Nine incredible experiences you can have at luxury resorts

Sunset dinners on a Maldivian sandbank, breakfast delivered to your over-water villa by a canoe paddling warrior, or perhaps you'd prefer a private heli-snorkelling tour to Heart Reef?

It's possible to indulge (almost) your every fantasy, interest or whim at sun-drenched resorts around the globe. No longer resting on their tropical locales alone, luxury resorts are devising ever more creative "signature experiences" designed to give them an edge over their competitors and keep guests entertained and inspired.

The Asia resort architect extraordinaire Bill Bensley says lying on a beach or by the pool is no longer enough for today's travellers, who are searching for travel with meaning and purpose.

Bensley first started designing resorts in 1984 when resorts were considered a big deal if they had a pool, a buffet and, wait for it, a business centre.

He says savvy travellers are looking beyond the 389-page spa menus to see what makes the resort tick. "How are the employees treated? Are there any educational aspects? Does it help the local community? Do they employ a no-single-use-plastic policy or adopt ecological initiatives?"

Cameron Holland, Luxury Escapes chief executive, agrees, saying Australians want more experientially focused holidays. As a result,  resorts are looking for ways to extend the accommodation experience well beyond the room – and the pool. "Relaxation and reprieve are high on the list, but Australian travellers also want the convenience of having the entire holiday experience straight from their resort."

Whether it's Michelin star dining with opera, dancing with local tribespeople or horse riding along a wild Sumban​ beach, we bring you some of the world's most extraordinary signature experiences – including many that don't cost a cent.

THE RESORT

Myconian Ambassador Hotel Relais & Chateaux, Mykonos, Greece

THE EXPERIENCE

Advertisement

Bespoke underwater photography tour

TELL ME MORE

Want to spice up your cliched holiday shots? This stunning Mykonos resort helps guests capture perfect underwater images. Guided by an expert team, guests are transported by boat to a dive spot where they plunge into the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean and learn to take wondrous aquatic photographs.

DON'T MISS

The wreck of the 62-metre cargo ship Anna II which sunk off Mykonos in 1995. The wreck now offers a colourful reef that attracts an incredible diversity of marine life including huge schools of Mediterranean barracuda. Starting at five metres – the average maximum depth is 20 metres – it's ideal for less advanced divers.

THE ESSENTIALS

From $50 including full Scubapro experience, PADI instructors, mineral water, towels and free underwater photos. Rooms from $277 a night including champagne buffet breakfast, Wi-Fi, transfers and taxes. See myconianambassador.gr

THE RESORT

Cameron Highlands Resort, Malaysia

THE EXPERIENCE

Private picnic in a tea plantation

<p>

TELL ME MORE

Take a stroll through a lush tea plantation followed by a guided tour of a tea factory to learn about growing and producing tea in the Cameron Highlands. Afterwards take a seat at the heart of the plantation for a private picnic overlooking the vast emerald landscape and mist shrouded hills of this magnificent valley. Enjoy a tasting session with your own private butler who will refill cups of steaming tea and lay out a sumptuous picnic spread.

DON'T MISS

Ask the staff about the Thai "silk king" who mysteriously disappeared during his stroll in the Cameron Highlands.

THE ESSENTIALS

From $260 a couple inclusive of soft drinks and juices. Deluxe king rooms from $207 a night. See cameronhighlandsresort.com

THE RESORT

The Sofitel, Nusa Dua Bali, Indonesia

THE EXPERIENCE

Magnifique Floating Breakfast

TELL ME MORE

Forego the buffet for a decadent floating breakfast while submerged in a tropical lagoon. Hotel butlers at the incredible Sofitel Nusa Dua deliver and set up an impressive breakfast spread that floats on a tray. Order the traditional breakfast of eggs benedict, smoothie bowl, fresh fruit and pastries, or opt instead for an Indonesian version. Starting your day beneath tropical skies surrounded by lush foliage never felt so good.

DON'T MISS

Staff can (discreetly) make themselves available to ensure you don't miss your Instagrammable moment. You can't swim, eat and take your own photos, after all.

