суббота, 12 октября 2013 г.

Family Holidays: Bali, Indonesia - Part 1

It's time for another Asian review! This time, I'm talking about Bali, where we arrived after a (planned!) two-day stop-over in Singapore.

The flight from Singapore to Bali took about 2.5 hours. We flew with Air Asia and I would highly recommend this airline – a budget carrier with a new fleet that offers good service.

Tickets were inexpensive and you can order additional services such as inflight meals and so on. We ordered the Red Carpet (express check-in), although it is probably not necessary at the incredibly efficient Singaporean airport: We appreciated it very much on our way back, at the Bali airport, however. A dedicated staff member took care of all formalities for us while we sat comfortably in the lounge and we're glad we used this service as the usual Bali airport experience seems quite inefficient.

We travelled without our daughter this time to explore the travel possibilities for kids there.

Bali is a pretty large island and one visit is not enough to see everything. A French friend of mine has visited Bali 14 times... and he's not done yet :)!

It's important to talk a little bit about the various parts of the island as the different regions (north, south, and central) do have diverse customs, landscape, and people.

We split our trip into two parts: 3 nights in jungles near Ubud, and a week at the sea in Jimbaran.

Although you could choose to stay in location it is much easier to move around as, otherwise, you would have pretty exhausting trips stuck in traffic every time you went out sightseeing. Traffic is a real problem: it took us just under four hours to take the road from Ubud to Jumbaran.

Ubud is regarded as the cultural capital of Bali. It is situated in the middle of the island, about 3 hours drive from the airport. You absolutely must visit Ubud, for its jungles, rice terraces, arts and crafts, and more.

The climate is somewhat cooler in Ubud, in comparison to the seaside. There are no specialized family hotels here, however some of the nicer hotels offer good service for travellers with kids.

I highly recommend including a trip to Ubud in your itinerary, especially as there are lots of places to see and visit with the kids. You can choose, for example, a hotel like Nandini Bali Resort & Spa, which is right in the jungle – a really exotic place where wild jungle noises wake you up…

You'll feel like you're the only guest there, with monkeys paying you visits from time to time.

Such hotels cannot really be called family hotels, but kids are welcome there. Nandini Resort is not far from Ubud but it is really quite isolated, making it a real jungle hideaway and a nice escape from reality...

Kuta, in contrast to Ubud, is a party city with budget hotels and restaurants. It is more suitable for party animals, and surfers, not for those with kids. Kuta is pretty active both day and night and I would not really recommend it for families.

Seminyak is a party place too, but is more expensive than Kuta. Here you will find expensive restaurants and shops, and lots of surfers as the sea at Seminyak is known for having good waves. There are plenty of good hotels and villas here but, still, I would recommend Nusa Dua for families.

Nusa Dua is, perhaps, the best place for a seaside family vacation in Bali. It has everything: restaurants, shopping, hotels, and spas (hey moms :)). More on Nusa Dua's hotels later in this review.

Jimbaran is close to Nusa Dua and also has good hotels, along with a number of seafood restaurants. However, there are not as many good beaches and the coastline is quite rocky there.

Where to stay with kids:
The first decision is whether to stay in a hotel or in a villa/house. This is entirely up to personal preference: My friends preferred to rent a villa in Bali, whereas I like hotels more. Luckily, Bali offers both, suiting every taste and budget!

You can rent a villa with staff, including a driver and a cook, and spa treatments can be ordered directly to the villa. Some villas have nice pools and are richly decorated, and the Balinese have excellent designers and artists, and great taste in interior décor! The natural landscape clearly inspires them – they do live on the Island of Gods after all…

To my mind, renting villa is a good idea if you are vacationing with a large group of friends or family(ies) and when you plan to stay longer than 10 days. In such cases, renting a villa would likely be most cost effective, and enjoyable.

When I was doing my research before going to Bali (I always pay attention to visitors’ reviews), these were the options for villas in Seminyak that I liked: Bali Yubi Villas 

and Amana Villas.

At the seaside we stayed at Ayana Resort and Spa (5 stars, earlier known as Ritz-Carlton) in Jimbaran – I would recommend it for family vacations, especially as the hotel is located just 10km from the airport, making it convenient for transfers.

