Fiona Winger is kindly sharing some information about getting married with Starwood hotels in Fiji.
Starwood is a group of hotels that include the Westin Resort and Spa, Denerau Island, Sheraton Fiji Resort, Sheraton Denerau Villas, and Sheraton Resort and Spa, Tokoriki island.
Together there are so many options to make any of your wedding dreams come true: different venues, sizes, food choices and so much more.
Either read this article or listen (click on the link at the bottom of the page to listen).
Anais : Good afternoon Fiona. Thank you so much for answering my questions today.
So you are a wedding planner, and events manager for Starwood Fiji. I would love to ask you a few questions to help potential brides and grooms coming here for their weddings. For how long have you been working for Starwood Fiji?
Fiona: I have been working for Starwood Fiji for almost 2 years. I was based out at the Sheraton on Toko-riki Island, but I’ve just recently moved to the mainland because of cyclone Winston.
Anais: Okay. So you’re now based in Denarau Island.
Fiona: Yes. Based in Denarau Island until we re-open Sheraton Resort and Spa at Tokoriki.
Anais: What was your position there back then?
Fiona: I used to look after rooms at Sheraton Tokoriki but I’m currently doing a task force role, which is Director of Conventions and Weddings.
Anais: Okay great. Thank you. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s special here at the
Westin and Sheraton for Starwood Fiji in terms of weddings and events?
Fiona: We’re very lucky that we have three properties on Denarau Island and they’re all right next door to each other. Something that we definitely highlight to our guests is that you can stay in one resort but you can play in all three of them.
So we’ve got the Westin Resort and Spa Denarau Island, Sheraton Denarau Villas and Sheraton Fiji Resort. Especially with our wedding guests, when they come and stay, they have three properties to choose from. Guests can be spread across all three, but they can all utilise the restaurants together, all the swimming pools together.
Anais: Great. And the spa?
Fiona: Absolutely. The spa and the gym, the kid’s facilities… So that sets us apart from different resorts on Denarau Island because, we are not limited to just one resort.
Anais: There’s much more choice.
Fiona: Yes. Absolutely.
Anais: So I assume that it also offers different price ranges for the rooms as well.
Fiona: Yes exactly. We have actually got everything. From entry level rooms up to the suites and that’s across three properties.
Anais: What are your favourite parts of the job?
Fiona: My favorite part of the job would have to be that it’s extremely rewarding. It’s obviously a lot of hard work making someone’s special day come to life.
It is very rewarding when you are there and you see the joy on the bride and groom’s faces, they’re family and loved ones are with them. There’s nothing that really beats that feeling.
Anais: Yes it is such a happy day.
Fiona: Yes absolutely. And you know being part of that day and having helped to make it all come together is just…
Anais: How many people can you host at the Westin or the Sheraton or, all the properties here for weddings?
Fiona: We’re quite lucky, as I said before we’re three properties. We have multiple venues that we can utilise for weddings, both indoor and outdoor.
We have the wedding chapel down at Sandy Point, which is very popular. We have our own specific wedding lawn, which is down at the
Sheraton Fiji Resort as well that’s a very well-manicured piece of lawn that is imported grass that we look after specifically for weddings.
We do weddings there for just the bride and groom. All the way up to a few hundred. The largest that we’ve done there would be about two hundred. However in saying that, we can do more than that. We’re lucky that we have the Denarau Island Convention Center. That is an event space.
Anais: And that sometimes hosts up to five hundred guests?
Fiona: Yes it does. Last night we had a dinner in there for six hundred guests. So we can cater for large functions.
A lot of people want something more intimate and quiet with just the two of them at the ceremony and then they might just want a table for two in one of our private restaurants, which can be either Flying Fish at Sheraton Fiji Resort, or at the Kitchen Grill at the Westin.
So we can organise it, or we can organise a larger function in either one of our ballrooms or one of our outdoor spaces, and so on.
Anais: It’s perfect for everybody!
Anais: What budget would you recommend for someone who wants to get married here?
Fiona: Again, it depends on the scale of their wedding… If you are looking at about thirty guests, say as an average. You’re looking at a reception cost of around sixteen thousand Fiji dollars. The ceremony itself would be depending on whether they’re after an outdoor or indoor ceremony. That would be around the five thousand mark so I would say all up, not including accommodation, you’re looking around anything between twenty and twenty five thousand Fiji Dollars.
Anais: So what does that include?
All of our ceremony packages include the legal side of things. The marriage certificate, the apostille stamp, as well as the celebrant, bridal bouquet and grooms buttonhole. It includes the venue hire. We also have, either depending on the package, a trio of serenaders.
Anais: Oh great!
