Welcome to the review of what was easily the best hotel stay I’ve ever experienced across all my travels so far: the overwater villas of the Maldives. I hope you enjoy reading this one as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
In This Post
- Seaplane Transfer
- Arrival & Check-in
- Sunset Overwater Pool Villa
- Sunset Duplex Overwater Pool Villa
JW Marriott Maldives – Booking
Staying in the overwater villas of the Maldives has been a dream of mine ever since my childhood – a dream that I never realistically thought I’d achieve until I started collecting hotel rewards points. Even then, it has taken me many years of effort to rack up enough points to feasibly redeem for one of the Maldives’ luxury resorts.
But even when Marriott Bonvoy offered the sweet spot of redeeming top-tier hotels for a reduced price in 2019, I still felt quite hesitant as to whether a Maldives trip – and all the exorbitant costs that it came with – was actually worth it.
It was only when the JW Marriott Maldives opened as the newest member of the Marriott portfolio in the archipelago that I was finally tempted into securing a five-night booking for 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, with the fifth night free, for 340,000 Bonvoy points in total.
JW Marriott is my favourite brand within the entire Marriott family, so the opportunity to try out a brand-new JW Marriott resort – combined with a special occasion I had planned, and for which I had envisioned the Maldives as the perfect setting – finally convinced me to pull the trigger for a trip in March 2020.
The cash rates at this resort are usually a shade over US$1,000/night, so I was getting very good value for my Bonvoy points, which I’d usually benchmark at 0.9 cents per point (although the value perhaps wasn’t as exceptional as some of the highest-end resorts like the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli or the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, which retail for far higher cash rates).
Speaking of which: why did I ultimately choose the JW over the St. Regis or the Waldorf, even if they were also bookable on points?
The first reason was that, at the time of booking, I was able to directly secure an overwater villa at the JW Marriott using my Bonvoy points, whereas the St. Regis would’ve only booked into a Garden Villa, and then I’d need to either pay a surcharge to upgrade, or rely on my Titanium Elite status and hope for an upgrade upon arrival.
The second reason? I figured that if I visit the JW Marriott on my first trip to the Maldives, I’d likely still be tempted into visiting the St. Regis or the Waldorf in the future; on the other hand, if I started with the most luxurious option, my interest in going to the JW in the future may not be as strong.
I’ll share some thoughts as to the overall cost of planning a Maldives trip, as well as whether or not I think it’s “worth it”, in a separate post. For now, enjoy an in-depth review of our five-night stay at the JW Marriott Maldives, one of the unparalleled highlights across all of my travels thus far.
JW Marriott Maldives – Pre-Arrival
The Maldives is a nation of over 1,000 islands and atolls spread out across 90,000 square kilometres in the Indian Ocean. Visiting any of its picturesque resorts requires flying into Malé International Airport (MLE) in the capital, Malé, and then taking separate transportation (usually via seaplane or speedboat) to the resort itself.
The JW Marriott Maldives is located on Shivayani Atoll (235 km from Malé), so we’d get there via a 50-minute seaplane ride on Trans Maldivian Airways.
However, since the seaplane only operates during the daytime and we had flown into Malé at 10pm by way of Singapore Airlines business class, we needed to book a one-night stay on the island of Malé before catching the seaplane the next morning.
I’ll cover the variety of accommodation options on Malé for this purpose in another post, but for our trip we booked the Hulhule Island Hotel, the only hotel within walking distance of the airport itself, for US$262. That’s not cheap at all for a very quick one-night stay, but it’s exactly the kind of pricing to expect here in the Maldives.
The Hulhule Island Hotel was by no means luxurious, but decent enough as a place to rest our heads for the evening. The following morning, our seaplane was confirmed for a 7:15am departure, so we walked back to the airport terminal for check-in at around 6:30am.
For almost all the Maldives resorts, once you’ve made a reservation, the resort takes care of all the pre-arrival logistics so that you don’t have to worry about anything. The JW Marriott Maldives was no exception, confirming our seaplane bookings on our behalf and keeping a few of its staff members posted at Malé International Airport to take care of arriving and departing guests.
