6 reasons to pick the W Maldives over The St. Regis
What do you get when you mix the most jaw-droppingly beautiful tropical destination with a storied luxury hotel brand? The answer is The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli resort, an aspirational hotel that sits at the top of the list for many award travelers.
In the early chaos of the Marriott-SPG merger, I was able to score three nights at this property in an overwater villa last year, paying just 85,000 points a night for a $3,000+ room. At the time, it was hands down the best hotel I'd ever stayed in, and I didn't think anything would ever be able to compete with these views.
This year we decided to return to the Maldives and stay at the W to mix things up. Both my girlfriend and I love the W Hotels brand and we were curious to see how the Maldivian version would compare to the big city hotels we'd visited in the past.
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I can honestly say it took me less than 12 hours to fall head over heels for the W Maldives and by the end of my five-day trip, I knew one thing: As far away and as expensive as it might be, this is a hotel I see myself returning to year after year, whenever I possibly can. The St. Regis is the pinnacle of refined luxury, but the W Maldives combines beautiful villas and a healthy, vibrant house reef with an active and social atmosphere that made our trip fly by all too fast. Here are six reasons why the W is my new go-to hotel in the Maldives.
Ready to plan that bucket-list trip to the Maldives? Visit TPG’s Maldives destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while you’re there.
More base rooms are available for awards...
The W scores its first win on numbers alone, with the key digits at play here being "4" and "25". Four is the number of garden villas at The St. Regis, which is the room type that awards book into unless you're willing to pay thousands of points or hundreds of dollars in cash (per night) to upgrade.
The luxurious 1,600 square-foot villas feature private pools, but that's the only type of water access they provide. In fact, these rooms are the only four on the island that don't offer direct access to the water, either via the beach or stairs from an overwater villa. Sure the ocean is only a couple minutes away on foot, but why are you flying all the way to the Maldives only to stay somewhere where you can't even see the water?
Related: The best ways to get to the Maldives on points and miles
By comparison, the W has 25 "base" rooms available for award booking, leading to much better award availability year-round. It's simply a matter of supply and demand. With both hotels priced equally as Category 8 properties (though it's possible that they'll have different dates for peak and off-peak pricing), most travelers are likely to default to The St. Regis and the perception of superior luxury. More people chasing fewer available awards at The St. Regis opens up a lot of space, making awards at the W much easier to come by most of the time.
Related: Say goodbye to dark and clubby: Here’s what’s next for the W brand
...And those base rooms are MUCH nicer than at the St. Regis
The Maldives has quickly become synonymous with overwater villas that let you jump right into the turquoise water from the comfort of your own room. At The St. Regis, you'll have to pay up handsomely to upgrade from a garden villa to one that can see the ocean, let alone one that's over it. By comparison, in a "pinch yourself because this sounds too good to be true" moment, the base award rooms at the W Maldives are overwater villas. That's right, simply pay 85,000 points a night for a standard award (or 70,000 for off-peak or 100,000 for peak dates) and you'll automatically find yourself staying overwater.
The overwater villas at the W are cozier than at The St. Regis, but they're well-designed with a manta-shaped rocking chair, jellyfish pillows and a glass porthole in the floor that lets you look at any animals swimming below you. During our stay, we saw a bunch of baby sharks and eagle rays and too many fish and squid to count.
Related: Full review of the W Maldives
Of course, they also feature an expansive deck with a plunge pool, lounge chairs and a big circular couch, and a ladder directly into the water. It's a simply stunning villa, and the W makes it easier for people to fulfill a lifelong dream of staying overwater than any other points hotel I know of in the Maldives.
To really drive this point home, if you'd rather stay over land in one of the W's two-story Beach Oases, you'll have to pay extra for that privilege. While that might seem counterintuitive and contrary to everything the Maldives is about, we opted to spend our last two nights in a Beach Oasis and were very happy with that decision. Moving from an overwater villa to a treehouse in the jungle made it feel like we were starting an entirely new trip. We loved some of the more "W" design elements, including the large swinging couch on the upper deck and the outdoor bath and shower.
Cheaper seaplane transfers
One of the reasons that the Maldives remains such an exclusive destination is the various costs associated with traveling there. Even if you can book a hotel for free using points, you'll have to pay hundreds of dollars for a seaplane or speedboat transfer from the capital of Malé (MLE) to your hotel, and you can expect to spend extravagantly on food and drink as well.
