The earth is 24,874 miles around at the equator. Phileas Fogg traveled around it in 80 days in Jules Verne’s fictional novel, but that was before airplanes. Phineas and Ferb traveled around it in 24 hours, but they have the advantage of being cartoon characters. In reality you could fly 25,000 miles in roughly 43 hours, if you had no stops, and maybe 50 hours with a few layovers. But how much fun would that be? We flew around the world in 13 days and 23 hours.
My 10-year-old daughter did the planning. For her annual trip with me she had short-listed Orlando, Paris, Bali and Sydney, four places she had visited before and loved. I suggested going to all of them! We had two unscheduled weeks in August before school started and I had never traveled around the world in one itinerary before. Plus I’m game for pretty much any crazy travel idea.
To her list of four places, we added a few more stops. In Beijing a few months ago (thanks Janet!) I learned about Oman’s Six Senses Zighy Bay and its paragliding check-in. My daughter heard “paragliding” and immediately put it on the schedule. We added an overnight in Dubai so that we would arrive into Oman at the correct time to jump off a mountain, and also added one day in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to visit the Borobudur temple. Total we would be flying 25,137 miles and stopping at seven sites in six countries on four continents.
Would this be an amazingly cool trip or would it be the dumbest idea ever? When we started booking everything (see my post here), it became apparent that it was far less expensive to piece together multiple one-way tickets than to purchase a RTW ticket with one of the major airline alliances. The downside was that, since the tickets weren’t tied together, if any of our nine flights was delayed or cancelled it could mess up the entire trip.
Also, we would be staying in eight hotels, meaning a lot of time re-packing and hopefully not leaving anything behind, and we would have seven trips to the airport. Would it be too much time lost in transit, check-in and security lines?
And I wondered about jet lag. We booked an eastbound itinerary to keep the wind at our backs and reduce total flying time. That meant however that every flight across time zones we would lose a few hours, which we would get back all at once crossing the international date line on the way home. If we had booked a westbound itinerary we would lose a day immediately but then gain hours at every destination. That may make it easier for our bodies to adjust? I never played with a westbound schedule, since it was complicated enough doing the first one, but I kept wondering if it would have made more sense to travel west.
If we checked bags and they didn’t make it onto any of our flights, they would likely never catch up to us at our pace. Plus checked bags would reduce our flexibility to hop onto alternate flights if anything was delayed or cancelled, and we would spend a lot of time waiting at baggage claim. So the two of us packed light, each only taking a rolling bag and a backpack. We thought we packed light anyway – in reality there were clothes and shoes that we easily could have lived without.
The mistake we made was not taking flip-flops. We each packed sandals, hiking shoes and nice shoes. We found that at several destinations we would have lived in flip-flops. I didn’t feel like I needed my nice shoes. My daughter rarely wore her sandals.
We flew out of Los Angeles at 8:25am on a Sunday morning, heading directly for Orlando. We’re not a theme park family, with my kids usually losing interest in Disneyland after just a few hours, but we’ve always loved Universal Orlando Resort. In Orlando there are several really good hotels near Universal where it would make perfect sense to stay, but one of our favorite hotels in the world is the Four Seasons Orlando…located at Disney World. Typically we split our time between a Universal hotel and the Four Seasons, but with only two nights in Orlando we opted to spend them both at the Four Seasons, with a full day at the two Universal Orlando parks.
It worked out well. We arrived in the afternoon, headed straight for the Four Seasons pool, and had an excellent dinner at the resort. The next day we took a taxi to Universal (approx. 25 minutes), picked up our tickets and Express Passes (a must if you’re trying to do everything in one day) and hit the parks full-speed. We started at the original Universal Studios, rode The Revenge of the Mummy, The Simpsons Ride and several other rides and then immersed ourselves in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After a good hour at Diagon Alley, we took the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross to Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, lived in JK Rowling’s amazing story for another hour, and then explored the rest of that park. A highlight was the new Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride – not a pure virtual reality motion simulator and not an old-school moving ride, but a cool combination of both.
We ate lunch at Universal CityWalk and then did another circle of Universal Studios, with a lengthy return to Diagon Alley. In the late afternoon we were feeling the call of the lazy river at the Four Seasons, so we taxied back to the resort and relaxed. We spent more time at the pool on Tuesday morning before heading to the airport.
