We just got back from a week in Bali at Club Med. This was my first time staying at an inclusive resort, and I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard good things about the resort from friends in SG, and it seemed like the best chance of making all three generations happy.
I walked away feeling mostly positive about the experience, but I don’t know that I’m likely to do it again. Let me unpack why both of those things are true.
I spent a lot of time looking for hotel/resorts with kids clubs. Due to Rhiannon’s age (and the fact that she is not yet potty trained) our choices were limited. We thought that the girls would have more fun in a kids club environment and would want to spend all their time there. In the end they only spent two days out of seven at the kids club.
It’s pretty obvious in retrospect, but they just wanted to hang out with us. I was so focused on giving them “opportunities” that I didn’t stop to think if they’d actually want them.
Generally speaking, I prefer vacations where there’s a lot of exploring. I like to wander cities. I want to see the “real” place that I’m visiting. However, after the November we had just (barely) survived, the idea of going somewhere and doing nothing felt like bliss. In theory. It was good for about three or four days. Then I got antsy. But I also didn’t really have the energy to sit down with a guidebook and come up with my own agenda.
Unlike my trip to Cambodia, I also had to take into account that my kids really don’t have the patience for temples, and my in-laws would not necessarily enjoy what I like either. We did a one day excursion where we visited Ubud’s Monkey Forest and saw batik and silver shops in the morning and did an elephant trek in the afternoon, organized through the resort. Another day Ravi and I took Elanor (who we’ve called Turtle since her birth) to the Turtle Conservation and Education Centre. Apart from that, we stayed on property.
I’m pretty conflicted about that. Yes, I needed a downtime vacation, but I also feel like I haven’t really visited Bali. Effectively I have a visa in my passport that I don’t feel like I earned (unlike my Cambodia trip where I spent all but one afternoon exploring).
I think going forward, while I liked some amenities of Club Med (more in a minute) I don’t want to stay somewhere that makes it too easy to be so isolated again.
None of this means that the experience was bad or that Club Med is bad. Once I was able to summon the energy to try some organized fun, I spent a morning doing archery with my father-in-law while Ravi cheered us on. I tried snorkeling for the first time. I took Elanor kayaking, and Ravi and my father in law kayaked nearby. I was also going to pick up a tennis racket for the first time in 19 years, but Elanor got sick.
I’ve always wanted to try snorkeling, but it’s never been so easily accessible as it was at Club Med. As I’m the only person in the family with an interest, I’ve not looked for the opportunity before, assuming I’d try it on a trip to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef at some point in the future, or in the Bahamas on a cruise or some other opportunity down the line. It was probably my favorite part of the trip, even if the only means I have of identifying fish are their animated counterparts in Finding Nemo.
The variety of things to do made most of us happy over the course of the week. There was the family pool, but there was also the adult pool, which was blissfully quiet. There was a spa that my mother in law enjoyed, and a beach that the girls enjoyed excavating.
There is absolutely something to be said for the organized activities. The flip side is that they’re organized, so you have to be at a place at a certain time to do them. Your mileage may vary on whether this works for you or not.
I didn’t, but should have given real forethought to how limited my food choices would be at an inclusive resort. The food is not spectacular–they’re making it for massive crowds and the flavors can’t be too intense because of the variety of palates. So I found myself at dinner one night describing a curry as bland. Which are not typically words I would use in the same sentence. When we finally left the resort to eat out, it was like nirvana.
So yes, plenty of food–the kids certainly enjoyed the all access pass to ice cream–but not necessarily tasty food. I’ve asked around and this is absolutely not a specific to the property thing–this is part and parcel of the inclusive experience. That said, apart from breakfast and the occasional room service order, part of staying at a regular property means that you’re out and about to try a different restaurant every day (and another reason I prefer them).
I think that whether you like the inclusive resort experience is very personal. I know people who LOVE this sort of vacation and do so regularly. I know people who have never and would never do it. Then there are people like me for whom it’s not a first choice, but I’d never say never. In many ways it was absolutely the right fit for our family. But I also don’t particularly want to have a similar vacation any time soon.
If I were to do an inclusive resort again in the future I think I’d probably go for a shorter duration than a week; three or four days. A week felt like it was just too long for that sort of sheltered environment. I think that a cruise might fit my personality better when it comes to the inclusive experience–the on board scheduled fun mixed in with travel and seeing different cities/ports over the course of a vacation. One of my dearest friends regularly does Disney cruises with her family, and another friend did one this past year–both rave about it. So that’s a possibility.
In my next post I’ll review Club Med Bali