Helena Beard discovers going child friendly doesn’t have to mean skimping on luxuries when she takes the family to the Golden Sands Resort Penang, by Shangri-La.
First Impressions: If you think your kids deserve a real tropical treat, you’d be hard pressed to find better than this fabulous family paradise built on the beach on the Malaysian island of Penang. The Shangri-La Group is known for doing luxury well, but here the luxury takes on a different focus – it’s all about the kids. And, as we all know, when they are happy, we’re happy.
Looking out across the lagoon-style swimming pools, sitting in the foyer, or strolling around the grounds, it’s a scene of colour, activities and elements to occupy the time and imagination of even the littlest little ones. You may even come face to face with a giant costumed mascot handing out cuddles. Our bedroom was festooned with balloons, towels cleverly twisted to form jolly-looking rabbits, and there’s also free wifi, and ‘kids eat free’ deals. The family focus was clear but, it must be said, not totally inescapable. Perhaps surprisingly, there were also a number of child-free couples simply relaxing and enjoying the hotel and its facilities.
Location: The Golden Sands is one of the oldest established hotels on Batu Ferringhi beach on the North coast of the fascinating island of Penang, and is differentiated clearly from the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang next door by its appeal to affluent families. The beach at Batu Ferringhi is stunning and a joy to walk along, but you are advised not to swim in the sea as there are jellyfish and the water is not very clear. However, there are lots of beach activities and watersports to enjoy, the beach is not crowded, and the views are lovely. And the warnings didn’t put everyone off. There were plenty of teenagers jumping around in the shallows, and riding the inflatable ‘bananas’ and jetskis. Right next door to the hotel was one of the highlights of our holiday; the Batu Ferringhi night market. Every night at 6pm, stall upon stall opened its doors with a glittering array of fake designer handbags, watches and clothes, lacquer pictures and ornaments, souvenirs and electronics. It was a real Aladdin’s Cave of excitement for our 11-year-old daughter and great to have that early evening entertainment to appeal to slightly older children.
Facilities: The hotel has 387 guestrooms and suites, half of which have balconies looking out over the tropical grounds to the sea, and the other half which face inland. There are lots of recreational facilities at the Golden Sands and you never have an excuse to be bored. There’s a water sports centre and pitch and putt golf course, the Adventure Zone Family Entertainment Centre (reminiscent of a British soft play centre – and unfortunately adults are required to stay and watch!), two swimming pools, children’s waterslides, and numerous lounges and seating areas. There is also a small shopping mall within the hotel. In the rooms, we enjoyed free wifi, TV, the all important air conditioning, toiletries and lovely big comfortable beds.
For families: Quite apart from all the exceptional facilities, the hotel also lays on an array of activities for children, including all sorts of pool games and a daily programme of events for the whole family with everything from pool volleyball to vegetable carving. There are also the organised adventures of the Kids’ Club, which welcomes children aged five to 12 from 9.30am to 9pm -a very long day, and, if you want to make the most of it, including two free meals per child. But really, despite all the options on offer, it was the warm welcome that made all the difference to us as a family. Relaxing with kids is a skill in itself, but when you know your children are welcome, and fit right into the surroundings, relaxing is so much easier.
Wining and Dining: There are two main options for eating at the Golden Sands. The most popular for breakfast is the Garden Cafe, right inside the lobby. Since the hotel caters to such a wide global market, there is a food station for every culinary preference. The diversity of food on offer was quite incredible and the early morning sight and smell of noodles, congee, pancakes, English breakfasts, and curries was a new experience in itself. Down at Sigi’s Bar and Grill on the Beach, our breakfast was also accompanied by a sea view. A quieter alternative to the Garden Cafe, Sigi’s offered a pared down, more intimate breakfast experience, but still with all the little touches to thrill our big kids, not too old for a child-friendly cup filled with a variety of exotic sounding juices. If you like to chill out over breakfast, this is definitely the better choice for you.
In the evenings, and throughout the day, there are a number of different eating options. Pizzas, seafood, snacks and steaks are available at Sigi’s (with, of course, a kids’ menu available), there is all-day dining in the Garden Cafe and many special events with prices advertised on bright rotating digital posters in the public areas for buffet and barbeque deals.
Penang is world famous for its amazing cuisine so we ventured outside the grounds to some of the local eateries along the coast road, and also took a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of George Town for a day of sightseeing and some of the cheapest and best curry we’ve ever tasted. George Town is around 25 minutes’ drive from the Golden Sands, and easily reached by taxi or the hotel’s shuttle.
Highs: Watching my son run back and forth, time and again, to shoot down the waterslide into the splash pool, haggling in the night market, and walking along the beautiful Batu Ferringhi beach at sunset.
Lows: Since the Adventure Zone required adults to stay to supervise, a more comfortable lounge would have been very welcome.
Verdict: Penang is full of amazing experiences and a real adventure for young kids, and the Golden Sands allowed us to make the most of these by giving us an easy retreat, a touch of luxury, and, with its all-day entertainment, a very welcome break.