In February 2017, I returned to one of the Hilton group’s flagship properties, the excellent Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.
As an aspirational redemption opportunity, it’s a destination that I know is high on the wish lists for many long term Hilton Honors members.
My last report was reasonably comprehensive, therefore I had initially intended this review to just cover highlights; but as you’ll soon discover it’s turned out to be a bit of an epic.
As an introduction, you may wish to review my previous article to fully prepare yourself for an extensive deep dive into my return to the Rangali…
I’ll get this long-haul effort out of the way first! British Airways (BA) have direct 10 hour overnight flights from London Gatwick (seasonal Oct-Mar).
We’d never experienced flying in a business class flat bed seat to the Maldives, so we decided to plan ahead and make this trip extra special. I booked a pair of Club World tickets as soon as they became available a year in advance.
As you might imagine we were eagerly looking forward to it for months, however our hopes were not realised. If you would like more details, please click on the link above. In summary we experienced the following:
- Enforced Downgrade mandated at check-in 8 hours before scheduled departure
- Refreshments not complimentary for business class ticket holders
- Baggage delayed almost 3 days
- 15 hour overnight delay on our return home
- A lack of genuine concern for the issues we encountered.
Arrival at Malé (MLE)
After enjoying superb views of the islands on approach, we noticed Malé Airport (MLE) is currently being redeveloped. It’s undergoing a huge construction project to build a new runway and terminal building, which looks likely to continue for a few years. We also noticed a bridge being constructed across to the neighbouring main island of Malé.
Upon disembarkation, you immediately feel the intensity of the sun and the warmth of the Maldives. This was particularly welcome after leaving a snowy UK the day before.
After passport control, we waited 30 minutes at the baggage carousel, collected only 1 of our 2 bags and then spent 20 minutes filling in a missing bag report. The local staff at the baggage desk kindly phoned the Conrad to let their Airport representative know why we hadn’t appeared off the BA flight.
Once through customs we met the friendly and helpful Conrad representative (Azu) and checked in our luggage for the Seaplane. The same weight restrictions of 25kgs each still apply, so remember to pack light.
We were then introduced to our dedicated helpful driver and his air conditioned Conrad minivan. He drove us to the other side of the airport to the Seaplane Terminal and carried our bags into the lounge.
Meeting welcoming staff and arriving at the Conrad lounge lightened our mood and helped us forget about the unnecessary inconvenience we’d encountered on the journey out. We started to really look forward to experiencing a level of service that is truly World Class.
The lounge is located upstairs at the Seaplane terminal, it’s a really good improvement on the lounge we used on our last trip which was a temporary installation on the ground floor. The lounge has a good selection of soft drinks, light snacks, sandwiches, salad bar, fruit, cakes and biscuits, etc. It also has a day spa, showers and changing area.
The relaxation loungers are great to enjoy the view of the lagoon runway/seaway and catch up on communications using the fast complimentary WiFi.
I’m pleased to announce the Neck & Shoulder massage is still complimentary, but sadly as we’d waited for so long for our missing bag, neither of us had time to take advantage before our Seaplane departure to the Conrad Rangali.
Ironically, 2 weeks later our BA flight home was delayed, so we enjoyed the Conrad Seaplane lounge facilities for a couple of hours. This allowed plenty of time for massages, a shower and a change of clothes. After leaving the lounge, our Conrad driver kindly accompanied us and our luggage to the check in desks and on to security departure gates. Once Airside, we used the shared International Lounge for our Club World flight home.
Seaplane to Rangali
Seaplane returns are still $560 each (inclusive of Tax), this fee is payable on departure from the Conrad at the end of your stay.
Although I’ve flown in a Seaplane a few times before, for an aviation fan it’s still great sitting on the front row, looking through the cockpit seeing the barefoot pilots fly the plane. Sharing their experience of the flight and taking in the views of the surrounding islands adds that bit of excitement to your journey.
