News & Reviews Indian Ocean Maldives Review: Waldorf Astoria Maldives

This review of Waldorf is painful.  I hate brands – I say, typing this on an Apple laptop whilst browsing car websites for when the new Porsche EV Macan comes out.  Ok, let me be more specific, as not all brands are bad.  For instance, there’s a certain reassurance in flying with established names like Airbus or Boeing.  I mostly hate hotel brands and certainly fashion, where people in their billboard-sized Balenciaga t-shirts seem to think we’re in awe.  If I could bestow some advice upon my younger self, it would be not to care about waving a label around.  50% of people think you’re a moron.  If you wear generic clothes, 99% of people won’t care, and the 1% that do are awful people.

Where was I?

When it comes to hotels, if you’re staying somewhere and have elite status, you’re winning the tallest dwarf competition.  The top hotels don’t hand out points or status, and you certainly won’t find yourself spending $5,000 per night while someone loudly boasts of their free stay, afforded to them via a simple credit card sign-up bonus.  But every once in a while, something comes along that prevents blanket statements from being true.  They add the annoying appendix to the end of the sentence like ‘all hotel chains suck’ and ‘of course our planes are safe’.

But I hate being wrong, so let me correct this issue.  This place should be a Four Seasons.  If they just had the decency to rebrand, all my insecurities would be fixed.  Tell your friends it’s a Four Seasons, and they’ll never know – it’ll be our little secret.  I was expecting to see it Hilton-ified, yet managed to find very little of the sort.  Only the WA pin everyone wore might give the game away; otherwise, you might never know.  I’m pretty sure if there were not already three Four Seasons in the Maldives, they would have their name on this property, as it’s certainly better than what they currently offer.

I bet the Four Seasons doesn’t have bizarre, dolphin-infused sand nightmares.

Having opened in 2019, the Waldorf Astoria Maldives is yet another luxury resort for the wealthy – and those on points pretending to be.  It boasts a collection of 119 villas spread over the man-made island that’s 4km from point to point.  It’s not a surprise that one of the activities is listed as “run around the island”, which sounds like a week-long endeavour to me.  Guests are not provided buggies (bikes are provided) and instead rely on butlers for transportation. This is a wise move considering the island’s long and slender shape. Handing out buggies to everyone would turn the place into Destruction Derby.

While many villas might make the choice daunting, and the website might seem so corporate and dull that you’d be forgiven for thinking a corpse designed it, it’s surprisingly straightforward.  Pick between three locations: Reef, Overwater or Beach and then choose whether you’re prepared to pay more for an extra living room.  Reef villas are attached to land but have all the features of overwater and face directly onto the ocean.  I’m sure you can guess what a beach or overwater villa offers.

The only real head-scratcher is the pair of Stella Maris villas.  Hovering over the water, they’re awkwardly perched between the main resort and the exclusive-use private island.  The mystery is: why?  Why would you choose them, especially considering the necessity of a boat trip to reach the resort?  It’s as if the designers saw the Velaa Romantic Residence and thought, “I know what would be great: exactly that but with none of the privacy.”.  Not for me, but they do get booked, so there’s clearly a market for people who enjoy feeling like they’re shipwrecked while being live-streamed like you’re on OnlyFans.

Getting to Waldorf Astoria Maldives is a quick hop, skip and yacht for around 50 minutes.  Every guest arrives in one of their yachts, so you’re not subjected to some awful boat that would make the cast of Jaws blush.  On board, they offered cakes and a drinks menu that included champagne and even handed out kids’ toys.  Upon arrival, we were taken to our room to discover a fantastic room setup, including a vast number of toys and amenities for the children, as well as cupcakes and pastries.  Bribe the kids; make the parents happy.  The island was decked out in its festive best, ready for the festive season, even though we were here two weeks prior to the big day.  This was not the Waldorf I knew or was expecting.

