May 30, 2008
Shangri-La Fijian Resort & Spa
A view from the Jacuzzi at the Shangri-La Fijian Resort & Spa.
The Shangri-La Fijian Resort & Spa is on Fiji’s Coral Coast, about a 45-minute drive from Nandi International Airport. The on-island tour operator Rosie Holidays is handling my ground transport during this trip, and I enjoyed the drive along nearly empty roads though a landscape of sugar cane fields and pine forests. My driver told me that Indians make up about 48 percent of Fiji’s population and the influence is immediately apparent, from the Hindu temples and sari-clad women to basic menus featuring tandoori chicken wraps and curried goat.
The Shangri-La Fijian Resort & Spa has been in operation for 41 years; Shangri-La took it over in the 1970s. The resort is on its own 109-acre island and is reached by crossing a short bridge.
I toured the resort by golf cart with the Sales Coordinator, Ranjini Reddy, behind the wheel. She described the resort as “four-and-a-half stars.” The three-story resort has 442 rooms grouped into wings fronting the lagoon side, and those fronting the ocean.
A Premier Oceanfront Bure.
The resort is well-equipped to handle groups and meetings, but it’s equally appealing for families with children. They tend to navigate towards the Lagoon Wing rooms, which are convenient to the kids club, children’s pool and the calmer waters of the lagoon; it’s not recommended that guests swim on the oceanside, due to the coral reef and strong currents.
Last February, the resort opened six Premier Oceanfront Bures. These one-bedroom accommodations come with 24-hour butler service, Jacuzzis, and private golf cart. They’re a good recommendation for honeymooners and romance-minded couples. The rate is $1,010 a night.
Destination weddings outnumber honeymoons at the resort. A really charming feature is the non-denominational Seaside Chapel, an authentic recreation of a chapel you might see in the countryside.
The Seaside Chapel.
This year the resort also opened Chi, the Spa at Shangri-La. I took a quick walk through and was impressed to learn that the spa offers a “Dusk till Dawn” package that allows guests to stay overnight in one of the six spa bures (four of these front the ocean while two are described as rainforest bures). The package includes four treatments, full beds and a spa breakfast on awakening.
The signature treatment at the spa is the Traditional Bobo Massage, utilizing Fijian techniques and materials, such as coconut oil. I was lucky enough to experience this for myself in one of the oceanfront spa bures. These are really spacious inside—almost a complex onto themselves, with a changing area and outdoor shower. The bobo massage uses strong strokes, as well as utilizing healing herbs that are inside a sachet of sorts that is applied to the individuals stress points (mine being the neck and shoulders due to long hours at the computer). My therapist was Inise Baravi, the resort’s specialist in bobo massage; I highly recommend guests seek her out.
The spa director is Jeanette Haua. Agents can make advance reservations for their clients by reaching out to her at 679-652-0155, email@example.com.
The resort has lots of options for active guests, including a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts and watersports, including sportfishing charters. They’re currently tearing up one of the tennis courts to create a miniature golf attraction. Evening shows include those offering a glimpse of traditional Fijian ways, including dances, a lovo meal of food prepared in underground earthen ovens, and fire-walking—which I witnessed. I’m still trying to figure out how it’s done. The firewalkers didn’t sprint across the red hot stones; they stood on them, shouting out a hearty “Bula!” to the crowd. In no way do I think it’s a trick or a sham; it’s a mystery I’ll have to investigate.
The travel agent contact at the resort is Ana Tabulawaki, sales executive. She can be reached at 679-652-8705, firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 29, 2008
Radisson Resort Fiji Denarau Island
I boarded the Bula Bus shuttle and made my way to my appointment at the Radisson Resort Fiji Denarau Island, a five-star property on Denarau Island that had only been open for ten months. When I entered the Radisson’s lobby, I was immediately bowled over. The bi-level open-air lobby looks out over the Orchid Lounge to a manmade waterfall cascading over boulders. When I met Matthew Hill, the resort’s director sales & marketing/executive assistant manager, he explained that the actual checking-in process is done in the Orchid Lounge, where the guests can relax with a Fijian iced tea during the process and get into a holiday spirit from the get go.
