The Ultimate Maldives Vacation
Safiri Love | June 25th 2020
Why the Maldives
Spending a night in a luxurious overwater bungalow, surrounded by clear blue tranquil water in either Bora Bora or the Maldives has always been on my bucket list. Nothing is more enticing than images of powdery white sand beaches and crystal clear water.
Despite the beautiful pictures I hadn't put in the effort to make this trip a reality. I'm a fan of nature and gorgeous hotels but I'm not the kind of traveler that goes to a resort to just sit around. My travel style leans more towards the adventurous side - imagine Conde Nast meets Anthony Bourdain. I love to eat indigenous foods, hike mountains, go on a safari, chat with the locals and then wrap up the day at a spa.
The Maldives is not necessarily suited for a typical cultural immersion experience and with the higher prices and remote location would it be worthwhile........? The answer is simply yes. Once I accumulated enough Marriott points, I researched the best Marriott hotel options and settled on the St. Regis Property. Arguably the W Maldives has a more hip vibe and better sea life, however, given the isolation of the island I thought I'd kick it up a notch and try out the renowned luxury St. Regis brand. Thanks to all of the recent travels with my corporate 9-5 and a couple of awesome credit card signups I had enough points to cover my lodging cost. For 95,000 reward points per night I could stay in paradise and it was worth a try.
There are no non-stop flights from the US to the Maldives so be prepared for a 20+ hour flight with transit times varying depending on your departure location. We flew with my all-time favorite, Singapore airlines, combining the trip with a four day layover in Vietnam. Because of the length of the flight I highly recommend making this a dual destination trip.
The main island Male, which is the capital city, is arguably not very interesting and should be skipped in favor of more time at the resort. We opted for five days at the St. Regis, which felt about right. It provided just enough time to enjoy the mix of adventure in Vietnam with the slow pace of the Maldives.
There is value in staying one night at one of the local airport hotels in Male and then embarking on your journey to your resort early the next morning. This will minimize your expenses by staying at a cheaper hotel upon arrival and enable you to make the most of your time at your island resort by arriving there fresh and early in the day. If you arrive after sunset you will be forced to stay overnight anyway as many of the sea plane or cruise transfers have limited operating hours. Hotel options include the Hulhule Island Hotel (HIH) which is closest to the airport and goes for around $300/night. Alternatively, you can find lots of options for much cheaper ($100 range) by going to the Hulhumale Island which is only 10 - 15 minutes from the airport. In my opinion HIH is not worth the higher price tag but the convenience of being close to the airport may be attractive to some.
The pampering begins as soon as you arrive. The St. Regis resort has a fleet of luxury cars that take you from the airport to the resort lounge. Included in the fleet is a Bentley which provides top of the line transportation. The lounge is decorated in a beach inspired Restoration Hardware style with key signature elements from the resort embedded to give it a personal touch.
The lounge staff provided drinks, light sandwiches and tea to keep us comfortable while we waited for our plane. The two bathrooms available are well appointed with full showers for those who choose to refreshen before going on the next leg of their journey. While you await your flight an iPad will be provided to you with a special message from your assigned butler welcoming you to the resort. From the very start the St Regis goes above and beyond to make you feel special and welcomed. The message below is from Eddie our personal butler during our stay.
Now it’s time to embark on the last leg of the journey to paradise. All Maldivian resorts are located on their own private islands. Once you arrive in Male you will be routed to your resort island via either a seaplane, ferry, and/or speedboat. Now this, fellow nomads, is a key differentiation on cost. Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) appears to own a monopoly on the seaplane game but you don't buy the tickets directly from them. Typically, your resort will arrange the transfer and how much they charge will depend on the resort. The St Regis charged us a jaw dropping $750 USD/per person for the round trip flights. Yes, the cost of this puddle jumper plane was more than my international flight. Travel tip: a way to save money on a Maldives vacation is to stay at a resort that does not have expensive transfer fees.
Because we stayed at this resort on points I can easily say the flight and the food was the most expensive part of this journey. This was my first time taking the seaplane so I was excited to embark on the journey. Seating is Southwest style first come first served.
