Just Back: A Month in the Maldives

Silvana Frappier of Northstar Destinations spent nearly a month in the Maldives at the end of last year and is back with this report.

After 28 days traveling through the Maldives, island-hopping and inspecting the top most requested luxury resorts, I find that the destination is the ultimate away-from-it-all dream vacation for families, couples, surfers, divers or anyone who is looking for an authentic piece of paradise. Some islands will offer excellent breaks nearby, with abundant colorful marine life, seasonal whale shark and manta ray sightings, and ultra-luxe resorts and more. I have visited and inspected eight properties in all, from luxury to ultra-luxe, from ones with detailed architecture to minimalists, and here you will read about my findings and observations. Some offer uninhabited private islands perfect for a castaway experience or a magical surprise celebration (my case here). Some will provide the ultimate relaxation, and some will bring that inner child back alive that has been hiding for years under a suit and tie or a dress code.

From the moment you sink your feet into the flawless white sand merging into a turquoise lagoon, your soul is ready to connect with the heart of the place. Friendly people, Maldivians are born to serve, and with pleasure, they will make you feel at home.

But first, let’s start with rules and procedures on how to travel here post-COVID. It’s not difficult, and if you follow the rules, you will be swimming in the emerald ocean in no time. A PCR test is required within 96 hours of departure from the first port of embarkation; passengers who have transited for more than 24 hours must repeat the test. A confirmed hotel reservation is needed to fill the form at registered tourist facilities. Vaccinations are not required except if staying in guesthouses on local islands. Travelers will also need to complete the online Immigration and Health Self‑Declaration Form within 24 hours of their flight. A negative COVID‑19 PCR test result must be attached to the online Immigration and Health self-declaration form. Finally, obtain a QR Code and present it to the Immigration Officer on arrival; airlines will also require the QR code at check-in.

Once you have arrived, immigration is smooth and fast, all resorts will be there waiting for their guests, and depending on the resort they are staying, travelers can be guided to do a domestic flight check-in with the help of the resort staff and then taken to their private lounge to wait for the flight. Lounges are exceptionally equipped with food, drinks and bathrooms (the most luxurious ones will even offer a shower). 

Velaa Private Island

The resort is about 35 minutes by seaplane from Male, and it offers shared rides with TMA, or travelers can choose to charter their private seaplane. The views of the Maldives from above are breathtaking and can never get old, even for repeat visitors. Velaa Private Island was flawless, and it honestly took the Maldivian luxury to another level. It defines an exclusive island hideaway that goes beyond luxury, from its state-of-the-art water toys and luxury yachts to the island’s kids’ club. The resort envelops aspects chosen by each family member. Here you can find the best of everything. With the whole management waiting at the jetty for your arrival, travelers will feel right at home (I found out that it’s a tradition in all the resorts, but I was impressed as it was my first time and my first stop). This is a true ultra-luxury resort; from the luxurious accommodations, grounds, and landscape to services and food, this is the picture of the ideal Maldives everyone has in mind. Things not to miss here: Velaa has a great golf course and golf academy and the most extensive wine and champagne collection in the Maldives; make sure to reserve dinner at their Tavaru-Teppanyaki and Wine Cellar restaurant. Also, make sure to experience dinner at their signature restaurant, Aragu, which has received multiple awards.

Who is the resort for? The resort is very family-friendly, there’s an excellent kids’ club, and the staff is accustomed to dealing with demanding children of all ages. In addition, being one of the most exclusive and ultra-luxe resorts, it caters to high noteworthy, elegant but very cool, down-to-earth type of guests.

Joali Maldives

It took us 45 minutes by boat from Velaa to Joali (it also takes 45 minutes by seaplane from Male). We were yet again received by the whole administration crew and a local “Boduberu” performance, which is traditional Maldivian music, played on the iconic big drum that is made from coconut tree wood. In olden days, the head of the drum used to be made from manta ray skin, while today it is made from goatskin. Our arrival was nothing less than spectacular. The drums just put you right in the island mood, and the chill coconuts add to the atmosphere. After a short tour with our “Jadugar” (that’s how private butlers are called at Joali), we headed to our over-the-water villa. As I entered through the front door, I was awestruck by the high ceiling, massive wooden decorated doors and the floor-to-ceiling glass doors all around, offering endless views of the turquoise water. However, for me, the bathrooms with swirling Engima Verde Lapponia marble from Norway were the most impressive. The ultra-luxury amenities are all here, and ladies will love this; besides the great hairdryer, they also have a flat iron for hairstyles! So clever. The food was delicious and catered to all needs, with a great variety. The resort is a high-tech wizard; by sliding your fingers on an iPad, you can open the curtains in the morning and view the amazing ocean. Things not to miss: Their free classes, such as art and craft, and bow and arrow, are fantastic. Their marine biologist has excellent knowledge, and talking with him will have you rethink corals from a whole new perspective.

