Everything was fine until she asked me to spread my legs and put my hands on the bar.
I expected a leisurely shower; ideally a rain shower, scented with fragrant lemongrass. There would be luxurious bath products, elegantly presented in wall-mounted ceramic bottles studded with polished stones, at the ready. I’d then move on to a 20-minute soak in a flower-filled bathtub, the final lap of Thalasso Bali’s two-hour Island Spice – Island Fruit experience.
That’s not what happened; that’s not, as outlined in the spa’s brochure, a “service great shower.”
“Are you ready for your shower? Okay, please stand here, turn around, and put your hands here,” said my therapist, gesturing at a steel banister about chest high. She’d just spent more than an hour delivering one of the more relaxing massages and body scrubs I’d received in some time. “Yes, now spread your legs a little bit more. Okay.”
Standing at the end of a long corridor, facing a textured rock wall with my back turned to the therapist, wearing nothing but a skimpy pair of disposable underwear — I’m fairly certain I put them on backwards — the only choice was to grip the rod and brace myself. Everything had been fine.
“Are you ready?”
Was that a hint of sympathy in her soft, lilting voice?
“Hahaha, yes, I’m ready.”
I really did laugh, and kept laughing as my sweet little Balinese therapist wielded a high-powered water cannon and pounded me with a “service great shower” from across the room. She was careful not to hit my head or other areas of delicate constitution, bless her for that, and then it was over. Fine. That was really weird, but that was over.
“Okay, now please turn around.”
It wasn’t over. No, sir, it wasn’t over.
Da Plane! Da Plane!
Though opened in June 1993, there’s something of a late-70s Fantasy Island vibe to Grand Mirage Resort, a 301-room resort sprawling over 12 acres of well-utilized space at the tip of Nusa Dua beach in ramshackle Tanjung Benoa village.
Part of it is the tropical Balinese setting, of course. Beautifully manicured grounds, blooming with plumeria and teeming with coconut palms, spill onto a fine expanse of pinkish-hued sand on the Bali Sea. There’s also the resort’s sweeping open-air lobby, located next to a towering manmade waterfall and decked out in polished surfaces, carved woods and stones, and plush teak furnishings. Throw in discernible signs of aging, a swim-up bar with thatched roof, and second-floor lounge with a live Indonesian band covering ’70s and ’80s American pop standards; there’s even a welcome drink at check-in.
All that’s missing, really, is the arrival by floatplane, a warm greeting from Mr. Roarke and Tattoo, and the sick twist on your dream vacation.
In Bali there are no shortage of contemporary luxury resorts with luxurious price tags; Grand Mirage Resort is not one of them. Affordable, vintage-style luxury, however, does have its perks.
Hose Me Down and Get Me Scrubbed
Island Spice – Island Fruit is one of many packages offered at Thalasso Bali, Grand Mirage’s serene onsite spa that features 16 uniquely designed treatment rooms and an outdoor “aqua medic” pool filled with seawater and heated to 38 degrees. Created for couples, this one (120 mins., $170/couple) includes a choice of aromatherapy or Balinese massage, body scrub and lotion, flower bath, and, of course, the lovely “service great shower.”
Specialty treatments are available in abundance. Middle-aged and senior guests, for example, “who concern about the aging process,” might try Thalasso Luxury Anti Aging (270 mins., $248), which includes such treatments as infra-red massage, “botox-like anti-wrinkle facial,” and feet callus removal that “bring younger and glow skin that you dreamed of.” Thalasso Easy Shape (120 mins., $80) is “the ultimate in weight loss management” and “the perfect way to slim the body” — other than eating well and exercising — while Intimacy Care Thalasso Style (180 mins., $115) is a “personal hygiene treatment designed exclusively for women to help kill germs in delicate areas and detoxify the entire body.” Sounds like a hoot.
My wife and I have been fortunate to enjoy many massages during our time living and traveling in Southeast Asia, and this visit — pummelling by water cannon aside — ranks highly, from the spotless facilities and distinct setting to the friendly staff.
