News & Reviews Rest of the World Fiji Review: Kokomo Private Island, Fiji

Kokomo Private Island

Kokomo Private Island, Fiji
Room type: Beachfront Villa
Duration: 26th > 29th August, 2018

If stays were judged on the welcome, Kokomo Private Island would be perfect.  Having just been in La La Land, it felt apt that we then immediately out thought – rather than outfought – Hurricane Lane on our way down to Fiji.  Our own Hollywood tale comprised of swift, some may say heroic, against the clock action.  And being on hold to multiple airlines for an entire morning.   My story is for sale, for those interested.  There was only one way this could end, and that was happily ever after.  But unfortunately the show did go on, and it ended up being a sequel that everyone will forget.  It has been said that Hollywood has not come up with an original idea in years, but unfortunately neither has the Fijian luxury travel industry.

Trees? Pah. Come back with something better.

I was initially going to write a Kokomo vs Laucala review.  I’m afraid that review will not be forthcoming. You would not want to see a comparison between an Airbus 380 compared to a gypsy’s caravan, which is what you would get in Laucala vs Kokomo. This is not to say that Kokomo is a bad resort, it’s just in a different league and even feels from a different era than Laucala.

Whilst it was Kokomo that was busy celebrating its first birthday, Laucala was on its 10th and was the one sleeping like a baby.  It had no cause for concern. I was hoping and expecting so much more from the latest-and-greatest, but the hard product couldn’t put up a fight against a bound and beaten Cheval Blanc Randheli or The Brando, both of which are nearing 6 years old and similarly priced. We even found ourselves unfavourably comparing the majority of it to Miavana; it failed in every single department. Start comparing it to Laucala and it’d be like watching Megatron fight Bambi. The problem is that it felt cheap; cheap materials, cheap rooms, cheap facilities. The room a particular let down; failing to deceive that it was poorly thought through and badly maintained.

Some if these reviews are tough to write.  It is not an insult to the wonderful staff, but to what it is they sell. Yet if you’ll pardon me, the British Empire was not built on the back of manners, so here I go.

Only tables here; manners left earlier.

Colour me impressed when a hotel takes the time to understand their guests prior to arrival.  If Facebook can take the time to take all my voluntarily supplied data, sell it and use it to personalise my experience, then so can a luxury hotel.  Kokomo had the most extensive pre-arrival questionnaire I’ve ever seen, far surpassing the impressive Alila Villas, Cheval Blanc Randheli and Iniala.  I was half expecting to get into psychometrics by the end, with questions like: if you were a badger and had 4 oranges, who killed JFK? what is your PIN and do you believe in Nigerian princes?

Getting there was less involved than the prior form filling.  Greeted through customs, we were whisked away to the domestic terminal.  I will not criticise their lack of airport lounge – due to open next year – for Laucala took 9 years to get theirs.  Once open, it will be slightly more glamorous than sitting around for 2 hours in a cafe with broken WiFi.  After starring at the walls long enough that they started to peer within my soul and neither of us liked what we saw, we boarded their very own hybrid sea plane, thankfully capable of takeoff on land and water – otherwise landing may have been an awkward chat.  At first I admired their inclination to include headphones by each seat to block out the engine noise, but then I realised that not doing so would have permanently deafen me, so I would not have been able to hear their 5 minute singing introduction.

The welcome was the largest mob of middle aged people yelling at me since I tried my hand at streaking at a Take That concert.  It felt like half the staff were singing at us, in the largest welcome I’ve ever seen.  It also felt unusually uncomfortable – it went on for so long that I’m now fluent in Fijian.  As we stood there for a Fijian eternity, starring at them, whilst they starred back, I started to develop the same anxiety as a first date: how do I act? when is it appropriate for me to talk? how will this end?  why is no one talking?  when is it a good time to show pictures of how our baby would look?

Having met Martin (to my chagrin he was Swedish but not called Sven – something I’m still struggling with), the GM, straight off the plane, we departed to our villa.  No requests for passports, credit cards or waivers – what a delight this was.  Only it would get better when I saw how well the room was setup for us: pure perfection, except that half bottle of champagne that looked like it was made in a doll factory.

It was all going so, so well.

But the room changed that, and with it the facade started to fall apart.

Not unlike this roof

At least they had the decency to admit it, with the website showing the villas as boring as they actually are.  Excluding the toilet being placed right next to the bed, and the lack of real privacy that is frequently spoken of but not delivered on, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the rooms.  They just didn’t feel special, and I will keep referring to the price point.  They are 6 years later than The Brando, yet 20 years behind them.  Plastic cups; hollow plywood to separate rooms; a single 45 minute massage voucher per villa (not person) per stay; poor lighting system with no master switch; the key fob falling off the front door; only residences getting buggies; running out of toilet paper; old school Bluetooth speaker; poor workmanship in the bathroom.  Not one will annoy you enough, but combined it forms a picture and it ain’t a pretty one.  Throw in finding 2 cockroaches in our room and mosquitos everywhere, and all you’re left with is an uninspiring room better suited for a lizard.

