I must admit that I approached my visit to Outrigger Maafushivaru with a certain degree of trepidation.
When I first started reading about the hotel I thought that the images on the website looked fantastic but some older reviews had commented about the poor quality of the food and service.
Between this and the unwieldy name, it is fair to say that the marketing team here are facing an uphill struggle.
The reason I personally ended up visiting was because my friend James Asquith was going to be here for a couple of weeks and I had a gap in my schedule immediately after visiting the Waldorf Astoria. I figured that even if the hotel was awful the company would make up for it.
Thankfully, Maafushivaru thoroughly exceeded my expectations and ended up being one of my favourite hotels stays ever!
Maafushivaru doesn’t participate in any loyalty programs or preferential booking channels like Virtuoso.
Your best bet is to book directly on the hotel website since they have some really great offers on there. At the time of our stay they were even offering 49% off the rate shown on other websites!
(Again, this made me slightly suspicious at first but it is genuinely just an incredible deal.)
We stayed on a Dine around all-inclusive plan which gave us free rein to eat and drink almost anything at any time of day.
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Maafushivaru is located 60 miles away from Malé international airport in the Ari Atoll.
This is the same Atoll that hosts the Conrad Maldives and both Constance Moofushi and Constance Halaveli.
The resort is reached via a 25 minute seaplane transfer on TMA, the Maldivian national seaplane company.
We were met by a Maafushivaru representative at the airport arrivals hall and escorted over to the TMA desks, where our bags were weighed and our boarding passes were issued.
Unfortunately the resort didn’t make the greatest first impression here though, as they don’t have their own vehicles to transfer you to the seaplane lounge. Instead we had to crowd onto a public bus that didn’t depart until every seat was taken.
This is quite the contrast to the the luxury air-conditioned SUVs used by the Conrad.
The lounge was shared with a couple of other resorts: Kandolhu and Kuramathi, although we were the only guests there the entire time that we were waiting for our seaplane.
There was one member of staff on hand who told us our estimated departure time and offered us wifi codes as well as drink. We asked for sparkling water and he apologised saying they only had still. The ‘buffet’ was rather reminiscent of supermarket shelves during the early days of COVID… thankfully the bathroom had toilet paper in stock.
As first impressions go, this wasn’t exactly ideal.
When you consider that other resorts have Bentleys driving you to their exclusive waterfront enclaves, complete with a la carte dining and massages, it made me wonder whether the fantastic resort images I’d seen on the website were entirely accurate…
Thankfully, it was only around an hour until we boarded another public bus to the seaplane gate.
We waited in the tiny departure lounge for another 15 minutes or so until they called for, “all passengers for Lux and Maafushivaru”. Much like the sharing of lounges, it is not unusual to share a seaplane with guests travelling to other nearby resorts on the same atoll.
On board, Travel hygiene kits were distributed and we were reminded that masks needed to be worn at all times.
Despite the cramped seats, lack of air-conditioning and massively loud propellers the seaplane experience is always a genuine joy. You just can’t beat the incredible views.
A view of Kandolhu from the plane – one of the resorts that shares the lounge with Maafushivaru..
We actually flew past Maafushivaru and stopped first at LUX* South Ari Atoll. The plane had to refuel so we all got off and watched as the hotel’s guests were welcomed to the island.
The staff were really jolly and friendly; when the plane was ready to leave one of them said to me, “I hope you enjoyed your stay, please come again soon!”.
Less than two minutes after taking off, we landed at Maafushivaru’s boat platform. Seaplanes land away from the resort so as not to disturb guests, which means that there is a final five minute boat transfer before finally reaching Outrigger Maafushivaru.
On the boat we were met by a super friendly island host who told us that we were now free to take our masks off since all staff and guests are tested and guests don’t generally wear masks at Maafushivaru (we found this to be the case at all Maldivian resorts during COVID).
As soon as we caught sight of the resort’s arrival pavilion we knew things had taken a turn for the better. Maafushivaru’s architecture is even more stunning in person and this was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg…
Walking towards the lobby I was struck by how pristine everything looked. Not just the buildings but the landscaping of the foliage too.
In the lobby we were presented with cold scented towels and some delicious drinks before being welcomed by the resort’s deputy manager, Sinnu. He is one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet and really on top of things too. Just from our first couple of staff interactions we could tell this was going to be a great stay.
