Paradise, for a price: A review of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
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At the end of last year, it was decided that it was high-time that the team organize a large trip to the Maldives to check out several of these new properties and also check in on some of the standbys that people have been visiting for years.
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I was assigned to stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, a Hilton property that a few TPG staffers have stayed at -- and enjoyed -- in the past, but that hadn't been reviewed in a number of years. And, with most rooms on the property having received a facelift throughout the latter parts of 2019, we decided it was the perfect time to return to the resort and give it a full review.
Read on for my impressions of a deluxe beach villa at one of the Maldives' most popular points hotels, made particularly famous thanks to its underwater Ithaa Restaurant and world's first underwater villa, the Muraka.
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.
The Conrad is spread across two private islands. The resort is only reachable by a 30-minute seaplane flight.
At Male Airport, a concierge met me and then walked me to the Conrad's airport lounge that offered coffee, cold towels and a breakfast spread. I found it to be a comfortable waiting spot, with sofas and Wi-Fi. Peculiarly, it's only free to enter between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. It costs $85 to enter between 5:30 p.m -11:30 p.m., and I can't think of a reason I'd pay $85 to do so.
After relaxing in the lounge, I boarded the seaplane, excited for my first flight on this unique type of aircraft. I was given earplugs which I was grateful for as the engines were really loud. We landed to the sight of the hotel staff waving – a very warm welcome indeed.
I could have taken a short domestic flight to another island from Male (MLE) and then taken a speedboat to the Conrad, but it would have added a lot of hassle and time to my journey and wasn't particularly affordable either.
Related: Everything you need to know about resort transfer fees in the Maldives
You have to take a seaplane to get to many of the resorts in the Maldives, so factor this cost into your budget. The thing that really annoyed me about the seaplanes, though, wasn't the price. It was the timing of the planes, which the hotels scheduled the evening before. Even though I told the Conrad that my return flight to the U.S. wasn't until 11 p.m., I was told on the evening before I left that my seaplane would leave at 3 p.m. the next day, cutting short my final day. and, this is common to Maldives resorts that utilize seaplane transfers, so plan accordingly, unless you want to fork over $5,000 for a private seaplane transfer at your preferred time.
It's also important for your budgeting to understand that the Conrad Maldives is on an island, Rangali, that is literally in the middle of the ocean. No restaurants are nearby, you can't just pop down to 7-11 for a soda or Uber to the nearest shopping mall. Your time will be spent at the resort (which is stunning, by the way), all your meals and activities will happen at the resort -- and you'll pay a lot for them.
Since I don't have any status with Hilton, I booked my three-night stay at the Conrad through Hotels.com. The total cost for three nights in a beach villa and daily breakfast was $2,510 for three nights, or about $837 per night. As with basically all Maldives hotels, there was a mandatory round-trip airport transfer that could only be paid in cash. At the Conrad, this seaplane transfer cost $590 per person after tax, which was paid upon checkout.
Related: The best credit cards for Hilton hotel stays
If you're looking to burn Honors points at this property, you can often get a great value for them, as you can find award nights starting at 95,000 points per night. And, if you're short on Honors points, consider applying for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, ($450 annual fee; see rates & fees) which is currently offering a welcome bonus of 150,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, the card gives automatic Hilton Diamond status, and offers up to $250 in airline-fee credits and up to $250 in Hilton resort credits, and I would earn 14 points per dollar spent on eligible Hilton purchases.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
My check-in experience was seamless. I was met by my personal concierge Naim right after disembarking from the seaplane. I was graciously handed what may have been the most unique welcome drink I've ever tasted: a fruit slushie served in a really cool wooden bowl with a spoon.
It was nice to be able to land and immediately enjoy welcoming service and a refreshing drink. I also learned that I'd been upgraded from a Beach Villa to a Deluxe Beach Villa. Although the staff wasn't aware I was reviewing the hotel, I'm pretty sure my request to film video around the resort (I'm TPG's director of video) may have triggered the upgrade, especially considering I don't have any Hilton elite status. The Deluxe Beach Villa, although the next-highest room category, is almost double the size of the regular Beach Villa and comes with a private plunge pool.
