Fiji with Kids: Should you do it? After a stunning Fiji holiday, filled with palm fringed beaches and turquoise waters… we reflect upon the question, “Is Fiji only a destination for those who are seeking a resort experience and kids clubs?”
How did we end up travelling to Fiji with Kids? We were caught up in magic of the movie Moana when I had to book a work trip to Sydney, ( on the other side of Australia for us). It seemed like a logical hop to continue onto somewhere in the Pacific. We did some research on other Pacific Islands, but being able to book the flights to Nadi on our frequent fliers points meant that we decided to go to Fiji with kids.
Then passed a couple of busy months before the real research of where to stay and what to do in Fiji with Kids. Initially, things looked ok until we discovered that Fiji tourism seemed to be resort based, with obligatory meal plans.
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The deeper we dug, Fiji seemed to be an island of resorts… and resort travel is not really our style. Resorts, with Kids Club, nannies and babysitting are an excellent option for busy people looking for a holiday in every sense of the word. In general, a resort experience includes all the gorgeous views and fun experiences with hopefully very little discomfort; which is what a holiday is about for many people… except that is not our style, nor our purpose in travel.
This post is a companion to Bali with Kids – our first time impressions.
So read on… if you are looking for a somewhat independent Fiji family holiday that is not 100% resort based or all inclusive!
What did we do >> Fiji with Kids
Initially we had hoped to divide our 17 days into 4 places (about 4 nights in each) but in the end, due to “package deals” and an number of logistical considerations we stayed first near Lautoka, then on Mana Island (in the Mamanuca Island chain), then to Suva, returning to Korolevu on the Coral Coast and finally a night at Sonaisali Island for an easy early morning airport transfer.
What would we suggest?
If you are not looking for an all inclusive resort holiday, first of all perhaps consider another destination.
Costs – How expensive is Fiji with Kids?
We paid a lot of money for our Fiji holiday. More than we would have liked. A critic may say, “Well you should have done your research.” True, but we have always found, all around the world, that there are ways to avoid high prices. Fiji had us a bit confounded; isolated resorts mean you pay for transport (not cheap) plus a lack of mid range hotels (with decent pools) located in the towns made it hard to escape the resort style of accommodation and associated price tag.
#2 Resorts or Hotels – where to stay in Fiji with Kid?
When we realised Fiji was really resort oriented, Panic set in, as we really wanted to get to know Fiji. In the end we “did our best” and ended up at resorts for 4 out of our 5 hotels. It just seemed that there was no mid range hotels, and certainly none that had pools or “better than average hotel standard” which is an important requisite for our kid’s holidays.
But, in exchange for blowing our budget, we stayed in some very spectacular places. Not all were to our taste, but as with everything in life you need to take the good with the bad… Travel is always about taking ourselves out of our comfort zones, and in this case it was by trying a travel style we normally wouldn’t consider! No complaints, everything is a learning curve!
Family Friendly Hotels in Fiji: As we stayed in Bures in 3 out of 5 places we had plenty of space, either 2 rooms or a large room with different bed configurations. Bures also had the advantage of verandas or balconies and a real island feel. At the First Landing resort we also had a kitchenette which meant we could self cater which was a real bonus! In the two hotels we had limited room, and only in the Warrick Hotel were they not flexible with bed arrangements.
#3 Bargaining & Souvenir Shopping
All across the island of Vitu Levu and in the Mamanuca Islands – the souvenirs are exactly the same… whether they are offered in a traditional village or at a resort shop, they are the same! We learned the hard way that souvenirs in the traditional villages had inflated prices, about double what you would pay in the “official’ tourist shops like Tappoo or Jacks. You were able to negotiate with the ladies in the villages, but still ended up with a $10FJ necklace that seemed like a lot of money.
We found that Fiji operated on a fixed price system. Certainly when we were initially booking our hotels, they weren’t interested in offering any cheaper prices, and in the end we booked through a travel agent because she was able to get much better prices than we were directly. (Plus, she also got perks like free kids meals, free Kids club and even resort credits>> details at the end of the article) All around Fiji, there seemed to be little if any negotiation on prices; we understood by the end of the trip that package deals with flights, accommodation and meals are the norm and you will definitely get the best deals by looking for specials on packages.
#5 Transportation – Fiji with Kids
When looking for transportation, resort reception staff got out a price list; when we shopped around with taxi drivers there didn’t seem to be a lot of variation from the list price. We did negotiate for $10 here and there, but it wasn’t substantial. We opted to get taxi drivers and have them take us to a number of places; we saved quite a bit on the tour prices by doing this.
There seems to be a well established, and clear bus system with timetables. The buses are lots of fun for kids, with open sides where the fragrant smells of Fiji are just delightful.
For a couple of our longer trips (Nadi to Suva for example) we used the services of Fiji Babies who provided a car seat in the car hire. http://www.fijibabies.com/
Car hire is suggested as a good way of getting around independently, and that may be the case. However, by far the best insight we had into Fijian life was through our drivers.
#6 Tours – Fiji With Kids
There are a couple of tour companies set up in the resorts, notably Rosie’s Holidays – it seemed that their tours were around $500FJ for a full day for a family of 4. Activities that we had been keen on doing – like zip lining – were going to end up at around $200 FJ per person; we simply didn’t have that kind of budget.
We totally support the Fijian traditional ways of inviting people into the village and their land, and paid ourselves paying around $100 in a half-day activity when we did DIY. We don’t mind paying directly to the local people and like the way that they control tourism in each village (assuming that it goes to help the people) but it makes for a more expensive holiday.
