Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fiji March 2015: Laucala Island


Welcome to Laucala Island!

(Sounds like: La-Thal-La)
Beautiful Main Pool
Arrival Experience
Arial View of 3-Bedroom Plantation Villa
Finding the words to describe Laucala Island adequately is difficult.  Laucala cannot be understood with a presentation or a website.  Photographs only hint and tempt.   Laucala is a 7 star experience in the world of 5 star resorts.  A sixth sense in the world of 5 senses.  You must see the expanse that is the island.  You must hear the birds early in the morning and throughout your stay on the island.  Looking at the Laucala Island's world will take your breath away which is the 6th sense of WOW.  You must smell the gentle Laucala fragrances in the spa or in your villa.  You must touch the natural wood and stone surfaces that are in each villa.  Finally, tasting the local produce grown on the island of Laucala will give you a sense that is all Fiji.
(our) View of part of the outdoor area of Teitei.   
The private pool is luxurious!  
There are approximately 375 employees on Laucala looking after 25 villas.  The villas range from 1-3 bedrooms with options that provide more shade versus sun, an over-water bungalow and a villa on a bluff with views of sunrise and sunset.  On occasion, the owner's villa high on a hill overlooking the island is available.  In my many years of travel, I have not experienced anything like the villas of Laucala.  They are massive!!  Your every comfort is paramount to the staff.  The living room is in a completely separate building from the bedroom which boasts a king bed (a few villas have 2 bed options) and a sitting area overlooking your private pool and the blue Pacific water.  There is a changing area and an enormous bathroom with dual sinks, a separate shower and a bathtub made from stone.  Our villa had 2 outdoor showers, an outdoor bathtub, two private lanais to relax in as well as  a private pool and private beach.
Teitei Living Room in a separate building from the bedroom

We are in Plantation Villa 5 named Teitei.  Each villa has a golf cart to get around the property.  Why, because Laucala Island is huge and spread out with only 25% of the 3,000 acre island used.

Horses to ride around the property

The food is excellent.  Because they have four different dining venues, the meals are all varied – each with it's own specialty.  Everything is so fresh with over 80% of the food sourced from Laucala's farm.  Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are included in the rate so cheers!  There is no need for a reservation at Laucala's restaurants.  There is never a wait or a need to hurry.  You are on Fiji Time!

There are endless things to do here.  Simple things like visiting the local village to their Farm Tour which includes farm animals as well as herb gardens and their hydroponic gardens.  For orchid enthusiasts, there is a unique orchid nursery.  Cooking classes or even creating your own soaps, lotions and candles are also a part of your life here at Laucala.  

Laucala offers complementary horseback riding, has a huge well equipped fitness center and has an 18 hole golf course just waiting for you.

For those with little ones, Laucala offers Red Cross trained nannies at no additional cost.  I observed the nannies while they were interacting with the guests' children and they were safe and were having a blast!

There are fantastic water sport options such as snorkeling or diving tours, a submarine adventure, jet ski's and more.  Everything you could imagine is here waiting for you when you want it.  There is no set schedule at Lauacala because EVERYTHING is on “Fiji Time”.

What I like about Laucala is that when you arrive, you are given the option of a very loose itinerary.  We enjoyed our time with Ronald, one of the Concierges who showed us around.  I found that our itinerary engaged us and gently encouraged us to get out of our amazing villa and try what this magical island had to offer.  You do not need to stick with the exact itinerary or even the suggested times.  Remember, you are on” Fiji Time”.
Beach Bar Area
On our first night at Laucala, we were taken on a private champagne sunset cruise around the calm lagoon.  The water was so blue and calm and then the sky changed to many beautiful hues of gold and reds as the sun set.  We could see thousands of stars on our way back.  When we returned, we had a wonderful surprise.  A romantic candle-lit dinner for two at the end of the jetty.
Private Snorkeling experience (lots of coral)

We loved our private snorkeling experience the next morning.  A crew of 2 people took us out privately about 5 minutes from the resort via a speedboat.  The coral and fish are totally different from French Polynesia ... More coral/less fish.  The water was so warm and peaceful and the crew was eager to help.  After we finished, we enjoyed cookies and hot chocolate.
Spa Area
Our afternoon activity was a visit to the spa.  The spa at Laucala offers four signature scents.  They are Molikaro, a blend of native citrus trees, Wainimate which uses local herbs, Qele which uses indigenous roots and spices and finally, Senikau the blend of countless tropical blossoms.  We were not rushed and thoroughly enjoyed our time in the lovely spa.  Make sure to ask for Lesi – she was a fantastic massage therapist.
Fijian Celebration

Our second day was filled with a tour of the entire island and ended with jet ski's.  Fun, right?
Our last night in Paradise celebrated Fijian Culture.  We joined the guests in a Fijian Celebration.  This included a Kava ceremony (Fijian drink) and a Meke performance which was an 35 Fijian dancers from the next island of Qamea entertaining the guests.  Dinner followed with an authentic Lovo experience.  Lovo is when your food is smoked in the ground for hours under elephant leaves.  It was a lot of fun – especially watching the children interact with the troupe.

