In Which We Visit an All-Inclusive

Barely two weeks into our period of settling down, and I’m thoroughly in need of a holiday. So we decide to take up an offer of a jolly to not one but two all-inclusive five stars down in South Bali.

Neither of us have ever stayed at an all-inclusive resort before. But… hey! It’s gratis. And the boy DOES love a buffet.

Further, as I’ve never done the holiday-making thing on Bali – only the long-term travel thing, and those two things are VERY different – I’m quite fascinated to see it.

On the agenda? Not only all-inclusive hotels, but TWO shows, another thing I’ve not done on Bali.

There’s not a lot I can do about our baggage – one very nearly defunct fake North Face backpack, which has easily repaid the £20 I spent on it and should, probably, be pensioned off, now that it’s missing sundry critical-to-most-people-but-not-me items, like zip tags and straps – but we do trade in the dinged and dingy rental bike for a taxi.

All-inclusive, here we come.

There appears to be a need to specify that booze consumed before 11am has to be paid for. Do people REALLY start that early? Blimey.

The hotel in question is the Grand Mirage Resort, in Nusa Dua, the marketing name for the blobby bit right at the bottom of Bali which locals call the Bukit.

Green and pleasant grounds lead to a beach scattered with those gorgeous four-poster sunbed affairs that look so fancy it seems a shame to spoil them by sitting on them. There is a Thalasso spa, where we enjoy massages, and an expansive pool.

And – somewhat to my surprise – there are a tonne of different restaurants.

Because all-inclusive nowadays doesn’t have to mean buffet! There’s an Italian restaurant, with surprisingly good carpaccio, a waterfront restaurant, with a rather good smoked salmon, quail’s egg and green bean salad, drizzled with ye obligatory truffle oil, a Chinese restaurant and, yes, a buffet…

Further, local booze is included in the price – although, alarmingly, there appears to be a need to specify that booze before 11am has to be paid for. Do people REALLY start that early? Blimey.

Everything you could need – from food, booze and spa to watersports, pools (plural), movies and kids club (another holiday essential that rather mystifies me) are supplied within the holiday bubble.

All-inclusive resorts are curious places. They’re set up, rather like tourist hotels in the Gambia, so you don’t need to leave the grounds for any reason – and, if you do, that’s likely to be by hotel car, en route to a hotel-organised excursion (they can arrange most things, from white-water rafting to diving).

Everything you could need – from food, booze and spa to watersports, pools (plural), movies, evening entertainment and kids club (another holiday essential that rather mystifies me) are supplied within the holiday bubble.

It’s noticeable, in fact, that we’re the only people who appear to walk anywhere, and we don’t exactly go far. Everyone else arrives at the hotel by car, and leaves, when the rare occasion calls for them to do so, by car as well.

Most guests seem to lie by the pool. Not that I’m averse to lying by pools, particularly, especially when equipped with a good book, but there’s a general absence of books and it seems – well, it seems a bit of an odd way to spend a holiday, really. Just lying in the sun, not doing very much.

We take a kayak out, which is fun, although we can’t take it very far because of jetskis and boat traffic, and when it comes to sea kayaking, I like a destination, like an island (and, yes, I know I’m spoilt).

So… we spend most of our time discussing what to eat, and where.

I am slightly nervous about this activity, since it’s both touristic and folkloric, an adjectival double-whammy that would usually bring me out in hives.

For our first evening, we’re headed to Nusa Dua, and the Devdan Show, which is run by the same folk who own the hotel. I am slightly nervous about this activity, since it’s both touristic and folkloric, an adjectival double-whammy that would usually bring me out in hives.

The Devdan Show is a Cirque de Soleil style tour of the Indonesian archipelago, including plenty of places we have visited. And Papua! Which, for all our best intentions three years previously, we haven’t. Yet.

“Oooh!” I say to the boy. “I hope they have penis gourds!”

They do. And…

It’s actually rather splendid. There is sound, light, acrobatics, cute kids, outstanding corde lisse, dazzling costumes, beautiful sets, cool lighting and recognisable dramatisations of cultures from across the archipelago. One of the designers did indeed work with Cirque de Soleil, and it shows.

Ticket prices give me pause – they start from $40 per adult and $20 per under-12, with various discounts for group bookings kicking in once there’s more than two of you, making it one of Bali’s more expensive evenings out – but this is definitely something we’d consider doing with visitors who haven’t seen much of Indonesia.

There’s something rather sybaritically pleasant about having nothing – literally nothing – to think about other than what to eat next, and where, and when.

For evening two, another activity that both of us feel slightly nervous about. Because, yes, it’s both folkloric and touristic.

This is the kecak dance, a type of Balinese dance developed for (predominantly) Dutch tourists in the 1930s, featuring fire and monkey dancers and demon kings – more lively and colourful than more traditional, elegant Balinese dance, but also noticeably less authentic.

The resort stage – yes! It has a stage! – is set up in Balinese style. Little palm-thatched buffet stands dish out Balinese faves like babi guling and urap. All-inclusive is far from a weight loss strategy, so I feed my face on babi guling and crackling, which is pretty darn good.

And the kecak dancers, who look very much like chaps from the local banjar earning a few extra rupiah (though I could, of course, be wrong), ham it up so ludicrously that you’d need a heart of stone not to be entertained.

All-inclusive isn’t the way I’d choose to holiday – and, now we’re settled, we’re firmly in holiday mode, not travel mode – but I can see why people would do so.

Because there’s something rather sybaritically pleasant about having nothing – literally nothing – to think about other than what to eat next, and where, and when.

9 Responses

  1. Yvette says:

    I had to smile at the kids club thing- mainly because my family traveled a *lot* when I was little, but I literally had no clue they existed until sometime traveling in my 20s. I then naively assumed they just weren’t around when I was little, until my mom told me of course they did, but why the hell would she go on vacation with us just to send us away?

    • Theodora says:

      They’ve been around since I was a kid, too – and, no, we never went to them either. Had a really weird Christmas in Kenya, when Zac was 5 or 6, and his (few) peers were at the kids club, so that their parents could, err, lie by the pool: the staff were like “Oh, we have a kids club! Would he like to go?” It’s one of those mystifying things, like people moaning about school holidays, and wanting them to end so they can get rid of their kids again.

  2. Count yourself lucky – we just came back from Hawaii where tickets to that sort of cultural show start at $200!! Also I don’t think Kecak is that inauthentic – 30 yrs ago all the guys I knew in the Ubud Banjar were regularly performing it as had their fathers.

  3. Nonplussed says:

    Touristic folkloric is problematic only to the very pious indeed, never did Nana Mouskouri or The Gypsy Kings any harm – cultures aren’t set in stone. A life in showbiz can be a wonderful thing but it can bring it’s own demons (ask Whitney, Amy, or Saartjie Baartman), but who’s to say that’s worse than a parochial dead end with palm-trees but no prospects? Was Sting content to remain a school-teacher in Sunderland? Sadly not. Authenticity is not fixed, tradition changes – dance monkey dance!

  4. Kristin from MN says:

    I’m a huge fan of your blog! I’m in the planning stages of starting my own travel blog. Do you use mailchimp or aweber, or which do you recommend? I have heard mailchimp doesn’t allow affiliate links. I am not tech savvy enough (yet!) to really understand that, but could it be a problem. Btw I also have a 12 year old son. He’s my only child and my little traveling buddy! Maybe when my blog gets up and running and I’m looking for a new adventure we could meet up with our sons. 🙂

  1. January 16, 2015

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