So after 11 years together we finally decided to tie the knot and spent quite some time trying to decide where to go for our honeymoon as we wanted to make it a trip of a lifetime. We had to weigh up what we could afford with what would be our dream holiday and decided on a 3 week break. Our initial list looked something like this:
- Las Vegas
- Tahiti – Bora Bora
So our research began! We looked into Hawaii first and were quite disappointed to read that actually some areas were not so nice there and there was poor public transport in places. The reviews were mixed; some amazing but many quite disappointing. There are strict anti-smoking laws there and we would be looking to go at the end of the wet season. When we initially thought of getting married we thought Vegas would be our ideal destination however as time went on due to the important people in our lives we decided instead to get married in Scotland nearer to home. We still wanted to check out Vegas though as we haven’t visited yet and thought a multi stop holiday of Hawaii and Las Vegas would be an option….unfortunately this was not to be.. the cost was just too much with flights and accommodation options and due to the reviews we decided to explore further options.
Cuba was our next consideration, again we had heard mixed reviews but this was also somewhere we fancied. We spoke with people who had visited and heard mixed reviews of Havana although Varadero was quite highly recommended. One of our main concerns was whether we would be bored with 3 weeks of a beach holiday; neither of us like to spend hours laying on a sun lounger and we weren’t sure there would be enough to occupy us. When we read a review that biplanes pass by spraying pesticides to kill mosquitos when we were thinking of going then this made up our mind! We still want to go there but maybe not for our honeymoon trip.
Next option was Bora Bora; somewhere we had talked about lots previously as our dream destination but it has always been out of our reach…or was it? We did some maths and some online research and found we could fly there and stay there within our budget ….but we would have nothing left to spent! we would have a miserable time because the cost of food and drink was so expensive and again we may not have found enough to do for 3 weeks here….back to the drawing board!
After a bit of contemplation we came up with Fiji, the pictures were amazing and the reviews in general were pretty good; its not as expensive as Tahiti or even Hawaii day to day and there were many islands we could visit so it didn’t have to be a one stop holiday. Additionally the snorkelling is supposed to be excellent and the people very friendly. Initial enquiries found that flights to Fiji from UK with Qantas went from Heathrow to Dubai, Dubai to Sydney and on to Nadi in Fiji which was a lot of travelling. The flight price was however doable and after tinkering around a bit we found out that we could stop at both Dubai and Sydney for a few days to break up the journey at no extra cost. Excitedly we booked our flights with 2 days in Dubai on the way out and 3 days in Sydney on the way back! The flights weren’t cheap at £1200 each but they offered the flexibility we wanted and turned a one country holiday into 3 and all places we had never been before! exciting!
Next stop was to look at accommodation and we turned to our faithful site http://www.booking.com. We use this site a lot for the flexibility and discounts and managed to find a hotel in the Al Barsha area of Dubai called Citymax. Located right next to the Mall of the Emirates, the hotel was £84 for 2 nights and located only 25 mins from the airport with an on site restaurant, bar and swimming pool.
For Sydney we found the hotels significantly more expensive however decided on the Rydges Sydney Central hotel which was £290 for 3 nights for a double room. The location was said to be excellent and we were only planning on using it for a base whilst we were in the city anyway. Located 4.5 miles from the airport this would be easy to reach and it was a short walk from the central train station.
So that was the accommodation for Dubai and Sydney sorted but what about Fiji…there were so many options of places to stay we had no idea where to start. We read information on the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands but due to plane times it would most definitely be necessary to also stay on the mainland at least for the first and last nights. We found a lovely looking resort called Tambua Sands on the mainland with beach bures and thought I would reserve accommodation with free cancellation for 2 nights just so we definitely had somewhere to stay when we arrived but could be flexible if we found somewhere else….unfortunately I didn’t read the terms before I booked and clicked a non refundable room arggghhh. This was £196 for 2 nights so I felt that was quite expensive to be honest however we were definitely going to Tambua sands which had the most amazing pictures and we just hoped it lived up to our expectations.