As we strolled through the grounds, I saw the resort’s kids club, which has a creative design. Radisson employed a local artist to paint undersea murals on the walls, creating an underwater reef effect that I imagine kids really dig.
Matthew explained that because of the Radisson branding they receive a greater share of guests from the U.S. than other resorts on Denarau, around 10 percent. Many of these choose the resort as a pre or post excursion to one or more of Fiji’s outlying islands.
A guest room at the Radisson Resort Fiji Denarau Island.
The Radisson Resort Fiji Denarau Island has 135 rooms and 135 suites. These are arranged with a room next to a suite so they can easily be combined for guests in search of additional space. Rooms in the three-story resort are evenly grouped into Garden, Lagoon and Ocean View, with the front three blocks being ocean view. Since all rooms face west, they have excellent views of the sunset. A nice touch in the suites is the extra-large mahogany tables. The Radisson is also the only property on Denarau Island offering free Internet, which can run over $20 a day at other resorts.
The resort’s spa makes all of its products on site utilizing Fijian materials. I was really impressed by the treatment rooms, open bures that exuded an authentic Zen tranquility.
Couples massage tables at the spa.
The Radisson is easily the most-family friendly of the Denarau resorts that I visited. Kids will love some of the features in the pools, such as the water slide and lazy river. The pools also utilize white sand to create a beach effect.
Matthew says his philosophy is to “under promise and over deliver.” Matthew Hill is also the travel agent liaison. He can be contacted 679-675-6691, email@example.com.
Port Denarau Retail Center
The aforementioned Bula Bus makes it free and easy to drop in at other resorts, as well as visit the Port Denarau Retail Center. Here you’ll find a selection of shops and restaurants surrounding a marina offering cruises and sailings to Fiji’s outlying islands. Restaurants include a Hard Rock Café, but I was heading to an intriguing restaurant named Indigo, which splits its menu in half, offering both Thai and Indian selections. The restaurant has 18 tables inside and 17 tables al fresco. These are right on the waterfront, so you can dine and watch yachts motor by, heading for open water. The last Bula Bus back to the resorts leaves at 10:30 p.m. which is plenty late for quiet Fiji.
May 29, 2008
Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa
A guest room at the Sofitel Resort & Spa.
The Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa is also on Denarau Island. There’s a free shuttle bus called the Bula Bus that makes it easy to travel from one resort to another, or to the shops and restaurants at Port Denarau. The Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa has 296 rooms grouped into three categories: Resort View Rooms, Ocean View Rooms and Suites. All suites are located at the east end of the resort’s three room blocks, giving them the best ocean views. Since the resort is three stories high, even superior views can be found on the highest floor.
While the resort targets all markets, it’s especially well-equipped to handle groups and conferences. The resort’s Mandara Spa is set up like a little village, giving it a real day spa atmosphere. “Many of our guests spend the whole day here,” says Jocelyn Foon, business development manager for the resort.
The signature treatment is the Mandara Four-Hand Massage, which utilizes a combination of massage techniques, including lomi lomi. Another popular treatment is the Fijian Bobo Massage. The spa director, Anne Hazelman, told me that it’s a tradition in Fijian households for the father to come home and lay down on the living room floor and the children would give their father a massage. Bobo is a massage technique that utilizes a combination of long, gentle strokes and forceful manipulation of the muscles.
Hazelman impressed me when she described her hiring techniques. 50 percent of her decision on whether she hires an applicant depends on whether or not that person has a giving energy. She’s seen people with great resumes who didn’t have the gift of human touch. Advise your clients to seek out Anne, even if just for a minute or two, it will add to their total experience at the spa. Agents can contact her about advance reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org, 679-675-7877, ext. 2877.
The resort has three restaurants. V is the signature fine dining restaurant; Lagoon Restaurant has various theme nights featuring various cuisines; Salt is a casual, award-winning restaurant placed between the resort’s lagoon-style pool and the beach.
Heater Gordon, Mark Rogers and Jocelyn Foon.