Fiona: Or we can offer a local choir as well. Some people like the more traditional choir. Reception-wise, our reception package includes your buffet. Our resort deluxe buffet. It’s got a
drinks package in there for four hours, DJ, the basic sort of outdoor lighting, which generally includes the fairy lights, some up lights as well. It also includes canapés and the table settings.
Fiona: In our packages everything is personal and can be moved around the bride and groom’s preferences. And what isn’t included in the packages we can always add-on. I mean, some people want something in addition to the buffet for example.
Anais: Like a special cake.
Fiona: Yes or if they would like the fire dancers to come in to entertain, and things like that, which we can absolutely do ( that )…
We always include the different add-ons for guests that want to go that little step further.
Anais: You give these options, you leave that open?
Fiona: Yes absolutely.
Anais: And what about the food options? Can you detail that a little bit more?
Fiona: Yes. So we generally offer buffets. It is an option for our weddings. In saying that, that’s just generally, because we have a lot of reception options outdoors. Buffets are a lot more suitable because if the dinner is farther away from the kitchen then buffet food options tend to be easier.
Anais: Dinner by the beach for example?
Fiona: Exactly, yes.
Anais: If they do “a la carte” then everything could come a bit cold.
Fiona: Yes. So if guests are after that sort of set menu or “a la carte” option, we do do receptions in either Flying Fish at Sheraton Fiji or the Kitchen Grill at the Westin so they can sit down and have a sort of set menu.
Anais: If it’s outdoor is it possible to have “a la carte”?
Fiona: It depends on the number of people, and we don’t usually recommend it. But in saying that, we are always happy to cater to what guests want. We can do whatever the bride and groom are after for their special day.
Anais: Of course. What are the add ons such as the fire dancers you have mentioned before?
Fiona: Yes. We can do the fire dancing, They will make a show for the bride and groom. There’s also our standard inclusion for the reception as a DJ, but we can swap it out for a band. So if they want a live band, we can definitely do that for them.
There is other sort of entertainment, which can require permits and things like that from the local authorities. Things like lantern releases and like fire crackers, things like that.
So we can organise all that. However, it needs to be organised. It’s not something we can do last minute. unfortunately. It is something that requires a lot of sorts of permits and approval by different authorities especially with Denarau being underneath a flight path.
Anais: Okay. And it also can be dry in Fiji and you don’t want to get the place on fire, obviously!
Fiona: Yes. We have to be quite careful.
Anais: Do you offer the Kava ceremony?
Fiona: Yes. So, we can organise a lot of entertainment in this sort of in between time between ceremony and reception. A lot of brides and grooms like to do that. We can organise a private Kava ceremony for the guests. It’s something to do between the ceremony and the dinner.
Anais: Its a local and a traditional authentic experience.
Fiona: Exactly. And for people that haven’t been to Fiji before, it really makes them feel immersed in the culture, a lot of them haven’t had the opportunity to try Kava before. It is also good to give everyone a break from the wine before dinner.
Anais: Yes. It’s a good way to have a break.
Fiona: It’s a good way to just take a moment and do something else.
Anais: That’s true. What are your options in case of rain if the wedding was supposed to be outside?
In case of rain with all of our weddings, we always book with a backup location. We will book that as soon as the wedding is guaranteed.
Once we have received a deposit then we will book the bride and groom with a backup option. The backup venue depends on the number of guests. It could be one of our ballrooms. It could be one of our pre-function areas. Otherwise, sometimes we move it to our Coco Palms, which is one of our outdoor function spaces but it’s under cover.
Anais: And then they are sure they have a roof and stay dry.
Fiona: Exactly. We will secure that as soon as we receive a deposit and the signed contract from the guest.
However, once the bride and groom are on the property we do a walk around, we will make definite the option for where the backup with be with them. We recommend they arrive two days before the ceremony. We won’t 100% confirm it until they’re happy with the option.
Most people come to Fiji in order to experience the outdoors
Anais: and the good weather.
Fiona: and the good weather. It’s one thing to have rain on your wedding day but we wouldn’t move them into a ballroom if that isn’t what they are after. We also have an outside option with a roof.
Anais: What is the common time line? The typical schedule?
Fiona: It depends on the time of the year.
Usually for the smaller weddings with just the two of them or maybe up to ten people, they like to get married later in the day at the time of the sunset. But with larger weddings, usually the ceremony is around anything between 1.30pm and 4.30pm.
It is quite a popular time to get married and have the ceremony because it then gives time to have photos and start your reception around 6.30pm. We have a policy for our outdoor venues : the noise restriction is from 10.30pm. So from then, we don’t allow DJs or bands because we have accommodation areas and we can’t disrupt the other guests.