The gigantic black marble and copper reception desk is a real statement piece and everywhere we looked there were more touches of design flair. I particularly liked the wooden tree branch sculpture which reminded me of a similar piece at Alila Villas Uluwatu.
After a very quick check-in procedure we were escorted to our Water Pool Villa by our very chatty and friendly hostess, who had previously worked as a Butler at the St. Regis Vommuli.
Immediately adjacent to the lobby we passed through the library lounge. If you’re an all inclusive meal plan you can have teas, coffees and snacks here whenever you want. They have a great selection of gelatos, panini and pastries – as well as books and board games (you can click the ‘Library Lounge’ title above for the latest menus).
With each passing step through the resort, Kamara and I were getting progressively more excited about this stay. Everywhere we looked there was another impressively curved roof or another enormous slab of white marble.
The resort is quite compact and almost has the feel of a village to it, with this large wooden deck by the main pool serving as a ‘town square’ of sorts.
As we continued on our way to our villa, we caught sight of the pool for the first time… this was the point at which Kamara and I broke into open mouthed, high eyebrow-ed, nodding smiles.
Our hostess caught us and said, “pretty cool right?”
“Very!”, I answered.
The journey to our room took us from the arrival pier on the left, past the pool in the centre and behind the Duplex villas on the right.
Beyond the pool we walked through the jungle interior of the resort, where I was once again struck by how beautifully maintained everything was. This was the perfect combination of the Waldorf’s meticulous landscaping and Anantara Veli’s dense and ancient foliage.
This path led us along the back of the very impressive looking Duplex Pool Villas… at the end of which was the Water Pool Villa pier.
The standard Water Villas without pools have been fully renovated on the inside though and still have access to an unbelievable lagoon, which is arguably better than any pool on Earth anyway.
The Water Pool Villas are so new that at the time of writing this, the pier still doesn’t even appear on Google Maps!
Every Maldivian resort has a different idea on how best to execute the concept of overwater villas. What I liked at Maafushivaru was the leaf shape of the pier, with long pathways separating each villa from the central walkway. This added to the feeling of privacy as the villas in the centre are very far from their neighbours on the opposite side.
The villas on the end of the pier get a slightly raw deal in this regard since they are not only much closer to the other villas, anybody accessing the house reef from the circular platform at the end of the pier can also see into the end villas’ pools.
Our Villa: 317, was almost exactly in the middle of the pier.
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Our villa had a very clever open plan design, making use of sliding walls to section areas off at different times of day. There was a small bar area right by the front door, with space for preparing beach bags for the day, as well as a small work desk.
The Liebherr wine fridge and Spiegelau glassware immediately revealed the hotel’s Teutonic ownership, with Irish cosmetics brand VOYA being used for all of the bathing amenities as well as the room scent diffuser.
The desk area was perfect for getting work emails and photo editing done in the mornings, whilst Kamara slept. I loved that I could slide the doors shut and be self sufficient here without disturbing her. Between the coffee machine and the direct door to the pool deck I had everything I needed.
The Bedroom design was seriously impressive, with a floating bed and bedside tables cantilevered from a white marble headboard dominating the centre of the room. Recessed lighting and parquet flooring really added to the overall appeal of this very modern and open feeling space.
The bed was a little on the firm side but I quite liked that. In any case, it wasn’t close to the spartan hardness of the beds at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (which I still love anyway).
Both bedside tables had universal power sockets and fast charging USB ports as well as master light switches.
Four wardrobes were located behind the bed, two either side of a central luggage rack. More than enough space for two weeks’ worth of clothes.
Beach towels, umbrellas, bathrobes, slippers and a yoga mat were also provided.
The bed faced straight out towards the sunset, with a large Smart TV tucked into a corner out of the way.
The TV had the most modern smart system I’ve ever seen in a hotel. This included a hotel login for Netflix so you didn’t have to share your personal details.
I was also extremely impressed with the blackout blinds. The image of the blinds below was taken in the middle of the day!
When we first arrived there was a welcome bowl of fruit but no drinks of any kind. Given that this is an all-inclusive resort I can’t imagine there would have been a huge incremental cost in giving guests a welcome bottle of champagne or even Prosecco.
Having said that, the turndown treats were beautifully presented and were a welcome second dessert after dinner each night.
