Monday, October 28, 2013

Lovina, Bali

We spent one night in Lovina, with the sole purpose of watching dolphins at dawn. I was won over by Princess Dana Diaries' recommendation and decided to stay at The Lovina Bali. The hotel started operations in September 2012, so it was barely a year old. I loved everything about it. We were upgraded to a beach front deluxe villa that came with a living room, a fully equipped kitchenette and a spacious bedroom that had a king sized bed and a roll-away cot for Noah. The swimming pool was right outside our room, and the beach was just a short walk away.


Living room and kitchenette

Hotel Pool

We arrived shortly before sunset and decided to have a seafood grill dinner at the hotel's restaurant on the beach. It was the best dinner we had in Bali. Main courses start at US$20. Nathan and Noah were thrilled when we decided to let them build sandcastles while we waited for our food. That gave Dean and I some "couple time". We talked about the first time we came to Bali as a couple, more than 10 years ago. I don't remember doing very much in Bali then... Just lazing by the beach and enjoying a full body massage. With Nathan and Noah, we are not able to enjoy a couple massage like we used to, but we managed to explore all the child-friendly attractions that Bali has to offer. Holidays will never be the same now that we are 4. :)

Sunrise to Sunrise, Great is Thy Faithfulness

Building sand castles

I really love seafood grill dinners. After all these years, Dean knew exactly what to order for me. I can't quite remember what we ordered for the kids, but it was yummy too... they finished everything on their plate!

Dolphin Watching
We got our driver to link us up with a fisherman to bring us out to sea to watch dolphins. The cost per boat was IDR500,000. It looks to me that each boat can take 6 to 8 people although I don't know what the legal capacity is. While we were having dinner by the beach, there were several boatmen hanging around asking if we wanted to go on a dolphin watching tour with them. So I suppose it is pretty easy to find your own boatman. You can also get the hotel to arrange the tour for you, but I suspect it might be costlier. The Lovina had direct access to the beach and hence, the fisherman was able to pick us up from our resort beachfront at 5.45am.

It was the first time that any of us rode in an outrigger canoe. It was pretty stable and thankfully none of us got seasick. They had life jackets for the adults, but no kid-sized jackets for the boys.

While we were waiting for the dolphins to appear, we saw the sun rise over the horizon. Such a beautiful sight!

The fisherman knew exactly where to take us... after sailing for about 15 minutes or so, we spotted the first pod of dolphins... The boys were thrilled!

I am so glad that my boys are such great travellers... they didn't grumble about being dragged out of bed at 5+ in the morning and were generally enthusiastic about everything I had planned. :P I really loved the Lovina Bali resort and it is a pity that we were only staying one night. I recommend spending at least two nights here just so you have time to laze by the pool / beach, and enjoy a relaxing massage. We found the rates at the hotel's spa pretty reasonable, but were not able to book a slot at our preferred times. I'd love to come back to this resort just to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

For more of our Bali Adventures, click here!


Friday, October 18, 2013

Suzuki Violin

Nathan has just completed a 40 week Suzuki Group Violin Course for children aged 3 to 4 years old. The Suzuki method is a method of teaching music conceived and executed by Shin'ichi Suzuki (1898–1998). Very often referred to as the mother tongue method of teaching / learning a language, pre-schoolers as young as 3 years old are capable of learning to play the violin before they can even read. Very much like how babies pick up their mother tongue from listening and mimicking.

I enjoyed learning with Nathan as we attended the violin classes together. He went thru the rigour of daily practice, took part in his very first violin concert, and tasted the fruits of his labour as he slowly managed to play familiar tunes from memory. In the 10 months or so, his class managed to complete the first 9 pieces in Suzuki Book 1 (from Twinkle, Lightly Row... all the way thru to Perpetual Motion). 

I want to make good citizens. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart. —Shin'ichi Suzuki

In my search for a violin school / teacher for Nathan, I found that there are not that many options available in Singapore. There is only a small group of violin teachers in Singapore, much lesser than the number of piano teachers available. Most teachers only offered classes for children who are about 5 years old and above.

These are the schools that offered violin lessons for children above 3 years old:

1) Mac Music School - children aged 3 years and up start in their Suzuki Group Violin Course. It is a parent accompanied class, class size of max 6 students, both parents and students have to own a violin. Parent learns alongside the child so as to guide him/her in daily practice sessions at home. Follows the Suzuki curriculum. 

2) Mandeville Conservatory of Music - children aged 3 years and up start in their Baby Violin Course. It is a parent accompanied class, class size of max 12 students, both parents and students have to own a violin. Parent learns alongside the child so as to guide him/her in daily practice sessions at home. Follows the Suzuki curriculum.

3) Klassique Musik - individual classes only, no group classes available.

