Paradise Reality Check
by David Kevan, Partner & Product Person
Following on the theme of trying to give you sufficient information for you to make informed decisions on the suitability of hotels and destinations, we will point out a few extra things that might assist you. One of the nice comments we regularly receive is that our clients often feel they have visited the hotel even before they arrive, they are prepared for the Pros and the Cons. They particularly like our candid, no-nonsense, writing approach that has been more influenced by Bill Bryson than a Barbara Cartland ” the sky is always blue ” style favoured by so many others.
I try to write in a one to one manner, highly personal, and very different from the bland, PR influenced copy you see on so many other travel websites. I also like lots of pictures, so you have a good idea visually of the facilities on offer, rather than just one superb shot of the mega expensive but rarely occupied Presidential Villa. So why are we so honest in our appraisal – simple, we want your holiday experience to exceed your expectations and we want you to book with us again and again.
Most of our clients are experienced travellers, either to Europe or long distance or probably both. As such, the notes here tend to make certain assumptions. They are less direct, as we do not wish to patronise you with ‘travel rules’ that you already know and take for granted. You know how to enjoy yourself, yet at the same time have respect for local customs and traditions. Indeed an acceptance of these is maybe what will make the resort or hotel appealing to you.
We are passionate about our destinations, but as with most things they all have their plus and minus points and probably will not appeal to everyone- that could also be part of the attraction. At Chic we are well travelled and can discuss with considerable experience and some authority on how suitable your requested hotels or destinations might be based on your specific requirements. We might ask you where you have previously enjoyed or maybe more revealingly where you have not! We are not financially committed to any destination, neither are we locked into a specific region by our name, so we can be candid in our appraisal.
Whilst I think our website is one of the most informative, I also accept that no site can give you all the information you require.
So please call us should you want to discuss any hotel or resort in greater detail. We are not frightened to tell you the pool is large and fantastic because the beach isn’t! At the end of the day, we want the only surprises to be good ones!
Please bear in mind that we are individuals. Just like you, we might have our own likes and dislikes, so whilst our information will be given in a professional way, I also hope it will be individual and personalised. I also suggest some research into your destination prior to booking. Showing my age, most libraries or bookshops have good reference publications but you might want to check the publishing date. The internet is, of course, a good source of information, but please take note that in many cases it might be commercially influenced and just a tad biased. Information sites such as Trip Advisor are also a personal individual review, based on moods, circumstances and weather. Try to be open-minded on the reviews and don’t just zoom in on the two negatives, ignoring the many others that seem to be satisfied. The more recent comments tend to be more accurate so don’t attach too much credence to something written 18 months plus ago. It is unlikely building work mentioned two years ago is still going on.
Equally the word “Paradise” is subjective and highly personal. For some, it can be multicoloured fountains, ornate decoration, numerous dining options with cuisine influences from around the world. For others, it is a more simple stripped down authentic elegance where the expectation is high-quality local produce, both in the food and design style and staffing that comes all the way from the local village.
If you have chosen to travel at peak season (ie New Year & Easter) you should expect hotels to be 100% full. Even at the very best properties, a full house with every facility being used is rarely totally enjoyable, yet the hotel will justify the extremely high prices because demand exceeds supply. Of course, the travel window to many is not an option, they have to travel at a specific time. But in terms of value, Mid January is maybe more pleasing. This can also apply during Chinese New Year period in Asia, and the late July / mid-August months in the Med.
Please note that we are only responsible for information provided on our own website. We are not responsible for any information contained within third party websites or brochures.
The Chic Check notes that follow each hotel description tend to summarise the hotel appeal in a few lines.
Your Holiday Decisions
We offer a wide range of hotels, but all are at least superior first class, with many being amongst the best in the region. We do not believe there is such a thing as THE best hotel (unless it’s the only one there!). It all depends on your personal requirements.
Our website is essentially a shop window of what we can offer. We are proudly not worldwide specialists, a term I think is rather contradictory and unimaginative. Instead, we channel our expertise into just a few very different areas that we know rather well. All of our arrangements can be tailored to suit your personal requirements so use our expertise to allow us to create something that is unique to you.