Thalasso Bali is open daily until 11pm, with last call for appointments at 10pm. If you’re staying at the resort, consider booking your treatment for between 8pm – 10pm, when you’ll score a 10-percent discount if you flash Grand Mirage’s “journal” (resort info) provided at check-in.
Deluxe Room with a View (of Flora & Flabby Fauna)
Scenery from the private balcony on all deluxe ocean-view rooms is a tropical pastiche of swimming pools, the sparkling sea, thatched-roof huts nestled between skinny palm trees, and pot-bellied, middle-aged vacationers pounding mai tais at the pool bar. Eye candy, indeed, comes in many forms at Grand Mirage.
Indoors, the 452-square-foot deluxe room is certainly easier on the eyes than are the bulbous bellies outdoors. The bedroom features chic wooden floors and appointments, wicker furnishings with padded cushions, and a cozy king-sized bed made with fluffy pillows, soft linens, and decorative throw. Spacious bathrooms have a walk-in shower with separate deep-soaking bathtub, sharp Toto fixtures, and such complimentary bath products as dental and shaving kits, cotton buds and shower necessities.
All deluxe rooms are air-conditioned and come with a flat-screen Sharp television, Wi-Fi access, iPod dock, coffee and tea facilities, and well-stocked mini-bar (more on that, below) — there’s even a copy of the 2011-12 Bali White Pages and Yellow Pages in the dresser drawer. They really have thought of everything.
We were completely comfortable; well, almost. The lack of electrical outlets speaks, perhaps, to the resort’s age: I found just two sockets in the entire room and had to hunt for them. A fine layer of dust on the bath amenity boxes was a reminder that we were visiting during one of Bali’s low seasons (comparably speaking), which generally run from mid-January to early June and again from mid-September to mid-November.
Thin wooden shutters are also all that separate the bathroom from the bedroom, so if your idea of romance is hearing everything that goes on behind closed doors — yo.
How to Fill Your Days, or The Restless Vacationer’s Guide to Resort Activities
Grand Mirage is a proper resort, and proper resorts need to offer proper things to do in the event that finding a shaded beach chair and spending hours reading and swimming, then reading and swimming again, isn’t your idea of a proper beach vacation. You can do that at Grand Mirage — there are ample cushioned beach chairs spread out across a large area — but there are also plenty other water- and land-based distractions to keep you busy.
There’s pool volleyball, beach volleyball, and pool basketball; tennis courts; oversized novelty chess boards indoors and out; bicycle rental; kayak rental; a private karaoke lounge. At air-conditioned Cool’s Leisure Lounge (love the name), you’ll find air hockey, ping pong, console video games, pool tables, and walls adorned with such movie posters as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, and of course Bad Boys 2; in other words, Cool’s is an ideal hangout for pre-teens, teens, and drunk adults. Kids aged 3 to 13 can join the supervised fun at the Bamboo Kid’s Fun Club.
Pro Tip: Parents, save your 13-year-old the embarrassment of dropping them off at the Bamboo Kid’s Fun Club. Send ‘em to Cool’s.
A fully equipped fitness center outfitted with modern LifeFitness machines is adjacent to the lounge, while outdoors you can burn a few calories or brush up on local culture at any number of daily activities. On most days these begin with yoga at 9am and end with beach soccer and volleyball at 4pm, with everything from Indonesian cooking lessons, guided village bicycle tours, water aerobics, and fruit-carving sessions in between.
Out on the Bali Sea, Grand Mirage can you take you speed-boating, kayaking, jet skiing, water skiing, parasailing, and banana-boating. You can also just, you know, relax — the beach and water are clean, qualities which those who’ve been to insane Kuta and Seminyak know aren’t always a given. Fortunately the droning buzz of motorsports was never overly disturbing, though again I visited during low season; even then, the sky north of the resort’s pretty patch of beach was filled with parasailers who looked dangerously close to becoming tangled in one big knot of vacation gone wild. Be careful out there, kids.
“Love is All You Need, Because Everything Else is Included…”
The all-inclusive package is a big selling point and decent value, especially for those planning to eat a lot and drink a lot — and just about everybody at the resort was often seen eating or drinking something.
