Before I begin my resort review for JA Manafaru in the Maldives let me give you some important background information. When my husband began the planning for our fourth visit to the Maldives (yes we are very greedy and love this little paradise on earth) we made the decision to try a different resort from our beloved Constance Moofushi. A risky strategy but until Constance we had never returned to the same place more than twice. We set our criteria to decide where to go as follows:
5 Star Ratings – well this is a luxury blog so would you expect anything less from me? This criteria didn’t narrow our search that much as to be honest I’m not sure you can do the Maldives on a budget (although some other bloggers beg to differ on this point).
All Inclusive – this is a major point as the prices at resorts are the craziest I have ever seen and when on vacation I do not want to be thinking about being fleeced because I’m a captive audience on an island without any options. Surprisingly, this restriction did narrow down the search quite considerably.
Excellent Reviews – TripAdvisor, Expedia, and of course luxury bloggers are all great sources of information when planning a vacation. A word of caution though as reviews can be a little misleading so you need to look somewhat behind the reviewer to understand their motivation, personal needs, and level of expectation.
So how did our vacation go? Well I will try to write this review without constant comparison to Constance Moofushi although that was probably our biggest issue with the vacation.
Once you have gone through customs and have been reunited with your bags you walk through to the outdoor arrivals area and find your resorts representative. There is a sea of men holding cards with resort names on but thankfully we soon found our man. This area is quite a bottleneck as arriving passengers attempt to transfer to their island resorts either by seaplane or boat. Suitcases need to be rechecked and hand luggage assessed for weight if flying and we were very happy when another resort rep whisked us away to the lounge to await our next flight.
The lounge at the airport where we needed to wait an hour or two for our seaplane is a typical airport lounge, nothing fancy but adequate for a short stopover with access to wifi, snack food, and beverages. The resort rep did tell us that they are building a more luxurious purpose built lounge at the dock area so this step will hopefully be improved in the coming months. Many arriving passengers have flown internationally and the toll of the journey is beginning to show as they struggle to stay awake at this point.
JA Manafaru is located on the HAA Alif Attol approximately 199 miles north of Male and is accessible via a 75-minute seaplane journey from the dock that is about a five-minute bus ride from Male International Airport. The seaplane journey is a real treat as it flies over the many other island resorts enroute to JA Manafaru giving great picture ops.
4 Tips – air conditioning is somewhat basic and the seaplane ride can get very toasty so dress accordingly. 75 minutes on a hot plane can make you quite thirsty so take advantage of the bottled water in the lounge and keep a bottle handy for the journey. The flight is fairly noisy so ask the crew for earplugs if this bothers you. There is really no bad side to sit in the tiny aircraft and you will get fantastic photos all along the route so have your camera ready.
Our pilot circled over the resort as he prepared for landing giving his passengers a perfect view of our new home. The 35-acre private island with its beautiful white beaches and delightful huts over the clear turquoise colored water really is picture postcard perfect. As we deplaned onto the dock our personal concierge who would be looking after us for the duration of our stay greeted us. Jumping into a golf cart we were escorted straight to our room and given a tour of the island with a running commentary explaining all the features along the ride.
Check in time at the resort is 2pm so I loved the fact that we could go straight to our room, The personal concierge program works really well as there is no need to visit reception to do any paperwork as this is all taken care of for you. This particular resort offers a variety of accommodations:
Beach Bungalows – Offering spacious accommodation just steps away from the beach with private beach cabanas complete with a plunge pool. The surrounding tropical greenery makes this quite the private hideaway and perfect for families. Room for up to 3 adults plus 1 infant.
Beach One Bedroomed Suite – A larger beach option that can accommodate up to 4 adults. A private deck area with infinity pool and an open-air bathroom are just a couple of the luxurious features of this class of accommodation. Room for up to 4 adults plus one child.
Sunrise and Sunset Villas – As the name implies the villas are designed to offer you amazing views at the start or end of each day. The villas are set over the water and have a glass panel built into the floor so you can observe the marine wildlife without the need to venture outside of your air-conditioned sanctuary. The private deck with its infinity pool and comfy loungers is cleverly designed to offer privacy from your neighbors. Room for up to 3 adults plus 1 child.
The Ultimate Luxury – There is 1 Grand Water Two Bedroomed Suite that can accommodate up to 5 adults plus 1 infant and 2 Royal Island Two Bedroomed Suites complete with a sauna, steam room, and spa treatment area that can accommodate up to 6 adults plus 2 infants.
We had chosen a sunrise villa and loved the quality of furnishings, the beautiful setting, and the amount of privacy that the design afforded us. We probably spent around 75% of our time in the villa so this was a major selling point for this resort. The well-stocked fridge that meant we didn’t need to venture out other than at mealtimes or to visit the gym plus the stunning infinity pool and idyllic outdoor deck worked perfectly for our needs.
