Despite the obviously romantic overtones of a Fijian vacation, somehow hall passes were obtained, spouses were left at home and a man-trip green lighted - leading to five days of equatorial bliss that unfolded in a rather unforgettable manner. So, after overnighting from the U.S. west coast on a brand new Fiji Airways a350, a sunrise arrival in Nadi and a quick boat transfer to Malolo Island, Alone at the Beach and the "boys crew" spent five nights at Six Senses Fiji in a Three Bedroom Beachfront Pool Residence.
The resort is isolated, stunning and well run. It is set around a crescent-shaped bay with a number of beachfront residences to the left and right of the main pool and restaurant facility, with other residences and non-residential hotel accommodations throughout the beachfront and lush jungle of the island's interior.
Six Senses resort locations are some of our favorite and share some commonality which was on full display here in Fiji. First, they are not big operations though the acreage is substantial, and so you never feel crowded in any way (quite the opposite). Second, there is an emphasis on fresh, local cuisine which here in Fiji included tropical fruits and vegetables grown on property, and abundant seafood from local waters. These ingredients find their way into the food, and also into innovative cocktails. Pineapples were quite on feature during our visit!
The highlight of our trip was eventually to be a number of days spent on a small boat exploring the local waters, but the first two days of our stay, while not rainy, did feature a mix of sun and clouds but also choppy waters offshore. That didn't impact the serene temperature and stillness of the hotel's bay, but meant that we would defer our boating until day three. The clouds provided impressive sunsets, and we relaxed in our residence pool and did a little exploring of the hotel grounds.
The real action started on day three. We will be forever fortunate to have been introduced to Captain Big Sam. His story is heartfelt, and he was a true host, guide, friend and inspiration to us for the several days to follow. He is more or less a "super good dude". As with many Six Senses Resorts locations in remote areas, many (if not in some places all) employees live with their families on site, and this is the case with Sam. Captain Big Sam's day job is as a security guard. But pre-Covid, Sam had saved enough to buy a small boat with an eye toward ferrying guests on day tours from the hotel's jetty. As he told us, it was a big investment and stretch and the timing was bad, with the global shutdowns that soon followed. Sam was just getting into the swing of operations as we spent a few glorious days with him.
A primary element of my own "hall pass" was to go find and photograph the site of Survivor's Tribal Council, on nearby Mana Island. You can see the site on Google Maps here. My two oldest daughters at this time were quite engrossed in Survivor. So we set off to deserted Mana Island, got close to the beach and wandered around with Google Maps and some loose familiarity through jungles to finally find the overgrown site (it being "off season" for filming and thus all the set taken down for the rainy season) and snap a couple photos. Below is beachfront on Mana, the Survivor Tribal Council is about 50 feet straight inland from where I'm standing. Check.
We did manage to find a few relics of filming here and there, but other than that, not much residual evidence of a major TV show being produced here year after year. So, having wandered in flip flops into the interior and seemingly survived without spider bites or attacks by snakes or angry tribsemen, we cast back off ashore.
The best part of this Survivor mission, for sure, was an offshore "disappearing sandbar". As we first rode into the beach at Mana, Captain Big Sam took us near a place where the sea became only 2-3 feet deep, and explained that in about an hour at low tide, a sandbar would emerge. You can see us standing just offshore of here in the photo above before the seas yielded to sand; and we turned around to take the below photo of Mana Island in the background.
After spending time on Mana, low and behold, the seas did yield to the "disappearing sandbar". I understand a few Survivor challenges involve things on this interesting part-time speck of land. We had it to ourselves, and it was truly a treasure.
Next we get to something sort of...unbelievable? Something that was so insane, so unique and so terrific that if Alone at the Beach ever returns to Fiji, it will be all about this thing. And that thing is Cloud 9.
So, what is Cloud 9? It is a floating, multi-level bar about two miles offshore very close to where the lagoon reef gives way to the depths of the open ocean. Give or take, it sits in about 25 feet of water, and can be moved by tugboat (for example to come into port for storms) but otherwise is set at anchor in its offshore location to welcome day guests who all show up, necessarily, in small little boats such as Captain Big Sam's.
First off this is a fun and beautiful place to visit. Its idyllic. It almost doesn't make sense how beautiful and large and unreal it is floating out in this location near the open ocean where one can barely even see the islands in the distance. What you do here is simple: you have a beer, maybe something from their pizza over, and jump into the water, perhaps from level 1 or if you are really up for a challenge from upstairs in level 2.
There just enough of a bit of danger involved in so jumping to make it adrenalin inducing: and that is the current. At some times there is slack tide, and you could jump off and casually just float right there. But at other times, there is strong current, either taking you inshore towards the islands, or worse, offshore towards the reef and beyond, the open ocean. The safety valve on this is a long (300 feet?) line with multiple buoys that floats off the facility. So jump, surface, and swim like hell for that line. Miss the line, game over.
Beyond this fun activity, the true beauty (which would unfold over a couple days of visiting Cloud 9) was the genuine warmth of the staff. As you can see above, we were welcomed - and then some. The team on Cloud 9 are truly special, making sure to learn all our favorite drinks, keeping us very well supplied and happy. If you are visiting Fiji, I promise you that going to Cloud 9 will be an absolute highlight. Not to be missed.
So back to our time with Captain Big Sam. A terrific element was his deep knowledge of the myriad spots to take us to see. Besides basically every waterfront bar with a dock within ten miles of the resort...the highlights included private coves, secluded beaches and drive-bys of pristine coastlines. Below we are at the site of the filming of the Castaway with Tom Hanks.
After three days with Captain Big Sam, it was finally time to depart back for the U.S. Michael, a lawyer from L.A., could not help himself but leave the staff with parting gifts. Here is Miri's. Think Better Call Saul and the use of cellphone giveaways to secure legal business. Yes, a small Michael remberance doll. The phone number is on the back, of course.
I don't want to end without a shout out to the PS Terminal in Los Angeles. This place is incredible. It's a private club a couple of miles from the LAX main terminals and adjacent to the airfield. There is private TSA and Customs staff so you can leave in a car and be driven stright from and to your international flights without ever setting foot in the airport. What a time and hassle savings. Below, Michael and I are driven right to the Fiji Airways plane. Highly recommend the use of PS which has been at LAX for some time and just opened in ATL.