North Island vs Fregate

Fregate island

Fregate Island Private, Seychelles
Room type: Private Pool Residence
Duration: 27th > 30th April, 2016
Booked with: Charity Buzz auction win

Good vs Evil.  St. George vs the Dragon.  Batman vs Superman. Abraham Lincoln vs vampires.  Kayne West vs deep thinking.  Mosquitos vs me.  North Island vs Fregate.  The age old, historically accurate, battle of adversaries and nemesis’.  It was time for me to throw caution to the wind and compare these two juggernauts of the hotel industry.

Pre-Sales

Neither one showered themselves in glory, but at least I did not have to get my travel agent involved with North Island to get the helicopter transfer organised, like I did with Fregate.

Winner: North Island

Getting there

A simple helicopter transfer with Zil Air that takes ~15 minutes from Mahe or 25 minutes between the resorts.  We even had the same pilot who kindly helped us spot a pod of dolphins.  The serenity was quickly dashed when he claimed to have seen a great white shark the day before.  Has he never seen Jaws 2?!  Sharks can eat helicopters.  Nowhere is sacred anymore.

Winner: Tie

Arrival

Fregate

Fregate really had the upper hand, as North Island passed on our stay lists and notes to ensure that our stay continues to be brilliant.  They said that the do not feel your holiday has ended until you’re home, so at what point will I be pushing my luck if I stay in a Premier Inn for the next 6 months and expect North Island to keep up the service standards there for me?  Perhaps I’ll just stick with 3 months to be on the safe side.  North even sent the Tempur pillows they specifically bought for me in the helicopter, which was a truly classy touch.

The GM at Fregate was away and therefore was not around to greet us, although the head of Guest Relations said he would be back the next day and would come see us – he did not.  As soon as we landed, the helicopter was due to take someone else back to Mahe, so the Guest Relations Manager quickly excused himself so he could say goodbye.  I thought they only had welcome ceremonies for me and no one else got them.  What a crash down to earth.

North vs Fregate. The ultimate showdown.

Winner: North Island

Setting

North Island is barefoot, Fregate is more bare skin – that’s what you’ll have if you walk around barefoot on their acres of concrete.  Both offer stunning beaches, views, warm water and incredible wildlife.  If you’re looking for wildlife, Fregate is easily the place for you.  Whilst the mosquitos are clearly present, there are a lot less of them than North, or maybe they just lucked out and got the polite mosquitos at Fregate.   Instead there are billions of ants, kamakazi millipedes, lizards galore and a huge supply of flies anywhere near your food and the beach, but I’ll take all of those any day over Satan’s pets.

Yum, ants.

The millipedes in particular really come out in force at night.  It was like a police high-speed car training exercise to avoid them with the golf buggy, but luckily I exonerated myself by letting my better half drive.  If the WWF were on the island, we would be on the front page of the Daily Mail right now for crimes against millipedes.  Her heart was in the right place, but the buggy was not.

BBQ on one of the many impossible to pronounce beaches

It’s a good job that they both provide free laundry, as at Fregate I had all kinds of muck over myself, including actual bird muck.  North Island I only had myself to blame, but I was prepared to take that blame for having daily, warm underwear.

Hitchcock would have loved it here

Fregate is far more sparse and spread out than North Island, which results in it having a different feel.  North Island only focuses on 4 areas: your Villa, Piazza, West Beach and Honeymoon Beach.  What Fregate achieves so well is having so many different options available.  If they had memorable names, I may even list some of them.  There are so many different places with so many awkward names, that I was never sure where I was.  Let’s just call them Honeymoon Beach rip-off and Best Beach, which compliment the other 5 beaches.  Honeymoon Beach rip-off is Fregate’s equivalent of North’s Honeymoon Beach – a setting near some rocks, where you cannot get access to the beach.  So not an actual beach.  Perhaps not the best replica I’ve ever seen, and more akin to being in Las Vegas and thinking you’re looking at the real Eiffel Tower.  You simply put up a sign to say you’re there and no one else can come along, but North always you to book an entire beach and have it for the entire day.

Best Beach…maybe?

Neither resort offers the best signage I’ve ever seen, although Fregate in particular has moments where you can get completely lost.  Several times we ended up by the staff quarters, which can easily be seen, notably on your route from the helicopter to your room.  It’s the first resort where they have kept the staff living accommodation so public, with even their hanging laundry clearly visible.  My main issue with this is that I feel sorry for them having to see my ugly face getting lost all day.

