News & Reviews Rest of the World French Polynesia Review: The Brando, French Polynesia

Opening in July 2014, it’s taken me 4 years to take The Brando seriously enough to even think about visiting. This is down to 2 reasons: the fact that it’s a 26 hour flight, and most importantly, because it’s called The Brando.  Any property that uses a celebrity’s name is only going to result in a media frenzy that could never live up to the hype.  You will certainly not find me dining in one of those avante garde waiters-abuse-guests-restaurants called Weinstein’s anytime soon.  Assuming that someone’s ability to act makes them a good hotelier, is the same as putting current-day Buzz Aldrin into your NBA team, as someone who went to the freaking Moon is surely more than capable of performing a slam dunk.

Yet the feedback kept becoming more and more clear: The Brando was an excellent property.  I felt it my civic duty to go check it out.

Pre-sales

I’ve never had so many emails before from a single company, and I am voluntarily subscribe to viagra newsletters.  No er reason.  At some stage, I thought I would get daily weather reports, so thick and fast the communication was coming in.  From initial contact, they were on it.

After the booking, I was introduced to managers from concierge, activities and spa, along with reservations providing information on where to stay before arrival, what to do upon leaving, what to do during our time on the island, and how to increase the size of my penis.  The last one may have been a different sender.  There were a lot of emails containing a lot of information, which we can all agree is good, but as it was all sent months in advance of booking I promptly forgot it all by the time we arrived.  Which we can all agree is definitely not my fault.

Getting there

We took the brave route of coming via New Zealand, having just stayed in The Farm, Cape Kidnappers.  An hour flight from Napier to Auckland, followed by a 5 hour flight into Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui.  Deciding to move everything around last minute, we had only a 1-hour transfer between domestic to international, made even worse by there being a delay on our flight.  Don’t do it, kids.  Get there on time.  I have never been prouder of myself for making that flight, and I won the three-legged race during my second year of school, so the bar of excellence is high.

We then had to overnight in the InterContinental Tahiti, which is genuinely the worst hotel I’ve ever been in (if you ever seen signs pointing to an ice machine, you know you’ve lucked out on luxury), and I come from a working-class family, so my rare childhood holidays were mostly at Bulins.  We then made our way to the airport the next day, bright and early.  Yet when you stay in the InterContinental it is never early enough. After our escape, we headed to the Four Seasons Bora Bora, but let me skip that for now and bring it back to our return in Tahiti, whereby we had to strangely wait around for nearly 2 hours in the non-airconditioned airport before we were driven over to their dedicated lounge and terminal.

Arrival

After arriving in their swanky, private departure lounge, and wondering why we couldn’t have spent the last two hours here instead of the volcanic sauna known as Tahiti airport, I was starting to become impressed with The Brando.  Their departure lounge was just so elegant, with even the bathrooms having better living conditions than my house.  It already felt well thought through by having TVs giving information on the resort, and the safety briefing video played before getting on the plane, thus making takeoff quicker and even easier than normal to ignore.  After an hour of stealing their WiFi and drinking everything in sight, we and two other guests departed on the 20 minute flight to Tetiaroa on The Brando’s private plane.

Has anyone ever watched an airline safety video and become a modern day superhero?  I will be the first

The Brando’s departure lounge

The welcome was truly beautiful, with beaming staff greeting us by singing and playing music, in almost the exact same way as Laucala.  It’s just The Brando has latched onto our vanity, and also takes a photo of you with the staff, then prints it and frames it for you on departure.  It’s done so that by the time you depart you’ve already forgotten it was done, so it comes as a genuine surprise.

The Bra – a new, sensual resort. Coming soon.

We were collected in golf buggies, given a full tour of the facilities and then taken to our room, where check-in formailities took place.  Quite the difference from Four Seasons Bora Bora, whereby it was like a queue into a Victorian workhouse, with all the charm to go with it, and the tour consisted of pointing at a map, like I’m goddamn Christopher Colombus.

