Glamping at The Canopi 

Yes, the lagoon really is this shade of blue. The Canopi isn’t The Aman, but if you manage your expectations on service and dining options (this is still Bintan, after all), you’ll be just fine! 

We stayed for three days and two nights, and the kids REALLY REALLY enjoyed themselves. The Canopi is extremely family-friendly, with a range of activities for junior, from toddler to teens. 

First up, the tents, which is what this “Glamping” experience is really all about!  The photos on The Canopi website are accurate, the tents and interiors are as they appear. We booked as a group, a Garden Tent (no Jacuzzi), a Lagoon-view Tent and the bells-and-whistles Glamping Deluxe Tent.  

The Canopi is really affordable, with weekday prices starting under SG$200, we booked our stay on Booking.com It does get about 30-40% higher (and much more crowded) on weekends. Take a day off if you can and go on a weekday, we had the whole resort to ourselves on Tuesday (photos coming up)! 

This is the view of our Deluxe Glamping Tent… best of all (IMHO), it came with its own electric scooter for the duration of our stay! 

Fully air-conditioned, comfortable bedding,  our tent was clean and felt pretty new (we stayed in Tent 95). I think it’s part of a new wing at Canopi, because it feels much newer and in better-condition than the Garden and Lagoon-view tent (Tent 12 and 23) that our friends stayed in. The boys enjoying mid-day ice cream in front of Tent 12, which came with a sheltered outdoor Jacuzzi.

On that note, it’s probably not that important to book Lagoon-view as there really are no windows on the tents. They do give more proximity to the lagoon, but that doesn’t make a huge difference as the compound isn’t that large, and the tents at the back (like 95 where we stayed) were allocated scooters for getting around. I have to say I was impressed with the outdoor Jacuzzi bath-tub in our Deluxe Glamping Safari tent (bigger than the one we got when glamping in The Aman hah!). It was massive, and unexpected for a $300 a night room. It was a good-quality Jacuzzi, the kids loved splashing around in it, which was a good option for afternoons when the mid-day sun can get blisteringly hot. 

Yes, it’s open at the top to the outdoors, but I didn’t see any insects or mozzies; it was blissfully creature-free. Just remember however, that you signed up for ‘Glamping’ so do expect that there’s something of the outdoors in The Canopi. 

Next up, and this was one of our favourite things about the resort, was all the various fun modes of transport around the resort! ​

From buggies which took us to our rooms and around the resort…… to these cool vintage-look Ford Model Ts which ferried us to the Activity Centre…… and my favorite was the electric scooters which we were given for the duration of our stay! The kids loved the scooters, they’re electric-powered and capped at a top speed of 20kmh. They do provide helmets, which prudent parents would put on their kids (and on themselves)….  then there are those that love to feel the wind in their hair and prefer fedoras to helmets (don’t judge, please)! 

They are light enough so that I could ride around with my little ones. The scooters were great for traveling with ease around the resort. This is the restaurant where we have the hotel breakfast. The food selection is mediocre, but there’s an egg station and their mini pastries are actually pretty good! There’s also a sandy little playground in front of the restaurant.

In addition to all the buggies, scooters and electric cars, there are also land activities like ATVs and these 2-seater UTVs which you could rent (about $45 for a 40 minute tour). The little ones below 7 weren’t allowed on the ATVs so we had to be content with these buggies, which were also worth a spin, although….

… I must have the only kid who could fall asleep on an ATV! Amidst the dust, roaring engine and bumpy road, my son falls asleep. … he did wake up at the very end, and shouted “That was fun!” Hmmm.  Oh, bring sunglasses, maybe a scarf for the dust, and wear sunblock! The UTVs aren’t for small toddlers, Jake didn’t get to ride at all, but there are plenty other things you can do with the littler ones.

Now we get to the highlight of The Canopi, which is really that azure-blue saltwater lagoon in the middle of it all. You can rent floats (for fun and photos) about $6 an hour and these little paddle boats $10 an hour. … Daddy Shark Doo Doo Doo Doo.

The kids had so much fun, although they tired of the toys after 15 minutes, and by day two, they really just wanted to splash around and enjoy the water. The lagoon was very well-maintained when we were there. They keep it meticulously clean, trawling with nets every morning, and had lifeguards stationed around the lagoon. It was also surprisingly empty. Even on Sunday afternoon, there were never really more than 4-5 groups of other people around us at any point of time, and on Monday and Tuesday, we were often the only people visible in the whole lagoon. 

I do have advice to share on the best times to enjoy the lagoon. It gets blisteringly hot very early on, with the sun in full blaze by 9am. As Bintan is an hour behind Singapore, we started with early breakfast at 730am (830am SG time) and hit the lagoon for a dip at 9am when the activities first open. 

There are inflatable playgrounds and bouncy castles, some are free to Canopi guests and some are payable. These activities are also open to the public under Treasure Bay, but we didn’t see anyone here at all on Monday and Tuesday – like on this insanely fun bouncy water slide with a shallow pool, which was great for toddlers, and no one was here except us! 
It’s very strange that they start their activities at 9am and close at around 5pm just as the weather gets beautiful, they start to deflate all the floats and pack up all the water toys 😦 

My advice is to start at 9am, head back into the shade before 11am as it gets intensely hot and there’s so little shelter around the lagoon (we got burnt as pink as peaches), and to come out again around 4pm. The sun starts to ease off at 430pm so you can hit some activities from 4-5pm and just stay on to enjoy sunset in the lagoon even after they have put away all the toys. 

Apart from the lagoon, there honestly isn’t a whole lot else to do at The Canopi. We scootered around a few times, tried all three restaurants (mediocre at best, plenty of other reviews on these online, so I won’t go there… manage your expectations on dining, like I said), so by Day 2 we headed out to see what else there was to do. 

Five minutes away by car is Lagoi Bay, where you can find the ghost town that is Lagoi Plaza. There are only a handful of shops open in what could have been a really pretty promenade mall. On the weekday afternoon that we were there, there were only two restaurants open (not a great lunch place), but the kids loved the little train ride which only cost about SG$1 to ride. 

We also discovered this awesome lantern park at Lagoi Bay which featured endangered species and sea creatures. It was a magical experience, even for us adults,  with larger-than-life animals and ocean denizens lighting up the park. There were elephants, rhinos, sharks, dolphins, manta Raya and many more. Post check-out on our last day, we made a visit to exclusive resort The Sanchaya next door for ice cream and coffee. We stayed on this property when it first opened three years ago, and found it as posh as ever. Making himself right at home! The Sanchaya is a great escape for luxury lovers, expect to pay top dollar. Having stayed at both resorts in Bintan, I’d have to say that The Canopi is much better if you’re traveling with kids. The Sanchaya is certainly Insta-worthy, but it’s not a place I felt I could freely let my rascals run around without disturbing the other guests.  It’s a pretty place for a stopover, but you need to have your hotel call ahead if you want to make a visit as they don’t take walk-ins. 

All in all, we enjoyed our two night stay at The Canopi, barring the service hiccups, and lack of dining options.  

One last (big) tip on arrival timing – we took the 8am Ferry out of Singapore, and got there waaaaay too early. Perhaps if we had arrived on a weekday instead of Sunday morning it might have been possible for an early check-in. But it seems we arrived at peak occupancy (the Saturday night guests hadn’t checked out yet). We asked for a lift to the activity centre and had to wait over 10 minutes for a ride, there were a few miscommunications, and when we tried to feed the kids at 950am, we were told the restaurant kitchen closes at 10am and that they wouldn’t serve food again until 1130am. I asked where I could feed the kids, and they told us, “Sorry, we don’t have food until 11:30am”. This was so not cool. My suggestion would be to take the noon ferry out which should get you in closer to check-in time, for a more pleasant experience. 

To wrap it up… The Canopi is a great little escape, just manage your expectations… it’s good value for money, and great for Bintan!

KEEP CALM & GLAMP ON! 

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Hong Kong Disneyland

Once upon a time in a land far far away, there lived a little girl who fell in love with a Magic Kingdom called Disneyland.  Such a joyful place of happy music, fun rides, glorious lights and fireworks… But above all, she treasured the beautiful moments with her family. 