THE ESSENTIALS

From IDR544,500 a person (about $56) including orange juice, yoghurt, tea or coffee, eggs benedict or omelette with hash brown, smoothie bowl, fresh fruit, pastries and a glass of sparkling wine. The Magnifique Floating Breakfast is available for guests staying in rooms with pool access or those with their own private or plunge pool. Rooms from $US230 a night. See accorhotels.com

THE RESORT

JW Marriott Phu Quoc, Vietnam

THE EXPERIENCE

Opera and dining by Michelin star chef

TELL ME MORE

Along with mixology classes and lantern-making lessons, this fantastical Bill Bensley-designed resort offers a degustation menu with an opera performance at its French fine diner Pink Pearl. Bensley has conjured this elaborate multi-chamber pink mansion as the former home of the fictional Madame Pearl. In the kitchen, chef de cuisine Amine Ouameur Lakhdari​, whose CV include stints at Michelin-starred restaurants including the Ritz Paris L'Espadon, Apicius and La Truffe Noire​, serves an inspired seasonal menu with a focus on local seafood. While dining, guests are treated to popular arias and classics performed by an opera singer accompanied by a pianist and violinist.

DON'T MISS

After dinner diners can take a tour of the mansion, which includes Phu Quoc's best stocked wine cellar featuring an impressive French wine selection.

THE ESSENTIALS

A three-course set menu starts from $135 a person. Rooms from $420 a night. Book a table in advance. See jwmarriottphuquocresort.com

THE RESORT

Four Seasons Resort Lanai, Hawaii, US

THE EXPERIENCE

Private poke making class

TELL ME MORE

This luxurious resort's signature restaurant One Forty focuses on local produce, including Hawaiian raised beef and pork and seafood from surrounding waters. Its poke making class is a fun way to learn how to make this staple, which is essentially a Hawaiian version of Japanese sashimi. Chefs demonstrate the art of filleting a whole fish and then teach participants how to prepare ono poke and spicy ahi poke using flavours such as furikake, a Japanese seasoning often added to rice, along with sriracha or sesame oil. Take-away recipe cards make it a cinch to prepare this simple dish at home.

DON'T MISS

Sitting down with your own specially created poke bowl on the alfresco patio overlooking Hulopoe Bay and sipping on paired wines.

THE ESSENTIALS

Poke class $US250 a person; $US300 with matching wines. Rooms from $US1150 a night. See fourseasons.com/lanai

THE RESORT

Baros Maldives

THE EXPERIENCE

Private breakfast or dinner on a sandbank

TELL ME MORE

This small, lush private island offers 75 villas set over turquoise waters or hidden among winding sandy paths, coconut palms, frangipani and hibiscus. Its most sought-after experience is a romantic private sandbank dinner (or breakfast) with a discreet chef and butler on hand. Travel by speedboat at dusk to the impossibly picturesque sandbank, where  you'll be served sushi and sundowners, followed by an incredible Maldivian barbecue.

DON'T MISS

The sun setting over the Indian Ocean as you eat, and then the blanket of stars that lights up the night sky.

THE ESSENTIALS

From $US560 a couple for breakfast; $US720 for dinner. Villas from $US780 a night. See baros.com

THE RESORT

Six Senses Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia

THE EXPERIENCE

Personalised wellness program

<p>

TELL ME MORE

Feeling tired, need to detox, or maybe you just need to become more active? Six Senses Uluwatu's personalised wellness program will get you on track. All tailored programs at this luxurious new clifftop retreat start with a comprehensive wellness screening to measure key bio markers of health.  A program is then devised by trained consultants which can include lifestyle adjustments, activities, spa treatments and advice on what to eat or avoid. With aerial yoga, a heavenly spa and stunning pool villas, you're bound to check out feeling a whole lot better than when you arrived.

DON'T MISS

The results of your wellness screening, including body fat mass, fitness indicators, blood pressure, stress levels and more are emailed to you along with suggested tweaks so you can continue your wellbeing journey back home.

