In August 2019, I checked into the King Beach Villa with Pool and the King Grand Reef Villa with Pool at Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, which opened its doors in July 2019 after much anticipation and fanfare. Spanning across three interconnected islands encircling a lagoon in the South Malé Atoll, the 122 all-villa ultra-luxury resort is accessible via a short 30-minute luxury yacht ride from Malé International Airport.
With its lead-in King Beach Villa with Pool costing 120,000 Hilton Honors points a night (US$1,796++ during the time of my stay), the resort has the honourable distinction of shattering the former ceiling for the highest Hilton Honors point redemption for a standard room (95,000 points to redeem at various other Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties, including the nearby Conrad Maldives Rangali Island). The resort is likely one of the most aspirational and expensive Hilton properties in the world…and one of the best value for redeeming your nights.
Hilton Honors Diamond members get to enjoy free breakfast at the all-day dining restaurant Tasting Table, afternoon treats and beverages at Peacock Alley from 4-5pm, a bottle of champagne and amenities presented in their villa, an additional 30 minutes for selected treatments at Waldorf Astoria Spa as well as a 50% discount off selected drinks at Nava from 10 – 11.30pm daily. Diamond room upgrades are excluded from this property.
The UTW (“Under Ten Words”): Unforgettable, ultra-luxurious sun-soaked paradise in the Maldives.
The must-dos (if any): Enjoy your spacious, comfortable villa with its own private pool; dine at The Ledge by Dave Pynt; enjoy the complimentary water sports activities such as kayaking and paddle boating; snorkel in one of the house reefs.
WALDORF ASTORIA MALDIVES ITHAAFUSHI
Your luxurious Waldorf Astoria journey begins in style just steps beyond the arrival gates with a 30-minute luxury yacht ride (the only mode of transport currently permitted for arrival at the resort). The yacht has its own kitchenette, bedroom and bathroom, with your experience being very customisable – guests can choose to sip champagne and nosh on canapes, fruits and pastries in the indoor lounge area, admire the crystal blue waters and feel the ocean breeze on the open-air upper deck, or head to the front of the yacht and revel in the Kate Winsletness of it all as the luxury yacht speeds past different island resorts, patches of gleaming green in the middle of the ocean and, if you are lucky, pods of leaping dolphins.
(During my stay, the champagne and canape offerings which are referenced in most travel publications covering the property’s launch are noticeably absent – in their place is a selection of baked treats, fruits and juices. I understand the luxury offerings are likely to be rolled out only after the resort’s grand opening phase.)
Upon arrival at the main jetty, guests are escorted to the beachfront Welcome Centre, which plays it all thatched roofing and soaring ceiling in its island-chic stylings. After completing your check-in process, you will be introduced to your Personal Concierge who will be taking care of all your needs during your stay, from the making of dining reservations to facilitating arrangements for water sport activities and excursions. You will then be given a grand tour of the resort on a buggy (the main mode of transport around the sprawling island apart from rentable bicycles) before finally arriving at your villa.
There’s no better place to enjoy the quintessential Maldives experience – diverse wildlife, azure skies and dual-toned turquoise and aquamarine waters – than along its soft white sand beaches. Guests can participate in a variety of water sports and activities offered by the combined water sport and PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) dive center – think private diving and PADI courses, snorkelling, dolphin excursions, fishing, kitesurfing, jet-skiing, wakeboarding, parasailing and seabob riding. Several activities are conducted in accordance with a weekly schedule viewable on your villa’s iPad, and your Personal Concierge can assist with making the necessary arrangements. Professional photography services are also available for you to memorialise your sun-soaked Maldivian adventures.
Apart from water sports and excursions, other beachfront options include the water-themed Waldorf Astoria Young Discovery Park which caters to families with children, the family-friendly freeform pool for a leisurely dip as well as the adults-only infinity pool suitable for doing laps. On the wellness front, the Waldorf Astoria Spa – set within a lushly-landscaped botanical garden – offers various treatments and Asian-inspired therapies in its overwater and garden treatment villas. Facilities adjacent to the spa include a glass-walled fitness centre, a yoga pavilion to rock your Lululemon in style as well as a tennis court for ball-hitting jollies.
While most water activities above are not covered under your room rate and incur separate charges, the resort does offer complimentary kayaking, paddle boating, windsurfing and catamaran sailing sessions. I went for a paddle boating session (which felt like spin class conducted under the sun, i.e. exhausting) and did my first ever aquatic three-point turn when I found myself in a narrow channel headed for the ocean and wanted to return to the lagoon.