While many all-inclusive resorts draw the line at non-buffet foods and alcoholic beverages, Grand Mirage goes all in on almost everything. For roughly $110 extra a night, all-inclusive stays come with big buffet meals at the poolside Grand Cafe, though those interested in normal levels of food consumption can alternately order anything from the a la carte menus at the resort’s four restaurants, including Chopstick Restaurant next door at Club Bali Mirage. In case you were wondering, Chinese cuisine is Chopstick’s specialty.
Our favorite is beachside Jukung Grill, which has salads, soups, sandwiches, fried beach snacks, and grilled meats and seafood. The seafood skewers are fantastic and fresh, with hunks of grilled white fish, squid, peppers, and onions served with sides of yellow rice and spiced tomato jam. Room service is also inclusive and available 24 hours a day; service was fast (less than 30 minutes) and the food (Club Mirage sandwich, margherita pizza) surprisingly delicious when we tested after midnight. Though all food at all restaurants is included, advance reservations are requested for Chopstick and Mediterranean/Italian restaurant La Cascata, the latter mysteriously billed as “Mafia’s Best Kept Secret!”
The all-inclusive delivers the booze as well; it’s as many Bali Hai beers, glasses of Hatten wine (try the fruity, fragrant sparkling), and house cocktails as you can put down. Discounts are available for premium alcohol selections, but I’m guessing that’s an all-inclusive perk that less than 5-percent of guests actually use. Room mini-bars, stocked with non-alcoholic drinks and cans of refreshing Bali Hai, are refilled once a day.
The appropriately named Panorama Lounge is kind of an amazing place in which to indulge the all-inclusive’s best amenity. Perched just above the pools, this open-air drinking den hosts the aforementioned Indonesian cover band (saxophonist, keyboard, singer — awesome), who rip through such tunes as “Billie Jean” while, on some occasions, a very stout, very drunk Russian dances a slow-oompah and clamors for “Smoke on the Water.”
Smiles, Everyone, Smiles
Fantasy Island‘s run began in 1977 with two television movies, and lasted until 1984, when the departure of Herve Villechaize contributed to a ratings slump that ultimately sunk the show. The first three seasons have been released on DVD; it’s certainly dated, as you’d expect from a show more than 35 years old, but it’s still entertaining and it’s still easy to see why it was such a hit.
Now 21 years removed from its grand opening, Grand Mirage Resort is also showing its age. Paint is chipped here and peeling there, and there’s a simmering volcano of ceiling mildew in a fairly disused part of the hotel that could do some damage if not soon addressed. Depending on your point of view and humor, some the facilities and public areas are either in need of a minor facelift, or just fine how they are.
Aside from Cool’s Leisure Lounge there’s also nothing particularly cool about Grand Mirage — expect middle-age-ish couples, families, some older folks, and the occasional package group. If it’s heaving clubs and sweaty nightlife you’re after in Bali, quiet Tanjung Benoa village is not for you (though the Kuta craziness is only a 25-minute ride away). I make it a point to avoid Kuta.
Few resorts are perfect. Grand Mirage is definitely not the newest kid on the Nusa Dua block, but there’s a lot to like and it holds its weight fairly well. It’s clear why, two decades in, it’s still a popular place. The staff is friendly and professional, rooms are well-appointed and comfortable, and the all-inclusive package is generous and relatively affordable. There’s just about everything you need here for a relaxing Bali beach getaway.
You can even get water-cannoned in your disposable underwear.
Grand Mirage Resort & Thalasso Bali is located at Jalan Pratama 74, Tanjung Benoa, Bali, Indonesia. +62 361 771888. Room-only rates start at $116/night, all-inclusive at $235/night. The spa is open daily 9am – 11pm (last appointment 10pm).
The writer was provided with a complimentary stay for the purpose of review. While this has not influenced the content of this feature in any way — no, really, it hasn’t — he and Perceptive Travel believe in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. First four photos provided courtesy of Grand Mirage Resort; other photos copyrighted by author.