THE ESSENTIALS

A wellness analysis costs $120 a person. Sky suites from $700 a night. See sixsenses.com

THE RESORT

Soneva Fushi, Maldives

THE EXPERIENCE

Snorkelling with manta rays

TELL ME MORE

Join this private island resort's resident marine biologist for a guided tour where you will swim with magnificent manta rays on the Baa Atoll. Guests travel by boat to Hanifaru Bay, home to one of the world's largest populations of manta rays, where they snorkel with these graceful creatures as they swirl through the water gorging on plankton.

DON'T MISS

Be sure to pack your underwater camera for a selfie with hundreds of manta rays, some of which have wingspans of up to seven metres.

THE ESSENTIALS

The guided snorkelling tour runs from 90 minutes to three hours and is complimentary for those who book for seven nights or more until October 31, 2019; includes welcome drink. Otherwise, cost is $US150 a person. Villas from $1272 a night. See soneva.com/soneva-fushi

THE RESORT

Shinta Mani Wild, Cambodia

THE EXPERIENCE

Patrolling the Cambodian rainforest on the trail of illegal poachers.

TELL ME MORE

Join armed Wildlife Alliance anti-poaching rangers as they protect civet cats, slow loris, monkeys, pangolin and even elephants from illegal game poachers. Guests can join rangers by motorcycle as they patrol Southern Cardamom National Park carrying out vital conservation work. Watch as rangers remove snares (laid by poachers hunting wild boar or mouse deer) and protect the park from encroachment and illegal logging.

DON'T MISS

Some guests have been lucky to witness the exhilarating release of captive wildlife such as civet cats, which are used for the lucrative civet coffee trade. If it's not your lucky day, the zip line entry to this incredible "tent" retreat is sure to make up for it.

THE ESSENTIALS

Patrols run from 2-8 hours (a half or full day is best to experience the important work) and are complimentary as part of an all-inclusive stay. From $US950 a person a night (minimum three-night stay) inclusive of all food and beverages, private guided activities and excursions, unlimited spa treatments, personal Bensley butler and land transfers from Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville airports. Helicopter transfers additional. See bensleycollection.com/shintamani-wild

THE RESORT

Gaya Island Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

THE EXPERIENCE

Join a tribal-style Bornean beach barbecue

<p>

TELL ME MORE

Gain an insight into the Borneo way of life at Gaya Island Resort's Singgah Singgarung Night, a beach mangrove dinner, accompanied by Kadazan music, showcasing native arts and delicacies. As the sun sets, a campfire is lit and the night is filled with seafood barbecue, a magnificent buffet and dancing by the indigenous Kadazan and Dusun people of Sabah.

DON'T MISS

Join local tribespeople and dance under the stars like no one is watching.

THE ESSENTIALS

From $90 a person, villas from $234 a night. See gayaislandresort.com

TEN OTHER GREAT SIGNATURE RESORT EXPERIENCES

DINE IN THE TREETOPS

Childhood fantasies come to life for diners at Thailand's Soneva Kiri's tree pod high in the ancient rainforest of Koh Kood. Gaze out over the boulder-strewn shoreline while canapes, Thai dishes and wine are delivered via the zip line acrobats of your waiter. See soneva.com/soneva-kiri/

SNORKEL WITH TURTLES

Take a trip by private speed boat to the Gili Islands, off Lombok, Indonesia, and snorkel sapphire-coloured waters. With any luck, you'll see large sea turtles chomping on coral on the sea floor. See oberoihotels.com/hotels-in-lombok

HORSE RIDE ALONG A WILD SUMBAN BEACH

<p>

Photo: Tania Araujo

Take a sunset horse ride at Nihi Sumba, a luxurious and remote eastern Indonesian island resort, led by a local Sumbanese horseman. See nihi.com

BE BANISHED TO YOUR ROOM FOR 24 HOURS

Capella Ubud's Confined to Quarters experience sees guests holed up in their luxury tented retreat for 24 hours. The day starts with a traditional Balinese blessing and yoga session and includes a two-hour massage, campfire dinner and concludes with a sunrise purification ritual at the sacred Wos River temple. See capellaubud.com

TAKE A WALK IN THE JUNGLE

Join resident naturalist Irshad Mobarak​ on a daily walk through ancient rainforest at the Datai Langkawi resort in Malaysia, home to animals including the long-tailed macaque, black giant squirrel, oriental-pied hornbill, and more. See thedatai.com

