After spending a week in Namale, I feel like I can finally get my head wrapped around the experience enough to write a review of the resort. Since we never left the resort, I can’t make any claim about Fiji, the Fijian people, or any of the cultural experiences that were on offer while we were here. So, take what I write as a resort review, rather than a Fiji review.
I think it’s important to note that when it comes time to fork over considerable cash for traveling halfway around the world, it’s good to have some pretty clear expectations of what you want and what you don’t want.
We didn’t have many expectations or goals, but the ones we had were very clear. This was our honeymoon, and as such we were both looking forward to spending the time with each other far more than using the vacation as an educational experience (which is pretty much what we do with almost 100% of our other vacations). In particular we wanted to have an opportunity to do absolutely nothing. Sit on a beach if we wanted, eat when we wanted, sleep when we wanted. If something tickled our fancy we didn’t want to feel any pressure to “make the most” of the trip “because who knows if you’ll ever do it again.”
I put the last bit in quotes because far too often I wind up using those excuses as reasons to thrust as many activities into a trip as possible for fear of not getting the value for my money. As a result I wind up returning home from trips more stressed than when I left, which in many ways defeats the purpose of a vacation.
We also wanted a place that allowed us to be left alone. Crowds were out of the question and so were children. We weren’t looking for a Spring Break type place, but we definitely wanted to keep our environment quiet and demure. I can’t count the number of times a pristine, tranquil moment has been shattered by uncontrolled sprogs.
Finally, we were looking for a place that would be all-inclusive. Most of the time I plan every detail of vacations and this time I wanted to have the bulk of things taken care of. Food, transportation, alcohol, activities – the more included the better, and I was willing to pay slightly extra than the sum of the parts to have peace of mind, for once.
With that, we were looking for places we’d never been to, and Fiji always seemed like one of those places that would get us far enough away from our ‘real’ lives that we might be able to tick all the boxes.
I’m deliriously happy to say that Namale strongly fit the bill on all counts. The resort is immaculately kept, the accommodations are, well, quite literally unbelievable at times, and the people are without question its greatest asset.
There is absolutely no question that the staff do everything in their power to make you feel welcome.
Upon arrival at the resort we were met with a crowd of staff singing and clapping, greeting us by name, and giving us sea-shell leis – straight out of a movie. For two people who are not used to being the focus of attention, it was a bit unsettling, but that had more to do with our hangups than anything the staff or resort did “wrong.”
Fortunately this is not like those embarrassing “happy birthday” songs that you get at restaurants. First of all, there’s no one else around. I have to confess, getting this kind of attention seemed a bit awkward at first, but as an introduction to the friendliness of the staff I’d say that it was something that emphasized my own guarded nature, rather than anything inherently uncomfortable about the greeting itself (more on this later).
Once you are all checked in, you are provided with a tour of the resort via golf cart. Namale has a (very impressive) full gym, tennis court, dive shop, at least two pools, and a recreation center that they cleverly call “Kava Bowl” (Kava is a drink around which there is a ritual that encourages socializing, and it’s made in – you guessed it – a kava bowl).
The center has two bowling lanes, ping pong, a golf simulator, pool, darts, and a foosball table, as well as a small lending library and shelves with board games. Oh, and of course its own bar.
Like most resorts, you’ll find that there are missing equipment or things may not work properly, but this does not mean that you can’t have fun.
For example, my wife enjoys bowling but doesn’t get the chance to do it much any more, and she had a great time playing on the lanes. The lanes are set up like any other common Brunswick bowling lanes, with an electronic scoring system and automatic ball return – neither of which work exceedingly well. Far from being an issue, though, it actually wound up allowing us to play around a little bit without having to worry about serious competition getting in the way.
(Personally, I’m quite grateful for that, because my wife consistently kicked my butt).
How often do you get a chance to practice your bowling and not have to pay by frame? So what if the scoring system didn’t work right, or balls got stuck. Pick up the phone, call reception, and someone will come and get them un-stuck. No big deal. Just be patient!