Resort Map (pdf)
The map above shows the Rangali islands joined by a bridge where the Seaplane pontoon is located. The island on the lower left is the smaller thin island of Rangali (with Vilu) and the main island Rangalifinolhu (with Atoll) is on the right with the Retreat Water Villas at the top.
Bobby (Director of Operations) and Alex (Director of Guest Services) greeted us by name off the Seaplane, asked about our journey and assisted other staff members in lifting our luggage up the arrival ramp at the Seaplane pontoon. Whilst I thought this was a really nice gesture, it was not out of the ordinary. During my stay I witnessed them assist many other guests with their luggage and give the same excellent service.
Our resort host Anees (same as 2 years ago) greeted us and got us a refreshing sorbet, bottles of water and cool face towels. We then walked with Anees across the bridge to the main reception on Rangalifinolhu island to check in for our stay.
I got to look inside a few different types of accommodation during this stay. I’ll start with an overview of the accommodation of interest to most readers, the newly refurbished and thoughtfully upgraded;
A new sofa-bed is located on the right at the rear area where the outside fountain used to be, this has created a much larger usable living area.
The previous polished stone on the floors and shower wall area has been completely replaced with rough granite, this not only looks good but works very well to prevent the floors being slippery when you have wet feet.
The new bath tub is slightly smaller, this reduces the amount of time you have to wait for it to fill and the amount of water used.
The walk in wardrobe is spacious. The safe is large enough for a 14″ laptop.
Looking outwards towards the patio and garden area that leads to the beach.
View of the new granite stone patio area with stepping stones to the beach.
Overall I think these changes really enhance the accommodation. For a closer look inside a new refurbished King Beach Villa, feel free to view this video.
Whilst we would have been very happy to stay in a newly refurbished King Beach Villa, for our return we fancied staying in a Deluxe Beach Villa overlooking the reef.
I emailed the resort a few weeks in advance to:
- arrange seaplane transfers
- advise we were staying for a special occasion
- inform them I intended to write a follow up review
- discuss and organise upgrades for our stay.
Our first upgrade was to a Deluxe Beach Villa on the sunrise/reef side of Rangalifinolhu.
Our host Anees walked with us and showed us around the property. It’s an excellent indoor and outdoor living space, here’s a plan view below (3D view).
We entered the property through a wooden door into the garden area where there is a decorative fountain.
Outside is the large bath (takes a while to fill) – this has a view through the property to the beach, if you look carefully you can even see the sea.
Large Outdoor shower (complete privacy assured).
The attention to detail that staff demonstrate remains high and is always impressive.
Huge bed and great living space, we received welcome chocolates, wine and fruit.
View out onto the beach garden with private plunge pool, approx 1.2m deep.
Just like our King Beach Villa on our last trip, at night this area was also frequented by tiny cute hermit crabs. You might want to grab a torch and go look for them.
View from the beach back towards the patio.
View out to the east of Rangalifinolhu, overlooking the main reef.
Looking north up the beach.
Looking south, note the Heron fishing at sunrise on the beach.
On an evening we enjoyed walking past the Atoll restaurant and along the beach back to our villa.
Feeling the sand under your feet, the gentle breeze on your face and hearing the sea as you return to your private garden entrance, is the perfect way to end a relaxing evening.
Like the work done to the King Beach Villa, I also believe the Deluxe Beach Villas are also scheduled for similar refurbishment in the next couple of years.
As I mentioned in my last review, we’d previously stayed in an over water villa, it’s a very different experience to being in a beach villa. We had great memories of snorkelling from it to the reef dropoff. Approximately half way through our stay we arranged to transfer to a Retreat Water Villa once more.
The Retreat Water Villas are located at the far north of the main island, accessed over a wooden jetty at the Spa Retreat, a resort within a resort.
Our Retreat Water Villa (incredible Sunset Water Villas on far left).
3D Plan View.
Entrance area, sofas & desk, patio doors to decking.
