Friday, January 10, 2014

Honeymooning RTW in 21 Days: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island


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With the recent Hilton devaluation, it seems like the Conrad Maldives has been a popular destination to spend down those points balances. That would probably explain the multiple FTers that we ran into while visiting last month

Getting There/Check-In

After what seemed like an eternity, our SIN-MLE flight landed and we were one step closer to paradise. After clearing immigration we headed into the arrivals hall and were greeted by a Conrad representative. He walked us over to the hotel's booth, where we checked-in with another representative who then took us over to TransMaldvian booth to get the boarding passes for our seaplane flight and weigh our luggage. Then another representative took us out to the parking lot where we hopped in one of the Conrad's minivans and drove around the airport to the seaplane terminal just a few minutes away, and were led up the top floor where the Conrad's lounge is located.

We were one of the first to arrive in the lounge and it actually got quite crowded over the next couple hours. We were told that our estimated departure was approximately 2 hours away, but were also told to hang close since the seaplanes just come when they come. Our first example of island time The lounge had a decent spread of food and offered a great view of the seaplane tarmac, which was just a long strip of water. But it was amazing to get the first glimpse of that gorgeous turquoise water that the Maldives is famous for. We also each had a quick 15-minute back massage which was nice after a long day of traveling.

Even though we were coming from Australia, it really did feel like a long journey to get to the resort (approximately 20 hours total), so I can't even imagine how long the journey would be if we had come from straight from the US. When we travel my wife and I generally like to move around to different places after just 1-2 nights and looking back even we felt that 5 nights was barely enough, but personally couldn't have seen ourselves staying too much longer beyond that. When we come back, I think that 5-7 nights will be what we target.

After only an hour, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that our seaplane was ready and we were led out to the dock for boarding. They load both your normal and hand luggage into the back of the plane, so if there is anything that you want on your person (like cameras) make sure to take that out ahead of time. The plane ride was just over half an hour and provided great aerial views of the atolls and other resorts.

Conrad lounge


View of the watermac


Seaplanes waiting to take passengers to paradise


View of other resorts




The time actually passed by quickly, and before we knew it we had touched down at the Conrad! The resort has a seaplane dock located on a platform on the bridge that connects the two islands, and there was a whole gang of staff members waiting to welcome us, including our island host. He greeted us, and took us over the check-in where we were given a welcome drink and an overview of the island.

Finally here!


Welcome drink



Our Villa

Shortly after finishing up our check-in (for the honeymooners, don't forget to bring a copy of your wedding certificate as they take it as part of check-in to validate your honeymoon benefits), we hopped in a buggy and headed over to the room. I had used 200,000 Hilton points (pre-devaluation) to book the standard beach villa, and decided to upgrade to a water villa for 3 nights and superior water villa for 2 nights.

Both the water villa and SWV are located on the same island which can be accessed via a long bridge from the main island. In general, we found that walking from one end of the other island to the main island took around 15 minutes. Alternatively, there is a boat that goes regularly between the islands.

We found both villas to be extremely spacious and comfortable, but the SWV definitely felt a bit more worn than the newly refurbished water villas. The villas are largely comparable otherwise, with the other key differences in the SWV being a hot tub instead of the plunge pool, the sunset view instead of sunrise (although some water villas do have sunset views), and enhanced audio system with surround sound.

It varied by day, but we probably spent just a couple hours on average in our villa relaxing as there is just so much to do around the resort. While we did get to experience both the sunrise and sunset sides of the same island, it wasn't a big enough change to feel like a separate vacation. Next time, if we are going to change rooms I think that I'd look to experience both islands. Also, personally I would not recommend the superior water villa and would either stick with the standard water villa or upgrade beyond the superior villa as we didn't really feel that the marginal benefits were commensurate with the marginal cost over the standard water villa, but of course that just comes down to personal preference.

Row of water villas


Our water villa


Water villa bedroom


Water villa living room


Water villa bathroom


Water villa wardrobe


Water villa outdoor deck and plunge pool


Superior water villa bedroom

 
SWV hot tub


Activities

As I had been researching the various resorts in the Maldives, one of the biggest draws of the Conrad was the abundance of activities and things to do. I spent quite bit time prior to arrival planning out a rough itinerary for our 5-night stay which I would highly recommend doing. I had been concerned that we were locking ourselves down into a specific plan but it was really easy to move things around after arriving.

When I looked at our itinerary on paper it felt like we would have a lot of down time and therefore I brought several books and movies in anticipation of that. Looking back, I can't even tell you where all our time went because the days went by so quickly and I didn't even have the need to fill any idle time with books/movies.

