Review: Cheval Blanc Randheli, Maldives

Sometimes I feel like I’m in an experiment, but I’m not sure what the test is.  Is this my purgatory assessment?  Perhaps I’m being asked to show the empathy of a decent human being?

You see, folks,  this blog is quite well known in the travel industry.  I don’t live by a secret identity like Batman or Banksy; the hoteliers know who runs this blog and they’ll easily spot my name on their arrivals list.  Some will likely pull a few sick days at that point to avoid me.  Cheval Blanc will definitely know me; I have reviewed it previously and the Front Office Manager used to work with my wife.

My point is: they know I’m coming and they know I’m going to review it.  They also know I’m a relentless, borderline psychotic reviewer.  So then, might you ask, would they allocate us a butler that seemed to be the result of a radioactive, ADHD spider biting a woman a breath away from a nervous breakdown?  Get that poor woman a doctor.

“I keep having nightmares that I’m being stalked by a white horse”

The butler in the pantry with the candlestick

Make no mistake: our butler was extremely efficient.  We used WhatsApp for most communication and she replied near-immediately – like so quickly that if a friend did it, you’d know for sure they were staring at their phone in the hope you’d message them.   “Hey Bob, do you want to go to the….” and bang, you’ve got a yes before you get a chance to tell them it’s off to the taxidermist to get your mum stuffed.

You’d think at this point we could all agree she’s done a wonderful job.  The problem was having to deal with her away from a screen and do that whole real-life schbang.  I was starting to miss the completely absent Mr. Friday from Soneva Jani.  She could not be more helpful, but she must have been one of the most intense people I’ve ever dealt with. Every conversation was spoken of the intensity of someone disarming a bomb in a nursery.  Getting a word in was so hard that her career as a politician is guaranteed.  She spends so long talking that eventually she just answers it herself  – I pondered putting headphones on when she comes over and then waiting for her to draw breath before taking them off.

So this is my test: could I come through the event of someone that does a good job, but does it in a way that irritates me?  Nope.  I couldn’t deal with her.  She needed more than a chill pill; she needed to be cryogenically frozen until we’d discovered a cure for being annoying.

There will never be a cure for parents forcing you to look at pictures of their kids

Let’s start again

Cheval Blanc, the LVMH owned hotel group, is currently one of the best in the world, with Cheval Blanc Randheli being their most aspiring property.  The Maldives is the most competitive luxury resort environment, with new properties being opened quicker than a beer at a Brett Kavanaugh get together, yet in the last decade, since Cheval Blanc Randheli and Velaa opened, nothing has come close to touching them.  As the competition makes failed attempts to catch up, Cheval Blanc Randheli races ahead with further improvements.

For all my prior criticisms of the lack of landscape, which is due to the island being artificial, it’s now much more luscious and feels authentic, whereas four years ago it had the genuineness of a ten-year reunion at a plastic surgeon bruncheon.  The island is more mature and they’ve invested a lot into landscaping.  Previously it seemed anything non-human was immediately murdered at birth, but now there’s bats, lizards and, of course, mosquitos.  Soon they’ll be able to do a safari.  And then what next?!  Actual sealife?!  Heaven forbid.

Every element of this property is gorgeous, whether it’s the new kids club that is split between toddlers, children and teenagers, which our daughter loved so much that I’ll have to buy her one otherwise she’ll have a traumatic childhood.  The spa, which is on its own private island, the private beach areas where we could relax without anyone around, even when the island was at near full capacity.

They’ve added a new surf machine to humiliate yourself on, supplied a load of mosquitos and now will be closing to do even further improvements to the kids club.

Back to the beginning

They know how to make you feel welcome.  The second you’re off the plane and in their lounge, which already has a dedicated kids club, you see the attention to detail.  Passports, credit cards are handled in the lounge so arrival onto the island is seamless.  We were only there for 5 minutes, but the lounge staff were already playing with our daughter and entertaining her.  The lounge also has a perfume and cosmetic corner, with Guerlain products, so you know why your transfers cost $5k.

