An overseas holiday with a child who has special needs takes meticulous pre-planning to create the best possible family experience and in that planning, Lisa Willows, and her children Jett and Lola, find it all in Fiji!
Planning an overseas family holiday usually stirs excitement – fun adventures and new cultural experiences – but when you have a child with special needs, the planning isn’t just fun – it’s essential.
As a parent of a young child with Aspergers, I am constantly walking on eggshells because, simply, there is no way of predicting outcomes with Jett, 6. We hoped to find somewhere with a family-friendly atmosphere that was close to Australia, with plenty of room for Jett to let off steam if he needed to – complete with lots of sensory, stimulating experiences to keep him occupied – that would also be loads of fun for his four-year-old sister, Lola.
Fiji seemed like the right fit for our family and at just over three hours flying time travelling to Fiji from Sydney was comfortable and easily managed by all.
At Nadi Airport we were welcomed by the beautiful people of Fiji and got our first taste of Fijian culture, learning how to say ‘hello’ – ‘bula’, and ‘thank you’ – ‘vinaka’ and being presented with shell necklaces (a great distraction for Jett).
A short taxi ride later, we arrived at The Sheraton Fiji Resort on Denarau Island in a blanket of darkness, and were treated (like Royalty!) to the traditional Fijian ‘Welcome’ ceremony. Our ample-sized, well-appointed room, complete with balcony (the hotel is thoughtfully designed with plenty of privacy and space between guest rooms) was perfect for our family and we were already overwhelmed by the friendliness that seems to be innate in the nature of the Fijian people.
At dawn we got our first real glimpse of Fiji and the resort. From our balcony we had gorgeous ocean views looking out to the Mamanuca Islands in the distance – and the weather was perfect! Just beyond our balcony was a grassed area where the kids could run and play each day. Could we be in heaven?
At the top of our to-do list was breakfast. The Sheraton has plenty of great food options. Jett is a very fussy eater, but the buffet offered almost every breakfast food imaginable, right down to vegemite toast. There are also cafes offering snacks and a great convenience store.
We spent our first day relaxing by the pool. There were so many pools to choose from – all flanked by an array of beautifully designed and landscaped private areas. The lagoon-styled kids’ pool overlooked the ocean and was out of this world with waterfalls and rocks.
Lola wanted her hair braided so she sat, poolside, patiently being coiffed, while Jett was swimming – it was great to be able to swim and keep an eye on her and Jett at the same time! It was clear that this was going to be the most relaxing place we could have chosen.
In the afternoon we checked out the resort’s Kids’ Club for suitability for Jett’s needs. The lovely Fijian nannies were not judgemental of Jett’s differences and looked after him with so much patience and understanding.
Although I had no intention of getting them into Kids Club on our first day, they loved what they saw and begged to stay and play Coconut Bowling with the nannies. I couldn’t have asked for better care.
With the kids happily entertained, we took a taxi (FJD $5) to Port Denarau Marina where we explored the shops, booked a day trip to nearby South Sea Island and discovered an amazing Indian restaurant, which provided us with a ‘take out’ option. Grabbing some divine tropical fruits we headed back to the resort to pick up Jett and Lola, who were sporting hand painted t-shirts as they excitedly told us of their fantastic time at Kids Club.
An early night was in order so we sat at the cocktail bar by the beach, right on dusk, and watched our first nightly torch-lighting ceremony.
Over the next few days we explored all of the resort’s little luxuries. Guests of the Sheraton have access to facilities at the adjacent (and luxurious!) Sheraton Denarau Villas, The Westin and the Golf and Racquet Club – six swimming pools between the three resorts, together with all the other sporting facilities and the 17 restaurants!
Each day was a new adventure as we settled by a different pool and wandered around the resorts discovering new and exciting things. The staff were fantastic everywhere we went and so helpful and patient whenever we encountered small problems.
In seven days we only left the resort twice. We ventured into Nadi Town to shop while Jett and Lola were having fun in Kids Club. It was busy and buzzing and we grabbed great bargains in the shops along the main street. We also visited Sri Siva Subramaniya, a Hindu temple positioned against a mountainous backdrop and full of intricate wooden carvings of Hindu deities.
Our other outing was our day trip to South Sea Island. This was our favourite day on our Fiji holiday!
Situated in the Mamanuca Islands and only a short (about 20 minutes) cruise from Port Denarau, the island is small and it takes about five minutes to walk around – but here you truly feel the deserted-island-in-paradise experience.
We came ashore to the beautiful singing of a Fijian quartet and set ourselves up for the day in a secluded spot under a big umbrella with sun lounges, swam in the saltwater pool and took advantage of the free use of water sport equipment. We were treated to an excursion in a glass-bottomed boat, a traditional Fijian meke performance and a great lunch!
It was so relaxing that Jett and Lola both fell asleep in hammocks (daytime naps are unheard of in our household!) and I discovered the delights of snorkelling for the first time in my life. The children’s activities were plentiful and it was fascinating watching a skillful Fijian, Moses, weave toy creations from grasses.
Our Fijian holiday was over all too quickly and we were bid a warm farewell and ‘come again!’ as we departed the Sheraton Hotel for Nadi Airport.
Not only was this the most relaxing holiday we had ever taken, but Jett coped better in Fiji than on any other holiday and that, in itself, made for some beautiful and amazing family memories and a firm promise that our family will, definitely, ‘come again!’