Heather Gordon, the director of sales and marketing, joined Jocelyn and I for lunch. After discussing the resort, our conversation veered off to a popular topic on Fiji: Why should travelers from the U.S. travel all the way to Fiji, when they have first rate beach destinations so close to home? The answer we came up with is Fiji’s people and the culture. Fijians are as friendly as they’re reputed to be and the culture is unlike anything travelers will find in the Caribbean or Mexico. By the end of the lunch, we were in agreement that Fiji needs to do a better job marketing itself. Too few Americans know enough about Fiji to commit to the long haul trip. On average, the resorts that I’ve visited report between five and seven percent of their business coming from the U.S.
May 28, 2008
Fiji Beach Resort & Spa
Fiji beach villas.
At first thought, Denarau Island may raise expectations of a remote Fijian isle. In reality, it is a gated tourism development only a 20-minute drive from Nadi International Airport. Denarau Island is approached over a 100-yard bridge from the mainland. The former mangrove island has been under development since 1969 and today it has private homes, a championship golf course, a port and a number of five-star hotels, including such familiar brands as Hilton, Radisson, Sheraton, Sofitel and Westin. I’d be using the Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, which is managed by Hilton, as my base to explore Denarau Island and meet with hotel representatives from a variety of properties.
After settling in, I met with Adrienne Sword, sales executive for Fiji Beach Resort & Spa. As we toured the property, I learned some insider tips for booking the beachfront resort. The project has completed the first phase of a three-phase development plan. When the development is complete, it will be officially flagged as a Hilton, instead of just being managed by the company. A date for completion hasn’t been set.
The resorts 225 rooms run the gamut of categories, from Studio Beachfront to Five-Bedroom Deluxe Beachfront. A hefty 95 percent of the rooms have ocean views providing a Technicolor show put on by Fiji’s gorgeous sunsets. For the very best views, book villas 26-35 and numbers 12, 11 and 10. These room numbers are for a variety of room and villa types. All rooms above Studio level come equipped with a barbecue grill on the lanai. Pre packaged ready-to-grill meals can be ordered from room service at $47 per person. The villas have a washing machine, dishwasher, electric range and a full-size refrigerator, making them a good choice for families.
Couples and honeymooners will like the oversized tub that sits in the middle of the bathroom area. The shower and toilet are in two separate rooms. The entertainment features in the rooms are also top-notch, including a Bose sound system and DVD player. The busiest time to book is during Fiji’s school holidays in March and June.
The nuka and pool by the Fiji beachfront.
The spa has seven treatment rooms—two of these are for couples. For advance reservations contact the dynamic spa director, Lauren Hudson (email@example.com, 679-675-6800). Look for the spa to triple in size when Phase Two of the development is completed. By the end of the month a massage bure on the beach will be completed.
The property has one restaurant, nuku, which serves a buffet breakfast and an a la carte lunch and dinner. The beachside restaurant has a combination of al fresco seating and enclosed tables. The tables looking out over the ocean are are tables 101-105 and 201-205. They can be reserved in advance of arrival. You’ll definitely win your clients over if they have one of these tables for their first meal at the resort. In June the resort will open a second restaurant, a Thai noodle bar called Maravu, which means “Calm Waters.” Agents can reach out to Adrienne Sword, the property’s sales executive, at Adrienne.firstname.lastname@example.org, 679-675-6903.
May 27, 2008
Flying with Fiji Air Pacific
My first trip to Fiji was off to a good start. After checking in at the Air Pacific counter in LAX on Saturday for my 11:30 p.m. flight to Fiji, I learned I’d been upgraded to Business Class. The 10-hour flight was going to be a breeze. The late departure was well-timed, allowing for a full night’s sleep before arriving at Nadi International Airport at dawn.
The entrance to Nadi International Airport at dawn.
Air Pacific calls their Business Class “Tabua” and their Economy Class “Pacific Voyager.” I was aboard a 747-400, the biggest plane in Air Pacific’s fleet, with 28 Tabua seats and 430 Pacific Voyager seats.
Once on board, the service started with champagne and a bottle of Fiji Water. Amenity kits were also handed out, containing the customary toothbrush and cabin socks, but with some premium additions, such as Pure Fiji Body Gel and Pure Fiji Body Butter.
