Travelling with kids (and babies)
In a nutshell: picture perfect beaches, perfect sea temperature for baby, less than ideal cyclone, great value for money hotels facilities – all in all very good holidays with a toddler. Direct flights from London, 12 hours may feel long especially for fellow passengers which will see various babies and toddlers munching running around pushing all buttons and so. For us it was all worth it, the moment we stepped onto the beach the little jumping for joy and excitement. Gentle waves, white sand, lush outdoors with lots of light and birds – after the greys of London it all felt like an extended celebration of life. Showers yes, rain yes but again it’s a happy one, warm not always gentle and keeping Mauritius green and lush.
Hotel. We stayed at Meridien, 4.5 stars property running good deals for half board basis. Happy about the superior room, good 50sqm size and suite layout, pity no sliding doors. Stylished furniture though feeling a bit old, nice balcony, nice bathroom separate shower cubicle area and bathtub. All customary tea/ coffee facilities and minibar with fridge – all very relevant when still preparing couple of milk bottles per day and storing various snacks for hungry little creatures.
North west of Mauritius so involving a lot of stunning sunsets. Victoria hotel next door – a short walk on the beach. Also next door to Westin and Oberoi – a mere 800 Mauritius local currency taxi trip return from Meridien. Nice snorkeling spots but in the same time reasonable swimming area – a very good combination of the two, pleasing both the little ones keen to play with the waves and parents keen to see and play with the fish.
Being spoilt from the beginning of his life with baby spa, swimming in heated pools, Arab sea and the Caribbean, our son reactions in the Indian ocean took us completely by surprise. He’s also quite a gigley boy but we didn’t expect him to laugh his head off for hours and drag us consistently in the sea. So yes, he must have loved the floaty feeling, gentle waves, nevermind the salted nature in his eyes and nose. Lots of splashing jumping and assisted ‘swimming’ from mum and dad with loud giggles and shouts of excitement.
Snorkelling wise also just north west of swimming area and a mere 5 minutes swim, few vibrantly coloured corals, violet and blue, the ominous Nemos and butterfly fish, some funny parrot fish and one particularly aggressive one defending its corner, a couple of crocodile fish hanging out in pairs, some big groupers and even a moray eel. Quite similar to the diving scene – 20 minutes from the shore at an 18 metres dive spotting all this maybe just more abundant plus lobsters and scorpion fish.
Very comparable to our Seychelles experience but have to agree with the general view that Mauritius by being more developed in terms of property lost a bit more of its charm and sealife. The usual game of win some, lose some: hotels more affordable and as nice as in Seychelles but less sea wildlife and corals, surely though not a compromise we are thrilled about it. Some more comparisons with our Seychelles experiences pre-baby back in 2012 – we stayed at Kempinski where the beach is white and stunning but swimming impossible – it is the snorkellers paradise with stunning corrals and great sealife but especially at tide the waters are v shallow and v difficult to swim and navigate. We shopped around in Seychelles in terms of beach, hotels and restaurants – Four Season’s bay is sandy and lovely – just on the other side of Kempinski, great to swim but surely sandy means nothing exciting snorkeling wise. Banyan tree bay also stunning but currents are v strong, so neither baby friendly or swimming/ snorkeling appropriate. Constance Seychelles probably best in terms of family, especially with their cute giant turtles and tuktuks running around the resort. And if compared to Constance Seychelles beach options, I think Meridien Mauritius is the winner.
Restaurants wise Le Meridien is quite a pleasant surprise. Yes the customer service has wide room for improvement but value for money is there. The main buffet restaurant runs each evening specific themes & cuisines. Over 10 nights we tried the French, Italian, Asian, international and Arabic buffet. Whilst some were better than others, each evening we had fresh fish, a variety of salads and fruit, occasionally freshly baked delicious bread and consistently delicious patisseries and desserts. Our 16 months baby/ toddler seemed to be pleased with the food selection, occasionally eating more than the parents and dropping his milk quite a bit. Certainly back home we found it difficult to compete with all those salads, freshly cooked meals and fruit 😉 The tricky part of course is to persuade the babies/ toddlers to enjoy an hour long dinner but we got better at it each evening, of course assisted by games, little animals, books and ultimately the ipad 😉 We booked half board and worked out well. Lunches for little ones are also being provided complimentary on the hotel, so we settled for a very nice routine where at 12:30 we had French fries and chicken/ fish delivered to our room, beer for parents and nap for little one straight after. Le Meridien has also 3 a la carte restaurants, we tested the Italian twice and the beach one – both turned out to be great, quite attentive service and some very good dishes – with the tuna tartar, the bouillabaisse and the risotto particularly memorable. The wine selection seemed to be okish without paying an arm and a leg, we had few bottles of Viognier, Chablis and Chardonnay, each below Euro35. We haven’t tested the Indian a la carte, we reckoned too many spices even for a well travelled toddler 😉
Kids club. Overall nice stuff wish just the hours were longer and less odd. Nice indoor playing area, including a separate quiet zone. Too much air conditioning for our taste (20 degrees inside when outside there are 30 is quite a difference), however all kids seemed to be fine. Currently open between 10-13 and 16 -18:30 starting from 3 years old. We found the combination of a nany and kids club working nicely for us all. A list of nannies are available, all of them bilingual French & English, we picked Paula as she looked the closest to Raphael’s Montessori ladies – he seemed to be pleased with the choice and never moaned about spending time with her and other kids, on the contrary. We started gradually, first couple of days an hour just after breakfast and gradually extending to 3 hours to fit our snorkelling and diving trips.
The crowd. Over 10 days we met plenty of couples with kids, babies and toddlers. Lots of South Africans considering the proximity & convenience (4 hours flight), lots of French, some Russians, Indians, some Europeans and some Brits. Good friendly mix, parents socialising occasionally on the beach bar or at the main pool whilst little ones running around, splashing or ‘building’ sand castles.
Trips around. Botanical garden is nearby and understand a nice option. With a cyclone close by in the last 5 days and a baby, however we felt less adventurous and preferred staying within hotel facilities.
Two afternoons with showers we went to Oberoi bar and wondered around their facilities. The moment you step in there, feels quite magical – green lush and very private, waterfall and balinese gardens welcoming you gently into wonderfully refurbished historical fortress. Great cocktails and outstanding service at the sunset bar, we ended up in going again and spending two wonderful early evenings. Oberoi feels much more private, boutique and tailor made than Le Meridien experience, surely at a different price tag. Guests also particularly friendly, we socialized quite a bit with a London couple with a 4 months old baby and next day with an American one with two lovely little girls. Backgammon, travel magazines and books on Mauritius handy, right by the pretty manicured beach and the main restaurant. Warmly recommended.
Flights. BA flies directly a couple of times a week, departure from Gatwick around 2pm, arriving in Mauritius 6am. We booked a private transfer in advance as we reckoned after such a long flight we won’t be in a mood of bargaining with the local drivers and all in all felt smooth and efficient. An hour drive from the airport, we arrived about 8am to the hotel, which helpfully invited us for breakfast and kindly arranged for a room right after – all the baby related facilities provided.