I had read in some of the reviews from about a year ago that there were issues with Internet access at the resort. Whatever those issues may have been, they appeared to have been cleared up. Wireless routers were installed in every place we went, and even on the beach, which meant that my temptation was easily fed for doing work when I shouldn’t have been doing any. Even with the availability I managed to avoid getting connected (I did say I had goals for this trip!).
There are several places that will allow you to watch movies, based upon AppleTV devices located in the Gym, KavaBowl, and some of the larger bures. We didn’t really see any need to watch movies that we could otherwise see at home, so I can’t really report on that except to say they are available.
Each of the Bures has its own name, and there are four basic types: Garden-facing bures, Ocean-facing bures, Honeymoon suites, and villas. Before we arrived we got upgraded to an ocean-facing Bure (named “Ani”), and then on our last day we were upgraded to a villa (named “Duavata”). I honestly do not know what the pricing structure is for these bures, sorry.
What I can tell you is that we were very happy with Ani. It was a very small bure but about 50 feet from the beach. We spent many many hours sitting on the beach watching the waves, doing reading, and effectively watching the tide go in and out. Normally such a pastime would probably drive me crazy with boredom, but for some reason it was precisely what I needed.
There is a small staircase that you go down…
And when you get to the bottom of the stairs…
One of the great features of Ani was the fact that it had air conditioning, which came in very handy as several of the days and nights were extremely hot and humid (welcome to the tropics!).
On our last day/night, we got upgraded to Duavata, which is a villa that, quite frankly, is one of those places that you seen in travel brochures (you may see extremely similar photos on the Namale home page – believe it or not, I took these pictures before seeing just how similar they were to what were chosen on their website). Take a look at some of the pictures below to see what I’m talking about.
The bure is made up of two separate buildings, connected by a walkway. The bedroom is phenomenal:
The bedroom is actually part of a “great room” style approach, which has giant windows and folding doors that open out onto the pool.
There is also a “spare” room, where there is a dining room table (which was not in Ani) as well as the minibar (which was in Ani).
This bure had its own outside bathroom and shower.
Did I mention it’s a huge outdoor shower?
The two buildings are connected, as I said, by an external walkway, above which is a loft…
… which is accessed by an external staircase…
… that leads you to a loft/overlook.
In case you’re wondering why I’m showing you so many bure pictures, it’s because 1) this is a review, after all, and 2) I wanted to show just why it was so easy to stay on the resort without feeling a need to leave.
Ultimately, as I said, Ani was great, and we both loved Ani. However, if we had stayed in Duavata we probably would never have left the bure at all…
The staff at Namale will tell you, repeatedly, that if there is anything that they can do for you, all you have to do is ask. We certainly found this to be the case.
You ever see those movies where actors are sitting on a beach, enjoying the water, and some waitstaff will approach with a cocktail, complete with fruit-on-a-toothpick and/or tiny umbrella? Yeah. That’s this place.
There are so many wonderful ocean-front spots that are set up to sit down, relax, or even take breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In fact, I think that there isn’t anywhere on the property that you can’t ask for them to serve you food. There is a trampoline in the middle of the lagoon, for instance, that one of the waitresses said is common for guests to take lunch, but I have to confess I don’t know how practical such a thing would be (she could have been pulling my leg, but it didn’t seem that way).
The resort really isn’t that big, and quite frankly there is no reason why you couldn’t walk from one end to the other in about ten minutes (and that’s not exactly hustling). However, Namale staff moves around on golf carts, and they will happily come and pick you up or drop you off, even if your destination is only a few dozen feet away! At first I really felt guilty and lazy for asking for a cart ride anywhere, but after being told to ask for it on more than one occasion, I confess I got a little spoiled and really, well, liked it. 🙂
All of this, however, is merely incidental. The true genius of the staff are the small touches and attention to detail that permeates the care paid to the guests. In both of the bures we stayed in, the word “Welcome” was laid out in flower petals. They did this even for our one-night stay in Duavata, and let’s face it: they certainly didn’t have to do that.
