Antalya has so much to offer families — the only problem is finding time to sample it all
Waterparks, ancient cities, all-you-can-eat buffet breakfasts, restaurants set in hypnotic shark-infested tanks, exciting rollercoasters, local markets, boat tours, fountain shows, kids’ clubs, camel rides, mosques and a complimentary theme park sitting right behind your child-friendly 5-star hotel…Antalya in Turkey may not have been on Team Keany’s radar two months ago, but it sure is now.
For so long I considered the country that sits between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea as a haven for sun worshippers — temperatures in the summer can reach the mind-boggling 40s — or culture vultures — there are hundreds of ruins that put the likes of Newgrange to shame — but never as a possible destination for a family getaway.
But the current push by the Turkish tourist board is targeting that exact demographic so over the Easter break we were lucky enough to head off for five nights and see what all the fuss is about.
Armed with bucketloads of enthusiasm, a suitcase full of summer clothes recently retrieved from the attic, our passenger locator forms (which we didn’t end up using), a loaded-up An Post Currency Card with more than enough Turkish Lira to get us through the trip — we left dank and cloud-covered Ireland for the sun-kissed Mediterranean coast.
I had heard great things about Turkish Airlines, but having slummed it on other carriers in recent months it was a joy to travel this way. Our hotel for the stay was the utterly bonkers-yet-brilliant Land of Legends, which is about 25 minutes in a car from the airport.
Anyone without children need not apply — this is pure unadulterated fun aimed squarely at the kids. Giant screens with 4D animals beam around the various open spaces, enormous bowls of sweets sit on a table in the lobby free to demolish whenever you want, colour schemes are from the rainbow pallet only and each of the 380 bedrooms is designed to entertain the smallies. Imagine Disneyland was built in Vegas and you have some idea.
The name may seem daft but you should know that it was initially a theme park and the huge hotel now sitting in front of the park was an afterthought.
Locals and tourists flock to the park from all over the region, paying to get in. But as guests of the hotel you get complimentary access to all areas, including a giant water and theme park with dozens of restaurants and pools and slides to suit kids aged from one to 101.
The only negative we found is that we struggled to get our kids away from the place — they never wanted to leave. But we didn’t fly nearly five hours east to just sit on a lazy river for four long days.
What you probably won’t read in the guidebooks is that this particular region of Turkey is rich in history as well as fun. This area has both in abundance and offers visitors crazy days that leave you lying in bed at the end wondering how you managed to fit it all in.
You can visit the ancient city of Perge in the morning and slide down ice tracks in SnowWorld in the afternoon. You can walk under the world’s longest aquarium tunnel by day and eat sushi in a fish tank with sharks and tropical fish swimming right beside you at night.
You can take a boat ride around the bay overlooked by old Antalya city with its mosques and markets and then walk 100m to the Instagramable Arma restaurant on the cliff’s edge.
And of course…you can take on the insanely fast Hypercoaster at the theme park before strutting excitedly over to the adjoining waterpark to have a go on the heart-thumping Magicone with the family.
If you are feeling particularly brave you could try out the Big Rocket plunge slide which was sitting empty until our fearless eight-year-old Mia decided she wanted to give it a go. Once she jumped in all the surrounding adults and teenagers realised that they also had to give it a whirl. As I did too and I can confirm it was the best six seconds of the holiday. What a rush.
Fun is the theme here. Cheeks ache with constant smiles, and heated arguments — a nice way of saying fights — only happen because we want to move from one amazing spectacle to another.
We visited three excellent sites during our stay and each one brought something different to the other. Perge has an incredible story and thanks to archaeologists its Colosseum-like arena (there may have been Russell Crowe/Gladiator impressions) has been uncovered as well as an ancient shopping mall.
We had local guide Cengiz to cherry-pick details that would enlighten us but also keep both generations of the family entertained.
The fact that he has grandkids the same age as ours helped because he was able to keep the history lesson interesting throughout.
We also visited Side which is another ancient city but where you find more remarkable columns and churches to walk in and around. It is located right on the water’s edge helping to illustrate how armies set sail and landed.
Once we’d had our fill of knowledge we decided it was time to fill our bellies too, so we settled into Aphrodite where we feasted on fish caught earlier that day while people watching.
Our favourite of the ancient sites though was Aspendos. We may have only spent 15 minutes there but it is the kind of location that comes with a giant dollop of ‘wow’.
Testing the acoustics will forever be a lifetime memory. You can whisper to each other despite being four stories up and 50m away. It’s incredible.
Food is also a massive theme in the region. As the hotel was an all-inclusive we left Turkey 3-4kg heavier than when we arrived. But with zero regrets because the food was incredible. In fact you could easily check into the Land of Legends Hotel and never leave because the food is so good.
But that’s not our style so we ate out a few times. First up was the sensational Nemo restaurant, situated behind our hotel in front of the theme park, that plunges diners into an atmospheric underground restaurant with sealife swimming around you. There is a live DJ and the most insanely fresh and delicious sushi available.
Of course, being part of the kiddie hotel, there was an extensive kids’ menu too and the staff were very attentive to their needs as opposed to ours.
The other restaurant worth mentioning again was Arma. Being in the old town of Antalya I wonder is it too far off the beaten track to get the attention it deserves. Sitting on top of a huge cliff it offers views out over the bay and a menu that I am still salivating over a month later.
It was a fitting spot with great company — our guides Cengiz and Ahmed — for the last supper of this complete surprise package trip.
We have done Portugal five times and Spain twice but now we have plans to return to Turkey to discover more about the region that should not be overlooked by Irish families this summer.
FACTBOX: ANTALYA, TURKEY See goturkiye.com
■ For pre-trip research and booking, check out the official Go Türkiye website. ■ The Keanys stayed at the Land of Legends Hotel. See thelandoflegendsthemepark.com. ■ Entry to Antalya Aquarium is €30 and SnowWorld is €40. See antalyaaquarium.com. ■ Top dining options include Arma and Nemo in Antalya and Aphrodite in Side.
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