Get Lost on Castaway Island: Paradise Found in Fiji

Think Fiji is too far to travel with kids? Guess what, it’s not. (Especially if you live on the West Coast.)

It was Thanksgiving 2022 and I was cleaning up the kitchen with family and friends after a bustling holiday dinner. I took a break to check Facebook, and saw two friends and their families on a pristine beach with their young children. They were waist-deep in clear blue water, wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! 

This place looked like paradise. I was buried in dishes. Where were they?

Fiji. They were in Fiji. In a magical place called Castaway Island!

I looked back at my messy kitchen, and thought: that’s where I’m going next year. We’re going to Fiji for Thanksgiving! If they could do it with their little kids, I could do it with my two girls!

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I’d booked the trip. Except they were already full for Thanksgiving, so I booked August, which was supposed to be a great time to visit…warm and sunny, clear blue skies!

Getting There

Flying Air Fiji.

There’s basically one option (that I could find) from Southern California without flying for 36 hours and stopping three times: Fiji Airways.

Fiji Airways flies direct from Los Angeles to Nadi, which is on the island of Vita Levu. The flight from LAX to Nadi is just under eleven hours. I researched the plane, and it looked newer and nice. (I don’t like flying on janky planes.) So, it would be a long trip, but just manageable.

We live in San Diego, and my husband had to work in L.A. the day of our trip, so we met him in L.A. via train. (The train, by the way, is an excellent way to cruise up the coast stress-free. Business class seats give you a free snack pack–kids love it– and free bevies, including a glass of wine!)

When we got to the airport, we had to exchange our boarding passes for the REAL Fiji Airways boarding passes. Apparently, the ones you get when you check in online at home aren’t the real deal. So, make sure you do this. 

Feeling hopeful in the Uber ride from the train station to LAX.
Happy to reunite with Ian.

I insisted that we travel with only carry-on bags because I have an intense fear that our luggage will be lost. And my kids (12 and 15) are big enough to wear their own backpacks and roll their own luggage behind them.  Also, it’s a beach vacation so we didn’t need to pack much besides bathing suits and flip flops. It worked out great. For the most part, everyone managed their own stuff. (Well, 50% of the time, they managed their own bags, every time.)

Right before the trip, I decided to buy a new carry on. I found the top-ranked choices, and was delighted to find that Amazon offered up a cheaper version of the high-end bags. I got this Amazon rolling bag and love it. It actually fits a ton of stuff. It also rolls really well. My girls were jealous and I promised to buy them each one for our next trip.

We booked economy tickets, because I wanted to save money and I’m no travel snob. (Guess what…turns out, I am. See the end of this post for more.) When we boarded the plane, my kids turned left into business class (which looks amazing!) but sadly, we had to tell them to turn right for economy.

Turn left for business class. (Yes!)

The flight was 10 hours and 50 minutes. I’ll let that sink in: 10 hours and 50 minutes.

It was a red-eye, which in theory should be great, because you sleep most of the way. HA! We boarded at 9:55pm. They brought out a dinner shortly after takeoff (so-so) and then I passed out the melatonin. My oldest, Marley fell asleep. My husband fell asleep. Holland, not so much. Which means it was a grueling trip with Holland elbowing me every five minutes to tell me something exciting until she finally passed out three hours until arrival. By then I was so delirious I just sat up with my eyes glazed over. A couple of hours before we landed, the crew turned up the lighting and served a breakfast.

Turn right for economy.

When we arrived in Fiji, it was 5:45am in the morning. Still dark. As soon as we got out of the plane, I could feel the fresh Fijian air…slightly cool and damp and wonderful and green and fresh. The way you think it should smell.

Customs didn’t take more than 30 minutes, and then we were in the very small lobby of the airport in Nadi.

Ferry to Castaway Island

It’s a twenty-minute transfer drive and a two-hour ferry ride from Port Denarau, the main port on the island. We booked our ferry tickets and transfers ahead of time through South Sea Cruises. The biggest hiccup in our trip was waiting for the van arranged by South Sea Cruises to take us to Port Denarau, where we would board our ferry. Like I said, the airport at Nadi is tiny, and we were told to wait in a small (air-conditioned) room, dedicated to South Seas, for 1.5 hours while we waited for our pre-arranged transfer. The van was late so we sat around without much to do (and very tired) for two hours.

The saving grace: the coffee at the airport is amazing! But next time, I would just take a cab.

