There are few things as magical as the piercing blues of the Maldives. Heritance Aarah is positioned on a spectacular island in the busy Raa Atoll, home to seemingly endless resorts. This brand new property is still in its infancy and offers a tremendous experience to guests looking for an all-inclusive experience in paradise. Despite the growing pains of a new resort, we wouldn’t hesitate to return, so read on to find out why.
The water surrounding this little island, home to Heritance Aarah, is absolutely stunning. Located a short, 40-minute flight from Malé, the Heritance lives amidst a number of islands with dotted water villas. From the sky, the arrival is breathtaking. The Heritance is easily accessed via Sea Plane from Malé, and the transfer is booked directly through the resort at $400 per person.
It is worth noting that the island is located very close to the main island, Meedhoo, that serves as the resource center and home to many of the staff of the surrounding islands. As you’ll read in the following sections, I mention this proximity because a number of Beach Villas are located directly across from Meedhoo. Bright lights can be seen all night as well as the call to prayer can be heard several times a day and night from a selection of the beach villas. As they say, sound travels faster and louder over water. Note that none of the water villas or beach pool villas are located across from Meedhoo.
Lobby & Check in experience: 4/5
When we review lobby & check in for the Maldives, we assess not only the lobby, but also the arrival experience as a whole starting from the arrival at the airport in Malé. The Heritance is part of the Aitken Spence portfolio that also owns the Aadaran Prestige, a 4-star property in the Maldives. The Heritance is an elevated experience and the brand has done a great job with the hotel itself. However, upon arriving at the airport, you are taken to the airport lounge for Aadaran, which is not quite the five star experience you get once you arrive to Heritance Aarah.
The lounge is dark and on the older side. The food offerings are slim, providing only some sugar candies and cheese sandwiches. While the staff a very polite and willing to help, it’s not the ideal food scenario after getting off an international flight. The lounges we have been to with other properties offer a wider spread of food and beverages. The airport lounge is the hotel’s chance at a perfect first impression, and it was disappointing to see the lack of care that went into the experience. There is also no mention of the Heritance property anywhere in the lounge, as there are large advertisements on the walls for the Aadaran and ads playing on the TV for Aadaran as well. One may even wonder, “am I in the right place? Why are they not advertising for the Heritance?”
After 45 minutes, we were taken from the lounge to the seaplane! Note that when you fly into Male International, it is customary to wait between 30 minutes, up to 4 hours for your seaplane transfer, depending on schedules and timing.
The seaplane ride is about 40 minutes and from the sky, you can see a number of beautiful resorts along the way. It’s a really fun way to get to your hotel and we can’t recommend the seaplane transfer enough for any Maldives traveler.
Upon arrival, there are two dancers who welcome you to the hotel as you wait to be whisked to the front desk. The Lobby area is a large, covered pagoda with a sand floor. The check in process took about 25-minutes before we were taken to a shared buggy to head to our Beach Villa.
The good news for you reading this is that we were able to try two different rooms while on property: the standard Beach Villa and an Ocean Villa.
I’ll break this category out by room type so you can get the full picture before deciding which room type is best for you.
We were put in Villa 107, which is located on the side of the resort that faces the seaplane landing area. It also happens to be the “new” beach area, so it is frankly, not a desirable location. The sand is very thin and there appears to be concrete beneath. It is common in recent years for hotels to literally build up the island they construct the property on. What this means is that often there is a side of the island that is constructed beneath the surface. The water’s edge is very far from the patio and the sound of the sea planes can be very disruptive. When you come to the Maldives, you hope to get the sparkling blues that you see on all the websites and instagram, and it’s unfortunately not quite the experience you get with this particular villa.
The website states 950 square feet, which is true if you include the outdoor bathroom and patio area outside. The bedroom has a towering ceiling and includes a large king bed, ample closet space, stocked mini bar and sliding doors to the patio.
The bathroom is very large and includes an outdoor shower, indoor shower, tub and double vanity. The bathroom is exposed to the “elements”, which does include mosquitos at night. Since the property is brand new, there are a number of mosquitos around sunset, so be prepared and bring bug spray. As the property settles into its surroundings and begins to grow in, mosquitos will be disposed of and it won’t be a big issue.
Overall, the room is nice. However, there are several undesirable locations for the beach villas and therefore it is difficult to end up in one that is desirable. Many of the beach villas face the seaplane landing area or the main island with a mosque that does send out the call to prayer several times a day and is very well lit up at night. Since the property is brand new, there is also not a lot of growth and vegetation, meaning the rooms are not private. In a year or two, this will be totally different. Lastly, this tier of room does not come with a butler. More on why this matters in the service section.
