News & Reviews Indian Ocean Maldives Review: Velaa Private Island, Maldives (2023 Edition)

Here we go.  It’s my third review of Velaa, making it the worst and most unnecessary trilogy since Big Momma’s House, the Star Wars sequels and Trump’s third presidential bid.  I have only stayed in two places for over a week: Laucala for our honeymoon and now Velaa.  Laucala started so strong we extended, only to end up with three days of endless rain and everything breaking down.  Think of the midway point of Jurassic Park, just with more high pitch squealing.  Velaa decided to try the opposite approach: start as underwhelming as possible and then pull off such a tremendous stay it made the other resorts look like the Jabba the Hutt’s Palace.

I noted not to write yet another review for Velaa, but the experience deserves highlight.  Still, I shall keep it brief, which means a mere 3,000 words instead of my usual Tolstoyan epics.  I’m going to focus on two elements: what’s new since 2021 and what they offer during the Christmas period.  And other stuff, cos I love a ramble.

The original reviews are here and here.

Same ol’ same (Day 1 – 2)

There’s something about the heightened expectations of returning to somewhere you truly love.  And I truly do love Velaa.  So you just know I would be disappointed, especially coming off such a wonderful stay at Waldorf Astoria Maldives.  Yes, really, a Waldorf Astoria.

This marked my first visit to the Maldives since the debut of the new seaplane terminal, with resorts shuffling their lounges over.  I was expecting more from the Velaa lounge.  If anything, the old lounge was better.  We were only there a few minutes, enough for me to look around, go “meh”, and leave on the private Velaa plane on the 50-minute journey.

Greeting us was this guy, along with the usual overkill of people I forget within seconds.

After a guy showed up walking on water, I was really optimistic about the start to our way.  Of course, it felt underwhelming, particularly seeing they seemed to mistake us for a pint-sized parrot and give us a tiny selection of nuts.  They did manage to get some Candy Kitten sweets (more on that later) and Robinson’s, which needs to be commended, as they have to be imported from the UK.  However, the nuts just weighed on my mind.  Like Sisyphus rolling that boulder up the hill, Velaa tried everything, but it would come crashing down on my face, tasting of nuts.  That came out wrong.

The room is always a conversation when discussing Velaa.  Unless you can afford a four-bedroom Residence, I don’t know anyone who loves the rooms.  After three times of staying here and not liking it, to my great surprise….I still don’t like it.  The size is fine; it’s the design and use of space that disappoints, especially the outdoor area between the bathroom and bath, that could be better utilised.  In terms of practically, only three things bothered me: the air conditioning is too loud and needs to be on the top fan speed otherwise the room is too hot, and our neighbours were loud twats.  Well, not that loud, just anyone who speaks above a whisper when I’m trying to get a child to sleep is deemed persona non grata.  And, more importantly than everything, there are no Japanese toilets.

Velaa is one of the most child-friendly properties I’ve ever stayed, but also by far, the most expensive.  Babysitting costs $60/h, compared to around $35/h elsewhere in the Maldives.  For that, you are expecting Mary Poppins and your children to leave with a master’s degree or two.  However, two days in, our daughter was mounting a full-fledged boycott against the kids club.  This was a far cry from the Waldorf, where we needed a SWAT team to extract her.  The bartenders had a better rapport with the children than the nannies.  The atmosphere in the kids’ area was so subdued you’d think they were playing Bambi on repeat.

The welcome amenities felt lacklustre, the kids club had the ambience of a funeral, and we kept looking back at our old flame, the Waldorf Astoria.  I had a terrible revelation: that the Waldorf, yes, a Waldorf, offered a better experience in some areas.  The room, for sure.  I used to marvel at Velaa’s breakfast buffet, but now it seems rather pedestrian next to the Waldorf Astoria’s newer, more extensive and shiny spread.  Things that once seemed the best now are beatable, like a sports team at the end of their dynasty.  And then I found out the stingrays stopped coming to the property as the government outlawed the practice.  What’s next in this saga of disappointments?  A ban on hunting humans?  And here I was, having lugged my ceremonial British hunting rifle – a birthright bestowed by His Majesty – all the way here for nothing!  