You will look at this so often, you will recognise it more than your children’s faces.

On one hand North Island has better, easier to access and larger beaches, with more focus on delivering most of the amenities in a single area, but Fregate offers more choice and some incredible areas to eat, including a tree house.  The difference with North Island is I feel I could spend all day there.

Fregate treehouse
Treehouse
Lunch over the ocean

Winner: North Island, but only just.

Room

Let’s start with an easy one: North Island wins.  Any other questions?  Ok, ok, I’ll explain.

View from bed

The biggest difference between the two resorts is that North Island feels like a private island; it feels like it’s your private island; it is your home.  Fregate feels like a hotel.  The rooms could be anywhere, with such an old and underwhelming feeling to them that they reminded me of being in many other resorts that must have been designed anytime between 1066 and the the 1980s, such as Anantara Golden Triangle or even Amankila.  This is not to say that the rooms are bad, just that they don’t feel special.  Fregate feels like it has tried to compete with North Island by randomly adding in new features without any thought, whereas North Island feels like an architect has been involved in every single decision. Fregate has a sink and fridge and 3 rushed and badly thought out mini bars, whereas North Island has an entire kitchen.  The TV in Fregate is positioned to the side of the bed, but in North is right in front of the bed, but only visible if you push a button to make it pop up.

You can practice your Exorcist neck spinning exercises to watch TV

The space at North is so vast that it can only win.  In our Fregate Villa, #8, you are aware of your neighbours.  Walking the path to our room, I could peak into their living room.  Weirdly, when having a shower I could see their room too, which means they can likely see me – those lucky swines.  The footpath to their villa is directly next to mine.  Villa #9 above was clearly visible and contained some less-than-desireable aesthetics.  At North Island you are so isolated that you forget that someone else may be there.  Not only do you have your human neighbours at Fregate, but you’re then introduced to the friendly neighbourhood millipedes.  Twice I was just minding my business, sat on the sofa in the lounge, when they dropped from the ceiling and died right next to me.  Whilst they’re harmless, it’s not something I’d like to experience back in England during my morning ritual of cutting out the backs of kids cereal boxes and playing the games on them.  A man needs his peace.

Entrance to Villa #8

The technology within the rooms at North is years ahead of Fregate.  Having to listen to music on my laptop again, vs the impressive North sound system, felt exactly how I imagined Beethoven experienced listening to music.

Whilst North Island has gone for the deserted island, Robinson Crusoe approach (I really hate that phrase, so will only use it for you fine people only this one), Fregate has gone for concrete blocks, yet it is the one attempting to be more eco friendly in some areas.  One of those areas are the toiletries, which are all produced on the island.  Wonderful idea, you may say, except if I told you they smelt like being attacked by a gang of fruit bats that then defecated on you.  Maybe that is their secret to why there are fewer mosquitos on the island, as even the mosquitos have the sense to stay away when you have this terrible odour.  Just the smell of the water was enough to make me reconsider showering at all.

Living room. Ironic that most things in it are dead.

Fregate had a soft refurb just last year, but it did not go far enough.

  • The system to buzz your butler in has all the charisma and style of a wet fart.
  • The phone looks like it was all purchased pre-computers to avoid the Millennium Bug.
How cute, it thinks it’s in 2012, when clearly it’s in the 70s.
  • There’s serious issues with noise from all of the systems down by the pool – I was half expecting it would turn into a ship and takeoff.
  • Poorly positioned light switches, which mean you cannot control lights for areas like the pool without being upstairs.
  • The toiletries in containers that may have been stolen off the wall from a local Radisson.
High praise to scientists for not having invented an online smell-o-vision.
  • You can see through from the shower into the toilet, so someone could get a nice shock there.  What is it about this country and toilets?!
  • Rust around the bathroom taps
  • The bathrobes may give you the impression you’re about to join a cult
If you can wear this and not look ridiculous, you are a walking god.

Fregate does have some of its own positives.

View from main entrance

First of all, even though someone can easily watch you doing your business, the toilets are indoor. I’d rather someone was video recording me and put it on YouTube, then I had to suffer another outdoor bathroom in a tropical climate.

Fregate’s villa’s are all based on the cliffs, so the views of the ocean are beautiful and significantly better from your room than at North, which is looking onto the beach.  The downside is that, of course, you cannot walk onto a beach, unless you’ve carried a parachute with you.  This means you can sit near the pool, listening and watching the ocean.  The same ocean that then keeps me awake all night as it’s so loud.  It makes for an interesting twist on having a loud neighbour, as there’s little you can do to tell it to quiet down.  Not even management seemed interested in getting it to shut up.

