Sometimes all you really want to do on a holiday is lie by a pool, right? And after the stresses of the past two years, a recent bout of COVID-19, a miserable summer and an even wetter start to winter, the tropical warmth of Bali and the safety net of an all-inclusive resort seem incredibly appealing – particularly since I'll be travelling with my eight-year-old granddaughter.
"What would you like to do on our trip to Bali?" I ask Ellie.
"Swim in the pool," she responds without hesitation. Alright then, your wish is my command: on this five-day holiday, we'll make the most of resort life, throwing ourselves into all the activities and facilities – including that much desired swimming pool – with the challenge being, can we still have a rewarding experience staying within the confines of the hotel?
Of course, the fact that Club Med Bali, which sits on 500 metres of beachfront in Nusa Dua on the south-east peninsula of Bali, is enormous, gives us a head start. On one day alone I walk more than 14,000 steps, pretty much just ducking between the main pool and back to our room to fetch forgotten goggles, recharge my phone and scoop up my computer in a pretence of work.
The statistics alone are exhausting: 391 rooms set on 14 hectares of tropical gardens; four pools, two restaurants, two bars, a theatre, a six-hole golf course, six tennis courts, squash, badminton, archery … get me back to my pool lounger already, and yes, I will have another pina colada.
But sloth is not in the lexicon of Energiser Bunny Ellie. She wants to do it all, right now, without a pause in the proceedings. So after a hefty dose of main pool action – including a pool party with unicorn and flamingo floaties, an aqua aerobics lesson and an inflatable bridge challenge - I decide to enrol her into Mini Club Med+ so she can play with children her own age and allow me to indulge in a spa treatment, yoga under the palm trees, and some "me" time in the adults-only Zen Pool.
This is where Club Med comes into its own. Its kids' club is unsurpassed, with more activities and dedicated space than I have seen anywhere. Participation for four to 10-year-olds - as well as teens aged 11-17 – is included in the all-inclusive package (babies from four months and toddlers can be looked after for an extra fee), with activities ranging from circus skills to taking centre stage in their own night-time show.
Leading the organised mayhem with unflagging enthusiasm and energy are Club Med's legendary G.Os, or Gentils Organisateurs, a term coined in 1950 when the first Club Med opened in the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain. Seriously, these young men and women have boundless talents. As well as being trained in childcare, they double as dancers and performers in evening entertainment and are on duty from breakfast till the glow party ends. For young extroverts, it must be a dream job, if they can handle the unrelenting pace.
The Mini Club Med+ program is not just a babysitting service, however. Revamped in July 2022, it has been developed along the principles of Positive Education, nurturing soft skills such as adaptability, resilience and emotional intelligence. The idea is to encourage children to find their feet, take pride in learning new skills, feel inclusion and to leave feeling fulfilled and more grown up.
I see this in action during Ellie's first attempts at the incredible on-site circus school. Having already had several jumps on a bungee trampoline, she's not at all fazed by this; but with some encouragement from the circus team, she not only leaps up and down, but manages to pull off not one, but two backward flips and a forward flip, which leaves her grinning from ear to ear.
The flying trapeze, however, presents greater challenges – the first being getting up there. The ladder to the seven-metre launch platform has the wobbles; and so do Ellie's legs, trembling with fear and a surge of adrenaline. Panicking, she gives up less than two metres off the ground, claiming she can't do it. Rather than push her, the team gently suggests she watch other children, see how safe they are, and to come back the next day for another attempt. I also make a deal with her – if she has a go, so will I – an act of bravado I may live to regret.
The next day, we're back at the trapeze rig; this time, she's up the ladder like a squirrel, her fear miraculously overcome. I can't help but feel a surge of grandma pride as she steps onto the board, following instructions as she reaches for the dangling bar, the instructor keeping a firm hold of her harness. Then, he literally kicks her feet from under her, sending her swinging through the air, legs akimbo.
Try as she might, she doesn't quite have the core strength or coordination to get her legs over the bar; but the joy on her face as she is gently lowered to the net speaks volumes. "I loved it," she gushes, immediately asking for another turn. "And now you have to do it too, Ju-ju," she gloats as she rolls off the net onto terra firma. Thanks, kid.
The Mini Club Med+ delivers other new and fun experiences which encourage connection and confidence. Ellie has her first attempt at archery, takes part in a treasure hunt, dresses up and parades through the resort for Bastille Day celebrations, and rehearses for the evening show, which she ends up missing, due to sitting for hours in the Spa having her hair braided (a rite of passage for every little girl under the age of 12 who visits Bali).
Family time is also encouraged, with daily "Amazing Family" activities including sandcastle building, a Balinese cooking class, Balinese massage lessons, arts and crafts, and afternoon garden parties with jumping castles, a slip 'n' slide, tie dye t-shirt making and kid-friendly snacks. For an eight-year-old, it's heaven on a stick.
Meal times are also an adventure. This is my first time staying at an all-inclusive resort, and my fears that the food will be bland and unappetising are allayed during our first buffet breakfast, where cuisine "corners" include Indonesian, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese selections as well as egg stations, pastries, and fresh fruits and juices. Ellie can barely contain her excitement, proudly returning to our table with a bowl of Milo cereal. So much for culinary experimentation.
Balinese barbecues by the pool are an easy lunchtime solution, as is the dinky little Makan on Wheels food truck conveniently parked near our guest room, serving freshly-cooked Balinese staples including grilled satay sticks and Nasi Goreng. We also make a dinner reservation one night at the resort's "posh" restaurant, The Deck, dressing up for the occasion to enjoy a three-course seafood-based menu (for me) and spaghetti bolognaise.
A highlight for us both is dinner under the stars during the resort's Bastille Day celebrations, with an astonishing buffet (freshly carved tuna sashimi, local lobster, a spit roast, fondues, Indian curries and a delectable dessert table with lashings of red, white and blue) followed by an aerial display from the circus team and fireworks over the ocean.
It's all so easy, so pleasingly mindless. There's certainly something liberating about not having to think about dinner - where to go, making a booking, how to get to there and back; and with on-site options such as The Deck to up the ante, I don't feel the urge to venture beyond the resort in search of a decent meal.
In fact during our five-day visit, we don't actually leave the resort, except to walk along the beachfront of Nusa Dua. On that stroll, however, we pass several little temples (there are five in the grounds of Club Med alone), so Ellie receives a truncated lesson in Balinese beliefs as I explain the offerings left for the gods.
Temples, statues and satay sticks aside, could we have been anywhere in the world? Perhaps. But did either of us feel we were missing out by not taking an outside excursion, visiting the sights or ticking off the Balinese "must dos"? Not one iota. What we did have was a real holiday, one that left us relaxed, refreshed and closer as a family.
And in case you're wondering, I did attempt the trapeze, though admittedly my core is not what it used to be, and I, too, failed to get my legs over the bar. The eight-year-old and her granny are even on that score.
All-inclusive packages at Club Med Bali cost from $1595 a person including full board, bar with cocktails and house wine, beer and spirits, all kids' club activities (4-17 yrs), sports and activities. See clubmed.com.au
Julie Miller travelled as a guest of Club Med.