   

So many elements just didn’t work, but a few issues were highlighted more than others: the lack of feeling any luxury, and the removal of privacy.  It felt like no one had really bothered to try it out before they built them.  You could walk across the beach and look into each of the brightly lit glass buildings in front of you, formally known as villas.  If you have a lower room number, as we did, then you’ll also find people snorkelling, trampolining or even sleeping and playing music outside of your room from the water deck.  Then there’s the repeated sound of the sea plane throughout the day, which you’ll experience regardless of your room number – it’s right near the reception area, which houses their main restaurant.

All 21 villas have beach access, with sumptuously soft sand, but surrounded by coral and stone.  It was still better than The Brando’s, but that’s like saying Rolf Harris is a better human being than Jimmy Saville.

If you’re looking to escape this, you will need to call for someone to collect you on a buggy.  Bikes are not offered either, which I actually get, as I decided to walk to the gym one day and had to phone my lawyer half-way up to write my will and final testimony.  There’s a lot of steep hills around.

Yet if you do want to get away from your room, what is there to escape to?  The rest of the facilities are not exactly inspiring either.  The spa simply felt like a shake and offered no more than a few treatment rooms, although they had the decency to offer Sodashi.  It suffered the similar low-end feel to the rooms.  The complimentary 45 minute massage that Lucie received was noted down initially as a decent 7/10, made all the more brilliant by the spa therapist clearly being bored and being prepared to go on for well over an hour.  But then we saw the bill on departure where they thought we should pay for this unrequested additional extra, like during a massage you sit there with a clock to make sure you’ve not overrun.

The main pool is one of the only two beach resorts I know of that chose to have their pool away from the ocean, yet unlike Amanpulo, Kokomo’s is uninspiring and tries to draw away attention from that with a single photogenic opportunity of a man-made waterfall.

A photogenic waterfall

The activities are not going to whet the appetite either.  There are no motorised sports; the daily suggested list of land activities never changes and the water based activities were just as fun as The Brando; that is, as fun as bee stings.  All land and non-motorised water activities are free, although they include the glass bottom boat too, so you can guess what we did.  We must have picked the wrong time of day as there was little excitement past the first few minutes, due to a strange absence of life.  This is, for once, actually not sarcasm, as the snorkelling is excellent right off the beach, with plenty to see.  During one self-exploration, just as we spotted a sting ray, a pod of dolphins appeared about 150m away and started doing all their fancy tricks that will see them captured and forced into Sea World any day now.  We looked around, saw someone and asked if he could call for a boat to collect us to see them up close.  No one answered, so he dived into the water and started swimming towards the nearest boat to take us.  I’m quite sure Baywatch music was playing as this all happened – it was all very exciting.

The food was also exciting, but in the same way that farting is when you’re not really sure what is going to come out.  Food is split between their 2 restaurants: one of which has no menus and the chef will sit down to discuss what you want, which actually translates to whatever they have left in the fridge.  I thought we had all realised this doesn’t actually work well in practice anymore, with Iniala and North Island having retreated from this concept.  The chef was absolutely wonderful, but having someone talk the menu at me isn’t my idea of luxury.  During our lunch, with only 2 other guests present, the chef couldn’t come see us as she was busy, so we had to just pick one of two options for a starter – one I was allergic to.  Then they gave us the wrong, allergy based food which was for the only other table, and by the time we’d finished our started we still didn’t know what we were having for the main.

If you venture over to Beach Shack, your options for lunch include no starters and just 3 mains. Your choice of wine by the glass is very limited, with one or two of white, red and champagne. It has been open a year, but clearly procurement issues remain similar to what Miavana had to experience, but they were implementing an infrastructure from scratch, whereas Fiji has had luxury hotels for many years.

Strangely, dinner took a turn for the best, with their daily 5-course tasting menu surprising, in the good way.  Very prompt and more than capable of replacing ingredients, I was left perplexed why this wasn’t the case during the day.  With the limited choice, I ended up having rice as the main ingredient in breakfast, lunch and dinner on the second day.  There are, however, areas to praise, such as their pizza oven, daily specials for breakfast, cakes available throughout the day in the Beach Shack and the in-room fridge constantly restocked every evening.