When we finally boarded the van, there was lots of traffic, so by the time we arrived and checked in, it was time to board the ferry. The boat staff told us that we could sit inside in the “Captains Quarters” which was very nice, comfy, and air-conditioned. Because I get deathly sea-sick, I had my Relief Band geared up to the highest level, and I’m happy to report that I did not hurl, despite some bumpy conditions. Hooray!

This motion-sick mom doesn’t eff around. Relief band saves the day!

About 90 minutes later, the clouds in the skies parted, and the approach to our island commenced. We could see Castaway Island in the distance, beautiful in the morning light, surrounded by beautiful aquamarine water, protected by the reef. We were giddy! (I patted myself on the back for excellence in vacation planning.) Two smaller boats pulled up alongside our boat, one for humans, and one for the luggage, and before we knew it, we were making our way to the island.

We’re here!!! (12 year old is ecstatic. Teen feigns boredom.)

Our Arrival.

Probably one of the most iconic things about arriving in Fiji is that the locals will serenade the arriving visitors in song!  A warm welcome indeed! We couldn’t help but smile as we jumped off the boat into ankle-deep water and embarked on our magical stay on Castaway Island. “It’s so beautiful,” said Holland, crazy-eyed from no sleep but still bursting with excitement.

Amidst cheerful greetings of “Bula bula,” we were escorted to a lovely table inside the restaurant where we soaked up the views, sipped on a refreshing welcome drink, and were taken to our beach bure. (Spoiler alert: it does not suck.)

Needless to say, our bure on the South Beach was stunning. We were just a few steps from the ocean which was, when we arrived, a clear blue pristine lagoon. The setup for the bures are perfect for a family of four, a king-sized bed in the main area and two small twins at the entry. We immediately threw on our swimsuits and jumped in the water.

The South Beach bures do not suck. The ocean is steps away.

One of the first things we found when we jumped in the water was a beautiful, bright blue starfish! How could this trip go wrong?

The Accommodations.

First things first. As I said above, the rooms (or bures, as they call them) are individual free-standing structures decorated in true island-style. Most sleep four people. There are options for more space as well. There is one grand bure with two bedrooms and two baths, which sleeps up to six, and one family bure that sleeps up to ten. But since there are only a couple of these, if you went nuts and had a bunch of kids, you better book early.

The bures have two twin beds and a master bedroom, partially separated by sliding doors. And yes, there is a bathroom with a shower.

The biggest thing to consider when booking a bure is the location. The island bures are tucked away from the beach, usually surrounded by lush greenery. The ocean view bures a short distance away from the ocean, and the beach bures are beach front.

The South Beach bures are closer to the ocean and felt more private to me, but all the action happens on the North Beach. That’s where all the kayaks and paddle boards are located, and some of the best snorkeling.

Map of Castaway Island Resort

For the most part, the North Beach had better conditions when we visited. For a few days it was crazy windy on the South Beach. But we got a couple of pristine days where the water by our bure was absolutely perfect, an aquarium of teeming with sea life! So I really loved our South Beach bure and wouldn’t have changed it.

The Activities.

Just Chillin’.

Honestly, my favorite parts of the trip were just relaxing in the warm water or dangling in a hammock!

Snorkeling, Kayaking, Paddle Boarding, Etc.

But if you’re looking for action, this island has everything you’d want in a tropical beach vacation. It’s a small island, about 174 acres. It’s bursting with hilly, lush greenery and is completely surrounded by coral reefs. This creates a calm, gentle shoreline, perfect for snorkeling, which happens to be one of best things to do on the island.

Like I said, you can grab a mask and fins from the activities desk and easily make your way into the water. We saw lots of bright colorful fish, purple and orange brain coral and stingrays in addition to the aforementioned blue starfish. We even saw reef sharks and eels!

I’m a total snorkeling snob, and unless the conditions are perfect, I refuse to submerge. Why jack up my hair and makeup and get cold? Needless to say, I spent hours snorkeling in the ridiculously-clear water. I could have snorkeled for days. I didn’t get cold.

We spent a lot of time kayaking, and my husband and I even kayaked around the entire island. Well, he kayaked, and I scanned the water for sea life. (This took a couple of hours and it happened to be during a storm which kind of freaked me out, but I would do it again on a clear day.) My husband paddle boarded quite a few times, and he took out the Hobie Cat as well.  Check out more of the activities here.

Day Trip to Modriki Island.

Castaway Island also offers lots of day trips, including trips to Shell Beach, the Sand Bar, and Modriki Island, where the movie Castaway was actually filmed. My husband booked the Modriki Excursion, which got me a little nervous because: sea sickness! Alas, I wore my faithful Relief Band on full-blast, and looked forward to the part of the trip which included the champagne brunch.

