What It’s Like to Stay at COMO Laucala, a Billionaire’s Eden in Fiji
Owned by Red Bull’s Mateschitz family, the resort features sumptuous design, blink-and-it’s-done service, and indulgent surprises.
BY Mark Ellwood  |  May 17, 2024
7 Minute Read

Image courtesy of COMO Laucala Island

Welcome to Checking In, a review series in which our editors and contributors rate the best new (and revamped) luxury hotels based on a rigorous—and occasionally tongue-in-cheek—10-point system: Each question answered “yes” gets one point. Will room service bring you caviar? Does your suite have its own butler? Does the bathroom have a bidet? Find out below.

At COMO Laucala, you’ll find a painstaking attention to detail.
Image courtesy of COMO Laucala Island

In three words: Crusoe’s Private Eden.

The basics

COMO Laucala (Lau-THA-la) was originally a private island owned by billionaire Malcolm Forbes. He operated a small hotel here, but it wasn’t until Red Bull owner Diedrich Mateschitz snapped up the island for $10 million in 2003 that it became the luxury proposition it is today. He invested vast amounts of his multi-billion-dollar fortune here, with a painstaking attention to detail: He hated seeing evidence of development while flying over the island in his plane, so gardeners maintain canopies of trees over every road to hide it from the skies. Mateschitz opened the isle to guests six years later. Sadly, he died of pancreatic cancer in late 2022, not long after he brought in Singapore-based luxury hotel chain COMO as an operating partner; Mateschitz’s son now oversees the property.

The best room

There are 24 villas here, all overlooking the water and named, as well as numbered. The cheapest category, Plateau, sits on the top of the hill, tucked away for privacy but without direct beach access. The other two categories, Plantation and Seagrass, sit right on the water, but have drastically different affects. Plantation villas are surrounded by coconut trees and are best for sun worshippers, as the grounds lack much natural shade. The Seagrass villas are more shaded, wreathed in trees, but much further from the central hub of the hotel. The best room, though, is Wai, or #12: It’s a standalone, two-bedroom overwater bungalow, bolted into the edge of the cliff, with its private pool carved out of the rocks. Wherever you stay, remember that it’s all inclusive; whatever you want to do, eat, or drink is at your disposal.

The resort has 24 villas in three different categories.
Image courtesy of COMO Laucala Island

The Rundown

Greeted by name at check-in?

Absolutely. On arrival from the international flight, I was whisked to Laucala’s own private terminal where I waited for my puddle jumper connection—and acknowledged by name the entire way.

Welcome drink ready and waiting? (Bonus point if it wasn’t just fruit juice.)

Yes, I received a coconut, complete with straw and a jaunty hibiscus flower garnish.

Private butler in the room?

Laucala’s operation, strangely, doesn’t follow the typical butler per villa but relies instead on a WhatsApp chat with the staff at the Tau, or reception (in Fijian, tau means pal or friend). The service is Magical Elf-style—invisible, and omnipresent. Take the golf carts, which every guest uses to get around the 3,500-acre property, as the roads are too steep for biking and distances too far to walk.  Every time I parked mine, I’d return—perhaps minutes later—to find it turned around ready to go.

Sheet thread count 300 or higher?

They’re locally made and range between 500 and 1,000 thread count. Beds are notably comfy.

Heated floor in the bathroom or a bidet? Or both?

The bathrooms in each villa are vast, but bidet-free. They do, however, have two giant tubs: one indoors, the other alfresco under its own awning, allowing you to bathe while looking out at the ocean. It’s a pity that the outdoor showers only have one setting, intended more to sluice off after a dip than use them to wash every morning.

Are the toiletries full-sized?

They’re the in-house COMO Shambhala brand, obviously. There’s a spa here, too, as is typical of COMO properties, though it’s smaller than at most of its sibling hotels. COMO only took over operations less than two years ago, so expect an upgrade on that amenity imminently.

While each villa has its own splash zone, the central pool makes a big statement.
Image courtesy of COMO Laucala Island

Private pool for the room’s exclusive use?

Absolutely, and it’s saltwater, too. There is a larger, swimmable central pool if you want to exercise. The lagoon-style design is capped off with an above-ground infinity pool for laps that’s become the signature detail for the hotel on social media. Water sports are a big focus here, whether diving or snorkelling on the nearby reef—it’s a 10-minute sail to reach a thriving coral garden filled with tropical fish—or sailing, stand-up paddle-boarding, and the like.

Worth spending Friday night in the lobby bar?

Well, there isn’t just one bar but rather several. For daytime, there’s a poolside beach bar (order some kokoda (Fiji’s chilli-and-coconut-spiked answer to ceviche)—but the best spot for sundowners is the Seagrass lounge. Located right at the property’s farthest western reaches, it sits on the top of a promontory, jutting out into the ocean, and has spectacular views of the setting sun. You can eat supper at Seagrass, too, or head to Rock Lounge, the standalone cocktail bar which also sits tucked away at the top of a hill overlooking the water.

Caviar on the room service menu?

There’s no caviar in these tropics, but the in-villa dining menu is extensive and focuses on the restorative, spa-style cuisine that’s COMO Shambhala’s signature. Think raw salads made from island-grown vegetables, as well as locally caught fish. There’s a full in-room bar rather than mini bar; a wine fridge filled with water and full-sized bottles of wine, replenished daily, is an indulgent touch.

Would you buy the hotel if you could?

Yes, though I doubt the Mateschitz family are open to selling—the Singapore-based COMO usually owns every hotel it operates—but has made an exception here, partnering with the existing family rather than buying them out.

Each villa is hidden into the tropical canopy to create a feeling of absolute privacy.
Image courtesy of COMO Laucala Island

The Verdict

The seven-strong score is a little unfair for a property that’s arguably one of the top private islands in the world and doesn’t reflect some of its unique amenities. I’d give a bonus point for the farm here, for sure. Many five-star hotels trill that they’re growing much of what they serve, but in truth, it’s limited to a few herbs and lettuce leaves. Not at COMO Laucala: The farm here includes acres of greenhouses, a herd of pigs, and hundreds of ducks and chickens for both meat and eggs. (Mateschitz senior smuggled the eggs of one Austrian chicken breed he loved, Sulmtaler, into the country on his private jet.) Another bonus point for the world-class golf course, designed by David McLay Kidd, an 18-hole par 72 that’s become a main driver for many bookings: teeing off is tough, with many holes par 4 or even 5. Don’t miss hole #4, a favourite of George Clooney, which includes a precipitous drop from the tee.

Rates: From $6,100

Total score: 9

What Our Score Means:

1–3: Fire your travel agent if they suggest you stay here.

4–6: Solid if you’re in a pinch—but only if you’re in a pinch.

7–8: Very good. We’d stay here again and recommend it without qualms.

9–10: Forget booking a week. When can we move in permanently?