Stay List

As part of their many, many pre-welcome emails, one of them is their own stay list submission form.  The problem is that I was not sent a copy, so I’m unable to tell how much of the stay list was actually done.  There was no full-scale chocolate statue of me fighting a chocolate giant squid, so I’ll assume they ignored it.

Setting

As much as it pains me to become part of the crowd, they were right: between Bora Bora and Tetiaroa, this is the most beautiful area on Earth.  North Island has a far superior beach and I prefer the landscape, but there is no getting away from just how spectacular the waters are.

Let me try and explain

The fact that you’re within an atoll means the seas are calm and therefore swimming and water-sports are a literal breeze.  Even ol’ jelly arms here could manage it, were I so inclined to have tried.

The island itself has the entire tropical island feel you’ve come to know and love from all those postcards your so-called friends have sent you over the years, although the beach was definitely not up to my barefoot standards, mostly due to the coral being more prevalent than sand, and being a giant douche.  Furthermore, the delight I was looking forward to experiencing through their innovative mosquito eradication programme simply didn’t come to be.  Whereas in Bora Bora I did not get bitten once, at The Brando it was feasting time.  A shame that they did not get rid of the flies too, as they were forever hovering around our food.

During our 5 days on the island, it rained only during the night and by morning almost all evidence was gone.  The downside was the humidity and heat, which had me sweating like a footballer at a maths competition.

Rooms 

The rooms are divided into 2 areas across the island, both with direct beach access:  2xx room types called Turtle Bay, with sunset views and ideal for snorkelling, or 1xx room types – Mermaid Bay –  that is better suited for swimming.  We were in 209.

The Brando is somewhere in-between Amanpulo and Cheval Blanc, due to the modern design, but also the emphasis on the natural environment and large vastness of the island.  It is the perfect blend of authentic French Polynesian materials, with modern technology – some for convenience, some for the environment.  There are no paper brochures, as everything is on an iPad, nor are plastics used anywhere, so water is refilled into glass bottles.  Fortunately there’s no environmental impact on the free minibar, as it meant all the snacks and drinks were fair game.

The size of the room at 96 sqm sounded rather small prior to arrival, especially when you compare it to North Island and Laucala being over 450 sqm.  But those guys start including decking, grass, the sky and alternative dimensions to exaggerate it, whereas The Brando is just talking about the room itself. The way The Brando designed the rooms does not make it feel cramped at all and I’m overwhelmingly a fan of the feel and architecture of it.

They managed to pack in a separate living room and study/media room, each with their own separately controlled AC systems that genuinely work – and without ever feeling like you need more space.  We never even used the media room, but having what would be 3 separate rooms within the villa gave a lot of options should you wish to get into a fight with your spouse and ignore them.

The bathrooms are really beautiful, and impressively elegant; accentuated by the outdoor bath and their very own Brando fragrence.

Outside you have a pool, which sits somewhere in between a plunge pool and swimming pool, loungers, enclosed seating area and, of course, direct beach access.  They have really done an impressive, albeit not perfect, job with privacy here, due to the trees mostly hiding you from other villas and those walking past on the beach.  It is once again no North Island as we could see the deck of 208 from ours, but it is better than most, and in a different league to Miavana, which may as well shined a spotlight into your villa, whilst hosting a disco on your porch.

In case being outside is not enough for you, the media room contains a TV, whilst the bedroom has a TV that rises out in front of you, thus giving you a choice between the view or how bad the stock market currently is.  We tried our best to watch something one evening, but there is only so much French TV I can handle: none.  They also include a free selection of around 15 movies, which probably came with the original builders onto the island.

The strangest part of the design is the darkness of the room.  Whilst on one hand they do not have proper blackouts and therefore light comes in during the morning, on the other rooms are naturally very dark and are not positioned well to let light in.  I assume this is some blend between the need for privacy and the need for light, but it’s not something I’ve experienced before in another property.   Sound was also an issue, and with the first plane of the day leaving at 8:30am, I would have hoped they would have built the airstrip further away to remove the noise, but alas no, we could hear it from our room.

