Mercure Resort Sanur Beach – June 2015

Having only been exposed to crazy resort luxury and then the intensity of Seminyak, we were looking forward to head to the sleepy town of Sanur for a friends wedding. I loved the feel of Sanur as we drove through all the back streets on the way to the hotel. The vibe definitely felt less intense and more relaxed than the busy streets of Seminyak. A little less glam but with a lot more heart and balinese character.

There is something very special about an overseas wedding. Everyone is a little more relaxed, ready to party and very very excited about getting a holiday on top of a wedding invite. We came to the Mercure Resort ready to join the wedding party and promptly took over most of the hotel. Normally these events feel like you are at school camp, but with the property sprawling out to such a vast space it felt like an achievement to run into a familiar face. The property is lush and green, with cute little footpaths weaving through the variety of rooms and villas.

Our room is basic, with outdated and shabby decor and unfortunately very dark. But it was as cheap as chips, so not a lot of expectations on this one. We knew we wouldn’t be in the room much so it wasn’t that important. But let’s face it, you would always prefer to have a nice room even if you are in there for 5 minutes. There price sets the expectation that it will not be luxury to the max, but i was still disappointed in the quality of the room. The outdated decor aside …. nope, can’t put it aside, the bright red curtains really bothered me next to the orange and green pillows and bedding. My eyes, my eyes! The bathroom despite being clean did not FEEL clean.

Outdated fixtures like a wall hairdryer, and as described in previous bali posts it has been one of the most impressive features of the hotels i have stayed in so my hair was bitterly disappointed. Old shabby kettle which again is a shame as you know people are using it in a place where you cant drink tap water so are left with bottled or boiled water. The layout and design of the room left a lot of dead space – yes, the Deluxe room was much bigger than the superior room, but the space served no purpose other than an odd shaped room, and still only one window, leaving us feeling like we were in a dark damp dungeon. Not the beautiful holiday feel i was going for. Sneaking a peek into our friends superior room showed us that they were much better quality, and we instantly regretted our choice. Who assumes the absolute cheapest and bottom room would be the better pick?

Technology seemed to not be their strong point.  The telephone was so old school that it was a constant source of entertainment for my toddler. Probably not so much for the reception staff who she kept calling. We also had quite the issue with the room cards, and given the distance from our room to the reception, getting them updated FOUR times in a row, with a toddler in tow in crazy heat this was NOT a fun experience. Could really have done without that. The beds were also not great, with possibly the worst pillows ever. Luckily the amazing $10 massages on the beach could cure my poor sleeping posture. Heads up – privacy is not their forte so be mindful if you get carried away with the relaxation fairies and forget you are basically naked on the beach.

But heres the thing – you step outside the door and you are back in a tropical paradise, beautiful gardens with sweet little signs all around the place pointing out the local flora and fauna. The restaurant for breakfast is airy and open, by the pool and overlooking the ocean. Standard breakfast fare was on offer, but after three days we were in desperate need of a change. To be honest, after a week of holidays we were over breakfast everywhere and anywhere.

The pools were great – one in front of the restaurant and small enough for a quick dip and sun worship. The other is much larger, and quite deep which was such a joy after all the lap pools and waist deep pools of Bali. Not the biggest fan of swimming in the beach, the water quality not being up to scratch but with the beach lined with sun loungers there was nothing better than watching the jet skis and paraglider zoom past with all their activity….and have a snooze with a good book.

Must do

10,000 massages by the beach.
A visit to Angelique the hotel cow

http://www.mercureresortsanur.com/

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Courtyard by Marriott Bali Seminyak – June 2015

The ordering of hotel stays on a holiday is extremely important. Do you start with the luxury option to get your holiday off on the right foot? Or do you end with it so that the last thing you remember as you fly home is the amazing place that you now want to live at? We battled with this on our Bali trip, but fortunately this hotel was in the middle meaning we needed to stay in Seminyak, it was not going to be our luxury option, we just needed a clean, well priced hotel.

