New kid on the island: A review of the JW Marriott Maldives Resort and Spa
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To The Point
The JW Marriott Maldives Resort and Spa is a gorgeous resort and worthy of consideration should you be traveling to the Maldives. Pros: Outstanding service, overwater villas are the “base” rooms and generally excellent food. Cons: Only accessible by seaplane — and it’s a long ride, at that.
At the end of last year, the TPG team decided it was time to re-visit the Maldives, one of the world’s most aspirational destinations, especially for those with hotel points. The island nation has a dizzying number of high-end points properties to choose from, with many having opened in the last couple of years.
One of the newest is the JW Marriott Maldives Resort and Spa — the brand’s first entry in the Maldives and one of its highest-profile properties on earth. When it was decided that I’d get to be the one to give this brand-new property a full review, I was at once excited and a little apprehensive. Would this property be ready for prime time?
Read on for my impressions on this Maldivian newcomer.
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.
We booked my three-night stay for a total of 255,000 Bonvoy points and $1,220, which reflects the taxes and local charges that come with practically all Maldives resort bookings as well as the mandatory $600 for the round-trip seaplane transfer between the airport in Male and the resort.
As a Category 8 property, award nights at the JW Marriott can cost 70,000 points for an off-peak night, 85,000 for a standard night and 100,000 for a peak night. My three-night stay encompassed all three rates, which shows how the allocation of off-peak, standard and peak nights after Marriott’s shift to this dynamic pricing model can be seemingly random.
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Cash rates during my stay were right around $800 per night for a base room, which interestingly is an overwater villa at this property. TPG currently values Marriott points at 0.8 cents apiece, meaning that after factoring in taxes and fees we paid about the same amount in points as we would have in cash, but given how pricey everything in the Maldives is — and the size of our TPG team trip — points were clearly the way to go here.
Thanks to Ambassador status, I was afforded the following benefits during my stay:
- Welcome gift of 1,000 Marriott Bonvoy points and choice of a food and beverage amenity or a complimentary breakfast (go for breakfast for maximum value)
- 15-minute enhanced spa treatment
- Complimentary room upgrade (based on availability)
- Guaranteed late checkout till 4 p.m. (but your departure depends upon the seaplane schedule)
- 20% discount from restaurant and bars, excluding in-villa dining, destination dining and tobacco.
If you’re low on Marriott points and are eyeing a redemption such as this, consider signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which is currently offering a welcome bonus of 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
The JW Marriott is located on Vagaru Island, part of the Shaviyani Atoll in the northern part of the island nation of the Maldives.
Unlike some resorts in the Maldives that give you an option of a seaplane or a boat transfer, the only option at the JW Marriott is the seaplane, given that this property is relatively far from Male’s Velana International Airport (MLE).
The round-trip transfer costs $600 per person and takes around 55 minutes each way if you were flying nonstop. On the day I arrived, I was met by a member of the hotel’s staff, who transferred me from the arrivals hall at Male Airport to the Trans-Maldivian seaplane port. I had around 30 minutes to wait in the generic departure lounge before being ushered to the waiting seaplane.
Because we had to drop passengers at another resort first it took about 90 minutes to reach my destination.
There is nothing on the island but the hotel. As with most Maldivian properties, once you’re there, you’re there.
After a short boat transfer from the seaplane dock to the hotel’s main jetty, we were greeted by a gang of singing, drumming and clapping staff.
As I disembarked from the boat I was adorned with a necklace with a hand-made leaf pendant, and given cold towels and a refreshing fruit drink.
I was welcomed by the hotel manager and introduced to my takuru (butler), Arey, who would become my best pal throughout my stay. We exchanged numbers and connected on WhatsApp.
I also learned I had been upgraded to a beach villa. It’s a curious anomaly that the base rooms at this hotel — whether you’re paying in cash or with points — are overwater villas. The “upgrade” was to what is usually considered a downgrade in the Maldives. I accepted the upgrade, but the hotel also allowed me to request an overwater villa midway through the stay so that I could experience both.
Arey took me on a tour of the island, pointed out activity areas, restaurants, the spa and gym, and other tidbits such as the best places for snorkeling.
I was shown around my room and the check-in formalities were completed as I sat on my bed.
My only gripe was that my suitcase still hadn’t arrived after an hour. I messaged Arey on Whatsapp and within a couple of minutes he had my suitcase at my door.
There are 60 villas on the property, both beach and overwater. Base-level rooms like the one I stayed in have one floor, but some duplexes are also available.
My beach villa felt large, fresh and new.
