Iniala, Phuket (still not really), Thailand
Room type: Penthouse
Duration: 15th > 19th March, 2017
Booked with: Direct with hotel
The greatest times in life are often those one off extraordinary moments; those moments that bring a smile to your face and last a lifetime. A first kiss, your most recent pub fight, the underdog lifting the trophy, diving with sharks whilst dressed as a seal and Katie Hopkins being fired. They are moments that will not bring the same joy were they to be repeated.
There is always that horrible feeling: what if it was a one-time fluke? What if my tastes have changed, especially after my last stay being sandwiched between North Island, Fregate and Laucala and Amanpulo? When 3 of those resorts are owned by a billionaire, you’re running a three-legged race against a Tesla, whilst 10m behind the starting line. But Iniala is not a fluke. It is the real deal. Its disadvantage of being small is turned on its head to create an immensely personalised experience.
The best things in life are free, they say. Well I say they’re wrong, as Iniala ain’t no charity and it is the best. Except, actually it is, but let’s leave that story for another day.
Iniala is not extraordinary. It does not even know how to spell the word ordinary. It is a piece of living, breathing art that I’m more in love with it now than ever before. Somehow, on our second stay, they were able to make it even better than the first.
A great hard product is the bare minimum to get me to a resort. You cannot sell service in a brochure, especially with everyone always talking about how great they are in terms that sound oddly similar to everyone else and sometimes hard to decipher if I’m going on holiday or finding a cure for Alzheimers.
I’ll pick a hotel based on how it looks and what it offers – something Iniala already delivers on, but what you cannot know is how you the service will be until you have arrived. What you cannot see is how phenomenal all the staff are, how they simply care, how this job means a great deal to them. It is only worthy of a return if the service matches the hard product; the two perfect ingredients of a hotel smashed together to create a modern art masterpiece.
There are so many positives about Iniala that going almost anywhere else feels like a betrayal worse than your father admitting you’re his second favourite. Even the bathroom amenities are so over the top that you could comfortably live in there without venturing outside for months. So leave your home and come nest here, ye survival experts. We will applaud your bravery.
If you venture out of the bathroom, then you can appreciate the beautiful views from your living room, straight out to the pool. During the day, I would spend most of the time on the lounging area by the pool, with the pool doors open, AC and a fan on, cos I’m just that environmentally friendly. It was so hot that we used the pool multiple times a day, all without ever asking for it to be heated. Hell frozen over? Unlikely, as it was too hot to do so.
My minimum criteria for luxury is knowing staff will take a bullet for me; at Iniala, not even Rambo could get near me – they would all be lining up in front of his wrath. From the moment we stepped off the plane and were reunited with our butler, to the perfection of the room setup, to the CEO, who was in Malta, texting me to make sure everything is fine, it was clear things had somehow become even better.
I always say that a luxury hotel is ultimately how it makes you feel, and how you feel is very hard to describe. You can have fantastic food, an amazing view, a huge room, but still leave unsatisfied – something I’ve experienced many times before. Yet with Iniala, it makes me feel amazing. All the staff seem to love their job and want to be there. It also doesn’t hurt to have some English charm, with the majority of management being fake British (Aussie) or real British (Her Majesty’s British). The staff are always the reason you return to a hotel and the staff at Iniala are amongst the best there is.
The changes since I was last there that have somehow improved it:
- Tim Butler’s new restaurant is significantly better than the former restaurant, Aziamendi, which I was not a fan of. If it were in London, I would dine there regularly.
- A pastry menu with 26 options of free pastries you want with your breakfast each morning.
- An actual food menu called “Iniala Inspirations” – to help overcome the “sounds good, but isn’t really” concept of “anything you want, no menus needed” that left me with no idea what to eat. In typical British understatement, they insisted it was not ready yet: “we’re just putting finishing touches on it” they said like it would be printed in toilet paper, only to show up looking more professional that most people’s wedding invitations. We were guinea pigs, luckily not in the sense of being on the menu, but in trying it out. It proved to be very useful and gave me an opportunity to try dishes I would never have thought of before, such as Chinese food that would not have felt out of place in Hakassan, a Michelin star London restaurant.
- Even though we had paid to do individual activities, the list of group activities was good for inspiration and could help guests meet each other.
- Thoughtful presents during turndown.
Both butlers were amazing, but our day butler is one I requested from last time and I’ll forever hold him in high esteem. Just a few of the things he did:
- Saw me asleep outside and put a towel over me to stop me being burned
- Rubbing mosquito repellent and cream into my legs after seeing the bites
- Walking into a room where I got my haircut and adjusted the AC to my preferred temperature
- Coming to the beach with my favourite drinks
- Automatically taking all the laundry for cleaning without even asking
- Buying all my favourite sweets and constantly restocking them
Whilst our butler truly cared about Iniala being the best and wanted my feedback to help improve it, he was far from the only standout, with excellent staff across all areas, including activities, operations, F&B and even security. Due to playing volleyball and football, we managed to bond with all of the staff, even if I did manage to break parts of their fence with my first kick of the ball and then humiliate them with my skill. Or humiliate myself. There was definitely humiliation involved, I remember that much. I am now legally obligated to wear my Iniala hat for the rest of my life as punishment. Every member of staff I met was also present in December ’15, so HR is evidently doing a great job with staff retention. Happy staff always equals a good customer experience, and with each additional stay it will only get better as they are able to learn.
Nothing will ever satisfy me 100%, not even your (enter your favourite relative here), so there are some areas that could still do being looked at. Maintenance is definitely required, with wear and tear likely further along than they ever imagined at this stage, with visible ageing in some of the outdoor areas; the sliding door between the bedroom and living room sounds like a bird caught in a lawnmower; the lights still make no sense, and the light buttons glare in your face throughout the night, unless you put pillows up against them; the shower pressure is still weak, but at least warm within 15 seconds – a big improvement on last time, when my hair had regrown by the time it heated up.
My biggest issue though is the lack of a doorbell. Too many times we felt paranoid someone is coming into our villa, especially whilst waiting for a spa treatment. To prevent it we need to get dressed, grab the Do Not Disturb sign, walk downstairs, put the sign up and walk back. It’s not exactly the London Marathon, but I feel comfortable saying that it was close.
If you have made it this far and not booked Iniala, I feel sorry for you. But as I wrote in my first review, I also understand it; it is not for everyone. Some will not like the design, others the shared beach, but for me it ranks amongst within my top 5 properties, and were I to invest much thought on it, it may even be my favourite. The penthouse is incredible, the food is excellent, but care from everyone is unparalleled – not because of individuals, but because it is across the entire company. Even 4 days after departure, the CEO of Iniala was aware that we were in Ani Villas, so he got in touch with the GM of the Six Senses next door to offer us a tour.
I just now need to find a way to fit in a 2018 stay.
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