Then, it all started to get better and better.  Maybe it was talking to the GM about it, or perhaps the staff needed a new shipment of cocaine for a pick-me-up.  Maybe that hunting rifle helped focus minds, but whatever it was, it worked.

Newness and Wellness

So, what has Velaa been up to since our last visit nearly two years ago, including a five-month shutdown?  The headline act is wellness.  They’ve introduced a brand-new Wellness Centre and a dedicated pavilion for pilates and yoga.  The old yoga pavilion, previously exclusively used by the insects as a mating ground, has been converted into a health-centric restaurant called Faiy.  Forget any notions of bland meals – here, it’s all about delicious, low-calorie cuisine.

The Wellness Centre, an addition to an already impressive spa, specialises in Ayurveda and Osteopathy.  I was booked in for a consultation, where I learnt that Ayurveda is a system that groups the entire world into three people, one of which seemed to be calling you a fat prick, which I guess no one wants to be.  So, ultimately, as you self-diagnose, you’re one of two people.  I like this system, it’s effortless to understand: you’re either with me or against me.  I now have this mindset and have grown as a person.  The consultation went through physical and mental health, stress, and even bowel movements.  You can be assured that I was very mature talking to someone about my shitting habits – I only used sound effects twice.  Ok, three times.

They also blend modern medicine into their approach, so at one point, I found myself all wired up and looking like I was prepped for either a polygraph test or open brain surgery.  I’m a sceptic of everything.  If I saw something on Instagram telling me that breathing is good for me, I’d question it.  But at the end of it all, they give you a health rating, and with my score at 96%, I’m now a believer that it’s 100% accurate.  Clearly, the missing 4% is the fault of the non-believers out there, draining my energy with their disbelief.  Based on these results, they tailor a treatment plan for you, which you undergo in one of their two lavishly equipped treatment rooms, complete with a steam room and a relaxation area.  The building itself is a marvel, and the treatment was superb.  Would it have been just as good if they did a standard treatment?  Probably – those marketing bastards.

Also new is a beach bar, located by the water sports centre.  Here, a DJ was often found playing music during the day…to herself.  Honestly, I have no idea where the rest of the guests are.  Maybe they’re all actors, and this is the Truman Show or another Jury Duty.  Nearby, there’s the Teen Club, decked out with a PS5, a virtual reality headset, and other cool gadgets.  If I didn’t have kids, you’d probably find me there all day.  Apparently, it’s always empty, which might be due to its obscure location or because you have to book it, and for a teenager that might be the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

Over by the kids’ club, there’s the gym, now revamped with the latest TechnoGym equipment, catering to strength, cardio, and general fitness.  The gym is quality, except for the lunatics that kept setting it to 26C.  Lastly, night golf is now possible.

The PR Director informed me why Candy Kitten sweets were sold in the minibar.  I put them on our stay list in 2021.  Sometimes, I just like to see if hotels will get things, more often than not for my own amusement.  99% don’t bother.  Velaa, however, did and remains the only property to date.  However, as they had to be imported from the UK, it took so long to arrive we had already departed to Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru so they shipped it over.  Not all of it, though.  It turns out someone had a little taste and got addicted to them, resulting in them now being in all the rooms.  I have a personal hatred for the minibar, so now my legacy at Velaa is akin to Greta Thunberg having an oil rig named after her.

Excellence (Days 3-8)

After enjoying all that was new, we settled into a rhythm: wake up, eat breakfast before anyone else arrives, head to the kids club, and enjoy life.  There’s a lot to enjoy around here.  Let me explain a bit about why I love Velaa.