Fregate private pool

Being able to easily watch the sunset and sunrise with uninterrupted views is a real blessing, as the spectacular views of the stars directly from your villa are phenomenal.

Private pool view during sunset
Who wouldn’t want to spend half their holiday trying to take this single picture?

Fregate has a jacuzzi (yet another resort trying to use that word for a tub with bubbles that cannot be heated) and a large, heated pool.  Why the pool is heater but the jacuzzi is not will surely baffle the greatest minds of this world for years to come.  The pool is massive, but it has no cover during the day, so seems only useful in the mornings and late afternoons.  Or perhaps when being orange isn’t in vogue anymore and red is the new thing I can spend more time out there, glistening away in the sun, with the sounds of the ocean drowning out my screams from the sunburn.

Ultimately, I did not find Fregate particularly relaxing, as you’re either indoors, which is not great, or outdoors and boiling.  I feel jealous of the numerous people who go from Fregate to North, as it is a far greater experience than doing it vice versa.

Winner: North Island

Amenities

Neither offer wifi anywhere but the villas and library or boutique, although at least I could get phone reception on Fregate.  Fregate’s Internet speed started off with all the speed, joy and enthusiasm of a puppy, before deciding to act like Lassie, if she’d been out on the lash the night before, thus making her completely useless and giving download speeds similar to dial-up. I think that analogy died towards the end.  In the end I had to just give up and talk to another human being, which wasn’t a pleasant experience.  After 10 days of being drip fed Internet, you may think I am now a more resillient man, but instead I am now using every opportunity to get as much of that glorious Internet as possible, so am typing this from the plane.  Like a recovering drug addict, I have been given a taste again and will now go into relapse.  I may make this review 10,000 words long, just so I can stay online a bit longer.

Fregate house

They are very similar in their offerings of a library, boutique, main restaurant (Fregate House vs Piazza), hiking routes, but once again North feels more organic and luxurious in how it’s been implemented.

Both resorts offer free yoga, but North offers the more suitable time of 9am vs 8am for Fregate.  8am sounds very similar to “it’s free, but good luck in getting to it”.  Who wakes up before 8am on holiday?  Who wakes up before 8am at all?  Using the arbitrary basis of which looks nicer, as you’re more likely to find me at RyanAir conference then at the gym, North’s gym sits on a cliff top and over looks the sea, whereas Fregate’s sits on a hill and over looks some trees.  This is another aspect of Fregate that feels like it was added as an after thought, as why would you build your resort around the villas being on the cliffs, then decide to remove that view for all the other buildings?

The pool is not even worth discussing.

Very good. Just not North Island good.

Winner: North Island

Spa

You have a private island.  Your villas over looking the ocean.  You can put the spa anywhere you want.  Do you 1)  Put it near the villas, so it can offer the same breathtaking views?   2)  Put it next to the lifeless and soulless gym.  Sadly some bright spark decided on the latter.  This means when you’re in the spa you could be anywhere in the world; it is void of any feeling; it is just a room.  North Island feels like how a spa should, where you receive a massage in paradise, which is an experience worth paying for.

Spa pool

Each resort offers a complimentary massage as part of the package, with North offering the considerably stingy offer of 30 minutes per person, compare to Fregate’s 60 minutes.  Just to make sure Fregate doesn’t feel too generous, it then decides to have a bizarre policy in place, which forces you to have your massage before 2pm.  If you’re going to offer something, don’t restrict it.  It reminded me of Chris Tarrant from Who Wants To Be a Millionnaire saying “but we don’t want to give you that”.  Even thinking of that guys face is not what I want on holiday.

Please take a moment to admire that view

Winner: North Island

Activities

Draw in terms of what is offered as they’re very similar, but a win to Fregate in terms of actually delivering on them.  At Fregate we went snorkelling and swam with a turtle for 10 minutes.  At North Island I didn’t get to go snorkelling, as they forgot about it.  Fregate also has a banana boat, which automatically wins any contest.  Both offer hikes, which we did, but as someone who considers walking a punishment, I can only comment on the views offered by North at the top being far superior to Fregate.

Banana boat
Not me on the banana boat. Hey, someone had to take the pictures.

Winner: Fregate

Food

Ah, nature, beautiful….when it’s on someone else’s food.

