Hotel Review: Sun Island Resort & Spa, Maldives
Sun Island is one of the largest and oldest properties in the Maldives and located in a pristine lagoon that literally is what dreams are made of. If you’re looking to book Sun Island, read on to learn what to expect!
South Ari Atoll is known as one of the most stunning atolls in the Maldives, with an incredible concentration of whale sharks, spectacular white sand and endless teal waters. Sun Island is located near the edge of the atoll, giving guests easy access to whale shark excursions that often center around the outer reefs where you’re more likely to find them.
The island is massive and completely natural, with stunning white sand beaches around the entire length of it and endless blue, swimmable water. While currents exist near the sandbar point, the rest of the lagoon is calm and wonderful. This was our 14th property in the Maldives and I can truly say the lagoon took our breath away.
Lobby & Check in experience: 2.5/5
Lobby and check in begins when you land in Malé at Velana International and continues until you arrive in your room at the property. While some 5-star properties offer seamless experiences via lounges, seaplanes/boats and generally smooth transitions with luxury vehicles, Sun Island’s arrival experience left a lot to be desired and was a really rough start to our experience. A 5-star check in in the Maldives must check the following boxes: lounge access if there is a wait time, a communicative hotel representative that explains the process and walks you through the airport experience and a comfortable ride to the hotel via boat or plane.
From start to finish, it was a messy and frustrating experience. While at the airport guests have zero support or access to a comfortable place to wait for the plane, it gets somehow worse when you arrive at the Airport in South Ari Atoll. You’re shepherded onto buses after crawling over 100 other people to try and grab your luggage in a frenzy only to be told to leave your luggage after lugging it 10 feet to a boat. As if that wasn’t enough, once you get to Sun Island, you have to walk the seemingly endless jetty with zero direction from the staff. If you have difficulty walking or are traveling with young kids, I would be sure to advise the staff before arrival because they don’t offer any buggies to get guests to the lobby.
The whole experience involved a lot of lines, a lot of confusion, and ended anticlimactically with a group check-in experience, where we were asked to present our “vouchers” and told the rules of the property. If you have ever booked a regretful spring break charter trip in your younger years, you may know exactly what I’m talking about. While this style of check in may work for the oldschool 3-star Thomas Cook charter vacation, it does not have a place at a 5 star luxury resort.
As a side note, if you end up in Malé for a while waiting for your flight, there is a lounge that accepts Priority Pass, which is free with a number of premium credit cards. This is a great option if you were stuck with nowhere to go like we were for a few hours.
At the sister property, Paradise Island, we had a wonderful experience once we arrived at the island so we did expect the same of Sun Island, but unfortunately it did not live up to our hopes. We hope to see some of the practices that were implemented with Paradise, implemented at Sun Island following their renovation.
Sun Island, similar to Paradise Island, is slowly undergoing renovations to modernize and update the property. Sun Island has 462 rooms and currently the Beach Villas with Whirlpool, Beach Pool Villas and Deluxe Beach Pool Villas are the only renovated room types. We were booked into the Beach Pool Villa which shares a wall with the Beach Villa with Whirlpool. Only the Deluxe rooms do not share a wall.
The Beach Pool Villa features 1300 square feet of living space, including the outdoor patio, pool area and outdoor shower. The renovation has brought to life a very quirky, fun and beachy aesthetic that we really liked. We love the outdoor shower, double vanity and indoor shower. The indoor tub is an oddly small shape, but does offer guests the option to take a bath. From everywhere in the room, you can see the stunning lagoon just outside the villa.
The room also has a minibar with instant coffee, 2 water bottles per day, soda, wine and beer. All-inclusive guests have access to 2 sodas and 2 alcoholic beverages per day from the minibar.
The king bed is comfortable, with a large screen TV as well as a lounge space near the patio door. Outside is a small dinette, two chaise loungers and the pool. Note that there is no shade structure outside the room. These villas have access to a spectacular beach and truly out-of-this-world swimming water. The water is calm, crystal clear and the perfect place to spend the afternoon.
The other room types are not yet renovated, but they expect to finish them in the next year. I would personally recommend booking the Deluxe Beach Villa instead of the standard pool villas because the shared wall is extremely thin. We had a family next to us, which was a less than ideal situation, particularly if you’re a honeymooning couple or looking for some romantic solitude. If you are looking for quiet, I would stick to the Deluxe villas that do not share a wall with a neighboring room. The only exception is if you are booking two rooms- then it’s a fantastic choice to book the Beach Pool Villa combined with the Beach Villa with a Whirlpool for the whole family to enjoy.
