Hilton Builds a Westworld

The terrace feature of a beach is that flat part where you can walk out into the water and it only comes up to your waist. In the case of the Conrad Maldives, the terrace happens to be about two feet deep, made of perfectly soft sand, and extends out a mind boggling 150 feet from shore. Finding out exactly what to call a beach terrace is the sort of thing you start to Google after you’ve seen your twentieth stingray, thousandth fish, and tenth black tip shark gracefully swim by and you start to think: can this actually be real?

“The beach is pristine. It should be. It’s swept each morning along with all paths in the island. Swept, with brooms.”

The Conrad Maldives can make you begin to question an already tenuous grip on reality. The sheer beauty, freakish natural surroundings, and pristine perfection might leave you wondering if this is some sort of modern day beach version of “Westworld.” The short answer: It’s the closest thing we have, as of right now.

A half-hour seaplane ride from the international airport in Male brings you to the Conrad, a natural island which is effectively an atoll on top of a much larger atoll.

Your trip to the island flies you over insane natural formations that even the most jaded onlookers will quickly find themselves fantasizing about exploring. The staff lines up and each member is assigned to one guest to quickly and efficiently whisk them through reception and into the resort’s lodgings. The only thing missing from your entry is Fantasy Island’s Ricardo Montalban and Hervé Villechaize.

Atolls from a bird eye view. Courtesy of Trent Walker.
Atolls from a bird’s eye view. Courtesy of Trent Walker.

Your instinct will be to immediately throw on a swimsuit and wander out to the beach. (The quiet “no-kids” beach is the best one, as you can order a drink). For those thinking of doing a Maldives trip, this is where you will pat yourself on the back for heading to the tanning salon a few times before traveling. If you don’t, the equatorial sun will make you explode in a dramatic fireball. Yes, I’m looking at you.

The beach is pristine. It should be. It’s swept each morning along with all paths on the island. Swept, with brooms. Ugly rocks are picked up by the staff off the beach, cute rocks and little pieces of coral are left. I’m not kidding. Check the photo.

What’s left is the single most emotionally overwhelming beach you will ever experience. Turquoise water flows endlessly. Hermit crabs are everywhere. Even the sand, which on any normal beach is hot and leaves you hopping uncomfortably, is cool and comfortable. How, you ask? Who knows, but it’s of such an insanely pure white color, my guess is it reflects most of the sun. In such an impossible locale, it really wouldn’t be surprising if underground cooling pipes regulated every patch of sand to the perfect temperature.

No, this isn't the light at the tunnel when you die. It's the Conrad Maldives' spa entrance. Courtesy of Trent Walker.
No, this isn’t the light at the tunnel when you die. It’s the Conrad Maldives’ spa entrance. Courtesy of Trent Walker.

The beach alone would be enough to justify the numerous awards which the Conrad Maldives has accumulated over the years, including 2016’s Luxury Hotel Award’s Grand Excellence price. The rooms are spectacular, with gigantic rooms on the beach for families and water villas more suited to couples (unless you get the “family water villa,” which suits both).

The rooms almost become a theater of the absurd, with the Spa Water Villas each containing their own Spa Room. Just to be clear in case you were skimming, the suites have an attached room with two massage tables looking over the ocean that is yours and yours alone.

And that isn’t even the nicest room.

A Water Villa. Courtesy of Ubah Bulale.
A Water Villa. Courtesy of Ubah Bulale.

The 4,865-square-foot Sunset Water Villa (named because the rotating circular bed allows you to rotate the bed as the sun sets for perfect viewing so you don’t have to, you know, move a little) features its own infinity pool and separate whirlpool and pretty much everything you could ever want. If you used the rotating bed to track the sunset then you certainly don’t have the energy to get in the water, which is most likely why they installed a glass floor in the Sunset Water Villa living area, so you can look down into the turquoise water without leaving the comfort of your couch.

Service is impeccable, and after a morning yoga session with Manesh–who started life as an economist but who the Conrad sent to Goa in India for intensive Yoga training–you start to realize the staff is not only friendly, but talented. The leader on the snorkel tour, hopping from submerged coral reef to submerged coral reef, was a diver for the Maldivian government. The Sommelier at the Wine and Cheese Bar displayed impressive knowledge of burgundy and bordeaux. The gifted lead of the live nighttime music act spent a decade in Vegas before coming to the Conrad for a nine month tour.

