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Is the St. Regis Maldives Worth the Trip?

April 14, 2019
15 min read
St. Regis Maldives_Feb 2019_ESteinberg-5
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The St. Regis Maldives is one of the most picturesque hotels in the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio (and possibly the entire world). Marriott routinely uses this hotel for front-page advertising on the Marriott app and website.

There was a fleeting moment after the Marriott/SPG merger closed in August where standard awards at this property could be booked for only 60,000 points a night, a steal compared to the $2,000 or more these rooms can sell for during high season. Marriott has since implemented Category 8 pricing, meaning that a standard room here will now cost 85,000 points, if you can find availability. TPG had the privilege of staying at this property just a year after it opened, and he thought it was a steal at only 32,500 SPG points (or the equivalent of 97,500 Marriott points in the new program).

Given the seemingly endless hype surrounding the Maldives — remote location, crystalline water, stunning overwater villas — we constantly receive questions from readers asking whether the Maldives is worth the trip, especially once you factor in the time and cost of getting there. Based on a three-night stay of my own at the St. Regis Maldives, here's the spoiler: Yes, this property is heaven on earth and pictures don't do it justice, but you need to be honest with yourself. Even if you book your room free on points, expect to shell out a few thousand dollars in food, drink and transportation costs.

Getting to the Maldives: A Long and Expensive Journey

The Maldives is experiencing a real tourist boom with new hotels opening up all over, but your options for flying there on points and miles are still relatively limited. You can check out this guide to compare your options, but one of the best values is to book an award in Qatar's fabulous QSuite business class. Award space from the US can be hit or miss, but its a flight of 13 to 14 hours to Doha (DOH), followed by a 4.5-hour connection to Male (MLE). If you can find award space at 70,000 AAdvantage miles each way, this is absolutely the way to go. I should note that while ExpertFlyer said the A350 taking us to Male would also feature Qsuites, we ended up flying Qatar's "older" but still phenomenal reverse herringbone business class seat.

It simply doesn't get better than Qsuites for the long flight
It simply doesn't get better than Qsuites for the long flight

Originating elsewhere can lower your award costs and improve availability, but getting to Male from the US is an ordeal. You're looking at a long flight and a connection. If your primary reason for going to the Maldives is to relax on the beach, there are plenty of other options closer to the US.

Once you land in Male, there's still more to your trip. You'll be greeted by a St. Regis butler as you exit customs, and taken in an air-conditioned car to the seaplane terminal on the other side of the airport. The car has Wi-Fi, should you need it for the five-minute drive, and we were offered the first of many refreshing cold towels.

The St. Regis has a lounge for you to wait for the seaplane with a small seating area and some complimentary snacks. You can process your hotel check-in while you wait. Our butler had even recorded a welcome video which was shown to us in the lounge, and he noted my Marriott elite status and thanked us for spending our five-year anniversary "on Vommuli, an island paradise."

We ended up waiting for about two hours in the lounge before boarding our Trans Maldivian Airways flight to Vommuli island. Trans Maldivian Airways is the world's largest seaplane operator, with more than 40 19-seat DHC-6 Twin Otter seaplanes.

I strongly recommend sitting as far forward in the plane as possible so your views aren't blocked by the propellers. We pushed back from the dock and were airborne in no more than 60 seconds. The flight took about 40 minutes. There were clear skies the whole way, but a small plane like this can bounce quite a bit if the weather isn't cooperating. The flight was stunning; you could see the thousands of small islands and coral reefs that make up the Maldives. From the air, we could even see a few pods of dolphins jumping.

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The 45 minute seaplane ride was the perfect buildup to an incredible stay at the St. Regis Maldives
The 40-minute seaplane ride was the perfect buildup to an incredible stay at the St. Regis Maldives

The flight, however, is one of the most expensive parts of the trip. Our business-class tickets to Male were free and our room was paid for on points, but all guests have to pay $695 for the round-trip seaplane transfer. This meant that for a two-person trip we were looking at a $1,400 bill before we even set foot on the island. I kept telling myself that at least I'd earn 17.5x points on this expense thanks to my Marriott Titanium status, but this is already more than I'd normally spend on an entire vacation.

Picking the Right Room

I got lucky and managed to book an overwater villa for 85,000 points per night. However, standard awards at the St. Regis Maldives book into the hotel's garden villas. With only four on the island, award space is incredibly limited. Obviously, these rooms are also available for cash bookings as well, which is why there are entire months that this hotel has zero award space at all.

These 1,600-square-foot villas feature private plunge pools and a ton of privacy but they have one major drawback that I didn't necessarily realize until I got to the hotel: These are the only four rooms on the property that don't feature direct water access. Even the beach villas at the Park Hyatt Maldives are just a few steps away from the waterfront, but the garden villas at the St. Regis require you to walk or bike a few minutes to the beach. What's the point of traveling halfway around the world, only to find yourself on the inside of the island with no ocean in sight?

Knowing what I know now, I can't imagine returning to the St. Regis Maldives and not staying in an overwater villa. The good news is that award space is much more plentiful for these upgraded rooms, pricing out at anywhere from 125,000-165,000 points per night. That's right: I would happily pay twice as many points to stay overwater and not in a garden villa. One thing I've noticed is that while the Marriott website doesn't always display overwater-villa award space. The Marriott app is much more consistent about it.

