Room type: 1 bedroom villa
Duration: 20th > 25th December
Booked with: Ourisman Travel
This is my second visit to Amanpulo, which I think says a lot in itself. Excluding city hotels and English countryside resorts, the only properties I have ever returned to are Amanzoe and now Amanpulo. I thought it would be worthwhile to include below my initial Trip Advisor review from back in December 2014 to set the mood.
Where to even begin? I feel I should start at the end, to make it easier to understand: I want to go back and I want to do it right now. Amanpulo has without a doubt the most attentive, well trained and caring staff of any resort I’ve ever been to. With Aman already legendary for their levels of service, and with this being our 9th visit to an Aman, my expectations were already high. Well unfortunately for the next resort, Amanpulo just took them up to another level.
Food, service, activities, management, location, room, scenery and weather are all of the main things you want in a resort. Amanpulo takes all of these, decides that it’s not enough and laughs at the competition trying to create something similar. Out of the main free activities on offer, the one we decided to take up was snorkelling and you can feed the fish. The water is, of course, such a beautiful torquoise colour that you have great visibility and start to believe you’re in paradise. Then after that, the staff look for the giant turtle so you can go swimming with it. At the point of actually going swimming with a turtle, I was feeling that the resort was just taunting me that I was only able to stay a few days. This was just their way of showing me the error of my ways in not staying for, well, the rest of my life.
After an indulge of luxury since 2014, would it really make the same impression again? Spoiler alert: no. No, it would not. But before we break up, let me tell you: it’s not me, it’s you.
2016 was the year of prep. It took me nearly 30 years, but I finally got my shit together. Mother, don’t just look proud, say something! I booked North Island over a year in advance, Laucala nearly 9 months and started planning Amanpulo all the way back in January. Amanpulo has a minimum 7 night stay over Christmas, but I barely have the attention span to finish writing this sentence, let alone find ways to entertain myself for…. I asked for 5 nights and after meeting up with then GM of Amanpulo at the London private Aman event, I started to get somewhere. We finally settled on 6 nights. A typhoon approaching Manila saw to it that it ended up as 5. So much for prep. Next time I’ll wing it and just show up unannounced.
On my first visit to Amanpulo I stayed in a Beach Casita, but didn’t feel it offered much benefit to any of the other types, as some of the other casitas were not that much further from the beach and significantly cheaper. It is only this year that I’m slowly coming around to paying extra for better rooms, but I’m not convinced it’s always required, nor feel it should be required, to enjoy a hotel. So I booked a Treetop Casita, their cheapest room type. Two weeks before arriving I contacted them to see what else they had available, as I was beginning to doubt my decision. You know, like ordering a Dominos pizza, then they deliver it with the wrong crust and you realise you’re unhappily married and want a divorce. A 1 bedroom villa had become available. There was some back and forth on this, as it was initially available for the full duration of our stay, then only 4 nights, then after confirming 4 nights it was then available again for the final 2 nights. Bloody owners, how dare they decide to visit their own villas.
My time from Ashford Castle taught me that if someone doesn’t respond and acknowledge the exact point, then a tree falls and makes no sound. You got it. With Amanpulo, my emails were titled “Stay List”, yet the stay list was not acknowledged until I confirmed they had received it. Luckily I did, as then things set into motion. An elite team was put together to hunt down my Tempur pillows. And hunt them down they did. Anyone that cares to buy me a pillow I requested will immediately be invited to my funeral.
Fly from Phuket to Singapore. Stay the night. Get a flight from Singapore to Manila. Drive, traffic depending, 15-45 minutes from Manila airport to the Amanpulo lounge. Wait in said lounge, which only contains snacks, for nearly 3 hours. During time, order takeaway, which is mighty uncouth. Then get on a private plane for an hour. You are at Amanpulo.
I will not pretend I was particularly fond of the GM after our encounter at Amangiri, but he was more than hospitable and even seemed relaxed here, to the point we had a decent 20 minute chat whilst on the plane. On arrival there was a warm welcome from all other members of management to greet the nearly full plane of guests, with enough golf buggies there to start a tame version of Fast and Furious.
Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. Jaw dropping. Even after trips to the Seychelles, Fiji and Maldives, Amanpulo stands out as offering one of the most spectacular settings I’ve ever seen.
The island has all the accommodation on the east side of the island, due to the calm breezes and smooth waves. On the west side the wind can be vicious, but as luck would have it, this is where wind surfing and kite surfing can be performed. A truly majestic coincidence. Not so lucky is the sound of the plane landing/taking off, that I cannot recall last time, but this time sounds like a group of bees are farting in my ear.
I have kept in my mind for the last 2 years that the beach at Amanpulo is the softest sand I’ve ever experienced, but coming back, I will have to give North Island my newly created award. Amanpulo wins from the sand never heating up, thus meaning barefoot orgasms galore. And it has a more beautiful looking beach due to the colour of the water. But North Island’s is more private and offers significantly more and better sand, sans sharp deadly objects that may or may not infect you with Zika.
Aman can be inconsistent. Some have free mini bars, others do not. Some offer a variety of activities as part of the package, but Amanpulo does not. Some will include transfers, whereas others do not. Of course, each are unique, which is the whole purpose of Aman, so every comparison is not fair, but the minibar one particularly bothers me. I mention it, as for my Stay List I note down food I want, and on checkout I found they had billed me for some of it. It would have barely been £6, but it’s the frustration of just being billed without notifying that irks me. Amanpulo purchased 2 (I only requested 1) Tempur pillows for me,that would have cost close to £100 each, but then billed me for 2 bags of sweets. Isn’t it amazing how quickly my appreciation can deteriorate?
The room temperature was set correctly, a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne was waiting along with some tasty snacks and information was provided on activities. It was a good effort, only let down by once again that information being passed onto other areas of the resort.
The villa is not particularly large in comparison to other places I’ve stayed, but it feels spacious due to all the areas available.
- Dining room
- Outdoor dining table, which they move during the day so it is always under the shade from the tree.
- Lounge with 65″ TV
- Swimming pool
- 4 poolside deck chairs
- 2 deckchairs by the beach
- 2 divans
It is also very well maintained and has managed to continue to look modern and feel luxurious.
The biggest issue with the villa is that it’s so comfortable to lay on the divans that finding the will to do anything has been a struggle. On arrival I met the head of villa management, who then introduced us to one of our butlers and sent us on our way to the villa. The first impressions were applauded, as when I arrived at the villa I met our chef, housekeeper and someone else who I forgot in the excitement. They went through my stay list, where they managed to buy me 2 Tempur pillows that I asked for, which makes them the 4th resort to have done so, thus earning my highest ranking of a double high five.
Last time I stayed I slightly overslept and woke up at 3pm on the first day, thus proving the blackout blinds really are that. I’m a very light sleeper – any light or sound and I’m awake – but even though they informed me that they are not truly blackout blinds, they must be confused by the meaning of such words, as absolutely no light comes in. The bedroom is also well sound insulated, as I amusingly found out when I was connecting my iTunes to AirPlay to put on some music, thinking it would be in the living room. After hearing the music rather faintly, I turned it on full blast as it just wasn’t loud enough, only for my partner to come screaming at me for waking her up, as the sound system is in the bedroom. At least I chose something nice to play, so it wasn’t that bad. It isn’t the most logical setup that the bedroom has a wireless sound system, but the outdoor areas and living room do not.
The villa really is a significant upgrade on a casita. There is nothing wrong with the casita, but the villa feels that extra bit special, with a lot of outdoor and indoor space. It is also at the end of the beach, so maintains privacy and reduces the chances of anyone walking past.
- The pool is large, but shallow (I’d guess maybe 5ft deep) and is the same depth the entire length. Once again some abomination has taken place, as I do not find it that cold and therefore can actually use it. I always think private pools look great, but I probably use them for little more than 20 minutes for an entire stay.
