News & Reviews News My 2018 highs and lows of luxury travel

Unlike last year, I had to actually check where I’d been as part of writing this.  I’m still not 95% certain on it.  At this point, anything above 90% is considered perfection.  My memory is fading, my list of travels is expanding and the ability to wow me diminishes in each passing day.  

2018 was the most intense travelling I’ve ever done.  If there was a Karate Kid montage for my year of travel, it would require yet another sequel just to show it.  In case you wonder why there are so many properties without a review, it’s because I’m too busy sat in an airport lounge, desperately trying to figure out what “Final Call” actually means and why I still have to stand there for another 30 minutes.

Favourite non-London city hotel

Actually a tough one, as 1) I’ve finally realised that I don’t particularly care for most cities and 2) Nothing stood out on the same level as Ellerman House, last years esteemed winner.  So, Hotel de Crillon wins, even though its food and housekeeping is actually worse than any of the other contenders.  Still, that bar, pool and suites…

Winner: Hotel de Crillon

Runner-up: Hotel Eden

Hôtel de Crillon – tasty

Best bargain

This isn’t even a competition.  This hotel was only on the itinerary as I cheaped out on paying Singapore Airlines asking price for some first class tickets back from Sydney to London.  Garuda Airlines was half the price, but required a layover in Jakarta.  Here’s where we discovered possibly the bargain of all years.  Children will sing songs about our night there for decades (not in that way, you pervert).  Not only was the service astonishing, with everyone knowing who we were straight from check-in, but the rooms were beautiful and spacious, the food sublime and the building itself an absolute delight.  We even had time to hang out around their pool at 3am, debating the pros and cons of jet lag.

Best of all, it was barely £150

Winner: Four Seasons Jakarta

Best beach resort

You expect me to answer, having been to North Island, The Brando, Cheval Blanc, Velaa and Laucala this year?  Oh, ok.  Laucala then.  Let me make this clear: Laucala does not have the best beach, but it is the best resort.  You may throw your pets at the screen in disgust at me saying this, but at $6,000/n, it’s actually a bargain.  Since my first visit, the beach has been restored, the island was at its most beautiful and it just presented itself with an absolute bundle of fun.  

Winner: Laucala

Runner-up: North Island

Who needs a beach?

Best beach

It only seems fair to clarify further.  I never saw the Maldives as a beach destination, simply a destination that has a mildly usable beach.  Velaa proved that wrong, with a beach as good as anywhere.  And I’ve been to Jersey.  North Island highlighted what they told me before, but I refused to believe: the beach really does move around the island throughout the year.  It’s like the David Copperfield of beaches, and also probably disappears at certain times to avoid paying taxes.  Were we at North Island in April, like I was in 2016, it would have come first, but in February it was like it had been involved in a bitter Christmas break-up and was still trying to get over it.

Winner: Velaa

Runner-up: North Island

Best experience

A gorilla.  Me.  Touching.  Some may say this is the romantic story of the year, but I’m assured it was purely platonic by the fact that the gorilla has never even text me since.

Winner: Bisate Lodge

Runner-up: Watching a lion hunt in Singita Sasakwa.  Followed by another in Mara Plains.  And then 5 cheetah’s hunt the next day.    

I want one

Best Surprise

I can’t recall a single positive review of The Retreat at Blue Lagoon.  At least not those who weren’t actually paid to visit it.  So imagine my surprise, on my birthday of all days, that it managed to put Iceland back on the map for something other than Kerry Katona selling me £1 chips.

Winner: The Retreat at Blue Lagoon

Runner-up: The Brando

Biggest disappointment

I rewrote this twice, so difficult it was to decide upon, but for once it was not an abundance of choice, simply a challenge of ranking.  Four Seasons Bora Bora was undoubtedly a shit show of disappointment, but I had been warned enough to only have myself to blame.  Il Sereno at least tried, even if I would never go back.  So really, the winner can only be the one-and-only Qualia.  It was so mediocre, but so full of itself, that it was unsurprising to hear they doubled the room count – they needed a new storage area for their ego.

