Review: Ani Villas, Thailand

Ani Villas – get orrrf my land

Ani Villas, Thailand
Room type: 
Entire resort
Duration: 
19th > 22nd March, 2017
Booked with: 
Direct with hotel

This is without a doubt the least researched resort I’ve ever been to with such a price tag.  Iniala was already booked, and this was thrown on as a last-minute thought, after being highly recommended.  Opening in September 2016, Thailand is the 3rd opening of Ani Villas, after Anguilla and Sri Lanka. Once again proving that ultra-luxury has now gone all inclusive, Ani Villas is trying to establish itself as another force in the industry.

Let me picture the scene: Ani Villas is about renting the entire resort.  That translates into 10 bedrooms for 2 of us.  A little excessive, perhaps, but my ego needed somewhere to sleep.  It did prompt the question: if they were part of AMEX and had to give an upgrade on arrival, what would you get exactly?

Pre-sales

So there I was, minding my own business and going about my daily ritual of belittling Nobel Prize runner-ups for the losers they are, when I was alerted by a fellow FlyerTalk member to the mythical beast known as Ani Villas.  They are so secret and discreet that access is only granted if you are either introduced to the company directly.  Or you book on any online travel website.  Or phone them.  Or go on their website.  It’s a pretty exclusive club, but one that somehow this fellow travel chum found himself in, after Iniala. When a fellow Iniala-junkie recommends somewhere, you stop whatever you’re doing and take note.  Cancel your marriage proposals; delay that urgently needed triple bypass; ignore those last warnings from the debt collectors; ignore that rash, as it’s been there for months.  This is now priority number 1.

Such was his love for his stay in Ani Villas Sri Lanka, that not listening to the man would have been like spitting in the face of a Make a Wish child.  So I immediately asked for an intro to someone at Ani Villas that could provide a quote for our stay.  The response came back promptly, and from none other than the CEO himself.  The email came in whilst I was walking my dog, so unfortunately I had to leave him behind in order to respond.  Let’s not forget, this was priority one.  Hopefully he’ll come home one day soon.

After agreeing to go ahead, things started to become even more impressive.  I was contacted on WhatsApp by the Villa Manager, who is essentially the properties GM.   The first point of contact was to arrange when to call and go through learning about the property, food preferences, activities and more.  After this, pre-arrival questionnaires were sent over, but my Stay List answered all their points in more detail, as traveling the world has given me a great outlook in life: the old me would have waited 5 minutes for things, whereas now I expect it immediately.

Until the day of arrival, I was receiving daily pictures and updates on everything on the Stay List, down to whether the toothpaste, sunscreen, wine, weather and elected heads of states was acceptable.  Given a few more days, I’m sure I would have received a team of professional toilet roll testers making sure everything was copacetic.  The attention to detail warmed my heart, and ultimately my bum was all the more grateful for it.

Move, islands! You’re in my way

Getting there

If someone in hospitality tells you that it’s only a 5-minute walk, they have calculated that by realising a human being once ran 100m in 9.58s and using that as the base line. If it’s 1000m away, then just assume you can get there in 95.80s.  Easy.  So by now I should very well know that all journeys that say they are 30 minutes, are in fact closer to 60.  Ani Villas exceeded expectations once again by stating 30, yet coming in just under at 50 minutes.

We were collected from Iniala by Ani Villas, with a car that came with a member of staff to assist us with anything we may want, and a basket that contained a 4G connector and enough junk food to feed an African tribe for a month, or myself for a few hours.  There were also 3 different drinks to choose from, which I was glad for, as I too take a picnic with me on each and every one of my commutes to London.  All the food and drinks were based on preferences from our Stay List.

As we were arriving from Iniala, it took just under 2 hours; an hour from the resort to the dock, then another 50 minutes via speedboat straight to the resort.  They normally dock on a pier on the island and then drive you the final 10 minute journey, yet due to the tide not being a massive dick, we were able to go straight into the shore on the resort and had a most warm welcome from all the staff, of which there were 18 to look after 2 of us.  Ani Villa sandals awaited us on the beach, which I perceived as a way of showing we’re now at home and can kick back and ignore wearing oppressive items like shoes.  Yet it started to become clear that some bright spark decided to make the entire resort concrete, so you need to put on the sandals or run everywhere to avoid blisters: either get fit or die crying.