Lovo is when your food is smoked in the ground for hours under elephant leaves.
The logistics getting to and from Laucala involve taking a private plane from Nadi Airport.  It took us 45 minutes and the views were spectacular from the air.  When you are ready, I will work with my friends at Tahiti Legends and the staff at Laucala to arrange your trip to Paradise.

Many thanks to Janine Cifelli who urged me to visit Laucala as well as Andrew Thomson, the GM and Vincent and Jeime in their sales and marketing department.  I also want to thank Anthony Healy for his wonderful cuisine and wanted to thank Matthew, the Food and Beverage Manager who taught us about Australian and New Zealand wine.

Laucala is all inclusive resort.  As in ALL-INCLUSIVE.  There really is nothing like it.  We left our wallets in the safe and never needed to pay for anything as we experienced Laucala.  The only things that not included in the rate are the spa, activities outside of the huge reef such as a visit to another island and reserve wines.  Ask me about our Virtuoso amenity of a 90 minute spa treatment per person!
Private beaches throughout Laucala Island

I have a friend that works for one of the major all inclusive 5 star cruise lines.  She says you either pay once with us or pay twice with the competition.  At Laucala, it's the “you pay once” philosophy.  I look forward to discussing Laucala when you are ready.

Vinaka Vakelevu or thank you very much for sharing my insight about Laucala and taking the time to learn a little about Fiji with me.

Areal view of Plateau Villas

The World is Our Playground!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fiji March 2015: Fiji Thoughts & Royal Davui Resort

Royal Davui
Fiji is one of the more magical places in the world.  I know Fiji seems far away and it is but it is worth a visit because it is special.  The Fijian people make this a special place.  Tourism and your comfort is in their blood.  Their smiles are real as is their hospitality.  You are welcomed “home” with a huge, loud, “BULA” and they sincerely mean it.

Fiji is beautiful and quite unspoiled.  There are so many islands that comprise Fiji.  Some
Wonderful Fijian People
have expensive resorts while some are for “daytrippers” which are people finding their way around the islands looking for basic accommodations and everywhere in between.  Some resorts are all inclusive while others are not.  There is a resort for everyone.  There are resorts for adults only with strict age limits while others are more family oriented and all from 3-5 star.  

Having a travel consultant that knows the differences can make your trip.  I ran into two sets of people who had booked on the internet and were unhappy with their plans.  One did not realize that amount of children that were at their resort and it was their honeymoon.  The other couple received bad advise about their flight which they missed.  They also had a very long 8 hour layover at Fiji's domestic airport with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

The Fijian waters are clean with tons of fish and coral to see.  Remember, this is the land of Fiji Water!  

Right now, I'm at Royal Davui which is an adult only resort with only 16 bures up on a hill overlooking the blue, blue water.  It's sunset and everything is quiet and the air is still.  Beautiful!

Getting to Royal Davui is a challenge and not for nervous travelers.  We left our previous resort, Likuluku at 11:00 AM on a large catamaran and arrived into Port Denarau at noon.  Rosie Holidays transferred us 20 minutes to the domestic terminal where we waited for our flight that left at 3:00 PM.  

We saw our plane at the domestic terminal.  It was a twin engine with 10 seats.  We flew 40 minutes across the island and landed on a small air strip.  From there, we were transferred 10 minutes to a boat dock off a tiny local motel.  The final leg of our journey took 35 minutes on a speed boat.  I asked a member of the crew if the ride was always bumpy (which it was) and he said sometimes less and sometimes more.  We arrived at 4:30 PM.  The return will be the reverse.
Premium Plunge Pool Vale
We were shown to a Premium Plunge Pool Vale.  The room is divided into different areas with only the bedroom/bathroom having air conditioning.  The view is beautiful as I've mentioned.  There are stairs from one room to another and this could be challenging to someone with mobility issues.  

