Thinking of booking next years ski holiday, but not sure where to go, or whether to go with a tour provider or brave booking independently? Having tried both options, I’ve attempted in this post to outline some things you might want to take into account before you book.
Going with a Tour Operator
Going with a tour operator, you know exactly what you are going to get! Well in theory anyway, although in some cases it may not quite live up to the brochure pictures, you know what standard of accommodation you are staying in, you know the cost of the total package, and apart from choosing the resort, all the hard work or organising has been done for you. Childcare, ski lessons, ski equipment can all be pre-booked giving you complete peace of mind, and it’s pretty hassle free. Don’t underestimate the benefit of convenience, especially when you have a busy family.
Protection and peace of mind
Package holidays are also covered by ATOL, which means that you are covered and won’t lose your money if your holiday provider goes bust once you have booked. Also if the firm goes bust while you are abroad you won’t be left stranded.
You also have an on-hand, one point of contact, in your tour rep for any queries, concerns or complaints. Having one point of contact can again make things easier for you, and then if anything goes wrong while you’re away it’s their problem to sort things out not yours.
Obviously this depends on what Board and accommodation you have chosen. If in a hotel or Chalet hotel, you should both be able to have a choice of dinner options and the food should be of a good standard.
Chalet hosting, often poses a bit of a risk in the cuisine department, I’ve had some good ones and plenty of bad ones. All to often you can have a student on a gap year who has very little experience of cooking for themselves, never mind for a group. The worst we experienced was the chalet host claiming that the afternoon cakes had been stolen, nothing else, apparently, just the cakes when really he had been out busy snowboarding and couldn’t be bothered to come back in time – So be warned!
Self catering, whilst a more cost effective option, can be tricky with holiday packages as usually the accommodation expects some of you to sleep in the living area. If you choose not to, expect to pay supplements.
Like Minded Guests
Typically, skiing seems to attract like minded people and you all have something in common to talk about over dinner, you should of course all like skiing or snowboarding! Well hopefully you do otherwise why go?
If you don’t have enough in your group to hire out your own chalet, by booking with operators like Esprit, you can have a chalet holiday booked knowing that you will be put with other families, who also have children and who also like skiing.
Clearly by booking with a British tour operator, your reps, nannies and ski instructors will all speak fluent English. There are no awkward moments of trying to explain to the nanny that your child will only go to sleep to a certain song or that your eldest is a fussy and will only eat…whatever it is!
Of course, you pay for the privilege of convenience, which, compared to the overall cost of independently booking, can be a pretty hefty premium to pay, and for some may mean that it becomes prohibitive for some.
To at least offset some of the expense try and book early and get the discount offers. Free child spaces or free childcare all significantly reduce the overall price but these offers are snapped up quick. The other more riskier option is to go for a late booking, there are still deals to be had, but it’s best to be flexible with your dates to get the best deals. Also late booking is not always an option for those with very little ones as the childcare will often already be booked up.
Another down side for me, of going with a holiday provider, is the dreaded bus transfer. You’ve just been on the plane with little ones, trying to manage their sound volume and ensuring they’re not kicking the chair in front of them, and then you have to get them from the airport and herd them into a bus.
You then sit on a cramped bus and have to wait for other passengers who are either on a completely different flight or have just seemed to take a lot longer than anyone else, before setting off on a bus journey which takes the longest route (in order to avoid the tolls) and have to listen to the enthusiastic tour operator telling you what delights you have in store when you’re trying to get the little ones to have a nap. Then the unlucky ones, get to stay on the bus while others are dropped off at their hotels first before arriving at yours, and then being told that the bus can’t get close enough to your hotel / chalet, so you have to walk the last bit, pulling your bags and shuttling the kids when all they want to do is play in the snow.
You can reduce the pain of transfer by making sure you pick resorts with a short transfer time, or / and by organising a private transfer. But then clearly if doing the later, you’re adding additional cost.
