60,000-Point Steal: A Review of The St. Regis Bora Bora
I have a favorite resort in the world: The St. Regis Maldives. From the huge, brand-new overwater villas to the staff to the food, I have yet to experience a hotel that outperforms Marriott's Vommuli Island gem. I visited again this year, after my first time in May 2017.
In fact, it's so spectacular that I didn't hesitate to book a 10-night honeymoon stay for my sister and her fiancée, for a grand total of 480,000 Marriott points. Despite that reservation taking a huge bite out of my balance, I can't help but smiling every time I think about what an incredible stay they're going to have.
But there's another Marriott property I've had my eye on for far longer than that hotel in the Maldives: The St. Regis Bora Bora. And with the same 60,000-point deal available there, plus affordable new flights from United and French Bee, it seemed as good a time as any for TPG and me to book a work trip to paradise and check it out.
Through the rest of 2018, you can book a base room for 60,000 Marriott points per night, or 48,000 per night when booking in blocks of five nights, since you'd get the fifth night free on award stays. An exceptional deal, that 60,000-point rate is only applicable to a limited number of reefside pool villas at the far end of the resort.
As a result, they're already almost entirely booked up through most of 2019 — you'll need to be incredibly lucky to find more than a single night available here and there.
Other room types are widely available, however. TPG booked a deluxe island-view villa, which he reserved prior to the SPG / Marriott program merger for 79,200 Starpoints per night, equivalent to 237,600 Marriott Rewards points. He was able to reprice it to 206,000 after the merger, though — still a 240% premium over the 60,000-point standard rate, double the 120% premium you'd generally pay to jump up from the cash rate.
He ended up being assigned an overwater deluxe Otemanu-view villa, however, which is considerably more expensive than the base villa — both when paying cash, and booking with points. (Otemanu refers to Mount Otemanu, half of the extinct volcano looming over the lagoon.)
Unfortunately, award nights of 200,000 points or more are far more common than 60,000-point redemptions, and rates are bound to climb even higher once The St. Regis Bora Bora moves from Category 7 to Category 8 in 2019.
The St. Regis Bora Bora is in one of the quietest areas of the island, almost a direct shot across the lagoon from Mount Otemanu.
I was transferring from the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana and began my journey from the designated St. Regis dock (and "lounge") on the main island. Waiting out front was my St. Regis butler, who quickly perked up and wagged his tail upon my arrival.
In all seriousness, though, it really wasn't clear that I was in the right place — there wasn't any branding on or near the lounge, but my taxi driver insisted that she had brought me to the correct spot.
I could have taken a 2pm ferry for free, but I had emailed the hotel to reserve a spot on the 12pm ferry for $12. That charge never appeared on my final bill, though.
The ferry had a mix of hotel guests and locals, and despite the aesthetic not matching the St. Regis brand by any stretch of the imagination, the ride only took about five minutes.
Soon enough, we had reached our destination — one of the passengers hopped off to pull the boat up to the hotel dock, where I was immediately greeted by my actual St. Regis butler.
I caught a glimpse of locals living just a few feet from the resort, too — unlike resorts in the Maldives, which are entirely secluded, it's not uncommon for Polynesians to live within view of Bora Bora hotels.
If you're looking to interact with local people, you can take advantage of the hotel's complimentary transfers to Vaitape, including a five-minute boat ride followed by a 25-minute bus at 11am each day.
After stepping off the ferry, I met my incredibly friendly butler, Hailey, from South Korea. It quickly became clear that the hotel had done its research on its guests — we always try to fly under the radar, but the manager seemed to be aware of our TPG affiliation. Hailey was initially assigned to only our two villas, for example, rather than the 10 or so that other butlers are expected to track. I imagine that wasn't a coincidence, though it didn't appear to affect the service we received elsewhere at the resort.
There was a line at reception, for example, and I was asked to wait to check in. My villa also wasn't ready, even when I returned at the standard 3pm check-in, though I was presented with a key just a few minutes after that.
My Reefside Pool Villa
As I mentioned, I booked a base reefside pool villa, which was also categorized as a garden villa on Marriott's site.
At 2,700 square feet, reefside pool villas were actually considerably larger than their overwater counterparts.
I was immediately impressed — I hadn't seen Brian's overwater villa yet, but at 60,000 points for mine versus 206,000 for his, I found it hard to believe that it'd be worth redeeming more than three times as much for the upgrade.
In addition to a large private pool, there were two lounge chairs and two hanging chairs.
There was also a covered dining table. The furniture seemed entirely ordinary, but it was nice to have the option to dine outside.
Hailey explained that my villa was one of a few that had been recently renovated. The rest of the hotel will soon match the upgraded finishes here.
Inside, there was one very large room with a sofa and chairs.
There was also a dining table and a desk and chair off to the side.
St. Regis butler service included on-demand coffee and tea service — apparently only in the morning at this property, though — and you could also make your own.