Our Room, 603, a Grand King Beach, was thankfully positioned within walking distance of the breakfast area – it’s already impossible to get a three and one-year-old to eat, let alone if they are told it’s a 20-minute drive to get there.  We always choose to be on the beach, as we always prefer the extra space and less chance of the kids taking an impromptu swimming lesson in the ocean.  The room was quite stunning, perhaps not quite as elegant as Joali’s, but immediately impressive.  Well, that’s what I noted until I revisited Joali and concluded Waldorf is better.  At the very least, it has the notable feature of full-length doors separating each room, adding a touch of practicality.  I, once again, compare a room design to another Maldives property –  Reethi Rah to  Cheval Blanc Randheli to Joali, because the influence is so unmistakable that Stevie Wonder would have spotted it.

For those unfamiliar, it goes a little something like this: enormous doors swing open to reveal an open-plan space, cleverly segmented by sliding doors for when you want a bit more privacy or simply hide from your kids.  The journey begins in the living area, moves through the bedroom, and culminates in a wardrobe area beside the bathroom area.  Complemented by high ceilings, this design creates an airy, spacious feel.  The double wardrobes meant our shit wasn’t sprawling around the place, but there is undoubtedly bigger out there.  But isn’t there always…

This being version 4.0, upgrades have been made since the previous iterations.  It contained perhaps the only property I’ve ever been to where the outdoor shower was in a sensible, inviting place – you accessed it through the indoor shower.  It was completely private, tucked away at the back of the property.  There’s also a Japanese toilet, even if it did look like a cheap knockoff version.  Kids get their own robes, whilst adults get a pillow menu, which has become an appreciated norm in recent years.

The outside area was the most impressive, offering a real sense of privacy.  After passing through the gated entry, you’re surrounded by shrubs shielding you all the way to the beach.  The outdoor area is a step up: a large pool with loungers inside, a cosy swing area, several seating spots, and a dining table.  Deep breath, there’s more: another swing, a hammock, and two deck chairs perched by the beach.  Overall, the room is a real highlight, and somewhere you want to be.

Some things just didn’t work great, though, like the iPad to control the room, where buttons were inexplicably and randomly unpushable, or the air conditioning breaking at 10 pm, although they promptly arrived to fix it.  The lights are not intuitive, and even if you can suss them out, you still won’t have much light as they seem better suited for mood than vision.  It could have benefitted from another bathroom as Cheval Blanc does; otherwise, you must walk through the room each time.  There are a few things in the room where you’re charged if you use them, like bath bombs and sun lotions, which started to remind me it was a Waldorf.  It’s worth noting that none of the villas are sunset or sunrise-facing.  I guess just stare at the moon instead.

Near the reception, a few retail shops, the apparently renowned Waldorf Peacock Alley bar, and several restaurants can be found.  Most amenities are located around the beach area, including the Kids Club, water sports facilities, and two large pools that rarely saw a human being, perhaps due to the endless amounts of nearby seating.  Also, more retail shops, because winners aren’t just those who travel to the Maldives – it’s those who shop there, snapping up items at double the price just to keep the local economy going.  Heroes, every last one of you.

The range of amenities doesn’t rival some other resorts, possibly because they got so carried away with the culinary offering that they forgot.  Available to guests are facilities like a roofed paddle court, a tennis court, and a photography studio – designed to remember your trip, as there are so many bars on the island it’s easy to forget.
Nearby is the spa, home to their ‘Aqua Centre’ featuring the largest hydrotherapy pool in the Maldives, and one that would be welcome even in a European resort.  However, the  $200 per person charge for its use is either very Maldives or very Waldorf – I’m still not sure which.  In an effort to say, ‘Rip off, what rip off?  Look over there!’ they offer a coach to navigate the different areas, though this felt utterly unnecessary.  Next, they’ll have a guide on using toilet paper.
Nestled beside the ocean, the spa offers swings scattered throughout the gardens, creating perfect spots for relaxing.  The gender-specific changing rooms have a steam room, sauna, and ice room.  Adjacent to the spa is the gym, which has recently been expanded to double its size and is now fully equipped with the latest Technogym machines.  Additionally, there’s a hair salon, so you can look your best for that photographer you hired when you’re face-down drunk.

Anyone with children knows your priorities are irrelevant compared to theirs.  It’s not about keeping you entertained; it’s about keeping you sane by the children being entertained.  Luckily, Waldorf Astoria Maldives has an excellent kids club.  Even before getting to the kids club, it’s obvious this property is designed for families.  Activities and daily schedules are prominently displayed around the property.  The first thing you see walking to breakfast – so even before that first life-saving coffee hits the table – is the day’s plan, so you have the knowledge someone is coming to unburden you from your spawn.