The property is quite small.  Because it sits on a hill you need to access places such as the restaurant, beach or spa via stairs.  The beach is small but has all that is needed to make it comfortable.  There are plenty of non-motorized sports and daily activities such as snorkeling trips or a visit to the local village planned to keep you interested.  In general, the service is good but not at the 5 star level.
Premium Plunge Pool Vale
The spa is small but lovely. I had the best treatment with Nina in my Fiji travels so far.

The food at Royal Davui is the most limited that we have had during our time in Fiji.  It's good but not great with many items just missing the mark.  Most non-alcoholic, alcoholic drinks and snacks are not included in the all-inclusive rate.

For me, part of this journey has been learning about the logistics of Fiji.  How to get around the islands, the best routing for guests trying to explore, and the differences between the resorts.  Royal Davui is not for everyone.  If you are looking for an adult only resort that is romantic, tropical and far from crowds you will be happy at Royal Davui.

Stay tuned!

The World is Our Playground!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fiji March 2015: Likuliku Lagoon Resort

Likuliku Lagoon Resort
Wow, right?!
our bedroom
Likuliku Lagoon Resort is fantastic!  It is an intimate resort with only 45 rooms – 35 bures and 10 overwater bungalows located on Malolo Island.  The rooms are spacious with huge bathrooms.  There are 3 room categories.  The beach bure and deluxe beach bure are the same size with the deluxe beach bures having a plunge pool and outdoor shower. The overwater bungalows are definitely worth a splurge!

We arrived via seaplane which was quite fun.  We were greeted by the staffing serenading us.  The resort is stunning.  EVERYONE is so nice.  There is a pool, spa, wonderful water sport options, a visit to Yaro, the local village as well as snorkel trips to discover the natural beauty that surrounds Likuliku.

The coral reef is stunning.
Likuliku Lagoon Resort
Likuliku is all-inclusive.  Food-wise, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are the only thing that is not included.  The food is delicious with lots of options to choose from.  Every meal was a new favorite.  I especially liked their version of Tahiti's poisson cru.  Likuliku's version was more like ceviche.  Also, I love that one of the first things the staff asked was whether there were any food allergies.

You won't go wrong at Likuliku Lagoon Resort!

Stay tuned!

The World is Our Playground!


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fiji March 2015: Tokoriki Island Restort

Tokoriki Island Resort (TIR)
In Fijian, Tokoriki means “stay here” and you might be tempted to do just that.  Tokoriki Island Resort (TIR) is located in the Mamanuca Islands 35 km from Nadi.  To get to TIR, we took a high speed catamaran for 1 hour and were met in the water by a TIR boat.  We were assisted to the boat by friendly staff and away we went for a quick 5 minute ride to land in the water in front of TIR.  Again, we were assisted by the staff to walk 10 steps to land.  Funny arrival, right?  Our departure will be via seaplane accessing it in the water so I'll have a story for that tomorrow.  For those who do not want to land or depart from the water, you can helicopter over and land next to TIR.  

Jeff and I at TIR!
TIR is remote.  There are 34 bures (what they call their rooms) detached from each other.  Each one has water views.  TIR is a solid 4 star property with a lot of heart.  The people are genuine and call you by your first name.  Upon arrival, we were given a general overview of how things worked here, enjoyed a welcome cocktail and were shown to our bure.   The bures at TIR do not have TV's or WIFI in them which was really, really hard for me.  There is one small TV in the reception area and WIFI can be found around the common areas near the reception, restaurant and the pool.  As I'm writing this, I'm sitting on a lounge overlooking the water.  There are gentle breezes and I can hear the surf.

Once I accepted that I had to escape technology, I started to relax and enjoy where I was.  TIR offers PADI diving, snorkeling trips, a visit to the local village of Yanuya, tennis and a lovely spa. (All except the snorkeling trips are for a nominal fee.)  TIR offers complimentary daily activities such as a volleyball tournament, cocktail lessons, torch lighting ceremony and each guest receives a complementary 15 minute foot massage.  There are private beaches to have a romantic dinner and even a visit to Monuriki Island which was the location of Tom Hank's move, “Castaway”.
Sitting on a lounge overlooking the water (writing this)!
TIR is not all inclusive.  The food is quite tasty and a diverse mix of typical resort fare with a touch of local Fijian and Indian ingredients. TIR has two restaurants for dinner.  HINT:  The Teppanyaki style, Japanese restaurant, Oishii is a must and only seats 8 people so make your appointment as soon as you arrive.

