Rustic paradise: A review of Calala Island, a private island bookable with World of Hyatt points

Ever since Hyatt partnered with Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), World of Hyatt members have been able to use points to book stays at over 500 independently owned boutique hotels  across the globe from the South of France to the streets of Southeast Asia.
Some of these SLH properties stick out and one of these is Calala Island, a private-island retreat with just four rooms off the coast of Nicaragua that touts itself as part of the “NiCaribbean,” the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
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As soon as the property became bookable through World of Hyatt for just 40,000 points per night, it shot to the top of our list of places that we had to get to. After all, how many private islands can you book on points? I booked the first nights I could find on points at the tropical resort. After my three-night stay at Calala, I can confidently say that this property is an absolute steal and deserves a spot at the top of your bucket list.

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Booking
As mentioned previously, Calala Island is bookable with Hyatt points. As of now, you can redeem for 40,000 points a night, but once dynamic pricing goes into effect, rooms here can be had for as little as 35,000 points per night on off-peak dates. At this rate, it’s an absolute steal, considering rooms regularly go for over $2,000 per night. I booked the hotel using Chase Ultimate Rewards that I transferred to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. As cash prices were $2,800 per night during my booking, this means I got 7 cents in value for each of my points, far more than TPG’s 2-cent valuation for Ultimate Rewards points.
The hotel consists of only four rooms, though only the junior suites (of which there are three), are bookable via points. Each room can accommodate two people, which means that a total of eight guests can occupy the island at any given time. During my stay, only two of the rooms were occupied: myself and my mom in one room and a couple in another room. Come to find out, they’re big fans of The Points Guy and also had booked with Hyatt points.
Related: The best hotel credit cards for 2020
If you’re short on Hyatt points, consider signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. You’ll be well on your way to a stay at this private-island paradise.
Unfortunately, Hyatt elite members don’t receive benefits at SLH properties despite their partnership. This is stated when you book online. Although we didn’t get elite-status perks, we were already enjoying so many benefits (such as nightly gifts during turndown), that I didn’t feel the loss.
Location
Calala Island bills itself as part of the Caribbean, and although it’s not wrong, getting to this hotel is a schlep. There are no major airports nearby. Instead, guests fly to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, and then take a plane to Bluefields (on the east coast of Nicaragua), and from there board a speedboat to the island.

You can view this as a hassle, but you can also see it as a way to see a lot of Nicaragua on your journey to the hotel. From the taxi ride through the city to the two-hour boat ride, you’ll get to experience the country all the way to the resort.
Our speedboat to the resort.
The resort told us that a representative would meet us at 1 p.m. at Managua Airport (MGA) to shepherd us onto the flight to Bluefields. Our flight from Managua to Bluefields departed late and stopped at another island first (with no advance notice). Once we landed at the airport, we were met by another hotel representative who was practically dancing with excitement. After the two-hour boat ride, we made it to the resort after sunset at 6:30 p.m., well beyond the anticipated arrival time of 4 p.m. It wasn’t a huge deal to me, but don’t count on a seamless journey.
Unlike other resorts bookable with points, Calala Island‘s rate includes transfers. This means that the round-trip flight on a prop plane and four hours of speedboat journey will cost you nothing out of pocket. This is in stark contrast to popular resorts such as the Conrad Maldives, where round-trip transfers run upwards of $700 per person.
Unfortunately, transfers are limited to two departures per day, so if you arrive outside these hours, be prepared for a long wait.

To get to Calala, you can either choose to leave at at 5:45 a.m. or 1 p.m. at Managua Airport.
You can leave the island at either 5:30 a.m. or noon, for an arrival into Managua Airport at 9:45 a.m. or 5:15 p.m.

Check-in
Have you ever been greeted by an entire island upon your arrival? I have, now that I’ve stayed at Calala Island. It was a music-playing, coconut-offering extravaganza upon our arrival. Every member of the resort’s staff was present and the two managers swiftly escorted all four of us (all of the guests at the resort) to the dining area to outline the facilities.

There was no check-in, per se, and everyone was already familiar with our names and stay dates. With fresh coconuts in hand, we were guided to our rooms and given the details of dining on the island.
Property
In short, the island is gorgeous. Located in the Caribbean, it’s got picture-perfect white sand beaches and palm trees to spare. If you’re looking for an island paradise, look no further.

Room
I challenge you to find a resort more accommodating than Calala. When my mom and I eyed each other nervously at the mention of a single king bed in our hotel cabana, one of the resort managers, Claudia, offered me my own room.
Let me repeat that. Because my mom and I didn’t want to share a bed, the hotel manager offered me a separate room of my own with no additional charge. At a property that runs in the thousands of dollars per night, this is generosity unparalleled by any elite status out there.

The cabanas feature all-natural materials, like thatched roofs, wooden beams and decorative seashells. There is no air-conditioning, but the rooms had excellent airflow and two ceiling fans apiece. In March, this meant I was able to sleep under the covers comfortably without feeling stifled. If you choose to stay during the summer, however, be aware that temperatures skyrocket and even the most generous of airflow probably won’t save you.

Each junior suite consists of one king bed and a small couch.

The bathroom was fully stocked, but it is open-air, so things could get awkward quickly depending on who you’re sharing with. This is also true for the cabana at large, as its massive glass-fronted walls open directly to the beach. Island security guards walk by on occasion, so I’d be extra wary of wandering around immodestly, especially at night.

I asked the staff to cover up those holes in the middle of my outdoor shower, which they willingly did.

The toilet, while hidden behind a door, is open to the rest of the cabana. This means that no matter how much you love your roommate, things might get a little more intimate than you’re used to. The hotel did provide incense sticks and matches atop the toilets to help rectify this problem.
I was worried about bugs after reading some reviews from previous guests. However, I can safely say these worries were groundless. Did I find a huge horrific cockroach in my snorkel mask? Yes. But the island provides bug spray and bug killer everywhere on the island, so you don’t really need to worry.
Each cabana also features an outdoor patio, hammock and beanbag chairs.
My hammock and beanbag chairs.
Although there are only four rooms in the entire resort, they are all located along the same strip of beach. To combat accidental creepiness, the hotel asks that you use the back doors located inside each cabin to get anywhere you need to go.
Food and Beverage
Calala Island calls itself an “ultra all-inclusive” resort. Nearly all drinks are included, all your meals are free and most every activity costs nothing out-of-pocket.

Fish tacos at lunch.
Our first meal at the property was a lavish four courses. Because there were only four guests, the entire event took less than an hour, despite the decadence of the meal. The hotel is very good about dietary preferences and will make basically anything you’d like to order if they’ve got the ingredients.
The main dining area.
Barring special needs, your meal comes either prix fixe or available from a menu.

Unlike many other all-inclusive resorts, Calala Island has specific dining hours. Generally, you can expect to eat breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch from noon to 4 p.m. and dinner from 7:30 p.m. on.
Lunch-time steak.
The food is some of the best I’ve ever had at an all-inclusive resort. No, it’s some of the best I’ve had, period. I’ve traveled to the Maldives and enjoyed resorts in Tahiti, but Calala’s chefs served up some of the tastiest food I’ve ever had.

Everything is fresh, skillfully prepared and arranged with care. Our fresh fruit was perfectly ripened. My steak was as tender as could be and if you felt the desire to fish for lobsters, they’d cook them for you perfectly.
Dessert during our four-course meal: chocolate cheesecake and peanut butter sponge cake.
Amenities
Calala Island is tiny, so the activities are focused on the water. If you don’t like water sports, you should head elsewhere. For everyone else, there are a host of activities to try. Want to picnic on a deserted island? Go spearfishing? The hotel has you covered, at no additional cost.

There’s a spa on the island, though it’s also outdoors, so if you’re looking for soothing music and air-conditioning this isn’t your jam.

There’s the infinity pool, of course, which is guaranteed to be uncrowded with a maximum of eight attendees at any given time.

In fact, we felt alone for the majority of our trip. There was no fight for pool chairs, our cellphones could be left unattended and our cabanas had a key that never needed to be used. The whole island feels safe, private and exclusive.

On our second day, we opted for island-hopping with our fellow guests, which meant we jumped back into the speedboat and motored out to our neighboring islands. This was one of my favorite activities. Surprisingly, I felt like an urban explorer. Yes, urban. The islands nearest Calala are filled with failed resort startups, and we saw the decaying buildings amid lush tropical vegetation.

Baboon Cay, a former resort.
Keep an eye out for the local wildlife, including sloths, iguanas and parrots.
It’s also true, however, that you can complete a walking lap of the entire island in two minutes and 30 seconds, so if you get island fever, the hotel may be a little small for you.
Service
Although the rooms are nice and the food is exquisite, what really makes the property stand out is its people. From the moment we arrived, we received unparalleled attention. There are 25 staff members for just four guests, and these people were overwhelmingly great.
Let me give you an example. At breakfast, I had ordered a mimosa. Nearing the bottom of my drink, a staffer made eye contact with me and hurried forward to mix up another mimosa, no words asked, complete with freshly squeezed orange juice. At any given time, there are at least two staff members waiting unobtrusively to help you with whatever you need.
The message-in-a-bottle left in our room.
Even better, absolutely everyone can help you with absolutely everything. On my first day I asked my in-pool bartender for help with my shower. I then asked the maintenance man for a freshly chopped coconut. Regardless of your request, you’ll receive smiles and prompt, helpful service.
Overall impression
Calala Island is a tiny property with big heart. From personalized doodles from the staff to the anything-you-can-think-of resort request system, everyone on the island is there to make your stay memorable.
If you’re looking for an authentic adventure with high-end touches, Calala Island is where you should be. Expect little, receive much and take advantage of all the amenities for an unforgettable experience.

There are a few downsides. The trip to the island felt very long, and there was the odd cockroach in my snorkel mask. Calala Island isn’t one of those perfectly manicured resorts you’ll find in the Maldives or Bora Bora. Instead, it’s an homage to unspoiled island beauty. With its luxe touches and attentive staff, Calala is a perfect paradise for blending a little bit of nature with a beach vacation.
Is it worth its rate in cash? Not to me, but on points it’s an absolute steal.
I’m already looking to return.
All photos by the author.

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

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.

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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 Dec 15, 2019 at 5:15pm PST

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.

 

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Sunrise yoga with resident fitness guru @ilove2move ???????? One of my resolutions is to stretch and do more yoga! Best way to combat too much sitting on metal tubes #maldives #sunrise #serenity
A post shared by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) on Dec 16, 2019 at 6:25pm PST

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.

 

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Checked off my influencer bucket list. FYI warm champagne in a cold pool at 8am isn’t a thing (but a handsome pool boy is) ???? #maldives #paradise #thepointsguy
A post shared by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) on Dec 17, 2019 at 7:20am PST

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.

 

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Huge shout out to everyone at the @waldorfastoriamaldives. Simply put- they have treated us like kings. This is what hospitality is all about ????
A post shared by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) on Dec 16, 2019 at 8:03am PST

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.

Time for a polishing: A review of the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa

At the end of last year, the TPG team decided it was time to re-visit the Maldives, one of the world’s most aspirational destinations, especially for those with hotel points to burn. The island nation has a dizzying number of high-end points resorts to choose from, with many having opened in the last couple of years.
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But the new properties aren’t the only ones worth your attention — the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa has been a mainstay in the island nation for years. The Points Guy, Brian Kelly, and many other staffers have used their points to visit the property numerous times over the years.

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I really enjoyed my stay at the all-new InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort, so I was eager to see how this older Hyatt would stack up, especially considering the praise it’s garnered over the years from TPG staff and readers.
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. 

In This Post

Booking
The Park Hyatt Maldives is a Category 7 World of Hyatt hotel, meaning you can book rooms for 30,000 Hyatt points per night. Hyatt will soon introduce peak and off-peak awards, so the points rate will vary from 25,000 to 35,000 points per night when that change takes place.
If you don’t already have World of Hyatt points, it’s easy to get them. First, you can earn Hyatt points via the World of Hyatt Credit Card, which is offering a total of 50,000 welcome bonus points: 25,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening and 25,000 more bonus points after spending $6,000 total on purchases in the first six months of account opening.
The Hyatt program is also a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards; you can instantly transfer those Chase points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. If you open a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which is currently offering a 60,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, you’ll have enough points for two nights at the Park Hyatt after completing the minimum spending requirements.
Related: How to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt
We used 90,000 World of Hyatt points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards to book my three-night stay in a base room, a Park Villa. Cash rates during my dates were right around $630 per night. As is the case with just about every Maldives resort, I had to pay for a mandatory round-trip airport transfer, which at this property costs $520 per person.
Location
The Park Hyatt Maldives is in North Huvadhoo, one of the largest natural atolls in the world, but pretty far from Male Airport (MLE). The $520 charge wasn’t just for a simple round-trip seaplane flight. Since the Park Hyatt is so removed from Male, it involves a commercial flight on a turboprop aircraft, a buggy ride and then a 30-minute boat transfer. No one said getting to paradise was easy.
When I arrived at MLE, I was met by a Park Hyatt representative who took me to the domestic departures terminal and assisted me with check-in for my flight to Kooddoo (GKK), an island south of Male.
Related: Using miles to get to the Maldives

At Kooddoo, another Hyatt representative was waiting for me at arrivals. He helped me with my luggage and I hopped in his buggy (similar to a golf cart) for a short ride to the boat.

A crew of three helped get my luggage from the buggy into the boat, which was clean and comfortable. I was welcomed with cold drinks and towels, and we sailed for just over a half-hour to get to the hotel.

The whole trip from Male Airport to the Park Hyatt took close to three hours, which wasn’t terrible in the grand scheme of things, but after a long international flight, it seemed to stretch for ages. However, there was always a Hyatt staff member getting me where I had to go next, so I never felt lost or uncomfortable, just tired.
The one upside to this arrival system is that it can be done after dark. Seaplanes aren’t allowed to operate after dark, so for some of the hotels in Maldives, you have to spend the night in Male if your flight arrives late, then catch a seaplane the next morning.
Check-in
I completed a few check-in necessities on the boat. Once I arrived at the resort, there was no paperwork, no stress and no waiting to see if housekeeping had prepared my room yet. Instead, upon stepping out of the boat, I was welcomed by my host, who drove me straight to my room.