My earliest happy travel memories are from being with my family in Disneyworld in Florida, and I wanted my little princes’ first experiences of this special place to be just as magical. 

Tyler is not Disneyland newbie, as he has visited Paris Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, all under the age of two. But it’s only been on our last two trips, now that he’s three, that I feel he’s now really able to appreciate and understand what’s going on on the park.

Tyler in Paris Disneyland (18 months)
Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest of all the Disney parks in the world. It even has a tiny little castle, which looks more like a turret than a castle, when compared to the soaring Disney palaces in Paris (the prettiest) and Orlando (grandest), but it’s still a Disney castle!

“It’s Disneylaaaaaand!!”

In terms of rides, the park can be covered in one day. There are only two thrill rides – Space Mountain and Grizzly Gulch, so this probably isn’t too exciting a park for teenagers, but it’s great for toddlers as many of the rides don’t have height limits or can accommodate toddlers – such as Dumbo, Cindarella’s Carousel, Winnie the Pooh, It’s a Small World, Mad Hatter’s Teacups (Fantasy Land), Orbitron, Buzz Lightyear, Autopia (Tomorrowland), Slinky Dog and Parachute Drop (Toy Story Land).  

Autopia (where he can drive his own little car on one of two circuits, the height limit to ride with adults is 82cm).

Orbitron (below) which is like Dumbo, but the line moves slightly faster as each flying saucer can take four guests. 

 

Cindarella’s Carousel – a classic Disney favorite.   
  The carousel in Disneyland Hong Kong has short wait times, I’ve never seen the line longer than 15-20 minutes even when it was crowded in the park.   Dumbo is the ride with one of the longest lines. I’ve never seen it shorter than 45 minutes, the quintessential classic ride, which makes of course for iconic photos.

Your first question is probably how much time do I need to cover the park, should I stay in a Disney Hotel?  

The answer is – if you’re there for the rides and just to take some photos, a day is enough, but if you’re there to really soak in the buzz and enjoy that Disney Magic –  I would stay overnight, and I’ll tell you why. 

I’ve done the day trip version of HK Disneyland, arriving in the morning to try to do all the rides, shows and catch the fireworks. It felt hectic, like we were constantly rushing place to place in FOMO mode. I didn’t enjoy it as much. It wasn’t about the queue for rides – you’ll find that if you’re lucky, like I’ve had friends visit in September and October that said they walked on to all the rides and there was no queue at all – HK Disneyland doesn’t have the extremely long over-an-hour wait queues like Tokyo or Paris Disneyland can have. 

The longest wait I saw this trip (and we went in December which is a peak season) was 50 minutes. The rides that will likely have queues are Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh and Autopia, but none exceeded an hour. You can also plan your day to avoid the crowds and use the FastPasses, but it will still be tiring – honestly a little too intense to be enjoyable or fun, especially with a toddler in tow.

So, if you decide to stay overnight in a Disney hotel, there’s only one I would recommend you should stay at – The Disneyland Hotel.  

The view from our room at the Kimgdom Club (below.It’s a gorgeous Disney hotel, much nicer than the Disney Hollywood Hotel where some of our party stayed, then when they came over and saw the Disneyland Hotel, they regretted not paying that little bit more for the upgrade. 

There’s the Enchanted Garden with the hedge maze by the sea, there’s a playroom with soft play areas, a boat, a mini cinema (ok, a big TV, I’m a little partial to Disneyland!) where they play Disney films and cartoons and an activity corner where they have programs where the kids can learn to draw Mickey Mouse etc.    

The Kids Club playroom (below).


    

If you’re a huge fan of character photography and want to meet all the classic Disney stars (like Mickey, Minnie, Goofie, Pluto etc), I suggest you book the Character Breakfast at the Enchanted Garden in Disneyland Hotel (two seatings per day with one at 730am and another at 930am). The characters come to your table while you’re having breakfast, and cover the room methodically so you just sit tight and wait for them to approach you. The minders do shoo you back to your table if it’s not your turn, so manage the expectations of your little ones who try to run up to Mickey or Minnie to give him a big hug. And you’ll constantly hear this “Boop Boop Boop Boop” call nearby, as the photographers seem to use it to attract the attention of errant babies and toddlers who fail to pose for photos.  

Laser death stare at Minnie Mouse.    Whaaaaaat. 
Jake succumbs to the “Boop Boop Boop Boop” … But Tyler isn’t having any of that.  

Our earlier trip was in December last year so all the characters are in Christmas costumes. This time round (April trip), they were in their regular clothes.  

  “Hey boy, I like your T-shirt!”   They’re also insistent on taking photos of you and your kids on their own camera, as their goal is to sell you their pics (which they leave on your table all printed out in glossy folders, and I expect they’ll charge you if you walk out with them), but you don’t have to buy their photos, they do also help you take pics with your iPhone. 

The Princess characters aren’t as easy to locate. They take photos with guests at fixed times in Fantasyland (next to the Disney Castle). They weren’t able to tell you exactly where to find each princess until the morning of each day itself. So if you were looking for say Sophie or Belle, you would have to try your luck and just check with information desk when you arrived in the park, as there’s a different roster every day (I suppose based on which princess showed up for work haha)! Anyway, we scored photos with Anna and Elsa – bumping into them just before they closed the queue. 

Shy guy.On several visits to the park, we booked the VIP Private Tour.  This was to ensure we got to try all the rides and experience the park without losing time on lines (or grumpy toddlers). The tour allows direct access (via the exit) to all rides, and takes up to six people – kids under three don’t count, and goes for three hours. It costs HK$4688 or about US$600 (SGD850) and can be worth it if you share between 2 or 3 families. The best time to book the tour is to plan it on a three hour block ending at the start of a show time as they reserve the best seats in the house for guests on the VIP tour. I wouldn’t do the shows during the three hour tour itself (they’ll take up about 45 minutes each between seating and show times), so I recommend you check the show timings before booking the tour (you can choose from two shows – Lion King or Mickey’s Wondrous Book). Timings may change depending on time of booking, so best to check before you travel on the Disneyland Show Schedule and coincide the end time of your VIP tour with the start time of the shows you can then maximize your time on rides instead of  sitting through shows. Note: the VIP tour doesn’t let you cut the lines for character photography, you still have to wait your turn for those. 


Even if you do not to book the tour, I can share some useful tips from our tour guide. 
First, if you want to avoid the crowd and hit the park early, start by turning left of the castle, towards the Jungle and Adventureland area. Our guides shared that everyone usually starts by turning right towards Tomorrowland (I guess most people are right-handed so it’s a natural instinct to turn right instead of left?)! Strange, but these insiders believe you can avoid the crowd pattern if you work the park backwards from what most people are doing! 

Another big tip… There’s a secret spot to catch the “Paint the Night” show (not the fireworks which are at 830pm, but the electric float parade that comes just before the fireworks, at 730pm.  Instead of joining the crowds that line the streets, head to the area just next to the theatre that’s currently playing Mickey’s Wondrous Storybook. Just on the right (if you’re facing the theatre) there’s a gate where the parade starts and all the floats will come out of here. 


You can have the best view from here as its not crowded (the general public haven’t seemed to figure out that this is the starting point of the parade), so you should have a front row view and the little ones will have a fantastic time seeing their favorite floats and characters up close!  Here are some of our favorite floats, from our view at the gate where the parade begins (Photo credits for the series of night shots to my friend Mark Shaw) 

  
    
On our last trip to Disneyland (April 2016), we also discovered the best way to watch the “Disney in the Stars” fireworks. As I mentioned earlier, the Hong Kong Disneyland castle is teeny-tiny… Which means it’s hard to get an unobstructed view of the castle where you can also see the video projections that accompany the fireworks. If one or two inconsiderate people stand up or put their kids on their shoulders for a better view, it blocks the view of every person behind him.  Many people sit and wait early in a designated area right in front of the castle.  This can fill up with squatters an hour or more before the show, but it can be hard to sit and wait out there with restless toddlers in tow, so that wasn’t an option for us. 

