St Regis Opening - Great resort with some kinks to work out A review of The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort
We've just returned from our 9 day stay at the St. Regis Bora Bora. Although the hotel has posted a June 20 grand opening date on their website the hotel is not fully operational. They currently had about 25 rooms completed out of the 90 or so rooms they have available. The hotel was relatively empty. You almost feel as though you have the resort to yourself - which can be good if you are looking for that type of experience. I think many of the guests were surprised to arrive at the current state of the hotel particularly when it came to operational/service issues and the lack of details missing from a 5 star hotel experience.
For the most part the beach bungalows facing the lagoon are complete; however the beach bungalows facing the ocean are still a work in progress. A large percentage of the over water bungalows are still under construction as well - what I mean by construction is that they are primarily finishing up the interiors of the villas (i.e. decorating, landscaping, etc.). The major construction around the hotel is complete, so don't worry you won't see cranes, bulldozers, etc on the property.
We've heard they are planning to have the hotel completed towards the end of August. But, as you know things operate very slowly in French Polynesia.
We initially reserved at Beach front villa. The beach front villas face either the lagoon or the ocean. They are spacious and are private. Unfortunately, we had numerous problems with our beach bungalow during our first three days of our stay (A/C partially operating, no electricity for a full day and the power coming on and off another day). We were finally moved to an OWB bungalow after some persuasion with the front desk manager. As the hotel does not have all their rooms completed we were placed in a bungalow facing the construction of the Four Seasons Hotel. I guess it gave us an opportunity to try out a beach and OWB bungalow. The only issue was that we faced the Four Seasons construction site. Who wants to see cranes and construction when you are paying all this money! Unfortunately, about 50% of the OWB bungalows face the construction. We heard that the construction of the Four Seasons will not be completed until 2008. For those of you visiting the hotel, make sure you request a room facing Mt Otenamu - the views are much nicer.
Here's summary of the hotel:
- The rooms are large and luxurious. Some amenities include Aqua Di Parma toiletries, Pratesi sheets, Bose 3-2-1 Stereo with surround sound system in your villa, wireless internet connection, large outdoor living space with teak furniture, outdoor showers in all villas, 2 large 42" Sony LCD TVs, dual climate control systems for bedroom and living room. Large sunken tubs and rain shower heads and Toto bathroom fixtures. So you can see some of the details they put into the rooms.
- The property is chic yet elegant - For those of you considering staying at the new Thalasso vs St Regis --- We heard the interior of the new Intercontinental Thalasso which recently opened was designed by Philippe Starck. St Regis is a little more conservative in design, but still has a "cool" factor to it. (As a side note, we did go to the Thalasso for dinner and the hotel was very nice as well.)
- The Lagoon Restaurant (main restaurant at the St Regis) is a Jean Georges restaurant -- for those of you who are foodies this may be you chance to dine at a Jean Georges establishment! There is a limited menu right now, but they plan to expand their menu in the future. The food at Lagoon was good, but pricey.
- Overall the food at the hotel is good -- better than what we ate at the other restaurants on the main island. However, I really wasn't that impressed with the food in French Polynesia - maybe because I live in a city with great restaurants. The only other restaurant outside of Lagoon which I thought was excellent was Villa Mahana.
- The food prices at the hotel are crazy. Expect to pay close to $100-125 for lunch (2 entrees, bottle of water, 2 soft drinks and tip) at the casual restaurant (Le Tepahu). And who said you don't tip in French Polynesia. You actually tip at the St Regis. I think the prices are about 20-25% above what it actually should be. We didn't order a cocktail at the hotel, but heard a virgin cocktail costs about $22USD. Also note that the menu at both restaurants is not very child-friendly. There's also some inconsistency with quantity and prices. For example, we ordered French fries a few times and we were charged 800XPF one day and 1000XPF another day (and the amount of fries you get was tiny - think a very small salad plate worth of fries). The amount of food you get also varies each day when you order the same entrée. This was a common theme/complaint among the other guests as well. For example, sometimes you may get 4 shrimp with your Caesar salad and another day you may get 5. Or the size of the same entrée may be different each day. So, as you can see there is some operational/consistency issues with the restaurant.
- However, service at the St Regis restaurants is excellent. Overall, the staff is very nice and they try to be accommodating
- The resort itself is beautiful and once the foliage grows it should be spectacular. It's a large property and if you don't want to walk from one end of the property to another, you can call the butler/porter to take you to wherever you want to on the property from your villa.
- The hotel offers a shuttle boat service into Vaitape. But, then there isn't much to do in Vaitape. I thought it was pretty dirty and nothing very interesting to do there. I would recommend loading up on water, drinks and snacks at Magasin Chin Le. That will save you some money.
- The concierges are helpful in arranging restaurant reservations on the main island or activities that the hotel offers. Be sure you do the circle island lagoon tour with shark feeding.
Areas for Improvement:
- The Butler service is a work in progress. When you arrive you are assigned a butler who checks you in, but when you call for the butler whichever one is available comes. Right now, there are about 6 butlers for appx 25 bungalows, so certain requests may take time. But, hopefully things will improve once they hire more butlers and they are assigned to a certain section of the resort (we've heard that this is what they are planning to do). Right now, they scurry all over the place on their golf carts trying to accommodate people's requests. There are some butlers that are definitely stronger than others, but be patient with them. The butlers are all VERY nice and they are always willing to make your stay a pleasant experience! The butler service improved during our stay and once they work out the kinks it will be one of the benefits of staying at this resort.
