I arrived in Fiji on Sunday Dec 18th much later than anticipated and I was extremely happy that the hotel had arranged a taxi to meet me at the airport. I was a little surprised that the taxi was a beat up old Subaru, but the driver was extremely nice and the ride only cost $30 FJD. I was immediately struck by the poverty as we drove towards Denarau Island. The diver shared some of the history of the area with me and I learned that Denarau Island is a man-made island built to house four and five-star resorts, the marina and million dollar homes – quite a contrast to the scenery on the drive to the hotel. Unlike some places like Phuket, Thailand or other island resorts, once you get to Denarau Island, you’re completely isolated and sheltered from the poverty.
Check-in & The Rooms
Upon arriving at the hotel I was greeted and welcomed by the staff. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. Before arrival, I requested a room with two beds or 1 bed with a sofa bed – since I’m a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Platinum member I felt confident that they would be able to fulfill this request. I was quickly checked in and escorted by golf cart to my room. It was a beach front room, but as soon as I saw it, I realized that it only had 1 bed and no sofa. The bellman took me back to the front desk where I spoke with reception and they found me a new room with two beds. I also inquired about a room upgrade and was told nothing was available. When I got to the room, I noticed right away that the bathroom wasn’t clean. I called the front desk and they sent someone immediately to clean it. There was also no drinking water (which they usually provide to Platinum members) or other typical SPG amenities in this new room they moved me to.
After speaking with the manager on duty, Tom, he had water sent to my room and ensured that things would be taken care of that week. The following day, I inquired again about an upgrade and was told by Tom that there was a junior suite open that we could move into. We took him up on that. The suite had two rooms. A bedroom with king size bed, desk, chair and bathroom which had separate tub and shower (the non-suite room only had a tub) and a sitting room with a sofa (that could be used a bed) dining table and bathroom (tub and toilet – no sink though, which was very odd and also meant that the person sleeping out there had to come into the bedroom to use the sink. The suite was definitely much more spacious than the non-suite room and meets our needs much better. As many people have said on Trip Advisor, the beach front rooms lack privacy as they face a main walkway, but the view is spectacular.
I had also read on Trip Advisor that the air conditioning in the rooms is very loud – and that is quite true – but I got used to it pretty quickly and by the second night, it didn’t bother me. The air conditioner did create a pool of condensation on the floor – or whatever was under the unit (including my suitcase one day) due to the humidity and temperatures.
The hotel is old and in need of some refurbishments. The furnishings look very dated and everything could use some sprucing up. The hotel is currently undergoing renovations and they’d just completed work on the bathrooms at the pool when I was there. One of the great things about the hotel though, is that the rooms are very quiet. We never heard anything from our neighbors.
The staff is friendly and welcoming. Everyone greets you with the traditional “Bula” which means life in Fijian. In fact, Tania at the front desk remembered me by name and said hello every day. While the people are friendly, service in Fiji is not what you’ll find in other parts of the world – everything runs on Fiji time (which can be great sometimes.) I will say that the one exception to this was the service at the V restaurant at the Sofitel (more later about V). Otherwise, don’t expect good or great customer service anywhere on the island.
There are several shops at the hotel including a market (very overpriced), a few clothing stores (I didn’t venture in after seeing the prices at the market) and a duty free store. I checked out the prices at the Marina and compared them to the duty free store at the hotel, and they were the same. So I ended up purchasing some Pure Fiji products (to get the VAT Tax back at the airport, you have to spend $500 FJD from an authorized retailer.) In addition to the stores, there are local craftsman who sell items like carved wood, jewelry, shells, grass baskets and purses, etc… (it’s important to note that many countries, including Australia and the US don’t allow you to bring back untreated wood or shells.) The prices seemed a little high for these “local” crafts.
The Westin pool is beautiful, but small and on very sunny days, the lounge chairs filled up fast. Most of the days I was at the hotel it was overcast and much easier to get a chair. You have to sign out pool towels and on busy days they limit the number of towels you can have – that’s a bummer. In fact, on Christmas Eve day they ran out of pool towels and it was over an hour before they had clean ones to give out again. That was the first really sunny day we had been there so it was disappointing to lose that hour of pool time. The beach is not so nice at the Westin, but that was fine with me as I prefer pools. As a guest of the Westin, you have full access to the Sheraton which is a short walk or bus ride away. The Sheraton has a much larger and nicer pool and a bit nicer beach –this area doesn’t really seem like a great beach spot in general – I’m told you really should go to the islands to lounge on the beach.
There is an ice cream stand at the Westin pool – which makes great milkshakes and they’re not terribly overpriced. There are also several shops that sell drinks, sunscreen, hats, etc…and they’re all very, very overpriced. You’d be much better off going to the marina and picking things up there.
There is a small island across from the Westin and you can take a boat there from the hotel. I was warned by other guests we met not to eat from the vendor on the island. I guess they had a very bad experience eating there.
Dining Options @Westin
On the Westin’s website, they describe the dining options as a “seemingly unending selection of dining choices.” In reality, there are two restaurants at the Westin and 1 bar – Zing which serves breakfast and dinner and Moo Moo which serves lunch and dinner. You can order drinks and lunch from Moo Moo poolside as well. Zing was good, though the service was not what you’d expect from a restaurant at a resort like Westin. I enjoyed the chicken teriyaki stir-fry and had it twice in fact. The dim sum was fair, I wouldn’t order it again most likely. Overall, the two meals we had a Zing were good and the cost of the food was fair. The drinks and taxes are what make the meals expensive. All meals have 20% tax added. If you eat at Zing around sun-down, you can watch the Fijian fire dancers, a torch lighting ceremony and other Fijian dancing.