Fijians are legendary for their friendliness. Before we even took off, I had a warm conversation with one of the flight attendants, Mili, an 18-year veteran of Air Pacific. When Mili learned I was writing about her country, she offered to take me to her village to meet her family and friends and to take part in a kava ceremony. Kava is a potent home brew made from a Fijian pepper plant, Piper methysticum. The travel writer Paul Theroux wrote about the elaborate communal drinking ritual built around kava in his excellent book, The Happy Isles of Oceania. Supposedly kava makes your mouth numb with the first bowl and eventually leads you into a mild psychedelic state. Later in the week, if I manage to take Mili up on her offer, I’ll let you know how I fared with Fiji’s magic potion.
The evening light meal service consisted of a choice of three entrees and a selection of wines, mostly vintages from New Zealand and Australia. I had the glazed chicken Teriyaki kebab with basmati rice and a glass of Monkey Bay sauvignon blanc.
There was an in-seat entertainment system loaded with a selection of movies, TV shows and music. I gave it a quick look and then turned it off, preferring to get some shut-eye. The seats didn’t recline completely flat, although they reclined to a sufficient degree to let me stretch out and sleep through the night.
In the morning we received a light breakfast service, which included juice and champagne, a fruit plate, cereal and yogurt; and a more substantial “Vaka Viti” breakfast which included the former with the addition of a cheese omelet, potatoes, chicken sausage, mushrooms and asparagus and grilled Canadian bacon. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy eating on planes, even when the food is excellent, so I stuck to fruit and black coffee.
A mural at Nadi International Airport's baggage claim.
It was still dark as we made our approach into Nadi (pronounced “Nandee”). Immigration took mere minutes. As I waited for my suitcase in baggage claim, I heard birds chirping on the other side of the windows. Soon there were hundreds of unseen birds singing different birdsongs, really sounding excited to greet the day. Since waiting for your bags to show on the belt is one of those dreary existential moments all travelers have to face, the birds were a nice boost. My spirits were lifted even higher when I walked through the airport’s doors and saw the sunrise over green mountains. I was in an international airport but it already felt like I was entering a natural paradise.
May 23, 2008
Pacific Palms Resort Reaches Out After $60 Million Renovation
Aerial view of Pacific Palms Resort.
Bob Nelson is on a mission to spread the word about the Pacific Palms Resort's recently completed $60 million renovation.
“Pacific Palms Resort has been totally transformed,” says Nelson, the vice president and managing director of the golf and spa resort, located in Los Angeles. Highlights of the comprehensive renovation include modernized rooms, RED, an upscale lakeside restaurant and bar, the new Spa at Pacific Palms, makeovers of the resort’s two four-star Golf Digest-rated championship golf courses and revitalized conference and meeting spaces.
“We’ve gotten inquiries from potential guests who are angry about rising gas prices,” says Nelson. “They’re looking for a nearby L.A. getaway that’s an alternative to Palm Springs.”
A big selling point for Pacific Palms Resort is its location. It’s roughly 30 minutes from LAX and other local airports, while downtown Los Angeles is only 20 minutes away. For families, Disneyland is a half-hour drive. “We’re not on the coast, but we got over that,” says Nelson. “We’re in the heart of the new L.A.”
Nelson admits that the approach to Pacific Palms Resort leaves a little to be desired, since guests have to drive a couple of miles through the gritty and urban City of Industry, but in Nelson’s view this leads to an even greater surprise once they drive onto the property. “They enter an oasis-like setting,” says Nelson. “It really delivers a punch.”
The resort sees a fair amount of business travelers during the week, with many business guests building an extra day into their stay to enjoy the golf course and spa. On weekends, the resort welcomes an influx of families and couples with leisure on their minds.
A guestroom at the Pacific Palms Resort.
Pacific Palms Resort has 292 guest rooms, six suites, and two presidential suites. Every guest room includes a balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows with plantation shutters. “Our property sits on a hilltop affording mountain views,” says Nelson. As far as which rooms have the best views, Nelson points out that the rooms facing north primarily have mountain views; while some of the rooms looking to the north, and those looking to the west offer a combination of mountain and Los Angeles city views as well as views over the golf course and fountain.
