Not all Bali luxury resorts are created equal: we visit the new Ritz-Carlton Mandapa in Ubud and discover a child-friendly paradise
I’ve now been to Bali six times and that probably puts me on the low end compared to many families in Singapore. But when a friend visiting from the US asked if we could spend a long weekend there, I took one look at the haze out the window, shrugged my shoulders, and booked us on a cheap AirAsia flight.
The ordinary and commonplace stopped as soon as we cleared customs in Denapasar, however. My friend, my husband, my 16-month-old daughter Maggie, and I were whisked away to the new Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Ubud and proceeded to have the most magical, restorative three days in recent memory. (The hassle-free experience began when they provided a Britax car seat so we didn’t have to schlep one all the way from Singers!).
Ritz-Carlton is obviously a well-known luxury brand, but Mandapa is just the third in their even more luxurious Ritz-Carlton Reserve collection – one-of-a-kind, boutique resorts located in hand-picked settings around the world (the other two are in Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico and Phulay Bay Krabi, Thailand – lucky us for having two on our doorstep!).
Mandapa is the word for the entrance to a traditional Hindu Temple, and as you cross through the resort’s unassuming stone gates into a lush courtyard you really do feel like you’re entering a rarefied space. The resort is set on a hillside along Ubud’s famous Ayung River, with the open-air lobby pavilion at the top of the hill offering sweeping views of the resort’s 35 suites, 25 pool villas, rice paddies, restaurants, and spa – all buffered by the rushing Ayung.
The resort only opened in September, but nothing feels unfinished – on the contrary it’s quite pristine. It might take a little while to develop the sort of lush, overgrown, jungly ambience you encounter at some of Ubud’s older resorts, but this is easily (and quickly) fixed.
Any qualms about the newness are quickly forgotten when you enter the absolutely astounding pool villas. At 4,630 square feet – with enormous 30m2 swimming pools – each stunningly landscaped villa features a palatial master bedroom, gorgeous marble bath, outdoor garden shower, covered terrace with daybed, and separate living area.
It’s hard to tell this from the website, but the living room is actually a pavilion unto itself with its own ceiling fan, aircon, TV and daybed. Had we known about this layout we might have brought along our helper, so I’m letting you know now mamas that it’s a perfect setup to give kids and parents (or another couple) plenty of privacy from each other.
Our villa was set up right alongside the river, and all of us – especially Maggie – loved watching rafters drift by every so often, or seeing kids on the other side hike down to splash and swim. Besides the pool, there was also a nice little lawn area in our compound that delighted Maggie (grass! Such a precious commodity!).
Maggie also loved exploring the spacious main villa, and was highly entertained by the fancy Japanese toilet that automatically lifted its seat in greeting each time she opened the door (not gonna lie, it put a smile on my face, too).
Toddlers obviously require strict supervision at the best of times, but other than some sharp edges on the poolside tables and stairs, we thought the villa was generally quite toddler-friendly. (It goes without saying that babies and children should always be closely supervised when there’s a pool involved; we also liked that there was a shallow entry step that allowed Maggie to ease her way into the water). There was one little gap between the villa and the river’s edge (about a 10-foot drop). Otherwise there was a clear glass wall that ensured lush, unobstructed views along with plenty of peace of mind for this mama.
Another kid-friendly feature: the outstanding staff. I know that’s not exactly a unique selling point, as in my experience the Balinese LOVE babies and children and are wonderful with them, but I was curious to see whether my active toddler would be welcomed at this high-end luxury resort that obviously gets its fair share of honeymooners and couples. And they passed with flying colours.
First of all, because most guests stay in pool villas with their own ginormous pools, the main pool and poolside bar are pretty quiet during the day. We never saw any other guests when zipping around the resort in our buggy, yet our first morning at breakfast (a truly delicious spread, by the way) the restaurant was buzzing, and we actually saw three other families with kids of varying ages.
I was so grateful to the staff who happily played with Maggie and walked her around the restaurant so we could eat (and converse) in a bit of peace. They even took her to the adjacent organic vegetable garden (which also supplies much of the resort’s fabulous restaurants); amusingly I saw another little boy around her age leave breakfast clutching a small eggplant that he’d obviously harvested out of his own accord.
Speaking of harvesting, there’s a working rice paddy smack in the middle of the resort that beautifully evokes your sense of place in Ubud. In the coming weeks they’ll also be opening Green Camp at Mandapa, a collaboration with the famous Green School of Bali that aims to teach kids age 5 & up “both the natural wonders and the rich cultural traditions” of Bali. No ordinary kids’ club, Green Camp has its own purpose-built “Kids’ Hut” tucked away at the top of the hillside, and kiddos will learn everything from organic farming, to yoga, to how to make a temple offering (how convenient that Mandapa has its own temple complex!). Parents are very much welcome to participate in all of these awesome activities, by the way; I only wish I didn’t have to wait a couple years to go with Maggie.
Further on the service tip, each villa actually has its own Patih (butler), who’s available to handle things like packing and unpacking, picking you up in a buggy (the hill was a bit too steep for little toddler legs), and making restaurant reservations. Our butler, Hillary, happened to hear me mention wanting to go shopping in Seminyak and provided me with a full list of options and prices for hiring a private driver. The resort is also an easy 10-minute drive from Ubud town, and there’s a free shuttle with frequent departures and pickups (we were the only people to book the 11am shuttle, and they happily waited for us when we were running late!).
So what can I say? I loved every aspect of the resort (I’ve hardly even mentioned the food, which was fantastic across the board, but must give a special shoutout to Kubu, which served up an exciting molecular gastronomic journey from a sweet little pod overlooking the rushing river while the stars twinkled overhead).
My friend enjoyed the complimentary morning yoga class that made the most of the river views, though she had to ask three people exactly where it was happening before she actually found the instructor (I recognise this is a common occurrence with just-opened hotels, though). If that was the biggest hiccup, consider me a satisfied customer.
With suites starting from US$570++ per night Mandapa is not cheap, but for a special occasion, or a relaxing family getaway where everyone has their own space and every little detail is thoughtfully anticipated, it’s absolutely wonderful. Because of Singapore’s haze I’d forgotten what blue skies and starry nights looked like, but thanks to Mandapa my faith in nature was once again restored.
Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve offers 35 suites and 25 private pool villas, with rates starting from US$570++ per night, including breakfast.
Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Jalan Kedewatan, Banjar Kedewatan Ubud, 80571 Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia, Tel: (+62) 361 479 2777 or email [email protected] for reservations, www.ritzcarlton.com/Mandapa