I love the island.  There’s something enchanting about Velaa – the lush jungle ambience, the delicate, soft sand that invites you to wander barefoot, and the island’s intimate size, making everything easily accessible without any hassle.  Even if I don’t like the room, there is no denying everything is built to an extremely high standard.  You can feel the endless investment.  When they shut down for the refurbishment, the owner continued to pay everyone full wages and the service charge they would have received if guests were staying.  Many staff members have been here since the very beginning, a testament to how well they’re treated.  This, in turn, translates into superior service for guests.  Everyone stops to greet you, seems to know you, and nothing is ever a trouble.  The focus on guest satisfaction is evident, though the lack of complimentary house water and the $40 charge for water every time we sat down for a meal sometimes makes me think otherwise.  I digress.  The point is, Velaa genuinely cares about its people, and that makes all the difference.

Then there’s the food, which is simply incredible.  With just four restaurants, you might underestimate the variety, but Athini offers over 120 dishes.  Usually, when you see a menu containing Asian, Italian, Czech and Japanese, the next day, you would be back speaking to the bowel doctor, saying that things have taken a turn for the worse.  Not here, though, as they have chefs from each nationality to ensure everything is of excellent quality.  If that’s not enough, they will create a bespoke menu for you.  No need, though, just give me that brioche, which I was eating so much that injecting was the only way to get it any faster.  Any place that rolls out fresh sushi for breakfast gets my immediate respect.  The buffet also changes daily, although I had to laugh that once the rates shot up, the buffet started to expand in size too.  Whilst the Waldorf Astoria had managed to suss out the perfect way to present the food, no one has come close to matching the quality of Velaa’s.

The ambience is also just right.  Busier in the evenings but remarkably quiet, relaxed and private throughout the day.  Breakfast, in particular, was completely dead – notably different from Waldorf Astoria, where it could get so crowded they needed traffic control.  Come to think of it, so was lunch and most dinners.  It’s part of what makes Velaa so appealing.  People often comment on my Instagram stories if I intentionally visit places devoid of people.  Despite being fully occupied, Velaa often appeared as empty as my soul.

After the GM mauled the kids’ club nannies, they really upped their game and went so far above and beyond to make the children happy that our daughter wouldn’t have lunch with us and would simply order to the kids’ club.  Yep, our two-year-old was ordering room service.  She was the first there every day, the last to leave, which may say how little she wants to spend time with me.  Everyone looked after her and her younger sister so well at the kids club, and also around the property.

I am not going to pretend everything is perfect here.  No place is.  Turndown service was initially inexplicably late, despite them being aware of our schedule and having young children.  We consistently chose the same breakfast table at the same time, yet it seemed to regularly slip their memory.  They were well aware that I’m a complete lychee freak, yet they ran out.  And on our final day, turndown service was completely overlooked.  Ideally, improvements shouldn’t hinge on a chat with the GM, and in some aspects, the service felt a notch below what it was in the past.  However, I didn’t need to seek out the GM – he’s extremely accessible, often seen mingling with guests, making discussions more casual than a buildup of grievances.  But he is Australian, and we’d all rather avoid talking to any of those.

These are minor issues in a vast ocean of awesomeness.  The great thing about hanging around a place you love is how it manages to get better as everything starts to become extremely personalised.  Even the DJ got in on the act, spinning tracks that had the kids busting moves.  Before you know it, you’re expecting the fish to greet you by name as you snorkel.  Not a stringray though.  I miss you, Mr. Pancake Face.
I love not having to repeat my life story about allergies and preferences every five minutes.  I love that, whilst it is expensive, it does not feel like penny-pinching – they are determined to introduce quality into everything.  I love that they go overboard for Lucie’s birthday with a completely personalised experience that I can then take all the credit for.  I love the turndown cakes that appeared every evening, which sparked excitement from our children when we opened the door to see what awaited us.  I love the endless desire to please.  I love that they were the only property to have a real Christmas tree in every room, and the decorations around the property kept getting more and more bonkers.  I love that there’s something for everyone here: the active, the laid-back, and the parents on the verge of trading their kids for a quiet moment and a go on that PS5 in the Teens Club.
But more than anything, I love how much they looked after our children.  Not because I’m some kind, loving father, but because they took them off our hands and allowed us to enjoy ourselves.  It’s the most child-friendly resort I’ve ever been to.  At lunch, our kids would run away and have an army of waiters following them and looking after them.  At every outlet, someone was there to help us and stop said children from either killing themselves or doing something stupid….which led to them killing themselves.  In Faiy, a waiter rocked our daughter to sleep so we could finish our lunch.  Give that man all the medals.