- I already had a face perfect for radio (or online reviews), but after using their cheap-as-chips razor to shave, I now look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame got into a fight with a honey badger. And lost.
- The minibar is not free
- There are 3 remote controls just for the TV, so things have got a bit messy. Then there’s another remote for the fan and another for something that maybe launches nukes, I really have no idea.
- There’s only one toilet, which I definitely don’t approve of. Where else am I meant to read the Financial Times?
- Beach Club, Cub House and Lagoon Club restaurants
- Floating bar
- Kids lounge and pool
- Main pool
- Even a place to get married. Awww.
So enjoyable I found lounging in the villa, that doing anything started to look like a chore. After several days of doing this, I ventured out for an island tour and came across the spa, sat perched atop a cliff and over looking the trees, with a faint glimmer of the ocean in the background. I even conversation with the spa manager and was most pleased to see they did not choose to bill me for this. A rare occurrence indeed.
I think there are things to do here. I know for certainty there used to be, but laying on a divan suddenly seems so much more appealing. Maybe wind surfing? Snorkelling and swimming with the turtles. Possibly many other things. Oh yeah, stargazing. That was fun, even though half the island appeared to turn-up at once with their phones.
I want to tell you the food at Amanpulo is good. As it was. It had dramatically improved since my visit 2 years ago. But the reason it was good was because I only ordered 5 things during my entire stay. I rarely ordered a main course, as there was only one that appealed. The is a relatively new F&B Director and head chef that joined 6-7 months ago, so hopefully with a bit more time they can perfect it..
I must have the stomach the size of a rat, as I go from not hungry-at-all, to more ravenous than a pack of blood thirsty spiders that may or may not be behind you right now. This meant the chef, who needed 2 hours prep for any meal, was rather pointless. I still have the mentality of a baby when it comes to eating: if I’m hungry, I’m hungry right there and then, but otherwise have no ability to think about food. I also cry a lot. When I finally did get around to planning enough in advance to order something, like a dessert with 24 hours notice, I was very pleased with everything the chef produced.
Iniala and North Island asked for information on what meals you would like prior to arrival, but Amanpulo was just silent on it. The same level of silence was then passed onto the chef, as I could never get any suggestions from him, outside of what they printed out as a menu. For me, it just reduced the chef down to someone that you spoke to. What that conversation was about could be nothing to do with food at all. I like to believe the chef is just some poor guy they dressed up in uniform and he has no idea what he’s doing or talking about. There is no chef. It’s all an illusion. But whilst he is there, and as I need to feel value for money, it seems only appropriately to phone the butler at 3am, to ask him to urgently wake the chef up, as I need some cornflakes. And a glass of water. Only a chef can prepare my drinks.
I did appreciate that they had a printed menu to choose from, but more interaction with the chef was required. As I would only order when hungry, I frequently just had to use the standard inroom dining menu, but even then it was taking nearly 2 hours to arrive. There was never a quick meal at Amanpulo. Nor is there such thing as a free meal, apparently, as even the snacks on my stay list they billed me for. Christmas Eve gave the option of a buffet. At £150 a head. Things I refuse to pay for: public toilets, sitting on a park bench, this blog and £300 for a buffet. At least the – surprisingly good – live music would have drowned out my sobbing.
Iniala and North Island don’t have personal chefs, but have chefs come visit you every day to ask exactly what you want and make it for you. It works very well. Fregate pretends to do the same, but really doesn’t. Amanpulo gives you your own chef, but I do not feel it achieves or adds anything.
The 1 bedroom villa comes with what is a bare minimum requirement I have for being able to look myself in the mirror: a butler. In this case I was provided 2 butlers. 2! As in twice as many as one. It was Christmas and once again Jesus was sacrificing himself purely for my enjoyment. I think that was the purpose of Christmas. Or was that Easter? I get my chocolate eggs and mince pies mixed up all the time. But Jesus was not in the mood for fully stretched palm high-fives, but was more in a middle-finger kinda disposition. For, good listener, the reason for 2 butlers was that one was looking after us all the time whilst another would occasionally help him. Why was this needed, you may ask? Because our primary butler had only been at the resort for 2 weeks and I was the first ever guests he had.
