I stayed at The Residence Zanzibar for a week over Christmas and New Year with family.
The resort is part of a small collection of resorts, with properties in Tunisia, Mauritius the Maldives and, of course, Zanzibar. It is also a member of the Leading Hotels of the World network, which, from what I've seen, is more of a marketing scheme than a true reflection of comparative quality (though member hotels do tend to be a fairly high quality; it's just that often there are equally good or better options in most locations).
It is located in the south-eastern part of the island, about one hour drive from the airport. At the expense of digressing, I have been to my fair share of crappy airports in my time but, without a doubt, this takes the cherry as the crappiest one of them all. Entirely shambolic customs clearance procedure upon arrival (though the quicker you can wave the $50 (per head) 'arrival fee' to a customs official, the quicker you're likely to get out of there), even more shambolic departure routine, involving not one but two painfully slow x-ray security checks, the payment of another $40 (again, per head) 'departure fee', and, most annoyingly of all, incessant 'requests' for tips, including from the chaps at the check-in desk and security control. You can see a new airport being built next to the existing one, but, at the moment, it is nothing more than an empty shell.
Anyway, back to the The Residence. As it says on the tin, the resort is pleasant enough, though not without flaws. But, in a way, that is beside the point. What is the point, you might ask? Well, the point, I tell you, is that the hotel is let down by the tide and the kelp. But more on this later.
Essentially, aside from the larger villas with several bedrooms, there are two types of villas in the resort – those with a view onto the ocean and those behind them, with views of the gardens and the ocean view villas. Now, although all ocean view villas do have a view of the ocean, as advertised, not all of them have direct access to the beach. Only those to the right of the main pool have direct access. Those to the left are on a mini cliff, if you will, which means that, although you can see the sea from the room, you can't quite get to it straight from your villa. We had one of these and, I must say, we were a bit disappointed. That is, until we realised that the sea disappears for half the day anyway, but, again, more of this later.
View aside, the ocean view and non-ocean view villas are identical (some of us stayed in non-ocean view villas). Spacious, with separate living room and bedroom, large bathroom with bath, indoor shower and outdoor shower (with cold water only) and your own private terrace with swimming pool. Klipsch iPod speakers – nice touch. The style of the rooms is pleasant, if a bit plain (more bare simplicity than luxurious simplicity, which worked well enough--ish for me but it is, I would imagine, conceivable that it may disappoint others). My, admittedly small, gripes with the rooms are: (i) the fact that the TV is located in the living room rather than the bedroom – now, I don't know about you but the only time I watch TV when on beach holidays is right before going to bed, and I'm certainly not going to stumble back in the room in a semi-drunken post-prandial stupor, slumber on the couch to watch TV for a bit and then get up again to get to the bed (I'd just end up spending the whole night on the couch); and (ii) they have not one but two of those odious plastic white fans, which, in my view, are not only pointless in air-conditioned rooms but spectacularly ugly.
You also get personal bicycles to move more quickly around the resort. In an ideal world, it would have been nice to have them all the same colour rather than a mixed assortment of flashy colours. I frankly don't know how I managed to survive a week surrounded by all these different coloured bicycles.
To sum up, the rooms are nice on the whole but they lack that extra spark that distinguishes the exceptional resorts from the merely good ones. This probably works as a general comment for the resort as a whole and not just the rooms.
A little bit disappointing here – not necessarily in terms of quality of the food, but in terms of choice. There are only two restaurants: the Dining Room, by the beach/pool, and the Pavillion, in the inside (if you will, the belly, or perhaps the bum – not quite sure why, of the resort).
The Pavillion, the bum of the resort, is only open for dinner and only as a buffet (with a different theme every night of the week). We only ate there once, when the Seafood BBQ buffet was on. Food was ok with one stand-out dish: carpaccio of Kingfish (the local prevalent white fish), carved right off the bone. I must have gone back to get more five times throughout dinner. What was unpleasant about The Pavillion was the fact that, being in the bum of the resort, we didn't get a lick of breeze, which made for a very still, humid, sticky time. In my view, a pretty pointless restaurant, which meant we basically only had one option for dining, the aptly named Dining Room.
The Dining Room is open for breakfast (buffet), lunch (buffet and a la carte) and dinner (a la carte). The quality of the food, although variable from dish to dish, is generally reasonably good. The breakfast spread is suitably rich, the lunch a la carte selection is also decent and the dinner a la carte dishes are generally good, with some inevitable misfires Oddly, fish dishes tended to be disappointing (other than perhaps those with prawns), whilst meat dishes fared better. Even more oddly, the stand-out ingredient for me was the mozzarella – absolutely delicious. Very pleasant too was the breeze that was often present during meal times here (unlike the 'land-locked' Pavillion).
As to prices, starters and snacks were $20-25 each ($25 for a pretty mediocre pizza seems a bit Justin Bieber). Mains were a bit more reasonable, at $30-40. Desserts/fruit at $14. Beers/soft drinks at $7. Coffee (very good black, as you would expect; avoid cappucinos and the likes) $5. On the whole, fairly typical rip-off prices of high-end tropical resorts. If you choose the half-board option (recommended), the buffet at the Pavillion is included and at the Dining Room there is a menu of the day to choose from at dinner (with only two choices per course). If you fancy anything from the a la carte (you can mix and match), you get a fairly generous $50 entitlement per head.
