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“Bittersweet experience”

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Sipadan Mabul Resort
Ranked #1 of 2 Hotels in Pulau Mabul
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Level 4 Contributor
25 reviews
11 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 15 helpful votes
“Bittersweet experience”
Reviewed 7 November 2013

There are a lot of things,especially the management arm of SMART needs to improve on as we experienced some hick-ups during our patronage there. We stayed there on the 2/11 until 5/11 whereby my group consists of 9 adults and 3 children under the age of 3. Earlier, we made our bookings during the dive expo in Malaysia (MIDE) with one of the staff there, Michelle, and for the price that we pay for a 4D3N stay it was a good steal. Since we were avid divers, we also requested for Sipadan dives for 2 days and understood that children under the age of 2 are FOC. All good so far. Then, things start to unravel.
Starting with the plus points of our travel:
- Hands down they have the most comfortable, spacious and proper transportation from the beginning you arrive, to the resort and back to airport. Think big vans and big boats.
- The buffet table compliments well with the resort. With a myriad of fruit platter and desserts and delicious cooked food you won;t believe you are miles away from mainland. On sunday they served seafood barbeque too. For other strict herbivores like me, I did not at once felt missed out on anything as there are plenty of other non-meat choices which tasted great. You can also request for special diet food and they will try to cater for you.

Negative side:
1) Miss-communication between the front office (FO) and the main office that handled the booking was the culprit that made the stay less than perfect. In the beginning we were told children enter Sipadan for FOC but here we were told otherwise. This major set back was unforgivable and a big deal since the trip was planned with divers with kids in mind. We have everything in black and white stating children below 2 go in for free.

2) Next, a more confusing part. Initially we requested 2 days Sipadan diving n was approved when we were still in KL. But the night before we leave for Sipadan island we were informed that we only have permits for ONE day not two days as agreed. At that point, nothing surprised us anymore and was content with only 3 dives in Sipadan instead of 6. So since we have an extra day of no diving, we made extensive Plan B on spending time having fun with the kids and families since they have been left out for a while.
But lo and behold, turns out we still have permits for another day! This becomes cumbersome as we go back and forth between plans all because of the unprofessionalism portrayed by the FO. We argued and demanded they fix the issue since they wanted to charge us the permits eventhough we declined to go. Only after heavy berating that they relented probably to avoid making a scene.

I really hope this doesn't happen to anyone else as it can truly be avoided and everyone should leave the gorgeous island with beautiful memories of the perfect trip.

  • Stayed November 2013, travelled with family
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3 Thank jasmine_KL
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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English first
Redondo Beach, California
Level 6 Contributor
95 reviews
63 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 133 helpful votes
Reviewed 13 October 2013