On arrival, we had a really impressive feast, matching Cheval t-shirts and our daughter having her own presents, a cuddly rabbit and some shorts.  I don’t think housekeeping will be buying her any presents though after all the mess she created, maybe just a cage.

The food was previously great, but now even better.  Diptique offered the best Japanese cuisine I’ve ever had in a resort.  I know that might sound a bit like “I categorically did not have an affair with my secretary….at 11:12am on the 19th July”.  It’s not lying when you’re that specific that you know it was the 20th.  Yet this is a genuine compliment, as every property that has a beach now deems it mandatory to serve Japanese and they almost all suck.  The curse was finally broken!  We didn’t try 1947, as last time it neither agreed with me physically or financially, but did eat in Deelani, their Italian.  It’s open for lunch, but it’s right by the jetty and for some strange reason people don’t want plane fuel as an appetiser, so we ate there alone.  It was the only restaurant which didn’t wow.

1947 – so elegant they painted the walls in virgins blood

White is where they serve breakfast, which is a small buffet and a menu that seems completely overwhelming until you realise that it simply contains almost every piece of food ever discovered that would normally be in a buffet; the menu is presented in such a way as to give you every available nut or piece of fruit or cheese on earth rather than just “cheese selection”.  It’s actually not as great a selection as it appears, although the daily pastries were so good I often didn’t care.

The villa

With exception of the Owner’s Villa, which is a $60,000/n 4 bedroom villa that exists on its own private island and comes with an exclusive use volcano lair and a library containing books such as “101 ways to take over the planet”, all villas are the same; they simply differ in the location and garden, or lack thereof. We booked their top 1 bedroom suite, the Island Villa.  Why?  Cos children go childrening and like to run headfirst into the ocean and then figure out what this swimming thing is.  This was an attempt to stop that.  The Island Villa’s are the closest rooms to the main resort and all have a beach and garden.

The higher the room number you are, the further you are from the main resort.  We were in #4 so could easily walk there, but I imagine there are families of skeletons in higher number villas that hung themselves whilst waiting for room service.

As Joali completely ripped the design off, returning to Cheval Blanc did not have the same wow factor it did four years ago, but it’s still one of the best entry-level room categories of any resort. Their biggest flaw remains privacy. To call them private would be a stretch, as there’s no privacy between people on the beach and your pool/room.  If you hear the words “private” and “island” and think that means “naked” and “freedom” then you might be disappointed, but maybe your spouse will be delighted as they’re just about accepting of you fully clothed.

It’s been one of the hottest months on record, making the unheated pool temperature around 32C.  That, of course, means that the outside temperature was also unbearable; you win some, you lose some.

Four years since our last visit and not enough people have died for them to have fixed the endless minature, hidden steps everywhere.  They’re scattered around the entire property, like the resort is saying “we already have your money, so if you trip into the ocean then that’s your problem”.  I’d say I hate them, but I’m sure they’re sentient as they keep coming after me and I’m now so terrified I crawl everywhere.

I previously mentioned how well they implemented the iPad yet they must be using the original iPad from 2009 as it’s now so slow to do anything it’s painful. We gave up trying to watch a movie and had a nap instead. When they do work, they’re meant to control the entire room and often do it well, with enough finger punching.  The only button missing was the “remove dead cockroaches”.  Every morning we would wake up and find dead ones on the floor, like they couldn’t take it anymore and didn’t want to live in a world this beautiful, so ended it in the night whilst they were unable to rummage through our clean bins.  This begs the question: are cockroaches really that bad? Even LVMH ones?

Value

It’s worth talking about this, as something I truly hate at properties is the nickel and dimming and at Cheval Blanc they avoid this.  Kids under 5 eat free, so naturally, my 1-year-old daughter was ordering wagyu steaks and caviar for lunch every day.  Ok, so kids eat free from the kid’s menu, but as any parent knows, all the children do is throw 90% of it on the floor, so it was nice not to have to pay for that.  Kids under 4 years have complimentary laundry, and as any parent knows, the other 10% of that food ends up on their clothes.  Our daughter seems to get all her calories from the sound waves of me saying “no”.  Babysitting is almost half the price of Velaa, the minibar is free, their non-branded water is free, there’s daily group activities at the gym and they kept adding cakes to our fridge every day.  On top of this, Cheval frequently has stay-7-pay-5 offers on.  Added together, it’s significantly cheaper than buying Chelsea FC, and therefore a bargain.