They are keenly aware that if you are here for a romantic reason (like our honeymoon), they will do everything in their power to ensure that’s what you get. I asked my wife what her favorite part of the trip was, and she didn’t hesitate: the waterfall lunch.
The staff takes you to an extension of the property which is extremely secluded, and set up an incredible lunch right at the side of the waterfall. The setup was incredibly beautiful, romantic, and quite dream-like.
Of course, as is typical Namale fashion, they took care of everything.
Once you are finished eating you can go in and play in the water.
When it’s time to leave they will take care of everything (this was one of the days I had trouble walking – see the section on Things to Keep in Mind below – so they came and picked us up afterwards, whereas normally guests would typically walk back to their bure at their leisure).
You can see the attention to detail even more when it comes to the candlelit cave dinner.
There were probably fifty or so candles, flower petals everywhere, exactly like you would expect out of your favorite romantic fantasy.
Just like at the waterfall, the staff served the meal and then left us to our privacy. As you may expect, it was over way too soon…
Speaking of the meals…
As you will read in other reviews of Namale, the food is stellar. There are two standard menus, the breakfast and “all day” menu, which has staples like comfort food (e.g., cheeseburger, salad, steak sandwich, etc.). Even though those menus don’t change, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for something else. For instance, I asked for – and received – an omelette of my own choosing for ingredients. Without question it was one of the best omelets I’ve ever had in my life!
(If you’re curious about this, which I’ve called a “Fijian Omelette,” it consisted of chicken sausage, cheese, mushrooms, and hot chile peppers, topped with a pineapple salsa – make sure that the peppers and the salsa are there, because they balance each other out!)
The lunch and dinner menus are always different, and always amazing. Not only that, but it’s nearly always too much food, too (my wife and I are not tiny people, but wound up sharing plates more often than not in order to leave room for dessert). While you could ask them to make something special for you, the 3-4 options for an entrée were varied enough any picky eater. Honestly, I don’t know why someone would want to order off the menu unless they had a specific craving in mind.
Remember when I said that we shared a plate in order to leave room for dessert? Trust me when I say that’s a good idea (the leaving room part). I don’t know who their dessert chef or baker is, but Namale choose wisely. Each morning there were different types of muffins/breads, and each afternoon/evening the dessert options were unique, clever, and beautifully presented. Oh, and they tasted phenomenal as well. Absolutely top-notch.
Just be aware that if you choose to have your food somewhere other than the restaurant, pay attention to how far away you’ll be if you’re ordering anything with ice cream (temperatures while we were there in mid-november were consistently in the mid-80s (around 30 degrees Celsius) and very humid. Things like that don’t tend to last very long when being brought across the resort…
The fact that the food is so good is wonderful, because it does make the wait worth it (see Fiji Time, below). The restaurant overlooks the ocean (as does nearly everything at the resort), so we found ourselves chilling and talking long after our meals were complete. I think we may have surprised the staff a bit, because we liked to sit around and relax afterwards (we often were the last guests to leave at mealtimes), but we never felt rushed. Just be aware, though, that if you want refills or something extra to drink you will likely have to flag someone down: the expectation appears to be that once you’re finished with your meal you are finished.
My wife and I had agreed before we left on our honeymoon that we would keep our itinerary extremely loose and care-free. At the same time, if we decided that we wanted to take an excursion or cultural tour to the local village we’d leave the possibility open. Effectively, we planned on playing everything by ear.
While the resort is all-inclusive for more than just the basics (e.g., food, alcohol, many activities), there are some additional elements that are not included. These non-included items are not really a surprise: the spa – although the hydrotherapy room is included, off-site cultural tours, snorkeling with dolphins, etc. Some of these things are chargeable to the room, so even though we didn’t partake in these events it would have been extremely easy and convenient to do so.
Having said that, we really didn’t plan too well when it came to having cash. The reason why we didn’t get cash in advance is that we didn’t want to feel obligated to have to spend it, not wanting to wind up at the end of the trip with wads of money that we couldn’t actually use (and the use of which would take us away from our main goals of our honeymoon).
