangers smile in your company and most importantly, you make me smile so, so much. There were times when you were tired when travelling, but so many people said that you were such a good traveller and they were right.

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I am proud to be your daddy. I am proud to be your travel buddy after our first holiday. We are best friends and I am proud of that.

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Matching T-Shirts!

As you lay asleep next to me, I know these adventures won’t last forever, nor these moments of childish joy. However, let’s enjoy them whilst we can and live life to the fullest.

Time to look for the next adventure….

I love you Heidi
Daddy
XxX


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Applying for a Passport

Although my work life is all about putting numbers in boxes, the thought of applying for a passport filled me with dread. So I thought that it would be a good idea to post a few little hints and tips. This is especially true if your little one is going on their first overseas adventure.

Photos

Whilst I am old enough to remember being on my mum’s passport without a photo, you need 2 photos for your application form.  If you have any fear that your child won’t be able to have a good photo in one of those rubbish photo booths, I would recommend going to a proper photography shop (Max Spielmann etc) and just paying a little more to have someone actually take the photo. It cost us £6 for 6 pictures, which is a little more than the booth. However, you know that the photo will be right for the passport

You have to get someone to countersign (more on them later!) just one photo with the following:

“I certify that this is a true likeness of (INSERT CHILD’S FULL NAME)”

and then sign and date it. The child’s name must include the middle name, otherwise they will return it (been there done that!). As parent, you do not need to sign the back of the photo.

Forms

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Did you know that there were 2 different forms?! The old-school form from the Post Office is different to the one that you can fill in online. As a result, one might be easier to fill in than the other, especially if you have a slightly complicated family background.

ONLY GO TO THE OFFICIAL .GOV WEBSITE – THERE ARE SOME DODGY SITES OUT THERE!! (sorry for shouting!)

I would recommend going down the online route if possible, as you are able to save a final version before signatures. As such, if that bit goes wrong, you can always print off another copy. However, you do have to pay up front, so you need to be sure that you’re going to go through with the process. Also, you do need a printer as clearly HM Passport Office aren’t fully into the 21st Century.

I do have a copy of the online form if anyone is interested in seeing the questions. Please email [email protected] and I’ll send it over to you.

If you go down the paper form route, I would highly recommend the Check and Send facility offered by the Post Office. This takes away some of the stress of worrying once you send off the form.

However, before you fill in the form, you may need to ask your extended family for their passport numbers and place of birth. These are the more random questions which are on the form (don’t ask me why!!)

If you are applying for a passport for the first time, you also need to send the original of the birth certificate. You get it back a couple of days before you receive the passport.

Countersignatory

There are various rules about who can countersign the forms, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/countersigning-passport-applications/accepted-occupations-for-countersignatories

Generally they need to know you for 2 years, and be a “person of good standing”. If they are signing for a child’s passport, they need to know the parent signing the passport for 2 years and not the child. If you are struggling to get the passport signed off, the one occupation which is a bit of a catch all is a “manager of a VAT registered company”. This is a very wide term – a manager in a small firm can be classed as that.

Success?!

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As of the summer 2016, it took 3 weeks to get the passport back so the turnaround times are quite quick. You can make an appointment to go to the Passport Office itself if you need a passport urgently. However, that sounds far too stressful!!!

Once you get the passport, you can concentrate on the important part – the holiday!!!!

PS If you want further advice on applying for a passport, go to the Kiddie Holidays website here


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London in a Day!

Trying to do London in a Day is difficult. Trying to do London in a Day with a toddler is approaching madness!! London is a wonderful place to spend the day, but was it good with a toddler… maybe not!
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The first question we had was how to get there – plane, train or automobile?! Well, plane costs upwards of £100 per person from Leeds Bradford to Heathrow. Once you clear security and get into the city from Heathrow, you don’t gain anything in time. Train costs about £100 per adult and under 5’s go free if you’re willing to share a seat with them.

