Proposal in paradise: A review of the Stella Maris Villa at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi

Mar 9, 2020

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To The Point

The Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi is a luxurious resort where staff go above and beyond to give you the perfect stay. Pros: Convenient 24-hour yacht transfer allows you to maximize time at resort instead of airport, incredible diving and wildlife excursions nearby and a solid points redemption considering the astronomical room rates. Cons: Food and extras are extremely expensive on top of already high room rates. The yacht transfer, while extremely convenient, adds a significant amount of money to any stay and you may experience more boat traffic and “big-city lights” since it’s not as remote as some further away resorts like the Park Hyatt.

Every trip to the Maldives is special, but my most recent visit was a once-in-a-lifetime experience — I used the Indian Ocean archipelago as a backdrop to propose to my then-boyfriend.

On past trips, I’ve tended to go alone; it’s the perfect place to unwind and disconnect from the hectic world around us. During my last four trips, I’ve been lucky enough to stay at such resorts as the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, Baros Maldives and the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa.

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Since I was planning such a special occasion on this trip, though, I wanted to go the extra mile to ensure everything would be perfect — including the resort. Originally, I thought I’d stay at the new JW Marriott Maldives Resort and Spa, but I grew concerned when I saw that the opening kept getting pushed back. Being one of the first hotel guests at a resort can be exciting, but it can also be frustrating to deal with new hotel kinks (you can read all about my prior experience with this at The St. Regis Venice or Summer Hull’s experience at the Hyatt Zilara Cap Cana). And, of course, this is all assuming the hotel even opens on time.

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. 

Because I knew I’d be proposing on this trip, I wanted to leave zero room for error and aim for a new resort, but not a brand-new resort. But this is TPG after all, so we decided to bring along other team members in order to check out several newly opened properties as well as the tried-and-true properties that have been around for years. With more people coming on the trip, it was decided that I’d check out the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi and Nicky Kelvin of TPG UK would stay at the JW Marriott.

But, given the extra-special nature of my trip, I wanted an extra-special room — which I found in the form of the Stella Maris Ocean Villa, located on its own island within the resort. I’d also be the first guest to stay at this particular villa, which was completed recently before my stay.

In This Post

Booking

Beach villas are the base rooms at the Waldorf Astoria and you can book them starting at 120,000 points per night or upwards of $1,500 per night. If you choose to redeem your points here, it’s not uncommon that you can get at least double the value that we assign Hilton Honors points in our monthly valuations.

Oh, and don’t worry about the phrase “base room” at this property — they are stunning. Staying in an overwater villa is a unique experience, but I love the privacy and space you get on land, as well as being able to walk along the beach. Often overwater villas are located far from the beach and all the action on the resort.

But in this case — my proposal trip — I wanted something that truly felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Enter the Stella Maris Ocean Villa, one of two exclusive villas on the property that were going for 2.2 million Honors points per night.

Related: Short on Hilton points? Top off your account with this Amex promo

When booking, I considered using the fourth-night-free benefit from the Citi Prestige® Card, but the rate was really high with lots of added fees, so it really wasn’t a money-saving option. Using this fourth-night free benefit can often be hit or miss, depending on how Citi prices the hotels in its own portal.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

But in the end I decided to book directly with Hilton, which actually had the cheapest rate at about $5,000 per night using a AAA discount. The total cost was about $20,000 for my four-night stay. Instead of paying with my Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, I ended up paying with my Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Thanks to the spend that I put on this card for my business, as well as the Capital One® Spark® Miles Business, I had a high balance of Capital One points (over two million, to be exact), which I used to effectively “wipe off” the cost of the accommodation from my statement, making what was a huge splurge a lot more affordable — free, to be exact. Although it may seem crazy, I use those cards for a huge amount of business spend — one million in spend had given me two million in points, which in turn paid for my stay.

If I didn’t have all those Capital One points, I would have paid for my stay with my Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express to get 34 points per dollar spent — 14 points for using the Aspire and 20 more points for having Hilton Diamond status.

