News & Reviews Indian Ocean Maldives Review: One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives

One&Only Reethi Rah is one of the OGs of the now abundant Maldives luxury market.  Back when it opened, Napoleon had just conquered Egypt, and you could buy a house for two chickens and a cave painting.  Or, as we like to call it in the modern calendar – the year 2006.  Unsurprisingly, with the same architect behind beauts like Cheval Blanc Randheli, Amanyara and Aman New York, it hasn’t aged that badly and is yet to look like Godzilla trampled it on his way to the gym.  With such an esteemed design, you would think it would have a fantastic reputation.  And it does, just not with anyone I happen to know who kept telling me it sucked.  I put on my big-boy clothes to investigate this apparent suckiness.

Back when this was designed, the sun had yet to be invented.

One&Only Reethi Rah is a mostly man-made island with 122 rooms, placing it among the Maldive’s largest luxury resorts.  Don’t make that think you’re all crammed next to each other and have to sleep nose-to-armpit with your neighbour, or there’s some ungodly amount of overwater villas stretching so far out they reach international waters.  This island, with its 6-kilometer circumference, is precisely why the inventory of buggies should have won Time’s Man of the Century.  While some might appreciate its vastness, I found it a pain in the literal arse, and legs, and feet.  Sure, I love racking up my steps, but wandering around here feels less like a relaxing jaunt and more like training for an ultra-marathon.  This isn’t the place for a gentle stroll unless you’re a fan of long-distance walking.

I often hear people say they want a Madlviain island accessible by boat, as it’s less hassle.  But when it’s a solid hour on the water, it’s a toss-up between a boat to Reethi Rah and a seaplane to Velaa.  Reethi advertised it as 45 minutes; my watch clocked it at just over an hour.  Our ride was on one of their fancy yachts, with food on offer, like fruits, nuts, coconut water, and even marshmallows.  There was even a butler, as nothing says ‘I have made it’ more than having someone else pass you a marshmallow on a yacht. Ok, that is definitely better than a plane – I get it now.

The island immediately made me think, “This is what a good version of Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru looks like”.  It had this wild, jungle-like ambience, yet everything was so meticulously maintained that it felt luxurious.  Despite over half of the island being man-made, the lush vegetation everywhere makes it feel like it’s been around since an ancient time, when dial-up internet was a thing.  They also proudly boast of 12 beaches, although only two of them have any chance of you getting any service on, so let’s meet in the middle and call it, say, two beaches, shall we?  One of the neighbouring islands was so ridiculously close; if I had brought my trusty safari lens, I could’ve shot a porno straight from my deck into their rooms.

The design has a Maldivian flair but has the signature design of Mr Gathy – you can spot his style from a mile away.  The feel of Amanyara and the not-yet-built Cheval Blanc Randheli is unmistakable.  You can see how he took a good design at Reethi Rah and evolved it into one of the best at Cheval Blanc.

Upon entering the room, we were greeted by… absolutely nothing.  The stay list was a tribute to laziness, so for those of you who say, “But you get treated differently cos of your blog and being an agent”, I present to you exhibit A.

The rooms had a sense of déjà vu to them.  You can trace the design lineage from Reethi Rah through Cheval, Joali, and up to the Waldorf Astoria.  At the rate the Maldives is going, it’ll soon be like a hotel conveyor belt, churning out identical rooms.  Soon enough, they’ll toss you a key and say, “You know the drill” – like a luxurious Groundhog Dog sequel for the influencer generation.

Each room features lofty ceilings and open-plan layouts with sliding doors, but the grandeur seems to have faded over time.  The problem is everyone has done it so much better now.  This might not have been so noticeable if this was our first Maldivian stay, but coming in as one of the last on our list, it was like using an old iPhone that felt revolutionary at the time but now is used as a door ledge to keep the Babadook out.  In newer resorts, you step into a separate living area, a feature conspicuously and annoyingly absent in any of the one-bedroom accommodations here.  Paying extra just gets you a pool, which, by Maldives standards, really ought to be, well, standard.  The pool is decent for a few laps and a lounging area with a headrest for post-workout recovery.

On the plus side, there’s a spacious bathroom boasting a gigantic bath, double vanities, and an old-school Japanese toilet –  old, seen better days, but still working and performing a valuable job to society, like an 80-year-old lady of the night.  However, I constantly tripped over unexpected dips in the floor – reminiscent of my experiences at Cheval.  Oh, Jean Michel, it seems some lessons are never learnt.

