If you read my last post, you know that my husband, Dan (a bit of a points guru), found a crazy deal for a week in the Maldives at the Conrad Rangali Island, Maldives the first week of December – 5 nights in an overwater bungalow totally on points. So that became our Thanksgiving vacation! I was a little iffy about staying a full 5 nights and 6 days on a remote island with no realistic ability to leave, but we had a wonderful time and it was perfect during the pandemic. And actually, Dan and I both felt that our Maldives vacation FLEW by and we easily could have spent another week. Big surprise! Here’s a run down of our week if you are curious (or hesitant) about what you would do on such a stay!
DAY ONE – ARRIVAL AND FAWNING OVER OUR OVERWATER VILLA!
We flew to the Maldives via an 4 hour “overnight” flight from Dubai (I saw “overnight” because it did not depart until 2:45 AM) and arrived around 7:00 AM. We slept a bit on the plane, which was probably fueled by the free flowing Moet at Emirates Business Class Lounge in Dubai. Pro tip – Dubai is an easy add-on to a Maldives vacay as its close and has loads of international flight connections!
Immigration was quick, as most of our information, including our negative COVID-19 test results (which we obtained in Dubai – message me if you have questions about that), was required to be uploaded to the Maldives’ health portal prior to our boarding the plane in Dubai. A Conrad representative met us at baggage claim (with water!), completely sanitized our bags, and quickly checked us in to our seaplane flight to the Conrad on Trans Maldivian Airways. And yes, while you can access some hotels close to Malé via boat, many resorts are accessible only via sea plane. Our seaplane departed about 15 minutes after we checked in…no down time! The flight was gorgeous and lasted precisely 29 minutes! Since we left for the Conrad almost immediately after landing in Malé, we missed the Conrad’s lounge at the airport.
We landed on the sea and taxied to the Conrad’s tiny “airport” right in the middle of the resort, where we were met by our personal Conrad concierge, Shiraz (yes, like the Australian vino)! Shiraz checked us in and drove us to our Grand Overwater Villa – a wildly lucky upgrade due to our booked class of room being under renovation (see my Conrad review for more information on our villa)! We spent a the afternoon fawning over our villa and lounging on our personal deck and in our personal hot tub!! We also ordered lunch for our first taste of the Conrad’s food – a Haloumi wrap with green salad, Parmesan truffle fries (duh), and pork Tonkatsu. For reference, this all cost about $90 US. Food in the Maldives ain’t cheap!
Around 4:00 PM, it was time to walk over to Rangali Bar, the Conrad’s main bar, for the Hilton Diamond Member happy hour, which members Dan and I both are (although only one of us needed to be to access the happy hour). The happy hour was much better than I anticipated and included complimentary unlimited and promptly poured red, white, and sparkling wine, standard mixed drinks, a cocktail and mocktail of the day, sodas, sparkling wine, two canapés (always a meat/seafood and veggie), and freshly fried banana chips! I recommend arriving right before 4:30 and ordering your final drink right at 5:30 to maximize the benefit. Staff was very generous with the pours and the wine was pretty decent (a South African red was my favorite), which is especially nice given the high price of alcohol in the Maldives. Another pro tip, get your sodas here for free. They cost about $10 elsewhere. If you are not a Hilton Diamond Member, 1/2 price drinks are offered to everyone at Rangali Bar from 5:00 – 6:00 PM.
After happy hour (and a quick little nap!), we dined at the Sunset Grill, a small overwater restaurant where I had my first taste of the beautiful Maldivian lobster! They are so pretty (and tasty)! Reservations are recommend at Sunset Grill, particularly during the pandemic. In addition to my Maldivian lobster, which was HUGE, Dan ordered scallops and we had the most delicious creme brulée.
We went to bed right after dinner, as we were exhausted from traveling the night prior. However, this ended up being a theme and we went to bed pretty early the entire trip. There was not much nightlife happening at the Conrad, although I’m not sure if this is normal or due to COVID.