North Island changes the menu daily and also allowed you to look at historical menus in order to help you see some dishes you like the look of.  If you didn’t like anything, you can just ask the chef and they will make you something.  At Fregate the menus they offered were very small and never changed.  Both resorts did share their ability to ignore all the information sent regarding allergies, so amongst the first dishes we had at both Fregate and North had to be sent back.  North was the worst as the chef even often came to explain the dish, on our last day, only for the side dish needing to be sent back.

I enjoyed the food at both, but Fregate felt more focused around the menu, whereas North really felt more around whatever you wanted.  The reality is that they’re both supposed to follow this principle, but Fregate failed to achieve it on one day, when we were told none of the specials we wanted could be done, so we had to choose from the menu.

Breakfast in the tree house

Meeting the chef was a very different experience, as Fregate was more already making excuses for what he could do, whereas North Island took it as a challenge as to what they could.  In fairness they both did a very good job, but the passion from the North catering team was very apparent, and I’m still dreaming of their desserts.

Eggs Benedict

North Island restocks your villa kitchen daily, to the point that it seems even taking a sip of something results in a refill.  They also learnt all our favourite drinks and restacked them, whereas Fregate did not refill the bar even once, and even with their knowledge of our favourite drinks never added them in there.  This felt like a bigger issue than it was, as the service at Fregate is hands-off, so getting a drink feels like a pain.

BBQ on the beach

Winner: North Island

Service

You’re designated a butler at both resorts but this is about where the comparisons once again end.  By wonderful coincidence, our butler previously worked at North Island for 3 years, so we could all sit around and reminiscence about how much better North is.

Oh the stories we could share

At North Island you have the butler around all the time and only if they are not around do you phone them for anything, whereas Fregate is more like a hotel and you have to call for anything.  It’s a very different approach, as one is proactive whereas the other is reactive.  The butler at Fregate is very much “I’ve done what I was due to do, so I’m off”, whereas North Island they’ll stick around to ensure everything is perfect.  North Island calls them Villa Butlers, as this is what they are focused on and then backed up by Guest Relations.  At Fregate, the butler is everywhere you go and is backed up by other team members.

There are some minor service lapses at Fregate that I’ll briefly mention.

  • Our butler brings dinner.  Ms. C asks the butler to ask whether I would like a drink, so he goes makes me one, she then waits to see if he offers her one, but doesn’t.  It’s 34 Celsius at the time.
  • We’re due to go to one of the beaches at 2pm, have lunch and have our butler pick us up.  At 2:10 he calls to say he will be 10 minutes late as the food is not ready, then arrives at 2:24.
  • When we had breakfast on the private “beach”, when we walked up, the buggy was not there, so we had to walk to our room.  This may sound minor, but this was after eating a big breakfast, walking up 255 steps and being in 34 Celsius heat, whilst having to walk barefoot across an open area with no shoes.
  • Twice whilst being served by another waiter, Ms. C asked for a drink and the waiter just walked away without asking what I wanted.
  • The only time I saw the GM and head of F&B were during the exit, even though we were outside of our villa a lot and all our activities were planned on arrival, so they would have known where we were.
  • It was hard to follow what we were doing, as nothing was ever printed off.
  • Every time your butler phones or you call him, it’s passed via reception and they ask if they can transfer him, like you’re going to say no for some reason – very bizarre
  • They provided a power adapter for me, but it was a UK adapter, so I had no need for it.  I asked about getting another type of adapter, but it never arrived.  I then found that they actually had UK power sockets by the bed, hidden by the drawers, but no one thought to mention it to me.

Comparisons:

  • Laundry is taken once a day in the morning, whereas North your butler constantly takes it throughout the day
  • Room is serviced by 2 people in Fregate, which makes it much quicker to be done.  Neither are your butler though.
  • Fregate requires the butler to buzz in to be allowed into your room.  At North, they will always come in, unless you put up your do not disturb sign.  I definitely preferred the North approach, as service was always on hand.  The butler at North Island became to feel more like a friend, as he was around from 6am.
  • Our butler was there to greet us when we went to the marina and when we came back from snorkelling, yet strangely was not there after a massage.  After a massage at North Island, no one was available to take my partner back to our rooms, there were no buggy’s available, so she had to walk.
  • Less goes wrong with the orders as the butler is always here, like at Iniala and Aman-I-Khas.
  • At both resorts we could not get hold of people at times.  With North Island they provide a phone for you to call your butler, yet frequently it just could not connect.