We like to say “It is not simply about the best hotel – just the right one“. We only feature good hotels, no surprise there, and all of those recommended are at least superior first class moving into deluxe. Some are deliberately quirky and have a highly individual appeal. The style of the hotel can vary depending on your requirements. a romantic retreat might not be so ideal if you have one or two children accompanying you now. We like you to tell us or we might ask you where you have enjoyed and possibly more enlightening where you have been less than impressed.
If you have chosen a hotel with many restaurant options close by it is wise to assume the area will be, at times, very busy. On the plus side, hotel incidentals tend to be reasonable given the options within walking distance. If you require a more escapist location, no problem we have plenty of suggestions – but a realist will appreciate this will require a longer transfer and at times the hotel will take advantage of the“isolation“ in the pricing of extras.
See comment on General Facilities and Children at the Hotel further down.
Why We Don’t Use Official Hotel Star Ratings
Quite simply, they are universally inconsistent and vary considerably from country to country and even at times resort areas. Some are based on the extent of facilities so you get extra points for the number of lifts, on-site restaurant choice, size of the ballroom and car park – all things of little interest to clients looking for a smaller quality boutique hotel where personalised attention is more important than extensive facilities. Also, some star gradings are politically influenced. It can depend on who the owner knows and what brown envelopes have changed hands or maybe at least how many free nights have been given out!
All of the hotels suggested by Chic on our website are at the very least superior first class in our estimation, with at least 50% moving into deluxe. Some are deliberately quirky and rejoice in their “marmite“ appeal. We do not buy into 7 Star hotel rubbish. These stars are usually self-awarded by the hotels own PR department and then simply elevate something mediocre into an unrealistic level. We tend to be much more critical than most, so hotels we describe as a superior first class are frequently referred to as deluxe or 5 stars by many others, but we prefer surprises to be good ones.
We are well travelled and would be happy to discuss hotels based on your specific requirements. In the course of a year, we visit so many and we only select those that we think offer us real value rather than just being selected to meet a budget. As a company, we have decided not to offer a level below superior first class. This is not what is expected of us from our many repeat clients or travel agent partners. We are known as a quality innovative tour operator, frequently introducing hotels into the Uk market long before many of our competitors.
Unless stated our example prices are based on travel in economy class. For all long-distance routes, including Dubai and Oman, we only work with scheduled airlines, allowing us the greatest flexibility. For the Med area, we work with both scheduled and so-called low-cost airlines, depending on the destination. (several of these destinations are only served by low-cost airlines).
Probably only the PR department of the airlines will claim that the flights can be the highlight of the holiday, for most of us they are the quickest way to get to our chosen destination. It is the objective of most airlines to run as close to full on every flight and, frankly, this is rarely enjoyable. For those able to afford the advanced cabins, of course, they offer more comfort which comes at a price.
On many of the Med routes, the low-cost airlines seem to have raised their game whilst the scheduled airlines have seemingly reduced theirs to compete head-on with service, pricing and extra fees. The difference is minimal, if at all. With most of the low-cost airlines, the expectations are usually exceeded, whilst the experience on the scheduled airlines maybe not quite what you have been accustomed to over the years. This is now gradually being seen on some of the more leisure-focused long-haul routes as well. For example, the Caribbean, sometimes with several different service levels being seen in the same cabin, depending on the price you have paid. The lowest price can usually mean you board last, and you are held in boarding group 4! Discriminatory yes, but justified by the airlines as a response to consumer demand for lower prices.
Please bear in mind the airline adverts you see are usually based on travel in business class or even higher and reflect their very best aircraft, the same levels of comfort will not apply in economy class or maybe in older aircraft. Those destinations with a mix of leisure and commercial business generally have the best aircraft and more experienced flight attendants. Those routes which are primarily leisure tend to have older aircraft etc.
In virtually all cases, we are required to obtain from you your passport details. These are then sent to the airline who are legally obliged to forward (usually three days prior to travel) to the relevant immigration authorities in a destination. Based on this information, the immigration authorities will usually grant you entry, however, they have in very rare circumstances refused permission- Mainly based on fear of terrorism and/or criminal record although they are not obliged to declare a reason. We are not responsible for any extra costs or refund should you be refused entry, it will be treated as a cancellation with 100% charges.