My week at SMART can be summed up in the title to this review. SMART is the Four Seasons of Dive Resorts. I don’t have one complaint about the resort, its staff, the accommodations, the food, the boats, the dive equipment…anything. First and foremost, the resort does not book directly. You have to contact the resort and they will then put you into contact with your local travel agent. We had to be flexible with our dates in order to stay in the Water Bungalows; we postponed our trip 4 weeks just for this. So if you are not flexible and they say they don’t have availability, then you get what they have. This is a very popular destination, so book early!! Also people…this is a DIVE RESORT in a DIVE LOCATION! This is not a destination to come if you cannot swim, like shopping or want fine dining, please keep that in mind when booking your travel.
Overall, everything was absolutely awesome and here’s why…
Logistics: Everything was handled and ran like clockwork. We arrived in Tawau after a 45 minute flight delay, only to find our driver patiently waiting with a sign that had my name on it. SMART has their own private van and boat to take you to the island so you don’t need to worry about your delay. They will wait for you. The van ride from Tawau to Semporna was about an hour and the boat ride was 45 minutes. The boat was comfortable, with forward facing seats and was covered so that you will not get wet by the splashing waves.
Upon pulling up to the beachside of the resort, we were greeted by the resort staff, a refreshing juice and was immediately given a briefing on the amenities of the resort and the dives. We stayed in the Water Bungalows, so a buggy was summoned to gather us and give us a ride to our room.
The Rooms and The Resort: Amazing. We stayed in Water Bungalow 206. We had a private balcony with two recliners that faced out to the ocean where we could see Sipadan and the island of Mabul itself. I really liked this view because at night you can watch the sunset and the sparse lights of the island light up as the sun goes down. The rooms contained everything you need…King bed, stocked refrigerator, coffee/teas, toiletries, etc. The room itself was nicely decorated and comfortable, but the private balcony was the main event. We would typically hang out here between dives and meals, just burning the beautiful images of the ocean and the island into our minds.
Tip: be sure to bring all of your clothes in at night, the winds really pick up anytime between 11pm-5am! Don’t be frightened, I guess these winds blow every night (very loudly!), we got used to them!
Food: This is an all-inclusive resort, so all of your meals are included. I would say that 90% of the time, the food was really good. It’s not a Michelin rated restaurant, so for those people who were complaining about the food, need to relax. For being on an island in Malaysia, 1 hour from the mainland, the food was pretty amazing. And who wouldn’t love not having to prepare your meals for one week?! I did!! I thoroughly enjoyed the BBQ night, the array of desserts/fruits and the morning omelet station. We would end each night with a large Tiger beer and sit on the deck part of the dining hall watching the thunderstorms brew in the distance or watch the night divers lamps near the resort reflect in the water. The staff in the dining hall were mostly attentive and were helpful when you needed something. However one evening when I asked for a hot tea, the girl looked confused and pointed towards the food bar and said: it’s over there. I think she could have taken it one step further and gotten me the tea…but I guess everything cannot be perfect!
For all of those who were complaining about the cost of alcohol…do you realize you are in a Muslim country? Do you also realize you are on an island practically in the middle of nowhere? Please use your sense…if you can’t afford a few drinks, don’t drink! And don’t complain… this is a resort, expect it.
The Diving: The BEST EVER. We had a guaranteed 1 day dive at Sipadan and then we put in for application to get the permit for one other day as well (and we got it). In total for our 5 days of diving, we got to go to Sipadan twice. I highly, highly, highly recommend getting on the 5:30am boat. You’ll be in the water by 6:15 and see so much happening and activity you would otherwise not see. We witnessed a school of Jacks being hunted by a gang of 5 sharks 3 minutes after we jumped in…it was absolutely unforgettable. Also the Bumpheads can be spotted at this time, when we spotted them they were in a sleepy school riding the tide.
Jacks, barracuda, hundreds of turtles, eels, clownfish, sea snakes….this place was a plethora of sea life all in one place. This was the absolute best diving I’ve ever experienced in my 50 dives around Asia.
We also did a few dives at Kapali- Giant Eel!! And a few at Mabul—Giant turtles, squid, nudie branches, lobsters… Both dive sites are known for Muck Diving, which was interesting too…but the main event was certainly Sipadan.
Our Dive Master was Naneng. She is awesome. Not only did she take excellent care of her divers (constantly checking our air, counting us and especially her detailed briefings on direction, sea life and bottom time.) but she was an excellent spotter. From nudie branches, squid, frog fish, alligator fish, the tiny crabs, napoleons, turtles, sharks…you name it she spotted it. Bottom time was usually 45 minutes, but if we had more air, she didn’t seem to mind and hung out with us until we were ready to go up. She didn’t get out until the last person was up and ready to get into the boat.
I read some previous reviews regarding the Mainland Chinese and their not knowing how to swim let alone dive. It’s really a shame that they are wasting the permits, but as Eva said…sometimes the best sites at Sipadan are seen from snorkeling. So in between your dives, I recommend heading out to the reef and do some snorkeling. And yes, it’s true…there will be a boat load of 14 people to Sipadan and all of them NON-Divers!! It’s heartbreaking…but that’s what we are dealing with now.
When you are at Sipadan, there is a special table and shower/restroom facilities for your use. Since the military controls the island you will see a bunker and a machine gun, but right in front of that…lounge chairs!! Do not be alarmed…this is actually for your own safety. For hauling all of the food from Mabul, the selections was great. We had a nice server who made us tea and coffee and would help us with our plates. We got fresh fruits and cakes for dessert. The facilities are basic, but good.
Dive Gear: I had to rent BCD, Octopus and Fins. All of the gear was in tip top shape and fit my small frame.
Eva: She is the manager of the Water Bungalows and runs a tight ship. She makes sure that everything you need is promptly taken care of. She has worked here for over 6 years and is a fellow diver that can answer any of your questions. She and her crew personally saw us off on our last day. Her attentiveness and her attention to detail really makes a difference.
The only thing complaint I had were of the guests themselves…the Mainland Chinese. As you all know, there is an influx of Mainlanders coming to many parts of the world, and unfortunately many of them do not know better or how to act outside of their country. They spit, pick their noses at the dinner table, talk very loudly, let their kids run around like animals, etc…I have to say that we only had two problems the whole week we were there and since I am a very strong woman, I nipped it in the bud right away. If you are assertive and tell them to stop, they usually do with a “sorry, sorry”. Then just politely say thank you and walk away.
I can’t say enough great things about SMART…I’ve been to some pretty awful dive resorts in the past, to the point where I actually questioned my safety, didn’t sleep and didn’t eat due to the horrible conditions. But SMART goes above and beyond!! They provide a mix of safe and amazing diving with a high quality resort experience. You can’t really find this mix all too often…this is definitely a place I would return to and recommend to anyone going to Sipadan or the surrounds.
Overall: amazing diving, amazing resort, unforgettable experience.
Thank you SMART!

