My husband is a New Zealand born Samoan and has a large family living in Western Samoa. This was obviously a great advantage to us in terms of having personal tour guides, places to stay etc. And living the 'day to day life' in my husbands village was an introduction to Samoa's rich culture and unique lifestyle...
Since that first trip in 2002, my husband and I returned again in 2004 (minus the kids..yay!) and most recently in August of this year (add 4 kids...arghhh) and nothing has changed...I still cried my eyes out at having to leave!!
Booking things in advance? If this is your first visit to Samoa, its a good idea to have all your plans in place for at least the first 3 days....once your more comfortable with things, you can start 'free-wheeling'...if you've got the kids then booking in advance can really save you some headaches.
MOSSIE REPELLANT, MOSSIE COILS......I can still hear them buzzing about.
Travelling with kids: Pack a book, forget the gameboy, give them their own disposable camera and journal. Pack childrens panadol and grab a good electrolytes product from the chemists...its hot so you want to make sure you keep them well hydrated, lots of water....and take something for diaorhea (spelling?)...they will probably end up with runny tummy and theres not too much you can do about it. Not strictly necessary but always a good idea is to immunise for Tetanus and Hep A. If you have kids under 8 years...buy S26 Toddler Gold..this was a great way for us to ensure that the little ones still got what they needed when it was too hot for them to want to eat.
Flights: Generally arrive at some odd hours so be sure to have a transfer to your hotel organised OR if your trying to be money conscious...you can grab the Airport Shuttle bus for only WS$10 pp which will take you to any hotel in Apia City...be sure to have the address with you. Otherwise, a taxi into Apia will cost around WS$50...
Money: The Samoan TALA is the most accepted currency, although the more upmarket boutiques and hotels will deal in US dollars. Its been our experience to find the ATMS out of action when we need them so split your funds between cash, card and travellers cheques so your never caught out. Oh and keep an eye out for the security guard sleeping in front of the ATMs - great photo opportunity.
Car Hire: Most car hire companies are happy to drop off the car to you at the airport for around WS$50....when hiring in Samoa you'll need to purchase a Samoan Drivers license for WS$10...you can do this by emailing a copy of your license to your car hire people and requesting them to endorse it for you in advance.
If you plan on visiting both islands of Upolu and Savaii, you can take your hire car with you on the inter-island ferry, its convenient but adds up at a cost of WS$65 each way (driver goes free but all other passengers cost WS$7 each) and you'll need to call the Ferry service to book your car in advance. There are car hire companies on Savaii if you want to split your hire. The ferry takes around 1 hour. Don't be put off at having to step over the sleeping samoans who take up whole benches and most of the aisles...get there early so you can spread out your lavalava (sarong) and have your own little siesta too!
Food & Water: If you have a delicate stomach, avoid the BBQ offered on roadsides. Eat from restaurants/hotels or make up your own feeds when possible...yes it adds up but its better then spending the majority of your holiday in the bathroom right? Bottled springwater can also add up so if you're there for more then a week, buy a jug and bottle your boiled water.
If you are a dedicated junk food fanatic, then stick to Apia, which boasts Samoa's one and only McDonalds...sorry no KFC, Rooster, Subway etc
Shopping: Wander around the markets and main streets of Apia shopping district BUT don't go spending up big just yet...leave that til the last couple days of your holiday or you'll be lugging around all that beautiful must have stuff. If you just HAVE to buy something, grab a few lavalava's (sarongs)..you'll live in them, just ask a friendly local to show you how to put them on properly :-)
Tours: Most of your hotels will offer guided tours BUT they are pricy and if you've arranged a hire car, with a little time and research you can create your own. Way better since your not restricted by schedules...if you like it, stay longer..if you don't continue on! Grab a map and start with the coastal route around the islands, loads to see and do there! Carry some extra cash though since alot of beaches and sights require an entry fee (between WS$2 - $15 tala).
Etiquette: Never enter a Fale (house) with your shoes on..(keep an eye on them though, the one thing that seems to go missing in Samoa is thongs/shoes).
When sitting down, never point your feet at anybody (rude). Don't stand in a Fale (house) when others are sitting down. Its considered rude to flash your money around...keep a smaller amount seperate to the rest of your ready cash. Dont count all your dosh out in the open, dont discuss money matters unless you are in a transaction. Haggling - yes, you can try but this isnt Thailand and aggressive hagglers will just get the cold shoulder. Learn to say Thank you in Samoan: Fafetai Lava (Far-fair-tye Larvah)
Tipping is optional, not expected...if the service warrents it go ahead (the local pay rate is abominable - WS$1.65 per hour is the standard, so tips are a great bonus)..you'll find most people will go out of their way to provide some really terrific service with a huge smile!
Accommodation: Samoa can offer the most basic of accomm. to some premier boutique resorts. We found mixing them all up was a great way to see and experience it all.
Warning: Beach Fales sound fantastically fun and romantic dont they! BUT so long as you know that the mossies are rampant, the mattresses are thin and if it rains grab your shampoo and wash your hair in bed (it'll be the warmest shower you get at these places). Having said that though, it really is a unique experience and fantastic to wake up with the ocean crashing literally at your feet.