Marriott Bonvoy Category 5 gem: A review of the new Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa
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“So, it is as good of a deal as it seems?” That’s what TPG director of content Summer Hull asked me shortly after my recent stay at the new Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa. And my answer was a resounding yes.
Back when Marriott Bonvoy revealed the resort would open on 1 September 2021 as a Category 5 property with sunrise overwater villas bookable for the standard redemption rate, the points and miles community went crazy. Some said booking an overwater villa for as little as 24,000 points per night was an insane deal. But others noted the $420 (£308) roundtrip seaplane transfers significantly decreased the redemption’s appeal.
My husband and I already had a Maldives holiday in the works, though. So, I was eager to add a stay at Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa to our itinerary. Here are my thoughts after visiting the resort about two weeks after its grand opening.
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Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa is a Marriott Bonvoy Category 5 hotel. So, I redeemed 30,000 points per night for two nights in a beach bungalow. And then I redeemed two up-to-35,000-point certificates for two more nights in a sunrise overwater villa. Both of these room types are bookable for the standard award rate when there’s availability.
This resort is an excellent use of Marriott Bonvoy points and free night awards. After all, TPG values Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.7 pence each. So, an off-peak night would cost you points worth about $240 (£176), while a peak night would cost you points worth about $320 (£234). Cash rates — especially for the sunrise overwater villa — almost always top $320 (£234), so you’re getting tremendous value when redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points at this resort.
Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa is in Lhaviyani Atoll north of Male. The resort is on Thilamaafushi Island, reachable with a 35-minute Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane from Male.
However, seaplane flights usually only fly during daylight hours. So, your international arrival flight must have a scheduled arrival time of 3:30 p.m. or earlier. Otherwise, you’ll need to overnight in the Male area and travel to Le Meridien the next day.
A few weeks before my stay, an agent from the resort emailed me inquiring about my arrival and departure flight information. I sent over this information and the agent responded that someone would be waiting when we arrived in Male. Marriott charges the following for round-trip seaplane transfers:
- Under 2 years old: Complimentary.
- 2 to 11 years old: $210 (£154) per person.
- 12 years old and older: $420 (£308) per person.
As expected, an agent was waiting when we exited customs. After greeting us, he hurried us over to a desk marked W Maldives and Sheraton Maldives. As he wrote bag tags for Le Meridien, he apologized for the rush but noted we had limited time before our seaplane would depart.
After writing bag tags, he took us to the Trans Maldivian Airways check-in counter. Then a private van whisked us away to the seaplane terminal. The van dropped us in the Trans Maldivian Airways VIP lounge, but we’d barely sat down in the lounge before an agent told us our plane was ready and that we should follow her.
The agent led us to a small three-gate building where other agents would announce destinations and then lead groups of passengers out to waiting seaplanes. After struggling to understand agents as they announced the destinations for two departing planes, we heard Le Meridien and eagerly walked with seven other passengers out to our waiting seaplane.
Our Trans Maldivian Airways plane offered 15 seats in a 1-2 seating configuration. However, since only nine passengers were on the flight, the last row of seats was used for luggage storage and all but one passenger got a window seat. We flew to Le Meridien without stopping at any other resorts.
At the end of our stay, we were once again the only Le Meridien passengers on our plane. But this time, there were only three seats open on the 15-seat plane. We didn’t stop at any other resorts on the way back to Male. Once in Male, a bus took us back to the international arrivals area of the airport.
A Le Meridien representative helped us collect our baggage and then waited until a representative from our next resort came to meet us.
When the seaplane landed, a group of Le Meridien staff members came to greet us and collect our baggage. We were given mint-scented cold towels before walking with one of the staff to the check-in area. Here we were given a ton of information about the resort, selected our welcome amenity (breakfast) and scheduled a PCR test (as required by our next resort).
