How to Holiday with a Mamil: Take them to Madikwe, not Mauritius

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Ma-mil. Noun. The term “mamil” was coined in the 21st century and stands for “middle aged man in lycra”. It came about to refer to an increasing sub-set of the male species who spend large amounts of time in cycling or triathlon attire, training for amateur, endurance sporting events, with the aim of being awarded a circular object (usually bronze in colour) which can be hung about the neck.

Mamils have the ability to procreate, should they find a suitable partner to mate with. Mamil-related pursuits may or may not be present during the mating process. Often, instinctive Mamil behaviour begins in earnest once offspring have arrived on the scene.

Cycling is a favourite pursuit amongst Mamils. It enables them to be absent from the homestead for upwards of three to seven hours of a Saturday morning. From the time of waking, preparations begin. There is the pumping of tyres, the application of lubricants – both to the machine as well as to the person – the selection of tools, the mixing of special liquids to ensure hydration levels are maintained, and finally, a clothing choice must be made. Mamils are typically born with especially well-developed eye-sight which can detect brand names worn by packs of Mamils riding up ahead. This enables them to understand where in the pecking order, their fellow Mamils lie, in the real, hunter-gatherer, Monday-to-Friday, world.

Once the Mamils have been out on their bicycles for a number of hours, they will head off in groups, in search of food. This forms an important aspect of their socialization. Whether the groups integrate socially or not, they tend to cluster at the same set of watering holes. This allows them to keep an eye on the competition and to obtain a close-up view of who’s wearing what gear.

Once the Mamil has fed, he has little choice but to return to the homestead. By this time, he will understandably seek out some much-needed rest. It difficult for him to comprehend why his mate cannot empathise with this primal need. He has spent the week hunting, to provide for his family. The sixth day, is a day of riding and then of rest. On the seventh day, the Mamil would naturally be restless and edgy without a mandatory visit to the gym or a long run, depending on the season.

I married a Mamil – though he was neither middle-aged nor sporting lycra at the time. (With the exception of an incident involving a Speedo on Camps Bay beach in the summer of ’99, but we won’t go there.)

Holidays with Mamils (let alone their offspring) are not usually relaxed affairs. Food is often readily available – no hunting required – and this means that a Mamil usually has a heightened sense of portliness. This is followed by a desperate, animalistic instinct to exercise. If holidays are your idea of spending time with your Mamil mate, then Plett in December is a disaster. Mamils migrate south in the summer and descend upon the N2’s Engen garage on their bicycles each morning, to ride to Nature’s Valley and back. If you envisaged mornings at rock pools with your young children followed by family beach walks in search of pansy shells… think again. The Mamil might make it to the beach when the sun is nearing its highest point in the sky and the children are famished and exhausted.

Mauritius may seem a safe bet, with its coma-inducing humidity and hotel gyms equipped with three pieces of machinery. Not so. Resort pools cry out to the Mamil –  who is quietly attempting to mind his own business on a nearby lounger –  to “do laps! do laps!” And then there are invariably other Mamils around the pool who saunter over, sweat-drenched in their fluourescent Nike gear, obviously just in from a run. No Mamil likes to be outdone in this manner. I recall a particular Mauritius holiday, before my mate had begun his pursuit of Ironman. Unusually for a Mamil, he could barely swim. (I say this with love). Despite this, the idea of reading a book poolside for a week was so anxiety-inducing, that he took up windsurfing. He worked at it, morning and evening, capsizing more times than he stood up, but at least he was active. A summer holiday in the Alps meant hiking with children in backpacks, a boat trip on the Amazon meant traipsing through mosquito-infested swamps in a desperate attempt to raise his heart-rate. In short, a day without exercise was a day wasted.

Until I took my Mamil to Madikwe last month….Surrounded by wild mammals, he was trapped. We woke up in the morning, we readied ourselves for breakfast in a leisurely fashion, we ate, we strolled to the pool, we played board games and kicked balls around, we went to lunch, we napped and we read, we went on an afternoon game drive, we bathed the kids, we ate supper, we went to bed and repeated all this for THREE WHOLE DAYS! Okay, there was an instance when we tried to march around the camp while the kids rode their bikes. David even had my Garmin Forerunner and was measuring our distance intensely but after about 10 laps, we’d covered a grand total of about 1km, the bikes had punctured from the thorns and we called it a day. There was also an attempt to turn the 1980’s rockery around the pool into a rock-climbing wall.

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This involved David teaching Chiara elaborate rock climbing moves. She then decided she wanted to do it all by herself, but she lost her footing and fell – SPLAT – into the pool. David responded by jumping in fully clothed. Thankfully, we now know that her instinct to swim when landing in deep water is fully honed, so there was actually no need for any David Hasselhoff moves. But at least David got his heart rate up once over the holiday…Moral of the story: mamils must be surrounded by other mammals and then they will ignore nature’s constant calling and actually relax!

