Just an hour’s flight from Singapore, Penang offers world class street food and UNESCO heritage buildings, and the nearby Shangri-La Golden Sands Resort is the perfect kid-friendly base for families
If you’ve been searching for a quick and easy weekend family getaway, you might find that Shangri-La’s Golden Sands Resort, Penang on Batu Ferringhi beach is just what you were looking for. The focus here is on on family fun, and our kids had an absolute blast.
The 8am flight from Changi to Penang on Scoot was just 1 hour, and the hotel had a car (complete with baby seat as requested) waiting for us on arrival. It’s a 45 minute drive up to Batu Ferringhi Beach where the hotel is situated. It actually seemed faster than that, and both kids slept through the journey after our early start.
On arrival we were greeted with friendly smiles and whisked up to our rooms on the 7th floor. Although it’s been renovated since, the hotel was opened in 1979, and there’s a certain old school charm to the decor! We had two interconnecting Executive Seaview Rooms for our stay, which was more than enough space for our family of four. It’s definitely possible for a young family (we have a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old) to fit into one room, but does leave you a little restricted once the kids are asleep. We had a bit of noise on our last night from the neighbouring room, but thankfully they quieted down by the time we wanted to go to sleep. The balconies offered a great view of the resort and the sea, and the kids enjoyed watching the parasailing each morning. But honestly, we spent most of our time at the pool, because… waterslides!
There are a few different pool areas, but the highlight for our kids was the two waterslides. I think they both could have spent the entire weekend on the slides. The 6-year-old was easily able to navigate the stairs and come down by himself — the water at the bottom is not very deep, and a lifeguard is on hand to hustle the kids out of the way before the next person comes down.
There are tables and chairs scattered around the pool area, and if your kids are the right age you can sit and relax with a cocktail while watching them exhaust themselves on the slide. Parents of younger children will get an excellent workout going up the stairs and down the slides over and over (and over) again. (Pro tip: stick to the white slide if you’re going down with a small child in your lap; the green slide is shorter but much faster). Older kids may find the slides a bit tame, but the under-10s will love them.
In addition to the waterslides, there is a heart shaped pool that goes from 1.2m-1.5m in depth, as well as a larger pool that has a cordoned off toddler area (I didn’t love this area as the ground was sloped and the toddler just kept trying to climb over the barrier anyway), and a separate ‘no kids’ area which is a whopping 3m deep. There is also a water play area next to the water slides with spray jets and a huge bucket of water that tips over the play area every few minutes.
Breakfast is included, and it’s the traditional hotel buffet breakfast, with both Western and Asian options. Definitely go earlier if you can; the vibe goes from quiet and chilled to crowded and frantic the later it gets. There are two dining options at Golden Sands, and both share the same kids’ menu: The Garden Cafe, where breakfast is served, became our preferred destination, but Sigi’s Bar and Grill by the beach was also a good option. The kids’ menu was pretty great, offering a huge variety of foods, and plenty of healthy options. My husband and I enjoyed the food initially, but got a bit bored after a couple of meals. The cocktail menu was long but we found most of them a little underwhelming.
On our second night we ventured over to the neighboring Shangri La property, the Rasa Sayang, which offers some fancier dining options. The Spice Market Cafe was the more casual option of the three restaurants but was still decidedly dressier and pricier than our options at Golden Sands. They had an impressive buffet dinner option, but with two tired kids we opted for à la carte. The food was definitely a level up here, but after dining in very relaxed settings the last couple of days, I actually felt a little on edge as my kids started to get louder and grumpier and we started to crave the very forgiving environment of the Garden Cafe. Both kids were asleep on us as we left the restaurant and we weren’t looking forward to navigating the walk home in the dark, but the very kind staff took pity on us and offered a golf buggy to drop us back to the Golden Sands.
Adventure Zone and Kids’ Club
Golden Sands does have a Kids’ Club, although we didn’t make use of this service. We did, however, visit the Adventure Zone — an indoor soft play centre on site. The toddler section was free but the main area costs RM35 (about S$12) for 2 hours, and socks are required for kids and adults (they can be purchased if you forget to pack some). This place was great fun for both our kids, and features some of the most terrifying slides I’ve seen in my life! Kids are actually required to wear long sleeves and long pants to go on the infamous red and blue slides — the red slide is basically a vertical drop! Daredevils will love it, though, and for the rest of us there was plenty to keep us busy for a couple of hours.
Read more:The Best Hotel Kids’ Clubs across Asia
Right away, we noticed a few things the Golden Sands was doing to reduce waste. There are no bin liners in the rooms, drinking water is provided in reusable glass bottles, and paper straws were used in all of our cocktails. I was interested to know what else they do, and it turns out they also use LED lights throughout the entire building and biodegradable packaging for bathroom amenities. It’s definitely nice to know you can still do your bit to reduce your environmental footprint while on holiday.
Penang and George Town
The hotel offers a free shuttle bus into the UNESCO World Heritage City of George Town (around 20 minutes away), which we had planned to utilise on our last day to check out the famous street art. But of course, no family holiday is complete without at least one child getting sick and so instead we took a trip to the local doctors’ clinic and the toddler and I spent the rest of the day in the hotel room watching Beauty and the Beast.
There is a night market right outside the hotel along the street, and plenty of cafes and restaurants, as well as a 7-11. There are also water sports available on the beach outside the hotel, although the beach itself wasn’t that nice. There were jellyfish warnings, so swimming was not recommended, and the sand is fairly coarse. Our 6-year-old adores sand and was perfectly happy with the beach, whereas our 2-year-old wouldn’t even walk on it in shoes, but we barely ventured out there because there was too much fun to be had in the hotel grounds.
So should you visit?
There’s a really fun, slightly daggy vibe about the Golden Sands. It reminded me a little of the resort in Dirty Dancing — there were sun loungers spread across the lawn, organised dance sessions by the pool for the kids, organised water volleyball games, and live music at Sigi’s in the evenings. The Golden Sands describes itself as ‘Penang’s premier family-friendly resort’ and visitors can expect a family – rather than a luxury – feel to the hotel. This is not the place to fill your Instagram feed with envy-inducing holiday snaps, in fact I don’t think I witnessed a single selfie while I was there! Everyone was too busy having fun in the pool, on the waterslides, and lounging at the restaurants. If you’re looking for a holiday that’s guaranteed to be a hit with the kids, then this is a great option!