All the schedules are also available on their iPads – assuming you can trick them into working.  I saw beach football and started to imagine my Ronaldo days were yet over, but my daughter had no interest in watching her dad humiliate himself.  Instead, she spent most of her time in the Kids Club.  They have a freaking water park, which felt like Velaa on steroids.  The outdoor area is wonderfully shaded, making it an ideal spot for kids to enjoy the climbing frame, trampoline, monkey bars, and various other playthings all day.  Indoors, there are areas for arts and crafts activities and a separate, gated section designed for the younger children.

The best kids’ clubs aren’t just a load of shiny things lying about; we all know how quickly the novelty wears off after giving a child a present.  What truly makes a kids’ club phenomenal is staff who engage with the children.  At Waldorf Astoria, the staff were beyond engaged; they were practically married to my child.  That came out wrong.  What I mean is they kept us in the loop with regular photo updates, and our daughter was so enamoured with everyone there that she never wanted to leave.  It easily ranks as one of the best kids’ clubs I’ve encountered.

As you might expect from a property barely three years old, everything feels new and, for the most part, looks stunning.  None of this is more apparent than their culinary offering.  They boast 11 options for dining, but as usual, there’s some creativity in there, so I think 9 is a fair number.

Each restaurant is uniquely designed, and with such a variety, it feels boring to list them all.  I want to emphasise the uniquely designed, as that might make you think some of them are slightly differently themed, but it’s on an entirely different level.  For instance, one restaurant is crafted to resemble an Arabian village, another is built into a rock formation, and yet another perches elegantly among the treetops.  The level of distinctiveness in their design is next level.

Perhaps the most recognisable is Zuma, the well-established and semi-ubiquitous Japanese chain.  As someone who has spent far too many hours in their original London restaurant, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the taste was about 90% as good as the original.  Still, it is strange to go somewhere and realise you were better off not experiencing it.  The menu is basically a stripped-down version of London.  They immediately knew my allergies and preferences and suggested a mocktail list, knowing I don’t drink alcohol.  That was not the case in any other restaurant, though.

Tasting Table serves breakfast with a carefully thought out buffet within beautifully designed separate areas.  It is not the best buffet I’ve ever seen, but the presentation might be – they offer Fruit Loops and have a kid’s corner so that counts for something.  The setting is a spacious, open room beside the beach, complemented by ample outdoor seating.  The a la carte menu is small, mostly comprising various egg dishes and a handful of pastries like French toast.  The pastries were unremarkable – I sampled as many as possible, just to be thorough for this review, but rarely found they were worth the calories.

Nava, another key restaurant, offers lunch near the beach club area.  Its advantage lies in the diverse menu, incorporating dishes from other restaurants, including The Ledge, an upscale Australian BBQ grill that wasn’t far away from being fine dining.  The extensive menu covers everything from Mexican to pizza, pasta, grills, sandwiches/burgers, salads, and, most importantly, a Nutella pizza.  Yes, I ordered it.  Yes, it was equally disgusting and the best thing I’ve ever eaten.  I countered it with a poke bowl, which balanced everything and officially made it healthy.  The atmosphere is more upbeat than most properties, with dance music, a lunchtime DJ, and shisha on offer.  That’s all fine, but the menus are presented on an iPad, which could only be more annoying if it also narrated the menu in the voice of Chris Tucker.

Li Long is the Chinese offering, while The Rock is a private dining room tailored for wine-paired dinners.  Terra features seven treetop pods for a tasting menu.  Glow is an Italian-themed restaurant that had a special Italian chef for a month.  Ember bar, attached to it, is one of the few places to catch a sunset.  Yasmeen, styled like an Arabian village, focuses on Levantine cuisine.  This was the only disappointment; the hummus with beef was excellent, but my main dish looked like it had fallen out of a food truck, and my lamb was so dry it could have been used as sandpaper.

