We spent five nights at the Residence over Christmas and had a fantastic, relaxing time!
We stayed in an ocean view villa, and our villa was spectacular. Very luxurious, spacious, and comfortable, with attention to every detail. The bathroom was gorgeous, the view stunning, and the private pool an added treat. We slept very well, which is very important to us on vacation! I thought the turn down service every evening was exceptional, with a lot of attention to detail. I loved the small personal touches like the chilled, herbal infusion delivered to our room every evening and the tray of treats in the afternoon. Similarly, the property was exquisite...solidly built, lovely aesthetics, lots of attention to detail. The pool was great -- it offers a large shallow area great for kids to play, and a huge deep part great for doing laps. While the decor was very elegant, I felt that a little color was lacking...
The service was excellent, with a lot of personalized touches. On the first day I asked the person delivering our herbal infusion if he could make ours unsweetened...a few minutes later he brought us another pot that was unsweetened, and each following day they made sure ours was made the same way. We ordered a lot of our son's meals to our villa, and the in-villa dining was excellent. They were prompt, always got the order right, and set up the food very nicely (rather fancily for a 4 year old!). The staff everywhere were extremely friendly and extremely helpful, and really no request was too much. The only glitch -- the folks in billing were a bit clueless...they didn't record anywhere that we had paid our bill, and presented our bill to us again. The manager was extremely apologetic, and made up for it by giving us lunch on the house.
They made a huge amount of effort over the Christmas period to create a festive feeling, which I really appreciated! They delivered a small Christmas tree to our room with a string of lights -- which was very special! They arranged for "Santa" to visit the jetty on Christmas day, and he gave out presents to all the kids. There was a lavish Christmas eve dinner with beautiful place settings, and incredible desserts!
The kids club was alright. Great in theory, it provides an opportunity for you to leave your kids for a few hours a day. However, the staff didn't seem capable of really engaging the kids, and while the schedule looked fantastic on paper, in reality the kids were just hanging out doing their own thing. Our son didn't want to go to the kids club after a couple of times.
The food: on the positives -- the ingredients were fresh, extremely high quality, and lavish (guest traveling from outside Africa may not realize what a treat it is to enjoy fancier ingredients like pine nuts, cheeses, etc. in Africa, but we definitely did!). The fish and seafood were absolutely fantastic - fresh, and delicious. We ate dinners at the Pavilion (buffer rather than 3 course meal) since we don't eat meat and had more options there. We enjoyed the huge spread, the variety and the different theme every evening. On the negatives -- I thought the food lacked an authentic Zanzibari feel, and was trying to be too European (or something). I also found that the ethnic foods (Mexican, Thai, for example) were not at all authentic...the Thai curry for example tasted nothing like Thai curry, and the Pad Thai tasted like Chinese stir fried noodles. Nonetheless, all the food was delicious and very fresh. The room service/pool menu didn't look very exciting...can't say how it tasted because we didn't order anything from it.
The beach was disappointing, but that's just Zanzibar for you...they did do a great job keeping it clean, but there's nothing to be done about the seaweed, the sea urchins, the sludgy feeling under your toes.... However, the boat house staff tried their best to help us enjoy the ocean...in addition to taking us snorkeling each day, the crew at the boat house took us out into the ocean on a sail boat, let us swim for half an hour, and then brought us back. This was the only way we could get out into the beautiful, turquoise water a few hundred meters away.
We were a bit annoyed by all the extra charges. When you pay so much and go to such a beautiful place, you don't want to have to worry about all the extra charges. I thought the drinks were illogically priced -- water, which is complimentary by the pool or in your villa, costs $6 at meals. A 300 ml bottle of local soda water, which probably costs less than $0.30 to purchase, costs $6 (whereas a one liter bottle of imported Pellegrino only costs $4 more...). The airport transfer costs $150, whereas you can arrange your own transfer in a comfortable AC car for only $50.
Finally, I can't really put my finger on it, but I thought the Residence lacked a bit of soul...it felt like a luxurious bubble anywhere in the world. I didn't get a sense of being in Zanzibar and I didn't feel like our time there was a cultural experience in any sense of the word. We live in East Africa, so I guess it wasn't a huge deal for us, but if I were traveling from outside the continent I would have gone away feeling like the experience was a bit empty.
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