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 Insuremytrip.com 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 www.cruisingreview.com and www.jetsetcruise.com 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

Tahiti and Long Haul Flight Tips

Cruising review Tahiti intercontinentalFlying into Tahiti, typically Air Tahiti departs LAX at around 4:30 PM and arrives in Tahiti around 10 PM. You stay the first night at the Intercontinental, with a beautiful view of Moorea. The traveler to Tahiti only has a few choices for airlines. While my experiences with Air Tahiti Nui in the past have been very good, this experience was marginal. That coupled with the economy fare at $2000 round-trip, made me question looking at alternatives. On our departure they were more than an hour late. We finally departed sometime after 1:30 am, and got in over an hour late to LAX, which made us miss our next set of flights. Then ended up taking a bus for the last part of our journey home. It was a very long and tiring journey home. I spoke to other travelers who decided to take Air France. Unfortunately they only offer travel to Tahiti a few days per week. But if you’re flexible, that is a much better option.

While our Air Tahiti flight was full, the economy ticket fare holder has the option of upgrading to business class for just over $1000 per leg. This is a great option considering that business class is normally $5000 each way. I always ask for upgrades, since business class is so much more roomy.

It is an eight hour flight minimum. Long haul flight tips include:

– walk, work out, or exercise before the flight as much as possible.

– use compression socks during the flight.

– try to eat only healthy portions of food and do not drink alcohol. The cabin altitude is around 8000 feet. That means the alcohol will have the equivalent effect if you are drinking on top of the mountain. Since the bloodstream does not have as much alcohol effects are very pronounced and much faster. While there are studies that disprove this, I have been around enough drinkers at higher altitude to say that it is true. Try to drink water. If you do drink alcohol, be prepared for headaches after you land.

– try to get up and stretch at least once an hour.

– Airline seats are notoriously uncomfortable for long periods. Aside from a neck pillow, I highly recommend putting a pillow or a small blanket behind your lower back.

– for overnight flights, take a Benadryl, which will help you breathe and sleep easier. Alcohol will not make you sleepy easier, and will actually dehydrate you.

– want to feel refreshed ? Brush your teeth at least once every four hours or after a meal. You’ll be surprised how wonderful and clean your mouth feels.

– do you experience headaches while or after a long flight? Try using disposable foam ear plugs, or the popular Bose noise canceling headsets. The drone of the engines will produce headaches on long flights. I used to get headaches on three hour or longer flights. But when I started using foam earplugs the headaches went away. The harmonics of jet engines are such that foam earplugs, or noise canceling headsets, will eliminate headaches.

– drink hot green tea. Bring your own tea and request hot water from the flight attendant. Hot green tea is used in almost all high-altitude mountain climbing acclimation.

Travel Insurance – Don’t buy it: I was recently denied a claim from AIG Travel Guard for a travel delay, caused by an aircraft maintenance issue. I even provided a letter from the carrier. The delay caused us to miss a $2,000 night resort stay (non-refundable). AIG paid out $100 (policy limit) even though the website (Insuremytrip.com) said on their website that a travel delay was 100 percent covered. AIG denied paying for alternative transportation. Don’t believe the websites selling this type of insurance that it’s 100 percent covered. It’s not. Most of the reviews you see on these trip insurance sales sites are from travelers who don’t file a claim, only that they just that they have purchased insurance and they were relieved to have insurance. That’s a pointless review. The only travel insurance which is worth having is the least expensive. Here’s the technique: when they ask you how much the trip cost is, enter $100. It turns out that you will get quoted the sale medical evacuation insurance whether your trip is $100 or $100,000. Skip all other travel insurance, unless you are happy with getting $100 as a claim settlement. I usually purchase a annual medial evacuation insurance policy, that covers all trips, for about $150-200. That is the only insurance I recommend. If you have a better insurance group, let us know in the comments section. Unfortunately, you won’t know what’s covered, until you have a trip problem, and file a claim, which will get denied by the insurer. That’s how they make their money. When I complained about the claimed coverage on the website, the agent at Insuremytrip.com told me that I could have contacted an agent on the phone, and specifically requested a policy, which includes any delays from aircraft maintenance issues. Well, now how does that make any sense ? How is the customer supposed to know in advance what claim will be denied, and how to tailor coverage to a future event ? That logic is beyond me. Maybe if your a physic you can better predict travel insurance needs.