And then we discovered that there was a special, reserved space with an amazing view, right in front of the castle (just behind the designated seating area), in an area cordoned off for VIP guest viewing.  You get access to this area if you take up the Fireworks VIP dinner package. It was pretty good value, like a 6-course Chinese dinner at the Maxim’s-operated Plaza Inn (the Chinese restaurant), and you get a wrist band that gives you access to this cordoned-off VIP area which isn’t crowded at all. We rocked up fifteen minutes before the fireworks and got an awesome spot with a dead-centre, 100% unobstructed view of the castle and fireworks. 

Worth every penny of the dinner! 

A final tip- Do HK Disneyland when the weather is cool if you can, I can vouch that it’s a much more pleasant experience. It can be so uncomfortably hot in the summer months.  We went in April and December when it was fairly cool, and found it much more enjoyable than a previous trip we made in the hot summer months.  High summer temperatures can make toddlers sweaty and cranky- and it may not be the most enjoyable experience for everyone, so do check on the average temperatures before you go, if your little one like mine, gets  grumpy when it’s hot. 
Until our next Disney trip then… (We are planning LA year – this time with Jakey too, who will then be 18 months old).

…and the two little princes love the Magic Kingdom, it became a special place of joyful family memories and they all lived happily ever after… Once upon a dream! 

My Tot Friendly Travel : Melbourne (Part 2: Hotels, Dining & Highlights)

I’ve covered our top family-friendly Melbourne activities in my previous post, in this one I will share our favorite eats, where we stayed, and tips for getting about.

 Starting with where we stayed, I believe that the hotel can be about 50% of the entire experience – from its location, which enhances or affects all the logistics, to the general enjoyment based on comfort and interaction with the city. So yes, hotels are extremely important to me, and the first thing I look at when I travel.

When I asked around, 9 out of 10 people who live in, or traveled regularly to, Melbourne heartily recommended the Crown Hotels (Metropole and Tower). It can be pricey, but is a very central and convenient place to stay. The other recommendation that came online for a family booking was the Stamford Plaza Melbourne. Both had great reviews on Tripadvisor.

We spent four nights in the Crown Towers (we stayed in and highly recommend the Suite, we booked on http://www.hotels.com and got the Suite for about AUD620 per night in peak season, the same price as my friend paid for a Deluxe room on another website for the same trip, the suite was twice the size and twice as nice!).

We also stayed three nights in Stamford Plaza, as we liked the location in Little Collins Street, literally a stone’s throw from all the hip eateries and main shopping belt. We recommend Crown Towers but found the Stamford Plaza unimpressive – rooms were dark and a little old, our room sliding door actually came off its hinge and there were insufficient windows so the place was dark. The rooms were also really small, too small to fit a cot or spare bed comfortably. We were more than happy to move over to Crown Towers after three days.

He settles in like a boss.    That view though!

 Don’t forget to bring your swimmers! There’s this gorgeous huge indoor heated pool, kept at about 30 degrees and with beautiful skylights so the place is filled with natural light but the water stays warm all year round.  Finally, enjoying a soak in the bath tub- his favorite pastime in hotels!

If you were looking for an alternative location though, the hotel we would recommend would be the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, along Collins Street. It had an unbeatable location right on the main shopping and dining stretch, and a nice buzzy cafe in front.

The first thing we did after we checked in was to make a visit to the Eureka Skydeck on Level 88. It’s the highest vantage point open to the public, and offers awe-inspiring 360 degree bird’s eye views of the city.


 The Eureka Skydeck is only steps away from the bustling and buzzy South Bank, and also where the Crown casinos are located. The best way to experience this beautiful waterfront part of the city is on foot (and stroller).

Hello seagull…   He got sleepy and grumpy halfway through (likely the 3 hour time difference which had him sleepy by 6pm) , thanks goodness we brought the stroller!
  Moving on to our Top 5 dining experiences (with toddler in tow):

1) Hardware Societe
So there’s this iconic little French breakfast-brunch place nestled in the middle of town on 120 Hardware Street, walking distance from Little Collins Street where we were staying. You can’t make reservations, I gather they’re pretty full most of the time. They have a limited number high chairs, we scored only one – but as many places in Melbourne don’t have high chairs at all, this wasn’t unexpected.

With a name like “Hardware Societe” I had expected a modern, industrial setup, a little of that factory-chic type eatery – but nope, it’s kind of a low-key, laid back rustic cafe with butterfly wallpaper and little marble tables. It’s not a big place at all, about 40 seats indoors and another 20 outdoors.
 The coffee here is freshly made, and so served one latte/ cappuccino at a time. Not posh, but served fresh and piping hot. Good stuff!  We ordered an iced chocolate for Bubu thinking we would get like, a milo with ice cubes in it… And this is what arrived!    OMG. Chocolate milk on a bed of fudge sauce laden with vanilla ice cream! Clearly not what I (as the parent of a two year old) envisioned for breakfast when I asked for an iced chocolate! Notwithstanding my iced chocolate expectations, he loved it of course! #supersugarhigh

     
Breakfast here was really really good! Traditional fare, nothing exceptionally new or creative, but just really fresh, hearty and well-done. We had the Baked Eggs and Chorizo, Lobster Eggs Benedict and Contintental Breakfast – none of the orders disappointed. Easy to see why this place is packed out. Worth the little wait!

2) Pure South Dining

We visited this restaurant located on Southgate at the South Bank waterfront (well there’s no real view of the water, maybe I mean on the main walkway) while staying in Crown Towers. It came highly recommended by a local, as his absolute favorite restaurant in the whole city, so we gave it a try.

Cuisine is best described as Modern Australian with a focus on fresh Australian and Tasmanian produce. I’m not much of a food reviewer so I’ll let the photos do most of the talking …Scallops

Fresh fish of the day


Seared tuna

Lamb loin  Beef steak

All in all, we really enjoyed dining at Pure South. They don’t have high chairs like many other Melbourne dining establishments, but food and service were faultless, and the other diners were welcoming of our occasionally fussy toddler, and didn’t glare at us once, instead giving him occasional nods and smiles.

3) Cumulus Inc

Located on Flinders Lane, this is another highly-recommended restaurant in Melbourne that doesn’t take reservations. We tried our luck on a Sunday evening, arriving at 6:30pm and found the place fairly empty. The restaurant has a great vibe with high ceilings and a bustling open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work.

Again, they didn’t have high chairs but they were able to give us seating in the corner banquette area so the kids could sit on the sofa, and that worked out just fine.   The restaurant did get more crowded later in the evening, but not to the point where there was a long wait or line for anyone.

 We ordered sharing plates – Parma ham, Ox tongue, Sweet & Sour cauliflower and Tuna Tartare. All really good, we had seconds of the cauliflower, and the Tuna Tartare atop pea mash and goat curd which came highly recommended was indeed very tasty!

 

    Beef for the main course, and I can’t remember what dessert we had, but we demolished everything!  Heartily enjoyed and would recommend Cumulus Inc.

4)  Cutler & Co

Upscale restaurant in an old metalworks factory with an open kitchen, posh decor and a pricey menu, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Located in the arty and bohemian Fitzroy area, described as a “foodie Mecca” online, top 10 in Australia (#10 in Melbourne on Tripadvisor) – and one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

  Again, no high chairs but as you can see, the little ones settle quite comfortably into the banquettes (and when wedged between two adults, are quite well contained-phew!)   We ordered lots of plates to share – everything was really fresh, and exquisitely presented. My favorites were the pastrami on toast and the duck leg – Mmmmmmm!

    
  

5) Hammer & Tong 412

We can’t wrap up a Melbourne food journal without at least one more brunch/ brekkie place, which is what seems to be a signature of the  Melbs dining scene.

Hammer & Tong is an unpretentious little cafe (I would guess it seats about 50 in total) with an amazingly innovative menu and options that will have you wishing you could order for 5-6 people, as there are so many tempting dishes that you will want to try!

We waited 10 minutes for a table (decent), and 45 minutes for the food (not okay! The waitstaff apologized to us twice for the exceptionally long wait – but with a baby and a hungry toddler, it was just too long a wait for food). So I would suggest either not going on a Saturday morning, or not going with hungry kids – we ended up feeding Bubu gummy bears to keep his hunger at bay and he ate about 26 then wasn’t hungry any more!)

   The Soft Shell Crab burger and Ox Cheek Eggs Benedict are two of the signature dishes here. Both very very good. 

The ramen is another signature dish.