We went to Moo Moo a few times for lunch and we had the burger every time. It was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. The Wagyu Beef burger was topped with beetroot and orange relish and came with truffle fries. It’s definitely worth a try!
The Westin Heavenly Spa is quite expensive – in fact, it’s the most expensive spa on the island (compared to Mandara Spa at the Sofitel, the spa at Denarau marina and Fiji Beach Resort and Spa managed by Hilton.) The Westin Spa is very relaxing and welcoming. We had pedicures and they were extremely luxurious and soothing for $116 FJD plus 20% tax which came to about $70 USD (a bit expensive for a pedicure, but it was a Christmas/Hanukkah treat so we indulged). The spa uses Pure Fiji products and I loved them. The spa did offer 20% discount on massages booked for early morning or late night. At the spa, there was a lap pool and the Westin Workout Center.
The Westin Denarau is old but the staff is very friendly and that makes up for a lot of what the rooms lack. The restaurants are good, the pool is calm and the spa is relaxing. Overall, I liked the Westin and if I was in Fiji again, would either stay at the Westin (I’d like to see what the rooms are like after the renovations are complete) or at the Sheraton next door.
We went to the Sheraton one night for dinner and wound up at the buffet restaurant called Feast. Boy, I wish I had read some of the reviews online before eating there. Needless to say, it was the single worst meal of my entire vacation (did I mention I’m on week four of a four week vacation?) Both my guest and I got sick after eating at the buffet. The buffet was also incredibly over-priced. It was $75 FJD per person – had we known that ahead of time, we wouldn’t have eaten there to begin with. The interesting thing is that a few days later we went to the cultural show at the Westin and two other groups of guests sitting with us had similar experiences. The guys at the table asked for food recommendations and we said stay away from Feast. Everyone at the table unanimously agreed and said it was the worst food on the island. There did seem to be many more dining options at the Sheraton, but after our experience with Feast, we decided not to eat there again.
As I mentioned before, the pool at the Sheraton is great and as a guest of the Westin you have full access. Another nice benefit is that you can charge to your room at either the Westin or Sheraton which is nice because many shops and restaurants offer room charge only.
The Marina/Port Denarau
You can take the Bula Bus ($7 FJD for ticket which is good for 1 full day) to the Marina and enjoy the many restaurants, cafes and shops. Many people seem to leave the resorts to have lunch or dinner at the marina. We went to just about all of the restaurants for lunch or dinner – with the exception of the Hard Rock Café – and didn’t really have a bad meal. There is a traditional Fijian restaurant – Nandina- which was okay (my meal was bland and disappointing, but my friend absolutely loved hers), an Italian restaurant called Amalfi – we didn’t eat there, but others recommended it, a seafood restaurant called Bone Fish which we liked very much, Cardo steak and seafood restaurant – which was good, Lulu cafe – we also liked that, and there was an Indian restaurant we didn’t make it to.
In addition to the sit-down restaurants, there were several fast-food restaurants offering pizza, kebabs, chicken and ice cream. There is also a small market called Yees and they sell food, beverages, beer, wine, and other items you can bring back to the hotel. The prices are much more reasonable.
There are also several day spas and salons at the marina. The Oasis Day Spa is definitely not worth your time. It’s the least expensive option on the island, but there’s a reason for that. It’s small – 1 room with a small, flimsy divider wall separating the service area from the cashier/reception. That makes it noisy when people come in inquiring about services or arrive for their appointment. It was also very poorly air-conditioned and in the heat and humidity of Fiji ,that’s necessary at a spa. We had pedicures and they were so bad that we decided to get a pedicure at the Westin Heavenly Spa at the end of the week.
There is another day spa, nail salon and hair salon as well at the Marina. The nail salon –Professional Nails – was okay for a quick manicure, and a little more expensive than Oasis, but not by much. It did smell like nail products though (a sign of bad ventilation) and had no frills like a spa would. The nail tech was extremely friendly and told me a lot about Fiji and the culture. My friend got her hair cut at the salon – called Spoilt Rotten – and was very happy with the cut and the price. We didn’t try the day spa next door, but it looked much nicer than Oasis.
Sofitel – V restaurant
The V restaurant at the Sofitel was not only the best meal we had in Fiji, but also offered the best service. The restaurant is comfortable and quiet (there were no children in the restaurant.) The chef, from New Zealand, offered an array of creative and interesting dishes on the menu. The meal started with an amuse-bouche, a small watermelon cup filled with goat-cheese and crusted with pistachio. I had the baby Chicken with grilled vegetables in a rich wine sauce. It was refined and delicious. My friend had the local Fiji Walu fish and she enjoyed it. They suggested we order a side dish – everything is a la carte – so we got the grilled zucchini. It was good, but we found that it wasn’t really necessary since my meal came with grilled vegetables (one of which was zucchini) and the fish dish was incredibly large. We ordered a dessert to share, a chocolate dessert accompanied by a rose granita and berry compote. The chocolate dessert, which was several layers of chocolate, reminded us of a candy bar, and was rich and decadent. The berry compote was a great accompaniment. The rose granita was pretty, but not to our liking and didn’t really add anything to the dish. I would highly recommend a visit to V if you’re in the area.
The double bed hotel room (non-suite)
Junior Suite King Size Bed
Bathroom Sinks and Tub (the tub was very old)
Fijian Dancers at the Westin
Moo Moo Seating & View