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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii might be top default family vacation destinations for North Americans in search of a tropical escape. But thanks to nonstop Fiji Airways flights, you can get to Nadi, Fiji, from the US using partner miles from American Airlines and Alaska Airlines. Once in Fiji, you’ll find some of the most pristine natural beauty on the planet. From the sheer friendliness of the kid-loving locals to family sea camp adventures in the soft coral capital of the world, read on for six reasons why (maybe just maybe) your next tropical family getaway should be Fijian in nature.
1. Kids Sea Camp and Family Dive Adventures
A family vacation that’s both fun and educational is our favorite kind of trip. Your kids may turn into ocean-lovers for life (and future protectors of world oceans, hopefully, too) after the weeklong Kids Sea Camp with the family at the eco-friendly Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on Vanua Levu. Family Divers is offering Fiji Kids Sea Camp for a week in both August 2019 and November 2020, during which the resort will be exclusively booked out for the event and even more family-friendly than usual.
While 10 is the minimum age to get certified to dive during the event, there are many other activities on tap for younger kids and adults who may prefer snorkeling. Marine biology talks, village visits, learnings from a local medicine man and excursions via catamaran and glass-bottom boast are among the range of included activities during the week. Fiji’s coral reefs are a particularly appealing place to get hooked on snorkeling or diving thanks to the proliferation of neon-colored soft corals (Fiji is the soft coral capital of the world), not to mention appearances by “Nemo” at every turn. And the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort has not only a thriving house reef just offshore, but is within a short boat ride of Namena Marine Reserve, home to some of the best dive sites and snorkeling reefs in all of Fiji.
2. Flying Time Is Easier Than You Think
Although the flying time to Fiji from Los Angeles and San Francisco is almost twice as long as it takes to get from the West Coast cities to Hawaii (about 11 hours versus roughly six hours), the fact that you’re flying overnight makes the time pass much more efficiently than a daytime trip. When you fly Fiji Airways from North America, you take off around midnight and arrive in the morning (losing a day as you cross the international date line, gaining it on the way back). The fact that the return flight is also overnight means you’re not dealing with a marathon daytime flight coming or going from Fiji to the West Coast.
Fiji Airways, Alaska Airlines, Qantas and American Airlines all codeshare, so you can earn and redeem miles between them. Fiji Airways offers daily nonstop service from Los Angeles to Nadi and year-round service twice-weekly from San Francisco. Read on for how to redeem miles to get to Fiji. To give a flavor on pricing, each direction will run you 40k miles when booking via American Airlines or Alaska Airlines in economy. Partner business class awards on Fiji Airways are virtually exinsistant at the moment (but set an alert on Expert Flyer just in case).
3. Bula! A Culture of Friendliness
Fijians are consistently ranked among the happiest people on the planet. Everywhere you go, you’ll likely be greeted with a hearty “bula!” (Fijian for “aloha”) and a wide smile. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited to sit for a kava ceremony more than once during your stay.
The root-based beverage is the national drink and a gesture of welcome among Fijians. Children are treated like royalty in Fiji, where the locals are likely to stop to share a kind word with your little one or offer a flower or treat. Children are welcome pretty much everywhere in Fiji, and you never have to worry about feeling out of place here for having a screaming kid in a restaurant or an impromptu tantrum in another public place (quite possibly, a friendly local will pitch in to help console your little one). That kid-friendliness extends to Fiji Airways, too, where you can find specially priced child fares for children between the ages of 2 and 11.
4. Points-Friendly Hotels and Complimentary Kid Clubs Abound
The variety of accommodations in Fiji runs the gamut, from super luxe resorts squirreled away on private islands that target the 1%, to budget backpacker huts (aka bures) where the surf set descends. (Don’t get us wrong, there are high-end surf “camps” here, too, like the one on heart-shaped Tavarua island, near the legendary Cloudbreak.)
The good news for points hoarders is that there are plenty of ways to cash in your Marriott, IHG and Hilton points for family-friendly hotels in Fiji. For example, you can use your Marriott Rewards points to book at the Sheraton Fiji Denarau, just 20 minutes from the airport in Denarau, or the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay in Nadi.
These Marriott Rewards Category 5 hotels will run you 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night (with the fifth award night free if you stay five nights), or you can use your Marriott Category 5 free night certificate awarded with cards such as the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card.
