Up until this year, the Maldives was at the top of my bucket list for a couple main reasons. First, it’s obviously gorgeous. The second reason was a little less conventional.
I had a free weekend night certificate from Hilton, good at almost any Hilton property in the world, and the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island was pretty much the nicest place I could use it. Granted, getting a free hotel night feels great no matter what hotel you’re at, but it feels even better when you can get it somewhere super fancy!
The first year I had a certificate, I ran out of time to use it, so we ended up doing a staycation at the Hilton Alexandria in Virginia, which could definitely use an update. So by the second year, I felt determined to make the Maldives happen, and I made sure to save up enough Hilton points to cover five additional nights and make a full vacation out of it.
Conrad Maldives, Rangali Island
GETTING TO THE CONRAD MALDIVES
By far, the most convenient way to get to the Maldives from Washington. D.C. is through Doha, Qatar. Qatar Airways times the flights so that you can leave D.C. Friday night and arrive in Malé, the Maldives’ capital, early Sunday morning. In between, we had a long-ish layover, but Doha’s Hamad International Airport is super nice and Qatar Airways offers cheap city tours for passengers with layovers of a certain length.
I hadn’t been to Doha in years and Jake had never been, so we did it. Aside from a long wait at customs to exit the airport, everything was really easy. The only problem? Doha is a VERY boring city. But we can get into that another time.
Then came the fun part: the seaplane from Malé! There’s only one way to get to the Conrad Maldives, and this is it. It’s operated by Trans Maldivian Airways, which services other resorts as well, so we had one stop to make on the way to the Conrad. Still, the flight was under an hour, and it was a beautiful trip over the ocean. If you don’t like small planes (I’m talking REALLY small planes), you miiight want to find someone’s hand to hold, but I found it more fun than anything and felt totally safe throughout!
ACCOMMODATIONS AT THE CONRAD MALDIVES
As I mentioned, we stayed at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, a resort that actually straddles two islands. There’s nothing else on the islands except the resort, so once you’re there, you’re there (until you leave on your departing seaplane, of course). But things are spread out enough that you’ll never feel claustrophobic, and there’s lots to see, do, and eat.
On the flip side, it’s not spread out enough to make it hard to get around, and if you ever don’t feel like walking, you can call an on-demand golf cart for a lift! There’s a boat that goes between islands, too.
We stayed in a superior water villa thanks to an upgrade (read on to find out how we got one), and the room was bigger than our apartment in D.C. It stood on stilts over the ocean and faced the sunset, and we had our own private deck complete with lounge chairs and A HOT TUB. You could sit on the deck and watch tropical fish and whale sharks swim around right in your own “backyard,” and to go swimming, you simply walked down the steps into the ocean. We watched the sunset from the hot tub every evening.
CONRAD MALDIVES FOOD
As I mentioned, the resort is its own island, so you’d expect there to be multiple choices for dining—but I didn’t expect there to be half as many as there actually were. No matter what you wanted, there was a restaurant for it! And we didn’t even make it to all of them over six nights and seven days.
Our favorites were Sunset Grill, Vilu (breakfast buffet by day, candle-lit beachfront restaurant by night) and Ufaa, which was a Chinese restaurant; we returned to each of those multiple times.
And of course, you can’t write about the food at the Conrad Maldives without mentioning Ithaa, the world’s first all-glass underwater restaurant. The setting was unlike nothing else, but the tasting menu was special in its own right.
While nearly everything we tried at the resort was excellent, it was also REALLY pricey. As in… take whatever you’re thinking a plate of pasta could cost at its absolute most expensive resort price—and double it. We were definitely those people who snuck the free water bottles from the hotel room into the restaurants, and one night, the chef at Ufaa actually made us a less expensive version of the Chinese hot pot so that we could try it. (I LOVE hot pot, but not for close to $300!)
That was just one of so many nice gestures from the staff, who could not have been friendlier or more welcoming. Servers memorized our orders after Day 1, which really made us feel at home. Every restaurant is 100% accommodating re: dietary restrictions, too, which made everything so easy.
CONRAD MALDIVES DRINKS
Food wasn’t the only expensive thing on Rangali Island—drinks were up there, too! Because we were already spending so much on food, we tended to keep our drinking to happy hour, which offered unlimited alcohol by the beach every evening for Diamond members. We did split a $20 cocktail one night just to try it, though!
THINGS TO DO AT THE CONRAD MALDIVES
The Conrad Maldives has so many opportunities for outdoor and water recreation, and I used almost none of them! It was just so hard to leave the swimming area behind our villa. We did do some snorkeling on our last day, though, which was amazing—so many tropical fish, corals, and even sharks! The masks and flippers were completely free to rent at the dive shop.
Instead of doing organized activities, we spent most of our time swimming (both behind the villa and at the pool), watching the fish and sharks from our balcony (Jake’s favorite), and spotting crabs (they were EVERYWHERE). We did stop by one evening for the resort’s nightly entertainment, which was traditional Maldivian music and drumming on the night we went.
As I mentioned, there were so many activities we didn’t try. I think kayaking could have been fun, and I would definitely have liked to do more snorkeling with extra time!
Because of Jake’s work schedule and the rules surrounding my certificate (which we’ll get to in a second), we had to be very particular with our dates, and, in turn, our flights. We also knew we wanted to arrive early Sunday morning so that we’d still have some of Sunday to enjoy after the seaplane transfer, which left us looking at very specific Qatar Airways flights.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get them through partner airlines and transferring Citi ThankYou points to Qatar would have cost an arm and a leg, so I opted to book the tickets through Citi on its travel portal instead. Jake’s came out to 93,080 ThankYou points and mine ended up at 118,096 because I was continuing onto Tbilisi afterward—both in coach. We definitely could have gotten them for less if we’d gone through the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s travel portal, which redeems at a better rate. But we didn’t have that many Chase points to burn; I redeem those on a regular basis, but I’d been hoarding this Citi stash ever since I picked up the Citi ThankYou Premier in 2013!
While the flights may not have been my finest redemption work, the Conrad is where we really worked to maximize points. The free weekend night certificate I had through the n0w-retired Hilton Honors Reserve credit card was only usable at the “standard room reward” rate, which took some time to find. Luckily, I eventually managed to snag an overwater villa on a Friday night at that standard rate, and for Sunday-Thursday, we used 380,000 Hilton points. The rate was 95,000/night, but Hilton Honors members get the fifth night free when using points to book four consecutive nights.
Before our stay, Hilton changed its credit card lineup, and my Hilton Honors Reserve automatically became a Hilton Honors Ascend card. Instead of keeping that one, I opted instead to take out the Hilton Honors Aspire card, a premium (read: more expensive) card that comes with a slew of benefits I was sure I could maximize to make up for the extra fee.
For starters, the card confers Diamond status, which helped get us our upgrade (to a room that runs more than $1,000 per night!), discounts at restaurants, free breakfast/tea time/happy hour, and a bottle of champagne that we drank in the hot tub for Jake’s birthday. It also came with a $250 resort credit, which we put toward a lunch at Ithaa that we never could have afforded otherwise.
In terms of earning miles, the Aspire gets 14x points per dollar, which really added up when it was time to pay our room bill at the end of our stay. Let’s just say the bill put us well on our way to our next free hotel stay…
Have you been to the Maldives? Where did you stay? Let me know in the comments! >>
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