Best of the Maldives: Screwpine Colada – Amilla Fushi

Amilla - screw pine cocktail

If there’s two things I enjoy in the Maldives it is exotic flavours of local ingredient and the traditional cocktail of a Pina Colada. Now, Amilla has added another screw pine concoction mashing up these two into a Screw Pine Colada:

  • “Enjoy a Maldivian twist to your usual pina colada with the fresh flavours of our home-grown products. Our rum-based coladas are made with fresh screw pine juice and coconut water from our island – truly the taste of the Maldives in a glass.”

A few these walking tree drinks and you might just be walking into the tree (“screw pines” as also known as “walking trees”).

Best of the Maldives: Tiki Cocktails – LUX North Male Atoll

LUX North Male Atoll - cocktails

Tiki cocktails exemplify the quirky fun extravagant side of cocktails and so no surprise that LUX North Male Atoll offers an extensive collection:

  • Tiki Tonka – dark rum, pineapple juice, ginger juice, orgeat syrup, vanilla syrup
  • Zombie Return – white rum, dark rum, apricot brandy, pineapple juice, lime juice
  • Hurrican – white rum, dark rum, passion fruit juice, lime juice, simple syrup, grenadine
  • Bleu Angel – white rum, Malibu, Curacao, coconut cream, pineapple juice
  • Silver Surfer – tequilla silver, lime juice, lychee, rosewater simple syrup, ginger beer
  • Guduguda – gin, watermelon juice, lime juice, homegrown mint, sugar syrup

This week Jumeirah announced that it was taking over the management of the LNMA property. I’m sure that they will instil their own branding and twists on the offering, but many of the establishments will continue operating. So hopefully you can keep enjoying such playful concoctions.

LUX North Male Atoll - cocktails 2

LUX North Male Atoll - cocktails 3

Best of the Maldives: Marina – The Crossroads

Crossroads marina

At a destination that is 99% ocean, one of the best ways to explore and experience this paradise is on the water itself. Dive boats have long been a staple of the Maldives, but the rise of guest affluence has introduced more and more luxury yachts and cruisers passing through this equatorial archipelago.

Previously, the only full service in the country was at Hideaway Beach resort. The Crossroads at Maldives introduces an entire marina complex with acres of property to cater to every billionaire’s need:

  • “Offering an impressive 30 berth quay, complete with world-class facilities, the Yacht Marina @ CROSSROADS is the ideal haven to weigh anchor. Catering for vessels from 10 to 60 metres, this is the ultima explorer’s paradise.”

You can even get full board and half-board dining plans at the Marina’s eateries.

Your own personal floating water villa.

How to Pick the Perfect Maldives VILLA

Perfect Maldives villa

By far the highest engagement post of Maldives Complete is the post “How to Pick the Perfect Maldives Resort” (200+ comments and new ones coming in every day). But now the destination landscape has changed so people are looking as much for the perfect “villa” as the perfect “resort”. It used to be that the resort choice drove most of the variation in experience. The few room categories on offer simply provided some modest variations in size and location of your room. Most of the amenities (eg. pool) were shared across the property. Today, resorts typically offer over a dozen different room/villa categories with massive variations in size, amenities, and of course budget.

Like the Maldives Complete “Resort Finder”, the companion “Room Finder” was developed to filter a short list down from an even more overwhelming number of room types to choose from – 1,137 Room types versus 164 (active) Resorts. Below is a guide to the top considerations and what to take into account when considering them:

  1. BUDGET!! – As with the “Perfect Resort” piece, the very first question is your budget. Choosing a general star-category (eg. 4-star, 5-star) no longer narrows down the expected expenditure. The top of range villa can be many times the price of the entry-level one. The majority of resorts, even some 4-star ones, seem to offer a blockbuster “Presidential” villa which is many times the cost (and size) of their standard lodging.
  2. ISLAND – While the villa is the focus, you still have to consider your surroundings and ask yourself the other questions about the “Perfect Resort” (eg. size, house reef, public facilities).
  3. LOCATION – Location, location, location. For resorts themselves, that question is usually about transferring and distance to Male. With villa types, that question refers to a spectrum of possibilities essentially stack-ranked by proximity to the ocean:
    1. Water Villa (Middle of the Ocean) – Completely detached from the home island (with a shuttle boat service).
    2. Water Villa (Jetty) – In the middle of the water with jetty to the island.
    3. Water Villa (Water’s Edge) – Sometimes referred to as a “Lagoon Villa” or some other slightly different level. The front of the villa rests over very shallow water with the rear of it pretty much over land.
    4. Beach Villa – On the island typically within a few dozen metres of the water’s edge.
    5. Garden Villa – Typically tucked deeper in the island often without even a view of the water.
  4. PRIVATE POOL– When I first started my Maldives Complete research 20+ ago, a main focus was to identify which resorts had a pool for our kids to play and it’s #7 on the “Perfect Resort” check list. Now, the majority of 5-star resorts (and 5-star properties are the majority of resorts) feature your own private pool with your villa. Even these have a bit of a sliding scale with the most luxurious at the top:
    1. Luxury Pool – Some pools have special feature like glass sides or slides.
    2. Swimming Pool – The standard in this consideration of something that you can more than immerse yourself in, but even move or play around in (maybe even swim laps).
    3. Plunge Pool – Too shallow to swim, but plenty big enough to immerse yourself for a refreshing dip.
    4. Jacuzzi – Some villas feature a jacuzzi which does allow you to immerse yourself, but the inability to move around much is compensated to some degree by soothing bubbles.
  5. SUNRISE/SUNSET– The last I checked, a sunset view is going to cost you on average $200 per sunset. I’m happy watching the sunset at the bar with a fresh cocktail in my hand, but enough people must value watching it in the privacy of their villa. If this matters to you, it will affect your price. This variable is not (yet) in the Room Finder as the majority of resorts don’t make this distinction, but it is something you might want to consider in your final choice. Either in looking at the published room categories or, if not a distinct category by the resort, submitting a preference when you book.
  6. SIZE– Both in number of bed rooms and in square footage. Not a big deal to me, but if it matters to you, it is something that is easily filtered on the Room Finder.
  7. FAMILY– Minimum age. For Resort’s, it something people seek. For Room’s it’s something people need to avoid (if you have children that age).