So, here are the pro/cons:
I love the warmth of the people at TIR.  My dear friend, Marisa from Tahiti Legends said that I would and she was right.
I love the resort itself as it is so low key and beautiful. Walking around the resort makes me happy and peaceful.
You get a true sense of place here.  The pace is slower and the people are so friendly

My reservations about TIR are not a big deal.  If you decide to be adventuresome and to some, being off the grid IS adventuresome, you have to accept their no TV, no WIFI in the room policy.  If you can, you will love Tokoriki Island Resort like I did.

Stay tuned!

The World is Our Playground!


Monday, March 23, 2015

Fiji March 2015: The Land of Bula!

Intercontinental Fiji
I am so happy to share my travel to Fiji with you.  Visiting Fiji has been on my bucket list since I met the wonderful people at Tahiti Legends.  Tahiti Legends assists with travel beyond Tahiti such as Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.  I had heard how friendly and kind the people of Fiji were and am eager to see if this is true.  I also wanted to understand the traveling challenges while in Fiji getting from one island to the other as there are over 300 islands that comprise Fiji.
Fiji Air

Flying to Fiji is VERY easy!  Fiji Air is Fiji's national airline.  The flight leaves late at night from Los Angeles and takes roughly 10.5 hours.  You cross the date line meaning that we left at 11:30 pm on Wednesday and arrived at 5:30 am on Friday.  Not to worry ... we will “catch up” on the return.  Our Business Class seats were comfortable.  They did not recline totally flat but I was so tired, that it really didn't matter.  The food was a 4 out 5.  The staff were friendly and helpful.  My friend mentioned that the economy seats are a bit small and tight so maybe bring something for your neck to help you sleep.
Intercontinental Fiji

Fiji's Airport was small and easy to get through.  They are VERY strict about not bringing food products into Fiji so if you bring a piece of  fruit thinking you might want to have it for a snack, leave it on the plane.  Clearing customs was fast and easy.  Even their customs agents were NICE!

After customs, we were met by Najeer, our driver from Rosie Holidays.  What a friendly guy.  He was so proud explaining the history of Fiji.  Did you know that before Fiji was “civilized” it had cannibals?  Fiji has it's own sovereign government and the people are a mix of Fijians, Muslims and Indians.

The drive to the Intercontinental Fiji took 45 minutes.  Fiji is quite rural with farms that grow sugarcane and tropical fruits.  
Great breakfast & notice the Fiji water
The entrance to the Intercontinental Fiji is very pretty.  You can see the ocean through the entry.  We arrived at 7:00 am and we were told that our room was almost ready.  We decided to have breakfast at Navo, the adult restaurant on property.  After breakfast, we found that we had been upgraded to an Ocean Front King room. (YAY!!)  The view is perfect overlooking the lovely beach and ocean.  Our room has a tub on the veranda and comfortable lounge chairs to enjoy sunset.

Intercontinental Fiji
After a 30 minute power nap, we decided to walk around the resort.  The resort overlooks one of the prettiest beaches on the island of Viti Levu at Natadola Bay.  There are over 200 rooms at the resort with different views ranging from garden views to water views.  There are 3 restaurants and 2 bars.  There is a family pool and an adult infinity pool.  I was impressed with the spa.  Spa Intercontinental has 9 treatment rooms and is located in quiet area of the resort.  There is a small fitness center as well. I saw 4 women at the Children's Club taking care of 7 children.  The children looked to be between 3-8 years old and they were happily making kid size woven baskets from the palm fronds.
View from Breakfast!

The following morning, we had breakfast then rented a car to try to discover a bit of Viti Levu Island.  We visited the closest city to the Intercontinental, Sigatoka – (definitely pass on this) then went through the major city of Nadi (another pass) to Denarau Marina which boasts great views and shopping.  This was a dud too.  We ended up at the Sofitel for lunch at their beach front restaurant, Salt.  It was quite good.  The Sofitel is another large resort with little boutiques and even a Parisian style cafe.  The beach was not as nice as the Intercontinental though.  

We returned back to our room for another power nap.  Dinner was very good at Navo Restaurant.  Our table overlooked the beach at sunset.  The food was delicious with fresh fish options.  I tried their local snapper and Jeff had grilled lamp.  Best of all, they served their bread with coconut oil.  Have you ever tried it?  It is really good.  The service was dicey as the staff seemed understaffed.
South Sea Cruises
Bottom line: I feel that it was important to discover why renting a car is not important on Viti Levu.  I'm recommending staying on Viti Levu only as a way through to visit the outer islands.  Tomorrow, we are of to Tokoriki Resort via South Sea Cruises.  It should take 1 hour to get there.