 

Travel Store on Amazon

Senses Redefined | a Gem on the Emerald Coast |Mukul Beach Golf and Spa | Nicaragua Central America

Cruising Review 20170312:
The ocean is like a mysterious woman, who always challenges you with ever-changing romance, allure of adventure, a new beginning at every dawn, and a canvas of tranquility at each sunset. The ocean is what defines the incredible setting at Mukul.

The environment embraces the resort in a symbiotic relationship which balances out hospitality and nature.

Trails are delicately woven into the tapestry of the hills which bind vistas of land, sea and sky. The escarpment was so lovingly developed that it blends harmony between the environment with purpose. This allows a peaceful coexistence of hospitality between the visitor, and the surroundings which provide such splendor from each sunrise to each sunset.

It’s this charm which truly sets this resort apart from anything in the world.

At nightfall, the Moon and stars ply the heavens above, illuminating the pounding surf below, with aural and visual magic.

It’s the rhythm of the sky and the ocean, which have made the resort its home. From sunrise, when the fragrant scents of the land combine with the ocean breeze, your day begins.

Your tastes come alive, as a palet of flavors rejuvenate your inner self. The surroundings become food, as it embraces your soul.

As the golden beams of sunshine illuminate the day, your adventure may be as simple as turning a page, and gazing towards the horizon.

Or learning to ride a wave, which started a continent away, just to unleash it’s energy one last time before rolling on the sugary soft beach.

Challenge yourself to captivate the wave, and share it’s energy, especially knowing that each roll, as it curls its last breath, made a journey thousands of miles just to greet you.

This symbiotic relationship is what defines Mukul.

Harmony and peaceful coexistence with the environment, which was so lovingly combined in a tapestry of development, the resort is one of the few destinations in the world that provide a journey at the destination.

In so many words, those are some of the senses redefined, that you will experience at this wonderful place.

Visit our Travel Store on Amazon

​​​

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g10679379-d3533190-r466729624-Mukul_Beach_Golf_Spa-Playa_Manzanillo_Rivas_Department.html#

World Class Charm, Magic and Enchantment | Imanta Resort |Punta de Mita, Mexico

Cruising Review 20160121 and 20170114

2016: Imanta Resort is a world-class escape, and ranks top of any resort (even Bora Bora) I’ve had the pleasure to experience. The location, staff, and feel, is magical. You are greeted by name, and there are no receipts to sign, it’s done seamlessly while you are at the resort. A stay at Imanta is a true escape to relaxation and imagination. The sunsets are beautiful, and the canopy of stars greets you each evening like an old friend. The rolling Pacific waves rumble ashore in a rhythmic cadence which lulls you into a deep sense of wonderment.

IMG_3286

Overall Impressions: This is my second stay in Punta Mita, the first was at the Four Season’s. While the service at the Four Season’s is over-the-top, they have begun to cater to large groups to boost the bottom line, which has taken much of exclusiveness out of the brand. Imanta is diametrically opposite. They cater to individuals, not groups, and it clearly shows.

IMG_3289

 

For Couples: The resort is really for couples and adults. While any kid would be lucky to stay there, they probably would not enjoy it as much as adults who want the luxury and remoteness.

Booking: I tried to book through the Imanta website directly, but they said they had no available rooms for the weekend I wanted, so I turned to Expedia, which had several rooms available. I suggest booking the least expensive room available, then requesting free or paid upgrades when you get to the resort. When we arrived on a Thursday, I assumed the resort would be full, but there were only 6 guests. That number climbed to about 12 guests as the weekend approached. Still an amazingly low number, which would ensure your privacy.


Werika: We arrived and our suite was not available (something was being fixed) so we were invited to have lunch on the beach, and enjoyed a seaside delicacy of guac and chips, fresh fish, shrimp and drinks. About an hour later, our suite was ready. Werika is right next to Casona Jaguar, and has a beautiful layout, with huge master bathroom, plunge pool, and partial view of the ocean. You can hear the surf from the suite, since it’s only about 100 ft from the ocean. Almost immediately, one of the sink faucet fixtures broke and water was leaking all over the vanity. I guess this is what they were trying to fix earlier, without success. We just used the other sink, but quickly saw that he design of the sink fixtures was pretty flawed. Since we wanted an upgrade, we enjoyed Werika and the plunge pool for the remainder of the day.