In tour operator language a direct flight does not involve a flight change but might have a transit and/or refuelling stop. This is different to a non-stop flight.
Most airports now ask you to check in at least 2 hours, frequently 3, before flight departure. This is for two reasons: firstly increased security and, secondly, to give you ample time to enjoy the retail temptations with part of the shop profit going towards the airport administration cost!
Insects & Wildlife
Insects are a reality of life in most warm areas and in particular tropical regions. In many cases, they are not a symptom of dirt, but are attracted by the lush vegetation and are just as comfortable in a US$800 deluxe villa as they are in a more modest dwelling. Hotels with open-sided views or open plan bathrooms might be more susceptible. Cockroaches are commonplace – in some areas they are called more attractively mahogany birds, and again are not an indication of dirt.
In the more tropical jungle type areas, you do have to be sensibly comfortable with the realities of living side by side with nature.
In some areas, and particularly national parks, you will be living side by side with wildlife. It is important you adhere to the advice presented to you by the ranger/hotel staff at all times“.
In other areas, you will be living in close proximity to monkeys. Seeing them swinging in the trees in front of your room or acting as unofficial and rather selfish ball-boys when you attempt to play tennis, is part of the fun. The Datai in Malaysia and Rayavadee in Thailand are just two that come to mind. But be cautious with leaving clothes or valuables on your balcony, some of these monkeys are extremely well dressed and they have been known to be keen on the mini bar contents if you leave doors open!
Throughout the life of our website, it is likely we shall receive advice on building work taking place in a resort. When this is planned we receive advice which we forward to you. This cannot apply when measures have to be taken immediately to rectify a default to a facility, for example, pool leakage.
The main cities in the UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and in the Far East continue to expand on a weekly basis, this will be noticeable. Also in the Far East, many of the beach resorts are now in full expansion mode, with many new hotels under construction. If your hotel is in a desirable location and has empty vacant land adjacent, it is likely some work is under review
Please refer to the UK Foreign Office for travel advice. This contains destination-specific information.
We are all at risk of terrorism, either on holiday or going about our day to day activities at home. This is a fact. But for most of us, we will never be actively involved but I am sure we might know someone who has. We have two options – live like a hermit in a cave or go about our daily lives, accepting the reality that anything adverse is highly unlikely to happen. We can give no guarantee of safety against terrorism. To say anything else would be naïve.
Financial extremes do exist in many of the destinations we feature, and what we casually regard as loose change can be several days salary to others. Do not flaunt your relative wealth, especially in public areas away from hotels.
Violent crime against tourists is almost unheard of in most of the areas but can occur occasionally on some of the Caribbean islands so you do need to adhere to sensible precautions and not tempt fate by, for example, walking along beaches or dark roads at night.
Pickpocketing is prevalent in many of the bigger cities in the Far East and Mauritius & Sri Lanka, and especially around crowded areas such as markets or at cash points, so do not walk away counting your cash. This also applies to many of the cities in the Mediterranean area.
Telephone theft is on the rise in many areas, and just as in the UK, this is frequently done by moped riders. Make it more difficult by holding your phone on your “inside” lane. Do not leave your phone, or valuables, unattended, especially in restaurants and bars and of course on beaches.
Credit card fraud continues to rise worldwide, and this can particularly apply in the Far East. Advise your bank of the countries you are visiting and your travel dates so they can potentially track any unusual activity and inform you. If you have any doubts about possible misuse, call your credit card on the numbers they have provided and ask them to verify transactions.
At virtually all hotels, you will have in-room safes to store your valuables such as passports and jewellery. Try to be imaginative rather than obvious with your security numbers.
Beach and Sea Safety
Be sensibly cautious with your valuables whilst on the beach. If you leave your phones, watches etc clearly visible they may not be awaiting your return from the sea! Just as in the Uk, opportunist crime can occur.
