Prior to this trip, this was probably in the top three of SPG resorts I wanted to visit. I stumbled upon it a few years ago while just browsing the SPG website, and my first reaction was, “Where the heck is New Caledonia?” Reaction two: “Wait a minute… a tropical island with pine trees?” When a recent business trip took me to Australia, my wife and I decided to tack on Vanuatu and New Caledonia so we could finally visit the Le Meridien Ile Des Pins!
A few months before the trip, I noticed that my room type had been upgraded from a normal room to a villa. Sweet. I didn’t use any SPG confirmed instruments or anything like that. One thing I DID use, however, was my 2013 Platinum requalification gift, 35% off of an award stay. Instead of it costing 80,000 points, I only spent 52,000.
Places like Vanuatu and New Caledonia aren’t super easy to get to, and while there are flights a few days per week between the two countries, it’s a bit more difficult to get from the island of Espiritu Santo to the island of Isle de Pins. There were only a couple days per week where the flight schedule worked such that we could properly island hop.
From the moment we descended into Isle De Pins, I could tell it was going to be an interesting place. It was late at night so I didn’t have a great view of the island, but it was clear that pine trees lined the runway. We pulled up in front of small airport, and I figured I would grab a cab for us. I didn’t realize how small / uninhabited the island was. There was no cab line, but luckily, the Le Meridien had a bus there waiting to pick everyone up. It turns out that the Le Meridien is by far the largest hotel on the island, and I think there are only three total, so most of the people on our plane were going to the same place as us.
We rode for about 20 minutes in the bus, and with no lights on the roads winding through the pine forest, it was tough to really get our bearings, but eventually we made our entrance at the Le Meridien, and the property is immediately impressive. You cross a beautiful wooden bridge, and the resort is lit up. They make a great first impression be greeting everyone in the main lobby with some welcome drinks.
The layout of the resort consists of winding paths through lush greenery that wouldn’t look out of place in Hawaii. There is only one small full size building of standard hotel rooms and the rest of the resort was made up of villas. It made sense to me why we got upgraded so early. My sense is that every platinum member probably gets the upgrade, as they have extra villas and not enough standard rooms. After checking in, we walked to our villa, and wow it was nice! Definitely a bit of a change from our more rustic experience in Vanuatu 🙂.
I also thought it was interesting that they had a menu of all the things that you could outright purchase with Starwood points. The list included scuba, a special meal, and other excursions. The instant gratification of spending zero dollars and getting some cool stuff in return was tempting, but I remembered how much I valued those SPG points so I opted not to use them.
The hotel made a fantastic first impression on us, and we were ready to enjoy the second part of our trip! Unfortunately, our impressions of the resort dwindled slowly from that moment on. We went to dinner our first night, and know that if you go to the resort, you pretty much must eat every meal there. There is not much else on Ile Des Pins. There are two other hotels, I believe, and maybe 3 other total restaurants on the island. There isn’t any regular taxi service, and nothing is very near to the Le Meridien. The prices are sky high, which you might expect at a resort of this caliber, but you would also expect awesome food / service in return. Getting a glass of water was impossible. We waited forever. I asked our waiter again for water, and he said he would bring it. He didn’t. I had to ask another staff member, and then by the time we were done eating, I had never received water. They also didn’t bring my butter for my bread, despite my asking for that as well. Isolated incident? Nope… The service at this property was just awful. We were disappointed by the meal, but we went to bed, excited about the next day.
We woke up the next day and explored the property. It is absolutely stunning. I know I’m changing my tone from when I just described an awful meal the night before, but the contrast is that striking.
Click above two pictures for full-size images
When we went to bed, we didn’t even realize that there was a beautiful lagoon in our back yard. It was a great thing to wake up and see. We walked over to the beach, and we found a good spot to relax for a bit :-).
We decided to take it easy that day after our long travel day the day before, but we walked to the Piscine Naturelle, which is about a 15 minute walk from the Le Meridien. It’s a natural pool filled with fantastic sea life. The water is crystal clear and the pine trees lining it are beautiful. It was an incredibly special place. The four pictures below were all taken at the Piscine Naturelle. All four are clickable for full size images.