Wines, again, are not cheap, though not necessarily more expensive than you would expect. Bottles started at around $50. Surprisingly, South African wines seemed particularly bad value with prices easily climbing towards $100 and beyond, whilst French and South American wines seemed better value with, for instance, very decent Chardonnays at around $50 or less. Go figure. As it often happens, prices of Champagnes were outrageous, starting with $150 for a bottle of Moet.
The décor of both the Dining Room and the Pavillion is an even starker variation of the rooms', plain and simple, perfectly nice but no extra spark. Also, plastic white fans everywhere. Not very colonial in style (the professed theme of The Residence resorts). Really, in the greater scheme of things, how much more expensive would it have been to install nice wooden/cloth fans instead? Anyway, small gripe.
Another, positive thing. New Year's Eve dinner (whether at the Pavillion or at the DIning Room, where there was a set menu) was included in the half-board option. How very generous of them.
Staff are perfectly courteous, (almost) always with a smile on their face. Lots of hands to heart, 'jambo jambos' and 'hakuna matatas'. Having said that, service at restaurants tended to be on the slow side. They seemed to operate at an altogether different pace. Must be the heat. Then again, there is heat in a lot of places.
Some clumsiness, too. A few spills, including a cafetiere-ful of hot coffee which ended up on my brother's leg. These things happen. He survived. The Dining Room's manager, Soon, dealt with it very well - bottle of champagne and canapes at dinner time. Went down a treat. In fact, Soon was exceptional overall. Always making sure we were looked after; certainly knows his trade. Not an exaggeration to say he was one of the highlights of our stay.
And here comes the real rub. The tide and the kelp. Let's start with the tide. For half/most of the day, there is no sea for hundreds of metres. It varies slightly from day to day, but, generally, you can expect at least one half of the day to be without sea. Ah, but being the well-informed travelers that you are, you know that already. And so did I (or maybe that's a lie).
And now to the kelp. When the sea does finally come back, it is full, and I mean full, of kelp, as well as some funny looking bubbles sometimes. And this is not just for the first few metres too. Oh no. The green/brown tapestry continues for hundreds of metres, to the extent that, to get to nice, clear waters you need to get a pedalo' and pedal (or whatever it is you do on a pedalo') for a good 15-20 minutes. I did it once and almost died of exhaustion (I'm lazy and unfit, and I don't care). The upshot of this is that, apart from that one trip on the pedalo', I didn't swim in the sea once. Many people seemed to do the same as, during the entire week, I saw only a very small handful of people swimming in the sea (or rather the kelp) near the shore. Apparently it's different in northern Zanzibar (where most resorts are located). Apparently.
So to the pool it was. Perfectly nice, infinity-type, by the Dining Room, just off the beach. Sometimes got a little bit crowded during the day, which was to be expected given the whole business with the tide and the kelp. Perhaps the temperature was too warm. Or maybe it was the children's pee. Thankfully, God invented chlorine. Or somebody else did. Either way, I'm still standing.
Speaking of still standing. We all didn't take anti-malaria tablets and, at the last count, we are all still here. We have just come back and apparently malaria symptoms don't begin to show for at least ten days after infection (and the incubation period can last for up to three years), but at least we are on the right track. Also, there were very few mosquitoes, if any, in the resort and, famous last words, I don't think I got a single bite during my entire stay (without using repellent). Being the self-taught scholar that I am, I looked into this (I even read a very serious-looking report) and discovered that, very much unlike the mainland, malaria has been almost entirely eradicated from Zanzibar, though that's probably through prevention rather than all the mosquitoes having buggered off, but let's not focus on the details and keep a positive outlook.
Time to bring these ramblings to a close. On the whole, the resort is perfectly nice, with a few glitches and perhaps no added spark or oomph. Also, perhaps a bit too expensive for what it is (at least during Christmas and New Year; I believe prices are slashed by as much as half during any other time of the year). But I probably wouldn't come back at any time, not just here but in Zanzibar. Why? Oh, I'm not quite sure, a combination of reasons I guess: the damn tide, the kelp, the hagglers at the airport and so on. Yes, I can hear the tiny violins too. If I were to go back to Zanzibar, I'd maybe try the North (where, as above, the beaches are meant to be better), but I think there currently are no hotels of the same standard as The Residence there. Incidentally, if you're considering The Residence you might also want to take a look at The Baraza, on the island's east coast (though I gather that it has the same problem of the tide and the kelp). Perhaps that place has that elusive spark. Perhaps not. I'll probably never find out.
P.S. Stone Town in Zanzibar City and the national parks are worth visiting. Apparently, that is. I didn't leave the resort. Why? I really am that lazy.
P.P.S. I would have given the place 3.5 stars but, as that is not possible, I have erred on the magnanimous side. My one good deed this Christmas.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.