My first impression was that it was a nice hotel occupied by not very nice people. Which is a shame as it is not exactly something they can control. After staying in paradise (Rimba) we were not used to the hustle and bustle of a bigger town (Seminyak), the polluted and busy streets ( taxi mayem ) or having to deal with other guests (Australians). I am well aware that my passport identifies my nationality, but it is in places like this where i would rather hide, scared that i will be painted with the same brushstroke of ‘All the Aussies”. Because needless to say, as a group we do not travel well in places like Bali. The cheaper economy and services can inflate the ego – and we wanted nothing to do with this. So the check in process, surrounded by our countrymen and women meant that we were immiediately turned off. Again, not the fault of the hotel.

We booked the Courtyard by Marriott for the fact that it was brand spanking new. I love that new hotel smell. And by that i mean no smell. Oh until the last night where they decided it would be a great idea to do some painting in the hallway at 4pm? Our room of course was full of paint fumes, and unable to air the room by opening windows for fear of becoming a mosquito’s biffet dinner. Hoping it would pass (read:too lazy to have to pack and move rooms) we asked the hotel staff to see what they could do but it wasnt getting better so we had to move rooms. Couldn’t let the bub breath in those fumes, and despite hating ot have to ask to move the hotel staff were extremely apologetic for the issue and moved us with no hassle or issue. However i think we were charged by the bell boy though for helping us to move rooms? thought that was a bit cheeky.

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The rooms are well set up, not overly spacious but clean and well designed. A bit squishy travelling with a toddler cot, but we didn’t spend much time in the room as it is conveniently located in the heart of Seminyak so we had more exploring to do. No bath, just a big shower which has never bothered me before but now travelling with a toddler i really need to pay attention to this.

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The pool was great, with several different sections starting from the pool bar and running the length of the hotel. Giant cushions are like daybeds in the pool, lots of fun for the lazy swimmer. The issue with the pool however is the positioning as it barely gets any sun. A design flaw or perhaps a benefit if you are thinking of how harsh the Bali sun can be. As someone coming in to avoid the Sydney winter i want to soak up as much rays as i can so i found this was rather limiting. Theres also a pool bar, but its my standard response that i am not that keen on hanging in there as there is not a high turnover of people which means one thing. Whizzing in the pool.

The restaurant and buffet breakfasts were presented well, with lots of helpful staff and an array of food options. Its just that they were not that good. Given we had just come from Breakfast heaven (Rimba) it was a bit hard to swallow. Literally. But it was included in the already low room rate so not exactly something worth complaining about.

The kids club deserves a mention – great space with lots of toys and things to do for the kidlets. Mine was too small to leave by herself but we had a good play and ruined a few crayons and tabletops in the spirit of holiday games.

Stay here if you like
– new hotel with a budget price tag
– convenient location

http://www.marriott.com.au/hotels/travel/dpssm-courtyard-bali-seminyak/

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Rimba Jimbaran Bali by Ayana – June 2015

Arriving late in the night, bleary eyed and confused after a short (but long flight due to first overseas flight for our toddler). Said overtired toddler is camped on my hip and i get an overwhelming feeling of being ripped off by cab drivers and ATMs from the moment we touched down. The taxi ride is thankfully short and as we weave through the darkness of the Rimba/Ayana grounds we can smell the luxury. The staff open our taxi door and present us (including bub) with frangipani lei’s and a fruit cocktail, resetting our impression of Bali in an instant. Arriving at night robs us of the opportunity of viewing our surroundings, but as it was a significant drive from the property entry to the hotel we know that this is one amazing resort.

Sister of the famous Ayana, Rimba is much more modern and fresh compared to the more traditional and old school luxury of Ayana. Staying at either hotel means you can take the shuttle every 10 mins and cover the whole property including six pools, waterfront spa, cocktails bars and a range of restaurants covering every cuisine. The property is massive and worth exploring – 90 hectares in total, running all the way down to Jimbaran Bay. The lush gardens and manicured lawns are a testament to the large contingent of gardening staff busy at work every day behind the scenes. High up in the mountains, Rimba is split over many levels, providing ample vantage points to take in the scenery or the people watching. And boy is that amusing – the amount of selfie sticks reached critical level on this holiday.

Taking the shuttle down to Ayana, it is all about old school luxury. Beautiful sandstone stairs lead down to a huge outdoor dining space and outdoor pool. Overlooking the Indian ocean, it is incredibly peaceful to stare out and get lost in your thoughts – kind of wishing you were swimming in it, but then happy to have a full service bar at your fingertips. Staff bring around your drink orders and constantly offer free snacks which i cannot refuse.