The final thing that I noted in the bedroom was the amazing height of the ceiling. Combined with the abundance of space around the bed and the open plan design it really did make the room seem gigantic.
The bathroom was almost as cavernous as the bedroom. The white marble theme was further embraced here, with copper and black steel hardware bringing a distinctly modern edge to the proceedings.
The amount of counter space on offer was borderline absurd. You could start a small market stall here. This was particularly notable when compared to the limited counter space in the bathroom of our villa at the Waldorf Astoria.
A huge variety of amenities were available in the room, including full sized containers of lotion and other bathing products. Presumably Voya will have paid for the product placement but the fact that the containers were plastic rather than porcelain was rather jarring in the Maldives – where most resorts do everything in their power to cut down on plastic waste.
The bath was perfectly positioned and actually got a fair amount of use since we had such terrible luck with the weather. In fact I had more hot baths than dips in the pool during this November stay!
The shower was luxuriously gargantuan and the height of the rainfall head would have effortlessly breezed through my friend Brian Kelly’s TPG shower test. In fact this might be the tallest shower cubicle I’ve ever seen, given the height of the ceiling.
The outside deck was very impressive in its overall size. Despite featuring two sun loungers, a sofa and a small dining table, it still felt like there were acres of unused space. I really liked how much permanent shade there was too.
I’m pleased to report that we remained splinter free throughout our stay. Which is something that you can’t always count on with pool decks.
Unfortunately, the sky looked liked this for 2.5 of the 4 days we were here…
…but when the sun came out, this was an absolutely amazing place to be. The pool was a great size and really well maintained, with a ring of bright white stones to elegantly hide the drains.
I liked how there was a proper solid staircase leading to a lower level before you reached the swimming pool style steps into the lagoon. This was the most robust feeling set of stairs into a lagoon that I’ve encountered in the Maldives.
Speaking of the lagoon, it was utterly pristine and filled with all manner of amazing fish. The lagoon stretches almost as far as the eye can see if you’re on the sunset facing side of the Pool Villas, as we were.
Beyond the lagoon is the house reef, which encircles the island and is easily reached by dropping into the water at the end of the Water Pool Villa pier.
We saw plenty of reef sharks but our favourite experience was meeting a school of extremely curious batfish who followed us around for a good hour.
They are absolutely amazing creatures and appear to be bizarrely enthralled by the concept of human company.
(Snorkels and fins were provided free of charge at the dive centre.)
As I mentioned earlier, the stunning Azure blue pool creates the focal point for social life at Maafushivaru.
Service here was truly excellent, with staff always on hand to serve food and drink as well as ensuring that the sun loungers were properly cleaned and tidied after use.
The hot tub was a welcome addition on the windier days with grey skies.
You could pretty much set yourself up on any stretch of sand you like, since it is all powder soft and beautifully maintained. The beach directly in front of the pool benefitted from being close to all of the facilities like showers, bathrooms, bars and fresh towels.
The spa and gym protrude like the curved fingers of a Goliath into the ocean.
The entrance of the spa faces towards the main pool, which contributes to the ‘town square’ feel in this part of the resort.
I love the buzz you get at the pool because everything and everyone is clustered around it. This also means that the rest of Maafushivaru is completely tranquil; you probably won’t see anybody else all day, the moment you head away from here.
We didn’t have time for any spa treatments, although my friend James commented that they were excellent both in terms of execution and in value for money.
Instead we came to use the amazing spa deck with its sauna, steam room and glass walled pool that extends into the ocean.
A quick session in the sauna followed by a dip in the pool to watch the sunrise – if you have jet lag, I can’t think of many better ways to start your day!
The gym is located immediately adjacent to the spa and during COVID there is a booking policy in place. Guests have to reserve one hour slots, with the last 10 minutes used by staff to clean before the next guests enter.
The gym catered a hell of a lot more to cardio than weights. I honestly can’t ever imagine they’ll have 10 guests at once using cardio machines. I would have personally dropped one treadmill and one elliptical and replaced them with a smith machine.
One other weird thing here was the complete lack of any mirrors. There was a massive blank wall where a mirror would go, but for some reason the resort hadn’t put one there. I assume they’ll add it at some point.
Having said all that, the equipment was new, the air conditioning worked and there was a cool view of sharks swimming past. So still a very decent gym overall.
