I remembered when we first started planning for family vacations at the turn of the century. Internet use wasn’t nearly as pervasive as it is today, and the web pages that did talk about various places of attractions tend not to be community-based. In fact, we routinely bought DK Travel Guides to plan itineraries. Things have of course changed a lot. Sites like Tripadvisor produce a useful – if not always authoritative – indicator on how good an attraction or property of temporary stay is, and the latest fad today is online trip planners.

The planning for our Melbourne started several months ago, and possibly because we’re not doing anything particular adventurous or dangerous (not with two young kids), our itinerary has been pretty ordinary and kids-friendly. So, some random notes off the top of my head:

The Sygic trip planner – used to be known as Tripomatic before Sygic took a 51% equity stake in the company – is a pretty useful tool that works across platforms, and provides useful day by day maps to guide one in getting from one point to the next. It doesn’t do as well though with less urban areas, and a couple of places we were interested in outside the main city confounded the planner.

The projected daily temperature the 9 days we’re there is 5 to 13° C. Brrrrr!

We exchanged our cash for use several weeks ago when the exchange rate was 1AUD to 1.044SGD, thinking that the AUD could not fall any further against the SGD. And today, it’s 1AUD to 0.999SGD. Arrrggh.

We booked the Pegasus Apart’Hotel. No kidding on the odd name – it seems like a play between the words ‘apartment’ and ‘hotel’! We’ll be staying in a 60sqm two-bedroom suite. We did consider explore several Airbnb options for stays, but concluded that the savings between a similarly sized Airbnb unit were minimal compared to what we paid for the Pegasus Apart’Hotel. The property is by no means a five-star stay – and no, that wasn’t our expectation for what we paid – but I did appreciate that the hotel’s management seems to take feedback seriously, judging from the somewhat personalized replies to most comments left by Tripadvisor reviewers. The hotel though has an odd security deposit for incidentals which some reviewers have bitterly complained about. We’ll have to be mindful of that and play by ear.

Right along A'Beckett Street.

Right along A’Beckett Street.

The property sits along a quiet side road, has an Independent Grocers of Australia supermarket just across the road, is within easy walking distance of Queen Victoria Market, and not too far from public transportation too. It also offers complimentary WIFI, but we’ll be picking up some travel data SIM cards for our mobile gadgets too.

We’re still deciding on our transportation options to/fro the airport and accommodation. There’s the Skybus with its complimentary hotel transfer service, and for slightly more, more direct options too.

Our list of places within Melbourne city include the usual tourist-y sites and the places that will interest our two kids: including Melbourne Aquarium, Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne Museum, and Eureka Skydeck. And for daddy/mommy: Royal Exhibition Building, Parliament House, Royal Botanic Gardens, St. Patrick’s and St. Paul’s Cathedrals, Fizroy and Treasury Gardens, and Queen Victoria Street Market.

The list of places outside the city would include: the PUffing Billy Train-ride, Dandenong Ranges, Healesville Sanctuary, Sovereign Hill, Ballarat Wildlife Park, and the Great Ocean Road. The Healesville Sanctuary and Ballarat Wildlife Park will be especially interesting for the kids. We dropped Phillip island off the list as we figured that the kids wouldn’t fare well waiting for the penguins to show up on the beach in cold winter, and that we didn’t want to be associated with the spectacle of seeing tourists – apparently often from a certain country north in Asia – spoiling it for everyone else with over-enthusiastic flash photography.

We did consider self-driving, but concluded that we’d rather pay someone else to do it – especially after we had to cross fruit-picking off the list, winter being off-season for such. We are however finding day tour operators who keep the number of guests they bring on each tour to a small number though (a dozen or less).

We’ve started booking and confirming our Day Tour packages, starting with going with a company called A Tour With A Difference (what a name LOL) for the Great Ocean Road trip.

We’re still looking for a suitable multipass ticket across the attractions we’re checking out, and haven’t found something suitable yet.

Well that’s the summary of it. More notes to come soon enough! :)

 

While waiting for the Huawei Smartwatch to arrive from Amazon here, another item that I ordered got delivered in the interim. A new backpack for work and the upcoming Melbourne trip – the Thule Enroute Blur 2 Daypack and from an eBay reseller.

