The prospect of 'starting your holiday before you’ve even taken off' reads like a fantasy to parents frazzled in advance by the prospect of navigating children through the airport and keeping them entertained pre-flight. But en route to Beaches Ochos Rios in Jamaica, I felt that I was able to do just that when my son and I enjoyed the use of the excellent v-room at Gatwick Airport (South Terminal), available for a charge to those who have booked a package holiday with Virgin Holidays to the Caribbean, Florida or Las Vegas.
We'd already made the trip less stressful for ourselves by heading down to London the previous evening, enjoying a relaxed meal in the Gatwick branch of child-friendly restaurant chain Giraffe, and getting a good night's sleep at Yotel, a funky capsule-style (windowless) hotel within the airport's South Terminal. Depending on your family configuration, Yotel might not be right for you since it doesn't have interconnecting or family rooms. But I've enjoyed the use of it when travelling with my kids individually, sharing a Standard cabin with a bed halfway between a single and a double with my (small) seven-year-old, and this second time booking a Premium cabin with a full-size double for me and my (large) nine-year-old.
Yotel also has rooms with two bunks, the bottom one halfway between a single and double, making it an appealing option for two parents travelling with one child, a parent travelling alone with two children, or those with teens. Futuristic touches such as beds that slide down at the touch of a button (in Premium rooms) and fold-away furniture that hangs from the walls certainly make it feel more of an adventure than conventional hotel rooms.
But the biggest draw of Yotel is that you book in hourly time-slots lasting anything upwards of four hours, paying only for the time you need. Indeed, it's for those who just need a shower and a few hours' kip between flights, or who have a really early flight, that Yotel truly comes into its own. And despite the very fair pricing, little touches such as free ear-plugs and alarm-clock loan show that real thought has gone into making guests feel comfortable and relaxed during their brief stay. The toiletries aren't stinting, either.
You can order in-room food at Yotel, including breakfast, but having slept right up to check-out time, we arrived at Virgin's v-room ravenous - thankfully so, since entry to the lounge gives you access to a copious free breakfast that includes a buffet of everything from smoothies and fresh fruit to pastries and cakes as well as full English cooked on demand. There are magazines and newspapers galore, but free Wifi means you can spend the time catching up on emails before your flight too, or perhaps researching what to do when you get to your destination.
Or you can just sit back and watch the planes perform their mechanical ballet on the tarmac beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows as your kids play in the dedicated zones – one for younger kids, with softplay, Nintendo and (in keeping with the travel theme) Trunkis to ride on, and one for older kids, with electronic games galore. There's also some play equipment in the main lounge area if you want them to stay right by your side, although as there's a dedicated reception you'll probably feel comfortable – as I did with nine-year-old Ethan – letting them roam by themselves.
It's worth noting that Gatwick's v-room fast-tracks you through both check-in and security. There's a second v-room at Manchester Airport, while Yotel is also present at Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol airports and in New York City; the latter has family rooms but charges standard nightly rates rather than for hourly slots. A Yotel at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was also in the pipeline at the time of writing.
Check out our expert tips on flying with kids.