When it came time for dinner, we knew we were eating at the hotel, and the night before, I saw a sign that said they had a “world famous” buffet. Great! With service being so poor the night before, what better way to avoid bad service than by serving ourselves!? The buffet was not cheap. I forget the price, but it was well over $100 for the two of us to have dinner. I think the buffet can best be summed up by this first pic:
Oh… I’m suppose to use the cutlery service? But where is the attendant to serve and cut for me? No worries… I’ll go get some dessert…
Appetized? I wouldn’t be. This buffet was one of the worst buffets I have ever had in my entire life. Nothing looked appetizing. They rarely replaced food when it was picked over. The potatoes were mostly gone, with just a bit around the edges. I asked the waiter to replace them. I then watched the waiter go to the potato dish and use the spoon to just swish everything around to make it look more “full.” Terrible! Seriously, the closest thing I have seen to this buffet is the one that Cousin Eddy takes Clark to in Vegas Vacation. To be 100% fair, when I complained at the end of the trip, they did end up knocking the charge off for the buffet. But still… Wow…
Every rate includes a breakfast buffet as well. The breakfast buffet was fine, but you really would expect better, given the class of resort. Once again, the egg station was rarely attended, and I would have to go ask someone to staff it. The staff are not overly friendly, and they always made me feel like I was bothering them when I asked for something. Cereal bowls were often hard to find, and just like the dinner buffet, items were not replenished.
We had plenty more poor meal experiences, but it’s not worth writing about each individual one. I also want to make it clear that bad service isn’t exclusive to the Le Meridien. It’s pretty common in general on the island. If you think it’s because of the French influence, you may be onto something, but I thought that too… and then we met a French man on one of our tours and he said to me, “Isn’t it amazing how bad the service is in this country?” Haha!
Want to get in a workout? Sorry – this five star resort has no fitness center. When I spoke with the manager toward the end of the trip, I was told that they would be converting one of the villas into a fitness center in the near future, but seriously… a five star resort without a fitness center?
We took a day trip with a tour company that the hotel helped organize, and I have two things to say about it… 1) I saw some of the most beautiful island scenery and wildlife I have ever seen in my life. And 2) I have never had a worse tour in my life. What made it so bad? Where to start… Our tour operators never introduced themselves nor did they say anything to us once the entire day. There was a french guy on our tour, and because he tried to speak with them from time to time, we actually thought he was the tour guide until lunch, when he sat with us. One of the “tour guides” picked up a poisonous snake to show us the snake. That was nice, but what did he do with it when he was done? Did he gently let it go. Nope. He threw it on the ground, about three feet from me. The snake slithered away, but what the heck?! Most countries have tour operators that deeply care about sea life. One of the operators here dove to the bottom of the coral reef, ripped off a piece of coral just to show off, and dove back up. All three tour operators were smoking the entire time on our tiny boat, which had cigarette butts in it and giant uncovered spear guns pointing all over the place. Seriously. To be fair, these people don’t work for the Le Meridien… but the Le Meridien organized the tour for us, we paid for it by charging to our room, and the Le Meridien chose to do business with them. This really disgusted me. And back to contrast, though, I was astounded by the beauty I saw on that tour.
The Le Meridien pool is quite nice, and even though we would describe ourselves as “pool people” over “beach people,” the beaches were so beautiful that we spent much more time there. Another neat feature of the Le Meridien is that they have a game room in the lobby where you can play billiards or grab a DVD and take it back to your room. There’s also a Wii, if you’re into that.
So now we get to the conclusion, and it’s really the ultimate contrast. I have never been to a more beautiful island. I have never had worse service. Ile Des Pins really does need to be seen. Sometimes I felt like I was taking pictures of the Caribbean. Sometimes I felt like I was taking pictures of Lake Tahoe, but it usually felt like the two smushed together, which was beautiful. The resort is pristine, and the villas are nice and huge. We found the service / food to be so bad, though, that it was laughable. We didn’t let it ruin our trip, and we had a great time, but seriously… this is the worst service I’ve ever experienced at an SPG property. I made sure to let the manager know, and he said they would work on the service but that guests were typically happy with it. Comically, if you check their Tripadvisor reviews you’ll see that there are PLENTY of other guests out there who were not happy with the service. However, it’s a fantastically beautiful place. I really recommend seeing it. So from that angle, I suppose I do recommend a trip to the Le Meridien Ile Des Pins. Just get ready for them to take your money and do it without a smile! :-).