That’s admittedly quite a mouthful. Over the years, I’ve had a number of backpacks that I carry to and fro work, on account that the backpacks routinely hold one (or two) notebooks, my larger than normal-sized coffee tumbler, and a bunch of other accessories. Each backpack routinely gets used for about 3 years before they have to be discarded for one reason or another; sometimes because the zippers break or the bag gets too badly stained from spills from the tumblers. Several years ago, Ling bought from Amazon for my birthday a Thule EnRoute Blur daypack and that lasted for a good while, until the woven side-pouches developed small holes from wear and tear. Over time, the holes have grown fairly large. So I figured it was about time to get a replacement.

Thule is a well-regarded Swedish manufacturer of consumer good, though unlike brands like Samsonite, Lowepro or Targus, one tends to find just a small range of their bags carried in local stores. Like many of the other items from bag manufacturers here, they tend to be sold at recommended retail prices at most stores (camera shops being the possible exception as they seem more willing to offer in-store discounts). The EnRoute line has seen a couple of new updated models, and the most recent iteration being the Enroute Blur 2 daypack. This particular backpack is sold at a couple of stores – including Isetan and The Wallet Shop – in just a few colors, and for what seems to be the RRP of $179. Amazon US does not ship the item direct to Singapore. But I found an eBay reseller who was offering the item for substantially less at $133 and including shipping. The reseller is also, apparently, a husband/wife team who run a brick and mortar shop in Kansas specialising mostly in outdoor and biking gear, including many of Thule’s other non-bag products. The bag did take slightly more than a fortnight to arrive, but arrive safely through registered post it did, and in the same condition as one would get buying from a local store.

First impressions – I’m very satisfied. The bag is ever so slightly larger than the EnRoute it’s replacing, slightly more voluminous at 24l than the previous 23l, offers additional compartments, and is of exactly the color – Drab/Green – I wanted. And best of all, at $46 cheaper than if I bought it in Singapore. Not chump change!

Pictures and comments.

Thule bags. They ooze quality.

Thule bags. They ooze quality.

The Thule EnRoute Blur 2 Daypack/Drab colored.

The Thule EnRoute Blur 2 Daypack/Drab colored.

A 'Safe Zone' compartment that is reinforced. Can contain fragile goods like handphones, glasses, and even my Breadtalk Bun for breakfast!

A ‘Safe Zone’ compartment that is reinforced. Can contain fragile goods like handphones, glasses, and even my Breadtalk Bun for breakfast.

The main compartment with a sensible arrangement of smaller pouches for accessories. I like bags that aren't black in internal color. Easier to find small items!

The main compartment with a sensible arrangement of smaller pouches for accessories. I like bags that aren’t black in internal color. Easier to find small items.

The laptop compartment, with a dedicated tablet sleeve too.

The padded laptop compartment, with a dedicated tablet sleeve too. The compartment can fit a 15″ Macbook Pro/15.6″ laptop – but not my Aftershock S17.

Lots of nice little touches, including excess strap organizers.

Lots of nice little touches, including excess strap organizers.

Strap organizers for the shoulder straps even. Not a standard inclusion in many other backpacks.

Strap organizers for the shoulder straps even. Not a standard inclusion in many other backpacks.

Thick padding to distribute weight across your shoulder blades and back.

Thick padding to distribute weight across your shoulder blades and back.

Long product guarantee, but I reckon I'd not be using the bag for this long.

Long product guarantee, but I reckon I’d not be using the bag for this long.

The old EnRoute/Black and the new EnRoute 2/Drab, with the latter being noticeably slightly larger.

The old EnRoute/Black and the new EnRoute 2/Drab, with the latter being noticeably slightly larger.

The most recent family vacation to Club Med Bintan in December last year turned out to be such a let-down that we’ve sworn off beach resorts for our family holidays for the immediate future. I reckon that the disappointment was made the worse as many Internet bloggers had written glowing paradise-like praise for the place. And that let me to really wonder whether we’d finally gone to the same place or not over the five days! A Minton neighbor was recently quite interested in our blog, and commented that she especially appreciated and would rather follow independent bloggers than those affiliated with influencer agencies or receiving sponsorships and what not, and even withstanding caveats/open declarations/editorial policies. We’d write without having to feel as though we’re obligated to only say favorable things.

