Tahiti, Fiji, Maldives: A trio of exotic dream locales
Like a mother hard-pressed to single out a favorite child, it’s almost impossible for us to pick one favorite spot from our many years of world travel that’s taken us to every continent. Yet, when asked for three dream locations for vacationing in paradise, we easily came up with Tahiti, Fiji and the Maldives. Gorgeous turquoise water is the common thread, so if you dream of beautiful beaches, inviting water and tropical breezes, make one of these locations your next getaway for two.
Tahiti: Romancing French Polynesia
The honeymooners on our Air Tahiti Nui flight to Papeete were easy to spot: hand holding, big smiles, perfect manicures but mostly by the gleam of brand-new rings. Tahiti’s long been a popular honeymoon destination, and rightly so. Most visitors split their time among a few islands: Bora Bora (Romantic Island), Moorea (Magical Island), Rangiroa (Endless Lagoon), Huahine (Garden of Eden), Raiatea (Sacred Island), Taha’a (Vanilla Island), Tikehau (Pink Sand Island) and Manihi (Island of Pearls).
Each is different, yet offers some version of the idyllic South Seas postcard: lazy days in the sun under swaying palms on breathtaking beaches. So explore: The water, with so many variations of blue. Tahiti’s original name translated means “islands of the golden mists over myriad-colored waters.” You can count five or more shades of blue at once.
Most properties will arrange a boat ride and private picnic on a small, secluded island called a “motu.” The vast sky, glorious by day, is stunning by night with its showcase of constellations only seen here in the Southern Hemisphere. Only a full moon can make it better.
Most picture Tahiti as a magical, faraway place in exotic South Pacific waters. They’re right, but technically Tahiti is one of 118 islands in French Polynesia (spread over 1.5 million square miles of ocean – about the size of Europe plus Russia), and is where every visitor’s discovery begins, as international flights land in Papeete, the capital.
Tahiti’s combined number of hotel rooms doesn’t equal a single Vegas megahotel. Add to that hundreds of “motus,” and you understand that alone time is easily achievable.
Overwater bungalows are preposterously romantic accommodations that provide a new level of intimacy. Many have glass portions in the floor so you can watch the tropical fish, and when you’re ready for a swim, it’s a couple of steps off your deck into the ocean. If you’ve never tried snorkeling, you must here.
Marine interaction is literally all around you, from the fish around your bungalow to places like the Dolphin Center at the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa, where you interact with dolphin in an educational program.
Our most unusual water excursion was at The Bora Bora Lagoonarium where we swam with stingrays and sharks – yes, sharks – plus moray eels, hand-fed by our loin-cloth-wearing guide.
Cruising is a popular way to sample different islands, and several cruise ships call here. French Polynesia is home year-round to the m/s Paul Gauguin (www.pgcruises.com).
For planning, visit www.tahiti-tourisme.com
Fiji is perfect honeymoon spot, says TV's first 'Bachelorette'
Resorts here range from idyllic yet simplistic Beachcomber Island, popular with backpackers (although we “shacked up” at a comfortable beachside “bure” or bungalow), to Mana Island (request the honeymoon bure where Tom Hanks stayed during filming of “Castaway”); to the ultra-romantic, upscale Turtle Island where Trista and Ryan Sutter of TV’s first-ever “The Bachelorette” honeymooned. Says Trista: “I’d describe Turtle Island as a hidden paradise in Fiji with gorgeous private beaches, friendly staff and luxurious accommodations – the perfect place for a honeymoon – gorgeous and secluded, and that was just what we were looking for!”
Privacy is a key to celebs like Britney Spears and Charlize Theron choosing it, too: Only 14 couples at a time share the 500-acre island playground and its private beaches.
With islanders’ help, American millionaire Richard Evanson, who bought Turtle Island in 1972, has carved the once-wild place into a premiere getaway and environmentally conscious paradise.
Turtle Island features roomy, one-of-a-kind bures – thatched-roof, vaulted-ceiling bungalows made in the Fijian tradition furnished with island-made, four-poster beds and writing tables made from trees, some with branches still intact.
We loved the his-and-hers couples massage in our bure. Just outside was a shower, goldfish pond and a daybed for the perfect afternoon nap.
Couples reserve their own private beach daily – there are 14, so literally one per couple. You’re delivered via golf cart or Zodiac, and your gourmet lunch arrives at your selected time. A walkie-talkie is provided in case you run out of champagne.
An islander beats the lali drum to signal the nightly dinner party hosted by the general manager or owner and lavishly presented at an outdoor table under the stars. This group dining, “duavata” in Fijian, is a favorite with guests, including the Sutters. “The kava ceremony was an experience we'll never forget.” The herbal drink popular throughout Fiji is non-alcoholic but does numb the tongue.
