The Brando – The Most Wonderful Resort on Earth

The Brando – French Polynesia  |   Cameras Used For This Review The Brando is one of those magical places that you have to travel far to get to. But it’s well worth the long travel. 

Magical Paradise | An Eco Resort Above All Others | Destiny of a Lifetime

The Brando is the top resort in the world, in as far as all the resorts I’ve had the pleasure to stay at over the years. It is the definition of a tropical paradise. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Save up for it and go. I’m going to make it a yearly pilgrimage, since it is that beautiful. If you want to see other parts of French Polynesia, I recommend starting with a cruise on the Paul Gauguin for a week, to visit the islands, or stay up at the Four Season’s in Bora Bora. But after those options, finish your trip with the best, at The Brando.

What stands out the most about the resort is the isolation in paradise, attention to details, and with one notable exception, pure relaxation and nothing to worry about. And that’s the reason to make it the last stop of your trip. Save the best for last.

Why is it my favorite ?

The villas are amazing. Every villa has a spectacular view. Each villa is provided with bikes to get around (the bikes have lights for night use). Every villa has beachfront access. I prefer the two bedroom since the second bedroom is on the second floor, with a better view. The food is amazing (mostly French fare). The staff is well trained, friendly, and always willing to help. Since our interaction was mostly with the watersports staff and bar/food staff, we were well taken care of. While my travel companions were sampling the multitude of amazing adult beverages, I stuck to mostly (non-alcoholic) drinks. This is the first time on a vacation that I’ve tried to savor every last minute (food, taste, sights, sounds) of a resort. I didn’t want to spoil any second of it. The water has the most beautiful colors, at every time of the day. At night, the Moon lights the white sand bottom, casting a mysterious glow (similar to the lagoon in Bora Bora). During the day, the sunlight reflects off the sand and coral heads, with a myriad of beautiful tones of green and blue. Fish abound, and you can see the occasional ray gliding over the bottom. The sunsets are some of the most beautiful that I’ve seen. Sunsets are best seen from the western oriented villas (beach) and from the bar beach area. And by the way, there are no mosquitoes (yes, they’ve even thought of that too).

Eco Resort: While The Brando is pure luxury, it is solar (70 percent) and renewable fuels (coconut oil and diesel) powered. Many of the fruits and vegetables are grown at the resort. Honey is produced from over 60 hives to provide both honey and sugar for cooking the resort menu items. So much honey is produced, that it is actually exported. Fresh water is produced from a reverse osmosis seawater to freshwater maker, and the cooling of the resort is provided (majority) from deep seawater cooling ($12 million investment). Rainwater is filtered and used for toilets. Any food waste is put into a digester, which turns the waste into compost, which is used in the garden, or exported. Water is provided in glass containers in the villas, and you can put into your own reusable steel water bottle (they have water stations
located around the island for refills). Hot water is provided for each villa via the use of roof mounted solar hot water heaters (showers and tap water). Even the employee container housing has roof mounted solar heaters. This is the most eco-friendly resort I’ve seen in my travels, and one of the most eco-friend facilities in the world. One of my businesses is in renewable energy, and it’s clear that the huge amount of planning (and expense) has gone into the resort, and concept overall. The price of installing renewables is huge, but for remote
locations, the payback is possible. Better yet, it’s the right thing to do. At the end of the review, I’ll include suggestions for the management and owners.

Celebrity Resort: While you may not see them, or recognize them, the resort is frequented by celebrities and the worlds who’s-who.

What to expect and not expect: This resort is about luxury and service. Both are excellent. You don’t have a butler hounding you constantly like at other resorts (although I’m sure you could request one). Need service ? It’s just a call away. I like the privacy. There will always be some issues. Our water backed up in the showers our first night, but it was promptly fixed. The villas are very comfortable, plenty of cooling, and shade (maybe too much shade). Each villa is surrounded by lots of trees, which give you plenty of privacy. Sunshine is available on the back deck and plunge pool area, and of course, on the beach. Most requests are handled promptly and efficiently. Getting to and from the resort is strictly controlled by Air Tetiaroa, and only available by turboprop, or helicopter (sub-contracted to Tahiti Helicopters).

