Grand Pacific Hotel Suva
TRIP Report: First Time in Fiji
- Booking for Fiji – one seat from one bucket, and one seat from another
- Qantas Business Class Lounge – Fiji Airways
- Review: Sydney to Suva QF343 / FJ940
- Grand Pacific Hotel Suva
- Suva – not a tourist mecca – but tropical
Hotel: Grand Pacific Hotel
Place: Suva, Fiji
Room: Premier Room 230
Price: AU$410/night for 5 nights (~US$320) – including breakfast
Stay: September 2017
This was my first time in Fiji, and so my first time in Suva. I told an old friend who spent a lot of time in the Pacific in the 70’s and 80’s that we were going to Suva. She said ‘A dump, don’t bother’ or words to that effect. Well, I didn’t have much of a choice, as my partner was attending a conference in Suva, so my task was to find the best accommodation taking into consideration, comfort, proximity to the conference venue, and of course cost. As usual, our agent at Out and About Travel had invaluable recommendations. (no, I’m not telling you which agent – if I did, we would never be able to get hold of him!)
Originally the conference was to be held at the Holiday Inn Suva, which is literally next door to the Grand Pacific Hotel, but for whatever reason, the conference got moved. In fact, the Holiday Inn looked like it was undergoing some kind of renovation during our stay.
Of course, I had poured through the images on the Hotel website, reviewed room features, and checked out the bar, restaurant, internet, and lounge services, but still didn’t really have an idea of what to expect in terms of hotel style and service levels. Just because a hotel has 5 stars, and charges above the average rate, does not guarantee an above average experience – as most of us know to our cost.
Let me just say, that my fascination with really good properties that still get the most basic things wrong did not go unrewarded.
As a rule of thumb, I book a car and driver to drive us from the airport to the hotel if we are unfamiliar with either the country or the destination. It takes the stress out of arrival, and I think acts like an introduction to a holiday. Given this was our first time in Fiji – a car was ordered by our travel agent and arranged through the Grand Pacific Hotel. It was also the cheapest option out of three we were offered at FJD$79 (~AUD$50) for the 45-minute journey.
The usual person-with-a-sign was waiting once we had cleared customs and immigration. Suva airport is pretty small and basic, and it has one luggage carousel. Obviously, our ‘priority’ tagged luggage was not the first to come out. If I had a dollar for every time that happens . . .
Our driver estimating 45 minutes from Nausori Airport to The Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva. Our trip was smooth, uneventful and within the estimated time.
The entrance to the hotel is pretty as a pin, and very impressive with an airy atrium, (originally the hotel’s restaurant) used as a seating area. The ‘Heritage’ rooms are all located upstairs, entered from the balcony.
Check-in ran pretty smoothly. We were greeted with the traditional ‘Bula’ on arrival at the hotel’s porte cochère, and our luggage placed on a trolly. Check-in formalities were completed within a few minutes at the reception desk to the left of the entrance.
Opposite the reception desk, but still on the left side of the entrance is a tour desk – unmanned on arrival, and it seemed for most of our stay. Both small, and sometimes large arrangements of tropical flowers were arranged throughout the hotel.
We were taken to our room within 10 minutes of arrival, and by that time, a little before 8 pm, we had been on the ‘road’ for close to 12 hours, so the efficient check-in was much appreciated.
The main and original hotel building has been beautifully restored – which provides the charm to what feels like slightly soulless additions – an accommodation wing on one side, and a function room wing on the other, with a pool and dining area in between. Walls are dotted with historic images of the hotel, and the famous visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.
To get to our room, we passed through the public space that joins the new accommodation wing to the original hotel building. This space is divided into two areas – one fairly large space with a little seating, and the other a sort of pseudo-Japanese sand garden. Architecturally, and functionally, they are a little like fish out of water – their actual function not being particularly clear. Indeed other than a few kids treating the space literally like a sandpit – they remained largely empty throughout our stay.
There is a magnificent aviation themed ceiling fan above the ‘sand-pit’ – which one fears if turned on would induce a sandstorm.
As well as providing a bridging space between the two buildings, it also leads to the Spa and Gym. I don’t have any internal images of either space, as on the occasions I visited, they were both being very well patronised.
Commissioned by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand the 35 room hotel built on reclaimed land in Suva bay, opened in 1914. It did then, and still does now, feature broad verandas, porticoes, colonnades and large French windows, well suited to the steamy climate.
Like most hotels of its heritage, it has had its fair share of famous guests including Charles Kingsford Smith, who landed his plane the Southern Cross opposite the hotel on Albert Park in 1928, as part of his historic flight across the Pacific. (That green area on the right of the above image is Albert Park.)
The 1980’s saw the hotel fall into decline, changing ownership several times and adapted for use by the Fiji military. The hotel closed in 1990 and was largely left abandoned to the tropical elements.
The hotel escaped demolition, fortunately, and was restored – beautifully – re-opening in May 2014 in time for its 100 year anniversary.