For any transactions related to checking in or out, there is a small desk, which I only noticed during my checkout. A semi-open-air traditional lobby had seating and tables.

This resort itself is small, exclusive and lush — it certainly gave me a private-island feeling.

The Park Villa

The buggy ride to my villa was bumpy, along a rough and uninviting road. I still can’t decide if the raw, natural beauty on the way was impressive or represented a worrisome lack of infrastructure for the hotel. The road was full of sand and mud, tree trunks, fallen leaves and huge potholes which would fill with water after every rain, making it difficult to walk around the resort.

But after that brief, final part of the journey, we arrived to my park villa — number 28.

I entered the room full of anticipation and it was … a room. A dark and dated room, not particularly tropical or luxurious.

A massive empty space separated the bed and the glass door that opened to a spacious balcony set among the tropical foliage.
The bathroom was the nicest part of the villa.
The space was large, bright and clean, with double sinks, shower and toilet, and big, fluffy white towels, plus an outdoor soaking tub that looked like it could use a thorough scrubbing. It was dirty and covered with wet leaves — and it stayed like that throughout my stay.

However, the outdoor shower was inviting,  and I loved getting to shower outside while watching the wildlife circle overhead and all around me.

Except for the shower, the whole outdoor area was unkempt and not at all what I would expect from a five-star property. The indoor bathroom didn’t seem particularly well-maintained either, but it had lots of amenities — a toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, razor and more.

The biggest letdown of this room, however, was the outdoor space and “beach access.”

Living in an apartment in London, I dream of a hotel with beach access, but this was no dream. The beach was a few inches of bleak-looking gray sand with two stained and dirt-covered lounge chairs, which — just like the bathtub outside — remained uncleaned and covered with debris throughout my stay.
Although the room had an espresso machine and a fridge, as well as a nice desk/workspace, it was poorly lit with flickering old lamps. There was no pool with this villa, though some of the villas on land do have pools.

For anyone considering a honeymoon in the Park Villa, I would advise against this room type and to pick a different room category.
Amenities
A large, sexy hotel swimming pool was where I spent most of my time. The area was chic, but the poor service spoiled the experience. Each chair by the pool had a white flag. The concept was that a staff member would come to you if the white flag was up.

After I raised my flag, it took 45 minutes before a staff member arrived to hand me a menu. Another 20 minutes later, someone came back to take my order. After 35 minutes more, I received my coconut.

There was really only one usable beach at the hotel. While the whole island is surrounded by beach, I found most of it to be dirty and unkempt. The only beach area that was clean was the main beach opposite the restaurant. There, the water shone a brilliant turquoise, perfectly complementing the white sand. This was the Maldives I had imagined.

I enjoyed relaxing here, especially on the very Instagrammable swing.

The gym was on the smaller side, though the equipment was state of the art and free water and towels were offered.

The Vidhun Spa blew me away, though — and in a good way. It was a beautiful space, with five treatment rooms and its own adults-only swimming pool facing a forest of wild trees.
Related: Best spas in the Maldives

The outdoor loungers were perfect for chilling out and the treatment rooms are large and comfortable. Although spa treatments aren’t cheap (starting at about $250), it was still a wonderful place to hang out.

I did test a body treatment, which was fine. I’m not sure I’d do it again, but I was pleased with the service, which included the application of aloe vera, perfect for my sensitive skin.

The Wi-Fi was complimentary but slow throughout my stay.
Food and beverage
There were only a few restaurants at the Park Hyatt Maldives — a surprise after the InterContinental Maldives with its six restaurants.
I tried both of the main restaurants during my stay — the Dining Room, which offered breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Island Grill that is considered fine dining. I was not impressed with either and both are extremely overpriced.
Since I don’t have elite status with Hyatt and had booked a room-only rate, my stay didn’t come with extras like breakfast. However, if you have Hyatt Globalist status — or have your award stay booked as a “Guest of Honor” stay by someone with Globalist status, then you’ll save a bunch by not having to pay for breakfast. Options on the a la carte menu cost around $20 per entree and the buffet price was $35++. Pretty much everything in the resort comes with the double plus sign after the dollar amount just to make sure guests know that things are never quite what they seem and that taxes and service fees are additional.

I had the combo option (the buffet plus two a la carte items), which came to about $45.

Breakfast options varied from eggs to Asian curries to tropical fruits. However, the buffet was limited and the food was just average. Some of the fresh juices were extra, and when I asked for a fresh coconut, I was told it would cost $13, which was absurd since I probably could have gone outside of my villa and picked one up off the ground. (I didn’t, but I thought about it.)
The Island Grill is right next to the Dining Room, which made it seem less high-end. The two eateries were so close I could hear people in the other restaurant.

With high ceilings, the Island Grill is intimate but airy and the floor is sand, so guests were wearing dressier outfits but also barefoot. Island Grill had a seafood buffet for dinner the evening I went, priced at $145++ per person (a glass of Chablis cost $17++). My bill came to slightly over $200 — the magic of those extra plus signs. (It’s common to see food dishes and services listed with “++” following, which signifies taxes and government service charges.) I’d certainly never spent $200 while dining barefoot before!
The buffet allowed guests to choose both their seafood and the way it was prepared. I had freshly grilled squid, steamed lobster and fried prawns. The seafood was delicious, but the rest of the buffet was unappetizing — some sad-looking pasta and other small bites that didn’t pair well with the fancy seafood. I only ate seafood.

Looking back, I might have been happier with one of the all-inclusive packages that were available to prebook on the website. Full board starts at $200 per person, per day, but if you’re considering this, beware, as there are many restrictions so learn the details or risk a +++ situation.
Overall impression
The Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa is an older resort and during my stay, I didn’t find it to be particularly well maintained or updated. There’s no denying its location is stunning and its impossibly blue waters are full of sea life.
But, my room was dark, dingy and not properly cleaned. Slow — and at times unprofessional — service let down the experience for me. Perhaps if I had splurged for an overwater villa, it would have been a different experience. In any case, I’d rather save up and head to a fancier Maldives resort or have a much more affordable island experience in Thailand or Indonesia.

Although the Park Hyatt Maldives can be booked with 30,000 Hyatt points for an award night, the extras like meals, spa treatments, airport transfers and even coconuts are very expensive. That can still be an overall good offering for a special trip, like a honeymoon, if your expectations are met with high-end service and hard product realities on the ground.
But in this case, despite the location, the resort just wasn’t pristine enough to justify the prices.
All photos by Jean Arnas.

Pray for clear skies: A review of Alaska’s Borealis Basecamp

You can see the northern lights from time to time from the continental United States, but the best place to catch the aurora borealis is above (or at least near) the Arctic Circle, which can mean crippling temperatures in winter, especially once the sun goes down.
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So cool! A tour of my igloo at Borealis Basecamp, a bit north of Fairbanks, Alaska (don’t miss the toilet!). Full @thepointsguy review coming very soon! pic.twitter.com/N6GTpiQVoA
— Zach Honig (@ZachHonig) January 27, 2020

I decided to head to Fairbanks, Alaska, early in the season in the middle of October, hoping to catch the aurora while avoiding the bone-chilling temperatures you’d experience in the dead of winter. Turns out, checking both of those boxes proved more challenging than I had hoped.

In This Post

Booking
I began my aurora adventure at Borealis Basecamp in a remote part of Alaska, roughly an hour-long drive north of Fairbanks International Airport (FAI).
Related: Best cards for hotel stays
Borealis Basecamp has a total of 10 rooms and an off-the-grid design that requires everything to be shipped in (and out), so the rates are understandably expensive.

Borealis Basecamp doesn’t participate in any loyalty programs, so I booked through Hotels.com.
Location
Light pollution doesn’t make for clear aurora viewing — the best spots are far outside the city, which explains why Borealis Basecamp is so remote. You’ll need to make your way about 27 miles up the Elliot Highway before driving another three miles on a dirt road, which will likely be covered in ice and snow.

I recommend renting an SUV and driving yourself, but you could also hire an Uber XL at a cost of $200-$300 round-trip. Confirm that the driver has an SUV and is comfortable making the off-road trek before you begin your journey.

Once you arrive, you’ll spot the hotel’s 10 stand-alone igloos. Because they’re usually booked, Borealis Basecamp is working to add five more in the future.

Check-in
I arrived right around the published check-in time of 4 p.m. and was shown to Igloo #2.

I was given an igloo tour, which included instructions on the workings of a special heater and toilet. The base-camp representative also mentioned that dinner would begin at 5:30 p.m.
Room
Although the igloos aren’t much to look at from outside, I was impressed with the interior layout and design.

The 12-foot ceilings and gigantic, clear ceiling panel made the room feel spacious.

I had hoped for clear skies. (If everything goes according to plan, the aurora lights up the sky just a few hours after sunset.) However, I ended up having nothing but clouds and rain during my stay.

My room was nicely warmed by the fancy Toyo Stove. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as quiet as I would have hoped — every time it turned on, it sounded like the dome was being pelted by rain.

Given the roughly $400 price tag, I had high expectations for the space, and the hotel delivered.

I mean, look at this bathroom! No outhouses here.

There were L’Occitane products in the shower, but the hot water wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked. It was only warm for a minute, and a cold shower in Alaska is just as unpleasant as it sounds.

Still, it was easy to forget just how remote and off the grid we were out there.

Food and beverage
As the hotel explains on its website, “Guests at Borealis Basecamp dine in a craftsman-built yurt with plenty of space to look out upon nearby Wickersham Dome and the White Mountains. Linger with a cup of coffee or glass of wine, savor each meal, and enjoy a sense of home away from home. The yurt is ‘home base’ for guests, providing a 24-hour space to visit, play board games, or read a good book.”
The property’s liquor license was pending during my visit, and unfortunately that’s still the case — anyone hoping to linger with a glass of wine will need to grab a bottle in Fairbanks. Otherwise, you’ll be out of luck once you arrive.

The food was a different story — there was a mix of appetizers and entrées, with a menu that changes depending on what’s fresh that day.

I was really looking forward to having some Alaskan king crab, but I was blown away by the $95 entrée price tag, for a pound of crab. I ordered a half pound as an appetizer for $55, instead, though I’m pretty sure I ended up getting a bit more than that. I also ordered the sockeye salmon entrée, priced at a more affordable $40.

Breakfast was included with my rate, but I needed to leave before the 8 a.m. start time. That wasn’t an issue for the incredibly friendly chef, though — I mentioned my departure time the night before, and he was more than happy to whip me up whatever I liked nearly an hour before the service was supposed to begin.

Amenities
Although the igloo rooms are large enough to sleep comfortably, and presumably watch the sky, some guests stay for several days, so there’s a large communal space to hang out in, too. A man — who I later learned was the owner — was chatting loudly on the phone, so I didn’t stay long.

Wi-Fi was free, and worked well enough for me to download some Netflix content overnight and give my family a FaceTime tour of the room. There’s also free coffee, tea and hot cocoa available throughout the day.

At night, guests can hang out by a fire pit but, given how chilly it felt in October, I doubt this is a hot attraction during peak season.

Service
Aside from the check-in clerk, most of my interactions were with the chef and my waiter at dinner. Both were incredibly outgoing, and more than happy to talk about life in that part of the world.

I learned that the hotel is incredibly popular during peak season, with a number of Chinese tourists — apparently, many guests tend to visit from Australia and Mexico, too.
Overall impression
Although there are certainly cheaper places to stay in the area, Borealis Basecamp is remarkably comfortable, given the location. Everything from propane gas to drinking water is trucked in, and all waste — including water from the shower — is driven out. That makes operating a 10-room hotel especially expensive, and, in my book, serves to justify the price.

According to the hotel’s website, “it’s easy to view the famous aurora borealis, with around 250 nights of swirling green, red, and purple lights each year.” Clearly, my visit happened to coincide with one of the few fall nights with complete cloud cover — hopefully, you’ll have much better luck whenever you decide to stay.
All photos by the author.

Not just for honeymooners: A review of the InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort

At the end of last year, the TPG team decided it was time to re-visit the Maldives, one of the world’s most aspirational destinations, especially for those with hotel points. The island nation has a dizzying number of high-end points properties to choose from, with many having opened in the last couple of years.

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One of these new properties is the the three-month-old InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort, which I was lucky enough to review during our team trip to the island nation late last year. Three months seemed like an adequate amount of time for a resort to work out all the kinks that are typical to new hotels but still maintain that brand-new feeling.
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I was also interested to see if the special room rate I had booked, which was half-inclusive, would feel weird, or actually the perfect way to avoid some of the high-priced dining that the Maldives is (in)famous for. Read on to find out.
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. 

In This Post

Booking
I booked a Sunrise Overwater Pool Villa for $850 per night on hotels.com. I paid with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Booking this way allows you to “wipe off” charges from your statement, which greatly lowered the total cost of the stay.
Related: Best cards for hotel stays
Reward rates for the base room category, the Beach Pool Villa, are higher than any other property in the IHG portfolio right now at 100,000 points per night, and there is a two-night minimum on reward bookings. Once IHG fully integrates the Six Senses and Mr & Mrs Smith brands into its portfolio, that could change, though.
My room rate came with Club InterContinental benefits, which included:

Daily breakfast from either of two restaurants, Cafe Umi or The Retreat
Daily afternoon tea from 3-5 p.m. daily
Evening digestif, which was wine and cheese at the Retreat or a non-alcoholic selection at the Pool Bar
Complimentary water and soft drinks at the Retreat, the Collection and the Pool Bar

My rate also included dinner at Cafe Umi, with choice of starter, main course and dessert, but no drinks. I was disappointed that drinks were not included with dinner, but I was still pleased to see my room rate would include breakfast, dinner, some snacking options and refreshments, as I knew how expensive dining at Maldivian resorts is.
Location
The InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort is located within the Raa Atoll on a secluded private island. The resort is just a short speedboat ride away from the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Hanifaru Bay, which is famous for its sharks and stingrays, and is one of the few places in the world where whale sharks congregate for mating.