TPG Director of Video Tom Grahsler was part of this massive office trip to the Maldives, and I booked him a beach villa using the previously mentioned 120,000 Honors points for a one-night stay. Thanks to my Diamond status, he got upgraded to a Queen Grand Reef Villa with pool — and was entitled to my Diamond benefits:

  • Free breakfast
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Complimentary late checkout
  • Complimentary two bottles of water daily
  • In-villa VIP welcome Champagne and sweets
  • Complimentary additional 30 minutes added to a booked 60-minute massage at the spa
  • Complimentary happy hour from 4-5 p.m. at Peacock Alley
  • 50% off selected beverages at Nava Beach Club from 10-11:30 p.m.

His impressions from his brief stay are included at the end of this story.

Location

The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi has 122 villas across three private islands. There are two separate Stella Maris Villas, each set out in the middle of the sea between the private island and the overwater villas. These villas are only reachable by boat.

Although my stay was only four nights, I wanted to maximize the time I had. So, I booked an inbound flight which arrived in Male around 6 a.m. on the first day of my trip and then departed Male at around 10 p.m. on the last day. Something that I immediately loved about this hotel was that it does the airport transfers with a speedboat, which allowed me to have more time at the property.

Related: Your guide to seaplane and speedboat resort transfers in the Maldives

The biggest downside to taking a seaplane is that they don’t finalize the schedules until the day before the flights depart. If I had stayed at a seaplane resort, I could have lost an entire day as I would have been at the mercy of the flight schedule. So, if your flights arrive at Male early in the morning and then depart late at night at the end of your vacation, you may want to consider the Waldorf Astoria solely based on all the extra time you’ll have to enjoy the resort, which is, after all, the whole reason to go to the Maldives in the first place.

Arrival via private yacht gave me the flexibility to organize my transfers at the times I wanted them. I spend a lot of time in airports, so I was happy to spend less time waiting for my flights and more time enjoying the resort. The yacht runs 24/7 and takes about 50 minutes to get from the airport in Male to the hotel. Although it’s a pricey $862 per person round-trip, it came with a private bedroom (first-come, first-served) where you can relax or nap, Wi-Fi, coffee, Champagne and snacks.

The service was great — the boat was waiting in Male and I left promptly after my flight arrived.

For departure, the plan is usually to arrive at the airport about three hours before your flight is scheduled to depart, which means that I would have had to leave the Waldorf Astoria around 6 p.m. to arrive at the airport at around 7 p.m., three hours before my 10 p.m. departure. However, the island on which the Waldorf sits is actually one hour ahead of Male (some resorts in the Maldives change the time to offer guests an extra hour of daylight), so I actually went “back in time” during the boat ride, and arrived at the airport at 6:45 p.m. after leaving the hotel at 7 p.m. I highly recommend factoring in the time change when organizing your trip in order to have as much time at the resort as possible.

Check-in

After the boat ride, which was great, albeit slightly rainy, I arrived to a team of staff members waiting for me. There was even a large gong that was rung to signify my arrival. Now that’s an entrance.

The reception hall featured beautiful, understated tropical elegance. I was checked in in no time at all, too.

Since I knew I’d be arriving around 10 a.m., I had prebooked massages while staff prepared my room. I definitely recommend prebooking spa treatments if you know you’ll be arriving early. After 24 hours of travel, heading straight to the spa was the ideal way to deal with jet lag. Remember, Hilton Diamonds get an extra 30 minutes added onto their massages here.

The Stella Maris Villa is only reachable by pontoon boat, so after my massage, it was back on the water again. Five minutes later, I was climbing a small set of stairs up to the villa’s entrance.

The Stella Maris Villa

I fell in love with the Stella Maris Villa before I even walked in. I actually had chills when I spotted it from the boat.

Upon entering, I realized that this was probably the most beautiful villa I’d ever seen — a modern masterpiece, yet still comfortable and cozy. The sleek design scheme, heavy in marble and glass, inspired comfort and relaxation. I was blown away by the shocking amount of marble in the villa — this space definitely wasn’t going anywhere in a storm. Everything looked shiny and new, and it was clear that I was the very first guest to stay in the villa.

Although the villa was positively huge, the bedroom felt cozy, and featured a beautiful king-size bed.