Most of the more popular beaches in the Mediterranean area have qualified beach guards and they are vigilant about your safety, although they can do little to help those who are simply foolhardy. The same safety standards do not apply generally in the tropical areas. Very few beaches have lifeguards. Those beaches close to hotels might have flag warnings, but frequently these flags can be obscured by trees, have been blown over or simply do not exist. Sad but that is the reality. Some beaches are seasonal and there are times when the locals will think you are crazy to even contemplate swimming. Just a few examples – Anywhere in Phuket June to October, Kuta in Bali year round, the west coast of Sri Lanka June to November and the east coast from December to March, the south-east and Atlantic coast of Barbados.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for your safety. Check with hotels first, at times it is not just waves but strong undercurrents that can sweep you out within seconds. Some beaches have seasonal shelving, again take heed of local advice.
None of this is meant to be alarmist, accidents rarely happen in the bigger scale of things, but as with most things, you need to be sensible and not let the excitement of the moment take over completely. It is generally assumed clients partaking in water sports are able to swim and are confident in their own ability. Water sports offered by hotels usually have insurance liability, those offered by casual beach vendors do not and can at times be deliberately faulty to incur extra cost to you.
General Facilities within Hotel & Children at Hotel
I tend to write in a deliberately bland way when it comes to describing hotel facilities, so when a hotel has seven restaurants, I usually say several, as experience has taught me to be cautious. Equally, I do not mention the cuisine style as this could change several times. Even when a hotel has several restaurants it is unlikely they are all open at the same time. For example, some restaurants might be suitable for breakfast or for a poolside lunch, much less so at night. If you are making a decision based on a specific dining venue or cuisine, let us know so we can double check with the hotel, although they will still contain a rider subject to operational circumstances.
For some, pool villas and or over water accommodation is the ultimate in romance and there is no disputing the attraction. In our view, this style of accommodation is perfect for couples or adult families. Rather less so if you have infants or young children unable to swim.
Some hotels will have a minimum age for children occupying pool villas or suites or will ask you to sign an insurance disclaimer on booking.
Please note the wording “private pool“ indicates the pool is for your private use, it should not be taken to indicate total privacy and you may be seen by other guests. Some resorts have walled gardens which ensure privacy but maybe forsaking any view.
I am occasionally surprised that when clients complain about the number of children at the hotel, they have usually taken a couple of their own. It would be realistic to expect that hotels that are family friendly are very busy during the school holiday periods (there can be a worldwide variation on school holidays, the dates are not always the same as in the UK ). Indeed, even those without facilities for children can sometimes have an increase in noise levels at certain times.
Something we have noticed in the many rooms now is the absence of realistic storage space for your clothes and luggage. The room looks nicely minimalist and spacious, but once occupied you realise design has taken over from practicality and that aesthetic empty space might have been better served with another cupboard or hanging space.
The Changing Face of Travel
China is now the most significant provider of arrivals into all of the countries in SE Asia, in many countries as much as 50% and growing week on week. They are also a major force in the Maldives with over 35% of all arrivals and are a growing number in both Sri Lanka and Mauritius. In the Med, they will also be noticeable, especially in the Greek Islands of Mykonos and Santorini where a Chinese version of Mama Mia has added to the considerable popularity.
Some resorts have taken a toe in the water cautious approach, knowing that dependence on any single market can have a negative impact on attempts to attract other nationalities. Others have seen the short-term immediate gain as being more interesting. Many of the Chinese arrivals are first-time travellers from so-called secondary cities, an interesting phrase I think is self-explanatory. They find it reassuring to travel in large ” follow the flag ” groups and embrace things we have taken for granted with an enthusiasm that can make Italians seem almost placid and docile. However, they are a reality of travel and cannot be ignored.
Russia is also a dominant player in most areas in SE Asia, particularly in the winter months, and during the summer season in the Med. India also produces strongly for SE Asia, especially in the summer months when mega weddings are frequently arranged.
