real life

TRAVEL: Fiji with small children

Rebecca Sparrow has the perfect holiday for you – and your toddler. Fiji – where the locals love children and you’ll love them for it.

Where does a strung-out, sleep deprived, on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown mother of a toddler go for a holiday? Rebecca Sparrow, her husband and toddler discover the benefits of going troppo.

There are some holidays that aren’t really holidays.  You know the sort.  New York.  London. Sydney. Rome.  Fabulous destinations? Sure. But relaxing? Not so much. I mean there’s just so much to frickin’ do round the clock. So you feel compelled to make the most of every minute – jam-packing your days with galleries, museums, plays, concerts, bars, clubs and the occasional Colosseum. You arrive home invigorated and inspired but also bloody exhausted.

Then there’s the other type of holiday. Holidays that are like one big long mental health day. Well a big, long mental health day with cocktails and sunbaking.  These are the holidays that you need to take. To get your mojo back. To de-stress. To just catch up on some sleep (remember sleep?)

But what to do when you require a unwind vacation but have a small toddler permanently attached to your hip?

I have one word for you: Fiji.

Twenty-four hours ago I was sitting by a pool, staring at the ocean, sipping on the type of drink that comes with a straw, an umbrella and a large wedge of watermelon.  Fiji soothed my soul better than any shrink. Here’s your guide to the ultimate holiday for frazzled parents. (And their kids.)

The Weather
This tiny South Pacific nation, located between Hawaii and New Zealand, is the perfect destination for a tropical getaway for families.  The weather is warm all year round (the average temp is 25 degree Celsius) – although May to October offers the best weather without the wet season storms.

The Activities
A cluster of more than 300 islands, Fiji offers postcard white sandy beaches, tropical rainforests, scuba-worthy reefs and plenty of sun. After all, this is where Blue Lagoon and Castaway were filmed.  So take a cruise, snorkel, dive, go canoeing, white-water rafting, hiking, fishing, explore local villages or just sunbake by the pool – it’s up to you.

Fijians Love Children
Fiji’s biggest drawcard is its people. Fijians are warm, approachable people whose culture teaches them to treasure children and the elderly. The majority of resorts offer free Kids Clubs’ (usually for kids over the age of three) and incredibly cheap babysitting/nanny services for younger kids. Best of all, the children seem to immediately respond to the genuine warmth of the Fijian people.  Our 18 month old toddler has never been keen on day-care in Australia so to say I was a little apprehensive dropping her off to a Nanny at our resort’s Kids Club is an understatement. But within minutes my fears were allayed.  The Fijian nannies swooped down and covered Ava with kisses and immediately started singing to her. Ava’s smile was so wide she could’ve fit an entire watermelon in her mouth.  So every morning we dropped her off to Maki (her personal nanny) at the Kids Club and my husband and I enjoyed three blissful toddler-free hours by the pool, sunbaking, reading books and ordering drinks at the swim-up bar. When it came time to collect Ava, she made it perfectly clear she’d rather stay with Maki!  Somehow we wrangled her away and took her to lunch. To know that my daughter was having the time of her life (while Mummy was getting her sanity back by the pool) was the biggest weight off my mind. Of course, the Nanny service was available at any time during the day or night we frequently saw Nannies having dinner with their young charges in the restaurants while the parents were having a night to themselves.  The Kids Clubs (which are generally free) often run from early morning til late at night offering everything from Fijian storytelling and singing to canoeing, fish-feeding, swimming, soccer, games and more.

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Accommodation To Suit Every Taste and Budget
There are literally hundreds of accommodation options ranging from cheap to expensive, from five-star to backpackers, from basic bungalows to luxury suites.  You can pay FJ$20 to $400 per night. You can fly into Nadi International Airport and then take a boat trip to one of the many island resorts. Or you can stay on the main islands and explore. Many tourists (myself included) fly into Nadi and then take the twenty-minute taxi ride to Denarau Island.  This manmade island is connected by causeway to the main island of Viti Levu and hosts a number of major five-star resorts (Westin, Hilton, Sofitel, Sheraton, Radisson and the Sheraton Denarau Villas).

What We Chose To Do

We had three major requirements for our holiday to Fiji: the resort we chose offered babysitting, had a swim-up bar and offered apartments rather than just hotel rooms.  To me there was no point going on holiday with a toddler unless childcare was available. After all, what I needed was a break. A real break. And simply moving venues (even if it is a tropical island) isn’t going to be relaxing if all my time is spent toddler-wrangling.  Thankfully nearly every major Fiji resort offers some sort of Kids Club (bar those who cater specifically to couples and honeymooners). The swim-up bar represented the epitome of what an island holiday should look like. And then there was our desire for an apartment.  With a toddler who goes to bed at six pm, we wanted to be able to put her to bed, shut the bedroom door and sit back and listen to music or watch a movie in the lounge-room if we so desired.  (Or pay a nanny to do that while we had dinner by ourselves). For all these reasons we chose to stay at the Sheraton Denarau Villas. We knew we’d be paying a little more for a one-bedroom suite but for us, it was worth every cent having our own kitchen, lounge room and separate bedroom.

The Not So Good Bits

It’s Not Super Cheap Like Southeast Asia
A holiday in Fiji isn’t going to break the bank but don’t go thinking it’s a super cheap holiday like Thailand or Vietnam.  Prices seem reasonable until you add on the mandatory 12.5% Fiji tax, which appears to jump to 17.5% in the big tourist resorts.  On top of that, everything is pretty much imported into Fiji so that also adds to the cost.

The Food is A Bit Hit and Miss

Really, wherever you stay in Fiji the food can be a little hit and miss. This is primarily because the Fijian people survive on relatively low incomes and are cooking in the major resorts are cooking with ingredients they don’t eat and use themselves.  So the meals can be a little bland at times. Not bad, just bland even in the five-star resorts.

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