Guests who arrive in Male (MLE) after 3:30 p.m. must take a 20-minute domestic flight to the Dharavandhoo Domestic Airport and then take a 35-minute speedboat ride to the resort.
Related: Can you earn points on seaplane transfers in the Maldives?

I arrived before 3:30 p.m., meaning I was able to arrive via seaplane transfer, which took about 35 minutes and cost $600 roundtrip. A representative from the resort met me at the International Arrivals area at Male Airport (MLE) and escorted me to a check-in desk for the seaplane.
Related: Does credit card travel insurance cover transfers in the Maldives?
I waved goodbye to my luggage, which later appeared in my room, and I was taken to a lounge by private shuttle where I waited for other passengers who would also be going to my hotel. About an hour later, the seaplane took off and the views were incredible. Upon landing, I had to take a short boat ride to the hotel, where I was greeted by smiling staff members.
Check-in
I was able to get all the check-in paperwork done at the lounge in Male while waiting for the seaplane. It was so nice to be able to head straight to my room when I got to the island.
Upon arrival at the resort, I learned that I’d been upgraded from an Overwater Villa to a Lagoon Villa because of overbooking. At first I was disappointed because I was looking forward to my first overwater villa experience. But I later realized that the Lagoon Villa is actually more desirable, as you get the best of both worlds: It’s still set over stunningly clear seatwater filled with fish, stingrays and even baby sharks, but it also has direct access to a private secluded lagoon and beach.

Once I got to the resort, I was given a welcome drink of cold water and a cold towel. The resort lobby is airy and beautiful, set in the middle of a lagoon with sofas, chairs and even swings. The only thing that distracted me from total tropical bliss was the somewhat cheesy Christmas decor haphazardly decorating the lobby and resort, a blot on the natural beauty of the place. I headed straight to my room, where my luggage was waiting for me.
Sunset One-Bedroom Lagoon Pool Villa
Put simply, the Sunset Lagoon Pool Villa was a dream.

It was a two-floor villa flanked on one side by a private infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean, and on the other side by a sandy beach overlooking a lagoon full of marine life. My neighbors were a family of stingrays that I watched come and go.

The first floor of the villa had a large sectional sofa adorned in one corner and large, inviting lounge pillows in the other.

There was a half bath and a minibar with all the essentials: espresso machine, cocktail shaker, cocktail glasses, Champagne glasses, normal glasses, ice and four complimentary bottles of water.

Outside, a large wooden bench and a modern sofa overlooked the private pool. It was perfect for sunbathing.

The pool was large — it could easily have fit 10 people. And, at the touch of a button, it turned into a whirlpool. An outdoor shower was next to the pool. A second outdoor area on the opposite side of the house featured a veranda with four beach chairs and a table, surrounded by lush greenery and white sands. I felt like I could just hop off the balcony directly onto the beach.

Upstairs, the bedroom had a huge, comfortable bed covered with pillows of varying softness.

A small workspace alcove was the only spot that didn’t have a window. When I needed to work, I could get down to business without those beautiful views as a distraction.

The bathroom featured a very tall shower (it definitely passed the TPG shower test) and a separate area for the toilet.

The highlight was the gorgeous standalone bathtub that overlooked the sea.

I love bathrooms in which everything has its own space.

Even though I was traveling alone, I always appreciate a bathroom with plenty of privacy. I also had plenty of extra amenities like a razor, toothbrush, Q-tips, etc.

I was thrilled to sit and enjoy the views (which were dreamy from both floors), overlooking the endless sea on one side or a calming beach and lagoon on the other. With windows in almost every area of the villa, including the shower and both of the bathrooms, I was never lacking for a gorgeous view. Except, of course, at the desk. But when you come to the Maldives, you shouldn’t be wasting your precious relaxation time at a desk anyway!

My first order of business, though, was to enjoy the welcome gift of a bottle of Moët Champagne on ice.

It’s worth noting that the decor of the suite was simple. Muted colors, shabby-chic rugs, woven pillow covers, wood and brass styling/fixures with nothing too wild to interrupt the calm. I liked it, but for anyone looking for opulence or glamour, this villa would could be too “simple.”
Amenities
Each villa includes access to a dedicated butler to help you with anything you need, like electric golf cart transfers, restaurant reservations or bookings for activities. My butler Shijin was fantastic and professional — I was always greeted with a smile and a can-do attitude.

The resort grounds were tropical and lush, with two large infinity pools at opposite ends of the island, each with a bar and restaurant.

The gym was well-outfitted with equipment and there were also personal trainers for guidance and assistance during a workout.

The gym is a gorgeous and open space with glass walls facing the ocean. There were daily yoga classes at both sunrise and sunset in a beautiful half open-air yoga space above the gym. I would consider working out more if I could do so with those ocean views.

Bicycles were provided for guests to use free of charge. I loved using them to explore the resort.
I was given a 15-minute complimentary spa treatment at the AVI spa, a dreamy, rejuvenating space. It had six overwater treatment rooms with glass-bottomed windows in the floor so guests could admire marine life during treatments. There wasn’t a hair salon (I was told this would open soon), but the spa offered facials, massages and manicures and pedicures as well as traditional Chinese therapy treatments like acupuncture. My massage was excellent.
Wi-Fi was complimentary but rather slow, even though in theory I should have been relaxing, not working.
Food and beverage
The resort features six different restaurants, and I was able to sample three, plus room service. Cafe UMI is the main restaurant.  “Umi” means “ocean” in Japanese, and — not surprisingly — this restaurant was Japanese-themed. I had breakfast there three times, a combination of buffet and a la carte. The buffet was amazing, with over 20 different types of freshly cut fruit, baked goods, salads, cheese, fresh juices and more.

The a la carte menu was restricted to a single page, but had all the essentials — about four styles of eggs, including “eggs any style,” Asian dishes like curries, British porridge and more. On my last day I asked for eggs Florentine with avocado, which wasn’t on the menu, but they made it for me anyway.

There was also an espresso machine and freshly ground coffee available each morning. I love it when a hotel takes coffee seriously — it’s important to start the day off right! It really felt like the hotel was there to cater to whatever I asked for at any time, with no problem, a sign of a true luxury property.
Café UMI was also excellent for dinner, with an a la carte menu only. The cuisine was delicious: a combination of Japanese (sushi, sashimi, etc), Italian (pastas and pizza), international (burgers), Asian (curries) and freshly grilled seafood.

When I ordered beyond what was included in my rate, prices weren’t cheap, but not as insanely expensive as some of the other Maldivian hotels that TPG reviewers have experienced. Breakfast would have cost between $30-50 and dinner $50-75 here if it wasn’t included. But I certainly wouldn’t have been charged $45 for still water, as TPG director of video Tom Grahsler encountered at Ithaa, the underwater restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

One night, I did visit the Lighthouse restaurant (open for dinner only), which is considered a fine dining restaurant. It is actually a lighthouse where I could see the entire island from the top floor. My meal was delicious and the service was formal — beautiful plates, a pre-starter, the whole do.
My tomato soup and octopus dish were perfectly prepared but it was a terrible place to dine alone — I wanted to FaceTime my partner and set the phone across from me for company. I was given 25% off this dinner since I wasn’t dining at UMI, the restaurant that came with my half-inclusive rate at the resort. My dinner ended up only costing $56, which was actually cheap for fine dining, especially in the Maldives. Wine started at around $15 per glass.

I didn’t eat at The Collective, another resort restaurant which is a more casual lunch spot with a wood-fired pizza oven. I preferred to enjoy a meal in my beautiful villa instead of dining alone at a restaurant.
I did take the complimentary afternoon tea at Retreat, the lounge-style restaurant in the middle of the lagoon which had a beautiful swimming pool. It was lovely to enjoy snacks and refreshments in this relaxed, comfortable space. This spot got busy after 8 p.m., when it became the island’s main party spot.
I was happy with just about everything I ate at the resort — and grateful for the half-board rate that kept the total cost of all my extras relatively low. There were really no surprises when I got my final bill.
There was that distracting holiday decor, however.

Overall impression
The InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort took the risk of being different by looking a little less formal than many other of the chain hotels in the Maldives. It wasn’t what I would consider opulent or overly luxurious (no chandeliers here!), but I appreciated the barefoot beach, the sleek and comfortable design and its approach to dining and service. The resort was more than just a honeymoon spot. I felt comfortable being alone here (except perhaps at the romantic Lighthouse restaurant) and could see why families or friends traveling together would enjoy it too.
Even though the room rate was high, I got a lot for my money. Service was incredible and the resort was beautiful. I had a spacious, private villa and the included breakfast, dinner and other extras made the splurge bearable.
It was the perfect spot for a solo traveler to recharge his batteries. I would happily return.
All photos by Jean Arnas/The Points Guy.

Paradise, for a price: A review of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

 
At the end of last year, it was decided that it was high-time that the team organize a large trip to the Maldives to check out several of these new properties and also check in on some of the standbys that people have been visiting for years.
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I was assigned to stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, a Hilton property that a few TPG staffers have stayed at — and enjoyed — in the past, but that hadn’t been reviewed in a number of years. And, with most rooms on the property having received a facelift throughout the latter parts of 2019, we decided it was the perfect time to return to the resort and give it a full review.

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Read on for my impressions of a deluxe beach villa at one of the Maldives’ most popular points hotels, made particularly famous thanks to its underwater Ithaa Restaurant and world’s first underwater villa, the Muraka.

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.

In This Post

Location
The Conrad is spread across two private islands. The resort is only reachable by a 30-minute seaplane flight.

At Male Airport, a concierge met me and then walked me to the Conrad’s airport lounge that offered coffee, cold towels and a breakfast spread. I found it to be a comfortable waiting spot, with sofas and Wi-Fi. Peculiarly, it’s only free to enter between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. It costs $85 to enter between 5:30 p.m -11:30 p.m., and I can’t think of a reason I’d pay $85 to do so.
After relaxing in the lounge, I boarded the seaplane, excited for my first flight on this unique type of aircraft. I was given earplugs which I was grateful for as the engines were really loud. We landed to the sight of the hotel staff waving – a very warm welcome indeed.
I could have taken a short domestic flight to another island from Male (MLE) and then taken a speedboat to the Conrad, but it would have added a lot of hassle and time to my journey and wasn’t particularly affordable either.
Related: Everything you need to know about resort transfer fees in the Maldives
You have to take a seaplane to get to many of the resorts in the Maldives, so factor this cost into your budget. The thing that really annoyed me about the seaplanes, though, wasn’t the price. It was the timing of the planes, which the hotels scheduled the evening before. Even though I told the Conrad that my return flight to the U.S. wasn’t until 11 p.m., I was told on the evening before I left that my seaplane would leave at 3 p.m. the next day, cutting short my final day. and, this is common to Maldives resorts that utilize seaplane transfers, so plan accordingly, unless you want to fork over $5,000 for a private seaplane transfer at your preferred time.
It’s also important for your budgeting to understand that the Conrad Maldives is on an island, Rangali, that is literally in the middle of the ocean. No restaurants are nearby, you can’t just pop down to 7-11 for a soda or Uber to the nearest shopping mall. Your time will be spent at the resort (which is stunning, by the way), all your meals and activities will happen at the resort — and you’ll pay a lot for them.
Booking
Since I don’t have any status with Hilton, I booked my three-night stay at the Conrad through Hotels.com. The total cost for three nights in a beach villa and daily breakfast was $2,510 for three nights, or about $837 per night. As with basically all Maldives hotels, there was a mandatory round-trip airport transfer that could only be paid in cash. At the Conrad, this seaplane transfer cost $590 per person after tax, which was paid upon checkout.
Related: The best credit cards for Hilton hotel stays
If you’re looking to burn Honors points at this property, you can often get a great value for them, as you can find award nights starting at 95,000 points per night. And, if you’re short on Honors points, consider applying for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, ($450 annual fee; see rates & fees) which is currently offering a welcome bonus of 150,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, the card gives automatic Hilton Diamond status, and offers up to $250 in airline-fee credits and up to $250 in Hilton resort credits, and I would earn 14 points per dollar spent on eligible Hilton purchases.
Check-in
My check-in experience was seamless. I was met by my personal concierge Naim right after disembarking from the seaplane. I was graciously handed what may have been the most unique welcome drink I’ve ever tasted: a fruit slushie served in a really cool wooden bowl with a spoon.
It was nice to be able to land and immediately enjoy welcoming service and a refreshing drink. I also learned that I’d been upgraded from a Beach Villa to a Deluxe Beach Villa. Although the staff wasn’t aware I was reviewing the hotel, I’m pretty sure my request to film video around the resort (I’m TPG’s director of video) may have triggered the upgrade, especially considering I don’t have any Hilton elite status. The Deluxe Beach Villa, although the next-highest room category, is almost double the size of the regular Beach Villa and comes with a private plunge pool.

The lobby gave off a “barefoot luxury” vibe: Its white-sand floor instantly suggested Maldivian relaxation. I was given a map of the property and Naim walked me through it, explaining all the elements of the hotel and asking which restaurants I would like to reserve for dinner. I booked a couple of meals but not all of them, as I wanted to have some flexibility during my visit.
I’d never been scuba diving before, but if there’s any place that inspires diving, it’s the Maldives, so on the way to my room we stopped at the dive center where I scheduled a Discovery Dive.
The villa
The villa not only faced the beach but also had an amazing private outdoor garden area with a large daybed and swing in front.

The room was gorgeous – even better than I had imagined. The over-3,000-square-foot villa was flooded with light through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

I loved the attention to detail – things like a fresh flower on the bed immediately caught my eye. Speaking of the bed, it was huge and comfortable. I slept well during my stay.
I loved having a Nespresso machine and I also got two complimentary water bottles per day. The minibar contained all of the usual suspects like soft drinks and beer.
The bathroom was also spacious and beautiful, with a double vanity.
The shower spacious and beautiful, and the rainfall shower head would definitely pass the TPG shower test.