Fregate is hands off when you’re in the villa, but more hands on when you’re outside, due to the butler being around and serving you at any other venue you choose to eat or being there to greet you before and after activities, although strangely not all of them.  It meant that your interaction with other members of staff was limited, so you could not experience the poor service like we did from some staff at North Island.  The external villa interaction is definitely the right way to do it, but the internal villa service was nowhere near as good as North Island’s.  For example, when it comes down to cleaning your room, the butler is not present at all so other people are going through your things and your personal preferences are not remembered.  You never need to ask then North butler: “where are my Power Ranger pyjamas?” and them having to find out, as they already know.  There’s sometimes too much interaction with other people at Fregate, between people picking you up and reception being involved in every call between you and your butler.  Most notable is the fact that there are 16 villas and only 14 butlers, so if it’s full capacity you will be sharing your butler and I would be interested in how this impacts service.

When it’s full you have to battle with James, the tortoise, for food.

Apparently North used to have 2 butlers, but it didn’t work out due to handovers and people uncomfortable with too many people in their villa.  Whilst I have no issue with the latter, the information being passed during handover was an issue at Iniala, which too works the same, so I can understand why they scraped it.

Other than my patented idea of training Terminators as butlers – they are pretty good at following orders and I can’t see any other downsides – I think the best solution to the service is to have your dedicated butler like North Island, but give them help from other sources, such as cleaners who are overseen by the butler.  The GM told me that they were soon introducing runners for food and laundry at North, which I think will help immensely, but I think they should take it further and introduce a reception area, rather than Guest Relations, as I didn’t see the need for them.  It makes more sense for the butler to simply pass on your requirements to other team members and then relay that information to you directly.  Simply put, take the existing villa butler service from North Island, provide extra help and support and have your butler present when you’re outside of the villa too.  The compromise is likely that between certain hours you will need to be aware your butler is not available, but I am not after someone having to work 24/7 to please me.  I actually find myself calling less when we have a butler than normal room service, as I’m aware the demand is put on a single person and don’t want someone woken up at 1am just because I can’t work out how to get subtitles working on Fast and Furious 8, as the dialogue is so riveting and I want to memorise the script.

Winner: Tie

Leaving 

Neither resorts leave gifts on your bed each day, in the same way Aman’s and Iniala do, but they did provide leaving presents.  Fregate provided a nature brochure and 2 t-shirts, whereas North Island provided a picture frame, which included one of my own photos, along with prints of other photos I had taken.  Both are very nice touches, but North’s was personally and specifically for me.  My mum also thinks the photos are superb.

Thanks, mum!

I also was able to spend almost an hour talking to Nick, the GM of North Island before leaving, to give feedback, which I really appreciated.  I didn’t even know who the GM at Fregate was.  I found it interesting that both resorts leave a customer feedback form for you to fill in after you leave, which were very similar.  At such a high-end resort, I felt it actually cheapened the experience, as I would rather talk to someone about it, than leave some quick scores out of 10 on a piece of paper.

Fregate leaving present

Winner: North Island

Conclusion

Before going to the Seychelles, I wanted to set realistic expectations.  These are very expensive resorts, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t get carried away in what the experience would be.  So I sat down to define what paradise is.  I wrote down the only 2 things I was after: 100% attention from everyone at all times and all the money in the world.  Sadly Fregate and North Island didn’t deliver that.  What they both did deliver was a wonderful experience that I’m grateful I got to experience.   North has its faults, but it still feels intrinsically special, whereas Fregate did not have the same sense of luxury that I hoped for.  When people told me that Fregate and North Island were completely different experiences, I wasn’t expecting them to be so accurate.  But it’s a good thing and they both offer unique experiences that are worth trying.

When I visited Tokyo, I swapped between Aman Tokyo and the Mandarin Oriental.  Whilst the MO had far superior service, I still checked out early and went back to the Aman, as their hard product was just so vastly superior.  It feels similar here, as the failures of North can so easily be fixed, but for them to make Fregate superior to North they would need to rebuild from scratch and change the feeling and architecture.  I cannot imagine they plan on doing this based on my single review, although it is a pretty sweet review, so who knows?

With North Island I had things that warranted complaints, but with Fregate I only had minor issues. Yet I would still choose North Island over Fregate without any hesitation.

Now I need to work out how I’m expected to share anything in future, like being in a restaurant and seeing other people.

Please let London look like this tomorrow.

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