Minibar prices were outrageous, of course — $8 for a can of Coke, $7 for Doritos. NOPE.
The villa had a separate large bedroom — an adorable towel swan had been set up on the king bed.
Just as I walked in, I spotted Brian and senior writer Lori Zaino on the TV! Brian had been interviewed for an SPG video years ago, and it's apparently still playing at some resorts.
The villa also had a huge bathroom with double sinks and separate doors to the bedroom.
Like all St. Regis hotels I've stayed at, there were Remède amenities waiting by the sink. There weren't any dental sets, as I've come to expect from hotels in the Asia Pacific region, but I imagine they were available upon request.
There was a large standalone tub and a spacious rainfall shower.
The villa also had an outdoor shower, with a high wall offering some privacy.
Finally, there was a large walk-in closet — my small backpack and few articles of clothing looked a bit lost in there.
After exploring the ins and outs of my own hangout, I headed across the property to the overwater village to check out Brian's.
Brian's Deluxe Overwater Villa
It quickly became clear just how big the property was — compared to the Maldives, The St. Regis Bora Bora is huge.
Hailey brought me over in a golf cart, and we drove past reception, Jean-Georges' Lagoon Restaurant, a private pool area called the Oasis and then finally over to the first bank of overwater villas.
With a clear view of Bora Bora's iconic extinct volcano, Brian's villa was categorized as deluxe overwater Otemanu, an upgrade over the deluxe overwater villa he'd booked.
Superior and deluxe overwater villas measured 1,550 square feet, regardless of which direction they faced.
My backyard was enormous, but Brian's was confined to a deck. There was room for a couple of lounge chairs, a dining table and not much else.
The entire ocean could be considered an extension of his backyard, though — though I didn't have direct access to any body of saltwater, Brian could easily climb down a ladder into a gorgeous lagoon.
Inside, the villa immediately felt smaller. It was not tiny by any stretch, but after spending time in my pool villa, I wouldn't quite consider his to be spacious.
Some of the furnishings were beginning to show their age, such as the minibar cabinet, which was fairly nicked up.
The bedroom was smaller than mine, too, but still a decent size.
There was more room to move around than in the main living space, with direct access to the back deck.
The bathroom felt smaller and far darker as well.
The bathroom aesthetic was a bit different from mine, which had the latest design.
There was a smaller (almost heart-shaped?) tub, rather than the large standalone bath in my villa. The shower was far more compact as well.
The walk-in closet, meanwhile, was almost nonexistent — though, yes, you technically could still walk inside.
If lots of space is what you're after, there's no question that you'll find much more of it on land.
Food and Beverage
The hotel offered a generous welcome amenity, which was delivered shortly after I arrived.
There was a nice assortment of fruit, plus chocolates, macarons, bottles of water and Billecart-Salmon Champagne, which I brought along to dinner to avoid paying for extra drinks.
A similar welcome amenity awaited Brian is his villa.
The St. Regis Bora Bora was home to five restaurants. While that might seem a bit excessive, some, such as the Lagoon Restaurant by Jean-Georges, appealed to guests staying at other resorts, who could take a boat across the lagoon to dine here.
There was also the Lagoon Bar, which was my favorite spot to watch the sunset.
Cocktails ranged in price throughout the resort, but about $20 a pop was a good rule of thumb.
You could get drinks at all of the restaurants, of course, and at both the Lagoon Bar and Aparima Bar, which also had a swim-up counter in the main pool.
For our first dinner, we dined at the Asian restaurant Bam Boo, open from 6pm until 10pm every day but Monday and Saturday.
The food was very good but expensive — sushi rolls ranged from $32 to $36, for example.
Breakfast was included and served at Te Pahu, located just off the main beach. Breakfast was available from 6:30am until 10:30am, and the dining room also hosted the weekly Polynesian dinner show on Wednesday nights.
It was certainly on the smaller side compared to other St. Regis properties, but the breakfast spread was high-quality.
I really loved the juice station, where I loaded my own combination of fruits into one of the two juicers each morning.
The fish spread was also fantastic — the local tuna was the highlight, of course.
There were also hot items on the buffet, including miniature quiches and French toast.
Omelets were included as well, as were crepes and waffles off the menu.
You could certainly stuff your face with crepes and other delicious carbs, though I enjoyed the fresh fish most.
In fact, the tuna was so fresh and delicious that I went off the menu and asked for a tuna pizza at lunch. I was expecting the tuna to be added at the end, rather than cooked all the way through, but I still appreciated the staff's willingness to try something different. Since there wasn't a tuna pizza on the menu, I was charged $37 for a chorizo pizza instead.
My favorite restaurant was Lagoon by Jean-Georges (as in Vongerichten) — naturally, it also happened to be the most expensive.
Lagoon was open Thursday to Tuesday from 6pm until 10pm, and reservations were required. It was a large dining room, though, so you shouldn't have too much trouble getting in.