Facilities

The biggest disappointment is undoubtedly the pool.  Oh no, loyal readers, for once it is not the temperature, but the view.  There isn’t one.  So close to the beach, yet you’re only able to see some hedges and trees, rather than that luscious blue water.  Secondly, smoking is allowed, so you have to chug in some delicious cancer during your morning swim.

  • Bob’s Bar
  • Te Manu Bar – a rooftop bar
  • Beachcomber restaurant
  • Les Mutinés by Guy Martin – fine dining restaurant
  • WiFi available everywhere, but the Internet was dreadful a lot of the time.
  • Water stations scattered around the islands
  • Tennis courts
  • Main pool – with the hedges around the decking area, they have managed to make a public pool somewhat private.

Spa / Gym

Everyone speaks of their world-class, award-winning spa, so I take it with less credibility than a 3am Trump tweet.  Yet The Brando actually delivers.  The spa is phenomenally beautiful, elegant and easily the best I’ve ever seen on a private island.  Even the changing rooms are a work of art, but added to which they have two steam rooms (although they took about 5 minutes to turn on), a small plunge pool and a relaxation area.

Included in the all-inclusive package is a daily 50 minute treatment per villa per night, so my fiancee pulled rank and had both, which apparently were excellent treatments.  My entire neck area was smashed up from still being unable to work out how to sleep properly after all these years, so I had a treatment to try and resolve it, and it worked.  Of course, none of the treatments started on time, which based on all the other areas of service was hardly a surprise, but at least they delivered.

It may seem insignificant, but once again their product shone through with their ability to think things through for their guests.  In this case, they have a face mask that you lay into, so during your treatment it cools your head and makes it more comfortable to lay down.

Activities

They put together a suggested activity list on arrival and pre-booked it, which I thought was a nice touch.  Unfortunately, the list of included activities was really not appealing to me, and the additionally priced activities were trying to offend me; particularly charging over €400 to go out on some kayaks with a tour guide.  They do include activities for free, but a large focus was either on cultural experiences, or going to other islands to be murdered by mosquitos – which they failed to give any pre-warning to.

With such a focus on the environment, motorised sports are non-existent.  The non-monotorised sports were also non-existent on our holiday, resulting in us doing next to nothing – the perfect end to any holiday.

Please Lord, give me some entertainment

I did not find it an issue, as The Brando was our end to our long trip, so doing nothing became awfully tiring in itself.

This is what culture looks like. Needs more velociraptors, me thinks.

Food

The food is exceptional. So much so that we I think it is not only the best food I’ve ever had on a private island, but the best of any resort I’ve been to. Their ability to do fine dining on an all-inclusive basis puts a shame on Cheval Blanc, but their casual dining is really what excelled for me.

Each evening new canapés await in the Te Manu Bar, before you head to your meal and receive a daily-new amuse bouche and petite fours to finish.  Ok, so I didn’t actually like any of them, but it’s the thought that counts.  Otherwise, the offering was beyond anything I expected.  So good was their Polynesian salad that I had it for 5 days solid, thus ensuring I live at least another thousand years and hoteliers are haunted for the rest of their lives.  I do not recall a single bad dish (although their take on a shepherds pie was somewhat overpowered by truffle), with probably the best sweetbread I’ve ever eaten in my life in their fine-dining restaurant.   Les Mutinés, by all accounts, has the same menu and produce as found in their 2 Michelin star restaurant in France and is a wonderful success.  At times it’s just as crazy as a fairground ride to think it’s on a private island in the middle of the ocean.  It’s so classy, and nothing says classy to me than being free.

It was once again their attention to detail I love, such as menus with backlights on so you can read them in the dark, and Les Mutinés having curtains that go around your table to offer you even further privacy.  If only they could have worked this attention to detail the service…..

