North Island, Seychelles
Room type: Presidential Villa
Duration: 5th > 8th February, 2018
Booked with: Dorsia Travel
In case you never read it, first of all: lucky you; secondly, my 2016 review can be found over here.
So, alas, after being undecided last time regarding whether to return to North Island, I found myself back there. Imagination was never my strong point, although I do not think you will find me saying the same about Miavana anytime soon. I did not think you would find me saying the same about North Island anytime soon either, but I have concluded, after strenuous research and arduous work, that it is the best private island resort in the world.
So, what has changed since 2016? Me, for a start. When a property charges the prices of North Island (and it is even more expensive now than 2016), it sets the expectations itself. Yet through my travels across some of the worlds top luxury properties, I have come to the realisation that perfection does not exist. There is not a single property which is faultless. This is not excusing what can be inexusable, such as parts of North Island’s service in 2016, but accepting that what someone may give a 10, I’m likely to consider an 8 through a combination of travel experience and being an incredibly annoying person.
Other than that, nothing has changed. Except all the staff, give or take a butler here and a waiter there. From GM, to chef, to operations, to the baker and candlestick maker, there has been the standard turnover of staff on an island resort. Island fever apparently makes you filled with more crazy than a Nic Cage lookalike contest. Fortunately the old guest services demogorgon had left too, so they missed out on her unique form of service that involved interrupting you mid-sentence, to walk off and speak to another guest. It certainly kept me on my toes and ensured everything I said was riveting, condensed and up to her unusually high standards. I can now summarise entire books in 5 words or less, and make love even quicker.
It felt like nothing had changed as it was so familiar, especially having the same amazing butler as last time, but in fact there were some massive changes. Not only had they changed the colour of their rash protectors, but they also implemented dinghies into the pool. I don’t know how they had time to come up with these crazy ideas in the 22 months since I was last here. With the same architects as Miavana, it was interesting to see the pool dinghies had made their way north. Unlike Miavana, where it actually fits in with the style of the resort, they feel completely incongruous here and it cheapens the way the property blends into nature; instead, it blends into a bad idea.
The beach, as they spoke about last time, was completely different. The seasons are dramatic on North Island, with the beach moving across the island depending on what time of year you come. Peak is between April and November, and it certainly showed, even if the room rate is the same year round. My pictures of West beach will not be in their marketing material anytime soon, nor will East Beach from villas 6-11; the former taking a large drop from the beach to rocks, whereas the latter looked better suited for a hot coal ceremonial walk.
February means high temperatures and the chance of rain. The weather was windy, but near perfect; the sun not always out, but more than often. It pleased me as a Brit/Irish combo, who is made up of swear words and pasty white skin, that burns after 10 seconds of exposure. When we arrived into Mahe, the skies were grey and on the verge of raining, yet just 15 minutes later we entered North Island and it was bright skies, beautiful oceans and even a smile or two to be found. Exactly like Themyscira, for all those Wonder Woman fans.
Even ZilAir, the helicopter company that transfers you to North Island, decided to implement some changes, like not offering any flowers or water as per previously. Here’s to the renegades.
Yet the biggest change was yet to come.
If you refer to my 2016 review, my issues were focused around the service outside of the villa. I am now old and wise enough that I can quote myself, so here goes:
This, unfortunately, needs breaking down into 2 areas. You have your villa butler, who I simply cannot have enough praise for. Then there’s the service from other parts of the resort, which I don’t consider acceptable at this price point.
The service had considerably improved. Every member of staff I spoke to appeared to reference my previous blog entry, like it was pinned up in their office, right next to the dartboard and right next to a picture of my ugly, grinning face. I could not tell whether things had improved this much, or they were using my blog post as a guide on how to deal with me. Either way, my entire list of notes has not a single negative service encounter to write down between the butler and the main resort. Not one. I cannot recall this in any property I’ve ever stayed in.
Things were going so well, I even managed to finally go snorkelling, just 669 days later than planned.
Fortunately I got my mojo back when it came to the food and the spa – I finally had something to criticise. The former had deteriorated since Jeremy, the ex-executive chef, moved onto pastures new. It had fallen at such a rate that it may have confused itself for a cryptocurrency. Both of us ended up not eating some of the dishes and agreed that some were poorly prepared. Then on the final night along came the head chef to prepare for us a BBQ in our villa; the food was incredible, even the same salad that tasted of cardboard-mixed-with-sandpaper we had for lunch suddenly tasted delicious. It all made sense; chef was awesome, but island fever had once again taken over. He had clearly copied the script to Ratatouille by putting a rat in charge of his kitchen when he’s not there. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, we should applaud chef for trying something new. It’s not his fault it didn’t work out.
It turns out he too is leaving soon, so hopefully they do the decent thing and feed the remaining kitchen staff to the tortoises.
Our first meal arrived late and was cold, but somehow still amazing. Delivery continued to be slow, but the quality then deteriorated quicker than you can say “how is this my dinner when there’s only 3 pieces of calamari?!”. Even when the head chef was directly involved with our BBQ it was not perfect, as a hint of strange was thrown in when we only had one piece of chicken and beef each.