The time to be at Ayana however is at sunset. Drives of tourists flock to the clifftop bar and the more impressive Rock bar. With a toddler it was never going to happen for us, but a quick peek past the big line of eager drinkers displays an amazing bar with arguably one of the best drinking views you could ask for. A pretty special treat, and one i would be keen to return and try…..rather than just wistfully stare at.

pools pools pools

pools pools pools

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But let’s get to my main priority on a summer holiday – the pool. Oh the pools. Six in total, we managed to try at least four and no matter where you were they were so oversized that it never felt crowded. Beautiful daybeds and mini rooms in the shade means that you can be secluded from all the “stresses” of holiday life. Pool chairs IN THE POOL were blowing my mind, meaning i never had to chose between tanning and swimming as i was basically doing both at the same time. My only gripe was that the waterslide was only for kids. And that our kid was not big enough to enjoy it solo. As i am a giant child i was gutted i couldn’t have a go, but live and learn.

And my other main holiday squeeze – overeating. The breakfast buffet was not cheap, but beyond amazing. Understandlng their guests meant that what was on offer could satisfy even the most fussiest traveller, with traditional Indonesian, Japanese, Korean and American style breakfast dishes all displayed for the eyes bigger than your stomach breakfast diner. There was even a PASTRY ROOM. that was the end of me, a room with a never-ending supply of tasty treats, cakes, muffins, Indonesian sweets that all needed to be sampled and led to what i feel could be self-inflicted diabetes.

GIMG_3600etting to the rooms – the rooms are a little disco, and a lot of luxury. The decor is modern and a bit blingy which while it doesn’t really suit the beach atmosphere, i actually loved it. The standard rooms have a giant circular spa tub and a complicated shower with a rain shower head, normal shower head and not a very straight forward way of turning it all on.

IMG_3605IMG_3602The bed is comically oversized – the biggest king size bed since we first stayed in Claska Tokyo (the famed two large double beds pushed together in perfect harmony). It may require a loud-speaker to talk to my partner, but the space is heavenly.

Our room had a great daybed and balcony – not much of a view as we were in one of the cheaper rooms, but i was happy with the greenery and the local friendly cows outside. IMG_3611

lobby

The lobby is a must see, sunset is best where they roll out a violinist to play out on the edge of the pool. No joke.

sunset in the lobby

sunset in the lobby

And lastly, a big shout out to the staff. So kind and considerate to us with a toddler in tow, but nowi really get why so many Aussies bring their families here. The kids are treated like royalty, everyone stops to say hello and ask their name. And getting a signed farewell card on our last day at breakfast was just too much.

Stay here if you like

– insane luxury
– express entry to the rock bar
– incredibly friendly and organised staff

Walamba House, Pearl beach – July 2014

The fireplace. It was all about the fireplace. Five adults, one baby, cold weather. It was always going to be about the fireplace.

For a quick weekend away, you can’ beat the central coast. We found our way back there again, this time in winter, to have a different beachside break. I love the idea of a winter escape in the countryside, but somehow i always manage to find myself back near the water. My fear of floral bed speeds sent me running from the hills (or more precisely the blue mountains) and not wanting to travel more than an hour out of Sydney we settled on Pearl Beach.

Photo from Stayz.com

Photo from Stayz.com

We stumbled upon Walamba House after a quick stayz search, and as we were travelling with a few mates it was a perfect size and price. The house is warm and inviting with a large open dining, kitchen and lounge area perfect for entertaining. The layout and decor was simple, modern and stylish – a holiday house i would happily call my own. The owners popped the heaters on before our arrival which i thought was the most kindest gesture ever. Once we got sorted, it was straight to the fireplace where city hipsters become experts in wood preparation, fire starting and maintenance. The log fire was burning all weekend long, anchoring the house and providing something more interesting to watch than the tv.

The three bedrooms were decent sized, with one specifically set up for kids which i filed away for future reference. Super dense, thick mattresses that envelope you like a giant hug as you settle in for the evening..:: that is once you have already fallen asleep on the comfy couch in front of the fire. Yes I could get used to this. The linen and decor were sweet and homely – not outdated and “leftover” like many holiday houses on the coast can be. However, we found out Pearl Beach is considered the Double Bay of the Central Coast so it was not surprising.