Signing off with another gratuitous Jakey photo…  And our entire itinerary below which may come in handy when planning!


Melbourne itinerary
Day 1

  • Arrive and check in
  • Chill out – Eureka Sky Deck

Day 2

  • 930am arrive collingwood farm
  • 10am Collingwood Farm – Cow Milking, The Farm Cafe is supposed to be good
  • 12pm Lunch at Abbotsford Convent
  • 2pm Diamond Valley Railway (11-5pm) 570 Main Road, Elkham Victoria – 30 min from Melbourne only open Sunday
  • Montsalvat Artists Colony (close 5pm)
  • 630pm Cumulus Inc Dinner – 45 Flinders Lane (no bookings taken)

Day 3

  • 9am drive to Belgrave (1 hour)
  • 10am Arrive, sort out ticketing, take photos, buy snacks and drinks
  • 11.10am Puffing Billy departure to Lakeside- 1 hour train ride) 1 hour Lakeside- Lunch
  • 230pm return train (1 hour return) Arrive back at Belgrave station around 330pm. Drive back to Melbourne 1 hour. Arrive back at hotel 330-4pm
  • 5pm Snack / Asian tapas at Chin Chin
  • 8pm Dinner – SuperNormal

Day 4

  • 9am Melbourne Zoo – Werribee Open Range Zoo – New toddler adventure trail program (only open Tuesday and Friday) – must call to book the safari. Book also Magic Moments with Koala (have to call) $12 per adult, 10 min up close with fave animal of your choice
  • Dinner – Pure South Dining

Day 5

  • 9am Breakfast – Hardware Societe
  • 10am Melbourne Museum (10-5pm open) – Real dinosaur bones
  • 1pm Botanic Gardens Lunch – Jardin Tan (botanic gardens observatory building – child friendly) and Children’s Garden
  • 7pm Dinner – The Meat & Wine Co

Day 6

Yarra River Day Out

  • 10am Healesville Sanctuary – Koala Bear experience with Magic Moments booking
  • 12pm Lunch and wine tastings – Coombe Farm on Melba Estate
  • Yarra Glen Adventure Playground
  • Yarra River Chocolaterie and Ice creameries – free tastings

Day 7

Brunswick street in Fitzroy- Bohemian place for street culture, art and gelato

  • 12pm Lunch at Cutler & Co Explore Fitzroy neighborhood
  • 3pm Visit to Myers and David Jones toy department
  • 7-11pm Luna Park

Day 8

  • 930am Breakfast at Hammer & Tong
  • 1pm Shopping and Lunch at Chapel Street
  • Check out and fly home

P.S. Almost forgot to share my tip for dealing with a very long line at customs when you first arrive (we arrived along with two other flights and had an Express pass but people told us near the front of the line that they had been waiting two hours!) . You can either get an Express Pass from your airlines at disembarkation (given to business class passengers and travelers with infants, they don’t automatically offer it to you if you have little ones but the customs officer told me you could ask for one from your airline). He also gave me a tip, that they bring to the front of the line those people who have children “in distress” – so if your baby is crying or fussing, they let them join the Express line. Hmm, beats waiting in line for two hours with fussy little ones!

IMG_3279

Last tip: This pram! The Mountain Buggy Nano folds up small enough to bring on the plane, and still rugged enough to go on farm trails and garden paths with ease. Best travel pram ever!

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Melbourne (Top Things to Do)

What impressed me most about Melbourne is how incredibly family-friendly the city is, in terms of activities and their general attitude to kids.

My Australian friends tell me that Melbourne is more laid-back than Sydney, and so is more welcoming of children in places like nice restaurants.  

Our biggest take out after a few days there is that days are short (even though the sun sets past 8pm in the summer most activities wrap by 5pm), so start early and end early.

This can be a little challenging if you’re traveling from South East Asia where Melbourne is 3 or more hours ahead, so my suggestion is not to plan anything the first morning (Bubu had to be roused at 9am for the itinerary when he usually wakes up at 7am) and ease into the schedule over the next couple of days, but definitely aim to start early like 9am and you can have an early dinner (which is also more convenient as it’s less crowded) and put the little ones to bed by 8pm, so they can be fresh as daisies for the next day! 

This is our review of some of the top family experiences in the city, what Bubu enjoyed the most, and in my next post, I will share our dining and hotel reccomendations, the full itinerary and more family travel tips (like what to do if there’s a two hour wait at Customs when you get off the plane).

I planned the itinerary so there are usually at least two back-to-back activities on the itinerary, all catered for shorter transport time, and pairing things that are nearby for convenience.

We got around by driving and with GPS, it’s actually really easily to navigate around Melbourne. Car rental was very affordable, less than $500 for the whole 8 days (but adding on the two car seats almost doubled the rental price).  
Okay, let’s go!

1) Collingwood Children’s Farm  & Abbotsford Convent (Weekend Market) 

What’s awesome about Collingwood Farm is that it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Melbourne, which is great. What’s not so great is the rather underwhelming collection of animals – some chicken, a few goats and a milk cow – were the main farmyard stars that we encountered.     

  The recommended highlight online is the 10am cow-milking session where kids get to have a hands-on experience milking a real cow! You can also have a fresh farm breakfast and explore the farm where they have chickens, goats, cows and a cool (don’t pet him, he’s violent) cat.  

SO! Bubu hated the cow-milking. He fussed about sitting outdoors in the sun, freaked out that there were flies everywhere (why does no one ever mention in all the travel articles online that Melbourne is fly-infested in the summertime!) 

Clearly, not all kids are cut out for farm life.  

 Not happy.  

   Yes, he’s recoiled in horror –  “NO WANT COW!!!”

  Post-cow trauma bribery with orange juice and a very yummy chocolate milkshake.   

I’ve still included Collingwood farm as I can see why some kids could probably enjoy this, but the real highlight wasn’t the farm – which was still worth a visit, the little cafe is recommended over the actual farm (great coffee and fresh breakfast), but Abbortsford Convent – a short walk next door is where he really enjoyed himself!

On weekends, there’s a craft and fashion market (I love the Retrobub stall with super cute handmade onesies, hoodies and Ts), live jazz music,and everyone just sprawled out on the grass and chillaxing in the sun

 Bubu really had fun just sitting in the grass (being surrounded by my friend’s three pretty daughters didn’t hurt)! 

      

    
So cute, right? We left with that grey fox onesie from Retrobub!      

Brunch was excellent, we had burgers, ribs, chocolate cake, lemon tart and really good breakfast pastries. Our friends who lived in Melbourne brought us here, and I would definitely recommend it too.It is worth making the trip to visit both Collingwood and Abbotsford  as they are just side by side, and only 10-15 minutes drive out from the city. If we lived in Melbourne we would probably make regular visits to Abbotsford for its great family-friendly environment and weekend market set in a lovely cluster of buildings, formerly a convent, I would presume.

2) Diamond Valley Miniature Railway & Montsalvat Artist Colony (Eltham)  

Which little boy doesn’t love Thomas the Train? We decided to make his train fantasies come to life by taking him to Diamond Valley Railway. This cool miniature railway only opens on Sundays – check out their schedule on their website, and is run by a team of passionate volunteers.   Located in Eltham, about 30 minutes from central Melbourne, you ride on mini trains on a track that takes about 12 minutes to complete. At only $3 per ride (and a reasonable 15-20 minute queue each time), Bubu loved it so much we had to ride twice! 

 He’s captivated by the tiny trains!     
  

“Nooooo daddy … I don’t want to leave!” 

After two rounds on the trains, we headed to Montsalvat, an artist’s colony in Eltham located just 5 minutes from Diamond Valley Railway.  Open seven days a week, this charming European style colony created in the 1940s had more ducks, geese (and even peacocks) than Collingwood, and Bubu enjoyed it much more than the farm! 

    
    
To my disappointment, we arrived at 4.45pm and found the place closing for the day (hence my tip to start the day earlier as many places and attractions wrap up at 5pm). There was still fun to be had – tailing the peacocks and geese, and exploring the picturesque grounds (a favorite for wedding shoots) even though we weren’t able to have any wine or coffee as the restaurant on the premises was closing.  

