Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thanksgiving in Paradise Part 2: Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa, Fiji

Due to limited transfers between various island resorts, a night on the "mainland" (aka Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu) is often necessary at some point during a Fiji trip. Our trip was no exception, so we spent one night on Viti Levu after Royal Davui and before Navutu Stars. Since our early morning boat to Navutu Stars was leaving out of Denarau Marina, we decided it would make the most sense to spend the night near there. Denarau Marina is the jumping off point for boats to the Mamanuca and Yasawa island resorts, as well as for most day trips from the Nadi area to nearby islands.

Near the marina, the Denarau Island resort complex features 6 or 7 largish chain properties including a Hilton, two Sheratons, Westin, Radisson, and Sofitel. I had a hard time choosing between the options because they all seemed pretty similar, but finally chose the Westin since it seemed to have the most adult atmosphere and most Fijian-style rooms. The other bonus of the Westin is that it and the Sheraton offer a free 5-minute boat ride out to Starwood's private beach on a small island called Akuilau.

I think any of the Denarau resorts would be fine for just one night though, and I personally would generally not recommend spending much more time than that in Denarau, especially if coming from the US. The area is pretty, but very typical-resort-ish, and feels like you could be anywhere. (Note: For those who are huge golfers or who just want a quick and simple beachy resort getaway from Australia or New Zealand, there may be a bit more appeal to spending more time in the area.) The Radisson has an amazing pool area and gets the best overall reviews of any resort in the area, though is more family-oriented than some of the others. The Sofitel tends to have the best prices and offers beautifully updated rooms, and the Hilton is the most modern in design.

After landing back in Nadi, we grabbed our luggage and were immediately accosted by a cab driver. After asking his price (a very reasonable $25FJD/about $13USD), we agreed and were off. It's about a 20-minute drive from the Nadi airport to Denarau, though it took a little bit longer for us due to a beer and wine stop at a local liquor store.

Going over the bridge from the busy, somewhat dirty streets of Nadi to Denarau Island is like entering a different world. Flowering trees and a manicured golf course appear on one side, with beautiful homes lining the other side along a canal that goes to the sea.

The Westin has 273 rooms on beautifully landscaped and manicured grounds with several lovely swimming pools, a long stretch of cream-colored sand (sloping into the water on one side of the property, narrower with a seawall on the other) and a few areas of black sand near the watersports hut.

A pool-side activities desk (sign up here for the boat to Akuilau), shopping arcade, several restaurants, and an open-air lobby complete the main portion of the property.

Check-in was quick and simple. We arrived at about noon, and were able to get into our room right away, even though official check-in time is 3PM. Our room was large and comfortable, furnished with Westin's signature Heavenly Bed, chaise lounge, mini-bar/tv cabinet, and a desk with a couple of chairs.

And some cannibal forks to add a bit more local flavor...

The sink and vanity part of the bathroom is open, though some wooden slats do give an impression of some privacy. The toilet and shower are behind a door, though. I was surprised at how outdated this part of the bathroom was, since the rest of the room appeared to have been fairly recently renovated.

Sliding louvered and glass doors opened onto an ocean-view terrace furnished with 2 chairs and a small table. We were in a corner room , so we only had neighbors on one side. The terraces are angled so as to not line up perfectly, but are still not all that private, as we could see the people on the terrace next door (and they could see us) when we were out there.

We were on the 2nd floor of the 2-story building, despite the fact that ocean-front rooms (the category we had booked) are supposed to be on the ground floor with direct access out to the lawn from the terrace. Normally we would have asked to have been switched to the proper room, but we actually preferred to be where we were, as people were consistently walking by the building, and I think the ground-floor rooms would offer very little privacy. Plus, as we were only there one night, switching would have really been more trouble than it was worth.

After getting settled in our room, we headed to the Meke Lounge restaurant for lunch and cocktails. Meke Lounge overlooks the pool, and has both open and covered (though still open-air) seating. I thought the prices were very reasonable for a resort - the equivalent of about $10-$12 for a sandwich, burger, or salad, and $3-$8 for a beer or cocktail. Bob's burger was good and my Thai chicken wrap was very good...

...but my Pepto-pink rum drink was definitely the star of the show.

After lunch, we grabbed a couple of Fiji Golds (local beer) and headed down the beach to catch the boat over to Akuilau, the "private island" that can be accessed by guests of the three Starwood properties at Denarau (Westin, Sheraton Fiji Resort, and Sheraton Denarau Villas).

A 10-15 minute ride later, we were relaxing in lounge chairs and getting a glimpse into a slice of Fijian life.

While Starwood refers to Akuilau as their own private island, there are actually a few Fijian people living there. We enjoyed watching the fishermen pull in the day's catch and children play in a kayak... I wandered the beach looking for shells and Bob made some new friends.

I wasn't sure whether to be amused or sad for these pigs hanging out in a floating pen...

Despite the fact that the island is shared by 3 resorts, we only saw 5 other tourists the whole time we were there. I'm not sure it was because many guests of the resorts don't know about this amenity, or whether most people staying at the properties prefer to spend their time at the pools and enjoy the food and drink service, but either way we loved the peaceful atmosphere of Akuilau! There is a bathroom facility in a tiny building a bit behind the beach, but since there is not a bar or restaurant on the island, I do recommend taking some drinks (at least some water) or food with you if you think you'll get hungry or thirsty while there.

After a couple of hours, we headed back to the resort to take in a beautiful sunset and sip some wine on our balcony. The wine plans were temporarily put on hold when we pulled out a couple of wineglasses from our room's bar. Now, despite several tv specials about hotel housekeepers not properly cleaning drinking glasses, I've always been of the mindset that "you can't worry about everything" and so I generally drink from these glasses without compunction. Besides, I tend to be a bottled water drink when traveling internationally anyway, so if I'm drinking from a hotel glass, I've usually got something in there that will likely kill most germs! But these glasses were a special case...

A few minutes, an unconcerned staff member, and a visit from housekeeping later, we had new glasses, and commenced with our sundowners as a beautiful glow spread over the property...

Once the sun had set, it was time to head over to the Meke Lounge for a fire-dancing show. Unfortunately, with the darkness and quick movements, it was hard to get a good photo of the show, but it was quite fun and enjoyable!

Afterwards, we jumped on the Bula Bus and went down to the marina for dinner. The Bula Bus loops continually around the Denarau complex all day and well into the evening, and costs about $6FJD/$3USD per person for an all-day pass.

The Denarau Marina offers shops and restaurants, and we ended up eating pizza at Mama's, which I'd read quite a few recommendations for prior to our trip. The food was good and inexpensive and the atmosphere was pleasant as we ate outside and people-watched. A half-hour or so Bula Bus ride later (the Bula Bus stopped at a few other resorts before the Westin, which I was happy about since it gave me a chance to get a look at those), we were in bed dreaming of what adventures the third and final leg of our trip would hold!

We had breakfast (a lovely and extensive buffet with all the trimmings including champagne, mimosas, and made-to-order eggs) at the Ocean Terrace restaurant before catching the resort shuttle down to the marina. From there, we would be boarding the Yasawa Flyer for the 4-or-so hour sail to our next resort, Navutu Stars! Overall, we were happy with our stay at the Westin, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a resort in the Denarau area.

1 comment:

Ray from NZ said...

Thank you! Staying at the Westin next weekend. Your post is very helpful indeed!


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