We need to talk about service

There’s the Good, the Bad and the Butler.

Perhaps contradictory, as this is not a beauty contest and there’s no prizes for having a great personality, but the management were frequently around, looking to take on feedback and engage with guests.  That’s good.  Everyone is so receptive to feedback, but the same issues as 2018 plague this property, and there wasn’t even a plague back then.  I said previously that the service at Velaa is much better, but the gulf has increased even more.  Velaa seems to have a lot of people standing around waiting to help, whereas Cheval has few people doing not much. Damnit, I already skipped to the Bad.  Back to the Good –  everyone at the Kids Club was amazing and everyone was a delight with Isabelle.

The Bad: the pace at which they worked and the answer to your question, depending on whom you asked.  I know we’re meant to be in paradise and there’s no rush, but you try explaining that to a hungry toddler.  After a few days, I found myself getting extremely irritated at them taking twenty minutes to bring along some bread, which then showed up dry and tasteless, or being completely neglected, so we started walking to the bar to give our orders and then wait for it to arrive.

Food preferences were known, but only by some people; orders would show up wrong; wine would be offered to a visibly pregnant Lucie; we waited 40 minutes for food to show up to the room for Isabelle; cakes were made that specifically, we said we didn’t like the ingredients for; we’d go to the spa and no boat would be waiting so we’d sit around in 34C sun.

I complained to the Resort Manager about this and a few things started to pick up, notably the speed of taking orders and food arriving, but it was only a matter of a few days before I was speaking to him again about the frequent mistakes.  Every morning we’d ask for the same things and every morning they’d get it wrong.  At one point someone went to take our order, grabbed a pen and paper, and then didn’t write anything down.  He then said the order back, which, obviously, was wrong. It was like I was watching a poorly put together magic show, where the magician guesses your card on the third attempt, but only after sawing you in half.  I corrected him and 40 minutes later it arrived, only for them to admit they don’t have what I ordered.  Then my food arrives cold.  Ta-da!

Another favourite moment: our daughter put her hand in some hot food, the waiter saw this so rushed to get something cold and ran back to help her.  By rushed, I mean he walked, stopped and took an order from someone else, then walked to the kitchen.  By ran back, I mean walked back, and by help her, I mean brought a wet towel, not cold water.  I really hope that man is not planning to join the fire department.

There is a lack of proactivity here.  I stopped noting down mistakes otherwise I’d be writing another 10,000-word review.  It’s like a lot of people didn’t know what they were doing.

Picture: someone teaching scuba diving

The Good

  • Kids Club
  • Continued desire to improve
  • Value for money

The Bad

  • It’s certainly not aiming at the eco-lodge crowd, but that doesn’t mean they can’t focus on some efficiencies.  They seem to bin everything if you just breathe near it.  Luxury has become more accustomed to dealing with the environment and Cheval should not turn the Maldives into a dumping site of LVHW swag.
  • Service

The Luxurious

  • Rooms
  • Food
  • Setting
  • Spa
  • Really, everything, but the service

Conclusion

You might think a review here 50% of the subject matter reflects the poor service, might inevitably conclude with a negative, yet there’s enough greatness at Randheli for the service to not be the equivalent of a turd on your wagyu steak.  It’s more like a pigeon shitting on your shoes, as you’re on the way to the Met Gala.  Point is, there is shit involved, but not enough to ruin anything.  That’s not to say you should ignore or accept the service, but the brilliance of everything else makes up for the consistent inconsistency, so it doesn’t grate as much as other properties.

It’s extremely beautiful, offers brilliant rooms, food, activities, facilities and a sense of luxury and exclusivity.