Spacious bed and sleeping area. It’s the little extra touches that make such a difference.
Bathroom, changing area, including good wardrobe space, note the view through to dedicated private spa treatment / exercise room.
Private Spa room with twin treatment beds.
Bath with views out over the lagoon, bi-fold doors allow it to be open air.
Private Deck area with Sun Loungers.
View from the jacuzzi deck over the lagoon, Quiet Zone & Vilu restaurant in the distance.
Kitted up with life vests and off for another snorkel on the reef
Sleeping juvenile Lionfish under our Retreat Water Villa. We also noticed it being used as a nursery by many other fish. More underwater pics later on.
Watching a Black Spotted Eagle Ray fly by our Water Villa.
Our Retreat Water Villa as viewed from the other side of the lagoon. (Zoom lens!)
We were fortunate to experience some awesome sunsets from the deck.
I believe the Retreat Water Villas are scheduled for a refresh in the next year.
All in all, we thought staying over the water was a terrific experience. However, you maybe surprised to read that even if offered a free choice, we’d still want to experience both a Beach Villa and a Water Villa on any future visit. We like both equally for different reasons, having the variety of the two different types of accommodation is a really good way to appreciate different parts of the resort.
Our snorkel buddies stayed in one of the Superior Water Villas on the smaller island of Rangali. These are also currently undergoing improvements, replacing the wooden floors and general redecoration.
View from the deck of our friends Superior Water Villa to the outer reef, also great for sunsets.
If you are interested in any type of upgrade then you should contact the hotel in advance to enquire. Any special deals you are offered really depends on many factors, such as season, accommodation capacity, etc.
Complimentary Breakfast (7-11am)
Breakfast is still served in two locations. There’s a huge variety of Buffet choices at Atoll on Rangalifinolhu or a mixture of a more select buffet and à la carte at Vilu at Rangali island.
Complimentary Afternoon Tea (4-5pm)
Comprises of sandwiches, cakes, scones, biscuits and a large selection of teas. This experience was previously complimentary just for repeat guests, but has now been extended for Hilton Honors Gold and Diamond members. It’s usually held at Mandhoo, but can sometimes move to Vilu dependent on the prevailing weather and/or the number of Hilton Honors Elite members at the resort.
Complimentary Happy Hour at Vilu (5-6pm)
Located at Vilu Restaurant, this was previously open to guests in Rangali island Water Villas and Gold & Diamond members, but now exclusively for Gold & Diamond members.
A plate of 4 light appetisers is also served to each guest just after they order their first drink.
From Vilu looking south down the beach you can just see the Quiet Zone and the bridge.
Managers reception at Quiet Zone
The invites for this event are left at your accommodation the day before. It is usually for Gold and Diamond members and special guests. It normally occurs on a Tuesday (approx 6:30pm onwards). I might have slightly over indulged on my first visit, thankfully the staff are familiar speaking with very happy and enthusiastic guests!
Quiet Zone is a short walk down the beach from Vilu.
This photo shows the infinity pool at the end of the jetty from the Quiet Zone.
After enjoying drinks at the Quiet Zone, we walked back across the bridge looking for signs of sea-life in the lights near the Seaplane Pontoon where Rays can sometimes be spotted.
The Rangali Bar is on the other side of the bridge on the main island, great for sunsets.
Our favourite cocktail was the coffee inspired Affogato, more like a dessert than a drink.
Here’s a sunset with George the Heron from the Rangali Bar.
Photography – catch a sunrise (7am) as well as the sunsets (7pm). Adjusting to the timezone (UTC+6) always takes me a few days. I’d often wake early, make myself a Cappuccino (Nespresso machine in all rooms) and go for a 30 minute walk on the beach to catch the morning light, before returning for a morning snorkel. The gardening staff are also up with the daylight, sweeping the beach keeping it pristine.
Here’s a couple of sunrise photos from Mandhoo restaurant on the Spa Retreat.