Room Tip: Water Bungalows are worth the extra $$, just make sure you are not facing the restaurant.
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  • Stayed October 2013, travelled as a couple
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Helpful?
6 Thank WeHeartTravel_143
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Skierniewice, Poland
Level 5 Contributor
50 reviews
18 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 17 helpful votes
Reviewed 4 September 2013 via mobile

Great place for divers. We've stayed 3 nights and have diving at Sipadan (full day- 3 dives) which costs 350 RM per person + 40 RM permition. It is not included in diver's packedge at the resort.
In general, it is expensive stay but the resort is very nice and friendly. Rooms are clean and convenient. Try to have a challet with the sea view.
Food is not the best I've ever had but just good enough.
It is obvious that if you plan to go there, you're probably a diver. If yes- it is the best place to go. Diving was incredible. One of the best I've ever had. Dive masters are great (they are local dive masters, not English! which is very good- sometimes I do not feel comfortable with English staff- with their perfect language, fast speaking and self confidence.) Dive masters there are friendly, experienced and reliable with good languages knowledge (they speak not only English).
I really recommend this resort.
There is also Mabul Water Bungalows(the same owner but almost 2 times more expensive with better standard) and Bungalow Water Village.
I would like to go there again. All dives were great, even nearby Mabul Island and Kapalai Island. Many small creatures and big fish and turtles. Paradise for divers!

  • Stayed August 2013
    • Value
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    • Cleanliness
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Helpful?
1 Thank Kasia G
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Bangkok, Thailand
Level 4 Contributor
36 reviews
11 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 26 helpful votes
Reviewed 6 July 2013

This is my first diving trip after my certification. We booked 7 days with 1 day guarantee at Sipadan, however, we were lucky to get 2 days permits.

Sipadan has very rich natures and we were so impressed. I am very new diver so I am not sure what should you expect, although I think this is one of the great sites. Dive master was very helpful and maybe because of we were new, we got our exclusive dive master split out from the whole group. Bobet took care of us and taught us skills. We were a lot better after just 6 dives with him. All dive masters were very friendly & knowledgeable. We rent all diving gears from the shop and all gears would be carried to the boat by boat crew. We just need to check if we had them all and ready to dive.

We stayed at land bungalow which was reasonable price for us. Water bungalow costed double figures and we didn't see any differences. The room was good with sea-view although another resort in water is under construction in front. Within 2 years maybe it wouldn't be this good. Food was nice and there were many choices to choose. We didn't drink so we had no compliant about the price.

Overall, we were so happy about the dive & services. Although, they sent us way to early to the airport with 7am boat and our flight left at 1.20 pm.

Room Tip: Tip: Tell them that you want sea-view bungalow or you might have some at the back. You should be ei...
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  • Stayed July 2013, travelled with friends
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Helpful?
2 Thank thisisfriday22
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Frankfurt
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
Reviewed 28 June 2013

First of all I like to say that my Family had a great vacation at Mabul Resort. Its a great Resort which fulfil all your needs and is even Family friendly. From the booking to the Airport pickup, transfer via Speedboat to the Resort, check in and the diving everything was well organized and there are no hidden surprises. The rooms are clean whit good aircon (stand alone chalet), full range of sat TV hot shower and comfortable beds. All people are friendly and make you welcome even it is a big operation with lots of guest. The food was okay as expected I would just be more happy that if you have guest from Asia (China) it is not recommended only to offer Seafood and Duck especially when we wrote that we dont like seafood and have allergies in our booking form. We complained and the next day was fine. Thanks a lot for immediate consideration which is not usual. Because it was our sons 2nd Birthday we ask if they could bake a cake for him a few days ahead. I was shocked when during our Dinner suddenly the whole staff brought the cake and played guitar and sing happy birthday for him. You couldnt have done it better! Diving: As mentioned by other Divers most interesting is Sipadan and thanks to the Management that they were able to give us 4 days Sipadan during our 7 days stay. The rest around Mabul and Kapalei not really impressive with tons of garbage on the surface and underwater (you should talk to the other Resorts and clean that up weakly and not once year). Diving in Sipadan is awesome. You see all you need and dont want to see. Thats why I gave only the 4 Point in the rating even the rest was 5. SMART as one of the leading Dive Operators should take more positive attitude in saving the corals and environment and not animating divers and guests to hold on to corals because of strong current. I even saw Reef Hooks and Tank Banger hammering into the Corals which shows already advanced damages. I was shocked that nobody care about that. Not the Guest, not the DM or Instructor. I talked to the DMs about this but not much understanding for my concern. Because of this I couldnt enjoy some of my dives seeing people breaking corals which takes ages to grow. I was very happy that my wife and me were also allocated into Advanced Dive Groups as we both have plenty of dives. Special thanks to Ronny who shows us the Turtle Tomb! Was one of our best dives beside South Point and Barracuda Point. All in all great experience but please guys become environmental friendly and respect the nature and the habitat. Its your income. Special thanks to Jenny who was lovely taking care of our son, E-one for a great movie, Jasny, Rommy, (Macro) King, THE Manager for the plenty of Sipadan permits (you safe our vacation!), Sun and all others who let us have a nice vacation.