Click the restaurant names for access to the latest pdf menus.
I’m hugely passionate about food, as evidenced by the fact I flew to Sao Paulo just to have dinner at D.O.M. and then two years later flew to Chicago in order to have dinner at Alinea, flying straight back to London the next day on both occasions.
Ordinarily, I pick travel destinations for the food, but in this atoll nation you’re unlikely to stumble into a unique hole in the wall restaurant or the world’s most inventive Michelin starred cuisine.
What you are going to do is have every single one of your meals at the resort’s restaurants, which actually means that the quality and variety of hotel food is more important in the Maldives than almost anywhere else on earth.
If you’re in London and your hotel restaurant sucks? No problem, head outside and the world is your oyster.
In the Maldives, you are captive. Which incidentally is the same reason why I think food on safari is also massively important (but that’s a topic for another review).
It’s fair to say that the food at Maafushivaru didn’t get the best reviews in the past, so I was very interested to see how things would turn out during my stay. I had been assured by the PR team that the management had taken guest feedback on board and had radically improved the catering. I really hoped that this would turn out to be true…
An “a la carte buffet” breakfast was served each morning at Cuisine Gallery. Ordinarily this would be a full buffet but due to COVID the service was altered to reduce foot traffic and increase social distance. Cuisine Gallery is located just next to the gym, featuring an expansive deck that faces out to the Indian Ocean.
We picked the same table at the far side of the room every day since it felt the most private. Even the view away from the ocean was pretty amazing. On a sunny day, this is a hell of a way to wake up.
Breakfast began with the arrival of the buffet trolley. From here we selected which fruits, cereals and pastries we wanted for our table centrepieces. I prefer this to the method used by other hotels during COVID (like the Waldorf Astoria Rome), where the food on the stands is pre-determined and often goes to waste.
We were also presented with the a la carte menus below (which don’t feature on the website).
Honestly, breakfast was by far the weakest offering at the resort in terms of both service and food quality. It seemed like the staff were still getting their heads around the idea of the COVID protocols and whilst perfectly edible, none of the breakfast dishes were particularly well executed.
I wasn’t necessarily expecting a Japanese breakfast on the level of the Ritz Carlton Kyoto or even Four Seasons Singapore but what I received was basically a sea of soft beige mush. No colour, no crunch and most importantly: no pickles!
Having said that, the tamagoyaki was well executed and the steamed rice was fresh and fluffy.
I was expecting the Maldivian tuna to involve fresh seared chunks of fish. Instead, I got what looked like a meal a student would make on their first week at uni: a tin of tuna with some token spring onions and a couple of wraps.
The dosa was a floppy mess. Texture is everything in this dish and if the dosa isn’t fresh then frankly it isn’t worth eating. At least the accompanying sambar and chutneys were good.
The best thing about breakfast was the coffee, the views and the wildlife. Little water hens would come up to our table every morning curiously screeching at us before running off to chase each other through the nearby foliage.
On our second morning I spotted a shark’s fin out of the corner of my eye and jumped up to investigate. It turned out that a shark and a stingray were just casually hanging out a few metres from our table. This is what you come to the Maldives for!
Cielo is located under the impressive curved canopy that presides over the main pool. It is the resort’s European fine(ish) dining concept. We never ate here since it was always easier to have some casual tapas by the pool downstairs during the day. At night the allure of the overwater Japanese and Indian options was too strong for us…
Water Bar is the central nexus of Maafushivaru and is where we spent most of our time in the afternoons and early evenings. The seating for Water Bar is spread out all the way across the deck the surrounds the main pool.
When the sun was shining, there were plenty of spots to enjoy food and drink too.
Despite having a different name (and page on the hotel website), Las Tapas isn’t a different venue: it is simply the name of the all day dining menu served at Water Bar. It also came to be one of the defining features of our stay because the food was incredible.
During the day we would graze on all “design your own” sharing platters, with the grilled shrimp skewers and tacos being particular standouts. The corn tortillas were freshly made and the balance between the slaw and the shrimp was perfect.
It wasn’t just prawns that they did well, the ceviche with plantain chips was superb. However my favourite of all the tapas dishes was the ‘warm sushi’. Reef fish fillets battered absolutely perfectly, all crunch and no oil, together with a tempura fried tuna roll topped with extra spicy tuna. Absolutely unreal.
