When the PR for Club Med Bali contacted me to see whether I’d be interested in packing my bags and trialling their resort for four days, I wasn’t sure what to think. Although Kerri Sackville’s piece on Frequent Flyer had piqued my interest (spoiler: Kerri LOVES Club Med), I was concerned it might be a little too mass market for readers of Wanderluxekids.
The PR shot down my concerns immediately; not only was Club Med serious about shedding that very image, the Powers That Be have been working to reinvent the company to attract high-end travellers and their families. In recent years, they’ve quietly closed down some of their more rudimentary resorts and thrown big dollars at opening five-star (or in Club Med’s case – five Trident) resorts such as the gorgeous Le Plantation d’Albion in Mauritius and Marrakech Le Riad in Morocco.
Over the next four years, many more five-Trident properties are planned to open with ski villas in France, a couple of overwater bungalows in the Maldives (the two they currently have are operating at capacity) and several gargantuan resorts in China all given the green light. But right now? The focus is on wielding that magic wand on their popular 30-year-old Nusa Dua property. The proposition sounded intriguing, so within days I found myself on plane to Bali, ready for my first-ever Club Med experience.
If, like me, you are a Club Med virgin, you need to know that they do guest relations a little differently than most. Rather than welcome you with a small smile and swift dismissal, the CM crew are big on becoming your best friend – FAST. This becomes obvious the minute we (we being a group of journalists) pull up outside the resort (a fairly quick 20-minute ride away from the airport), and a large group of ‘G.Os’ (Gentle Organisers as they like to be known) line up along the length of the van to give us a happy waving welcome. It’s so enthusiastic, I almost feel like a member of One Direction pulling up in a tour bus outside an entertainment venue full of screaming girls. As the resort is all-inclusive, a blue Club Med ribbon is tied around my wrist so I can drink myself into the gutter without anyone having to check whether I’ve crawled in from outside. The welcome drink is indeed welcome , but so too is the bed considering it’s almost midnight when we arrive. If the G.Os are tired, they never let on and I’m led to my room by a porter who has the energy levels of a young labrador. I hate him.
According to the literature, Club Med has 393 rooms located in five buildings of one to three storeys designed in Balinese-style architecture using food and natural colours. According to Wanderluxekids however, there are currently two styles of room – Club and Suite – and our advice to you is to lock yourself into a Suite and don’t look back. The Club rooms are spacious enough with comfy beds and a pleasant outlook (mine overlooks rolls of manicured garden leading down to the beach), but if you’re used to the finer things in life, they are rather basic. We’re talking large bed (with no bedhead), a small television, desk and chair, shower, super-strong air-con, a daybed and standard amenities such as tea, coffee, an iron and ironing board and a robe.
The suites on the other hand feature a large sitting-room which open out onto your own private terrace, as well as additional features such as a deep bath, espresso machine, DVD player, MP3 player and board games for the kids. Both Club and Suites have interconnecting options so kids can stay in one room, while you stay in the other.
Of course, what I’m telling you now will soon become redundant since their accommodation options are about to change. The entry-level rooms will soon be known as Deluxe rooms and they will all look like this.
20 of them are already complete with the rest of the rooms (85 all up) to be completed by the end of the year. Luxury villas are also in the process of being built with renovations due to be complete by the end of 2016. And the Club rooms? They’ll be a distant memory.
Located on the first floor of the main building, The Agung is the place to take your meals and as far as buffets go, it’s pretty good. There’s a large adults-only dining room, as well as indoor and outdoor seating options decorated in a variety of ways. Kids were obviously at the forefront of their minds when this place was designed – there’s a Baby Corner where a host of sweet and savoury baby foods are ready for mini gourmands, and they have plenty of equipment at the ready so you can prepare your own baby meals. Just to the front of the restaurant are stacks of trays divided into bright colours just under a nutrition chart advising parents of their children’s daily requirements. The buffet comfortably caters for even the fussiest of children with everything from burgers and chips, spaghetti meatballs and chicken drumstick dishes for little ones. Sadly, even though I am travelling without my children, I by-pass the adults-only dining room and sit myself down in a roomful of loud, boisterous kids (there could be something wrong with me), and everyone seems happy. Little ones in high chairs, slighter larger ones in chairs, all happily munching from their colourful trays.
Now the kids are happy with the food, but what of the adults? It largely depends on whether you’d consider yourself to be a foodie or not. The buffet is international so although there is a small Korean corner, Japanese corner and Indonesian corner, the dishes are largely Western with plenty of grilled meats, salad bars, dessert trays and quite a tasty cheese table. Had I been presented with the same buffet in Sydney, I would have been very happy with both the quality and the variety, but I’m the kind of person who prefers to eat local cuisine when I’m travelling and sadly, aside from a couple of Indonesian dishes, there’s not a whole lot of Balinese to be had. I soon take to having my breakfast and desserts within Club Med but taking a cab five minutes down the road to Bumbu Bali where a mouth-watering set menu filled with shredded chicken and coconut and authentic satays sets my world on fire and only costs around $20.