I also had a huge, inviting outdoor shower.

Bath amenities were from Molton Brown — another high-end touch.dfs
Although I’m not big into products, they smelled nice and weren’t overbearing. The closet was well-appointed, with a robe and slippers. A note was attached to a chic beach bag saying if I wanted one, they were available for purchase in the gift shop, but I assume I could have used it during my stay if I had wanted to.
I was pleased to notice my luggage had arrived in the room before I did.
Exiting out the back, I had a small private deck and my own infinity plunge pool surrounded by white sand.

The pool had jets that turned on. There were also two comfortable lounge chairs outside. A small path flanked by jungle foliage led me to a stunning white-sand beach. Although the beach wasn’t just for me, it was fairly empty and never felt crowded.

The snorkeling reef was right near my villa too. There’s nothing like waking up, strolling out onto your private pool area and then wandering down to the beach and snorkeling in just a few seconds.
Amenities
Obviously, having my own private pool was a fantastic amenity in itself, but the resort also has a quiet-zone (read: adults-only) pool with music and bar. On the family island, there was another pool complete with a kids pool and another bar (parents need booze too).
Having the beach and snorkel reef right outside my door was truly amazing – I loved being able to snorkel each morning before breakfast. Although the beach wasn’t private, each beach villa had its own section of sorts with two loungers, an umbrella and tables. The sections are spaced relatively far apart, so it felt semi-private.

Wi-Fi worked well, with download speeds of 8.12 mbps and upload speeds of 9.48 mbps.
Although I didn’t manage to get to the fitness center, it was fully stocked with cardio/weight equipment and open 24/7.

Daily boot camp, circuit and yoga classes were offered, as well as beach volleyball, table tennis, power walking and stretching activities.

There was a tennis court, an on-site watersports center and an on-site dive center. The gregarious staff at the dive center made my first Discovery Dive a breeze. It was my first time diving ever, and I don’t think I could have had a better experience. I had a quick lesson in the classroom and then headed out to a gorgeous dive site under 10 minutes away where I saw all sorts of amazing underwater species.
I did get a massage at the overwater spa, but it was under construction, so only one small part of the spa was available. My massage was good (but not exceptional) and pricey at $253. I was disappointed that the resort didn’t have a hammam, steam room or relaxation area that I could lounge in after my massage — especially because I was told not to shower for an hour to let the oils work their magic. Instead, I was driven back to my room in my bathrobe, carrying my belongings in a bag, to wait out that hour. For a $250 massage, I would’ve preferred to spend that hour in the spa instead of being kicked out immediately. If I had realized the spa renovation wasn’t complete, I probably would have skipped the whole experience.
Food and beverage
I’ll start with breakfast, since one of my favorite things about hotel stays is testing out the first meal of the day. I love it when breakfast buffets include both Western and Asian options – and the Conrad Maldives came through. Almost all of the rates available on Hilton.com come with breakfast included — and my rate on Hotels.com did too.
Even if you don’t find a rate that includes breakfast, you can guarantee that perk by securing either Gold or Diamond status with Hilton, which you can do simply by signing up for a credit card. The Platinum Card® from American Express offers complimentary Gold status with Hilton as a perk of card membership, and, of course the Hilton Aspire card comes with Diamond status as a perk of just having the card.

The typical eggs, bacon, sausage and toast were available at the buffet and looked fresh and delicious. But the Asian section was really awesome, complete with congee, dim sum and a noodle bar. Of course, I had a bit of everything, tasting the rice congee, pork dumpling, a bowl of hotpot-inspired soup, sushi, a chocolate croissant, an omelet, toast and tropical fruits (don’t judge me for mixing) and it was all exceptional.

After my breakfast of champions, I ordered lunch from room service and came away disappointed. The menu was limited and it took about 30 minutes to arrive, which isn’t terrible but not speedy either. I ordered a burger, which tasted very average and was overpriced at $38.
Even though my burger wasn’t great, I was happy to be enjoying it the beautiful daybed area, though I could have also eaten indoors or out by my pool. It was so nice to have all that extra space.

The Conrad Maldives offers a unique dining opportunity: the underwater restaurant, Ithaa. I ate lunch there one afternoon and the wow factor was there. I walked down a staircase and through a hallway and I was suddenly underwater, surrounded by swimming creatures. I suspect they do a feeding right before each lunch and dinner turn, as there were lots of fish swimming when I first arrived, but the number died down a bit as lunch went on.

I chose to do the four-course, prix-fixe tasting menu ($200), which didn’t include alcohol. So, I stuck to water. But that still cost a whopping $45, which is insane. They refilled my glass several times, which was kind of them.
Interestingly, you can visit the restaurant as a non-guest, but you’d have to arrange your own transport and it’s only available for lunch. So, if you’re staying elsewhere but want to eat at Ithaa, inquire at your hotel about arranging a speedboat transfer there.There was also a $30 surcharge for non-guest diners.
But back to my meal. The main course was veal and I had a sweet corn soup and duck confit as appetizers with strawberry cake for dessert. The food was tasty, but I wasn’t impressed when my veal arrived lukewarm.

I realize that maybe the kitchen itself wasn’t underwater, and the food was probably cooked in the Sunset Kitchen on the same pier and then shuttled over. Still, for the price I was paying (my lunch bill came out to $245 without wine), my food should have arrived at the right temperature. Nonetheless, it was amazing to eat underwater and it makes for a unique splurge.

I ate dinner one night at the Mediterranean restaurant Vilu. I went with the special for the evening, risotto with sea bass, which was incredible. I got a mozzarella salad as a starter, complete with a small loaf of homemade sourdough, an entire clove of roasted garlic and roasted tomatoes, with Modena balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping. It was definitely my dining highlight at the hotel – though breakfast was a close second.
Now it’s time to repeat the warning that food prices are exorbitant. My bill came to $190 for two courses at Vilu with a glass of pinot grigio. Although this was an excellent meal, the quality of the food at the resort generally does not match the price. Yet be ready to really spend on food if you want to eat well. Or eat anything at all, really.
Service
Staff members were friendly and helpful, without being overbearing, which I appreciated. Traveling solo, I thought I might be approached for small talk, but the staff let me do my thing while also making sure I knew they were there if I needed anything.
Overall impression

I had a relaxing, rejuvenating stay at the luxurious Conrad Maldives. I loved the light, the airy beach villa and the private outdoor space and direct beach access. The diving was fabulous, and the Maldives just feel exotic, a true escape. Just be ready to really splurge for this escape, as food is shockingly overpriced and seaplane transfers are expensive.
If you’re ready to throw down some serious cash, this resort would be a good place to do it, though it’s not quite as fancy as the Waldorf Astoria or the One&Only. Still, for honeymooners, families or even solo travelers who have the means, the Conrad Maldives makes for a truly memorable getaway.
Feature image and all photos by Tom Grahsler/The Points Guy.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

A Ritz reborn: A review of the newly reopened Ritz-Carlton, South Beach

A fixture in Miami’s flashy South Beach neighborhood since the early 2000s, The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach has finally reopened after closing in late 2017 upon sustaining significant damage due to Hurricane Irma. The $90 million renovation project covered just about every surface in the property, from the moldings in the 376 guest rooms to the brand-new art deco masterpiece of a lobby bar.

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Curious what a $90 million hotel renovation looks like? Read my ~full~ review of the just-reopened @ritzcarltonsouthbeach
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The hotel’s reopening at the end of January marks the latest phase in the storied property, which originally opened in 1953 as the DiLido Hotel. It was originally designed by Morris Lapidus, a renowned architect who went on to design some of Miami Beach’s most iconic properties like the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc.

I was a little apprehensive visiting the property just three weeks after it had officially reopened, especially considering the experiences of others on the TPG staff who in recent months have visited hotels that were newly opened (Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana) or reopened (The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas) and found that they were in varying degrees of readiness for guests.
However, my fears were quickly dismissed when I stepped into the lobby last weekend and found a resort that, for the most part, was not only ready to welcome guests once again but did so in a way that made it seem like it had never closed.

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In This Post

Booking
There wasn’t a whole lot of time between learning that The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach had reopened and when I had an open weekend to get down to Miami to check it out. So, we were forced to make a fairly last-minute booking, which doesn’t bode well for prices in South Florida during the peak season for travel there. Sure enough, cash rates were going for almost $1,200 per night.
Related: The best credit cards for hotel stays in 2020
However, there was availability at the standard rate, so we chose to use 85,000 points per night — a total of 170,000 points total — for my two-night stay. As a Category 8 property, an award night will cost you 70,000 points for an off-peak night, 85,000 for a standard night and 100,000 for a peak night.
If you’re considering a stay and need to give your Marriott account a boost, consider signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?
The hotel says that it charges a $45 resort fee daily, but I noticed upon checkout that it was not added to my bill. (Marriott does not usually waive the resort fee on award stays as other hotel brands do.) Had it been on my folio, I would have asked for it to be removed or at least reduced, because the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival was going on during the weekend of my stay, so the Ritz’s beach was basically taken over by the festival and guests couldn’t take advantage of the beach chair service that’s included in the resort fee.
Location
The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is on the corner of Lincoln Road and Collins Ave., which has its perks and its drawbacks. On the plus side, it’s right in the middle of all the action in South Beach. You can walk to many of the bars and restaurants that line the beach on Collins Ave. On the downside, it’s right in the middle of all the action in South Beach. The area immediately surrounding the hotel can get very busy — that corner is one of the busiest around and practically the center of the tourist universe in Miami Beach.

I didn’t experience any excessive loudness during my stay, and the hotel is pretty protected from all the activity on the street thanks to its design, but it can be overwhelming for anyone looking for a calm and relaxing locale.
The hotel is about 13 miles from Miami International Airport (MIA) and takes about a half-hour by car under normal traffic conditions. I arrived in South Florida via Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), however, which is just under 30 miles from the hotel. It took me a little less than an hour and cost $55 to get to the Ritz.
Check-in
I arrived at the hotel around 9 p.m. on a Friday, and I was the only one checking in at that time. I was helped immediately and struck up a conversation with the check-in agent while she completed the process. I could tell that she was genuinely excited to welcome me to the property and was proud of the way the restoration had turned out.

She explained that they didn’t have any available rooms in the category that I had booked, so I was given an upgrade to an oceanfront room with a patio, which I excitedly accepted.
Next, I inquired about purchasing access to the club lounge for “Saturday night,” but what really would last from Saturday morning until when I left the property on Sunday evening. She said that could be arranged no problem, and that my keys would give me access to the lounge beginning at 6 a.m. the next morning. (I’ll dive into the lounge in more detail below.)
While she completed all the formalities of check in, I had a look around the renovated lobby. According to staff, only the light fixtures on the curved wall and the black terrazzo floor were kept from the hotel’s pre-renovation design. The lobby was trimmed with smart and stylish gray and black furniture, with cursory potted plants (we’re talking about Miami, after all) placed throughout.

Because of the hotel’s design, the lobby is dark, but the hotel really leaned into the dark look with muted colors and the polished black floor and columns throughout the space. And, instead of it feeling dark, it felt cool, moody and — dare I say it — sexy.

At the very back of the lobby is the all-new Lapidus Bar, an impossibly beautiful space that is pretty much exactly what I think of when someone mentions the words “art deco” to me. More on that later, though.

I wandered back to the check-in desk, where I was handed my keys and escorted to the elevators to make my way to my oceanfront room on the sixth floor.
Room
I arrived after dark so I couldn’t get a full impression of the room upon my first look, but even at night, I could tell that I was going to like this renovated room.

Immediately to the left after opening the door was the bathroom, which featured a double vanity, WC, standing shower and separate tub.

I liked the design — it felt very true to the hotel’s art deco vibe — but I could tell that the bathroom hadn’t been taken to the studs, as the tub looked old and not especially inviting, and the shower was on the small side: characteristics that gave away the real age of the room. None of this was a dealbreaker, to be sure, but I sort of expected more in the bathroom from a property that was closed for more than two years for renovations.

Back inside the main room, there was a closet next to the bathroom, and then the foyer gave way to the spacious room that featured two double beds that I found to be almost unbelievably comfortable. I slept remarkably well throughout my stay and was wishing I could recreate that level of comfort at home.

This hotel nailed the bed space in this redesign. The stylized navy blue leather headboards and gold throw pillows placed in front of intricate white moldings made the rooms feel stylish, high-end and relaxing and approachable all at once. And, of course, it was very art deco.

The gray wood floors, wicker chairs and bed frames added elements of the beach to the room, adding to its refined, relaxed vibe.

The Smart TV and honor bar were perched on top of a large credenza in the middle of the two double beds, and to the left of that was an awkwardly placed orange-hued privacy screen that seemingly served no other purpose other than to break up what would otherwise have been a very large white space, and, well, to look awkward.

Like I mentioned before, I had an oceanfront room, so I had a generously sized patio with great views of the pool deck and all the way to the ocean. There were two chairs for sitting as well as two loungers facing the ocean, and I enjoyed spending a few minutes out there enjoying the weather before starting my day.

Overall, I was really impressed by my room at this renovated Ritz. It felt fresh and new and high-end enough to command the prices that the property has been charging since reopening. There were a few shortcomings, for sure, but I was very pleased with the quality and look of the redesign.
Food and beverage
The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach has three drinking and dining establishments open for all guests: the Lapidus Bar at the back of the lobby; Fuego y Mar, the property’s main spot for eating and drinking; and the DiLido Beach Club, a relaxed and low-key spot located steps from the beach.
I didn’t have time to eat at DiLido, but I checked it out briefly while exploring the resort and I loved how it was directly next to the beach and it looked like a great spot to have a slow-paced lunch along with a few refreshing cocktails on a beautiful Miami day.

