News & Reviews Indian Ocean Seychelles Review: North Island, a Luxury Collection Resort, Seychelles

North Island, Seychelles 
Room type: Beachfront Villa
Duration: 17 > 20th March, 2020

You may think there are more important things to discuss than whether the rebranded North Island is the Second Coming or a reincarnated Jeffrey Dahmer.  You’re unlikely to step foot on it anytime soon, regardless of whether planes still exist by the time I publish this.  But time is all I’ve got, so let me tell you of our third trip to North Island.

Getting there

The world was a vastly different place when I booked our 10-night trip to the Seychelles.  Remember when you used to sneeze all over other people’s faces? Oh, the glory days. Now the tyrants ask us to use tissues.  I only ever used to wash my hands of something – normally around when the bill arrived – whereas now I was actually doing it every 15 seconds.   It was really not clear if we would go on this trip, but depart we did – from Stansted Airport, of all places.  Social distancing was not an issue, as there were about 3 other people at the airport and wasting money on flying Emirates 777 First Class finally paid off, as we sat so far from anyone else that the superfluous binoculars they provide were required to see the other passengers.

North Island was due to be the penultimate segment of this trip, but due to the rapidly changing world, along with the small matter that our next destination – the Four Seasons Seychelles – shut due to two cases of covid-19, we arrived 2 days earlier than expected and cut the trip short to 7 nights, in case the UK shut the borders.  As luck would have it, my government is as allergic to common sense as science is to hydroxychloroquine, so we could have stayed in the Seychelles until the 8th June.  Covid-19 is critically clear: it will stay away from the UK until the 8th June, so no need to shut the airports until then.  I know we like to make it out to be the bad guy, but the coronavirus is exceptional at giving us advance warning, so it’s clearly just a misunderstood modern day IRA.  The only blessing from these changes in scheduling was that it allowed us to depart Six Senses Zil Pasyon earlier – any excuse to leave a property that felt as exclusive as a night out with Stormy Daniels.

After giving them barely 24 hours notice of our change of plans, we arrived at North Island, had our temperatures checked and got reorientated.  As we were early, I was not going to start harassing them on the stay list.  It felt fair enough to ignore the lack of prep, wait 2 days and see what happens then.  Fregate and Six Senses managed it, so I’m sure that North Island would….yeah, you guessed it.  Na-da.  No blackouts, pillows, toiletries, personalised pantry or a care in the world.  All that was waiting us was some food that the tortoises rejected, which sat there for 3 days, breeding an army of mosquitos.  It was right at this point that the reenforcement strategy of inferiority kicked in; we were told we didn’t get a personalised kitchen as we weren’t on the Dream Package.  Cheers, guys – I already felt inadequate after spending the night at Six Senses and now I have to deal with this?!  Were they going to start segregating us into different classes?

You can only see sunset on the Dream Package.

What’s new?

Everyone wants to know if Marriott have ruined North Island.  Great news!  They have not.

Instead, they have done it to themselves.

Let’s start with the biggest point: price.  No more a single all inclusive rate; now you pick between B&B, Half-board, Full board and the much revered Dream Package.  The Dream Package is what their old all inclusive offer was, with a daily 60 minute massage thrown in, and your self-worth left intact.

I’ve been trying my best not to mention price in recent reviews.  The readership of this blog is extreme, from billionaires to the peasants with barely a few million dollars to their name. Shame on you.  Actually, shame on me.  I knew I shouldn’t have invested all my money in Carnival.  Yet through North Island’s change of direction, I must reflect on value for money here, as this is ultimately the real change.  Sure, there’s a few Marriott logos here and there; your bedroom will have an endless loop of promotional videos about cleansing your soul in some other Marriott that shares nothing at all in common with North Island. The real change, however, is not that you can now earn points on your stay that you can redeem towards a Westin, but the way the new rates change the experience.