Winner (loser): Qualia

Worst hotel

Different to the above, in that I went in with no expectations.  I either had to be there, or chose so badly that my entire blog will now be rejected by historians as they think it’s all the ramblings of a mad-man.  This years esteemed winner is one where almost all of you will end up, if you ever visit French Polynesia.  It brought tears to my eyes, as we went for breakfast and saw the masses accumulate here, only to realise that for so many this was their actual holiday.  All we had to drown out our own sobs was the constant taking off of planes throughout the night.  The room was disgusting, not even suitable for a 3 star hotel; the entire hotel was badly maintained and yet they know they can continue to get away with it, as there are no other choices.  Even so, I wish I could fire myself for booking it.

Winner: The InterContinental Tahiti

Runner-up: The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath

Best meal

Whilst staying in the Baur au Lac, we returned to The Dolder Grand for lunch.  So I could be boring and include it again, but sadly it was not as impressive as last years dinner.  We have had some great dining experiences this year, although no standout meal at any of the properties.  So instead I will award this to my favourite London restaurant, which is walking distance from The Connaught: Tokimeite.

Biggest culinary disappointment

Cheval Blanc 1947

Did manage this cool pic though, so could have been worse

Best service recovery

Cheval Blanc 1947.  It was free.  

Biggest improvement

Amanzoe was a disaster in 2017 and absolute perfection in 2018.  Exactly like the British government, except they are a perpetual disaster.

Worst service recovery

Hotel Borg.  I’m still waiting for the hotel manager to reach out to me.  Any day now, I’m sure.

Best country

No country this year, just the entire continent of Africa.  We managed to visit Seychelles, Botswana, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya this year.  And they were all bloody brilliant.

Worst country

Canada.  You may be polite, but you are certainly not good at delivering a luxury experience.  

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Worst return visit

Apologies ladies, but I’m getting married next year.  Park Hotel Vitznau is the chosen venue, so you can imagine my high praise for it.  But that praise was because I stayed in May.  Coming back during peak Summer of July , I got to see another side to the story, and it wasn’t one with a happy ending.

I should have known better than to visit a European hotel in peak-Summer; I have always avoided it for these very reasons, so PHV is not alone in its misdemeanours.  Yet we had to be there, in order to meet the wedding planners.

It did not alter our plans for getting married there, but it really does highlight the difference of staying in some properties during full occupancy. Perhaps had we not come last May during a quiet period we would not have the same expectations. Gone is the serenity, the slick service, the thought-through welcome and empty spa and pool. Thankfully it has not been replaced by the Insta-crowds of Villa Honegg, so could be worse, yet the endless waiting around for orders, the inability to get a table or seat near the pool begins to irritate after enough time. So definitely go, but get the most out of it and avoid July and August.

The wedding is still going ahead, in case you’re worried.

Biggest disappointing stay at a newly opened hotel

N/A!  I avoided all the turds this year.  Oh?  Kokomo was new?  Damnit

Winner: Kokomo Private Island

Best overall hotel

I really could have picked from any number.  In any normal year, so many could have won this.  Singita Sasakwa and Mombo really showed high-class safari camps, with the former being generous to throw in some animals to look at.  Bisate, whilst not the best hotel, offers an exhilarating way to experience gorilla trekking; Saffire Freycinet was a masterpiece; Villa Feltrinelli not perfect, but perfectly unique; Cheval Blanc Randheli exceeded all expectations; Velaa blew us away; North Island fixed all their previous service mishaps.  I could go on and on.  Yet I’ve already chosen Laucala for our honeymoon, so I really have to stick with it.  A refurb is currently taking place, meaning it will only get better.

Winner: Laucala


We spent so long away this year that not even my iPhone recognised my face when we returned.  We spent more days outside England than in it, so I’ll be taking up occupancy as a nomad to get my tax rebate.

More hotels;  more chance of disappointment.  But, in fact, the mass majority of hotels ended up being worthy of a positive review.  If only I had time to write them.  I’m busy traveling here, and next year fighting HMRC.

Any hotels you would mention amongst your favourites?  

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 17th Dec '18

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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