We’d booked two nights in each of the room types bookable with points (beach bungalow and sunrise overwater villa). However, during check-in, the agent noted we would be in the sunrise overwater villa for four nights. I said we’d prefer to do two nights in each of the room types we booked, but he said he’d need to speak with his manager the next day.
After checking in, the agent drove us in a golf cart to our sunrise overwater villa on the other end of the island.
Sunrise overwater villa
You can currently redeem 30,000 to 40,000 Marriott points per night to book a sunrise overwater villa. You may be surprised by the villa’s modest size when you arrive. But we found that the villa felt like the perfect size as we settled in.
When you walk into the overwater villa, you’ll see a counter behind the headboard of your king bed. And the king bed faces sliding double doors that look out at turquoise water.
At the base of the bed, there’s a chaise lounge. And on both sides of the bed, there are nightstands. Each nightstand has a small drawer and shelf. And above each nightstand is a universal power outlet, a lamp and light switches.
On one side of the bed, there’s a chair with two small side tables. A welcome gift of Champagne, chocolates and macarons waited on one of these tables. On the other side of the bed is a cabinet with storage space and a 55 1/2-inch television.
Behind the bed in a nook by the entrance door is a large cabinet that contains the minibar, complimentary water in reusable glass bottles and coffee and tea supplies. This Le Meridien supplies Dilmah tea (Brilliant Breakfast, Pure Chamomile Flowers and Sencha Green Extra Special) with a hot water kettle and Illy coffee with an Illy iperEspresso coffee machine.
On the other side of the entrance door is the walk-in closet with two saloon-style swinging doors. In the tropical, flamingo-themed closet there are:
- Two umbrellas.
- Two life jackets (one medium, one large).
- Two robes.
- Four pants hangers and six shirt hangers.
- Two pairs of slippers (one small, one large).
- Two pairs of flip-flops (European sizes 39 and 41, so about women’s 8 and 10 in U.S. sizes).
- An ironing board and a JVD Vivo II iron.
- Laundry bag and price list for washing or pressing.
- Electronic safe.
- Lighted and magnifying makeup mirror (which you could move elsewhere).
- Large luggage bench.
- A for-purchase beach bag ($35 plus taxes and fees).
Next to the closet is a table with a three-fold mirror on top. This area could serve as a makeup counter, but I used it as a desk. I was initially skeptical that the wooden stool would be comfortable, but I didn’t find it uncomfortable even when I sat on it for multiple hours. The left-hand drawer of this desk holds a JVD ionic 1,875-watt hair dryer.
On one side of the desk is a small room with a tall glazed window and a toilet.
And on the other side of the desk is the bathroom. The sink area, which contains two sinks and plenty of counter space, is first. You’ll find amenities (including hand soap, lotion, dental kits, a comb, shaving kit, loofah, vanity kit with cotton swabs and a cotton pad, and a shower cap) between the sinks. In front of the sinks is a plush mat. And across from the sinks is an opening to the bedroom with shutters that you can close for privacy.
But the highlight of the bathroom and perhaps the room is the shower and tub. A glass wall with a swinging door separates the wet room from the sink area. And you’ll get great views of the water from both the shower and the tub. The tub is 70 inches long and I found it comfortable for relaxing and enjoying the views. Meanwhile, the shower has a rainfall feature and a hand-held option. Mint-scented shampoo, conditioner and body wash are available in small refillable bottles.
I felt the tinted windows provided adequate privacy from snorkelers and kayakers. But if you want more privacy, you can lower the shades. However, then you won’t be able to enjoy the view.
Out on the porch, there’s a table with two chairs, an overwater net for lounging and two lounge chairs with a small table between them. There’s also a ladder into the water and a freshwater hand-held shower. I loved lying on the overwater net and enjoyed that the patio was shaded in the afternoon.
There’s also a sliding door that leads directly to the bathtub and shower area from the patio. So after swimming, you can go straight into the shower area.
