Our family (sans Husband) recently stayed at Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa. This resort has only been operating for 1 year and we were lucky enough to stay when they celebrated their 1 year anniversary. As such, the resort is still sparkly and new! Initially, our stay was only for 2 nights as a guest of Shangri-La but we decided to extend our stay for a further 3 nights at our own expense as we wanted to experience the entire resort! We also visited in August to reunite with Matt and relax as a family! We had 4 exceptional nights at Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa the second visit!
Hambantota is located on the south-west coast of Sri Lanka. The resort is located a little distance away from the town itself, although if you feel like some exercise you could walk into town. It is hot though, so transport into the town can be easily organised or you can stay exclusively within the resort.
There are a wealth of wonderful experiences to be had nearby. The Yala, Udalalawe and Bundala National Parks are close by. You can take a safari tour and try to spot a Leopard or any number of other animals. Bird-lovers are in for a treat with over 215 bird species found in the area! We went to Yala during our stay and were lucky enough to see a Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, a mum and calf elephant having a swim and a newborn baby elephant! We also went on a river safari and saw numerous amazing birds and a large crocodile. Both trips were amazing and highly recommended.
The grounds of the resort were built on an old coconut farm. They were retained and either kept in situ or replanted around the resort. The grounds are absolutely beautiful. I am not sure if it is a ‘theme’ but there are swings every. Giant ones hanging from the coconut palms to smaller ones that you could sit on. All up I think we counted 6 or 7 different types of swing! The kids loved it!
The resort is divided into 3 areas: a central area that houses the reception and main dining areas of the resort.; family-orientated area; and finally, an adult-orientated area. Despite being a family group, our room was in the adult-orientated area, it was still family-friendly. It was very peaceful and quiet. This area is right next to the “The Village”, where local artisans come and sell their wares. This side of the resort also has an adult-only pool and bar, a mobile food van and The Ayurveda Chi spa.
The location was a slight problem as I had to lug the baby and toddler over to the kid’s club area on the other side of the resort. Ideally, I would have walked to this area via the beach front area but it was not very stroller friendly. Likewise, the area near the pool’s and restaurant made life hard as it was grass and pavers. So that was a real pain when trying to push the stroller around.
The family area or side of the resort is appropriately close to the kid-friendly areas. These areas included the aptly named Cool Zone (on-site kids club), kid-friendly pools and activity areas. There are 3 kid’s zones depending on age; one for babies and toddlers, one for kids and one for teenagers. As it was the low season all kids were in one area. Next to this area was a family-friendly ‘games room’ that had a pool table, air hockey, board games and some books. There were also kid specific pools.
Next to the kid’s pool was an area that had several trampolines and a place where you can learn the trapeze! They even had a giant chess set much to the excitement to the 8-year-old.
There were 4 pools/areas in the resort. The adults only – as the name suggests – no kids. Although I did see a child that looked about 10 in the pool with her parents. The main pool, the shallow kid’s pool that had 2 waterslides and finally, the splash area that was like sprinklers. These sprinklers were not turned on during our first stay but were in full action on our second stay. Our 8-year-old also really enjoyed having fun with a “giant ball”. I am unsure what it is called but it is like being a hamster in a wheel and you can go across the water.
There were full-time lifeguards watching the pools and they had a number of pool toys to bring for the kids to use. There is a splash zone area for younger kids and a slide. Although, it did look like it could have led to some falls. The Lifeguards were very friendly and helpful. One even rescued my mobile from the green pond when the toddler decided it needed to swim! The steps leading from the cool zone to the pools left a bit to be desired as I was pushing a stroller. The kids loved swimming and our 8-year-old had a blast on the slides.
We were upgraded to the Premier Ocean Suite. It was amazing value! The suite was massive. It had a full sized lounge area and dining area with a coffee machine. The next room housed a very large bedroom, you then walked through an area for luggage storage and dressing area, into the huge full-sized bathroom. I was very thankful for the extra space with all 3 kids particularly as the baby still has naps. We were on the ground floor so we also had a small veranda with swing chair and outdoor seating. Pictures tell a thousand words, so here was the room.
If you get a standard room, you get what I described minus the lounge/dining area. That alone would have been enough for all of us! You can also get adjoining rooms if required.
The only thing lacking was a decent sized fridge. It was stocked to the brim with minibar items and there was no room for anything else. The mini-bar as usually was obscenely high and weirdly priced. Many items had their ‘original’ price on the side so it was hard to swallow, pardon the pun when they were charging a high cost. I always will place mini-bar items out of the way from small hands and mouths! There was no way to really remove the drinks and in reality, the kids could have access to the alcohol too. I think putting a lock on that cupboard would be a good idea.
