International jet-setting explorer and, in another life, Condé Nast Traveller writer, Nicky Adams has a whole new perspective on travel, given her permanent luggage of three small children.
WORDS NICKY ADAMS
MY HEART LIES IN FIJI — always has, always will. While there are many beautiful island destinations in this world, they don’t all come complete with a welcome that feels absolutely genuine, a national pride that shines out, and the locals’ desire to share their blessings with you, a passing traveller. And this doesn’t just apply to the resorts; venture out to central Fiji and there is not only magnificent countryside, but also new depths of hospitality. As for the outer islands, the beauty of these is nothing short of jaw dropping. However, while there was once a time I loved to explore, I now have three young children, and I can’t think of anything more horrific than discovering new horizons with them in tow. Oh no! I want streamlined travel, I want ease, and I want cocktails — and lots of them.
WHICH LEADS ME STRAIGHT TO DENARAU, a pocket of joy along Fiji’s west coast. Granted, the beach does not have the wow factor or the snorkeling opportunities found at the outer islands, but a day trip to these is a breeze to arrange. And what Denarau offers in abundance is convenience and variety, with resorts, restaurants and activities. So whether you are zipping over for a short stay, or combining a stopover with an island retreat, ease is the name of the game. Whip through the airport (currently being upgraded) and after a 20-minute cab ride, voila! Check in, throw down your bags, strip off your winter warmers and melt into a ringside seat at the oceanfront bar. Perfect.
Here are some of the resorts that get the job done…
RADISSON BLU RESORT FIJI DENARAU ISLAND
Rated the Number One Family Resort in Fiji in the 2016 and 2017 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, this is a spectacular location. Families flock here, loving the extensive grounds, selection of three kids’ pools, and, of course, the particularly cool (usually supervised) waterslide. The lush tropical landscaping makes you feel as if you really are in Fiji, as opposed to just a five-star-resort anywhere in the world. This tropicana also helps dull down the noise of all the little ones, so those dozing by the adults-only pool remain undisturbed. The Radisson, in my opinion, has a number of big draw cards. Firstly it’s the only resort to boast climate-controlled pools. There is also good shade sail coverage over the pools, which is unique to this resort. Finally there is the offer of some complimentary water sport activities. The Blu Banana Kids Club is comprehensive, but I was more impressed by the daily activities, so that if you don’t want to use the club, there is still plenty to do. The rooms are spacious and well appointed. However, next October, a big overhaul will start its first phase, which will take the rooms to a whole new level. Incidentally, despite offering six fabulous restaurant choices (check out Signature Blu for fine dining), the one-bedroom suite comes with full kitchen facilities and (gasps from those who enjoy home comforts), a washing machine and dryer. For a family of five, if the youngest is an infant, you can fit into the suite, but you’ll need to contact the resort directly.
SHERATON FIJI RESORT
This resort is an integrated complex, which allows you access to both the facilities of the Sheraton and the Sheraton Villas, and the shared foyer will frankly knock your socks off. As you walk through the open entrance and look across an infinity pool to the ocean beyond, it’s hard to hold back tears of joy! Aimed at families, the villas comfortably house larger groups. While the exterior of the complex feels a little dated, there were details that make all the difference to a stay. The suites are spacious, towels were found to be soft and fluffy, the plunger coffee plentiful, and the kids’ pool ideal for young ones, and crucially, nice and close to the accommodation. Unlike the Radisson, where getting a hot spot around the pool can be cutthroat at times, here it’s a less aggressive activity. Another bonus is that guests are able to use the facilities at sister resort The Westin, which has, amongst other things, a brilliant outside play area for young kids. It’s a sad day when you admit to getting excited about a playground, but when the kids have had too much sun, this shaded area is enough to make me want to whoop with joy. Never mind the exceptional spa facilities and the access to the Denarau Golf and Racquet Club, just give me a decent swing and my heart sings.
SOFITEL FIJI RESORT & SPA
The Sofitel has an easy-breezy feel about it and the vibe is super family friendly, with little touches like an outdoor movie area close enough to the rooms for older kids to hang out unsupervised. It offers some really enticing deals for Accor members; amongst them, discounts of up to 50 percent on meals from the restaurant, and the day I visited, FJ$45 for unlimited soft drinks all day (plus alcoholic cocktails at certain times – yum). I do feel that this resort is a little more tired than others, however, to compensate for that, the Sofitel has pulled something quite spectacular out of the bag in the form of The Waitui Beach Club. This is taking the idea of ‘adults only’ very seriously, even boasting its own check-in area. To ensure tranquility both the ‘club’ and the rooms included in the Waitui Club, are located away from the family rooms. Oozing luxury, a peaceful vibe pervades. All the trimmings can be found: white daybeds, a glass-walled gym overlooking the ocean that offers, amongst other things, yoga classes to help unwind further. If that’s not enough, beautiful people with silver trays of canapés waft around periodically throughout the day. To top it off, there’s an hour of complimentary evening cocktails. And not a child in sight.
NICKY’S Fiji tips
Check out Tuckers Ice-Cream Corner just outside the front of the Sheraton, delicious, and a third of the price of the New Zealand Natural cones in the resorts.
There is a medical centre on Denarau, and I can vouch for the fact that the service is quick and efficient.
À LA CARTE
For à la carte I would recommend Signature Blu at the Radisson. Watch out for exclusive restaurants that are ‘cashless’ and menus that don’t include tax (on the list price) or vegetables, or you could, like us, find yourself paying over FJ$100 for a slab of steak alone.
You can take some food items into Fiji, so if you like fresh milk, freeze it, and take it as the resorts seem to only sell UHT. Other items to take are gourmet crackers, cheese and chocolate, all of which tend to be highly priced.
Take a taxi to the port early in your trip and stock up on beer and supplies from the supermarket.
Flexibility with travel dates can result in competitive room rates. Also bear in mind that by using an agent you may be able to work out a room configuration that you cannot do online.