After checking prices online, it was off to the local Thomson shop to book this year's trip for 4 people. And, like previous years, what you book is not what you get. Ask for a room that sleeps 2/3 people, get a smaller one instead. Still it wasn't that bad. At least it had the big walk-in shower which our friends lacked in their larger room on the first floor.
Checking in at Luton, TUI now weigh your hand luggage using a clever ruse. This involves being asked to put it on the conveyor for the girl to attach a label thereby giving her the chance to see if it is under 7kg. If not, don't be surprised to see people repacking or putting on extra clothes at the check-in desk.
Our flight left an overcast and cold England on time. The packed and cramped plane landed just over two hours later at 9am in Palma, and we enjoyed the gorgeous clear blue sky and 21° pleasant warmth of the morning. Unfortunately our luggage did not enjoy such a quick journey. We were delayed some considerable time awaiting its appearance in baggage reclaim before we could head for the transfer coach.
The rep pointed us in the direction of Bay 24 for our coach. Bay 24 is the last one out front of the airport, so it was a very long walk to the end of the Arrivals hall. There were 6 of us going to Camp de Mar, and the coach was going also going to Paguera so it was already quite full with some pretty sour-faced holidaymakers - no doubt upset by the fact we were late due to the delayed luggage. I wondered if they weren't English as we progressed down the aisle saying "Good morning" and getting no response; their demeanour was hardly that of happy people starting their holiday. The were even less happy when the coach whizzed past the roadsign for Paguera heading straight for Camp de Mar. We understood why - Paguera's notorious one-way street system is best approached from the Camp de Mar side.
What's New in Camp de Mar
Everything looked almost same, just as it had been in 2011 when we were last here. The three new villas that had taken years to be built on the peninsula opposite the hotel had been completed, and the ARA shop was being refitted to become another ice cream parlour.
The Tourist Info point has moved from its wooden hut opposite the Villa Real hotel to a very nice office under the Playa at the back near the Eurocop supermarket. Likewise, the lady who sells the boat trips has also moved. From the kiosk adjacent to the old tourist hut back to where she used to be opposite the Gran hotel, on the slope down to the sundial.
Walking around the resort you will notice that few, if any, of the new apartments completed in the last couple of years have either been sold or occupied. Yet construction of more continues. The scrubland adjacent the Dorint had been cleared of vegetation and was being levelled in preparation for the construction of the Port Beach apartment complex by Taylor-Wimpey as reported in our blog earlier this year. And, as seems usual in these parts, progress on the site was proceeding at a snail's pace due to the single workman and his JCB.
The Playa Hotel is a Winner
The number of awards the Playa Hotel has won over the years has now exceeded the wall space in reception that was given over for display of the certificates. These have now been moved to above the entrance of Bar Maricel so you can admire them if you descend the spiral staircase heading for dinner.
Head Chef Diego has increased the number of nights on which a speciality serving table is laid out. Some nights it is local fish or meat delicacies being proferred, others are for exotic fruits or desserts. In the morning, this same table is where you can get freshly made smoothies.
We still cannot fault the food. There is something for everyone and the staff will cater for your individual need if necessary. However, we did notice that there was more fish on the menu this year, and fewer of the expensive cuts of meat. This was also mentioned when we spoke to guests from other hotels across the island.
No change to the entertainment. Daily activities still include pool aerobics, giant Jenga®, cannonball drop (giant Kerplunk®), the quiz, beach boule and golf, and various others. Yet this year it was nice to see Midnight Affair back as the resident duo. We first met them here in 2002 and since then they have spent the intervening eleven years travelling the global entertainment circuit, appearing earlier this year at the Los Gigantes Gold Hotel in Tenerife
A trio of non-native english speakers were, on one night, a Bee Gees tribute group, then a week later they were back as Phil Collins and Genesis! Better as the latter than the former. We also saw one singer-comedian, and a there was a Rod Stewart act too. Surprisingly, the Thomson entertainment staff were quite good even though most looked about 16 - and that goes for the reps too.
Port Sóller or Bust
The tours are getting very expensive. The trip to Port Sóller by coach, train, and tram now start at 68 Euros (£58) per person, so we decided to do the trip ourselves. Camp de Mar to Palma was 4.55 Euros on the L-102 bus, then taking the L-210 to Valldemossa, Deià and finally Port Sóller via the scenic yet alarming mountain road route was 4.25 Euros. We spent some time at the shops in the port then had lunch before hopping on the tram to Sóller itself. This was 5 Euros for about 15 minutes and not really worth it.
In Sóller, most of the shops were now shut for the afternoon and the last public train had gone from the station at 2pm. It was now closed till 6pm to allow the coach parties to use the line for sightseeing. At this point the heavens opened and we were drenched. So we headed for the 'bus station' to get the L-211 Express back to Palma. After a very long wait in the cold and wet the 3:15 bus arrived already half full. The mob surged forward and we eventually found ourselves at the doors with the driver saying full up. Yet two girls behind us already had tickets because their mate had got on and bought three and handed them their two out the window!
