Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort and Castaway Island Fiji offer extensive family programming. // © 2015 Castaway Island Fiji
Feature image (above): At Castaway Island Fiji, family-friendly options include snorkeling along coral reefs, catamaran sailing and more. // © 2015 Castaway Island Fiji
Video © 2015 Sally Shapiro
It’s a fact: White-glove service is out for luxury travelers. Today’s upscale clients prefer freedom, authenticity and unforgettable experiences. Upscale family travel is no different. If your clients’ definition of a luxury family vacation is the chance to escape from everyday stresses and renew family bonds in a pristine and unique setting, Fiji is the place for them.
Plus, Fijians are known for their deep appreciation of mone (children).
“The Fijian people adore children,” said Christine McCann, international director of sales and marketing for Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Fiji. “Our staff come from traditional villages where they believe that it takes the community to bring up a child. Children are taken care of by extended family members, as well as parents.”
Donna Parkin, a public relations consultant for Castaway Island Fiji, another family resort, agrees.
“In Fijian life, family is paramount,” she said. “This understanding is rooted in the islands’ culture. The care and affection showered upon children is a reflection of this strong family bond and extends to guests’ children, who have been entrusted to resort staff’s care.”
On a recent trip to Fiji, my 10-year-old daughter and I had the opportunity to experience Fiji’s family-centric culture firsthand at these two resorts. By the time we came home, we felt like a part of Fiji’s extended family.
Diving into Cousteau
“The driver must have made a wrong turn,” I thought as my daughter and I found ourselves bouncing along a dirt road, dodging potholes and stopping to let the occasional goat get out of our way.
Then, a beautiful ocean bay with various shades of blue opened in front of us as the road hugged the shoreline. A few minutes later, there it was — Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort — and I knew immediately that we had made the right choice.
Just like the road that leads guests to Cousteau, the resort itself is surprising and unique. Located on Savusavu Bay on the island of Vanua Levu, Cousteau feels incredibly remote, but guests flying Fiji Airways can actually leave LAX late at night and be at the resort for breakfast the next morning. Despite its solitude, my daughter and I never felt isolated here, in no small part because of the warmth and friendliness of the staff. Throughout our stay, staff members constantly came up to us, introduced themselves and chatted for a few minutes. It’s one of the friendliest environments I have ever experienced.
Cousteau features 25 luxury “bures” (bungalows) on 17 acres. There are two pools, one for children and one for adults; tennis courts; volleyball courts; one restaurant serving delicious a la carte meals for both adults and kids; and a small beach and pier, where guests can partake in a range of watersports, including snorkeling and scuba, at no extra charge. The all-inclusive nature of the property felt extremely relaxing, and our focus turned to what we wanted to do at that moment, rather than what Cousteau’s schedule dictated. Each morning at breakfast, a staff member would come to our table and ask what we wanted to do that day. Diving?
Snorkeling? Shopping in town? Even if we barely mentioned a specific activity, a staff member had it arranged almost immediately.
Most of the families that visit the resort are Australian, with children of all ages. Bula Club is the kids’ club on property, and its programming emphasizes environmental conservation — not surprising for a resort created by the son of the famous marine biologist.
For my 10-year-old daughter, an aspiring oceanographer, our visit to Cousteau gave her the opportunity to not only consult with Johnny, the on-staff marine biologist, but to actually learn how to scuba dive, thanks to easy-going and professional on-site dive instructors. She even got to try out her new skills in the crystal-clear waters of the bay.
“The resort’s Bula Club philosophy reflects Jean-Michel Cousteau’s commitment to children as the future caretakers of the earth and its oceans,” McCann said. “Each day offers unforgettable adventures and enriching activities that teach our younger guests about Fijian culture and the island environment. The kids have fun while they learn about the world around them.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the program at Cousteau is the way the kids’ club staff interacts with the families that visit. Cousteau maximizes the Fijians’ affection for kids by assigning a kids’ club staff member to each child; as a result, staff members bond with the entire family. It was striking at first to see employees sitting with families at the dinner table, chatting with mom or dad, feeding a baby or playing games with the kids. There was such a friendly ease between guests and the staff that it seemed like they had known each other for years.