Kamara is super picky about pizza and generally insists that the crust should be approximately one micron thick. I’m pleased to report that she loved the prosciutto and fresh basil pizza, as did I.
I’m not usually a big carb guy but my friend James insisted that I try the freshly baked bread selection. I’m glad he did. It was mind blowing. So, so good and perfect for mopping up the sauce from a portion of fresh garlic prawns…as well as for soaking up a few pre-dinner cocktails.
Speaking of cocktails, the list was extremely impressive and it was clear that a great deal of thought had gone into the creation of the menu (all 23 pages of it!). Glassware, ice types and garnishes were all as meticulously considered, as you would expect in a top speakeasy in London.
During the day we tended to stick to fresh and spicy staples like margaritas and Moscow mules.
In the evenings the whole bar was transformed as if by magic, with the warm glow of lanterns reflecting against the illuminated pool. Pre-dinner G&Ts were very inventive, with a number of different variations on offer. My personal favourite drink was the Late Harvest Negroni, a beautifully balanced blend of Chianti, moscato, mezcal, Campari and orange juice garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary.
Beyond this, the bar staff were more than eager to take requests and any cocktail we could think of would just get billed as the separate ingredients and reduced to $0 since we were on the dine-around package.
Umi is the resort’s overwater Japanese restaurant. It sits on the beach on the far side of the island, between the two water villa piers.
Ordinarily the whole restaurant opens out to face the water but we were cursed with terrible weather on this stay so only experienced the restaurant with the window covers down. Given that there was no ocean view we made reservations to sit at the Teppanyaki grill where we were entertained by the fantastic Nepalese chef.
We started our meal with some sushi which was ok but not great. However the sashimi and the grilled miso aubergine were both excellent.
The teppanyaki menu consisted of us eating a tremendous quantity of fresh beef tenderloin, reef fish and shrimp. This was paired with all of the usual Benihana style spectacle that you might expect.
I’m not sure who showed greater talent here the chef…or James after five drinks.
Saving the best ’til last: Moodhu Grill is visually stunning. Like the sorting hat from Harry Potter come to life, a building with a series of private overwater dining platforms emanating from its centre.
Much like Cielo it is truly striking architecture, every bit as impressive as the likes of St Regis Vommuli or Joali. The interior is incredibly dramatic with the traditional tandoor requiring a chimney that rises all the way to the top of the structure.
The drama is offset wonderfully by the understated marble topped tables with their small lamps and low backed wicker chairs.
The staff here were amazing, super proactive and a lot of fun. Over the course of two dinners we tried pretty much every single dish on the menu and all of it was incredible. There must have been about 20 chefs in the open kitchen and they were superbly organised, cranking out one perfectly executed dish after another.
There genuinely wasn’t a single thing that I could fault with either of our meals here. Easily the best I’ve ever had in the Maldives.
James became so obsessed with the paneer tikka that we had to institute a group wide moratorium on uttering the words “paneer tikka” for the duration of our second meal…the staff helped us trick him into saying it and delivered his penalty tequila shot with great poise and professionalism.
The naans, the meat, the sauces. All of it was truly exceptional. If this restaurant was in the middle of a city, it would be fully booked months in advance.
☑︎ Power sockets near the bed
☑︎ Easy to understand light switches
☑︎ Coffee machine
☑︎ Separate shower and bath
☑︎ Blackout blinds
☑︎ Stable, fast and free Wifi
☑︎ Feather pillows
☑︎ Quiet and powerful aircon
Sometimes you really look forward to an experience and it lets you down. The weight of expectations just can’t live up to the hype.
Then you have an experience like this. I honestly wasn’t expecting a whole hell of a lot from Outrigger Maafushivaru, and instead it delivered one of my most fantastic hotel stays in recent memory.
The room hardware and architecture in the public spaces is spectacular. The lagoon is enormous and filled with a huge variety of ocean life.
The food and drink is the best I’ve ever encountered in the Maldives and the staff were the perfect combination of professional and fun.
At other Maldivian resorts, the service can veer a little too much into the overly formal, especially when you consider that most of the guests are in swim shorts and flip flops. At Outrigger Maafushivaru, the service is pitched perfectly – they really seem to “get it”.
I can’t imagine there’s any chance this resort will stay under the radar for long. Book your stay before it doubles in price.
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