That aside and in any case, we have a window this year in June where we could make plans for a longer than the usual five-six day trip we’ve been making do in the last few years. And at that time of the year, the northern hemisphere would be typically warmer than the south, so we decided early on to arrange for an at least eight day trip, and somewhere south. Like the last three trips – to Legoland Malaysia, Koh Phangan, and Bintan – Peter would be with us.  And apart from prevailing climate, we were also mindful of other considerations, including:

Airfare costs

Availability of direct flights

Not too far (we were worried if Peter could handle anything more than 12 hrs in a plane!)

Child and pram-friendly

Self-drive as an option

Cool weather

With these criteria in mind, we really weren’t considering many options – yep, it was going to be Australia. Again.

Truth to tell, I’ve spent so much time in Australia, comparatively, that I’m not sure if I wanted to go there again for a vacation. I reckon if we were planning for a September or December holiday, we’d travel to Taiwan, Japan or Korea instead. And if funds had permitted, to visit our Ang mo bud in Missouri.

Of the several cities in the country, Ling wasn’t so keen on Perth as she’d already been there and didn’t think there was much, city-wise. I concurred – I would know as I lived there for three years! The next two cities which were going to see fairly cool weather was Sydney and Melbourne, and both cities were connected to Singapore by several airlines whose fares were competitively-priced, and they also offered direct flights. The two cities architecture and vibe-wise are different, and they also offer a very slightly different basket of sights off-city. I’ve previously spent a bit of time in both, and my preference was Sydney while Ling’s was Melbourne – and we eventually decided in favor of the latter, and a ten day trip.

At this point, we’ve confirmed our flights – we booked Emirates on a pretty decent deal that was about comparable price-wise to budget offerings after taking on board the additional food and baggage charges, and also our accommodation arrangements. More comments on that to come, alongside of our itinerary in-planning!

melbourne

Melbourne, June 2016.

I reckon I’m one of those very lucky hubbies – since I have a wife who chuckles whenever I bring home a new toy! This time round, it’s the Fujifilm X70.

The impetus for this new acquisition started 2 months ago when the Olympus E-PL6 started developing sticky shutter problems. Not sure why since it’s been handled carefully for the almost 3 years I’ve owned it. While the stuck shutter can be rectified by removing the battery and memory card at each occurrence, it’s also caused me to miss key moments where the kids were doing something I wanted to capture.

I’ve previously owned relatively-large sensor compact cameras before. The Panasonic LX7 – which can still take decent pictures in good light; the Panasonic LX100 – which offered a very useful focal length and was fast at the widest angle, but got sold away as I couldn’t live with the odd color casts and also was just too soft around the corners.

For our upcoming Melbourne June 2016 trip, I’ve been eyeing a replacement compact that would accompany the E-M1 and the two f2.8s (12-40mm/40-150mm) coming along for the trip. The compact would need to meet these requirements:

Relatively large sensor of at least 1″.

Bright f2.8 or faster lens.

Flip screen for the family wefie.

Compact, preferably. Pocketable, even better.

Non-interchangeable lens systems. One camera system is enough!

A whole list of models got included – the Sony RX100 series, the Canons G7X and G9X, and a couple of bridge cameras even – the Panasonic FZ1000, Sony RX10 and Canon G3X. The three bridge cameras all start at f2.8 and support up to the minimal focal length I reckon I would shoot at in Melbourne, with the RX10 going way beyond that even. But they are also huge, heavier than the E-M1/12-40mm, and bulkier. The Canon G3X is slightly smaller in body compared to the other two bridge cameras, but misses out on a built-in viewfinder – a key omission that would have made telephoto shots difficult to manage.

The Sony RX100s are compact and fairly pricey, though the oldest of the series still widely sold – the Mark II – is relatively cheap now with in-store discounts. The Canons G7X and G9X are at an affordable price-point and meet most of the basic requirements, but I’ve still have niggling concerns about 1″ sensors using on the Sony RX100s and Canons, and the Canons also reportedly have poor battery life.

A student of mine previously loaned me his Fujifilm X100 some four years ago, and I really liked its amazing colors and center sharpness, though not its general usability and pedestrian AF speeds. The most current version of that series – the Fujifilm X100T – wasn’t in consideration as it was fairly large for a compact, and well-past the price I was prepared to pay for it though a grey import would have saved me a few hundred dollars. And finally, there’s the Sony RX1R II – the full-frame fixed lens compact. A cell group friend owns that, but I would have had to sell my left arm to afford the $4.9K it costs!