The lobby gave off a "barefoot luxury" vibe: Its white-sand floor instantly suggested Maldivian relaxation. I was given a map of the property and Naim walked me through it, explaining all the elements of the hotel and asking which restaurants I would like to reserve for dinner. I booked a couple of meals but not all of them, as I wanted to have some flexibility during my visit.
I’d never been scuba diving before, but if there’s any place that inspires diving, it’s the Maldives, so on the way to my room we stopped at the dive center where I scheduled a Discovery Dive.
The villa not only faced the beach but also had an amazing private outdoor garden area with a large daybed and swing in front.
The room was gorgeous – even better than I had imagined. The over-3,000-square-foot villa was flooded with light through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
I loved the attention to detail – things like a fresh flower on the bed immediately caught my eye. Speaking of the bed, it was huge and comfortable. I slept well during my stay.
I loved having a Nespresso machine and I also got two complimentary water bottles per day. The minibar contained all of the usual suspects like soft drinks and beer.
The bathroom was also spacious and beautiful, with a double vanity.
The shower spacious and beautiful, and the rainfall shower head would definitely pass the TPG shower test.
I also had a huge, inviting outdoor shower.
Bath amenities were from Molton Brown -- another high-end touch.dfs
Although I’m not big into products, they smelled nice and weren't overbearing. The closet was well-appointed, with a robe and slippers. A note was attached to a chic beach bag saying if I wanted one, they were available for purchase in the gift shop, but I assume I could have used it during my stay if I had wanted to.
I was pleased to notice my luggage had arrived in the room before I did.
Exiting out the back, I had a small private deck and my own infinity plunge pool surrounded by white sand.
The pool had jets that turned on. There were also two comfortable lounge chairs outside. A small path flanked by jungle foliage led me to a stunning white-sand beach. Although the beach wasn’t just for me, it was fairly empty and never felt crowded.
The snorkeling reef was right near my villa too. There’s nothing like waking up, strolling out onto your private pool area and then wandering down to the beach and snorkeling in just a few seconds.
Obviously, having my own private pool was a fantastic amenity in itself, but the resort also has a quiet-zone (read: adults-only) pool with music and bar. On the family island, there was another pool complete with a kids pool and another bar (parents need booze too).
Having the beach and snorkel reef right outside my door was truly amazing – I loved being able to snorkel each morning before breakfast. Although the beach wasn’t private, each beach villa had its own section of sorts with two loungers, an umbrella and tables. The sections are spaced relatively far apart, so it felt semi-private.
Wi-Fi worked well, with download speeds of 8.12 mbps and upload speeds of 9.48 mbps.
Although I didn't manage to get to the fitness center, it was fully stocked with cardio/weight equipment and open 24/7.
Daily boot camp, circuit and yoga classes were offered, as well as beach volleyball, table tennis, power walking and stretching activities.
There was a tennis court, an on-site watersports center and an on-site dive center. The gregarious staff at the dive center made my first Discovery Dive a breeze. It was my first time diving ever, and I don't think I could have had a better experience. I had a quick lesson in the classroom and then headed out to a gorgeous dive site under 10 minutes away where I saw all sorts of amazing underwater species.
I did get a massage at the overwater spa, but it was under construction, so only one small part of the spa was available. My massage was good (but not exceptional) and pricey at $253. I was disappointed that the resort didn't have a hammam, steam room or relaxation area that I could lounge in after my massage -- especially because I was told not to shower for an hour to let the oils work their magic. Instead, I was driven back to my room in my bathrobe, carrying my belongings in a bag, to wait out that hour. For a $250 massage, I would've preferred to spend that hour in the spa instead of being kicked out immediately. If I had realized the spa renovation wasn't complete, I probably would have skipped the whole experience.
Food and beverage
I’ll start with breakfast, since one of my favorite things about hotel stays is testing out the first meal of the day. I love it when breakfast buffets include both Western and Asian options – and the Conrad Maldives came through. Almost all of the rates available on Hilton.com come with breakfast included -- and my rate on Hotels.com did too.