From Orlando we flew to Dulles and quickly connected to United’s red-eye to Paris. We arrived in Paris in the early morning and took the RER train into the city, transferring to the Metro and finally walking a short way to the Cler Hotel, on Rue Cler. It took us roughly half an hour at the airport to go through immigration and get to the RER station, and then an hour and a half on transportation to arrive at the stop closest to the hotel.
We were mercifully able to check into the hotel very early and we napped for two hours. Completely refreshed, we set out walking. We picked up a baguette, ham and cheese at various places on Rue Cler and had a mini-picnic at the Eiffel Tower. Because it’s Paris, we shopped, buying a couple of dresses. And because it was hot, we joined the locals and tourists who were cooling off by soaking their feet in the fountains at the Louvre. We got gelato at Amorino, and then watched the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower from our top-floor room at Cler Hotel. Dinner was at our favorite Italian restaurant, Gusto Italia, near the hotel.
My daughter had wanted to include Paris on our itinerary because of our own personal tradition: several times over the years she and I have walked over to the Eiffel Tower at 10pm, watched the twinkling lights of the tower and taken rides on the nearby carousels. So we headed out from the Cler Hotel at 10:00 and walked a few minutes to the tower. Sadly, it may be the end of our tradition. There’s heightened security now, with long lines of people waiting to be scanned in order to pass under the tower, there were more tourists than normal and far more vendors illegally hawking souvenirs on the sidewalks, and the carousels weren’t as special as my daughter remembered. Maybe she’s getting older? Maybe the hassle of walking through the masses to arrive at the carousels got to her? Maybe she was just tired after walking over 12 miles over the course of the day? At any rate, our day in Paris was nice but probably not worth a stop on the RTW trip.
The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel (does anything beat French pastries?) and then took a taxi back to the airport, reducing our commuting time by at least 45 minutes compared to the metro and train the previous day. Our Emirates non-stop to Dubai was excellent. We had an empty seat in our row, so my daughter was able to stretch out, and Emirates hands out really cool kid amenities – an activity pack designed by Lonely Planet, a stuffed animal backpack and a blanket to keep. I wish all airlines paid that much attention to their younger travelers!
We arrived in Dubai at 8:30pm, quickly passed through immigration and took a taxi to the Four Seasons Dubai at Jumeriah Beach. We walked around the gorgeous hotel late at night, ate dinner and played chess on a very large outdoor board near the pool.
In the morning my daughter slept in while I woke up before sunrise. Thanks to Emmanuel the security guard who opened locked doors, I headed up to the rooftop terrace and watched the sun come up over the city, having an enjoyable conversation with him about life in Dubai and back home in Africa. Once my daughter was awake we had breakfast, played another game of chess, sweated a lot (Dubai in August is really hot, even in the morning) and explored the hotel more.
Zighy Bay, Oman
We had arranged cross-border transportation through our hotel in Oman, and at 11am we were picked up at the Four Seasons Dubai by a very nice Indian driver and driven two hours into Oman. Oman is actually divided into two sections, with a portion of the UAE in between them. We headed to the northern section, the Musandam Peninsula.
I mentioned the paragliding entrance to the Six Senses Zighy Bay above. Here’s how it works. In order to get to the beach resort, you drive over a nearby mountain. You can either continue in the car all the way to the resort, or you can get out on the mountain, strap yourself to an expert paraglider, and sail in tandem down to check in. We got out at the launch site and were immediately met by the paraglider. He informed us that there wasn’t enough wind that day for me to go, but since my daughter is a lot lighter, she could do it. After waiting a few minutes for the right gust of wind, they ran off the ledge and flew maybe 10 minutes down to the beach. I rode with the driver and our luggage and met up with them. My daughter loved the experience!
We loved the Six Senses and the location – a kind of desert paradise. We had a beachfront villa with a private plunge pool. While we easily could have relaxed at the villa all day, that would have been a waste. Instead we rode bikes (each villa comes with adult and kid-sized bicycles), went tubing, spent time at the resort pools and in the ocean, explored the kids club and teen club and did a desert excursion one evening with a sunset picnic. All meals were excellent, including an Arabic buffet night with local specialties. Two days weren’t nearly enough. When we go back (and we will go back, since my daughter has said that this is now one of her favorite resorts anywhere), we’ll stay at least four days. My expanded post on our stay is HERE.
Our third day in Oman we departed at 2pm for the two-hour drive back to Dubai. Our driver dropped us at the airport and we checked in to our Emirates flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. The eight-hour flight was ok – my daughter got more sleep than I did. In Jakarta we transferred from the international terminal to the domestic terminal and flew an hour on Garuda Indonesian to Yogyakarta. We were picked up at the airport and driven roughly an hour to the Manohara Hotel next to Borobudur. Again the early check-in gods were smiling on us and we were able to go straight to our room at 11am. We fell asleep for several hours.
