Desaru, Malaysia with kids: family travel itinerary for a short holiday from Singapore

Need a quick and easy (and affordable) vacay with the kids? We review The Lotus Desaru Resort & Spa as a family holiday destination...

When your husband has to travel overseas and you’ve exhausted your list of indoor play centres and funky playgrounds in Singapore, we see no reason why you shouldn’t throw some toys in a bag, grab the passports and nip off for an easy-breezy solo vacay with the kids for the weekend. Preferably nearby! We’re just back from a short, sweet, cheap solo parenting mini-break to Desaru. Here’s the things we loved – and the things we weren’t so keen on – when it comes to this fun Malaysian beach resort…

How to get there (and what to expect!)
Just a hop, skip and a jump on a ferry from Changi Ferry Terminal across the water, book yourselves tickets via Bus Online and board a boat for the short 25 minute ride on the high seas. We wouldn’t have been surprised to see tumbleweeds rolling by at the rusty ol’ ferry terminals both sides of the water… We suspect neither of them have seen a lick of paint for decades. Definitely don’t expect money changers, cafes, or, well, facilities! But at $39 per person return it was never going to be a cruise liner sort of check-in…

Where to stay
First off let’s be crystal clear about a cheeky little jaunt to Desaru: it’s NOT a full on luxe five-star resort sort of place… yet. If it’s decadence you’re after then you may be best to postpone a holiday to Desaru until 2018: Hard Rock Hotel Desaru, The Westin Desaru Coastal Resort, Aman Resort and Villas and Anantara Desaru Resort are all scheduled to open later this year through to mid-next year. In the meantime, if cheap and cheerful is the name of your game (our whole trip cost less than $300 for transport and accommodation for two nights), and you don’t mind a holiday camp vibe packed with non-stop family fun in a dated three-star resort, then Lotus Desaru Resort & Spa is your go-to.


When the kids were finally done with the water park, they found more energy for the playground

The Lotus Desaru Resort & Spa
Honestly? There were some majorly quirky – and annoying – things about The Lotus that caused a raised eyebrow or two: the reception area has actual airplane lounge style seating (so bizarre), there’s a kids’ ‘fun fair’ which is an outdated, strange corrugated tin hut full of arcade games (the kids will cry because they won’t win. Ever), and there is no alcohol served at any of the restaurants before 6pm (what is this madness?). Cocktails by the pool? Forget it. You also have to wear plastic sticky wrist bands for the duration of your stay to be allowed into the pool, and the transfer from the ferry never materialised (we had to get a nice lady at the ferry terminal to call us a cab). BUT we still had the best time.

The sea was too choppy for swimming, but that didn’t stop the seashell hunting

The water park on site WILL be an absolute hit for the whole family: that water rapid river is as fun for the kiddos as it is for grown ups, and while the pool furniture is super old-fashioned (kind of like DIY plastic bus stops), you won’t be lounging around anyway with so much water action going on. Aside from the pool activities, there’s also plenty of other things for kids to get busy with. The beach is clean and comes with a full itinerary of water sports available including banana boats, jet skis and parasailing, plus there are plenty of shells for that all-important beach scavenge. The waves were pretty rough while we were there so we didn’t venture into the waves this time around.

The pool furniture had a definite bus stop feel to it and we’ve still not worked out where the old fire truck came from…

Our small people also loved the bird aviary, the old fire truck available for clambering on, playgrounds and the nightly disco on the lawn after dinner (birdie song, anyone?). And we mummy types loved the spa – a gorgeous little sanctuary that seemed to have caught up to 2017 unlike most other parts of the resort. Best. Massage. Ever.

Accommodation wise, we plumped for a two-bedroom apartment which was, again, pretty old-school, but was super clean and comfy. We loved that it had a living room, kitchenette and balcony so that once the kiddos had fallen into an exhausted post-water park slumber, the grown-ups had space to crack open a bottle or two of the fizz we’d missed out on poolside earlier in the day.

Happy kids and happy grown ups guaranteed at the Beach Hut

Breakfast was included in the deal and involved a mass produced buffet of mostly Asian fare. It did the job and neither excited nor disappointed – but we did like how each item came with a sign telling you how many calories you were consuming per portion (300 calories in ONE roti prata? Who needs a thigh gap anyway?). For dinner you absolutely can’t go wrong at the SeaView Restaurant: the food was exceptional and came in huge portions. Nothing was too much trouble for the lovely staff in there, and the live band were really friendly too (they even accommodated nightly requests for Let It Go). For a post (or pre) dinner cocktail or beer, do stop by the Beach Hut. It’s right on the sand so the kids had a heap of fun with bubble wands and sandcastles while we looked on sipping a cold beverage. It does a pretty mean mojito.

What to do
If you can tear your kids away from the water slides, playgrounds and beach (we couldn’t), there’s plenty of activities in the area we hear are worth a visit…

Desaru Fruit Farm: Our kids always love the idea of visiting a farm, and Desaru Fruit Farm is the ideal place to give city-dwelling kids a real feel for the countryside. Take a guided tour around 180 acres of tropical fruit, herb, bee-keeping and bio-agriculture areas, before checking out the small petting zoo and trying fresh fruits and raw honey.

Firefly cruise: Organised by Desaru Fruit Farm, you’ll be picked up from your hotel at 7pm and whisked off for a cruise along the Bujang River to watch nature’s own light show courtesy of the resident fireflies.

Desaru Ostrich Farm: Hang out with over 100 giant birds and go on a guided tour around a farm dedicated to all things ostrich. This is also the place to go if you have always wanted a lampshade made out of an ostrich egg…

Tanjung Balau Fishing Village and Museum: Head to this nearby small fishing village for fresh seafood, check out life in the community and explore the Muzium Nelayan Tanjung Balau, a museum dedicated to village’s vibrant fishing history.

All in all we had a really fantastic little weekend break in this cheap, cheerful and infinitely quirky resort in Desaru, and despite some of the more random elements to the stay, we’d absolutely return for a second helping of that water park action!

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