Upon greeting us, our JW Marriott hosts took our passports and completed check-in with Trans Maldivian Airways on our behalf. After check-in was complete and we had our boarding passes in hand, we were ushered onto the JW Marriott van and driven across the airport towards the dedicated lounge facilities for guests who are awaiting their seaplane journey.
(Along the way, the driver let us know that there was complimentary wifi onboard the short car service. This would be only the first of countless acts of amazing service that we experienced on this trip.)
Many of the Maldives resorts – especially those associated with a major hotel chain – operate their own pre-arrival lounges at Malé International Airport. For example, I saw a few lounges for the St. Regis and the W along the way.
However, our host informed us that since the JW Marriott Maldives had only recently opened, it was merely sharing the Trans Maldivian Airways VIP Lounge with many other resorts for the time being. We were invited to make ourselves comfortable for the 30-minute wait before it would be time to board the seaplane.
The lounge itself was pretty basic, offering a few dozen seats spread out across the room, a few television screens, and a row of massage chairs in the corner.
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Then there was a small spread of light breakfast foods and drinks (with no hot breakfast foods available).
The lounge didn’t offer a bathroom; instead, guests had to depart the lounge to use the public facilities instead.
I did find myself wondering what the St. Regis’s pre-arrival lounge might be like, or perhaps what the JW Marriott might come up with in a few years’ time; however, I took comfort in the fact that this was only the tiniest fraction of the overall experience, and hey, I’d always have something to look forward to for next time!
JW Marriott Maldives – Seaplane Transfer
After about half an hour of being unable to sit still in the lounge due to our sheer excitement, it was finally time to board the seaplane. We once again hopped into the JW Marriott van along with a few other resort guests, and were driven a short distance over to the airport’s seaplane docks.
We spent another few minutes in a small waiting room before being led out towards our seaplane. In addition to the buzz around staying in an overwater villa for the first time, this would also be my first time flying in a seaplane as well, so you can imagine the spring in my step as I made my way down the docks.
We boarded 8Q-TMH for the 50-minute ride over to the JW Marriott. The Trans Maldivian Airways planes have 15 seats, spread out across five rows in a 1-2 configuration. All 15 seats are found in the middle of the plane between the cockpit and the rear door; meanwhile, guests’ luggage is kept in the space behind the rear door.
I took up a spot in my preferred seat: 1A, with some killer views out of the cockpit ahead. Jessy sat in 1C beside me, and since the plane wasn’t fully occupied, she had the row all to herself.
After the crew provided a brief safety demonstration and passed out a set of earplugs (in case we found the noise of the seaplane bothersome), the pilots “taxied” out into the open waters and put on the afterburners – and we were airborne!
What a feeling it was to see the vast blue Indian Ocean extending all the way to the horizon, all while knowing that this view would be all mine for the next five days!
The 50-minute seaplane ride passed mostly with Jessy and I repeatedly exchanging excited glances, as it was far too loud to make any conversation. Outside, the distinctive shapes of other Maldives resorts crept by below, giving us a preview of the experience that awaited us.
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We eventually began our descent, and my eyes were glued to the cockpit windows as the JW Marriott’s long and winding boardwalk, dotted with those stunning overwater villas, emerged into our view.
Turning my head to the port-side window, I can’t really put into words the sensation of witnessing a resort that’s built on the water like this for the first time in my life, just as our plane landed on that very same water to herald our arrival into a luxury sanctuary in the middle of the ocean for the upcoming five nights.
JW Marriott Maldives – Arrival & Check-in
Stepping out of the seaplane, we were greeted by about a dozen of the resort’s staff. Against a backdrop of traditional Maldivian drum song, we were greeted by the JW Marriott Maldives’s Director of Food & Beverage and onsite manager, Amit, as well as our butler for the stay, a friendly fellow named Sajja.
Every guest was handed a tropical welcome drink, and we saw the other guests pairing up with their respective butlers as well as we all walked down the welcome pavilion and into the resort grounds.
Not every Maldives resort offers the concept of a dedicated butler to assist you throughout your stay, helping with reservations, providing buggy service, and planning out your days in general. I was pleased to see that the JW Marriott Maldives had taken a leaf out of its competitor the St. Regis’s book and was offering guests a personalized point of contact for all their needs for the duration of the stay.
