Water parks, ancient cities, all-you-can-eat buffet breakfasts, restaurants set in hypnotic shark-infested tanks, thrilling roller coasters, local markets, boat tours, fountain shows, kids’ clubs, camel rides, mosques and a free theme park sitting right behind your child-friendly 5-star hotel… Antalya in Turkey might not have been on Team Keany’s radar two months ago, but it certainly is now.
For so long I’ve considered the country that sits between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea a sun-worshipper’s paradise – temperatures in the summer can reach the jaw-dropping 40s – or culture vultures – there’s hundreds of ruins that put the likes of Newgrange to shame – but never as a possible destination for a family getaway.
But the current pressure from the Turkish tourist board is targeting this exact demographic, so over the Easter break we were lucky enough to go away for five nights and see what all the fuss was about.
Armed with buckets full 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 postcard laden with more than enough books to get us through the journey – we left damp, cloud-covered Ireland for the sunny Mediterranean coast.
I had heard good things about Turkish Airlines, but after slapping it on other carriers for the past few months, it was a joy to travel this way. Our hotel for the stay was the crazy yet awesome Land of Legends, about a 25 minute drive from the airport.
Anyone without children need not apply – it’s pure and pure fun aimed directly at children. Giant screens with 4D animals radiate around the various open spaces, huge bowls of candy sit on a table in the lobby, free to demolish whenever you want, color palettes are only from the rainbow palette sky and each of the 380 rooms is designed to entertain the little ones. . Imagine Disneyland was built in Vegas and you have an idea.
The name might sound silly, but you should know that it was originally a theme park and the massive hotel that now sits in front of the park was an afterthought.
Locals and tourists flock to the park from across the region, paying to enter. But as hotel guests, you get free access to all areas, including a giant water and theme park with dozens of restaurants and kid-friendly pools and slides. aged from one to 101 years.
The only negative we found was that we had trouble keeping our kids away from the place – they never wanted to leave. But we didn’t fly nearly five hours east to sit on a lazy river for four long days.
What you probably won’t read in guidebooks is that this particular region of Turkey is rich in history and fun. This area has both in abundance and provides visitors with wild 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 hit the ice slopes of SnowWorld in the afternoon. You can walk under the world’s longest aquarium tunnel by day and eat sushi in an aquarium with sharks and tropical fish swimming right next to you at night.
You can take a boat ride around the bay overlooked by Antalya’s old town with its mosques and markets, then walk 100m to the Instagramable restaurant Arma on the edge of the cliff.
And of course… you can take on the blazingly fast Hypercoaster at the theme park before strutting excitedly to the adjoining water park to try out the jaw-dropping Magicone with the family.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can try the Big Rocket plunge slide which was empty until our intrepid eight-year-old Mia decided she wanted to try. Once she jumped into all the surrounding adults and teens, they realized they had to give her a whirl too. Like me too and I can confirm that these are the best six seconds of the vacation. What a race.
Pleasure is the theme here. Cheeks ache with constant smiles and heated arguments – a nice way of saying fights – only happen because we want to go from one amazing show to another.
We visited three excellent sites during our stay and each brought something different to the other. Perge has an incredible history and thanks to archaeologists its Colosseum-like arena (there may have been Russell Crowe/Gladiator prints) has been discovered as well as an ancient trading center.
We had local guide Cengiz to pick out details that would enlighten us but also entertain both generations of the family.
The fact that he had grandchildren the same age as ours helped as he was able to keep the history lesson interesting throughout.
We also visited Side which is another old town but where you will find more remarkable columns and churches to wander around. It is located right on the water’s edge to illustrate how armies set sail and landed.
Once we had stocked up on knowledge we decided it was time to fill our bellies too so we settled in Aphrodite where we feasted on fish caught earlier in the day while people watched .
Our favorite of the ancient sites however was Aspendos. We may have only spent 15 minutes there, but it’s the kind of place that comes with a giant dollop of ‘wow’.
Testing the acoustics will forever remain an unforgettable memory. You can whisper to each other even if you are four floors and 50 meters away. It’s incredible.
Food is also a massive theme in the region. As the hotel was an all inclusive, we left Turkey 3-4 kg heavier than when we arrived. But with no regrets as the food was amazing. In fact, you can easily check into Land of Legends Hotel and never leave because the food is so good.
But that’s not our style so we ate there a few times. The first was the sensational Nemo Restaurant, located behind our hotel across from the theme park, which immerses diners in an atmospheric underground restaurant with sea life swimming around you. There’s a live DJ and the most amazingly fresh and delicious sushi available.
Of course, being part of the children’s hotel, there was also an extensive children’s menu and the staff were very attentive to their needs as opposed to ours.
The other restaurant worth mentioning again was Arma. Being in Old Town Antalya, I wonder if it’s too far off the beaten track to get the attention it deserves. Sitting atop a huge cliff, it offers views of the bay and a menu that I’m still salivating over a month later.
It was an ideal place in good company – our guides Cengiz and Ahmed – for the last supper of this complete surprise trip.
We’ve done Portugal five times and Spain twice but now we plan to return to Turkey to learn more about the region which shouldn’t be overlooked by Irish families this summer.
■ For pre-trip research and booking, check the official Go Türkiye website.
■ The Keanys stayed at the Land of Legends hotel. See thelandoflegendsthemepark.com.
■ Admission 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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