As for the spa, they still offer a complimentary 30 minute massage for your 95 billion dollar nightly fee. Not being one to turndown freebies, we both took them up on this offer, which felt felt more like a doctors appointment with them taking us straight through to have a treatment. No relaxing or foot massage or discussion, just straight to it. Chop, chop, time is money.
Perhaps this lowered the expectations, as we both thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so that we went back the next door for a paid for 60 minute treatment, and then were worthy of a foot massage/soak prior to beginning, although a consultation was apparently still one step too far. When we mentioned the key areas we wanted them to focus on, they both then noted it down on a piece of paper that was titled: Things I Don’t Care about. The second massage was nowhere near as good for either of us – perhaps a reflection that in life, once you discover something great, don’t get greedy and never repeat it. Perhaps most insulting was the price: €230 for a 60 minute massage. If you wish to charge 50% more than Mayfair, you gotta make sure you hire someone with the hands of George Costanza, the temperament of Gandhi and the soul of
San Suu Kyi whichever single human being left that is decent.
The service covered every area I wanted to see improved
- Staff coming to check up on us at the pool, and often just bring things along without even asking
- Lucie falling asleep and waking up to find some of her favourite snacks beside her
- Water placed besides us the second we sat down
- Preferences remembered everywhere, so things were prepared in advance
Then of course there was our amazing butler, whom possesses a psychic connection to always know what I want: junk food and plenty of it. I also appreciated the villa chalkboard that was used to convey notes to us throughout the day: “Welcome home”, the time of sunset and temperature, “good night” etc. They even had my beautiful Tempur pillow waiting for me, just where I left him. The sweets are not quite as generous as previously, but still substantial, and they were very forthcoming with all the bathroom amenities, which seemed to include every possibly man accessory since fire was invented. All for me, whilst Lucie got nothing.
The mosquitos set the expectation with a stealth attack by getting me even on the plane from London to Dubai. They are clearly territorial animals trying to send a message. That message was well received, but they were then nowhere to be seen the first two days. Then it rained – even if only for a mere minutes. Then they could smell my fragrance and feel my smugness at having escaped their reach. Then I pushed it. I flaunted my invincibility in their face by going on a jungle hike, which came with a red label warning of skull, crossbones, mosquitos and tears. There was only going to be one winner and it sure wasn’t going to be me. Undeterred, I bravely fought on, venturing out once again on another conservation walk to plant a tree. Their ambush was set, and I was walking straight into the middle of the crossfire.
The hard product is almost exactly the same, with the exception of West Beach Bar being completely rebuilt. As I discovered across this holiday, it seems a lot of hotels are very keen on using off-peak season to prepare for peak, so tough luck if you’re too early for the party. It’s theirs, so you can cry all you want to. It will reopen in March and allow for informal dining, such as burgers, pizza etc, whilst watching the sunset. In the mean time they converted a picnic area into a temporarily West Beach Bar, which did the trick, but left me hating the future guests of the island; I could already see their pompous faces enjoying what I could not.
After 9 days in Botswana with close to zero Internet, I’ve become a much more relaxed person regarding constant connectivity. Relaxed, but not kind. Definitely not kind enough to not demand universal access. You can get it in your villa, but it’s out of reach in the villa cabana. Who wants to sit outside in paradise without immediate access to telling everyone else how much better your life is? Speaking of which, give us wifi in the Piazza. Please. Pretty, pretty please. If people immediately start making phone calls in public places the moment they get Internet access, there should be signs up warning they will be shot, or fed by anyone other than the head chef – both equally displeasing. What kind of people are coming to North Island in the first place that they cannot be trusted not to be arseholes? Me? Oh.
Lastly, they need to look into how they can leave a lasting impression with the guests. We were given a box of their home made fudge, which is food at its finest. But what about a lifetime supply of their home made fudge delivered to my house daily as a courtesy gift for staying there twice? I will volunteer my time towards this.
A great property, made all the better by actually knowing there is nowhere better. And the service improvements too.
3 nights was good; 4 nights would have been better. I did not leave having wished to do more activities, I just left wishing I had more time to enjoy my favourite activity: doing nothing. I would also return between April and November, not only for the best of the beaches, but also for the lower temperatures. I spent the entire time wishing it wouldn’t rain, only to pray that it would as it was too hot.
There are some great plans ahead for North, providing they finally go ahead; the biggest, for me, is enclosed bathrooms. Although Satan’s pets didn’t make an appearance whilst I was in the toilet doing the lords work this time, I have no doubt they are just hatching their plans and this is the only way to stop them, other than nuking the island, which the GM wasn’t very fond of.
So will I go back? This time I know better to think otherwise.
IF you go back I’d love to know your thoughts on the step-sister properties in Seychelles that us mortals can afford (new Six Senses perhaps)? Feel like there’s a big lack of luxury in Seychelles as even the Four Seasons etc doesn’t cut it. North Island is in a category of its own.
Although I did just hear that Cheval Blanc bought Banyan Tree so that will be an exciting addition!
That is unlikely to ever happen:
Regardless of what comes out as the truth, the way it has been handled is absolutely appalling. Count me out.
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