Staff with umbrellas followed us around to protect us from the sun and give us a tour of the facilities.  Yet only one thing mattered: I only wanted to see the water slide.

Beach invasion at Ani Villas
Ani Villas welcome
We traveled 6000 miles to hide from the sun. It didn’t work.

Setting

On the island of Koh Yao Noi, next door to Six Senses and some other resorts that had guests with the nerve to try and enter my private resort, I cannot think of a more beautiful view that I’ve ever experienced in any hotel.  Every morning, the sun would rise above the plethora of tiny islands and breath life into all the untouched surroundings.   Even James Bond made the trip here once, as the island cares to remind us at every step.  For a secret agent, he truly is useless at hiding his activities.

Unfortunately the beach went no way towards matching the view, as it was so full of stones and pebbles that I only ventured onto it with shoes.  And only to take a photo of it, just so you kind folk don’t need to do the same.

Sunrise view from the beach.
Candles dug in the sand for a beach BBQ
Not-so-luxurious beach

Stay List

The problem with easy communication, such as WhatsApp, is just what a monster it turns me into.  I like to think I’m a reasonable customer, but that’s only because the hotels keep me in order.  Now they’ve opened the honey jar and there’s no supervision.  When you must phone someone, or write an email, you give it some consideration.  With WhatsApp, you just write away, until you look back and notice you’ve made 53 requests that day, including asking for Tutankhamun to be reincarnated, England to win a national football tournament and the frog and scorpion to work out their differences.  Even the day before arrival I was using WhatsApp to make a few more requests.

I failed to pack my now overly used North Island rash protectors, so asked if they had one similar.  Of course, they then purchased them for us and had them available the evening of our arrival.  Having had so much communication prior to arrival and receiving so much food and drink in the car, you know how this story is going to end.  Slightly overwhelmed by how welcomed we were and how perfectly the room was setup: tempur pillows, full bathroom amenities, hair straightener, mosquito net erected, sun cream; it was not until an hour later that we noticed that none of the food was present.  Strangely they had it all, but did not put it in the room.

Yet turn that frown upside down, as this is where Ani Villas just excels.  Ask and ye shall receive, but more than you ever asked for.  Need a piece of paper to write a note down on?  They’ll cut you down an entire tree, then kill all the wildlife on said tree and turn them into pencils.  Upon asking for the food and slightly underwhelmed at the size of the minibar in the room, I asked for another one and not even an hour later there it was, filed with Moet champagne and all the food.  Then at night we asked for some snacks, which was translated into “please supply 6 years supply of cheese, fruit, sandwiches and nuts and replenish them nightly”.

However, they could only find orange + mango Robinson’s squash, whereas Iniala managed to get just orange, so I take it all back.  Minus 10 points.

Imagine this entire area filled with cheese. Then double it.

Rooms

Prior to arrival, the GM noted what rooms would be best for us to try. There are 3 types: family, pool and ocean front master suites.  The 2 family rooms contain a living room in the middle and a bedroom either side.  Then 4 pool suites, which not only have a private pool, but have views looking out onto the resorts pool. Finally, you have the ocean front master suites, the largest suites with beautiful views of the ocean.  All rooms are roughly the style and size, although some rooms are so badly positioned and dark that you could hide there in case WW3 started.

The plan was to spend 2 nights in the ocean suite, followed by the last night in the pool suite, yet even though they would have moved everything for us, we didn’t see the need to move.  On retrospect, I would have picked the pool suite, as the views were almost as good, it had a private pool and the layout felt cleaner.  The private pool is indoors, so offers complete privacy, but obviously loses any sense of view.  It also has 2 showers instead of 1, which must be because they consider you not the main occupants and therefore too poor to shower at home, so increasing your chances two-fold.

Let’s start with some positives: you don’t need to ever remember your room number; the welcome note was particularly useful, the views are stunning from either the bed, the outdoor area or the bath; the non-branded, natural toiletries smell amazing and they offer unlimited Apple TV downloads, so you can watch almost any movie you’ve ever dreamt of.  Somehow I refrained from buying every single Nic Cage film with an IMDB rating of less than 5, knowing the next guests would see it and hopefully decide to watch them.  Beyond that, I do not have a huge amount to say that would be considered positive.  It is not that a huge amount is wrong with the room, but that for a resort with such a premium to be there, there is nothing that I would consider luxurious.  For the resorts top room, it could have been so much better.