Overall, the renovation has really upped the style of the rooms. We love the colors and the design and they really work well with the blues of the picturesque view just outside.
Service, much like the lobby and check in experience, left a lot to be desired. Unlike Paradise Island, the staff here have not yet undergone large-scale training and the service is extremely hit or miss. While the restaurant staff members were generally wonderful, enthusiastic and lovely to talk to, we found a lot of policies degrade the service experience.
Within the first five minutes of sitting down for our first cocktail on property, we were hard-sold on doing one of their romantic dinners. It’s unclear if the staff are incentivized to sell these dinners, but it sure felt like it. Multiple people stood over us asking us if we wanted to do it “right now” and how they could set up a table in “minutes”. We said no as we had a romantic dinner already planned, however, they continued to push. While we got away unscathed, we later saw a couple convinced to do it “right now” and it didn’t quite look like the pictures since it was hastily put together. We felt if the employees had a bit more training into how to sell this special experience, they would be a bit more successful. If you are considering a romantic dinner, be sure to plan for a different night so you can get the full experience.
An area where service could really be improved is around the treatment of all-inclusive guests. Guests on the all-inclusive plan who pay a large add-on fee, are far more restricted than a la carte guests. A perfect example of this is when a non-all inclusive guest orders a drink like a daiquiri, the drink arrives in this ornate glass with flower embellishments. An all-inclusive guest orders the same drink but receives it in a standard glass, half the size and without the embellishments. The point of upgrading to an all-inclusive plan is to receive the same services as you would have otherwise, but you are just paying for it in advance. Decisions like these immediately degrade the guest experience and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the all-inclusive plan on this basis alone.
We are excited for the staff to experience the Forbes service training that Paradise Island underwent as it will be hugely beneficial and I have no doubt that the service will be improved.
Sun Island offers 2 main buffet restaurants and multiple a la carte restaurants. Guests on the all inclusive plan can only access the a la carte restaurant of their choice once per stay as part of that package. They do also offer the romantic dinner packages, as mentioned in Service above, and we did have the chance to experience the Dig n’ Dine dinner.
Maaniyaa Restaurant is the main buffet open to all guests on property. The restaurant is massive and is completely self-service. They have a wide selection of food items, including a number of made to order stations ranging from Middle Eastern dishes to American cuisine and more. We found their selection to be extensive for all meals, but you do need to get up to get your own coffee. You cannot request bottles of water, only glasses, but I did find that if you asked them for 4 glasses, they often left you the bottle.
Southern Star is the buffet restaurant available to overwater villas. We found their selection to be excellent and preferred to dine here for breakfast and lunch. Their made to order stations were good and they do offer tableside service for beverages. We also found that you can order a bottle of water at this restaurant, not just a glass. The service was excellent and we loved the setting next to the overwater villa jetty.
Al Pontile is the Italian option at Sun Island and we loved sitting outdoors with the breeze. The food is good for the most part, particularly if you are looking for a pizza. There were a few other guests there that evening, so it was a nice ambiance.
Zero is a delicious, healthy option located in the center of the island with a treehouse-style table, treehouse-style patio and comfortable seating in the sand. We absolutely loved the fresh flavors of the fish and greens from the garden and found this to be one of the best meals we had. They do not, however, offer alcoholic beverages other than beer and the prices were quite a bit higher than some of the other outlets. Otherwise, it was a fantastic choice! Bring bug spray as the mosquitos are quite intense.
Sun Island has a wonderful new Teppanyaki offering that is open air and honestly one of the only ones we’ve ever seen like it! We typically avoid indoor dining when we are in paradise, which usually means you avoid Teppanyaki, but being outside was such a treat. Our chef was lovely and we were the only ones there, so it honestly felt like a private dining experience. Most of the dishes, with few exceptions, were good and well presented and we had a great time watching the chef’s tricks and preparation. We were at Sun Island for many nights and never once saw another guest dining at this outlet, so if you are considering it, go! You will not regret it.
There are a few bars on property as well for guests to enjoy. The main bar is near the pool area and is the central point for all activities and evening events. The bar is huge with two differently-styled seating areas and a massive dance floor in the middle. The interior is not quite what I’d consider a cozy place to hang out, but the outdoor section of the bar overlooks the beach where guests can get drink service to their beach chairs and is much more appealing.