I tried snorkelling for the first time ever at one of the resort’s house reefs, situated away from the main beach area near one of the resort’s jettys. Our diving instructor, Aishath Rizuna “Rizu”, explained how to put on and use the various snorkelling equipment before guiding the group around the reef. Upon observing me thrashing in the water like a Magikarp, struggling harbour seal or similar due to my inability to control my swimming fins with the requisite poise and skill, Rizu thoughtfully let me hold on to a swim buoy throughout the session, which enabled me to comfortably and fully immerse myself in the glorious sensorial experience. The reef waters were impossibly clear, allowing clear sight of the intricate and varied textures of the spongy coral reefs as well as the universe of fishes which played it all Finding Nemo cast in the range of brilliant colours involved. At one point, I reached an aquatic intersection involving a flurry of darting yellow fishes as well as fast-moving streams of silver blue and royal purple ones, all criss-crossing dramatically in a moment that resembled a glorious explosion of underwater confetti. It was mesmerising.
Evenings at the resort were another visual highlight. Walking from our villa to our dinner destination of the evening was usually an event in itself – as we strolled down the meandering overwater bridges connecting the islands to the restaurant, we got to observe the vast expanse of clear sky segue dramatically from pale blue to a brilliant reddish-pink ombre.
KING BEACH VILLA WITH POOL
The resort offers three categories of villas – Beach Villas, which lead straight to the sandy white beaches; Overwater Villas, which are situated on the ends of the island furthest from the main jetty, offering maximum seclusion and privacy as well as uninterrupted views of the Indian Ocean; and Reef Villas, which provide direct access to the turquoise reefs below. High-rollers seeking the ultimate in indulgence can either go for one of the Stella Maris Ocean Villas which are accessible only by boat and come with chef’s service and a hot tub or, if they really want to treat themselves, secure use of the Ithaafushi Private Island (?!) with its own two-bedroom overwater villa and three-bedroom beach villa along with a personal concierge team, dedicated chef, spa, an entertainment centre and five swimming pools.
Whilst the outdoor landscapes of the different villa categories may vary, the general structure and features of every villa are fairly uniform. The interiors are largely identical in design – think towering cathedral-esque ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors, soothing and earthy neutral tones, geometric prints as well as luxurious brass and gold flourishes. All villas are equipped with an iPad for controlling the air-conditioning and blinds as well as to access restaurant menus and the resort’s weekly schedule of water activities. Each villa boasts a comfortable signature Waldorf Astoria bed, a 65-inch TV and sound system, facilities for preparing Nespresso coffee and Mariage Frères tea (which I last had at Waldorf Astoria Bangkok and Raffles Hotel Singapore), a minibar with a selection of beverages and snacks as well as two spacious closets. The bathroom features double vanities, both outdoor and indoor rainfall shower facilities as well as an oversized bathtub, with bathroom products from Salvatore Ferragamo in stone dispensers. Every villa has its own expansive outdoor wooden deck with a gazebo, dining table, infinity pool, sun loungers and swinging daybeds. After dark, guests can relax on one of their villa’s outdoor sun loungers and allow the soothing sound of crashing waves to wash over them as they take in the beautiful sight of clear skies glittering brightly with stars.
My first two nights were spent at the King Beach Villa with Pool. My villa was a short walk away from Peacock Alley and Tasting Table, the venues for daily complimentary food presentations for Hilton Honors Diamond guests. Lush vegetation surrounding the outdoor deck with infinity pool gives the villa a tropical vibe (although the greenery is not so lush that you can skinny-dip without giving neighbouring villa guests an eyeful). A path directly leads from the terrace to the stretch of private, white sandy beach where guests can frolic in the waters, look out for wildlife (we spotted a beached jellyfish) or take pensive, romantic walks along the shore. For those seeking picture-worthy opportunities, the beach is adorned with rock formations ideal for dramatic, shirt-blown-open telenovela-esque photography.
I spent my final night at the resort in a King Grand Reef Villa with Pool. Whilst the beach accommodation was more conventional in its villa offerings, the reef villa does the Maldivian setting more justice by harnessing its natural assets to greater effect. The reef villa offers the dreaminess of an overwater setting plus direct ladder access to the reef below for fish-watching, splashy aquatic activities or even snorkelling if you request for the requisite gear in advance. Guests can choose to have a relaxing dip in the infinity pool, lounge on either of the swinging daybeds on both ends of the deck as it rocks in sync with the rhythm of the crashing waves below, or laze with a good book on one of the twin hammocks on the edge of the deck right above the reef. It was tranquil and idyllic, and everything I could ever want in an escapist fantasy holiday.
The resort’s dining programme is headlined by The Ledge by Dave Pynt, where the eponymous chef – owner of the Michelin-starred Singapore restaurant Burnt Ends, famous for the smokiness of its open-fire grilled meats – presents his signature brand of burnt in a similar format but much expanded beachside space without the hassle of a months-long reservation list. Many of Pynt’s mainstays such as the Jamaican Chicken and Lime Crema, Eggplant & Miso, Marshmallow, Chocolate Fondant and Smoked Ice Cream as well as the Polly Pocket-sized Fish & Chips and Steak Frites (“just to inform you, the portion size is this big and for one person,” the server helpfully warns) make welcome appearances in the daily changing menu.