And here’s a couple of the sunrise from the Infinity Pool at the Quiet Zone.
Breakfast – Whilst the buffet selection at Atoll is fantastic, we preferred eating à la carte at Vilu. As we enjoy an early morning snorkel first, we’d arrive at about 10:30am and take our time enjoying the lovely setting. I tried the excellent Oysters Rockefeller on my birthday with sparkling Rosé.
Ahmed (Assistant F&B Manager) and the rest of the team based at Vilu were extremely helpful, nothing was too much trouble, such as an extra side order of bacon with Eggs Benedict.
I was also particularly fond of the DimSum.
And the local Maldivian Mas-Huni (Chillli/Onion/Lime/Tuna wraps).
Thai Prawn Omelette with Mango salad was another favourite.
Our snorkel buddies were very keen on the Maldivian fish curry, followed by the french toast with passionfruit and coconut ice cream.
Weather – The intensity of the sun in the Maldives is exceptionally strong, ensure you have adequate UV protection. I try and cover up when in the sea snorkelling using a long sleeve surf shirt.
We also encountered slightly stormy weather for a couple of days.
I had a quick chat with the lifeguard on the beach about the forecast, it wasn’t likely to change for that day.
Rather than risking rough seas and strong currents snorkelling during the afternoon, I popped to reception and rented a couple of complimentary DVDs to watch on the Blu-Ray player in our villa.
Transport – The electric powered buggy cars are particularly useful when staying in a Retreat Water Villa (given their relatively remote location). I’d suggest phoning reception to order a buggy 20-30mins in advance.
Our host Anees, kindly volunteered to book buggies for us as he was willing to ensure they got us to our destinations at our preferred times (normally Vilu for Breakfast and Afternoon Tea/Happy Hour).
If available and convenient, take the Dhoni across the calm lagoon, it’s a free scenic boat ride and gives you great views of both islands and the bridge that spans the resort.
Minimum stay – I recommend you stay for at least 5 nights. Ideally if you have time go for more and give yourself time to unwind.
Our previous stay was 10 nights on points, this time we stayed 12 nights using a Hilton Visa Certificate each and 760,000 Hilton Honors points.
Minimum status – Hilton Honors Gold is necessary to enjoy the benefits already mentioned.
Additional Extras – Resort charges are subject to ++ (“Plus, Plus”). There is a service charge and resort tax that equates to a non-trivial 23.2% extra above advertised prices.
Dining out – As featured in my previous review, our favourites are still Sunset Grill and Mandhoo, the location at both make it a perfect evening.
Steak and Lobster at Sunset Grill.
Seared Tuna at Mandhoo.
Special Dining Opportunities – (Not experienced on this trip)
Champagne and Lobster Barbeque.
Ithaa Underwater Restaurant. The easiest way to experience this unique venue is to enjoy a cocktail for $76++.
Entertainment – Maldivian themed night is normally on a Monday, this is how it looked setting up near the Ari Lounge Reception (near Vilu).
We enjoyed watching the sunset whilst listening to the live music at the Rangali Bar.
Rewarding Exclusive Hilton Honors Loyalty
Given the appeal of such a special place and the enthusiasm I’ve demonstrated in my reviews, you might imagine the resort has its collection of regular repeat visitors.
It does, and then some…
As you will have gathered this was our second visit. We spoke to many guests, some that have been maximising any promotions they find to earn enough points to allow them to come back year after year.
I would suggest that the Conrad Rangali is the jewel in the crown for the Hilton group. Many loyal guests will dedicate their spending to the Hilton brand across the world so that they can later redeem points in the Maldives.
Some now have their number of visits into double digits, and many dedicated Hilton Honors members stay for 10+ nights at a time, some even more, a lot more…
For such loyal guests that meet a special set of criteria there are exclusive benefits such as the Sunset Cruise.
Point Redemptions (and other insider info.)
I learnt that Hilton Honors point redemptions currently account for approximately 1 in every 6 bookings at the resort.
