The South Pacific has a wide range of accommodations, from resort hotels on their own islands to mom and pop guesthouses and bunk-bedded dorms.
Types of Rooms
My favorite type of hotel accommodates its guests in individual bungalows set in a coconut grove beside a sandy beach and quiet lagoon. If that's not the quintessential definition of the South Seas, then I don't know what is!
Hotels of this style are widespread in the South Pacific. Some in Fiji, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, and Samoa feature super-romantic bungalows actually standing on stilts over the reef (although I should point out that some of these overwater units tend to be close together and less private than bungalows ashore elsewhere). Others are as basic as camping out. In between they vary in size, furnishings, and comfort. In all, you enjoy your own place. The bungalows are usually built or accented with thatch and other native materials but they contain most modern conveniences.
An increasing number of these accommodations are air-conditioned, which is a definite plus during the humid summer months from November through March. All but a few bungalows have ceiling fans, which usually will keep you comfortable during the rest of the year.
With the exception of French Polynesia, the major tourist markets for the island countries are Australia and New Zealand. Accordingly, the vast majority of hotels are tailored to Aussie and Kiwi tastes, expectations, and uses of the English language.
Unlike the usual U.S. hotel room, which likely has two huge beds, the standard Down Under room has a double or queen-size bed and a single bed that also serves as a settee. The room may or may not have a bathtub but always has a shower. There will be tea, instant coffee, sugar, creamer, and an electric jug to heat water (that's usually what I mean by "coffeemaker" in my hotel descriptions). Televisions and telephones are numerous but not universal, but most hotels have clock radios whose selections are limited to the few stations on the island.
Rooms are known to South Pacific reservation desks as singles if one person books them, regardless of the number and size of beds they have. Singles are slightly less expensive than other rooms. A unit is a double if it has a double bed and is reserved for two persons who intend to sleep together in that bed. On the other hand, a twin has two twin beds; it is known as a shared twin if two unmarried people book them and don't intend to sleep together. Third and fourth occupants of any room are usually charged a few dollars on top of the double or shared twin rates.
Some hotel rooms, especially in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, have kitchenettes equipped with a small refrigerator (the "fridge"), hot plates (the "cooker"), a water heater (the "jug"), pots, pans, crockery, and utensils. Having a kitchenette can result in quite a saving on breakfasts and light meals.
It Could Pay to Ask for a Local Rate or Discount -- It never hurts to ask politely for a discounted or local hotel rate. Many South Pacific hotels have local rates for islanders, which they may extend to visitors if business is slow. Most pay travel agents and wholesalers 20% or more of their rates for sending clients their way, and some may give you the benefit of at least part of this commission if you book directly instead of going through an airline or travel agent. Some wholesale travel agents reduce the commission and sell directly to the public.
Island Time vs. Island service -- There's an old story about a 19th-century planter who promised a South Pacific islander a weekly wage and a pension if he would come to work on his copra plantation. Copra is dried coconut meat, from which oil is pressed for use in soaps, cosmetics, and other products. Hours of backbreaking labor are required to chop open the coconuts and extract the meat by hand.
The islander was sitting by the lagoon, eating fruit he had picked from nearby trees while hauling in one fish after another. "Let me make sure I understand you," said the islander. "You want me to break my back working for you for 30 years. Then you'll pay me a pension so I can come back here and spend the rest of my life sitting by the lagoon, eating fruit from my trees and the fish I catch? I may not be sophisticated, but I am not stupid."
The islander's response reflects an attitude still prevalent in the South Pacific, where many people don't have to work in the Western sense. Here life moves at a slow pace. The locals call it "island time."
Consequently, do not expect the same level of service rendered in most hotels and restaurants back home. The slowness is not slothful inattention; it's just the way things are done here. Your drink will come in due course. If you must have it immediately, order it at the bar. Otherwise, relax with your friendly hosts and enjoy their charming company.
Surfing for Hotels
The best independent website for South Pacific hotel discount shopping is Fiji-based Travelmaxia.com, where scores of properties throughout the region post their specials. You can search by country for resorts, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, dive operators, and cruises.
The Australian-based Whotif.com (tel. 300/88 7979, 866/514-3281 in the U.S., 0845/458-4567 in the U.K.; www.whotif.com) discounts rooms in Fiji, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands.
Headquartered in London, Pacific-Resorts.com often has discounted rates for resorts in all the islands.
Backpackers and other budget travelers can book inexpensive rooms and dorm beds at hostels in most island countries at www.hostelworld.com.
In addition to the big online travel booking sites Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire, you can book hotels through Hotels.com; Quikbook (www.quikbook.com); and Travelaxe (www.travelaxe.net).
Frankly, I always go to the hotels' own sites before booking, as many now offer their own Internet specials, which often beat the big-site prices.
Other websites have reviews and comments about accommodations worldwise. HotelChatter.com is a daily webzine offering coverage and critiques. Go to TripAdvisor.com or HotelShark.com for independent consumer reviews of hotels and resort properties. (Anyone can post reviews on these sites, including hotel owners themselves and "guests" who have never stayed at a property, so I read them with a proverbial grain of salt.)
It's a good idea to get a confirmation number and make a printout of any online booking transaction.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.