Let me start by saying that I am truly sorry that this is not going to be a raving review about the Shangri-La in Fiji. I wish it was. And while our experiences were not completely awful it is the summary of things that made this stay neither enjoyable nor relaxing. To be fair, having 7 rainy days out of 8 while you are slowly consumed by cabin fever in a tropical resort didn’t really help.
However, this is not the only reason why we were counting the days to get back home to Sydney, and of course I need to acknowledge that the storm was not the Shangri-La’s fault by any means. But being stuck in your hotel room for pretty much the best part of the day, with the rain making the pools and the beach unusable, did give us plenty of time to think about this 4-star resort’s service and facilities. For lots of pictures of the resort please do make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom of the post.
To conclude: we were disappointed on so many levels.
The Shangri-La in Fiji
To give you a bit of an overview, the Shangri-La is located on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, around one hour south of the airport. The location of the resort is perfect: it is situated on the small island of Yanuca which is connected to the mainland via a short causway, so it’s easy to reach by car from the airport.
Yanuca Island is located off a stretch of Viti Levu which is called the Coral Coast. Fiji’s Coral Coast is home to a number of resorts, so the Shangri-La is in good company. The advantage of the location is also that the Shangri-La is the only resort on Yanuca, complete with all the facilities needed to run a resort such as water treatment plant and glasshouses.
The next town to the Shangri-La is Sigatoka, and just like with most other Fijian towns there’s is not much to write home about this regional centre. Most people will only visit it to stock up on supplies or maybe to start an excursion up the Sigatoka River. To reach the town you can choose to use the Coral Coast railway which is sort of like a tourist attraction stopping right in front of the causeway to the Shangri-La resort. But then most people are not visiting Fiji to explore the cities.
A resort for many types of visitors
What I found really impressive about the Shangri-La was that much thought has been put into attracting all sorts of visitors. You have the childless baby boomers who like some golf and spa, and they will stay in a different part of the resort than the families with small children. And then there are honeymooners and people planning their tropical wedding, and all of this can be done here at the Shangri-La as well. The chapel in one corner of the resort really has something going for it, with the honeymoon suite situated right next door in one of the most secluded places of the resort.
To achieve this segregation of guest types, the resort is spread out along the coastline with rooms located in buildings that are around 2 to 3 storeys high. A lot of ground needs to be covered to reach certain areas of the resort, depending on where you are staying. But be prepared for many long walks along the rather unattractive backsides of these buildings to get to restaurants, the reception area or the kids club.
Guests in the golf, spa and wedding areas of the resort seem to get the privilege of golf buggies to get around, and rightly so, as otherwise the distances would really become challenging.
Families will find the kids club tucked away at the other end, so any pick-up or drop-off does require a ten minute walk from some room types.
The facilities and restaurants
The Shangri-La promises to have it all sorted for you: You have a beach that is not affected by tides, complete with free non-motorised water sports as well as motorised water sports that can be hired for a fee. There’s a big child-friendly lagoon pool as well as an adult-only pool, plus another pool close to the deluxe rooms. There’s a kids club and activities for kids throughout the day. You can go on excursions and explore the island’s indigenous plants with a guide, buy knickknacks in the town square, and have a number of food and beverage outlets to choose from. Overall, there is quite a lot to do and to see at the Shangri-La. Yet, when the quality is not up to par then your options shrink exponentially.
Take the restaurants, for example. The family-friendly buffet restaurant was free for kids but around $30 per adult. So why give the false impression that you are actually saving money when you end up paying more than in your home country. That aside, eating at the buffet restaurant is less than pleasant, with not very tasty food options, children running wild, slow waiters that can’t be bothered to smile, and questionable hygiene standards, mostly thanks to unsupervised kids that drop food items on the floor and place them back onto the buffet. Yuck!
Luckily, the other two restaurants that would open for dinner admitted children at least in their first hour of opening, and overall proved to be not much more expensive than the buffet restaurant with better service and food. The first one was an Italian restaurant with an acceptable choice of pasta and other Italian themed dishes, the other an pan-Asian themed restaurant which offered a smallish banquet suitable for a family of four.
