Eat, play, love: Bali with littlies

Bali ... a paradise with lots to do for parents and children of all ages.
Bali ... a paradise with lots to do for parents and children of all ages. 

The first time we took Ella to Bali, she wasn’t even a year old. I got some strange looks, as if I was unnecessarily risking her life by taking her to a dangerous country. She’s visited three times now, because Bali with littlies is wonderful: not only is security better than ever, and the Balinese the most family-loving people, some resorts are tailor-made for parents travelling with children. Here’s my tried and tested pick of Bali’s best family friendly resorts and villas.

Semara Resort and Spa: Affordable family resort with world-class, pay-as you-go kid’s club
Gold Coast entrepreneurs Tony Smith and his wife Simone have hit on a point of difference at their Seminyak resort, as they offer a world-class kids’ club where you pay as you go. The Cubby House Kids’ Club was designed by the Smiths, drawing on their experience in the travel industry running Australia’s Stella Group (formerly Breakfree Resorts). One of the things they looked for when travelling was a safe, fun place to leave their children so they could enjoy a quiet dinner or shopping on their own - a place where you didn’t have to be staying at the resort to access the kids club. Voila! Now all visiting families can access the sparkling 364sqm air-conditioned kids club, which offers movie theatres, an incredible craft room, toddler’s space, dress ups, library and wall-to-wall Internet stations and Playstations for two to 12-year-olds.

The accompanying 58-room Semara Resort and Spa is also amazing with its boutique feel, wonderful spa, excellent cuisine and prime location - from there, it’s a mere 150m to the beach, to the right is the hip Potato Head Beach Club, and a short walk away is the popular Ku De Ta restaurant/lounge.

Ella begged to be dropped off at the kids’ club every day, meaning we could enjoy childfree shopping and early romantic dinners. The resort also offers an excellent babysitting service, and the deluxe rooms are spacious enough to accommodate portacots and rollaway beds. Rooms start from $160 per night, while the resort also offers a 'Family Favourites' package. See www.semaraseminyak.com/special-events#family.

Ayana: Hip, cliffside family-friendly resort
Ayana Resort and Spa Bali, ranked among the world’s best hotels on the 2011 Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List, is one of Bali’s most glamorous yet family-friendly resorts. Perched on limestone cliffs above the Indian Ocean near Jimbaran Bay on Bali’s south-western peninsula, Ayana last year renovated its fun Kids’ Club and launched a new kids program to better cater for families. Children can burn off energy on the waterslides at Ayana’s children’s pool, take part in cultural activities, do a perfume-making class and explore the 77-hectare resort with putt-putt golf, tennis and other sports for older children. And all children receive a welcome gift (such as a teddy) upon check-in, and all babysitters have completed intensive training, including First Aid.

Families can catch a tropical sunset at Ayana’s fabulous rock bar, picnic on the resort’s own private beach and tuck into fresh seafood at Kisik Bar and Grill. While the kids are busy, Mum and Dad can enjoy the incredible Thermes Marins Bali Spa, or enjoy a romantic dinner on Ayana’s private jetty. You can splurge on a fabulous one- or two-bedroom private pool villa, where parents and children receive daily gifts (including rattles, wooden puzzles, Playdough and beach toys), and a butler attends to your family’s every need.

The nanny took expert care of Ella, leaving us to dine out and try the spa ... it goes without saying we left completely rested

The resort offers a Family Holiday package from US$299per room/night and US$668 per villa/night, including daily breakfast, one three-course meal and kids’ menu for the family, 50-minute Balinese massage and Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool session for two adults, one full-day kids’ Club and 30-minute kids’ yoga for two children, and return airport transfers. See www.ayanaresort.com/en/resort/special_offers.

The Amanusa: For beach babies and luxe-loving parents
We might be in Nusa Dua, with its sprawl of large-scale resorts, but at the Amanusa it’s a world apart. On check-in to one of their eight private pool villas, with its veil-draped four-posters, sunken baths and outdoor showers, everything is set up for our tired toddler (don’t make the mistake of booking a non-direct flight like we did the first time). They’ve thought of everything: there’s a baby basket with baby products, a portacot with mosquito net, a bottle warmer and more. And with notice, Amanusa’s staff can provide almost anything, from changing mats to baby buggies.