Baby Jake in his farm-inspired OOTD.   
Our verdict for Eltham: The Diamond Valley Railway is a delight for little ones. Kids older than six might find it a little boring, but it was perfect for toddlers. The train even goes through two dark tunnels for a little thrill!  Montsalvat is worth the stopover if you’re already in Eltham, you’ll get beautiful photos for your holiday album.

3) Puffing Billy Railway (Belgrave) 

  This was hands-down mommy’s favorite day out! The Puffing Billy steam train station is located in Belgrave, about an hour’s drive out of Melbourne city, and has close to hourly departures to Lakeside (about one hour away) and Gembrook (about 90 minutes each way). Online reviews shared that Gembrook was probably a more bustling place to visit, but given that you’re traveling with little ones, Lakeside is probably a more ideal stopover, as the journey by train is the main highlight of the day out, and not so much the destination.  

With a super friendly crew (and an amiable Station Master who is used to being asked if he’s the Fat Controller) , the kids were welcomed for photo opps and the train engineers even gave Bubu a chance to climb into the train driver’s cabin, he really enjoyed his day out!

  This is how you’re supposed to ride the Puffing Billy- with your legs hanging off the the side of the train!  
  The train passed farms and forests – a pretty journey in great weather! I’m told it’s not as pleasant in winter time so I would probably save this for warmer weather.   
 There’s not a whole lot to do at Lakeside – no lovely little cafes, more just a stopover canteen selling sandwiches and some hot food, but you can pick up iced coffee and ice creams (lifesaver), or pack your own picnic for outdoor dining.  

There is a small lake with some paddle boats, and a kids playground which Bubu really enjoyed. The stopover is about an hour long, so we were mostly killing time until we could get back on the train. This little city slicker actually asked me for coins when he saw this ride haha!

     

 Someone’s happy to be back on the train!   

 Ting ting ting at the street crossings Bidding farewell to the trains!

What an awesome day out – It may not be as exciting for older kids, but what a special treat it was for a two year old, it was like his Thomas the Train fantasies come true!  Tip: Bring along your own Thomas toys- they sell them at the station for a premium, and we were coerced into buying one for our over-excited toddler.

4) Werribee Open Range Zoo  

There are three zoos in Melbourne, you probably could do just one or two. We chose Werribee because they had a newly launched Toddler Trail program that took place with advance bookings on Tuesdays and Friday’s only (you can call in to book), and besides the safari pictures looked like awesome fun! 

   

 We started the tour at the zoo by feeding worms to some squeaky meerkats. 

We then boarded an open-sided safari bus for a private tour of the open range zoo. 
 At first he hated it! There were the usual flies, strong wind, and flying sand and he refused to wear his sunglasses so got sand in his eyes and was very upset (Tip: bring little sunglasses to protect your toddler’s eyes from the flying sand) 
     

  He perked up after taking a “momfie” with some giraffes.  The giraffes were really curious and got super close to the safari car.

   
Our friend and his daughter have a close encounter with a curious giraffe.
  He did warm up by the end, although he was very happy to finally get off the safari car, and made a beeline for…..   
 … A mechanical car. 

The highlight of our visit to Werrobee was the mechanical car (!!), and the Ranger Kids Play Area. There was a helicopter there (which he got so excited about he fell down its steps twice) along with dress-up costumes, large stuffed animals to play with and a turtle enclosure.  

  Ranger Bubu and Scout Nicole on the lookout for animals to rescue! We didn’t stay very long to explore the zoo as the blistering sun, dry heat and summer flies made it rather unpleasant for the toddlers. The safari drive and the Ranger Kids play areas were the definite highlights. You can complete this zoo in a half day or less, planning another activity into the day’s itinerary if you wish. 

5) Yarra Valley Day Trip

There’s a lot to do in beautiful Yarra Valley, including hot air balloon rides, river cruises, wine yard visits and so much more. But we decided to only do a day trip, and this is what we covered. 

We started with a visit to the Healsville Animal Sanctuary, on a mission to get up close with a Koala Bear!  To do this you can pre-book a Magic Moment with the zoo, and for $12, you can have an up-close experience with this cuddly marsupial! You’re not allowed to touch or carry them, but hey – I had my hands full anyway!  

 You can also get up close to dingos and wombats and other Australian wildlife, but my little city slicker wasn’t enjoying the heat (and flies) and clamored to go back to the van, so it was a really short visit for us. Next we headed out to Coombe Farm at the Melba Estate for lunch. There are many gorgeous vineyards and wineries that you can visit in this area – like De Bortoli and the Chandon Estate, we decided on a friend’s recommendation to try Coombe at Melba Estate.  It was a beautiful setting, excellent food and the kids enjoyed having lots of space to run and explore.

   

  Wine-tasting at the Bar, followers by yummy lunch. 
 Post-lunch, we drop in at the Yarra Glen Adventure Playground for half an hour of play and exploration… Which was great fun for the kids – big and small! 

    
  
Dads having fun!   
After the activity break, we head to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, one or the area’s top attractions, to stuff ourselves again!  
Lots of beautiful open space and greenery to run around in!   

 Chocolate tastings! Bubu is in chocolate heaven!
   
  Happiness!  

 And that about sums up our day at Yarra Valley! We could definitely have spent a day or two here – maybe next time. 

 6) Melbourne Museum & Royal Botanic Gardens

Last up, two of the city’s top attractions. We didn’t get to cover them properly because our toddler decided he hated dinosaur bones, and the flies drove us out of the Royal Botanic Gardens…  

        He refused to look at them. The irony of his Dino T shirt and his Dino blanket aren’t lost on me.

  

  

He did eventually warm up to the Kids Play area, located in a corner of the museum and dedicated to under fives, this was a great area for Bubu with books, nooks and lots of tactile self-play. 

  

   Baby Jake can’t run away.    The Melbourne Museum is housed in a stunning modern building, it could totally be a great experience  for many kids! 

Next, we took a 5 minute drive to get to the Royal Botanic Gardens where we had lunch at Jardin Tan (which I think just means “Garden Tan”) a Vietnamese cafe – probably owned by some guy with last name Tan- set in a glass conservatory inside the garden.  


  

 I’ve heard that the Vietnamese food in Melbourne is very very good, but the fare at Jardin Tan was underwhelming, and just way too salty. The fried chicken was inedible, the best dish was the rice paper roll.  Mediocre food notwithstanding, the cafe was still a decent place to have lunch if you want something with a pretty ambience, and very nearby to the Children’s Garden.

Post-lunch, I tried to coax the little man into coming down from his pram and exploring the children’s garden – no luck, the heat and flies made him grumpy. Knowing now about the fly situation, I would have bought a fly net for the pram with me, even if it made me look like a silly tourist (because my friends who live there said the locals aren’t bothered by the flies and I would risk looking uncool if I had a fly cover) – screw looking cool, give me the fly cover any day!

So that’s a wrap for my pick of Melbourne attractions for toddlers! 

I’ll get round to working on my next post on Melbourne which talks about some dining options, fringe activities and more kid-friendly travel tips. Up next! 

Leaving you with a gratuitous image of my sweet baby Jake xxx

 

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Bali, Indonesia (Part 2)

Now, let’s talk about what to do and where to go with your twos and belows in tow.  

Bali is full of tiny cafes and hipster eateries which while so cool when you’re a couple, are a nightmare for groups larger than six and many don’t have high chairs. 

Seminyak is now so tourist-infested, it feels like the new Kuta, so while we headed back there for a few of our stalwart favorites, we also ventured into new territory, basing ourselves in Canggu (see my earlier post on accommodation).

To our delight, there’s actually quite a lot of family friendly activities in Canggu. There’s are water slides at The Canggu Beach Club, pony rides at the Bali Equestrian Centre (which we didn’t have time to do, but found online), and beaches that aren’t as crowded as the ones in Seminyak and Kuta. 

Here is my photo journal from what we did do:   

   
On the first day, we caught the sunset at La Laguna, which is a beachfront bar and dining venue in Canggu. It’s a sprawling compound with areas for dining, lounging for drinks on bean bags or sitting at the bar. 

There’s some kind of farm there – I wouldn’t call it a petting zoo because it looked rather haphazard, with a bunch of (rather wild-looking) animals – turkeys, geese, ducks and one nervous brown rabbit that we spotted living among some discarded furniture. Bubu was rather fearless and tried to run after the ferocious-looking geese, which were taller than him, and I actually thought we might get attacked!  