Casona Jaguar: Our second day, we upgraded to Jaguar, which is the largest villa in the resort. It is one of the most beauitfuly appointed suites I have stayed in, and that includes staying in the Presidential Suite in Capella (Pedregal) (Cabo), the Presidential Suite at the Four Season’s (Bora Bora) and two villas at the Four Season’s in Costa Rica. When you walk in the front door, you are welcomed by a huge slab of Parota (Guanacaste) wood table. The entire space is inviting and beautifully appointed. There are three levels, and a huge outdoor patio with pool, then a lower beach area. Since we upgraded, the huge pool did not warm up for a few days, and we had issues with lack of hot water in the showers, but all was working by the day we left. The kitchen was huge, but surprising lacked many accoutrements, like paper towels, napkins, a bottle opener, or other items which you’d normally find there. My guests occupied the master bedroom on the first floor, while I took the second floor master, and a third guest took the nanny’s bedroom wing. My favorite part of the three floor villa was the top floor observatory, which had a working (heated the entire time) hot tub, and the most amazing views of the resort. Sunsets were incredible from the top. The Wifi seemed to work well at times on the first floor, but never consistent on the second floor. I found myself rebooting the wifi repeater just to get any signal (multiple times). The Casona has its own beach and amazing pool, grill, and plenty of space to layout and just enjoy the experience. If you get a chance, try to upgrade to this amazing villa. While the daily rate is around $10,000 per night, you may be able to negotiate a better price, especially if it is not occupied over your stay. Most of the bigger villas have solar heating panels on the roof, but it’s unclear if they actually work anymore. Typically with these larger villas, they come complete with a bar, food and other little perks, which we found absent for our stay.

Best Couples Villa: Casona Los Templos. Looking over the suites in the resort, I’d recommend Los Templos. Seems to have the best location, layout, and right size. They have lots of room, plunge pool, and the best locations on the resort (next to ocean and beach).

Dining: You basically have three dining options – either in your suite, at Tukipa (the main resort building), or at the beach.
– By the Beach: Perfect for lunch and afternoon snacks. They have a outdoor grill there and serve excellent fresh fish. There is also a bar there, which has a good variety of brands for your beach experience.
– Tukipa: Mid level of the main building, perched just above tree-top level, this dining area has a commanding view of the resort and beach. Recommend getting a table outside on the deck, not on the side which has access to the kitchen (noise during dining is very noticeable). There is also limited indoor dining, which we never used since it was so beautiful outside. The food is amazing, and made to order. Expect a long wait for service if there are other diners there (they open up the restaurant to other patrons from other resorts). Service was generally good, but with some huge gaps (multiple times, we had to ask for napkins). The outstanding server was Luis – who took good care of us, and made sure we enjoyed every meal there.
– Observatorio: Located at the top of the main resort building, is a bar and hot tub. This top level has an excellent view of the resort, beach, and sunsets.
– Room Service: There is a limited room service menu. Don’t expect hot, or even warm food since it takes a small journey to get to where you are at. The better option if you want to enjoy your bungalow, is to order fish or steaks uncooked, and cook them on your grill.

 

Wifi: The wifi operability is poor. Given the basic service to the resort is average at best, add on poor connectivity at the resort, and you get a overall poor access. The resort needs to upgrade its repeaters and overall access. While the resort is probably best for its remoteness, if you want or need reliability, I suggest you bring your own Apple Wifi, and hook up to the ethernet in the room, and establish your own base station, and go from there. If you’re on vacation to get unplugged, then this is your place.

Cell Signal: You can see a cell tower about 1 mile away on a hill, but the cell signal is marginal. Don’t expect great communications by your cell phone.

Activities: We spent most of our limited time over the weekend relaxing, but managed to do a few activities.
– Hiking to Treehouse: Antonio is the activities guide and will accompany you for an hour hike up to see the treehouse (where the resort owner lives). It’s a good hike (bring good walking shoes) and the scenery is fantastic, not to mention good exercise. There is a paved road to the treehouse villa, so you hike on dirt trail there, then can take the paved road downhill back to the resort.
– Baby Turtle Release: When we were there, a number of baby turtles were hatching from eggs. The beach is a nesting area for the local seaturtles. Release is usually right before sunset, and at a time when the vultures are least active.
– Spa: Under the supervision of Cynthia, the spa provides the ultimate in massage and relaxation. With the soothing sound of the surf in the background, the open aire spa area will take you to another world. I’ve been to spas around the planet, and this was the best so far.

