This is the second part of a two-part guest trip report. Please read part one here.
After an amazing trip to San Francisco, Yosemite National Park and the Bay area we made our way to SFO for the return journey.
We were quickly checked in and directed to the Virgin Atlantic lounge, which is land side and a short walk from the check in desks. This is a bit of an issue, because you are subject to any potential security delays meaning you have to leave the lounge much earlier and wait around the gate if there aren’t any delays. This is the only lounge available to Fiji Airways customers and so no air side options.
The lounge is long and thin, but well-appointed and funky – standard for Virgin Atlantic really. The staff were welcoming and offered standard US customer service, they smiled and asked the right questions at the right times, offering top ups or “anything else” at suitable intervals. There was nothing to criticise, but it didn’t feel as sincere as some of the middle eastern or far eastern lounges I’ve been lucky enough to use.
The menu was comprehensive from a food and drink perspective, in addition the bar had a whole section dedicated to Grey Goose vodka! The Ginger Travel Guru and I have a mutual friend who is a Grey Goose aficionado, they would have been in heaven here but unfortunately, they weren’t travelling with us. I passed on having any vodka and started with a local Mumm Napa sparkling wine (having visited the excellent vineyard cellar door on the trip).
As already mentioned, I do my best to shower prior to a long-haul flight. In the Virgin Atlantic lounge they have two showers available, both within the toilet complex. They were clean and did the job perfectly well, but with only two in the lounge I wonder if they get super busy with a full flight back to the UK with Virgin. As you’d expect there is funky art within the room for you to ponder whilst freshening up.
The lounge staff announced the flight was boarding one and a half hours before the scheduled departure time, which rather caught us by surprise, as we’d not ordered any food. When queried with the staff, they said it was because the lounge was land side and they needed to ensure enough time was allowed to get through security. We decided to take our chances, but ordered the Clubhouse burger as a speedy food option. This arrived swiftly, and we devoured it in time to leave just after the final call announcement which was made at one and a quarter hours before scheduled departure.
We breezed through security and waited around at the gate for a while, before boarding the plane to be greeted with another Fiji Airways signature cocktail. I’m not going to describe this leg of the trip as it was broadly the same as the outbound one, the only comment I will make is that we were seated in row 1, this afforded more legroom as a result of the bottom of the bed not being under a seat in front, so if choosing seats and the front row is an option, take it.
We decided to break our return trip to Australia by stopping in Fiji for three nights. I’m an Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) Rewards Club Platinum member and have stayed at a number of their properties around the world, so have a fair few points saved up. We decided that we would look to stay at the Fiji Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa, rooms were available at 40,000 points per night for a Standard King with a Garden view – the base room type.
Although I had enough points to book the rooms outright, I used the IHG Points and pay option, to spend about £80 and reduce the number of points required to 20,000. The reason for doing this is that the points are more valuable to me to purchase an otherwise expensive room in Sydney or New York as I’d most likely get £150 of value out of 20,000 points in one of those cities. As it stood, we were getting about £130 of value out of the points used compared to the cash price, so I was happy with that.
I e-mailed the hotel concierge service in advance of our arrival to enquire about a transfer to the hotel as it’s about an hour drive from the airport. This was efficiently organised through an agency that has an office in the airport arrivals hall and billed to our room on check out. We booked a shared transfer, which was 30% of the cost of a private transfer. We were collected in a hotel car and rather than being shared, we were on our own. The driver quite thoughtfully had a Wi-Fi hotspot for us to use in the car for the obligatory Instagram and Facebook updates in advance of using hotel Wi-Fi J
We arrived quite early at the check in desk as our flight landed a little after 5am local time and the journey to the hotel only took an hour, this was well in advance of normal hotel check in. The reception team took this in their stride; despite, unsurprisingly, there not being a room ready for us. They gave us some water and biscuits and invited us to visit the restaurant for breakfast, whilst keeping in contact with housekeeping with regards to room availability. Within an hour it was announced that our room was ready and we were ushered towards the concierge team to take a golf buggy there. The buggy was needed as the site is low rise, meaning that the rooms are quite spread out, but later in our stay (when we had no suitcases) we were quite able to walk everywhere.
As a Platinum member, one of the benefits is a discretionary room upgrade to the next category up. This, however, doesn’t usually apply to reward bookings – I’ve found it to be very hit and miss, so I wasn’t really expecting much here as the hotel was fully booked out. However, when we got to our room we discovered that we had indeed been upgraded, not to the next category up, but to a King Club suite. This features a large lounge room, connecting double sink “dressing room”, shower room and unusually a “Cleopatra” bath on the balcony with views out to sea. I’m guessing that the conference that was happening at the hotel had taken all the standard rooms.
The room was lovely – luxurious but understated. It actually felt a little too big for us – we were rather knocking about the living room. It was very pleasant to sit on the balcony reading a book looking out to sea.
As we had been quite busy in San Francisco our aim was to relax mostly in this stay, so we used the spa facilities for a deep tissue massage, sauna and Jacuzzi. This was actually quite good value for an Intercontinental hotel. There was also a relatively quiet outdoor pool overlooking the beach and ocean, with the standard sun loungers etc. A basic gym was available on site too, whilst Richard used it …. I preferred the sun lounger!
We decided to rent a car and go an explore the countryside a bit, there was a reasonably priced company available through the hotel tour desk – which seemed to almost have an island wide monopoly. The concierge struggled to give us many recommendations that weren’t eating or drinking at other multinational hotels. So we set off and explored ourselves ….. we discovered that the reason he was struggling was because there isn’t a great deal to do around the hotel. So we went for lunch at a big chain hotel! We also visited a WW2 gun battery which passed about half an hour, and just adsorbed the scenery, taking photos and watching life go on as we explored for the day.
There are a number of eating options on site, none of them are cheap, and you don’t have many alternatives as there isn’t much near to the hotel. The cheapest is the buffet restaurant which we used for breakfast and one evening meal, it was very comprehensive for breakfast, less so for the evening meal (they also offer Al la Carte). There are other restaurant options too, all are a good standard but none of the three options we tried on each evening stood out as being exceptional food or great value for money. That said, the Italian restaurant had a nice touch one evening by personalising the dessert.
The hotel has a number of cultural activities you can partake in or watch, such as Fijian traditional dances etc. which seemed fun for tourists, although I had a niggling feeling of them being slightly exploitative.
Overall the hotel was great, it did what an Intercontinental usually does – provide a high standard of accommodation in pleasant surroundings with great facilities. It was good value from a room cost perspective, especially given the points spend and room upgrade, but food and other extras are expensive and poor value in comparison to the local economy. There isn’t a great deal to do as a tourist around the hotel, it is very much a relax by the pool or beach destination, which was absolutely fine with us, after we discovered that was the case!