Le Meridien Barbarons and Seychelles Overview
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After our great Air Seychelles flight and quick Hertz car pick up, we drove up the windy mountain road in our stick shift Diahatsu jeep in order to get to our hotel, Le Meridien Barbarons.
We chose Le Meridien Barbarons for a couple reasons, but mainly because they had Starwood Cash and Points availability, which is my preferred method of redeeming Starwood points. We paid $90US and 4,800 points a night for a $312/night room. So basically, 24,000 Starwood points saved me $1,082, or 4.5 cents each. Granted, I would have earned nearly 5,000 points if I paid the $1,562 for the rooms, but for me, I'd rather save the money and spend it on excursions- especially because I have enough Starwood points and have already qualified for Platinum status for next year. Alternatively, the resort would have cost 12,000 points a night if I just used the points option. Starwood gives the fifth night free when redeeming, so I would have used 12,000 x 4 (48,000) points to save me $1,560, or 3.3cents per point value. Not bad, but cash and points was a more points cost effective option for this redemption.
The other Starwood property, which got better reviews and was a category higher in redemption, was Le Meridien Fishermans Cove. Cash and Points wasn't available on the 5 nights I wanted to stay, so it would have cost me 80,000 points- a little too rich for my blood.
I called the Starwood Platinum line in advance of my reservation to make sure they noted that I would be arriving early, and also note that I was entitled to a complimentary Platinum suite upgrade at check-in if one was available. I normally don't do this, but I figured it couldn't hurt to make sure the property knew about the Starwood Preferred Guest program, since they probably don't see too many Platinum guests (just based on the lack of information I was able to find on Flyertalk and other boards). I ended up getting an email back from the head of rooms, letting me know that I would be upgraded on day of arrival to one of their 4 suites (all the select standard suites that are eligible for upgrades), if one was available. The platinum line also confirmed that the only suites they had were indeed eligible. This is important to note, because Starwood Platinums are only eligible to get upgraded to "select standard" suites- not specialty suites like Penthouse and Extreme Wow.
When I arrived, I was impressed with the open air lobby with great views of the Indian Ocean. I was told to take a seat near several other groups of people and that we would be checked in shortly. Hot towels and fruit juice were brought over for us during our wait, which was a nice touch and much appreciated after
our 10 hour flight. The woman collected my passport, along with those of about 3 other groups of guests. 20 minutes later, she returned and had me sign a form outlining the details of my stay. When she came back, she told us to come with another couple. She showed the first pair of guests to their room and the took us to the Starwood Preferred Guest block of rooms at the far end of the resort. When we were walking into our room, I asked if they had any suites available, and she said she'd get back to me, but she thought they did. Awesome- I would have preferred to handle this in the lobby, but I'm in the Seychelles and understand that things don't work like everywhere else.
We had been upgraded to a deluxe sea-view room, which was spacious and had a nice balcony. The room was nicely appointed and the housekeeping staff had gone crazy with fresh tropical flowers throughout the room- on the bed, bathtub, kitchen sink and couches. The rep promised to call in a couple minutes about
the possibility of the suite upgrade so we held off unpacking. I tried to connect to wifi, but there was no signal and no Ethernet plug.
Soon we received a jubilant call that a suite was available. Perfect! I asked whether I should meet her in the lobby, or wait in the room, and she replied â€œSir, the price for the
suite will be $150 extra a night- are you okay with that?I told her that I was Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum and as part of the program, upgrades to select standard suite upgrades were complimentary at time of check-in if they were available. She had to confirm with her manager, but promised to call me back.
Minutes later, someone else called me and informed me that the complimentary suite upgrade was no longer available because the person in the suite had just extended his stay. While I definitely knew this was a lame excuse to deny me the upgrade, I let it slide, because the deluxe room was fine and I just wanted to get unpacked and showered. For me, haggling and getting into arguments with management about upgrades defeats the whole purpose. To help any future guests with this issue, I have outlined the service failure and let Starwood know so they can properly train the staff at the property. Since the stay,
I let Starwood know what happened and they handled the complaint efficiently and appropriately. They apologized for the service failure and gave me enough points for a free stay, which I didn't expect, but greatly appreciated.
Apart from the check-in snafu, the rest of the stay was enjoyable. The grounds were lush with great views of Barbarons bay and the mountains. The beach at the hotel was a bit choppy and the currents are strong this time of year, so they advised us not to swim. Since we had the rental car, finding amazing, deserted beaches was no issue.