Arriving at Modriki Island is pretty epic.

The excursion to Modriki ended up being a highlight of our trip. The water was relatively calm on the way out, making the boat trip to the island (which we could see in the distance) about an hour. Our guide, “Shrek,” who also headed up the Kids Club and happened to be a great musician, accompanied our family along with the captain.

He took us on a tour of the island, pointing out fun scenes from Castaway: where Tom Hanks buried the dead flight attendant, went spearfishing, and the cave where he knocked out his own tooth. (We couldn’t actually go inside the cave because the tide was too high.)


Turns out, Castaway wasn’t actually filmed on Castaway Island where we were staying. It’s called that, because that’s where Tom Hanks stayed when the movie was being filmed. The actual island, Modriki, is where most of the action in the film takes place. It’s uninhabited and wild and beautiful. A few small tour groups arrived as we were leaving, other than that, we had the island to ourself. On our short hike, Shrek grabbed several coconuts for us and we enjoyed marshmellow-y goodness from inside the older coconuts and the juice and soft meat inside the younger ones.

“This is paradise!” yelled Holland, always the first one in the water.

Then, we set up camp in a protected space at the foot of the hill and just steps from the beach. Conditions weren’t perfect (it was windy) so I was loathe to snorkel. But Ian and Holland jumped in the water right away, with Holland proclaiming at the top her lungs, “This is paradise!” So of course, I had to get in.

The first thing I saw? An octopus. A freaking octopus! It sat in the reef, chillin’ below me, looking up at me with one eye. By the time I surfaced to tell everyone what I saw, it was gone. But wow, was it beautiful. And it made me so happy that I had sworn off eating octopus after watching My Octopus Teacher.

We enjoyed a tasty champagne lunch under the thatched-roof hut and lounged on the mats. Then of course, we got the token pictures with Wilson!

We enjoyed a delicious lunch under the canopy.

The coolest part? The owner of Modriki Island stopped by. Shrek told us he does this, to make sure everyone is having a good time and all is well on the island. He seemed happy that we enjoyed our visit. Of course, I told him all about the octopus.

The Modriki excursion was a hit!

Bush Walk.

Back on Castaway, one of the cool things you can do on the island is the Bush Walk. I’m not sure how long it is, but it’s a path around the island that takes up to a pretty spectacular view.  Ian and I decided to venture off on the bush walk on one of the rainy days we got on the vacation. It was perfect because we didn’t get hot, but we did slip and slide around a bit in our flip flops.

It was beautiful and lush and steep, and when we got to the top we were graced with beautiful views. We took the beach trail down and it was definitely a bit perilous. But we did see a family of goats on the other side of the island! We took the long way down so it took us a couple of hours. In only slipped and cussed really loud and cursed my husband a handful of times. Probably not a good idea with little kids. Even my girls would have complained, so we left them in the bure.

I was happy to make it to the bottom of this fun, slippery hike.


There are two main pools on Castaway Island, a kids pool (that has the Nuku Mari Pool Bar and Grill eatery attached) and the “adult pool” with a swim up bar. I say “adult pool” because the entire time we were there, kids were swimming in it, and no one cared.

Pool chillin’.

The pools are refreshing and delightful on hot, sunny days and a bit cool on cloudy days, and there’s no real hot tub, so some days we elected not to submerge.

The bartender at the adult pool made delicious drinks, including fun and festive kids drinks. Getting the “Cinderella, icey-style” was a highlight for my girls. I loved the “Stay Chill” and the “Island Girl,” in addition to my standard choices of pina colada and sauvignon blanc.

Loved the swim up bar!
Kids drinks galore.

Kids Club.

The Kids Club at Castaway Island is special and appealing for all. It was so fun, Ian and I even joined in on some of the activities. They don’t do stupid, boring kiddie things. They do cool things like egg throwing and watermelon bashing and Fijian headdress-making and crab catching. The best part? The frog hunting, which we did with Holland the rest of the kid’s club. Imagine two dozen kids, most of them barefoot, tramping through the jungle in the dark with flashlights, screaming and yelling and catching frogs with their gloved-hands. (Of course, Holland caught a ton of frogs.)

Frog hunting by flashlight! No frogs were harmed, and were returned to the jungle each night!

Then in the bar that night, they did an “International Frog Race” where they named the frogs and assigned them a country, taking bets on who would win, all to benefit a Fijian environmental group. (Don’t worry, no frogs were harmed, and they were all returned back to the wild after the race.)

