Why I enjoyed holidaying in Samoa with my preschooler so much

Is Samoa good as a holiday destination with young children like preschoolers?
Photo credit: Samoa Tourism Authority / Newshub.

This year I escaped New Zealand's winter for a holiday in Samoa with my partner and preschooler, and it quickly transpired that the island is a fantastic place to go with younger kids. 

It's a short, direct flight from Auckland and it's larger than Rarotonga with more options, but with a slower pace and a less commercial vibe than you might find in places like Fiji, Bali or Phuket. 

Samoa is hot all year round, the unique culture is awesome to immerse yourself in, and the natural attractions are diverse and fun for the whole family. 

It's a very safe country to holiday in, even for children - for us, climbing down the ladder into the picturesque To Sua Ocean trench with a little one was as scary as it got. 

While many adults might be happy to lie on the beach for the entirety of their trip to a tropical island, this approach doesn't work with active children in tow: you need to get around the islands and check out the attractions, keeping the sun-worshipping to a minimum. 

One of the best ways to have a great holiday with children is to stay at one of Samoa's resorts, which offer plenty to do beyond the beaches and natural sights. Of course, if your kids don't like beaches, it's probably best to avoid island paradises like Samoa altogether; but so long as they don't mind hot weather, pools, sand and sea, they'll have a great time. 

Two resorts in particular made my trip with a preschooler particularly joyful. 

Return to Paradise 

This is a great place to stay on the south coast of Upolu, especially if you're in a larger group, with dozens and dozens of rooms of varying sizes and costs. 

Return to Paradise resort, Samoa.
Return to Paradise resort. Photo credit: supplied

While it's still your classic family-run Samoan business, it's a much larger establishment than many in the country, with four pools, sun loungers on the private beach and cool activities like a beach volleyball net set up for play. 

There are multiple places to eat and drink on-site, with a modest but very decent set of menus. For the parents, the pina coladas and mojitos are delicious, super fresh and relatively affordable. 

Entertainment-wise there's the cultural displays on show at many Samoan accommodation options including spectacular fire dances, but there are some unique attractions too, including crab races on the beach. 

The film Return to Paradise is shown regularly as well, with memorabilia on display from the 1953 movie which was filmed in the area. 

At night you can expect various forms of live music to experience, often while you're dining. 

Dining and pools at Return to Paradise resort, Samoa.
There are multiple dining spots and pools at Return to Paradise. Photo credit: supplied

When I was there in June, things weren't fully back to 100 percent following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wi-Fi was patchy, the hot water in our room ran out a few times, and the service was sometimes slow. 

None of this was much of a drag for us, but it obviously was for some other guests as an explanation was posted in the resort's daily newsletter about a lack of staff and a plea for patience. 

Speaking of the daily newsletter - this became a highlight I'd look out for everyday thanks to the hilarious, effervescent Aunty Pisupo, the author. I wished my mum was on the trip with us as I know she would've really enjoyed Aunty Pisupo's daily jokes too - here's a few examples: 

Return to Paradise Resort daily newsletters with humour from Aunty Pisupo.
Photo credit: Return to Paradise Resort.

Return to Paradise is a really great place to stay with plenty of character and friendly staff who help make your time there a lot of fun. I will say, however, that its private beach isn't as great as many other beaches in Samoa. You can relax on the sand and have a dip in the waves, but it's a bit rocky and rough, and just not as flawlessly scenic as others - such as the one below. 

Le Lagoto Resort & Spa 

This delightful and more peaceful resort is located on the island of Savai'i, which you take a ferry to from Upolu. 

It's a much smaller resort with less to do, so it won't work as well for larger groups, but I could spend a longer time here - and very much intend to next time I'm in Samoa. 

Le Lagoto Resort & Spa, Samoa.
Le Lagoto Resort & Spa, Samoa. Photo credit: supplied

More on the resort itself in a moment, but first, I can't recommend Savai'i itself highly enough. 

"If you visited Samoa and didn't visit Savai'i, you didn't really visit Samoa. It's more traditional, relaxed and laidback," our tour guide Iulai told me as we relaxed on the island. 

"Samoa offers an authentic experience. It's not like Fiji or Bali, we don't have 5-star resorts so much, you come here and what you see is what you get. We invite people to be involved in our culture when they're here, eat our food with us and get a sense of our way of life." 

I'd urge holidaymakers in Samoa to not be put off by the ferry trip as Savai'i as it's very much worth getting to. It's even more laidback than Upolu, it's less developed, and it left a stronger impression on me. 

Even the ferry trip itself gives you an intensely authentic taste of Samoan life. The wildly colourful local buses waiting to pick passengers up at the terminal, with cheerful sales agents yelling out to attract customers, provides a lovely burst of liveliness before chilling out on the island. 

As a warning, the more traditional nature of Savai'i means all tourist hotspots are closed on Sunday, which is church day. In Upolu most places now open on Sunday but later in the day, after morning services; not Savai'i. You'll need to wait until Monday. 

I must mention Adria's Café, a food highlight of Savai'i that served us amazing beef udon soup. The beef was said to be raised on their own land, so it was a real farm-to-table experience and just delicious, with the best coffee I had in Samoa as well. 

Le Lagoto also has great food, a nice little pool and solid cocktail selection, with a super calm and super gorgeous beach on the doorstep. The sea there is nice and shallow for kids with plenty of fish swimming about to look at and kayaks that are free to use for guests. 

Don't forget your GoPro or waterproof case for your phone like I did - the whole area is great for pics, but the crystal-clear water is wonderful to capture in photos and videos for looking back on later. 

Le Lagoto Resort & Spa.
A four-year-old enjoys the beach at Le Lagoto Resort & Spa. Photo credit: Newshub.

It's so serene that after not too long playing in the water, our wee man was keen for a nap nice and early in the day. Maybe he was inspired by seeing plenty of locals sleeping in wall-less fales at all times of day, seeking respite from the hot sun. 

All over Samoa pigs roam free, as do dogs, chickens, cats and ve'a (roadrunner birds). They never seem to fight - even the seemingly feral dogs are somehow not aggressive. Something about the country makes even them chill, too. I even saw sheep roaming about in an unfenced area by the road, calm as can be. 

Sure, my preschooler wasn't completely relaxed for the entire trip - they never are - but he sure did enjoy himself just as much as his parents. 

Staying at the resorts that offered activities and entertainment certainly helped, as did getting all around the country to check out so many sights - which we're all looking forward to doing again as soon as possible. 

Daniel and his family were hosted in Samoa by the Samoa Tourism Authority.