After a quick dip to wash away the fatigue of travelling, we head for the main lobby and its impressive fortified retreat feel, complete with frangipani trees and stylish touches. A staff member fetches bread for Ella to feed the fish in the lobby, and another brings Mum and Dad a cocktail. But we’re most impressed when the executive chef asks if he can run through a menu for Ella with us. The Amanusa has its very own dedicated baby (and children’s) menu. There are organic vegetables, steamed fish, and just about anything their little hearts desire. And nothing coming out of the kitchen is microwaved! That night we enjoy a romantic, private poolside dinner (babysitting is free for the first four hours) while Ella sleeps soundly. The next day they serve Ella fresh fruit as she takes a dip in the shallow end of the vast main pool, and later transport us to the Amanusa’s private beach club. Visit www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/amanusa.

Karma Kandara: For stylish, space loving families
You'd be forgiven for thinking you'd arrived in the Greek islands at the impressive Karma Kandara. Perched on a cliff high above the Indian Ocean in Uluwatu, this all-villa resort has stone bridges and pathways that meander through gardens, with 46 privately owned two- to four-bedroom villas. The owner was so impressed by the concept of an all-villa resort, having holidayed with his young family at traditional hotels where they were confined to one or two interconnecting rooms, that he launched the Karma concept, offering the privacy and space families seek at a villa stay, but with all the trappings of a resort. And the trappings are enticing: the fabulous di Mare restaurant and rooftop Temple Lounge with 180-degree ocean views, the Nammos Beach Club on one of Bali's best beaches, and the Karma Spa, managed by well-known Australian spa therapist, Judy Chapman.

The resort also offers the Karma Kids’ Club for two to 12-year-olds, an appealing children’s menu and two pools (the lower one ideal for younger kids). A nanny can be arranged for your stay. We were assigned ‘Annie the nanny’, a Balinese mother of four, who took expert care of Ella, leaving us to dine out and try the spa’s oxygen facial and infrared sauna in one of the world's most astonishing, cliff-hanging spa settings. It goes without saying we checked out completely rested. Visit www.karmakandara.com.

Alila Uluwatu: Five-star eco digs with top notch, kid-friendly staff
I had some idea of the service levels offered by Alila Uluwatu, an incredible 84-villa eco-designed property on Bali’s south coast, before we’d even arrived – I was emailed a menu asking what type of pillows we prefer, drinks we’d like in the fridge, and music we wanted pre-loaded on our iPod. But nobody told me about Uda, our personal, live-in butler for our week-long stay. You’re given a choice of the level of service you like before you arrive; from memory I ticked ‘discreet’, given we were spending time together as a family. But when I met Uda she sincerely asked if we would give her the honour of helping with our then 18-month “angel”, and Uda then elevated our stay at this property from excellent to incredible.

Yes, the property will blow you away with its drop dead gorgeous views, its fabulous cuisine, its sunset cabanas, fabulous spa, stunning pool villas and more, but it’s Uda we still talk about. She looked after Ella’s meals, minded her while we went for drinks or dinner, took her for outings on a golf buggy and to meet the other staff, played piggy back, washed her clothes and cried buckets when we left. I can’t guarantee you’ll get Uda if you book, but the hotel assures me there are other wonderful staff members just like her. Visit www.alilahotels.com/uluwatu.

Kerang Kembar: Chic pad for large family get-togethers
Karang Kembar Estate is a stylish cliff-top pad overlooking the Indian Ocean in the exclusive area of Bukit, and its secluded location makes it ideal for groups wanting to escape the bustle of Bali's main tourist spots. Decorated in neutral tones with eclectic artwork and antiques, our five-bedroom villa had three separate pavilions: a master sleeping pavilion with a cute nautical-themed children's bedroom with two sets of bunks, a guest wing, and a central living and dining pavilion surrounded by landscaped gardens. It sleeps 10-12 comfortably. We woke to ocean views from our private sundeck, reclined on funky love chairs designed for two, and bathed in a sunken bath surrounded by lanterns in a flower-fringed courtyard. You can start the day with an omelette and fresh juice served by your own chef (they’ll make whatever your kids want to eat) beside the infinity pool, which can be fenced on request; for dinner, tuck into pepes ikan (fish cooked in banana leaves) in the living pavilion with its floor-to-ceiling folding glass doors. A team of eight staff provides discreet service, and a car and driver (and baby seat) are on hand to take you to the estate's private beach club or the shops. Staff can also babysit, and are adept at entertaining littlies. From US$1000 per night in low season. Visit www.bali-karangkembarestate.com.

Read Sheriden's tips on travelling to Bal with kids, or share your own in the Essential Baby family travel forum.

Sheriden Rhodes is a travel writer and photographer who travels the globe with her ‘frequent small flyer’, Ella. You can follow their adventures and pick up family travel tips on the Frequent Small Flyer Facebook page