The downside of all this is predictable. Just as in “Westworld,” the costs of this little adventure leaves one dizzy.

Rooms around the holidays will set you back $1500 to $7000 a day, $600/person for the seaplane transfer, and plan on spending $750 a day for food and amusement per couple. Minimum.

We at BTRtoday know you think you could spend less, but you can’t.

The author with yoga instructor. Courtesy of Ubah Bulale.
The author with yoga instructor. Courtesy of Ubah Bulale.

If you’d like to live a little, plan on $1000 a day. If you’d like to live a lot, $2000 for a couple per night might just cover it. This works out to about $20,000 for a one week stay using the lowest room and living conservatively up to $55,000 for living at the top. Once you get a small Pellegrino from your minibar for $30.80 you’ll understand. Room service surcharge is $15 plus 10 percent. Ithaa, the undersea restaurant (yes, a restaurant in a glass bubble under the water where they ensure excellent fish viewing by baiting before dinner service), will set you back $330 per person, which is before the mandatory 22.5 percent tax and service on everything bringing it to $808.50 for two. That’s without wine or a beverage of any type. Jet Ski rentals are over $200 for 25 minutes. Good luck!

“9000 liters of diesel fuel is used a day to power the plant. That’s the equivalent of driving a Prius around the world . . . seven times . . . each day.”

Peeking behind the curtains at the operational aspects of West… er.. the Conrad Maldives gives one an appreciation of why things are so expensive. At full occupancy, the island holds 950 people, 600 of which are staff. That means that for every couple in a cute water villa there are 4 staff dedicated to making things great.

This breathtaking ratio of staff to guests is even higher than many Michelin 3-star restaurants. Fat Duck in London has 42 chefs for 40 diners, a paltry 1-1 ratio compared with the near 2-1 of the Conrad. It is, however, the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing the scale of operations.

Enjoying the view. Courtesy of Ubah Bulale.
Enjoying the view. Courtesy of Ubah Bulale.

Tucked away in the island retreat there is a massive desalination plant that generates 700,000 liters of water a day, enough generators to create 8.4 megawatts of power (enough to power around 5000 regular homes), and a 5000 amp transformer. Touring the operational facilities with the staff gets you a lecture from an excited and proud Maldivian engineer about how they have managed to install energy recovery units in the desalination plant to recover 36 percent of the energy used for desalination. What looks like a two story house turns out to be an ice generation facility, which explains why ice is tossed around like sand by the bartenders.

The uneasy curated reality feelings kick into high gear upon walking into the power generation plant.

Fiber optic cables drape from control racks as you walk past six-inch thick blast doors and into a room overlooking the generators. Nine-thousand liters of diesel fuel is used a day to power the plant. That’s the equivalent of driving a Prius around the world . . . seven times . . . each day. You realize that nothing, absolutely nothing, stops the quest to lay an ultimate fantasy of what nature should be on top of an already fantastical natural environment, regardless of what this does to your carbon footprint.

The Conrad Maldives was rated as a “do not travel” by “ethical Maldives” due to the association with the Champa Brothers who are said to support the local governmental regime which has jailed the former President Mahamed Nasheed (Conrad is a Hilton property). While the political leanings of the brothers can be questioned, and the affiliation with the property is tenuous, the treatment of the staff is exceptional. In typical over-the-top style, a separate island was built out from a coral formation for $30 million (don’t worry, the environmental effects were analyzed and a new reef for the annual migrating birds was constructed). Here, the staff lives and has access to a private soccer pitch, volleyball court, bar, staff-only beach, and water sports equipment, movie room, band room, hair salon, laundry facilities, and all the other comforts of home. For most of us, staying on the staff island would be a vacation in of itself.

Staff premises. Courtesy of Trent Walker.
Staff premises. Courtesy of Trent Walker.

Your trip closes with your final bill. Once you’ve inked the financial terms of surrender, you board the seaplane for a ride back to Male international, carrying pictures and memories your friends won’t believe are real, and given the Conrad’s total domination over nature, perhaps your friends are right.