The fan was rattling in the bedroom, the air conditioning in the bathroom and bedroom is via a remote control and was never quite right – the bedroom was sometimes boiling and the bathroom freezing and vice versa.  There’s a distinct lack of tech anywhere, with light switches so confusing their average guest must work for NASA, no USB ports and only 1 charger beside the bed.  The bathroom is separated by a sliding door, but then it’s mostly just for show, as there is a large gap above the door that anything you planned on hiding will escape. The wardrobes will be an issue if you have a lot of luggage, the minibar was too small for all-inclusive to feel value for money, the amazing smelling toiletries were in containers that were designed for someone with Trump sized hands and the bath, whilst with beautiful views, only offered the blinds being closed or open, so you didn’t feel any sense of privacy being there.  The TV was completely unwatchable in bed unless you both clung on for dear life on the right-hand side.  Why they didn’t put it in a cabinet that rose upwards I don’t know, but then it’s likely because they ran out of intelligence when working out the light switches.

Some of you may point out that you wouldn’t want to spend much time in your room when the entire resort is yours, but in a group this would be your sanctuary and even as a couple, when it rains (as it did), it’s the only place you’ll want to be.  I’d also say to you: stop telling me how to live my life.  My sentiments is that having an entire resort to yourself is not as good for 2 people as having a massive room with the same facilities available, like North Island.

Bathroom
View from bed
Pool suite bedroom
Pool suite erm pool

Amenities

  • A water slide with children’s pool
  • Viewing gallery
  • Indoor living room
  • Bean bags by the beach
  • Café, for breakfast, with outdoor seating area.
  • Dining sala.
  • 42m swimming pool with sun loungers
  • Shaded area with loungers within the pool
  • Chess area with water jets
  • Once again: a water slide!
  • Spa area with steam room and Jacuzzi
  • Gym
  • Pool table
  • High-speed Internet that puts my London office to shame

The gym was not cooled during our stay.  Maybe they took one look at us and thought “no chance” or maybe they forgot.  It meant if you wanted to use it then you really needed to think about doing so 30 minutes before, but I need no excuse not to visit a gym, so I was happy that they created one for me.

Indoor living sala, an area designed only for photographers.

Over the last 9 months, I have been fortunate to go in a submarine at Laucala, a MiG in Russia and now have my own water slide in Ani Villas.  According to a report by the United Nations, that makes me the most awesome person in the world.

My own private water slide. It’s mine, you will never take it from me.
Feel honoured you get to even look at this beauty.
Modern art.

F36A8138.mp4

Reglarly used gym
Dining sala

Spa

The spa area felt a wasted opportunity and was easily the biggest disappointment.  I’ve not felt this let down since spending all of Summer ’96 begging for an Adidas tracksuit and getting the fake 2 striped version instead.  Thanks, mum.  Whilst it’s on the second floor (right next to the water slide, so some bonus points), you cannot see any views from your treatment table as the windows are too high.  Even if you could, you are the the furthest point from the beach in the resort.  The treatment room consists of 2 spa tables, a steam room and a Jacuzzi – one that may be responsible for killing more people than the potato famine, as to use it you need to fill it up with so much water that entire villages have been wiped out through dehydration.  Luckily, they’re eco-friendly in Ani Villas, as they didn’t empty the water for all 3 days of our stay.

Included within the package are unlimited spa treatments, yet we ended up having 3 between us for our 3-night stay.  Before your mind starts racing off to think it’s because we spent the entire time on the water slide, let me assure you this: ok, you are semi-correct, but most importantly, the masseuse was dreadful.  The entire treatment reminds me of an airport spa more than a luxury resort, with a menu a simple pointing exercise and then straight onto your water boarding / treatment.

Treatments are available between 9 > 11 and then 13 > 19.  7pm seemed early for a last massage, but I assume this is due to the masseuse having to leave early on to read about medieval torture techniques that must help her in her day job.

The massage begins with pointing at a brochure of available treatments, that may as well have just read “awful”, “awfuler” and “awfulest”.  After this, you go straight into the massage.  There was no sit down, no foot soaking or consultation, no collection from the room to walk to the spa, just an immediate start with no real care.  Like a hippopotamus thrown onto a skating rink, things were not well thought out.