Watch on YouTube: Resort Review: JA Manafaru, The Maldives
As mentioned earlier we selected this resort due to the ability to book an all-inclusive package. However this became one of the little niggles that greatly annoyed us on this vacation. When a resort offers all-inclusive but than gives you lists of what’s not included it somewhat defeats the object of the exercise for me. It feels like penny pinching when you read a menu but notice a bunch of things that you cannot eat (without paying an upcharge). It also meant that at each meal we needed to sign a check detailing what we had eaten that seemed designed only to elicit a gratuity from us.
There are a variety of restaurants and bar options on the island and despite the small number of guests at the resort you still need to ‘book a table’ each night. When I’m on vacation I don’t really want to decide at breakfast time what I’m going to eat for dinner but when I’m forced to decide but then told I can only dine at a certain time I’m really not that impressed. It also became farcical when we turned up and a table was not available or when we showed up late and were seated straightaway. I think there is a breakdown in the system with the only saving grace being the staff who really try their best to make things work.
We loved the food at the White Orchid restaurant that offers an Asian fusion menu with a hibachi grill inside (making this area very steamy and popular for children to run around it seemed). The waiters move between the restaurants and soon get to know you and your preferences, which is a lovely personal touch that makes you feel very welcomed. The head chef stopped by our table one night to introduce himself and we soon found ourselves discussing British food and my husbands’ love of rice pudding. Much to our surprise he offered to make a dish just for us and low and behold the next evening at dinner we were served our very own rice pudding – this truly is a luxurious touch and one of the reasons this resort gleams such great reviews from guests.
The extensive morning buffet was probably our favorite meal for a few reasons; we are early risers so had much of the restaurant to our self; there was no need to book so you could just turn up and find your own table, breakfast was included for all guests so there was no need to sign a check before you could leave, and there was a good variety of food on offer. However the negative was that even with an all-inclusive package there were items not included such as specialty juices (orange juice was ok but not watermelon!) As a stickler for rules I abided by this but I did wonder what they would have done if I had poured the wrong juice by mistake? Charge me I guess.
The resort offers a spa and wellness center but beware of sticker shock as a couples massage runs around $500. Living in Mumbai where I can get the same for less than $100 we decided not to indulge. The setting looked beautiful but always empty whenever we passed by.
There is a CoolZone for the kids with clubs for 3-12 year olds and another for the teens. Babysitting is available at the resort plus a dedicated activity program for the little ones. This resort is very popular with families; in fact one look at any of the restaurants told you that as most tables were set for 4+ and was quite a contrast from our previous visits to the Maldives.
The gym is open 24/7 with access granted via your electronic room key. Although not huge there was a good variety of equipment on offer and was usually empty when my husband visited for his daily workout. If you are feeling energetic then there are a variety of other sports on offer including tennis courts, table tennis, beach volleyball, and a pool table. There is a PADI dive center offering plenty of water sports including water skiing, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddling, catamaran sailing, speedboat excursions, wakeboarding, jet-skiing, mono-skiing, knee-boarding and fun tubing (motorized sports have additional charges).
The resort also offers a variety of ‘special experiences’ such as Maldivian cooking classes, fishing trips, romantic beach dinners, and sunset boat cruises. I have friends who think there is nothing to do in the Maldives so I like to do my bit to dispel that myth.
Golf Carts – Guests can call for a member of staff to drive them via golf cart to any destination on the island but if you prefer to walk, as we do, then we found ourselves constantly needing to move out of the way for the carts to pass. The island is really not that big but I guess if you have small children or are just feeling lazy then this service could be to your liking.
Seaplane Transfer – The day before our departure we were given our seaplane departure time and much to our disappointment the timing meant a 5 hour wait at the airport. initially we were told that nothing could be done but thankfully the management team were proactive with the seaplane charter company and managed to considerably reduce our wait time by scheduling a later flight. It was great that this accommodation was made but sad that it needed us to voice our displeasure before an obvious step was taken.
All Inclusive Package – There is something wrong with this product as I felt like I had taken the ‘poor mans option’ by selecting to pay a considerable amount of money up front so as not to be concerned with ‘trivia’ while on vacation. A luxury resort should not offer such a small selection of wines ( only served by the glass) or school guests on only being allowed one appetizer, one main course, and one dessert when in reality at most meals I only ate one course anyway. I’m sure the resort has had its fair share of guests that over indulge but to label all guests as glutens just seems rude.
If this had been my first visit to the Maldives then I think I would be far more glowing with my review and why I mention above about looking behind the headlines at the reviewers own expectations. If my children were younger (or when I have grandchildren) then this resort would be much higher on my must visit list but at this point in my life one of the main reasons I love the Maldives is for the peace and serenity this paradise offers (quite the contrast from life in Mumbai).
Writing this review a few weeks after my return I find I have fonder memories of the resort than when I first departed as a number of small issues had annoyed us during our stay. I would like to end by congratulating the staff of this resort for doing their best to work through any issues and for the management for taking the time to listen to our concerns.
For reservations, please call
UAE: +971 481 455 77
Maldives: +960 650 04 56
Website JAResorts Hotels