Family holidays can be costly and it can be a challenge finding quality accommodation with the right amount of space, especially for multi-generational family groups. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Looking back over 20 years of family travel, well-travelled Donna Merrick shares her top tips for great family holidays.
The booking of holidays and, unfortunately, the holidays themselves, used to be a disappointing experience. My husband, Ashley, and I would spend hours sitting in travel agencies, explaining our preferences, only on arrival to find the hotel was nothing like the pictures and descriptions we’d been given.
I had heard of timeshare, but hadn’t looked into it, until we were approached in south Wales by a sales representative. He invited us to a presentation, which explained how we could purchase a yearly week at a holiday resort, alongside a membership to an exchange company, such as RCI, allowing us to exchange into thousands of other resorts all over the world.
Straight away I bought into the philosophy of timeshare and exchange holidays. At this point, I was expecting my eldest daughter and thought that this could be the key to the kind of family holidays I wanted for us. I went home and started my research. I soon came across RCI, where staff helped me to find out how I could purchase timeshare and then subsequently become a member.
Since purchasing timeshare, I have never looked back. Each year I am fortunate enough to enjoy four or five weeks of foreign holidays, and my family and I have been all over the world. After almost 20 years of RCI membership – I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t own timeshare.
Seven tips for fantastic family holidays
If you own timeshare, or think it might be for you, follow my seven tips to make it work for all the family.
1. Fall in love with your home resort
We initially purchased two weeks at Beverly Hills Heights resort in Tenerife, before going on to buy a further two weeks at the Elite Apartments at Pueblo Evita in Málaga, Spain. The two are very different, but equally as brilliant. We chose these resorts partly because we would get good exchanges from them, as they are very popular and high quality, but mainly because we liked them.
We now have two daughters, Francesca, 17, and Gabriella, 15. When the girls were young we took beach holidays, which worked for everyone. We returned frequently to Spain, simply because we love it. Besides our home resort, we have visited resorts in Alicante and Valencia, but we keep going back to the Costa del Sol. We have been so many times that many of the local restaurateurs recognise us and there is something to be said for such familiarity. When my husband and I holiday, we usually return to Elite Apartments at Pueblo Evita, our home from home.
It is important that you choose your resort knowing you can exchange and explore other places, but at the same time, you should envisage many happy holidays there.
2. Feel (secretly) smug about savings and extra space
It’s hard for me not to compare our holidays to those of others, especially in terms of cost. My family and a friend’s have visited Greece, staying in apartments of comparable quality. However, while they paid around £4,000 just for accommodation, we paid only £650, which included our yearly maintenance fee of £500. Getting accommodation of equal quality for the same price on the high street just isn’t possible.
Space is also very valuable to us, as I think it is to most families. Even when the girls were young, I didn’t want to have the whole family in one bedroom, although I know this is a popular way for families to keep costs down. With timeshare ownership, I have never had to do this, because even when exchanging, my membership enabled me to access two- or three-bedroom apartments. I often bring my mum on holiday with us and she has her own apartment too.
3. Tour, explore, repeat
People often think that owning timeshare equates to having the same holiday year after year, but it doesn’t have to. We’ve been all over and had many different types of holiday. Equally, we never rule out returning to a place we love.
As the girls got older, we were able to be more adventurous. Orlando, Florida, became a family favourite – we’ve been six times. We love visiting the theme parks, especially Universal Studios, even more now that it has The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. To be honest, Ashley and I often feel that we are the ones dragging the girls around the parks – we are big kids.
One year we decided to turn our Florida holiday into a touring adventure. We spent four nights in Miami, then travelled to a resort in RCI’s exchange network – Palm Beach Resort – for a week, before taking a further week at Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Orange Lake Resort – East Village.
When our daughters were aged 14 and 12, we all went to Las Vegas. Although it’s not a typical family destination, we loved it. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Desert Club Resort, close to the strip, and spent our days exploring the vast hotels, many of which have waterparks, animals and theme parks inside. After a week in Vegas, we hired a car and travelled via Henderson to visit the Grand Canyon and then the Hoover Dam; both were fascinating. We then spent a further week in Sedona Pines Resort, which was the complete opposite to the hustle and bustle of Vegas. The resort was nestled within ‘Red Rock Country’ and was the perfect base for hiking, walking and horse riding.
Another year we visited Gran Canaria and stayed at Anfi Beach Club. After a week there, we took a high-speed ferry to Tenerife, and enjoyed another relaxing week at Hollywood Mirage Club.
4. Utilise your membership
As much as I love my family holidays, I will soon be taking a second holiday with a girlfriend at Sunset Beach Club in Málaga. We holidayed together for the first time in 2015, neither of us having been away on our own in 20 years. We had a week full of fun, relaxation and cava. This was a different experience to a family holiday, but I was able to utilise my RCI membership equally as well.
5. Make it fit your lifestyle
We relish the self-catering aspect of our holidays, as we love eating out and sampling local foods. Right now, an all-inclusive or meal plan package wouldn’t suit us. Plus, the great thing about a self-catering holiday is that it can be as luxurious or inexpensive as you like. However, we are able to access all-inclusive resorts with our membership, as well as cruise holidays if they take our fancy – RCI membership offers that flexibility.
6. Book and plan ahead for your family holidays
When I’m sat on the plane, returning from a holiday, I like to console myself by knowing exactly where and when my next one will be. I’ve always got one lined up – holidays are planned around 18 months in advance.
Booking as far ahead as possible is the best way to make RCI membership work for you. If I decide in May that I want to go to Italy in July, then I’m likely to be disappointed. But, by making a habit of booking ahead, I have always managed to get my choice of destination and resort through RCI exchange holidays.
Our two or three resort touring holidays also take a lot of planning, but it’s not as regimented as people might think, it’s just a case of booking in plenty of time and making sure not to pack the schedule. We make sure there is plenty of down time, so that everyone can relax and enjoy themselves.
We have lots of future holidays in the pipeline, the most exciting being that we plan to visit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when Francesca is 21.
7. Learn how the system works
RCI membership has worked amazingly well for me and my family, because I make it my business to know exactly how the system works, and how to make the best of it. Our membership has given us access to some amazing properties, and we trust that we will get quality accommodation through RCI every time, but it’s up to us to do some of the work to make that happen.
Learn more about the benefits of timeshare and see what family holidays are like with RCI.
Timeshares and shared holiday home ownerships can be purchased directly from the resorts selling them, or from a resale agent. Timeshare should always be purchased from a reliable agent and those accredited by RDO, the European industry trade association.