From looking online it appeared that all trips to the Islands appeared to start at Denerau Marina in Nadi and these were operated by either South Sea Cruises or Awesome Adventures. Visits to the Yasawa and some of the Mamanuca islands are organised through Awesome Adventures who run a catamaran from Denarau Marina to the top of the Yasawas and back each day; starting at 8.30am and arriving back at 5.45pm. On the website https://www.awesomefiji.com there are many options of travel and accommodation packages with different coconut ratings depending on your budget; 1 coconut being basic, 2 coconuts is more upmarket private accommodations with more frills such as aircon or fans. You can also buy bula passes or adventures with set itineraries. We looked at the guides, read reviews and realised this was the company that had the monopoly of travel and accommodation in Fiji and so we set about deciding exactly where we wanted to stay.
We had 12 nights in Fiji, the first 2 nights were being spent at Tambua Sands and we would have to spend the last night on the island due to the flight time the next morning. We did therefore have 9 nights to spend island hopping and decided to spend 2 nights on 4 islands and 1 night on another. The next choices were which islands! We decided to go for the following:
Mantaray Island – although out of season we had a chance of seeing a mantaray in the water right in front of the resort. There is also a coral reef in front of the resort which was recommended for excellent snorkelling
White Sandy Beach – This would be our one night stop and a 1 coconut resort with the rest being 2 coconuts; however described as basic but quiet with good snorkelling at the nearby Honeymoon beach.
Oarsmans Bay Lodge – This resort boasted amazing turquoise waters of the lagoon and is run by a fijian family with options to go to the local fijian village.
Wayalailai Ecohaven – The main attraction on this island is the option to swim with sharks which is something Nigel has always wanted to do. This resort is set on a hillside and boasts amazing views of the rock formations on Kuata Island.
Bounty Island – the only Mamanuca island we decided to go to and the nearest one to the mainland being 35 minutes away. This resort was described as an island with a ring of white sandy beach and clear water which boasted great snorkelling and marine life. There is also a turtle sanctuary on the island.
So decisions made now how to book! this was quite a complicated process as it turned out. We managed to book it through the online chat as a ‘Build your own adventure’. We had read reviews of some of the other packages such as the Bula Pass, Coconut Cruiser and Tropical Island Cruiser and there had been poor reviews of some who had their schedule changed around or didn’t get the accommodation they requested. We therefore went for the ‘build your own’ which actually worked out cheaper than a Bula Pass Combo. It was however expensive and it is clear that there is a monopoly here meaning they can charge tourists what they like. We managed to book this through the live chat on the webpage at a total of £723 each. In addition to this it is noted that some resorts have compulsory meal packages you have to pay for on arrival.
We decided to book our last day accommodation on Fiji when we arrived and hoped that everything was going to go to plan!
Important Travel Information:
From online research no Visa was required for Dubai or Fiji however we did have to apply in advance for Australia. This was in the form of an eVisitor visa which did not cost anything and was obtainable online here:
Dubai uses dirham which is approximately 4.79 to £1
Fiji -Fijian Dollars which is approximately 2.61 to £1
Australia – Dollars which is approximately 1.65 to £1
Dubai – Not required
Fiji – Hepatitus A, Hepatitus B, Tetanus, Typhoid
Australia – Not required
Local laws and Customs (as reported on Gov.uk)
UAE laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. Be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK. You are strongly advised to familiarise yourself with, and respect local laws and customs.
In 2017, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 25 May and finish on 25 June.
Importing pork products and pornography into the UAE is illegal. Videos, books, and magazines may be subject to scrutiny and may be censored.
There is zero tolerance for drugs-related offences. The penalties for trafficking, smuggling and possession of drugs (even residual amounts) are severe. Sentences for drug trafficking can include the death penalty and possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs can lead to a minimum 4-year jail sentence. The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the blood stream as possession. Some herbal highs, like Spice, are illegal in the UAE.
Many people stop off in UAE airports on their way to other destinations. UAE airports have excellent technology and security, so transiting passengers carrying even residual amounts of drugs may be arrested.
Non-Muslim residents can get a liquor licence to drink alcohol at home and in licensed venues. These licences are valid only in the Emirate that issued the licence. Residents must also get a permit to be able to drink in licensed venues.
Alcoholic drinks are served in licensed hotels and clubs, but it is a punishable offence to drink, or to be under the influence of alcohol, in public. The legal age for drinking alcohol is 18 in Abu Dhabi (although a Ministry of Tourism by-law allows hotels to serve alcohol only to those over 21), and 21 in Dubai and the Northern Emirates (except Sharjah, where drinking alcohol is illegal).
Passengers in transit through the UAE under the influence of alcohol may also be arrested.