We also joined the kids club to make hookah shell bracelets which was decidedly more peaceful, but just as fun.

Bracelet making and Fijian singing were other kids club favorites!


The food on Castaway Island was for the most part, good. My girls loved the buffet at the main restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For breakfast, they served up the fluffiest French Toast you’ve ever had, and lots of tropical juices and delicious papaya. Holland noshed on lots of pasta, rice, and fries, while Marley loved the salad bar, shrimp and clams. Both of them enjoyed the desserts.

Ian and I ordered off the menu some of the time, and when the fish was fresh and local, it was delicious. The island hosted a special Fijian buffet which was festive and wonderful, and one of the nights they made Pad Thai right in front of us, which was great.

My favorite food, honestly though, was at the Sundowner Bar where they made wood-fired pizzas. They were delicious every single time.

We enjoyed some meals at Nuku Mari Pool Bar and Grill, which is located at the kid’s pool. My girls loved the kids Bento boxes and shrimp sushi roll, and Ian and I liked the tacos. They made us fish tacos upon request, which were great!

Lots of guests did the meal plan, but we opted not to, as Ian and I usually split a lot of meals. I didn’t do that math so I’m not sure…the meal plan may have been a better deal for us. But my diet is limited, since I’m allergic to crab, shrimp, lobster and squid, and I also don’t eat meat. But whatever. The food, for us, was not a highlight of the trip, but it sure was for the kids!

Other fun stuff, and things to consider.

This is an island teeming with life. You can legit grab coconuts right from the beach and, if you’re determined enough) peel back the outside until you can bore hole into the coconut, drinking the juice and eating the delicious meat.

Nom nom coconut!

In addition to all the beautiful fish and sea life, we found giant crabs, the aforementioned frogs, and bats. We loved all the critters we stumbled across.

The stars at night are mesmerizingly beautiful. Do yourself a favor and drift away in a hammock and watch the night sky.

This resort is designed for good weather. When a storm rolls in, its windy and a bit cool, and there’s not much to do. Bring some cards and a good book and snuggle in with your family. We did, and had a blast!

The staff at this resort is the absolute best. They are so kind and welcoming and will do anything to make your stay more enjoyable. Most of the people perform multiple tasks. Shrek, for example, led the kids club, the Fijian dance performance, played music at the main restaurant, led the dance party, and was our guide to Modriki. I hope they pay him well!

This is a kid-friendly resort. Almost everyone brought kids. Which means there are kids running around everywhere. EVERYWHERE. We didn’t mind this, as we brought our girls. But at 12 and 15, they were some of the oldest kids on the island. For us, it worked out great. But I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t have kids.

Most of the families are from Australia or New Zealand, as the plane ride is only like five hours long. (It’s like what Hawaii is to us West-coasters.) They were delightful and fun, all in all, a jolly group of travelers. The best part? Overhead on the frog hunt, a little Australian boy said…

“Back home, I always have to say ‘Good day’ to my friends and people I see. But the truth is, sometimes I don’t want them to have a good day.”

We did stumble upon one other family from Hawaii, and on the very last day, two other American families arrived.

Finally, the trip from the U.S. is burly. If your kids are angels then you will be fine, but I struggled with my girls, even though they were older. Which brings me to a point I made early in this post: I’ve realized that I am a travel snob. Never again will I fly economy with my kids if the flight is over 10 hours.

Parting thoughts

If you’ve got kids and can handle a long flight, I absolutely recommend a visit to Castaway Island. It’s practically paradise. Your kids will have a blast, you’ll have a blast, and you will be so glad you went. 100% recommended. Just go.

I really hope you enjoyed this write up! And stay tuned for our next family adventure…to Japan!

No regrets.

Island Girl Getaways: The Standard in Miami

What do you do when your mother-in-law offers to stay with your kids so you can fly to Miami with your husband for the Miami Boat Show? You call your South Beach friend, book your flight and make hotel reservations before anyone changes their mind.

Your hotel: your friend recommends the Standard. It’s not smack-dab in the glitter and flash of South Beach. The Standard is a mile away on Belle Isle, a small island off the Venetian Causeway between South Beach and Miami.

As a nod to its former occupant, the Lido Spa Hotel sign still hangs from the hotel façade, with the Standard sign underneath, upside down.

Formerly the storied Lido Spa Hotel, the Standard embraces you in yoga-style heart hug from the moment you walk in. From the warm, friendly staff to the aromatic candles burning in the lobby (the Standard Scent, it turns out, and you make a mental note to buy a candle before you leave), you can’t remember the last time you felt such welcome.