My favourite moment of care came from a member of staff seemingly dedicated to just making me syrups to add flavour to my water.  It brought back memories of Ani Villas, where the chef was so deeply proud of his matcha ice cream that I didn’t have it in me to tell him I didn’t like it.  But this is the Internet, so I can now freely say it: I didn’t like it.  Please forgive me.  Your continued push to please me with new flavours warmed my heart.


Looks like Long John Silver had a car boot sale

I get it: parts are rustic, but you can do rustic and be classy, see Messrs Island, North and Laucala. Here it felt like a 3 star Caribbean property, whose chairs were so uncomfortable I can only assume that they were beta tested by rhinos.  The story around Kokomo was Lang Walker coming in to save the day with $100m to complete the abandoned property, but I cannot help but believe that’s a story made-up back in the Hollywood Hills, rather than the reality. I fail to see see where the money went, other than on marketing boffins coming up with the innovative named restaurant: Walker d’Plank. And deciding how many stars they should have whilst rewording what all-inclusive means. Alcohol is an optional daily supplement of $150 per person, so I think they’ve taken the all-inclusive name in vain a bit there.

Welcome to Kokomo Island Fiji, where pristine reefs set the scene for an unrivalled, all-inclusive 6 Star experience

Their key differentiator is that the service truly was fantastic, with it being superior to Laucala on my 2016 stay, and for the most part, superior to 2018’s too. Truly wonderful, caring service throughout from everyone; GM down. When I told Martin my thoughts on the hard product, it broke both our hearts.

They have really put an effort in to make the experience as good as it can be for the guest, with frequent elements that made me think: someone is thinking about me here.  Mosquito coils everywhere, turndown snacks, free laundry returned and folded perfectly every day, staff always around to take you on a buggy to your room, candles around the bath during turndown, staff running around with cold towels at every opportunity and frequent chats with the executive chef and GM.  They went above and beyond in the room setup, even purchasing for us full-face snorkel masks that Laucala did not.  Ultimately it is Fiji, so don’t expect the staff to remember your preferences and act on them, but expect warmth and consideration at every step.  The Fijians are such kind people, although I did have to wonder what they were up to, as the Internet password was changed three times during our 3 night stay, so I suspect someone was checking out websites not suitable for children.

I just don’t consider amazing service enough reason to visit a property that takes over 24 hours for us Brits to get to and charges $3600/n for their standard room category. Sadly, with that the case, it means Kokomo has already peaked – it cannot get any better. No one became a billionaire by wasting money, so I doubt he’ll want to restart all over again and build it to a competitive level, no matter how wonderful my feedback is.

As we departed and sat through another song that went on that bit too long that awkwardness crept in again like an uncle placing his hand on your knee that bit too long, we said our goodbyes to the executive chef and GM.  I have a feeling I won’t be seeing them for a while.

Please join me in starring at this for the next 5 minutes in total silence.

Facilities
  • Main pool – not near the beach, just to be original.
  • Kids pool
  • Kids club
  • Teenage club – arcade machines, air hockey, pool table, Xbox One
  • Pizza oven
  • Basketball court
  • Tennis court
  • Reception in the Beach Shack, so people can overlook you during your romantic meal
  • Dive centre being rebuilt due to all kinds of destructive weather that hits Fiji every few years
  • Floating lounge area – accessible by canoe/boat.  Sadly right in front of our room
  • Gym
  • Spa

Worth Knowing

The mosquito became so feisty that I ended up wearing a jacket and jeans to dinner, just to avoid the little bastards.

The Good

  • The key card has a welcome message from the owner and a departure date on it – just to give you hope that you will eventually leave

The Bad

  • Value for money
  • Big Brother Laucala being nearby

The Luxurious

  • Fiji
  • My North Island rash protector was the only item of note that was luxury in the villa.

Conclusion

Kokomo is the first property since Miavana that I fail to see the value proposition. At least Miavana is unique in its location, but Kokomo is sat in a luxury hotspot and is notably going up against Laucala, one of the finest properties in the world. It’s not doing it in way that strikes it as a viable option, unless budget becomes a concern. If you’re drinking and want a decent package you’re suddenly up to $4,000/n. Is it really competitive against Laucala’s $6,000/n? I don’t think so, especially when you throw in submarines, horses, jet skies, yachts and much much more that Laucala offers. At this price range it puts them directly against The Brando, which is closer to our American cousins and far superior in every single department (except service).

So expect to see Kokomo appear in every magazine you read for the next 12 months: Conde Nast, Elite Traveler, The Teddy Bear Times and Gardeners’ World, but know that their quiet neighbour, Laucala, is talking loudly in its action.

It’s a good property, it’s just not a great one – and at these prices, it needs to be.

Kokomo Private Island

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 7th Sep '18

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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