Last month I had what, I will admit, was a very first-world problem. My holiday to the Maldives (which I have been planning – and replanning, and replanning – since November 2019) was in jeopardy for the fifth time.
It was mid-September, and as the holiday crept up once more, the Maldives was still loitering on the red list. So British Airways obediently cancelled my flights and two days before travel, my hotel cancelled my reservation. The holiday was off. Gallingly, it was announced that the Maldives would come off the naughty list just 48 hours later (on September 17), but it was too late to sulk about that.
The last time this happened (attempt number four), I consoled myself with a trip to Delamere Forest in Chester, but even I, the huge advocate for British travel that I am, was itching to get abroad for the first time since a fleeting trip to Rhodes in August 2020. My concern, with the annual leave booked and unable to be moved, was this: would it be possible, in the paper-laden, airport-queueing, red-tape world that we now live in, to plan and head off on holiday in less than 48 hours?
Due to the last-minute nature of the trip, it seemed easier (and safer), to follow the advice that Telegraph Travel has been offering throughout the pandemic and book a package holiday, which promises better legal and financial protection. It also had the added bonus of speed and a sense of hand-holding. If I booked a package and anything went wrong, someone would be there to help.
I'll be honest, I've never been on a package holiday before. It's not something that has ever really appealed to me. I prefer to travel independently, and, historically, my holidays have been more along the lines of camping in Cornwall, campervanning around New Zealand or exploring the Scottish countryside on foot. Nearly everywhere I've ever picked for a holiday has allowed for some form of escape. My desire to see the underwater life of the Maldives, with all of the watersport, snorkelling and diving opportunities, overruled my hesitancy around being marooned on an island for a week.
What has previously put me off a package is the idea of 'organised fun', of being herded like cattle from airport to resort, where you remain there for seven long days. I was worried I'd be bored to tears. But circumstances being what they were, a holiday was all I craved – a week in the heat by a pool with a stack of books and nothing at all to worry about wasn't such a bad proposition. What I did not want was another week at home, and breaks in Britain were far too costly. So I bit the bullet. Within 48 hours, I was lying by the pool at the TUI Blue Atlantic Bay in Limassol, Cyprus, which welcomes vaccinated arrivals with no need to take a test.
It didn't get off to a great start in terms of beating expectations. At the airport, there had been a queue for the TUI stand, where a team of cheerful reps ticked people off their list and pointed them in the direction of their coach transport. There were yet more queues at the check-in desk, and again at the tiny elevator on the way up to the room.
The following morning didn't improve matters too much – the breakfast buffet was busy, although the food was reasonable enough. The small beach in front of the hotel proved a little sterile and unimpressive, and the towel wars for loungers began early. Some left their towels before 8am and didn't turn up until mid-afternoon.
I lamented action-packed holidays staying in boutique hotels or cabins in the woods. But eventually, I got over myself and accepted the holiday for what it was; the pool was refreshing, the weather sunny and always in the high 20s to low 30s, and despite the lounger wars, you could always find one even at the busiest time of day – if not in the best spot. The food was plentiful, if not particularly inspiring, and the booze free-flowing, with the bar open until 1am every day.
The service at the hotel was slow but the independent TUI staff were fantastic – on hand to help with anything and putting on aqua fit every day, as well as other games and entertainment. It turns out I have a bit of a soft-spot for 'organised fun' – everyone was so relieved to simply be away, surrounded by friends or family, that the energy was contagious.
What's more, TUI made all the testing and form-filling a breeze – a process that independent travellers still have to endure on their own. So yes, while there was no adventure and no sense of discovery included in the package, we managed to make our own. We had fun meeting new people and hired a car for a few days to get out and explore the island. For what we were looking for from a last-minute break, it did the trick. We got our hit of sun, discovered somewhere new and didn't have a moment's worry for the entire trip.
The Telegraph, London