About Time: You Discovered OBLU Select Hotel, The MaldivesBy Tom Stevenson
I had the pleasure of reviewing OBLU Select from Atmosphere Hotels in The Maldives. To do it justice, the review has been split into three parts, covering the hotel, wellness and activities and the food and drink. The first instalment is my experience of the hotel itself. Here’s the lowdown:
Oblu Select opened July 2018 with 137 Villas and an island capacity around 900 guests. Although Sangeli itself is a natural island, One Banyan is an artificial island created by imported sand.
The resorts of the Maldives have a penchant for aerial views – it may be the opportunity to contrast the white sands to the blue seas or the chance to see the coral reef shields that surround many of the islands. The most notable aspect of the aerial view of Oblu Select is the long curved jetty connects the two islands. The jetty serves as the location for the Water Villas, but also as the highway linking the main island to the adults-only island. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss the jetty as a design feature. It’s crescent shape almost looks like a fishtail, perhaps like a seahorse. However, the angle of the arc has practical purposes. The arc is protruding enough to accommodate the water villas; the arc curved enough for guests to look back at the lights of Sangeli at night rather than have the view blocked by the villas and the arc is long enough to create physical distance between the two islands, which in turn, creates an environmental distance.
Walking the full length of the jetty is an ordeal even in the cool air of the night. Golf buggies are available, but the resort provides bicycles, which makes for a 5-minute cooling and breezy ride to One Banyan. The two islands are what makes the resort perfect for couples, friends and families because the main island is so fantastic that families don’t feel aggrieved at the inaccessibility of One Banyan. The beach villas in Sangeli all have small private pools and stretch of private beach so couples don’t have to bear the holiday ruining ordeal of sharing a pool with other people’s children. However, if couples want to be in a larger pool, then they can peddle off to One Banyan.
The division of the islands is the only the introduction to a resort which is operationally impeccable. This begins with the staffing and the staff. With regard to staffing, there is roughly the same number of staff on the island as guests. This means that you do not have to wait for anything. There is always someone on hand to meet your every request immediately. How many holidays have you been on when you honestly say that you’ve never had difficulty attracting a waiter’s attention?
But it goes two steps further back than that. Firstly, it’s all-inclusive so guests never have to carry cash, pay by card or even sign for add-ons (with the exception of premium drinks). Secondly, the main restaurant on Sangeli is a buffet so there are no complications related to orders, table numbers and the movement of waiters between kitchen and tables. However, look around at any mealtime and you’ll see an overstaffed floor of waiters whose responsibilities are limited to drinks orders and plate clearance. This creates a great sense of ease for the guests, but most importantly for the staff. The restriction of roles gives the staff the freedom to fulfil the Atmosphere brand ethos: ‘The Joy of Giving’. So often these values are nothing but words on a website, but the staff uphold this value tremendously and it just makes the resort.
The staff make a huge effort to learn guests’ names (to varying amusing degrees). I had Mr Stevenson, Mr Thomas or even Sir Thomas! I thought this might just be because I’m a journalist, but then there was a question on the check-out feedback form which was along the lines of “Did the staff address you by your name?” There are 900 guests on this island, constantly resolving, staying a minimum of 4 days and the resort requires the staff to learn the names of the guests. Some may think this unnecessary, but it demonstrates the resort’s dedication to realising the standards of hospitality.
The most impressive element of this commitment is the method of raising standards is by treating the staff really well. In the early evening, walking through the palm tree-covered white sandy walkways of Sangeli, cries can be heard from the staff cricket game and if guests are so curious to veer off-course and pull away some tropical branches, they would see an outdoor sports arena only for the staff and a lot of smiles on faces. Sometimes, if guests arrive early for dinner they will catch the end of the staff briefing. This is a hospitality staple. Ahead of a night’s service, management will address the team and remind them of priorities for the evening. But at Oblu Sangeli, these briefings end with cheers and back-slapping – a true sign of employee satisfaction.
As appealing at the Water Villas are with their easy descent from the jetty crescent into the ocean blue, the Deluxe Beach Villas win out due to the exceptional outdoor bathrooms and the extraordinary stretch of white beach all to yourself.
All the villas are large. They are far from tropical glorified hotel rooms. They are clean, spacious, modern. If chic was a spectrum, they would be one up from shabby chic and one down from beach house chic. The interiors are colourful and fun. They are not elegant, but the spacious seating indoor seating areas and the cushioned outdoor sofas is what deserves the title of ‘Deluxe’.
The beach villas centre around the multiplicity of water – to drink, to cleanse, to cool and to explore. The outdoor bathrooms have “his and hers” sinks, a rainfall shower and a tub for two. The private pool is just the right size for two to frolic in after a very taxing stroll down the beach at lunch. Walk out the front garden gate and there you have what all the tourists come for: the white sands and the blue seas.
Guests can snorkel around the island at any time and place straight from their villas. If you move your sun loungers out onto the beach, palm tree clean up detail will cleave open coconuts for you and serve it with a paper straw. The whole resort is 100% plastic-free. All water is served in glass bottles and chilled in the villa’s large refrigerators.
The practical and beautiful design of the resort, the attitudes of the staff and management and the great craftsmanship of the rooms combine to create a truly unforgettable experience. But more than that, Oblu Select at Sangeli allows guests to rid themselves of stress altogether. Holidays can be stressful. New languages, cultures and decisions about what to see or where to park can cause bickering between close people all trying to have a great time. Here, everything is there for you and I can honestly say I had forgotten what it was like to feel a negative emotion.