The infinity pool was very nice- good chaises and the wifi worked there and in the lobby. The resort was pretty empty, so it was never an issue getting a chair or getting seated at dinner. Here are some panoramic 360s of the property:
For lunch there is a cafe near the pool that serves tapas and sandwiches. Prices were reasonable and the food was what you'd expect from a poolside cafe.
For dinner, there was the buffet which had a different theme every night and an expensive a la carte restaurant. We ate at the buffet out of convenience, and I'd give it a B- overall. It was about 36 euros a person and had a lot of Creole and themed options. I found it generally very salty, but edible. They had a reasonable wine menu, so we got bottles of decent Napa Cabernet for $25. We had a car, so we drove to dinner two nights, but night driving on the tiny roads was treacherous, so we sucked it up and settled with the buffet.
The a la carte restaurant was always empty and extremely expensive. 20 euro appetizers and 50 euro entrees, which we figured couldn't be worth it. We were in Seychelles for the beaches and weather- not the cuisine. Living in NYC, we get enough amazing food, so it was easy to pass at the restaurant.
Overall, the housekeeping service was great, but everything else was at island pace. For example, each time we ordered ice it took two calls and 45 minutes to get it delivered. One morning we had a wake-up call that never came (luckily we knew they'd probably forget so we set alternate alarms). For kicks, we tried the wake-up call service again and it came 10 minutes late. The restaurant staff were friendly, though it was a buffet, so we mostly served ourselves.
I was disappointed at no wifi in the rooms, since we were totally disconnected from phone service, I thought it would have been nice to have email on in the room. However, I got used to just using internet at the pool on my Iphone or in the lobby on complimentary laptops. The connection wasn't fast, but it worked well enough for basic internet needs.
The rooms were clean and spacious and the hotel is convenient for exploring the island. If this were my honeymoon, I'd probably recommend one of the high-end resorts- Four Seasons, Banyan Tree or even the Hilton on the north shore. However, if you'd like a decent place at an affordable price that's not too far from Victoria an dthe airport, then the Barbarons might be for you.
Some tips on the Seychelles-
1) Driving is treacherous, but fun. The island is small, but there is a lot to explore. Driving around, you can find unspoiled beaches, so if you want to get away from the masses, a car is your best bet. If you do decide to drive, try to avoid driving at night at much as possible. Here is a clip driving down one of the mountains
2) Eat at authentic restaurants. We ate at the Anchor Cafe on the west side several times and the food was phenomenal. They catch a lot of it from Anse Boileu bay, which is where the restaurant is situated. The friendly owner, Keith, is actually an American engineer who came to the Seychelles in the 70's as a government contractor. Apparently, there used to be a satellite base in the Seychelles where the US Government would monitor nuclear activity around the world. Many of the workers at the plant ended up marrying Seychellois women and staying on the island. Keith now runs the Anchor Restaurant, which has great sunset views of the bay and unbelievable fresh seafood. I highly recommend the Octopus salad and the blackened fish of the day (which is usually snapper).
We also went to the Tea Plantation at the top of the mountain on several mornings. They have a limited menu, but make great omelets and serve tons of teas and coffees (even iced coffee). It's a scenic drive up and great view once there.
3) Check out the smaller, outer islands of Praslin and La Digue. We booked a tour through Creole Travel Services (highly recommend) and for roughly $200 US we got a tour of both islands. La Digue is tiny and we went to a coconut oil plantation and secluded beach with rock formations where some of the movie Castaway was shot. On Praslin we had lunch at a great Creole buffet and then went on a tour or UNESCO world heritage site Vaille de Maie which is the only place in the world where the Cocoa de Mer nut grows. Afterward they took us to another secluded beach that is great for swimming an riding waves. Beware- the 50 minute high speed ferry from Mahe to Praslin can be rough and they do not slow down. I got a little bit nauseous at repeatedly getting airborne- my advice is to sit downstairs in the enclosed, air-conditioned area. If its nice- enjoy the bar and try a SeyBrew (tastes like a Budweiser to me).
4) If you go in the dry season (July-September), understand that it is winter and the sun goes down shortly after 6pm. We weren't used to this, especially coming from Paris, where the sun is up until nearly 11pm. Also, know that it is monsoon season, so short blasts of heavy rain are probably every day.
5) The people are friendly and love Americans. I was told on several occasions that most Seychellois most relate to US culture/trends .
6) Almost everyone speaks English. They also speak Creole (French slang mixed with some Swahili and Spanish) and French.
7) It's expensive, but it can be done on a moderate budget. It certainly helps when your flight and hotel costs are significantly reduced due to points :-)