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
- Airport Lounge
- Seaplane Transfer
- Sunset Overwater Pool Villa
- Sunset Duplex Overwater Pool Villa
- Pools & Beach
- Gym & Yoga Pavilion
- Other Facilities
- The Proposal
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 – Airport Lounge
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 – 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.
JW Marriott Maldives – Breakfast
Since both of our villas were Sunset Overwater Villas facing west, Jessy and I would roll out of bed in the mornings, don our bathrobes, craft a cup of Nespresso, and head out the front door to sit on the boardwalk as we watched the sunrise, the dim lilac hues of the sky slowly flickering to life over the expansive horizon.
We knew we’d only have five of these magical sunrises to enjoy, so even in our mildly jet-lagged state, we did a great job of waking up in time to catch the sunrise on all five mornings.
Now, breakfast at the JW Marriott Maldives is served from 7am until 10am, but was it a good idea to head over as soon as breakfast opened?
Of course not. You see, given the high cost of meals here at the JW Marriott Maldives, there was a fair bit of strategizing required to balance two objectives of equal importance: avoiding going hungry during our time at the resort, and avoiding burning a hole in my wallet with the exorbitant costs of lunch and dinner every single day.
The conventional wisdom, if you’re visiting a resort like this while hoping to remain cost-conscious, is to maximize the free breakfast benefit of your elite status to the fullest extent possible, indulging in a gargantuan feast for brunch every morning that will tide you over until dinner.
(Speaking of which, the “strategy” for dinner will vary from person to person as well, and we’ll discuss this in more detail in the next section.)
Therefore, Jessy and I would slot in our visit to the gym and a yoga session in the early-morning hours between 7am and 9am, and we’d only head over to breakfast at around 9:20am, which would give us enough time to fill up our table with at least two, if not three, rounds of food from the buffet before it closed, and slowly make our way through the feast until about 11:30am at the latest.
Breakfast is hosted in the Aailaa restaurant, the resort’s all-day casual dining establishment situated right next to the welcome pavilion. The dining tables are spread out across a shaded area and an outdoor deck immediately next to the water’s edge; meanwhile, the buffet itself is split between the shaded area and an indoor buffet spread as well.
Let’s take a look around, shall we? We’ll begin with the indoor section, where there are separate spreads for Asian, Western, Indian, and Maldivian delicacies.
Each of the stations offered rotating selections on a daily basis; for example, the highlight of the Asian spread was a noodle station, where we were treated to Singaporean chicken laksa, Thai tom yum soup, Japanese miso, and a savoury crab broth as the chef’s special across four different mornings.
That was combined with a variety of meat and vegetable stir-fry, fried rice, and dim sums.
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Over at the Western spreads, we were treated to the usual cold cuts, charcuterie, fried foods, and a custom-order egg station. At both the noodle and egg stations, the chefs were more than happy to take your order and then ask one of their associates to deliver it to your seat later, allowing you to pick freely from the buffet in the meantime.
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There was also a chilled bar for salad, fruits, and juices, and I was very impressed that you could order your own custom drinks and fruit plates even if they weren’t part of the buffet. For example, I asked for a plate of sliced fresh mango and a glass of mango juice on the first few mornings, and by the last morning, the staff members at the chilled bar were already proactively offering me “the usual?” as soon as they saw me walk in.
I was sure to grab a few items from the quartet of Indian delectables every morning as well. Meanwhile, the Maldivian spread was similar in taste, even if I found them a little less appetizing, most likely due to my unfamiliarity with these dishes.
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Heading outside, we find a single counter dedicated to baked goods, from donuts to danishes and everything in-between. Needless to say, I wouldn’t even have gotten hungry by dinnertime if I allowed myself to truly indulge in this particular spread, but in the interest of my waistline, I restricted myself to a solitary pastry every morning.
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Finally, there was a station for healthy treats, such has chia seed pudding and yogurt parfait, as well as decidedly less healthy treats such as pancakes, waffles, ice cream, sorbet, and a cereal selection with about a dozen different toppings.
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One notable omission from the breakfast spread? It might be too much to ask for, but hey, the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli offers it: complimentary glasses of Prosecco. If there were some free-flowing bubbly here, that would’ve been the icing on the cake.