I first stayed in April 2016 when it was €5,485/n, whereas this year it would be €9,801. I think they’ve closely been following the Fed and think that everyone is now a trillionaire from all the free money printing.  I’m not an economist, but I don’t think that’s entirely how it works.  For us, the Dream Rate is not worth the additional expense (we don’t dive), but that still means on Full Board it’s €8,107/n during their peak season. As it’s €1200/n more for full board vs B&B, I did enquire about their menus, just to confirm it wasn’t going to be:

Soup: €350
Soup with bread: €550

Surprisingly, F&B prices were all perfectly reasonable – think South of France.  Yet nothing else is. On one hand I can say that they’re not trying to attract people that care about price, but on the other they clearly spent a lot of time modifying their offer to cater to the market known affectionally as “pond scum”.  You know the type – people like me; those who are not reading this whilst laying in a bath of gold coins.  However, by going onto B&B, all the magic is gone.  Everything is charged for, often obscenly, and the worst part of it all is what that reduces your butler to: a glorified cleaner.  Previously the butler was one of the major selling points.  Only a few properties have truly excelled with the implementation of the butler and North Island was one.  They would anticipate your needs, modify the experience based on preferences; surprise you, organise your day and ensure a wonderful stay.  Now all we received was a free daily bath – sans gold.

On B&B, we really had to think whether any of the activities were worth it.  £400 to watch a film in your room, from a collection of DVDs so old that Princess Diana could have owned them.  There are no movies on the TV, like at other Luxury Collection properties, such as The Langley.  What’s the point of being part of a brand if you make up your own criteria?  £350 for a picnic on a beach; £200 for some drinks on a rock.  They’re all things that you would expect to pay for in The Maldives, but the Maldives are a third of the price of North Island.  And we’ve done them all before.

What else?

Ok, so Marriott couldn’t help but shit over at least some details.  Someone, somewhere, in corporate, decided that the way to improve North Island was to ensure every time you needed a tampon, you’d remember it was from Marriott.  There is no better way of bonding than having a brand a physical part of you.  Yet their boredom did not stop there.  In between starring at the pictures of their children that they only got to see every other weekend, the thought crossed their mind, how they deploy some of that negativity onto others?  That little bit of power they’d lost at the same pace as their dignity would be restored by implementing some ridiculous policies.  Like needing your room number and surname to connect to the Wi-Fi.  Outcome?  AirPlay no longer works.  The one and only memorable feature of the rooms.  So instead of playing your own music, you must now connect to their iPad and use YouTube.  Nothing relaxes me more than listening to music, interrupted regularly by adverts.  The lounge speakers were broken anyway, so I lost the opportunity to hear another commercial for Grammarly.

Overall they’ve been a bit subtle about the entire Luxury Collect/Marriott thing.  Ignoring the TV, the tampons and the shaving kit, you won’t see it much elsewhere.  But you may feel it, when the meanness kicks in, that you experience at a chain.  Not if you’re on the Dream Rate, of course.  Those people have it all.  I felt like I was in The Platform and was starring up at Level 1.  I hope next time they give us badges we can sew onto our t-shirts that help the guests differentiate who is on what rate, so we can feel even more welcome there.

Only Dream Rate customers get to walk on the beach during sunlight. The rest of us have to come out at night and clean their rubbish.

What does being on B&B mean?

It means staff have a duty to remind you that you’re not on the Dream Package.  You can only imagine how those champions are treated; Rolls Royces instead of golf buggies; caviar baths; and you may even get a sun lounger. I do not believe they were doing it to be spiteful, but it came across that way.  At the very least, it felt tight.

They couldn’t even bring themselves to continue to offer their whopping 20 minute free arrival massages.  Of course, unless you’re on the Dream Package.  No turndown gifts, no departure gifts, no personalised amenities.  Let me be clear, do I care?  Nope.  And you might say that’s why they don’t offer them.  Well, they certainly used to.

But these are all minor compared to how the experience felt.

The first time I was handed the bill, a part of my soul died.  The all-inclusive, ultra luxury, private island, having succumb to chasing guests for signatures.  This is the new North Island; the Marriott re-imagined version that no one asked for – Project Bean Counter.

It’s so Marriott that asking for a side of salad gets added as another main course.  They have no flexibility.  North has become the meanest luxury property I’ve ever been to, with absolutely no value adds at all.  The chasing for the bill is just a final stab in the back.  They said nothing would change, but it definitely has.