How to get there: We had a two day journey to and from Tahiti. We took Air Tahiti Nui from LAX to PPT on a later afternoon flight, and on return took the overnight flight (which was late and departed at 1:30am which made us miss our connecting flights the next day). A better option is Air France, that has limited service, but more comfortable and better flight times. If you’re a rockstar, then take the Gulfstream 550 – you’ll be glad you did. I’ve been to Tahiti eight times, and flown on Air Tahiti Nui every time. The service used be be excellent, but has dropped in the years. I’d now consider, and prefer, other options. If you catch the afternoon flight out of LAX, you’ll arrive in Tahiti around 10/10:30pm. Typically, you stay on the island before transferring to your next destination. We stayed at the Intercontinental Resort, which is a good transition resort. The next morning we chartered a helicopter to the resort ($2,500 Euro). Air Tetiaroa (owned by The Brando) has a separate building at the PPT airport, with a very luxurious waiting room. The flight in a helicopter was fun, and the views spectacular. I highly recommend flying to the resort this way. It’s not only faster, but better views.
The only other option to fly to the resort is via Air Tetiaroa, in their Swiss registered twin engine turboprop. It’s older, and very tight seating, but since you’re only in the air for 20 minutes, comfort doesn’t matter. All flights must be contracted through the resort and Air Tetiaroa. I tried to contact the helicopter company separately, and they would not respond to my emails. As I later found out, they really don’t respond to emails. I tried calling them, and they said I could only book through Air Tetiaroa. During my stay in French Polynesia, I used Tahiti Nui Travel, who was helpful when we had to change our plans due to a cancelled helicopter charter transfer. I always recommend using a local travel agency for the last leg of travel (island transfer, resort stays, etc.) since they have local knowledge and can help when any issues arise. You can book directly through The Brando (versus a travel agency). My first request took a few days to get a response, but they were good after that.

The best way to get to the island is by helicopter. You can also take a small twin engine jet prop, but the helicopter is more fun.

Twin bedroom villa with plunge pool and beach.

What to bring: I brought three cameras, but found that I used my iPhone camera, and my Olympus TG4 (waterproof) camera the most. While I did bring a Panasonic Lumix LX100 for night shots (star time lapse, etc.), I found the night sky to be temperamental with evening clouds. Both the iPhone and TG4 were great for day shots, sunsets, and the TG4 for kayaking and diving around the lagoon. The resort does provide limited sunscreen, but we brought lots. The Sun is very intense, so plan for it. Hats and sunglasses are a must, if you want some relief from the glorious sunshine. We come from the midwest, and after a long winter, we’re ready for sunshine. For day activities on the water, I recommend rash-guard water shirts (the ones you use for surfing and watersports) – they give you great protection from the sunshine. If you’re out on the water a long time, take along extra sunscreen and a waterbottle (they fit in the back of the kayak). Dress is casual, but I prefer to see people in resort casual for dinner. Typically at these resorts, it’s time to change out of your swimwear after 6pm (sunset). The beach bar closes at 6pm, while the second story bar opens for the evening.

Exploring the lagoon in the afternoon by standup paddleboard.

Trouble in Paradise: On our last evening at the resort, we were notified that our helicopter charter ($7,500 Euro) from The Brando to the Four Season’s (they have a helipad on the motu where the resort is located) was canceled. The relaxation part of the stay grinded to a halt, while we trying to figure out options. I purchased some expensive travel insurance for the trip, so I wasn’t so concerned about lost money (any time travel plans are changed, you’re going to
lose out somewhere), but was concerned about the huge amount of time I had spent planning seamless travel between resorts. Most of the commuter flights were booked solid, and of the few remaining, it means spending a day (or most of the day) at the airport in PPT, or purchasing a expensive charter aircraft. It had taken us two days to travel to Tahiti (and another two back) so we were very time sensitive.