I ate at Fuego y Mar twice during my stay, once at a table in the restaurant and once by the pool. I liked the look of the restaurant. Inside was light and beachy, with thickly padded blue-and-white gingham-clad chairs, navy blue leather booths, herringbone wood floors and plenty of green potted plants.

This restaurant is a true inside/outside space, with the wall facing the pool opening almost completely up to let the ocean breeze into the space. Since I had breakfast with my Club Lounge access, I didn’t eat that meal at this restaurant but had I had more time, I would have made a point to try breakfast there.
The bar also bridged the gap between inside and out, though I made sure that I grabbed a seat in the outside portion.

On Saturday afternoon, I sat down for lunch under the covered outside portion of Fuego y Mar, and while I loved that it was outside, it almost felt dark, as the ceiling itself didn’t let much light in. However, when it rained on and off all day, I realized that was probably by design.
For lunch, I tried a Little Havana cocktail ($18), made with Havana Club Rum, guava, plantain and Cuban coffee. I didn’t have any idea what to expect but the waiter recommended it to me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt appropriate for the location, too.

To eat, I chose the mahi-mahi wrap and french fries ($24), which was spectacular. It was fresh and light with the perfect amount of spice from the chipotle aioli served with it.

While sitting by the pool, I sampled the Ponté las Pilas cocktail ($18), which was made with yerba mate-infused cachaça, Chareau Aloe Liqueur, prickly pear and cucumber. The description really appealed to me, but I found it to be a little too sweet for my liking. Next up was a traditional mojito ($17), which was on point.

On Sunday, I tried a poolside classic: a grilled chicken quesadilla ($16). I had high expectations, and it lived up to those. The guacamole served on the side had a nice kick to it, too, and tasted like it was made in-house rather than purchased at the store.

I couldn’t leave the property without visiting the Lapidus Bar, named after the hotel’s original architect. It’s the hotel’s crown jewel. The friendly bartender, Mark, explained that before the renovation, the hotel only had a very little bar with just four seats around it — not a place that anyone would want to spend any time.

I can say with confidence that now you’ll definitely want to spend time at this swanky bar. You’re instantly transported to the days when Miami was at the peak of its glamour, with gold and other jewel tones used abundantly and set in contrast to black and white finishes.

The chandelier was designed specifically for this space, but it looks like it has been there since the 1950s — in a very good way.

There’s plenty of seating on either side of the main bar, and you can order from a full drink menu as well as some snacks and light bites. I only had a drink — the Hemingway Sour ($18) — which was made with Lustau Amontillado Solera Sherry, Solerno blood orange liqueur, aged balsamic, egg white and absinthe mist. It was refreshing and boozy at once — and it felt even more ’50s thanks to it being served in a coupe glass.

Amenities
This isn’t a sprawling resort — you can think of it more like an urban property on a beach. As such, the amenity list isn’t extensive, but it’s got everything you need. First and foremost is the pool, which is the centerpiece of the resort. I love the look of it — it’s in a sort of cross shape. It looks great without being a typical rectangle or circular pool that so many resorts have.

There are plenty of loungers for you to use, and I was a big fan of the sturdy wood chairs with thick pads on top. I won’t lie about it: I judge any high-end hotel that doesn’t have these plush cushions on top of its loungers. Luckily, the Ritz passed this test with flying colors.

Beyond the pool is a sun deck with many chairs set up and oriented in a way that you can soak up the maximum amount of sun, which is exactly what I did on Sunday. Many resort buildings in Miami Beach obscure the sun by 3 p.m., but if you choose to lounge at this sun deck, you’ll get sun until 5 p.m. or a little later. And, there was free sunscreen in large bottles at the pool attendant’s desk, so you don’t need to remember to pack it before you head south.

There’s a small jacuzzi tub to use, as well, though it did get quite crowded at certain times of the day.

The hotel’s gym and spa are located on the third floor. The spa was completely redone, but with 50-minute massages starting at $155, I skipped a treatment. The space itself was beautiful and calming, though.

The gym felt like one area of the hotel that wasn’t given a full refresh. The space was dark and had low ceilings, with absolutely no views to speak of. The equipment was new, though. I suppose this is another product of the hotel’s age — there’s just not a ton of space to design a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Club Lounge
Since I purchased Club Lounge access specifically to include in this review, I thought it deserved its own section in this story.

I paid $350 to upgrade my room and grant myself access starting on Saturday and ending when I left the hotel on Sunday evening.

The lounge has five daily food-and-beverage presentations:

Breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Lunch from noon to 2 p.m.
“Light snacks” from 2  to 4 p.m.
Hors d’oeuvres from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
Desserts and cordials from 8 to 10 p.m.

I visited several times during my stay: Twice for breakfast, once for the “light snacks” and once for hors d’oeuvres. While not the most extensive breakfast spread I’ve ever experienced, it was more than adequate for me. There were several hot options available, like scrambled eggs, bacon and chicken sausages, in addition to a plethora of cold options including a beautiful fruit spread, pastries and bagels with all the fixings, including several cream cheeses and lox.

Each day for breakfast I helped myself to some scrambled eggs, bacon, plates of fruit and more than one pastry. Everything was fresh and delicious.

During the lunch serving, I sampled mini sandwiches, the salad bar and some various chips and nuts with various spices on them. I loved everything I tried and once again felt that everything was fresh and reflected the local cuisine — albeit somewhat tangentially.

During the hors d’oeuvres serving, I stuck to Champagne since I was heading to dinner, but it was well-attended and the perfect spot — with plenty of beautiful views — to have a few drinks before heading out for an evening in Miami.

Champagne, beer and wine was served all day, but during the later servings a more extensive selection of alcohol was available. Some selection of snacks was available all day as well, including delicious cookies that I definitely grabbed on my way to the pool one afternoon.

At the end of the day, having access definitely enhanced my stay. I had access to dedicated concierges and could pop in at any time to grab a soft drink, a bottle of water or even a quick glass of Champagne. It’s a beautiful space, too, though I wish there was some sort of outdoor space to enjoy.

I certainly enjoyed having access to the Club Lounge, but I’m conflicted as to whether I think the splurge was worth it. I think that at a resort in a different location that’s less of a hotspot, it would be more worth it. But, in Miami, there’s too much good food and nightlife to have all your meals in the Club Lounge. And, I likely would still have spent less money even having eaten the pricey breakfast at Fuego y Mar each day.
Service
I had a mostly very positive experience with the service at this property, with the exception of one situation. On Sunday afternoon, I ordered my quesadilla along with a mojito, and while the drink arrived promptly, I waited an hour for my food. My waiter at the pool was very apologetic, but I could tell that he — along with the rest of the pool staff — was very overwhelmed. It was a very busy weekend, though, and I was in no rush, so it didn’t really bother me, but it’s definitely worth noting that perhaps the pool staff needs to better allocate employees to service out there.
Other than this minor hiccup, I felt spoiled at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. Even though I had a quick stay, the pool attendants knew my name immediately and knew that I wanted a chair in a sunny spot each day. Servers and other attendants would come around with samples of fruit juice and a particularly delicious horchata that I tried more than once.

The manager of the Club Lounge would greet me by name whenever he walked by at the pool or the lobby, which I appreciated. I felt that the staff at this property genuinely wants to make each guest’s stay more relaxing and enjoyable.
Overall impression
I had a great stay at the reborn Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. The property got a stunning restoration, the rooms are high-end and beautiful, the food and drinks were delicious and I had great interactions with the staff. This isn’t a sprawling megaresort, but it’s not supposed to be. This is an ideal place if you’re looking to head to Miami for a weekend of partying and enjoying everything the city has to offer, but not necessarily if you want to have a purely relaxing vacation.

After its almost $100 million restoration, this hotel can legitimately claim its place as one of the top properties in Miami Beach. The next time I make the trip to Miami, this property will surely be near the top of my list when I’m deciding where to stay.
All photos by the author.

Kelp jerky, $60 naps and so many gym classes I got banned: My stay at the Equinox Hotel