May 16, 2008
Camel Riding in Dubai and Madinat Jumeirah
Though Dubai is often recognized as a burgeoning global economy with an infrastructure to match, it still has its touches of ancient charm. Case in point: the desert.
Not all of Dubai has been built up; the vast desert and its dunes still remain, and Dubai tourism has put it to good use.
On Friday, our group took to the desert in a souped up Jeep, as our driver floored it over the desert's landscape as we all held on for dear life....good times!
If that wasn't enough, we were given an even bigger treat: riding camels. OK, so it wasn't like Lawrence of Arabia, but we did get a nice 10 minutes on top of these curious animals, who, which amazed me, have hair the texture of a Brillo pad.
All of our activities were carried out by Lama Desert Tours, who equip you with a private driver.
Earlier in the day, we toured Madinat Jumeirah, another Jumeirah property adjacent to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This property is more expansive and divided into three hotels: Mina A'Salam, notable for its distinct Arabic architecture and great for families; Al Qasr, which is more elegant and upscale; and Dar Al Masyaf, known for its honeymoon crowd. The entire property is linked together through a man-made canal, giving it a quasi-Venice appeal, whereby guests get place-to-place via abras or water taxis.
The property also has an on-location souk or market, which, lo and behold, has a Starbucks and Cinnabon! For lunch, we dined at the hotel's most upscale restaurant, Pierchic, where our menu included wild seabass and a chocolate fondant that rivals any I've had before.
We were joined for lunch by Mina A'Salam's general manager, Richard Alexander, who told me how important travel agents are to Jumeirah and trumpeted the number of FAM trips they were offering.
May 16, 2008
Amex Says People Still Traveling, Just Differently
NEW YORK CITY -- Audrey Hendley, vice president of marketing for Amex Consumer Travel Network, says the most popular region for international travel is Latin America, with Belize and Argentina leading the pack. “We are seeing more and more people going to Belize and Argentina simply because they offer great quality for a very affordable price,” she says.
Despite U.S. economy woes, American Express Consumer Travel Network saw a 13-percent spike in business for the first quarter of 2008. At Amex’s Fine Hotels and Resorts Forum Thursday, Lynne Biggar, senior vice president and general manager of the Amex Consumer Travel Network, told Travel Agent that people are still taking trips, they’re just doing it differently. “People are going on shorter trips, staying at affordable resorts, are spending a little less, but they’re still traveling,” Biggar said.
By: Joe Pike
May 15, 2008
Day two since I left New York, and I can, happily, say that I've gotten a bit of rest now. Though I am inclined to stave off sleep now that I have touched down in Dubai, which, undoubtedly, is one of the hottest and, still, up-and-coming world destinations.
Jumeirah, the Dubai-based hotel group, is our host and, from the airport to property, they give their guests luxury service.
But let me first back up to how we got to Dubai. After a day's worth of activity in London, we, again, climbed aboard Silverjet. My favorite aspect about Silverjet is the seamlessness. Chaos and frustration at the airport is my all-time pet peeve, as I'm sure it is for many of you. With Silverjet, you are escorted directly into their lounge where an attendant takes your passport, checks you in, and you are free to relax over an espresso or sandwich while you wait for your flight. That's the true beauty and service excellence of Silverjet; the plane's amenities are then just the topping on the cake.
Back to Jumeirah. We were whisked away by our private driver in a spruced up Audi, and given bottled water and a cold towel. These are the small touches that travelers remember.
Our destination was the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, and on the drive there we were taken aback by Dubai's development. I had heard stories before of the Emirate's buildup, but until you see it in person, you find you had no clue. Literally, there are cranes everywhere. There were only slivers of barren land, but our driver reminded us that these areas were just being prepped for building.
I quickly thought of Las Vegas and its buildout years ago: a vast city being built out of the desert. Only difference, no casinos.
The Jumeirah Beach Hotel, one of five Jumeirah properties in Dubai, sits adjacent to the famed Burj Al Arab, the striking Jumeirah property shaped like a sail of a boat that is often presented in Dubai tourism ads.