Therefore, we decided to go by car and took the economical decision of hiring one for the day. It cost around £40, not including petrol of around £40. So after picking the car up at 8am, we did the lengthy journey down the M1 to London. After a service station stop, all in all, it took 3 hours 30 minutes to get to Stanmore tube station. Heidi was entertained by a portable DVD player, but it did get a bit hairy at times. Fortunately she had a sleep on the way down!!

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(hire car from Enterprise)

Stanmore is one of the few tube stations where there is a decent sized car parks. It is very close to the M1 and as it is at the end of the tube time, it is easy to get on the trains. Is it easy to navigate the Underground with a toddler and pram? Not really, but I was expecting worse! Getting into the city was easy enough but moving around the stations was difficult – but not impossible. To be fair, the “natives” were understanding of the pram and ensured that there was enough space to get on/off. The tube was very, very busy at times and so if you have a nervous child, it might not go very well. However, Heidi was amazingly alert, calm and entertaining!

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One of the keys was planning which stations had lifts and which didn’t. By using the lifts, you tend to see the back corridors of the stations which you never see! However, the lifts aren’t everywhere and so chances are you have to go up an escalator or two. You are best to carry your child and fold the pushchair and hold it. Obviously, this is very much difficult if there is just one of you.

So, having got into central London at 2pm – what do you do with a 2 year old?? Well, surprisingly, there is very little to do! There are no children specific museums and very little for toddlers at all! There seems to be more towards Greenwich/Docklands and that might be a better place to go next time.

We knew we only had 4 hours or so before having to head back so we decided to cut down the travelling as much as possible, and decided to do the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. Except there was a problem. There were massive queues (this was a Tuesday in August). As a result, we went into the Victoria and Albert Museum, for not other reason than it was quieter and we wanted to do anything!

The V&A is not child friendly at all and I wouldn’t go back at all. But because of the open spaces and “interesting” artwork, it did allow Heidi to wander around and be visually stimulated (I think!) We lasted 30 minutes and by that time, the queues in the Natural History Museum had died down and we ventured in. It was very busy but we spent about an hour in there looking at the various exhibits. There was a very child-friendly exhibition in the basement around animals which resulted in Heidi pretending to be a tortoise after touching a tortoises shell! The queue for the dinosaur exhibit was unbelievable and we didn’t try to go in.

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After an hour in the Natural History Museum, we walked down the road to the Science Museum. Perhaps the most toddler friendly place, we only made it on the ground floor and managed to watch a live show about bubbles which was really good fun (and educational-ish) Had we done it again, perhaps we would have spent all afternoon here. One good thing about London is that there are plenty of free toilets in the museums etc. There were excellent nappy changing facilities throughout.

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As evening drew on, we made it to Westminster in time to hear Big Ben chime 6 O’clock, which was more by luck than judgement. However, we should have planned this as it was pretty cool for a 2 year old! If possible, try to go to Westminster on the tube as when you leave the station, you instantly see Big Ben and it is a sight to behold.

We ended up walking along the South Bank to Waterloo. This is a particular favourite due to the street entertainers there and the good atmosphere that can be generated down there. Again, an excellent place for toddlers! We found a “suitable” restaurant for tea (not many are overly family friendly – and certainly no Wacky Warehouses!) before walking back on the more sedate North Bank to Westminster and the Tube back to the car.

All in all, we got back to the car at Stanmore at 8pm and didn’t get back home until 12.30am – a very long day!! Heidi was asleep all the way home which was a relief, although the drive back for me was a challenge due to the long day!! Doing London in a Day is tough!

Was it enjoyable? Yes!

Would we do it again? Yes!

Would we do it differently? Absolutely!

It was worthwhile, as 4 months later, Heidi still remembers certain aspects of it, which shows that the day carried some really good memories for her.

How would we have done it differently? We should have set off in the early morning to make the most of the time and concentrated our time on the Science Museum and maybe Buckingham Palace/Hyde Park. However, you live and learn and so if this helps someone out in the future, the blog has helped!

UPDATE! We have been to London quite a few times since and you can read the following blog posts:

Discover Children’s Story Centre

London Attractions Guide

Continue reading London in a Day!