Overall, though, it was a spectacular breakfast spread that certainly made it very easy for us to load up on huge portions in the mornings and stay properly nourished until the evenings. The staff at breakfast were more than happy to help our cause as well, continually stopping by to see if they could top-up our coffee or bring us an extra helping of something.
One last thing to talk about in terms of breakfast. You might’ve noticed that I mentioned we came to Aailaa for breakfast on four mornings, rather than five. That’s because I had convinced the hotel to throw in a complimentary round of floating breakfast, delivered straight to our villa, on the morning after my special occasion.
Pictures of people eating breakfast from a floating tray in their infinity pool are all over Instagram these days, and as someone who was mildly intrigued by this idea, I couldn’t help but give it a try. The published price for a floating breakfast at the JW Marriott Maldives is a staggering US$175 per couple (even for elite members!), and I certainly wouldn’t have been willing to pay that if I couldn’t ask for it to be thrown in as a freebie.
How was the floating breakfast itself, you ask? Well, I must say that it was underwhelming in the extreme.
Even though we had ordered plenty of food, only a few plates would fit on the floating tray itself, and there was no possible way to eat bacon and hash browns from your swimming pool without getting your pool all oily, getting your bacon and hash browns all chlorinated, or both. I only took a few bites of the food before deciding to retreat to our poolside deck chairs and eating from there instead.
Lesson learned: a floating breakfast might make for a flashy Instagram pic, but there’s no need to actually try it in practice – it’s a pretty miserable time all around.
JW Marriott Maldives – Dining
Before discussing the dining “strategy” at a resort like this, I’ll first introduce you to the JW Marriott Maldives’s five fine-dining establishments:
- Aailaa, the all-day casual dining establishment serving Western and international cuisine, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- Shio, the seafood bar and steakhouse, open for dinner only
- Hashi, serving fine Japanese cuisine, including sushi, teppanyaki, and omakase, open for dinner only
- Kaashi, the Thai restaurant situated in a treehouse, open for lunch and dinner
- Fiaama, the Italian restaurant serving pasta, pizza, and paninis, open for lunch and dinner
All of the resort’s menus (including the master wine list and the spa menu) are available at this Google Drive.
You can take a look through the menus to get a sense of the prices – if you can stomach it! They certainly do not take mercy on the wallet; in fact, the JW Marriott’s food and beverage costs far exceed those of the W and the Westin here in the Maldives, and are on par with (and occasionally exceed) the St. Regis Maldives too.
Don’t forget: on top of the high prices, 10% service charge and 12% GST is automatically added to your bill. Fortunately, to provide some measure of solace, the JW Marriott Maldives is part of Marriott’s Restaurants + Bars benefit in the Asia-Pacific, which gives a 20% discount on food and beverage costs as a Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite member or above.
It goes without saying that your dining experience at a resort like this will be highly dependent on the budget that you’ve set for the trip.
If you’re a bigshot who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at paying US$30++ for a bowl of soup or US$65++ for a plate of Pad Thai, then by all means go ahead and sample all of the resort’s dining establishments one-by-one over the course of your stay.
On the other hand, if you’re a frugal traveller who’s scraped together enough hotel rewards points to redeem for a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to a place like this, but simply cannot justify dropping such fat stacks of cash on lunch and dinner every day, then it’d certainly be wise to pick up a few packs of instant noodles at your final port of call prior to arriving in Malé.
For most guests, I’d imagine the decision will fall somewhere in-between. Yes, the menu prices are exorbitant, reflecting the twin realities of the resort’s sky-high operating costs and the captive market that guests find themselves in (i.e., quite literally surrounded by an endless ocean on all sides). Even if you’ve accepted these exorbitant costs, it still might not feel great signing off on the bill at the end.
But then again, just look at your surroundings. Do you really want to be subsisting on snacks and instant noodles every single night, when you could treat yourselves to perhaps the most romantic of candlelit dinners underneath a gorgeous Maldivian sunset? Even the most frugal-minded of travellers, I dare say, would surely be seduced into splurging in a setting as stunning as this.
In the end, my decision-making process was influenced by the special occasion that I had planned during our stay. We ended up eating at Aailaa the first evening, booking a private sunset dinner on the beach on the fourth evening, and enjoying a few bowls of gourmet instant ramen by the pool on the other three evenings.
