15 June 2008
Victoria Playa, Santo Tomas, Minorca, Spain
Hotel
A$58/£28 per week
39°54'48.37"N
4° 2'39.75"E
Room + breakfast and evening meal
Package deal for
2 adults (both included)

 

You two? Package holiday? Hmmmm. I have to admit that I was a bit sheepish about saying we were doing this. To the Australian cygnets swimming around the pool, I'm not even going to try and explain the beast that is the English Package Holiday. To our cousins across the Pacific, think All Inclusive and you're starting to get there - same ball park anyway, but probably way down the other end.

Actually, we didn't book a package holiday, we booked the room and the flights separately, but I'm sure we could have combined them and added return airport transfers, then we'd be the same as almost everybody else here. Why we ended up here is complex, basically to surprise a huge chunk of Peter's extended family who had booked to come here before they knew when we would be arriving in England, and it was so cheap and easy we brought Peter's mum and dad along with us and all 4 of us stayed for two weeks. More on that complicated tale here.

The hotel is officially called Victoria Playa Stils Hotel, which indicates it is part of a chain, but this hotel is almost completely booked out and controlled by Thomson's Holidays, one of England's longest established package companies. Their hotels are usually suitable for a certain group - under 5's, 5-10 year olds, early to mid teens, honeymooners, oldies and party animals. The Victoria Playa is definitely in the under 5 bracket. We saw a foursome of late teenagers at dinner last night - hope they weren't expecting any parties that didn't include Thomson the Dog or the Wiggles or all manner of other creatures I've never heard of but the very mention of their names was enough to send toddlers into wild, screaming raptures. There appeared to be a lot of family groups with grandparents in tow, and several older people alone or in couples who obviously didn't mind the fact that the whole resort was geared towards small hyperactive children (or didn't read the review properly, as I'm sure the teenagers from last night hadn't).

The hotel is officially a 3 star, and that is exactly where I'd put it (in South East Asia, they'd be calling it at least 4 star). Initial toiletries were not topped up during our stay (doesn't matter really, as most English people seem to bring along their own soap and shampoo) but I'm sure if I'd asked I would have gotten replacements.

The rooms were basic but very clean - no fridge, kettle or TV (and not the slightest sniff of a WiFi signal). As in most of continental Europe there wasn't really a double bed - two singles pushed together (each with single bedding) and a third single bed which served nicely as a laundry basket amongst other things.

The room had a lot of storage (based on the hotels we've become accustomed to staying at - everyone else was complaining, but there again everyone else had twice as much luggage as us, and we carry everything we own) but there was no indoor chair or stool, although there was a table and couple of chairs on the small balcony, along with a flat-fold clothes dryer. By nosing around, I found a token operated washing machine and tumble dryer, although at 7 Euro's a load, I think it's a bit on the expensive side - haven't come to terms with the Euro yet, but I think it's in the region of A$10

Usually when booking through discount sites on the internet you're allocated the nastiest horrible room they have on the first floor (if you complain they'll usually give you a better one), but here we are, on the top (5th) floor with a beautiful view of the sea one way, and in the other direction an amazing small bay and the next village along - it looks walkable, but we may need hiking boots which neither of us have. I think most rooms have at least a small view of the water from the balcony, but the lower floors would be pushing to see the sea beyond the trees.

The resort has 3 swimming pools, one about 4 inches deep for the very young, one slightly deeper for the youngsters and one for the grown ups. We were surprised that there were no beach/pool towels, but as everyone had brought their own, I am assuming that this is the norm for Europe. I'm sure if we used the ones from our room we'd be able to get clean ones without any problem. I was a little reluctant to go into the pools - too many little ones and I'll bet every single one of them was widdling in them for me. This was proved by how sore Peter's eyes were from the extra chlorine in the water, and I rarely bother with the sea as slimy wiggly things who might bite or nip me live in it. Besides, the water really was too cold. In Melbourne we wait until at least February before the sea has had a chance to warm up a bit, here it'll be another good couple of months of sun on the water before I'd want to dip my toes in it.

Adults with eyes in the backs of their heads were everywhere, and they didn't seem to mind who's little ones they were pulling out of the pools or picking up from the floor or yelling "Don't run" to. In fact, we saw a lot of people helping each other out by taking turns in keeping children entertained whilst the others had a bit of a rest.

