Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Honeymoon in Fiji - two and a half years after the wedding

Mickey and I are extraordinarily fortunate in that we travel for fun often. Thus, we didn't feel the need to take a honeymoon following our 2007 nuptials in Switzerland.

After returning from a quick trip to Fiji, though, perhaps our most relaxing and romantic trip yet, I asked Mickey, "can this count as our honeymoon?"

Booking the trip back in early December was easy; V Australia advertised a sale and twenty minutes later, we had purchased two round trip tickets costing only $600AUD all up. Booking accommodations, on the other hand, was trickier because the options seem endless. Did we want a super lux over-water bure (featured in that awful Vince Vahn movie Couple's Retreat) or a more affordable garden hut? Was the private plunge pool worth the money? Should we seek out a resort with all inclusive meal packages? What a lovely problem to have, right?

I consulted tripadvisor and our friends Chris and Jess who had recently visited Fiji for advice. Resort websites were no help; they all feature gorgeous pictures of white sandy beaches with crystal clear turquoise water so it's hard to differentiate between them. Tripadvisor wasn't too helpful in making a decision either. Every resort page featured glowing reviews declaring the place utter paradise peppered with the occasional but still worrying damning review along the lines of 'not worth the money.'

I was disappointed to learn that some of the resorts I liked best are hard to physically reach if your flight lands after 2pm. The last boats of the day destined for remote islands in the Mamanuca and Yasawa chains depart from Port Denarau around 3pm, leaving passengers on afternoon flights to either stay on the main island one night or take a private sea plane, jet boat or helicopter directly to their resorts. The first option didn't suit our needs as we were only staying four nights, and the latter two were a bit too extravagant. Private sea plane? What am I, Madonna or something? If I had mentally prepared myself for a splurge on an aerial tour, I might have opted for the flight, but I just couldn't justify spending the same amount as two nights accommodation on simply getting there.

To make a long story just a little shorter, I finally decided on Musket Cove, a resort in the Mamanuca chain that offers transportation on a 5pm catamaran. Perfect. It was pricey, approximately $320USD/night, but I compared resorts that were less and more and this seemed suit us best. When I rang the resort to make the reservation, the agent immediately offered me a 50% discount. I could have been jumping for joy, but instead I was skeptical. Other resorts I had called for quotes indicated they were booked out, not offering discounts. I asked the agent the reason for my (dubious) good fortune and she explained that it was "low season." What did low season mean? Was that code for cyclone season, disruptive hotel renovations or extreme political unrest? I optimistically decided that the GFC coupled with a genuine low season (neither US nor Aus/NZ have holidays at that time) made for a bargain, not a gamble.

Fortunately, I was right. Mickey and I were delighted with Musket Cove and Fiji in general. Spending approximately $160USD/night for a large, private beach bure (hut) in a 3.5/4 star resort seemed to be really great value. Snorkeling trips (and all gear) as well as an excursion to a native Fijian village were included in the price. Food and cocktails, of course, cost extra, but we didn't find these to be outrageously expensive. Likewise, I found great deals at the resort's day spa; my 50 minute massage was only $35USD!

Yes, we were pampered indeed. We spent our time between meals carving a triangular path between the pool, ocean and lounge chairs. Sunday morning started off quite differently, though, when we heard a loud knocking on the door to our hut at 7am. Mickey groggily answered the door and learned from the staff that we had to evacuate because of the tsunami warning following the Chilean earthquake. The funny thing about it was that we had three hours notice; the tsunami wasn't coming until 10am so we had time for a leisurely breakfast. The other guests didn't seem too worried. A local woman explained that the geographic location of our island and its reefs made us quite safe. One idiot piped up, "we think this is bad for us, think about the people in Chile." Comparing a mildly inconvenient evacuation to the total devastation of your town seemed ridiculous.

Anyway, after gathering the belongings that we absolutely didn't want to get washed away (passports, jewelry and my Bon Appetit magazines), we evacuated to a chapel on higher ground. The irony was too much to resist making bad jokes: how do you get two atheists into church on their Fijian vacation? Though it was very hot, the staff did a great job of keeping us updated on the tsunami-watch progress and provided everyone with food and water. After three hours in the chapel we were given the all clear. Hallelujah.

I thoroughly enjoyed our snorkeling excursion to the nearby reef. In some ways, it was superior to snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef in north Queensland. Reaching the outer reef takes an hour and 45 minutes whereas boating to an arguably equally beautiful reef in Fiji takes only ten minutes. Observing the brightly colored fish from the surface of the water felt like gliding over an alien landscape; there's nothing like it. Mickey wasn't as moved by the experience as I was, but he did extremely well with the open water.

We initially planned to go snorkeling on our last morning in Fiji, but thought better of it when we crossed paths with a black and white sea snake while wading near the shore on the previous afternoon. It was just a little thing, but Mickey and I both had nightmares about it. Scarier still, we couldn't get a straight answer from the staff about whether or not it was venomous.

Sea snake aside, we had a wonderful time in Fiji and talked about wanting to stay longer or return for Christmas with my family. We experienced the joy of a honeymoon, but didn't get ripped off the way honeymooners often do. Now that's what I call paradise.

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