If not for the private beach dinner – which ran me a cool US$325++ per person, for a total of US$650++ – then I certainly would’ve elected to try out two or three of the other dining establishments as well.
At Aailaa, we each ordered a main course for dinner: the chicken escalope for US$40++ and the wagyu beef burger for US$65++. I didn’t think these were too overpriced, all things considered, and the dishes were certainly quite tasty.
Meanwhile, having paid top dollar for our private beach dinner, I certainly had the highest of expectations for this meal – and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. But I’ll save this for a little later on in the article. 😉
On the whole, whether it was seafood or steak, Japanese or Italian, I don’t think any of the restaurants at the JW Marriott Maldives would’ve served up a meal that I couldn’t find elsewhere in the world at more reasonable prices, so I didn’t feel too enthusiastic about paying these particularly ruthless dinner prices.
However, I certainly hope to return to the Maldives’ resorts in a position to feel a lot more comfortable with these prices someday in the future.
JW Marriott Maldives – Pools & Beach
In addition to the private pool at every villa, the JW Marriott Maldives offers two public pools for guests’ enjoyment: the main pool, located close to Aailaa and Fiaama, and the adults-only infinity pool, known as Pool 18, perched at the very southern tip of the island.
The main pool is large enough for several families’ children to splash around, and is flanked by several cabanas lined up along either side.
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However, the presence of frolicking children also makes it hard to properly relax by this pool, which is why Jessy and I mostly ventured over to the adults-only pool instead.
And my oh my, the Pool 18 is an absolute stunner in every way, and was easily our favourite part of the resort outside of our villas.
It instantly reminded me of the Horizon infinity pool back at The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi – the kind of place where my worries simply can’t help but splash away along with the water over the infinity’s edge.
The pool has plenty of room for swimming a few laps, although the real highlight was the shallow area at the very edge, where you could lie on your back or your belly, half-submerged in the water, immersed in the sights and sounds of the water cascading down into the ocean below.
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Jessy and I must’ve easily spent three or four hours per day here at Pool 18, lounging by the poolside, going for a dip, and perfecting our tan. The staff would bring us complimentary bottled water and the occasional glass of juice or plate of fruits, as well, and the time would tick by in a state of total relaxation.
Yes, we had a private pool and direct access to the ocean back at our villa as well, but I can confidently say that this infinity pool – especially given the fact that we only ever saw one or two other couples at the pool at any given moment – was no less worthy of our time.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the JW Marriott Maldives also boasts a small stretch of beach on the western side of the island. However, with all the other modes of relaxation available at our disposal, there wasn’t much of a reason to use the beach – especially as it was frequently occupied by residents of the Beach Villas, those poor souls with no direct ocean access. 😉
JW Marriott Maldives – Gym & Yoga Pavilion
Amidst all the eating, drinking, and simply languishing by the water, Jessy and I aimed to get at least a little bit of exercise every day to balance everything out.
As you might imagine, the JW Marriott Maldives’s fitness centre turned out to be one of the most unique gyms where I’ve been able to enjoy a workout.
The gym is housed in a single structure with glass walls, accessed via a gorgeous path of stone tiles followed by a wooden bridge, leading to the elevated platform perched atop the ocean off the northeastern corner of the island.
A swipe of the room key grants you access to the fully air-conditioned gym. While the gym’s aesthetics were very impressive – check out those full-length mirrors leaning so casually against the walls, just like in the overwater villas themselves – its equipment was perhaps more limited, as there were only a handful of treadmills and exercise benches scattered around the space.
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However, the spectacular views from the gym were undeniable, and I must say that there are very few things more motivational than the sight of the infinite open ocean when you’re sprinting on the treadmill.
As I was finishing my workout on the first day, I was approached by Diana, the exercise director, who introduced me to the resort’s schedule of daily complimentary exercises.
Many of these sessions, such as the morning yoga or the HIIT training, would take place at the Yoga Pavilion, situated immediately next to the gym. Following a second set of stone tiles followed by another wooden bridge, you’d arrive at a large, circular elevated platform with no railings to protect against the waves of the ocean below – a spot in which it’d be impossible not to feel invigorated for your exercise.