The floor-to-ceiling windows let in an enormous amount of light, and I caught myself staring out onto the stunning sea views. The main living area was huge, with three glass walls and a small kitchenette. Here, I had a Nespresso machine and a big drawer of capsules.

The outdoor space was where the villa shone even brighter.

The first-floor deck had a large infinity pool and two overwater net hammocks which were made for Instagram photo shoots.

 

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Excited to spend the rest of my life with this one. But seriously, where does one honeymoon when you propose in the Maldives?!

A post shared by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) on

There was just so much space outside, with a variety of lounge chairs and sofas and beds to relax on as well as a table and chairs for al fresco dining and even a private bar area upstairs.

A spiral staircase led up to a small half-outdoor/half-indoor upstairs deck area with a second, smaller infinity pool with jets, a barbecue grill and dining area. There was also a roof deck where I did yoga one day.

Admiring the sublime sunsets quickly became a nightly routine too.

Every single villa gets a butler — called a concierge —  at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives. Concierge unpacking was offered, which I happily took advantage of. Our concierge Camille was wonderful. She helped us immensely throughout our stay, especially with things like reservations.

The bathroom was enormous, with a chic metal and marble design scheme and double sinks.

One day, I came back to the villa and they had run a bath with rose petals in the huge soaking tub, which looked out through a huge window to the ocean and resort.

The main shower passed the TPG shower test, though the one outside came very close. I’ll give it a pass.

The privacy of the villa was really special. I could see the other Stella Maris Villa from the rooftop, and other parts of the resort from some areas of the villa, but couldn’t reach anywhere else on the resort without a boat, so it felt very secluded. I thought this might bug me, but the tranquility was amazing. Whenever I needed a transfer, I called and the staff arrived promptly with the pontoon boat.

Amenities and dining

The Maldives is all about relaxing. In fact, I got three massages while I was there and they were all fantastic. They definitely weren’t cheap, but I knew that in advance and they were well worth the cost. The spa, which has 10 treatment pavilions is completely overwater, which meant I could watch the fish swim during my massage through glass-bottomed floor sections.

One morning, I did sunrise yoga on the rooftop of the villa with a private instructor, an incredible way to start my day. It was also an expensive way to start my day — the private rooftop class cost $550.

There was a large fitness center on the property too, as well as a pool (but I had a few of my own, so I never went to the main one). The resort grounds were beautiful (and large) but most of the time I spent on the resort was in the villa, or underwater, diving.

The house reef was just OK, unfortunately. Any time an overwater resort is built, the reef is drilled. The house reef here was damaged from the drilling and will take some time to recover. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the reef at Baros. I did a refresher dive at the house reef and didn’t see much marine life. But just a 15-minute boat ride away, there was a small chain of islands where the diving was fantastic. I saw a manta one day even though they weren’t in season, as well as many fish, eels, turtles and even a silvertip shark (my favorite kind of shark).

I also chartered a boat one day to go swim with nurse sharks which was amazing (but also not cheap at $2,800 for four hours). I also saw whales one day and helped save a sea turtle named Olive Ripley — I really got into the marine life this visit. There was a marine biologist, Emma, on the resort who was really friendly and interesting to talk to. It’s possible to do a group tour and see wild dolphins in a natural lagoon area or charter a private boat with the on-site marine biologist and snorkel with the dolphins.

Even though the resort has 122 villas, my (almost) fiancé and I were the only people on the diving boat each day. In general, I never felt the resort was crowded, although I did run into a few TPG readers at one point.

The internet worked well, too, though I have to say, it was nice to have a small digital detox during this trip.

The villa rate included free glass-bottled water, but other than that, you’re on your own for food costs. Luckily, thanks to my Hilton Diamond status, we got free breakfast daily. Each day, we ordered from the menu and the charge would be wiped. Because dining is so incredibly expensive, we really loaded up on breakfast each day. we never went to the breakfast restaurant — or left the villa for lunch either. It was hard to justify leaving, so I just had everything delivered there. I can’t imagine a breakfast restaurant could top dining at the Stella Maris Villa.