#7 Food – Fiji with Kids
We were soooo excited to be going to Fiji to enjoy fresh fish, tastes of the Pacific and especially some good, authentic Indian food! We stayed at 5 places during our stay, and 2 of them offered only Western Style food, apart from a once a week buffet featuring Fijian food. The other 3 offered a few traditional Fijian dishes, and a limited number of Indian (Butter chicken). We can only suppose that the offerings are so restricted because they haven’t had the demand for a wider variety of foods in the past.
#8 Learn the Language – Fiji with Kids
You will most definitely learn BULA – the traditional word of greeting or hello while you are in Fiji!!! It’s a wonderfully ebullient, bright and fantastic word…. We also learned our numbers and a couple of other words of thanks like Vinaka…
Fijians speak excellent English; whether they are Fijian, Indian or a mix of both, their English is more than fluent and that means that its really easy to communicate and get around if you are travelling independently.
#9 Travelling with Kids – Fiji and Children
Every SINGLE piece of promotion you will read about Fiji raves about what a child friendly culture Fiji is. It is true that all resort staff made a huge fuss of our nearly 4 year old, but the interest and friendliness was very similar to what he experienced in Bali… And like Bali, our daughter who was a touch older didn’t get a lot of interest. It certainly is a place where small kids are very popular! Kids clubs are exceedingly popular in every resort, and even some private places have activities for Kids. We participated in only a few but did find the activities great and the people warm and friendly.
#10 Culture – how much did we experience of Fijian Culture?
Those Fijians we did end up meeting, other than the bright friendly bulas of all staff at all resorts, were the drivers of cars, who were most happy to offer opinions on all things Fijian, and particularly politics and the latest constitution.
We had some of the most interesting political conversations that we have ever had with the taxi drivers in Fiji, they seem really well versed in both matters of Independence, and also of constitutional law. I guess you would if your country has had 4 coups (de etat) coups in the past 30 years and you just got your independence back!!!
Religion was also a topic that people were happy to talk about, but more in the sense of how it separated out the different cultures rather than how shaped individuals.
In the street and shops (away from touristy areas) people seemed a little curious but happy to help and genuinely friendly.
#11 Sustainability & Responsible tourism- Fiji with Kids
True environmental sustainability is difficult to assess as a tourist; when we started researching our trip to Fiji we looked for “eco” lodges and the like but found them very expensive or possibly very rough. Most of the hotels we stayed in had some kind of environmental policy in their Hotel guide, which was pleasing to see.
Responsible tourism was an area that we struggled with. Australians, Chinese and Indians largely owned resorts; being leased from the traditional owners, there is lease income to the villages where the resorts are located. Over and over again, people told us that they were happy for this foreign ownership as long as the local Fijian people got employment from it; figures ranged, but apparently tourism represents 60% of the local income. Wages were low (about $150 FJ for a week, or $3 FJ per hour for a 48 hour week)
Many well-meaning tourists bring school supplies and give them to the teachers during the school visit. They seem appreciated by the school principals (I talked to 2 of them about it) but best practice sustainable development principles would say that this is not a good form of contribution. (This is because it is not sustainable, reliable or consistent and creates a hand out mentality amongst the people).
On the plus side, strong traditional village structures mean that some funds to get paid to village elders.
Conclusion – Fiji With Kids
Fiji is indeed a tropical paradise for those visiting the islands or staying in resorts; it is stunning with sunsets and palm trees abound… Like every place, you need to go once to understand what the places are about and why they are popular.
Would we go to Fiji again?
In a world where budgets are limited and time is finite, Fiji is not on our immediate to do list.
Honestly, most likely we would try one of the other Pacific Islands before heading to Fiji… but then again, our taxi driver offered that we could stay at his home in the Lau islands and we also heard some great things about the Eco Lodges down down on the Kadavu group…. And that sounds more like our style of travel …
Stay tuned for our next blog post, Fiji for the Independent Family Travellers!
Using a Travel Agent to book your trip – Fiji with Kids
When we discovered that writing to hotels directly did not result any savings, and that sometimes booking.com had much cheaper prices than the hotels direct, we ended up talking to Anita Burgess from Burgess Travellers As mother and frequent traveller Anita was very respectful of our ideas, while gently suggesting some helpful alternatives! Best email to use is email@example.com
Where did we stay – Fiji with Kids
Full reviews are coming soon, but to give you an idea of our choices:
First Landing Resort – Lautoka – with modest bures and a small resort this place was about as traditional and laid back as a resort can get. We loved taking the bus into Lautoka and the self catering options in some of the bures.
Mana Island Resort – Mamanunca Island chain – we “ended up” at this resort as they were one of the few that didn’t have obligatory all inclusive meal plans. And what a stunning place it was!!! We loved that we could walk across the island in 10 minutes, swim in reefs from the beach and that there was a small village nearby.
Grand Pacific Hotel – Suva. When we were planning the trip this was a “must stay” place for us; after all the Queen had stayed there and a number of romantic adventurer novelists like Somerset Maugham… A highlight amongst the hotels.
The Warrick – Korolevu. This 5 star hotel was recommend by our travel agent because of an excellent family deal that the hotel was offering. One look at the photos and you can see why we jumped at this offer.
Doubletree by Hilton Resort – Sonaisali Island. A wonderful place to begin or end a trip, with a Doubletree standard of hotel and the best room we stayed in. You can read our full review Doubletree Resort Sonaisali Island – Hotel Review
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