What do you look for when planning a family vacation?
The Marriott family beach resorts offer a five star experience that includes a spacious pool, beach access, a gym, adult fitness classes (like Zumba, yoga, thai boxing, aqua aerobics, thai massage), luxurious accommodation, and a kids club that offers a variety of activities that will give parents some free time.
We’ve been a member for seven years and have frequently visited the Marriott Mai Khao Family Beach Resort at Phuket but for the past Chinese New Year holiday, we explored a new resort at the Marriott Nusa Dua Gardens in Bali, Indonesia.
I will compare these two experiences so you could see which would be a better fit for your family.
Flight from Beijing
Phuket is a direct flight while we needed a connecting flight via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to get to Bali. Having the straight flight to Phuket is definitely a plus for those traveling with young kids. Both resorts are only 20-30 minutes away from the airport and booking a hotel transport has always been our preference for ease of travel after a long flight.
Verdict: Phuket is an easier travel destination from Beijing because of the direct flight and shorter travel day.
The vacation clubs have similar features in accommodation that includes a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area, balcony, in-door laundry facilities, and two baths. Phuket had bigger rooms because of the rectangular lay-out that gave it a spacious feel. A private balcony extends from the master suite which also had a party bath tub that could fit a whole family. You could throw the kids in there and watch an episode of Netflix.
The two-bedroom apartment in Bali had a soothing Southeast Asian interior and guest bedroom big enough for a small play kingdom for the kids. They had their own kitchenette, two beds, bath, balcony and corner table. The living room also had a pull out bed.
The main pool in Phuket is rectangular in shape with a baby pool at the end. There's also a kiddie pool with a slide and a mini-splash park that pre-schoolers love.
The Bali pool was warmed by the Indonesian sun and has a winding lay-out, a lazy river, a hot tub and a shallow pool for the young ones.
Verdict: I prefer the Bali pool with it’s warmth and lazy river feature but Steve prefers the Phuket pool.
The Mai Khao beach is in front of the JW Marriott. A golf buggy will transport you the beach or you can borrow a bike and ride to it in five minutes. The beach is a private portion of a national park. It was lovely to stroll along the shoreline but the waves were always too rough for our girls to swim in. Thus, we’ve stayed mostly at the resort with minimal visits to the beach.
The Bali resort offers a shuttle ride to the beach every 30 minutes. It was a close drive and if you have active children, can even walk or bike to it. The beach was kid-friendly plus it also had rolling waves that made it fun for surfers. It’s a great beach for kid to learn surfing too. The Marriott has it’s own beach front with loungers, a bar and a restaurant. Local stores were also a stone throw away from the beach.
Verdict: Bali beach wins!
Gym and Adult Fitness Classes
I love the Phuket yoga sala and small gym. It’s easy to walk too from the villas and I’ve always attended adult classes while we were there. Aqua aerobics was fun at the pool and the Muay Thai classes was a good sweat. Since we’ve been returning often, we have a good connection with staff.
I didn’t make it to the gym at Bali. Although Indonesians are known for their warmth, the resort didn’t quite have the same personable touch as Phuket.
Verdict: The Phuket resort had a better selection of adult activities and when we traveled there with lots of friends, we did aqua aerobics together which was fun!
The Phuket Kids Club is a parent’s dream come true with an amazing staff, engaging activities, well-planned programs, and is close to the pool. Thus, if you’re lounging by the pool with a book and happy hour drinks, the staff knows where to find you when the kids want to exit the club. Our kids just happily hopped between the pool and the kids club.
The Bali kids club felt almost bare. The photos are pretty sad. It didn’t have the friendliness of the Phuket staff and the schedule wasn’t as robust in terms of programming. There were less kids in the space and the most they offered were movies and video games. It offered a short respite from the equatorial sun but our kids were barely there.
The gamelan at the lobby offered the kids more entertainment. Ariella played a beat whenever we passed by this classical Indonesian instrument.
Verdict: Phuket hands down had a better kids club.
I love being pampered but the Marriott spa prices are too much for me so I unashamedly went to the Holiday Inn for a day of pampering which offered a more affordable package. I often biked down to the beach-side kiosks for an ocean-side massage.