It was a stay so good I fainted. Or rather, it was a stay so good I decided to have an IV drip just for fun — and then I fainted.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In an office full of Hilton Diamonds, Hyatt Globalists and Marriott Bonvoy Ambassador Elites, I rarely receive the same kind of premium perks as my colleagues when I stay at hotels.
But at one of New York City’s newest hotels — the Equinox Hotel at Hudson Yards — I can flex an entirely new kind of preferred membership: My Equinox fitness club all-access pass.
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(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
I’ve been a devout Equinox member since 2015. I use my membership to take classes at 26 different locations around Manhattan and get access to premium bathrooms and lockers no matter where I am in the city. So, ever since the wellness brand broke ground on its first-ever hotel venture, in Hudson Yards (the largest private real estate development in the history of the country), I’ve been dreaming of a staycation at this luxury property.
Related: Use your points to book a wellness retreat
When the 212-room Equinox Hotel began welcoming guests in July, we wondered if people would really want to bed down in a hotel run by a fitness brand. The answer, it turns out, is unequivocally yes. This is a review of a two-night stay at the flagship Equinox Hotel in New York City. But it’s also a story about how a wellness powerhouse cracked the code on sleeping in a city that, until now, supposedly never slept — and how much people are willing to pay for the privilege.
Booking
The Equinox Hotel isn’t part of any loyalty program, though eligible American Express and Chase cardholders can book this property through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) and Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resorts Collection (LHRC), respectively for some nice perks.
Related: Booking hotels through a credit card portal
Both luxury hotel booking programs include elite-like perks such as daily breakfast for two, an upgrade on arrival when available, a $100 property credit and other extras. Travelers should note that, on the same date, a stay booked through Amex FHR (available to those with The Platinum Card® from American Express), was pricing at $585, while the Chase rate was nearly $100 more ($675). Booking direct through the property or through an OTA like Hotels.com and you’d pay only $555 on that same evening, making the Amex FHR rate the best overall value, with the $100 property credit and breakfast.
Related: The best credit cards for hotel stays in 2020
We booked a two-night stay in late January through Hotels.com (for a nonrefundable rate of $465 per night) because we had earned a Hotels.com free night (worth up to $345) to help offset the cost.
Whether booked through an OTA, a luxury hotel program or directly through Equinox, guests essentially receive memberships to the Equinox Hudson Yards fitness center (read: the hotel gym) for the duration of their stay. That includes access to all the facilities, including a eucalyptus steam room, dry sauna, multiple pools and unlimited fitness classes.
Location
The Equinox Hotel is located in the heart of New York City’s flashy new Hudson Yards development on the city’s far west side, at the coveted 33 Hudson Yards address. Tucked between 11th Avenue and 33rd Street, the hotel is across from the Vessel, a futuristic Thomas Heatherwick-designed landmark that, in the summer, doubles as the world’s most ostentatious workout prop. From many public areas, you can admire views of the remaining exposed west side rail yards and the Hudson River beyond.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
If you’re in New York City for a convention at the Javits Center, the Equinox Hotel is extremely convenient, though that’s pretty much it. Hudson Yards, and this entire part of the west side, feels far from just about everything you’re likely to do. It’s also still very much in development; getting to the hotel both on foot and by car can be impeded by the massive construction zones all over this part of Manhattan.
One upside to the location is that it connects to the High Line, which runs south through Chelsea to the Meatpacking District. The hotel is also a 10-minute walk to New York Penn Station. On the subway, travelers can get here via the 7 train or, perhaps better, take an Uber, which will drop you off right out front. Later this year, Hudson Yards will also be home to Edge, the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere.
Check-in
Official check-in at the Equinox Hotel is 3 p.m., but I wanted to arrive early and drop off my luggage (er, gym bag) and scout out the property. So, I called around 10 a.m. to see what time I could check in, and was told to come by anytime. As I found out later, getting late checkout wouldn’t be so easy: When I asked at the front desk the following day, I was only able to get an additional 30 minutes tacked on to my staycation.
There are two separate entrances at the Equinox Hotel: One for guests and one for gym members. The 60,000-square-foot Equinox fitness center is technically a “destination club,” meaning you need a membership to that specific club or a “destination access membership” to get in.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Guests entering the hotel walk through a modest entryway that reminded me of the Times Square Edition. Attendants in white Karl Lagerfeld jackets directed us to walk through the stone-and-wood space, past an undulating metal wall that made you feel as though you were traveling through some kind of portal, and to the elevator to the 25th-floor lobby.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Upstairs, in an ultramodern space complete with black stone floors and Zaha Hadid-designed sofas, hotel staff members wore custom white pantsuits and manned two freestanding front desks constructed of resin and stone.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Every design element seemed luxurious — or at least expensive — including the custom light fixture suspended over the Stephen Starr bar and restaurant below.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
At check-in, I found out just how far my unconventional “status” would go: During my stay, I’d receive free gym clothes laundering as an Equinox member (talk about elite perks, right?). I also received a complimentary “Quantum Harmonics Brain & Body Boost” treatment at the spa as a perk of Hotels.com gold status. I inquired about guesting additional people into the gym during my stay, to which I was told, “No limit … within reason.”
Then I was given two room keys and directed to a separate elevator bank up to the 32nd floor.
Number of free Golden Delicious apples consumed during two-night stay: At least three. (Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Room
Hotel rooms in New York City are notoriously small, but when I opened the door to room 3217, I was stunned by the amount of square footage (400, to be exact) in the entry-level Deluxe City View guest room.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
There was a sprawling entryway with a black marble console and a trio of floor-to-ceiling adjustable mirrors.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
The space was large enough to accommodate excess luggage, fashion shows or full workouts — the latter, if I had to guess, was the point.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Rooms at the Equinox Hotel are basically sleep temples, with serious soundproofing (including padded walls and upholstered leather headboards) that effectively blocked out the cacophony from the construction sites and train yards below.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
All-natural, spring-free Coco-Mat mattresses are designed to keep you cool at night. By some sort of sorcery, they really don’t transfer movement, either, and even travelers with restless partners should be able to sleep through the night undisturbed. It helps that the beds have two separate duvets, too. This is also supposed to help with temperature regulation, but it means your bedmate can’t hog the covers either.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Everything in the room is whisper quiet (there’s even a specially designed A/C system) and all the commonplace sources of ambient noise and light have been eliminated. At night, custom blackout blinds conceal every trace of light from the 10-foot windows. Once I finally figured out how to turn off the bedside tablet (flipping it face down on the night stand), the only luminescence my eyes detected was a tiny green flash from the smoke detector.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Turn on the room’s night settings and everything becomes impossibly dark, quiet and cool — 66 degrees, supposedly the optimal temperature for sleep. But simply sit up and step off the bed, and a motion-activated light illuminates the floor with a soft glow.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Instead of a desk, the room had an angular velvet chaise and a marble pedestal table. This seemed like a style-over-substance decor decision, but when I actually sat down to write on my laptop, I realized it was a smart substitution: The table height was perfect for working or eating room service, but the chaise was far more comfortable for lounging or watching television than the furniture you usually find shoved into the corner of a hotel room.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
A TV equipped with an Apple TV box was recessed into the wall across from the bed, though it took me until the second night to realize it wasn’t working (the only channels I could get were CNN and a screensaver of Monet paintings). I considered calling the front desk for help, but after three fitness classes and an invasive medical — ahem, spa — treatment, I could hardly stay awake once I climbed into bed.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
The bathroom, which could be completely closed off from the rest of the room by a sliding louvered door, was a revelation. Sadly, there was no bathtub (select suites have black-marble soaking tubs) but the stone walk-in shower had a trio of adjustable taps and a bench (if you’ve ever tried to shave the back of your knee, you’ll know why I used the word “revelation” here).
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
I couldn’t figure out how to get all the taps on at once, which was frustrating, and having the faucet on the side of the sink was also a bit awkward.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
But there were many surprising details here that offset those small annoyances. Among them: Towels with loops that easily hung onto hooks without sliding off, and hooded boxer-inspired Reigning Champ bathrobes that guests could be seen wearing all over the hotel.
Like the foyer, the mirror panels in the bathroom could also be adjusted, so you could see the back of your head — perfect for hot styling tools.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Instead of the fitness brand’s signature Kiehl’s products, I was surprised to find an array of Grown Alchemist amenities made from botanicals harvested from the nearby High Line park. Yes, really. I can’t remember the last time I tried a hotel product I liked so much. I went to buy it at the spa, and I was thrilled the room had full-size dispensers so there was no limit to how much of the calming evening cleanser, fragrant with chamomile, Tasmanian pepper and tangerine, I could use.
Amenities
Usually, this is the part of a hotel review that would talk about the gym and spa. But the Equinox Hotel is essentially a massive fitness mecca with rooms piled on top, so instead, I want to tell you about the utter glory and insanity of the ensuite minibar — basically a closet filled with everything from Diet Coke and roasted nuts to mysterious tonics, potions and lotions.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Take almost everything you thought you knew about hotel minibars, run those preconceptions through a Pilates reformer and ask Gwyneth Paltrow to restock the amenities. The result is the Equinox Hotel RoomBar.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Spread across more than half a dozen drawers and shelves, the in-room “minibar” included everything from a complimentary Nespresso station to healthy snacks (crispy almond-butter Brussels sprouts; spicy Thai and spirulina-flavored kelp jerky) and familiar soft beverages.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
There were also locally crafted liquors and chilled bottles of wine and Champagne; fitness gear and accessories to use during your stay; and Rhone athletic wear for purchase.
There were also shelves and drawers stocked with dietary supplements, and other wellness products you can probably buy on Goop.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Among the most baffling was an ampoule full of “hypertonic” (read: seawater) you’re supposed to consume on an empty stomach to promote “cell renewal, energy levels and protein synthesis,” whatever that means. I was also intrigued by the Magnesium Ease spray that promised to aid with sleep and muscle recovery with just three spritzes, and a vial of mysterious “brain fuel” that apparently improves concentration and other “cranial” functions.
I think I’ll stick to my daily iced coffee, thank you very much.
But after perusing the very entertaining (and expensive) selection of products, I decided to change into my gym clothes, grab a free bag of popped turmeric-and-garlic-flavored water lily seeds and head downstairs to the gym.
Fitness center and spa
The Equinox Hotel is anchored by a 60,000-square-foot fitness center with everything you’d expect to find at a hotel gym (cardio equipment, free weights, weight machines) — just at a massive scale. I couldn’t even count the number of treadmills.
Related: The best hotel gyms on earth 
Hotel guests and club members enter a sprawling, living room-style lounge area and coworking space marked by chevron-patterned wood flooring that extends up the walls toward the ceiling, oversized velvet sectionals and geometric leather ottomans.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Sheer volume aside, the amenities likely to appeal most to travelers are the heated outdoor pool and roof deck; the indoor saltwater lap pool; the hot and cold plunge pools; and unlimited access to Equinox’s robust lineup of group fitness classes.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Between the official check-in time (3 p.m. on Friday) and checkout time (noon on Sunday), I took as many classes as possible: Vinyasa yoga, a barre class, a kickboxing-focused circuit called Rounds, a HIIT-style class called Whipped and Anthem, a spin class that’s basically Equinox’s version of SoulCycle — though, since Equinox owns that, too, you can always just take an actual SoulCycle class downstairs at the adjacent studio for an additional fee.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
The sixth class I took was a late-afternoon Barrel Sauna Meditation course that’s exclusive to this club. An instructor leads a 20-minute guided meditation inside the barrel saunas with no more than six students inside.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Come summer, the sundeck here is apparently quite a scene, with cocktails circulating around the pool chairs. But during the winter, there are four freestanding barrel saunas travelers can use — along with the pool and outdoor showers — as part of a regenerative post-workout circuit.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
As a person who absolutely loves working out, I can honestly tell you I was having the time of my life seeing how many classes I could feasibly cram into a weekend stay. That is, until I received the dreaded nastygram from Equinox: “Oh no! That’s your third missed class.”
Continue reading: How to stay fit while traveling
Equinox members will recognize this digital slap on the wrist as the one you receive when you book, but late-cancel or skip, three classes within a 30-day period. The punishment? You can’t make online reservations for classes for an entire week.
I know what you’re thinking: No, I didn’t actually skip any of these classes.
Prior to checking in at the hotel, I tried to book some of these classes through the Equinox app in advance so I’d get a head start on my marathon weekend of wellness. But because I don’t usually have access to this location, I wasn’t able to sign up.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Unless you have an Equinox membership that includes access to the Hudson Yards location, you’ll need to register for classes through the concierge. Because my hotel reservation was under the same email that’s linked to my gym membership, the Equinox app was seeing that I’d signed up for these classes — but hotel guests don’t check in this way. Instead, my name had been put on a guest list.
And, honestly, after showing up for my third or fourth class, they weren’t even checking me in at that point. They just waved me along like, “There’s that crazy girl with all the questions who keeps taking photos of everything.”
Because the app never registered me checking into the gym, I had been banned from booking more classes by Saturday night.
Though the concierge could keep adding me to the list, he couldn’t help me with my personal membership problem. For that, I had to reach out to the gym’s manager. It took me a couple of days to get an answer from someone who could waive my punishment. It struck me as a bit odd that, as a longstanding gym member and a paying hotel guest, I’d been penalized for making great use of the facilities. Though it was a small nuisance, it’s strange Equinox hasn’t encountered this yet — or at least bothered to come up with a workaround.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
After all, Harvey Spevak, executive chairman and managing partner for Equinox, told The New York Times in 2019 that the idea for the property came from Equinox members who were choosing hotels based on accessibility to Equinox clubs.
And though I’d been told at the front desk I could add multiple people to the guest list — in my circle of fitness fiends, having access to this club is like getting guested into a Centurion Lounge — when I tried to do so with the concierge, I was told only hotel guests on the reservation were allowed on the guest list.
Strength training is more fun with views of The Vessel — I promise! (Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Again, I was a bit surprised that the experience wasn’t more seamless. Where, I wondered, was the extra love for members who weren’t just paying upwards of $500 a night to be hotel guests, but who pay more than $200 in dues every single month?
I did love the complimentary gym clothes laundering service (typically $10)  that — as promised — had my clothes picked up, washed, dried, folded and returned in about two hours.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
There was another quirk to the fitness club experience. Guests are promised 24-hour access to the gym, but when I inquired at the front desk about this, I was told the club closes to guests when it closes to members (times vary depending on the day). You don’t get exclusive access to the sprawling gym floor, studios, swimming pools or lounge areas.
Instead, guests can be escorted by security to the sixth-floor E by Equinox, the brand’s notoriously expensive, ultra-exclusive training club. I could not wait to see what a $500 monthly gym membership gets you. Privacy, it turns out, and not much else.
The spartan floor has two mismatched treadmills, a single step machine and a few benches (the space is intended more for personal training than sitting on a stationary bike for an hour). All the marble, leather and opulence, it turns out, is reserved for the locker rooms, which have private changing rooms, toilets, showers and vanities.
Oh, and the Fiji water and fruit selection in this neck of the wild Equinox woods is excellent.
Many Equinox clubs have spas, but few have the sort of lavish, high-tech, ultratrendy treatments you’ll find at the Equinox Hotel. Everything on the treatment menu seems to promise to make you slimmer, stronger or smarter — or some combination of the three.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
I was tempted by the Facexercise Body Sculpt + Tone massage that promised to make me look leaner, or the $1,800 Lunar28 facial that came with a set of serums that retails for $1,600. This is all supposed to resurface your face and make you look supernally luminous but, for some reason, my budget request to pay for this was denied. Bummer!
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Instead, I decided that — in the name of good travel journalism — I should try the treatments that promised to cure jet lag. Or, at least, leave you feeling well-rested and alert.
I won’t go into the details here (that’s for another story coming shortly) but the quick version is that I took advantage of my complimentary Quantum Harmonics treatment, which promised to give me the experience of getting at least three hours of sleep in 30 minutes. It’s billed as “immersive sound and harmonic resonance therapy” on a Wave Table. I didn’t wake up from my nap (normally $60 for 30 minutes) feeling groggy, as I usually do. But I’m also not sure I ever actually fell asleep.
The next day, I wanted to try something more, er, involved: a supervised IV nutrient drip. I requested the $250 Jet Lag formula — a shockingly bright infusion of Vitamin C, zinc and other vitamins and minerals — and the CliffsNotes of this tale is that having an IV inserted at a spa isn’t any less petrifying than a doctor’s office to someone who faints at the sight of her own blood (that’s me).
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
In my semiprivate relaxation “pod” overlooking the still-exposed western railyard, it will surprise absolutely no one to know that I may have just ever so briefly passed out after the IV was inserted.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Fortunately, I passed out under the supervision of a registered nurse and already had an IV hookup of fluids in a fancy spa with fancy dried fruits and fancy teas and infused water. If you’re going to faint, I can recommend the spa at the Equinox Hotel as the place to do so.
After I recovered from the shock of the IV (and of having convinced myself to voluntarily pay hundreds of dollars for this experience) I very nearly stopped panicking long enough to enjoy the view.
Food and beverage
Shortly after opening, the Equinox Hotel welcomed Electric Lemon, a concept from James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
I’m not sure why, but I expected the restaurant and bar to be dead during my stay. After all, a winter storm was rolling in, it was frightfully cold and windy and, to most New Yorkers, Hudson Yards is just out there. 
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
But from relatively early in the morning until late, late at night, this place was bustling with a young, very stylish crowd. Every seat seemed to be full, and in the summer, they no doubt spill out onto the 8,000-square-foot terrace, with its original Jaume Plensa sculpture and reflecting pool.
I’m not usually one for visiting “hip” places, but this was certainly one of those.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Over the course of the weekend, I had dinner and drinks here, as well as a light lunch. The clean, health-focused American menu was fun and almost fanciful.
On Friday night, my boyfriend met me at the 24th-floor restaurant for dinner. It was around 8 p.m. and we were told that, without reservations, we could either grab seats at the long, communal table for an hour and 30 minutes (the pressure!) or wait until 10 p.m.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Neither of us had eaten much that day, so we promptly filled in seats between two other parties at the communal table and set about ordering the newly fashioned deviled crab crudo with ginger dressing ($24), and a black bass served with poblano, salsa borracha and a side of warm tortillas ($41) that seems to be a menu mainstay. We also ordered the Atlantic cod ($36) which was cooked well but entirely too salty.
The drinks were excellent (try the Blue Thai with vodka, galangal, Thai basil and blueberries) but, as with everything in this neighborhood, gut-wrenchingly expensive even by New York City standards: a cool $18. Then again, you can’t buy a condo in this building for less than $5 million, so the menu prices were consistent with the kind of crowd Hudson Yards seems so determined to attract.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Like dinner, room service in the morning was prompt, filling and tasty — but cost an awful lot of money for food I wouldn’t venture back to Hudson Yards for — $34 covered the small pot of coffee and avocado toast. After compulsory service charge and tip, the bill totaled more than $53.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
I placed my order through the tablet, and my meal — packed neatly into a metal bento box-style arrangement (a refreshing departure from those oversized and somewhat embarrassing carts) — arrived within 30 minutes.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Coffee and other light beverages were available by the pool deck, though I suspect this space is more for cocktails and food during the summer.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Back at Electric Lemon for lunch — this time in front of the gas fireplace by the bar — I was impressed by, of all things, a dish called “fancy vegetables and dip.” The artful arrangement included broccolini, heirloom carrots, rosy pink lettuce and other leaves and roots.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
At street level, just past the fitness club entrance, there’s an outpost of Juice Press, typical for New York Equinox locations. I ordered an iced turmeric latte with ginger, vanilla, honey and oat milk. This is, after all, the Equinox Hotel, right?
When I’d finally exhausted all my onsite options (and consumed three or four of the free Golden Delicious apples in bowls all over the hotel), I started to venture off into Hudson Yards for sustenance. For guests who find the hotel’s dining venues limited, there are other overpriced places to eat in the immediate vicinity.
One in particular — Tavern by WS — is an elegant brasserie in the same tower as the hotel, though you’ll have to leave the building and go around the corner to get there.
This is the kind of fare you’re probably going to be craving after six workout classes and a puncture wound. At least, I know I was. Lobster ravioli and a steaming bowl of minestrone with San Marzano tomatoes and pole beans was just the ticket.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
Overall impression
I drank gallons of snake oil during my two-night stay at Equinox Hotel Hudson Yards and I loved every single sip.
Before checking in, I thought I’d love the Equinox Hotel, if only for its proximity to my gym. Like so many members, missing my Thursday morning kickboxing class or Monday evening cycling class can be one of the less-fun parts of traveling. I am a creature of habit, if nothing else.
But I can honestly say now the Equinox Hotel is one of my new favorite properties in the city for a staycation.
(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)
In the refined glow of Hudson Yards, guests can count on a good night’s sleep — the kind you usually have to work 80-hour weeks to earn. In fact, the hotel experience was more seamless than the fitness club experience, which seemed somehow to not take into consideration the Equinox members the hotel was supposedly designed for in the first place.
By the time I wrapped up my final gym class of the weekend — a 45-minute kickboxing circuit — I was famished. So, I just may have grabbed that $12 bag of kelp jerky on my way out.
All photos by the author.