Anyway, the next bus came in 20 minutes and we made sure we were on that one because that was it till 5pm. The express goes through a long mountain tunnel, then fast roads to Palma for 2.65 Euros. Total travel costs for the day out was therefore under 20 Euros each. A combined train and tram ticket would have added another 23 Euros to the cost.
On the way back to Camp de Mar from Palma we noted that some L-102s now start from the Cathedral. This alleviates the problem of buses from the bus station zipping past full up leaving crowds of tourists trying to get back to Santa Ponça and Paguera. And from June extra L-102 buses are on the timetable for the peak holiday period.
Watch out for possible gangs of pickpockets. We used the lift one day at the bus station as the down escalator was out of action and decided not to take the stairs. The lift is set quite far back and I was surprised to see three reasonably fit men all dressed in white linen suits dash for the doors. Once inside I was surrounded like a VIP with his bodyguards. The one closest to me continually fiddled with a backpack - and I'm sure with my trouser pocket - and when the doors opened another turned to engage me in non-Spanish conversation blocking me in while my wife got out. I had to push past to dash for the bus. They followed us and queued behind me as I was the only one carrying a bag. The backpack fiddler continued fiddling too close for my liking - I've seen pickpockets do this on TV with their arm through a hole in the bag to hide what he's up to. Anyway, when we were on our bus I made sure everything was where it should have been and noted that the three gents had now decided to get on a completely different bus.
Travelling through Palma we noticed that many familiar shops had closed down but there was a plethora of banks/building societies and, surprisingly, dental surgeries... although I am yet to meet a local with celebrity-style teeth. Maybe these facilities are there for the owners of the superyachts moored in the marina.
It was goodbye to the Garden Centres in Paguera and Port Andraxt - they were closing down - and hello to Chino Hiper Stores. All over the island large empty shops are turning into fancy goods stores. Staffed by Chinese, and with all goods supplied from China by the container-load, locals think their government is desperately trying to boost retail sales in the Spanish economy. Well, we certainly spent a few Euros there, and the stuff bought has turned out to be better than what we usually get back home. The same can be said of C&A products too.
Mackerel sky and filly's tails make lofty ships carry low sails
We arrived back in Camp de Mar to sunshine, allowing our damp clothes to dry out in the strengthening breeze. As the clouds overhead foretold, this turned into a gale overnight and the waves could be heard crashing down on the beach beneath the hotel. The morning revealed piles of seaweed washed ashore, but this was soon dealt with.
The weather remained blustery over the weekend, boat trips were cancelled, the lifeguard raised the yellow flag, and it was cold. It was still warmer than the UK we had just left, but chilly enough for us to ask for extra blankets. In true British stiff upper lip fashion, hotel guests were out on their sunbeds with hats and coats on in the morning until conditions got that bit too much.
The reception and bar areas were packed with people playing cards, Scrabble®, dominoes, and whatever else was to hand. Both internet terminals were occupied by folks who had not come equipped with a smartphone or tablet computer. Electronic books and MP3 players abounded. Yes, even us oldies can work the technology.
However, when it comes to the lifts it seems some people do not understand the concept that no matter how many times you press the button, the lift does not come to you any faster. And pressing both Up and Down buttons only makes things worse. The Playa's lifts are intelligent in that they know the floors and times when they are going to be in use the most, just let them get on with it.
The good weather returned and so did the helicopter transfers to and from the Dorint Golf Hotel. The toffs fly in around the bay and the back of the Playa to land on the 1st Tee of the course. The chopper then flies directly over the Playa's swimmng pool on the way out. In such a quiet resort, any noise can be a nuisance no matter how far away. The 'bleep bleep bleep' of the reversing JCB at the Taylor-Wimpey site, and the man with the leaf blower at the Dorint, combined to make one afternoon particulary irksome.
All good things must come to an end and so goodbye, auf wiedersehen, despedida and до свидания - yes Russian is becoming more prevalent on restaurant menus and villa 'For Sale' signs.
Coach transfer back to the airport meant an early start even though our flight was not till 10:30. Head rep Alex had warned us that the coach would visit more resorts on the way back and not all guests might be British, but it was fast and we left Mallorca on time on a newer and more spacious plane to land in a freezing cold and rainy England at noon.
A quick note about the airport shops. Duty Free is not always cheaper than your local high street, and be prepared to pay nearly two quid for a small bottle of water!
For more pictures taken during this visit, please go to our Flikr photostream.
New ice cream parlour offers Carte D'Or unlike those you've tasted before.
Book a boat trip here...
Sales cabin for Port Beach, a new development by Taylor-Wimpey.
Nine awards for the Hotel Playa.
Midnight Affair in 2002.
Clang, clang, clang went the trolley...
...Ching, ching, ching went the conductor's ticket machine.
A Yellow Flag day due to stormy conditions.
The new tourist information office at the back of the Playa.
These five luxury apartment blocks are still empty...
...and these blocks have only two flats taken in two years.
These two modern office-block style buildings are in fact part of a 10-bedroom 16 million euro villa complex currently for sale.