Mine, which was meant to last an hour, only lasted 50 minutes.  I would have thought with having nothing else to do all day she would be want to pass the time, but maybe she had some Pokemon left to catch. Even though the massage was described as gentle, and it was for the most part, there were parts where I was coughing my spine out through my nose.  Whose idea was it to end a relaxing massage like a karate movie?

Unfortunately, there was only one masseuse on property, so it was like being stuck with the child from Omen, although the GM did make it very clear she could call in someone else at no additional cost if we wanted. I felt the better response was to say nothing and complain about it via this review afterwards.  That’s how you resolve things in life, kids.

Spa AKA CIA site
Look into the light. It will give you hope.
Jacuzzi, the modern atomic bomb.

Activities

Ani Villas, of course, presents a full itinerary of activities you may be interested in prior to arrival.  Having no imagination at all, we decided to stick to doing exactly the same as we did the day prior at Iniala. We promised we would not compare, but within 15 seconds of being here we had already created an entire series of allegories that would keep philosophy students happy for decades.

  • Bike ride
  • Kayak
  • Volleyball
  • Football

They take their volleyball very seriously at Ani.  The moment I mentioned I wanted to do it, I could feel a stampede of staff running towards the beach with the enthusiasm of a German being told of a free beer festival.  As the beach is unusable due to the amount of stones, plus the area of sand was so small that none of the guests from other resorts (AKA proletariats from Six Senses) would have been able to walk past, they setup the net and markings on the front lawn.  Then they proceeded to do as all staff should and let us win.  Rinse and repeat for football as well.  The level of English was not perfect with the staff at the best of times, so it was no surprise that during the games they spoke exclusively in Thai, but it removed the ability to truly get engaged with them and build much of a rapport. All they needed to do was drink some booze, show off their beer belly and get violent then I’d have felt right at home.

Whilst they are keen to have “we accept no liability under any circumstances” notices within the room that clearly cater for, let’s say, the more American guests amongst us, they then only had 1 helmet for the bike rides to share between 3 of us. It’s like the NHS cutbacks had followed me abroad. So it’s ok for them not to be liable, but not ok to provide a helmet.  That’s like introducing a shark into the swimming pool and blaming me when it goes wrong.

For kayaking and cycling, the same instructor took us out and the signs of the freshness of the hotel were on display.

For kayaking, we had to ask if the trainer would come with us.  We did so in a way that made sure they understood how amateur we were: by writing goodbye notes and then asking the GM if she could stick us both in body bags so our loved one can identify us easier.

His English was not great, so there was not much communication going on, partly due to the minor inconvenience of not understanding him and him not understanding us.  He was not the most engaging gentleman either and was happy to ride ahead most of the time. Our personal trainer from Iniala would stop in the road at every junction so we could cross, but here he was off in his own world, sipping away on his refreshing water in 32C heat, all whilst leaving me with none.

Luckily, after I asked for some water, he did what any adult would do.  No, he did not start gurgling his own water in my face, as I probably would have done, but went to purchase some. Just to add to his stand-up comedy routine, he forgot to bring any money, so then had to negotiate with some local chap to give us some water.  The outcome was the desired one, but the process to get there wasn’t the smoothest.

My girlfriend was one of the fortunate ones that not only had water, but a helmet – what a diva.  Even then she still managed to complain, as the bottle of sweet, sweet water, was the size of a matchbox.  At Iniala they took our favourite drinks and attached them to the bikes, then had people waiting for us on return with additional towels and water.  At Ani, I received no water, no one was waiting for us on return and not even a pat on the back, a gold star and the release of hundreds of sky lanterns for my valiant efforts. They couldn’t even release a single lantern, as even though it’s featured on the website, they’re not allowed to do so on the island due to being so close to the airport.

We mentioned this to the GM on our return and, as with every other occasion of any service mishap, it never happened twice. If anything, I now have an intolerance to water, as they offered it so often that I overdosed on it.

Pool table
Chess, water jets and sunshine. The connoisseurs dream.

Food

When we arrived and saw the welcome note that stated breakfast was between 8am and 10:30am, my Czech girlfriend started to have flashbacks to communism.  Her tribute Lenin goatee started to twitch at the thought of once again being so restricted.  Then things got worse. We were asked when we wanted lunch, not what we wanted for lunch, as it had already been prepared.  No consultation, only notes taken from our stay list and a meal prepared.  The last time I didn’t pick my dinner was back in 2005 when I was living at home and Donald Trump was just a harmless psychopath and unconvicted rapist.  A lot has changed since then.