There are now areas especially in SE Asia where we think there is a real risk of tourism pollution. For example, Patong in Phuket and on some of the surrounding islands and Chaweng on Samui, parts of Phu Quoc in Vietnam, Kuta in Bali, and Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia all come to mind where uncontrolled growth has exceeded the infrastructure of the area with sometimes unpleasant consequences. None of this is intended to be even vaguely insulting, I am just trying to balance your expectations with reality. The Government in China, for example, has issued a code of conduct for their citizens travelling abroad, just as the UK did many years ago for its own first-time travellers.
In most of the hotels, casual elegance will be the theme. In the Far East city hotels, a jacket might be required in some of the restaurants. Some resort hotels do not allow shorts, even expensive designer ones, in restaurants/bars after 6 pm.
Skimpy clothing should be restricted to the beach unless of course, you want to attract attention. Probably not the best idea in some of the more conservative countries.
In many of the Far East cities, hotels will be slightly more business focused than leisure, so at times you will see more suits than shorts in the lobby.
This is now particularly popular in many resort areas and especially in the Far East. It is authentic but at times taste might be considered more important than hygiene in the preparation. Might not be the best idea if you have a long journey the following day! Many of the street vendors will have, at best, a basic understanding of English, so if you are allergic to certain ingredients or are just curious what it is you are considering, it is best to go with a guide or at least someone who can communicate fluently.
Eco-adventure and Water Sports
Several of the destinations offer Eco-adventure options. The very word adventure indicates there might be some element of risk. In fact, if you take out any risk there would probably be no adventure. However, you do need to satisfy yourself that you are able to cope with such tours and activities.
Whenever possible use the water sports facilities offered by the hotel, as these are usually covered by their insurance. Watersports purchased from ad-hoc beach vendors would be at your own risk.
All of the resorts and destinations featured on our site are offered year-round, although seasonal variances do apply. These are summarised in the relevant introduction pages. All hotels will be seeking to attract visitors from around the globe, and as the economy bites harder in the UK, the more affluent travellers from other countries might be more noticeable than in previous years.
Refer to The Changing Face of Travel above.
It would be realistic to anticipate that special hotel promotions are there to entice extra business in the quieter periods, so will rarely apply over the peak demand months. We do mention the regular seasonal patterns, but as we see in the UK these can vary from year to year. If your holiday decision is price driven, the so-called low season might seem to provide the best value but you could be taking a chance on the weather. However even in high season, we cannot offer any guarantee the weather will be good throughout, nature can be extremely moody at times.
All of the tropical destinations featured operate on a year-round basis, including Arabia and also the Canary Islands. In the Med area, many of the hotels operate seasonally from April to October and those that remain open in the winter/autumn months tend to focus on spa, cuisine and golf rather than beach activity.
We are not medically qualified to advise you specifically what vaccination or precautions may or may not be required for you individually, as this can largely depend on your own medical condition/allergies or reaction to certain medication. The best person on this would be your GP who will have confidential access to your personal medical history. At the time of writing (May 2018) no vaccinations were mandatory to any of our destinations for travellers departing the UK and flying to directly. Differing rules might apply if you have chosen to travel via some countries in Africa.
In many tropical destinations, malaria is known to exist, although this is rarely countrywide. If you are travelling to a jungle/swamp type area, our suggestion would be that you take some precaution, however, this needs to be discussed with your GP, ideally prior to booking.
The UK is probably not in the best position to be critical of someone else’s health and hospital facilities. In most of the EU areas, you have medical facilities that would generally be on par with the UK. In Arabia, Barbados and Mauritius a similar situation applies. Slightly less so in Seychelles and the other Caribbean islands. In the major cities of the Far East, the hospitals are now rated as amongst the most advanced, but travellers to the much less developed Laos and Cambodia or to more remote areas in Malaysia, Thailand and Bali, should expect conditions to be considerably more basic and rudimentary.
We do not require sight or confirmation of your policy in most cases, but all bookings are conditional on you having insurance in place. Some countries might require sight of your policy, especially under medical, upon arrival.
All images have been checked for their accuracy. However, it would be realistic to assume they have been taken during favourable weather and or emotive conditions so seasonal or mood variation can apply depending on the colour of the sea/ sky or number of people occupying the beach. If you have chosen a beach that is regarded as one of the best and / or most famous , expect to share it!