Stay tuned!

The World is Our Playground!


Friday, November 14, 2014

CHINA 2014: Imperial Tours Shanghai & Hong Kong w/ Macau

CHINA 2014
Group Picture in Shanghai
We drove 3 hours from Hangzhou to Shanghai.  Wow!  Shanghai has changed and is ever changing since our last visit 9 years ago.  The Pudong area is built up.  Sadly, the old neighborhoods are being torn down to build huge malls and apartment complexes.  There are 28 Million people in Shanghai.  The feel of the city is that it is exploding.  More apartments, restaurants and malls with Rodeo Drive type of stores.  The “bargains” that I found 9 years ago are gone and shopping is at market value.  If it is luxury shopping, the price includes a 48% luxury tax.  This is NOT the place to get your next Gucci purse.

French Concession
Our tours included visits to the French Concession with it's beautiful tree lined streets, a colonial architecture tour with an expert from Texas, a visit to the Yu Garden (too crowded and you can skip this tourist trap) and the Shanghai Museum.  I liked this museum because it showed the history of Shanghai as well as the current model of today's Shanghai and the vision of it's future.
We stayed at the Peninsula Shanghai on the Bund.  Our room was large and beautifully appointed.  It is located on West side of the city.  The service was excellent and the food quality was quite good except for our final dinner there.  I enjoyed staying on the Bund because of it's location.

Four Seasons Pudong
I was totally surprised with the Four Seasons Pudong.  What a beautiful hotel on the business side of Shanghai.  Beautiful rooms and excellent cuisine.  It's definitely an option for people traveling to Shanghai.  Unfortunately, the other Four Seasons on the West side of Shanghai has a mall that is being built next door so until the construction is finished, if you love your Four Seasons Hotels, the Four Seasons Pudong will be your best option.

Hong Kong
Our group trip ended in Shanghai.  My husband and I flew 2 hours to Hong Kong to continue our China exploration.  We had visited Hong Kong 9 years ago and loved the shopping.  Well ... you can skip the shopping if you are only looking at saving money.  The prices are expensive ... no deals here and the quality is not good.  Many places advertise silk and cashmere but they are actually polyester and cashmere/wool blends.

If you haven't visited Hong Kong, the places that you will tour include Victoria Peak, the Tin Hau and Man Mo Temples and Aberdeen Harbour.  There is a Disneyland for your family to visit as well.
We enjoyed a GREAT dinner at Isola on Hong Kong Island.  Half the fun was figuring out the Star Ferry to get to the other side of Hong Kong – easy.  We enjoyed thin crusted pizza, a seafood pasta dish and an excellent U.S. Steak.  Dessert was an apple turnover with vanilla ice cream.  It was a great break from the Chinese cuisine that we have had during our time in China.
Jeff and I in Macau

Our final day in China was spent in Macau.  Macau, as my friend Melissa, from Travel with Melissa described it as "Las Vegas on steroids".  Macau is a 1 hour ferry ride from Hong Kong.  Helpful hint: spend a little more and purchase "superclass" ferry tickets and get the seats on the upper floor.  Macau is a blend of Portugese and Chinese
Turbojet to Macau

There are brand new casino hotels with huge mall complexes next to decaying apartment complexes.  Like Mainland China, these apartments will probably be torn down to make more room for more expensive office buildings, malls and luxury housing in the next few years.  Macau is worth visiting if you love to gamble BUT beware ... the table stakes begin at approximately $60-$80 per hand depending on where you gamble.  The casinos offer more tables than machines and I did not see roulette or craps tables.  Happy I went ... never need to go back.

My new BFF, Melissa Norton McKinley
My Concluding Thoughts on my China Adventure!!
So, this ends my China Adventure.  What did I learn?  For first time visitors, China is an exciting vision.  You experience and see things that you have only seen in picture books or movies.  It is a must see on your travel wish list.  China is not the same China as my last visit 9 years ago.  It is more crowded, more polluted and has traffic that makes Los Angeles's traffic seem minimal in comparison.  You visit the same sites as 9 years ago but now, it's more crowded.  I feel that returning to China was an important thing for me to do as it helped clarify China in general with it's diversely different itineraries that I can offer you.  I can't wait to share more of my insights with you when you are ready.

One of my favorite parts of my China Adventure ...
Beijing Summer Palace
The World is Our Playground!