You can tailor what you want
By booking independently you choose what you want and you have complete say in what your holiday looks like. Want to go out a couple of nights early and combine with a trip to Geneva, no problem. Want to ski for longer than the 7 days, but shorter than 14, again more tricky, but still doable. This can of course still be done through some package providers, so it is worth checking if you want to tailor your holiday more.
If you have an awkward party size with singles tagging along, or a non standard family size of four (which we are not) you can more effectively manage the cost and have more accommodation options without paying hefty single person supplements by booking independently.
Self catering is more readily available booking independently, that is without additional supplements. By booking independently you tend to pay for the overall accommodation rather than for the number of beds. It also tends to give you access to many more chalet options, which again can offer dining or self catering.
If you booked a self catering chalet, you also have the option of booking in firms to provide full chalet catering if that’s what you wanted. Often these are of a much better standard than the students working for tour operators as they are typically staffed by those with an interest in food and those who are looking to go down that route in their career. It’s also the only focus of their business, so they have to be good at it.
This is definitely one of the biggest reasons to go independent, the price is usually significantly cheaper. Or you can set a budget and pay the same but have a much better quality holiday!
Having read my comments above about the dreaded transfer, I don’t think there’s much more to say. Being able to book a private transfer to your accommodation is sheer bliss.
At worse case, if there’s a small group of you, you may consider a joint transfer, which will also take a few other passengers. Either way, this is still so much better than the big coach option that holiday packages provide and will undoubtedly mean that your transfer time is that much quicker.
Your Own Space
By booking independently, you get to have the accommodation to yourself. You don’t have to worry if your children’s bed time doesn’t tie in with the other parents, and you can choose whether they eat with you or before you. Package holidays in chalet accommodation are much more prescriptive on this, with the kids often having a separate high tea and then going off into evening kids entertainment or baby listening while you dine. This is sheer bliss for some parents, whilst others may prefer the kids to stick around. Only you know which option you’ll prefer.
Whilst in a package holiday it is likely you will end up sharing with like minded people, there is a risk you may not like your fellow guests. Or what if your little ones aren’t such great sleepers yet, and they end up waking up the other guests every night, how would you feel then? We’ve been lucky to share with some great characters and have made friends for life, we have also had less than ideal house guests who we really wouldn’t want to see again!
Much More Effort
Do not underestimate how much extra effort it takes to organise an independent family ski holiday, especially if you are going as a group, with lots of different requirements and preferences to fulfil. You are responsible for coordinating everything from the childcare (if required) to the ski schools, to the accommodation, to the flights to the transfer. This takes time to sort, you may after hours of searching find the perfect chalet to then find out it only takes guests from a Sunday when the flights available are on a Saturday, then you’re back to square one. You also have to be sure that all aspects of the holiday are available before you book, it’s no good booking everything to find that the week you have booked is a national holiday and all the ski schools are booked up already!
You may have some language barriers, or find that by booking independently you have less English speakers in your child’s ski lessons. The first year we went skiing independently my son was in a ski class with only one other English speaker. He didn’t mind, snowball throwing doesn’t have language barriers, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
Similarly, we have used independent creche’s where there is less than fluent English. We have usually found the level of English spoken to be sufficient, but I would strongly recommend phoning the Creche before booking to ensure that they have at least enough English to understand your needs and that of your child.
When things go wrong
Unlike package holidays, by booking independently you will not be covered by ATOL. you should therefore ensure that your travel insurance adequately covers you for all aspects of your holiday and includes insolvency cover. This link to Travel Insurance Explained will provide you with much more information with regard to this aspect.
If things go wrong, it is with you and no-one else to sort. There is no running to the tour rep or making one call to the package holiday provider, you have to call and change everything.
For us, last year on the way to Bristol airport, we happened to check the flight status and saw that it had been cancelled. This meant we spent the best part of the morning on the phone trying to change everything. Luckily we were able to get a flight later that day from London, which meant that en-route to London we had to change our airport parking, we had to change the transfer to a different time and we had to let the chalet provider know that we would now be arriving in the early hours. Nothing major, just more hassle to sort.