In addition to the usual breakfast foods, we ordered a Middle Eastern mezze platter with hummus etc., which we’d stick in the fridge and then eat after we got back from scuba diving each day as a lunch snack. The interesting thing about breakfast was that I’m sure there were different chefs each day. The first day, our omelets were fantastic and the next day, just average, and the trend continued. And having a floating breakfast was fun … until I spilled Champagne in the pool.

Overall, the food was great, but it was just so expensive. We paid $110 for lobster curry and $32 for a basic green salad, which is one of the priciest room service lunches I’ve had in a while (maybe ever).

Although the food was expensive at the Waldorf, they really did work hard to offer an authentic dining experience. In total, the resort has 11 different dining venues. In the Middle Eastern restaurant Yasmeen, there was even imported Lebanese stone — it was a full experience.

Although your concierge can assist with hotel reservations, I highly recommend looking online and making dinner reservations in advance to ensure you get a table at the restaurants you want. Make sure to book Terra, which has private dining nests made from bamboo, a really fun experience.

Since I had let the staff know in advance I was proposing, they went above and beyond to help make the occasion a perfect one.

Post-proposal (he said yes, whew!), the hotel informed us that dinner was on them that night and they’d be organizing something special. But I was amazed when they shut down the beach just for us and created a special Maldivian sandbank dinner, which is something special they do to celebrate important events in the local culture. They actually dug out a section of the beach to create a special dinner table surrounded by candles, which was so romantic. Even though the Maldives is a traditional Muslim country that doesn’t recognize gay marriage, the staff couldn’t have been happier for us. I have always felt that Hilton is a very inclusive brand and we were treated with the utmost respect during our stay.

After our surprise sandbank dinner, I continued to celebrate during a wine tasting with my new fiancé in the Rock, a 12-person wine vault built into boulders.

The Queen Grand Overwater Reef Villa

TPG Video Director Tom Grahsler spent one night in the Queen Grand Overwater Reef Villa. Here’s what he had to say:

“My reef villa was stunning! The overwater terrace had a private infinity pool, as well as an overwater hammock, daybed and an outdoor shower. Unfortunately, my stay was only one night long and I spent most of the time in Brian’s epic Stella Maris Villa filming, which didn’t leave me much time to enjoy the reef villa. But it felt very private and I loved the daybed/outdoor swing that overlooked the sea.

The bathroom was huge, and I loved how the bathtub was positioned right by the window.

I did take a quick dip in the infinity plunge pool, and while it was not quite the Stella Maris, it was certainly pretty amazing. I took advantage of the fact I was in an overwater villa and swam in the ocean below my villa, peeking up through a glass window in the floor of my room. This was a must-do activity when staying in an overwater villa, after all. I got a comfortable sleep in one of the two queen beds, and waking up to the sunrise was gorgeous.”

The new king of Maldives points resorts?

In my opinion, the only other points property that can compete with this new Waldorf is The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, which is now a few years old. The St. Regis is spectacular but at the end of the day, my vote goes to the Waldorf Astoria. Yes, it’s more expensive overall, but the convenience of the yacht transfer which allowed me to spend less time in the airport and more time in paradise, plus its varied and delicious dining options and incredible sea life just minutes away make it the winner for me. This property flawlessly embodies what it means to have a Maldivian vacation.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with a stay at The St. Regis. I visited the resort a few years ago and had an amazing stay, and each time a TPG staffer has gone, they’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences.

Overall impression

The Stella Maris Villa at the Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi was a stay I’ll never forget. The spa experiences were perfect and the property itself is exquisite. The villa was gorgeous and the staff was excellent — including the concierge and yoga teacher. The Waldorf really takes it to the next level with dining too. Each of the restaurants is a truly special experience, not just a meal. Unfortunately, four nights just wasn’t enough — I could have stayed a full week. It was the perfect spot for my engagement, and I’m sure honeymooners would also have a very romantic and special time here.

I’d love to return to the Waldorf Astoria, but I would stay in a beach villa or regular overwater villa. The Stella Maris was a once-in-a-lifetime stay — and an extra-special one because he said yes.

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