Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi review: An island resort sprawled with endless dining options, palatial villas, and more
Far from reality
We tend to get a little blindsided when it comes to the Maldives. Especially when your port of disembarkation is a busy crowded city where no trace of clear blue waters can be found, the simple act of dipping your toes into the Indian Ocean could actually be the best thing you've done in a while.
But in the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, that noble sense of contentment is about to change. Coming face to face with the many faces and places of the newest property of the New York power house on Ithaafushi, your time here will definitely be indulgent, at the very least. Give it a day, and you'll probably already be seeking brand new pleasures while on this island. The perils of reality? We're far from home, my friends.
After what seemed to be a formidable two-year feat, Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi was birthed from an uninhabited island. With a brand as massive as the Hilton, they were mindful to minimise their environmental footprint — as much as possible — especially in a place like the Maldives. The first thing they did, was to bring in a marine biologist when it came to coral farming and sand dredging. The hotelier was careful to what could be moved and what couldn't be during the construction process. The entire resort spans about three kilometres, and three private islands — a long lush idyll that you can easily zip by via a buggy ride as well as a bicycle, if you're keen on actually working up a sweat while on your island vacation. We'll recommend the latter, especially on days when you feel lethargic after consuming one too many meals. A probable scenario, when you're here — but we'll get to that later.
While not everyone is a fan of boat rides, the accessibility of the Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi transports you from Male International Airport to an entirely different destination (divided by an hour of time difference) under an hour, without the frills and waiting mechanical time of a seaplane ride. After a 45-minute boat ride aboard the Waldorf yacht, we found ourselves sighing — partly, in relief due to sea sickness — and the other part, disbelief as we arrived in our individual quarters. Of course, at this point we have to mention our personal concierge, a crucial person to which your time here at Waldorf Astoria Maldives will solely depend on. Each personal concierge is assigned to a small group of guests, to which he or she will be responsible for ferrying you around via a buggy, making your spa appointments in time, mulling over your itinerary day by day, and even delivering firmer pillows in the wee hours of the night. They might have their own staff sleeping quarters within the resort, but we're not convinced these guys sleep, at all.
A PERSONAL PRIVATE HAVEN
No expense was spared when it came to designing the villas here. The entry-level ones, are already sizable enough to accommodate a house party of 20. Choose from three categories: Beach villas, reef villas and overwater villas. The last of the lot, happens to be our favourite. Maybe it was because the entire house was founded off stilts, but it's easy to be enamored by the idea of sleeping above aquatic waters, as your outdoor pool deck is teemed with the infinite vision of the great wide ocean.
Embracing both the digital and analogue (for the purists) systems, each villa comes equipped with your own iPad, with controls for lighting, air-conditioning, room service, and more. Sure, you might be planted on a foreign island in the middle of nowhere, but you can still get impeccable signals and technology at your fingertips. The beauty of sustainability also lies in the little details — starting from a key card carved from wood, reusable glass bottles and jars to hold your shower gels.
The interiors hone the same palette of soothing neutrals, brass and luxurious gold plated details. Every villa gets the same jaw-dropping furnishings — be it an outdoor sunbed, gazebo, infinity pool, outdoor shower, stylish bathtub (roomy enough for two) and bathroom amenities bearing the Salvatore Ferragamo name. We suspect the design brief was that no guest could feel inclined to leave the room — even if you're missing out on snorkel and dive activities, which are readily available within the resort.
Undeniably, the jackpot for Instagram fodder. We know this because they encourage floating breakfasts — delivered to your doorstep atop a waterproof cushioned tray. Why have breakfast on a table when you can do it while kicking it back in the pool?
Guests who are seeking a little bit more privacy can set their sights on Stella Maris instead — one of two floating villas that are isolated from the main resort, hence only accessible by boat. Alternatively, if you're armed with your very own posse, like the Kardashians would be, the Waldorf Astoria treatment also extends to another private island that can solely be yours for x no of nights at a handsome fee. Besides a three-bedroom and two-bedroom villa, the entire sanctum comes with a dedicated chef, personal concierge team, its own spa, five swimming pools, entertainment center and pristine beaches. Almost like a smaller version of the main Waldorf island — but entirely yours.
