Velaa Private Island, Maldives
Room type: Deluxe Beach Pool Villa
Duration: 9 > 16th December, 2021
It’s been a rough few years for travel. Not the lockdowns, I’m on about much more serious matters. We lost North Island to Marriott, Iniala is all but gone and Laucala has lost their mind and joined COMO. With few exceptions, the best hotels are passion projects, run independently, far away from the hotel chains, called that because they literally enslave their customers’ souls. Probably. Velaa is now one of the few left; even possibly the last man standing. I choose my words carefully and make no exaggeration when I say the entire fate of the world rests on their shoulders. Ok, maybe there’s a tiny bit of hyperbole in there.
Velaa is not modest, so it felt like a good way to start. Although this is not the start, as it’s our second visit.
When returning to somewhere I love, I hope to find that nothing has changed, but everything has improved. Velaa has an unbelievable selection of food, activities, spa facilities, and even retail therapy. There is no other resort with this room count that even comes close. Yet whilst this is all brilliant, we’ve seen it before. But Velaa is fully aware of this, so they have another trick up their sleeve: blow you away with the service. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, with the new GM of Velaa being ex-Iniala, a place where they perfected service by intravenously dripping the Queen’s butler’s blood into their staff. He’s keen to emphasise it’s the team and not him, but that’s just the heatstroke talking. As President for Life/Esteemed Glorious Leader/God of this blog, I always take credit for praise whilst blaming all my mistakes on 5G towers and Bill Gates, just like any leader should.
The service was immediately obvious from how we were treated in their arrival lounge at Male airport. We could barely touch the fridge without someone running to help like they thought we were going to steal their job and they wanted to check our work visa. There is a real fine line between service that is overbearing, like what Joali suffered, to extremely tentative without being annoying and being treated like you’ve got a handicap, which Velaa managed to find. We didn’t have to wait long to see how this came to life around the property, as we were quickly taken to their private plane and made our way to the island.
I have been spoilt with service in recent months, yet I still had to non-sarcastically slow-clap some of the lengths that Velaa went to. It’s not quite You levels, where they’re sniffing my underwear to guess whether I enjoyed last night’s dinner, but it’s not far off. They gave us the same butler as last time, who either has some Rain Man level of memory, or there’s a file out there that contains all my dark secrets. Regardless of which of these disturbing options exist, the number of preferences they remembered was incredible, as was the room set up that could have kept us fed for half our stay.
This was our daughter’s first beach trip, first long-haul flight and Lucie’s birthday celebration, all wrapped into one. Sure, Velaa ain’t exactly catering to those on food stamps, that is to say, it’s not cheap, but hotels can still act cheap by nickel and dime for every…single….thing. That is not the case at Velaa, and you not only feel they’re actively ensuring your stay is wonderful and looking after you, but they’re doing it without screwing you more than the existing Conservative government.
Nothing was ever too much for them and it was evident their mandate was to simply provide a phenomenal experience to guests.
They provided complimentary laundry for Isabelle, created a Czech menu for Lucie, hung up a hammock after we made a passing comment about one, shipped my favourite drink from the UK, flew in my pillows from Russia and created bespoke chocolates for each turndown – none of these pointless gifts like Aman gives you which go immediately into the bin that seems to abide by a “here’s something useless, they’ll love this” principle. At no stage did anyone ask for our room number, to sign for anything or even check in on food preferences, as they already knew everything. If I asked for food they didn’t have, the next day they’d have already got it in from the Male; once they saw me eating the same thing for breakfast they just started delivering it without me asking.
They’re always observing. They’re relentless in their pursuit, like a reprogrammed Terminator. I would start to see patterns as we got further into the stay, such as them noticing what pillows were being thrown on the floor and the bed being made-up. No more getting into bed with a mountain of pillows each day, only the one I actually used. They saw Lucie discreetly trying to fish for leftovers in her mouth, so brought over a toothpick; would see us coming so set up a table with a child’s chair; if they saw you jerking off in the bushes they’d bring you a tissue, so I’m told.
The staff are empowered here to do what they want to make guests happy.
Remembering our previous stay in the Maldives for Lucie’s birthday and how they decided that sometimes less is more, by doing less than nothing, I was understandably having some moments of apprehension, but they were immediately removed when it became abundantly clear how much effort they were putting into this. The room setup, the free champagne, the cakes, the staff cranking up the embarrassment factor to 11 by singing twice and making my wife’s face redder than a baboons arse. It’s worlds away from Soneva Jani, where their happy birthday email sent to Lucie was more effort than they managed to do during our last stay. Yet what completely took me by surprise was our dinner at their fine dining restaurant, Aragu, and Lucie’s two hours of spa treatments were provided complimentary. I was annoyed I didn’t realise this earlier, as I could have definitely made space to eat the entire a la carte menu, as long as they would have stayed open all night. It’s Velaa – of course, they would have. It’s the first place I’ve ever had something comped, without it being service recovery.
I cannot be bribed for good reviews, sir, but if I could then this would be the way to do it.
It’s a stereotype that we Brits talk about the weather. You racist, royal-hating, tea bashing monsters, you. So let me just prove you right by talking about it, are you happy now?! It wasn’t great. Really, really wasn’t great. We moved to Four Seasons Landaa afterwards and experienced perfect weather, whilst at Velaa if I was being kind I’d say three days were good, one was acceptable and three were similar to watching The Perfect Storm, just with less perfect. It definitely has an impact on the enjoyment levels, as no one is darting off to the Maldives pondering “I wonder what England feels like?”.