Room Tip: Take the Stand alone Chalet.
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  • Stayed June 2013, travelled with family
    • Value
    • Location
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    • Service
Helpful?
1 Thank ExplorerFEA
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Melbourne, Australia
Level 5 Contributor
36 reviews
28 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 34 helpful votes
Reviewed 21 June 2013

Having dived at numerous resorts around the pacific I am a little hard to please. Sipadan was recommended by my divemaster and the internet spin is that the pinnacle of diving is Sipadan. Well it is good but no better than other spots (Solomons, Palau, PNG, Fiji, Great Barrier Reef, Vanuatu). I am talking here of Sipadan Island, not Mabul or Kapali which are the default dive locations if you don't go or get a permit for Sipadan. I stayed in June which seemed to be a low period and was able to dive Sipadan on 2 days and offered 3 days. Diving on other days around Mabul and Kapali was disappointing. No reefs to speak of, just artificial reef structures that may be impressive one day. Maybe the glut of permits/lack of divers was due to the security situation but in my view diving in this area is only worthwhile if you can get to Sipadan. One thing I found with diving at Sipadan was the schooling of fish. Schools of barracuda, Jacks, pump head parrot fish. Lots of juvenile white tip sharks, turtles. Unless you can get to Sipadan, don't bother.

Having said that about diving, the resort was probably the best one we have been to. The bungalows, grounds, facilities, and particularly the dive setup was top class. Whilst the daily dive planning/allocation was a little rigid/inflexible, it was organised the night before on a whiteboard and the daily operation was A1. The gear storage facilities were superb, Your gear was in the boat and on your tank when you arrived at the boat next morning. All you had to do was check the attachments, sit down and wait to leave.

The resort meals were OK and as expected, Asian oriented. But we were in Asia so we expected food catering for both cultures. Meals were bistro style and whilst not top class restaurant standard were appropriate and more that adequate in our opinion. The staff were very courteous, helpful and provided excellent service when requested. A great resort operation and facility.

Room Tip: Ask for front row ocean view bungalows
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  • Stayed June 2013, travelled as a couple
    • Value
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Helpful?
4 Thank Francis J
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
CALIFORNIA
Level 2 Contributor
6 reviews
6 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 10 helpful votes
Reviewed 25 May 2013

I cant say enough about the diving, it was out of this world. The dive staff was tops and the resort staff was always able to answer any questions I had for them. My equipment was taken to and from the dive boat so every morning it was ready to go for the day's dive.

Room Tip: I was a solo traveler so I had a share room which was great for me. My room was cleaned every day...
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  • Stayed March 2013, travelled solo
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Helpful?
1 Thank CaliforniaDiverdan
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Sipadan Mabul Resort

Property: Sipadan Mabul Resort
Address: P O Box 15571 Kota Kinabalu, Pulau Mabul 88865, Malaysia
Region: Malaysia > Sabah > Semporna District > Pulau Mabul
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Beach Free Breakfast Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Restaurant Spa Suites Swimming Pool Wheelchair access Airport Transportation
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 2 Hotels in Pulau Mabul
Number of rooms: 42
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
SIPADAN-MABUL RESORT (SMART) is situated at Mabul Island overlooking the well-known Sipadan Island. It is a dive destination resort that began its modest operations back in 1993 and has since grown into a well-established and reputable resort as it is today. SMART has 42 land-based chalets (22 unit stand-alone detached chalets, 18 unit standard semi-detached chalets and 2 unit suite chalets) which can accommodate up to 84 guests at any one time. All chalets are built from native materials of Borneo, mostly twin-bedded, equipped with mosquito screens, air-conditioning and come with attached bathrooms with hot shower facilities as well as free Wi-Fi internet access in the room. Other facilities include a swimming pool, Jacuzzi whirlpool spa, large dining hall and bars. ... more   less 
Also Known As:
Sipadan Mabul Hotel Pulau Mabul

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