A STELLAR DINING LINE-UP
The downside to most resorts in Maldives often render you confined to the property, without much of a culinary vision that might go along the lines of runny eggs on toast, burger and fries, and maybe subpar Italian food.
Waldorf, being Waldorf denounced the precarious possibility, and went above and beyond. Housing 11 dining establishments that run the gamut from healthy homegrown produce to Michelin-worthy concepts, every one of them holds their own from the first foot in. The idea is to create spaces that represent different destinations within the same island — eschewing the hassle of travelling out, while placing unique experiences of various cuisines in the same resort. Singapore's very own Dave Pynt's (famously of 1-Michelin Burnt Ends) beachfront restaurant, The Ledge boasts of an enigmatic space serving up signature meats from Pynt's custom-built four-ton dual cavity oven and elevation grills. Don't leave without the 45-day dry-aged beef rib — gloriously charred and glistening with just the right amount of pink. The location of the restaurant also granted more seafood options to be integrated in the menu — like the lobster roll, involving a pillowy brioche stuffed with freshly grilled lobster and lobster aioli.
For a more conscientious meal, head to the stunning greenhouse that is Glow. The table fare comprises of fresh herbs and organic produce harvested right outside the restaurant in a garden. Folks who aren't hot about green broths will change their minds after a spoonful of the low fat creamy broccoli kale soup, which comes prettily topped with a poached cage-free egg. Other highlights include a lemon-infused organic risotto that embodied flavours of the ocean — like a grilled river water prawn and crustacean foam for extra finesse. Bottom line: You won't realise you're consuming healthy produce without the attentive staff and descriptions of the menu telling you otherwise.
In what seemed to be in another timezone, Yasmeen lets in just the perfect mood (tip: come for dinner), as the sky dimmed down within the boulder-shaped edifice. Designed to resemble a small Middle Eastern village of sorts, the grub here is Levant — keeping to influences from Arab, Lebanon and Syria, which means cold and hot mezzes, toasty flatbreads from the grill as well as charcoal-grilled meats.
There's more, of course. The Tasting Table is the mainstay of the resort — where you'll rock up for a delectable breakfast spread, or even a lunchtime Waldorf Salad. Gastronomic experiences await at Terra, a beautiful restaurant housed from treetop bamboo domes and The Rock, setting stone in an underground cavern-cum-wine cellar. There's also a Chinese restaurant, Li Long that specialises in Peking duck, which admittedly, fell short for us Asians who had towering expectations for the stunning Shanghainese residence. The best place to catch the sunset? Pre-dinner cocktails at Amber, an open-air bar facing the prime spot where you'll catch the sun kissing the ocean.
EVERTHING IN BETWEEN
Restless city folk might fiddle with the idea of heading out to the sand bank or catching an afternoon windsurfing activity, but one can definitely spend a few productive days (apart from planting yourself in your villa) in the resort. Families with kids, can finally get some independent time by depositing their little ones at the kids club. We're talking about a spacious facility of water parks and cooking classes with trained personnel at the helm.
With your hands free, pen in a session or two at the spa. This Waldorf Astoria Spa debuts a special series of oil-based treatments that are based off elements of earth, fire, water and metal. Targeted to soothe the aliments your body might have with a simple test of your lifestyle habits, an hour of bliss can be easily accomplished in one of their garden treatment and overwater villas — that opens up the waves of the oceans for sleep-inducing white noise.
Of course, not forgetting the Waldorf Astoria effect — as transcended through the entire team of staff and crew working on the island. The service is personal, unlike a carbon-copy spiel. It's not blatantly staring you down, but it's easy and comfortable — a way of life to what your time at the resort will be like. Also, they almost never say no, which is probably why it's hard to settle for anything less the next time you're in Maldives.