When the weather is in better form, the joy of Velaa is that I call it a refined version of barefoot luxury. I want to go somewhere, take my shoes off and walk around like a hobo. Velaa is a circular, near-perfect beached island that allows for that. Soneva talks of no shoes, no news, but really they mean no shoes, no feet, as all the wood would burn your skin off. Velaa has such soft sand everywhere that whilst it doesn’t have the best beach in the Maldives, it has the best implementation of it, as it’s everywhere.
So it’s a stunning island, with a gorgeous setting, truly world-class service, amazing food, a great spa, is extremely generous, and has endless activities. Velaa, once again showing that they’re better than the chains.
But there is a but coming.
Room for improvement
I can only truly recommend Velaa if you take a Residence, their highest villa, a four-bedroom villa, which has a much lighter, warmer feel to it. Ultimately I’m too poor to be able to stay in one – my annual holiday budget would be gone in a week and then this blog would be more empty than a viewing of West Side Story. The rooms may not be as bad as I last remembered, but that’s because I wasn’t coming from Cheval Blanc (or Joali, as they’re the same thing). But “not bad” is not what Velaa is after, nor should it be a new filter on TripAdvisor. It means that there’s not a single room I can stay in that I would be happy in.
It can’t be a coincidence that North Island, Laucala and Velaa have rooms desperately in need of refurbishment. They must have some secret blood pact where the owners sacrifice a goat in the name of capitalism and agree that they’ll always be one thing we hate, so we have to keep going back in the hope they’ve fixed it. That’s basically Apple’s strategy – release an iPhone that doesn’t quite offer what you need, so you have to buy next years too.
The layout annoys me, where the only way to get to the bathroom is through the bedroom – dangerous territory when you have a sleeping baby, but even more dangerous when you’re turtle heading. The colour scheme annoys me, where it’s so dark no wonder there’s bats on the island – they mistake your room for a cave. Even the room dimensions annoy me; apparently, our room is 320sqm, but that’s like a naked guy with a ruler that starts at 10cm, in the bathroom – there’s definitely some exaggeration going on. The air conditioning is loud, the pool isn’t heated, the TV was positioned by someone that heard TVs make your eyes square and the sound system might predate sound.
When I have to come back with a 2 bedroom villa in a few years and it’s $6k/n that’s when it’ll start to really hurt. So we’ll be going back, but if you wouldn’t mind starting a JustGiving campaign so I can stay in a Residence?
Velaa is closing for four months next year, in what they’re calling a minor spruce-up, but sounds like some seriously substantial changes, including new F&B facilities, as well as a focus on health and well-being.
Our daughter has, let’s say, quite a voice on her. Think less ninja, more battle cry proceeded by a nuclear explosion. You may think this would limit the options available to us, but there are no restrictions at Velaa. We ate in every venue, at every time, and even took her to the spa, where they maintained their professionalism and didn’t try and upsell her some face cream to make her look younger. I’ve been asked repeatedly to talk about what it’s like travelling with a baby, yet when you’re in the best luxury resorts there isn’t much to talk about, as they’re so generous and kind that it’s taken care of for you. The only difference is now the on-premise babysitter is on speed dial and now I can walk around kids clubs with a camera and not feel dirty.
- Gorgeous setting
- The room
- My inability to understand how pricing works and order a $1400 mediocre beach BBQ
- Food – it truly is a global, high-quality offering
- Endless activities
This blog has changed from quantity to quality. Not the writing, that’s still shit, I mean the properties. So I’m no longer the guy that endlessly cares about price (excluding BBQs) because I’m not trying to visit every property in the world. Yet, having said that, I can only truly recommend Velaa to the more wealthy that can afford a Residence because I dislike the rooms that much.
So here’s my list of what I’d change during their shut down next year, which they’re not already doing:
- Get rid of the stupid dress code at Aragu. I can walk around shoeless everywhere, but suddenly need to wear a tuxedo to eat dinner in one restaurant? They could alleviate that problem by having some clothes in their many glorious boutiques, but they look like they’re all designed for a 20-year-old Russian concubine.
- Redesign Athini and Avi. Everything else is so meticulously designed, yet the main area looks like someone just went “whatever you’ve got in stock” at the end of the build.
- Discount the Residence to me and me only
- Burning down all the rooms, take a boat over to Cheval Blanc, pick up their villa and move them in the middle of the night, whilst no one is looking
Eight years on from opening, Velaa remains the top dog not only in the Maldives but now, quite possibly, the world. Some will prefer Cheval Blanc, and it certainly has its advantages, but I don’t think it’s on the same level as Velaa, due to it not being owner-led and managed. Laucala was the closest competition, but now that feels gone – not just because of COMO but through everything we experienced during our 10-night stay in 2019.
Velaa is a passion project, which is visible from every one of the staff to the owner. There is a dedicated focus on ensuring a wonderful stay, and when you add in that everything is so over the top, between the snow room, golf course, climbing wall, water activities, you end up with a brilliant property. I was half expecting to find the remaining Beatles being the house band. Elon Musk has been named person of the year, by both Time and the Financial Times. Yet with all his billions he hasn’t created a private island that we proletariat can come to at his expense. Fuck Elon Musk. That man has done nothing for me. Nothing.
As we departed, Isabelle’s first-ever nanny greeted her by the jetty with a cuddly toy and Lucie teared up at how beautiful everything was. And because our next stop was Four Seasons.
Except during our second night at Four Seasons Landaa a package arrived full of all kinds of goodies and a note from the GM, wishing us well.
I can’t be bribed, but if I could ….