DAY TWO – ADULTS ONLY POOL AND DINNER AT KOKO GRILL
On our first full day in the Maldives, we started with breakfast at Restaurant Vilu, on the opposite island of our overwater bungalow, where breakfast is complimentary for Hilton Diamond Members (nearly a $100 USD per person value). Usually breakfast is also offered at the Atoll Market, but that was closed due to COVID. During COVID, Vilu offers a menu with many small plates and guests can, and did, order as many of said small plates as they wanted. For our first morning, among other things, Dan ordered Eggs Benedict and I ordered fried rice and a dim sum platter. We finished with a cheese plate and banana bread. Whoopsie! More healthy options definitely exist, if you’re into that. Since we did not have to pay for breakfast, we definitely took advantage and ate a lot at breakfast every day.
After breakfast, we spent a few hours at the adults only pool at the Quiet Zone, just down the island from Vilu Restaurant. We were the sole guests at the pool. Dan decided it was the perfect time for a photoshoot to promote his budding “influencer” career, LOL. Aside from the photoshoot, we simply enjoyed the pool and lounged about.
We walked back to our Grand Villa and again made the Hilton Diamond Member Happy Hour right at 4:30 PM. After that ended, we moved to the Quiet Zone bar for a 1/2 price happy hour, open to all guests from 6 – 7 PM, for cocktails before dinner! Pro tip – Quiet Zone has the BEST cocktails at the resort. They are seriously high quality!
This evening, we scheduled a fancy dinner at Koko Grill, the Conrad’s tiny Japanese restaurant set in the sand next to the Quiet Zone bar. With only room for 12 guests – 6 during COVID – reservations are essential. Here, we dined on seven courses: (1) tuna sashimi; (2) fried squid; (3) Maldivian lobster; (4) the BEST steak; (5) Miso soup with clams; and (6) a deconstructed green tea cheesecake! Each course was cooked from start to finish right in front of us. The dinner was excellent and we were stuffed and exhausted after all those courses! Another early night for us! Again, sorry for the bad pictures, but it was quite dark and they do not capture the deliciousness of Koko Grill’s food.
DAY THREE – EXPLORING THE RESORT AND RELAXING IN OUR BUNGALOW
Our third day began with an attempt to wake up early for sunrise, like we did on our summer trip to French Polynesia, but we missed the sunrise! It was still nice to walk around the resort early in the morning with hardly any other guests up and about. Highly recommended.
We later walked over to Vilu for yet another complimentary breakfast. We were very happy that the food at Vilu is good. After our breakfast, we walked back to our Grand Villa, as I had an appointment for a 105 minute massage at the Spa Retreat! I booked my massage on arrival and the Conrad added on an extra 15 minutes as a gift to Hilton Diamond Members. I’m not one to turn down free massage time!
The Spa Retreat is located very close to the Grand Water Villas and is a complex of treatment rooms on stilts over water. It’s really a gorgeous spa. The Spa Retreat was very professional and my massage was lovely! The massage started with a fresh flower and water and ended with tea and cookies! For those wondering about COVID protocol, staff wore a mask the entire time and guests were required to wear a mask when face up when we visited.
Post-massage, it was time to get ready for the Diamond Member Happy Hour! Can’t be late! Today the snacks were asparagus wrapped in beef and watermelon and feta skewers. The watermelon and feta skewers were VERY delicious.
After Happy Hour, we moved to the Quiet Zone for another quality cocktail and enjoyed a casual dinner at Vilu – spinach and ricotta pasta for me and pork belly for Dan, with a side of fries to split. = )
DAY FOUR – MULTIPLE VISITS TO ITHAA UNDERWATER RESTAURANT
Our fourth day, Friday, was the day that I was most excited about on our trip, as it is the day we were scheduled to visit “Ithaa, an Underwater Restaurant!” Only open two days a week (during COVID) for 12 people, we booked both the “Visiting Hour” and dinner. We once again woke up early this morning and attempted to see the sunrise. We missed it again, this time due to clouds, but still got in a gorgeous walk around the property.
