Years ago, I soaked up the words of a travel writer as he recounted how his global pursuits didn’t skip a beat after the birth of his children. He and his wife just strapped their brood on their backs and off they went.
So when my husband and I had our first child, I took these words to heart. We planned ambitious trips to Europe, the US and a handful of locations around Asia, all within one year of our daughter’s birth. The first trip – to the UK – coincided with the front-page grilling of Nick Buckles, CEO of the security firm hired for the British Olympics, who admitted to UK lawmakers that a personnel shortage had ended in “humiliating shambles”.
These two words became the mantra for the trip. There were more tantrums on this trip than could be believed. (And the baby got upset a few times, too.)
After a year of travelling with a baby, I found myself engaging in make-believe confrontations with Super Dad Travel Writer. Was he lying? Was he, similar to what happens after you give birth, suffering from memory lapses that made him forget the pain and tears? Were my husband and I not privy to the magic formula for free-and-easy travel with a newborn?
Perhaps there is truth in all three. (And maybe an itinerary covering eight US states in three days didn’t help matters.) So, as my daughter’s first birthday rolled around, we put aside our wounds, reassessed and booked the easiest trip we could think of – a weekend in Bali.
Bali: familiar, close, butler-service-from-morning-to-night Bali. But the old script of late nights in Seminyak and leisurely days of shopping in Ubud was going to need some revising. Family-friendly Nusa Dua came to mind, as I silently mourned the passing of villa-life in favour of a large resort along the island’s southern tip. The grieving period was short, however. A Conde Nast Traveller pick for Best New Hotels in the World in 2013, Nusa Dua’s The Mulia Bali has three types of accommodation – resort, all-suite hotel and yay, private villas, too.
So what exactly does it take to be named among the world’s best? The first criterion is to elicit a reaction from arriving guests that ranges somewhere between a jaw drop to a standing back tuck. The entire property is steeped in grandeur, with lobby ceilings that would turn a Gothic church green with envy, and décor that would make an interior decorator swoon. My laptop collection of interior design ideas – which on average gets about three additions a year – was blasted with shot after shot of furniture, vertical gardens and mosaics made out of broken pieces of dishware.
If everything is bigger in Texas, everything is even more massive at Mulia. And that goes for pools, rooms, views, artwork, floral arrangements and floating pavilions. It is as if no expense has been spared, even down to the dirtiest of details (the $6,000-plus automatic Toto toilet in our villa being one example). And though the Indonesian brand may not be a household name yet, this property proves you don’t need the words Ritz, Regis or Seasons to play with the big industry boys.
We are staying in one of the family villas, a butler-serviced 60-square-metre space with two bedrooms (the second is perfect for visiting parents, older kids or a helper), a hydrotherapy pool and a large outdoor pavilion. We are delighted with our villa. Baby is too. There is a Jacuzzi tub for extreme bubble play, a soft grassy area for her to practise her first steps, and a walk-in closet with a crib inside it that constitutes a sizeable upgrade from her room at home.
The villas are not totally private, but this won’t fuss the family set, who have long passed their strip-naked-and-frolic-about-in-the-pool phase of life. The villas are terraced towards the back of the property, and the wall facing the ocean has been knocked down to provide a piercing view of the ocean in the distance.
I unpack a small library of magazines and books (none of which pertain to “sleep training” in the slightest) and begin mentally making plans for morning yoga and a “four hands” massage at the spa. But then… a scream.
A tiny baby finger has found its way in between the front door and its frame. There’s blood, uncontrollable wailing and eventually a fingernail that doesn’t make it. But the villa butler shows up in a flash, calls in a hotel medic and helps to calm down a very upset trio dealing with what would become baby’s first injury (we’ve had a few more since).
With children, you come to learn that episodes like this – not to mention a cold or a sudden bout of stomach irritability – can happen anytime, anywhere (though trains and planes have a particular flair for attracting these events). I don’t recall “strap them on your back and go”-guy making any mention of this. But no matter, with nerves as sensitive as freshly whitened teeth, I keep my daughter at arm’s length as we swim, play in the grass and take buggy rides around the property courtesy of our two villa butlers, who act as babysitters, chauffeurs and travel agents all rolled into one.
They make arrangements for a sunset beach barbecue in Jimbaran the following day, and – despite my protestations – entertain our daughter while my husband and I enjoy relaxing meals at the Living Room, the private restaurant available to guests of the villas and suites. There we feast on grilled baby octopus with saffron potatoes for dinner and enjoy calm, waiter-serviced breakfasts (a welcome break from the usual bustling buffet) of fresh beetroot juice, lemon ricotta pancakes, dim sum and eggs Benedict with crab.
We prefer homemade over jarred (or, more currently, pouched) food for our daughter, which adds a further level of complication to the whole travelling experience. But it is no problem for the Mulia staff, who prepare a medley of veggies, fruit and grains into a puree or chunky mash at mealtimes. Our first night there, I request that a plate of ripe papaya be brought to our room before bedtime; one arrived, unrequested, every night thereafter, too.
The hotel is as beautiful and relaxing as it – and the accolades – promise, with enough wow factor to impress even the most well-travelled. As far as travelling with a baby goes, a Bali holiday is decidedly easier than hop-skipping across the Indian Ocean. But even the simplest holiday with children will never be completely carefree, no matter what some may say.
I slide my books and magazines, virtually untouched, back into my suitcase (on the other hand, strangely, hubby started and finished his book). Between dips in the pool, buggy rides and – okay, I did steal away for a massage at the super-lux spa – the weekend was as relaxing as one with a baby can be. Lesson learned – next time I’m packing a pair of grandparents along, too.
Family travel – three ways:
•For families looking for a resort experience (pools, people, activities, lots of restaurant choices), the Mulia Resort’s Junior Suite comes with marble flooring, a large patio and a sofa that converts into a bed; connecting rooms are also available.
•For a few more pennies, suites at The Mulia offer more space, balconies with a Jacuzzi and daybed, large bathrooms, separate dressing areas and spectacular ocean views.
•For a holiday splurge, the Mulia Villas are located at the highest point of the property and offer the most privacy, exclusivity and space. Guests of The Mulia and the Mulia Villas have access to private restaurants and pools; all guests of the property can use the spa, the gym and restaurants in the main resort.
For more information on all the accommodation options, head here.
Getting there: It’s a 20-minute drive from the new airport to The Mulia Bali, courtesy of the toll road bridge (also new) that has halved the time it takes to reach Nusa Dua.
Like this? Read more at our travel section.