When we first had Oscar I thought we’d be going on little holidays all the time: summer trips, Christmas markets, city breaks. I remember excitedly writing Oscar’s bucket list on the 1st of January 2020… oh the irony. Anyway I won’t dwell on the ‘C’ word and the brakes it put on our travel for two years. We’re here to talk about our holiday on the Island of Crete in Greece!
This was to be his first summer holiday abroad for two years. Oscar had never even been in the sea before! I was nervous about a four hour flight with a toddler but honestly Oscar smashed it, I mean he is a two year old so we had the odd ten minutes here or there where he was difficult but the majority of the time he was great! When landed in Heraklion airport and disembarked down the stairs I felt that familiar thrill of the sunshine on my face and the excitement of being in a new place. It’s an hour drive from Heraklion (the largest city in Crete and the location of the airport) to Elounda on the Northern Coast of Crete. Elounda is the home of many of the luxury hotels in Crete and it’s clear why – the landscape is utterly gorgeous and the perfect place for our first summer holiday.
We chose Domes of Elounda for our holiday as there was a strong emphasis on the family-friendly nature of the resort and it was such a great choice us. Now I will admit I was worried about the term ‘family friendly’ resort, for me this conjures up the idea of a very loud and unrelaxing space, the impossibility of getting a sun lounger and queuing at a buffet for mediocre food. Now I’m sorry if that sounds snobby but if you’re reading this blog hopefully you’ll be on the same as me page and are looking for similar experiences. Spoiler alert, Domes of Elounda was the exact oppoisite of what I feared. It was super chilled and not at all crowded even though it was fully booked out.
The hotel is made up of 78 suites, 8 private residences, 4 ultra luxe Elounda Domes villas and 28 luxury residences meaning every room is a winner. We booked a one bedroom residence with private pool in the hotel’s new CORE complex (more of that later) with addition of the hotel’s signature ‘Haute Living’ benefits.
The residences take the form of these rustic style huts on the hillside…
Inside the room is super spacious, there’s actually enough space for four adults and an infant so as you can imagine there was ample room for the three of us. I will say I found the decor a little sparse and the bed and linen wasn’t the comfiest but it did feel fresh and modern and was ideal for our needs.
The bathroom was also lovely with Korres amenities and they provided a little robe and slippers for Oscar as well as the standard adult ones. Further baby amenities are available on request.
The sitting area was massive and the sofa converted to a sofa bed which although not safe for Oscar was the perfect break away when the three of sharing the main bed was too much. There was also a mini bar in the room which had ‘free’ inclusions as part of our Haute Living booking.
The best part of our room was the terrace with private pool. Oscar absolutely loves swimming and I couldn’t wait see his joy at having his own pool! I was a little worried about the safety element of the pool but we took all the necessary precautions of watching him like a hawk and keeping all the terrace doors closed at all times. Fortunately, Oscar has swimming lessons once a week and knows he’s not allowed in the pool on his own. Mr S did have to get used to ‘come on Daddy’ every morning but he loves swimming with O! The pool was cold, as these pools often are but you have the option to pay to have it heated.
As we booked quite late there were no sea view rooms so we had an ‘inland’ view with a partial sea view but I’m sure you’ll agree it was still an amazing view! Especially for three people who haven’t seen the sea in years!
The terrace also came with a full kitchen with fridge, dishwasher and hob! Very useful especially when you’re travelling with a baby!
Now onto the rest of the hotel. The complex of Domes of Elounda is vast despite the relatively small number of rooms. Guests are driven in golf carts to get from place to place which honestly is rather a necessity as its based around very steep hills with that in mind it’s not ideal for disabled people or people with mobility issues. I also did think that even though it’s such a child-friendly hotel, it’s not very buggy friendly, I cannot imagine pushing a buggy up that hill! However, this was fine for us as though we did bring the buggy for the airport, as Oscar was nearly three we didn’t use it all in hotel.
There are two areas to the hotel, the main area which includes the reception (pictured below) and the beach and the ‘CORE’ area where we stayed which includes the family pool and kids club. If you are coming with family it’s definitely preferable to stay in the CORE area as it is a good few minutes drive between the two. Let’s have a tour of the main area:
In the entrance to the reception is the stylish Grand Dome bar, the perfect place for pre-cocktails.
The Dome bar also has the perfect view out to Spinalonga island. Made famous in popular culture owing to the fiction book The Island by Victoria Hislop, Spinalonga has a rather chequered history as a military stronghold first by the Venetians and then the Ottomans, it was later transformed into a leper colony.
