With Christmas gone, the days long and dark and a whole new year stretching out ahead of us the holiday ads are targetting us when we’re at our lowest ebbs and any glimpse of sunshine has us tempted. This time last year we surrounded ourselves by brochures and dreamed of a sunny break.
We were nervous, our only other foreign holiday with a small child, a week in Mallorca, led to the neighbouring apartment offering us a bottle of Dozol (true, embarrassing story). It was very far from our idea of our docile one year old sleeping in his buggy while we drank wine, although it might have helped if we’d had a docile one year old to begin with. So, here we were, nearly three years later with a three and a half year old and 21 month old considering braving a Ryanair flight and a mobile home for a fortnight. It would make or break us.
Everyone told us that campsite holidays were the absolute best thing ever for small kids, but we’d never been on one before so we really didn’t know what to expect, and whether we would actually enjoy it ourselves too. So, our compromise was that we’d choose a site where we could do daytrips to satisfy the explorers in us, while we’d pick a site that had lots of facilities for the boys.
We ended up at Park Albatros in Coastal Tuscany. I did a lot of research before we went, and we had we decided on another campsite entirely only to find out that it was fully booked and so, sort of by default Park Albatros became our destination. We couldn’t find a huge amount about it before we left but we loved the idea of going to Italy so that was a lot of what sold the idea to us. Yes, I admit it, the thoughts of pasta, pizza, gelato and tiramisu all played a (major) role too.
We booked with Kelair Campotel and took an air-conditioned 2 bed “Mercure” mobile home with a deck, for the last 2 weeks in June. The temperature got up to 35 degrees so we were glad that we went early in the summer and had the air-conditioning. The mobile was very clean and in good condition with lots of storage space and we paid extra for a highchair (which we returned as we never used it) and travel cot. There was a good sized living area, a full sized fridge and tons of storage.
The boys’ room was teeny but we didn’t use the high bunk so we could use that for storage and the travel cot went where the fold out twin bed would otherwise have lived. The three year old regularly fell out of his single bed as it was smaller than his bed at home but the floors weren’t too hard 🙂
There was a huge deck and the boys loved the novelty of having breakfast outside, and a gas BBQ is provided but we didn’t use it at all (the thoughts of having to clean it put us off, lazy out!) There’s also a clothes dryer, a spot to park the rental car and a bit of dirt that we let the boys pretend was sand. The traffic on site is limited so it’s really very safe and there are no cars, only bikes or golf buggies after 10pm (this can be a bit of a pain on the night before departure when you have a 7am flight and have to load the boys into the buggy to get to the outside carpark but the benefits well outweigh this one disadvantage).
“Park Albatros is located in a pine forest” according to the brochures, so I expected to meet a Gruffalo at every turn. It’s not that kind of pine forest though, more a pine canopy, so you have lovely shade, that lets you have a breath of air. The downside is that needles and pine cones often drop from height and scare the bejaysus out of you or take a lump out of the deck, we even saw one dent a car!
One of the negative things that I read before we went was about the size of the site- Yes, it’s massive. We were very lucky, our Kelair mobile had a fantastic location very near the central plaza where the restaurant and supermarket are, and close to the pools. We were worried when we arrived that it might mean that it was noisy but it really wasn’t, most other people there have small kids too so you’re not fussing about noisy people staggering home from the pub. My advice is when you are booking check out the location of your company’s sites, some are about a 20 minute walk from the plaza/pool and 30 minutes from the exit which is a long way for three year old legs.
In practical terms, since we were flying and therefore restricted as to what we could bring we rented sheets and towels (but brought sheets for the cot).
The beach is about 7 minutes’ walk from the gate of the site (so add at least 10 minutes if you’re in a mobile, less if you’re in a tent as they are nearer the exit). It’s not a sandy beach, more gravelly and the water gets deep pretty quickly. We only went one day, as the pool complex was just so good that the extra effort just wasn’t worth it.
We had read about 5 pools on site and were amazed by that, but there are actually 6! The pool was a holiday highlight, so safe and clean, with a dimpled plastic non-slip surface and graduated to a maximum depth of less than three feet. They had island mounds built in to the pools with fountains coming out of the top and tunnels underneath for the boys to hide in. There’s also an Olympic pool where they do aqua aerobics every day and water polo and a pool with higher islands and slides but we tended to stick to the pool for younger kids nearest the main gate. There’s a snackbar and a “bazaar” which sells touristy bits next to the pool and in June we never had any problem getting loungers.
There’s also a playground and a campsite run kids’ club (if your tour operator doesn’t have one) which we got great use out of, although we always stayed with the boys as they are so young. They do a morning session of games and painting or colouring and in the afternoon they take over the little stage in the main area and dance to a CD of Europop with lots of actions, the kids start watching and after 4 or 5 days they learn all the actions and join in the 30 minute routine, it’s quite remarkable. The animators who we spent most time with Francesca and Sarah had the patience of saints and were so kind to the children, even if Ciarán kept correcting them if they mispronounced his name! See more below about these dance actions.
The on site “animators” are very busy people and between them and the various kids’ clubs you could really keep very busy+
While we were there it the European Football Championships were on so the main bar area had live soccer on the nights of matches, and music otherwise.