Amazing Staff:
– Cynthia at the Spa is excellent
– Luis at dining is over the top
– Antonio with resort activities is a great guide

The Beach: The resort has one beach, which typically will not have more than 4-6 people on it, at any one time. It has ample number of lounge chairs and lounge beds (with shade). There is a small outdoor dining area for lunch and well stocked bar.

Front Desk: Main building in the concierge desk and gift shop. When you arrive, you are checked in at your suite. On departure, you can checkout at the concierge desk.

Transportation: Fly in commercial to PVR (MMPR) or private jet. There are two FBO’s at the airport that cater to executive aviation. While you can rent a car, I don’t recommend it, since the resort is nestled in a remote part north of Punta Mita. The resort offers a contractor VIP service, which really wasn’t worth the extra money. Just get a standard taxi, and have the resort arrange pick-up at the airport. This is one area they could improve upon. The Four Season’s either has their own amazing VIP pick-up, or found a contractor that does the job right.

Tipping: The resort tax with tipping fee is a whopping 30+ percent. It’s the same in Cabo, and other resorts in Mexico, so don’t be surprised when your daily rate goes up from what you thought you were paying. I recommend picking out your few favorite staff, and tip them individually. I’d be surprised if the staff (workers) actually saw most of the fee you pay for tipping, but hopefully they get what you pay.

Bring A Flashlight: The paths in the resort are dimly lit. While they have a small flashlight in the stationary basket in most rooms, I recommend bringing a small flashlight to illuminate your way to and from dinner at night.

Privacy: The resort is very exclusive and remote. It’s the perfect place if you want your privacy. For the most part, all of the villas are secluded, and do not have photographic access from the ocean, like the beach does. There is a large surf, which makes long distance photography a big challenge. So other than having your own residence, this resort is your best option or privacy.

Suggestions: While this resort ranks at the top of my list, there is always room for improvement.
– Telescope and/or Binoculars: Have a telescope at the top floor of the villas, for stargazing at night. Have binoculars (I didn’t see any) for whale watching during the day.
– Hammocks: On the beach and at the villas.
– Sand Grooming: For the Casona’s, a daily sand grooming would be fantastic. They do this at Pedregal in Cabo, and it’s a nice elegant touch. When you’re paying anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 a night for the Casona’s, add a few special experiences to the stay.
– Wifi: Replace the Wifi repeaters in the suites, so they actually work, without constantly resetting.
– New bathroom faucets: The faucets need to be replaced with something that works, and doesn’t leak constantly.
– Firepits: A really nice feature would be gas or wood firepits for the Casona’s.
– Service: Train the staff to double check table basics (like napkins) and when doing room service, double checking basics like salt/pepper, butter, etc.
– Villa Kitchen: Provide basic necessities for the kitchens, like paper towels, a few bottles of liqour, beer, lemons, limes, etc.
– Working Solar or Wind Power: This resort is perfect to take advantage of solar thermal, solar photovoltaics and wind energy. If the solar thermal panels don’t work well, then just put a big plastic tank on the roof, or black PEX tubing (it’s much more effective and zero maintenance).
– Fixture Updates: Many of the door and handle fixtures are in need of maintenance or replacement, from the salt water environment corrosion. Replace halogen and other lights with LED lighting options.

Room Tip: Casona Los Templos. Best location, layout, and right size.

2017 Update: Unfortunately, TripAdvisor only allows one review, and no updates. During our most recent stay, the main building was undergoing renovation. Service was off during this visit. There were many times we ordered food and drinks, which never came. Since billing is all done in the background (you only see one bill at the end of your stay), it’s impossible to see if we were charged for what we ordered. All dining was beachside, and the food was only average. The seafood I has, wasn’t that good. For whatever reason, the main kitchen beachside, was very subpar compared to the great food we had during our last visit, which was made in the kitchen up at the main building. The water to our villa didn’t work for a day, and we actually left a day early to go to the Four Season’s, where the food is outstanding and always consistent. The only great part of the stay was the spa, where service was excellent. While Imanta still has charm, I’d wait until the renovation has been completed to book travel there.