After exchanging introductions, Sajja guided us to a buggy and offered to give us a tour of the resort grounds before heading to our villa. For what it’s worth, the entire resort is quite easily walkable from end to end within about 10 minutes, but guests are very much encouraged to be as lazy as they want and make use of the buggy service.
Sajja first took us around to the southern end of the atoll, where numerous pools, activities, and dining facilities are located, before turning back around and heading for the boardwalk at the northern end. We’ll cover all of those facilities later on; for now, we proceeded to complete our check-in process within our villa itself.
Check-in took place in the living room of our villa (which will be reviewed in-depth in the next section). We were billed upfront for the cost of the seaplane transfer – an eye-watering US$600 per person for the round-trip flight, for a total of US$1,200. That was of course a very hefty sum to stomach, but I suppose it was better to stomach this part of it now than an even greater amount at the end of our stay.
While Jessy explored the rest of the villa, Sajja also whispered to me quietly that he had been brought up to speed on the special requests I had given the hotel prior to my stay, and that we’d be able to meet later on to discuss in more detail. More on this later. 😉
JW Marriott Maldives – Sunset Overwater Pool Villa
As part of the overall check-in and introduction to the resort, Sajja also provided us with a walkthrough of Villa 133, a Sunset Overwater Pool Villa and our home for the next five nights – or at least, that’s what Jessy thought, as my special plans would actually involve a “surprise” upgrade to a higher-category room type midway through our stay.
The overwater villas are accessed via a long boardwalk that stretches out from the northern tip of Vagaru Island, and are categorized as either “sunset” or “sunrise” depending on which side they face. The design of each villa reminded me of a luxury yacht, while the straw thatching on the roof added a welcome Maldivian touch.
Enter the villa by way of the oversized, heavy-set door…
…and you’ll find yourself in a gorgeous foyer, looking ahead above the half-wall into the rest of the suite and catching that first magical glimpse of the infinite Indian Ocean in all its glory.
Let’s turn left here and proceed in a clockwise direction on our room tour.
As you enter the suite, you first encounter a two-person dining table, where a complimentary glass of wine and some daily refreshments have been left for us (as well as a welcome note written in Mandarin, for some reason).
I’d note that this table would also serve as the room’s only practical workspace for using your laptop, but I was certainly intending to slack off on work as much as possible while here, so that wasn’t a major worry.
Continuing through, we arrive at the centre of the space, where the main bedroom opens up in all directions – including upwards, thanks to the gorgeous lofted ceilings of these villas.
The king-sized bed proved to be an oasis of comfort, both for sleeping and for spending more than our fair share of time languidly lounging in the bedsheets and staring blankly at the horizon outside, scarcely able to believe our surroundings.
Opposite the king bed were two other key fixtures in the room: a television in one corner, and a spacious sitting area consisting of a chaise longue, an oversized ottoman, a modern coffee table, and an end table.
I was also a huge fan of the indulgent full-sized mirror leaning against the wall on the far side, which I thought set the mood perfectly for a posh but very relaxed stay.
The room’s overall interior decor, drawing upon an ocean-inspired palette of blue, green, and gold, might not have been my personal favourite but certainly blended in seamlessly with our surroundings.
Before we continue to the bathroom, let’s pop over to the pantry, which is housed in a small alcove just as you turn left from the foyer. The pantry came with complimentary tea, coffee, and bottled water which was replenished diligently by Sajja and his team – not only in the mornings during housekeeping and in the evenings during turndown service, but even when we were out and about during the daytime too.
The other snacks and drinks, of course, were part of a grossly overpriced minibar selection, so we didn’t touch them. Instead, we made use of the drinkware cabinet opposite to store the plethora of snacks and cheap dinner alternatives that we had brought with us from Singapore Changi Airport.
Proceeding straight across the foyer, then, we arrive at the walk-in closet on the opposite side. Here, we have a grand total of four indulgent wardrobes, containing everything from slippers to flip-flops to bathrobes to a tote bag (which we were allowed to take with us).