Although I tend to repeat this in all my reviews, I’ll mention it again for those who might not pore over every 3,000-word article I write: yes, you get a butler at this place, and yes, you can WhatsApp them for anything you need.  During our 21-night journey across five resorts, the butler at Waldorf Astoria emerged as the clear favourite of our entire trip.  The man was nothing short of legendary – always prompt, fantastic with the kids, consistently looking for ways to enhance our experience, and perpetually in top form.  The poor guy had to show up twice in one evening, once after our air conditioning broke and then about 30 minutes later when our 1-year-old threw up all over the sheets, and we needed them replaced.  He would show up, seemingly at random, when we were out to help out with anything.  I loved our butler, but love is bittersweet, as at one point I saw with some other guests, and it felt like the ultimate betrayal.

Everyone was so focused on the children, ensuring they were happy and looking after them so we could enjoy a few minutes of peace.  Sometimes, even we were cared for.  During our first meal, someone eagerly approached to clean our sunglasses – I miss that guy, as no other resort offered that service.  The resort manager came to speak to us, and the GM, and the kids club manager.  They were all there to wave us off at the end, too.  Then, Lucie received a follow-up birthday card from them when we were on our next island.

The issues are, as expected, the size of the property.  Breakfast service could be painfully slow; we were asked our room number too often, and preferences seemed rarely remembered.  All the things that bothered me at Reethi Rah, but the improvement here was the butler, and everything else is so good – particularly the kids club.  However, at Reethi, we didn’t have someone knocking at 9 pm to deliver room service that we hadn’t ordered.

Ithaafushi Private Island

In line with the trend set by the likes of Cheval Blanc Private Island, Ritz-Carlton Estate, Fari Islands, and Four Seasons Voavah, Waldorf Astoria also boasts its own separate, private island, just a few minutes boat ride from the main property.  Holding the title of the most expensive “room” in the Maldives, it’s a cost that seems justified.  Accommodating up to 24 guests, it is truly the pinnacle of private islands.  The rooms are nearly identical to those on the main resort, with slightly more space offered, scattered around a four-bedroom villa, three-bedroom villa and two-bedroom overwater villa,

The amenities are extensive: a paddle tennis court, tennis court, children’s playground, jacuzzi, plunge pool, and even a helipad for those arriving by yacht who prefer not to switch boats.  Spanning 32,000 sqm, or 3 hectares, for those who fancy vast private islands and happen to be farm owners.  It boasts five swimming pools and has a gym on par with entire resorts.  The spa is equally impressive, and the entertainment areas, including a striking pool, are stunning.

They have a no-photos policy, but we’re all friends here, so when I tell you it’s $90,000 per night to stay here and trust me, I know you’ll agree and book it with us immediately.  No need to even send it in unmarked bills, we accept all major credit cards.

The Good

  • Spa

The Bad

  • Size of property and personalising that
  • You might not be happy with the points crowd laughing in your face over how much you spent to be here.
  • Mosquito pain score: 8/10
  • It’s a Hilton, and I’m still struggling with that

The Luxurious

  • Food
  • Rooms
  • Kids Club
  • Our butler

Rating

Good

Conclusion

The most intriguing part of Waldorf Astoria Maldives is the ‘Waldorf Astoria’ bit – it should be prepended with ‘Four Seasons’.  Waldorf Astoria Seychelles opens at the end of the month; let’s see if that’s a fluke or a sign of things to come.  The inconsistency within hotel chains often stems from not owning the buildings they operate in, leaving them at the mercy of the property owners.  Waldorf doesn’t own this Maldivian property, so its impressive hard product is not their doing.

We rarely do much on holiday, so what they had was enough for us, but other Maldives properties offer more, especially when it comes to sports and the more unique activities, like we all need pottery classes.  The spa, gym, and kids’ club are superb, though, and the fact that they had high occupancy, but it felt so peaceful around the main areas, is a massive bonus.

Rosewood Maldives is due to open in the next few years and has the same owners/investors, so let’s be prepared to see how awesome that is.

This kills me to say it: Waldorf Astoria has a great hotel.  Not just great, one of the best the Maldives has to offer.

In Summary

  • Family friendly

    100%, but the island is so large you will need babysitters when you go out for dinner as you will likely be too far from your villa.

King Grand Beach Villa starts from $5,500 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 16th 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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