среда, 2 октября 2013 г.

Family Holidays: Fuerteventura - Sheraton Fuerteventura (August 2012).

Every summer I ask myself 'Where should I take the family on holiday this year?” Somewhere warm, but not too hot? Somewhere at the seaside, in August? Where should we go...?

This year, after looking for a long time, I decided our family vacation would be to Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands. A friend had told us that Fuerteventura has the most beautiful, long beaches with white sand as far as the eye can see. I do love white sandy beaches...

In English, Fuerteventura translates to 'the strong wind', from the Spanish 'fuerte' meaning strong and 'el viento' meaning the wind. If it's that windy then, I thought, it can't be too hot there... and having been to the Canary Islands already, but not Fuerteventura, I was looking forward to exploring somewhere new.

From our home in Vienna, we took a direct flight to Fuerteventura. It took around four and a half hours, which isn't too long, even if traveling with small children makes it feel longer! Running back and forth in the plane to take care of little ones can prove tiring but, luckily, my daughter's now four and, to my surprise and delight, entertained herself all the way.
Once we arrived, we made our way to our hotel; with a transfer time of just 10-15 minutes, the Sheraton Fuerteventura Beach, Golf & Spa Resort is conveniently close to the airport. Some guests complained about the noise of aircraft flying over the hotel and, while it's true that there was some overhead noise, it wasn't a problem for us. In fact, the proximity to the airport seems more of an advantage when traveling with small children.
The journey from the airport was like a trip through a lunar landscape. This is typical for the Canary Islands as there is so much volcanic rock and so little vegetation. The view out of the car window didn't leave much of an impression, but the hotel grounds, in stark contrast to what we'd seen so far, were green and beautiful.

Officially, the Sheraton is a 5-Star resort, but I'd say it's more like a 4-star place according to international standards.

The room was spacious. We chose a one bedroom 'De Luxe' suite, with a view of the sea and enough room for an extra bed for our daughter. The only real negative was the slow and expensive WIFI in the room.

Happily, for there are not many restaurants or cafés nearby, we chose a half board meal plan. It is much more convenient to eat at the hotel as the nearest village, Caleta, is around a 15-20 minute walk away.
However, there is a supermarket and a McDonald's around 5-10 minutes walk away from the hotel. We visited the McDonald's once and used the supermarket to buy water, snacks, and fruit for the afternoons.
Unfortunately, the hotel's café, La Veranda, served food that was both expensive and tasteless. Despite having a standard menu for the kids (featuring pizza and pasta and so forth), our daughter refused to eat there as nothing tasted good. We ate there a couple of times but for tasteless food the cost was just too high.
Breakfast and dinner were a little better. We've had more impressive buffets elsewhere but here, at least, there was a lot of choice and everything was tasty, if not excellent.

One advantage was the buffet for kids, where the children could choose their meals by themselves.
The hotel actually has four restaurants that serve Asian cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine, etc., but we were only in the main one (with the buffet).

I chose this hotel because it had received good reviews for the kids' club Yambaland. This supervised club is open from 10am to 5.30pm, and you can leave children aged 4-12 years old with the entertainers while you enjoy sunbathing and swimming.

The kids' club boasts a mini-golf course and an outdoor playground but there is little, if any, shade, making the intense heat a problem.

Luckily, there is also a large, air-conditioned, play room inside the kids' club and the entertainers offer a standard program of sporting activities, movie-watching, T-shirt painting, and other fun things to keep your children happy and busy.

Although my daughter enjoyed going to the kids' club, I think that older kids might get a little bored there. She was happy to take part in the musical production of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' however, and delighted to receive a certificate for participation.

The resort also had an evening program for children that included a mini-disco (my daughter didn't want to miss it!), and shows with, for example, parrots and reptiles. While I enjoyed this, it could be a bit dull for the kids.
The kids especially loved the children's aqua-aerobics sessions in the shallow pool, which also delighted us parents!
There are two pools at the resort, one large one for adults and older kids, and the smaller, shallower pool for younger children. The water was quite refreshing and, although the reception said that the pools were heated, it didn't feel like it.

The hotel is right on the beach, but I never went into the sea :). The constant wind and the cooler water temperature meant that we all much preferred swimming in the hotel's pool.
In fact, the first time we went to the beach, our daughter, who doesn't like the heat, said "Mom, it's quite chilly here." We were there in the peak of the August heat but the island definitely has an appropriate name; the wind is constantly blowing in all directions! I had to look for a place protected from the wind, but once we were used to it, it was actually quite pleasant not to be too hot. We never had a problem finding sun loungers by the pool, despite the hotel being quite full.

The beach nearby was a public beach, not private for hotel guests. However, it was nice and clean, with yellow sand (not white!).

The Sheraton has a Thalasso spa and fitness room, and a wellness center that has its own indoor pool and sauna. Oddly, hotel guests have to pay extra to enter the wellness center and so we didn't go in, preferring to stay at the outside pool.
I did, however, have several spa treatments, which were excellent and reasonably priced.

The hotel has its own representative from Avis rent-a-car on-site but I'd recommend renting in advance in high season as we did it at the last minute and were lucky to get a car!
We wanted to travel to a couple of places that were a little farther afield and so, although there was a bus to these places, the flexibility of having the car was most convenient. One the first of our two days of car rental we drove to Baku water park, and on the second day we went to the zoo (Oasis park).
Both the zoo and the water park are around a 40 minute drive from the hotel, although on different parts of Fuerteventura, so impossible to do all in one day.
My daughter loved the water park, but we didn't! It was too crowded, the slides were mediocre, and the food was all processed junk food. It was pretty average overall, but the kids seemed to be happy there.
We did enjoy the Oasis park (Zoo) although it was very, very hot there!

I would high recommend paying a little bit extra to feed the lemurs – it was a lot of fun!

The zoo has a show featuring sea lions and dolphins, which my daughter really enjoyed.

One major plus for the hotel was its accessibility. There seemed to be, from my point of view at least, a lot of facilities set up for those in wheelchairs and with mobility issues.
There are golf courses at the resort, but we did not play.

The majority of the tourists in Fuerteventura were from England, with some others from France, Germany, and Spain. There was an occasional Russian voice to be heard, but not many.
The hotel staff were polite and friendly; they even let us check out late when we asked, which was great!
Helpfully, the entertainers/supervisors at the kids' club spoke a number of different languages.

This island would be great for those who love windsurfing as the conditions are ideal, what with the strong wind blowing constantly.
On the way to the zoo, we finally saw those white sandy beaches I'd been looking for!

Would I go there again? I don't know... It is a nice family hotel with all the facilities for kids but I am not so taken with the Canary Islands. I like a more green environment, not the lunar landscape. The flight is also quite long from many places. However, it is warm there when it is cold here!

So, while I don't think Fuerteventura's Sheraton resort is the place for a romantic getaway or honeymoon (at least not in high season), parents with younger children might think it a great choice!

Enjoy your trip and we look forward to hearing all about it when you return!

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