The lobby is stylish and kitschy. It radiates a chill, tranquil vibe oozing with the unapologetic, unaffected cool of a Hollywood A-lister heading to Coachella. You love the earthy, bohemian elements like a mystical tree sculpture and hanging tapestries. You’ll lounge in the rich, cobalt blue couches and take in the bright stain glass window.

But this place isn’t too cool to playful, as evidenced by the foosball table, giant Jenga set and ping pong table.

The room is nothing to write home about, small and unadorned. But it’s clean, bright, and inviting, and you didn’t come to Miami to spend all day lounging in the room, did you?

Back downstairs just outside the lobby, you find a cute shop that sells everything from bikinis to rolling papers, as well as the Juice Café, which promises a bevy of juices and elixirs as well as coffee. You can even grab an acai bowl or parfait, so you won’t get fat here on vacation. Excellent!

A beautiful path leads you towards a lush, grassy courtyard adorned with Native-looking sculptures, hammocks, and a ridiculously tempting “Swing Lounge.” (The swings get more and more exciting after a few cocktails, I promise.) A fire pit beckons for later, and you see an empty bottle of Veuve and two champagne glasses nestled in the pillows of one lounge sofa.

A walk through the ivy covered archway of the Lido, the outdoor hotel restaurant, leads you to the inviting waterside eatery and a chill outdoor bar. From this view you look right out onto the calm and serene bay. You imagine you will see some pretty nice boats coming and going from the dock and maybe even some dolphins. (Yes to both!)

To the left is the pool area…mesmerizing and calm when you explore first thing in the morning. It looks out directly on the water and promises to deliver a hip, stylish scene later on.

But, first things first. As a guest of the hotel, you get to visit the Spa for free, so this is first on your agenda. (They also offer massage and beauty services for a fee.) The third floor and part of the second floor is entirely devoted to wellness, featuring a decent gym (you forgot to pack your running shoes, oh well) and a very interesting Spa, or Turkish-style Hamam as they call it.

Featuring a long, mysterious and slightly 1960s-space-film hallway, you’ll find both hot and cold saunas, soaking baths and showers, all co-ed. (Some girls like to go into the spa topless, as my husband was quick to notice.) Although not particularly luxurious, the spa experience was unique, zen and relaxing…I love me a good steam room. I emerged feeling refreshed and ready to take on the stresses of a day in paradise.

The pool scene had livened up a bit by the time I got there at 10:30. I got one of the few coveted chairs front-row to the pool and was promptly greeted by a server with a pitcher of water and a pool menu.

Pina colada or F’rose, where to start? I opted for the pina colada and it was in fact delicious, the best I’ve tried! (And believe me, I know a good Pina Colada when I taste one.) It’s poured on the rocks so you don’t get that blended bloaty feeling, and it has tons of fresh coconut on the top. The server even knew to ask me if I wanted a floater. God bless him!

The pool scene was indeed super chic, chill, and a bit mischievous. (Dive into the infinity pool and check out the beats from the underwater sound system.) Lots of fit, good looking people who looked like they just got out of yoga (they probably did, the hotel offers lots of classes) and a lot less plastic surgery then I would have expected for Miami, but then again, we weren’t right in South Beach. I heard every language from Portuguese and Spanish to French and Russian. My South Beach friend (who just happens to teach yoga) explained that this pool scene was a favorite for the trendy locals.

Around noon, a lot of shiny powerboats started circling for the boat docks. Most were full of really tanned well-heeled (or flip-flopped) people who showed up for a drink at the bar and left with bottles of champagne or tequila for their boat.

The food! For lunch, I ordered the Roasted Veggie Buddha bowl which was a plentiful arrangement of avocado, tofu, broccoli and other assorted veggies over quinoa. Amazing! But it paled in comparison to the salad with an ENTIRE LOBSTER CLAW on top that my friend ordered!

(When we first arrived at the hotel the night before–on Valentines Day, of all things–we rolled into the restaurant at 9:30pm and were able to get seated, even though the place was hopping. We tried a special ahi crudo appetizer, along with a surprisingly festive and delicious grouper with chilies. Once again…perfection.)

Relaxed and happy on Valentines Day.

The restaurant even offers a legit happy hour in the bar area which makes it the perfect place to catch a drink, order a small bite and watch the sunset (one of the few locations to see the sunset in Miami.)

But tonight, after we tired of the pool and my husband finished up at the boat show, we were headed somewhere different. Somewhere you absolutely MUST go if you visit Miami: Joe’s Stone Crab.

