I’m in Heaven, I’m in FijiWords by Courtney Kellar
Photos courtesy of Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort
Fiji is the type of place every honeymooner dreams of: crystal clear waters, powder-sand beaches, friendly locals and unique cultural experiences. Having been lucky enough to visit some of the World’s most beautiful tropical places, it takes more than a pretty beach to stand out in my mind. However, Fiji did just that with a beauty and level of service all its own.
The Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort was my home for the week and a short 60-minute flight from the Fijian capital of Nadi. Located on the island of Vanua Levu, the resort is known as a beacon of luxury and environmental responsibility. Set on 17 acres of a former coconut plantation, there are 25 traditional bures and a villa which is truly spectacular. If it’s an authentic experience you’re looking for, the accommodations deliver with bures constructed without the use of any cement, metal or glass. Also, (gasp!) there’s no air conditioning. As an Arizona-native, this idea frightened me. However, with constant ocean air breezes and a bure designed to keep cool, I quickly felt at ease.
Upon arrival, I was shown to my bure and before I knew it, there was a tap on my door. A friendly staff member appeared and treated my travel-swollen tootsies to a scrub consisting of coconut milk and brown sugar – the perfect beginning to a relaxing trip. Every guest at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort receives a complimentary foot massage after check-in. Chit-chatting with this lovely woman, I learned that nearly every resort employee is a local; most of whom have worked there for ten-plus years. Note: Take the time to get to know a few locals to really get a taste of your destination’s culture.
The prices are all-inclusive, so you get major bang for your buck. First off, the food is out-of-this-world. The menu changes daily and includes local fare, fresh caught seafood and freshly baked breads and desserts. Ironically, I had some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted at Jean-Michel thanks to a share of the island’s population being of Indian decent. The breadfruit chips are a spicy, South-Pacific version of potato chips and are an absolute must.
If you’re traveling with children, it doesn’t get better than the service at Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort. Each and every child staying at the property gets their own nanny for the length of their stay. Also included are four off-site excursions per week. Visit the Savusavu Farmers Market for locally made treasures, unique produce and fresh-ground spices. The island also boasts some of the most impressive snorkeling sites on Earth and Jean-Michel Resort has highly educated professionals to accompany you on your trip.
A can’t-miss is the rainforest and Maroroya Falls hike. Only accessible to resort guests, go for a dip below the falls or watch your local guides climb the slippery rocks to perform acrobatic dives into the swirling waters below. Another activity which is ideal for honeymooners, but requires an additional fee, is a trip to the resort’s private island. Take a short boat ride to your own private paradise. Sit back with a Fiji Gold beer, listen to your guide serenade you with local songs on the acoustic guitar and watch the tide come in. This is the definition of pure bliss. Request the song, “I’m in Heaven, I’m in Fiji” for a beautiful tribute to the island. At the very least, you can’t have a honeymoon in tropical paradise without a romantic couples massage. The resort’s open-air spa bures overlook the ocean and truly transport you to another realm of relaxation.
All of this would be enough to make Fiji a honeymooner’s paradise, but in my opinion, the thing which really sets this destination and Jean-Michel Cousteau apart are the local staff members and traditions. Fijians are natural born musicians who sing like angels and seem to be born with a guitar in their hands. Catch an early breakfast and look on as the staff sings a song and says a prayer before the start of every day. The staff’s friendly nature and love of their homeland is contagious and will quickly spread like wildfire and cement itself into your memory.
In order to get the most out of your stay, here are a few words of advice. You are on an isolated tropical island, so pack the bug spray and apply it religiously. The mosquitoes will only dampen your experience if you come unprepared. Also, ask a staff member to light a “coil” during turndown service and install a mosquito net over your bed. The earthy fragrance of the coil and soft rustle of the net will only enhance your experience. Also, the pounding of the kava and kava ceremony is a cultural tradition in Fiji. While the drink comes from an organic root, it can have some strange side effects which vary depending on the person. There’s no need to opt-out entirely, but pace yourself and ask for a “low-tide.”
Cap off your trip with a romantic, candlelit dinner for two underneath a poolside Plumeria tree or at the end of the dock. Lanterns line the way to what feels like your own private sanctuary where the only thing to interrupt you is the lapping of waves. You can’t help but take in the sight of the stars and say to yourself, “Sega na leqa.” It means “no worries.”
This article first appeared in Destination I Do's Fall2013/Winter 2014 issue. You can order a copy here.
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