Exchanging money at the resort is non-trivial. Since we weren’t expecting to need cash (being in an all-inclusive resort), we didn’t plan all that well for unexpected incidentals. For instance, on one day there were some local craftspeople who came to the resort to sell their wares. My wife was keen on buying something to take back to the US, not only as a souvenir but also because she wanted to play a part in assisting the local economy.
The seal on the deal was that anything we wished to purchase could be charged to our room, which meant that we wouldn’t have to send someone to the village to do an exchange with/for us, and it meant that even with a ‘convenience fee’ it would still wind up being cheaper, once the added effort and exchange rate commissions were added in (at the time of this writing the exchange rate is 1.9 FJ$ to every USD$)
She found a very nice sarong that she liked, with a matching shell clasp for FJ$60. So, in a ‘perfect’ exchange (without commissions) it would be about $35 or so. We weren’t even going to attempt to haggle, as we didn’t know what the custom was nor did we want to minimize the value of her wares.
Then things got weird.
“I’m going to say this nicely,” the woman said, immediately sending red flags sky high in my head. “If you charge to the room there’s another 20% fee.”
I figured that the “nicely” comment was more due to limitations of the English/Fijian translation, and not because it was truly as offensive as it initially sounded. I think that she was trying to say that she wasn’t trying to be offensive, and “nicely” was the word that was as close as she was able to choose.
I talked it over with my wife, and we started discussing what we would have to do in order to obtain FJ$60 in cash, and how much of a pain it would be. Effectively it would involve returning to the reception, having someone go into town (likely with us), and probably not even return until after they had packed up their wares.
Ultimately we decided that the additional 20% was worth the avoidance of bringing in other people into the exchange.
“I’m going to say this nicely,” she repeated, which reinforced the idea that she was trying to convey information in a polite manner, but I confess it really ticked me off despite consciously reminding myself that this wasn’t her intention. After all, we had already agreed to buy the sarong set and had discussed our situation – in front of her. “If you charge to the room we don’t get paid for 2 weeks.”
At that point I was completely turned off. If my wife still wanted the sarong set, I would have made it happen, but I felt no inclination to do so as a result of this woman’s sob story. Her payment arrangement with the resort is none of my business. If this is something that is an issue for her to this degree, she shouldn’t offer the room charge as an option.
Fortunately, my wife and I are of similar mindsets, and as much as she liked the sarong I think she got a bit unsettled by the heavy-handedness. We had said that we didn’t have any cash, and explained that (at the very least) we would have to go to the reception desk to find out what our options were, and how much it would cost for them to assist us in the errand.
We left the area where there were crafts, and started looking around some of the grounds and look for additional places to take pictures. I was grateful to hear that my wife had taken a similar perspective that I had, and that she had no desire to spend hours trying to sort out a cash exchange (see Fiji Time, below).
After a few moments, the Fijian woman came up to us as we were taking pictures. “I wanted to tell you that we also take foreign currency,” she said. “With the American dollar it’s an exchange of 1.5.”
Uh, no, it’s not. “Ok, that’s good to know,” I said. She returned back to her wares, and I turned to my wife. “Good grief, the price just keeps going up! First it was US$32, then with the 20% room charge it’s US$38, now with American cash it’s US$42. If we keep talking to her we may have to donate blood as well.”
Ultimately, she may have had to wait 2 weeks to get the money from the resort, but now she’s going to be waiting a lot longer than that.
As a former entrepreneur, I appreciate the difficulties in getting paid. I really, really do. Hell, as a visitor and guest of the resort (and to the country, even), I understand that it’s my responsibility to obtain appropriate financial means if I want to purchase something. I get that.
However, whenever I was discussing payment with a client and offered options, I never tried to dissuade someone from giving me money (and trust me, 2 weeks is nothing on average). Once a decision was made on how they were going to pay for my services, I did everything in my power to make that go as smoothly as possible.
Second, the reason why we didn’t have cash is because we didn’t want to go souvenir hunting. That wasn’t the point or purpose of the trip at all, so the only reason why entertained the notion in the first place was because of the option to do the room charge.