The last two nights, we spent in a Water Villa. The Water Villa does come with a butler, and they take care of any reservations as well as pick you up for meals and take you where you need to go. They even pick up and drop off your snorkeling gear every day so you don’t need to make the trek.
The water villa is beautiful, has the same king bed, ample storage and a large bathroom with tub, shower and full floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Outside, there is a covered daybed, table with two chairs and an uncovered patio section with two chaise lounges. We loved our view of the stunning blue water and resort. The water villas and water suites are located on the desirable side of the property, where the white sand extends far into the water, making for a spectacular teal blue reflection. One note about the Water Villas is that they are not soundproof. The walls are quite thin and there appears to be a gap between the ceiling and wall, so if people are loud next door, you can hear everything. Similarly, the only bar that is open late happens to be on the beach next to the water villas. They play very loud live music every night. We did mention to staff that they should move the late-night experiences to Sky Bar (located away from all the villas) and they seemed receptive to the idea. Overall though, we absolutely love the Water Villas and the experience they afford.
Both rooms we stayed in had the same minibar set-up with multiple types of wine, water, soft drinks, branded snacks and a nespresso machine. There is no room service, unless you’re located in the Ocean Suites, but they do replace your minibar items every day.
Between the two villas, there is no question that we would prefer the Water Villa over the Beach Villa. The Beach Villas feel like a bit of an afterthought in terms of where they are located and the chances of ending up in an undesirable location is much higher than with the Water Villas. The addition of the butler and all the perks that come with that (rides at any time of day around the property, restaurant reservations, anything else you need delivered within minutes, etc), far exceeds the experience that the Beach Villas provides. For the small extra amount per night ($100-200 per night on 16 different random dates I searched), it is 100% worth it for a hassle-free vacation.
If I were to return, I would personally book the Ocean Suites as it is a major upgrade and they have the most desirable locations on the property and come with additional amenities such as a 14-bottle wine fridge, private pool and living room. Ocean Suites also include room service and guaranteed reservations at any restaurant. If you can, spring for the Ocean Suite- you will not regret that decision.
The staff in the restaurants, bars and the butlers were all incredible. They were so kind, helpful and were so willing to help you in any way they can. We got to know several of the restaurant waitstaff who really made our experience at the property an incredible one.
Given that the hotel is so new, they are certainly experiencing some growing pains, particularly with the front desk staff and front office management. We heard from many guests that we befriended that they experienced multiple service issues over the course of their week-long stays and management was very unresponsive to their issues and complaints. For example, one couple we met won a complimentary floating breakfast in a gameshow one night and the next day, the staff showed up with photographers and at least 5 staff. This was quite disruptive to their vacation and they were never asked to sign consent forms for use of the photos. The same couple had been in contact with the property for months regarding a birthday request and they failed to complete the request, despite multiple reminders. Similarly, one woman we spoke with was spending 14 days there and had tried to move rooms a number of times due to the undesirable location in front of the seaplane landing area. Front desk staff and management declined to move her, despite her long stay. I hope that the front office management improves as the hotel gets more experience dealing with guest needs.
Similarly, along the management issue lines, was the somewhat absurd inability to secure restaurant reservations. As a guest, coming to a luxury vacation where the goal is to relax, it was incredibly frustrating to show up to the hotel, only to find out that there was no availability at any restaurant, even when the tables were completely empty the entire night. We arrived just before dinner time on our first day, only to find out that we had no where to go that wasn’t a buffet. We were not the only ones who were not made aware of the requirement to book before arriving on property. No guests staying in beach villas or butler-free rooms, were made aware of this situation. We found out later that management requires the restaurants to hold a certain number of restaurants for the suites and ocean villas rooms, even when no one is assigned to those tables. This makes it almost impossible to go where you “feel like” going day of. Once we were in an ocean villa, our butler was able to secure any reservation at any time (thankfully), but it would have been great had we had a stress-free start to begin with on the first night. Of course, this is at no fault to the staff at the restaurants or the butlers- this is simply a management issue that I’m certain will be addressed as the property settles in.
We have no doubt that with proper management and training of the front office, the hotel service will be 5 stars by the next time we return. We still believe the service is 4 stars because the majority of our experience was with the food & beverage staff as well as our butler, who were all wonderful.