   There’s a pretty lake of some kind in front of the beach.   The beach and sunset aren’t to be compared with the stunners you’ll see at sundown on Seminyak beach, but it’s pretty enough, and a lot less crowded.     

Snacks, sandwiches, juices, smoothies and cocktails – the food was decent. Service was appalling, hard to get any kind of attention probably because the place is quite spread out. Overall, La Laguna is rustic and charming enough, and worth a visit. The highlight for Bubu were all the ducks swimming and waddling around, and he had a blast running up and down the wooden deck leading to the beach  – great for families because there’s so much space!   

 

On day two, we started out early and checked out Milk & Madu for breakfast in the Canggu neighbourhood. There are actually loads of cool little cafes that we drove past that we would love to have checked out in the same area. I took down their names when we drove by: Coffee & Oven, Quince and Cinta Cafe (all along Jalan Rawa).  Spending only three days there, we didn’t get to try them all, so this is Milk & Madu: 

Dining takes place in an airy little pavilion which seats about 30-40, with outdoor tables that’s seat another 20 or so. There’s a good selection of salads and pastries at the counter, fresh jams and produce in jars for sale, and breakfast fare aplenty on the menu. 
We had the French toast, eggs and chorizo and the classic big breakfast – all good! They have high chairs, but only one or two – definitely not enough, as the place is very popular with families.  There were maybe two high chairs and we had to vie with other hawk-eyed parents all trying to score one!  

 (Score! We got a high chair!) 

Other than that, I do recommend this as a family-friendly place – great for a casual, no-fuss family meal.


  

After a hearty breakfast, we headed to Deus Ex Machina, Temple of Enthusiasm (which means “God in the Machine”- very far from  our initial guess that it meant two ex mechanics haha!)  

This custom motorcycle shop also offers surfboards, apparel and boardshorts for sale – apparently there’s serious street cred in their threads, so the cool kids in my office tell me – and there’s a courtyard behind where little ones can roam. There’s also a cafe here, but we were advised by a Canggu regular that’s it’s underwhelming fare, the advice was to check out Deus but not to eat there!   
  They make their own custom motorcycles and surfboards here, and if you wander into the courtyard behind the shop, you can see the craftsmen at work on the bikes and boards. Pretty cool, eh?   

After an activity-packed morning, we head back to our Canggu home-base (Villa Simona Oasis) for a couple hours of relaxation, where my friends were all still getting massages, and the littles all hopped into the pool!  


For lunch, we decided to make the 20 minute drive to Seminyak where we visit one of our favorite lunch hangouts, Sardine. This spot never gets old, I like to visit before dark as you’ll miss out on seeing the gorgeous scenery when night falls.  

They are well-known for their scenery and their seafood. Both equally top-notch!     




Again, this lovely eatery had no high chair, but Bubu was passed out anyway, so we just propped him up with cushions, and let him doze!  Jakey had his car seat (good move to bring car seat BTW, so you can put baby down once he’s sleeping. We brought his baby carrier as well but it’s kind of hard to relax and eat with baby in a sling -especially in warm, tropical weather where you’ll just both get really hot and sticky!) 

  

 Grumpy Bubu just woke from his nap…And hey, more ducks and geese – but Bubu was too drowsy to chase them, so it was Mummy that herded these into a corner for a photo! He finally perks up enough to enjoy the scenery at Sardine – so gorgeous!   

Next, we pop over to Potatohead to catch the sunset, where our contacts at Villa Simona helped us score two of the coveted beach beds at this super popula spot. The entrance of Potatohead looks like a coliseum made up of hundreds of rustic  wooden slats and shutters, and is always jaw-dropping for first-time visitors.   Truth be told, Potatohead is much more of a party spot than a family hangout. You won’t see a lot of families and under-twelves here, it has more of a cocktail party vibe, but we always like it because it has an amazing view of the most spectacular imaginable sunset, and a pool with a shallow wading area for babies. It can get very crowded here, but all is good if you can score a beach bed.   Jake is oblivious to the party atmosphere and quite happy chilling on his beach bed. Bubu and the boys enjoy fish and chips (one or the lads seems to think the table is tastier than the food) with the best spot on the beach to catch the incredible sunset.    IMG_7968-0

We wrap up our evening in Seminyak with dinner at Il Lido, which is located at the old Cafe Warisan. Lovely garden setting in a restaurant that seats about 80-100 diners, great service, faultless Italian food, and it was very empty when we dined there on a Saturday night which made it great for our big group with lots of kids (and they had many many high chairs- no fighting here!)  

Next morning, for breakfast, we asked Made, our villa driver, to take us somewhere cool in the Canggu neighbourhood (surprise us!) and he brought us to Old Man at Echo Beach.     

 Only good vibes here!  We loved this laid-back beachfront diner. Echo Beach is a black sand beach populated with locals, tattooed surfers and carefree bohemians who look like they’ve made Bali their home. It’s not very touristy, which was part of its charm for me. There was plenty of space for Bubu to run around and explore, breakfast was satisfying- we had the corn fritters, green eggs and ham and the classic breakfast. Discovering this little hideaway, with its colorful umbrellas and cheerful boho vibes in Canggu was one of the highlights of our trip.           

Craving some local fare for lunch, we decided to venture back to nearby Seminyak, scoring a table at Merah Putih.  

 Such a photogenic space, filled with gorgeous natural sunlight and high ‘vaulted’ ceilings, a  where traditional Balinese meets modern design. 

     
    
  Gorgeous setting and incredibly tasty local fare (even the nasi goreng topped with egg and keropok looks posh here), well worth paying the premium to dine in this glamorous, elegant air-conditioned hall with soaring ceilings. We will be back for sure! 

Post-lunch, the mommies escape for a couple hours to the Rob Peetoom Hair Spa for pampering… While we send the daddies and kinda back to the villa for pool-time and massages. Aaah… This is Bali life!

We wrap the night up with a final dinner at Meja Kawi, located on the second floor of Ku De Ta. This modern restaurant has a degustation menu featuring molecular gastronomy with Indonesian influences, and is relatively good value for this genre of cuisine.   

  

The final morning of our departure, we wake up early to brunch at Bungalow Cafe. It’s a hippie, boho cafe filled with books, home decor products and quaint curios. It was much smaller and darker than I expected, having first found this place based on glowing reviews online.  

    
  Across the street, is the Bungalow Living store, which was filled with gorgeous stuff for the home, I love the affordably-priced cushions, woven baskets and quirky knick-knacks all in gloriously pretty fabrics.  
 With that, it’s a wrap! We head straight to the airport from Bungalow Cafe. 

Bali has a spanking new airport, much better than the old one. Here’s an airport tip – there’s a viewing gallery next to the Haagen Dazs where you can actually see the planes speeding down the runway and lifting off. Bubu was delighted with this – I made videos for him on my iPhone, and he still comes to me every morning asking to watch those airplane videos!  

  
For ease of planning, I’ve added my 4 day itinerary and notes below, we didn’t get to do everything, of course – but I know we will be back before long! 
Day 1 

Arrive in Bali 

Stop by Be Chocolat to buy artisanal chocolate on way to Villa in Canggu

Lunch and Massage in Villa 

Check out Canggu Beach Club (water slides)  

530pm Sunset at La Laguna 

8 PM Dinner at Naughty Nuri’s, Smokehouse (best American style ribs) or La Finca Canggu dinner

Day 2

9am Breakfast at Milk and Madu

1030am Check out Deux ex Machina (motorcycle cafe and shop)

1pm Lunch – Warung Eropa 2 (best crispy duck in Bali) on Echo Beach or Sardine in Seminyak 

5pm Potatohead  – Swim, sunset drinks 

730pm – Dinner at Il Lido (Cafe Warisan) or restaurant Mamasan (Seminyak)

Day 3

9am – Brunch at Old Man, Echo Beach or Alila Seminyak or Starfish Bloo at W Hotel

11am – Kids and daddies head back to villa (Swim at villa or Water Slides at Canggu Beach Club) 

1pm – Lunch at Merah Putih 

330pm – Spa at Rob Peetoom Mummies – Seminyak shopping 

8pm Dinner at  Mejekawi, Kudeta level 2 

Day 4

9am – Breakfast and Shopping at Bungalow Cafe and Bungalow Living

Depart for Airport 

My Tot-Friendly Travel – Bali, Indonesia 

I confess… I’m a Bali addict.  I make the pilgrimage once yearly, and heck, we even got married in Bali.

