Child’s play: the hotel’s infinity pool at sunset.

Kuta is known for its traffic, its touts and its tattoos, but
as Belinda Jackson finds, there are pockets where families can chill
out. 

Arrayed in white linen, the Italian hotel manager glides
between tables, chatting while the DJ eases us into the evening with a
loungy beat.

A photographer snaps the poolside model, garnished in jewels
and tiny bikini, and staff watch on as small children splash in the
toddlers’ pool, which is awash with a coloured light display.

We’re in Kuta. Yes, Kuta. The much-maligned Balinese home of tie-dye
T-shirts, cornrow braids and misspelt tattoos. But stay with me. The
Sheraton Kuta Bali is a little haven amid the insane traffic and moped
touts, right across the road from the iconic Kuta Beach.

Nanny and charge during Sunday brunch. Photo: Belinda Jackson

The open-air foyer is capped by a massive faux grass-weave
roof and looks over the ocean. Each of the 203 rooms, suites and the
penthouse has a balcony, with 64 rooms interconnecting and kitted out
for travelling families.

Now two years old, the hotel is still in a state of evolution
that defies its location, from the handpainted plates of its Bene
rooftop Italian trattoria to the low-key Sunday sunset pool parties and
newest addition, the kids’ club.

I’m a novice at this kids’ club thing. In the past, I’ve used nannies
with Small Girl, timing it with her naps to slip out for a few hours of
grown-up time. There have been good times, there have been tears.

“We decided to open a kids’ club because we were hit with a
massive number of families last holidays,” says the hotel’s general
manager and father-of-three, Dario Orsini. “Parents are travelling with
kids much earlier than they used to. And we just didn’t expect people
would bring their kids to Kuta.”

The sparkling new Play@Sheraton Kids Club opens with a pretty
dance by a local Balinese ballet class, and we admire the unblemished
sand pit, slides and the paddling pool outside. Inside, the little
dancing girls all leap onto the computers to play a pink, fluffy game,
the boys tear up to the mezzanine level to bond with the PlayStation 3.
My child, through some genetic programming glitch, merely stands in
front of a three-storey doll’s house, gasping in shock and awe.

In a clever piece of marketing, the kids’ club is free to
hotel guests but also to anyone spending more than $35 in the hotel’s
Shine spa. See what they did there?

Indonesian desserts. Photo: Belinda Jackson

With my new freedom, I take the hotel’s advice and, an hour
later, erupt from the hotel’s spa with all nails newly painted an
extremely perky orange called “A Roll in the Hague” . It is a test
drive, it is a revelation.

General manager Dario’s three beautiful children have been
instrumental in the hotel’s many kid-friendly initiatives, including the
kids’ buffet. One section of the restaurant is set with low children’s
tables, unbreakable crockery, plastic cups and pint-sized cutlery beside
the kids’ buffet, where they can pick up their own breakfast cereal,
noodles, a pastry or the cutest little ducklings made from balls of
mashed potato.

I do mention to the (possibly childless) food and beverage
manager that a little fruit or some cheese could be squeezed between the
chocolate donuts, but Small Child seems perfectly happy with the
selection. In keeping with the local expat tradition for elaborate
Sunday lunches, the main restaurant, Feast, runs a Market Brunch.

What I love best is not the free-pour drinks package
(although that’s pretty good) nor the fact that a nanny whisks your kids
away to the kids’ area to make bracelets and drawings so you can eat,
unencumbered (also exceptionally good). No, I love the strong Indonesian
bias on the buffet.

Yes, you can have your sushi, your curry, your fruit platters
and your dim sum. But there’s also a flame grill on the terrace,
overlooking busy Jalan Pantai Kuta to the beach, where your hand-picked
monster prawn or local whole fish is grilled before your hungry eyes.

At another little trolley, an aged woman makes rujak, the
classic Indonesian salad of papaya, cucumber and sweet potato, tossed in
a salty-sweet, chili palm sugar dressing, and the bebek rica-rica, a
fiery duck curry, is the best I’ve tasted.

The dessert display groans with sweetly coloured ice-creams
and petite fours, sharing the limelight with cantik manis (literally,
“beautiful dessert”), a pink banana and tapioca slice arranged beside
green dadar gulung rolls and klepon, little balls filled with liquid
palm sugar that has my Indonesian colleague reminiscing of her
childhood.

The next day, I want to experiment to see if that
happy-kids-club thing wasn’t a fluke. Small Child runs toward said club.
Looking good.

I run toward spa. Even better. The masseuse slaving over my
densely knotted shoulders nods knowingly when I mention my young
daughter (“Ah, picking her up all the time,” she diagnoses
sympathetically as she drives a thumb beneath my shoulder blade, making
it stick up like a chicken’s wing. It feels surprisingly good.)

It’s also at this hands-free time that I discover another
hotel secret: walk out the front entrance and you literally walk into
Zara, in the Beachwalk shopping mall, which shares the same block of
real estate. Zara and Top Shop not your thing? OK, head for Armani, the
surfware shops, slick cafes.

If you’re in the market for exceptional local fashion, make a
beeline for Satu, which showcases Bali’s best labels including Natasha
Gan’s floaty dresses, chic, monochromatic pants suits from Uluwatu Lace
and bags by Jakata-based Soe.Hoe.

I also pop in to the beautiful Museum Kain, Bali’s first
cloth (“kain”) museum, well curated with excellent interactive displays
on the history of Indonesian fabric design.

It’s our last day, and Small Girl has spent every waking
minute either talking about or dancing around the kids’ club. I have to
pry her out to check out.

At the reception, the three-year-old drops to the floor and
turns on a spectacular tantrum. People turn to stare, disapprovingly as
her howls echo throughout vast lobby.

“Noooo! I want to go to kids’ club! I don’t want to go home!”

Dario, the general manager, passes us with a small smile: he knows I’ll be back.

The writer was a guest of Sheraton Kuta Bali.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE Fly direct to Bali from Australia with Garuda Indonesia, Virgin Australia or Jetstar. See garuda-indonesia.com; virginaustralia.com; jetstar.com

STAYING THERE The Play@Sheraton family package includes breakfast, kids’
club, a play pack, kid’s manicure, free-flow bottle for juice or milk
and all kids’ meals from $215 a room, a night (two-night minimum) for
two adults and two kids under 12. Sunday’s Market Brunch costs from $25
for adults, $12.50 for children, and is open to non-guests. A Shine Spa
signature massage costs from $37 for an hour. Sheraton Bali Kuta, phone 1800 073 535; see sheratonbalikuta.com

MORE INFORMATION
indonesia.travel


This story by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.