It was a portrait of understated luxury, decorated in muted tones. My slight disappointment at being “upgraded” away from the overwater villas disappeared when I threw open the huge doors to the terrace, and saw the beach and sea right beyond the foliage and trees that provide privacy.
There was a warm and detailed welcome note on the table and welcome gifts including wine, juices, a fruit basket and various local sweet treats.
The bed was fantastic, one of the comfiest hotel beds I’ve ever slept in, with impossibly soft sheets and down pillows.
At night, there was a turndown service with a note about the next day’s forecast, a cute touch.
There were plentiful USB and universal power sockets by the bed and around the room. The bedside tables had a cool gemstone design and one table had a speaker alarm system.
There was generous storage in wardrobes outfitted with plenty of hangers, robes, slippers, flip-flops, a shoe-cleaning kit, iron and ironing board, a safe, umbrellas, and a high-quality hotel-branded bag, which came in handy.
The small kitchenette is equipped with a coffee machine and complimentary coffee pods, as well as large bottles of complimentary water (and small bottles by the bed and in the bathroom). This definitely made up for the exorbitant cost of water in the restaurants and bars.
My room was furnished with a large comfortable sofa and coffee table, a round glass-topped dining table and two chairs. There was no desk, and the glass table was a little too wobbly to be used as a workspace, but how many people are in the Maldives to work?
The bathroom had a black stone bathtub (big enough for two), a separate shower (with good pressure), a toilet and two sinks. Shampoo, conditioner and body wash are furnished in large dispensers — no stealing possible, but good for the environment. The products were not branded but the contents smelled delightful. Other amenities like the bamboo toothbrush which came in paper packaging focus on sustainability.
Outside the huge windows and French doors was a large private terrace with a private swimming pool, two sun loungers set up with towels, a shaded seating area with a sofa and chairs set around a large table and an outdoor shower.
Beyond the terrace was the gorgeous beach. From bed to sea was a mere 50 yards. Plants and trees made it feel as if the small section of beach in front of the villa was private.
Even with other villas nestled in the foliage nearby, I couldn’t see or hear anyone else.
After one night, I moved to an overwater villa. The setup of the room was exactly the same as my beach villa. Outside, it was obviously different. There was a similar setup of sofas, chairs, table and sun loungers but this terrace had a small but very nice infinity pool looking out over the ocean. At the back of the terrace, stairs led down to a ladder for direct sea access. The snorkeling right off the villa was wonderful, although the same could be said for the snorkeling right off the beach behind my first villa. The overwater villas have slightly less privacy — you can see into the neighboring villas from certain spots in the room and from the terrace.
It’s a real toss-up between the two room types. I’m surprised that the base-level rooms at this property are the overwater villas, in contrast to most other resorts, especially as this is the iconic image of any Maldives trip. There was an added element of privacy with the beach villa because of the lush foliage and trees. In the overwater villa, I had the ocean, but at the beach villa, I had beach and sea. My pro tip would be to split your time between the two. I’m certainly glad I got to experience both.
In addition to the private pool at each villa, there are two public pools, both of which were quiet every time I checked them out.
One pool is large, surrounded by different seating options, a bar and an Italian restaurant. You have direct access to the beach from this area.
The other pool is near the treehouse bar and restaurant. It is a more minimalist, infinity-style pool with traditional sun loungers on the deck. This felt like the chic exclusive spot, perhaps more suited to couples, while the other pool is better for families or larger groups.
There are many stretches of beach to enjoy on the island.
If you are a fitness junkie, this is the place for you. The overwater gym is stunning, with a treadmill and two bikes positioned right in a curved window looking out over the ocean. Diana, the fitness manager, runs regular complimentary group runs and fitness classes. She also sets a daily challenge, and the winner each day is awarded a 15-minute spa treatment, either as a standalone treatment, or as an add-on to an existing booking. I tried my best and took home the prize on the second day, claiming a 15-minute hot-stone massage.
There is also a yoga platform jutting into the sea, where free classes are offered most mornings and evenings. It was particularly zen when I took the sunset session. Vishnu was a knowledgeable and calming instructor.
The spa sits alongside the gym and yoga area and offers many treatments. I chose the 50-minute re-energize treatment, which was perfect and conducted in a calming overwater room where I could hear the waves lapping against the shore underneath my massage table. 50-minute treatments started at $50.
There is a full-service dive center, run by a third-party company. I did two dives. On both occasions, I was the dive instructor’s only student. The equipment was new and high-end. Divers are taken out on a swanky speed boat, (with a freshwater rinse hose!); you reach dive sites quickly and in comfort.