Now let me be kind in saying that our primary butler, France, was wonderfully kind and eager to please. But he had just started and I cannot help but feel that the issue here was not him, but management for leaving us with him. How can it be fair to complain about him? You wouldn’t start complaining if Donald Trump did something disastrous in his first 2 weeks of the job, would you? Oh.
It would not be unkind to say it was the worst butler service I’ve received, but caveat it with mentioning that there was nothing major that was wrong, it was just nothing close to what a butler service can be. It was a primary decision upon why I decided not to stick with the 1 bedroom villa for the final 2 nights, as it did not feel that the service was worth paying additional for, even more so that the other, more experience butler, was in fact not going to be available for the last 2 nights as he had to go work in another villa. When asking to look at the other room to decide whether to move, the only way I was going to be prevented doing so would have been if the casita had a series of people in forensic suites there, along with a priest blessing the room, due to some horrific crime that had just taken place.
I do not want this review to make it sound like he was useless, as he certainly was not. He would take us to breakfast, then wait around on the golf buggy to take us back, meaning I only drove the buggy once ourselves. He helped pack and did so perfectly. He would check up us on and try his best to organise things, although I’m still waiting for the game of football that was meant to have been organised. I fear I may be waiting for a long time.
Perhaps I’m the problem? Every resort I visit with a butler, he does end up looking quite bored. Without children, I do wonder what other guests need so often from a butler that would keep them occupied that much? Could I ask him to take my conference calls, answer my emails and speak to my family for me?.
Perhaps one to try another day with another butler, as the poor guy didn’t know the answer to anything, so I didn’t bother asking him, which made him rather pointless. I really hope and would expect to see him in a few years, as his heart was in the first place, but it’s completely unfair for him to have been thrown in the deep end like he was.. The purpose of 2 butlers was for one to have overseen him, but he was rarely there.. France was beginning to get there with some points by day #5, but as someone who is not only in a new job, but in his first ever job, there were no surprises here.
The biggest surprises came from the rest of the staff making similar mistakes to him in other restaurants, such as always bringing me soya milk, never remembering lemon with water, not refilling the water enough, not remembering cutlery or bringing the wrong kind. Who brings a spoon to a knife fight? I would be very interested to know how someone with no prior experience was able to get a job just 2 weeks prior to Christmas. Was it planned that badly? He was also not the only person, as down at the Beach Club there was someone else who had just started.
People asked me whether new management has made a difference, but I’m of the view that it’s the high occupancy. Our last visit was in 2014 and two weeks prior to Christmas, which would have made a significant difference in the number of guests on the island. Just before coming here I was at Trisara who were half full, yet were fully booked just a few days later until the new year. Should they be able to deal with it? I’d hope so, but evidently not, and as most of the same staff are here, I would be surprised if the GM can make that much difference, unless there have been cutbacks. Their saving grace is that the friendliness of the staff is unparalleled to anywhere I’ve ever been. And not a single interaction feels anything but entirely genuine. Someone once asked me if I feel like a celebrity, as everyone makes you feel that way. Whilst the service levels were still not there, the warmth has not gone away.
I have been told there are 300 guests on the island during Christmas, mainly due to all the villas being fully occupied. It feels busier than last time I was here, but nowhere to the level I would expect from so many guests – I would have guessed significantly less than 100 guests were here. Nowhere is crowded; no dining area has anything less than half the seats still available and management are still coming around for the chats. Even the main beach at 1pm, by the Beach Club, will have barely 20 people there.