Our only plan while there was to walk up to nearby Borobudur (a spectacular 9th century temple) for sunrise the following morning. Walking around the hotel in the afternoon, though, we looked up and saw the temple in front of us. I knew we were close but not that close. So we walked up. At 4pm, one hour before the temple closed, there weren’t many others there, and the pre-sunset light was gorgeous. As we explored the multi-platformed temple and its stupas, we felt like we had our own private UNESCO Heritage Site playground – but of course a respectful playground, because Buddha.
I wasn’t sure how my daughter would do the next morning with a 4:15 wakeup call, but she bounced out of bed and was relatively cheerful. Flashlights in hand, we walked up to the temple with other guests and waited for the sunrise. Well, we sat down on the eastern side of the temple and started to wait, but people crowded in around us and in front of us and it quickly became less peaceful. So we stood up and walked around the rest of the temple – virtually deserted. When the sun finally peeked above the clouds we glanced at it, but I loved the morning at the temple regardless of the sunrise, and I think my daughter appreciated the experience.
From Borobudur we headed back to the Yogyakarta airport and flew an hour on Air Asia to Bali.
My daughter loved Bali last year, so she wanted to spend the most time there on this trip. Unfortunately arriving in the evening we hit rush hour traffic and it took two hours to get to Ubud – an hour more than the drive has taken us in the past. We got to the Four Seasons Bali at Sayan, checked into our amazing villa with a private pool (a theme on this trip) and had dinner.
The next morning was a trip highlight. The Four Seasons Sayan has a Rice Farmer for a Day experience. We chose the half-day version. At 8am we met a FS guide at the spa and he took us on a walk through the nearby rice fields and forest, and we visited the village of Sayan. When we returned to the hotel, we had breakfast in a private pavilion near the Ayung River and then met up with the resort’s rice farmers. Over the course of half an hour we learned about every stage of seed preparation and planting, and we got into a muddy rice field, prepared it and planted it. I’ve seen rice growing throughout the world but didn’t know everything that was involved, and I had never planted it before. A very cool experience! Then we finished with an hour-long Balinese massage nearby. I’ll write this up as a separate post later since there were a lot of other impressive details that made the morning even better.
The Four Seasons Sayan is roughly 15 minutes from Ubud, my daughter’s favorite place on the island. We spent an afternoon in Ubud, visiting the Monkey Forest, getting lunch at Kafe Ubud, going to the fish spa (where garra rufa fish nibble the dead skin off your feet) and shopping a little. A perfect day! Then we returned to the Four Seasons for a Balinese dance performance and dinner.
The next day we transferred down to Jimbaran Beach and the Kayumanis Private Estate and Spa. We loved the Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay last year, but I wanted to try a pure villa property this time to compare and contrast. By staying at Kayumanis we gave up a kids club, kid amenities, extensive resort activities and a view but got a larger villa, a better setup for a family of 4 or 5, less-expensive on-site dining, complimentary massages and complimentary afternoon tea. And Kayumanis is quite a bit less expensive than the Four Seasons overall. At both locations rooms are a few minutes from the beach and the service is excellent. My daughter prefers the Four Seasons because of the kids’ club and Anti-Gravity Yoga, which she tried for the first time this trip. I think both places are great – it just depends what kind of holiday you’re looking for.
One highlight at Jimbaran Beach was dinner at Cuca, right next door to Kayumanis. It’s a tapas restaurant with a Balinese twist, and each dish was inventive and extremely tasty. My daughter was given a bowl of cotton candy to start and chocolates from the chef as she was leaving, which she loved. Despite a lot of beach dining options, and an excellent restaurant at Kayumanis, we went back to Cuca a second night in a row and it was just as good.
We had a full last day in Bali and then headed to the airport (after dinner at Cuca) at 7pm to fly to Sydney. The Bali-Sydney flight on Virgin Australia just sucks. We flew it last year in economy and I’ve never slept worse on a plane. This time we paid more for business class but I still didn’t really sleep. The problem is that it’s only a 5½ hour flight, the business class seats barely recline (about the same as the other seats) and you arrive at 6am. I strongly prefer daytime flights to red-eyes, but that’s not an option on that route.
