I recently completed my first stay at the resort, in a beach villa. It's a stunning resort and I now understand the "cult" of why some posters here return again and again.
Anyway, I jotted down a number of observations, some of which are undoubtedly insane, but I will nonetheless share them with everyone in the hopes they help someone, since you folks were so helpful answering my questions.
Like a true FTer, I chose this destination because (a) we could stay 3 nights free on Hilton certificates/points, and (b) I'm trying to visit every country, and Maldives was #165. My girlfriend of six months, conversely, had never left Cambodia before this trip so, yeah, it was a bit of a crazy destination for her first flight, first resort stay, etc.
On showering and toilet prudishness
I was surprised by two things about the beach villa. I didn't realize that they had ONLY outdoor showering/bathing areas. You may be showering outside, perhaps just a few feet away from where your neighbor is simultaneously showering, separated only by a 7-8 foot wall and some trees. My girlfriend found it rather disconcerting. Or maybe she didn't like that I could also see her shower if I were in the unit. I also wasn't even thrilled with her seeing me shower, in broad daylight -- that's not a good look for me.
The sink/vanity/storage room/ front door are all located very close to the outdoor shower, and just be forewarned that the occupants of your beach villa are going to see each other in the shower from time to time unless you take affirmative steps to avoid that.
Second, the toilet is located inside the unit, not far from the bed/sitting area. The only thing separating the toilet from the bed/sitting area is a sort of flimsy slatted sliding wooden door that isn't flush with the doorway. The spaces between the slats are big, the sliding door basically provides no soundproofing and I'm sure no smell proofing of whatever is happening in the toilet.
My girlfriend would get out of bed and go into the toilet to pee and it sounded like a fire hose hitting the water in the bowl and echoing throughout the villa. I took to running the water in the sink every time I went into the toilet in order to cover up my toilet sounds.
Beach villa selection
I made no requests in advance and just took the beach villa they assigned me. I'm a Diamond member, knew there would be no upgrade, hoped for one of the better beach villas. They assigned me 120, which, in retrospect, I can't complain about.
You want to be able to walk out of your unit along your private path and walk right into beautiful surf with a beautiful view. I think 101-105 would be a bit too close to the bridge, the activity/noise, the buggy carts, Dhoni dock, etc. Then somewhere in the 106-115 range there's like a two foot drop off at the end of the paths where you have to climb down just slightly and they have sandbags there for you to step on to get into the surf and it's slightly less nice.
The paths where the higher 100 villas hit the beach seem to have a nicer view and more private setting. The 119 to 122 villas seem to all meet the beach at about the same spot though, with their beach chairs pretty close to each other, whereas 123 seems to be by far the best beach villa location on this side of the island, as it's furthest from the bridge, and it's beach chairs have more space on each side from 122 and 124.
Most of the beach villas are in this 101-123 block. Note that when you walk into the surf on this side, it's lovely soft sand, you can walk out about 10 meters and be up to your waist, but at 11 meters or so out the beach suddenly just drops off and the water will be over your head.
There are also some beach villas on the sunrise 200 side. These face the reef, where the water is shallower much further out, there are more rocks/coral, but you can wade out 30+ meters without the water going over your head. I think that 213-216 probably offer the most bang for the buck of all the beach villas in terms of location. 201-204 are close to the other bridge and there's a big volleyball court right outside the 202-204 paths, so I think those are less nice.
Keep in mind the beach villas don't really have beach views from inside the unit, because they have vegetation for privacy along your private path to the beach.
Anyway, if I ever go back and stay in a beach villa, I'd ask for 213-216, or alternatively 123, or 205-208, or 116 - 122. Or, flipping that script, just ask not to be assigned to 201-205 or 101-115.