As usual, we went to breakfast at Vilu after our early morning walk. Unfortunately, however, the staff was a bit crazy and our second order of food did not come before 10:45, when we had to leave for our 11 AM Visiting Hour at Ithaa. The staff profusely apologized the next day, but be sure to get those orders in early if you have somewhere to be (the last order for breakfast is at 10:30, but we placed our order around 10:10).
The Visiting Hour at Ithaa is a 1 hour visit to the underwater restaurant complete with a glass of champagne and two canapés. Nothing else can be ordered, even water. We loved Visiting Hour and took tons of pictures. The best part is when the sharks are fed about half way through the Visiting Hour. We felt like we had plenty of time and the staff did not rush us out. Pro tip – when entering the restaurant sit on the right side; that is where the fish almost always congregate. I’m going to do a separate post on Ithaa, but the hour flew by and we left excited for dinner!
Post Visiting Hour at Ithaa, we hung out at our Villa for a bit and then prepared for the usual Happy Hour. Dan stuck with Tiger Beer today in advance of our fancy dinner at Ithaa. It was fun to have a Tiger beer again – I don’t think we had drank one since our honeymoon in Southeast Asia in 2018! Canapés today were tuna on a cucumber with a salsa and watermelon topped with what I believe was mozzarella.
Our dinner at Ithaa began promptly at 6:30, so no second drink at the Quiet Zone tonight. Our dinner at Ithaa was seven courses and everything was truly delicious. By far the best meal we had at the Conrad. Again, I’m going to do a separate post on Ithaa, but be sure to arrive right at 6:30. And again, the right side is the way to go for seating purposes. Ithaa was one of the most unique dining experiences we have ever had!
DAY FIVE – A PADDLE BOAT RIDE AND A CHEESE FONDUE DINNER
On our last full day, we again woke up early in hopes of watching the sun rise. However, it was once again cloudy. Booooo. Instead, we got some more good shots of the beach in the early morning light. And I would note that while it was cloudy multiple mornings, we had great weather. It was sunny most days and only rained one night overnight and about an hour one other day.
Since we were up early, we made it to breakfast a bit earlier than usual. Once again, breakfast was great. And, all of our food arrived today!
Post-breakfast, we spent more time at the Quiet Zone adult only pool and later moved over to the main Rangali Bar pool, after getting a quick COVID test in the hotel’s clinic (required for our final night in Dubai and New York if you don’t want to quarantine for 14 days). For those needing a COVID test, you can book on arrival at the Conrad, it takes about 5 minutes, you get results in 24 hours, and it costs $150 USD per test. Now, back to the pool. I LOVED the Rangali Bar pool and even though its the “main” pool that is open to children, we were the only people at the pool once again. We ended up splitting another Haloumi wrap before heading back to hour room to enjoy the deck a bit before getting ready for happy hour.
And, I forgot to mention, in between pools and COVID tests, we took a paddle boat out for a spin, crossing from from the main island to Rangali Island and back. This was pretty cool and free! Clouds did start rolling in about half-way through our ride, and we were a bit nervous that we would be caught in a storm. No worries, it never started storming!
We again attended happy hour this evening – more tuna on cucumbers and stuffed tomatoes were on the menu. After the complimentary happy hour, we walked over to the Quiet Zone for 1/2 priced cocktails.