Our time in French Polynesia was limited to 6 days, and we wanted to enjoy every minute of it (not stuck in an airport for a day). That is why I had made the decision to charter a helicopter to take us directly to the Four Season’s in Bora Bora. Matilda (front office staff) worked hard to give us options, but there were few, and really none of the options were in our favor. She did a commendable job with what she had to work with, and we thank her for that. Unfortunately, our options were to leave at 8am the day of our departure, and either sit in an airport all day to wait for a commuter transfer (if available), or charter the Air Tetiaroa turboprop for $6,500 Euro.

The option that we finally concluded was the best, was to stay one more night at The Brando (and lose one night at the Four Season’s), then take the Air Tetiaroa turboprop for $5,500 Euro (I requested a discount from the $6,500 asking price) to the airport in Bora Bora (and then a $300 Euro transfer to the Four Seasons resort by boat). We got another
night in paradise, which was great, but the snafu certainly took away any relaxation gained prior, and just became a hassle.

The turboprop was not a great option compared to a helicopter (not the same experience – same as the inter-island commuters), and the prices are crazy. They have a monopoly. I can charter a Phenom 100 jet for less money (I have) per hour. The limited transportation options to and from The Brando mean that you really don’t have many choices, so get travel insurance and be prepared.

While I’m grateful for Matilda and the staff for helping to rearrange our transportation, we were very disappointed with the resort General Manager, Silvio Bion. We saw him briefly upon arrival, but at no other time during the stay. Oddly enough, he showed up randomly (while we were watching our departure flight safety review video) and basically he lectured us. I don’t think he understood our issue was with capturing every lovely moment in paradise at The Brando, and not wanting to spend it waiting in an airport. My main complaint was waiting for a letter from the charter company (Tahiti Helicopters /Air Tetiaroa) which I needed to send to my travel insurance company (without which there are no refunds). Multiple emails were unanswered (it’s ok to indicate that an email request has been received), and finally
I got a letter at departure (I said I was not going to leave without it). At the very least, Tahiti Helicopters should have provided a letter immediately with it’s notification of the cancelled charter (which was paid for advance with $7,500 Euro). Just a simple letter saying the flight was cancelled would have been fine. In my businesses, my attitude and strategy with customers is: There are no excuses, just make it right. I hope Mr. Bion can have some compassion for guests that have travel issues, and that we’re there to enjoy paradise, and not spend it in an airport. At the worst case, don’t lecture the guests.

20170424: AIG Insurance Update – AIG is going to pay me a whopping $100 for my travel delay, that’s it. It turns out that AIG Travel Insurance doesn’t cover aircraft mechanical issues (probably one of the most common reasons for a trip delay), and the maximum on their policy for hotels is just $100 per day. Not much if you’re traveling to any resort in French Polynesia (the missed night at the Four Season’s was $2,000). The bottom line is that travel insurance may be good for medical evacuation if you don’t have that on your primary insurance, which may be homeowner, renter, or medical insurance (get a quote based on a $100 trip cost, since it’s the same evacuation insurance regardless of trip value – and just get a yearly policy for around $200 which covers all trips), but is completely useless for your other travel needs. For medical evacuation, it’s to the nearest medical facility, not back home. The AIG Policy was around $1,500 for this trip, and completely useless. Also, in any insurance claim, they may force to you first use your home owners or renters insurance policy first, and theirs as a backup.

From the website: Secondary Coverage means that this coverage will be paid after any other Primary collectible insurance has paid the claim and the Primary policy limits have been exhausted. And if you’re paying for luxury travel (charter, business or first class) they will only reimburse you for economy (assuming they decide to even pay at all).

Again, AIG insurance is a waste of money. I’ll never use AIG again, and I don’t recommend them to anybody for travel insurance. At least they’re quick and efficient to minimize or deny your claims. 

Summary: I will be a loyal customer at The Brando, and will recommend it to anyone. The resort encompasses the magic of French Polynesia, and the friendliness of her people.

The following segment of my review is both for the resort management and guests.

Resort Management Recommendations:

Walkway Improvements: Put pavers (blocks) on the side of the walkway so there is room to pass between bikes and service carts. It’s a easy, low cost, and visually pleasing addition.

