It was a struggle booking this year's holiday. Every time we went on the Thomson website you could only go so far and then were faced with a This site is experiencing technical problems, please telephone our (premium rate) number in order to book. So we ended up ringing our local Thomson shop to book a room at the Playa that sleeps 2/3 people for July.
Or so we thought. After asking at each stage in the payment process that we were actually going to get what we booked - because we were once screwed by Thomson a few years ago - and getting verbal confirmation that this was so, when the tickets arrived they were not what we had ordered.
Cutting a long story short, after a number of telephone calls from us and the very helpful staff in the local office, we did get what we wanted.
Arrival in Camp de Mar
Our flight left on time and just under two and a half hours after leaving cold, rainy Britain we were in the 27 °C morning warmth of Palma's Son Sant Joan airport. Luggage arrived quickly and a taxi transfer to Camp de Mar meant we were at the hotel by a little after 10:30am. Too early for our room to be ready and just in time to miss breakfast!
We were sent down by reservation manager Anchel (Angel) for complementary hot drinks and a snack at the hotel's Bar Marciel while the room was prepared and the cases taken up. Sitting overlooking the beach, we could see how little the cove had changed in the 20 months since we were last here.
The three new villa/apartment blocks being built on the peninsula opposite the hotel had grown, but I was expecting them to be finished by now. The lack of progress was down to the fact that only two workmen appeared to be on any site at any one time during office hours. At least this meant little or no construction noise during our stay.
Rooms at the Playa Hotel
We had read reports by travellers to the neighbouring Gran Hotel back in April about the hectic improvements being made to the Playa. Apparently, two hundred workmen were going hammer and tong to get everything ready in time. Early reviews on other websites by Playa guests also whetted our appetite and we were not disappointed. The new bathrooms are absolutely stunning.
The rooms are fully retiled throughout and the new bathroom* has a walk-in shower big enough to take three people. It is equipped with eco-friendly shower heads: a fixed rose at one end and a multi-spray pattern head on a flexible hose at the other. It's a bit slippy when wet, but you can ask for a rubber mat at reception to stop you going water-skiing.
As usual, the hotel-supplied shower gel/shampoo has a delightful fragrance but is a little light on the lather. The soft-close toilet is wall mounted with eco-flush controls and the glass, twin bowled basin is well lit. An arm-mounted shaving mirror of obscene magnification is provided along with a hair dryer.
The room itself had not changed much. The furniture was the same, but the drawers had been removed from the wardrobe - shelves fitted instead - and the mirror over the desk/dressing table was gone. Once again, reception will provide a free-standing mirror if asked.
New light fittings, a large LED flatscreen TV with loads of English channels, two chairs and a table, a kettle and a fridge (empty minibar) complete the room. If you want tea or coffee, you will need to buy from the local supermarket or rob teabags and sachets at breakfast.
Outside on the balcony are two comfortable sun chairs with cushions, a table, a folding drying rack for those wet towels and costumes and, of course, a fantastic view.
Food, Glorious Food
I cannot fault the food. There is something for everyone. The range and choice for both breakfast and dinner is superb and the staff will try to cater for your need if you want something that's not on the menu.
For two hours from 8:30am the breakfast room hosts a choice of hot and cold meats, cheeses, cereals, fruit, porridge and freshly cooked eggs of all descriptions that should suffice you for the day. A broad range of fruit juices, teas and coffee are on offer too. My favourite is the very strong coffee found in the jugs along with hot milk.
The speed of the toasters is a perennial complaint, but Hotel Manager José jovially explains that they are set to brown the bread in 1 minute 20 seconds to give you time to make friends with the person standing next you. And this is something you should do. Smile, say hello and talk. Make acquaintances and laugh. Don't be one of those guests who walk round with a miserable face.
Dinner begins at 6:30pm for three hours, during which you can stuff yourself senseless from the salad bar, the broad range of hot foods that include a choice of two soups, roasts and grills, and the dessert table that groans under the weight of flans, pastries, gateaux, ice cream and fruit. This year, on the special gala dinner nights, an extra serving table is laid with a chef offering local delicacies. There was also a chocolate fountain with fruit on skewers and profiteroles.
Head Chef Diego has succeeded in perfecting his Yorkshire Pudding and roast beef after all these years... but is still working on the roast potatoes. Still, you can't have everything!
Entertainment from Thomson
When we first started coming to this hotel, Thomson had quite a complement of their own staff to look after the guests. There were at least three entertainment staff, three reps and their manager, plus a local interest guide. During the day we had 'bean bag boule', the very popular aqua aerobics, the quiz, giant connect four, knockout darts/table tennis/pool and more. In the evening there was a professional act on six nights during the week with one rep show and the regular musical duo - the ubiquitous 'bickering' husband and wife team.
How things have changed. Over the years the number of professional acts has dwindled, so we now have maybe three acts a week with the other slots taken up by quizzes. A husband and wife musical duo are still on the bill - this year Ready 2 Go and they were of a good standard, but she did overuse the phrase 'ladies-n-genelmen' (sic) to the point where we could have screamed.