Over the next five days, Jessy and I would drop in to the yoga, meditation, boot camp, and HIIT sessions at every opportunity. Diana led a few soothing sessions of sunrise yoga, as well as a few merciless rounds of HIIT – but it’d all be worthwhile when we retreated to our villa and jumped into the pool right afterwards!
JW Marriott Maldives – Spa
Even though I’m not a big fan of spa treatments myself, Jessy was tempted by our lavish surroundings to take a look at the spa menu and treat herself to a massage, even though we knew it’d be a pricey one. But hey, who was I to say no?
After breakfast on our second day at the resort, we dropped by the Spa by JW – located in the same “fitness complex” as the gym and Yoga Pavilion – to book her spa treatment. The friendly Russian staff member working there slotted her in for a one-hour massage at 12pm, priced at a cool US$150++.
At least we’d receive an unexpected Titanium Elite benefit here: to reward us for our elite status, Jessy would be treated to a complimentary extra 15 minutes of hot-stone massage as well.
I asked Jessy to take a few pictures of the Spa by JW as she went about her indulgent experience. She mentions that she was first greeted with a complimentary welcome drink…
…and was then invited to unwind in the sauna facilities…
…after which she proceeded to the treatment room (which offers, you guessed it, sweeping ocean views) for her massage.
And after the treatment, she was allowed to relax for a little bit further with some tea and complimentary snacks, before making her way back to the villa.
Even though the price was high, Jessy was satisfied with her spa experience and felt that it was sufficiently cleansing and revitalizing. To be fair, we’ve never shelled out for spa treatments when staying at hotels, so if any resort spa would be a fitting first-time candidate, this was it.
JW Marriott Maldives – Activities
In addition to the pools, gym, and spa, the JW Marriott Maldives also offers a few complimentary activities for guests to pass the time. Given the state of the pricing for everything else on the resort, I wouldn’t have put it past them to charge an arm and a leg for kayaks and paddle boards as well, so it was refreshing to see that these could be rented free of charge from the activities hut.
Guests are allowed to kayak and paddle-board within the resort’s lagoon – just make sure you steer well clear of the seaplane as it comes and goes!
Snorkelling gear is also available on a complimentary basis, and can be brought over to your villa for the duration of your stay. However, if you needed life jackets, they would be US$10 per person per day.
Outside of water activities, the resort’s on-site photographer is also pleased to offer every couple a complimentary photoshoot, with one free photo at the end. I’d recommend making your booking well in advance if you want a photoshoot during the most popular hours of sunrise and sunset.
A variety of paid activities are also available (such as a big-fishing boat ride or renting a jet ski), but we didn’t feel the need to try them out. I did inquire about the prices for jet ski rental, and was told that it would be US$99++ for a 15-minute rental or US$299++ for a one-hour rental. Yikes!
JW Marriott Maldives – Other Facilities
Let’s go over a few of the resort’s other facilities that we haven’t covered yet.
The welcome pavilion, a beautiful structure in the middle of the lagoon, serves as the resort’s port of entry and exit. After being greeted upon arrival, most guests would link up with their butler and complete check-in within the comfort of their villa; however, there is an actual front desk as well, housed in an air-conditioned glass room near the resort’s main building, should you need to take care of any formalities throughout your stay.
Opposite this, there’s a second air-conditioned glass facility that acts as the library, which also had a few iMac computers for guests to use. We didn’t spend too much time here, but did enjoy popping in for a while after breakfast to enjoy the ambience and flip through a few of the library’s coffee-table books.
The Aailaa restaurant has a dramatic-looking wine bar hidden inside, boasting a selection of over 100 vintages from all over the world. If you were so inclined, I could see this space being the setting for a very memorable wine-tasting session to add another dimension to your stay.
The resort has an adults-only lounge, known as Lounge 18, which was unfinished at the time we visited. When it’s complete (it’s my understanding that there will be a cigar room as well), it seems like it’ll be a fine space for unwinding with some foosball, board games, television, and karaoke, as well as an outdoor wading pool to watch the sunset with some cigars in hand.
Finally, the resort offers a Little Griffin Kids’ Club (named after the JW Marriott’s griffin logo), where you can drop-off your kids for supervised play while you and your partner go for a nice meal or some alone-time. It seemed like there was plenty to keep your little ones entertained, including its own wading pool and a playground designed to look like a ship!