The room offered blackout curtains in the bedroom that worked well. But, as we were staying in a sunrise villa, we happily got up each morning before sunrise to watch the sky light up.
One final note about the room: The sunrise and sunset overwater villas are the same, except for their location and view. As such, I wouldn’t pay more to book a sunset villa instead of a sunrise villa.
My specific room didn’t have any notable accessible elements. And I spoke with a staff member at the resort who noted that there are no accessible rooms on-site.
Wheelchair users may face issues since there isn’t clearance under the bed or vanity. And, there’s a slight lip between the sink area and shower area. The entrance door to my room was 43 inches wide and the bed was 27 inches high.
The sand pathways throughout this resort may make for a problematic stay if you have limited mobility. And there aren’t any pool lifts or beach ramps.
However, a staff member I spoke with noted that the resort would attempt to meet accessibility requests made by guests, including those in wheelchairs. So if you have specific accessibility questions or needs, I recommend contacting the resort well before your stay.
I’d booked a beach bungalow for the first two nights of my stay, but the resort assigned me a sunrise overwater villa for my entire stay. And although the resort has seven beach bungalows near the seaplane dock, none were available during my stay.
However, a staff member offered to show me a beach villa. Beach villas use the same room layout as beach bungalows; the only difference between bungalows and villas is that villas are better located.
The interior of the beach bungalows and villas are similar to the overwater villas. But, the air-conditioned part of the beach villas and bungalows is smaller than the air-conditioned part of overwater villas.
Beach bungalows and villas each have a walled courtyard with a private outdoor garden shower, standard shower and sink area. The garden shower is beautiful, but you’ll be in the humid Maldivian heat while using the showers and sink area.
The outdoor living area of the beach bungalows and villas is different from the overwater villas, too. Instead of an overwater porch, you’ll get a sandy entranceway and a door to an outdoor patio with direct access to the beach. There’s a couch on the patio. But for most villas, water views are obstructed by plants. Out on the beach, each beach bungalow or villa has lounge chairs and a sun umbrella.
Food and beverage
Le Meridien offers six restaurants and cafes as well as room service. During my stay, I tried all the options except Waves Cafe (a cafe focused on organic, sustainable meals open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily) and Latitude (a restaurant with coffee and deli items available 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily).
Dining tends to be expensive at resorts in the Maldives, and Le Meridien isn’t an exception. However, as Platinum and Titanium elites, we got 20% off our bill when dining at restaurants (excluding room service). And we got daily breakfast at Turquoise included since we chose breakfast as our welcome amenity.
We paid for other meals a la carte as we went, but the resort also offers meal plans that you can add to your booking (such as breakfast and dinner for $95 per night per adult). All prices mentioned in this section are before taxes, tips and fees.
Breakfast at Turquoise
Turquoise is where you’ll find buffet dining at each meal. Breakfast is from 7 a.m.-11 a.m., lunch is from 12-2:30 p.m. and dinner is from 6:30-10 p.m. We ate breakfast here daily since Turquoise is the only restaurant to serve breakfast.
I was impressed by the variety of food offered during breakfast. Each morning there was a selection of Maldivian, Asian, Chinese, Western and European food. Plus, there were plenty of fruits, juices, coffees and even mimosas. I especially enjoyed that the coffee bar had a different coffee flavour each day, such as banana or hazelnut.
There’s a variety of seating available at Turquoise, including an indoor air-conditioned area, an airy outdoor covered seating area and an area on the beach with large shade umbrellas.
Dinner at Velaa Bar + Grill
Velaa acts as a poolside bar during the day, serving lunch and drinks from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. But at night, Velaa becomes a chill yet refined restaurant serving dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
I arrived for dinner shortly after sunset and received my choice of tables in the open-air dining area or by the pool. I opted for poolside dining and ordered the “premium grade local tuna fillet” — which happened to be the least expensive main dish on the menu at $45 (£33).