When Middle-class Kids Need A Weekend in Warmbaths

The only sushi-related foodstuff my kids have ever eaten is wasabi. And that only transpired because Joe was sitting on my lap while we were enjoying a sushi-feast with my in-laws. He was too young to talk but he was not too young to scream and point. Somehow he got it in his head that he WANTED WASABI!!! After his initial glee at getting his own way, his facial expression turned to one of horror and then pain. Suffice it to say that my kids have not begged for sushi since.

I don’t offer them sushi, because, as my mother used to say, they’ll “have nothing to look forward to” later on in life.

I recall once reading a piece by a British journalist who recounted a family holiday to the Caribbean where she and her husband travelled business class while their kids sat in economy. She believed that children should only travel business class if they paid for their tickets themselves. This resonated with me. Unfortunately, my kids are a bit young for this particular lesson. On a recent trip back from Mauritius, we sat opposite (in business class) an older couple whom I later realised had this exact policy in place. They tucked into the champers as soon as their butts hit the seats. She’d packed her pink sleep mask and a stack of magazines and he had a copy of the paper. They reclined their seats as soon as the plane began cruising and looked set to enjoy their good fortune. Our kids, obviously, couldn’t have cared less: the bigger the seat, the better it was for bouncing on; the more buttons it had, the more it could be driven like a bumper car. Somehow the airline managed to run out of kiddie goodie bags and the hostess saw no reason not to give the last bag to only one of our two children. Of course, an almighty feud then broke out on the injustice of it all and who had more rights to the dinky-sized colouring pencils. Eventually, the stewardess came round and whispered that “people” were starting to complain and could our children please settle down? For the rest of the flight, I am happy to report, Joe had one of those poos that sink right to the bottom of the nappy and cannot be detected by a parental eye when you pull the nappy away from the child’s back to assess whether a change was needed. As a result, I only confirmed my suspicions once we’d landed. I am sure the smell would have wafted across the aisle…

When we got off the flight, Derby and Joan from next door were reunited with their teenage offspring, while our two kids continued to believe that oversized seats and extra legroom were entirely the norm when travelling.

The other night, I had dinner with a friend who has a five year old. Apparently, she recently started asking to “go for fine dining”. Date night is now dead and Friday nights are spent at the local steak house with the two kids, for their fill of “fine dining”. Mercifully, our two children still believe that any dining establishment that boasts a jungle gym or jumping castle is more than “fine”. And my husband is an honest-to-goodness fan of The Spur, so fine dining for them is still Sunday nights at The Spur in their pj’s.

Last week on the way home from school, Chiara announced that one of her friends has “never been to Mauritius!” I felt like amusing myself and feigned shock at this fellow five year old who had never had an island holiday. But then I gently explained to her that the first time I had set foot in Mauritius was when I was nearly 30 years old. She looked at me with pity. And that’s when I decided that a weekend in Warmbaths is in order…

Mauritius with Young Kids: Sugar Beach vs The Westin

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Our family of four has been privileged enough to have spent part of the last two December holidays in Mauritius. In December 2013 we stayed at the beautiful, colonial style Sugar Beach on the west coast. At the time, Chiara, our daughter was just over two and a half and our son, Joe was nearly five months old.

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The Manor House at Sugar Beach Resort

In December 2014, we stayed at The Westin, Turtle Bay (formerly the Grand Mauritian Hotel) in the north west of the island. Chiara was therefore about three and a half and Joe was 17 months.

The Westin, Turtle Bay
The Westin, Turtle Bay

The aim of this blog post is to compare our experiences at each. I specifically mention the ages of the children because tiny, little people and their needs change a huge amount in just twelve months and said tiny, little people and their needs can largely determine the extent to which their parents enjoy their holiday. (First world problems, I know).

THE POOLS
Sugar Beach has the most stunning pool called “The Quiet Pool” – literally. Kids are not banned from The Quiet Pool but there is a guy who walks around and tells anyone (big or small) who is making a noise to please be quiet. I have no problem with this (I fondly recall the days when I read books next to pools before I had kids) and we did manage to spend a few glorious early evenings at The Quiet Pool as Joe was still an infant and, at two and a half, Chiara could be made to understand that she needed to be quiet. A year later, however, I wouldn’t have gone near this pool with a seventeen month old.

The kid friendly pool with a fairly large shallow section at Sugar Beach is very nice, but we were there in peak season and we were NEVER organised enough to go early and put our belongings on the loungers to “reserve” them for when we had finished breakfast. So we never really had a spot to sit at this pool. I think the hotel was pretty full and the pool reflected this.