Jumeirah Beach Hotel, itself shaped like a breaking wave, was the first Jumeirah property to begin operations back in 1997. With 598 rooms and suites, 22 restaurants and bars, and five swimming pools, it's the perfect hotel/resort for families. Kids will love it; especially Wild Wadi Water Park, a 12-acre waterpark, situated between Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach.
We didn't get off the property on Thursday, which was fine since we were all still struggling a bit with fatigue. The hotel itself is striking from the interior to the exterior and its grounds. For families, room 1705, a three-bedroom suite, is ideal. The room has its own kitchen, two large bathrooms (bathrooms at Jumeirah Beach are expansive, even in a standard room, where I am; they have large showers as well as soaking tubs), and a room's-length balcony with a striking view.
For dinner we ate in La Parrilla, an Argentinian steakhouse, which besides the tasty cuts of meat, entertains diners with traditional dancing and entertainment. I am excited to try out the rest of the property's dining options.
The rest of the way out, we will visit more Jumeirah properties and get a better introduction to the city of Dubai and its multitude of activities from bartering in the souks to skiing, on real snow, inside the Emirates Mall.
May 14, 2008
Dubai by Way of London
Please pardon any nonsensical or discombobulated language as yours truly is blogging to you live from the Jumeirah Carlton Hotel, one of two Jumeirah properties in London, on no sleep. That's right: A seven-hour flight from Newark, NJ, to London was done without one wink of shut eye.
It's not that bad though; I was flying, for the first time in quite a while, on a plane that actually felt nice and left a nice taste in my mouth after disembarking. "You're joking?" you may ask. But I'm not. In 2008, there still are some carriers that make you feel human; not like a piece of cargo.
I am speaking of Silverjet, the all-business-class carrier that currently operates three planes with destinations that include Newark, London and Dubai (I will eventually end up in the latter). Think of SIiverjet like this: It's any business-class cabin, but spread out through the entire length of the plane. In all, there are 100 seats.
From the get go, Silverjet provides an easy and fluid flying experience. Your first stop is Silver Lounge, where you can log on to free WiFi; sit down and read a newspaper; or enjoy any beverage of your choice with a snack (I had a Coca-Cola and a couple finger sandwiches, if you must know).
From there, it's right to your plane and off. Onboard the environment is very pleasant as each pod is outfitted with its own entertainment system and a seat that can contort in any amount of positions. Silverjet employs a mobile entertainment device that you can place on your dinner tray. I actually didn't mind the fact that you had to set it up yourself, connect the adapter and plug it into the outlet. Only problem: When it was time to do this, the cabin was darkly lit, and I saw many people struggling to set up their unit. The units have multiple movies and TV programs to watch, all of which you can pause, rewind or fast-forward to your heart's content. I watched Dan In Real Life, a romantic comedy starring Steve Carrell. Not a bad watch, especially if you love the sappy stuff. Not that I do.
We were given three choices for our dinner meal. I had a lovely salmon fishcake with wilted spinach that was served on a restaurant-quality plate. Great touch!
I would say that of the 100 seats onboard, maybe 70 were filled. That would be great on a commercial liner, but matters not when you already have enough space. I hope their loads climb higher, or maybe it was just a slow night.
In any case, we made our way to Luton Airport, then took a ride into London, which felt almost as long as the flight.
Our first stop was the Carlton Jumeirah Hotel, then the Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel, which is right around the corner in Knightsbridge. The former has 220 rooms and 14 suites and is the definition of full-service luxury, with a large health club, two restaurants and even an indoor pool. For your high-roller clients, book the President's Suite at only $12,000 per night. Though book far in advance as in many cases some sort of Prince is occupying it.
Its sister property, Lowndes, is a bit more understated, a boutique by definition. We had a beautiful lunch there, which would have been even more enjoyable had I not lost my appetite somewhere over the Atlantic.
Yours truly is off to Dubai this evening to check out more Jumeirah properties. Temperatures are forecasted to reach around 105 degrees; so if you don't hear from me within the next day or two, chances are I've melted. 'Till next time...