Further Reading: Your ultimate guide to hotel and resort transfer fees in the Maldives
The transfer fee is a bitter pill to swallow, as each year for a two-person booking I've owed more than $1,000 before I even set foot on the property. The St. Regis is one of the worst offenders here, charging $745 for a round-trip seaplane transfer. That's nearly 50% more than the W, which charges a more manageable $505 per person (for a flight that takes exactly the same amount of time, I should add).
Even award travelers will have to do some serious budgeting before planning a trip to the Maldives, but the W is much more approachable than the St. Regis in this regard. We ended up spending about $500 less on seaplane costs this year, which meant we had more money for food, drinks, water sports and massages.
A healthier house reef and better marine life
While some people prefer to spend their vacation above water, the Maldives is one of the few spots in the world where your backyard is home to sharks, rays and countless species of fish. The ability to climb off your deck and snorkel through the vibrant array of colors (or dive at some of the world's most renowned dive spots if that's more your speed) is a big reason many people choose to travel to the Maldives over other beach destinations.
The water at The St. Regis was clean and free of any visible pollution, but the marine life we encountered on our three-day stay was just average. My girlfriend went diving at the house reef and had a great time, but said that the site as a whole wasn't all that memorable.
Related: Full review of The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
By comparison, even a cursory Google search shows that the W is known for having one of the best reefs in the entire Maldives, and more importantly, it's the only points hotel to regularly make those lists. Our experience matched this, as we saw dozens of sharks and eagle rays around the property and the two dives my girlfriend went on, to fish head and manta point, were among the best she's ever done.
Meanwhile, my personal favorite was eating at Fish, the W's seafood restaurant out on the end of the jetty. Every night we'd see one to two dozen sharks swimming around the lights in the ocean, and the waiters would even toss them ice cubes, which they absolutely loved! Whether you're looking to snorkel, dive or just observe from the jetty, expect to make some new aquatic friends while staying at the W.
A jam-packed activity and social calendar
One of the most common hesitations I hear from people who are considering a trip to the Maldives is that they aren't sure what they'll do to fill the time on a remote island. Normally I answer that they'll spend at least the first 48 hours wandering around the property with their jaws hitting the sand as they take in the natural beauty, but I'll admit that I was a bit concerned that I would get bored by the end of a five-day stay.
In classic W fashion, that could not have been further from the truth. Waiting in our room upon arrival (I was also given a copy to browse while waiting at the seaplane lounge in Malé) was a weekly activity schedule, which included multiple different fitness classes scattered throughout the week: boxing, muay Thai, pilates, yoga, etc. There was a solid variety to the selection and timing, and I enjoyed boxing in the mornings and even got roped into trying yoga for the first time (I just couldn't say no to the sunset views).
When you add in all the other activities available on this island, it's easy to stay fit and active if that's what you're looking to do. We went parasailing on our first day, which offered amazing views as we soared high over the island. We also tried sea bobbing, a motorized underwater vehicle that combines the adrenaline rush of Jet Skiing and the breathtaking views of snorkeling or diving. Throw in a couples massage, some incredible meals and plenty of time lounging around the pool in our villa or snorkeling at one of the many clearly marked channels (with complimentary snorkel gear that we were encouraged to keep for the duration of our stay), and there wasn't a single moment where I felt bored.
You'll find yoga and fitness classes at most island resorts like this, but the active encouragement from staff to participate helped created a very social atmosphere on the island. We made friends with multiple other guests throughout our stay and enjoyed seeing employees working in different capacities. When you have the same waiter at breakfast and dinner it's easier to strike up and continue a conversation and get personalized recommendations about food and activities. The smaller size of the island also made it easy to mingle with staff as they'd head over to Sip for a sunset drink along with the guests. My girlfriend is planning on pursuing a scuba divemaster internship in Indonesia later this year, and one of her dive instructors at the W had worked on the same island she's interested in. Instead of their conversations being limited to the morning dive sessions, she was able to corner them at the bar and get a personal take on a major career decision she's considering.
Whatever/Whenever from very dedicated staff
"Good service" means different things to different people. Some prefer formality and privacy, while others (myself included) prefer a friendly and personable approach. That's part of the reason I find myself consistently gravitating towards Ws, which are the only hotels where I've had a waiter sit down at our table and strike up a conversation while taking our order.