IMG_3298

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g499443-d2197389-r341789680-Imanta_Resort-Punta_de_Mita_Pacific_Coast.html#

Western Luxury – Finest Resort in Colorado | Review of Gateway Canyons Resort

Cruising Review 20140821

I’ve been to a number of the Noble House Hotels ( http://www.noblehousehotels.com ), and my favorite so far has been Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys. But this may become my new favorite, and is by far, one of the nicest resorts in the Western United States. It’s well worth a stay. Upon arrival, you are greeted with a smile, and a cool towel, which is very welcoming.

We took a Phenom 100 jet from Centennial Airport (KAPA) in Denver, Colorado to Grand Junction. At Grand Junction, it’s about an hour to the resort by rental or resort arranged transportation.

The property is nestled amongst the beautiful majestical red rock Unaweep canyon of western Colorado, and at the base of The Palisade, which gives spectacular views throughout the day, but especially at sunset. The creation of the founder of the Discovery Channel (John Hendricks) had the vision of a sustainable resort.

IMG_6059

Since the resort is so new, the property and all facilities are in immaculate order and condition. There are a few glitches (which I’ll refer to below), but overall, the resort is in excellent condition.

Our group stayed in mid August, 2014, and had a wonderful time. We had two Casitas, one of which was Aries (Stargazer 305) Casita, that had a large master bedroom, living room, and upstairs den with sofa-sleeper bed. There were two bathrooms – the master bath had a tub, shower and outdoor shower, while the guest bathroom had a shower. Everyone loved the outdoor showers in both Casitas.

The resort layout, architecture, and the interior decorating in the Casitas was beautiful. Clearly, someone had put a great deal of thought into the entire resort, and every detail of the individual Casitas/rooms.

The master bedroom had a small private courtyard, large master bath, clothes closet, gas fireplace and large screen TV. The highlight of the room was the huge and ultra plush bed. This was the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in, bar none. It was branded “Sleeping beauty – anniversary edition mattress.” Amazing nights sleep. The way a great resort should be.

In the master bath, the true gem was the outdoor shower. There’s something great about showering outdoors. There was an issue with hot water – it seemed to run out in about 10 minutes. The bathroom was well laid out, however there were never enough towels, and the outlets in the bathroom (one on each side of the sink) would not allow any plug to be fully inserted. The result is that unless you are holding the plug into the outlet, you would get no power. For a resort of this level, this should have been caught long ago and repaired.

There was a large dining table, next to a breakfast bar, which had a coffee machine and snacks. Of course, the snacks and bar items were a-la-carte, and they actually have the gall to charge $2 for tea ! When you’re paying $2,000 a night (or more) for a luxury Casita, the last thing you want to feel is nickel-and-dimed. Snacks and small liquor items should be free.

On the energy conservation end, you need to put in your room key near the door slot as you walk in, to turn on power to the unit. As you take the keycard out of the slot, all the lights go off.

Outdoors, there was a very generous sized patio with dining table and fire pit. The outdoor lights and on/off switch for the fire pit are on the wall behind the curtains (well hidden). I loved the fire pit – which can also be used for s’mores. All with a view of The Palisade. My only wish was for a plunge pool or hot tub. I only saw one unit that had a in-ground hot tube (but there may have been more).

Even though you may think you’re in a desert, there are lots of hummingbirds, large bees and bullfrogs in the ponds. None of them will bother you, and there are no flies or mosquitoes, even though there are a number of ponds.

When you book a Casita, you also get the services of a butler, who will help you customize your experience at Gateway, and any requests you have when at the resort. Our Bulter (Cezanne) was very helpful and was able to answer all of our questions and fill all our requests.

There are two pools – one chlorine (near the main complex) and one saline which was located near the Casitas. We chose to use the saline pool, for the fantastic view. There is a full service bar at the pool, which serves drinks and light food items. The saline pool is surrounded by pavers, which get really hot during the day. Be sure to wear flip-flops or your feet will be uncomfortably hot, very quickly. I did notice that they put heat exchangers under the pavers, to supposedly recover the heat to provide solar pool heat (great idea).