Tucked down on the south end of South Beach, Joe’s Stone Crab is venerable and legit. It’s been around since 1913, seats 450 people, and only stays open half the year. Joe’s is an old-school, tuxedo-wearing-waiter, try-to-tip the maitre d, no reservations-allowed, see-and-be-seen kind of place. Visited by celebs, boaters, locals, and everyone in between, the wait can run over two hours on weekends (so get there early, and grab a drink in the bar, preferably a Moscow Mule which comes with its own Joe’s mug.) While you’re waiting, watch some expert patrons inconspicuously grease the maître d and get seated right away. Apparently there is an art to this, and a high dollar figure involved.

As you can guess, the stone crab is sweet and delicious (according to my companions), the oysters are fabulous, and the wait staff quick, proficient, and no-nonsense. “But what are you having for your DINNER?” the waitress asked me a few times after I tried to order just an appetizer for dinner, since I’m allergic to crab. I ended up with scallops, and yes they were succulent and amazing. Total bursting-in-your-mouth action.

Don’t forget the key lime pie for dessert!

After dinner it was time to dance off some crustacean and shellfish, so we headed to the Living Room at Faena, which your friend promises is a current night-time hotspot. (You opted out of the intense clubbing scene because…why? Over it.)

The Faena Hotel is an over-the-top collaboration between hotelier Alan Faena, costume designer Catherine Martin, and her husband—film director Baz Luhrmann. The vibe: ambitious and highly stylish; everything is dripping in gold and tapestry. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy snapping pics on your iphone before you even make it out of the lobby. Profound luxury abounds!

Tapestries, tapestries, and more tapestries!

The Living Room is bursting with the good-looking, international set and the well-dressed bouncer is going to let you in until he spies your husband’s flip flops. “No flip flops allowed,” he says.

“But, but, he just sold a boat at the boat show!” you protest. “I’m glad for you,” he says, “but we have a dress code.”

A peek inside affords a glimpse of the scene, and its just bleeding coolness. You know you will have to come back again, with the right shoes.

Gold dinosaur, anyone? Just one of the opulent treasures at the Faena.

So you slink off, in search of a less stringent dress code, and your friend promises the Broken Shaker is less swanky but just as much fun.

The Broken Shaker is located at the outdoor bar at the art deco Freehand Hostel in South Beach. GQ calls the Broken Shaker the “Coolest backyard in Miami,” and you can see why. A super casual, mingle-around-the-pool kind of place where everyone is in a good mood…like a house party gone right.

But don’t be fooled…the bartenders take their drinks seriously, and mix handcrafted cocktails with handmade infusions and syrups created from herbs found in the property’s private garden. We loved checking out the hipster scene and listening to some reggae and Unwritten Law. But don’t get too comfortable…this isn’t your house and you have to get back to your hotel!

The sun rose much too early the next day, and it was time for me to wander the Miami Boat Show with my husband. Now I’ve been to at least 30 boat shows, but Miami blows them all out of the water! If you find yourself in Miami during the Boat Show, do yourself a favor and go!

When we grew tired of checking out million dollar yachts, we decided it was time for some lunch. We headed to La Cote, a Mediterranean bistro at the Fountainebleau, which was just across the street.

We walked through the pool area on the way to the restaurant, and it was kicking! At 2pm in the afternoon. The pool bar was packed with a live DJ, bartenders throwing bottles and doing tricks cocktail-style, and lots of happy revelers cocktailing in their swimwear. (I noted much more plastic surgery and sequins at this hotel pool.)

The upstairs dining area at La Cote was a welcome reprieve from the craziness, and our lunch was scenic and delicious! Didn’t mind the champagne cart one bit, or the amazing heirloom tomato salad for lunch. But I was happy to leave this big, flashy, and beautiful resort…and go back to our mellow oasis.

Who doesn’t love a champagne cart?

Back at our hotel to chill.

We decided do to a two-hour yoga and meditation session back at the Standard that night, that my friend Leah just HAPPENED to be teaching. It was super-relaxing and wonderful to decompress and just BE after the long day of champagne, yachts, and people watching.

As our departure grew sooner, I found myself sad I didn’t have just one more day to relax, read, and order yummy drinks and food poolside. I knew that I absolutely LOVED our hotel and would totally stay there next time I get out to Miami.

And if you are wondering, did we make it back to the Faena for the Living Room Bar? Hell to the yeah!  The same bouncer was working, took a look at my husband in closed-toed shoes, and welcomed us in.

