We love the Maldives. We recently made our third trip to this nation of islands in the Indian Ocean, and we can’t seem to get enough of its spectacular white sand beaches, crystal clear water, and luxurious resorts. Our first stop this trip was to JOALI, an ultra-luxury resort that opened in late 2018 and features expertly appointed villas and personalized care. Lance and I love visiting new properties, so we were very excited to check it out – JOALI did not disappoint!
COVID-19 Protocols in the Maldives and JOALI
The Maldives is perfectly positioned right now to capture the market of luxury travelers who want to get away safely. When we visited, the Maldives required a negative PCR test upon arrival and JOALI’s on-site doctor tested guests again upon arrival at the resort. The island is private and may only be used by resort guests and staff, so it is a natural bubble. Furthermore, the standalone villas that house guests make distancing effortless. Because of all these protocols, guests are not required to wear masks at the resort, which was a welcome taste of pre-pandemic life.
I partnered with JOALI on a hosted stay for this trip, but I would recommend booking either directly with the property or through a travel advisor, depending on what amenities each may be offering at the time of booking. If you book through a Virtuoso advisor, you would receive the following benefits:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Daily à la Carte breakfast for two guests per bedroom
- Welcome Amenity: Fruit basket and a bottle of champagne
- $150 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay
- Complimentary 30-minute spa treatment for up to two adult guests, once during stay
- Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
In light of COVID, JOALI has been enticing guests with offers on their website ranging from 25-30% off, depending on dates, which makes this an incredible time for you to book this ultra-luxury property. In the off-peak months (April through November), rates are as low as $1,285/night under this offer (normally $1,840) for the base room category, excluding taxes and fees. If JOALI continues this booking offer into the future, it’s absolutely worth jumping on; in peak season, prices start around $2,960/night, but that same room would come down to about $2,070/night under this offer. Peak season is usually late December through February.
Note that taxes, fees, and required seaplane rides to the resort are additional. Taxes and fees add roughly 24% to your room total and the shared seaplane is $1,320 roundtrip per person. If you’re going with a larger group or just want the ultimate in luxury, the JOALI seaplane can be booked on a private basis for up to eight passengers for $8,800.
Located on the remote, private island of Muravandhoo in the Raa atoll in the northern Maldives, JOALI is surrounded by deserted islands, making it ideal for feeling like you’ve truly left everything behind. JOALI opened in late 2018, and its contemporary design set the bar high for luxury properties in the Maldives, winning multiple awards by top travel publications.
JOALI is female-owned, and this is evident in the many graceful, elegant themes of the island. Also notable is JOALI’s positioning as the first art-immersive resort in the Maldives. Central to the resort experience are the experiential and immersive art pieces from local and international artists. JOALI even offers an art map for guests to help them find and experience each piece of art around the island, ranging from a coral sculpture at the spa (my favorite) to a manta ray treehouse perched 15 feet in the sky, featuring a 50-foot wingspan and 165-foot walkway as a tail.
When you land in Male (the capital of the Maldives), you’re greeted by a JOALI staff member identified by a sign. You’re then escorted to the seaplane check in and once squared away, you’re chauffeured in a private vehicle to JOALI’s seaplane lounge. While intimate, the lounge is a great space to relax and check into your room before hopping on your seaplane to paradise. That’s right – check in takes place at the seaplane lounge before you even get to the resort!
JOALI is then a 45-minute seaplane ride from Male, and you may be lucky enough to catch a ride on the resort’s private seaplane (even if you don’t intentionally book it). We loved our trip on the JOALI seaplane, which is outfitted with eight plush luxury recliner seats that went way back. It was a very comfortable way to pass the scenic trip.
I spend a lot of time obsessing over a property before I book and arrive, and hotel websites tend to satisfy that itch to varying degrees. JOALI absolutely excelled in this regard, allowing me to ideate what our stay would be like with their very detailed room renderings on their website. When navigating their room categories, you’ll see options for either an aerial view room map and/or 3D viewing, which allow you to plan (and obsess) to your heart’s content.