The cramped indoor space is compensated by a generous stretch of beach.  Large glass doors in front of the bed lead you straight to your pool and private beach.  I say private, as it actually felt it, and with villas well spaced out, it offered a surprisingly large beachfront.  But a word of warning: leave anything outside, and it’s going to get some free rainfall – there’s not a shred of shelter in sight.

Indoors, be prepared for the air conditioning to play a game of “I’m the biggest arsehole”, where it wins every time.  It’s seemingly stuck in a 1C limbo that leaves you either sweating or shivering.  The light switches make zero sense, as was the case with all properties from this bygone era, and the mosquito nets are so big they could double as a refugee camp.  The bathroom door also has a mind of its own, shutting automatically and turning my kids’ bathroom visits into a parental teamwork exercise.  Excuse me, I come on holiday so that you look after my children.

The most annoying aspect (ok, other than kicking myself on those never-ending, hidden dips) was the doors auto-locking – forget your keycard and you’re essentially homeless, as reception is at least a three-night hike away.  Not ideal unless locksmithing is a new course on the island.  It turns out they offer so much variety, it might just be.

The room is adequate; the facilities are much more impressive.  It’s apparent upgrades have frequently been made to the property over the years.  It might mean the hodge-podge way they put it together is not as elegant as the newer properties.  Still, there’s a lot available here, from a Missoni gift shop, art gallery, an inflatable water slide, a pottery studio and a lawn club for bowls.  I wonder where the Maldives will end up when a pottery studio starts to be considered the norm.  There’s also a photography studio to capture your stay, so that time you told your fiancee she was the most important thing in the world and only deserved the best, she has photographic evidence you lied.

All the usual water sports stuff is available, to the point it doesn’t even feel worth mentioning.

At Reethi Rah, you’re mostly going to spend time in between two areas: Beach Club and that other place with water, the swimming pools.  The Beach area has all the facilities mentioned above and multiple pool tables, table tennis, chess sets, table football, dart boards and TVs showing football.  That’s all free.  More costly was the ice cream stand, which was compulsory for the children to avoid a tantrum.  There’s also a smoothie bar to balance things out.  Over here you can also enjoy their courts for volleyball, football, tennis and a basketball hoop, cos that doesn’t deserve its own court, as well as a climbing wall.  You can spend all day here, either drinking, eating, exercising or arguing with your kids and forcing them back to the nearby kids club.

The other place is home to Reethi Restaurant and the two swimming pools, one adults only, one a gigantic pool for children, and an even more gigantic chess board in the sand.

There are six restaurants to choose from.  As is common in the Maldives, most places open only for dinner, giving you one or two places for lunch.  Reethi Restaurant serves various international dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They refer to the menu as Earth, with separate menus for healthy, Asian style or grill.  For breakfast, an excellent, extensive a la carte offering, whilst the buffet included the usual pastries, fruit, kids corner and lots of other stuff I didn’t care for.  Besides it is The Rah Bar is your go-to for healthy poolside snacks, transforming into a cocktail bar as evening sets in.

Besides that is a Hoshi offering, surprise surprise, a modern twist on Japanese cuisine.  Maldives Rule 101: everything must contain a twist, and every resort must offer Japanese.  Hoshi actually did offer a modern twist, as I used to think of Japanese restaurants in resorts as terrible quality, but they’re starting to become almost good.  For resort standards.  Yet to get to that level of decency, they’re not a charity, so edamame was $20 – I assume they were blessed by the Emperor of Japan.  I’d be kind to give it a 6 out of 10, which is a generous score for me, as I offered the same score to my daughter’s nursery paintings when she asked me what I thought.  The only time I looked at prices and thought it was reasonable was when all children aged up to 3 ate for free.  The same kid’s menu is available in every restaurant, so the children are covered.  Even with it free, we still only ordered one dish to be shared between our three and 1-year-olds, and they still never ate it all.

Botanica is a serene spot where you can enjoy fresh organic produce and local seafood in an outdoor garden area with indoor-like greenhouses.  Close to the main beach, The Beach Club serves up an array of salads, seafood, and grilled food that seems very Mexican.  Fanditha, found alllllll the way on the other side of the island, offers beachside, Arabian cuisine.