The live music was incredible, and the drinks and scene were perfect. And so our last night, like everything else we experienced in Miami, was just as fun as promised.

Thanks for reading, and if you’ve been to Miami or the Standard, please share your experience!

Island Girl Getaway: Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs

What if you could escape for a few days somewhere serene, energizing, and other-worldly? What if you could soak in an ancient hot springs grotto under the desert stars, enjoy a healing session with a resident shaman, and take a sound bath with gongs? What if you could savor gourmet farm-to-table dining and sip fine wines IN YOUR BATHROBE? What if I told you this place is less than three hours away from Coronado?

Welcome to Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs. Immortalized in the 1992 Robert Altman film “The Player” with Tim Robbins, Two Bunch has long been on my bucket list. A healing hideaway, this eco-resort and spa is off the beaten path located 10 miles North of Palm Springs. Frequented by L.A. studio execs and Hollywood hipsters alike, Two Bunch Palms soothes the world-weary with its peaceful and meditative energy.

The Player starring Tim Robbins and Greta Scacchi.

The property was long-rumored as Al Capone’s West Coast hideout, complete with underground escape tunnels and bullet holes. In the 1980s, Two Bunch became popular with Hollywood stars like Mel Gibson, Daryl Hannah, Robin Williams, Goldie Hawn, Julia Roberts, and Madonna.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the property came under disrepair during the real estate bust and underwent foreclosure in 2010. In 2012, two Hollywood film execs and a real estate developer bought the 77-acre retreat for less than $10 million. They promised to return the property to its original glory with higher-end accommodations, while honoring the land, the folklore, and the natural environment.

And honor it they do! The trees are blessed before they are cut down, and invited to return back into the plant world, according to the resident shaman who met with us during our stay.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Needless to say, when one of my besties organized a retreat at the property for her birthday, I booked my room.

I was delighted to see that Google Maps put Two Bunch less than 2.5 hours from Coronado. Radical!

Let’s do this!

These are the faces of two distraught moms, devastated to leave their families behind.

Two Bunch is kind of in the middle of nowhere, just past those weird windmills. (Let’s just say there don’t appear to be a lot of compelling reasons to leave the resort. And that’s just fine with me.)

Entry to Two Bunch.


Welcoming Indian.

The entry is unassuming yet inviting. We noticed that there is a big board with TONS of classes included in the stay, ranging from yoga and pilates to angel card readings to how to discover your spirit animal. (More on that later.)

Sign me up!

But first things first. The first thing you notice is the intense energy of the resort. When we arrived the wind was blowing, which could be unnerving, but was actually calming in a feral, restless-desert-spirit sort of way. A visitor said, “the sound of the wind moving in the mature trees and native shrubs is soothing. These active molecules seem to surround you, as if to emphasize your presence in the moment.” I couldn’t agree more!

Soothing Palms

According to an article in the Coachella Valley Weekly, “Once referred to as Spa City, Desert Hot Springs has long claimed to be situated in a vortex that promotes health and wellness. The theory is: The city’s natural elements of mineral water, unspoiled mountain and desert expanse, its elevation, earthquake faults, wind and sunshine create a significant energy field. It’s believed the vortexes are negative ion generators influenced by magnetic forces, which produces positive energy, well-being and healing.”

Hmm…I like it!

Now, let’s check out my room. A 10 minute walk from the restaurant and the grotto, it was vintage-hip, clean and comfy with some quirky touches like woven macramé and some earthy textures and finishes. The back opened up to a dirt courtyard which contrasted with the polished interior, but not terrible way. (More like a messy hair, don’t care kind of vibe.)

Ready for that robe.

First on the agenda…slipping into my bikini and the comfy terry cloth bathrobe and slippers provided by the resort. The property has a zen, bohemiam-attitude which means you can wear your bathrobe EVERYWHERE…even to the nice restaurant!

Look, no pants!

The grounds are sprawling and gracious, without being over done. A lovely dirt path led me back to the main part of the resort, where I passed gurgling streams from the natural hot springs (I felt the water, it was warm), and a meditative stone labyrinth. (My friend tells me that you can enter the labyrinth with an intention or a question, and as you walk the answer will come to you. I tried this on my last day, and it worked.)

You remind me of a babe. What babe?

The babe with the power.

In addition to natural springs, the property has a pond brimming with koi and turtles, several communal fire pit areas and more than 1,500 additional plantings, including 60 mature palm trees.

The Al Capone Suite! Supposedly there are bullet holes in the room and underground tunnels to help him escape should his enemies come a-hunting.

Loads of stain glass.