Anais: Of course
Fiona: We don’t make the party stop at 10.30pm. We do offer our Chime Bar over at Sheraton Fiji Resort. That’s open till late. And if we let
them know that we have a wedding party then they’ll definitely stay open.
Obviously as long as we give them advance notice it’s fine.
Anais: It is good to keep the party going!
Fiona: Yes. And because we have that restriction lots of brides and grooms like to start the reception around 6pm or 6.30pm at the latest. Also we have a 4 hours beverage package and 4 hours DJ hire, etcetera, that coincide with the 10.30pm cut off. It works quite well : we have never had much of an issue with the 10.30pm noise limitation for outdoor ceremonies purely based on the fact that a wedding day is a long day.
Anais: It is a long day indeed.
Fiona: You get up early. Emotions are running high. It takes a lot out of, not only the bride and groom, but also the wedding party and the guests. We find that a lot of the time, by the time it is 10.30pm everyone is quite tired.
Anais: They’re happy to go to bed!
Fiona: Exactly. So it’s never been too much of a problem but we do offer alternatives as well.
Anais: Great. Do you offer a wedding rehearsal?
Fiona: We do but it’s not very common to be honest. Wedding rehearsals are done upon request. We do ask our brides and grooms if they would like one but it is not a huge request that we get. I think a lot of people who decide to come to Fiji to get married have; most of the time, quite a laid back approach.
Fiona: Rehearsals are a lot more formal, I think. We don’t necessarily have that. But every now and again we do have a request. We can at an additional charge get the celebrant to come in as well, because the celebrant will charge for their services for the rehearsals. And so we can get them to come in.
Anais: Does the celebrant meet the couple before the wedding?
Fiona: Yes. They can either come on the day before and do a full rehearsal of the venue. Otherwise, at the ceremony prior, so the morning of, they can meet them as well.
Anais: How do people process once they have decided that they want to get married with Starwood? Is there any contracts to sign? Is there a deposit?
Fiona: We have initially a wedding agreement that we send out as a proposal. And if the couple is happy with that, then they can sign it and return it back to us. Once we received that signed contract, we also need a full deposit of the ceremony only. So not the reception just the ceremony. That can be anything between half thousand Fijian dollards, up to three thousand Fijians dollars as the deposit.
That will not be refundable in case of a cancellation. Basically once we receive the signed contract and the deposit, then it’s a 100% confirmed. But we can keep finalising details and number changes of guests for receptions or the ceremony.
Up until thirty days prior to the wedding day date we are happy to be flexible with that. But thirty days out from the ceremony and the reception, we ask for the remaining balance of the payments so including reception as well.
At that stage it is final : when we lock in all the numbers and take the final payment. So that when they get to the property, they don’t need to worry about paying any added extras unless on the day they decide to add something else.
Anais: Do you have any specials or memorable stories that you would like to share or that happened to you this year?
Fiona: Yes you always take something away from each wedding that you’re a part of. There was a wedding we did back in September, which was beautiful. It was done at the wedding chapel, and then we had the reception down at Sandy Point (sandy beach area). There were fairy lights and everything setup and people had come from all over, from the US to New Zealand. We had some locals, we also had someone from Australia attending this wedding. A lot of them didn’t know each other.
It’s always a good thing at a wedding when you break the ice. You like
to see all the guests mingling with one another and all the family members mingling with one another.
At this particular wedding to break the ice the first thing they did once the bride and groom had entered the reception was, within their tables they all started playing “pass the parcel”, which is a children’s party game where you have a wrapped up parcel and you pass it around your table up until the music stops. Then you take a layer off and then you keep going until you get a prize. And it was really light-hearted. It was really fun and worked perfectly well. It was really a happy time for everyone. Everyone got into it and sort of relaxed and it set a good mood.
Anais: It’s a lovely way to bond people together.
Fiona: Absolutely. And it set a really good mood and atmosphere for the rest of the reception and has that…
Anais: Magic sparkle!
Fiona: Exactly, then the couple and the guests were very relaxed and happy. It was really nice.
Anais: Great. Well thank you for sharing all of that and I’m sure if anyone wants to ask you more they can email you at…
Fiona: Absolutely. Fiona.winger at starwoodhotels . com
Anais: And I will add all the links to your websites so everybody can look into it and get in touch.
Fiona: Yes perfect. That sounds good. I look forward to it.
Anais: Thank you so much.
Fiona: That’s alright. Thank you.
Specific website about weddings with Starwood Fiji.
Sheraton Denerau Fiji.
Chime bar at Sheraton Denerau Fiji.
Flying Fish restaurant at Sheraton Fiji.
The kitchen grill at Westin Denerau.
About wedding cakes in Fiji : read a previous interview with Lee, chef of Taste of Fiji.
Phone : +61 04 35 83 07 92FJ : +679 93 210 24