I loved the glass floor, offering a clear view of the reef sharks swimming below.
We got a prime table at Lagoon as well, at the far end of the restaurant.
The second evening began with sunset Champagne and bar snacks.
After a break to shower and change, we returned for the main event. Some of the dishes were better than others. Being a tuna lover, I found the rice-cracker-encrusted ahi tuna ($41) to be a real highlight.
We also ordered the crusted black papio ($59), which was fantastic, the mahi mahi ($54), which was flavorful as well, and the house special, slow-cooked uravena ($60), a rare local fish only available at the St. Regis. We were expecting to be blown away, but this one fell flat — it had a strong, almost gamey flavor and was a bit tough.
On the last day, we popped over to the swim-up bar for piña coladas, which, since we were at the pool, were served in plastic cups.
Finally, before our departure, I ended the stay with an order of Devil Sexy Beef ($52), which consisted of fillet cut into cubes and cooked in a sweet-and-sour soy sauce. It wasn't an especially sexy dish.
Between meals, you could hit up the gift shop, stocked with ordinary American treats at middle-of-the-ocean prices. A big bag of Doritos? That'll be 8 bucks. A 2-ounce bag of jerky? $12.50.
There were overpriced toiletries as well — to avoid overpaying at the resort, be sure to bring along what you need.
I'd recommend packing your own swimwear as well — here, flip-flops ran $60, while a St. Regis Bora Bora robe retailed for a cool $100.
As much as I loved my villa, I really needed to get out and explore. There was plenty to see and do all around the resort.
My first stop was a hammock on the beach. With the water just barely lapping on the shore, it was a peaceful spot.
It was also the ideal location for an official TPG photo shoot — Brian and I did not hold back.
There was great service as well: I spotted a beach attendant rush over to help one guest with an umbrella, while another made the rounds with cool, scented towels.
The hotel's main pool was just behind, complete with its own swim-up bar.
The hotel provided sunscreen and aloe, though I'd suggest bringing some from home, just in case.
There was also that second pool area I mentioned before, called the Oasis. It was unattended, but each pair of lounge chairs had a phone you could use to ring up room service, where you could order food and drinks using menus left out by the pool.
At the other end of the resort, was an area called the "lagoonarium," a portmanteau of "lagoon" and "aquarium."
Essentially, it was a protected area where you could snorkel freely, with a wide variety of resident fish. There were fish feedings at 10:30am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and reef shark feedings at 11:30am near the Lagoon Restaurant on the same days.
You didn't even need to borrow a snorkel to get a good view — many fish quickly gathered as soon as they spotted a guest, hoping someone walking by was planning to toss in some food.
The scenery was just spectacular all around — if you like to take smartphone photos, be prepared to charge up your gear in the middle of the day.
Nonmotorized watersports were free, including snorkels, kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and giant floating tricycles (that ended up broken after my first day at the resort).
Other watersports came with a fee, ranging from about $285 for a 90-minute Jet Ski tour to about $7,500 for a full-day trip on the hotel's yacht.
We decided to book a Jet Ski tour that included a stop for lunch (at our own expense) for about $310 per person.
We had a blast — our guide was outstanding, and really let us have free rein when it came to where (and how fast!) we went. Very highly recommend!
You could book activities through the concierge, but we made our reservations with our butler, instead. Interestingly, they had only reserved one of the three Jet Skis we booked, though. They were able to add two more without issue, but it might be worth reconfirming the details before you show up for a booked activity.
The concierge area also served as a lounge of sorts, with coffee, tea, computers and a pool table.
There was also a 24-hour fitness center, of course, with well-maintained equipment.
One thing that really stood out was the lack of attention to detail in all of the public restrooms, however. Piled up (or missing) towels weren't an uncommon sight, for example, and I came across three soap dispensers that had been refilled with water instead of soap. Not exactly what you'd expect from a hotel of this caliber.
The Wi-Fi, while entirely free, was also pitifully slow. I ultimately ended up tethering to my Google Fi smartphone, instead.
There's no question that the St. Regis Bora Bora is an absolutely gorgeous resort in one of the most appealing destinations on Earth. But some members of the hotel staff are a bit less attentive than I would have expected from a resort at this level. Repeatedly filling empty soap dispensers with water is inexcusable, for example, and paying extra attention to small details — like remembering the names of guests and their room numbers — seems to be overlooked here.
I was also surprised that our Jet Ski reservation hadn't been booked as requested, and when I asked my butler for tea in the afternoon, she explained that tea and coffee service was only available in the mornings, whereas butlers at the St. Regis Maldives go out of their way to provide refreshments and even plates of fruit at any time of day.
All that said, I did have a fantastic stay, and my 60,000-point rate was an absolute steal. I just would have been a bit less thrilled had I been paying thousands of dollars per night.