My husband went to Fiji when he was three and had the holiday of his life. He vividly recalls the beach and kids club in great, and some might say, unnecessary detail; it was a profoundly happy time in his life. Had I not revealed this, however, you would never know: he keeps that trip a closely-guarded secret, mentioning it only if someone mentions they’re going to Fiji, or whenever we consider holiday destinations with our two small children, or on Tuesdays.
Why Fiji made such a lasting imprint on him made no sense to me. Truth be told, Fiji never held too much appeal to me. I relegated it as a ‘family place.’ Friends with kids and their knowing nods only cemented the notion: “When you’re a family, you’ll see. Families LOVE Fiji.”
And so, once we had kids (plural: you can go anywhere with one kid; two steps things up a notch), Fiji suddenly became very alluring. Especially after schlepping 18 hours to Maldives recently, for, if I’m being honest, The Exact Same Thing.
And just like everyone says, Fiji really is the perfect holiday for families.
The water is pristine, the weather is perfect, the diving and surfing is sensational, the flight is only five hours (from Melbourne), our favourite show in the world, US Survivor is filmed there, but the best thing about Fiji, is the people. Ask anyone who has been (my husband included, though you’ll have to drag it out of him, he’s very enigmatic) what they loved most; it’s the people.
The Fijians I met were walking, talking sunbeams. Total A+ in delightfulness, helpfulness, and warmth. Because of who I am (an optimist dipped in healthy cynicism), I searched for chinks in the armor, a momentary lapse in charm, but I never saw it. Not even when I had to politely ask for my baby’s dinner to be mushed up a bit more… and then sent it back again for more mushing because perfect mush levels are known only to me.
Oh, and Fijians LOVE kids.
Maybe even more than I love my kids, and you love yours. The way Fijian people connected and interacted with our children was genuine and whole-hearted. It never felt contrived or like it was their job. No matter which part of the island we were on, no matter what time of day, the staff would swoop our baby out of our hands, and whisk her off for songs, cuddles and quiet flower gazing. Meanwhile, our preschooler knew everybody’s names, and they his, and every day was like that scene in a movie where the popular guy walks through the school and everyone serves up pistol fingers and high-fives. (He cried in the shower at night because he wanted to go back to Kids Club RIGHT NOW, not go to stupid bed.)
Both of our children relished their deity-like status (how strange!) and tailor-made activities and toys on offer. Resorts in Fiji are READY-MADE for kids: this is not arriving to find one of the conference rooms housing a few balls and a cheap tent as the “kids zone.” This is purposeful, considered child-minding, and it’s a huge relief for parents. Because if your kids are thrilled to be finding crabs and building pirate ships all afternoon with a gang of other kids and some funny adults, and your high-energy baby is with a doting nanny and 1000 toys at kids club while you and your husband have a meal and a swim, then everyone’s having a holiday.
We travel for lots of reasons: to see the world, to make the kids resilient, to bookmark our lives, and to be present with each other and especially our rapidly-growing young children, which is hard in our big, busy life back home. But at risk of breaking an unwritten parent code, parents don’t actually get much time off on holiday. We’re still parents! Gotta tend to the sick baby all night, and keep the toddler entertained, and find clean clothes/snacks every two hours!
But in Fiji we got PROPER time off. The golden, rare kind where you know your kids don’t want to be with you, even if you want to hang out, cos they’re having more fun without you. And when you collect them, you’re revitalised, you’re excited to spend the afternoon with them swimming (three year-old), eating sand (baby) and enjoying paradise (parents). You’ve had time to read a book, and relax, instead of Real Life, where any time the kids are out of the house, you’re working, or doing errands and household s$%t, so when you’re with the kids again, you’re buggered, and operating at 40 watts, and Just Doing Your Best To Get Through.
My idea of a happy family holiday isn’t about ditching the kids and sipping rosé all day (…or IS IT?), it’s about having some time to re-charge so that the time I spend with my children on holiday is outstanding. Quality, present and who-cares-where-my-phone-is, time. Slow morning strolls and raucous pre-dinner swims, none of the snapping and ‘hurry-up-and-put-your-shoes-on-we-have-to-go!’, that peppers each day in Real Life.
Fiji offered all of this and a bag of coconuts. We were lucky enough to stay at Kokomo Private Island, which is new, and very luxurious, and where everything (especially hiring!) is done exceptionally well. Families abounded, often boasting several generations, the food is world-class, and the reef is breathtaking. We had a week our (then) three-year old has a chance of remembering for the rest of his life, and that’s not nothing. (Just ask my husband. He’ll never tell, obviously.)
At the end of our stay, I cried. Maybe it was the rousing, smiling choir of new friends that assembled to bid us farewell in song on departure, or maybe there was sand in my eye, or maybe we’d just had one of the best holidays a young family could ask for. Who can say.
What I can say is we are going back to Fiji next year. We’re a family, you see. And families love Fiji.
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