Aerial View
The kid-friendly pool with a shallow section at Sugar Beach

At The Westin, we LIVED at the “main” pool. (Not the “Reflections Pool”, in the “Whisper Zone” – we never went there as we never trusted our kids to whisper in or around the pool).

Kid friendly pool at the Westin with large shallow section
Kid friendly pool at the Westin with large shallow section

The main pool has an enormous shallow end which was amazing for the kids. It feels brand new and gorgeous, it’s enormous and we loved it. I doubt the hotel was very full (it re-opened under the Westin brand some time in 2014 so they are still building up a clientele) and we had a choice of well located loungers every morning. After about 5 days, the staff started booking our preferred loungers for us near the shallow end. I suppose it will become alot busier as the hotel gets more and more popular but I think it would still feel more spacious than the main pool at Sugar Beach.

THE BEACHES
Both the Westin and Sugar Beach Hotels have sandy beaches. The Beach at The Westin wasn’t huge but it was cute and never very busy. There was a lovely giant rock pool and the sea was nice and gentle for small kids.

The beach at The Westin Turtle Bay
The beach at The Westin Turtle Bay

If memory serves, the beach at Sugar Beach is alot longer and more sprawling. Rubber or neoprene water shoes are recommended for kids and adults alike.

But our kids at this age seem to be happiest at the pool, given the choice, so we didn’t spend large amounts of time on the beach. The beaches and the sea are very nice at both resorts, but if you’re after velvety sand and long, sprawling beaches first and foremost, rather venture to the four star Paradise Sun on Praslin in the Seychelles (the pool is average and the flight times from Joburg are hell with small kids but the beach and sea are unbeatable, in my opinion.).

THE ROOMS
David, my husband spoilt us and booked superior interleading rooms for both holidays. Our rooms at Sugar Beach were nice. There wasn’t much space to spare but they were bigger than the standard rooms.

Our rooms at The Westin were utterly unbelievably luxurious, gorgeous, massive, brand spanking new, magnificent. We could have moved in forever. We paid roughly the same amount for both holidays but I strongly suspect that The Westin heavily discounted its rates to attract people to it and I think that by December 2015, our interleading rooms will be charged out at alot more. (According to the paperwork from The Holiday Factory – the tour company that our travel agent booked our holiday through – we booked “Ocean Deluxe” rooms, but when we arrived, one of the rooms had the word “suite” attached to it. But even the room that wasn’t called a suite with twin beds, was huge and stunning, as were the bathrooms.)

A top floor version of our room (ground floor doesn't have this view, but makes pram usage so much easier)
A top floor version of our room (ground floor doesn’t have this view, but makes pram usage so much easier)

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION (OF YOUR ROOM)

At Sugar Beach, I requested ground floor rooms not close to the main pool as I was worried that Joe wouldn’t sleep during the day if there was too much noise. This turned out to be a mistake because getting to the kid friendly pool and the main restaurant was an almightly schlep (Sugar Beach is an enormous resort). I would definitely request a room near the main pool and restaurant next time.

At the Westin, I simply requested ground floor rooms. Fortunately, the rooms we were allocated were a stone’s throw from the restaurant and the main pool which was really convenient and just made our lives so easy with the kids and all the paraphernalia you somehow always need with them.

THE KIDS CLUB, BABYSITTING & KIDS’ MEALS

At Sugar Beach, you can drop your kids at the kids club from the age of 3, whilst at The Westin, they need to be 4 or older. If your kids are younger than these minimum ages you need to hire a babysitter to be with them at the Kids Club. In terms of the physical premises, the Kids Club at Sugar Beach is in need of a revamp (but the staff more than make up for that), whereas at The Westin, the Kids Club is brand new and gorgeous. You can also go and hang out there with your children if they are too young to be left which you might fancy doing if it’s raining or you just need to get out of the heat for a bit.

At Sugar Beach, we hired a babysitter every evening through the Kids Club. She was fantastic. Some mornings we hired another babysitter to watch the kids for just over an hour so that my mother-in-law and I could walk on the beach which was such a treat. I remember it being a really easy and seamless process and it felt like everyone I encountered at the Kids Club was exceptionally nice and very experienced with children.

At The Westin, hiring a babysitter felt like alot more of a mission. Their policy states that you have to physically go to the Kids Club and select your babysitter from their list (pictures included) of ladies. You then hire the person directly and pay them directly in cash (local currency), plus you need to pay them for their transport (which added quite a bit to the cost). So hiring a babysitter for an hour’s walk on the beach was more effort and money than it was worth. We also happened to have very little cash (in any currency) on us and the nearest ATM was about a 20 minute taxi journey away, so we only hired a babysitter twice during our stay. The effort of needing to pre-plan and pre-book with someone external to the hotel (aside from having to mission in to town to get cash) made the option a little less attractive. That said, the ladies who work in the Kids’ Club are allowed to do babysitting when they are not on duty, but I only found that out later and when I asked one of these ladies to babysit there was a schedule clash.