Renewable Energy: I highly recommend the reading of Gaviotas – A Village to Reinvent the World. It’s a non-fiction book about a group in the eastern Llanos of Colombia, who build a sustainable village which relies on solar, human, and wind energy. It’s not only inspirational reading, but gives lots of low cost renewable energy tips.

Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, 2nd Edition

Wind Energy: Small .5-2 kW wind turbines at strategic locations throughout the resort to capture wind energy.

Solar Lights: Use solar powered walkway (path) lights to simplify lighting at night. They are maintenance free, and work great.

Absorption Chiller: Use solar absorption chiller as better payback for unit air conditioning for each villa, and for resort facilities. With absorption chillers, the solar thermal hot water provides the bulk of the energy demand, and you can still use the seawater cooling for the condenser side. It’s a more efficient use of the cool seawater, and maximizes the solar thermal potential. To harvest solar thermal, you can use coils of black pex tubing on the roof, with a simple circulation pump to flow through the absorption chiller. If you set up as a network, you can cool the seawater cooled flow system, more like district cooling, to fully utilize the solar absorption chiller, when it is not used in each villa. Such a closed-loop circuit is sustainable throughout the day with minimal demand from the seawater cooling (which can be used more at night if required).

Maximize Sea Water Cooling: The seawater is returned at a level of equal temperature, which means a cooler return seawater requires pumping to deeper depths (i.e. more pump kilowatts used). I’d recommend finding ways to use that cooler water, but maximize the temperature differential, then then return the warmer seawater return to the surface, saving pump power.

Solar Kiln: Assemble simple solar kiln (in a 20 ft shipping container) for waste wood, coconut shells, and driftwood. Use dried wood for nightly bonfire. Use ashes and pot ash for soil nutrients in the garden.

Solar Desalination: The most abundant energy source there is the Sun. Maximize it. Solar thermal is probably the most cost-effective solution for desalination. Reverse osmosis is very electrical energy intensive and expensive to maintain. Use small windmill to pump seawater to and from (backwash) solar desalination unit. Fast payback.

Relaxation: Hammocks throughout the resort would give a more tropical feel, and great for guest relaxation.

Guest Interaction: Build a concept of coexistence between guests saving energy and water, versus producing it. Put web pages up on your website to evangelize technology. Teach us, we want to learn.

Contribution Towards Energy Production: Have the option for guests to purchase a solar cell, or contribute to a solar energy project. Better yet, seek new technology that has a two year or less payback.

Also have option for guests to contribute to worker happiness and fullfillment (i.e. help buy some recreational items for the worker housing, food preparation/serving, etc.). A happy worker, is a good worker. In Aspen, at Cache Cache, one of the desert options is buying the dishwasher and backend staff a few beers. It’s one of the most requested items on the menu.

Also, have the option of having the guests dine with the workers. While most may not want this option, I certainly would like to get to know the people behind the resort. Humans like to interact, give them the option.

Transportation: Put solid wheel tires on the bikes so that you don’t have to worry about deflation or under-inflation. Makes for a bike that needs zero maintenance.

Water: Capture a second floor shower and sink water as toilet flush water for first floor.

Communications: Make the iPad your communications for room service, notifications, etc. For a request, simply have the guest type in what is needed (i.e. room service, reservations, etc.), and it can be sent as a text message, or standard message. Better yet, make a app for the smartphone, so guests can request directly from their phone. While
some guests want to unplug, most prefer simple text communications. The resort has Wifi, use it to its fullest potential. I would prefer to order room service, or making a reservation, by typing in a request.

Tipping: Have a prepaid tip option when making reservations at the resort. At the very least, put up a page on the website explain how and when to tip. It’s saves time for the client who is trying to figure it out. We (the clients) want to reward great service, so make it easy.

Lighting: Use daylighting domes to capture and disperse sunlight within villas. Will virtually eliminate any use of lights during the day. Alternatively have solar panels within solar collecting light projection, to store for evening LED use.

Food Recommendations:

Hydroponics and Fogponics: A larger and more sustainable food production system (and less maintenance) would be the use of hydroponics or fogponics (vertical grow towers which utilize the sunlight). You can still be organic with these methods, and the efficiency of production is maximized. Best of all, you could grow more variety of vegetables and fruits.