The three pro acts we saw were two comedians within three days of each other who, unfortunately, told nearly exactly the same jokes - is there a TUI Comedy School they all go to? - and the Rod Stewart tribute act that everybody loved.
Thomson used to have a dedicated sound and lighting guy to handle the stage, but this was now done by the entertainment rep Deano. Consequently, the sound quality was mediocre - usually ear-splitting feedback hum - and the lighting rig was set up to blind the audience and keep the act on stage in the dark.
During the day, the fun activities had been added to with a Blue Peter section at 1pm. Anyone fancy napkin folding, jewellery making or card craft? I can imagine Thomson holding focus groups of yummy mummys in the home counties - for they're the sort of people who go to these things - and asking them what they would like to do as an activity on holiday.
So, we end up with these things which were well suited to the reps as they were all teenagers at the time and, unfortunately, their maturity was evidenced by host Lottie having never heard of Auschwitz (quiz question) or that Abstract Art is not about painting each other's portraits.
The one activity that proved to be very popular was the open air 'paella and sangria' making event lead by Head Chef Diego and Head Barman Paco. Well attended and very well received. The paella dish must have been at least 2 metres in diameter.
The reps still like to push the tours and shows. This year, there were fewer tours on offer than in the past and the two shows available were Pirates - now in its 26th year - and Come Fly With Me at the Gran Casino in Magaluf, which has replaced old favourite Son Amar. This show is set in New York featuring the music of Frank Sinatra and other greats of the swing era blended with acrobatics and dancing. Coach usually leaves at 8:40pm, giving you time for dinner in the hotel, and returns about 1:30am.
Around Camp de Mar
As well as the new villas overlooking the bay mentioned earlier, whole swathes of the hinterland of Camp de Mar have been developed. On the road out to Port Andratx, five apartment blocks stand ready but empty, their post boxes already filled to capacity with the local free papers. Further back, near the golf course, more apartments are under construction and these are visible from the surrounding hills dotted with more apartments and villas for sale. Overdevelopment is the key word here, with more construction planned or under consideration.
Peak season was under way judging by the plethora of small boats filling the cove every day, and the villas that overlook the bay were mostly quiet. To make identifying each one easier, my wife and I nicknamed them after Ian Fleming characters. So, we have Scaramanga, who put the cover back on his BMW and went home on the Sunday. Goldfinger's pink residence - which the reps kept calling Jasper Carrott's villa and has always been occupied by different people each year, none of them Jasper Carrott. James Bond's white house - an older couple were there later in the week. Blofeld's residence - with the yellow awnings, was shuttered. And Dr No's villa - the one with the exit to the sea hollowed out of the cliffside - had a few people relaxing on its sun deck on our last day.
We think Bar Pepe (Snack Bar El Quijote) has changed hands as there was new signage up and the name had changed to Mesón El Quijote offering 'Concina International', while next door, luxury estate agent Kühn & Partner had closed for good but left their eye-catching aerial view of Camp de Mar in place. The pharmacy has moved down the hill - from what is now called 'Uptown Camp de Mar' - to larger premises under the Playa, and the 19th Hole bar, which had caught fire in 2009, was now supermarket Eurocop.
Other shops have stayed the same and it was a pleasure to see Heidi and her brother-in-law in the Kiosco opposite the Playa, along with Anje in the Traveller Boutique next door.
Out and about in Mallorca
It was hot and you really appreciate the air conditioning in the hotel, which is new, and in the shops, buses and trains. Bus 102 whisks you into Palma via Paguera/Peguera and Santa Ponça/Santa Ponça/Santa Ponza - choice of spellings for both these towns - for 3½ euros. Once there, you can get off at the fish market where the driver shouts 'katederal' and follow the hordes of tourists that go to view this famous landmark, or you can stay on the bus and get off at the marina to walk along the promenade past the super and not so super yachts moored here.
On Saturday, you can also get off at Palma's market, but you're better off missing this for the better and cheaper markets in Andratx (Wednesday) or Inca (Thursday). We carry on, marvelling at the size of the Norwegian Epic cruise liner that dwarfs the TUI ships moored alongside - imagine Canary Wharf's main tower (1 Canada Sq.) on its side.
At the bus station we cross the road outside over to the Plaça Espanya. Cut through here, along Porta Pintada and turn left to be among the shops of Sant Miquel, then follow this pedestrianised street down to Plaça Major with its stalls and mime artists.
From this square, you can go into the underground shopping centre or out through the other side to go left and down Syndicat with its shops and boutiques towards the El Corte Inglés department store, or right and cut through Forn del Raco and Unio Riera to Plaça Rei Joan Carles I and C&A - remember them?. We chose the latter as the Sales (rebajas) were on and there is another, smaller El Corte Inglés on Avinguda Jaume III past the parade of trendy shops next to C&A.