So, I was pretty much set on the Canon G7X and was about to pick it up until I stumbled upon the Fujifilm X70 quite by accident while trawling the discussion forums. The key characteristic of the X70 is that it’s, essentially, a shrunk down version of the X100s and going for a lot cheaper than that even. The US street price for the X70 is US$699. The local distributed version here goes for US$800 – which after including GST, shipping charges here, and the bunch of freebies (thrown in for the local bundle, seems priced fairly after all.

The Fujifilm X70!

The Fujifilm X70!

My first impressions of the X70 next!

 

The nightly concerts at Club Med Bintan was the second major event outing for the new Olympus 40-150mm f2.8, the first being Hannah’s K2 Graduation Concert a month ago. The shooting conditions were similar in some respects – fast subject motion on-stage and constantly changing stage lighting – and different in others – the distance separation at Hannah’s Concert was about 40 or more meters, while the Club Med concerts were about 10 meters. The latter difference was especially significant – subject motion and also depth of field posed greater challenges, while lens shake was less of a problem.

On the overall, about 950 odd photos were taken using the 40-150mm, about 800 were at the evening concerts. Many of them turned out quite well – all things considered – with the frame capturing the stage actors in the intended posture, the shot being reasonably sharp, and stage lights not posing a frightful mash of colors on sensitive frame areas (especially faces). Here’s a selection of some of my favorite shots across several evenings!

The first concert night was a mash-up of 1960s onwards popular music. That's a fake guitar BTW LOL.

The first concert night was a mash-up of 1960s onwards popular music. That’s a fake guitar BTW LOL.

The very sporting GOs looking like they just stepped out of the Blue Oyster Bar LOL.

The very sporting GOs looking like they just stepped out of the Blue Oyster Bar LOL.

Feet up! Hard to get shots like these right.

Feet up! Hard to get shots like these right.

Tina Turner - I think!

Tina Turner – I think!

I love K-pop!

I love K-pop!

Couldn't guess which artiste this GO was mimicking.

Couldn’t guess which artiste this GO was mimicking.

No prizes for correctly guessing this one! The GO did a pretty good facsimile of the Gangnam style.

No prizes for correctly guessing this one! The GO did a pretty good facsimile of the Gangnam style.

The hilarious French Whistler skit on the second night.

The hilarious French Whistler skit on the second night.

One of those supremely lucky shots! Look hard enough and you'll see the dude's implants letting fly LOL.

One of those supremely lucky shots! Look hard enough and you’ll see the dude’s implants letting fly LOL.

Solo number. Kept the color exactly as it was from the stage lights.

Solo number. Kept the color exactly as it was from the stage lights.

Fourth concert night titled 'Indonesian night', which comprised cultural dances and skits.

Fourth concert night titled ‘Indonesian night’, which comprised cultural dances and skits.

The dance choreographer of the fourth night showing his moves.

The dance choreographer of the fourth night showing his moves.

Of the whole bunch of us, I reckon Hannah probably got the most out of our Club Med Bintan stay. Ling wanted to try out a couple of activities (e.g. trapezing) but was trapped down by Peter who clung onto her and refused to let her go. But she was able to venture out to the beach several times to hunt for sea life. Peter was probably just thrilled to lots of things to touch (and eat).

As for myself, aside from swimming and archery, I pretty much spent all the rest of my time taking pictures and reading. In fact, on the latter, over five days I finished four books including one on the battle for Iwo Jima and written by the late Robert Leckie and whose story was told in The Pacific mini-TV series, and a quarter into a fifth –  Forgotten Ally by Rana Mitter, a critically acclaimed and compelling account of China’s role in WWII, the struggles between early politicians like Mao Zedong, Wang Jing Wei and Chiang Kai-shek and why China is the way she is today. The National Library of Singapore’s eReads is a godsend!

Of the whole bunch of cameras, lenses and accessories I brought along for the trip, surprisingly, usage largely centered on a few key pieces of all the gear I carted, and they included:

E-M1. This camera body was given a real run for the money, and didn’t disappoint.