Club Med also has a new fine dining restaurant The Deck, where you can eat al fresco on the decking at the water’s edge. Although it’s located right by the adult quarters of the Zen pool, children are welcome and indeed, it is a lovely space to sit and enjoy a lobster and a glass of wine. Dining under the stars, it’s hard to complain, but again, it would be nice if the menu could lean heavily on local dishes (it’s seafood).
Without a doubt my favourite dining feature of the resort is Kintamani, the main bar by the pool. Open day and night, you can grab a cocktail, mocktail, local wine or beer and a manner of soft drinks and juices and all are included in the all-inclusive package. If you’re after a bubbly, international wine or spirits however, you will have to pay extra. To my utter delight, I discover soon into my trip that it’s also the place to go to get Australian-standard coffee. The coffee at the buffet comes from a ‘one-touch button’ machine, but here at Kintamani, the barman/barista/psychologist is a dab hand at making a flat white and again, it’s free of charge. Well worth a walk across to the main bar early in the morning.
The first thing that strikes me about the property is just now well manicured everything is. I spend my first morning walking around inspecting the grass like I’m on an acid trip, asking myself if everything is real. The resort is set on 14 hectares of exotic gardens filled with colourful bougainvillea, hibiscus and tropical trees leading all the way down to the beach where the swimming spots are protected by natural stone breakwaters (although, there is a reef some 200 yards out which is a well-known surf spot). Straight after I note that not a single brown blade of grass can be seen, I am accosted by a well-meaning G.O who enquires whether I might be interested in taking part in their Flying Trapeze? (there’s a huge trapeze set-up on the grounds and their Flying Trapeze Academy has a range of circus activities for all ages).
Now, I can barely tie my shoelaces without falling into a heap so that’s a HELL-NO from me, but that doesn’t mean I’m out of luck. I can also choose to partake in any of the following activities – all of them included in the package: snorkelling, yoga, aquafitness, windsurfing, sunset cruising, golfing (they have their own golf course), guided walk, badminton, basketball, beach soccer, beach volleyball, squash, tennis, kayaking and more. I choose archery because I quite like the idea of shooting sharp things at targets and I get the feeling that I’ll be quite good at it. Well boy am I wrong! 30 minutes later I manage to nail everything but the board and I skulk off to the adults-only Zen pool to lick my wounds. After I send the following text to my husband, “Babe, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I am going to be of no use to you’. I pick up a book and read it poolside before heading to the spa for a heavenly 50-minute Balinese massage. I am much better at this.
I’ve seen some pretty dire kids clubs over the past six years but I’d heard nothing but good things about Club Med’s little people facilities. And even though I was already expecting the Earth, I am still pleasantly surprised by just how much the resort offers young families.
The clubs are divided into age groups from the brand new Baby Club Med (for those aged between four and 23 months) to Juniors’ Club Med (for 11 – 17 year olds) and each one is chock-full of age-appropriate activities.
Only opened in December, the soothing Baby Room is my favourite. The focus here is on early learning activities and motor skills and the experienced G.Os work tirelessly with their temperamental charges to develop their musical skills, art skills and dexterity. There’s a soothing sleeping room, change room and play room filled with bright and colourful Lamaze toys and books and happy babies crawl around the quiet environment inspecting the world through their tiny fingers (and quite often, their mouths). Open from 9am to 5.30om every day, this is the only kids facility that charges extra and although meals are included, nappies are not. There’s also a limit of 15 babies at any one time and the service is already proving to be hugely popular so you’ll need to book early. Bubs and tots must also be up to date with their vaccinations and you will need to present your baby’s vaccination record before they’ll book in your child.
The next cab off the rank is the Petit Club Med for the two and three year olds where they can engage in sport sessions, make art projects, put on shows and enjoy outdoor little persons pool complete with fountains just made for jumping about in.
Mini Club Med (for those age 4 – 10) also includes the above but also includes activities such as Little Circus, cookery lessons, nature activities, and fashion shows, while the Juniors’ (11 – 17) can choose to take part in activities that interest them most as well as take part in the evening entertainment which can include films and shows at the on-ground theatre.
Jumping castles (not one but five of them), popcorn and fairy floss machines are just some of the random kids activities and stalls you can encounter as you wander through the grounds. And if that’s not enough, you can also have a Club Med Baby Welcome which includes a personal welcome, delivery of baby products to your room and equipment such as prams organised for the duration of your stay.