- During the first few days of our stay, we had to ask a few times for things to be done. I know this is French Polynesia and things run more slowly here and this is a new resort. Hopefully, after the staff gains more experience things will improve. However, if the resort expects to be associated with the St Regis brand they need to up level themselves to the reputation that the St Regis holds. In my mind, I would rate the current overall service about a 2 1/2 star, but the opportunity is there for the hotel to become a 5 star luxury resort.
- If you want to dine at one of the restaurants on the main island you have to take a shuttle boat at either 6:15 or 7:45. Dining at most of the restaurants takes at the most 1hr to 1.25 hours and then you end up spending an hour waiting for the shuttle to take you back to the hotel. I was expecting restaurant service to be slow, but it was relatively fast. This is how it works at the St Regis -- You take the hotel water shuttle to a taxi pick up point on the main island (St Regis shares this transfer point with Le Meridien). The taxis then take you to the restaurant and then back to the transfer point until you wait for your water shuttle back to the hotel. Sometimes if you finish your dinner early you end up waiting close to an hour for the boat shuttle back to the hotel. Not my idea of fun waiting in a dirty transfer point with wild dogs and unfriendly employees. The people assigned at the transfer point are all Le Meridien staff. They are rude and threatening. If you ask the Meridien staff to call the St Regis to check on the status of the shuttle, they become belligerent and pretend they don't speak English and keep saying they work for Le Meridien even though they know the St Regis also uses the same transfer station. St Regis needs to place some of their employees at this transfer point in the event one of their hotel guests needs to get in contact with the hotel.
- Spa treatments -- we had massages nearly every day of our stay and they were very good. The facials are average. The spa is about 90% complete, but as with the rest of the hotel they are putting the finishing touches on the spa. Once they complete the spa, it should be spectacular. The masseuses were supposedly trained by Remede. One annoying thing with the spa- they are always out of robes. So you end up walking around half naked around the spa. Also, there are some consistency issues - sometimes they light candles or play music during treatments, sometimes they don't.
- Pool Service - average. I don't think they have cleaned the main pool since they opened. There is sand in the pool and algae growing all over the tiles. There is a second smaller adult pool called the Oasis pool (adult pool) - it's pretty lame. Not very inviting and no one ever goes there. Also, for some reason there are no cushions on the hard teak chaises by the pools. Try lying or sitting on hard teak for a couple of hours. When we first checked in there were no cushions for the chaises on your villa's deck either, but cushions showed up toward the end of our stay. You can request the cushions at the pool, but they are a rare item. I've seen guests carrying their cushions from their bungalow to the pool since they don't want to part with it. Maybe they are on order. But, you would expect that the hotel would have ordered cushions before opening.
- Housekeeping is inconsistent - they come to clean or turn down the room at random times of the day - from early in the morning to late afternoon. We had issues where toiletries from the previous guest were left instead of the maid leaving new unopened toiletries. Sometimes they don't leave towels, etc. But, again it's a training issue.
- Another thing with the resort is that you can see and smell smoke blowing across the property. I've heard that the hotel burns their leaves/foliage from the gardens at the end of the motu (close to the beach bungalows facing the lagoon), but luckily I don't think they burn the leaves daily. Be forewarned the smoke can get heavy at certain times of the day.
- Check out process -. Check your bill before leaving. We were over billed for items. Take the time to carefully review your bill before checking out!
- Overall, I thought that the hotel operations need improvement. You see things that just don't flow seamlessly with staff and their guests. They will need ramp up quickly before they are at maximum capacity or they will be in trouble. I wonder what will happen when the hotel reaches maximum occupancy if they are currently challenged with less than 25 of the villas occupied.
We talked to other guests at the hotel and they experienced similar issues and have similar concerns regarding service, operations and prices at the restaurants. We all expected Bora Bora to be pricey, but were a little shocked at the food/drink prices at the St Regis. Dining in Tokyo and NYC is a bargain compared to the French Polynesia. And most of the guests are well-traveled guests who have stayed at high end resorts/hotels. So, if you are on a budget the St Regis is not the place for you.
We talked to other guests during our stay and they also questioned whether or not the hotel was ready to open on June 20. Basically, most of the staff arrived at the hotel one month prior to opening. So, you can understand some of the service issues that initial guests experienced at the hotel.
Right now, the hotel is offering their "first time/early" guests a 30000XPF credit towards service related activities such as island activities (tours, water activities, etc) and spa treatments. I think they realized that the hotel was not prepared and wanted to somehow compensate their guests who have to live through the opening growing pains. But, I'm not sure how long they will offer this credit.
I'm sure the St Regis will be a top notch resort in about 12-16 months. Don't expect a 5 star experience if you plan on coming here in the next 6 months. I'm sure it will take time for them to tighten up their operations and service standards. But all in all, the St Regis Bora Bora is a beautiful resort and Bora Bora is a magical destination. Also, it looks like the resort will become a destination for celebrities. While we were there, Nicole Kidman was honeymooning with Keith Urban and Eva Longoria and Tony Parker were staying at the hotel as well.