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There was also a set of life jackets in one of the wardrobes, but Sajja mentioned that these were for emergencies only rather than for snorkelling; the latter type of life jackets would need to be rented from the activities tent for US$10 apiece.
Adjacent to the walk-in closet is a set of double doors that leads to the bathroom. And my oh my, what a stunning space it was.
The layout is unlike any bathroom I had seen before. An ottoman and end table in the middle of the bathroom acts as the vanity. This is surrounded by a jet-black bathtub in the middle of the space, itself flanked by two individual sink-and-mirror combos on either side.
Then, there were two individual compartments for the toilet and the shower. If you’ve read my other hotel reviews, you’ll know that I’m a real sucker for an oversized rain shower with marble accents, and this one absolutely ranked up there as one of my all-time favourites.
Does the luxurious bathroom conclude our tour? Absolutely not – we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet!
From either the floor-to-ceiling sliding doors in the bedroom or the small side-door in the bathroom, we can step outside onto the expansive balcony of our overwater villa. And let me tell you: that first step onto the wooden deck, with the sheer visuals, sounds, and smells of the vast ocean taking you by force, was well worth every second of the laborious effort I had put into collecting hotel points over the years.
It’s worth noting that while the JW Marriott Maldives is a newly-opened resort, it isn’t newly built. Instead, it has taken over the site of the old Viceroy Maldives and given things a makeover; however, small details like the small splinters on the wooden deck do give away the fact that the “bones” of the resort are a little more aged than, say, a recently-built location like the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli.
Let’s go over the individual features of the deck. First, there’s an outdoor shower, designed in the shape of the bow of a traditional Maldivian dhoni boat, positioned near the entrance to the bathroom, allowing you to rinse off the ocean quickly before heading inside for a full shower.
Then, you have a shaded outdoor seating area, serving as the perfect spot for your first cup of coffee in the mornings, a glass of wine at sunset, or a lazy nap in the daytime.
Across the deck, there’s a pair of recliner seats, each with a set of pillows and towels for all your sunbathing needs.
And then, of course, the gorgeous private infinity pool, which is where we spent the majority of our time in the villa. The pool was large and deep enough to swim a few short laps, and also came with a shallow area where you could lie down on your back and still have your head above the water.
While the infinity’s edge cascaded down into a drainage system adorned with small white stones, excessive splashing around the pool would inevitably result in some of the water spilling down into the ocean. I had a lot of fun doing this, as an unapologetic child trapped in an adult’s body when it comes to stuff like this, much to Jessy’s annoyance.
But as satisfying as the private infinity pool was, it still wasn’t quite the highlight of the villa. That honour would go to the single feature that makes the overwater villas of the Maldives what they are: the staircase leading down into the ocean.
First, there are a handful of steps that lead down to the lower level of the deck, followed by the staircase that leads into the ocean itself. It’s worth noting that the waters in the lagoon here are quite shallow, making it very unsafe to jump directly from the deck into the water – this is unlike a few other overwater villa resorts in the Maldives and elsewhere in the world, where jumping into the ocean is very much a key part of the experience.
Instead, take the stairs down one by one, help yourself down with the pool ladder – and before you know it, you’ll find yourself floating in the very waters of the Indian Ocean itself.
Insane. Unreal. Out of this world. Words do not begin to fully describe the experience.
Jessy and I would inevitably spend several hours every day simply indulging in every part of the outdoor deck experience: dipping in the pool, lounging on the chairs, napping in the shade, dipping in the ocean, going for a snorkel, showering and lying in bed, and then heading back out to the deck to do it all over again.
Once the initial excitement of having an overwater villa to ourselves wore off a bit, there were a few minor annoyances that are worth mentioning here. I hate to call these “caveats” or “downsides” or anything like that, given the excessive degree of luxury all around us, but they were at least worth taking note of.
The first was that the ocean floor of the lagoon around the overwater villas was quite jagged indeed, and was jam-packed with the natural coral, rocks, and fish life of the Indian Ocean. This made for some excellent snorkelling, no doubt, but it did mean that walking around the ocean floor would require either donning a set of flip-flops, or tiptoeing gingerly and hoping you didn’t catch your foot on a sharp piece of rock.