Once we got into Sydney we took a taxi to the Shangri-La Hotel and, once again, were lucky to be able to check in very early. We slept for three hours and then walked around The Rocks area and the weekend markets. We had come to Sydney to climb Harbour Bridge, one of the more unique experiences in the world, so at 3:00pm we walked over to the Bridge Climb office to begin our sunset journey. I did the climb several years ago (3.5 hours total, of which you’re on the bridge around 2.5 hours) and liked it, but this one was cold and very, very windy, and my daughter didn’t enjoy it. She actually says it’s one of her least enjoyable experiences ever and thinks that for the money (US$475 for the two of us) it’s “not worth it”. So you’re warned!
We spent one night in Sydney before heading to the airport and boarding the 9:45 United flight to LA. I really enjoy 13-hour flights – there’s actually time to sleep and watch movies and get work done. It was a fun trip but it’s great to be home, and my daughter is looking forward to starting 5th Grade in two days.
My Daughter’s Favorite RTW Experiences
- Anti-Gravity Yoga (Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay, Bali)
- Dinner at Cuca (Bali)
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter / Universal Studios (Orlando)
- Outdoor chess (Four Seasons Dubai)
- Soaking in the fountain at the Louvre (Paris)
- Tubing (Six Senses Zighy Bay, Oman)
- Paragliding (Six Senses Zighy Bay, Oman)
- Relaxing at the pool at the Four Seasons Orlando
- Monkey Forest (Bali)
- Rice Farmer for a Day (Four Seasons Bali at Sayan)
She loved all ten activities and it wasn’t easy for her to rank them. What I think is interesting is that previously the Monkey Forest in Bali was her favorite thing there, and now she’s found two things that she loves more. Bali remains her favorite place in the world.
It’s also noteworthy that four of the ten items were at Four Seasons Resorts around the world. We have no connection to Four Seasons and aren’t blindly loyal to the brand, but their resorts are consistently kid-friendly, often in really creative ways.
Our only two destinations that don’t appear on her Top Ten List are Borobudur and Sydney. I loved Borobudur, but I get that it’s not something that can compete with pools, theme parks, tubing and paragliding from a kid’s perspective. And if it hadn’t been windy I think she would have enjoyed the Bridge Climb more.
This was a great trip, but definitely one that we could have tweaked to make even better. It worked well only having carry-on bags. Although we were over the carry-on weight limit for most flights, none of the airlines made an issue of it. We didn’t leave a single thing behind at any of our eight hotels or on our nine flights.
We maximized every day, and as a result when we would leave a place after one or two nights it felt like we had been there far longer. Even so, it would have been nice to have fewer one-night stops. If we were booking now we would eliminate Paris and fly straight to Dubai from Orlando, and we would add another day in Oman. Sydney could have been eliminated at the end, but given that there are no direct flights to the US from Bali, we likely would have needed a short stay somewhere like Hong Kong or Singapore if we did that. I loved Borobudur, but my daughter would eliminate that. Delhi and Agra could have been a fun stop in between Dubai and Bali instead, but I don’t know if substituting the Taj Mahal for Borobudur would have made the trip better for kids?
From a travel perspective, it was actually really easy. The 52 hours on flights weren’t an issue at all. We didn’t sleep great on the overnight flights, but 2-3 hour naps after each one of those flights refreshed us. Jet lag never really affected us – it was fairly easy to get up every morning, and we were able to stay up until 10 or 11 most nights. There were no issues with flights, and no long lines for security or immigration anywhere.
Our flights cost $5,097 total plus 110,000 United miles. We were in business class for five flights and economy for four. Several tickets were more expensive because we booked in business or we booked upgradeable fare classes. We could have flown straight economy for around $4,000 and 60,000 miles.
Ground transportation added up to a little over $900, with $390 of that being the Dubai-Oman-Dubai transfers. In several locations we chose taxis over public transportation simply to reduce our time in transit. We would have saved roughly $200 using trains and buses everywhere instead of taxis.
I chose the hotels above based on several factors, including location, kid-friendliness and cost/value. Several hotels were nice enough to provide us with discounted media rates or upgrades. If we had booked entry-level rooms at each of these hotels my best guess is that our lodging would have cost around $4,000 total, or $363/night. The least expensive hotel mentioned is the Manohara at $88/night including temple tickets. The most expensive is probably the Six Senses Zighy Bay, which starts at $595/night. Every one of these destinations except Zighy Bay has less expensive lodging available. Indonesia especially can be extremely inexpensive.