This is not the type of resort where you drop your children off at a club, and they play mostly on their own until you are ready to pick them up. At Cousteau, the kids and their staff buddy come and go together throughout the day — maybe snorkeling at the offshore reef, playing games at Bula Club and checking out tide pools, then heading to town with the whole family to meet locals. By the end of their stay, children have truly bonded with resort staff. We saw several kids crying when it was time to leave.
“The Cousteau staff takes on each child as if he or she were their own, and someone stays with the kids for their entire stay,” McCann said. “Their boundless love, energy and genuine kindness are traits not always experienced in the Western world. The one-to-one ratio of staff to child for each child under 6 gives parents that extra comfort that their children will be well cared for and supervised. Children are as equally respected as adults.”
This structure is especially ideal for guests with very young children or infants. It was great to see staff members walking the grounds while pushing sleeping babies in strollers, knowing exhausted parents were getting some rest or having a leisurely meal together.
A Family Setting on Castaway Island
Getting to Castaway Island Fiji is an adventure in itself, as it’s reached either by boat or by Island Hoppers helicopter. I highly recommend the helicopter, which offers amazing views of the area’s other islands, reefs and sandbars and is something guests will remember long after they get home.
Castaway is situated on its own private island in the Mamanuca island group, approximately 18 miles from Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. Castaway Island has about 174 acres overall, and it features a variety of terrain, including tropical forests, lush gardens and large white-sand beaches. There are two pools on property, as well as tennis courts, and a wide range of watersports is available at the beach.
The property, which is owned by Outrigger Resorts, feels like a classic family beach resort, although in a unique and pristine location. There are 64 bures on property. While Castaway may not be as exclusive as Cousteau, it is a well-maintained option for families. My daughter and I stayed in a comfortable, air-conditioned bure right on the beach, just steps from the water.
Water’s Edge is the main restaurant on property, and it features buffet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is also Nuku Marau Pool Bar and Grill, which offers casual dining at the resort’s main kids’ pool. A favorite of ours was Sundowner Bar and Grill, a great pizza place that also features a Wi-Fi hot spot.
And dinner at chef Lance Seito’s Restaurant 1808 is a must in my book. Seito, a celebrity chef in Fiji and Australia (he even created Fiji Airways’ first-class menu), turned a small plot of beach into a fine-dining, gourmet venue featuring inventive and delicious Asian-Fijian fusion cuisine. It’s barefoot luxury at its finest.
The Castaway Kids’ Club activities include a coconut hunt, sandcastle-making, Fijian dancing, coconut-toffee-making, tug-of-war and, in the evening, a torch-lighting ceremony, a nature walk and a beach bonfire. There is complimentary access from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for children ages 3 and over. A supervised children’s dinner is served from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The teens’ program features activities such as beach volleyball, cricket, a dolphin safari, an underwater treasure hunt, guided snorkeling, an iron-man race, a guided paddle to a secret beach or around the island and more.
One of the highlights of our stay was getting to participate in a coral reef restoration project led by Mamanuca Environment Society. Families planted small clippings of coral that will one day help rebuild some of the area’s endangered reefs.
Just about everything at Castaway is geared toward families. Like Cousteau, Castaway follows the same Fijian child care philosophy, where the whole staff, which is made up of local Fijians, is involved in caring for kids, and children are treated as part of the Castaway extended family.
“Castaway offers an escape from the world, with no television, radio or Wi-Fi access in the rooms,” Parkin said. “Our staff makes it a truly unique and genuine Fijian experience. You are welcomed into our ‘home’ and made to feel like part of the family.”
Regardless of which Fijian resort they choose, clients looking to try someplace new for a family vacation are bound to feel welcome. We were even told that many kids continue to write to their new Fijian friends long after returning home. What better souvenir for families than their children making lifelong friends in their second home overseas?