The lali drums sound on our arrival, a tradition of Fijian culture to announce the arrival of a high chief to the village, accompanied by a warm verbal blanket of “bula” greetings. I’ve arrived at Sheraton Fiji Resort and Sheraton Denarau Villas on Denarau Island with my two children for a four-day stay and play in the sunshine at the renowned family-friendly Fiji Islands. My children instantly feel at ease here, fussed over and noticed more than the adults and with staff genuinely connecting with them, asking their names, high-fiving my son and giving my daughter hibiscus and frangipani for behind her ears.
The Sheraton Denarau Villas, with two and three bedrooms, have completed recently a full refurbishment. Managed by the Starwood Hotels and Resorts group, the resort encourages guests to “Stay in one, play in all three” — because guests of either Sheraton Fiji Resort, Sheraton Denarau Villas or The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa can utilise the facilities of all three properties. What this essentially means is greater variety in dining options, use of six different pools across the complex, a children’s playground, access to the spa and fitness centre at The Westin, golf and racquet club, free transport between locations on the Bula Bus or buggy and a virtually cashless, cardless holiday where you can charge everything to your room from anywhere in the entire complex.
Within 10 minutes of our arrival, my kids have unpacked and donned their togs, grumbling about having to wear a hat, as all kids seem to do. (Or maybe it’s just mine?) We’re off out the door on the way to check out the pool selection, but not before I’ve had a chance to notice some of the features of the white-washed villas. The main entrance door opens into a small foyer area which divides the villas – kids’ apartment on the left, adults on the right — each with a locking door and door bell. The children’s area is made up of a full-sized bathroom with shower, separate bath, double sink and washing machine and a dryer. The bedroom has two king-sized beds, a lounge, LCD TV and DVD player, built-in wardrobe and double doors that lead to the lounge and family area. There’s also adequate room here for a separate cot if required for a baby or toddler, as is the case in the parents’ bedroom too. Both are decorated in a relaxed yet contemporary Pacific Island style with dark timber furniture, rattan lounges, timber Venetian blinds and burnt orange fabrics. A dining table, fully equipped kitchen, another lounge sitting area, writing desk, patio with timber drinks table and chairs and another TV and Sony HiFi system completes this communal area.
Back on the adult’s side of the villa, there is another bathroom, a bedroom with built-ins, writing desk, another TV/DVD/HiFi, complimentary WiFi access, lounge and another patio with seafront views and overlooking the garden and a small lily pond. Large, tiled floors throughout are cool under-feet and are a logical choice when little, wet feet return from the pool. Each side of the villa has its own air-conditioning system so you can adjust the temperature on either side.
Many of the villas open onto the villa pool and surrounding area. The pool has various depths and little bridges you can swim underneath which the kids love. Manicured lawns and gardens, large frangipanis and timber deck chairs provide this zone with a sense of calm. My kids spent more time in the infinity pool overlooking the sea just a few metres from here – it was more child-friendly being quite shallow in places, and with safe rock formations the kids can clamber over and swim around playing pirates – giving parents great satisfaction seeing them use their I-magination and not an I-pad. The nearby ice-cream stand contributes to the popularity here – most parents seem quite happy lounging here too, with the Wet Edge bar and restaurant to the side of the pool offering deck-chair drinks and dining service and one of those retro-style, swim-up-to-the-wet-bar areas with underwater stools, which I was only too happy to demonstrate for the kids.
On our way to dinner that night, we pass a lady in a red satin, fancy-dress masquerade costume out the front of her villa texting on her mobile phone. She looks up and says hi, while a few paces along we pass a man in a toga costume who mutters something about “don’t hold it against me.” On the contrary, I’m thinking what an ideal destination the villas would make for large groups of families or friends for special occasions (and also making a note of the party villa room number).
Children under 12 dine free at certain times at selected resort restaurants. The “Feast” restaurant in brightly mosaic red tiles, is the buffet option — and is more than adequate as far as buffets go but the kids think they’ve hit some sort of nirvana when they spot the dessert table. I headed to the bar and grill where they prepare you freshly a choice of stir-fries and noodle dishes. The service is very good, overlooking another pool area, and it’s a great spot to watch the live fire and cultural dancing on selected evenings.
A more upmarket dining experience can be found at Flying Fish, which opened in 2008 under Australian chef Peter Kuruvita following the success of Flying Fish Sydney. You can take your seat in the sand or in the timber-floored restaurant area. I dined on mahi mahi fillets, Fijian style – cooked over volcanic rocks with a lolo (coconut) sauce and served with snake beans. The kid’s menu is broad too with a good selection for little diners. For an adults-only, fine dining experience, try Ports O’ Call themed in the style of a classic ocean liner – or take the free Bula bus to The Westin for its dining options. Daily meal offers are emailed to all guests of the Villas during the length of their stay.
By day three, my daughter has convinced me to let her get her hair braided. The Fijians plait hair at an almost Olympic pace and the little girls (and some boys too) leave feeling like rock stars with fully braided heads and clanging beads in their hair. There is also a Sheraton Lai Lai Kid’s Club available free to all guests of either the Sheraton Resort or the Sheraton Denarau Villas, or in-room babysitters for a small fee. My daughter visited the Kid’s Club on one afternoon and loved it. The team leader spotted us later that night taking a ride in the Bula bus and shouted out enthusiastically to Juliette by name – yes little people really are treated like royalty here.
The Sheraton Denarau Villas is not the ultimate in luxurious stays on Fiji – most head to the resorts on the outer islands for the best luxury, including the newly opened Sheraton Resort & Spa Tokoriki Island with seven family island suites, an hour’s boat ride or a short helicopter transfer away. But the Sheraton Denarau Villas provides a very comfortable stay for either short-term transitory visits or long-term family and group holidays (the average length of stay in the villas is 10-14 days) — either trip benefitting from the hallmark Sheraton level of service and hospitality.
As we walk to our final dinner from our villa along the path underneath a slatted timber canopy and flanked by whitewashed columns and lush green tropical foliage, my daughter notices a red bag hanging on the door of a villa. “Oh look, mummy, there’s a present hanging on the door”. I explain the present is, in fact, a newspaper for the villa guests. Unperturbed, she echoes again the sentiment she has already repeated about six times on this trip: “Everything is just so beautiful in Fiji.”