This week I’m going to write a trip report of our most recent vacation to Singapore and Bali, but I will preface it with this post that addresses the most pressing question readers asked me while I was absent.
Several people wanted to know where to stay in Bali for the first time, and on learning that it was the Four Seasons they immediately followed up with a question I had asked myself: Which Four Seasons is best? Bali actually has two of these hotels, one near the airport at Jimbaran Bay and another in the Sayan valley just outside Ubud. These offer a unique opportunity to satisfy very different tastes in travel, and apparently many other people are considering a similar trip in the near future.
For example, my wife is a beach person. To break things up I insisted on stopping in Singapore during this trip to see the city. It follows that Ubud is more my style even if it’s not quite so urban. I ultimately decided to book both hotels so I could compare and contrast them. These particular properties retail for over $600 per night — a bit of a splurge since I don’t plan to take many vacations once I return to school. I want to be darn sure I’m getting a good value at that price point and pass along the information to you.
Let’s start with the similarities. Nearly every interaction with the staff at these hotels was positive and proactive, whether that meant a manager came out to meet us at arrival, the hostess greeted us by name at breakfast, or just the incredible number of chilled towels we went through on a daily basis. Service is the number one criterion I use to judge a hotel, not the quality of the food or the furnishings. Service can make or break any experience.
Perhaps the most impressive example of this was our arrival at the second of the two hotels, the Four Seasons at Sayan. The hotel had noted my request for down pillows and the fact we were traveling near our anniversary. Because we arrived at mid-day, these were not yet waiting for us in the room. Have you ever seen a movie where a line of servants walks into a room carrying trays and boxes? That was what we observed just after walking into our villa.
One person walked in with a bottle of complimentary Champagne, the next with a cake, the third with a pile of pillows, and they all set about making our place feel more of a home than a hotel room. The housekeeper insisted I walk over to test the pillows and asked if I was satisfied.
At Jimbaran Bay you could get the same experience, albeit a different flavor. Our day at the Culinary Academy started with a trip to the local fish market and ended with a costumed meal and more photos than our wedding day. Chef Kris had even tracked us down the day before while we were at the beach to plan our menu. It seemed he was having more fun than we were making our stay memorable.
In short, I don’t think either hotel will be a disappointment. So how are they different?
Ultimately I concluded that the beach/city analogy is the most important aspect. Both hotels were fabulous. I do think we got good value for our money. But I can relax anywhere peaceful near some water, and the Four Seasons at Sayan can provide that same opportunity. I almost enjoyed it more, given the insects and birds in the jungle. (Beware: they can be noisy at night.) Megan, on the other hand, must have sand and surf. There was no better place than the Coconut Grove at Jimbaran Bay. Trekking around the market stalls and along the river paths in Ubud is not her idea of fun; she had to be coerced into returning to Monkey Forest.
I liked Sayan more because it provided an excellent base to explore more of the temples and jungle at the north end of the island, which is nearly impossible if you start from Jimbaran or Nusa Dua. It’s a three-hour round trip journey just to reach Ubud. Add another three hours if you plan to go further. On this vacation we just didn’t have the time, but I think we will definitely return to stay near Ubud in the future. After two trips we’ve now seen nearly everything there is to do on the island’s southern side, and beaches can be found in all parts of the world. I don’t think the beaches in Bali are particularly special.
None of this is to say the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay provided a bad experience. Rather, it was a less unique experience. Megan will provide her own perspective in a separate post at the end of this trip report. We’ll see what she has to add. If there are any specific questions I haven’t addressed, please feel free to ask them now.