Yet something strange happened.  Somehow, against all rationale, the food was incredible.  Not even pork being outlawed due to local religious beliefs could derail this expedition. I repeat: not even a lack of bacon, god’s nectar, would prevent culinary nirvana.  There was no humble pie on the menu, but if he did, I would have eaten it up.  The chef – ex-Amapuri villa – clearly has built up a massive range of skills over the years.  Not only was he a professional florist in a previous life, but then between Japanese, India, Thai, Western and even a beach BBQ, he absolutely nailed all of it.  He put forward his eclectic menu suggestions for all 3 days during our first lunch and we then made minor tweaks to it.

It worked so well, that I wish other resorts followed the same pattern.  Whilst the concept of having a chef talk to you every day about what you want seems luxurious, I find it more of a hindrance and it relies on thinking of what you want in a state where you may not even be hungry. We all know by our early 20s never to go to a supermarket if we’re hungry, as you buy everything. Conversely, never ask someone in 35C heat what they want to eat 6 hours later, as it will likely be met with slurred speech and cry for “waaater”, especially if they’ve just been out cycling with the Scrooge of water supplies.  Seeing a full plan for the duration of your stay and consulting with the chef was a masterful touch.  The chef would also come at the end of every meal to talk through what you would like to change, but really it was just an exercise in praise, as everything was so good.

Even the way the food was served managed to please me, as rather than the concept of a 3-course meal, the food was delivered in a sharing format with most of it together.  No more sat around patiently waiting for dishes to arrive, when I could be spending my time doing something useful, like writing this.

The included alcohol selection was far superior to other similar resorts, such as Iniala, although whereas Iniala would bring a bottle of champagne, Ani Villas would bring a glass, and a plastic one none-the-less, if you were drinking by the pool. They evidently knew who they were dealing with and how I shouldn’t even be trusted with a plastic spoon at a knife fight.  For my alcoholic girlfriend, bottles to glasses was like going from a pub crawl to The Priory for rehab. Fortunately, by day 3 they realised that all hours are happy hours, so the supply became endless.

By the final night, I noticed that every napkin at the beginning of every meal was in a different shape, although my ignorance failed to have noticed it until too late to take any photos.  Just imagine if Edward Scissorhands instead worked on napkins and possessed magic.  The chef started to deliver side dishes that we never asked for, as he could tell we liked them; he took note of other preferences and bought us a cake.

The most memorable element waited until the final night, when they did a beach BBQ.  Where else can you do a beach BBQ in your PJs than at your own resort? I can barely dress up to a presentable level for business meetings, so having to get dressed on holiday is tantamount to asking the Pope to wear a Gangsta rap t-shirt.  The effort that went into making this special was incredible.  It’s now common place for a beach BBQ, but having one within your own resort takes some beating.  There were holes dug along the beach with candles placed inside; lanterns setup beautifully around the entire property; food cooked to perfection and all the staff on hand.  I even asked for them to shut down some of the lights to prevent glare for my photos, which they did immediately.

However, all is not perfect in the garden of Eden, as I have yet to mention breakfast. Not even the pastries could save it. I cannot imagine how this must feel when you’re a group, as the breakfast area feels so low end, even more so as it’s required to be served there.  As it was just the two of us, this wasn’t such a problem, but we still ate there on 2 days.  The offering was so limited, that all I had every day was a bowl of cereal – on two occasions that I just made myself.  They would of course have done it if I asked, but the setup seems to hint towards just helping myself.  Self-service breakfast does not make luxury travel.  And this is a problem in general with ultra luxury properties that do not offer butler service, such as Laucala.  We would be awake at 7am, make our own food, grab our own drinks from the bar and have no one check up on us. It is designed for big groups, obviously, but they need to work on tailoring it to couples and allowing that extra flexibility by default under those circumstances.

The chef was one of the stars of Ani Villas, even if he made me fat with his portion sizes and quantities that probably depleted the lobster numbers for years to come.  Ani Villas is evidently a celebration of excess.