I ordered my tuna medium, and that’s how it came. The tuna flaked nicely and didn’t need a knife. I enjoyed the mushrooms served on top of the tuna steaks and eggplant served under them. The butternut squash puree served next to the steaks was mildly sweet and creamy. In short, I loved my meal choice.
Bread and still water were served with my meal for no additional charge. The host and my server for this meal were friendly and attentive — and I enjoyed the Maldivian chilli sauce that my server recommended with the tuna.
Dinner at Tabemasu
On our third night, my husband and I decided to try out Le Meridien’s “distinct dining experience,” Tabemasu.
We ordered a variety of dishes to share. Here are my thoughts on what we ordered:
- Maguro tartare: This $25 (£18) appetizer came as light, caramelized sesame cones filled with maguro tartare. The combination of the cones and the tartare was excellent, making it my favourite dish of the night.
- Sashimi shake: This $20 (£14) dish with five excellent cuts of salmon was a close second for my favourite dish.
- Makimono spicy tuna: This $25 (£18) dish consisted of six sushi roll pieces with tuna, avocado and cucumber. This roll was fresh and enjoyable.
- Shrimp tempura: The $30 (£22) shrimp was fresh and lightly fried.
- Tsubu-miso gako hinadori: The chicken skin made the pieces difficult to separate into bite-size chunks. I wouldn’t order this $40 (£29) dish again due to the difficultly we had eating it.
We also tried an $18 (£13) drink each: the Geisha and the Hiroshima. I found both drinks refreshing, but I think your money is better spent on food at this restaurant.
Dinner at Riviera
On my last night, I went to Riviera near the adults-only pool for some light bites. I ordered the frose frozen drink for $16 and found the light and refreshing drink fit nicely with the ambience of sitting by the pool watching the sunset.
Along with my drink, I made dinner out of three small dishes:
- Summer rolls: This $20 (£14) dish consisted of four raw vegetable summer rolls served with a tasty coconut yoghurt dip (it would be a great poolside snack).
- Pimientos y chorizo frito: This meat-heavy plate cost $30 (£22) and consisted of spiced pork chorizo served with a few slices of bread and bell peppers.
- Truffle fries: This $15 (£11) dish consisted of fries topped with cheese and served with ketchup and a sweet sauce on the side. The fries were crisp and the sweet sauce was delicious.
Each of these dishes was uniquely different, yet they went well together. However, for the price I paid, I preferred my meal at Velaa.
Room service for dinner
I was tired when I arrived at Le Meridien, so my first night, I ordered tandoori butter chicken with dal makhani, kachumber salad and naan bread from room service at 8:20 p.m. The phone agent said my food would arrive in 45 minutes, but it only took 25 minutes.
I didn’t say when I ordered one meal from room service that I was dining alone. So, I thought it was nice that the waiter brought two sets of utensils and plates with the meal. He said most guests eat on their patio, so I asked him to set up my meal there.
I should have paid attention to the chilli indication on the room service menu, though, as the butter chicken and dal makhani were both spicy. But, I found the meal filling and enjoyed the freshly baked naan. This meal cost me $40 (£29).
Le Meridien Maldives’ main pool and kids pool are in the middle of the island near the Turquoise and Velaa restaurants. Large fluffy green towels are freely available and there are bathrooms and two shower rooms (stocked with towels, shampoo, conditioner and body wash) near the pool. There were always empty lounge chairs in the shade and sun by these pools when I walked by.
There’s also an adults-only pool near the Riveria restaurant. This pool and restaurant are both excellent spots to watch the sunset.
You can rent various watersports equipment from the watersports centre near the main pool from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Some nonmotorized watercraft, including kayaks and standup paddleboards, are complimentary.
The dive centre is located near the seaplane dock and is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Here you can book diving and snorkelling tours. But you can also pick up a complimentary mask, snorkel and fins for use during your stay. You just have to return the items at least four hours before you depart to avoid any charges.