4) Wolfgang Violin Studio - children aged 2 years 9 months and up start in their Baby Beats One program, which I understand to be a music appreciation program. It is a parent accompanied class, class size of max 8 students. After one/two terms, students progress to Baby Beats Two, where they'll actually learn to play the violin. The school has developed their own curriculum, so they do not use the Suzuki books.

5) Violin Lessons Singapore - children aged 3 to adults learn at their own pace with individual or small group coaching. Lessons can be conducted in the comfort of your home, and parents have the option of learning together with their children. 

I decided on a group class for Nathan as I am of the opinion that learning a musical instrument is more fun in a group setting at this age. Nathan is more motivated to practise at home, so he can play the tunes together with his friends in class. Peer motivation is a strong motivator! Individual lessons offer you the flexibility in terms of time (as opposed to group classes that are usually held at a specified time each week), and allows you to progress at your own pace. Most teachers offer trial lessons so you will be in a better position to decide what's best for your child.

As much as Nathan has just completed the group violin course, it is really just the beginning of the journey. I hope that he'll continue enjoying the journey, as he picks up the skill of making music.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pen Pal Whizz Review

Pen Pal Whizz is an educational tool that is not only able to play back pre-recorded narrations of your child's favourite stories, but also able to engage your child thru games and songs. It has an in-built memory of 4GBs, which means it can store over 100 books at any one time. Each Penpal Whizz comes pre-loaded with Pen Pal Whizz enabled books. Saves us busy mums the hassle of having to download the audio files to our computer, and then connecting the device so we can transfer the files. This was one of the main draws of Pen Pal Whizz for me. We were using a similar product previously, but the small memory of that product meant that we could store less than 15+ books, and each time my boys wanted to read something that was not loaded on the reading pen, I'd have to connect the device to my computer, delete a previously loaded audio file before transferring a new audio file to the pen. Which busy mum has time to do that? Not me! The only books I need to download to my Penpal Whizz are the newly released titles. But since there is a large in-built memory, it means I do not need to delete any of the preloaded books, but just add on the new files.

I was also delighted to know that the Pen Pal Whizz can read Chinese! In fact, not just Chinese, but any language! There are hundreds of Pen Pal Whizz enabled books and new titles are added every month. I have trouble reading Chinese books to my boys as I hardly read/write Chinese ever since I was done with my last Chinese exam in school. Reading Chinese books with Pen Pal Whizz is a breeze. The boys are more motivated to pick up a Chinese book to read, and they get to learn accurate pronunciation. One of the Penpal Whizz enabled books, is an English-Chinese dictionary. This book teaches us how to say commonly used words/phrases in English and Chinese. I often have Nathan asking me... "mommy, how do you say ??? in Chinese"... so this is a book we have been looking at over and over again.

Another feature I love about the Pen Pal Whizz is the ability to record and playback our own voices with the touch of just a few 'buttons'. This allows me to make my non Pen Pal Whizz enabled books, Pen Pal Whizz enabled! I surprised Noah by recording my voice as I read one of his favourite books. He instantly recognised my voice and was thrilled that "it is mommy"!

The Pen Pal Whizz bundle includes one Pen Pal Whizz reading pen (choose from 2 colours - blue or pink), charger, calculator card, MP3 card, standing dock and 18 books. The retail price is $188. There are 3 book bundles that you can choose from, categorized by age group. You can specify if you'd like the book bundle for pre-schoolers, lower primary students or upper primary students.

Pen Pal Whizz Bundle

We'll be giving away an $80 voucher which you can use to purchase a Penpal Whizz bundle set. If you already own a Penpal Whizz, this voucher can also be used to purchase additional Penpal Whizz enabled books. To enter, follow the steps below. Giveaway closes 15 Nov 2013. Stay tuned for other Pen Pal Whizz books giveaways!

Giveaway closed! The winner is Lyndis Lee! Congratulations.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bali Tree Top Adventure Park

The Bali Tree Top Adventure Park is Nathan's favourite attraction in Bali. I liked it too! Nestled in Bali's Botanical Garden in Bedugul, where the weather was nice and cool, we spent a good two hours there. Noah was too short to participate, but he had fun roaming the gardens under the watchful eyes of our friendly driver. Kids had to be about 4 years old and at least 110cm tall (raised hand height) to participate.

The adventure park had a total of 7 circuits constructed using the trees in the park as support. The height of the circuits ranged from 2 to 20 metres and it was refreshing that we got to have a bird's eye view of the park. There were patrol guides to advise/assist us, but we hardly needed any help. Each of us had two carabiners and a pulley (for the flying foxes) attached to our safety harness. At any one time, at least one carabiner would be attached to a life-line support. The instructions were simple. Each time we arrived at a new junction, there would either be red markers or blue markers. If we saw a red marker, we attached one carabiner on the support. If there were two red markers, we attached both our carabiners on the support. The blue marker tells us to attach our pulley. The park is well maintained and this activity is safe (even for kids).