Suffice to say, I wish I’d brought the kids. It would have been great to watch them enjoy the space so that I could get a better idea of just how suitable each activity was for their age groups. Still, I guess I can go off my six year old’s reaction – when I later show her pictures of the resort, she bursts into tears and tells me she she’s sad she missed out. Bad mum.
Although there are more than enough activities to keep you entertained at the Club Med compound, the property also has The Discovery Centre for those who are keen to take their Balinese adventure outside the front gates. Activities cover cultural tours that take in temples and volcanoes, eco tours which encompass everything from visiting local villages in a 4X4 and (ill-advised) elephant rides, dolphin watching and white water rafting – all at additional cost. I’m not sure how, but I agree to go on a 25km downhill bike ride through the Kintamani track which takes you through the stunning scenery of the rice fields and temples of the Ubud region.
I’ve recently had surgery so I cannot actually ride, but I tag along with the other keen cyclists in our group. Our guide Puto is a superstar with an infectious grin so I don’t immediately want to kill him when our first stop happens to be at what can only be described as the world’s most expensive cafe. Albeit in a scenic location, the cafe, perched on a lookout is home to Luwak coffee (basically coffee stewed from the faeces of the Luwak cat known to eat red coffee cherries). Sadly, the cats are not in the wild or kept in large enclosures, but kept 24/7 in tiny cages adjacent to the cafe so by the time we sit at the cafe, I’m crying behind my sunglasses. The regular coffees seem harmless enough and I order one. It’s only when the bill comes that I realise I miscalculated and that my 80c coffee is actually an $8 coffee and utterly undrinkable. Happily, the rest of the tour is gorgeous and takes us through villages, rice fields and traditional Balinese homes.
The lunch is included and while it looks gorgeous, it’s stone cold so we pay the driver extra to drive us into Ubud and drop us off at Dirty Duck Diner, which does a sensational crispy duck in a stunning garden setting.
We return back to Club Med incredibly satisfied and hit up the cheese buffet. Have I mentioned the brie and the crusty breads are to die for?
By day two I decide Club Med needs to televise the audition process that would be interviewing the people who will eventually make up the staff of GOs. Although they’re in guest relations and look after your kids during the day, they can all sing, dance and entertain the house like they’re rocking the Grammys and what’s more – they do it NIGHT AFTER NIGHT like it’s the very first time. Nightly shows are a Club Med trait and every evening, straight after the obligatory cocktails on the beach, guests are treated to what can only be described as a visual feast. There are death-defying circus shows on the pools, G.O shows such as Pride Land, foam parties and themed nights such as White Sensation and Out of Africa beach parties. The cocktails are flowing and everyone gets into the dress code. The shows are wildly impressive (and I’m cynical at the best of times) and if I were younger I would have gone crazy for the beach parties (the younger ones in our group love them), but considering 10pm now feels like 4am since I became a parent, I can only put in 30 minutes before I’m back in my room with a good book. Confessions of a Sociopath if you must ask, and yes, I totally recommend it. Frightening stuff.
It’s only been three days since I got back but I’ve already lost count of the number of times parents have asked me whether they should book themselves a holiday at CM Nusa Dua. To them (and you) I say, absolutely, but be sure to book a suite or insist on one of the new Deluxe rooms.
Foodies will grapple with the mostly Western menu, but it seems a small price to pay for the rest of the facilities – particularly the kids clubs and activities. Would I pay out of my own pocket to take my kids there? Abso-freaking-lutely – in fact, I plan to do so shortly. Watch this space!
Need to know
Where: Club Med, Nusa Dua, Bali
Cost: Club Med has a current last-minute offer priced at $1187 per adult for a seven-night stay, all-inclusive in a Club room. Flights not included. For rates, visit Club Med.
Internet: Included, but can be sketchy in some rooms.
Pool: The supervised main pool is the hub of the resort from young families to mums drinking cocktails in the sun, while the Zen pool is for adults only and while table service is a feature, alcoholic beverages are not allowed. There is also a pool within the spa and a toddler’s wading pool.
Meals: Choices for little ones are plentiful and baby foods are provided. The Agung restaurant is open from 7am to 10.15am for breakfast, 12pm to 2.15pm for lunch, and 6.45 to 9.15 for dinner. Deck is open for late breakfast (10am – 11.30am), late lunch (2pm to 3.45pm), snacking between 4pm and 6.30pm, and late dinner from 10pm to 11.15pm.
Going up: The list of activities reads like a novella and the attention to detail when it comes to kids clubs and their entertainment can’t be beat.
Going down: The introduction of a couple of Balinese stations within the international buffet would make all the difference in the world.
For further information, visit Club Med
DISCLAIMER: The writer was a guest of Club Med, Nusa Dua.