I was excited this year when my nine-year-old chose Bali as the destination of her annual trip with me. I had been to Bali fifteen years ago and loved it – the Hindu-based spirituality, the stunning landscape of terraced rice paddies, the monkeys, the arts and the beaches – and I liked the idea of seeing it again through my daughter’s eyes. And since it’s not a typical kid destination, I liked the challenge of making it kid-friendly while still giving her a good feel for what makes the island so special.
Bali with Kids: The Logistics
I didn’t want to take my daughter out of school for more than a week, so we planned six days on the island, a day for a layover somewhere and two travel days. There are a dozen ways to get to Bali from Los Angeles and I chose to route via Sydney, even though no airlines would let me do it all as one ticket. There were a few reasons for choosing Sydney. First, it worked well to fly out after school on Friday to maximize the vacation time, and the United flight to Sydney left LA at 10:40pm. Second, since I have frequent flier status with United, this was a way to hopefully get us upgraded for as much of the journey as possible. Third, price-wise it was one of our best options, especially since I was hoping for upgrades. And fourth, Sydney is a great city and it’s always enjoyable to go through there, even if it’s just for a day. I’ve previously warned against using multiple tickets on one trip, but I took the chance booking LA-Sydney on United and Sydney-Bali on Virgin Australia, and it all worked out great. In Sydney we had roughly three hours to clear immigrations and customs, check in with Virgin Australia, go back through immigration and security and get to our gate. We made it with about an hour to spare. And yes, United upgraded us for both of the 13-14 hour flights.
Activities with Kids in Bali
We planned to spend half the trip in the central Ubud area and half on the beach in Seminyak, but otherwise we had no specific plans. Every day we woke up and discussed all of the possible options. We were there during the week leading up to Nyepi (the new year), which meant increased traffic and road closures and influenced our planning a little. Also, two groups of friends happened to be in Bali at the same time, so we made plans around seeing them. Having said all of that, here were my daughter’s seven favorite activities (she couldn’t limit it to five):
1. Monkey Forest – We went to the monkey forest in Ubud twice and bought bananas both times. My daughter loved holding the bananas up high and letting the monkeys climb up her to get them. It’s stressful walking through the forest hiding bananas, since the monkeys are intimidating, but overall it’s a really fun, unique experience.
2. Kite Flying – We bought a large pirate ship kite on the beach in Seminyak for 140,000 Rupiah (US$11) and after putting it together with help from the hotel staff and the kite seller, had a great time flying it for hours. The wind was perfect – not enough to be blowing sand around, but easily enough to keep the kite aloft.
3. Hiking through the Rice Terraces – We had a driver from our hotel drive us around the central part of the island, and about half an hour from Ubud we arrived at the Tagalalang Rice Terrace. It’s become fairly commercialized there, but luckily there were no other tourists around and we had a great time hiking as far as we could, down one side of the valley and up the other side.
4. Yoga – Our hotel offered complimentary yoga most mornings. It was definitely hot yoga – even though it was only 8am, it was fairly hot and very humid, and we were sweating a lot. But my daughter loved all of it. And the setting was perfect, overlooking rice fields.
5. Shopping – Seminyak felt a lot like a European beach town, with similar brands, but the Ubud area is still charming with a lot of unique crafts, antiques, batik, and markets. We went with one suitcase and returned with three!
6. Plunge Pools – At two of our hotels (see below) we had private plunge pools. We had this experience last month in Mexico as well, and it’s remarkably kid-friendly – having the opportunity to go swimming anytime in the privacy of your villa without having to go to the resort pools. We took advantage of this a lot in the hot weather.
7. Fish Feeding and Fish Feeting – Our hotel in Seminyak had many koi ponds throughout the property and we were able to get fish food from the bell desk and feed the fish as often as we wanted. We did it each morning. And in Ubud we twice went to one of the spas with tanks of gara rufa fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet. Our feet are still smooth!
