This luxurious Maldives resort has an on-site doctor and free COVID-19 tests

Sep 20, 2020

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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We’ll be here to help you prepare, whether you’re traveling next month or next year.

When Jed Tsai booked his trip to the Maldives last November, he never could have predicted that the coronavirus would bring travel nearly to a halt – or force him to completely redo his itinerary.

“Since Americans can’t transit through Singapore now,” Tsai told TPG over e-mail, “we had to rebook our flights.” And his parents, who were originally planning to come along, decided not to move forward with the trip “since [their flights] were canceled and they are older … [and] didn’t feel safe traveling.”

Still, Tsai and his family, who are based in Issaquah, Washington outside Seattle, proceeded with their trip to the Maldives last month.

“We decided to stick with [our trip] because I did the research and was confident I could get us there and back without getting [COVID-19],” Tsai said, saying he spent months preparing. Though Tsai and his family discussed canceling or moving their Maldives vacation, he didn’t see any points availability for the next year — and they had their sanity to keep in mind.

“My kids were getting tired of us,” Tsai said, “and my wife was going [stir-crazy],” he explained. “Personally, [I] just really missed being on a flying tin can.”

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Preparing for the trip

The Republic of Maldives — a stunning island nation in the Indian Ocean comprising 26 natural atolls and over 1,000 white-sand islands — is currently accepting international tourists, though the requirements for entry have shifted dramatically since it reopened its border in mid-July.

Currently, international visitors must have a confirmed reservation with an approved tourist establishment; they must complete an online health declaration form 24 hours before departure; and, as of Sept. 10, visitors must have a certificate of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure, among other measures.

When Tsai and his family traveled to the Maldives in late August, however, coronavirus tests were not required. Still, Tsai said they quarantined and took PCR nasal swab tests a week before departure “to be responsible.” And that wasn’t the last test Tsai and his family would take to enjoy a luxurious stay at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.

Tsai says his wife was anxious about the trip, but they kept a close eye on how the coronavirus situation was being handled in the Maldives, how busy the airports were and what the hotels, airports and airlines were doing to mitigate the risk of spread.

Related: A country-by-country guide to visiting Asia: Only the Maldives will welcome you with open arms

Managing expectations

Upon arrival in the Maldives, Tsai’s family was greeted by staff from the property, who collected their bags. The boat to the resort was hardly socially distant, he observed, and some travelers removed their masks for the ride. Tsai recalls seeing another family with kids, a young college-aged couple and newlyweds.

At the property, the Tsais received a socially distant hello and welcome drinks, before being escorted to their villa by a personal concierge. Their luggage was taken to be sanitized and an on-site doctor arrived at their room within 30 minutes. “[He] did a temperature check and then gave us the option to do a free finger-prick [coronavirus] test, which we accepted,” Tsai explained.

The results were returned in just a few minutes — negative, again — and Tsai and his family were cleared to enjoy the resort.

In addition to the mandatory doctor’s visit, Tsai said the resort was taking a number of precautions to protect guests and staff members from COVID-19, which made them feel “much better about going.” He cited the rigid mask requirements for staff members, frequency of testing, resort capacity (around 50%), social distancing at restaurants and other measures. They even received a kit with mask, gloves and sanitizer.

All this, Tsai added, made them feel comfortable enough to book appointments at the spa.

“We weren’t going to do any treatments,” Tsai said, “but [we] felt a lot safer after being there.”

Related: An inside look at how Hilton is cleaning hotel rooms between guests

You’d think, perhaps, that the intense focus on cleanliness and safety might take all the fun out of a Maldivian getaway. But Tsai says it was quite the opposite. Rather than interfere with their experience, Tsai said the resort’s precautions made their getaway “more fun.”

“We were glad that the hotel was taking such precautions and felt much better about taking the trip. Frankly, Qatar Airways was taking great precautions, too, with face masks and shields required upon boarding.”

The worst part of the trip, Tsai says, was stateside, when they were transiting from Los Angeles International (LAX). “There were just a ton of people waiting to get picked up,” he said of the Alaska terminal. And “even though Alaska was blocking seats and requiring masks,” he said people “slow-sipping” in first class was an issue.

“They were just sort of abusing it,” he said. “I was happier to be flying in economy but felt less safe … than on international flights.” That, he says, was the “weak link” of the entire experience, which involved multiple connections and coronavirus tests.

Related: Face shields and sanitizer: 5 things we’re packing for flights during the pandemic

Bottom line

For travelers willing to “align [their] expectations” and “do the due diligence” research, Tsai says he’d recommend this trip to others. Of course, that’s a lot of additional preparation for a far-flung beach getaway.

“Our process of traveling started months before,” Tsai said, describing how he and his wife practiced mask-wearing with their children, stockpiled sanitary wipes and devised contingency plans in case they experienced any irregular operations or contracted COVID-19. They got international insurance coverage and figured out where they’d go if they fell ill.

So, should you take a trip to the Maldives right now? Travelers should absolutely talk to a doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking any travel, whether you’re eyeing an opulent overwater villa or you want to stay closer to home.

But during a global pandemic, it’s clear that such unexpected amenities as an on-site doctor and complimentary COVID-19 test might be the next big thing in luxury.

Featured photo courtesy of Hilton Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.

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