The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa, Fiji (also 35k Marriott Rewards points/night) hosts a private beach on 30-acres and is a favorite with golfers thanks to the 18-hole championship course next door. Or you can upgrade to the Category 7 Sheraton Denarau Villas for 60,000 Marriott Rewards points per night. Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your Marriott Rewards account, or amass some points with the host of SPG and Marriott Rewards credit cards.
Alternatively, for 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night, you can stay nearby at the Hilton Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, where the on-site Ika Kids Club is complimentary for all guests and is open daily from 8am to 8pm. There is also the DoubleTree Resort – Sonaisali Island for just 31,000 Hilton Honors points per night on some nights (with Hilton, award rates vary a bit). There are lots of ways to earn Hilton Honors points, including the Hilton Honors American Express Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card or Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card.
IHG Rewards Club also comes to the table with two options: the well-priced Holiday Inn Suva for just 15k IHG points per night or the InterContinental Hotels Fiji Golf Resort & Spa for 40k per night. If you have the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, your fourth award night is free. You could also use the annual award night from that card to even stay at the InterContinental.
Do also consider getting farther afield from Denarau with a stay at the brand-new (April 2018) Six Senses Fiji on Malolo Island. Just 30 minutes by the property’s private boat (or 10 minutes by helicopter) from the Nadi area, the resort has spectacular beachfront villas and private residences with secluded oceanfront pools and to-die-for outdoor showers. The best part for families, however, is the property’s excellent complimentary Grow with Six Senses Kids Club, with outdoor activities, kids yoga and cultural programming. If you’re staying in one of the two- to four-bedroom residences, a dedicated nanny is included during your stay.
Families will also love that children aged 5 and under eat for free from the children’s menu and those 6–11 get breakfast for free with 50% off the regular menu items. Accommodations at this resort start at about $800 per night.
If you choose to stay at a property that doesn’t belong to a loyalty program, you can book via the Hotels.com/Venture site using your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to earn 10 miles on each dollar spent on the booking.
5. It’s the Perfect Stopover to Down Under
Fiji Airways makes it easy to break up the long-haul from San Francisco or Los Angeles with the option for a 72-hour free stopover in Fiji included in the airfare.
If you are flying on miles to Fiji and then on to Australia, you won’t be able to squeeze in true ‘free’ stopover using American Airlines miles, but you potentially could using Alaska Airlines miles (even on a one-way award!). Another pathway to an included stopover in Fiji on the way to Australia or New Zealand would be via United’s Excursionist Perk if flying on Star Alliance partners using United miles (that you can transfer to United via the Chase Ultimate Rewards program). The main problem you will run into using Star Alliance miles for an included stopover in Fiji is that award space from Auckland to Nadi is extremely, extremely limited especially if you are trying to stretch miles in economy. There is very spotty business class award space available. Certain times of the year, Air New Zealand also operates flights from Christchurch and Wellington to Nadi, so check those options, too.
Remember, if you’re heading Down Under during their winter months (North American summer), it can be downright chilly in large swaths of Australia and New Zealand. What better way to warm up on your way there or back home than with 72 hours in some of the prettiest and most welcoming islands on earth?
6. Go Beyond the Beach
The pristine South Pacific waters and beaches lined with towering palm trees might be what draws most dreamers to Fiji. But on land, the warm and interesting cultural-mix (Indian-Fijian cuisine fusion is simply divine) and diverse family activities leave no time for anyone to belt out an, “I’m bored.” Off the southern end of the main island, Viti Levu, on the island of Beqa, you can see the famed fire walkers casually stroll across white-hot stones. In the Yasawa Islands, Fijians lead visitors on tours through the Blue Lagoon and the spectacular Sawailau cave formations. Almost all of the big resorts (and many smaller ones, too) offer guided trips to local villages, where you’ll be treated to a kava ceremony and can delve into daily Fijian life. Whitewater-rafting trips on the Navua River and Fijian cooking classes are among the other ways to create a fabulous family vacation in paradise.
Fiji may not be as unreachable as you once thought. Check out Fiji Airways, research the family-friendly resorts we’ve suggested and you may add this island nation to your family’s must-visit travel list.
Featured image courtesy of Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji
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