Olympus 40-150mm f2.8. Of the slightly under over 1,300 frames I shot, about 80% were on the E-M1 (the remaining were using the E-PL6 and also Samsung Galaxy Note 5), and of these, almost all were on this 40-150mm lens.

Billingham Hadley Pro in its first substantial outing. The National Geographic messenger couldn’t comfortably hold the 40-150mm.

Joby Pro Camera Strap: worry-free tethering!

Surprisingly, the equipment that I used little of or barely touched included the:

Olympus E-PL6/Olympus 17mm f1.8: I took several dozen low-light shots in our dimly-lit rooms and also a couple more at the restaurant – but that’s it.

Olympus 12-40mm f2.8: used it only for a small handful of beach and walking about shots and also our usual family wefie shots on the last day.

Nissin i40: never got brought out.

This trip was probably an odd one, since we didn’t do any sight-seeing at all. Rather, the majority of the 950 or so shots using the E-M1/40-150mm were of Hannah’s activities, and also at the evening concerts, where the combo really shined and producing amazing pictures under limiting conditions. Here’s the first bunch of them; I took so many concert pictures that they’ll have to go into a different post later!

Cloud Summoning 101 by Peter. Or rather, those are soap foam clouds.:)

Cloud Summoning 101 by Peter. Or rather, those are soap foam clouds.:)

Kids on the beach.

Kids on the beach.

Peter loved the pool, and wanted to swim everyday.

The 40-150mm aptly showing that it has near-macro abilities.

The 40-150mm aptly showing that it has near-macro abilities.

Our girl has a lot more guts than daddy in this sort of thing.

Our girl has a lot more guts than daddy in this sort of thing.

She liked the trapeze so much that she did this three times, and even (nearly) accidentally jumped queue in her enthusiasm!

She liked the trapeze so much that she did this three times, and even (nearly) accidentally jumped queue in her enthusiasm!

No tripod or self-timer needed. Just the Billingham Hadley Pro propping it up for support, and the Android client of Olympus Image Share.:)

No tripod or self-timer needed. Just the Billingham Hadley Pro propping it up for support, and the Android client of Olympus Image Share.:)

Concert pictures next!

 

Continuing from our last post. For the bits that didn’t work:

Our two interconnected rooms were the largest problem. We’d already mentally prepared ourselves for their state through the Tripadvisor reviews prior to our arrival but they were still depressing when we saw them first-hand. Our rooms were in Block ‘P’ which is nearly at the furthermost end of the resort. The walk from the main building to our rooms took several minutes, but on non-raining days the walk was typically pleasant (there is a completely sheltered alternate path for times of inclement weather).

Of problems though: our rooms were dimly lit, sparsely decorated, and had a distinctive musky odor when we checked-in. Furniture was clearly worn. The air-conditioning in the children’s room rattled loudly, and never got fixed despite our reporting it to Reception. Rust and stains were in several spots and paint peeled off in the children’s room. There are no door bells nor feet mat at the door entrance. The main door in our room did not open smoothly using the keycard – it required us to jiggle the card in the slot, and then apply some force to jolt the door open. Our ‘king-sized’ bed was really two beds joined together from two separate bedframes, and the separation of two mattresses could be clearly felt. Each room had a separate toilet from the bathroom – hooray – but missing a wash basin – duh.

In-room entertainment was also lacking for the couple of rainy afternoons when we had to hideout in the rooms. The TV is small (32″ maybe?), and while pre-programmed with several channels, reception was very poor – we received static for most channels. Internet connectivity is so-so with occasional drop-outs, requiring re-connections.

Ling especially felt that housekeeping was below par, with newly laundry/amenity items occasionally left out, and the additional cushions piled at one corner of the floor which wasn’t really clean. And the room hidden surfaces – e.g. below bed frames – were all dusty.

Honestly put – the quality of rooms is simply not befitting the price of stay, and reminded us in parts of the old dilapidated East Coast Chalets from the 1990s. Using a scale of one to five stars, with Capella at 5, Ayara Hilltops at 4.5, Telunas, Santhiya and Naumi at 4, Legoland at 3.5, Tepi Sawah Villa at 3: we weren’t expecting rooms of the same luxury class as Capella’s of course, but we were still hoping for something that’s about four out of five stars and would have settled for three. As it is, I’d put the rooms at two stars at best.