For better views from the plane sit as close to the front as you can so you can get a great view of the islands from the sky. They view of the islands is stunning and made the 40 minute ride go by fast. It can get very noisy but surprisingly our ride was quite smooth and felt much safer than some of the small puddle planes I've taken before.
Arrival to Paradise
Upon approaching the St. Regis island you will see a line of butlers standing on the dock waving as you peep out the window in full anticipation. While deplaning your butler will come to greet you and graciously escort you to the awaiting golf cart where you will then proceed to be given a tour of the island before being taken to your villa.
We selected the sunset overwater villa which 95,000 Marriott points per nights. Personally I think it’s one of the top redemption opportunities for extracting the most value out of Marriott points. We saved over $9,500USD in room cost by using a total of 380,000 points for five nights (the fifth reward night is comped).
When I tell you it was worth every one of those points and all of the trouble getting there, that would still be an understatement. Once our butler went thru the details about the room setup and his desire to make our experience one of a kind he escorted himself out and the fun in paradise began.
We popped the complimentary bottle of champagne and acted like two silly kids whose parents told them they could have all the candy, cake and T.V. their heart desired. After seeing the overwater villas I personally could not imagine staying in any of the beachside villas. Waking up to the calming sound of the ocean and the beautiful scenery is surreal.
I also suggest the sunset villa rooms that face away from the island and are at least five villas away from the entrance. At first we had the second sunset villa from the front but it looks out on the Whale bar and doesn't offer the privacy we need as I'm a bit of a nudist and didn't want to mesmerize the people. Albeit I didn't stand much of a chance against the natural beauty.
The next day we were moved closer to the southern end which offered much more privacy. Everything in the room is operated via an iPad that controls the curtains, blinds, T.V., and music center. The bed was extremely comfortable and there is plenty of seating both indoors and outdoors to spend a perfect lazy day.
My favorite part of the room was the soaking tub which had a great view of the water and balcony.
There are six restaurants on the property. As you can imagine the St Regis tends to be expensive on food pricing. Because you are on a remote island you really don't have any other options, the resort takes full advantage. My favorite meal was breakfast at the Alba and if you are a Marriott platinum member or higher breakfast is complimentary. The spread offered at breakfast will make you forget any diet goals you had and will turn you into a greedy person. Every morning the spread on our table represented 20,000+ calories.
One of the chef's, Herman, was particularly friendly and prepared a special breakfast for us every morning. In addition to this we grazed the buffet and my husband made a point to order his favorite duck and waffles or lobster omelet from the a la carte menu. All items were included in the complimentary breakfast.
Top this off with the free flowing prosecco and you have a complete feast. Yes we ate this way every morning for five days and never viewed breakfast the same. For lunch the main option is pizza by the beach at Crust. We personally never ate lunch because the 20000 calorie breakfast rolled us over nicely to dinner. Our dinners ranged from $100 for a small in room service dinner to $500 for dinner by the ocean.
There is an option to save some money by electing in the offer to spend $300 per day in food & beverage credit and receive $350 worth of food and beverage per night. You have to commit to paying this for your full stay. In my humble opinion the dinners were good but not the amazing quality I would expect from the St Regis. When I spend this kind of money on food I'm comparing it to some of my top dining experiences and it didn’t quite check all the boxes. Breakfast at Alba was the exception.
We did not bring our children on this trip because frankly if they are already enjoying the Maldives at four and seven at the St. Regis where do you go from there. We happily left them with the grandparents but there is an awesome children’s club located at the Vommuli house. There are also overwater and beach villas that offer two bedrooms which will comfortably accommodate a family.
Children's menus were offered that provided items like hot dogs and fries for $19 and pizza's for $18. It’s a little pricey considering the food choices but offers you another option outside of the pricey adult menu. I didn’t see many little children during our stay at the resort mostly just preteens who seemed to be enjoying themselves with the activities offered.
We opted for a couples massage session at the overwater spa. I'm a bit of a spa junkie and I have been to some pretty top notch spots. The massage I received at the Iridium was easily one of the top two spa massages I have ever had in my life hands down!