The three of us conquered the first two circuits together - squirrel yellow and squirrel green circuits. I went first, Nathan followed behind me and Dean was last. This way, I could help Nathan to secure his carabiners and show him which way to go, and Dean could help him from the back if he needed help. Thru this activity, Nathan experienced what it means to work as a team and to look out for one another.

There are a total of over 70 challenges in the entire adventure park. These are some of those we conquered. 

Wood Ladder

Foot Bridge

Trunk Crossing

Fishing net

Fox's hole

Elephant's steps

Climbing wall

Nepalese bridge

Railway bridge

Giant steps

Swinging logs

I was surprised that Nathan was not afraid of being so high up, standing on the logs that were swinging left and right. He had a bit of difficulty with one of the obstacles - the swinging logs, as they were too far apart. The patrol guide asked Dean to help Nathan by moving the log that Nathan is standing on forward, so he can actually step on the next one. A very helpful tip! Other than that, Nathan completed all the other obstacles pretty much on his own. Strangely, Nathan found the flying fox the most challenging, when I thought that should be one of the easiest. 

Dean and I continued on another circuit without Nathan as he was too short to reach the life line. I would have loved to complete all the circuits, but since Nathan wasn't able to participate in the rest, and we didn't want to have them waiting for too long, we only managed to complete 3 out of the 7 circuits. We might return when Noah is older, and hopefully, he'll be brave enough to participate like Nathan.

The cool weather and fresh air made this a very pleasant activity. I love the varied challenges and it is nice that Nathan was able to complete the two squirrel circuits. I can imagine getting all hot, sticky and sweaty if we were to do something like that in Singapore. 

While you are at Bedugul, I recommend stopping by Strawberry Stop. It is a home style restaurant serving simple home cooked food. We had lunch at Strawberry Stop right before we visited the Bali Treetop Adventure Park. Main courses are about US$5. We really enjoyed the strawberry juice. Made from the freshest and juiciest strawberries that are grown in the strawberry farm sited in the same compound. Merti's (our driver) family owns this restaurant and strawberry farm, and we got a private tour of the farm. Noah loves strawberries and was thrilled that he got to eat them right off the stem. It is just opposite the Ulun Danu temple. Just look for the big bottle by the road side.

For more of our Bali Adventures, click here!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Review: Sam, Sebbie and Di-Di-Di at the Night Safari by David Seow

Following our trip to the Bali Safari & Marine Park, we received a lovely book about a night safari. This beautifully illustrated book captured the attention of Nathan immediately. We learnt about nocturnal animals and read about the predicament of the animals as they faced a giraffe who fell asleep in the middle of the road. Noah had fun identifying the animals and spotting the ones he saw in Bali. A good bedtime read and definitely a hit with kids who love animals.

Disclaimer: We received this book for the purposes of this book review. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bali Safari & Marine Park

I decided to make Bali Safari & Marine Park our very first stop so that they'd be something to get the kids all excited at the start of our trip. Our driver, Merti, met us at the airport and got us there in slightly under an hour.

Mara River Safari Lodge
Accommodation for the first night was the Mara River Safari Lodge, which is located within the park itself. All the attractions were walking distance from our hotel room.

This is the view we wake up to in the morning... animals grazing right outside our room! Noah was so excited... "mommy, look zebras"!

Safari Journey
Entrance to the Bali Safari & Marine Park is included in the room rate, so you do not need to buy tickets separately. The highlight for us was the safari journey - an air conditioned tram that let us see the animals up close. This is free if you are hotel guests at Mara River Safari lodge. Just show you hotel guest card.


Sun bear

Bridge that separates the carnivores from the rest of the animals


Looking at hippos


Zebra crossing



Our hotel room in the distance
The entire journey took about half an hour. I've never seen so many animals up close before. We enjoyed it so much, we went on it twice!

Animal Shows
There are animal shows throughout the day. Check schedule for show times.

The boys particularly liked watching the elephants bathe...

Animal Rides
There are animal rides available in the park. Nathan wanted to ride on the elephant but it was so expensive (USD80/person), I said no. :( I was told that elephant rides are expensive everywhere in Bali, not just at this particular park. The reason - elephants eat a lot!

The camel ride was much more affordable (USD5/person), so Nathan got to ride a camel. Noah didn't want to try.

Tsavo Lion Restaurant
There are two restaurants situated inside the Bali Safari & Marine Park. The one closest to our hotel room was the Tsavo Lion Restaurant, and we ended up having all our meals there while we were at the park. The restaurant overlooks the lion enclosure, so it was pretty much like dining with the lions! Buffet breakfast is included in the room rates if you are staying at Mara River Safari Lodge. Lunch / dinner main courses are about USD15 and up. They have a kids menu that had stuff like spaghetti and bangers & mash which my boys enjoyed.

Can you see the sleeping lion?

The Bali Safari & Marine park is a family friendly attraction that all kids will probably enjoy. Noah's smile says it all...

For more of our Bali Adventures, click here!