Cretan Holiday: Domes of Elounda Review

Over this year’s Easter holiday, our family of five spent a week in a two-bedroom villa at the Domes of Elounda (Domes) resort in Crete, Greece.  Was it an indulgent and relaxing family holiday, or was it an overpriced and stuffy land cruise?  Read on for our review…

Getting There
Crete, Greece’s southernmost island, is served by two airports.  The Heraklion Airport is near the mid-point of the island, on the north side, and is the closest airport to Elounda.  We took a direct flight on EasyJet from London Gatwick.

Domes has its own heliport, but since all of our helicopters are in the shop, we opted for the roughly one-hour drive to the resort in Elounda. A car transfer to and from the airport was going to cost between €50 and €80 each way, so we hired a small car for €80 for the entire week.  Doing so also gave us the flexibility to do a bit of sightseeing and to ride into town for some meals.  After waiting about an hour and a half to get the rental car (after all, there was one person in front of us…), we were on our way.

Driving on Crete is more art than science.  There are speed limit signs posted and many traffic cameras, but few drivers seem to obey the limits.  Most roads have only one lane in each direction.  When another driver wants to pass you, they’ll get very close to the back of your car with the expectation that you’ll drive on the shoulder while they go by (regardless of whether or not there is a double yellow line or no passing sign).  Think if it like the autobahn in a single lane: if someone is coming up fast behind you, get out of the way.  Once you learn the basic customs of Cretan driving, it’s a piece of cake.

The Basics
Domes was recently acquired by Marriott and is now part of Marriott’s “Autograph Collection” of independent hotels.  It has a number of accommodation choices, ranging from one-bedroom suites up to three-bedroom “ultraluxe” villas.  We opted for a two-bedroom/two-bath “luxury residence” which is a 200 square metre/2153 square foot detached villa with its own private pool.  For us, the private pool was the key selling point, as we intended to spend most of our time lounging around relaxing as a family.  Our booking included breakfast and dinner.

The cost of our booking for the week was roughly €2400, which is a massive discount from the high season, during which the same duration of booking for this villa is around €11k (something we would never spend for a week away at the beach).  Just a reminder that it pays to travel in the off-season or at least around the edges of in-season.

We were told that 40% of the guests at Domes were Brits, 40% were Germans, and the remaining 20% were a mix of Europeans.  It detracted a bit to see the same two families on the flight to Greece, then right next to us in the villas, then again at nearly every meal, then again on the same return flight.  Nothing wrong with them, but it made the whole experience feel a bit less exclusive.

Upon arrival we were warmly welcomed, shown to a lounge and given complimentary drinks while the staff handled our registration.  They also had small goodie bags prepared for each of our children.  We were then taken to our villa via a “Club Car” (aka, golf cart).

When we arrived at the villa, we discovered a plate of fresh fruit and pastries, as well as a bottle of red wine and a bottle of sparkling wine.  The villa was a perfect size and layout for our family.  It had a small kitchenette comprised of plates, glassware and utensils for two (oops), microwave, two burner stove, sink, dish washer, small refrigerator, electric teapot and pod-based coffee machine.  The living room and each bedroom had large, flat-screen televisions.  Wifi isn’t incredibly fast, but it’s useable and included.

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The bedrooms were spacious, and our kids’ room had already been arranged with three twin beds—something you don’t usually get when travelling with three kids.  Note that if you look at the pictures on the Domes website, you may see that kids’ rooms are Disney-themed.  This isn’t the case for the villas (and we didn’t take this as a negative). Each bedroom was attached to its own bathroom, each with a separate bath and shower.

As nice as the villa was on the inside, we probably spent more of our time outside by or in the pool.  The back patio faced out to the sea and had an informal dining table and chairs, a couple of cushioned benches and four lounge chairs.  The pool was a little chilly for the first couple days, but after a bit of complaining, Domes heated it up to somewhere around 25-26 Celsius (77-79 degrees Fahrenheit), so the kids weren’t getting out with chattering teeth.  Also outside was a washing machine.

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Back patio

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Kate’s moment of zen

Another nice feature of the patio area is that it can be joined with the neighbouring villa by removing some large wood panels.  In fact, even the pools can be joined together in a similar way.  The ability to join the two back patios makes these villas ideal for a dual-family (or large-family) vacation.

Facilities and Amenities
The villas and the suites are separated by a steep hill, atop which sit Domes’s heliport and tennis courts.  This vantage point gives a great view of the surrounding mountains and the sea.  Domes’s fleet of club cars made it easy to get around, especially when our kids didn’t have the energy for walking up the hill.

The resort has a number of shared pools: one for adults, one for kids, one big unheated pool (with no one in it in March), and a smaller heated one.  They each have a small poolside bar for refreshments.

The resort also has its own beach with plenty of chaise lounges.  The beach is a mix of sand and rocks, but it’s soft enough to walk barefoot.  Because Elounda is in a bit of a cove, its beach is very gentle.  It’s also relatively shallow, so it’s a low-risk proposition to let the kids look for shells and stones whilst you enjoy a glass of wine at the beachside Topos restaurant.

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Beach in front of Topos

The resort also has a gym, spa (including spa therapies for kids) and kids’ club.  The kids’ club had somewhat limited hours, so it wasn’t feasible to leave the kids for a day outing.  Our kids weren’t interested anyway.

In the room, the bathroom amenities were great: lots of towels (regularly refreshed), separate pool towels, and nice-smelling products.  The mini-bar in the kitchenette was stocked and the first round of it is complimentary.  And if you want groceries, you can provide your list to the concierge and Domes will do the shopping for you.