The restoration and redevelopment of the hotel site are impressive. The new hotel facilities include a four-level accommodation wing offering sea views from almost every room, and a meeting and convention facility opposite the accommodation wing. Between the two are a magnificent swimming pool, bar, and outdoor dining area, not to mention a view to drown in.
Our Grand Pacific Premier room was on the 2nd floor, quoted on the website as 37sqm the same size as the Superior rooms (on the right of the diagram). This compares to 34sqm for the Park Rooms (no sea view, overlooking Albert Park), and the Club Rooms, (seen to the left of our room), which face directly onto the water. There are Heritage rooms located in the main (original) building, each of unique size and decoration. These heritage rooms also have access to the Victoria (club) Lounge with the usual breakfast and evening drinks benefits.
We accessed our room via a lift, and wide corridors.
A minor design fault was the placement of the room number signs. Half the room number signs were facing the same direction as you were – which made them invisible unless you turned around. Note the carpet squares on the floor. These would be a good idea, as they can be swapped and replaced if they are stained or worn. Unfortunately, the worn and stained ones had not been swapped or replaced.
Our accommodation was located at the end of the corridor and had a slightly different shaped room and balcony from others on the floor.
Rooms were large, and painted in a calming, but slightly hospital like green, with more pale aqua/green accents. Not my favourite colour, I have to say, but inoffensive, I suppose.
That painting, which I am sure I have seen at Ikea, was the only wall decoration in the room.
Please note two things in the picture above:
- No1: the connecting door – my pet hate. During our stay, on two occasions, people on the other side of the room tried to open that connecting door. It sounded like they were about to invade, and it was the epicentre of sound leakage between the rooms. Let me just say, that I know a lot about negotiations between a certain two Indian businessmen.
- No2: that lighted wall on the far left is the bathroom. Can you see the problem? If you needed to get up during the night to have a pee, then turning that light on and flooding the whole room with lumens was the only choice. How is it that hotel designers can get such basic things so wrong?
Good bedside tables, but lamps that involved reeling in the switches on the cords to turn them off or on.
. . . and a clock radio that had a provision for the old style ipod/iphone connector. I couldn’t get the radio to work at all, anyway.
Given the size of the room, it could have supported a 2 seater lounge, if not two. Both the bathroom and balcony were spacious.
A good sized desk completely filled up so that there was no place to work! And that ‘desk’ chair – far short of adequate. What was silly is that there was a perfectly good shelf near the entrance which is where I removed all that tea and coffee and other detritus to, so I could work.
Another pet hate (I have a few) – hotel ‘stuff’ littering useful surfaces. In this case, a glossy magazine I didn’t open, the room compendium (not that useful) a spa menu, and two apples that were a fair few days from fresh.
No inevitable Pringles – but still packets of crisps. You always say you won’t, but you always succumb.
Complimentary still water to be refreshed daily (in this case that means never unless you ask for it) – but coasters!
I love that they had proper cups and saucers, none of those hybrid mugs. Also, a selection of freeze-dried coffee and tea bags. OK, no Nespresso style machine, but at least good quality product.
The full display.
The mini-bar and no one is going to steal or misplace the bottle opener:
Unchain my heart.
I am a complete sucker for flowers in a room. Unfortunately, these had to be moved, because the only way to make that chair comfortable was to use the bolster from the bed at your back and place the cushion from the bed on the table to make it into a footstool.
Repeat after me all hoteliers:
‘I solemnly swear to place a comfortable chair or sofa in every hotel room so guests can lounge.’
A footstool wouldn’t go astray either.
Now the bathroom (note the broken tissue box next to the hand basin); it was huge, but so badly designed. It was big enough to have a stand-alone-shower and a stand-alone-bath. But instead, they had a vast shower, which was completely open on one side, that, unless you were very careful, would allow water to flood the entire bathroom. On the plus side – you could control the shower without getting wet.
But the main problem was the translucency of the bathroom walls that adjoined the bedroom. Ok, the translucent panels did provide privacy but also allowed light to flood into the bedroom, and I mean flood. There was no ‘night light’ setting, just full-on-fluoro.
Bathroom supplies were PURE FIJI brand and were replenished daily. They were called ‘mango infusion’ but had more of that generic tropical scent – you know – sort of frangipanni/coconut/pineapple. Not my favourite, and I just realised I didn’t bring any of it home, which is unusual.
The wardrobe across the corridor from the bathroom was completely drawerless (see number 6 of my Ten things hotels could do better), but did have a really good iron and ironing board (Number 7), and a standard sized safe – that wouldn’t quite hold my 15″ computer – again. Coat hangers were good and plentiful, and bathrobes were waffle weave, and just adequately sized (Number 3).
There was a slight oddness about both the room and the bathroom, it was as if they had been designed by a builder, and not an architect – or at least by someone who was not really familiar with hotel room design. It wasn’t’ so much that there was anything wrong (other than the shower space – see above), it was more that there was nothing that made you go ‘That’s clever’, or ‘Oh, why don’t other hotels do that.’ The room was a bit soul-less – like the framed image on the wall, and lacked a few features (proper office chair, comfortable lounge seat, footrest etc) that would have brought it up to the standard it was charging for.