Private dinners are also available at the end of the dock, on a private beach, or like the one we shared on a pontoon under a star-filled sky in the middle of The Blue Lagoon – as in the name of the Brooke Shields film shot here.
The Southern Cross overhead and flickering candles set the mood as servers arrive by boat. One night’s meal is atop the island’s peak, under the stars. Lively conversation is only interrupted at meal’s end for the “cone of silence.” Table lanterns are extinguished, and everyone is asked to sit quietly and ponder the night sky. The first to speak or laugh breaks the “cone.”
For those who visit Turtle Island or any resort in Fiji, breaking the “cone of silence” about the experience is guaranteed. For planning, go to Fiji Visitors Bureau: www.fijime.com.
The Maldives lure lovers
“Mal what?” people may ask if you honeymoon in the Maldives (pronounced “maul-deeves”), an 85-by-475-mile swath of nearly 2,000 atolls south of India about 300 miles southwest of Sri Lanka.
The “what” is blissful isolation in an increasingly luxury market. About 10 percent of the islands are occupied by natives, with 90-some islands developed as five-star resorts, but the Maldives remains largely undiscovered by Americans, which make up roughly two percent of visitors).
It takes commitment to get here. Emirates’ direct New York-Dubai flight helps. There’s a layover, then on to Malé, the capital and home to one-third of the population: 89,000. And, you’ll leave Malé by boat or small plane for your island resort.
The Maldives is about privacy, luxury and personality, because each island is different, so choose your resort wisely. Some have more activities, others are more diving specific, some pamper with amazing spas, but all are for couples. The singles scene is rare.
Plan on getting wet. The Maldives boasts some of the best diving in the world. But even if it’s lounging on your overwater bungalow deck, dipping into a private Jacuzzi or plunging into an infinity pool, the water’s the calling card. Nearly every resort offers diving, sunset and dolphin cruises, traditional hand-line fishing, stunning beaches, fish-laden “house” reefs, gourmet cuisine, eye-popping spas, elaborate pools and modern conveniences like wireless Internet.
A speedboat ride from the Malé International Airport is the 96-room, 12-acre Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, in 1997 one of the first resorts to open. Kuda Huraa means small village, but this one’s managed by the Four Seasons, so world-famous luxury and service are guaranteed.
The Island Spa epitomizes its name, reached by quaint, small dhoni (a traditional wooden boat).
A seaplane ride away is Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, where 44 acres of pristine wilderness adjoin one of the largest natural lagoons in the islands.
Guests at both properties often add a stay on the well-appointed Four Seasons Explorer yacht, perfect for divers and snorkelers.
The former Beach House Maldives, now Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, is set on 35 acres on Manafaru Island, is the northernmost resort. It has designer villas including stunning overwater rooms and spa.
Anantara Dhigu, Anantara Veli and Naladhu are three resorts in one location, made even better by the “Dine by Design” plan, from a beachfront dinner with heart-shaped palm fronds and candlelight to restaurants featuring Italian, fusion and Thai cuisine.
There’s a wine guru and the world’s first salt sommelier, who offers an enlightening tableside presentation of salts, chutneys and mustards. And the Thai cooking class is a blast. An experience in itself is Naladhu, meaning “pretty little island.”
Here 19 colonial-style houses offer nearly every amenity imaginable, from private swimming pool to massive deck with palm trees, daybed, swing be and adjacent bath with outdoor shower, see-through tub and steam room. The motto here is, “whatever, whenever,” and your houseman can make it happen, like an impromptu quest to see spinner dolphin or a breakfast picnic by dhoni to a deserted island. Of course, many guests never leave their houses.
The 150-room Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, one of the Maldives’ largest resorts, is actually two islands connected by a 1,640-foot bridge. Arrival is by seaplane. The quiet side, Rangali, is usually occupied by honeymooners, while the busier Finohlu has the pool, watersports and the must-see 14-seat, $2.5 million Ithaa Restaurant, the world’s first, all-glass undersea restaurant. And now, the mind-blowing Muraka, a two-level, three bedroom residence - world’s first of its kind - with above the surface and undersea bedroom and living space. That's right: Sleep under the sea!
Conrad’s Spa Retreat, a destination spa set on stilts over the ocean off the main island, is comprised of 21 overwater spa villas – some with their own massage rooms.
The spa itself has glass-floored treatment rooms above a coral reef in the resort’s lagoon. With an emphasis on nature and healing, COMO Cocoa Island has among its offerings, rooms shaped like dhoni boats overtop of that drop-dead gorgeous water.
If you’re going: Log onto www.visitmaldives.com. The Maldives offers an additional allure: They’re disappearing. If you’re intrigued, go before global warming claims them.