And, of course, part of the package holiday is the daily activities for both children and adults. For the adults, there was a daily quiz at lunchtime with different silly holiday games both in and out of the pool each day, and although I wasn't keeping up with the children's activities, there seemed to be plenty of them and any child wanting to go on stage to take part in the nightly entertainment show had to go to practice in the afternoon - the holiday reps did a really good job of keeping them entertained and out of the way. The lobby had payphones and internet access for 1 Euro/10 minutes. No idea how much that is in real money, but certainly more than we'll pay elsewhere if we can't find a free signal.

I was surprised by the standard of food, even though it was same old-same old buffet breakfast and dinner. Each night there was a different roast meat or pasta and Friday was seafood night. I was embarrassed by the amount of food many people were piling onto their plates, and the amount of it thrown out was shameful. Passing most people by - plenty of confused looks and disdainful sniffs - the anitpasto was magnificent. Heaps of different hams, salami and smoked sausages, pickles and the best green olives I've ever eaten (I went overboard on them every night) as well as the best chorizo sausage in the world - well, we are in Spain aren't we? I don't like soup, being of the opinion that you either have something to eat or something to drink, so I filled up a bowl of antipasto every night (mostly olives) whilst the others were slurping soup. In fact, I could have just stuck to the antipasto (olives) and a bit of fresh bread, but I did occasionally try other things when they looked appealing - most food was bland and geared to English Package Holiday Tourists, but there were occasional gems, with the local fish being a stand out for me. Buffets are never the most hygienic of places, and Peter had a fairly serious bout of gastro one night, although we couldn't put it down to the food alone - he also had a glass of wine and a couple of beers in different bars, and since we left the tropics the very regular washing of hands has fallen off a bit, so it really could have been anything. Just one of the hazards of travelling.

As for the nightly entertainment, the little ones seemed to enjoy it, and after 9 there was a more adult show but I thought that was rather disappointing. Our entire group was looking forward to the ABBA night on Friday, but the talented singers were let down by dull personalities and a total inability to get the crowd up and going and, like most others, we didn't stay until the end of the show. The bar and waiting staff are fantastic - very good with children and very deftly maneuvering trays of food and drinks across a floor where a toddler would dart out in front of them with no prior warning at regular intervals. Also, like all good bar and waiting staff, they had memories to be proud of. Only on the first night was Peter offered Fosters - the bar tender was surprised that Australians never drink the stuff, and if anyone ever turns up at a barbie with a slab of Fosters instead of VB, everyone thinks they must be doing it hard financially. He was equally surprised that most Australian wine is now screw top not corked. I told him you really couldn't tell the difference, but I don't think he believed me. He said that, without doubt, it would never catch on in Europe. Except they said that about Chateaux Cardboard didn't they? Oh, yes - when it comes to making grog easier to get at, the Australians are miles ahead of the game, and those plastic bladders full of wine inside cardboard boxes on your supermarket shelves are all down to Aussie ingenuity. Stop being a snob, some of them are actually quite good - it's only the cheapo 5 litre casks that are a bit dodgy. If you don't want a whole bottle, they are ideal, as the seal is as tight as you can get, ensuring you're not returning to vinegar in a few days time.

The location of the hotel is a bit hmmmm. Santo Tomas is a one road in-same road out resort village, meaning very few cars on the road and has very shallow calm sea water, both of which make it ideal for small children. All other hotels and apartments in Santo Thomas also seemed to be geared towards children up to the age of 10, and out walking off the evening's olives, we passed several stages with kiddies shows on. There are a couple of very overpriced shops/supermarkets which cater entirely to tourists, and and a bar/restaurant/internet cafe which has told us it's OK to go in and plug our laptop in. It's not bad when you only have a couple of files, but you can't beat FTP for uploading lots of files and photo's, and I've never been into an internet cafe yet with an FTP program installed on the PC. There are bus services to the main city and the ancient port city - they each only run every 2 hours, so if you miss one, you have a fair wait.

We though "Oh, right, package holiday - we'll be out of there as soon as we can" but actually it isn't really that bad, and for the price we're paying - A$29/£14 per week each with meals included, we really can't complain. We were planning on getting a ferry to one of the other Balearic Islands when Peters' parents leave on Monday, but I think we might do a bit of last minute hunting on the internet. Not here - nice as it has been, the novelty of small children has a very short use by date, especially when they aren't related to you - but there are plenty of other parts of the island which don't look over-run by tourists. There is a National Park in the north east which one of the staff has told me is totally unspoiled, and Peter has spoken to someone from Darlington who is staying in the north of the island where he claims there is some really good bush walking, so we might just give that a go.

I would strongly recommend this hotel to anyone who has - or doesn't mind the company of - under 8's, especially if a large family group is coming.