However, and this is the biggest point – the extra fine touches are lacking, such as remembering preferences. It is nowhere near as slick as last time, and those fine touches that made us return are mostly absent. I am forgiving them due to the high occupancy, but the staff are never busy and the restaurants never crowded, so they have the time to note down what guests want. I will never forget the first visit, where a member of staff came and started stirring our drinks, then placed down a foot stool as he thought we may want to eat breakfast and look into the ocean – something even I had yet to think of. That proactive, almost psychic service level, is exactly why I returned, but I returned to see it no longer there.
Even housekeeping, the ever-present ninjas of Aman resorts; always there, but never seen, decided to be always seen, but never there. For the first 4 days I had breakfast by the Beach Club, each time taking over an hour, but every time they had just started making the bedroom on our return. They give you a dedicated housekeeper, or at least make it appear they are dedicated to you, so I cannot fathom how it was not possible to get at least the bedroom tidied in time.
There is a strong sense of irony that the most expensive time of year to visit is the most crowded, so therefore the least personalised service. At least Amanpulo only mildly increases their rate for peak (~10% from the week prior and ~30% more than 30th November), whereas other places like those in Maldives and Thailand can end up being 3x the price if you go on the 20th December vs 19th.
I was due to stay 6 nights, yet on the 4th night, Christmas Eve, I was informed of an incoming typhoon into Manila, which could mean I could not leave on the 26th. I decided to leave on the morning of the 25th instead, so I could fly to Hong Kong. I was not impressed by the Aman response to this, as our butler already mentioned on the 23rd that a storm was coming, but they waited until no planes were available on the 24th to notify us, meaning our only real option was to leave on Christmas Day and spend 6 hours traveling. As the entire holiday was designed around spending Christmas in a Christian country, it felt a major letdown to disrupt the purpose of the holiday.
Just to add to my memories, I severely injured my back on the morning of departure. Still no idea how, but I’m going to go with wrestling a great white shark to make it sound more exciting. As a result I needed the island doctor (which of course needed to be paid for) to come see me, who gave me painkillers, came back 15 minutes later and gave me some stronger grade ones. I had to leave the resort in a wheelchair, as I was unable to stand. Whilst in agony, I was still able to notice the warm goodbye from the staff as the plane left the runway and management were there to wave us off. The GM was also kind to check in on me the next day to see how I was doing.
I left feeling annoyed in having to leave as I did, but understood there is nothing that could be done about the weather. Yet then I got to The Upper House, and there were treats galore there, every single day of the stay. This then made me realise that Amanpulo did absolutely nothing, excluding a card the night before. They knew I was leaving, so why not try and do something special on the day? Even more so that people were leaving not on their own accord.
It’s Christmas. I get that all those reindeers need to be fed. It’s a private island, so Santa needs all that extra fuel. Yet the penny pinching felt in full flow here. They sometimes offer full board and half board options, which would perhaps be worth looking into. Their main improvement would be to offer all-inclusive. In Laucala we went out on jet skis and would have probably been out maybe 20 minutes. Even though I know I paid for it in the nightly rate, the fact that I didn’t see what it cost meant I didn’t feel it was a waste of money. However if I had paid say $200 for it, I’d have been annoyed. I’d have likely just not done it in the first place, wondering whether I would actually enjoy it. All-inclusive is such a good way of taking away any decision making process and making it more relaxing for the guests. Aman is never one to cause outrage in their food prices, but some of their activities prices are certainly less than generous. I feel improvements in the service would also kick in if everything was included.
- Beautiful 1 bedroom villa, with plenty of space
- Huge, diverse island to explore
- Penny pinching
- Food offering needs to be improved
- Almost impossible to beat scenery
- Celebrity like treatment
Amanpulo is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I can only think of North Island that may come close to competing against it, and perhaps some small fragments of Fregate. Yet this time it didn’t live up to my previous experiences. Would I return? Absolutely, but not during peak and not without having tried some other high end beach resorts first. The world is only getting smaller and Aman need to be aware of the other choices people can make, to ensure that Amanpulo remains amongst the best.
There’s probably a charge for every negative word I write about them, so I best be off.