The second little annoyance was the presence of some rather large and very persistent black flies that would constantly buzz around the outdoor pool while we were enjoying ourselves there. Supposedly, these flies were very attracted to the straw thatching on the roof of the villa, and they’d buzz awfully close to us while we relaxed in the pool and on the deck.
After a few futile attempts to fight them off ourselves on the first morning, we called Sajja about it, and he showed up with a team of “exterminators” who sprayed the straw fixtures with some scentless bug spray, and also brought a styrofoam board coated with sticky liquid to catch a few of the flies themselves. Afterwards, the flies thankfully made themselves scarce and were much less of an issue.
Besides these two small inconveniences, the Sunset Overwater Pool Villa was an absolute dream. And it was precisely during sunset that the villa gave us its most memorable moments, as we perched ourselves at the edge of our deck and sipped our wine, watching the magical dimming of the pink Maldivian skies during each of our first three nights at the resort.
JW Marriott Maldives – Sunset Duplex Overwater Pool Villa
As I mentioned, we’d only stay in Villa 133 for the first three nights, because as part of my special surprise, we’d upgrade to a higher-category Sunset Duplex Overwater Pool Villa for the remaining two nights.
I’ll share the story of the upgrade itself in the second installment of the review; for now, I’ll highlight the features of the Duplex Overwater Pool Villa, which is largely similar to the regular Overwater Pool Villa besides the addition of a separate space on the second floor.
(For what it’s worth, I had arranged with the resort to confirm this upgrade prior to the stay, and had agreed to the upgrade price of US$500 per night, for a total of US$1,000. Even though I had a decent shot of requesting this upgrade upon arrival as a Titanium Elite member, I didn’t want to take any chances, since I wanted the upgrade to be a part of my special occasion. However, I was not charged this amount on the final bill, which leads me to believe that the resort had indeed comped the upgrade for me as a Titanium Elite member.)
Anyway, the Duplex Villa that would house us for the final two nights was Villa 153, which is situated a lot further down along the boardwalk – perhaps an additional three minutes’ walk compared to Villa 133.
The interior of the Duplex Villa is very similar to the base-level villas; although the shape is slightly more wide and less long in comparison. Given that there is a separate room on the second floor, the luxurious lofted ceilings of the base-level villas are also absent.
The Duplex Villa offers essentially the same bathroom layout, while the walk-in closet is even more spacious and has all five wardrobes along the same wall.
The pantry is housed within a single cabinet, whereas the space that would otherwise contain the pantry is instead used for a narrow, winding staircase…
…which leads upwards to a second-floor landing.
Ultimately, the second floor’s features are more limited than I had initially expected, as it mostly consists of a TV room with a large couch that can also serve as a second bedroom. There is a set of windows up here overlooking the outdoor deck, but the windows are glued shut for guests’ safety.
(While I was initially disappointed by this, I can fully understand it, as I can certainly imagine guests making some very poor choices if the window were open).
There is also a smaller second bathroom up on the second floor, with a single sink, toilet, and shower, all decorated in the same mould as the master bathroom below.
Overall, I must admit that the idea of a Duplex Overwater Villa was more appealing to me than the actual thing itself. If I had actually paid the US$500 per night upgrade fee, I may even have felt slightly disappointed.
However, if you’re visiting the JW Marriott Maldives with a young family in tow, then I could definitely envision the second-floor space as an awesome separate bedroom for the kids!
One last thing to point out about the Duplex Overwater Villa is that it comes with a noticeably larger deck and pool, although the deck features are the same.
As with our old villa, Jessy and I spent the maximum amount of time alternating between all forms of relaxation out here, soaking up every moment of what truly seemed like a simulation in front of our eyes and drink in the fact that this was our reality.
As you can probably tell by now, the JW Marriott Maldives made for a spectacular trip in every single way. And while the satisfaction of finally realizing my dream of staying in an overwater villa was a key part of the overall experience, it was also simultaneously only the tip of the iceberg of the unforgettable five days we spent at the resort.
In the second installment of this review, I’ll cover everything else about the JW Marriott Maldives that made our stay an exceptional one: breakfast, dining, the public pools, gym, spa, activities, service, and of course, the special occasion that tied it all together. Stay tuned.
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