Given the cold weather we spent most of our time in front of the fire, however when we did venture outdoors we found a backyard which backs straight onto bushland with some furry friends. Apparently the local bush turkeys were very keen on the delicious BBQ we had the night before and were hoping for some leftovers. Leaving the house, the beach is only a short walk away, with a local grocer, coffee shop and restaurant along the water which would have been great if we had not brought half of the Meat Emporium’s contents with us from Sydney. Meat sweats is an understatement.

All in all, a perfect weekend away, making a mental note to return in the warmer months…

Walamba House
http://www.pearlbeachhouse.com/

Crowne Plaza Terrigal – April 2014

First trip away with the small person. It was always going to be a big deal, but what i was not ready for was her first 8 hour straight sleep the night before resulting in feeling like i had more energy than a million cans of red bull. I could have probably run all the way to Terrigal. So in other words, things were off to a good start.

The Central Coast is always a convenient Sydney weekend break, and the Anzac day long weekend was the perfect trial of first family getaway. The drive was easy, the hotel large and family friendly. Those last words still make me shudder, the boutique hotel lady inside me cringing at the thought that i will need to change my travel patterns and preferences. But fear not, it will only be for a short time and i will sure as hell find the most beautiful and luxurious family places if that’s what i have to do.

The Crowne Plaza is on the main street along the waterfront and is realistically the only big hotel in town. It was busy with families seeking the last of the summer sun, so the pool area was packed but manageable. The rooms come with king size beds and are spacious enough for the additional furniture now required in our room in the form of a travel cot. There were some issues setting it up, with a few different hotel staff needed to be called to figure it out (first time parents / first holiday = don’t look at us, we have no idea), but with perseverance we got there in the end. The hotel has had a refresh fairly recently so the rooms felt fresh and clean, even if the hotel corridors exposed what was previously hiding beneath.

In terms of dining, there are plenty of great options nearby, relieving us of having to ear at the hotel. In saying that, the beer garden was pumping being the Anzac Day long weekend, with cover bands ( cringe) and a fairly standard pub menu which would have suited us fine (except for the said covers bands that was just too much to bear). Local picks are Bellyfish cafe for breakfast, N Thai Sing (best name ever) for a quick thai lunch or dinner, and Rojo Rocket for the best mexican a short drive away.

Stay here if you like

– a quick drive from Sydney

– big hotel experience – i.e you have a family

http://www.crowneplazaterrigal.com.au/

Loxley Cottage, Lovedale

A group trip to the Hunter Valley to celebrate the nuptials of a beautiful couple, this very pregnant lady was looking for comfort and value for money.The Hunter can be damn expensive, particuarly so in wedding season.

Out of town weddings can be a hoot – except when you are a million weeks pregnant, can’t drive 2.5 hours without 5 comfort breaks, can’t drink or eat most ‘fun’ wedding food. But it meant booking a house to stay with my wonderful friends so it all balanced out.

Loxley Cottage is a lovely house plonked in the middle of a farm. Like a proper farm with cattle and fences that need to be opened and closed to keep the cattle in. And due to an enormous downpour on the drive up and overnight it was a giant mud bowl. But we had bought into the whole country spirit so it didn’t really bother us.

The house is spacious and simple – which is all you need for a weekend trip. Four bedrooms that can accommodate couples or small families, small bathrooms which were a bit of a pain for 8 guests (but we managed) and a small kitchen for us to pack with food for 50 people, an overwhelming amount of tea & gossip magazines. The couches are big & comfy and wrap around windows make for a peaceful outlook.

What was not so peaceful was the freight train line that runs RIGHT NEXT TO THE HOUSE. Didn’t see this one on the brochure. Luckily i was awake every 2 hours anyway (being one million weeks pregnant as mentioned above) and the rest of the crew were drunk from the wedding so it wasn’t a deal breaker. But dear lord, was it a fright the first time we heard it.

Loxley Cottage isn’t going to win a luxury award anytime soon, but given you can pay $300+ a night for an average hotel in the Hunter, i would definitely give this place a go again.

Loxley Cottage, Lovedale