Bali Bubu 2014

This would be the first time however, that we are visiting as a family of four, and it would be a whole different experience!

One of the most important things when choosing a villa (or hotel) in Bali is the location, depending on whether you plan to spend all your time chilling in the villa or wish to do some town-hopping. 

With all the added logistics (and paranphanelia when traveling with a 3 month old baby), we decided to opt for a Bali villa over a hotel.

I can’t recommend this enough for groups or families traveling together. Many villas come with their own dedicated butlers, chefs and service staff (especially the bigger ones like 4-5 bedrooms), and Villa Simona Oasis where we stayed, also had its own mini-van (7 seater) and driver as well as an in-house masseuse.  

Exploring Villa Simona
   
Bubu loves the sunlit, spacious living areas.
 

Villa garden and pool
  
Daddy and Jakey
The thing to avoid in Bali…those nasty traffic jams (Boo)! Even short distances can take 45 minutes to cover because of road conditions, and with small children, long commutes in Bali traffic just aren’t ideal.  For this reason, I prefer to stay near or around the buzzy Seminyak area. We’ve stayed further afield before like Ubud, Nusa Dua, Tanah Lot and Uluwatu, but each time when making multiple trips back to Seminyak – whether to lunch at Sardine or catch the sunset at Potato Head – we’ve always said, “Next time we will stay closer to Seminyak”.   

Sunset at Potatohead

Our original choice was Villa Lulito, which is a beautiful four bedroom villa in the heart of Seminyak.
Villa Lulito, Seminyak

With its white-washed wood floors and Hamptons-style decor, Lulito looks like something out of Ralph Lauren Home. This little gem is tucked away just 5 minutes from the bustle of Seminyak Beach (and one of the four rooms is a huge family room with 2 double decker bunk beds – sleeps four), but alas, it was fully booked for our dates of travel!)  
Villa Lulito
Moving on, we knew we still wanted to be near Seminyak, but also wanted something less commercial, and perhaps to explore new places – something a little less crowded and touristy.  

I really wanted to share some recommendations for family travel, and some tips for taking the road less travelled in Canggu over crowded Seminyak.  Canggu is a 15-20 minute drive from Seminyak (in Bali terms, that’s like right next door) which makes it a perfect base. I decided to plan my itinerary around Canggu and to explore the area. 

It’s a lot of information, so I’ve split this post into two, this one is more about accommodation and the villa where we stayed, and the next will be an exploration of Canggu, and a suggested 3-4 day itinerary. 

We stayed in five-bedroom Villa Simona Oasis.  I’m not a travel agent, so I’m not “selling” the villa. I really just wanted to share our gorgeous photos from our experience there. 

First – this sprawling 47,000 sqft five bedroom villa has ROCKIN’ pool toys! There’s the Flamingo, the giant Swan, the Donut and even a little slide that we put over the pool to create our own water slide. Once Bubu got over his excitement of petting the pink “Mingo”, we explored the rest of the sprawling villa estate.

Here we are in the largest of the five bedroom villas on the property, it has its own living area, jacuzzi garden and like all the other rooms, outdoor bath areas , which Bubu adored (but if you’re super-terrified of frogs, lizards and other garden life forms, you may not be as enthused).

  
  
All the rooms (which are more like free-standing mini villas) have outdoor baths and gardens, this one below was another of my favorite layouts.

The dining area seats ten and they also have a high chair (plus points).

  I really loved the natural sunlight on this daybed in the living area, and took all Jake’s OOTD shots here!  Now the pool…  The villa has a spanking new pool deck with loads of beautiful striped cushions and a pair of swings that made the kids happy. 

    

Playmates in the pool
  The pool itself is very baby and toddler-friendly with shallow areas that are ankle-deep, knee-deep and waist-deep with a deeper end (which is where you should put the pool slide if your kids are bigger than toddlers). 

Note: As with any place with a pool, keep an eye on the toddlers! We didn’t find it dangerous as we could lock the villa doors to keep him inside when we were there, the villa had staff who also helped keep a lookout for the kids, but of course, be sensible-Always keep an eye on the little ones around the pool.   

 Okay, so it wasn’t just the kids who enjoyed the pool. 

The villa staff were also excellent, on hand to prepare fresh meals when we chose to stay in, helped to make all our restaurant bookings and transport arrangements, and we had fresh mango juice on-demand every day, Bubu thought he was in Paradise!
 Wrapping up now (and starting work on the next post which is about what we did and where we went in Canggu and Seminyak), here are the links for Villa Lulito (the Hampton’s style 4 bedroom villa in Seminyak) and Villa Simona Oasis where we stayed.

http://www.simona-oasis.com http://www.villalulito.com

BTW, villas are great value for families, Villa Simona was about US$950++ per night for all five rooms, which works out to less than US$250 per room, so it would have cost us more to book 2 adjoining rooms or a family suite in a luxury hotel.

And I shall leave you with Bubu’s reaction on our last day at the villa, when we were checking out.  

 If only we could all act like two year olds – I wouldn’t want to leave either !

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Penang, Malaysia

So we’ve just spent a weekend (3 days and 2 nights) in sunny Penang, a short one hour flight from Singapore, but truly a world apart. Here are my photos and tips on how to make it a junior-friendly excursion!

Stylish boutique hotel Macalister Mansion may not come to the top of mind as a family friendly location, but it was an awesome experience that exceeded all expectations, and one reason we really enjoyed our experience in Penang.

Here’s the entrance, with a modernist sculpture at the arrival (which Bubu refers to as “Big Head”) as you drive up the sweeping driveway to a graceful colonial style mansion.  “Big Head” also makes an awesome photo opp … If only Bubu didnt get scared and run away!

 

This is a boutique design hotel set in a heritage mansion with only eight rooms. All the rooms were unique and had different layouts, I recommend booking way ahead to get the room you really want. Two of the rooms are adjoining if you are traveling in a larger family party.

Being a family of three, we checked into Room 3 which is the largest room with its own huge balcony, sitting area and a massive room-sized bathroom.

He had fun exploring the room, it was a good family size with a super king bed that fit us all comfortably.
Bubu LOVES the bathroom, the look on his face says it all!The bath tub is the highlight of the hotel for him. I considered for 10 seconds to let him sleep in it because he climbed right into it and lay down right away (and because Macalister isn’t entirely baby-friendly, they don’t provide extra beds or baby cots).   Spot the Bubu below…

This is Room 2, the only room with a four poster bed, hmm… probably better for couples.

Next we proceeded to explore the grounds and various nooks and crannies in the hotel, and found…

The Living Room- A gorgeous breakfast hall – which served equally gorgeous breakfasts that  were included in the room rates. The must-try here is the unagi and scrambled egg on toast…mmmmm.

Quaint and quirky design touches can be discovered all over the hotel if you take the time to explore. The cafe had beautiful wall murals which echoed the street art in Penang.  I highly recommend brunch at the Living Room (open daily 8am to 10pm) even if you don’t stay in Macalister Mansion. The food is great, the space is pretty and the coffees are satisfying!

The cafe and gift shop space
The quaint curated offerings in the gift shop 
Just next to The Living Room is a room which houses the gift shop, and has a big central table that doubles up in the evenings as a pool table. The gift shop sells all kinds of cool curios like these funky porcelain cups. I also bought some beautiful  hard-cover children’s classic books – Peter Pan, Secret Garden and Frankenstein-  to decorate the boys’ rooms with, and hopefully become cherished keepsakes as they become older.

Next, we wandered into The Dining Room- a beautiful wonderland of a restaurant which featured an elegant all-white tree as its centerpiece and a baby blue and pink deer. Such a dreamy space for an intimate wedding dinner – love! 

Bubu would greet the animals in the little courtyard outside the restaurant each morning, with a VERY LOUD “Hello Bear!” – thankfully, with only 8 rooms, we had the whole property pretty much to ourselves (another perk of staying in a very small hotel)!