There is also a small bar by the water sports center at the edge of the island. While the service was not good at this bar, it was great to be able to grab a drink and watch people out on the kayaks and windsurfs if you walk with your beverage to the water sports center just across the sand. This is one of our favorite areas on the entire island, thanks to the incredible sandbar and blindingly perfect white sand.
The coffee shop is also available as a bar, and we loved coming here in the evening. Located next to the entry jetty, the bar is open all day and serves coffee, alcoholic beverages, afternoon snacks and mocktails. They have four bean bags down closer to the edge of the water for guests to lounge out and we hope they add more of this seating in the future, as it was a fantastic place to watch the sunset. This is also the only other place you can get food if you miss breakfast and are hungry before lunch so it’s a great spot to enjoy a couple of treats.
The resort offers a few different options for romantic dinners: they offer a standard table set up as well as a “Dig n’ Dine” where they literally dig out a hole in the sand for seating. The dinners all happen in one row along the beach right in front of the main buffet, so it’s not very private or exclusive for the price. The food and service, however, were excellent and we really enjoyed the experience. Guests get to choose their options from a preselected menu, and we enjoyed a good mix of delicious seafood, like lobster, soup and more.
Overall, the food was very solid and generally very consistent. We really liked the buffet option for the overwater guests and felt the service at that outlet was great. The few a la carte options we tried were good and we hope they open up these options to all inclusive guests in the future as it truly showcases the best of the island.
Sun Island, apart from being on the most spectacular lagoon, has a lot to offer guests when it comes to exploring the island, enjoying the surroundings and also leaving the resort to partake in fun excursions.
There is a spa on property that we did not try this time but is available. There is also a fitness center within the main shopping pavilion. While small, it does offer a good selection of machines and weights.
The dive center is situated on the entry jetty and does twice daily diving. Note that anyone who has not dived in the last 3 months will be required to pay $100 for a refresher course. Despite that, Sun Island has access to some of the best diving in the Maldives, including Kuda Rah Thila, our favorite dive site in the world. We had the opportunity to do a one-tank dive and the journey to this dive site is worth it. The boat is high speed and the equipment was high quality.
The resort is a massive island and it’s quite difficult to get from one end to the other on foot. The hotel does offer bikes for rent to guests and they are not included in the all-inclusive package. You are instructed to lock your bicycle because people steal bikes, as we came to find out. A pro tip – photograph your bike number! It’s impossible to remember which one is yours in the sea of bikes parked around common areas.
The resort offers many different excursions, such as a sunset dolphin cruise, fishing and more. We had the chance to partake in two excursions: a dolphin cruise and a private whale shark excursion. The dolphin cruise was amazing. Not only did we see dozens of beautiful dolphins right at sunset, but the staff served beverages, including wine, during the trip.
The whale shark excursion was amazing to experience privately. We were taken out on a high speed boat to look for whale sharks and the boat was significantly faster than many others in the area, meaning when we finally found one, we were the only ones there to see it. It was incredible swimming near such a majestic creature and the whole experience was fantastic.
The only area we truly wish they would reconsider their offering is around the feeding of the sharks and rays. These nightly feedings, prominently and proudly labeled on their property maps, is an activity that has long since been removed at most luxury resorts in the Maldives due to their environmental impact and disruption of the natural ecosystem of the area. As per the dive center, they have requested management discourage and cancel this activity but they continue this practice for guest entertainment. We urge all guests to reconsider attending such an event and hopefully they will no longer offer it in the future. For more information about why this practice is prohibited on most islands, check out this article.
The resort is slowly being renovated, but they have not yet made it to any of the common guest areas, so the property has a much older, somewhat mismatched style. The location gives the hotel a tremendous amount of potential, and there are moments of modernity throughout, like the newly renovated deluxe beach villas and the Zero restaurant. Some areas we hope to see updated in the renovation are the buffet restaurants modernization and adding more comfortable seating throughout the resort at bars and restaurants. The introduction of lighter woods, cushioned oversized seating and more modern colors throughout will really make this property shine.
Overall, Sun Island is an incredible and awe-inspiring location with a resort that has a lot of potential. The size of the island, alone, is incredibly impressive and makes for an amazing experience to explore every nook and cranny, from the massive sand bar to the perfect swimming lagoons. While the service and style leave a lot to be desired, the resort has tremendous opportunity for success and we cannot wait to experience it post-renovation. At the end of the day, the views, lagoon and perfect swimming beaches are truly what the Maldives is all about.
Disclaimer: We were hosted by Villa Hotels on a media stay. Please know the opinions expressed are all our own and may not reflect the hotel’s own views.