I guess one could make the argument that if you’re doing a Club Med stay, one would be out of rather than inside rooms. And in case one feels that I’m being unduly harsh on the state of rooms, numerous Tripadvisor reviews make mention of this issue too, some politely, while others as pointedly as I’ve done here. There doesn’t seem to be many reviews praising the rooms! Oddly and on the other hand – several of the blogger reviews I read heaped glowing praise on hospitality and accommodations, and stayed in rooms that looked a heck lot cleaner and better looking than ours. Perhaps we were just plain unlucky to have drawn poor rooms (though how that syncs with numerous other Tripadvisor reviewers pointing out the same issues is anyone’s guess) or there were other reasons for them emphasising the good rather than less savory aspects. To be fair – several bloggers did declare that their stays had been sponsored by the Club. One of the benefits of a completely non-sponsored/affiliated blog here I guess – I can be entirely candid and say exactly what I feel about a stay that is as typical as any other non-sponsored traveler.

Kids settling for pre-loaded cartoons on the Surface Pro, since the room TVs only showed static.

Kids settling for pre-loaded cartoons on the Surface Pro, since the room TVs only showed static.

The age of the resort wasn’t just immediately observable in the rooms, but also in other spots. The internal little gardens separating each block seemed in need of maintenance. The laundry/dryer machines while no-doubt a welcome convenience (we did laundry – twice!), were sitting in a room that looked like my NTU hostel’s laundry room from the 1990s. The fan blades in the building’s first floor bar, theater and common areas were rusting. The GOs themselves seemed to recognize that they were operating in an old facility, and one shared that the resort was going to be refurbished next year, and promised that things would be better after that.

The resort's gym - located at the Sports Center. Did the thread mill and a couple of static stations here. Not much of a view.

The resort’s gym – located at the Sports Center. Did the thread mill and a couple of static stations here. Not much of a view.

We signed Peter up also for the Petit Club Med at additional cost, but just after a few hours on the first day of that, the attending GOs hunted us down to return him as they found themselves unable to handle Peter. We’re aware of his clingy temperament, but it was also a downer as we’d hope the Club could manage him and have him enjoy their activities. No apologies were tendered nor offers of refunds given – not that we’re hung-up about the latter, but a gesture would had been nice.

It would had been also helpful to add a note in the booking/sign-up part of this experience during booking on what are the contingencies in which a service could not be consumed, e.g. a service guarantee that if kids cannot adapt to the club early on, a partial refund would be given. A lost customer service-centered opportunity. And the irony – he got a completion certificate on the last day. Guess the resort didn’t realize that he was barely in the Petit Club.

And other comments:

We were visited by a troupe of monkeys one morning upon waking up who ran around our rooms’ porch area, and peed on one of the deck chairs even LOL. Made for some interesting interaction opportunities for Peter especially, though behind the glass doors. I quipped to Ling that this was like a reverse Zoo. The monkeys were the real residents of the resort and were observing us in our rooms from the outside – while we were the real animals in the zoo this time!.

This fellow peed on the chair when he departed.

This fellow peed on the chair when he departed.

The resort didn’t feel too crowded during our stay, though we weren’t sure if this was because it wasn’t at full capacity. There were several visitors from a certain large country far up in the North who, by way of fossilized cultural mannerisms, spoke loud enough at every conversation that their presences were always obvious. Guess there’s no vacation spot left on Earth where you can go without being reminded that you’re not far from that part of Asia.

On the overall: we’d recommend Club Med Bintan if you’re looking for an all-inclusive, family-friendly resort with a variety of activities that you’re interested in, and are willing to accept the generally poor rooms. If you’re however more introvert and envision yourself spending more time inside your room to enjoy its amenities to relax, then we couldn’t recommend this place. There really are more luxurious properties in the region at similar price points. For ourselves, there are also other Club Med resorts in the vicinity, and we’d be hard-pressed to think of a good enough reason for a return-stay, unless the rooms and housekeeping significantly improve.

Next couple of posts on the equipment and pictures!