The hotel is not in the city, however, but this was not a problem for us as we dined at the hotel and used taxis whenever we wanted to go somewhere (the cost of using taxis is relatively low here).

Ayana is quite large and has beautifully landscaped grounds. An Aquatonic water pool and Rock Bar are particular attractions which make the hotel famous. I'll talk more about Aquatonic later, despite the fact that it is for moms and dads, not for kids.

Rock Bar is a local landmark - tourists visit here from other places just to enjoy the fabulous sunsets. If you are not staying at Ayana expect to encounter queues at the bar in the evening.

One key thing that Ayana lacks is a good beach nearby as the hotel itself sits on a rocky clifftop. The hotel does have its own beach but it takes five minutes in the hotel's electric car to reach it, which is pretty inconvenient for beach-lovers.

There is another small beach right by Rock Bar (at the infinity pool) which you reach with a funicular. The beach is closed when the waves are high.

Ayana is a good option for families as it offers a kids' club for children aged 4-10 years old, has a playground and an indoor playroom, and an entertainment program. There is also a separate pool for kids that has water slides. You can hire a babysitter for an additional fee, leaving you to explore the island.

The hotel has a good choice of restaurants but they are, unfortunately, quite pricey. The suite we chose was a Club Room, which is in a part of the hotel that has its own reception. Club Room guests enjoy a separate lounge where you can order full meals and snacks throughout the day. Course are changed every hour and drinks are included for Club Room guests – so you can save some money :)

To read my full review of Ayana - follow the link...

The Ayana resort keeps adults entertained with golf and spa treatments. These are pretty standard and so I'm going to focus on one of its more unique offerings... the magical Aquatonic!

While your kids enjoy the kids' club I highly recommend that you treat yourself to the experience of the Aquatonic. This warm sea water pool is an open air pool with an ocean view. The whole treatment takes 2 hours and involves passing through numerous 'stations' in the pool, staying at each one for a couple of minutes for a warm sea water full body massage. You will feel completely different after two hours at the Aquatonic pool. Guests are advised to eat before Aquatonic, otherwise you won’t have the energy to leave… :)

The miracle of Aquatonic is really seen the next day, however. You are a kilo lighter, your skin is baby-soft, and forget the cellulite - moms will be happy! Dads-  too; my husband loved Aquatonic.
This pleasure costs around USD50 per person, and is worth every cent…

We really liked Ayana – it is cosy, clean, and friendly, with lovely staff who are very attentive to guests' needs. One review I read said that “each guest feels like a VIP guest at Ayana” and I can confirm that this is no exaggeration!

The hotel is not cheap, however, at EUR200-300 per room. Separate villas with their own pool and beautiful views are also available for that extra special holiday experience.

There are other family hotels in Bali, mainly in Nusa Dua, which makes sense as this is where the great beach can be found. However, beware of the Nusa Dua tides!

Despite its attractions, Bali isn't quite my idea of the perfect place for a beach holiday. Yes, some beaches are nice and clean, but you have to search for them or go to neighbouring small islands. In my opinion, Bali is better suited to active holidays, not just for surfers but for those wanting to visit cultural sites and explore the landscape, jungles, and so on, with the beach as an added bonus at the end of a long day exploring.

Besides Ayana, I would recommend the following hotels:
Club Med Bali (Nusa Dua) – suitable for kids of all ages. This is a French hotel and resort chain, specializing in family vacations. It has an 'all inclusive' system, beautiful beach location, and various entertainments and activities on offer to keep the whole family occupied.
- Petit Club Med: for kids 2-3 years old
- Mini Club Med: 4-10 y.o
- Juniors' Club Med: 11-17 y.o.
This hotel chain has excellent reviews but is not at all cheap.

The Westin Resort Nusa Dua Bali (5 stars): offers a kids' club (4-12 years old) with entertainment, playground, and various activities for kids. Excellent reviews at TripAdvisor but, again, quite expensive.

Conrad Bali (Nusa Dua) – 5 stars. Very good reviews, a kids' club  (Kura-Kura Kids Club for 3-12 y.o.), and a varied entertainment program: treasure hunts, Balinese dancing lessons, pizza-making, and so on. A babysitting service is available for an extra fee.

In the second part of my Bali review I will share with you the fun family activities that you can look forward to when taking your kids to this beautiful island.

To be continued…

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