From here, a blue city bus will take you back to the usually cooler bus station and you can join the queue for the 102 back to Andratx and Camp de Mar. Unfortunately, the day was humid, the bus was late and when it did arrive, the queue turned into a sweaty mob. But everyone was well behaved regardless of the pushing and shoving and the fact that two other 102s also came in to relieve the load. Do note that your chances of getting a bus back from the Cathedral are low as most drive past already full.
We don't always take the 102. Sometimes it's fun to do the 104 with its 2 hour journey time through all the coastal towns to Paguera, or the 103 that follows the same route as far as Marineland then dashes to Paguera via Santa Ponça.
Paguera has a lovely parade of shops that line the main road that parallels the beach, but the key reason is the ice cream shop Gelateria Capri that's not far from the bus stop. Get off the bus, walk down, turn right and head towards the shops. You can't miss it.
We arrived to find the shop taking delivery of gallons of milk, and staff preparing the juiciest, reddest strawberries you've ever seen, proving that they do make their own ice cream on the premises. The home made apricot ice cream, with chunks of fruit in it, was delicious. The proud owner showed us pictures on his iPhone of the best fruit he bought locally. Did we visit again... of course we did... for the freshly made strawberry ice cream.
The brave can walk to Paguera from Camp de Mar. The hotel can offer you a map for the 20 minute hike up steep and rocky paths past the golf course in blistering heat to emerge near the Garden Centre. Alternatively, you can bus/taxi it to the Hotel Villamil and stroll leisurely back along the prom to Casa Pepe - the Pagueran equivalent to Waitrose - so as to catch a bus or taxi back to Camp de Mar.
Paguera is full of one way streets, so the only bus stops back to Camp de Mar are the one near the ice cream shop and the ones opposite Casa Pepe and the Garden Centre. If you want a taxi, then you have to find one at a rank or ring for one. They don't stop by hailing here.
Market Day in Andratx and Inca
Wednesday is market day in Andratx so you can taxi it or take the 102 or market special SM2 buses to the town. It's a reasonably sized market, but we prefer the much larger Inca towards the centre of the island on Thursday. As with all markets, they close at 2pm so an early start is necessary to make the most of the outing.
Waiting at the bus stop for the 7.15am from Andratx saw the hotel's staff waving at us as they drove past on their way to work. Arriving in Palma we caught the next train out to Inca at the adjacent station, and had breakfast there by 9:30am.
The market is not as it used to be. There are fewer 'looky lookies' flogging their counterfeit tat. This is down to the tour operators forcing the town council to clean up the market's act by stopping the coach trips there last year. No doubt there were too many complaints about the fake leather goods. In other words, Inca's mayor got a handbagging from TUI.
Inca's shops don't seem to have been affected by the recession as much as in other parts of the island. Empty premises abound in Palma and Santa Ponça, but the most visible was at the airport with row upon row of vacant shopfronts in Departures. Mind you, at 7.50 euros for a cheese sandwich and a bottle of coke at the airport, I am not surprised consumers have been voting with their wallets.
Goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen, Despedida and до свидания
Coach transfer back to the airport meant another early start even though our flight was not till 11:20. Thankfully, the hotel does start laying out a limited breakfast from 6am. The coach was fairly full, and this cut our later pick-ups in Santa Ponça to only four making for a quicker journey. Many other flights back to the UK were on this bus too, but no reps... and no goodbye meeting either to make sure our departure was trouble-free.
Checking in was quick and the walk to the gate seemed not too long. However, the wait for the plane was another matter. It was delayed and when we were on board, there was a discrepancy in the numbers so we had to wait while the crew counted and recounted all the empty seats. After a half hour delay we were off back to Blighty and returned home in a record two hours to land on time. The pilot must have had his foot down, but we didn't mind.
And so we say "Goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen, Despedida and до свидания" to Camp de Mar in the popular languages heard around the resort this year. Hopefully, see you there in 2012.
For more pictures taken during this visit, please go to our Flikr photostream.
* Apparently, rooms with walk-in showers are not available on the first floor or in room numbers ending in 12.
Bar Blu Mar at the Playa Camp de Mar Hotel.
New cliffside villas and apartments are slowly being constructed.
The new bathrooms at the Playa.
From only 475,000 Euros...
...you can buy in one of five empty luxury apartment blocks.
Ownerless postboxes already stuffed.
More apartments are nearing completion.
She is not Jasper Carrott !!!
Under new management: Bar Pepe.
Only Kühn & Partner's aerial view remains
The new, larger pharmacy under the Playa.
The 19th Hole bar is now a supermarket.
The Dorint's golf course bridge is ideal to spot buses.
Superb mime at Pl. Major -
Donate a coin and he writes
'Thank you' in his book.
First class ice-cream at Gelateria Capri
in Paguera and Port Andratx.
Heaving with people, the Market Special
to Andratx leaves Camp de Mar.