There were spas outside the Nusa Dua resort that were easy to walk into and even my girls enjoyed the fish spa. It was an average experience but spa experiences are always available in Bali. I just didn’t want to venture out too far and was happy enough with the local ones nearby.
Verdict: Cheaper massages are available nearby for those who don’t want to splurge on hotel spa prices.
Not much I can say here because we’ve always just stayed at the resort and the beach. Since Steve and I explored Thailand and Bali in our pre-kid stage, we didn’t feel the need to go outside the resort on family holidays.
The Phuket resort had a better bar that offered family friendly food like pizza while Bali’s main restaurant had macaroni and cheese that the kids also enjoyed. We usually made our own breakfast, ordered lunch at the resort bar, then ate out in a local restaurant for dinner.
Verdict: Not much difference. It's a tie! A god thing - water is free and easily accessible in both resorts; I just wish that they used less plastic in the H2O bottles that they left in the rooms.
Family Investment Review
We invested in the Marriott experience because Steve and I are committed to live overseas long-term as international educators. We have three to five travel holidays a year (Golden Week, Christmas, CNY, spring break and summers), and with the age of our daughter prefer easy beach holidays. We would have spent the same amount on accommodation renting either an Air B and B or hotel so investing in the Marriott program made financial sense and we’ve paid off the main fee in three years and now just pay an annual membership fee.
We’ve loved all our Marriott experiences because with a hotel chain like them, we always know what we’re getting. We’ve also used our points when we traveled to New York, Toronto, Las Vegas, and Manila.
Source of interior villa photos and swimming pools are from the Marriott website at : https://www.marriottvacationclub.com/vacation-resorts/hktpa-marriotts-mai-khao-beach-phuket/accommodations/
Planning a vacation for the family - one that will make it smooth and enjoyable for everyone - is not an easy task. The blog series on Boracay will give you a road map while this post will share the step by step process once you land in the Philippines.
First. how do you book a flight Boracay when there is no direct flight to it? What you will see is a choice between Manila-Kalibo (a 2-hour land trip to Caticlan) or Manila-Caticlan. ALWAYS choose the latter. It is the direct flight you're looking for and this guide will help you know what to expect upon arrival at Caticlan.
Step 1: Manila-Caticlan flight.
Expect delays. It usually happens but the length of time is getting better. The weather will influence how much that will be so avoid going to the Philippines during the rainy or typhoon season from June-October. There are different terminals and airports in Manila, make sure you are at the right one.
If you need to stay in Manila overnight for a connecting flight, you can check-out the hotels across the airport such as the Marriott or Resort World. They will offer you the most convenient options and have a shuttle to the airport.
The easiest flight to book will be one that lands in Manila and has a direct flight to Caticlan on the same day. Make sure that the airport is in MANILA and not CLARK, an airport that is a couple of hours away from the city.
Step 2: Bus will pick you up from the run-way and bring you to the airport.
If you've booked a hotel transfer, they will pick you up from the airport but if not, you can book through Southwest. They will have a people at the airport or if flying with Cebu Pacific, you can book it at the plane for 800 pesos. They will provide all the local transfers from the airport to your hotel.
You will pick-up your luggage and ride a vehicle from the airport to the Caticlan port.
Step 3: Boat transfer from Caticlan to Boracay island.
Upon arrival at the port, you will enter through a luggage security check and register at the counter by showing your booking reservation at an accredited hotel.
Your family will be led into a cramped holding room to wait for the boat. It won't be comfortable. Bring snacks or a treat for the kids while waiting. Hiring a porter can help you bring the luggage from waiting area to the boat.. We paid $1/luggage (50 pesos per bag). If you don't travel light, it's worth it.
The boat ride will be 15-30 minutes depending on the boat you have - speed boat, bamboat or ferry.
Step 4: Land transfer to your hotel.
The boat will bring you to the island. There will be another holding area at the Boracay port where you will wait for your vehicle to bring you to your hotel. You will be sharing the ride with other people.
It will be between a 20-45 minute ride to your hotel through roads that are still under construction. No fear. If you booked a beach front hotel at station one, you won't have to deal with the backroads for most of your stay and can focus on the peace and serenity that the beach offers.
