We have just returned from a relaxing 8-day trip at the beautiful Aquana Beach Resort with our 2 kids, aged 2 and 4. We chose this resort based on the almost universal praise on TripAdvisor, and on the whole we were not disappointed. As we heavily used these reviews in making our selection, I wanted to return the favour by writing a detailed and honest a review for anyone considering coming here. As many have mentioned before, Fabienne and Marcel along with Rita and Hugo have really worked hard to create a lovely boutique destination squarely catering for those with young families. Given that they themselves have young children who live on the resort they clearly understand their market. The owner’s passion and genuine desire to please is reflected throughout the staff, and from the moment of booking through until check out none of our requests were too much to ask. That said however, there were a few minor gripes that has made me mark this down to a rating of 4 – nothing that couldn’t be remedied, and more on that later.
In terms of what we loved about Aquana – as many have said before, this is a little slice of paradise, quiet, relaxing and safe and far from the worries of the world. The resort is small, with around 15 bungalows so never feels crowded – you quickly get to meet everyone else staying there, and given that they are mostly of a similar demographic it is easy to chat and find common ground – not to mention opportunities for the kids to make new friends. If you are considering a family holiday with kids under 6 then you really can’t go wrong with this place. One thing I would mention though, if you are looking for a quiet or romantic destination without kids then the Aquana may not fit that bill. There were some childless holidaymakers on the resort with us, and it looks like they were less appreciative of having lots of screaming kids running around their breakfast table every morning. The facilities on the resort, whilst not extensive, were very good and well maintained. The small pool was clean and nicely located between the bar and the beach, with ample loungers and a shallow end for the kids to splash around in. There is a small children’s play area inside with toys, games, arts and crafts which kept our kids occupied for hours, and allowed the parents to have some peace during mealtimes. One issue I found with this setup however was that there was no fencing between the pool and the play area/bar – often our 2yo would go barrelling towards the pool with nothing to stop him falling in. I would suggest that for safety’s sake that they look at putting up some sort of child-safe barrier here.
The beach on the resort is pretty, with a lovely view across a sheltered wave-free lagoon towards a forested island and some stunning sunsets. However, it is not a great swimming spot. Despite the imported sand, there is some sharp coral, a steep descent into deep water and it is silty to the point that you can’t see the bottom. Whilst it is possible to swim, practically speaking for young children or non-swimmers it is not ideal beyond splashing around at the edge. If you are looking for a good swimming beach you do have the option of hiring the on-site Outrigger, whose driver will take you to a beautiful island for 2 hours with some amazing coral and snorkelling opportunities. We were told that there are often sightings of Turtles and Dugongs around here, however we were not fortunate enough during our trip to see them – plenty of fish though! There are better beaches around the island, and one of the best is at Eton – around a 30 minute drive from the resort. You have the option of taking a tour (which also takes in the beautiful Blue Lagoon) or self-driving. We hired a vehicle, and if you have the confidence to do so I would highly recommend doing this. The road in and out is unsealed and a bit bumpy, and some of the roads around the island are poorly maintained, but other than that driving here is relatively easy and the roads are uncrowded. We also loved having the flexibility to go where we wanted on our own timings, which when you have young kids is a bonus. Another great spot to drive to is the Mele Cascades – about 40 minutes to get out there, and then another 20 minutes of a relatively arduous climb, but well worth it to swim in the beautiful natural cascade pools. If you get the chance, I would also recommend that you swing past the Tanna Coffee café near the falls on the way back for a refreshment and chat with the friendly owners.
Other than the pool and beach on the resort there is also a small playground with swings and slide, plenty of buckets and spades and a large trampoline, which all the kids of all ages spent many hours on. You also have the option to sign out snorkelling gear, aqua shoes and lifejackets and take out one of the kayaks across the lagoon – ideal for the adults and older kids. The daily free bus transfer into Port Vila (about 30 minutes away) is also a great facility, and it is worth doing this at least once to stock up in the markets and grab some lunch or pasties next to the harbour (although TBH one trip is probably sufficient). There is on-site entertainment a few evenings a week – the highlights of which are the fire dancers and the Fatumanu Kastom dancers/musicians. All up, there is plenty to keep the kids occupied and the adults relaxed for at least a week – although by the end of our week the kids were starting to get a little bored.
The bungalows are, as many have already mentioned, spacious, clean and modern with good facilities. There are 1-bed and 2-bed options – both types of bungalows are the same size, with a larger bedroom in the former. Bungalows 4-8 are on the beachfront with the best views (although bungalow 4 is right next to the bar/restaurant so has the least privacy). The lounge room has AC, with ceiling fans in the bedrooms (needed during the summer season). There is a small mini bar, a kettle with tea/coffee and a TV and DVD player which is tuned into Australian terrestrial channels. Not that you’re likely to spend much time in the bungalow, but when you do it has all you need. Some have mentioned lack of shelving space in the bathroom, but that is a small issue. We also found that there is not a huge amount of hanging/drawer space in the bedrooms either – but there are additional drawers in the lounge for clothes if required. One criticism I did have was with the shower in our room – it was very difficult to get the water to a good temperature, which is important with reluctant kids – the temperature would vary from very hot to very cold, and we had to constantly move between the two extremes. We did speak to the management about this, and this is a result of the dedicated gas water heaters. The housekeeping is really good – the ladies who come round are friendly, efficient and quick and I could not fault them – every day they cleared our bungalow of sand, brought us fresh towels and made our beds – what more could you ask for!