Now let’s talk negatives, and unfortunately for such sublime food, there are some to mention.  It’s kinda like picking up a Grammy award winning album and insulting it for the font used on the lyrics.  Yet here it is:  breakfast offered no buffet, but at least offered enough variety with some interesting local dishes to not drive me insane, such as tuna tartar and sashimi; they offer a supplement for some food, which really felt cheap to me – sure, we’re not talking about cheap food, such as caviar and lobster, but I have yet to see any other property do such a thing; they somehow managed to run out of not only bread, but also yoghurt, but without any doubt, their biggest achilles heel is ordering a hot beverage of any kind – be prepared to wait a long time.  The chefs must not be trained in warming up water in these parts.

Service

I need to set the scene here:  we were coming after 3 nights at the impressive Four Seasons Bora Bora. Impressive in their ability to charge so much for such a poor product.  Impressive for being so popular, yet so average.  Impressive for making you feel completely unimportant, other than when it came to paying.  Basically, my expectations were not high.

The Brando immediately felt like a luxury property again.  Just the way the staff interacted with us, simply by respecting us above and beyond a room number was a big improvement; it felt civilised.

But ultimately, the biggest and major weakness of The Brando is the service.

I started off far more forgiving, as whilst they were making mistakes, it felt so much more friendly, bespoke and less of a machine than Four Seasons Bora Bora.  Yet by day 5 the service was not one of the areas separating them.

The list is extensive, and I do not want to bore you with the details of all of it, only let’s focus on the biggest issue: if you want something, you need to know who to ask to ensure it gets done.  Eric (bar manager), Adrien (head of F&B) and Luic (concierge) will get done.  Anyone else and it’s highly likely that you’ll be waiting and it will turn out to be wrong when they do whatever you asked for.  It was an issue in Bora Bora too, and it started to feel like I had descended upon a society where you explained something and they tell it back to you completely different.  Must be my common-as-muck English accent.

All the staff tried.  Everyone was smiling.  Everyone was very friendly and the key managers did a great job, but there were too many mistakes from the average worker, often regarding forgetfulness. Just like Laucala, there is a huge emphasis on employing the local community, and French Polynesia is clearly not on the same level as Asian hospitality, nor in fact most of Europe.

There are issues with forgetfulness, which are just basic service issues, but then there are problems with going beyond that, and what should be expected at this price point: personalisation.  Understanding the guest and tailoring the experience around this.  Of course, none of this happened either.  At the most basic, not asking guests for the room number, or concierge knowing what you are doing without having to smash keys on a computer like they’re playing whack’a’mole.  If staff are on top of what you’re doing, everything feels seamless.  At The Brando, concierge conversations took ages due to them not having a clue and looking confused with each interaction.  

The staff seemed overworked and over panicked, as when they started to rush (which means working three times slower than you would hope), things were just wrong.  Take our final breakfast, where it took 10 minutes for a table to be set, 15 minutes for a drink to arrive, and then 30 minutes for the completely wrong order to show up.  Another couple just got up and walked off as no one had come to see them. It would always come with jams, pastries and fruit, yet all were forgotten.  This was all whilst there was barely 5 other tables.  We would build up a list of preferences, then one member of staff would be away and it started all over again.

We were having to work around them, rather than other way around, i.e. we would come to breakfast an hour earlier than we would have liked due to knowing how slow they are.

So let me just focus on some of the issues:

  • When we arrived, we asked for some changes to our minibar.  They never happened, so we followed up the next day.  They still didn’t happen.  Concierge were even told they had been done, and we checked again and they still had not.  Later that day a miracle was born and coconut water made its way to our fridge.
  • We ordered a coffee and milkshake at 9am and by 9:50 it had failed to arrive. Breakfast closes at 10:30, so we just went and got it ourselves.
  • I spent ages explaining no onions in my food and then…
  • We just didn’t learn from our mistakes of room service, as we ordered coffee to our villa for 7:30, and yet at 7:51 and no one had delivered it as reception never passed on the information
  • We got to breakfast for 8:25 but still couldn’t get a coffee in time for 9am and we had to leave on the tour
  • At the bar, it was almost 40 minutes from sitting down to getting a salad
  • Minibars seem to be restocked very quickly, yet one day they forgot to do it
  • We booked a tour for one morning, but it was never passed on and never booked
  • After being on the island for 4 days, we spoke to reception and they were asking us if we just checked in earlier that day.
  • Even on the last day, we still cannot get the right white wine spritzer without directly asking bar manager 