 

“HELLO BEAR!”

Giant book on the landing which shows Macalister  Mansion among other cool design hotels from all around the world.

 

(Almost) Reluctantly, we leave the sanctuary of this beautiful Gatsy-inspired mansion and head out to Penang for the real reason we are here: Street Food! 

There are many foodie blogs which detail where to go for the best this and that – so I’m not going to do that here (Don’t be lazy, do a bit of your own research!) … But I will say that the best Or Luak (oyster omelette) can be found at Lam Ah kopi tiam (opposite the fire station) and the yummiest Penang Char Kway Teow (fried seafood noodles) can be found at Pulau Tikus. Most of these local eateries do have high chairs, and they are very cute, old-school 80s style antiquities (read: bring wet wipes!!!).

Now my favorite part, the street art in Penang. So most of you will be familiar by now with these iconic wall murals. The most famous and original ones were done by artist Ernest Zacharevic – we found a series of three – the swing, the basketball and the bicycle, all in the Jalan Pantai area.

You may be asking how to find them, and in all honestly, I couldn’t exactly tell you, they’re not really side by side, as I expect they were designed to be part of an exploratory trail.

The swing is my favorite, as the bicycle can get very crowded being in the middle of a busy weekend street market which despite being closed off as a pedestrian throughfare still had cars and bikes going through.  I will tell you later though exactly how we found them, and that’s one good way to explore.

The swing was tucked away in a small side alley, no one there but us. Don’t sit on the other swing for the photo, it will block the little painted kids which are the highlight, unless your tot is so tiny he/she doesn’t go past their knees.

The basketball mural – daddy takes a shot!Other murals can also be discovered along bustling Jalan Pantai. So a good place to drop off if you want to explore the area on foot would be at China House. It looks fairly unassuming like a regular shophouse from the outside (look out for some flags on the exterior which help you locate it), but the inside is a long, snaking series of gardens and cafes.

  Inside the gorgeous interiors and escapes of the China House (with my grumpy Bubu).  Graffiti covered walls make for a subversive cool arty/underground vibe.
There’s even a pretty pond and garden inside – so unexpected.  Cake spread at the cafe inside Asia House.

There are so many fun and memorable photo spots- Enjoy yourself scouting them all out and interacting with them to create your own Penang Family Album!

It can get uncomfortably hot for tots in the afternoon, the best time to probably have gone would be about 4 or 5pm as the sun is still up, but it wouldn’t have been as hot and humid, and the market and street life would start to transition to evening.
Bubu starts to get grumpy about 20 minutes in, and and clamours to go back to the van, even though there’s so much to see and buy, that I was wishing I had brought the pram!
I really wanted a small hand-knit Totoro, but made the mistake of taking a photo first and when I turned around – it was gone! Many of the things in the market are one-off or hard to find again, so if you see something you love, just buy it first!
    Another place we loved for having uber cool decor was the Awesome Canteen. Being stuffed already, we didn’t get to try the food and drinks, but it’s on my must-try when we return list.  Check out the photo below, it’s like dining in the sunny courtyard of a heritage house.

 We find lovely photo corners all around Jalan Pantai.

That pout though…   

Grumpy Bubu…
Spoiling my photos!
  Three men and a (grumpy) baby.

Bubu finally gets happy again when we get back to the van!

Next we head on to Penang Hill to catch the train that takes you to the top of the hill, one of Penang’s most popular attractions.

  Waiting for the train…On board the train with the “aunties and uncles” as he calls them. We traveled in a group of 7 adults and Bubu,  and I’m happy to share that Penang if well-planned (like having a van with a driver that fits everyone), is a fabulous group destination that can accommodate both adults and kids.
The journey by train takes about 10 minutes up and down either way.  If I’m honest, I don’t see a lot to do at the top of the hill- unless you’re big time into scenery, and maybe it was the haze, but it wasn’t all that clear, and Bubu got bored after about 10 minutes.

However, I would still recommend this place because of the stupendous train ride.

Here’s the million dollar tip: Sit at the very front of the train coming down. Pay the RM30 extra for the express ticket – there seems to be less of a queue going up than down). We saw the snaking, long queue that would take about three train loads to clear – not great with small kids, so we bought the express pass at the top for the return journey, which gave us access to an air-conditioned waiting room and the privilege to board the train first. Of course we made a beeline for the first row with a huge window overlooking the track directly – and this totally made the trip worthwhile (best SG$10 you can spend to make sure baby and you get the best sears in da house)!

After a day of eating and sightseeing, we carried on with more gluttony into the night, dining at the Jetty Restaurant in Bukit Tambun. It’s not as scenic as it looks in these photos, mainly smelly fishy water and it took us an hour to drive out to the mainland. The food was so-so, I would give it a miss traveling with young ones, especially if you’re on a short weekend trip. 

Getting back to the hotel, we spoil Bubu with a bubble bath before bedtime. He really enjoyed himself and is still saying “Bubu go bath tub”- two whole days later! 

Good morning Macalister Mansion!  Note, Room 3 is the only one with a balcony and it has quite a low railing, so if you’re traveling with more than one tot, or unable to keep an eye on your little one all the time, lock the door leading to the balcony- that’s just safety common sense.

That view though! We check out the pool before heading out for the day. Good news! It’s baby-friendly with shallow splash areas, and also daddy friendly with a bar built into the pool. We headed out for a spot of shopping on Gurney Drive, where you’ll find big shopping centers like Paragon and G Plaza next to the iconic Gurney open-air hawker centre. Another highlight for Bubu, we found a kids amusement area on level 4 of G Plaza where we changed RM20 (about SG$7) worth of tokens and he rode on all the car, plane, helicopter and train rides to his little heart’s content!

Tip: make a video on your phone of him riding each ride if he’s the kind of kid that loves to watch his own videos. Bubu has been reliving the joy of these Gurney Plaza rides over and over again – RM20 well spent indeed!

We wrapped up a busy weekend with high tea  at the E&O Hotel. It’s kinda like the Raffles Hotel of Singapore… Ish. The pool was super crowded when we checked it out, and the hotel can smell a little old and musty- but it’s still a grand old dame, and you can have lovely tea and scones there if that’s your cup of tea! (Note: they are purist about their colonial style high tea. We asked if we could have coffee and were met with a snooty negative!… I would take the Living Room at Macalister Mansion for tea in a heartbeat over stuffy E&O for a fraction of the price).The waterfront at E&O is a little hazy and grey.   Still in the mood for  taking fun photos, these canons are part of the heritage setting at this historic hotel.   High tea at the E&O (I did say it looks a lot like Raffles Hotel).   Bubu is grumpy because he still wants to go back to the van!

Happiness!

Okay, so I wanted to end by sharing that apart from the standout experience at Macalister Mansion, the tip to ride at the very front of the train coming down from Penang Hill and the Or Lua at Lam Ah – the best tip I can give you is to book a driver and car (in our case a van) for getting around. First, a good driver comes equipped with local knowledge on where to go, and won’t take you to the tourist traps, and he will be able to take you straight to all the fun street art and murals (even those tucked away)!

I am happy to recommend my van driver, Mr Ong +60 16 473 2138. He was patient, friendly, always nearby and knew all the places we wanted to go to. He collected us from the airport, dropped us off, and charged RM500 per day for 10 hours , and always had a smile on his face. This could explain why Bubu was always asking for the van! If you are a smaller group traveling and don’t need a van, you can call Mr Teh +019-411-9703.  Mr Teh was recommended by a friend of mine who swears by his services, and Mr Ong was his introduction when we needed a van.

One last note: there can be quite a lot of walking in Penang – with the street markets, walking trails etc- if you have a grumpy (and extra heavy) toddler like mine, a pram could be a lifesaver! I can’t recommend enough a pram that folds up small enough to hoist into an airplane overhead compartment, cutting out the wait on arrival where even if you are first to exit the plane, you are last to reach the customs. This one is the Mothercare XXS, smallest pram in the world (and check out the funky leopard print)! Clocking in at a mere 3.9kg, it still supports my giant baby at 20kg (even though we are over the recommended weight limit); we actually bought it for future travel with Baby Jake, and I foresee a lot of use coming out of this little lifesaver!