The dive instructor, Liliya, was fantastic. She made me feel safe and clearly loves her job. She was as excited as I was to see a huge sleeping nurse shark.
Snorkeling gear is available for free at the resort, and there are nice snorkeling spots, although definitely not the best the Maldives has to offer. I was told that the coral here, and in this atoll in general, is not great compared to other areas of the Maldives.
There is also other water sports equipment such as non-powered pedalos and paddleboards available on the beach at no extra charge.
Even though I don’t have kids, I had a quick peek in the Little Griffins Kid’s Club, which is actually epic — with a huge pirate ship and kids’ swimming pool. Children won’t be bored here.
Although there is no resort fee, some activities are only available for an additional fee and you will end up spending plenty at this resort.
Wi-Fi is free and accessed throughout the resort without a password. Download speeds ran at 6.8mbps and upload speeds at 35mbps.
Food and beverage
There are numerous dining and drinking options and in-room dining available 24 hours a day.
On the first evening, I ordered butter chicken and naan and a Corona to the room. It was served in under 30 minutes and was hot and delicious. As I would quickly learn, most of the food and drink is not cheap. This small meal cost around $80, inclusive of tax and service.
A breakfast buffet is served each day at Aailaa (which is also open for lunch and dinner serving international cuisine).
The beachfront restaurant has many different seating options.
I particularly liked the tables right by the beach, and I aimed for these each day at breakfast.
The buffet included all the usual offerings but there was also a juice bar with juices made to order.
There was also an à la carte menu included in the daily breakfast price that you could order from. I tried the French toast, a truly elevated version of this breakfast classic and a naughty delicious breakfast treat.
There is a restaurant and bar near the main pool: Fiamma, an Italian restaurant, and Horizon, the sunset pool bar. The catch of the day at Fiamma was jackfish and it was cooked to perfection and served with fries and a fresh off-menu green salad.
Cocktails at Horizon are inspired by coral and the descriptions on the menu are designed to educate you about marine life. However, it was hard to remember anything because they poured the booze with a heavy hand into these delicious drinks.
At the far end of the Island, next to the dive shop, was a Thai restaurant, Kaashi & Rum Baan. The restaurant and rum bar are set in a gorgeous tree-house setting, complete with a bouncy wooden rope bridge. It was the most fun dining venue on the island.
At lunch, the exceptional pad thai was prepared by a Thai chef and served spicy per my request. The chef came out to chat about Thailand and ask how I found the food. It made my meal in a Maldivian tree house weirdly magical and authentic.
The jewels in the dining crown at the JW Marriott are two restaurants housed in the same building: Hashi, a Japanese joint, and Shio, meat-and-seafood grill. They are open for dinner only and require a reservation.
I had a good meal at Hashi. The tempura shrimp sushi roll was great, but the beef carpaccio was a little salty.
The karaage (Japanese fried chicken) had been recommended to me but the batter on the chicken was too thick and I didn’t love it. However, the meal ended on a high note with a gorgeous black sesame creme brulee.
The standout dinner of the entire stay was at Shio.
The smoked Negroni aperitif, onion bread and olive tapenade amuse-bouche and tuna tartare starter, served with local traditional crackers, were very good.
The Tajima Wagyu steak was incredible, probably the best steak I’ve had in my life. If you stay at this hotel, do not miss Shio.
In my overwater villa, I tried out the in-room dining for breakfast. It was delivered exactly at the requested time and was quite a spread. Because I had complimentary breakfast, there was “only” a $20 tray charge. Eating this hearty breakfast on the terrace overlooking the ocean, following a quick dip and snorkel off the edge of my balcony was one of the highlights of the stay.
The service I experienced throughout my stay was slick, professional and efficient. On that note, a specific shout out to my takuru, Arey. He was on hand, seemingly 24/7, to cater to my every need. Always with a smile. There was no job too small, and having this kind of service right that at the end of a WhatsApp message, elevated this experience to the next level.
This is a fantastic property. I was apprehensive heading to a resort that officially opened only six weeks before my arrival.
If I was sitting on a hoard of Marriott Bonvoy points, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend them here, but save your pennies too because you’ll need them if you want to enjoy this fantastic resort to the fullest.
This new resort is gorgeous, its rooms are spacious and fresh, with fabulous outdoor areas, and the communal spaces are great too. The gym, spa and diving school shone, as did the food, especially the Shio grill restaurant.
Right now, it feels like undiscovered territory on another luxury planet. Get yourself to Vagaru Island, before the masses arrive.
All photos by the author.
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