IMG_5910

There are two restaurants, which limit your choices a bit if you’re staying more than a few days (there are no other restaurants in the area), but the food is very good, and a good variety. Entrada is the primary dinner restaurant, and they also have a breakfast buffet (except on Monday mornings). The decor in Entrada is amazing – very southwest. They also have a wonderful outdoor dining area with fire pits, where you can make your own s’mores. The food is outstanding. Sadly absent from breakfast, was a juicer. At Capella and Four Season’s, you can blend your own breakfast juice. This would be an excellent addition.

Our group both rented a car from Grand Junction and took the shuttle (large SUV). I actually preferred the shuttle, but was a little pricy at $342 for one-way. You’ll save money just renting. On the way back, we chartered the helicopter for a combination passenger drop off at Grand Junction and air tour of the canyons. The total price for just over an hour of helicopter time was about $2,500.

I must also comment on the staff. While I was always greeted with a smile and friendly demeanor (I could tell they were very committed), it would appear as if most are in training or internship. At a resort of this level (and price point), the resort should mainly be staffed be seasoned professionals, with some trainees. While I could tell all were trying their best, they just did not have the experience needed be the primary staff at such a exclusive resort. There were a few requests, they just seemed to stump them. When at the pool, I wanted a hot green tea (which apparently there is none at the resort) but they refused to call in some (any) hot tea from another section, simply saying, “We can’t do that,” or “We don’t have any.” At a resort of this level, you call in from another section, and have them deliver it. On the other end, a very good compliment to our pool bartender – I wanted the cobb salad, but just the jimaca vegetable slices with seasoning – he understood and took care of my request. It was delicious !

One thing missing from this resort, was that “next level” of service. When at Capella, Four Season’s and other luxury resorts, during the day by the pool, treats are delivered, cool towels provided every now and then, and those little amazing extras. That was sadly not present at Gateway Canyons. Again, when our group was there, the resort was virtually empty (aside from some travel agents on a Fam tour), so providing this level of service would not have taken much extra effort.

Overall, our experience at Gateway Canyon was wonderful. The resort and experience is well worth the stay. While the resort is very isolated, you sense a high level of peace, relaxation and wellness when there.

I’ll detail below more features of the resort and improvements.

Reservations: Originally, I tried to book via the resort website, but decided to call-in thinking I could get some good answers. I was wrong. The reservation specialist was not very helpful and almost seemed like she was in training. When I asked about a helicopter transfer, I was told to look at possible helicopter charters based in Grand Junction. After days of calls and emails, I finally found out that they have a fantastic helicopter charter right on the property. The reservations toll free number listed on the confirmation email of: 855.243.0657
does not answer at all (at least when I was trying on a Saturday). When called front desk, I got transferred to reservations, it just came back to front desk. This happened three times until the person at the front desk just handled the reservation question. When asked upon original contact, for the concierge to arrange the transportation from the airport, they just gave me a contact to call. At a resort like this, they should just arrange it, and take a small commission, like they do at Four Season’s or Capella. A few weeks after I booked, I noticed that they were now offering a special of book two nights, get the third free. When I tried to rebook, I got no reply. So I cancelled the original reservation, then booked new. A hassle. I also upgraded an original Kiva Suite to a Casita.

When to Go: Call and see if the resort is booked with a group. In the off-season, you may get a great rate (stay two nights, get the third free – or upgrades depending on availability). When we went in August, there was barely anyone there. It was like we had the entire resort to ourselves. It was perfect.

How to Get There:
– Fly into Grand Junction, rent a car ($30-$100 per day) and drive the beautiful one hour to Gateway Canyon Resort.
– Take the shuttle (about $345) from Grand Junction, then contact:
Absolute Prestige Limousine Service – TEL (970) 858-8500 http://www.aplimo.com
– Drive
– Fly into Grand Junction, then charter the resort helicopter (Astar 5 person – about $2,000 per hour) Contact:
Sandy Perea, Gateway Canyons Air Tours, LLC
sandy.perea@gcairtours.com TEL 970-243-4359 http://gatewaycanyonsairtours.com
– There is a small grass strip on the resort. If you have a Cessna Caravan, Maul or other type short-field aircraft, you may be able to utilize the runway. Definitely talk to the resort before planning any flight there.

Cell Phone Reception: I was roaming on some other carrier (I have a ATT iPhone). Use the resort WiFi whenever possible. On the drive to and from the resort, expect no service in the canyons.