Chickens: For fresh eggs. Chickens can roam freely in the garden, and their waste becomes fertilizer for the plants.

Goats: Fresh milk and cheese. Low maintenance animal. Have guests adopt a food producing animal. Again, make it interactive.

Bees: I have to commend the resort on the use of bee hives, and honey production. The honey tastes wonderful. Offer it for sale on your website. Good source of revenue and sustainability.

Guest Villas:

In-villa snacks and booze for purchase: Whomever came up with this nickel-and-dime the customer, was wrong. Either offer it for free or get rid of it. If you’re paying $5000 day for a villa you probably don’t want to be charged $10 for a package of M&Ms or other snacks. Throw it in. Include it. Or just get rid of it. Since we were on a a-la-carte basis, we paid for it. I’m not sure of the policy for the all-inclusive. Since it has to be checked on every day, that is the guests time either way. I say, just get rid of it altogether. I doubt it results in much revenue, and it looks bad from the guests perspective. The Brando is one of the most exclusive resorts in the world, step up to the plate and get rid of the snack charges. The Brando is so far above every other resort, it doesn’t need this type of revenue. Charge me a bit more on the resort stay, and include it.

For Guests: Be a good client – how to be a good guest:

-be respectful to workers. They live and work on the island (it’s almost like a cruise ship). I always greet workers in their native language (French or Polynesian in this case) and ask them how they are doing.
-be respectful to other guests.
-leave a thank you note and/or a tip if you like the service.
-ask the staff what they prefer and how they get paid for tips, if you desire to leave one.
– If you decide to tip, tip in cash whenever possible since they don’t get paid for 6 to 12 months for their tips. If they leave before that time they forfeit their tips. The only downside to tipping individuals, is that they may or may not share with coworkers (while a tip on the receipt will get distributed). The other option is to do one tip at the end of the stay, which goes into a general fund, and everybody gets something. Personally, I’d rather see resorts pay staff better, and do away with tips altogether, since it’s a hassle all around trying to figure it out. The other option is to have a prepaid tip option when making reservations at the resort. At the very least, put up a page on the website explain how and when to tip. It’s saves time for the client who is trying to figure it out. We (the clients) want to reward great service, make it easy.
-want to help renewables? Talk to the staff and adopt a garden, an animal, a beehive, or solar panel.
-write an honest review on trip advisor or other review sites. While the management staff tells me that this will not make a difference in how they treat you, it certainly makes a difference to future travelers regardless. I always review on Trip Advisor and other sites before I book travel. I also mirror my reviews on my and websites. I was told that several suppliers have a monopoly in French Polynesia, and they don’t care if they get bad reviews for bad service. I don’t care if they have a monopoly – bad service, is bad service, and should be commented on for future travelers. That gives the supplier the option to correct bad service, or just continue with it, and lose customers. Feedback is so important in this industry.
-be responsible. Don’t ever pollute,and be a good citizen and if yousee garbage, pick it up.
-get the minimal travel insurance for medical evacuation, at the very least. For expensive trips always get comprehensive travel insurance so that you are not out financially if anything gets canceled (as in our case with the helicopter charter that got cancelled).
-in the case of flights or prepaid excursions which have been canceled or delayed, which affect you financially, be sure to get something in writing from the supplier (demand it – it’s their responsibility to provide it). You will need this for any refunds for your trip insurance. Any responsible supplier will provide this. If they do not provide this, make sure it is evidenced by email request and then write a review to document it for other travelers, so they can avoid that tour operator or supplier. Treating people with fairness should be a global experience and attitude.
-good resorts and suppliers will make sure that they do not provide excuses, but provide you with a good experience, and do their best to make things right. Even if canceled, they should provide the minimum response which is to say that they are sorry, and to provide you with documentation for any refunds via travel insurance. This is a code of conduct which is good business. If they do not provide that. Make sure that that is noted in a review for other travelers so they can avoid that supplier.
The Brando is a World Class resort. Experience it, and enjoy it.

Fair winds, and good travels – Pepe

Note: This review is mirrored on TripAdvisor

Publications for The Brando via our PDF Search Engine

Leave a Reply