Something that sounded disgusting but is better than whatever you had for dinner
Dining table
Beach BBQ

Service

When you’re paying for an entire resort to yourself, you’re either doing it for privacy, excellent service, flexibility or because you’re crazy.  I only care about privacy in knowing that no one will be staring at me as I walk around nude.  I’m not worried about me, but the adverse health effects it may have on them.  My main decision making points are therefore service, flexibility and being insane.

There is so much desire and love in Ani Villas, but they’re just not experienced enough to be at the top end of luxury.  Yet.  Nothing is ever too much trouble, with every request being done immediately and often well beyond what is requested. But there are things which are not thought through as well as they could be and others that are only done when asking, when true luxury is about not having to ask.

There are so many positives, but I feel the staff need to be more aware of what their competition is doing to go to the next level.  It’s worth repeating that they have been open only 6 months, so this will come.

The arrival unpacking, which was just handled so gracefully; some gifts of actual value for turndown; the extensive use of WhatsApp to request anything, at anytime; staff around the pool to clean our glasses and laptop, so now my computer is no longer as filthy as the contents on it.  On the second night it began to rain as I was out photographing and a member of staff rushed over to me with an umbrella, just like how they were waiting for us when we got off the boat.  Even the Operations Director of the Ani Villas emailed to ask how things were.  The care is there, but now it’s time to smoothen it out a bit more.

These are all touches of real luxury, but it’s then easy to counter them.  They do things that should be nice but aren’t thought through, such as moving your shoes to your villa door, but then meaning you cannot enter.  Housekeeping was still in our room after breakfast on the first two days; laundry had to be requested to be taken, rather than automatically done, and then it was just returned and placed randomly in the room.  So much of luxury is showing a value proposition, and it coming back either wrapped to demonstrate it was cleaned, or hung back up would be the extra missing touch.  It’s these extra finesses that will help them excel.  It’s understanding that most guests are creatures of habit, so when I order the same drink multiple times a day, you should just have it there, rather than asking me.  I drank so many banana milkshakes that I could have could have started defecating bananas trees.

I felt too often that they either could or should have done something better.  Luckily I’ve got better at asking, as that was then problem solved.  But asking for people all the time, even using WhatsApp, becomes my problem, just like at North Island how the butler being around from 6am > midnight also becomes my problem.  The resort is there stating it’s not an issue to do it, but I start to feel uncomfortable doing so.

My suggestion was to have a pre-arrivals questionnaire similar to Iniala or Alila, where they ask what type of service you want.  Do you want it discreet, or do you want someone always around?  With Iniala, you can build up a close relationship with your butler as they’re around so often, but at Ani it can almost feel lonely from their absence.  The Bulgari London also use WhatsApp to communicate with your butler and it’s something I would expect to see more and more, as it’s just so much easier than picking up the phone every time you want something.  I loved it.

The only time this proved a real problem was when the Internet went down.  March 21st, 2017.  Make it in your calendars.  First we had the great Internet famine of 2016 in Wolgan Valley, and now we have, hopefully, the first and last of 2017.  A whole 5 hours without Internet.  What is this, a 3rd world country or something?!  There are 16 people on site at Ani Villas, yet they had time to bring me fruit during this downtime.  I would have expected them all to be working collectively to bring the Internet back online, or stand on each other’s shoulders with an antenna to get me a connection.  Alas, they compromised and managed to get us a 4G dongle and even contact the neighbours to use their wifi instead.

I understand that at times they are playing a balancing act between guest privacy and service levels, but there was too much absence during our stay.  From spending over an hour at the pool without anyone asking if we wanted anything, to finding no one around at long periods of time that mean we just help ourselves.  When I wanted to play football, suddenly no one was around, even those not playing, so my girlfriend was just helping herself to the bar.

Excluding the GM and chef, we never had a conversation with any of the other staff.  This felt like it was due to the level of English, which if improved would definitely enhance the experience.   There is no doubt, though, that the longer we were there, the better the service was becoming.  It felt a shame to have to leave as everything was clicking into place.

Beach BBQ
Shaded lounging pool area

Departure

SilkAir decided that of all they days they could choose from, the day of our departure would be the one where they removed the afternoon flight.  Their revenge against my overuse of air miles was complete. It meant we had to get up at 5am to have breakfast and leave the resort by 7:30 to get a 10am flight.  Even so, every single member of staff came in to say goodbye, even though we said they did not need to.  The chef and GM travelled with us on the 10-minute car journey to the pier where the boat was waiting to take us back to the mainland.  It was a genuinely beautiful goodbye.

