What counts is on the inside. Sure, Bali is a stunner. And it may be her exotically gorgeous exterior that initially gets your pulse racing—dramatic ocean views; dreamy resorts à la Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay; spicy, aromatic Balinese and Indonesian cuisine. But it’s the graciousness of the people and unique culture that will compel you and the kids to return.
It had been 11 years since my last solo trip to Bali, a tiny island province in Indonesia. Showcased most recently in mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, it’s a place known for staggeringly romantic tropical beauty, rich artistic traditions and a spiritual approach to life (it’s home to almost 20,000 temples). I wondered how it would be this time as a family vacation, now with my husband and four year old along.
Would our son feel comfortable? Would he find enough to do amongst all the couples and honeymooners? I needn’t have worried. The Balinese love children, and automatically make them feel welcome and at home. From fun at the beach or pool to snorkeling with manta rays to feeding monkeys at the Monkey Forest to Balinese cooking classes, we delighted in the balance of high-octane water sports and cultural discovery. Just don’t be surprised if everyone is reluctant to say good-bye.
*Some of the best, most heartfelt hospitality around. The simpatico, easygoing Balinese people instinctively envelop you and the kids with genuine kindness. You feel immediately relaxed and at home.
*The food! Learn how to cook a few Balinese and Indonesian dishes from the pros.
*Warm, tropical weather year round.
*Balinese culture and festivals. Hindu festivals are some of the most beautiful and colorful I’ve been fortunate enough to see. There’s Galungan (every 210 days to mark the triumph of good over evil, and to give thanks for prosperity), where villagers carry fruit, flowers, leaves and offerings on their heads to the temples, and Nyepi (Bali Hindu New Year, observed in March or April, depending on the lunar year), where firecrackers, drums, a parade and traditional music drive out evil spirits the day before.
*Your own private villa with inspiring ocean views.
*Tons to do: snorkeling, cycling, horseback riding, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, tennis, tai chi, fitness classes on the beach, an on-site art gallery, and drawing in the Sketch by the Sea pavilion.
*Feeding the fish. The lovely, languidly swimming carp in the lily ponds by the resort lobby suddenly perk up and happily gobble all the food your kid feeds them.
*Making and flying their own kite. This is just one of the activities at the complimentary children’s club, Kids for All Seasons*. You’ll see kites, both simple and elaborate, flying high all over Bali, and your kids can be a part of this favorite island tradition.
*Whacking tennis balls around. There’s an extra charge for the hour-long tennis lesson, but it’s well worth it—even beginners will enjoy learning the basics and trying to become the “King” or “Queen.” My son loved the lesson, and keeps asking when he can take it again (even though we’re no longer in Bali).
*Snorkeling at Padang Bai or even better, Crystal Bay and other sites on nearby Nusa Penida. This is a must for any kids who love seeing exotic fish and sea creatures up close. Try to visit during the dry season, generally May to September, as the water will be clearer; although the sea temperature can be a bit chilly, so a dive skin or wet suit is a good idea.
*Views of the Indian Ocean from your villa and private plunge pool, and from the resort’s gorgeous infinity pool and outdoor whirlpool.
*Although Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay is extensive, the magic of the lush landscaping is that you’ll see only a handful of other guests at any given time—in fact, we were the only ones at the lower level pool and whirlpool for the hour we spent there. With such peace and tranquility, it’s easy to relax and simply enjoy the beautiful surroundings and each other’s company.
*Couple’s time? A romantic night on the beach under the stars? There’s the Kids For All Season* kids’ club: drop yours off for a few hours. With some advance notice, the resort can arrange complimentary babysitting between 6 pm and midnight.
*The spa: relaxing traditional Balinese massages, a full array of facials, wraps and other wellness treatments. (The spa is right next to the tennis court, so you could slip inside for well-deserved relaxation while your child is playing tennis.)
A Balinese dance performance with gamelan or traditional Javanese music. A definite highlight of our stay was watching traditional Balinese dance performed by talented young dancers just a few years older than our son. The performers were in brilliantly hued and beautifully embroidered costumes, and the dances, while heavily stylized, often featured humorous themes as well.
Dine in—(For the family) Completely authentic Balinese and Indonesian favorites at Taman Wantilan. Our top recos: Iga Babi Panggang (succulent BBQ glazed pork ribs served with cucumber, tomato and wild ginger salad); Udang Kemangi (spicy jumbo prawns with chili-tomato sambal, sweet basil and long beans); and Laksa Sari Laut (a fragrant curry coconut soup with rice noodles).
