Feeling Fiji

Vatulele Resort offers clients adventurous luxury

By: Stephanie Stephens

With 333 Fijian Islands from which to choose, your discerning clients need sound advice. So when they utter the words “escape,” “romantic,” “barefoot” and “exclusive,” you can suggest Vatulele Island Resort. Opened in 1990, this 85-acre, very private resort offers 17 deluxe beachfront bures (bungalows) and two super-luxury villas, all surrounded by dense jungle situated on a coral reef and crystal-clear lagoon.

Vatulele is among Vitu Levu’s outer islands. Guests are usually flown by seaplane from Nadi and put down in the lagoon in front of the resort. As soon as guests arrive, the shoes come off, as the preferred footwear here is bare feet, although one tender-footed guest did note that “you definitely need reef shoes if you are in a bure ... as there are coral rocks to cross before entering the sea.”

The resort has an impressive report card from the media: The Wedding Channel, Vogue, Modern Bride, Departures, Fortune, Food & Wine and Condé Nast Traveler have all bestowed awards, plus this year’s AAA Tourism Awards name Vatulele “Best Hotel in Fiji.”

According to Debora Roberts, manager North America for World Resorts of Distinction, the resort’s sales and marketing firm, Vatulele co-owner Henry Crawford, an Emmy-winning Australian television producer, studied other top resorts before opening his dream property.

“It’s like making a movie,” Roberts said. “You build the set, then you choose the actors or actresses and you produce your film. Here at Vatulele, we make a new movie each week, with all new characters.”

Guests here will be able to get away from it all, with access to phone, fax and Internet in the resort office but not in their rooms. They can spend money at the gift shop, or on massages and diving activities, but otherwise wallets aren’t required at the all-inclusive resort. Attire is casual, but some women enjoy donning a summer dress for dinner.

“Vatulele will not suit travelers who feel more comfortable in a ‘bug-free,’ sterile environment,” says the property’s Web site. “Rather, it suits the more adventurous traveler who wants ‘to get the sand between their toes.’”

Vatulele’s bures are a stylish combination of architectures, with thatched roofs, open shuttered doors and large decks. Guests enjoy a sitting room, bedroom with king-sized bed and large bathroom the latter have just been renovated, according to Roberts.

In addition to the standard bures, two popular villas are also available. The resort’s “super bure,” called The Point, is a two-level house with its own chef, a plunge pool and additional small pool. The more-remote Vale Viqi (Fijian for “pink house”) is a grand honeymoon bure with its own plunge pool that is accessible via a golf cart.

No matter where one stays, food and alcoholic beverages are included. Meals are communal, although private dinners are available by request in the wine cellar, in guests’ bures, on the beach or at the grotto. The gourmet food is described as a mix of Californian and Asian, and fresh seafood dominates the menu.

Some reports have commented on the slow food and beverage service at dinner, so warn clients they may have to adjust to “island time” during their meal.

Overall, however, service is exceptional. The ratio of 110 resort staff to 19 couples ensures “most exclusive” goes hand-in-hand with “all-inclusive.” Furthermore, tipping is not a custom in Fiji, however, you may donate to the resort workers’ Christmas fund.

Respectful familiarity begins with arrival, as photos are taken and your clients’ will be hung in the main bure.

“From that moment on, the staff calls you by first name,” said one repeat visitor “They pay attention to you as a real person. It was all just amazing,” said travel consultant Charles Dafoe, of South Seas Adventures Inc., in Denver.

Making Waves

When it comes to watersports, Vatulele is the only five-star island resort in Fiji with PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) “Golden Palm” status , and has 22 diverse dive sites close by and the resident dive crew welcomes all levels of divers. Scuba diving and instruction is available at an additional charge, as is sport-fishing.

Among “included” activities are snorkeling, a boat trip and walk to see the local favorite “Red Prawns” (scarlet crustaceans sacred to Fijians) and a local village or Sunday church service visit.

“I went kayaking and sailboating, and I loved the beach barbecue and meke,” said Dafoe. (A meke is a traditional Fijian story-telling through song and dance.)

Finally, couples looking to tie the knot might be interested in a beach wedding under floral arches, with a local minister and Fijian choir, plus other expected amenities for $3,375. (Gay couples are also welcomed warmly at Vatulele.)

“Traditionally dressed Fijian warriors accompany the bride on a barge trip across the lagoon, and children toss flower petals in the sand as she is carried ashore to take her vows,” says the resort’s Web site.

Sounds like just another day in paradise.

The Details:

Rates: Nov. 5-Dec. 18, and Jan. 6-March 31: $999-$1,296 per couple, per night.
Grand Bure Vale Viqi: $1,665

The Point: $2,115
Quoted per couple for deluxe beach bure. Meals, alcohol and most activities are included (scuba, massage, fishing and taxes are not included).
Guests over age 12 are welcome. Minimum stay, four nights.

Honeymoon special: Eight paid plus two additional free nights drops the nightly rate for a 10-night stay to $799.

Seasons: High: April 1 - Oct. 31; Dec. 22 - Jan. 10, 2007
Low: Nov. 1 - Dec. 21: Jan. 11 - March 31, 2007
Transfers: Per person, roundtrip from Nadi is $450.
Special charter flight is $1,035 (up to four passengers, one way).