The room for the couples massage was beautiful and generously appointed. When we were preparing for the massage the masseuses stood in the room and didn’t leave while we disrobed in the attached bathroom nearby. Now I'm not bothered about being nude even after the three course breakfast having stretched my mommy belly to its limits. It was just a bit different from typical spa protocol, but I'm glad they did not waste a minute getting to the job because it literally was one of the best massages I’ve ever had. We had a 60 minute massage treatment which lasted for at least 15 minutes over the allocated time slot. We also enjoyed the hydrotherapy pool which has some mega powerful jets that help relieve muscle pain. This was a free offer as part of our Platinum welcome gift.
The gender specific facilities include a steam room and sauna which are well furnished but surprisingly small. I was the only one there so it was perfect for me but I would have felt a bit crowded with a few more people also occupying the space. Overall I would give my spa experience a high rating.
My husband is not a friend of the water so we didn’t participate in many water activities. I'm not qualified to scuba dive so I did some solo snorkeling. The reefs at St Regis are nice but they need some years to redevelop - you can tell that there has been some reef damage due to the hotel being built only a few years ago. I personally didn't care that there wasn’t an oversupply of reef fish but if your expectations are to see plenty of active sea life you may be slightly disappointed. I did spot some little sharks, sting rays, crabs and schools of fish while just sitting on my deck and looking at the clear water.
Kayaks are offered complimentary at the dive shop and for an extra $60 you can rent glass boats which is a perfect way to see the underwater wildlife without getting wet. My husband loved this option. The St. Regis also has a yacht you can rent for $1500/hr. That was a no go for us but it was a gorgeous yacht and may be worth a try if you don't mind splurging a bit.
There is a 10-20% discount at the Vommuli Dive & Water Sports Centre depending on your Marriott status. The hotel also offers varying promotions on activities to entice your participation.
The Vommuli House is where the kids club and gym are located. I never saw the gym equipment as I was not interested at all in finding it.
I did complete the anti-gravity yoga for the first time and it was a blast. There is also a large recreation center that has ping pong tables, pool tables, and plenty of board and video games.
The Whale Bar
St. Regis has a long deck that is perfectly positioned for a great sunset view. Every evening there is champagne savoring at the Whale Bar with free champagne served to all guests at the deck.
Dramatic music is played in the background while all the butlers glide in unison down the stretch of the deck to make the ceremonious sabering of the champagne bottle. We watched this show a few times and found it entertaining every time. It’s a great way to socialize with other guests and enjoy some cocktails and snacks before heading to the evening dinner.
St. Regis Team
What makes a hotel a truly memorable experience is the service you receive. Everyone at the St. Regis Maldives went out of their way to ensure we had an exceptional time. Out butler Eddie was top notch and made sure we felt comfortable but was not overly imposing. Our Alba Chef Herman from Kenya was absolutely a pleasure to be around and the food he prepared made it worth the extra 10 pounds we gained. The airport butlers, Shiyan went above and beyond to help us with a few issues we had upon arrival. The staff work in perfect harmony and are intent on making your experience truly one of a kind.
It was sunny for all five days during my stay, although this may have been because we went in March, which is during the high season. If you go during low season rooms can be cheaper and I hear they offer some pretty good half board options that can help reduce the food costs significantly. When it was time to leave I was genuinely sad and melodramatically played Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You on the speakers while I longingly looked out at the beautiful crystal-clear water for the last time. I’m serious, I truly did cry a bit between leaving paradise and having to venture back to a budding COVID-19 lockdown in the US.
I’m not usually this pathetic but I think they must have put something in my champagne at the Whale Bar because I didn’t want to leave this resort and even smiled when I closed out my ridiculously large bill. Resort travel may still not be my go to travel style but take me to the St. Regis Maldives and I’ll gladly grab my straw hat and lounge by the beach while sipping on some champagne. Unsurprisingly I was planning my future trip to the Maldives on the way out. Part II Maldives to be continued……