But the main draw of the property is the grotto, a blissful, enticing retreat created by the naturally heated mineral springs and famous 600-year-old healing waters. Two Bunch Palms has also built several brand-new mineral soaking tubs, wading tubs, and cold water tubs, all gushing with mineral water that leaves the ground at more than 150 degrees F.

Come on in, the water is fine!

The healing waters are said to be rich in mineral content and high in Lithium which help your body absorb the healing properties. According to a studied traveler, “Bubbling up deep from within the earth, the waters are blessed with virgin springs that are purified over the San Andreas Fault. It is ancient springs, with lots of folklore.”

Experts say the water has a perfect balance of PH and Alkalinity. This produces silky mineral water good for the body inside and out. (See, I’m a scientist now!)

After some serious blissing-out in the grotto, it was time to check out the restaurant. Essense is known for its healthy, gourmet, farm-to-table fare and it doesn’t disappoint.

My favorite thing on the menu was the breakfast veggie omelet with Jerusalem artichoke, grilled asparagus, blistered heirloom tomatoes, gobs of Boursin cheese and other assorted yumminess. They also serve up “Hand-crafted healing drinks” (in other words, they make fresh juices.) And they are delicious.

I ate this three days in a row.

Serene and peaceful.

Lunch and dinner is no less mouth-watering, and we ate at this restaurant three times a day. With a scenic view of the desert, it was the perfect place to meet up after a swim in the grotto.

And did I mention they serve wine?

Ladies who lunch. In bathrobes.

The spa at Two Bunch seems small and unremarkable, located downstairs in what must be an original 1920’s/1930s building. There’s nothing high-tech about it, but the quality of the therapists is what makes it special. The therapists are known to be world-class body workers who often hone their craft in places like China and Tibet. My massage was one of the best I’ve experienced and I would definitely do it again.

A couple of my friends did the mud baths, and said it was interesting and relaxing but “stinky.” You also have to get completely naked and climb over the edge of the mud bath and flash your partner your bits and pieces as your straddle your way into the mud. I’m way too much of a prude for this so I’m glad I missed it!

No thanks.

One of the coolest things about Two Bunch is the classes, which are free and included with your stay. You simply sign up for them when you wake up, because some of them do fill up.

On my second day, I did a 9am yoga class in the Celestial Dome.

Celestial dome…out of this world!

Morning yoga.

I followed that up with a 10:15 Pilates class in the View Point room. Both yoga and Pilates were great. After that, it was a “Balancing your Chakras” class in the serene and tranquil Garden room.

The Garden Room…my favorite space in the resort!

Here, under the guidance of the in-house Shaman, I used crystals learn that most of my chakras were balanced and turning in the right direction. Sadly, my chakras that dealt with “fear” and “connection to the divinity” were seriously whack. (Food for thought.)

After this class it was a quick break for lunch and a swim in the grotto, then it was time for “Vino and Van Gogh” back in the Garden Room. This class was a radical because we painted to music with our non-dominant hand after a short meditation. The art we came up with was super-cool!

Pensive artists.

Finally, we lingered in the Garden Room for the Angel Card reading, where we pick two cards and a psychic-like individual told us what they meant to us. I got “Focus” and “Retreat.”

Freak me out already.

It was a little unsettling when the lady elaborated on what these cards meant to me. I’ve never seen a psychic or anyone like that before. But her words ring true even a few weeks after my visit and I find myself coming back to them.

We met up in one of our “dirt courtyards” that night for a cheeseboard, some wine, and some mala-making. (One of my friends makes the most amazing cheeseboards on the planet, and my other friend runs a yoga company and instructed us how to make the malas. How lucky am I?)

Cheese board explosion.

Meditative malas!

After some bottle drinking, cheese-eating and mala-making it was time for an 80s dance party then off to the birthday dinner in our robes.

Beautiful birthday girl.

A grotto-swim under the desert stars led us to the 9pm “Sound Bath” with gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, and lights. It was surreal and other-worldly. Everyone sprawled out on yoga mats in a semi circle and listened to the sound bounce off the walls of the Celestial Dome. It was powerful at times, and lulling in other moments, to the point you could hear random snores from other attendees.

I was sad to leave Two Bunch the next morning. But I left feeling refreshed, relaxed, and renewed. “You look like you’ve slept for weeks,” my mom said when I got back. But most of all, I had a new perspective. A new outlook that has lingered more than a month since I got home. Will I be back? Most definitely. And I can’t wait to see what Angel cards I draw!

67425 Two Bunch Palms Trail, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240