Well, what’s our verdict after a five day stay at Club Med Bintan? In a word or two: “it’s complicated”.  The summary of it is that the hospitality from Genteel Organizers (GOs) for the most part were as warm and memorable as numerous Tripadvisors reviewers and other bloggers have commented all over the ‘net. But if the quality of rooms is of importance to vacation seekers, then Club Med Bintan is not for them.

Starting off with the good bits:

Visible Management. We’ve never seen a property or resort which witnessed a similar degree of involvement from the Manager. Jessie, the resort’s Chef de Village, was ever visible making her rounds about the resort, and will go from table to table every dinner to converse with guests – and it’ll take an hour or more each time for all the tables. The burly restaurant manager Mervyn would welcome guests at the entrance with his booming voice. On the last day, the deputy manager (I think) spoke to the outbound bus of travelers inviting us to provide feedback on Tripadvisor, how visitor feedback is used and shared among the GOs, and what it means to them too in career advancement too.

Warm GOs… for the most part. The GOs are involved in so many aspects of our stay that we were able to recognize by face most of the team by the end of five days, and names of several. The resort’s prominently displayed organization chart with pictures and nationalities certainly helped us in making these personal connections. Most of the GOs made a serious effort to mingle though Ling felt that a couple of GOs seemed to be going through the motions. To be fair, it’s not a small resort and travelers are coming in every day. Of all the resorts we’ve been to, the one with hosts that strikes as most are genuinely and consistently warm all-round was Telunas Beach Resort. Not an exactly equitable resort of course, but they are both broadly serving the same market.

The lively ladies and lads running the Mini Club Med at least obviously adored kids. How the GOs manage training for the concerts every evening is also just mind-boggling. Hannah really enjoyed the two full days she spent with the Mini Club, and especially the circus/trapeze segments. And the Mini Club GO Dolpi who looks stern initially but is really a jovial and comical character and clearly a favorite among kids. He called our girl “Little Mei Mei”, and on our day of departure, asked a amused Ling to “take care of Hannah for him” LOL.

The beach is clean, and on a sunny and bright day, is stunningly powdery white. The waters are reasonable though not quite in the pristine state as some of the other well-known beaches in Malaysia. Both ends of the private beach were also teeming with sea life, and Ling made several ventures out for pictures and videos of all manner of critters she could find.

Feeding time was for the most part good. Recognizing that it’s tough to feel that you’re being fed new things every meal once you’re past a couple of days in the stay, credit has to be given to the team of chefs for at least trying their hardest to inject as much variety as they could. Breakfasts tended to feel same-y after two days, and to a lesser degree lunches, with dinners presenting the most variety. Seating availability was never an issue with enough tables to go round, and wait service was prompt and polite. More importantly for the kids: there was pizza and baked beans a plenty, so both kids ate well and a lot! :) Meals were served at the main restaurant, but there’s another restaurant further in the compound though dinner reservations are required there.

We looked forward to each evening concert, with the most memorable one of our stay centered on the comedic mash-up of modern music from the 1960s that had us laughing in stitches! One GO, Hans joined our dinner table one evening, and quipped that they rehearse when we’re sleeping.

The few accommodation-wise parts that worked for us were that the showers worked well (good water pressure, really hot water if you wish it), and also the free to use laundry/dryer machines (bring your own detergent!).

Booking our stay was also easy with a well-designed web site, and the package is really all-in (ferry prices from Tanah Merah Terminal are included).

The main pool as seen from the concierge on the top-floor.

The main pool as seen from the concierge on the top-floor.

Powdery white sand, with enough deck chairs to go around.

Powdery white sand, with enough deck chairs to go around.

Greenery everywhere, though the inward gardens aren't quite as lovingly manicured.

Greenery everywhere, though the inward gardens aren’t quite as lovingly manicured.

The main pool looking very serene before its daily 0900 opening hour.

The main pool looking very serene before its daily 0900 opening hour.

The tall coconut and palm trees made for very pleasant strolls.

The tall coconut and palm trees made for very pleasant strolls.

Jessie, the Chef de Village, introducing the concert every evening.

Jessie, the Chef de Village, introducing the concert every evening.

The GO team waving everyone in the bus goodbye.

The GO team waving everyone in the bus goodbye.

More in the next post!