Bottom line: If you want crafts or souvenirs or knick-knacks, you’ll likely want to exchange cash in Nadi. We didn’t go into the local village, so I have no idea if there’s an ATM there, but from the way the staff described the process it didn’t sound as if getting cash was so straight-forward as that. In fact, later on we saw that there was a 30% service fee for off-resort errands (how that works out for exchanging cash, I have no idea).
Namale brings much of the cultural aspects of Fiji to the guests in the evening, which is another reason why we never really felt a compulsion to leave the resort (no, I know it’s not the same thing, just bear with me for a moment). Every evening there is something that was planned during the dinner time, whether it be Kava Time, the staff performing for the guests, or even a choir.
The family performance was a true joy to watch. One of the staff, Rosie, and her family came out to perform.
We were truly impressed with the skill and energy they brought to the performance, especially since the audience of guests was about a dozen people or so.
With the smiles on their faces you would have thought they were playing Carnegie hall.
Without question this family performance was a highlight of our week.
For me, Kava Time was the most fun. I had hoped that I had taken pictures but, as it turned out, I did not. As a result I’m afraid I’ll only have my memories for the nights we sat around the Kava bowl, listened to the guitarists play a mix of Fijian folk songs and classic rock medleys.
Kava is a non-alcoholic drink made from the kava root, and has a grey, milky appearance, even though it has the consistency of water (not milk). Depending on how strong it is, you will eventually feel a numbing sensation of the lips, tongue, and throat (“eventually” can be as soon as one drink, or as long as three).
The key thing about Kava is that it is social. It is a Fijian clarion call to bring people together; think campfires with s’mores in America and you’ll get the gist of the type of ‘social’ I mean. At Namale, we sat around the kava bowl on pillows, performed the ritual when drinking (involves one clap before a drink, three claps after a drink, and a lot of smiling), and listened to musicians play guitars and ukelele.
The Fijians seemed genuinely surprised that I was enthusiastic about kava. While I enjoyed the drink, true, it was the overall experience that really stayed with me.
Things to Keep in Mind
While I had mentally prepared myself for a shift in attitude before arriving, I could easily see that Americans used to tight schedules, greater punctuality, and rigid formality between guests and staff might find themselves uncomfortable or agitated.
Let me be as clear as possible: this is not like any hotel or resort I’ve stayed at before. Interactions with people, equipment, and the environment require a shift in a guest’s perspective.
You’ll find several reviews who talk about the overt (some might say “over-the-top”) friendliness of the resort. This is, in fact, true. Turns out it’s also true outside the resort as well.
Get used to hearing the greeting (“Bula!”) along with your first name (more on this below). During the first couple of days, even though I had read about it in another review, it kind of made me think that I was, well, being played. Either that, or I had stepped onto the Stepford Resort.
The reality is that I have quite a few mental and emotional barriers, apparently, because nothing could be further from the truth. The warmth and welcome is completely genuine, as is the desire to make the visit special.
They say that the real test is when things go wrong, and unfortunately I had a perfect opportunity to let that happen. The second day of our visit, I slipped and fell on the tile bathroom (my fault, not theirs), and whacked the hell out of my knee. Bad enough to see stars, bad enough to fight down reflexive nausea, but not bad enough to summon a doctor. Ouch!
My wife requested a bag of ice, which they brought to the bure, and when I limped into the restaurant for the evening meal the concern the staff showed was completely genuine. One staff member promised to bring a cane from home (her own personal cane), and another promised to look for a knee brace that he used. None of this was part of the resort, this was simply the fact that the staff was genuinely concerned.
Fortunately for me everything was back to normal within a couple of days, but the event taught me that I had somehow become quite jaded about people who are seemingly too nice. While such self-preservation is a good thing to have in order to survive certain parts of the world, having it become part of my personality isn’t a good thing at all. What’s worse is that I hadn’t even realized it was happening to me; it just crept up unexpectedly.