This is the point where I have to acknowledge that the hotel knew I write for TPG before my arrival. It's possible I received slightly better service (or at least more attention) because of it, but based on the way I observed staff interacting with other guests, I think it's safe to say you're in for a treat when you stay at the W.
I want to give a special shout out to Chunky (yes, that's his real name and yes, there's an amazing story behind it which he'd love to tell you), the head of Whatever/Whenever which is what W calls its concierge team. At most W hotels Whatever/Whenever is a cute branding tactic and nothing more, but boy did Chunky embody that philosophy every minute of the day.
He's a huggable guy with a loud personality and he found a way to check on us at least once or twice a day throughout our stay. You'd also spot him making the rounds at breakfast every morning, making sure every guest was having the perfect trip they wanted.
When we decided to switch rooms on our second to last night, Chunky let us pick out the exact villa we wanted and blocked it off for us. We got to decide what time to make the move, letting us maximize our afternoon overwater and moving into our beach villa just in time to walk next door to Sip for some sunset views.
Another great thing Chunky did was help us order when we ate at Fire (steak and grill) and then Fish. The menus rotate pretty regularly at these restaurants so Chunky was able to suggest a few off-menu selections that he highly recommended, including the mixed Tandoori platter at Fire and the squid-ink-and-lobster pasta at Fish. The waiters all laughed every time we said "I know this isn't on the menu but Chunky said..." Off-menu seems to be a pretty big thing here, so definitely ask your waiter what they recommend before you make your choices!
Instead of having a single point person responsible for our stay, every single staff member took a vested interest in learning what we wanted to do and making it happen. Restaurant reservations were handled via a quick text over WhatsApp or WeChat, and every other staff member took initiative when it came to their own departments.
For example, my girlfriend mentioned on the first day while we were picking up our snorkel equipment how badly she wanted to dive with manta rays. Unfortunately, they didn't have any dives to manta point planned for that week, but over the next two days Greg from "Down Under" (the dive shop) was able to pull together both a dive trip and a manta snorkeling trip where we saw 20+ of those beautiful and majestic creatures. Normally there's a four-person minimum for the snorkeling trip, but Greg roped a few staff members into joining us so we'd be able to go out and enjoy the activity.
My only complaint: slightly limited dining options
Whenever I review a flight or hotel I strive to be neutral and balance all the good things with areas that a given property or airline could improve in. In this regard, the W Maldives made me work much harder than I was planning to during my vacation. The one and only thing I think the property could do to improve would be to expand its dining options a little bit.
As I mentioned above, Fish and Fire are the hotels two main restaurants, offering fresh seafood out on the jetty or a delicious grill and Indian menu you can enjoy with your feet in the sand. What I didn't realize until I arrived in Malé is that each restaurant is only open four days out of the week, on rotation.
We ended up not minding, as Chunky's off-menu suggestions gave us the chance to try Fish multiple different ways but given how much guests are spending to be at this resort, I don't love the idea of the property dictating which type of dinner you eat. In-room dining is always an option, with restaurant-quality food and views that will not disappoint (if you're staying in a beach oasis I'd strongly recommend ordering in and enjoying at least one meal on your upper deck) but there is one change I'd like to see the W make: expand the sushi menu at Sip and turn it into a viable alternative for dinner.
Sip is the main bar at the hotel, offering some of the best views on the island and drawing a crowd around sunset.
You'll find a small sushi menu at Sip as well, with one type of roll, a few seafood salads, and sashimi and sushi platters to share. The food was delicious and with a few small tweaks (namely: a few more food options) this could easily be a third option for dinner that allows people to eat with the sunset instead of getting up and moving after. I understand that space constraints likely prevent the W from opening any new restaurants on the island, but this seems like a simple and tasty way to avoid menu fatigue and lean into the strength of fresh-caught seafood.
When I got back from the Maldives last year, a lot of my friends joked that after staying at The St. Regis I was spoiled for life and no hotel would ever be able to compare. While The St. Regis still has a slight edge when it comes to pure luxury, I'll be coming back to the W as soon as I possibly can. There simply isn't a bad room on the island, whether you stick with the incredible base option of staying in an overwater villa or choose to pay up for the beach oasis instead. There are plenty of activities to keep you entertained on your trip, and the marine life, a huge selling point of visiting the Maldives, is some of the best in the country. Whether you're looking for a secluded and romantic getaway or a more social experience, the W Maldives is one of the best values on points in the region.