(For kids) Are the kids picky eaters? Not a problem: each restaurant has a kids’ menu, so you can enjoy spicy local dishes while the kids happily chow down on Indonesian chicken soup with lemongrass, prawn nasi goreng (crackers and pickles) and mango sorbet. They’ll probably still want to try one of the desserts from the regular menu: i.e., crispy fried banana with palm sugar and vanilla ice cream! And our server went above and beyond to accommodate our son’s peanut allergy, even raiding the resort’s kitchen for some breadsticks to replace the crackers, which contained peanuts.
Dine out—Long before there were any resorts, Jimbaran was a fishing village. And it’s still popular to walk along the beach to one of the fresh seafood stands set up on the beach where you can choose your own live seafood and have it grilled to perfection while the sun sets.
1. The Manta Rays at Manta Point, Nusa Penida: The resort can help organize a day trip to this popular spot, where you can see these graceful creatures in their natural environment. Truly one of the highlights of our trip to Bali!
2. Go under the sea: There are several excellent spots for snorkeling and diving, including Padang Bai on Bali, the Mangrove area off Nusa Lembongan Crystal Bay off Nusa Penida, and many other spots off Nusa Penida. The resort can help organize a snorkeling or scuba trip for you. Note: many of the Nusa Penida dive spots are for advanced divers only, but Mangrove Point on Nusa Lembongan is a good, calm area for even beginning snorkelers.
3. Make a traditional Balinese offering: Everywhere in Bali, from the top hotels and resorts to the humblest dwellings and shops, you’ll see colorful and fragrant traditional Balinese offerings to the Hindu gods. The base is made of palm leaves, then filled with carefully arranged blossoms and julienned Pandan leaves, sometimes with incense sticks as well. Your kids can learn how to make these at the resort.
4. Pool time: Enjoy some family water fun at the resort’s lower level pool, with its “island” and waterfall, then relax in the toasty whirlpool with views of the sea, or on your awaiting sun bed, refreshing ice cold water waiting. [If possible would like to keep this in, even if Monkey Forest gets added. At least for us, the pool area was lovely and a real highlight.
5. Get cooking (no dishes!): My son and I really got a kick out of the Indonesian cooking class, including the morning tour of the local Jimbaran fish and vegetable markets. We learned about and sniffed the key herbs and spices, chopped, stirred, marinated and sautéed, then finished with a scrumptious lunch of the dishes we helped make. The Cooking School also offers Balinese and Italian cooking classes. Plus, Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay Cooking School puts on a complimentary pastry class for kids, teaching how to prepare traditional Balinese sweets.
*Babies: Playing in the sand at the beach. Splashing in the lower pool and watching the waterfall. Checking out the fish swimming over and under each other to get to the food in the lobby ponds.
*Toddlers: Building a block tower with new playmates at the Kids For All Seasons* kids’ club. Riding the toy train. Taking a dip in the kids’ pool. Feeding the fish.
*Kids 5-12: Making their own kites then flying them on the beach. Creating their own Balinese offerings of fruit, flowers and leaves. Racing paper planes. Building sand castles. Roasting marshmallows at the nightly bonfire. Snorkeling. The manta ray tour (see above). The resort’s cooking classes.
*Tweens & Teens: Snorkeling. Diving. Biking. Rafting trips. Playing beach soccer, billiards and ping pong with other teens at the resort’s Teen Club. Taking hip hop classes to learn new moves. The manta ray tour (see above). The resort’s cooking classes.
*Kids For All Seasons (KFAS) is a Four Seasons complimentary recreational and educational program for children of resort guests. Most KFAS clubs are designed for youth four to 12 years old, and open daily from 9 to 5. (Younger children can often join KFAS with a nanny or parent, or resorts can arrange for babysitting.) But details vary from property to property, so check the resort’s website for more information.
Kids can go all day or just for an hour or two. Activities inside and out include games, sports, music, treasure hunts, swimming, arts and crafts, cultural education, environmental preservation work and yoga. Not your average camp, the VIP offerings are pretty extraordinary—for example, at Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, following an educational talk by a diving instructor, kids get to make their own aquarium featuring the exotic creatures of the Red Sea, such as flying fish and parrot fish.
Read our “Why You Should Visit Bali Now” in Four Seasons Magazine.
Hilary Stockton lives with her husband and three year old son in New York City. She is an airline miles and rewards points expert. Hilary is founder of Travel Sort, which offers personalized travel tips, frequent flyer and family travel advice, and members-only exclusive hotel deals. TravelSort’s advice has been featured in The New York Times, the Huffington Post, MSNBC, Fox News, USA Today and The Economist.
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