Let me also focus as well on some things they did do right:

  • The GM noticed us wearing our fetching North Island rash protectors, so sent some complimentary Brando ones to our room.
  • We met the GM on the evening of the first day, and he was fully aware of the morning coffee and milkshake not turning up.  For something that was rather trivial as the first mistake, I was impressed he not only was aware of it, but he took the time to talk to us about it.
  • Turndown in general is really beautiful, between different flowers, classical music, gifts, and different snacks provided each day from the kitchen
  • Eric would remember preferences and have foods and snacks prepared the moment we sat down.
  • Constant singing around the bar is a nice touch

I know some people will wonder why you should come somewhere at these prices when service is not even close perfect, but having been to almost all their competition I know full well the same is very much present there too (although second visit to North Island was quite flawless). You can easily pay twice as much and receive no different. I’m willing to accept it, be a bit more patient and work with it by knowing who to ask to get something done, in return for everything else they offer. I’m in no rush anyway, mostly due to their list of unimpressive activities. If you come here, do not come expecting Aman, but do expect everything else to be pretty perfect.

Especially the eye candy

Departure

Even to take us to the airstrip showed the service issues.  They were due to collect us at 14:15, yet by 14:30, and having called them twice, we gave up and walked to reception.  Only to find the departure lounge was right next to it.  I took the time to speak to the GM and explain my issues with service, and we had a very honest and frank conversation.  Not as frank as another guest in the departure lounge, that’s for sure.  They were very focal about all their service issues, all of which sounded very familiar.  We all agreed that we had an amazing time and would leave with beautiful memories, but the service was unacceptable in places.

Fortunately, there was some light at the end of the rainbow, as due to everything taking so long housekeeping had already broke into our villa, found some items I left and handed them back to me.

As we made our way to the plane, once again staff were singing as we said farewell so this beautiful island.

Worth Knowing

Whilst this was off-peak season, it being during Spring Break meant it was at capacity.  Mostly Americans, mostly with children.  Quite different to what I had in mind as a honeymoon paradise, but never did it make it feel any different to one. One night felt like a Hollywood backstage event due to all the celebrities that were staying.

The Good

  • Surprisingly good value for money
  • Amongst the most beautiful settings in the world

The Bad

  • The service.  The longer we spent there, the more time it gave them to make more mistakes

The Luxurious

  • Incredible food
  • Stunning villas, with ample space and privacy

Private, as long as I’m not running around with a camera

Conclusion

I really enjoyed The Brando.  The hard product is sensational, and even the soft product is brilliant….just not the service.  There are many other places I’ve been that I’ve slated for doing similar as The Brando, such as running out of bread, and the poor service. But I’m not an LQA inspector and I visit places with emotion, rather than checklists.  There’s something here that has stood out, outside of their great hard product.

The room was great and leaves me wanting for nothing, the scenery is beautiful, the spa is the best I’ve ever seen on a private island, the facilities are wonderful and it’s very private. There are so many touches of thoughtfulness in the way this property was built that I will begin to feel others are outdated in their approach.

We were going to visit Laucala afterwards, but the cyclone put an end to that idea.  It’s a shame, as we could have been comparing 3 of the best private islands in the world, all with visits within 6 weeks.

I know comparisons will be made, and I’d love to write-up a detailed comparison at some point (once I’m finally caught up with all the reviews that I owe everyone), but for now I will say that at their price point I consider it excellent value for money.  It does not have the beach and exclusivity of North Island, but it has better food and a more modern, thought-through design; it does not have the facilities and grandiose of Laucala, but it has a more beautiful setting, and similar service issues prevailed there too.  North Island will remain my favourite, but The Brando is fierce competition to both.

Poolside

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 10th Apr '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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