The Explore Spa by Le Meridien is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m and offers a selection of spa services. I didn’t try any spa services during my stay. But, to give you an idea on pricing, a classic relaxing 60-minute massage would have cost $130 (£95) plus taxes, tips and fees.
Near the two-bedroom beach villas are the Kids Hub, which the resort says offers an “edutaining program that nurtures discovery and conservation” from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. There is also a large children’s playground in this area. And the resort also offers in-room babysitting services for a fee.
The Waves Lifestyle Hub has a creative arts studio on the bottom floor. During my stay, there was a sign outside the studio inviting guests to make a decorative bag. There were also two easels and painting supplies available.
On the second floor of the Waves Lifestyle Hub is the gym and an outdoor patio. The gym is open 24 hours a day.
Between the Waves Lifestyle Hub and the Kids Hub is the Marine Conservation Hub. No one seemed to staff the hub during our stay, but there was plenty of information that could help you identify sea life you might see while snorkelling.
There are coral planters near the overwater villas that are teeming with fish. So, even if you don’t want to battle the currents (which were strong during our stay) to swim out to the house reef, you can still snorkel to see fish without taking an official tour away from the resort. We also saw a ray and a turtle from our villa.
Near the hub in the middle of the island is a medical clinic open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can stop by if you have any medical needs, but this is also where you’ll go if you need a PCR test ($120 per person plus taxes and fees) or wellness check before your departure.
Wi-Fi is included for all guests with no limit on the number of devices you can connect. When I ran a speed test from my room, I got 9.44 Mbps download and 9.53 Mbps upload.
Finally, Le Meridien offers three complementary wellness activities each day. I was given the calendar of these activities at check-in; here’s what the September 2021 calendar looked like:
I attended sunrise yoga, stretch and relax and water aerobics. These courses mostly hit the right balance of challenging and fun. Still, the instructors occasionally went through the exercises too quickly (especially considering many attendees seemed to be beginners).
Some guests might wish Le Meridien provided bikes. However, you can call for a shuttle cart whenever you need one. And, although I would have appreciated talks or activities with marine biologists, I did enjoy the self-serve information at the Marine Conservation Hut.
Overall, the service at Le Meridien Maldives was excellent. For example, our housekeeper left us a happy anniversary note on our bed one night. And a staff member offered to give us a tour of a beach villa partway through our stay when a beach bungalow wasn’t available.
We also found that almost every staff member would greet us when we walked by. And although cart traffic made walking on the island’s one road difficult at times, I appreciated that carts would pause for me to walk by and turn off their lights as they approached after dark. Service was also generally refined yet friendly at meals.
As part of each hotel review, TPG staff are supposed to see what a hotel does when a guest needs a new key. Sadly, this happened twice naturally during my stay. However, in both cases, staff didn’t check our identification or ask any questions since they recognized us and knew we were the correct room occupants.
Le Meridien Maldives is an excellent Category 5 sweet spot right now. Yes, you will have to pay the seaplane transfer fees and dining costs during your stay. But, if you’re looking to book a stay in the Maldives using points and miles, Le Meridien is a compelling option. And, based on my experience, the sunrise overwater villa will give you that aspirational overwater villa experience.
- Sunrise overwater villa
- Pros: Deck with water views, bathtub with a view, direct access from your deck to the shower area, a makeup area that doubles as a desk, table with seating for two on your patio.
- Cons: Long walk from most resort buildings, squeaky salon doors to the closet area.
- Beach bungalow
- Pros: Outdoor shower area in a private garden area, sand art at the room entrance, direct access to the beach.
- Cons: No bathtub, sinks and showers are outdoors without air conditioning.
I’d 100% pick the sunrise overwater villa if I returned to Le Meridien Maldives. After all, I love that I can redeem a modest amount of points for an overwater villa in the Maldives. And I loved sitting on the overwater villa’s deck and watching the sea life below.
Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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