There were alot of South Africans staying at the hotel while we were there and I noticed that most people put their babies to sleep in their prams and brought them to dinner. We did that twice with Joe and it worked well. Fortunately we had met a great couple with a daughter Chiara’s age and they entertained one another at dinner (with the help of an iPad). Otherwise, most nights we put the kids to bed in one of the rooms and had room service in the adjoining room, watched movies and sipped wine on the balcony. (The downside was that in-room dining doesn’t form part of the half-board offering).

At Sugar Beach, the Kids’ Club offered a kids dinner from about 5pm or 5:30pm which suited my kids’ usual routine perfectly. At The Westin, we tried to organise early dinners a couple of times for the kids but it was a huge mission and 6pm was the earliest it could be arranged so the best for us was simply to order a starter from room service for them at around 5pm. Joe lost his sense of humour at around 6:15pm every night, gulped down his bottle and pointed to his bed by 6:30pm so the 6pm dinner thing didn’t work for us.

WASHING & STERILISING BOTTLES

At Sugar Beach, I dropped Joe’s bottles and dummies off at the Kids’ Club where they were washed and sterilised for me with a smile. At The Westin, I called room service and they were equally great. (I took Medela microwave steriliser bags with me both times). Some large international hotel chains have policies about washing and sterilising bottles (in case they get sued, I guess), so one might not always be so lucky…

THE RESTAURANTS & THE FOOD

Main restaurant at The Westin
Main restaurant at The Westin

Personally, I loathe buffets – especially at dinner. It feels like musical chairs and kills the mood. Fortunately, both hotels have a variety of a la carte options for dinner (and lunch). These all come at a price, of course, but at least you have options. I don’t remember too much about the food at Sugar Beach so I assume that it was pretty good!

We stayed at the Westin before we had kids in 2010 (when it was The Grand Mauritian) and found the food to be excellent. We found it equally fantastic this time. The lunches were fresh and delicious (with deliciously expensive price-tags to match).

THE SERVICE AND THE STAFF

In general, I recall the service and the staff at Sugar Beach to be outstanding. At The Westin, we had a more mixed experience – some staff members were amazing, some were not great at all. I would say overall that there was a much better culture amongst the staff at Sugar Beach, whereas I felt like I heard alot of “I am not able to do that because we have a policy…” – i.e. very rules based culture, presumably based on a fear of being sued.

COSTS & EXTRAS

As I mentioned, I think The Westin’s prices for December 2014 were significantly lower than their prices for December 2015 will be so I am not sure they will necessarily compare well with Sugar Beach from a cost perspective, even though they are both five star resorts. At both resorts, any food or drinks that were not included in our half board packages were exorbitant (but, in my experience, that is the same in all the luxury Mauritian resorts).

CONCLUSION

We would choose The Westin again over Sugar Beach for one simple reason: the main pool. Perhaps the resort will grow in popularity and there will be a bun fight for sun loungers, but until then, I would go again tomorrow.

Please comment below if you have experiences at Mauritius resorts with young children that you’d like to share.

Alas, Alack

Alas, alack! On Sabbatical in Sandton is NOT one of the 10 finalists in the SA Blog Awards' Best New Blog category – or any other category, for that matter. So all of you who meant to nominate me but didn't…feel the guilt. Feel it wash all over you… From my side, I will be wallowing in disappointment alongside a pool in Mauritius next week. The Husband has decided it is the only way to cheer me up.

Just kidding. I wish.

No, we are off to this fair island because he is riding in yet another cycle race – another cycle race disguised as a holiday. Although, this time, I intend to go on a concerted Strike de Soigneuse. After all, I am a Saffer – striking should be in my blood. I'll be silently picketing at the pool behind my dark glasses, my book and my margarita and The Husband can go off and do as many little circles around the island as his heart desires.

To celebrate the arrival of Spring, I took myself off to a Zumba class this morning. Admittedly, I have not shaken my tush to those sexy Brazilian beats in a long time. Normally, I am intimidated by a classroom full of hot chicks who really can move their little backsides to the beat of the music. But that's the beauty of being on sabbatical – it was just me and a bunch of middle-aged housewives, WAY past their prime. Thank God. So we all looked a bit like "white-chicks-can't-dance" – because, let's face it, we generally can't. The hilarious part is that the instructor had a beer boep the size of a Jabulani soccer ball. (In fact, I think that may be an understatement.) But boy, could he dance! Just goes to show…

Anyway, thanks to my class-mates, I came out of there feeling like Shakira (but with more clothes on) and ready to take on this beautiful Spring day in Jozi.

Hope the traffic doesn't suck too much and you make it home in time for a sun-downer on your balcony!