Now, here's another request I'd make that's perhaps more important. All of the beach villas have a lovely back terrace facing the sea. It's a nice place to relax, if you don't have loud neighbors over the wall making noise on their own back terrace. I'd request an "end unit" (neighbors only on one side) - that's 213, 216, or 123 (and maybe others?). Alternatively and/or in addition, I'd ask NOT to be assigned a villa next to a family with children or a large group.
We had neighbors on both sides, on one side was a couple we hardly ever heard from, on the other side was a Chinese family with children who made a moderate amount of noise frolicking on their back terrace, and we would hear them not just when we were on our terraces, but we would also hear them if they were out there while we were in our villas with the doors closed.
My neurotic Ithaa table selection strategy
We booked lunch at Ithaa. I considered dinner instead, but decided on lunch due to price, menu, and because I heard that the Sunday dinner sittings were late at night and you missed the experience of sunset in the restaurant.
I had read here that you want to try to get a middle table, so that you each get sort of a panoramic view of the fish, rather than one of you being backed against a wall. Lunch was at 12:30, showed up at about 12:15 and found others already waiting in Sunset Grill, the first waiting area. Note that children are allowed at Ithaa for lunch, and only charged at half price. We lucked out having only two teenage boys among the other diners and they were fine.
Anyway, at 12:20 - 12:25 the hostess motioned us from Sunset Grill over to Ithaa itself, where there's sitting room with sofa and chairs at the main level for a few people to sit down. She gives a 3-5 minute talk about the restaurant then she motions you downstairs.
To get first choice of tables, you want to be the first couple that walks down the stairs into the restaurant. The best strategy here is don't be the first people who walk into Ithaa and sit on the sofa for the talk, because the sofa is opposite the stairs, flanked by the end chairs closer to the stairs. If you're on the sofa when the talk ends, you won't be able to get down the stairs first without hurdling the diners sitting in the end chairs, and that's just bad form.
Sit in the end chairs, or, better yet, just stand and casually hover near the stairwell during the whole talk. Then when she finishes, walk down the stairs first.
Anyway, our hostess finishes her talk and gestures towards the stairs. A tenth of a econd later, I politely shove my girlfriend down the stairs, and we walk into the empty restaurant to choose a table. There were seven tables, 3 on the right side and four on the left. It looked pretty much like this:
The far table on the right side was set for 3 people, the rest were all set for two.
I picked the middle table on the right , which I think was the right choice, because: (a) it's dead center, not off center like the two "middle" tables on the left, (b) more privacy because only 3 tables on the right side instead of 4 packed in the same space on the left, (c) there's a lovely coral reef on the right side that provides a nice backdrop for photos, whereas on the left side there seems to be less coral.
I don't know that the layout is always like this. I've heard that sometimes tables are reserved for guests. I don't know.
If you can't get a middle table, I'd recommend sitting on the far end of the restaurant, rather than the end near the stairs. Two reasons for that: (a) the servers serve the food from near the stairs and the cutlery station is there and those tables are louder, and (b) there's a glass cutout "doorway" at the far end with coral behind it which is nicer to look at than the stairwell.
A few final Ithaa thoughts
We had three Cokes, weren't billed for them, but were charged $12 I think for one house "mocktail." We were offered win but I think she said no alcohol, or maybe alcohol and specialty drinks had to be gotten from the Rangali Bar.
I had heard lunch takes 2 hours, we were there 90 minutes, saw no reason to stay longer
Bring sunglasses if going for lunch, it's bright.
The hostess asked us if we were on our honeymoon, I definitely didn't need that.
No effective dress code for lunch.
Lunch was fun but not "romantic," it's sort of a selfie/photo fest.
I thought the food was excellent. The reef fish looked and tasted like a swordfish steak.
Lastly, if you take photos on a camera phone, disable the auto lock/passcode in advance, so when the big schools of fish come by, you don't get caught in an endless cycle of:
Her: "Honey! Fish! Take my photo!"
Me: [fumbling to unlock phone, enter passcode, open camera app, and take her photo]
Her: [pouting] "Too late."