What I will never understand is why holiday resorts try so hard to deliver dishes neither the chef nor the waiting staff seem to be familiar with. You really get the impression that the meals have been developed elsewhere, in a faraway headquarters, then a training person has been send out to teach the staff how to cook these dishes. While not bad tasting, they feel so without imagination, so passionless, that one must wonder why we are not served something more Fijian instead. To prove my point, have a curry at the Asian restaurant (Fiji has a strong Indian community and you can bet that the chef will be Fiji-Indian) and compare it to a dish of gnocchi at the Italian restaurant.
The ironic thing about this is that I have actually not travelled to Fiji to indulge in spaghetti. Why does a resort not try to serve up some local dishes, prepared using local ingredients? This would help the whole community and would help us visitors better understand the Fijian culture. It should also be cheaper, if produce is used that is sourced locally rather than imported steaks. Oh right, they already do that. On special nights you can book yourself in for lots of money to experience a Fiji cultural night. You pay extra to experience the culture even though you are already in the country. How bizarre.
Anyway, once we had figured out where we would have to spend a little bit too much money each night to get fed decently, we felt a bit more comfortable. But shouldn’t a 4 star resort not offer a more tasty range of dishes across all F&B outlets?
Not a family-friendly place at all
Sorry, again, to disappoint. But we really couldn’t feel the vibe of a family-friendly resort at the Shangri-La. And this is all so much sadder since we had specifically selected this resort for its child-friendly marketing and reputation, the kids club and the countless hours of couple-time without the kids. How wrong were we.
Please note that there was nothing wrong with the kids club at all. The nannies all seemed wonderful and there was always a cheerful and happy atmosphere. The kids did a number of things there, with some limitations due to the never-ending rain, including excursions and trips to the beach, dying clothes and crafting Fijian style jewellery. As it turned out, the kids seemed to have a much better time than us, but then I need to wonder why adults are not kept as happy as the kids as we are the ones who end up paying?
Our problem were with the opening times of the kids club. Kids will not receive lunch at the kids club of the Shangri-La, so you do have to rush back to the club to pick them up for lunch. Not that I don’t enjoy having lunch with my kids, but it meant that we couldn’t leave the resort without major planning and pre-booking of a personal nanny for the lunch period. It can be done, and it’s not too expensive, but with the weather being so unstable we decided we’d rather not try it.
So we walked back and forth for ten minutes or so to get the kids for lunch, then waited for the club to open again, then to drop them off again for the afternoon. The sessions would only last two to three hours, roughly, so hardly enough time for anything other than lying around the pool.
Another session, which the kids really loved, would begin in the evening, usually a disco followed by a kid-friendly movie. The problem we had with this was that we also wanted to have a nice dinner with the kids. But if you have to wait 45 minutes for plates to arrive you are bound to miss the first minutes of kids club. And the kids, being kids, hated being late, not joining in in any activity if they felt that they had missed all the initial fun. Which meant that in the end we would be stuck with the kids. To avoid this, one of us would quickly feed the kids their dinner, then take them quickly to the kids club, then return to a cold dinner at the restaurant to finally enjoy the meal. It really shouldn’t be like this.
Let me add another oddity of our stay: the kids were always served first, to the point that they would receive their meal and finish their meal before we had even started. How silly is this? These were a six and an eight year old, perfectly capable to feed themselves unaided. I would have loved to eat with my children at the same time, how cheerful an atmosphere that would have been around the table, but it wasn’t meant to be. And if you wonder why we didn’t ask to get our meals all at the same time: if you ever tried changing anything in a Fijian restaurant, may it be “no dressing, please”, or “can I have some extra chips”, it really is a matter of luck whether or not your request will be met.
So now that we have eaten our late, cold dinner with the kids safely tucked away in the kids club you would think that it was time for an evening cocktail or a cold beer. The Shangri-La has at least three bars that I know of.
There’s the Sunset Bar which is located right on the beach in a really pretty location but which happens to close right after sunset. So no drinks here.
Then there is the Marlin Bar right in the centre of the resort which is as appealing as any sports bar can be, so you would want to sit outside instead. But it’s just not the kind of atmosphere you would expect from a tropical bar. Worse still, every other evening the kids club has their disco night here, making the venue effectively useless to any adult trying to escape the children for a while.
Lastly, we had a bar right by our little pool close to our room, however this bar would close at point 6pm, so no drinks here either.
Don’t bother calling room service either as your order will first of all be mixed up and secondly it will take up to an hour to arrive. No wonder we saw so many people going on short shopping trips to Sigatoka town to buy classy six packs of beer. I cannot blame them.