Electronic cigarettes are illegal in the UAE and are likely to be confiscated at the border.
Women should dress modestly when in public areas like shopping malls. Clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs, and underwear should not be visible. Swimming attire should be worn only on beaches or at swimming pools.
Cross-dressing is illegal.
It is normal practice for hotels to take a photocopy of your passport or Emirates ID. You can’t stay in a hotel if you’re under 18 years old and not accompanied by an adult.
Swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are considered obscene acts and offenders can be jailed or deported. Take particular care when dealing with the police and other officials.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public.
Relationships outside marriage
All sex outside marriage is illegal, irrespective of any relationship you may have with your partner in the UK. Same-sex marriages are not recognised and all homosexual sex is illegal. If the UAE authorities become aware that you’re conducting a sexual relationship outside marriage (as recognised by them), you run the risk of prosecution, imprisonment and/or a fine and deportation. It’s against the law to live together, or to share the same hotel room, with someone of the opposite sex to whom you aren’t married or closely related.
The UAE is in many respects a tolerant society and private life is respected, although there have been some reports of individuals being punished for sexual activity outside marriage, including homosexual activity, particularly where there is any public element, or the behaviour has caused offence. This applies both to expatriate residents and to tourists.
Due to the laws on sex outside marriage, if you become pregnant outside marriage, both you and your partner could face imprisonment and/or deportation. Doctors may ask for proof of marriage during ante-natal checks. An unmarried woman who gives birth in the UAE may also encounter problems when registering the birth of the child in the UAE, and could be arrested, imprisoned or deported. To get a birth certificate from the UAE authorities, you must provide a marriage certificate and the authorities may compare the date of the marriage against the estimated date of conception.
Photography of certain government buildings and military installations isn’t allowed. Don’t photograph people without their permission. Men have been arrested for photographing women on beaches. Hobbies like bird watching and plane spotting, may be misunderstood – particularly near military sites, government buildings and airports. In February 2015, 3 British nationals were arrested while plane spotting at UAE airports. They were detained for 2 months.
Posting material (including videos and photographs) online that are critical of the UAE government, companies or individuals, or related to incidents in the UAE, or appearing to abuse/ridicule/criticise the country or its authorities may be considered a crime punishable under UAE law. There have been cases of individuals being detained, prosecuted and/or convicted for posting this type of material.
The UAE authorities announced on 7 June 2017 that showing sympathy for Qatar on social media or by any other means of communication is an offence. Offenders could be imprisoned and subject to a substantial fine.
If you’re considering undertaking or promoting fundraising or other acts of charity in (or while passing through) the UAE, bear in mind that these activities, including where conducted online and via social media, are heavily regulated. You should be fully aware of the legal requirements and seek professional advice as necessary. Non-compliance can incur criminal penalties, including heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
If you want to buy property in the UAE, you should seek appropriate professional advice, as you would in the UK. A list of lawyers for Abu Dhabi and Dubai is available on the British Embassy website.
Financial crimes, including fraud, bouncing cheques (including post-dated and ‘security cheques’) and the non-payment of bills (including hotel bills) can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine. Bank accounts and other assets can also be frozen.
Bail is generally not available to non-residents of the UAE who are arrested for financial crimes. Those convicted will not generally be released from jail until the debt is paid or waived and they may even remain in jail after a debt has been paid if there is an outstanding sentence to be served.
Avoid recreational drugs of any kind in Fiji. Possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment and a hefty fine. Possession of any amount of marijuana carries a mandatory 3 month prison sentence.
If you are invited to take part in a kava drinking ceremony, you should be aware of the associated risk of liver toxicity.
Topless bathing and nudity in public is forbidden. Cover shoulders and knees during kava ceremonies and when in rural villages.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in February 2010, but gay and lesbian travellers should be aware of local sensitivities, particularly when visiting rural communities.
The Australian authorities will take action against anyone who imports or is found to be trafficking illegal drugs. Prosecution can lead to a lengthy jail sentence and deportation.
Australia has an established tradition of tolerance towards homosexuality, but there are still isolated incidents of homophobic crimes. Take care when visiting rural communities.
Australian federal law prohibits the recognition of overseas same-sex marriages, although some states/territories accept foreign civil partnerships and same-sex marriages as evidence of the existence of a ‘de facto’ relationship. UK civil partnership and same-sex marriage documentation isn’t as widely accepted in Australia as in the UK.