Over the course of the week I started to realize that I had more baggage brought with me than just the ones checked into the plane’s compartment, and once I started to let that go I began to see the friendliness for exactly what it was.
Normally I am used to a polite but formal relationship with any staff of a hotel or resort. In fact, I had not even realized just how much I had come to expect a somewhat stilted relationship whenever traveling. At Namale, however, not only do the staff immediately refer to you by your first name, but they will enthusiastically ask you about your plans and your background.
Even though I had been prepared for this by doing some advanced research, I confess I found myself caught off guard by how quickly the level of self-disclosure was expected and pursued. This, however, was my issue, not the members of staff. At no point in time was any question too personal, too uncomfortable, or inappropriate. It just required a slight adjustment on my part to not be as guarded as I was – something that I found out takes a lot more energy than I had realized.
I was constantly reminded of this during the week. The first time I joined kava time was when I noticed that the on-duty staff joined in the singing. This wasn’t just entertainment, this was a social engagement! I was also really happy that they did, too, because it felt much more inclusive that way (for me, at least – I can’t speak for anyone else). Let me see if I can explain what I mean.
Often resorts have some sort of “cultural” program that you can attend and get a taste of what the local custom is like. In these events, however, there is always a separation between the guest and the performers (think Hawaiian luau), and the only time when attendees participate is when they’re brought up on stage to ‘try’ the local dance (often to humorous and/or embarrassing effect).
Here, though, kava is such a huge part of the culture that when everyone joined in I felt like this wasn’t just a show, not just a performance for our entertainment, but rather an actual custom in which we were invited to participate.
Kava time is done around the bowl of kava, and so there is a large circle with the bowl in the center. The staff tended to congregate by themselves and socialize (in Fijian) amongst themselves, which falls directly in line with keeping a respectful distance of guests who may have been there to spend time with each other.
In retrospect, I wish I had moved by butt over to the staff side and interacted with them. I have no doubt that they would have enjoyed my ‘interruption,’ and I don’t really have a good reason for why I didn’t (other than the fact that I was already sitting down, comfortable, and was feeling lazy).
If we get a chance to go back – and I hope we do – this is certainly an oversight that I will not repeat.
Whatever you pack, don’t forget to bring your patience. Things come when they come. “Right away” can mean 2 hours. Food arrives… eventually. Coffee for breakfast seems to be made when you order it, not pre-made as in most restaurants, and they may eventually forget that they were supposed to bring you sugar for your coffee, but it will come… at some point.
Now, you may think that this is some sort of backhanded gripe – but it’s not. For us, we were sure that we didn’t want and didn’t need to have a rigid schedule, so we weren’t pressed for a schedule to keep. For me, personally, this is a far cry from what I do on a day-to-day basis, where I’m constantly running from meeting to meeting and hearing the incessant reminder of the next scheduled event. In a way, it was a reminder that we are not on our normal schedule and we don’t need to be so precise. I could easily see, however, how people who are used to a certain time frame may feel a bit antsy and even possibly abandoned at times. Just keep in mind that this is not the case.
It is extremely easy to recommend Namale, for all the reasons listed (and shown) above, and so many more. As long as this review is, there is so much more that we could share about the resort.
As it is we didn’t do a tenth of the activities, events, or amenities at the resort that were available to us – either inclusive or exclusive. If you think I’ve ‘spoiled’ the resort by showing you so many pictures, boy have you got it wrong! Not only is there so much more than what’s here, I didn’t even get the chance to take pictures of everything there!
I didn’t get a chance to talk about the cool bats we saw:
… or the blow hole in the reef…
Or the spa and hydrotherapy. Or… or… or…
For now, let’s just say that Namale was everything I hoped it would be, and far surpassed everything I expected it to be. And while it was, yes, more expensive than our trip to Hawaii, it was far, far less than I had braced myself for it to be, thanks to the help of a stellar travel agent, Teresa Nelle from Bula Vacations (which I rarely use, by the way, so that was also a huge step for me!).
For now, I’ll leave you with one of the sunsets from the week, which is far, far less impressive than what we saw in person.