There are 73 villas in total on the island, with the majority being water villas that run the length of an incredible 1.3km jetty.
The room types are as follows:
- Beach Villas (24 total)
- Beach Villa with Pool
- Luxury Beach Villa with Pool
- Family Beach Villa with Two Pools
- Two Bedroom Beach Villa with Pool
- Four Bedroom Beach Residence with Pool
- Water Villas (49 total)
- Water Villa with Pool
- Luxury Water Villa with Pool
- Sunset Water Villa with Pool
- Sunset Luxury Water Villa with Pool
- Four Bedroom Ocean Residence with Two Pools
These water villas are breathtaking and are truly the standout of the island; the sky-high ceilings make the space feel even larger than it already is, and the intricate details throughout are a reminder of what separates ultra-luxury from the rest of the pack. In the Maldives, it is common to have ambitious thoughts of activity-filled days that, in practice, give way to lazing about your villa, prioritizing a glass of wine from the minibar over heading to the pool bar. At least that’s how my Maldives vacations usually wind up! As such, villa design is an incredibly impactful part of a stay for me, and JOALI nails it.
We split time between a brief stay in the Sunset Luxury Overwater villa and then spent the majority of our stay in the Two Bedroom Beach Villa with Pool. I’m partial to overwater villas for obvious reasons (waking up to endless sea is an incomparable experience!) and I loved that there was no downside to the sunrise or sunset views. Further down the jetty, though, you have easy access to one of our favorite spots we discovered on the island, an underwater sandbank that we had all to ourselves when we hiked/swam out there!
The Two Bedroom Beach Villa with Pool would be a great option for a family or even friends. The second bedroom was distanced far enough from the main bedroom to be private, but both connected to the living area for when you want to be communal. Landscaping and foliage helped keep the villa private from the beach, though even the beach is private with the occasional exception of some beach villa neighbors going for a stroll down the sand.
In any villa you choose, you’ll enjoy how fresh and modern the villas are. You can feel the feminine touches in the villa design, with a calming color palette that makes great use of deep brown woods, neutral peach tones, ocean-like blues and calming jades. Many of the room’s features were accented in rose gold, down to the caps on the toiletries and the metal on the hangers. The spa-like bathroom features a freestanding bathtub accessorized with three different types of bath salts, and the fluffy towels were some of the best I’ve used in a hotel. I wanted so desperately to pack the room’s gown-like robe with me, as the print featuring island plants and birds was stunning. (I didn’t, but I really wanted to.)
The room is controlled by an iPad; while it wasn’t the most responsive or clean interface I’ve experienced in a smart room, I did greatly appreciate that it reduced touch points in the room (very COVID friendly!).
A small, but appreciated, detail in the room was the marble minibar. Lance was obsessed with the vintage-style coffee machine and I loved the glassware; it was one of the classier minibars I’ve seen.
Amenities at JOALI
All guests are assigned a jadugar, the local word for “magician,” to serve as your butler during your stay. You can coordinate dinner reservations, activities, or anything else you may need on the island with your jadugar. We saw our jadugar at least a couple of times a day, from a friendly hello at breakfast to a ride home from dinner. Guests are also given a Nokia phone with which to communicate with your jadugar directly at any time. I would’ve preferred to either stay in contact via WhatsApp or have the Nokia replaced with a non-touchpad phone (ex an iPhone) as I found the buttons on the phone rather small, but luckily it was only a few fumbling taps to unlock the phone and call our jadugar when needed.
JOALI has plenty of spots to laze about, from the glistening main pool in front of Mura Bar to the long stretch of white sand beach that extends from the pool.
There are plenty of activities on site, from excursions to water sports. The extensive activities menu includes paragliding, jet skiing, chartering a boat, and of course snorkeling and scuba diving to enjoy the breathtaking beauty underwater. We took out a complimentary clear kayak which was a great way to relax on the water (though it turned into a bit of an adventure when we found our kayak sinking!).