The night before, as part of the regular turndown service, we also received the strangest departing gift I’ve ever received: some face moisturiser and mosquito spray.  The same mosquito spray I mentioned in passing that I was having an allergic reaction to.  Now there are ways of saying goodbye to guests, but this felt very much like a permanent one.  Accompanying the turndown gift was a handwritten goodbye note from all the staff.  But on asking for the bill, my favourite part of the holiday appeared: there wasn’t one.   Even the rash protectors were thrown in for free.  A holiday where I didn’t once get my wallet out will be one I treasure until the day I die. Thanks, Ani Villas, you’re the best.

Goodbye you sexy banana milkshakes, you.

Worth Knowing

Ani Villas was setup on the back of a tragedy of a young multi-millionaire.  Finding himself unable to walk after an accident on New Year’s Day, 2000, he took to art to help him cope with the pain.  So first came Ani Art, followed by Ani Villas, with every property having nearby art school that provides free schooling to the nearby locals, with profits from Ani Villas funding it.  The way I look at it, this is my charity work for the year.  You’re welcome.

The Good

  • All inclusive, with supreme flexibility
  • A waterslide
Main pool

The Bad

  • It’s not designed for couples
  • There are still service lapses that show it’s new
  • Unusable beach
  • You need to get out of bed to use the waterslide

The Luxurious

  • Ask anything and ye shall receive
  • WhatsApp butler service
  • All facilities, all yours, all the time.
  • Excellent food
  • A waterslide
Main pool

Conclusion

Ani Villas belongs in the same ranks as the elite of the luxury world, competing against Fregate, North Island and Laucala, even though it is far from perfect, neither were they.  Coming after Iniala is what let it down the most, as it showed how far they have to come in some areas.  But it’s impossible not to feel smug at having your own resort – the exclusivity and flexibility it offers you is hard to compete with.  When other guests tried to walk into the resort, knowing I can tell my security team to murder them was a great feeling.  I was like Commodus from Gladiator, with my thumbs up/thumbs down life-changing decisions.

So was it worth it?  This is the harshest part of a review, especially one where in an ideal world, I would not have stayed at Ani Villas – not because of us, but because of them.  They are not designed for 2 guests, but large groups, and if they had more bookings they would not have allowed us to stay.  Yet their last guests were 12 days prior to our arrival.  Things are new and will take a while to build up.  We had a wonderful holiday, with great food and felt well looked after by superb management, but all that needs to seek through to all the other staff, as only a few stood out.

I would not go again with just 2 of us, as I’m not at the stage in my life where money is no object.  Money is very much an object and one I can’t dispose of without consequence.  So, when price is a factor, it comes down to whether other resorts can offer what Ani Villas can at similar price points and I believe the answer is a resounding yes.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t have a fantastic time, as we truly did; it simply means there are other opportunities out there that would be more appealing.

Now if we were to return with a group, that would likely change things and I would absolutely consider it.  Having said that, I don’t have any children and there are not another 9 people in any area of the globe who like me, so it may be a long time.  I do not have any experience with villa stays beyond Iniala, so cannot tell what I’m comparing it to.  Maybe it’s significantly better than what Trisara or Amanpuri can offer for a 10 bedroom villa, but I couldn’t say. I do know that I’ll definitely follow their journey and hope to see it continue to develop.

Arrival pavilion

One Comment

  1. Greetings Tom,

    Thank you for the superb review. Very insightful, funny and well-written. You are writing the absolute best reviews out there. Period.

    Some things that I considered vs. Iniala.

    1. The pool is way larger. Even if you have one kids in tow (which I hope is sooner rather than later), just being able to play more and have the space to throw him is huge. So the larger pool, huge plus.

    2. The waterslide. Need I say more?

    3. The tennis pro and tennis court. 35 may be a bit hot, but playing tennis is fun.

    4. More space to run around. Again we were three, but having one little one have more space to run around is huge.

    Overall the butlers, the design/build quality are better at Iniala vs. Ani (Sri Lanka) and the sense of space as a villa vs. resort, but I think they are making the effort to really set themselves apart from places like Aman.

    Looking forward to dinner, mate!

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