The food on the resort was of a consistently high standard, with some exceptions - although I would not go so far as some of the previous reviewers have in terms of singling it out as amazing. On the whole, Vanuatu is not a ‘foodie’ destination, and with the exception of a few higher-end French restaurants the choice of cuisine on the islands is limited. In that sense, I have little doubt that the quality of what you get at the Aquana is high by Vanuatu standards. This fact was underlined to us during our last night here when the Prime Minister of Vanuatu was seated at the table next to us entertaining a foreign delegation! By international standards however, I found a lot of what was served to be above average at best – particularly in light of the prices paid. For example, we paid over $40 for 14 garlic prawns – expensive by any standards, and certainly unthinkable for anyone on a local wage. Marcel has certainly put a lot of effort into creating a diverse menu, and there are some standouts in there – we particularly enjoyed the Melanesian Curry. Some of the options on the menu were less impressive however, particularly some of the children’s options, which whilst still expensive were uninspiring and oversalted. We would have liked to have tried more, but the prohibitive costs of eating all our meals here meant that we had to be selective. The isolation of the resort however meant that in most cases we had no other options. The breakfasts are included, and you get the option of cereal, fruit and toast along with a cooked main - but if you are a vegetarian or unable to eat bacon then the few remaining breakfast options get a little ‘samey’ after a week. Overall I would rate the quality of the food around a 7/10, but the value around 5/10.
The service on the resort from the management all the way down was warm and friendly to a tee, and nothing was too much trouble. From arranging food for our arrival to making packed breakfasts for our departure we were treated like family. Small touches like having our dinner table moved onto the sand to get a better view of the (amazing) fire dancers, arranging our car hire, through to the cute amuse bouches and floral decorations at mealtimes and the staff learning all of our names we were made to feel like we were getting 5-star-plus service throughout our stay. The wait staff were attentive but not over-bearing and all clearly have been well trained and enjoy their work. The staff manning reception were happy to go the extra mile to help out and advise, and everyone was clearly proud of their country and were more than happy to have a friendly chat.
Last and not least, the nannies. The fact that the nannies have received such glowing praise was one of the deciding factors in us choosing this resort – in fact for us opting for Vanuatu at all. Whilst we did not expect them to provide proxy childcare for us, we did have some pre-expectations of what services they would provide. Not wanting to be too controversial here, but to be honest we were a little disappointed. Whilst some of the nannies were clearly more attentive than others, we did often find that for parts of the day they were either unavailable or idly ensconced in group chats and not focussing on the children. Don’t get me wrong, they would equally spend time playing with the kids, doing arts and crafts and sitting with them on the beach or trampoline – but often I would then watch as their attention would drift as they ended up doing their own drawings or crafts for example whilst my 2yo ran off once again in the direction of the pool or the sea. On a number of occasions when I had left my children with the nannies I would then see one or both of them wandering alone and unattended, and I started to lose trust that they would be entirely safe. What was particularly unacceptable for me was that on one occasion I noticed a nanny who had been assigned to solely look after a 5-year-old whilst her parents left the resort had left her alone in the swimming pool without supervision for a few minutes. After seeing that I knew that we could not do the same. They do state that the parents are ultimately responsible for the safety of the child and knowing their whereabouts on the resort, but it would only take one incident to completely undermine the purpose of these nannies and destroy the reputation of this resort. Management take notice – you have worked hard to build this place up and you need to ensure that complacency does not start to creep in. For this reason I was considering marking you down to a 3-star review, but given the passion and hard work and the great job you are doing running this place otherwise I have given you the benefit of the doubt and I am sure that this is an issue that can be rectified.
All in all, despite the few gripes outlined above we all had a fantastic holiday at the Aquana. Vanuatu is a beautiful, unspoilt archipelago and an ideal location for a family holiday. The local NI-Vatu people are some of the friendliest people we have met, and are rightly proud of their country. Vanuatu is still a developing country, and the infrastructure here is nowhere near as developed as that in say Fiji or Thailand for example – but that is part of the charm of coming here. The Aquana is a relatively new addition to Efate, and the owners have done wonders in transforming an isolated stretch of mangroves into a lovely resort and injecting well-needed funds into the local village economy. With a little more focus to tighten up the areas outlined above this has the potential to be somewhere truly great. Would we go back? Maybe – we certainly see the attraction of doing so, but I would perhaps wait until our kids are a bit older and more sensible! If however you are looking for a relaxing and unpretentious family holiday I have little reservation in recommending the Aquana Beach resort.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Opened in 2012, Aquana Beach Resort has become Vanuatu's leading three and a half star family friendly boutique Resort and this has largely been due to the unique childcare approach it has developed and the quality of the food from it's very popular casual dining restaurant. Located 25 minutes from the International Airport and only 15 minutes from the town centre, Aquana is situated in a large lagoon surrounded by groups of deserted islands and pristine reefs. Aquana has a 150 meter long man-made beach great for children to be able to play free from danger and for adults to relax on and soak up the sun. Aquana consists of 16 bungalows all located within 30 meters of the lagoon front and a hot a la carte and a continental breakfast are both included in the room rate and the resorts idyllic surroundings provides the perfect location for weddings and functions. ... more less
- Reservation Options:
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- Also Known As:
- Aquana Beach Resort Vanuatu/Port Vila