I can remember the moment vividly. “Look at this hotel”, she said, pointing at some glossy magazine handed out by one of the air hostesses. There I was, cruising at 35,000ft, witnessing a metaphorical explosion; there, in all its glory, was North Island. Once again Kate Middleton was ruining my life. Not only did she decide to get married on the same day I had to be in London, which made the hotel prices almost triple what they normally were, but now she had decided to go on her honeymoon. How dare she. After a quick glance at the price per night, my response was well measured: “dream on”, as long as you replace “dream” with a 4 letter word, and “on” with “off”. A man can only hold out so long. Nearly 2 years on from seeing this, I succumb to the inevitable and booked North Island. I then decided to bring along enough camera equipment to shoot a low-budget movie, so here we go.
North Island, Seychelles
Room type: Presidential Villa
Duration: 20th > 27th April, 2016
Booked with: Ourisman Travel
Deal: Stay 7 Nights, Pay 6
After Iniala, I decided to learn from my issue with having no menus, as it turns out that being an expert at eating food did not qualify me as an expert food critic. Gosh darnit. Most helpful was that the GM of Iniala was the ex-GM of North Island, so I had some insight into what to expect. “It’s a nightmare” were his carefully selected words, regarding the choice of any food, any time, anywhere. It turns out that other guests agreed, so after speaking to Jeremy, the executive chef, pre-arrival, I discovered that there were daily menus, but they still leave it open to making you anything you want.
I mentioned in my Iniala review about the difference in sales teams. A year or so ago I would have said this was very similar to Aman, but in the last few months Aman’s response times have been absolutely incredible, with the majority of my emails being answered within the hour. With North Island, I had 1 email take over a month to get a response on. I had completely forgot I’d sent it by the time they responded. I don’t know if such a famous resort has become so overwhelmed by pointless requests (unlikely), but even if that’s the case, they should setup a dedicated email address for customers who have reservations. As they request a 20% deposit on booking, once you have a reservation you should be handled by another team that can respond quicker.
You’ve sold everything you own. Your children are no longer getting a decent education, you now have the indignity of having to live with your parents again and somehow your pension is worthless. You are now ready to arrive at North Island.
Things you don’t want to hear when you’re in a helicopter: “we’ve got to turn around, as I’m receiving an error about the engine”. Don’t you know how much this holiday is costing? Full steam ahead! If we plunge into the ocean and all die, at least I won’t be in so much debt from paying for this holiday. Fortunately my subconscious did not surface and verbalise these thoughts, so instead we turned around, had an engineer confirm everything was fine and headed off again. Based on my newly created metric of North-Island-Price-Time Ratio (NIPT), that engine failure cost me £229. I frantically checked my investment portfolio to make sure we could recover from this loss.
Just over an hour earlier we arrived at Mahe airport. Even though we were the first off the plane and there were no queues at all, we were still given the honour of being fast tracked through immigration. I then lost track of how many people we were passed between until we arrived at the car, which took us on a 5 minute drive to the helicopter waiting area. I suppose they need to take precaution about late arrivals, but due to our hand-luggage only rule, we were at the helipad by 14:10 and the helicopter was not scheduled to leave until 15:00. Never mind, wifi was provided, so I could check in at work and see what not having the Internet for 5 hours would look like in the art form of email (for the curious amongst you, it looked similar to having a child throwing a tantrum in a DIY store, right next to the paint aisle). It was nice that Etihad’s inflight wifi was so expensive that they gave me the mindset of not having Internet, as it prepared me nicely for North Island.
Bravo, North. Bravo. You did it, you really did it. Stuck between a rock and a hard place – that’s my life. It’s a little known fact that the crew of The Revenant would read my blog before filming to understand what real hardship is to help them get into character. Panda Bears cry when they see pictures of me. Sometimes you just gotta take what life gives you. Luckily North Island appreciates this hardship, so has decided to have a truly incredible welcome.
After being greeted on landing by the GM, executive chef and other members of management, we were taken to our villa to see just how much attention they had put on our stay list. Excluding importing Robinsons Orange Squash (I’m a millennial, get over it) like Iniala did, they had taken care of everything. The kitchen resembles a sweet shop; the pillows were the exact type I wanted and they even had free North Island diving tops waiting for us. Every single holiday I manage to forget that after 20 minutes in the sun I’ve burnt myself, so it’s an excellent touch to allow you to easily go snorkelling, hang around the pool or go diving without destroying your own clothes.