As is the case at Burnt Ends, diners absolutely need to order at least one steak dish – the deliriously smoky and incredibly juicy Blackmore’s Tenderloin was a show-stopper and one of my most memorable dining moments at the resort. However, a big surprise was how impressive and commendable the seafood options were (and how value-for-money too, by Waldorf Astoria/Maldivian standards anyway). The Kingfish Collar and Green Mango may have resembled a tanning salon addict/pre-reconstruction arson victim in appearance, but concealed a pleasurably oily slickness of flesh which put a big smile on my face. Elsewhere, the Tuna and Za’atar boasted an alluring Middle Eastern spice rub, while the Red Snapper and Octopus and Red Harissa were generously sized and economically satisfying. On the cocktail front, skip the curious-smelling Scofflaw and go for the signature Barrel-aged Burnt Ends Negroni or the smoky Cigar Old Fashioned for a satisfying conclusion to the evening.
Breakfast can either be delivered to your villa or enjoyed at Tasting Table, the resort’s all-day dining concept which offers both indoor as well as beachside terrace seating. The cathedral-esque space was an intriguingly ethereal venue, basking in a warm and inviting glow and featuring dramatic suspended conical lamp-shades which accentuate its high ceiling. In terms of variety, the breakfast is largely buffet-based – think an extensive spread of delicious fresh pastries (highlights include the Kiwi Danish, Passionfruit Croissant and Hazelnut Praline Croissant), cold cuts, classic American breakfast sides, noodle soups, Chinese and Indian options as well as a small selection of Maldivian dishes such as Maldivian Tuna Curry. The restaurant also offers a limited a la carte menu comprising juice beverages and egg options such their signature Waldorf Astoria Eggs Benedict.
Located within the Welcome Centre, lounge bar concept Peacock Alley offers handcrafted cocktails and all-day light bites in a relaxed beachside environment. Between 4-5pm daily, the lounge operates as a venue for Hilton Honors Diamond members to enjoy sweet and savoury treats as well as mixologist beverages such as Pineapple Daiquiri, Whisky Sour, Classic Martini and Piña Colada.
Playing it all sumptuously-appointed Shanghainese manor with a suitably Crazy Rich Asians-esque soundtrack, Chinese restaurant Li Long is arguably the most beautiful dining concept in the resort. Whilst the restaurant offers an a la carte menu, diners should halve their expenditure and go for one of the more economically sensible tasting menus which showcases the restaurant’s signature dishes such as the delectably slick Roasted Peking Duck, the dramatically presented and perky-fleshed Wok-fried Fresh Maldivian Lobster with Ginger and Spring Onions as well as the sweet and tender Black Pepper Wagyu Beef Tenderloin.
Glasshouse concept Glow offers healthy, garden-to-table cuisine using ingredients from their own herb garden, while nearby champagne sunset bar Amber allows guests to take in the gloriousness of the Maldivian sunset over the Indian Ocean as they pair bubblies with exquisite nosh – think Beluga caviar, Alaskan King Crab Leg and Westholme Wagyu Skewers. Beach and poolside concept Nava offers a selection of pizzas, cocktails and bar bites in a simultaneously vibrant yet laid-back setting.
Styled like a charming Arabian village, outdoor Middle Eastern concept Yasmeen specialises in authentic flatbreads, charcoal-roasted meats and mezzes. Tangled serves hand-pulled noodles and dim sum in a casual setting. Located at the highest point of the island, treetop restaurant Terra offers a romantic private dining experience set in private bamboo nest pods, showcasing luxurious ingredients such as Miyazake Wagyu Beef and Alba White Truffle as well as fine Krug champagne. Elsewhere, The Rock boasts an extensive selection of both New World and Old World wines, offering wine dinners in an intimate, cave-like and almost medieval underground space.
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is no ordinary Maldivian resort. Throughout my stay, the guest profile ranged from wealthy Korean honeymooners and a glamorous Asian American girl who is back for the second time since the hotel’s launch a month ago to rich UAE high-rollers who would not bat an eyelash before indulging in a US$750 sunset parasailing session or ordering dishes such as a US$50 Singapore Laksa or US$500/kg 50 Day Dry Aged Blackmore’s OP Rib. Given the resort’s heftier price tag vis-a-vis properties from other major luxury players in the Maldives such as W, The St. Regis, Park Hyatt and Raffles (the cost of the luxury yacht for two is already almost the cost of one night in an entry villa), I approached the property with certain expectations, but the resort delivered on all fronts, with the villas being impressive and the food options stellar.
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is an unforgettable, ultra-luxurious sun-soaked paradise in the Maldives, and turned out to be one of my favourite ultra-luxury experiences of 2019 yet, alongside Shinta Mani Wild and Rosewood Hong Kong.
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
Ithaafushi Island South Malé Atoll Male, 20009