Also if booking an independent, owners chalet / apartment, try and take measures to ensure that the accommodation actually exists. Always pay by credit card, it has more protection than debit card, you can still do this via paypal. It is worth phoning the owner before hand and checking out other reviews left by guests. Remember, if the deal sounds to good to be true, it probably is!
As I said above, we have tried both options, and I have really enjoyed both options. I have shared two of our favourites below which I hope give you some food for thought.
La Rosière – Package Holiday
Whilst we have skied with Crystal and Mark Warner, which were both very good in their own ways, I would above all others recommend Esprit for those with a family. They are 100% geared to families, it is all that they do, and they do it very well indeed.
We stayed in the resort of La Rosière, a very sunny resort with wide open runs ideal for families. The skiing is quite limited, but as it has access to Italy’s La Thuile, so you have plenty more runs to try out there. The only problem here is that access can be temperamental depending on the weather, and in fact was closed a couple of times when we were there. Another slight downside is a relatively long transfer of 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours.
We stayed in Chalet Camelia, which was very spacious and had a shared childrens snug on the upper floor. All rooms are spacious enough to accommodate a cot and family rooms are available. The lounge area was cosy and there was a nice open kitchen area where the chalet host prepared our meals while we sat on the long oak table. The food prepared by our host was very good, plenty of variety throughout the week and accommodating to fussy eaters (me!). It is also a ski in chalet and is just 150 m to the nearest lift.
The Esprit child care was fantastic and the Esprit ski schools are very good. They even provided baby sitting options on the chalet hosts night off if you wanted it. The resort itself was pretty quiet, but there are plenty of options for your night off chalet catering. There are also a few lovely bars for an off the slope drink before heading home.
Morzine – Independent Travel
This is by far, hands down my favourite family friendly ski resort. It also has enough there for my mother to wander round as she only dabbles at skiing and doesn’t like to ski every day. It’s a very pretty resort with plenty of bars and restaurants in the town, and some very good piste restaurants too.
We booked the ski school with ESF, and we were very pleased with the progress the kids made during the week. My eldest was competently tackling blue runs by the end of the week. The skiing is great for all abilities, plenty of nursery runs to introduce little ones to skiing, and enough challenging runs to get in under your belt whilst they are in lessons. It is also vast with access to both Avoriaz and Les Gets. It also has some great children areas, like the green run through the forest with its animal trail and the Indian camp over in Les Gets. Be warned though, it is a relatively low resort so can get sludgy later into the season and if the bubble isn’t working it can be a nightmare getting onto the mountain.
We stayed in Chalet Jouet, with Reach 4 the Alps, which was perfect for our requirements. All bedrooms had en-suites and there was plenty of room for 5 adults and three children. The accommodation was baby proofed with baby gates, a high chair and a cot provided and a big box of toys and games. The chalet was very central, just 5 minutes walk to the ski school meeting point and 2 minutes walk to the creche.
The chalet was offered on a self catering basis, so we organised for a catering firm Chez Toi to come in and provide chalet catering. They were brilliant, and all the food was of restaurant standard as opposed to ‘home cooking’.
We put our little one, then 10 months into the local creche, L’Outa which we had looked into and booked beforehand. I was very pleased with the creche, it was very clean and well organised and the staff were exceptionally helpful, as my little one is not the easiest to please!
In summary, there are clearly advantages and disadvantages to both options. it’s worth weighing up what are the most important elements of your holiday and then going from there.
We now tend to go down the independent route, but that is largely because we are an awkward family size, and go on multi-generation ski holidays. Being an awkward party size means that the premium between independent and package options becomes bigger as you end up paying more supplements. We are also price conscious, booking independently means that we pay less and can then afford more holidays.
For more standard party sizes there are still some good package deals out there. Also for busy parents who want the holiday without the hassle, package is the answer. Also if going on your own without a group, package holidays are the best option if you want an opportunity to meet like minded fellow family skiers and potentially make friends that you may ski with again.
Please note that all opinions in this post are my own and all links are unaffiliated.
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