This is why you’re here. Whilst it may not yet have the reputation of the Maldives, the Seychelles can certainly hold its weight. There is no doubt that North Island is naturally stunning in every regard. The turquoise water, the white beach, the architecture that fits into the surroundings like it’s always been there, the nature being right at your doorstep. Then there’s the mosquitos and sandflies, which can all burn in hell. Every single one of them. For which there may not even be enough room in hell to accommodate them all.
Of course, after months of research and years of anticipation, the weather decided to demonstrate how much it hates me by not only deciding to hide the sun, but present a full thunder and lightening storm to us. If the weather was anything close to decent, I’m sure the 10 minute helicopter flight from Mahe would have been spectacular. After 2 days it decided to act like a gentleman and do as it was told, which therefore resulted in 5 days of spectacular weather.
All 11 villas, 10 Presidential’s and 1 Villa North Island, are based on the East Beach, with direct beach access. At 450sqm, the Presidential Villas are not exactly cramped, but then you have the garden as well which makes the entire area so large that you could comfortably fit a villa in between each villa. To put this into perspective, if we were to walk along the beach it would take over 5 minutes to walk from our villa, Villa #6, down to Villa #1, even though they are in a straight line.
Were I to choose again, I would either stick with Villa #6, or move down to Villa #3 or #4. I never saw anyone walk past our area of the beach, so you have the benefit of being close enough to the main resort area and maintaining the privacy that goes with it. It’s a known fact that I’m lazy, so I can suffer potentially a few more people walking past, if it means I can get somewhere quicker.
Each villa consists of:
- Outdoor living room
- Bathroom with massive bath
- 2 outdoor toilets
- 2 outdoor showers
- 1 indoor(ish) shower
- Study area, with cinema projector
- Plunge pool
- Huge patio and garden
- 4 deck chairs
There are some really nice touches within the rooms, such as USB ports by the desk for charging your devices; an iPad with an Apple Music subscription, so you can pick from the entire iTunes catalogue for music you want streamed into either the bedroom, outdoor living area or study – or all 3, if you wanted a disco. The Internet is surprisingly fast as well, so you too can annoy everyone you know with constant photo updates. Unfortunately the bed is incredibly comfortable, which meant struggling to stay awake and succumbing to the normal joyful act of napping. My error of judgement in taking an afternoon nap cost me £380. Never again.
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the enormously sized outdoor room: the outdoor toilets. Whoever decided this was a good idea, has either neither been to an island before or never been to the toilet. I’m hoping it’s the latter, as that would actually be pretty cool and I’d definitely be more accepting. No longer do the infamous words from Jurassic Park of “when you gotta go, you gotta go” reign as the truth, as at North Island you must carefully decide just how much you need to go. You can even turn this into a Cold War thriller and use different Defcon levels to add to the excitement.
You must not only contend with bugs, but you must also plan your bowel movements upon no one being nearby, as if there is even a slight gush of wind come through then say goodbye to your dignity for the second time.
I’m expecting to see a new sport at the Rio Olympics, whereby the athletes go to to an outdoor bathroom surrounded by mosquitos and see who gets bitten the least. I may just win it, so good my reflexes have become in the last week. Or that may be my newly developed nervous twitch.
I am not going to use this as a basis to destroy everything else the villa offers, as it is absolutely exceptional, but they desperately need to fix this and preferably do it before I finish writing this sentence.
You have a kitchen which is stocked with all the food and drink you ask for, as well as daily menus, picnic options and a place for your butler to prepare your food.
The island is focused around the East Beach, where you will find the pool, spa, gym, villas, library, dive centre and main restaurant. The GM said the pool was the most beautiful he had ever seen and he wasn’t lying. Over to you, Laucala, this coming August, to beat it.
You then have West Beach, which has a bar, seating area and BBQ for watching the sunset. Finally there’s Honeymoon Beach, which is a beach you can have exclusive use of for the entire day, simply by booking it on a first-come-first-served basis. With only 11 villas, the island already feels private, so to offer you exclusive use of an entire beach must fall into showing off territory.
Everything in life is a compromise and when one thing is offered, another is taken away. North Island offers you with one hand a private beach, and on the other offers you wifi nowhere but your villa or the boutique. This means it’s not available anywhere else. Anywhere, I tells ya. This is by design, as apparently the owner does not want it. Some may like this, but I found it incredibly frustrating. You add in the fact that I had no phone reception at all and this was the first holiday I had ever been on where connectivity was not only an issue, but a massive one. I need to check in at work daily, so knowing I had to be back at my villa and also knowing no one could call me really gave me the ol’ connectivity anxiety. Some may read this and see it as a blessing, to you I say: actually, nothing. I can’t Google a witty retort.