Today it is uninhabited and a popular tourist attraction for those visiting Elounda or neighbouring Plaka.
On the other side of the reception is the hotel’s Greek buffet restaurant, Tholos. We ate at Tholos on our first night as we arrived latish and it was just the easy option. However, I’m not a fan of buffets at the best of times (though some can be great if there are live cooking stations etc) and I was very disappointed by Tholos. We also ate there for breakfast the following day and again I was disappointed, as it was the beginning of our holiday it did mean we started on a negative note but we soon discovered the restaurants that we liked. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of Tholos but I will say on a positive note that there were quite beautiful sea views from the terrace. Also there was a separate area for kids food which served quite tasty food.
From the reception area you can head downstairs and find the photography shop, August Photography. We had booked a family photoshoot with them and we were really pleased with the results, they were good value for money too. Here are a two of my favourites:
The reception building is also where the hotel’s Soma spa is located.
The spa is equipped with an indoor pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room (all over 16’s only) and offers a wide variety of treatments using Elemis products as well as treatments inspired by the flora of Crete. Choose from massages, facial, scrubs and wraps as well as specialised pregnancy treatments.
There is also a Tepidarium room with heated sun loungers and a Frigidarium with ice shaving to stimulate circulation. There are also beauty facilities for manicures and pedicures plus hair dressing – I got a blow dry for our photoshoot.
Elsewhere those looking for sports facilities will find the gym, a yoga pavilion, tennis courts and five aside football.
The adult pool is located outside on this level, it’s a super sedate place and the ideal area to unwind kid free! Next to the adult pool is the Yaosai Asian fusion restaurant. Mr S and I went here on our second night as a ‘date’ night after getting a babysitter for Oscar. We were again really disappointed with the food.
The sushi and sashimi was just cut too thickly and wasn’t well made. For main course we had a hot sea bass dish which was better and although we didn’t return to Yaosai I think we could have had a good meal here if we’d ordered more wisely. Yaosai is adult’s only for lunch but open for the whole family for dinner.
There was also Yaosai Pool bar during the day but we didn’t try this as we didn’t use the adult’s only pool.
Don’t worry, there were better restaurants, we’re getting there!
A short three minute walk down stairs and down a hill is the beach.
The beach isn’t huge, it’s sort of long and narrow. But personally I found this perfect for a holiday with a toddler, it was lined with olive trees and the beach was shady, just right for little feet. It was actually our first time taking Oscar into the sea but honestly he wasn’t a huge fan as it was quite cold.
The beach was the location of our favourite restaurant, Topos 1910 where we ate several times. With a view directly out to sea and beautiful rustic decor and a menu of seafood and fish, it was perfect.
The food here was great quality and fresh ingredients and the three of shared the catch of the day here several times.
Somedays we ordered food from the Breeze All Day Beach Lounge and had a relaxed lunch on our loungers. I would note the children’s menu was the same in all the a la carte restaurants and we ordered pizza, pasta, fish fingers and meatballs for Oscar on various occasions. His favourite being the pizza. All the menus are on a microsite which is a great way of avoiding paper menus.
If water sports are your thing the hotel provides a host of different options. We opted to take a speed boat to Spinalonga one day. This was the perfect option for us as it took less than ten minutes to get to the island, we decided to look around for around half an hour as the sun was quite relentless and difficult for O and then the speed boat picked us up.
I was glad to have the chance to Spinalonga as I not only loved The Island by Victoria Hislop, but I worked for the publisher! However a quick less than an hour trip was just right with a nearly three year old.
Also on the beach was a lovely boutique called NEEMA selling swimwear and beach attire.
That pretty much covers the main area of the hotel. Let’s go to the ‘CORE’ area which was where our room was located.
The first amenity of note was the Ofsted registered Kid’s Club. Now when I was researching hotels I realised that lots of places accommodated kids that were older than four years old in the kids club but it was harder to find hotels that would take younger kids. One of my reasons for choosing Domes was that they offered creche facilities for children 0 – 3. At the time of our holiday Oscar was around a month away from turning 3. The creche offers two sessions 10am – 1pm and 3pm – 6pm.
A quick word on Kid’s Club – I know they aren’t for everyone but Oscar is at the age where he still doesn’t quite understand what is dangerous and I was worried I’d get zero relaxation time and be chasing Oscar around the pool the whole time. Actually he was very chilled and after about a year of swimming lessons he realises that he can’t go in without an adult. We’d take him swimming for about 45 minutes a day and otherwise he was very happy playing. Our days usually consisted of a lie in, leisurely breakfast and then swimming followed by lunch. We took him to Kid’s Club most days at around 4pm for two hours. Personally I thought this was ideal as they were doing way more fun things in kids club, had loads of toys and it means he was out of the sun.