One of their most famous sites is a treehouse for private dining, which was built and paid for by a guest and then left behind.  Hopefully, he’s got it on a timeshare.

With the island being so big, you are heavily reliant on waiting on others to take you around.  The butler provided a WhatsApp number and was always super responsive, often showing up in minutes, but it’s still a pain to have to wait.  Only the high rollers in the super villas get their buggy chariots, so if you’re not lodging in luxury, you better lace up those walking shoes or grow some patience.  We sometimes cycled, but the weather didn’t always allow that, and the roads could be like navigating puddle fields – a more cuddly version of a minefield.  Pro tip: I’ve been to the Maldives three times in December, and every time it rained on occasion, it’s drier towards the end of the month.

The personalised service is where it suffers, which is to be expected in such a large property.  We sat on the beach, and my 2-year-old shouted, “There’s no drink?!  Why?” That is a hotel critic in the making.  But the F&B Director came over to check on us, and our butler visited during breakfast and evening meals.  I never felt we couldn’t ask for something, but I wasn’t there to expect miracles.  I was not asked about allergies, and instead asked for the room number on every occasion, which I felt summarised the overall service at Reethi Rah – everyone was very friendly, some especially brilliant with children, but it’s so large that personalisation was never going to be possible.

Where they excel is being super kids friendly – it felt like staff were told to interact with the kids, and there were a lot of families here.  It is very comforting to be somewhere with lots of other families when you have your own with you.  If you’re on a honeymoon, less so.  The kids’ club was ok, again not the best or worst, showing a few signs of age.  There’s a giant pirate ship, a slide into the pool, a baby creche room, an arts and crafts area, and a large outdoor, shaded area.  It ticks the boxes; just has seen better days.  There’s also a ratio of around 9,000 nannies to each child.  Next door is a Teen Club, which seemed to consist of a wooden structure, where I guess they learn how to be miserable.

The gym is excellent, decked out with TechnoGym equipment and neatly divided into cardio and strength training zones.  There’s also a dedicated space for Pilates and spinning classes, plus an outdoor area covered in astroturf for sledge pushes.  The gym is not huge, and I would worry it could get overcrowded during busier times, but the equipment covered everything you could want.

The spa was even more impressive, except for their use of Espa.  It has a vitality pool, hair salon, barbershop, steam room, and sauna, and it looks out into a beautifully kept grass patch beside the ocean.  They offer 12 treatment rooms, including a watsu pool.  This is the part of Reethi Rah that is truly impressive.

The Good

  • Food
  • Facilities
  • Family-friendly

The Bad

  • Vastness of the island
  • Mosquito score: 7/10 on the pain level
  • Even the kids’ club was selling toys – too much commercialism for my liking.

The Luxurious

  • Spa

Rating

Good

Conclusion

I started my luxury travel journey differently from most – I started at the top end and dove right in at the deep end with creme de la creme: Velaa and Cheval Blanc.  Now I’m out seeing if anyone has caught up.  Too many other people come to places like this and tell you it’s the best and nothing could be better because they don’t know any better.  It’s a good property; that’s not to say there’s not prettier, younger models around now, but the ol’ gal still has life in her.  It’s clearly one of the best in the Maldives, but no one should be discussing it as the best, nor certainly anywhere close to the worst.

At 18 years old, Reethi Rah still stands strong.  Other resorts keep up their allure with constant upgrades and a lack of competition.  But here in the Maldives, where the luxury game is fiercely competitive, more is needed.  More will be needed next year as even more properties open.  The facilities are evolving, but the rooms could use a serious makeover, and the vastness of the island definitely doesn’t sit in my pros inbox.  Management is talking about renovations, yet vaulting it back to the top of the luxury leaderboard will take a monumental overhaul.

If you’re aiming for a luxury Maldivian escape, choosing Reethi Rah – over at least five other properties I can think of – is like picking a donkey in a horse race.  It’s not that it’s a lousy resort – far from it.  It offers good food and service, with somewhat acceptable rooms and impressive facilities.  And even though I’ve debunked it, it’s ‘easy to get to’.  That’s just not enough in the Maldives.

In Summary

  • Family friendly

    Definitely. They could not have been more welcoming of children.

Beach Villa with Pool starts from $3,300 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 11th Jan '24

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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