A very simplistic, but beautiful spa, which has only 2 rooms, each identical with two beds and each over looking the ocean and rocks at the edge of the island. There are free daily yoga sessions at 9am, which was a pleasant surprise, as under the “not included” list they specifically mention yoga. Just like the Maldives, it seems everyone at the spa is either from Bali or the Philippines, which definitely falls under a category of “no complaints from me”.
When I hear “all inclusive”, then it’s only right that I take full advantage of every single thing on offer. Seeing that we don’t drink alcohol, it’s only right that I bring the average customer spend per holiday in line. This was my thought process before we arrived.
Now such is the relaxed attitude towards everything at North Island, that it is the first time in my life that I have cancelled an activity whilst participating in it. At around 2pm we booked scuba diving, but whilst being sat down in the dive centre both of us became so tired that we decided to go take a nap instead. The response to any change of plans at North Island is always greeted with not just acceptance, but genuine happiness for you to do it; “it’s your holiday, you do it however you want”. I need to snap out of this mindset quickly, as otherwise my future business meetings may not end as well as they used to.
If you do of course choose to do activities, then you can pick from a large range, which includes:
- Scuba diving
- Sunset cruise
- Guided walks
- Planting a tree
In between eating enough sugar to revive the British sugar industry, I was able to enjoy the vast number of options available. It always takes me a few days to get used to the menus in resorts and North was no different, but once I was able to find the dishes I liked, they were truly exceptional. The pastry chef deserves a Medal of Honour, or whatever it is that their top accolade is; the breakfast offering was so good that I’m going on hunger strike when I leave. With being able to eat anything you want, any time you want, with no schedules and a hugely talented team of chefs able to prepare specialist dishes, North Island is one of the best culinary experiences I’ve ever had on holiday.
You can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, but the main areas will be your villa, the Piazza or West Beach.
This, unfortunately, needs breaking down into 2 areas. You have your villa butler, who I simply cannot have enough praise for. Then there’s the service from other parts of the resort, which I don’t consider acceptable at this price point.
The service from the butler is incredible, with absolutely no complaints from me. I would put it on par with Iniala and Aman-i-Khas, with the incredible attention to detail, where he was learning everything about us and making the service entirely bespoke to us. You are given a butler for the entire duration of your stay and they look after everything for you, regardless of what hour it is. The only downside I found to this is that it’s unlike anywhere else I’ve ever seen, where the butler even cleans your room and does it by themselves. They also collect all your meals, meaning that if you need something during that time, you need to wait for them to come back. At other resorts and what I would consider the norm, the butler has other people helping them, such as delivering the food and the butler serving it, or the butler overseeing room service, rather than single handedly doing it.
I also spent a lot with Austen, the Operations Manager, as he is a photography buff and was very generous with his time to spend time shooting night photography. I only saw the GM a few times after arriving, but this is more due to us spending most of our time in our villa, more than his absence.
Then we have other staff, where they seem to follow a principle of waiting to be asked, rather than being proactive. There is a clear issue with communication throughout the resort, as demonstrated by frequently being asked the same point multiple times, or not being told about something that is happening. Then there is the requirement to ask, rather than be offered. There is the lack of anticipating the customers needs, like a top Aman resort would do.
I consider some of these points more minor than others, but I include them as they are all worth a mention.
- We arrived at 3pm and immediately taken to the Piazza whilst they could prepare our room. At this point we were offered a drink, but no one ever offered any food. They knew our flights, so would have known we could not have eaten anything.
- We were by the pool for 2 hours and no one came up once to see us. This happened twice. I mentioned this to our butler, who then had to make sure thereafter that people came to see if we wanted anything. Even 30 minutes would be considered too long, but 2 hours is negligence.
- At lunch on 2nd day, it was absolutely scorching, yet I had to ask for water after they served dinner – no one offered it. Where was the water in the first place?
- Several times whilst in the Piazza, the service was either non-existent or just baffling. We were stood at the bar for 30 minutes talking to another couple and no one offered us any drinks or anywhere to sit. On another occasion, we came back from a fishing trip and stood up for over 30 minutes to talk to another couple – at no stage did anyone offer us anything to eat/drink/sit anywhere. At Amanpulo they would have chopped off their arm if they felt it would have been useful for you to sit on.