JW Marriott Maldives – Service
To sum it up, the service at the JW Marriott Maldives was exceptional in every way.
Sajja, our designated butler for the duration of our stay, was our main point of contact. He offered me his WhatsApp number as soon as we checked in, inviting us to text or call for anything we needed. Like clockwork, he and his team would then show up very promptly to whatever it was.
If we had a request for a buggy, Sajja would be on our doorstep within five minutes’ time, ready to whisk us away to Pool 18 at the opposite end of the resort. In fact, Sajja was arguably too eager to whisk us around on his buggy, as he’d always persuade us to call him for a ride – even if we preferred to walk around the resort whenever possible, just so we could get some steps in!
When we had encountered a minor issue with our villa, such as the persistent black flies buzzing around our deck on the first day, Sajja promptly showed up with his team to address the problem and apologize for the inconvenience.
And even when he had no real obligation to help, he was always at the ready to do so. For example, I had accidentally spilled tea on Jessy’s laptop one day, and frantically called Sajja to ask the rather outlandish question of whether I could borrow a tub of dry rice to absorb the moisture. No worries, he said, and not only did he arrive with a bag of rice in hand, but he and his staff member proactively wrapped the laptop and rice in several layers of cling-wrap.
Sajja was a friendly presence, an astute problem-solver, and an ever-present spiritual guide of sorts to a JW Marriott Maldives experience that had more than a touch of magic about it. Jessy and I soon grew very fond of him, even feeling a few pangs of jealousy whenever we saw Sajja helping out other guests!
Of course, Sajja’s biggest contribution would be his role in helping me with…
JW Marriott Maldives – The Proposal
At long last, allow me to devote a few words to the lifelong memory of proposing to my girlfriend-turned-fiancée, Jessy, on the fourth night of our stay here at the JW Marriott Maldives.
I had been in close contact with the resort to arrange many elements of this proposal, including:
- The pre-arranged upgrade to the Duplex Sunset Overwater Villa (for an upgrade fee of US$500++ per night, which I was not billed for in the end)
- The private prix-fixe dinner on the beach for US$650++
- A bouquet of 60 red roses for US$250++
- A bottle of champagne with chocolate-dipped strawberries for US$250++
As I mentioned in the last installment, Sajja quietly confirmed these elements with me during the in-room check-in.
However, I also had one very unique request in my mind: after our beach dinner, I had wanted the resort to bring us onto a private boat and transport us across the lagoon towards our newly-upgraded villa, where we would ascend onto the villa’s deck and I’d complete my proposal under the sunset.
In the end, this was not to be: partway through my stay, the onsite manager and Food & Beverage Director, Amit, called me to the Aailaa’s wine bar for a meeting of the minds. He let me know that the resort had tried everything they could to make this happen – including taking their boat for a test ride in the lagoon themselves – but there was simply no safe way to dock the boat against the overwater villa and ensure that we could make our way up to the deck. And if an accident were to occur along the process of disembarking from the boat, that would put a real damper on the occasion to say the least.
I fully understood Amit’s position and was appreciative of all their efforts to make it happen. In the end, I agreed that it’d be enough for Sajja to transport us to our new villa onboard the buggy, and for a few resort employees to be stationed along the entrance to the villa while performing the celebratory Maldivian drum song.
Then, it was all about the big day itself. In the afternoon, I told Jessy I was going to the library to “print something”, before joining Sajja to scope out the new villa. I left the ring in his possession, to be placed on the table alongside the bouquet and decorations, and also gave him my camera so that he could document the occasion.
At 6pm, it was time for our “dinner reservation at the seafood restaurant”. I think Jessy had some inkling of what was going on, but she certainly didn’t expect it when Sajja drove us through a wooded grove and onto the beach, letting us know that this was a “secret path” to the restaurant. We took a few steps down that path, and arrived at the stunning private beachside dining table that the resort had set up for us.
Across all of the luxury resorts we’ve visited so far, Jessy and I have always talked about shelling out for one of these special romantic dinner packages one day. This was certainly a fitting occasion to make good on that promise.
Dinner would begin with a spearing of the house champagne, performed by the lone server who’d be taking care of us tonight.