THE BED (and PILLOWS!)
Heaven. This was probably my favourite thing about the room! The bed was so comfortable and they also have a ‘pillow menu’. You can choose between soft, hard, foam or feather. It was unreal and we all piled into the bed. My only gripe was even though we said do not change the sheets. The staff changed it daily. This was very unnecessary and a waste of water.
My only gripe was they changed the sheets daily, even though we said not too. It was unnecessary and a waste of water. In addition to the kind size bed and full-size baby cot, they set up another bed in the living room – again full-size single bed, you could fit 2 kids in there, head to tail, if required.
For us, the food was not hit and miss on our first stay. Like the other Shangri-La’s I’ve stayed in, the breakfasts are epic. Anything your heart desires was available. Western food and Asian food both in epic proportions. My usual approach at buffets is to collect some extra food to sooth the kid’s stomachs over until lunch. At this resort, I did not have to go into stealth mode as I was encouraged to take extra food for later. They even gave me a container to put the food into!
A minor issue but in the mornings, you could get fresh juice. It was warm and there were always a lot of pips. A quick sieve and chuck in some ice and it would have been so refreshing. The man who was working behind the counter seemed very disinterested in his work and often got the order wrong. I know the language can be an issue but it was more his demeanour. It stood out as everyone else was so lovely.
Lunches and dinners, however, provided an underwhelming experience. Firstly, dinner service commences at 7:30 pm and this was immediately an issue for me as the toddler and baby need to eat by 6:00 pm. As such, I was stuck ordering room service. This proved to be an expensive affair. After 7:30 this would not have been so much of an issue however as 2 kids under 6 can eat free and ages 7 -12 eat for half price. I, however, was stuck in my room with sleeping children by that time. Awesomely they took on my advice and made dining hours earlier! This made such an awesome difference when compared to the first time we visited. The food was delicious and they had child-specific area. It was so cute and perfect for little people.
When we return in August I was so excited as the dining hours had changed! Dining from 6 pm! This made such a huge difference when compared to the first time we visited. The food was delicious and they had child-specific area. It was so cute and perfect for little people. There were so many choices and even healthy items, so much better than the standard chips and nuggets!
Some of the food was great! For example, the mango and prawn salad and the pannacotta were delicious. The first night we were given a set menu, not our choice of food, but we were given steak. It was my fault for saying I would like pescatarian or vegetarian but as it was already cooked so I went with it. After a delicious first course, I cannot say the same for the beef steak. It was bad; dry and tough. Being Australian, maybe it is a very unfair to compare and maybe my standards are too high, but when it takes 40 chews to swallow you know you are in for a bad time. To their credit they asked me how my meal was, I informed the staff and was immediately offered another steak but I chose not to repeat the experience. I think they need to either change the cooking method, import the steak from Australia OR better yet – skip it all together!
We had a seafood BBQ one night. The fish and prawns were both, on point!! Absolutely, delicious!! Matt and I decided to have a romantic dinner. It was set up for private dining, in a very pretty area next to the golf club and a water feature. We were given excellent service and the food was perfect! I did have a slight issue with an overcooked crayfish but they redid it for me and it was beautiful! I did have to point out though, the “pavlova” I chose for dessert was actually a pretty disappointing meringue.
The on-site Kids Club is called The Cool Zone. Kid rated it highly! It is divided into separate areas for babies (0 – 3yrs), kids 3-10 years and a teenager zone. As it was low season during our visit, however, they were all grouped together.
A daily schedule of activities was posted outside each day however this served only as a rough guide it seemed. The schedule was not fulfilled as described each day and this was very frustrating for the kid who was very excited about some of the activities that were postponed by several days. On our second visit, this was not an issue as they stuck to the schedule. The kids got to cook a few times
The toddler absolutely loved it! There was a ball-pit, heaps of toddler toys and a really great climbing frame with slides and another area with guns that shot out plastic balls. For a kid who is obsessed with balls – he was literally in ball bliss!