Who is the resort for? Joali Maldives attracts the crème de la crème. It’s for artsy, culturally appreciative, and curious, well-traveled individuals that want to experience and learn on their vacation. The guests value sophistication but don’t need to flash it; they are elegant and dress up at night. It is family-friendly and has plenty of activities for their young guests.

Silvana Frappier visited eight properties, ranging from luxury to ultra-luxe, during her 28-day stay in the Maldives.
Silvana Frappier visited eight properties, ranging from luxury to ultra-luxe, during her 28-day stay in the Maldives. (Courtesy Silvana Frappier)

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

Three islands manage in different ways, two of them dedicated to clients looking for fun with the family, the other for couples wanting to spend time alone away from the little guests running around. Many guests at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island take advantage of their Hilton honor points; the food quality is very good, and the service is top-notch. Our beach villa was always clean and its privacy was terrific; even though the beach wasn’t private, we barely saw anyone in front of our villa walkway. I did visit the overwater bungalow, and they are charming and spacious. The adults-only side of the island just got a remodel on all over-the-water bungalows, and it looks fresh and beautiful. The Muraka is something unique to see - the two-level residence with a master bedroom submerged over 16 feet below sea level gives guests staying here an experience like no other. And it’s never to disappoint as we saw an abundance of sea life all around it. Things not to miss: Dinner at their underwater restaurant, reservation must be made in advance as there is not much seating available.

Who is the resort for? One of the islands is adults-only, while the other is very family-friendly with a children’s pool and a complimentary kids’ club for three-to-12-year-olds (under three years are welcome but with an adult supervisor - babysitters can be booked for an extra cost). Restaurants have kids’ menus. Many guests here take advantage of their accumulated Hilton points. Here you’ll see more middle-class clients due to the Hilton advantage.

Soneva Jani

For sure, kids will have lots of fun in an adult playground, but adults will not be left behind. The gourmet restaurant options here are endless, from Private Cinema Paradiso to So Starstruck, So Primitive and So Wild, just to name a few. It’s very hard to decide where to have dinner. The Gathering is the heart of the place and offers lunch and dinner. Their Chapter Two villas are significant and have all the luxury amenities that Soneva Jani has to offer. The commitment to sustainability is immense, and their recycling facility is impressive. The roads are well maintained, and getting lost around the island is the fun of being there. People have different meanings on how they perceive luxury travel in their life. After extensively surveying its guests, Soneva Jani implemented what the guests wanted the most in a “luxury vacation”: It was walking barefoot everywhere and not connected to news and television (even though the villas have TVs if one changes their mind). With this concept, the “No shoes, no News” philosophy was created; guests will have the option to remove their shoes on arrival and get free of shoes around the island. Taking the routine concept out of everything, Soneva wants to get your mind to start to think again, and not automatically obey the ordinary and predictable routine that it’s used to; even their roads and the jetty are built in a way that will keep you focused and attentive. Things not to miss: Try all of their restaurants, they are magnificent; visit the ice-cream and chocolate room — “So Cool” (one of my favorites and it’s included with your stay); bike around the island, it’s fun, and if your Villa has a slide, play as much as you can; you will not regret. 

Who is the resort for? Very high-end clientele but open-minded families and couples. People who love sustainable alternatives, would love to know that Soneva Jani talk the talk and walk the walk in the sustainable field. The place will also attract creative executives looking to take themselves out of autopilot and stay present at the moment during vacation. The winding pathway has a purpose, so guests have to pay more attention to it, encouraging your mind to be attuned to that exact moment. It’s built to keep you present in your vacation. 

JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa

Once the home of Viceroy Maldives, JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa made its home here after 10 years of it being inactive on the island. The JW Marriott is located in the northernmost part of the island nation, about 55 minutes by seaplane, which may have to stop at the Fairmount Resort to drop some passengers and refuel the plane. After nearly 15 more minutes from Fairmount and a short boat ride, you’ll dock to the hotel’s main jetty, where we were greeted by a pleasant staff, drumming and clapping, giving us an exceptional, welcoming reception. 

Their beach villas and over-the-water villas resemble an inverted dhoni boat, a traditional multi-purpose sail vessel with a motor or lateen sails used in the Maldives. Overwater villas all feature pools and generous decks; their service is awe-inspiring. 

Not to miss is the cute and colorful Kid’s Club. I had a full tour of the club, which has a giant pirate ship. The kids’ swimming pool and toilets are adorable, and no kids can be ever bored here, I guarantee. Don’t miss lunch, the special lunch, and the unique experience at their Thai restaurant, set in a stunning treetop location with panoramic views of the Indian Ocean and extraordinary service. Also, one can’t miss Hashi and Shio, for a Japanese dining experience.

