Travel: Sun, sea and submarines in Lanzarote
A 7ft yellow duck and the promise of mid-haul winter sun keep James Tapsfield, his pregnant wife and three-year-old daughter happy on a short break to Lanzarote.
When you book a holiday in sun-drenched Lanzarote, you may not expect to end up on a submarine. But that is exactly where we found ourselves, to the delight of my three-year-old daughter Evie.
And as the slightly claustrophobic yellow vessel descended into the water, a small voice inevitably piped up: “Daddy, I need the toilet.”
My wife Ellie had made perfectly clear from the outset that she wanted no part in this excursion. And to be fair, at seven months pregnant, she might not have fitted through the hatch.
The idea of the holiday was to give her the most relaxing time possible before the new arrival threw everything into chaos again. But that did not mean the ever-energetic Evie and I wanted to spend all week dozing by the pool as well.
Keeping everyone happy on a pre-baby getaway like the one we had in mind can be a tricky task. We tried to strike the balance by going for luxury - and we found it at the Princesa Yaiza hotel, in the former fishing village of Playa Blanca on the southern tip of the island.
Our impending delivery had pretty much ruled out long-haul destinations. But even in the absence of a baby bump, flying any distance with a small child is a nightmare.
At four hours from the UK, the Canary Islands is about the shortest haul you can go while guaranteeing decent weather outside of peak season.
Using Thomson’s Sovereign service to book helped minimise stress from the moment we cleared airport security and sauntered - or bounced in Evie’s case -into the courtesy lounge.
And despite my worst fears, the flight to Arrecife zipped by in a tolerable blur of colouring books, card games and Tree Fu Tom episodes on the tablet - every parent’s best travelling companion.
From there it was a smooth half-hour transfer to Princesa Yaiza, where the benefits of shelling out for luxury really kicked in.
Almost before we stepped out of the car, the porters had unloaded the bags and whisked them away to our suite. Moments later, staff in the tasteful, tree-strewn lobby were pressing glasses of Champagne into our willing hands, and generally getting a move on checking us in - which is exactly what you want when you’ve got an over-tired pre-schooler on your hands.
Yaiza is a genuine five-star proposition, with around 400 sumptuously-fitted suites arranged around eight swimming pools, high-grade restaurants, large spa, gym, tennis courts and all the other facilities you could possibly expect.
Even pretty much full to capacity, there was never an issue securing sun loungers among the plentiful palm fronds and babbling fountains.
If you feel like venturing beyond the opulent hotel estate, a yellow-sanded beach is literally right outside the gates with breathtaking views across to the neighbouring island of Fuerteventura.
So far, so good.
But Yaiza’s real selling point is what it does for families. And in large part this is down to a seven-foot tall duck they call Kiko.
Now, personally, I find oversized animal mascots in hotels a little intimidating. Sinister, even.
There were times when I looked up from my breakfast coffee and pain au chocolat, and was not entirely pleased to see Kiko marauding towards me on his morning meet-and-greet.
However, you can’t argue with his results. Evie’s enthusiasm for the duck knew no bounds, and she demanded cuddles and photographs whenever we sighted his tail feathers waggling in the distance.
That meant she was also eager to spend time in Kikoland, an impressive purpose-built complex adjoining the main hotel site.
There are four playhouses for different age ranges, from cots and baby toys in Cooky Club through to Playstations in Gremlin Club for teenagers. Football and tennis training camps are laid on for older children, as well as sessions of volleyball, water polo and table tennis.
All we had to do was drop Evie at the gate, hand over her ‘Kiko pass’, and go and enjoy a massage at the Thalasso Centre or read a book secure in the knowledge that she was being well looked after.
After a day of swimming, cake-making, painting and attempting to demolish the hotel’s substantial soft play zone, most evenings Evie barely had the energy to participate in the kids’ ‘mini-disco’.
One of the high points of our stay was her star turn as a dwarf in an all-action version of Snow White, which the staff somehow managed to stage successfully despite the best efforts of the youthful actors.
A common bugbear for holidaying parents is that their nights get brought to a crashing standstill when the kids flake out. But at Yaiza there is the option of sending them off to Kikoland for a bedtime club, while you savour a glass of the rather good local white wine and take part in a quiz or watch a show. A babysitting service is also provided if you want to go further afield, paid by the hour.
Eating is an important part of any holiday, and there was certainly no shortage of choice or quality here. An excellent hot and cold buffet breakfast is included with the accommodation. And the eight restaurants on site offer just about every type of cuisine from Italian to tapas to traditional Canarian seafood. The Japanese show cooking at Kampai is well worth a try, while Don Giovanni is in a tranquil plaza and has live classical guitar music.
Naturally, Kiko has to have his own hang-out, with menus tailored for youngsters.
But it’s a good idea to keep your dining plan flexible, as these outlets are fairly pricey, and there are myriad other decent eateries within a few minutes’ walk either direction along the seafront.
We visited nearby Rubicon Marina several times, and can recommend the ocean views and desserts at Lani’s. The ice cream served to look like Pinocchio was a particular favourite of Evie’s.
Lanzarote was created by a series of volcanic eruptions, and the mountainous scenery and distinctive rocky coastline can be spectacular.
Given that the island covers only a few hundred square miles, it is relatively easy to get out and about. You can take a coach day trip to Timanfaya National Park to see the Fire Mountains, where the landscape is almost Martian. Just a few metres below the surface temperatures reach up to 600C, and staff do startling demonstrations such as creating a steaming geyser by pouring water into a borehole.
Or you can do something even more offbeat and opt - as we did - to go to Puerto Calero for a submarine trip. Submarine Safaris operate a hi-tech vessel that takes a couple of dozen people down approximately 30 metres, and roves around the coast for an hour.
It’s a great way of seeing the abundant local ocean life, and Evie thought she was an extra in Finding Nemo. Among the colourful creatures we spotted were a stingray, an angel shark and parrotfish.
If you have a birthday or other special occasion to celebrate, they will also send a scuba diver to hold up a sign at the window, which is a nice touch.
Just whatever you do, remember: take the kids to the toilet first.
Travel facts - Lanzarote
James Tapsfield was a guest of Sovereign Luxury Travel (0843 770 4526; www.sovereign.com), who offer a saving of up to £505 on a week at the five-star Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort in Lanzarote, from £2,059 per family of three. The price includes complimentary child accommodation (2-4 years), 80 Euros resort credit, one complimentary spa circuit per adult, return flights from London Gatwick with Thomson, airport lounge access, private transfers and seven nights’ B&B in a one-bedroom suite. Base