- Good service is that 5 days after arriving they remember at the Piazza what drinks we want; great service would have been having them there when we arrived, as we were always going to ask for them. The speed of service is very slow, so when it takes 10 minutes to receive a drink, they need to put more thought into having it there sooner.
- We drove down to West Beach one evening for a BBQ, which was part of our scheduled day, and no one was there greets us and asks us what we want, even though there were staff there that were not doing anything. At Amanpulo they would have and escorted us to a seat, ask about our day, even though they already knew what we did, and offer us a drink that was one they already knew we liked. There are only 11 rooms here, so these aspects of service are easily possible.
- I feel there’s too much I need to ask for things to happen, whereas other top-end resorts just take care of it for you. On the other hand, when you complain about something or give feedback, it is immediately taken care of and fixed right away. The concern is that I find I needed to complain in the first place.
- The wrong food was delivered several times in the first few days, once with an item that was known as causing an allergy.
- I mentioned to the GM about the awful mosquito and bathroom situation and he said he would look into something for me but never came back to me.
- A special mention for our guest relations manager that was assigned to us:
- Twice something minor we requested did not happen and twice she specifically blamed our butler, which was very unprofessional. It’s a team effort at the end of the day, so finger pointing isn’t helping anyone.
- It took until the 3rd day to put together a list of the activities we were booked to do, at my request, as it was too hard to follow and know exactly what was booked. It seemed things that were booked were in fact not. Even when the guide arrived, things were not communicated well, as we wanted to combine snorkelling with the fishing trip, but when we got on board they told it was too late to do it.
- She came to talk to us about what we were doing that day as she had forgotten, even though we were in the dive centre when she asked, which may have been a giveaway.
- Every time you get out of your buggy, you almost blink and someone has parked it for you so you don’t need to reverse out.
- The chef coming daily to speak about what you want to eat for that coming day
- Incredible staff at the spa and diving centre
- Huge flexibility with our schedule, to the point of changing things frequently. We cancelled scuba diving, even though we had already started it, due to being we tired. The response could not have been more warm, with a friendly smile followed by: “it’s your holiday, you do as you want”.
- Someone seeing we were lost, so then guiding us to where we wanted to go, to then come back within 5 minutes to see we were ok and in the right place and then came back again within 30 minutes to check up on us.
The longer I’ve spent here, the more I’ve enjoyed it and the better the staff have appeared. Perhaps they’re unsure on how to react to people to begin with, or they just need a push, but either way they need to work on it.
- Bring your own suncream, as they charge for it. This really felt like penny pinching to me, when everything else is included. I can’t understand how you can offer unlimited wine for free, see a nurse and doctor for free, but get charged to not sit in the sun and burn.
- The island main area is focused around East Beach and is quite compact, but between our villa and West Beach it’s a 10 minute buggy ride, so you do get an idea of how vast the island actually is.
- Highly exclusive, private island with incredible facilities.
- Some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen
- The bugs. I complain about this on almost every holiday, as we always go somewhere tropical. I get it, alright? I know I’ll get bitten. It’s cool, I’m down with that. But at North Island, it’s on a whole other scale. I have been bitten absolutely everywhere by absolutely everything. On our first night, we had to leave the Piazza as there were so many mosquitos; within 2 hours of arriving I already had visible bites.
- Service outside of the villas needs improvement
- Villas so large that you could comfortably smuggle most of your family in and no one would ever find them
- Such a relaxed view to schedules that we actually cancelled a task whilst participating in it.
- Fantastic villa service
- Some of the highest quality food I’ve ever experienced on holiday.
On the plane on the way over, we met a couple who were on their 8th stay at North Island. On our 3rd day by the pool, we met another couple who had been for 10 days and extend it for another 3 more. Both of these couples were incredibly well traveled and had been to many places we had been to, or were soon going to. If I wrote this review during our first few days, it would have been very different than writing it on the final day, as my experience has got better with each passing day. The issue still remains that at £5k/n, it is incredibly expensive and I would need to put it into context as to whether it’s truly 2, 3 or even 4x better than somewhere like Amanpulo. It comes with a lot and it offers a lot, but it offers things that I would not normally pay, but tried them here as they’re free.
I would normally end with a review of this nature by saying I wouldn’t come back, as the service dampened the experience. But I cannot say that with North Island, as I have had such a wonderful time, it has so much to offer and I leave with a smile on my face. I would need to certainly think about it, but I’m typing this at North Island right now and I’ve gotta go, as writing this review just cost me £1425 and I’m running out of money.