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When Carissa Mulvaney booked an island getaway with the company Fiji Spring Break, she couldn’t wait for the adventure of a lifetime with her partner Raymond and friend Sage Meredith.
Looking at the pictures of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters shared by Instagram influencers, she thought it looked like a dream holiday.
The beautician from Christchurch had seen the trip, run by the New Zealand company Tourism HQ, advertised on Facebook for years.
The holiday on the private Beachcomber Island Resort island from January 10 to January 15, she thought it was the perfect way to celebrate her birthday, while Meredith couldn’t wait to “make friends for life and have the best week of my life”.
The week would prove unforgettable for the two women, and dozens of others, but for all the wrong reasons.
Issues began before boarding the plane, according to the pair.
“Before the trip had even started, we had a lot of communication issues with Tourism HQ, which we should have taken as a sign for poor management”, Mulvaney said, who was added to a private group page on Facebook for the event. Around 150 people appeared to be attending the 5-day event.
Taylah Urquhart, another Kiwi on the trip, claimed information, such as flight details, itinerary and accommodation was not provided far in advance, or at all, but she trusted the company.
“They organised the flights, accommodation and food and told me all I would need to do is show up at the airport,” Urquhart wrote on a Facebook post following the trip.
“They refused to give the flight details, all I knew was the flight number, they neglected to mention that it was only a 2.5 star resort,” but Urquhart said she knew they had run trips for 10 years.
“I took their word for it being safe,” she said.
On the private page, guests were told to bring credit cards instead of cash and skip buying water at the airport as there was “plenty on the island”.
According to Mulvaney, Tourism HQ didn’t mention guests had to buy drinking water while Urquhart said they weren’t told there would be no water during the ferry ride from Nadi to Beachcombers Island on Tuesday, January 10.
“The ferry ride to the island took four hours all up, two just sitting at the port and two travelling,” said Urquhart, adding there was no water on the ferry but there was alcohol. “As you can imagine, many people became sick,” she said.
Despite the beverage-heavy boat ride, Urquhart held onto optimism.
“I still tried to keep high spirits, hoping that once we got to the island things would be good,” she said. And they were, she added, for about a day.
Power outage leads to issues with running water
Then, around midnight on Wednesday, January 11, the entire resort lost power for around three hours.
Urquhart was concerned but figured the resort staff would sort it out. By Thursday morning (day three), the power was back on but later that day, she said they were told the power would be turned off at 4.15 pm for two hours to repair the generator.
“The power did not come back on until 3 am Friday morning,” said Urquhart. During this time, over 12 hours, there was no tap water, making it impossible to shower or flush toilets. “The whole island smelled like sewage at this point,” she added.
To make matters worse, Mulvaney added, the island appeared to run out of drinking water.
“When they restocked, they upped the prices,” she claimed, something she described as ‘completely unacceptable’ considering the amount of alcohol at the event. A bottle of 500ml water cost $7-10, Urquhart claimed.
Epic salads nowhere to be seen
Things were not any better on the food front, according to the women.
Meredith claimed there wasn’t enough food but even what was available was a far cry from what they had been promised in promotional images.
“The food being served up looked like it was recycled you couldn’t tell if it was fish or chicken and it definitely was not fresh,” she said. “Where was the epic salad in the photos? where was the drinking of the coconut in the photos?”
Urquhart’s experience was similar. “The resort ran out of food and by food I mean mush, the food was literally rice and bone with a little bit of meat on it, and at times we couldn’t even tell what it was we were eating, was it chicken or fish? Who knows,” she said.
Escaping the island
It didn’t take long for people to start getting really sick, according to Mulvaney, who spent the entire Thursday vomiting.
“You can only imagine how much worse the toilet situation got,” she added.
According to Urquhart, one man was rushed off the island for urgent medical attention after vomiting and peeing blood.
“He genuinely thought he was going to die,” she said.
By Friday morning, Mulvaney, Meredith and Urquhart all separately decided to leave early.
“Due to there being hardly any running water, no power a lot of the time and everything (particularly water) costing an arm and a leg, my partner and I made the decision to leave the island two days earlier,” Mulvaney explained.
The women were glad they did after hearing that guests who stayed had their belongings go missing on the final night.
“Our friends woke up to a man in their room stealing their friends phone,” she said. Urquhart also heard of phones, bags and money going missing on Saturday night.
Company apologises, responds to complaints
A few days on, guests claim their requests for refunds have been rejected. On January 15, they received an email from Spring Break Fiji apologising for the events and encouraging people to speak with their insurance providers.
“Bula!” the email began. “Between the rough weather & the resorts generator breaking down, we’re incredibly sorry for what transpired to be the toughest Spring Break we’ve had in 10 years.”
The email said guests should “definitely reach out” to insurers to see what they would cover, and said they would provide any supporting documents guests needed to make claims.
When Tourism HQ was approached by the Herald about the travellers’ accounts of events, a Spring Break Fiji spokesperson said they had run successful events for a decade and had reached out to guests about their experiences.
“Spring Break Fiji has been running successfully for the past ten years,” the spokesperson said.
“The safety and comfort of our guests is of our utmost priority and rest assured we have protocols and processes in place to ensure the smooth operation of the event.”
“We have been in touch with the guests to understand their experience and support with a resolution.”
All is well on Instagram
Take a glance at Instagram posts Spring Break Fiji has been tagged in, and one would be none the wiser of these events.
Dozens of pictures and videos posted this week show tanned women and shirtless men enjoying the turquoise water, and white sand beaches, having what looks like the time of their lives, with a drink often in hand.
Urquhart said this was exactly why she felt it was important to speak up about her experience.
“‘Influencers’ are promoting this like it will be the time of your life, I don’t want anyone else to fall for that bullsh*t” she said.
Meredith agreed. “How can you post how amazing this trip was knowing in good conscience that people almost died,” she said of the influencers who seemed to be there for free.
“Literally a holiday from hell,” she added.
“The holiday from Hell,” echoed Urquhart.