Who is the resort for? Families and couples, more of the middle-class travelers who dream of staying in a luxury overwater bungalows. Travelers can take advantage of the Marriott Bonvoy points. 

Jumeirah Maldives Olhahali Island

The first impression of Jumeirah Maldives Olhahali Island was that I was arriving on a secluded Greek island surrounded by nothing but the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and its impressive whitewashed villas with rooftop decks and private infinity pools. The resort has an energetic, vibrant vibe. The overwater villas are perfect for a night of rest and relaxation as the architecture is built to offer complete silence; you can’t feel that you are over the ocean here at all. The rooftop is a plus and perfect for a movie under the stars (one of my favorite experiences here). The four-bedroom over-the-water villa is gigantic and one of its kind. The food is excellent, and the coffee bar is exceptional that one can’t miss. Our villa host was welcoming, light-hearted, and intuitive, catering to all our requests, and went above and beyond in making a warm bath full of flowers and perfume-infused salts after our excellent relaxing massage. Things not to miss: A movie on the rooftop and an afternoon stop at the coffee bar are a must.

Who is the resort for? Though most visitors are couples on romantic getaways, many families are attracted to the island resort for its kid-friendly amenities like a supervised kids’ club. Perfect for travelers looking to escape the stereotypical wood-and-thatch Maldivian style, it’s an intimate resort with the Mediterranean concept.

Silvana Frappier in Maldives
Overwater Bungalows in resorts across the Maldives Islands impressed Frappier. (Courtesy Silvana Frappier)

Como Maalifushi Maldives

Tropical minimalism done to perfection; that’s how I would describe Como Maalifushi, situated in the far North with about 90 minutes seaplane ride from Male. The resort is secluded and away from it all. It has quiet nights with orange sunset sky, and the grounds are gorgeous to ride bikes.The island is small and one can’t get lost here. I love how everything is centralized on the island (restaurants, shops, water, sports); park your bike once and just walk around the main center. All the beach villas come with private gates leading to a front yard with gorgeous gardens with a mature landscape; you will feel that you are walking right into your home; water villas do have gates, too but without the park. The focus is on your well-being and preserving the nature that surrounds the island. The resort does not have a jetty (purposely, not to disturb the pristine nature); once the seaplane lands (the only way of getting here), you’ll be picked up by their speed boat and reach the resort in five to 10 minutes, depending on the sea condition. Nature is abundant, and one night we were lucky to witness the hatching of sea turtles; I had only seen it before on National Geographic! 

Things not to miss here: The Como Shambhala Spa is a destination on its own with so many options to choose from, including massage therapy, body therapy, facial care, beauty care, Mind and Body discipline, and more. I enjoyed a couples COMO Shambhala Massage, the resort’s signature.

Who is the resort for? It’s for families, couples, and friends traveling together. It’s also for travelers looking for the bliss of solitude. The resort is kid-friendly and focuses on pristine environment. The dedicated play space for children ages four to 12 is elegantly built into the natural environment, with climbing nets, swings, slides, and platforms attached to palms in the sand. There is a large lawn and soccer pitch and ample indoor space for creative play with puzzles, arts and crafts, legos, instruments, and toy marine animals, and they even have children’s yoga. 

Gili Lankanfushi

The resort’s proximity to Male airport can go in favor or against it. It takes about a 20-minute speedboat ride from Malé international airport, an easy and smooth transaction from arrival in the Maldives, and you’ll be sipping your chill coconut water and getting your toes into those fluffy white sand before one can say “Welcome to your Robinson Crusoe architecture style villa.” However, if you are looking for that complete island isolation feeling, consider that a couple of other islands are visible on the distant horizon. Apart from that, Gili Lankanfushi is pretty much your proverbial paradise isle. The resort is very charming, and the service is top-notch. The mature vegetation gives a complete jungle feeling, and the rustic palm-thatched wooden villas float against a backdrop of limpid sea and silky white-sand beaches. The reefs with remarkable sea life are so close to the shore that makes snorkeling right from the back deck pleasant and fun. A Robinson Crusoe theme runs through this desert-island resort: you’ll find copies of Defoe’s classic in your villa, and you’ll even have your very own Man (or Woman) Friday to cater to your whims. Things not to miss here: Take your bike throughout the gorgeous canopy vegetation, go snorkeling, sleep on the top deck under the stars and experience the spa; that was a memorable experience.

Who is the resort for? Family, couples, friends, and groups in general, including multigenerational families. Travelers are also attracted to the resort’s eco-friendly approach and commitment to sustainability. It will also attract travelers that want to stay close to Male and avoid the seaplane ride. For those looking for the whole castaway experience, the standalone Crusoe Villas not connected to the main island will offer the entire castaway experience.

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