After arrival since it was already early afternoon, we mostly just walked around and did some light swimming to relax before heading to dinner. The next day, we snorkeled around the house reef near the #200's Beach Villas which was very enjoyable. We had our own snorkel gear since we were planning to dive but the dive shop offers a free rental for those that aren't planning to bring any. We also checked in with the dive shop and we're glad we did since they require that everyone takes an orientation dive in the lagoon prior to going on any dive trips. We were able to squeeze ours in that afternoon prior to going on the all-day dive trip the next day.

The all-day dive trip was amazing - it covers three dive sites and all were a hit, easily the best diving we have ever done in our lives. In addition, during the downtime between dives we effectively did the whale shark snorkeling trip and were lucky enough to find 4 of them. 1 even stuck around the surface to hang out with us for 10-15 minutes!

Video from diving trip

After the all-day dive trip, the last couple days were focused on relaxation. We did a couples treatment at the Overwater Spa, and as some others have mentioned, my wife and I both thought that the massages we got were the best we've ever had.

As part of the honeymoon package, along with a complimentary dinner at Mandhoo, a $100 credit is offered toward an excursion and we decided on the sunset fishing trip which was pretty enjoyable, even though we were among the unlucky few that struck out with the fish. The others got to enjoy the fruits of their labor either at the restaurant or served back in their room.

And lastly, we decided that we wanted to see the underwater restaurant, Ithaa, and went for cocktails. We're glad we did since it was a great experience and interesting to see without having to pay several hundred dollars for lunch or dinner.

Best activity was just walking around and enjoying the views


Illuminated bridge at night


Main pool


Sunset along the beach


Overwater Spa


Treatment room


View from the massage table


Post-massage relaxation area


Night fishing, I caught a baby shark


Someone else caught this


Ithaa underwater restaurant




Eating with the fish


Cocktail appetizer


Food & Beverage

The food and beverage on the resort are truly outstanding and were a big highlight for us. This started each morning with the breakfasts which are complimentary for Hilton Gold/Diamond members, and can be had either at Atoll Market (buffet) or Vilu Restaurant which they describe as semi-a la carte. Basically there is a small buffet, and you can order as many hot entrees as you like off the menu. Each day we tended to eat huge breakfasts which held us over to dinner for the most part. We would cobble together lunch/snack each day with some of the complimentary fruit that was provided each day in the room along with my precious pork jerky that had been smuggled into the country

Samplings from Atoll market breakfast buffet





Maldivian omelet at Vilu


Eggs Florentine at Vilu


One of the most enjoyable experiences was getting to meet quite a few fellow FTers and catching up on all the latest points/miles news with them. The 4-5pm afternoon tea at Mandhoo and 5-6pm happy hours at Vilu were especially great for meeting up. So definitely keep an eye out and don't be afraid to ask "hey, are you on flyertalk?" as I rarely received no as an answer.

There are really a lot of options for dinner and can range from a la carte dining either in-room or at the bar, to full on degustation meals with wine parings. We ate at Rangali bar for 2 of the nights, and found the food to be really good. The pizza, burger, and Maldivian lobster were some of the things we particularly liked. We also benefited by not being big drinkers which can easily add up as wine/cocktails average $15-20. For those that are interested, the Rangali bar also has hookahs/shishas which were great for kicking back while listening to the live music.

For the other three nights we ate at a few different restaurants. We had our complimentary 3-course honeymoon dinner at Mandhoo which was amazing, both the food and the setting. Our first night we ate at Sunset grill which ironically didn't have as nice of a sunset as Mandhoo, but was still quite enjoyable. And lastly, we had the cheese fondue dinner in the Wine cellar which was really fun and interactive.

Sunset grill view


Sunset grill shrimp/scallops


Sunset grill seafood platter


Mandhoo restaurant


Dinner with a view


Mandhoo complimentary honeymoon dinner


Mandhoo amuse bouche


Mandhoo calamari/salmon appetizer


Mandhoo chicken with pumpkin risotto


Wine Cellar for fondue night


Bleu cheese soup


Marscapone cheese dessert


Rangali Bar pizza


Rangali Bar Maldivian lobster


Final Thoughts

So, what's the verdict on the self-proclaimed 6-star resort? It's pretty darn amazing, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and I can't wait to go back. While we were there the resort was at 90% occupancy and at most times still felt like we were the only ones there. And from the FTer perspective, even with the devaluation it's still a good value at 95,000 points per night when compared to retail prices.

BUT, don't go in thinking that everything will be perfect, because you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. We did run into a few issues (primarily on our last night) which put a damper on things, but overall we found that the staff/management response was very prompt and met our expectations. As a tip on one of the issues, I would make sure to be proactive about the seaplane departure schedule as we were shocked to find out the night before that we were booked on a 7am seaplane despite having a 3pm departure out of MLE. We never got a clear answer on why that happened since departure information is provided at check-in time so we suspect there was some sort of mix-up. So make sure to check-in with our host earlier in the day to confirm that your details are correct.

Until next time!

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