Spanning three islands, Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is a tropical paradise floating in the Indian Ocean. Surrounded by picturesque waters, it boasts lavish overwater villas, dining among the treetops and even a private island within the resort. Beyond its extravagant perks, it’s most noteworthy for its warm and impeccable service. That quality won the hotel its first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star accolade in the newly unveiled 2022 Star Awards.
Here are our top reasons why you should check into one of the Maldives’ newest Five-Star refuges:
The Waldorf Astoria offers a luxurious alternative to the tiny seaplane that’s required for most far-flung Maldives resorts. Set sail from Male’s Velana International Airport in style aboard the resort’s private yacht (it’s an extra cost). The final leg on your long journey to the island nation will be effortless in the comfort of the air-conditioned main cabin or on a spacious deck as you nosh on sandwiches and cupcakes and sip champagne.
Reserve the entire ship or share the transfer with other resort guests. Even if you opt for the latter, you’ll still enjoy privacy by claiming one of the wood-lined staterooms, where you can rest in a plush bed during the 45-minute ride.
Crane your neck to discover seven large nests perched among the treetops. But these aren’t for birds. The handcrafted bamboo nests serve as coveted open-air dining areas for Terra restaurant. The unique setting on top of the palm fronds and other lush greenery makes for a romantic meal.
The seven-course gastronomic menu is equally memorable with artfully composed dishes like Maldivian lobster with miso butter, burnt leek, glazed edamame, lobster bisque foam, ponzu gel and beluga caviar. The nests fill up quickly, so be sure to book ahead of time.
You will instantly feel at ease at this spa, whether you stroll the long lawn to the yoga pavilion overlooking the ocean or enter one of its 10 treatment villas, some of which are overwater. The service offerings are vast, but the hydrotherapy experience is a must. It trumps the usual Jacuzzi-plunge-sauna-steam circuit with a custom-built 2,906-square-foot outdoor pool with stations featuring jet baths, air jets, shower jets and more. The stations have varying levels of intensity to ease muscle tension and boost the immune system and circulation. It unfurls knots after a long flight.
Linger after your treatment in the teardrop-shaped hanging chair amid the tropical flora in the spa garden or poolside refueling with banana chip and sweet tamarind jam sandwiches and ginger tea.
Under thatched roofs, the 119 reef, beach and overwater villas have contemporary living rooms and bedrooms with gray, white and pops of aqua. They also feature bathrooms with stylish touches, like chevron walls and a standalone egg-shaped tub that’s so deep, it should have its own lifeguard.
Despite these tempting interiors, you’ll spend your time outside. All villas offer sprawling decks with expansive pools, dining areas and a swinging day bed. The beach villas overlook lush foliage and give you direct access to the sand, while the other villas allow you to gaze at the ocean from your pool or the overwater hammocks. These outdoor spaces are so extraordinary, you’d be forgiven for staying there your whole vacation.
The Kids Club
You won’t feel guilty about dropping off your little ones at the family-friendly resort’s Stars Club while you indulge at the spa. Inside this colorful club — a complimentary guest perk — children can play games or do arts and crafts (making slime is a popular one). Out back, there’s a playground with a seesaw, swings and a trampoline, and a small water park complete with slides and a splash pad. Plus, there’s a slate of daily activities that include movies, hair braiding and kiddie yoga.
If you want more individualized attention for your children, a kids concierge can craft a special itinerary based on their preferences.
The Instagrammable Scenery
With unusual dining nests, villa pools and hammocks, and pristine waters everywhere, the Waldorf Astoria seems made for social media, which is why it won our award for the best hotel Instagram account in 2021. But there’s much more to photograph at the stunning escape. Head to alfresco lounge Amber to capture the glowing sunset from the provided tripods while noshing on fresh oysters and avocado bruschetta and toasting flutes of bubbly.
The Waldorf Astoria has many delicious choices among its 11 restaurants (the newest is an outpost of the popular izakaya-inspired Zuma chain), but Yasmeen stands out. It could be the charming backdrop — the alfresco restaurant looks like a tree-dotted Arabian village with a trickling fountain, antiques and (intentionally) crumbling walls that reveal the ocean.
The Middle Eastern dishes are equally enticing. Order the set menu for hot and cold mezze (we couldn’t get enough of the garlicky labneh) that you’ll want to scrape up with piping-hot pita. But save room for the meaty mixed grill entrées and cheesecake with a pistachio-studded crust for dessert.
The Private Island
For an over-the-top getaway, reserve Ithaafushi. Available for buyout only, the 344,445-square-foot oasis is the largest private island in the Maldives. And it’s secluded: you can only reach Ithaafushi from the main resort via a short boat ride.
You won’t have to sacrifice any amenities here, and the two luxurious villas and four-bedroom residence accommodate 24. Get pampered at Ithaafushi’s own overwater spa; lounge in five pools — one of which has the resort’s only swim-up bar; and glimpse the turquoise water from the island’s yoga pavilion, sauna, steam room and indoor gym.
Haali serves as the entertainment hub with a full kitchen, bar, DJ booth, pool table, movie-screen-sized TV and a private dining room. Of course, a dedicated staff ranging from personal trainers to chefs is at your disposal.
The Private Dining
Restaurants aside, you can enjoy some one-of-a-kind dining experiences at the Waldorf Astoria, including meals at an isolated sandbank or aboard sunset cruises. The possibilities are seemingly infinite. Try a private wine dinner or wine tasting at The Rock, a cool wine cellar amid boulders whose walls are made of white limestone from Jordan and a bar that’s a slab from a 2,000-year-old tree. It carries more than 1,000 labels, one of the largest collections in the Maldives.
Or try a beach picnic, but we’re not just talking about a blanket thrown on the sand and some bites. The staff digs out sunken seating in the sand and covers it with blankets and pillows to ensure your comfort. A wooden box’s drawers open to reveal sandwiches wrapped in WA tissue paper and decadent desserts. A Bluetooth speaker adds ambiance, though the waves may be the only soundtrack you need.
Step through the moon gate entrance and into the dining room with cutout screens, warm-colored patterns on the walls and high ceilings and in the center, a nearly seven-foot bell made of infused porcelain and timber that’s a modern take on a Ming vase.
Take a seat on the terrace above the alluring waters and savor dim sum, like chicken siu mai and xiao long bao (soup dumplings), and dishes like tender black pepper wagyu chunks with vegetables. Don’t miss the roasted Beijing duck, a guest favorite. Cooked in a wood-fired oven, the duck arrives at your table on a trolley, where the chef expertly cuts juicy slices for you to stuff into thin pancakes with cucumber and a drizzle of hoisin sauce. It’s the best bite in the restaurant.
The Butler Service
Every guest is assigned a personal concierge, who essentially acts as your butler. The friendly, knowledgeable concierges pack and unpack your belongings and assist with a daily garment pressing, which are complimentary services. But they go beyond that to ensure your trip goes smoothly, from shuttling you in a golf cart to meals and activities to scheduling airport transfers and COVID tests. They help make your stay unforgettable by arranging experiences such as the floating room service breakfast that’s served in your villa’s pool.