WiFi: Reception and bandwidth (speed) was really spotty when other guests were at the resort. The pool had some of the worse reception – but that may be from usage of other guests. Reception was perfect in the Casita, with good speed and connection.

Activities: There are miles of hiking, walking and bike trails. We tried the ATV experience and was really fun. They also have the Driven Experience which allows you to rent a luxury car – everything from a Bently to a Tesla. One of our group got a Bently convertible, and loved it. Be sure to bring your auto insurance number, or you won’t be able to rent. They also have a professional dirt track for ATV trucks. We also did the helicopter tour which was fantastic – I wrote a separate review on that.

What to Wear: Resort casual. For dinner, something nice. Be sure to wear sunglasses and lots of sunscreen, since the 4,000 ft altitude and summer heat can get quite hot. If you’re going to do any hiking, bring good walking shoes or hiking boots (and maybe a trekking pole).

Dress Code: Resort casual.

What to Bring: If you plan on doing any remote biking or hiking, I highly recommend SPOT, which is a small handheld GPS tracking device. They offer units at the Adventure Center you can use. When on hikes, bring plenty of water. I always pack a small emergency kit regardless.

Best Food: Guacamole and chips. Ribeye. Tenderloin. Roasted Jalapeño Cream Corn. Yes, they have fresh made chocolate chip cookies. I prefer the cookie dough (on request).

Dinner Restaurant: Entrada. Also recommend room service to enjoy your patio, and fire pit in your own Casita.

Resort Owners and Management Suggestions:

1. While I appreciate your notice in the bathroom regarding reusing towels to save water, how about installing solar hot water heaters and PV (photo voltaic solar panels) on the flat roofs of the Casitas ? If you want a Eco friendly resort, lead the way and show your patrons that you’re doing the best you can to decrease the resort footprint.

2. Train staff with seasoned professionals: Provide a number of seasoned staff as role-models so that training is not strictly on-the-job, but with mentors. Provide your reservation staff with a clearly outlined book which details answers for questions that customers may have when booking the resort – including transportation options. Don’t refer patrons to other groups to let them book other items on their own, take care of it in-house. Not only can you make more money on the upselling (such as transportation), but you make the experience a good one.

3. Casitas – Maintenance: Check the electrical outlets in 305 master bathroom, and replace them so they work.

4. Restaurant – Bar: Get a juicer, and offer custom blended drinks for breakfast.

5. Wood Burning Fire Pit: Nothing is better than a wood burning fire pit. While gas is convenient and safe for the individual suites and Casitas, have at least one at Entrada. The ambience and aroma from a wood burning fire is amazing.

6. Offer Eco Friendly Casita: If you can’t convert the existing Casitas to more eco friendly solar hot water and solar electric, start with one. Offer that one at a higher price, and let the resort patron pay extra for it. I certainly would take that option, if offered.

7. Casita Ares 305 Hot Water: We would always run out of hot water in about 10 minutes. Either the hot water heat is undersized, or there is another issue.

8. WiFi: Put in extenders or repeaters around the saline pool area. Signal strength and bandwidth was very poor many times there.

9. Turn Down Service: At Little Palm Island, at the nightly turn-down service, the staff would provide a nice little note with a poem or saying. A nice little touch.

10. Pool-side Surprises: During the day, provide an occasional cool towel, sunglasses cleaning, or tasty treat (sorbet, fruit kabob, etc.).

11. Shuttle: Offer a resort shuttle service to and from Grand Junction. Have it in a nice SUV with iPad that shows the resort activities and a motivated staff, that can tell the arriving patrons about the resort. It’s a great way to up-sell and provide information. The Four Season’s shuttle has WiFi, refreshments, etc. and would greet you at the airport – just a touch of class that makes the arrival and experience to remember. That type of service makes travel almost seamless.

12. Check In: Get rid of a counter check-in. A resort of this caliber and luxury should have a resort staff check in the client in the casita. Again, make this an experience you won’t forget.

13. Activities and Maps: Provide a map of hiking and biking trails in the rooms, so the patron can plan an activity.

Room Tip: Upgrade to a Casita.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g33438-d641690-r223513742-Gateway_Canyons_Resort_A_Noble_House_Resort-Gateway_Colorado.html#