There is a great kids club that prioritizes analog play as opposed to screen time, with lots of structures to climb on, toys to play with and crafts to complete. While we don’t have kids ourselves, we peeked into the baby room which featured the cutest cribs fashioned as hot air balloons (the cribs were firmly planted on the ground, though – don’t worry!).
If you follow me on Instagram and saw me react live to my treatment at the JOALI spa, you already know what I’m going to say: I had one of the best massages of my life here, and I’m a connoisseur. We had just arrived after almost 30 hours of travel that had ballooned my joints to unrecognizable sizes despite the comfort of a lie-flat airplane seat. I knew upon landing that if I wanted a chance at being a functional human being, I needed a massage ASAP, and I needed to bring in the big guns.
Thai massages are usually the best bet for me as they fit the bill of being more functional than relaxing (perfect for me, since I suffer from chronic pain and view massages as a form of treatment). Regardless of the massage I get, though, I tend to be disappointed; no matter how explicitly I express that I need deep pressure, it’s typically not enough for my tense-as-rock knots. But at JOALI, the Thai massage was something else.
When I checked in for my massage, I was offered a cool towel and small bit of tea. I was then escorted to the changing room, stopping by what became one my favorite pieces of art on the island. Known as Maldives Vibes by Zemer Peled, this piece fit in perfectly to the spa environment; it symbolizes the coral bleaching that killed off 85% of Maldivian coral life in 2016, but features just enough life that the coral can renew and rebuild itself. It’s a perfect message for a spa environment, and reminds you that despite how fragile we may be, we can heal.
The massage was held on a cabana out on the sand, allowing the warm island air to keep my muscles loose. My masseuse was incredible, using her hands, elbows, knees and feet to really dig into those tight spots. She facilitated deep stretches that helped me undo the hours of static positioning while flying and left me feeling utterly wowed.
However, if that’s not your cup of tea, don’t worry – JOALI has traditional, relaxing massages as well and even more specialty options, like a marble Turkish hammam.
JOALI features a few options for dining on site, and we had the pleasure of trying them all. We were on the half-board plan which we found to be a good way to try out lots of variety on the dinner menus while not over-gorging ourselves during the day. We did supplement with snacks from room service or Mura Bar during the day.
Mura Bar is the most casual of the options, offering bites throughout the day by the main pool. You can eat at any number of tables around the bar, including sunken roundtables and even a coral-inspired Gaudi-like long dining table that is one of the immersive art pieces on the island. There’s also a liquid nitrogen ice creamery tucked into the back of Mura Bar should you fancy a cone!
Vandhoo is the main restaurant you’ll get to know at JOALI as it’s where you start your day! A large and sumptuous breakfast spread is served here daily and is well worth the inevitable overindulgence.
However, Vandhoo isn’t a one-trick pony; we waited way too long to realize the dinner menu is also amazing! I’m partial to Asian cuisines and the Vandhoo dinner menu features a delicious mix of South Asian, Thai and Chinese dishes.
My understanding is Levant may end up opening in its own independent venue in the future, but during our stay, it occupied one half of the Vandhoo restaurant at night (the Vandhoo menu was served in the other half). Levant features a Turkish menu, adding to the Turkish influence present at the resort (the owner is Turkish!).
Bellinis is JOALI’s Italian restaurant featuring a menu designed by Michelin-star chef Theodor Falser. We’re both big fans of Italian so getting to enjoy fresh pasta in the middle of the Indian Ocean was a treat.
There’s no shortage of Michelin-starred influence on the island, and Saoke is the reservation that’s a bit tougher to get. Chef Takagi Kazuo boasts two Michelin stars and the cuisine was fresh and varied, offering sushi to wagyu. The restaurant itself is also part of the allure, as the architectural and overwater placement is so unique and visually impactful.
I would absolutely recommend JOALI! It combines stunning natural beauty, contemporary villa designs, immersive art, and Michelin-starred chefs to create a true ultra-luxury experience. Especially if you can capitalize on JOALI’s 25-30% off booking offer, it is an ideal resort to visit for your post-quarantine getaway!