The kid’s group also had access to the kid’s activities – “circus school” – I had wanted to have a go also as they had posters with adults swinging! The kid started to climb and believe me it was high! He got to the top and promptly climbed down again. I said to him okay I will have a go. Then they said to me ”sorry madam, kids only”. It was their subtle way of say “no way tub tub”. In all seriousness, there is a man holding onto you and I can see how anyone over say 40kg would be way too hard to hold. I had to sign an indemnity form but I think those are pretty standard! They did well to get him to do it and in the end, he climbed all the way up. He did need a little shove but he did it! Then he did it a few more times. I was so proud of him. I saw a family with teenagers arrive and heard the same question but more bluntly – “how much do you weigh” to a robust looking 17-year-old! I was very disappointed though as it did appear you could do it as an adult. Just not that day!
The second time though, I saw lots of adults having a go. I was too busy having massages and ran out of time. I really want to do it though!!
On our final day when I needed to pack on our first visit, the Kid’s Club was closed, randomly ‘to treat mosquitos’. I am unsure why it wouldn’t happen overnight and that lack of notice in a 5-star hotel was a little odd! We got a beautiful little “goodbye” present from the staff and it was really sweet.
This resort is well equipped for travel with babies. The cots are made of real wood, none of this fold-up porta-cot business! Highchairs and other baby items can be obtained for your room easily by calling reception. There were 4 highchairs in the main dining room although I can see that in the high-season that it might be hard to get hold of one! You can get in-house babysitting at a cost of 1500LKR/hour. I did utilise this services a couple of times and was very happy with it – the kids were happy, and on one occasion asleep, so no complaints here.
The small touches
A welcome drink and cold towels are always welcome on check-in in the heat. We got a beautiful ice cold juice. We also go a welcome platter of biscuits and fruit. The staff remembered our names from the first day and it is the personal touches that take a resort to the next level of service.
Unfortunately, during our first stay, our baby needed to go to the hospital, they have a nurse and doctor on site for minor ailments. They escorted us to the hospital making the trip easy as language may have been an issue at the local hospital. The next day we got a beautiful note and chocolate fudge delivered to the room. Although it was probably for us all, I shared one with the baby and promptly ate them all whilst the older boys were in kids club! Bliss!
SHANGRI-LA & ETHICAL MANAGEMENT
The resort appears to be well managed. Staff were very attentive and took pride in their work. Staff morale was high. I was informed that locals are sought to staff the resort wherever possible. They also have a ‘village’ where local artisans come and sell their wares. The integration with the local community was a very welcome change to what I have experienced in some hotels and resorts.
Resource management is emphasised at this resort. They have strict recycling schedules and encourage water-wise practices. They give any of the unused toiletries are donated to people in need. The biggest change I would love to see though is a reduction in the amount of plastic used. The implementation of glass reusable water bottles would be awesome! Like everywhere the use of plastic water bottles is a massive issue. Although they do recycle their plastics in Sri Lanka it would be great to see this step taken. Similarly, if they stopped using straws that would be great, although they did not seem to be obsessed with straws like other places I have been.
They have elephants all around the resort made of recycled items. They held a competition and the winners are now housed at the resort.
Finally, for purposes of water and energy conservation, I will wherever possible get multiple uses from towels, sheets, etc. and did as instructed but they were changed daily. Again, perhaps this is due to the language barrier.
I have to say the management here needs to be congratulated. They have given the staff the right training and balance. I was also informed that only 20-30 staff are expats, the rest are from the local villages.
Alone time – CHI, The Spa
Shangri-La resorts have an in-house spa at their locations. I had a wonderful spa experience in Shangri-La Penang so was adamant about having one here. The services offered are wide-ranging from simple massage through to comprehensive Ayurvedic treatments and are expertly provided by Thai therapists. They are expensive. Given this, I was not going to indulge as I felt I couldn’t justify it but my husband back in Australia convinced me otherwise. I am so glad I did. I got a 90-minute Thai massage and it was heavenly. I feel asleep. It was so posh even the disposable undies were made out of cotton! Well worth the splurge! On our second visit they had an awesome special, if you got a massage in your first 2-days you got any massage for nearly half price. SOLD! So, I got 2! I had the Swedish massage and the “sports-type massage. Both were excellent. I also got a foot scrub this time!
Overall, we had a brilliant stay both stays! The second visit was so close to perfection. Without question, the second visit was so much better, namely due to dining options. I would highly recommend the area of Hambantota! The resort was wonderful and any minor issues we during our first visit were due to the low number of guests. If you’re sick of the standard “Australian family goes to Balinese Resort” story – we recommend Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort and Spa as a perfect alternative!
Please note we were guests of Shangri-La for a portion of our stay; be rests assured all opinions are my own.