For all ages ... Bali. Photo: Reuters
Bali and Fiji make kid-friendly holidays a breeze, but which one you choose depends on whether you want an edge to your tropical getaway.
'We're off to Fiji," I told my newsagent when he inquired after I cancelled home delivery for a week.
"You must have kids," he offered knowingly.
Laid back in Fiji.
Fiji and family holidays have almost become an Australian tradition and this was our first getaway there after bypassing Bali, our usual winter destination, because of our toddler daughter's penchant for high-pitched squealing and inability to sit still for more than five minutes.
The four-hour flight from Sydney to Nadi seemed manageable - just.
Bali is statistically the nation's most popular destination, with Australians making 911,000 visits in 2011-2012 compared to 330,000 visits to Fiji, yet both islands offer reasonably priced holidays and the promise of sun and relaxation in a tropical setting.
Where Fiji appeals largely to families and honeymooners, Bali's market is much more diverse, with twentysomethings flocking there for the heady combination of shopping, surf and a lively nightlife. So with mum and dad in desperate need of a break and two spirited children who love the water and new experiences, how do the two compare?
Bali and Fiji are not short on well-positioned and equipped accommodation. You can literally stay on the beach, with hotels and resorts reaching to the water's edge.
Resorts and hotels offer a range of options - in Bali, you can book small villas within larger hotels, and in Fiji, you can book thatched-roof bures.
One of the key differences is that in Fiji, hotels and resorts tend to be more isolated. Our expansive, five-star resort was designed to mimic a traditional village, yet it was 15 minutes' drive from the nearest town, which was a world away from the romantic village of yesteryear.
For the children, though, it was a one-stop shop for fun. They frolicked for hours in the resort's vast swimming pool, collected small chunks of coral on the reef-fringed beach and ate a childhood's worth of hot chips and ice-cream. My husband and 4½-year-old son kayaked when the tide was high, though they both baulked at horse riding on the beach.
Our kids fell in love with the resort staff - my son referred to the friendly, statuesque men as warriors and was a big fan of a particular singer-guitarist who happily performed Wiggles hits in between Bruno Mars tracks during dinner at our favourite resort eatery.
Bali offers more variety and opportunities to rent private, stand-alone accommodation, which is ideal when you are seeking privacy and wanting to protect fellow tourists from the noise of your boisterous kids at daybreak. Self-contained apartments are also a popular option and provide more space with the convenience of room service.
The only downside is that because of the diversity of clients, Balinese hotel staff aren't necessarily as child-centred, though the locals, in general, are child-friendly.
Fiji is all about kids' clubs. At our resort, the club was extremely well organised - we didn't use it, but checked it out and spoke with parents who did - with a range of activities for all ages, from face painting to volleyball. At lunchtime, a large temporary buffet area was set up near the pool for children and was a quick and easy way to feed them.
All of the resorts' eateries offered a kids' menu as part of its "kids-under-12-eat-free" package and this meant ordering meals was a simple affair, though we did opt to pay for dishes off the menu if the kids fancied them.
We also avoided the large breakfast buffet and chose instead to grab smoothies and croissants at the small cafe on-site; it was a far quieter option.
The kids were well looked after when it came to activities, but really, they were content playing in the swimming pool until their fingertips shrivelled and they couldn't stop shivering.
Towards the end of our Fiji trip, when we finally took advantage of the resort's nanny service at $8 an hour so we could enjoy a couple of child-free dinners, our son fell in love with his meimei (nanny), who patiently accompanied him on frog-finding expeditions in the lush tropical gardens.
Some people thought we were crazy when we travelled to Bali with him as a 15-month-old, though I am not quite sure why (you can't drink the tap water in Fiji, either).
The dining options are diverse and you are not limited to your hotel's eateries. If you stay in the main tourist areas, you have the choice of hundreds of restaurants, cafes and cuisines - from Greek, Indonesian and Mexican to Japanese and Italian. There is not the proliferation of kids' clubs in Bali, though more hotels are offering this service. Babysitters can also be booked through your hotel or reputable agencies
My son accompanied me on wonderful guided hikes outside Ubud - the hotel provided a carry pack - and when we headed to the touristy stretch of beach at Seminyak, he was content playing in the sand and frolicking in the shallows. He also enjoyed the evening ritual of joining hundreds of others to watch the sun set. He was fussed over by women from countless nations and joined in a soccer game with a rowdy, eclectic bunch of backpackers. He had a ball, pardon the pun.
In terms of being child-friendly, Fiji ticks all the boxes but because of this it is also, well, sedate. I like to mix poolside relaxation and family time with windows - even small ones - of adventure. Being post-40, that could simply mean drinks at a sleek, buzzing cocktail bar, an afternoon of enthusiastic haggling at a market, or hitching a ride on the back of a motorbike when taxis are scarce.
Lying around a pool all day reading Fifty Shades of Grey isn't my thing, though I understand why fellow harried mums long for the opportunity. I prefer a family holiday with a little bit of an edge rather than having to experience my thrills vicariously. I am a mother, but I still want moments of discovery.
Yes, Bali is gritty and chaotic in the main tourist strip from Kuta to Seminyak, but it is also a diverse destination appealing to all ages. If you are seeking a retreat from boisterous backpackers, you can head inland to Ubud or north to the sleepy coastal town of Lovina.
Once we stepped outside our Fiji resort, there were only homes and grassy slopes nearby.
The closest town was ideal for stocking up on fresh fruit, snacks and bottled water but there was little else of interest to make us linger. The capital, Suva, was two hours' drive away and there was no way our daughter would have complied.
There were moments when I felt resort-logged, especially given that the majority of other guests were Australian. And we were surrounded by children. Mid-morning at the swimming pool was like a large-scale childcare centre.
Bali offers an exotic, cultural kaleidoscope; your children are just as likely to play with French or German kids as Australians, and there are also the locals who love nothing more than to join in a game of hacky sack.
For me, Bali is a family destination as well as an enriching sensory and cultural experience. It can be as child- and poolside-centred as you wish, but there are wonderful opportunities for some grown-up escapism. And, after all, a happy mum means a happy family.
Best and worst
Far greater range of accommodation, especially villas, which are ideal for families seeking space and privacy.
Hard-to-please teenagers will enjoy the hustle and bustle, surf and the shopping.
Diverse options when it comes to day trips, transport, food and cultural activities.
The four-hour flight.
Kids' clubs provide relief for parents seeking "me time".
Most resorts offer "kids-under-12-eat-free" and even "stay-free" package deals.
Intermittent travel warnings due to security threats.
Negotiating crowded, uneven footpaths can be hell with a pram.
The majority of return flights depart at night, which can be challenging with overtired kids.
Resorts can feel isolated from Fijian life.
Greater dependence on your hotel to arrange sightseeing and transport, which tends to be more costly.
Teenagers likely to get bored.