Even if you don't find a rate that includes breakfast, you can guarantee that perk by securing either Gold or Diamond status with Hilton, which you can do simply by applying for a card. The Platinum Card® from American Express offers complimentary Gold status with Hilton as a perk of card membership (enrollment required), and, of course the Hilton Aspire card comes with Diamond status as a perk of just having the card.
The typical eggs, bacon, sausage and toast were available at the buffet and looked fresh and delicious. But the Asian section was really awesome, complete with congee, dim sum and a noodle bar. Of course, I had a bit of everything, tasting the rice congee, pork dumpling, a bowl of hotpot-inspired soup, sushi, a chocolate croissant, an omelet, toast and tropical fruits (don’t judge me for mixing) and it was all exceptional.
After my breakfast of champions, I ordered lunch from room service and came away disappointed. The menu was limited and it took about 30 minutes to arrive, which isn’t terrible but not speedy either. I ordered a burger, which tasted very average and was overpriced at $38.
Even though my burger wasn’t great, I was happy to be enjoying it the beautiful daybed area, though I could have also eaten indoors or out by my pool. It was so nice to have all that extra space.
The Conrad Maldives offers a unique dining opportunity: the underwater restaurant, Ithaa. I ate lunch there one afternoon and the wow factor was there. I walked down a staircase and through a hallway and I was suddenly underwater, surrounded by swimming creatures. I suspect they do a feeding right before each lunch and dinner turn, as there were lots of fish swimming when I first arrived, but the number died down a bit as lunch went on.
I chose to do the four-course, prix-fixe tasting menu ($200), which didn't include alcohol. So, I stuck to water. But that still cost a whopping $45, which is insane. They refilled my glass several times, which was kind of them.
Interestingly, you can visit the restaurant as a non-guest, but you’d have to arrange your own transport and it's only available for lunch. So, if you’re staying elsewhere but want to eat at Ithaa, inquire at your hotel about arranging a speedboat transfer there.There was also a $30 surcharge for non-guest diners.
But back to my meal. The main course was veal and I had a sweet corn soup and duck confit as appetizers with strawberry cake for dessert. The food was tasty, but I wasn’t impressed when my veal arrived lukewarm.
I realize that maybe the kitchen itself wasn’t underwater, and the food was probably cooked in the Sunset Kitchen on the same pier and then shuttled over. Still, for the price I was paying (my lunch bill came out to $245 without wine), my food should have arrived at the right temperature. Nonetheless, it was amazing to eat underwater and it makes for a unique splurge.
I ate dinner one night at the Mediterranean restaurant Vilu. I went with the special for the evening, risotto with sea bass, which was incredible. I got a mozzarella salad as a starter, complete with a small loaf of homemade sourdough, an entire clove of roasted garlic and roasted tomatoes, with Modena balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping. It was definitely my dining highlight at the hotel – though breakfast was a close second.
Now it's time to repeat the warning that food prices are exorbitant. My bill came to $190 for two courses at Vilu with a glass of pinot grigio. Although this was an excellent meal, the quality of the food at the resort generally does not match the price. Yet be ready to really spend on food if you want to eat well. Or eat anything at all, really.
Staff members were friendly and helpful, without being overbearing, which I appreciated. Traveling solo, I thought I might be approached for small talk, but the staff let me do my thing while also making sure I knew they were there if I needed anything.
I had a relaxing, rejuvenating stay at the luxurious Conrad Maldives. I loved the light, the airy beach villa and the private outdoor space and direct beach access. The diving was fabulous, and the Maldives just feel exotic, a true escape. Just be ready to really splurge for this escape, as food is shockingly overpriced and seaplane transfers are expensive.
If you're ready to throw down some serious cash, this resort would be a good place to do it, though it's not quite as fancy as the Waldorf Astoria or the One&Only. Still, for honeymooners, families or even solo travelers who have the means, the Conrad Maldives makes for a truly memorable getaway.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.