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/