LAUCALA ISLAND, FIJI | Math never has been my strong suit, which is why I assiduously avoided classes involving numbers in school. But I quickly realize I do not have to be an MIT professor to figure out the staff-to-guest ratio at this ultra-exclusive South Pacific resort – and to appreciate how extraordinary it really is.
“We have 329 people on staff, and our maximum number of guests is 80,” says Maja Kilgore, who runs the retreat with her husband, Thomas.
That is four staffers per guest, I quickly calculate. And then I listen to Kilgore explain the simple benefits of that. “You never have to book a reservation for anything here,” she says. “You never have to wear a watch. You only need to tell us what you want to do and when you want to do it. We will always be ready for you.”
Now that is what I call welcoming. As welcoming as the azure waters of the Pacific and lush green hills of this private, 3,500-acre island that is protected by an 18-mile-long, horseshoe-shaped reef.
As welcoming as the hilltop spa that makes its own lotions and oils. As welcoming as the David McLay Kidd course that charms golfers of all abilities with its downhill tee shots, pleasing mix of long and short par-4s, frequent glimpses of the ocean and its sheer emptiness, as it rarely records more than a few rounds a day. And as welcoming as the five restaurants and seven lounges that seemingly exist for you and you alone – private retreats that treat the appearance of all guests as if they were on a state visit and then artfully prepare Michelin Star-worthy food and drink.
It is not just that Laucala Island seems like one of those beguiling paintings by Paul Gauguin, and makes you feel as if you have suddenly and sensibly fled civilization, much as the post-Impressionist master did, to a gorgeous tropical setting where you can live, in his words, “on fish and fruit.”
Or that it offers every possible recreation to fill your hours, be it scuba diving or snorkeling, golf or fishing, sailing or horseback riding – as well as the opportunity to simply wile away your time by your pool or on your beach. It is that this new resort, which was developed by Red Bull energy drink co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz on an isle the reclusive Austrian bought from the family of Malcolm Forbes nearly a decade ago, offers a level of service that is unattainable most anywhere else.
It is the “Land of Yes,” a friend of mine opines. I offer that the word “No” does not exist here. And we both agreed that attitude makes Laucala a true tropical paradise.
To be sure, this paradise costs a bundle, with the 25 villas on the property going for anywhere from $3,800 an evening to $30,000. You can even rent out the whole island for $150,000 a night (and someone has already done that for four nights next year). That sounds like a lot, and it is. But one of the most accurate adages in life is: You get what you pay for. And you get a lot at Laucala. The nightly fees include everything but wines from the reserve wine list. Food, sporting activities, massages – everything else is free.
Among other things, you get a warm greeting at the island airfield when you fly in from Fiji’s main airport at Nadi, with a couple-dozen staffers singing for you as you step onto the tarmac (or you can opt to ferry from the airfield to the island on a luxurious King Air 200 for $600). You get a quiet and remote island where guests and staffers are the only occupants. You get villas designed in traditional Fijian style, with thatch roofs, stone walls and wood beams held together with traditional coconut matting called magi-magi. Each abode comes with its own pool as well as indoor and outdoor showers and baths and outside daybeds and chaise lounges.
Wireless Internet connection keeps you from feeling that far away from home, even if you are halfway around the world, and so does the impeccable cell service. Some villas hang like treehouses over the beach, and they all look over the water. Remnants of the old coconut palm plantations still exist on the island, and stands of papaya, banana and cinnamon trees flourish. Most of the food you eat is harvested from the resort’s own farm, including beef, chicken, goats and lamb (which comes from a breed of sheep called Fiji Fantastic for the way it naturally – and remarkably – sheds its wool).
Fiji, itself, is pretty fantastic, an English-speaking nation of 900,000 people located just over the other side of the International Dateline and consisting of more than 300 islands, of which a third are uninhabited. Its mild, tropical climate makes it a place worth visiting any time of year, though the optimum times may be the dry season, also known as the Fijian Winter, which runs from May to October. And its soothing tropical ethos makes it a place where the stresses of everyday life wash away easily with the sun and sea.
Those attributes are no doubt part of what drew Mateschitz to Laucala Island. And he has made that attraction even greater by augmenting them with five-star service.
Service that, you will have no difficulties realizing, is better than most any place on earth. No matter how good or bad you are at math.