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Absolute rubbish.

[Beginning of coffee rant] The first round of the terrible Nestle coffee pods are complimentary too.  And one taste is really all you’ll need.  But both the low quality of the coffee pods and the fact that they’re not complimentary on an on-going basis seems a bit inconsistent with the luxury experience.  Luckily, the bars and restaurants at Domes use the much better Nespresso coffee pods. [end of coffee rant]

In the evenings, when new towels were dropped off (in addition to the towel replacements by the daily maid service), we were also given complimentary bottles of water and replacement packets of soap for the dishwasher and laundry machine.

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Bird motion detector

The villa also had two little bird figurines that, when activated, made a chirping sounds when they detected motion.  They could be moved around the villa and it was a nice way to know when a child was heading out to the pool or wandering out of the kids’ bedroom in the night.  Sometimes it’s nice for parents to have a little notice before their bedroom door begins to open…

Restaurants
Pre-aperitivos.  I’m probably giving myself away as an uncultured simpleton to admit that I hadn’t heard the term “pre-aperitivos” until visiting Domes.  Each night before dinner, they have a reception where they hand out complimentary glasses of champagne, mimosas, and juice, along with chocolate covered strawberries.  The concierge staff mingled to find out how our day had been, enquired as to whether or not our needs were being met and asked what was planned for the following day.  It was a relaxing way to start the evening.

There are four restaurants at Domes.  The main restaurant, Tholos, is in the building next to reception and offers a medium-sized buffet with a different theme each night.  There was a separate seating area for families with kids (although most of the guests were families), and there seemed to be plenty of high chairs for families who still need those.  There was also a dedicated table for kids’ food (pasta, chicken nuggets, etc.).  The kids’ loved being able to choose their own food at the buffet, and the food was good, but not amazing.  Some of the tables had large sofas for seating, which looked nice, but once we sat down the table was at about the same level as our shoulders.

Blend is Domes’s lobster & steak restaurant.  It is also where the people staying in the villas go for breakfast.  Breakfast is a typical buffet with lots of options: eggs, pastries, bacon, sausage, yogurt, fruit, etc.  The kids became accustomed to peach juice.  They also make “Greek Coffee” which is a local take on Turkish coffee (coffee ground more finely than espresso—nearly to dust—and left in the cup after brewing).  Dinner at Blend was better quality than Tholos and, being a steakhouse, there were limited (but tasty) vegetarian options.  Note that if your meals are included in your room package, you will pay a small supplement for certain items on the menu.

Yaosai is an outdoor Asian restaurant with dishes inspired by Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisines.  We had one meal at Yaosai and it was excellent.  There were some mix-ups with our orders, but the resort had just opened for the season a couple days prior, so it was likely just getting-started missteps.

Our best meal at Domes was lunch at the beachside Topos restaurant.  They had lots of choices for everyone and they made some vegetarian dishes specifically to order for Kate.  The service was great and the view looking out at the sea can’t be beat.  The kids finished before us and we could watch them playing along the beach while we finished.

On the Domes website, they indicate that “smart casual” is the dinner dress code, and ask for no swimwear.  But after a few days we were told by the concierge that sandals weren’t appropriate in any of the restaurants.  This was a bit disappointing, because we had specifically decided to only bring running shoes for sea-side runs, and upscale flip-flops/sandals for walking around the resort.  This meant that Kate didn’t wear any of the dresses she brought since they would have only looked good with her sandals (and overall it would have been a much more “smart casual” look than jeans and running shoes.  We complied with the newly stated rules, but felt that it cut against the relaxed atmosphere and we kicked ourselves for not bringing dressier shoes.

Location and Excursions
Crete is a large island (approximately 160 miles across) and Elounda is situated in the northeast.  We only did a couple days of sightseeing, and most things we visited were at least an hour away by car.  Kate will be writing another article about the things to see and do as a family in this part of Crete, so I’ll leave that to her.

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Picture from our sightseeing along the coast

Domes can arrange a number of excursions from boat rides, to traditional pastry cooking, to olive oil tasting.  The only excursion we arranged was to hire a small boat (self-drive) to go walk around the picturesque island of Spinalonga.  The Domes concierge booked the boat for us, but when we picked it up we were told that we were not allowed to dock at Spinalonga—only larger, professionally run tour boats could dock.  We were really disappointed since this was the main purpose of hiring the boat in the first place, but we took it anyway and enjoyed a couple hours exploring the shore of Spinalonga as well as the rest of the coast around Elounda.

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Beautiful coastline

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Spinalonga

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Spinalonga

Summary
We had a great week at Domes.  It was kid-friendly and an easy place for all of us to relax.  Since we were travelling very early in the season, before the weather had become very warm (approx. high of 21c), it was very affordable for the high standard of luxury that we received.

Would we go back?  Of course not, but that’s not their fault—we don’t go back to the same place twice.  But if we could drop a Domes of Elounda on another city we haven’t yet visited, then we would certainly consider it.  Can someone direct us to the Domes of Cyprus?

Overall rating: 4/5 stars

Pros:
+big beautiful villa
+the amazing view
+private heated (with some encouragement) pool
+beautiful grounds/location
+good food
+friendly staff and good service
+good value for money early in the season (but expect cooler weather)

Cons:
-super expensive in the high-season
-no sandals/flip-flops in the restaurants, even with nice clothes
-no all-inclusive option (it was a bit weird getting a bill after each dinner for our €4 bottle of water)

 

 

One thought on “Cretan Holiday: Domes of Elounda Review

  1. Pingback: Cretans for a Week, a holiday in Greece | Five Abroad

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