We stayed at and/or toured five resorts. Our thoughts:
The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah
The good: We loved our Chedi Club villa with a private pool, the Balinese architecture/ landscaping and elephant theme, and the setting right in the middle of rice fields. The service was excellent. The food was great and the restaurant was very kid-friendly. My daughter took advantage of the free yoga and we loved the free daily laundry service. The bad: There were no kid-sized robes or slippers in the room, and no list of nearby family-friendly activities. They gave my daughter a stuffed elephant at check-out after I asked if we could pay for the one in the room, but that was the only kid-friendly touch. Although we loved the resort, I wish they had done more to make kids feel welcome.
Note: after I sent the above comments to the hotel, they responded that there should have been an activity list in the room and sent me their standard kid-friendly list, which is great. They also are switching the stuffed elephant gift to check-in, and they have ordered kid-sized robes and slippers. How great is that? With those changes, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the hotel to families going forward.
Four Seasons Resort at Sayan
We toured the Four Seasons Sayan and had lunch at its Indonesian restaurant. Just like other Four Seasons, they seem to have struck an excellent balance between luxury and kid-friendliness. The resort is beautiful, overlooking the Ayung River, and the villas (with private plunge pools) look great. The villas only sleep three, but they also have family suites that can sleep up to five. The pool isn’t as kid-friendly as other Four Seasons where we’ve stayed, but I really liked the kids’ club layout including a treehouse fort, and my daughter wanted to return to do one of the kids cooking classes, which include picking ingredients from the resort gardens. An added bonus is the location, very close to Gaya Ceramic. We toured Gaya’s studio and workshop and viewed a ceramics class for young kids (roughly 8-12) that my daughter really wants to return for.
I was extremely disappointed in The Legian. It’s nice, and probably deserving of its spot as one of the top resorts in Indonesia…but not if you have kids. If you have kids, they let you know that your kids aren’t really welcome. Seriously, I hadn’t even checked in yet when I was handed a letter stating that kids aren’t allowed in one of the pools, that they need to be accompanied at all times around the hotel, pool and beach, and that kids should only eat at the earlier dinner seatings. I’ve never seen anything like that, and it spoiled our entire stay. It’s too bad because otherwise we liked the hotel, the fish feeding, the location, the beach and pool, the DVD selection and the breakfasts.
Note: I heard back from the General Manager of the Legian. He apologized that the check-in letter came across as restrictive, and noted that the hotel usually has kid activities like painting classes but did not have any the week we were there because of the Nyepi holiday and lower occupancy. While I appreciate the response, I don’t feel that the level of kid-friendliness should depend on what week you book a stay. If the Legian has any kid guests at all, it should maintain kid activity offerings. When we were at the Four Seasons Bora Bora, we had the only kids at the resort that week, but they made it clear that they would open the kids club and arrange activities just for us anytime we wanted them. I wish the Legian had done the same.
The Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay
We checked into the Four Seasons just for a day, but what a day. We loved the villa with private plunge pool, the kids’ club activities, the kid amenities, the beach and the food (both lunch and dinner at Sundara were excellent). I got an amazing 90-minute Balinese massage as well. And every employee we spoke with seemed genuinely happy. When we return to Bali, this will be the first hotel I book.
Friends invited us one night to dinner at Taman Wana, a collection of five villas, where they were staying. I loved the concept of a private villa with a concierge, and the villas were gorgeous. This would be a great alternative to a hotel for a family or a group of friends who otherwise would require multiple hotel rooms.
Is it crazy to go to Bali from the US for just a week? Maybe a little, but only because of the jetlag. Otherwise the flight schedule worked out really well and it’s a great, more interesting alternative to Hawaii or Mexico for a family vacation in the sun. It’s a small world. Take your kids everywhere!
We returned to Bali a year later as part of our Around the World trip, staying in new places, eating at new restaurants and trying new activities. Read more about it HERE.