We did not have the same butler as on the previous two stays, although I was relived to see him still working here.  There was nothing wrong with the butler we had, although there wasn’t the same rapport there – I do not blame him, I blame the new infrastructure that severely hinders his ability to do anything.  Even the minibar is now billable (except water), so unless we explicitly asked for something, his job was limited to trying to fix our broken AC.

Let me give compliments where it is due: whilst there were only 2 front office staff from our previous stay in 2018, this is island life and there is little new about this.  But those in management that remained did an excellent job of looking after us.  When the new F&B Director appeared, things took a turn and started to dramatically improve.  He wanted to know our feedback, and would act upon it.  It was clear he was not pleased about the bill chasing, nor our complaints of the lack of personalisation, greed and portion sizes.  We’re on a private island, not a Gwyneth Paltrow cleansing farm.  We were able to tell him of the small details that just add up to annoy us as guests, such as requesting a coffee press, only to be reminded there would be a charging for using it, and later them coming back to confirm they don’t actually have it, or ordering a salad, which was some lettuce and tomatoes, and getting charged as a main course.  The price is irrelevant, it’s the nature of generosity that is suddenly gone.

In fairness, when we enquired about the arrival massages, they did offer us two 30 minute complimentary massages, due to being repeat guests.  Without asking, this was then upgraded to an hour each, which was a nice gesture.  Lucie took both treatments, and loved both her facial and massage.  But they couldn’t manage that right, as the second treatment resulted in the therapist showing up 30 minutes late. Who’d have thought that was the last time someone could touch you.  My beautiful wife, and now I can’t even pay people to touch her.

The shame is that between our old butler (sadly he was looking after another villa), the Front House Manager and the F&B Director, they actually have a very solid team here.  As for the GM, I couldn’t say.  We never saw him, so assume he was self isolating to such a degree that he also can’t use a computer, as I never got any follow-up from any of my feedback.

The tortoises are only on B&B too. Don’t even look the scum in the eye.

What’s the same?

Every time we come back, the villa impresses less and less. The world of luxury changes so fast.  Just compare your luxury holiday in February 2020 to May 2020.  See?  Huge difference.  North Island used to be the amongst the best – huge amounts of space and privacy.  These are not enough anymore.  It’s the same stupid taps that your hands slip on as you touch them; the same outdoor toilet that forces you into going indoors, touch all the handles and only then can you wash your hands. That’s if you can – as our toiletries were half-empty.  I’m way ahead of my time, as this stuff annoyed me 4 years ago, but now it feels like a health crisis. I still suffer that psychological fear of going to the toilet at night, whilst the bugs are out in force and there’s no cover.

The room smelt of mould, the air conditioning was so useless they had to install a portable one, which gave two options at night: earplugs or not sleep.  Let me surmise our first night lack of sleep due to the lack of pillows, the AC being so weak we were drenched like weasels, the light coming in from the useless blinds and the stench from the sewage.   The rooms are likely now categorised depending on the room rate you’re on.  Ours, on B&B, stunk like some rats had been chewing on your grandma.  If you’re on the Dream Rate it smells like a unicorn farting on you, whilst half-board is somewhere in the middle – horse shit.

The first morning was like being on site during Extreme Makeover, as they moved the speaker around and tried to fix the AC, including adding a portable unit in.  The blackouts are useless – getting woken at 6am with lots of light coming in means I need to be asleep at 10pm. Even when they did their best to fix it, we still had no blinds leading to the bathroom – must need to be on the Dream package.

What’s better?

It’s not all just a social experiment to lower your self-esteem.  There are definitely some improvements here.

Firstly, my number one hatred has always been the lack of Wi-Fi. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi should not be something I celebrate as a win at the worlds most expensive resort, but it did save us having to head back to the room every 15 minutes to see which industries still existed.  The owner had always resisted installing WiFi, as he hated the idea of people being on their phones.  On arrival, one of the first things we spotted were guests were on their phones, loudly Facetiming.  Perhaps he had a point.

The new West Beach bar is beautiful.  It was being built during our last stay, but I’ll give them credit – its pizza oven opens up the opportunities for dining here, whereas previously it was just a quick evening drink and get the hell outta there.