SURF UNKNOWN BREAKS

COMO Maalifushi's Surf Pass program takes surfers to more than 20 distinct, isolated and relatively unknown surf breaks on the Thaa Atoll coastline in the Maldives. Surfers can ride Farms – a perfect right-hander – with an idyllic backdrop. See comohotels.com/en/maalifushi

HELI-SNORKEL HEART REEF

Hamilton Island's new James Bond-style heli-tour is arguably the ultimate way to see the Great Barrier Reef. The three-hour Heart Island experience includes return scenic heli-flights taking in Hill Inlet and the spectacular sweep of Whitehaven, exclusive use of the Heart Island pontoon, a glass bottom boat tour of the lagoon and more. See hamiltonisland.com.au

BALI'S MOST BEAUTIFUL COOKING SCHOOL

Forage, cook and dine at Bali's first custom-designed riverside cooking school by Elora Hardy, daughter of renowned jewellery designer John Hardy. Named after a woven bamboo box used to keep steamed rice, Sokasi is a dramatic, open-air space on the edge of Bali's longest river. See fourseasons.com

TREK TO THE TOP OF A VOLCANO

In Indonesia, trek close to the top of central Java's most active volcano Merapi on a four-hour trek with a guide from the luxury five-star resort Mesa Stila. Adventurers can witness streaming lava flows from the volcano which emits smoke from its peak. See mesahotelsandresorts.com

TAKE A BESPOKE STYLIST TOUR

Stylist Rachel Bryce takes guests of Brisbane's cool the Calile on custom shopping tours around the fashionable James Street precinct.  Bryce can curate tailored looks, select timeless pieces and even hunt down the perfect pair of jeans. See stylemenow.net/the-calile-guest-styling

FIVE GREAT RESORT EXPERIENCES THAT WON'T COST A CENT

PEN A LOVE LETTER

In Vietnam gather at dusk at Four Seasons Resort Nam Hai's Earth Spa. Staff wearing traditional ao dai instruct guests to write their own love letter to the Earth and float it on the lotus pond as crystal bowls reverberate through the night air. See fourseasons.com/hoian

SHUCK IT ALL IN

Enjoy freshly shucked oysters and a glass of sparkling wine while immersing yourself knee deep – waders provided – in a pristine estuary at the Saffire Freycinet resort on Tasmania's spectacular east coast. See saffire-freycinet.com.au

MAKE SOME NIGHT MOVES

Join resident marine biologist Johnny Singh on a night snorkelling safari off the pier at Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort. Participants will see everything form bright coral, lionfish, parrotfish and bioluminescent plankton to sea snakes. After a warm shower, enjoy dinner under the stars. See fijiresort.com

FLOAT ON AIR IN THE TOP END

Zip across Northern Territory flood plains near Kakadu on an airboat while native birds including magpie geese, plumed whistling ducks and egrets take flight alongside. Guides on Bamarru Plains' airboat safari provide a hands-on demonstration of the many uses of wetland's flora while floating among a melaleuca forest, keeping one eye out for crocodiles. See bamurruplains.com

RISE UP AND GIVE

Enjoy the beauty of dawn at the Avani+ Luang Prabang, Laos, and give alms (small pots of sticky rice) to the imposing and sombre procession of saffron robed monks which shuffles through the city at daybreak each day. See avanihotels.com/en/luang-prabang

FIVE EXPERIENCES WE'D LIKE TO SEE

A gin masterclass. Learn about the origins of gin, the different types and how to mix the perfect gin and tonic, preferably taught by the gin maker themselves.

Tiki cocktails and ukulele lessons under a swaying palm tree in Hawaii.

An early morning trip to a local market, during which you enjoy coffee and then help prepare breakfast, from the ingredients you've purchased, in the home of a local.

A street-food tour by bicycle, starting with drinks concocted from a locally made liqueur, followed by stops at a destination's most famous street vendors.

For younger guests, a banana boat ride to a reef teeming with sea life for snorkelling and a game of fish spotting, followed by a picnic and mocktails on the beach.

Comments