Anthony Dennis takes it easy on a package holiday in Bali.
The last time I visited Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport I was fleeced by two well-practised baggage hall porters who, uninvited, collected our luggage at the carousel, once they’d seen us identify it as ours. They steadfastly refused to release each of the pieces until I handed over a $US20 bill, which one of them had spotted in my wallet when I’d opened it, as a tip for transferring our bags a tiny distance.
A few years later, we’ve just flown in from Sydney and I can barely reconcile the airport’s transformation. It has come over all Changi-like. Gone are the faintly charming, ramshackle Third-World facilities. Gone too, as far as we can see, the dodgy porters.
In their place is a gleaming new terminal building, the result of a multi-million dollar transformation, with an enormous and impressive traditional Balinese-style pagoda and teak roof, a proper, modern baggage hall, VIP lounges, shopping and more.
Happily, this time our passage through the airport is like an early evening tropical Balinese breeze thanks to the official fixer included in our My Bali package. He’s listed as a “VIP concierge service” and is designed to assist guests through the usual tedious airport formalities, including our luggage, which he collects from the carousel and places on a trolley. It certainly makes a difference to our arrival and before we know it we’re outside in the fresh, if steamy, Balinese air, with me, this time, reaching into my wallet for a far less grudging gratuity.
We’re presented with a My Bali-branded tote bag of gifts which includes a sarong, cap, organic aloe vera after-sun lotion and insect repellent. Then we’re whisked off in a comfortable air-conditioned private vehicle to Nusa Dua for our accommodation, travelling across Bali’s new noodle-like network of freeways built just in time for last year’s APEC meeting (the one where, you may remember, Vladimir Putin blanked Tony Abbott – even though they were sitting next to each other during the conference sessions).
APEC was held at the Bali International Convention Centre which is operated by the Westin Resort Nusa Dua, which is adjacent to the centre and our accommodation for the package holiday.
Nusa Dua, the resort equivalent of a giant gated community, can feel a bit remote from the action on the rest of the island. But there’s the bonus of it having a checkpoint at which all vehicles are inspected before being allowed to proceed. It’s clearly something that would have attracted Vlad, Tony and the gang and it provides a modicum of peace of mind for the rest of us, too.
The Westin is one of the island’s longest-standing resorts. But, in a piece of impeccable timing, our stay coincides with the completion of a major multi-million dollar refurbishment at the resort. Nevertheless, our arrival, check-in and welcome drink all takes place in the vast and slightly-dated original wing.
Not far from reception is the new wing, designed to blend in with the older part of the resort and consisting of nearly 100 rooms. We’ve scored a spacious deluxe garden room with the new wing complete with its own lagoon-style swimming pool and, thoughtfully, something called The Living Room, designed as a relaxation space for guests who are between flights and unable to access their rooms or who have already checked out.
But one of the resort’s best and most stylish new features is the lavish new signature Heavenly Spa, which has 16 spa treatment rooms. Best of all, the spa is open between 6am and midnight, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble securing a booking. Don’t forget to allow time during your visit to enjoy the steam room, Himalayan-salt sauna and hydro-pool before your treatment or massage since access is complimentary. Couples can book treatments in the same room as each other.
Are there better spa treatments than those of the Balinese? Based on my own treatment, I think not. The spa’s menu of therapies include locally-sourced ingredients such as seaweed for elemental wraps, sea salt and even coffee scrubs (make mine a flat white with one, thanks), drawing on “ancient healing practices” such as yoga, meditation and Balinese healing.
If you’re travelling as a family the spa is the perfect retreat from the children, who can be entertained at the fully-supervised Westin Kids Club. It features a toddlers’ area, for children up to three, a kids’ area for those between four and 12 and a teens’ zone for kids 12 and above. And the resort also includes its own Westin Kids Spa, which offers pedicures, manicures, massages and even mini-facials.
The Westin Nusa Dua Resort is big and flat but not so huge that you can’t easily stroll or walk around it meaning that buggies, and the often interminable wait needed for them at other resorts, aren’t really necessary.
Off-shore from the beach, glass-bottomed boats bob, ready to take you on a cruise around the reefs beyond the resort. They’re not sanctioned by the resort and they can be a bit of a rip-off if you don’t bargain firmly but it’s a fun diversion and there is the bonus of contributing to the local community.
We pass our packaged days with a combination of the requisite sloth as well as forays outside the resort to places like Seminyak, Bali’s colourful upscale shopping strip; the Mozaic Beach Club (a spin-off of one of the island’s finest restaurants in Ubud), located at Kerobokan (home of Bali’s most notorious one-star resort) – and an unforgettable day tour of the magnificent World Heritage-listed rice terraces in the interior.
By the time we have to leave we’re comforted by the knowledge that, back at Ngurah Rai, our package includes access to a VIP lounge prior to the flight and the same VIP concierge service through customs and immigration. It helps keep you Bali-relaxed virtually all the way home.
Anthony Dennis is Fairfax Media’s national travel editor. He travelled as a guest of My Bali.
Prices, including flights and accommodation, start from $1990 a person from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. My Bali offers return flights from Sydney to Denpasar with Virgin Australia. Phone 1300 33 24 54 or see the website.
The package includes 10 nights in a deluxe garden room at the Westin Resort Nusa Dua, with a full breakfast daily for two adults.
My Bali also offers up to $US750 ($800) of bonus wine, dine and spa credit, exclusive My Bali VIP concierge services, with an express escort through customs and immigration at the airport and access to a VIP lounge at the airport on your departure.
An excellent package deal, with quality accommodation from a respected brand like Westin.
The Westin Resort Nusa Dua – while terrific overall and a perfect choice for families – is a tad conservative, especially in terms of its hotel-style rooms. But My Bali offers other choices, including the funkier Le Meridien at Jimbaran Bay, though it comes with fewer facilities.
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The Westin Nusa Dua has its own private Indian Ocean sandy beach frontage, as well as the largest “freeform freshwater pool” in Bali as its centrepiece. If you must sweat there’s golf, tennis, cycling and more land and water activities available.
The Westin’s brand new, stylish Heavenly Spa should be able to service your every therapeutic need. If that’s not enough, consider a jaunt up to Ubud, which now bills itself as a world spa capital.
There’s no shortage of restaurants at the Westin Nusa Dua, including the family-friendly Prego inside the new accommodation wing. And don’t miss the more traditional Ikan.
There’s a good, small shopping mall at the resort. If you’re in need of yet more retail therapy, take a hotel car or taxi to Seminyak, about 50 minutes, depending on traffic.
My Bali offers a private car and driver for periods of between four and eight hours, allowing you to discover Bali at your leisure. There’s a Nusa Lembongan Island cruise and an Ubud cultural tour available too.