Party (Final Day)

While we didn’t stick around for Christmas Day, we were there for the buildup and at least got to experience a partial slab of joy at their 10th-anniversary party on the 21st December.  This time of year, the island seemed like a reunion spot, with guests who’d visited so often they probably had their own parking spots.  This familiarity bred a special kind of magic around the property, an atmosphere that’s tough to put into words.  We overlapped with some long-time clients during our stay, dining and partying together.  Yes, you read that right – I voluntarily socialised with other humans.  Turns out it’s not as bad as it sounds.

The party was hyped so much I was expecting to see a resurrected David Bowie ride a unicorn onto the stage and take us all to Narnia for the weekend.  In just a few days, they had transformed their roof-covered tennis court into a stage, ready for live performers jetted in from Europe.  The buffet was the actual event – a lavish spread, offering an extravagant variety that must have covered at least 99% of the food on Earth and probably those potatoes Matt Damon grew on Mars.  At the end was an auction, which again summarises the absurdity of this place.  A starting bid of $150,000 to buy a glass sculpture that looked like someone had stumbled upon a real piece of art, tripped over and sent this in its place.  It was previously found in the library, of course – the only library in the world where kids aren’t welcome due to the cost of the artwork.

Was it the party of the century?  Not exactly.  Did it live up to the hype?  No.  But was it free?  Yes.  Do I have a note here that says “Worst party since the Nazi Party”?  Yes.  Should I use it in this review?  No, that would be unfair.
I understand why they charge more at Christmas now.  I might not like it, but I fully understand it.  And Velaa, of all places, justifies it.  It’s just so over the top that you have to admire it.  The days of properties endlessly pumping money in seemed over with the changeover of Laucala to COMO, but there’s still life in this ever-decreasing sector of billionaires subsiding our holidays.

The Good

  • Setting

The Bad

  • First few days
  • The rooms
  • I now want to spend Christmas here every year

The Luxurious

  • Service
  • Food
  • Activities
  • Facilities
  • Spa
  • Not caring about pesky things like budgets

Rating

Luxurious

Conclusion

High investment, highly customised, quality in abundance.  I’m always thinking, “That’s nuts” or “That’s thoughtful”.  Always over-the-top, never tacky.

The island is stunning with gorgeous beaches; there’s top-notch service from a happy workforce, a spa and gym that sits right beside the kids’ club, forever guilting you into a quick workout, and an owner who seems allergic to the concept of budgeting.  The activities and art are as over-the-top as a Yorgos Lanthimos movie, and there’s always something new popping up.  The next phase of redevelopment is already planned.  The food is excellent, and the privacy and exclusivity are like being in a VIP club with your secret handshake.  And, a kids club that – after a swift kick – saved my sanity.

Sure, the first few nights were a bit rocky. If the first two nights were at a property we only stayed at for 3 nights, that’s most of the stay ruined and this might have been told as a horror story instead.  But here, there was enough time to turn things around.  But they did, and that’s all I can base it on.

On our penultimate day, we returned to the room and set up goodbye amenities for the children, including a paddling pool, balloons and decorations.  We left Velaa three weeks ago, yet Karolina, the manager of the Kids Club, sent a video message wishing our daughter a happy birthday.  That’s because there are good people here, not just because it’s good for business.

Velaa was one of my favourite properties.  Now it’s even better.

In Summary

  • Top Suite

    Four-bedroom Residences start from $25,000 per night

  • Nearest airport

    You can fly private into Maafaru International Airport, which is a 30 minute yacht ride away

  • Best time to visit

    Whilst the Maldives is warm year round, coming between January and April gives you the best chance of avoiding the rain

Deluxe Beach Villa from $5,000 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 23rd 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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