Our dinner tonight was cheese fondue in the Wine and Cheese Bar, just behind Rangali Bar. This was one of the cheaper dinner options at $145 USD per person (and the cheapest set menu dinner), and we thought it was pretty cool to have cheese fondue in the Maldives! We rushed back from happy hour to make the 7 PM dinner. When we arrived, however, we were a bit annoyed to learn that the dinner did not have to start at 7 PM and could have started whenever we wanted it to start…. This was totally fine, but we were annoyed that the hotel did not tell us that we could have had our dinner later than 7, as we would have loved another cocktail at Quiet Zone. We noticed issues like this a few times during our stay – the hotel did not provide full options and details to guests. I recommend asking for whatever you want, including moving times, off menu foods, etc. Despite our annoyance that no one told us we could move the time of our dinner, the Cheese Fondue dinner was very good, and included blue cheese soup, cheese fondue with dipping bread, pickled vegetables, and beef, and a tasty dessert. We also enjoyed a lovely Tannat (our favorite wine) with our meal!
We stayed out a bit later than normal this evening and watched a football game on the TV at Rangali Bar. It was fun to watch a sporting event at a bar – its been too long! Spoiler alert – the bar is outdoors and we were the only people there…
DAY SIX – DEPARTURE, BUT NOT BEFORE SNORKELING AND TAKING FULL ADVANTAGE OF THE GRAND VILLA!
On our last morning (SAD), per our usual routine, we walked to breakfast at Vilu pretty early in the morning and since it was our final day, we went all out on the breakfast! We ordered noodles, dim sum, hash browns, pastries, juices, and more. It was good. Real good. Had to take advantage of that free breakfast!
Post-breakfast, we walked back to our hotel and prepared to snorkel with the equipment loaned by the Conrad (free to all guests for the duration of the stay). We walked to the beach, where we were like the only people, put on our gear and made our way through the coral channel to the outside side of the resort’s coral reef. I was not expecting too much, but I was totally wrong. We saw lots of cool fish on our snorkel! The other surprising bit was how deep the water on the others side of the coral reef is, it reallly drops off deep! Definitely wear a life jacket if you aren’t a good swimmer. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of our snorkeling adventure, but don’t miss it at Rangali Island!
Post-snorkel, we went back to our room to enjoy our deck and sea access for a few more hours, stopping off to see the daily shark feeding and Mandhoo Restaurant (1:30 PM). To take full advantage, we again ordered room service – more pork tonkatsu, truffle fries, and a final Haloumi wrap!
As promised, were were picked up in a buggy around 3:30 to drop off our snorkel equipment and check out. Our seaplane was waiting for us and we boarded right on time (after being told we were trying to leave early due to weather in Malé…). Our plane this time around was much nicer, with few seats, all in leather. As on our initial flight, our pilots were pretty casual – barefoot and playing on their phones for some of the flight…
Our Trans Maldivian Airways flight departed a bit after 4 PM and we promptly arrived in Malè 29 minutes later. Since Dan has Gold Status with Emirates, we were invited to the Leeli Lounge in Malé, which is fine (absolutely no alcohol, here or anywhere in the Malé airport for on site consumption) for snacks. We also did a tiny bit of shopping before boarding our flight back to Dubai. All in all, a LOVELY trip to the Maldives! We felt safe the entire time and the resort was largely empty! Highly recommended and a fantastic use of Hilton points!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island: English website. We booked directly with Hilton. Check around a few dates to purchase via points. We moved our trip by one day and got the 5 overwater bungalow nights rather than a beach bungalow, which was later upgraded to a Grand Overwater Villa. During normal times, book far in advance for the best availability on points.
ON A BUDGET
Unfortunately, the Conrad Rangali Island is not really budget friendly. Even with our free villa, this was one of the more expensive vacations we have ever taken. Reasons include that this is a remote island in the middle of nowhere that you cannot leave, so everything is priced accordingly. Plus, you cannot bring alcohol into the Maldives nor is there anywhere on the island to purchase inexpensive grab and go food, etc. (at least when we were there). To save money, I recommend obtaining Hilton Diamond status to take advantage of free breakfast and happy hour, bring snacks from home, and avoid the prix fixe dinners. They add up quickly. There are also less expensive resorts in Maldives and you can find deals on websites such as TravelZoo, etc. Be sure to calculate transportation from Malé to your resort in your budget. For example, our 29 minute sea plane ride was $600 per person RT…