The final step is to check-in, change into your swimmers, order a fresh mango shake (without milk and sugar), dip your feet on the warm ocean water, and celebrate. You've made it!
Looking for kid activities, check out my previous blog or my Instagram account at dramayogi.
Boracay has re-opened after a six-month closure and our family stayed there for almost three weeks during the December holiday. Here are TEN TIPS to help your family maximize your holiday at this tropical island.
1: Location, Location, Location
Boracay Island is a family-friendly beach in the Philippines but your holiday experience will heavily depend on what part of the island you book your accommodation at because there are still renovations, demolitions, and construction happening near the main road. The secret is staying at a place where you won't need to commute to the beach.
Solution. Book a beachfront hotel either in station one or station three where you'll have everything you need from the powdery soft sand, palm trees, clear blue waters, mango shakes, restaurants, and the least amount of people and traffic.
Some of the hotels that we or friends have stayed at that we recommend are the following:
Station 1: Sur, Two Seasons, Fridays, Ambassador, Discovery Shore
Station 3: Rose Pike
Avoid staying at Station Two because that's where the volume of visitors stay.
2. Boracay isn't easy to get too but paradise when you get there
Book a hotel transfer to avoid the craziness of getting to your hotel; however, if that is not possible, book Southwest - a company that will pick you up at the airport and deliver you to your hotel. You can book their service upon arrival or at the airplane if you're flying with Cebu Pacific. It won’t be convenient (lots of holding stations where you will be waiting with lots of other tourists) but they will get you to your destination and for a roundtrip, pick you up from your hotel and get you to your flight on time. They usually pick-up 3 hours before your departure time.
If you have a lot of luggage, get a porter at the dock and they will help you transport your luggage while you watch or chase the kiddos.
Curious about the travel time? It took us seven hours door to door from Manila. Staying for at least five days will make the experience worth it. Anything less will just bring stress.
Finally, check out the weather. The Philippines has a rainy season between June to October which won't be ideal for White Beach but perfect for the beach at the other side of the island as the wind changes course.
Here is the travel path:
Airplane: Manila to Caticlan flight
Bus: Upon arrival, you will ride a bus from the runway to the airport
Vehicle: Airport to Port
Boat: Caticlan Port to the Boracay Port
Vehicle: Port to Hotel (travel time will depend on where you are staying)
Vehicle means mini-bus, van, open bus, electric car, tricycle, etc.
3. If you have budget limitations and can’t book a beachside hotel, bring a tent.
We brought a mini-tent from Decathlon that we parked at the beach that became a shelter for the millions of things that families bring from beach toys, towels, sarongs, guitar, snacks, change of clothes, etc. It also gave us shelter for the short tropical rains that came and go during the day
4. Travel light. You can buy toiletries, snacks and most of the things you need at the
Budget Mart at D’Mall. But if your kids are picky with their snacks then it would be wise to bring those. The only thing that was difficult to get are good quality diapers so if traveling with infants, bring those.
5. Kid Food Choices
The island has mostly Filipino food but chances are, there will always be pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries, and rice on the menu.
6. Walk down the island and explore it by foot.
No slippers needed. The sand is soft as powder and never gets hot.
7. Fav Bar & Restaurants
If your hotel has a restaurant, it would be easy to eat there or visit the hotels nearby for other food options. That will be the most accessible option after a full day at the beach plus they can prepare the food while the kids still play at the ocean. But if you want to eat out, here are our favorite food places::
My favorite shops at D'Mall are “Nothing But Water” where I purchased most of my swim wear and "Paulo Collection" where I bought this airy white lace cover-up.
9. Sunblock is your skin's best friend
The tropical sun isn't too kind with the skin; that is why you may notice a lot of people come to the beach either in the early morning (before 10:00 AM) or around 4:00 PM when the sun begins its slow descent.. Remember to lube up with sunblock. For mamas, the secret to tanning is topping sunblock with coconut oil that moisturizes the skin. There are plenty that you can buy at the island.
10. As Bobby McFerrin sang, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Focus on the positive and you’ll roll with the good ol' island vibe.
Check-out more Boracay photos @ IG: dramayogi