Every night at the Entertainment Complex by the pool there’s an “Albi” show. Albi is the park mascot, a stuffed chipmunk and the kids idolise him. Albi leads a choo-choo train around the complex during one song, dances one song and then leaves the animators to do the dances and actions that the kids have been learning all week, so you have about 100 under 6s dancing to “Star Trekkin'” or patting their “kuli-kulis” (We were shocked at some of the moves in the dance routines, clearly Italian society is more liberal than ours!). We went nearly every night as the boys were wiped out by the time it ended and the more grown up entertainment started (9.30pm) and would fall into bed without any argument! On the Friday night there’s a “Fashion Show” which means that all the kids that were at the Kids’ Club in the afternoon get to wear Kids’ Club tshirts and do a dance move on the big stage and the microphone man says their name, possibly the nearly four year old’s most exciting night ever!
Food (Glorious Food!)
On site the site supermarket is fantastic, very clean, great choice of food, fresh bread counter, gorgeous deli. It’s more expensive than the CONAD or Coop in Venturina (closer than San Vincenzo) but really has a lovely selection and gorgeous deli counter and lovely fresh bread. Also on site there’s a choice of restaurants- a fancy one that really is very good (I had the tagliata – strips of fillet beef, rocket, and parmesan shavings) and that you need to reserve a table in advance (kids are welcome).
There’s also a takeaway that does pizza, chips etc and we often bought a pizza from it on the way home from the pool and ate it on the deck in our towels. There’s an inexpensive self service restaurant that we ate in once and didn’t go back to, the quality just wasn’t there. There’s also an “all you can eat” restaurant with pizza and pasta etc in the pool complex which is good value. We tended to eat our off site meals at lunchtime (facilitating a drive in the airconditioned car and naps for the boys during the hottest part of the day) and stay local or eat at home in the evenings. The few evenings we did stray we tried the hotel next to the gates of the complex- it was absolutely gorgeous, local food, excellent service and as with everywhere we ate on the trip, child friendly. (it would help if I could remember its name but it’s obvious which I am talking about when you get there)
The flight options were Rome, Bologna or Pisa. The former are three hours’ drive, the latter just over an hour so with two small boys it was a no brainer, although it wasn’t our favourite airline that provided the service. The flight took about two and a half hours. If flying with the boys again of definitely spend the extra €5 per seat to go priority, we hadn’t and couldn’t get 3 together but another passenger very kindly offered to move, possibly as the three year old was going to sit next to him! We hired a car from Pisa and followed the directions that came with our pack from Kelair. In Pisa airport you have to get a shuttle a short distance to the car hire plaza, which with small kids means unloading the trolley, getting kids, buggy and bags on and off of bus and waiting outside the car hire building. Learn from our mistake- TIP: Split up. Leave one parent at the terminal building or car hire shuttle bus stop with all the bags and let the other go collect the car. Also we got advice about renting car seats for the kids (which was “Don’t”) so we paid an extra €20 and brought the seat with us for our younger boy and bought a bubblebum online for our big-for-his-age nearly four year old.
Daytrips from Park Albatros by car
We are daytrippers by nature, and with small boys who sleep in the car we still managed to fit in a lot of them from Park Albatross. if anyone is especially interested I’ll blog more on each again but for now here’s a list and brief summary. Since our boys are very young we did lots of whistlestop/tickbox touring and our maximum time on the move in any destination was about 90 minutes. This is one of the compromises (along with many, many icecream stops) that we made to make this holiday work for us all.
Elba is a beautiful island just off the coast, famous as being the island that Napoleon was exiled to and it was one of our favourite trips. The boys loved the ferry trip and we loved the gorgeous coastal drive. Ferries to Elba leave regularly from Piombino, it takes about 15 minutes to get from the campsite to the dock and you buy your tickets in the dock office. We got a 9.30 am ferry out and a 6pm one back.
The morning that we went to Pisa we let the boys nap in the car and headed for Florence. Google maps brought us to a small valet carpark on Naziomale, right at the start of the Market Stalls and if you have small kids the 4 euro an hour is worth being parked smack bang in the middle of the city right next to the market. We had a wander, a lovely lunch and took photos. The guidebooks will tell you what to see. The boys got very tired and emotional in the heat here, so at one stage the not yet two year old had an icepop in one hand and a lollipop in the other and was clapped by a market trader as have a very good day!
The leaning tower is easily accessible from the motorway (we got there thanks to Google Maps) with lots of parking nearby, we came off the motorway and parked a 5 minute walk away in on street parking next to Pam supermarket. The site is very, very busy, we got there around 11am and it was heaving. We did the prescribed photo opps, had an icecream, looked at the tower, dallied briefly at the handbag stalls and went back to the car and on to Florence. That is as long as a small boy’s patience in the heat and sun lasts.
We drove to Siena via Massa Marittima and came home through Volterra, if you have time it’s definitely worth going to Volterra, it feels like a film set (in fact it features in the Twillight books I am told).
We had a fantastic holiday, the boys were entertained, we were relaxed and happy, we are beaming in every single photo and as I type this blogpost I am smiling too with all the good memories. We have never gone back to a holiday destination twice but I am already looking forward to a return visit to Park Albatros, 2014 here we come!
While we were very happy with the Kelair service I would be inclined to check out Canvas Holidays too as their onsite kids’ club seemed fantastic for older kids- very science based and lots of experiments etc.
We flew Ryanair, hired a car from Hertz and stayed with Kelair Campotel. We paid for it all but if anyone would like to send us with their compliments next year (or any year!) we’d be delighted to go.