Almost ready for its close up: A first look at the reopened Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
Five words you never want to hear on the other end of the line as you’re packing for vacation: “Your reservation has been canceled.”
A preemptive call to The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, to inquire about airport transportation options had me breaking into a sweat, and not the kind induced from lounging on a beach under the Caribbean sun, as an agent tried to pull up my impending booking. Luckily, with a little digging, they were finally able to locate the still-intact reservation but I couldn’t help wondering if the mix-up was an omen for the trip.
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The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas was in its third month of operation when I visited, according to one staff member I spoke to, after being closed for a $100 million renovation to repair damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017. As I learned from my colleague Summer Hull, you just never know what you’re going to get when visiting a newly opened property.
What I found upon arrival was a hotel that may be open, but wasn’t quite offering guests the full resort experience yet — which could be a dealbreaker for some considering the cost of a stay at this property.
Rocking chairs welcoming guests at the entrance to The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

In This Post

Booking
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is a top-tier Category 8 Marriott Bonvoy property. This means award nights will cost you 70,000 points for an off-peak night, 85,000 for a standard night, and 100,000 for a peak night redemption.
Predictably, a stay — even mid-week — at this property wouldn’t come cheap in the middle of high season for the Caribbean. Had we paid cash, we would have paid about $1,000 per night, but we wanted to keep our cash outlay to a minimum so instead chose to redeem 155,000 points (for one off-peak and one standard night) which TPG values at around $1,240.
The resort quotes a daily resort fee of $85, but I was “only” charged $50 upon checkout.
If you’re low on Marriott points and are eyeing a redemption such as this, consider signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.

Location
Getting to the island of St. Thomas from New York was a dream: a quick nonstop flight from Newark (EWR) to St. Thomas (STT) meant wheels down by 2:50 p.m. local time. The drive from the airport to the resort, however, was a different story.
Related: Best ways to use miles in the Caribbean
The Ritz-Carlton is located on the east end of the island, 10 miles from the airport. The hotel does not have any type of shuttle service in place and the island does not currently have Uber so your only option is to grab one of the many taxi vans waiting in the airport lot. You have two taxi options: Pay $90 cash for a “private shuttle,” meaning you have the van to yourself, or $18/person to ride in the same vehicle but with additional passengers. And by additional passengers, I mean seven additional passengers — so get ready to get close if that’s the route you go.
A view of the Ritz property at night. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
You could also rent a car, but beware that the quality of rental cars in the U.S. Virgin Islands is often not great, and you drive on the left-hand side in the USVI, which could be difficult for those used to right-hand driving on the mainland.
Because St. Thomas is very hilly, be prepared for a long drive (in our case, about 45 minutes) up very steep and winding roads. If you’re prone to car or motion-sickness, maybe skip the free shots offered at the airport Margaritaville on your way out.
Check-in
My husband and I arrived at the resort around 3:50 p.m. We were met by friendly hotel staff who directed us to the check-in desk where a cold towel and delicious iced beverage (with optional Cruzan rum topper!) appeared within minutes. Despite official check in being a mere 10 minutes away (4 p.m.), the room was not ready. This was especially hard to comprehend after a staffer mentioned the hotel was only 40% full at the time of our visit.
The lobby is airy and decked out with brand-new furnishings. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The receptionist asked us to drop our bags with the bellman and wait at Sails, the resort’s closest beach-front restaurant, while the room was readied. As we hopped on a golf cart to head down to the water, my husband had to ask that our luggage be moved from the middle of the unattended valet driveway to a secure storage room.
Golf carts at the ready to transport guests from the lobby to their room. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
An hour later, we finally received a call that the room was ready. We waited 15 minutes for the bellman to meet us at Sails as directed by the receptionist but eventually gave up when no one showed, and walked back up to the entrance to retrieve our luggage and room keys.
Room

The room — especially the bathroom — at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, was the highlight of the stay.

The term “well-appointed” is defined as “having a high standard of equipment or furnishing” when it comes to a building or room and this certainly was true of our standard king room. All the furnishings looked brand-new, modern in design, and the room was spotless.

The bed was large and luxurious with plenty of pillows to go around and crisp, clean linens.

A king bed fit for a king — what more could you ask for? (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Outlets were within arm’s reach of any horizontal sleeping position and ample in number. The only downside to the bed setup was that the thermostat was obscured behind a large lamp on the bedside table, making it almost impossible to read or adjust the temperature without doing a furniture shuffle or some type of neck gymnastics.

Plenty of outlets, but you had to work for thermostat access. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Oddly, no protective or decorative covering was fitted onto the lower mattress, which made for a strange-looking setup.

Some things are better left unseen. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

That said, the top-of-the-line bed situation coupled with the sleekest and quietest ceiling fan I’ve ever seen made for a great night’s sleep.

Aside from the bed, the room also included a chic faux-reclaimed wood desk with leather chairs under an oversized rattan light fixture.

A large and in charge desk made for the perfect spot for breakfast. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 

There was also a sleek set of drawers under the flat-screen TV that housed a mini-fridge and DIY Nespresso coffee station with all the fixins’.

The coffee station was discreetly tucked into the set of drawers. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

There was also a chaise lounge in the room that, while large for the room, was quite comfortable.

The perfect spot for a little catching up on work. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The closet was big enough to fit an entire resort wear collection and housed the room’s safe, which was easy to use and large enough to accommodate a bevy of electronics and travel documents.

Love a good hotel room robe. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The balcony was spacious albeit no frills, with two basic loungers and chairs at the ready.

The perfect spot for catching a sunset sky. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

This outdoor space would have been the ideal spot for relaxing except for the fact that the view from our building was of the ongoing grounds construction as well as the back of Sails, with limited views of the water. If a good view is a priority, make sure to request a room in one of the buildings that faces east and not north.

View from the balcony of the lush grounds, but limited water. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
As the grounds and property were still very much a work in progress, many of the foot paths were muddy from landscapers.

Lots of greenery — and lots of mud. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The bathroom was beyond spacious with a shower stall, private toilet, large vanity area and the kind of deep soaking tub that vacation dreams are made of.

Could have spent the entire stay just in the tub. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The vanity had ample counter space around his-and-hers sinks as well as an additional shelf for storage needs. The lower shelf of the vanity was lined with automatic track lighting that turned on as soon as you walked in — a smart and useful feature.

A private toilet is always appreciated. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The shower was spacious and included a Raindance showerhead. Asprey amenities were fully stocked in both the shower and main bathroom area.

The shower situation was just as nice as the tub. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
The usual suspects. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The toilet seat was one visit away from sliding off but was promptly fixed after a call to the front desk.

Clean, but needed a little tightening. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Food and beverage
Our first dining experience on the property was at Sails waiting for the room, where we began our vacation with high hopes.

The covered beach-front area was a godsend between afternoon rain showers. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The service, as we would experience throughout our stay, was top-notch. The local staff were friendly, attentive and the best part of every meal.

The chips and guac (called Hallamole on the menu, $14), on the other hand, was frankly terrible. Stale cuts of various root vegetables were piled into a basket with a side of guacamole that was oxidized and tasted store-bought.

Sails root chips, guac and salsa. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

 Tuna poke ($29) and the Red Hook fish tacos ($20) followed suit. Both were disappointing.

The tuna poke looked much better than it tasted. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Fish tacos with more mayo than Mahi Mahi. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The good news is you’ll have no trouble finding solace in the frozen drinks, a favorite being the B.B.C. (Baileys Banana Colada, $16), which was basically banana pudding in drink form with booze mixed in.

The Baileys Banana Colada a.k.a. the B.B.C. will make you forget all your worries. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
Dining at Alloro for dinner, where “fine dining transports you to Sicily by way of St. Thomas,” was not as disappointing, but still not great. We were told the restaurant was booked up when we walked in, and that the only seats were at the bar, which was more than fine with us, but odd considering all the empty tables.
A beautiful space, to be sure. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
An eggplant caponata starter ($16) was served atop an arugula salad with no dressing and undressed grilled bread. The pizza ($21) and pasta dish ($19) were not offensive but nothing memorable. The resort is lucky to have such incredible staff working, who at least made the experience pleasant overall — and also knew how to make a great Negroni.
You can get better pizza and pasta at the airport. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The property’s surf-and-turf restaurant, Bleuwater, was not open for dinner during our visit (despite the website listing hours of operation as 6 to 10 p.m. daily), which reception was unable to confirm or deny when we called for reservations.

The restaurant was, however, open for breakfast (if you can find it — the space is unmarked except for faded lettering over a nonworking entrance). It was the best meal we had during our stay. Opt for the breakfast buffet ($32/person) and enjoy fresh juices, pastries, a selection of standard breakfast items from the hot bar and a cold bar of meats and cheeses. 

A variety of pastries were available to choose from for all your carbohydrate needs. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

A hearty cheese-and-meat selection did not disappoint. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The fresh fruit was a much-appreciated highlight, as were the fresh fruit juices. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

A hot bar came stocked with all the basics: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and breakfast potatoes. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Again, the service was amazing. 

Not wanting to try our luck again at Sails, we ventured over to the beach-front lunch spot on the residence side of the property. We opted for what seemed like the safest choices: a crispy chicken wrap ($19) and a steak quesadilla ($27). Not exactly island food, but it did the trick.

The crispy chicken wrap. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The $27 steak quesadilla. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

On our last morning, we opted for room service: bagels and cream cheese, fruit smoothies and coffee ($79 total). We were told it would take 35 minutes but the food did not show up until almost an hour after we ordered.

Bagels for breakfast: You can take girl out of New York… (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, also offers a Club Lounge (complete with a killer balcony area) where you’ll find a light breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks (!) and dessert served daily for $400 per day per reservation.
Given how expensive it is to dine on-property and how, well, not great, the food was during our stay, I would 100% opt to go this route if returning. On our walk-through one evening the selection of bites looked incredible (much better than what was being offered at the actual restaurants) and the self-serve bar speaks for itself.
The other move would be to take advantage of the local restaurants and bars that are a short taxi ride away in Red Hook.
The patio outside Alloro restaurant. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
Amenities

When all the construction is complete, guests will have access to two pools on the resort’s property. However, only one of the two was open while we were there, so we were given access to the pool at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton Club residence property.
The pool that was open at the resort was a smallish infinity pool just steps from the beach. The pool deck was adorned with about a dozen lounge chairs and a few cabanas.
The only pool open on the hotel side during our stay. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The cabanas remained untouched during our stay. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
Due to construction, a large metal fence limited the deck space as well as the sunlight at the open hotel pool, which is probably why we rarely saw many guests hanging here.
Some serious shade. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
The pool was also noisy as one would expect from a working construction site. The pool currently under construction should be a nice family-friendly option once complete.
I called to check in with the resort about the progress of the construction on this pool, and the agent I spoke to told me that it should be open by the end of next week, as it’s just awaiting a final water inspection.
Ongoing construction at the second, family-friendly hotel pool. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
An overview of the hotel pool and beach area. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
The best part of the beach was the sunscreen station. A nice touch for those on a quick vacation not wanting to check a bag full of liquids or not wanting to buy a new bottle of sun block on the island.
A sunscreen for everyone — even pasty New Yorkers. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The pool at the Ritz-Carlton Club next door, however, was massive and offered a much better selection of lounge chairs and access to sunlight for those seeking an extra dose of vitamin D.
The beach on the residence side was also in better shape (softer sand, better beach chairs and trees for the sun-averse). It was about a five-minute walk from the hotel pool area, and worth the trip.
Picture yourself in one of those amazing hammocks. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
The gym was brand-new, with plenty of cardio and weight machines to choose from, and offered a better view of the ocean than our room.
Come for the workout, stay for the view. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
There were plenty of free weights to choose from. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
Brand new cardio machines. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
Complimentary earphones, water, towels and fruit were also supplied.
All the necessary gym amenities, a nice touch. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The tennis courts looked great but we were unable to use them due to frequent rain showers and high winds during our stay.
Nonmotorized aquatic activities were included with the stay. We took out and enjoyed kayaks and snorkeling gear. Standup paddleboards were also available, although we opted not to take them out due to the rocky nature of the beach.
Service
The restaurant and grounds staff at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, were excellent from start to finish: friendly, speedy and knowledgeable. Reception was hit or miss, at times unable to answer basic questions about operations. We did receive prompt service to repair the toilet as mentioned above, which was appreciated.
The gorgeous atrium at night. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
Overall impression
The grounds at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, were beautiful — the flora and fauna were abundant and tropical — and that’s even with ongoing construction.
Blooms on blooms. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
There was a good deal of mud on footpaths and in grassy areas where crews were working during our visit. The footpaths are also very poorly lit, so a walk to dinner or around the property at night was precarious.
The room was top-notch and the staff wonderful. Once construction on the hotel pool is finished, it should be a nice play to catch some rays, relax and take in the scenery in peace.
Once the final details are finished on this property and operations have had a chance to smooth out the kinks, this resort will be worth considering for your next visit to St. Thomas, especially if you can do it on points. The food could still be a gamble, but if you opt for the Club Level option and/or dine in Red Hook as a Plan B, you should be good to go.
Featured image by Jane Frye / The Points Guy.