So I still don’t have any fear in strongly recommending it.  Should you come to the Maldives, I would strongly recommend you visit both Cheval Blanc Randheli and Velaa.  When I look at everything else – from the room to the beaches to the food – it is a world-class property.  In fact, it remains one of my favourite properties.  I just wish the secret sauce that makes Velaa’s service so good was available for Cheval Blanc to buy.  They certainly can afford it.

Room type: Island Villa Duration: 24 April > 1st May, 2022

10 Comments

  1. Good article! look forward to the next one 🙂

  2. I don’t understand how such poor service can still be considered that you are getting good value for money.
    If I am paying through the nose I expect to get my food orders done correctly.
    I expect no dead bugs on the floor when I wake up.
    They may be desiring to improve, but lack of action is telling. They obviously don’t really care.
    The pictures were marvelous, but this is another place I am happy that you reviewed so I don’t have to go there.

  3. How disappointing and thank you for being yourself and telling it straight…it shows that nothing is perfect…it’s still my favorite too a long with Joali. I don’t say much about many Aman’s but this happens there too. This big take away I have is that after repeated mentions with management you still had lack of service. At that price point, at least some recognition of their ineffectiveness would have been a nice gesture.
    How would you rank them now on service to the other “best beach resorts” would be interesting.

  4. We did Velaa(first)+CBR in October and i must say CBR was overall a disappointment. Two of the biggest issues is how unnatural the resort is and big issues with privacy on the lagoon side (mostly non stop traffic from watersports and boats there, but also all the rooms are basically looking in to neighbors). You must have stayed on the south side of the main island both times, since that’s where you feel these the least (we stayed on second island on lagoon side and changed room to the other side which was more private but less than 10m in front of artificial rock barrier). Velaa has less impressive rooms (we had deluxe beach #5 which was recently renovated and overall more practical than CBR) and food is significantly better at CBR, but setting (including great amount of outside space), service, privacy are on another level, if they upped their f&b quality and remodelled main restaraunt/pool space, there’d be no contest.

    • We mostly agree, Alex, although I found the food at Velaa in December ’21 exceptionally good. As I wrote in that review, I too do not like the main restaurant area, but the rooms really bother me at Velaa. They’re more private, but they’re uninspiring and I don’t like spending any time in them.

      Velaa’s imminent refurb is going to be extremely interesting and I’m sure we’ll be returning sometime in the next year or two to see it.

      • When we were there they told us they’ve been redoing deluxe ones one by one in different styles and the one we had, with lighter colors, was apparently desirable (felt a lot like Brando with darker wood and a bit less light coming in to me) and was on par, sans double height windows, with a 4bed villa we toured (I think these are also all different). My wife liked it a lot, after I tried to prepare her for the worst, after reading your previous review and looking at site pictures. Food at Velaa could be good and never was bad (we complained once at Aragu and received complimentary tasting menu with a lot of chef’s involvement – that was good, even if still below best of CBR), but at CBR it was consistently at level I would be happy with at a reputable restaurant at European capital city. But anyway, my point originally probably was that CBR’s flaws kill the luxury aspect of the resort (even though we had adequate to good service) much more than flaws at Velaa . I don’t know what would make me return there considering all the other options available, while Velaa does provide something unique (maybe that’s because every staff member seems to be really happy to be there?) and I will probably want to return at some point when my daughter (a few months older than yours) would be old enough to enjoy it.

  5. Angela Koehler

    Your photos are stunning! Great review, snarky as always. That poor butler, lol.

    • Thanks, Angela. The photos are really a sign of being there a week, so there were plenty of opportunities to get the right shot.

  6. These are some really stunning photos, well done.

    My husband and I were looking at resorts in the Maldives, including Vellaa and Cheval Blanc.
    This is going to be difficult now, because I’ve also read this review – https://onemileatatime.com/reviews/cheval-blanc-maldives-randheli/, which is quite different from yours. Perhaps we should take your advice and try both.

    Thanks for sharing, I am looking forward to reading your next reviews. 🙂

    • It’s interesting how people have responded on this, as it’s meant to be a positive review, with my usual honest feedback on what they did wrong.

      My non-scientific interpretation of readers comments is that 7/10 prefer Velaa over Cheval – I love both.

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