We’d not initially planned for a trip out of Singapore at the year-end. Changes at work leading to a new job portfolio, that we’d already done a family vacation during the June holidays, and most of all – prudent spending – all pointed to a year-end period where we’d be home bound to do very local things. So, it was mostly on impulse that we decided to find a small block of time where I would be able to get out of work, and then go somewhere.

Tricky thing though is that after that very tough experience with Peter onboard airplanes on our return leg from Santhiya last year – basically, he just couldn’t keep still – we’d resolved not to travel by air anywhere until he’s older and better able to moderate his behavior. With that in mind, our planning planning parameters were:

5 Days trip – that was the longest block I could easily find

Does not involve air travel

Won’t break the bank LOL

We considered a whole bunch of places, including a little known island south of Vietnam, Penang, Langkawi, various other islands off the west coast of Malaysia, cruises, and even our 2012 destination spot again – Telunas – before deciding on that very popular if also expensive Club Med Bintan. Most of our previous trips routinely featured our own itineraries and we basically just made stuff up as we went along. Sometimes, that worked well – like in our Telunas trip. But we also learned lessons from our Santhiya 2014 trip, where we spent seven days there not doing very much, even if half of that time I spent violently sick in bed. Simply put, it’s hard putting together a workable itinerary when you have a temperamental 2 year old boy! This time round, we wanted someone else to do all the planning for us for a semi-short stay, and there’s no better place than Club Med than that.

Vacation spot for Dec 2015.

Club Med Bintan is just over an hour away from Singapore, and is also a popular vacation spot for many local families here, if going by the many blog reviews is any indication. The total damage was a shade under S$2.8K for a 5D4N stay – ouch. More notes and comments to come in the months ahead!

The third and last in our series of posts on our short sojourn to Legoland last week! Comments in no particular order of significance:

There are two Lego-themed parks in the vicinity – the main theme park, and a waterpark – with the Hotel sitting snugly in-between the two. Both are within easy walking distance of just 2-3 minutes and are flat or with slight inclines, so strollers/prams are just fine to bring the little ones.

We checked out the main theme park on a Monday, and the waterpark on Tuesday, and going past entrances shortly after they opened at 1000 hrs. Off-peak season too for the normal Malaysian visitors, as their school holidays had just ended. The main theme park was relatively sparse of people and only became somewhat more crowded past mid-day. The waterpark got crowded quicker, and there were lots of people milling about by late morning.

The main theme park is significantly larger than the waterpark (which is quite compact). Depending on whether you’re doing repeated rides and the number of visitors, we think about a 6 hour stay will let you cover at least 70% of the park and once on each of its rides. The waterpark – slightly less. About 4 hours will cover it.

Several of the rides in both parks have a minimal age for admission, no matter whether there’s an accompanying parent or not. Peter for instance was admitted into a boat with Ling at the Boating School but not the rollercoaster rides. The Junior Riding School has an age requirement of three years and older too.

Brief comments on each of the rides we tried out too in the main theme park: Technic Twister, Merlin’s Challenge, Lego City Airport – easy rides though not for those subject to vertigo. Aquazone Wave Racers – easy ride though prepare to get drenched. Dragon’s Apprentice – relatively mild and short rollercoaster which should be fine for most people who are able to handle rollercoasters. Boating School, Observation Tower – easy even for two year olds. Junior Riding School – age requirement, but otherwise fun and easy. Rescue Academy – fine for kids and parents, though not for Peter as there’s physical activity involved.

Some visitor reviews of the main theme park note the lack of trees to provide shade and the like. Things have improved in this regard during our visit; the areas showing scale models of famous landmarks is still rather bereft of shade, but the rest of the park is fine with trees about, and also sheltered places to hide if need be.

The wave pool at the Waterpark. The gently bobbing waves make for lots of fun, though the pool is also quite popular and can get crowded.

The wave pool at the Waterpark. The gently bobbing waves make for lots of fun, though the pool is also quite popular and can get crowded.

Boating school. Safe for two years old accompanied by parents too.

Boating school. Safe for two years old accompanied by parents too.

Miniature train ride. This one runs on a small circuit sitting inside a large tent.

Miniature train ride. This one runs on a small circuit sitting inside a large tent.

The Lego scale models are very neatly done up and provide lots of opportunities for zoomed in pictures.

The Lego scale models are very neatly done up and provide lots of opportunities for zoomed in pictures.