Vibey island: A review of the W Maldives resort

At the end of last year, the TPG team decided it was time to re-visit the Maldives, one of the world’s most aspirational destinations, especially for those with hotel points. The island nation has a dizzying number of high-end points properties to choose from, with many having opened in the last couple of years.
My first assignment was to check out the JW Marriott Maldives Resort and Spa, one of the newest properties in the Maldives, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Next, it was time to see how one of Marriott’s older Maldivian resorts, the W Maldives, stacks up compared to newcomers on the scene.

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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. 

In This Post

Booking
The W Maldives is a top-tier Category 8 property in the Marriott portfolio, meaning award nights cost 70,000 points for an off-peak night, 85,000 for a standard night and 100,000 for a peak night. Just like at the JW Marriott, my three-night stay at the W encompassed all three rates.
In total, we paid 255,000 Bonvoy points and $1,030, which includes the taxes and local charges that come with practically all Maldives resort bookings as well as the mandatory $505 for the round-trip seaplane transfer between the airport in Male and the resort. Cash rates during my stay were pricier than those at the JW Marriott, at around $1,100 per night for a beach villa. TPG currently values Marriott points at 0.8 cents apiece, so we were able to get a bit more value for our points here than at the JW.
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When we booked my stay at this property, beach villas were the base rooms, but while I was on property I was told that the property would soon be mirroring the JW Marriott in making overwater villas the base room for both cash and points rates. It appears that this change has already happened, according to searches for future stays at the property.

Thanks to Ambassador status, I was afforded the following benefits during my stay:

Welcome gift of 1,000 Bonvoy points, a local gift or complimentary breakfast for two (go for the breakfast for the maximum value)
20% discount on all food and beverage charges except in-room dining and happy hour
Complimentary room upgrade (based on availability)
Guaranteed late checkout till 4 p.m. (but your departure depends upon the seaplane schedule)

If you’re low on Marriott points and are eyeing a redemption such as this, consider signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which is currently offering 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. .
Location
The W Maldives is on Fesdu Island, part of the North Ari atoll in the central part of the island nation of the Maldives.
To reach the island, you take a seaplane for a 20-minute flight from Male’s Velana International Airpot (MLE). As mentioned above, the mandatory transfer costs $505 round-trip per person (children under 12 pay $235 and children under 3 are free).
I was transferring from the JW Marriott, which meant I flew back to Male where I waited for another seaplane to take me to the W. Luckily, it was a seamless process. As soon as I hit the ground at the Male seaplane port, I was whisked to the dedicated W lounge where I had a three-hour wait.

The lounge was a little sad with no views and meager offerings of food and drink, but I was told the whole terminal is moving in the near future and there would be new lounges, so investment is on hold for the moment.

On the plus side, it was an air-conditioned spot with cold drinks and there was plenty of AvGeek fun to be had wandering around the terminal with all the seaplanes bobbing in the water on one side and Male’s runway on the other.

We boarded the flight shortly before takeoff for a bumpy, 20-minute ride. We landed at W Maldives and the plane pulled right up to the hotel’s dock.

Check-in
I stepped off the plane to a warm welcome and ice-cold towels handed out seconds after arriving.

Numerous staff introduced themselves, each one looking after a different department, and all guests were then taken on a short golf-cart tour around the island.

There was no formal check-in procedure. I was taken to my room at the end of the tour and my bags had already been delivered to the room. The whole experience was easy, relaxed and efficient.
Villa
There are 77 villas at the resort, split between beach villas and picture-perfect overwater villas. I was staying in a base-level room on the beach, but I was offered the chance to move to an overwater villa during my stay and jumped at the chance to experience both.

My villa, No. 127, had a playful W charm, with flashes of bright red, crazy textured throws and cushions, a red hanging rope seat in one corner and a chic comfortable white chair. It was also handy having a proper desk area for work. The bed was large and comfortable.

A welcome note was left on the coffee table with biscuits and other treats and a bottle of red wine. I asked for it to be changed to white and the request was honored immediately.

There was a red Nespresso machine with complimentary capsules, complimentary glass bottles of water set out around the room, a well-stocked minibar (which had free soft drinks) and a separate wine fridge.

There is a small corridor by the villa entrance with generous wardrobe space, a safe, robes, hairdryer, umbrellas and an iron and ironing board.

Off the corridor is a toilet and a separate bathroom with rain shower, bathtub, double sink and wraparound mirrors.

The bathroom was one of my favorite features of the room as it is about 30% exposed to the elements with a section of roof open to the sky. Hanging plants cascade in, giving it a wild jungle feel. But because only a portion of the roof was absent, the bathroom still felt private.

There were generous amenities in the bathroom, including larger-than-usual bottles of Bliss shampoo, conditioner, foaming face wash, shower gel and moisturizer. (This year, W hotels throughout the world will be ditching the iconic Bliss products that they’ve used for the last decade or so.)

There were also toothbrush and toothpaste sets, a mending set, makeup wipes, cotton buds, loofah pad, comb and shower caps.

There are USB and universal plug sockets around the room and by the bed, and a Sonoro radio alarm clock. A Bluetooth Bose sound system allows you to hook up your phone and play music though the speakers in the room and up on  the mezzanine terrace, a lovely feature.

You reach the terrace by climbing a set of stairs wrapped around the outside of the bedroom. It is set beneath a thatched roof, with a huge swinging bed-style lounger and a large table facing out across the pool below and to the ocean.

Downstairs and beyond the French doors of the bedroom is a gorgeous terrace with a jacuzzi plunge pool, large round daybed, two sun loungers and a smaller table and chairs.

It feels like a private spot surrounded by lush shrubbery. But beware, don’t go sneaking around the outside of the pool to take a picture. I did, the floor gave way and I fell into the drain at the side of the pool, bashed my hand and dropped my camera into the water.

Just beyond the pool and plants is a gorgeous stretch of beach. White sands and turquoise seas. There were another two sun loungers there for use of the villa, although this spot felt much less private as guests strolled along the beach.

After the first night, I moved to an overwater villa.

The decor was similar — the same bed along with a glossier rocking chair and a bathroom positioned to the side of the bedroom with no open roof, which barely mattered thanks to the stunning views.

There was a door that led from the bathroom straight onto the terrace (there were also French doors leading outside from the bedroom).

The room also featured a glass viewing hole in the middle of the floor so you could sit and watch the fish swim by, although it was small and more of a gimmick. The unrestricted views of the sea on the terrace were much more interesting.

This terrace itself was stunning. It included the same round daybed, table and sun loungers and jacuzzi pool as the beach villa, but it also had a rope bed jutting out over the sea and magnificent views onto the ocean.

There was also a ladder for direct access to the sea for swimming and snorkeling.

It was also the perfect place to experience the ever-changing Maldivian weather. One night, a storm blew in, so wild that I ended up — half-fascinated, half-terrified — sitting in the bath and watching the lighting strike across the sea.

The entire villa felt incredibly private, and the privacy was only broken when you lay on the rope bed which jutted out far enough to see onto other villas’ terraces. The feeling of privacy is impressive, given the proximity of other villas.
Amenities
Each villa had a jacuzzi pool, and there is a large public pool with various seating options around it from sun loungers to daybeds. It was always quiet around the pool — most guests opted for the beaches only a few feet away.

Not only is the main beach in front of the pool beautiful, but there are also a number of quieter, private stretches of sand spread around the island.

It was easy to find one as they were never more than a five-to-10-minute walk away.

But, if you were feeling lazy, there were buggies, blasting out tunes, to whisk you around.

They were particularly handy in bad weather, when the plastic sides could be zipped up. There were some torrential downpours during my stay, but the staff arrived with the golf carts to keep everyone as dry as possible — until the guests embraced the rain and ran into the sea.

A gym is situated near the pool and is a cold escape from the humidity outside. It is fitted out with varied and modern equipment. There are daily complimentary classes from trampoline HIIT to yoga. I did a sunset yoga session which was moved inside because of the rain, which was a shame as the indoor spot had funky W music in the background and the instructor was inaudible.

The spa is on the opposite side of the island, on a jetty fanning out from the perfect shoreline. I enjoyed the whole experience of the signature Ku Nye treatment which is a Tibetan massage with warm poultices and rose-quartz crystals. It began with a private steam-room session and the whole thing was so great I will ignore the moldy bowl of ginger and orange slices I found in the steam room.

I am an avid scuba diver and the dive center was top-notch.

I did two dives in a morning, both at fantastic sites around a 20-minute boat ride from the Island. The first dive at Kandholhudhoo Thila featured an incredible hanging forest of soft purple coral and fish. Cute puffers, huge groupers moray eels and sharks — we saw them all. The dive instructor, Peruvian Enric, was professional, knowledgable and good fun.

Snorkeling off the island was also excellent. The resort claims to have the best house reef of any resort in the Maldives and it was wonderful. While staying in the beach villa, I ran into the water in front of my room and within minutes I was enjoying the company of sharks and turtles. Fins and masks are available for guests for free.

The resort runs other trips. The whale shark trip unfortunately didn’t run in the time that I was there, but with a two-hour boat ride and no guarantee of seeing sharks, I was happy to have missed it. I did join the manta ray snorkeling trip and this is one not to miss. For $150 you get two hours at sea looking for, and usually finding, giant manta rays. We saw five or six. The last ones were a pair that we swam with for 10 minutes as they performed for us and each other near the surface.
There are also various water sports on offer like jet skiing and windsurfing at the beach club.
One standout feature of the property is the private island. You can spend time there for a fee, making it the perfect spot for a proposal. For better or worse, it is also the only place in the resort where drones are allowed.
(Image courtesy of W Maldives)
(Image courtesy of W Maldives)
I was also impressed by the laundry service which allowed you to fill a large bag of clothes and have the entire thing laundered for $79. It may seem steep, but I stuffed that bag well. At customary hotel laundry prices I would have paid hundreds of dollars, and for this price I received my clothes back perfectly pressed, wrapped on hangers (maybe a bit of an excess of plastic). My pants came back wrapped in tissue paper in a basket.

Dotting the island were welcome refueling stations, supplied with ice, towels, apples and non-alcoholic gin and tonics.

Wi-Fi was free and could be accessed throughout the resort without a password. Download speeds ran at 8.1mbps and upload speeds at 8.2mbps.
Food and beverage
There are numerous dining and drinking options around the resort and in-room dining is available 24 hours a day.
Breakfast is served in a dining room called KITCHEN, with a comprehensive buffet, as well as an a la carte menu, on offer.
The buffet includes all the usual suspects and some higher-end additions like fresh juices and a naughty chocolate fountain. Eggs are made fresh to order, as are pancakes.

The a la carte menu is limited but solid, and dishes were brought quickly after being ordered.

My banana pancake with coconut sorbet was great, as was the healthy bowl made up of yogurt, almonds, chia seeds, granola and kiwi. I also spotted some off-menu dosas being served. If you’re a fan of this Indian breakfast pancake, go for it. It came with a delicious spicy vegetable gravy.

The breakfast also includes booze — an inventive take on Bloody Marys (the Maldivian Mary) and mimosas. You can have these alcohol-free, or take your cava straight up.
For $25 per person plus tax and service, and free for those with the Platinum level of status and higher, this is a steal in the eye-wateringly expensive world of the Maldives.
I also ordered breakfast in the room one morning. It was delivered on time and as requested, but the in-room breakfast menu is a la carte and the cost adds up significantly with far less for your money. I would recommend hitting KITCHEN in the mornings.

I also tried lunch in KITCHEN. The pad kaprao was simply, spicy and tasty. The tom yum soup was also a standout.

On the first evening, I enjoyed a sunset cocktail at the overwater bar, SIP. A DJ usually spins the decks around sunset and I ate some fantastic sushi with the cocktails.

KADA serves traditional Maldivian fare by the beach on benches and swing seats. The Masroshi, a mix of tuna, coconut and chili with roti was the perfect light beach lunch, washed down with coconut water from a freshly opened coconut.

WET serves food by the pool as a second lunch option.

I didn’t have time to sample the food, but I did grab their daily complimentary snack. The fruit ice lollies were a highlight.

For finer dining at dinner, the restaurants FISH and FIRE open on alternating nights. I ate at FIRE and aside from at first being banished to a lonely table behind the front desk (but later moved into the thick of the action), I had a good meal. The mozzarella starter was interesting and well-presented and the reef fish wrapped in banana leaf was a perfect light main dish. They also had some exciting and inventive cocktails but watch out for the intense besito piquante, laced with coffee-infused Campari and pepper.

Finally, I tried in-room dining. The butter chicken was great as were the side dishes, and my dinner arrived in the rain, quickly and hot, in fun Indian-style stacked pots.

Service
I was at the W alone, but I never felt alone. I was surrounded by staff and other guests were open and ready to make friends. This might be the wrong tone for a honeymoon, but for the right couple it would still be perfect.
Service was professional and quick but done with a cheeky smile. Anything I could have wanted was always just a WhatsApp message away. I didn’t wait more than a minute to get a reply to a question or request (and I had plenty) and action would come soon after.
Overall impression
This is a fantastic property. It is definitely older than some properties that have opened recently, which means some of the furniture has taken a bit of a beating. But it also means the flora and fauna and surrounding reefs have all filled out and found their full bloom.

It is a resort ready to party, but in a good way. Funky music plays from the walkways, the public areas and the golf carts that zip you around the resort.
The resort is fun, with solitude always just a few steps away, not to mention the private paradise island within a coconut’s throwing distance.
The food and accommodation were good, the vibe great, and the service and setting, epic. I can definitely see myself returning.
All photos by the author unless where otherwise noted.