There are two categories of villas: sunset-facing and island-facing. While the sunset-facing villas are a higher category of room, we had no complaints about our island-facing villa.

The overwater villas are designed to resemble manta rays, with the sweeping fins giving you an incredible amount of privacy. The nets out back were a great place to lounge and relax, and if you pay attention to what's swimming below, you you might even spot a few sharks or eagle rays.

Inside, the villas sport a stunning open design that's luxurious without feeling too over the top. The emphasis is on views and natural light, with doors opening to the deck from the bedroom, bathroom and living room.

Each villa also has a plunge pool, multiple lounge chairs and a set of stairs that lead directly down into the water. While we were waiting at the lounge in Male, the attendant asked what size fins we used and when we arrived there were two sets of snorkeling gear waiting for us.

St. Regis Maldives. Photo by the author
St. Regis Maldives. Photo by the author

Food and Drinks

If you stay at an expensive hotel in New York, you can walk always walk over to a diner or fast-food restaurant to save money on meals. That's not the case at the St. Regis Maldives where you're "forced" to eat at the hotel's restaurants for every meal. There are six different dining options and you should speak to your butler to make reservations especially for dinner (but more on that later).

Breakfast is served at Alba each morning, and was an easy choice for my elite welcome amenity. Over the course of our three-night stay we saved about $400 by getting free breakfast. There's a buffet but we ordered off the a la carte menu every time. The Maldivian eggs benedict, with fried crab and curry-infused hollandaise, was a favorite of mine.

Portions were on the smaller side, but there was no limit to the amount of food or drinks we could order with breakfast. The service was incredibly impressive — by our second morning we were offered the same coffee, smoothie and fruit plate we'd ordered the day before without having to ask.

We also had the chance to try Alba for dinner, as well as the Whale Bar Grill and Orientale. Dinner, drinks and dessert for two ended up running anywhere from $300-$500 depending on the restaurant. Given the remote location of the resort, I absolutely understand those prices, but for a three-night stay we spent close to $1,500 on food and drinks. That being said, every bite of food we had was impeccable, and I still find myself dreaming about the lobster ravioli at Alba.

We saved our "big" dinner at Orientale for the final night, dining under the stars (hence the poorly lit pictures). The restaurant has three kitchens: one Japanese, one Chinese and one Indian.

The sashimi was melt-in-your-mouth good, and the Indian dishes we sampled were spiced perfectly.

We also took every chance we could to eat outside, including stopping for lunch at Crust, the pizza shack on the beach. While a small pizza and two iced teas ended up costing us close to $50, it was one of the best pizzas I've had anywhere in my life.

I could go on and on and on about the food. We knew this would be an expensive stay, so we budgeted for it and enjoyed every bite.

There's one last "must" for any stay at the St. Regis Maldives -- a sunset drink at the aptly named Whale Bar.

I'll let the cotton-candy skies speak for themselves:

Every St. Regis around the world has its own signature Bloody Mary. In this case, it's the Island Mary served in a shell with plenty of sea salt.

Service and Activities

If you've ever stayed at a St. Regis, you might be familiar with the signature butler service, which usually includes complimentary coffee and clothes pressing. The St. Regis Maldives takes it to an entirely new level, as our entire stay was coordinated by our butler Sadaam.

While Vommuli is a small island, it's relatively spread out. Walking from our villa at the end of a jetty to the other side of the island would have taken 25 minutes, so we often relied on Sadaam for golf cart rides to and from activities. Each villa also has complimentary bikes that you can use as well. When we first arrived, Sadaam set up a Whatsapp group chat with my girlfriend and me. At any time of day we could reach him for help making reservations or booking activities or if we just needed a ride. He would frequently pop in on us at breakfast to see how we were doing and what we had planned for the day. He even surprised us on our last night with a beautiful anniversary setup in our room complete with a cake, a bubble bath with rose petals and even a fake fireplace on our TV.

The complimentary snorkel gear makes it easy to get some free entertainment on your trip, but if you want to do more, prepare to pay for it. You can rent standard kayaks for free, but the glass-bottom kayak costs $60 an hour (and I highly recommend it). My girlfriend went scuba diving one morning and it cost about $300 for two dives. We also couldn't pass up the chance to get a massage. Even if you have no plans for a massage, you should check out the spa jetty. Because there aren't any rooms on this side of the island, you'll see much more marine life in the waters below.

Our couples massage cost about $500 and while it was certainly pricey, the therapists working with us were top-notch. You should also check out the Blue Hole hydrotherapy pool for some of the best pictures anywhere on the islands. Pictures are free, or you can book the pool for $60 for 2 hours.

Bottom Line

So is the St. Regis Maldives worth the trip? Based on my experience, absolutely, though you need to be realistic about what your "free" stay using points will cost you in additional expenses. You should also consider how long a stay you should book. We felt our three-night stay was perfect. While we could have easily stayed until we'd run out of money, we got to do/see/eat everything we wanted to. Finally, be sure to consider the time of year when planning your stay. The weather was mostly good during our stay, though it rained most of one morning and on the afternoon we were leaving. We were staying during busy season, with nearly every room on the island booked, but if you're making the time and financial commitment to go to the Maldives, you might as well make sure you're getting the best possible weather.

All photos by the author.