The pool bar by the lagoon pool would serve cocktails throughout the day, however I am not a big fan of drinks in plastic cups. I think I can at least expect something a little bit better than a party cup and a lovelessly poured drink, in particular for the price they charge.
The rooms come in different categories, with the cheaper ones located close to the big lagoon pool. We decided to invest a little bit of money to have a deluxe experience, which proved to be a nice and big Deluxe Ocean Family Room at the other end of the resort. Our room was on the ground floor and just a couple of steps away from another smaller pool that was free to use by adults and kids. There was also a small bar serving the usual bar food, snacks and drinks.
There were no bigger issues with the room as such, however after days and days of rain and being restricted to our own veranda I did start to miss some comforts which could so easily be rectified. The outside furniture lacked cushions, making the chairs extremely hard and uncomfortable. Stranger still, we only had two chairs even though we were four guests. You could see our neighbours all struggling with the lack of furniture, with teenagers very often sitting on the short walls separating the verandas to be able to participate in family conversations.
Plus, after days and days of rain the room started to smell. Wet dog smell that was not coming from our clothes or our bedding but from the room itself. The only way to improve the air quality inside the room was by using the air-con even though the rain storm didn’t really call for it. Even worse, due to upper storeys being set back a little we had the planters hanging over our heads when sitting on the verandah and from time to time there were worms raining down on us which was not a pleasant experience at all.
Room service, as mentioned, was extremely slow, housekeeping would not show up every day, and turn-down service had the courage to knock at 9pm at one time when the kids were already fast asleep. So we spend a lot of time in a room with unmade beds and dirty floors while outside it was pouring with rain. Not the kind of family holiday I expected.
What really took the cake for me were the unwanted advances that came from one of the staff members. You see, staying on your own private island I felt somewhat safe in exploring the island on my own, armed with my camera and making the best out of the few dry moments we had during our stay.
However, little did I know that a gardner thought it was a good idea to follow me and ask me all sorts of personal questions about my marriage and my family, all the while staring at my breasts and standing just a little bit too close to me. You need to understand I am not the kind of person who would walk around in a bikini, and I am no longer in my twenties. I do look younger than I actually am and looks can be deceiving, but I am not the type of person to attract much attention by the other sex.
Yet, now I did find myself in a situation where I was all alone in a deserted part of the resort, while a young man was hitting on me with all his might. I felt threatened and angry. I really shouldn’t feel this way at all, I had not even left the resort to visit a more traditional area where long pants or covered shoulders were expected. I didn’t anything inappropriate in any way. But this encounter did in the end had a negative impact on my sense of freedom and safety around the resort, and my lonely walks stopped.
The little things
It’s the little things that make a hotel stay special. And I think this is where the Shangri-La failed big time.
It’s the missing deck chairs around the pool (how difficult can it be to offer an appropriate number of deck chairs so that all guests can enjoy the pools?), the unsmiling staff, the dirty cutlery on the set table, the missing activity program that never got delivered to our room.
It’s a different country altogether, I get it. It’s Fiji time. It’s a different mentality. But I consider myself rather adaptable, having visited more than 20 countries in my lifetime so far. The problem I have with the Shangri-La is that we have paid a lot of money to have a stress and kids-free holiday in a tropical country.
While I didn’t quite enjoy it, this doesn’t mean that you won’t have a great time here. To book, please consider using the link provided, which is powered by Booking.com, one of most reputable online hotel booking sites. A booking via this link will pay me a small commission which will help support the blog. Many thanks.
The Shangri-La lacked the tropical feel. It lacked the opportunities to kick back and relax. It lacked night time entertainment and flexibility. The service was poor and heartless. The backsides of the rooms were omnipresent but the ugliest thing you could imagine. Forget about the rain. A resort in a tropical country should carry you through rainy periods with ease. It should give you the feeling of being welcome, and it should introduce you to the culture of the country you are visiting without showing you an open outstretched hand waiting for extra payment.
The Shangri-La, sadly, is not our type of resort, and if you have been to any other Shangri-La property around the world, don’t expect to find the same standard here.
This is my candid view on the Shangri-La in Fiji. I would be interested to hear your experiences. Please let me know in the comments below what you thought about your stay?