I’ve read recent newspaper articles that highlight proposals for substantial foreign investment to develop many new resorts across the Maldives. There’s even rumours of plans to develop a Waldorf Astoria on a new large resort spanning 3 islands in the next few years. I also heard a guest speculate on the possibility of an existing hotel resort rebranding as a DoubleTree.
With this future projected level of increased competition, based on the conversations I had with Conrad staff, I feel the amount of Hilton Honors points required for a redemption in a King Beach Villa will remain at 95,000 points / night for some time yet.
This is still my primary reason for visiting the Maldives, we snorkelled every day. Even on our first afternoon at the resort we spotted a stingray within 10 minutes of being in the water.
If you are interested in snorkelling, you can rent a free life vest from the Watersports centre. The Ocean Dive centre will provide free mask, snorkel and fins. They will also show you how to use them, including tips on how to prevent the mask fogging up and how to clear it.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, a great new addition is the provision of friendly lifeguards. They advise guests how to snorkel safely and responsibly to ensure the protection of the reef. This chap below is Muhusin, a very helpful and cheerful guy.
Our Snorkel Route from our Retreat Water Villa, heading south along the entire reef dropoff, at a depth of 10m+. It’s only recommended for experienced snorkelers equipped with a buoyancy aid.
Life on the reef
The El Nino event in 2016 resulted in many reefs in the Maldives being exposed to coral bleaching. These next two photos are of the same coral structure at the edge of the reef drop off. If you compare them you’ll see it highlights the effect of the warmer sea temperatures, especially on table/plate corals.
Whilst the corals have been affected, there still appeared to be lots of interesting sea-life to enjoy. I’m fairly certain that some Rays and Turtles are the identical creatures we saw 2 years ago.
Here’s some examples of the diverse variety of life on the reef.
School of Blue Striped Snapper.
Black Spotted Eagle Ray.
Turtle – (Video here).
Hunting Octopus – (Video here).
Here’s another Octopus.
The same Octopus in flight moments later.
Stonefish (Venomous – photo taken using camera zoom).
White Tip Reef Shark.
Black Tip Reef Shark.
Giant Moray Eel – (Video here).
SCUBA Diving – Ocean Dive Centre info (pdf)
As you may remember, I didn’t feel the need to dive on my last trip. I soon learnt that there had been recent sightings of Manta Rays. I made sure I registered with the Ocean Dive centre to try and see them!
Dives are $90++, Equipment is also charged per dive. (BCD $8++, Regulator $8++).
Even though I’d dived recently and my qualifications and experience didn’t require it, they offer a complimentary “shake down” dive in the safety of the lagoon. I was more than happy to go along as it’s also useful to orientate yourself with any equipment you’re hiring.
All went well with a short dive to 6m. The purpose of the dive was basically so we could prove to the instructor that we could confidently control our buoyancy in the water, clear our masks and cope if our regulator got knocked out accidentally. All good sound diving practice.
Approximately 10 of us departed from the Pontoon Bridge on a Dhoni Dive Boat.
As I’m a reasonably experienced diver, I was paired up on my own with an understanding instructor which I really appreciated as she allowed me the freedom to do my own thing and stop to take photos.
First dive was a scenic drift dive at RehiThila which is about 20 minutes boat ride to the south, where I saw a pretty cool Ghost Pipe Fish.
For the second dive we moved to Rangali Madivaru (Manta Point) which is just south of the Conrad Resort. Where at an approx depth of 15m, I was lucky enough to be treated to 30 minutes with the spaceships of the sea (Video Here).
I’ll finish off this article by saying thanks to you for patiently reading and add how much I appreciated all the great staff at the Conrad for looking after us to provide another fantastic experience.
Conrad staff: Bobby, Alex, Anees, Kurt, Ahmed and the attentive F&B team at Vilu.
The lifeguard Muhusin and the teams at the Watersports and Ocean Dive centres.