They did crafts, kareoke, drawing, discos and had lots of fun toys to play with. There’s even a little playground around the back.
The Kid’s Club can also arrange babysitting which we did on two nights so that we could have dates nights. We were really impressed with the sitters that came, one being the manager of the Kid’s Club so Oscar already knew her. I’ll also note it was very easy to book the creche and the babysitters on the hotel website prior to arrival so you knew that this was in place. This was the same with the restaurants. I do usually prefer establishing a link with the concierge and getting restaurant recommendations etc in advance but as we mostly ate in the hotel it was very convenient to just book everything online.
Near the kid’s club we were also very impressed by the teenagers room which included a pool table and football table.
A short walk down the hill takes you to the CORE area itself.
This is a multi-functional space made up of artwork, shops, food trucks and entertainment areas. The artwork celebrates Greek mythology with interactive exhibitions and sculptures around the theme of Greek Monsters.
There’s a parade of shops in cute wooden cabins selling an assortment of items from souvenirs and artworks to clothes, toys and beauty products.
The food offering comes in the form of food trucks and you can sit and eat on picnic tables (note that this still needs to be booked despite the casual feel). Tasty souvlakis are the main order of the day.
You don’t need to order extra portions of chips though *face palm*.
The CORE complex was only open twice during our week’s stay. I don’t know if it might be open more during the school holidays.
The first time was visited there was a bubble show which was perfect for Oscar’s age.
The second time there was a stilt walker making balloon animals and face painting. The hotel website also notes there is ‘open-air cinema’ ‘fashion shows, premieres, exhibitions, workshops, talks and more’, though we didn’t see any of these I can only guess there might be more entertainment during the hotel’s peak times.
The family pool is right by the CORE area and was where we spent the majority of our time as it was so close to our room and to kids club and Oscar was a little unsure about the sand and the sea.
As you can see the pool was pretty glorious and it was very chilled out during the day.
There was also a baby pool which Oscar could stand in. One day we booked Oscar a swimming lesson with the Domes Swimming Academy qualified instructor, he absolutely loved it!
The restaurant by the pool was Blend, another one which was enjoyed. We also discovered we could have breakfast here and decided that we would do that instead of the Tholos though in the end we got room service most days as we woke up so late! For lunch and dinner Blend was primarily a steak house but also served fresh fish, salads and mousakka. Note we were on a half board basis which meant our breakfast and dinner were included – the buffet was ‘free’ but we got an allowance of 37 EUROS if we chose to eat elsewhere.
You could also get a casual lunch from Domes Plaza Pool Bar – again it was the same menu for kids and burgers, sandwiches and salads for adults.
Adjacent to Blend is the Haute Living Lounge which is the club lounge accessible if you book the Haute Living option. Here you have access to a private concierge as well as a hot and cold buffet all day, soft drinks and wines and spirits there are also computer workstations with high speed internet.
Also in this level is the hotel’s Deli shop which sells bits and pieces for babies (nappies, wipes, formula) as well as groceries, magazines and kids inflatables and buckets and spades so you don’t need to bring any of those things with you.
I think that just about covers all area of the hotel so I’ll conclude with an honest opinion. Mr S and I last went to Greece in 2018 for Mr S’s 40th birthday and we stayed at Amanzoe which is one of the most luxurious hotels in Greece. Now was Domes of Elounda as good as Amanzoe? No it wasn’t. But was it perfect for our family requirements? Yes it was.
Amanzoe has the most stunning design, incredible service and amazing food but Amanzoe is incredibly expensive at peak season and though Amanzoe has a children’s activities and a kids pool it isn’t quite as family centred as Domes of Elounda. I felt Domes of Elounda could have been better food and service wise but we had a large room with private pool at half board for a third of the price of Amanzoe along with a creche and dedicated kids activities. I agonised over hotel choices but Domes of Elounda really was the perfect option in the end and I can safely say by the end I felt incredibly relaxed and very happy. As was Oscar!
Great for Kids
Ofsted registered creche, kids club and teenage room.
Entertainment and activities at the CORE complex.
Kids menus everywhere, high chairs, in room amenities available.
Great for Parents
Adult only quiet zones such as adults pool.
Full service spa.
Haute Living option for extra pampering.