The appetizer course would follow with one of Jessy’s and my all-time favourite indulgences: a massive chilled seafood plate, spanning oysters, mussels, fish, jumbo prawns, and king crab.
After polishing this off, the main course would arrive in the form of an even bigger shared plate: grilled lobster, fish, chicken, lamb shanks, and potatoes and vegetables. Jessy and I couldn’t finish everything, so we asked for half of the plate to be packaged and delivered to our villa later on, and our server was more than happy to oblige.
Dessert was a lemongrass panna cotta; by then, I’ll admit that I was getting quite antsy about the main event that was to come, and frankly don’t remember all too much about finishing the dessert.
As we sipped our champagne and tucked into the many delicacies on our table, Jessy and I spent every moment soaking in the million-dollar views of the spellbinding sunset in front of our eyes.
And as the orange skies turned to pink at the conclusion of our meal, we walked to the shoreline and paused for another moment to absorb these views and commit them to memory, before I gave Jessy’s hand a squeeze and said, “Come on, Sajja’s waiting for us.”
Jessy may have been forgiven for feeling a little disappointed that we’d be returning to our villa so soon…
…but those feelings evaporated as Sajja zoomed past Villa 133, our old living quarters, and told Jessy that there was a “special sunset view” further along the boardwalk.
We pulled up at Villa 153, where a large group of resort staff had gathered with their Maldivian drum song, and everything is a little hazy after this point.
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I remember unlocking the villa’s door to reveal an entire floor covered in rose petals, as I guided Jessy past the king bed (where Sajja had prepared some even more intricate flower decorations) and towards the balcony – where it was time to get the job done.
Sajja followed a short distance behind us, dutifully taking up his role as cameraman as I launched into my spiel, as Jessy began jumping for joy, as I got on one knee and slipped the ring on her finger. There, under the magenta skies and against the gentle lapping waves – a moment of magic.
Sajja, my friend, if you’re reading this – thank you!
JW Marriott Maldives – Departure
Jessy and I spent our final day at the resort paying tribute to some of our favourite spots: breakfast at Aailaa, a dip in Pool 18, a dip in our private pool, and a dip in the ocean. We also strolled around the resort with Jessy’s bouquet of roses in hand, taking some photos of the happy fiancée.
At around 2:30pm, Sajja came to collect us for our 3:15pm seaplane departure. It was no doubt a bittersweet moment as we said goodbye to an overwater villa that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.
Since I had US$200 in cash left in my wallet at this point, and felt that Sajja deserved all of it, I left it in an envelope and handed it to him just before we boarded the seaplane.
I was stunned to see that the resort’s senior staff had all gathered at the dock to wave us goodbye – a fitting last act of memorable and exemplary service to bring our stay to a close as we jetted off back to Malé International Airport for our onward flight back home.
I could tell you that the JW Marriott Maldives was the single best luxury hotel stay that I’ve ever experienced, but that wouldn’t quite be doing it justice. For one of my most highly-anticipated trips across all my travels, and indeed one of the most significant occasions of my life, the JW Marriott Maldives performed to perfection in almost every single way.
A stay at the JW Marriott Maldives transports you to another world: a sanctuary surrounded by endless blue, where all of your earthly burdens are washed away by the ocean’s waves. And between not one, but two stunning overwater villas, a dazzling breakfast spread, an exceedingly luxurious Pool 18 infinity pool, and a comprehensive and visually striking gym and spa complex, there was no shortage of ways to occupy ourselves for five days on the resort, and we would’ve gladly stayed for five days more.
A special mention goes out to the world-class service provided by our butler, Sajja, and especially his assistance in helping me with my proposal – I certainly couldn’t have pulled it off without him. Inspired by its competitor the St. Regis, butler service is something that will truly add another touch of luxury to your stay at the JW Marriott Maldives and leave you in good hands for anything you require, especially if you happen to get Sajja as your butler.
As I mentioned, I’ll follow-up this review with a future post on whether I think a trip to the Maldives using your hotel rewards points is “worth it”. For me personally, I can say with certainty that even though the final bill might’ve left a tear in my eye, I had absolutely no regrets about going to the Maldives, and I’m itching to do it all again at one of the Maldives’ many other resorts in the future – or perhaps even a return to the JW Marriott a few decades from now to recapture our special experience of March 2020.
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