Last time the food was very much under the miss category, with the rare hit being when the head chef was in charge.  This time it was dramatically improved, but gone is the “anything, anytime, anywhere” and replaced by “3 starters and 3 mains that we sometimes change daily” at the Piazza, or “same as day before” at West Beach.  I have no issue with this, as even Iniala realised the error of leaving it to guests to pick whatever they wanted, when most suffer from my lack of imagination.  I like beans on toast, but not for every meal.

There were still some misses, particularly around how slow every single meal took an hour to arrive; getting some dishes cold, even when we were the only guests; and having to tolerate the chef coming out for every meal, only to mumble something about what we ordered in the quietest voice on earth.  Another chef arrived at breakfast to have a proper conversation with us and offer ideas for the day – this was on day 3. Breakfast was also different in that it had pastries, jams and bread, when it never did before.  The presentation also gave a lot to be desired – whilst it sometimes tasted good, it looked like something from Pizza Express.

Only on the final night when they have some guacamole and banana chips did I feel any sense of generosity here. The only other time was during sunset when the getting-worse-by-the-day snacks were given.

Everyone on the Dream Package eats with silver cutlery, whilst we eat off the floor.

Departure

I knew it! After all that bill signing, I knew they’d get it wrong at the end.  As we had to leave at 6:30, I wasn’t awake enough to spot the errors, but once I got home and put on my Columbo trench coat I figured it out and got refunded for it.

The Good

  • Stunning beaches
  • Setting in nature / gorgeous environment
  • Immensely private

The Bad

  • Value for money
  • Villa

The Luxurious 

  • The reason it maintains its uniqueness and special quality is that at 100% occupancy, we can have dinner alone on the beach, or even hang around where all the other guests are and not be bothered

Conclusion

If you bothered to read most of my reviews, I’m sure I summarise them with a frequent retort: “enjoyed it, but wouldn’t go back until they’ve refurbished”.  And I probably said the same thing about North Island last time I was here.  In fact, save yourself the bother and just assume 99% of my reviews say that.  But this time I mean it, mostly because it seems airplanes are a thing of the past and next time I’d need to canoe to get there and that really doesn’t seem worth it.  Besides, do you really want a fourth review of this island?

I won’t downplay my shock at seeing Marriott take over from Wilderness Safaris, but they cannot be blamed for all the issues here.  The biggest of which is their own making. It certainly took a while to get used to seeing prices everywhere, but their implementation makes it feel punitive.  I thought at one point I heard them asking to sign the bill for breakfast, like “B&B” just meant “bed and bed”, as we technically were using the beds both morning and night.

I have previously been asked why Laucala is so good, when it does not excel in any single area.  North Island is the same: not the best rooms, food, service, facilities, activities or value for money.  Yet it’s still a spectacular island, perfectly designed for doing nothing other than relaxing.  But just like Laucala, there are only so many times I can listen to what comes next.  I remain sceptical of every property I visit which discusses the future as their resolution to all the issues, particularly when I’ve been hearing it the last 4 years.  A hotel is a work in progress, but I tire of hearing how “next time it will be better; next time we’ll have the cure”.  Nope, I want it now, thank you very much.  I’m not buying a debenture.

So would I return?  Only on their Dream Package, but then that makes it absolutely absurdly expensive, so I wouldn’t go.  It’s not even a case of value for money anymore, it’s simply too expensive.  The top Maldivian resorts are 30-50% cheaper, with better accommodation, activities, food and service.  Laucala, Miavana and Vatuvara are half the price.  Whilst Zil Pasyon’s Residences are beautiful, the rest of the island feels too low-end to be competition; similar to Fregate and its 20 year dated feel.  So perhaps until Fregate do their entire rebuild, North remains supreme.  But if Fregate stick to just 50% of what we discussed, I feel confident that it will be the best island in the Seychelles.  Here’s one time I can get behind the future.

The Seychelles has always amazed me – along with Fiji it must be the most beautiful place on earth, but just like Fiji there’s very limited options when it comes to luxury.  For now, to get me back North Island would need to refurb and made the prices 20-30% cheaper.  I still leave knowing North Island is one of the most spectacular islands in the world, with only 11 villas making it amongst the most unique.  I just know it’s no longer for us.

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 26th May '20

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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