Now put all that criticism to one side, because this view made you forgive everything . . .
Oh, and if you turned slightly more to the left . . . you could see the local lawn bowls fields.
And just one more thing to note – it looks like they have some kind of issue with guests and the balcony light:
Restaurant and Bar
Given the weather, the main dining areas were all outside – mostly in the long veranda at the back of the central building, that joined with the new accommodation wing on one side, and the function centre on the other.
We ate all of our meals at the hotel under the verandah – except for one which we had at the far end of the pool.
The verandah had two sections, one with raised tables (as above) and one with lower tables. There was also a formal restaurant, which we only saw one couple dine in, on one night.
Food, on the whole, had an Indian feel to it – even the Thai curry. In fact, my favourite meal during the whole stay was a goat curry with all the trimmings – chutneys, parathas, pickles, papadams etc. There was a good selection of both full meals and bar snacks, and I am told the fish dishes were very good. Unfortunately, I am highly allergic to fish – so I can’t attest to that personally.
The bar – located inside, but joined to the verandah provided a good selection of local versions of standard cocktails. The stand-out for me was the Pina Colada, of which I drank many (
Breakfasts were excellent, with a standard 5-star hotel buffet, including fresh pressed juices and eggs squeezed/cooked to order. I only have one image of the buffet, due to its popularity.
Coffee was a little hit and miss. One day at breakfast we asked for a ‘flat white’ and got a latte, and the next day, we ordered the same and got a perfect flat white, and the next day – it was burnt and bitter.
My freshly made eggs benedict (or ‘egg with egg sauce’ as my friend Tass calls it) was delicious.
Hotel Incident – deftly handled
On our final day as we were checking out, there was an incident at Reception. The French Guest (a woman of a certain age) and her – we presume – son, were standing at reception. The women shouted at the reception staff, while the son (early 20’s?) looked embarrassed, and fitfully tried to calm his mother. The French Guest was in high dudgeon. Dressed in non-age appropriate tropically themed swimsuit with matching beach cover-up (which unfortunately didn’t cover up) she railed at staff, making it most obvious that she had paid her money, and she wanted her transfer to her tour, and that the hotel would pay (in more ways than money) if she missed her tour. Now, having a general anxiety about the arrival of transport myself – I would usually share some sympathy – but this woman was so incredibly rude, embarrassing, and just plain culturally insensitive, that I just wanted to tell her to ‘chill’, or that you can ‘catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar’. In my experience, this wouldn’t have helped, so I refrained.
Now, I have no idea of what the actual details of the dispute were, but it appeared that a hotel arranged transfer to some tourist outing, had not arrived on time, and was now more than 10 minutes late. Shouting about it was not going to help. Perhaps getting the reception staff to contact the tour company to tell them they were running late would have been a better option.
On the other hand – I suppose I could afford to be smug, as, after 5 days, I had adjusted to ‘island time’, and knew that what had been arranged would happen eventually and that in all probability the tour company would wait for their arrival anyway. So what offended me about this incident? I think it was the cultural insensitivity, and the treatment of another culture, and service staff, like lesser beings. The hotel staff, on the other hand, acted with efficiency and great decorum under stress.
Of course, the transport did arrive, and the French Guest left as if she hadn’t even raised her voice.
The hotel was on the pricey side but was by far the best accommodation in Suva. I spoke to many other conference guests who agreed that the Grand Pacific Hotel was superior to wherever they were staying, with a couple of people trying to transfer – but being unable, as the hotel was at near full capacity.
While we were there, Vodaphone Fiji held a promotional function that the staff prepared for over a couple of days. We were dreading the Saturday night of the event. But our worry had no grounds. Music was kept at a respectable level, and all was over by about 9:30 pm. They had even worked it so that all the sound and the video walls pointed away from the accommodation wing. That kind of consideration was at the heart of the hotel.
During our stay, I had cause to ask for our room to be cleaned at a specific time. It was – perhaps a bit on ‘Island time’, but again done with care and consideration.
The only downside was a slight lack of consistency. One day all our towels were replaced plus extras, the next, we were short of towels, and on another occasion, they got topped up later in the day. On the up side – we asked for four feather pillows and got them for that evening. On the downside, we were meant to get daily bottles of complimentary still water – which only appeared when we asked for them.
Service was not as faultless as you might get in an equivalent hotel in Asia. You often had to ask for something twice, but the hotel staff were also incredibly friendly, well-meaning, and relaxed. It is amazing how uplifting an authentic smile, and that charming giggle, that seems endemic in Fiji, can be. And that’s what you want when relaxing in the Pacific.
With this hotel as my introduction to Fiji, I think we will be holidaying here again. Maybe not in Suva, but certainly in Fiji. And if it is Suva – it will be at the Grand Pacific Hotel.
Summary This is the best hotel in Suva with large rooms, balconies, good food, a wonderful veranda, great pool, relaxed Pacific service, and a view that after taking your breath away, you want to drown in.