What wow’d us more than anything else during our stay was the incredible food & beverage available on property. Everything we ate was of impeccable quality and the alcohol options were very high-end. Even one of my favorite wines – Matua Sauvignon Blanc- was available! There was close to nothing on any menu that was an added expense, with the exception of some speciality items, clearly marked on the menu and they were offered at reasonable prices ($29 Steak Frites, $25 up-charge for Lobster). Wines, beers, alcoholic beverages were all included as well. There was no pressure to pay extra or pay anything at all at any meal.
There are ten dining outlets and bars on property, plus an Ocean-Suites-only restaurant called Baani. Breakfast is served at Ranba and Ralu. Ralu is supposed to be the non-buffet breakfast option, but on our last day due to high occupancy, they appear to have switched to a lesser-version of the Ranba buffet. We were disappointed by this, but hopefully that was a one-time-only thing. The food at both outlets was wonderful and we indulged in Maldivian cuisine as well as our usual American breakfasts daily.
Lunch is served at the same outlets: Ranba and Ralu. Ranba is the buffet and Ralu is an a-la-carte option. We went to Ralu every day because we loved the setting overwater as well as the delicious lunch options. We enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé with our lunch daily, while overlooking the stunning water.
Dinner is served at Ranba, Ralu, Ginifati, Ambula and Hathaa. We tried a number of the restaurants and our favorite was the elevated, Chef’s Table restaurant, Hathaa. Hathaa serves only 16 people at a time at a chef’s table style bar and offers 5 different cuisines throughout the week. Guests get to watch the chef and take part in the experience.
Ambula is the 10-course, fine dining option that services Sri Lankan cuisine. While the experience is very long, the food is excellent.
We did try Ginifati, which is the seafood option and while the food was excellent as well and the setting was very unique, we did find the menu to be quite limiting. This is the only restaurant with significant add-ons at a cost.
Baani is the Ocean Suites-only restaurant and they do allow others to book a table there. However, it comes at a hefty price tag of around $150 if you are not in an Ocean Suite (which gives you complimentary access). What we recommend instead is heading to the bar outside Baani for sunset – it is spectacular and the cocktails served up by Suranga are delicious. While I’m sure the food at Baani is excellent, we did not feel the need to spend the money as the food at the other restaurants was incredible.
Overall, the food and beverage was incredible and really was a highlight of the property. The unique settings, great service and delicious food and wine really stood out to us and we can’t recommend it enough.
Heritance Aarah has everything you need for a perfect beach vacation. There are multiple pools (one infinity overwater pool and one beachfront pool), a number of bars, complimentary snorkeling gear and paid activities. The only thing that caused us to knock off a 1/2 point are the prices of the activities. If you look at scuba diving, for example, 2-tank dives for the two of us was over $600, which is about double what we typically pay at any resort. Not a diver? Let’s look at a Jetski rental. A 15-minute jetski ride is $130 (plus VAT and service). Typically, a 20-minute jetski ride is about $40-60. When we confronted the activities team about this, they were well aware and had heard a lot of complaints about the pricing.
We’ve included some images of the activities pricing, in case you don’t believe us :).
If you go in knowing the cost of the activities you want to do, you’re well off. We were thrown off by the pricing and disappointed that we could not do more activities due to the cost. However, we did do a 2-tank dive with them and it was incredible. Not only was the gear brand new, but the staff were great and our dives were some of the best we have ever taken part in.
The Heritance Aarah nailed the style. When we look at style, we look at consistency and whether the hotel fits into its surroundings. The Heritance has done an incredible job with the decor, architecture and furnishings. The whole property feels exclusive, luxurious, high-end and island-chic. From the sand-bottom floors to the elegant lighting in every space, we fell in love with the style. Everything about the style screams elegant, classy and modern beach chic. My favorite part of beach vacations, particularly on private islands, is that I don’t have to wear shoes the entire time. At Heritance, I felt comfortable wandering around in my bare feet and no one even questioned it.
Overall, we absolutely loved the Heritance Aarah. The hotel offers guests a hassle-free, all-inclusive experience that is seemingly unbeatable. The quality of the decor, F&B and waitstaff are truly phenomenal and we wouldn’t hesitate to return. While we’re disappointed by the standard Beach Villas and the experience they provide, we highly recommend an upgraded Ocean Villa or Ocean Suite to have the optimal experience in the Maldives. As we mentioned, we fully believe the service related issues are attributed to the growing pains of a new hotel, for the most part. I’m 100% confident that with new or better-trained management, this property will earn a full 5 stars on our next trip.