The Room Finder also allows you to filter on “Glass Floor”, but primarily because that it relatively easy data to get a hold of, but frankly sure aesthetic touches are not something I would recommend using to guide your choice.

There are actually dozens of amenities and features that vary by resort and room (eg. hair dryers, bidets, safe, kettle, deck chair). I’ve never felt these were serious determinants of where to stay so I haven’t done the work to put them in the database, but if you are interested in such details (maybe to split hairs on a toss up choice between options), I recommend Mondo Maldives whose website does a thorough job of tracking this information.

QI: Shark Sex

Sex…AND Sharks! Now that I have you attention!…

Q: How many penises does a male shark have?
A: One?
Q: BUZZZ. Nope. Two penises. “He uses only one at a time, depending on which side of the female shark he finds himself.”
One is used for depositing and the other is used for “holding on”. Ducks famously have multiple vaginas (so they can choose which of the many male ducks who take her forcibly to actually sire her children). Sharks have multiple penises.

That’s not all they use to literally embrace their beloved. Male sharks also use their teeth used to hold onto female shark (so much so that “female sharks tend to have thicker skins than males and bigger bodies in order to withstand the results of a male shark trying to hang onto her with his teeth” (up to 3x thicker). Now THAT’s a love bite!

Q: Since sharks are fish and not mammals, how many ways can sharks give birth?
A: One (laying eggs)?
Q: BUZZZ. A number of shark are indeed oviparous (lays eggs), but a number of species are viviparous (give birth live).
A: So two??
Q: BUZZZ. Some shark species are actually ovoviparous meaning that the eggs hatch in the oviduct within the mother’s body and that the egg’s yolk and fluids secreted by glands in the walls of the oviduct nourishes the embryos.

Best of the Maldives: Safety Turtle – Amilla

Amilla - safety turtle

Even if you stay sequestered in your own villa pool, you still to have to be careful with safety around water. Especially with young ones in tow. And this is doubly the case if you have a water villa with a pool. A while back, most Maldives resorts did not allow children in water villas for fear of their falling into the ocean, but recently they have decided to let parent’s make their own decisions about safety. If your child is less mobile or you are diligent in looking after them, then there shouldn’t be any problems. But all parents know their attention can be distracted even for a moment.

For an extra measure of hi-tech protection, Amilla has procured a number of “Safety Turtle” devices which trigger an alarm at a base station (up to 200 feet away) if it gets wet. Put it on your child’s wrist to be alerted imediately if they fall into the pool or ocean. The devices are available for loan on request.

Amilla - safety turtle 2

Best of the Maldives: Snorkel Safety Ring – SAii Lagoon / Hard Rock

SAii Lagoon - safety ring

One of the appeals of snorkeling and swimming in the Maldives is the mill pond calm waters of the sea stilled by the atoll reef topology. But any body of water, including your bathtub, can be a drowning risk. Not surprisingly, for a country 99% water, the biggest cause of fatality for guests to the country is drowning. Perhaps seduced by the placid feel, people can literally get in over their head. To help reduce the risk of snorkellers getting into trouble (or just to provide a place where they can stop and rest and maybe chat easily with their snorkel buddy), Hard Rock and SAii Lagoon have placed hi-vis floatation rings at the lagoon snorkeling spot (where they have placed a few underwater items to attract fish and provide visual interest in an area which is, and always has been, most sandy shoals.

How to Interpret a Resort Review

Review maldives

Ratings are often the first thing people turn to in deciding on their resort of choice, but these handy shorthands are also fraught with biases and confusion. I thought I would pull back the curtains a bit on these metrics and badges to makes then easier to use and interpret when research your perfect resort.

  • Industry star ratings indicate how many boxes a property has ticked against a list of criteria
  • Social media star ratings (mostly) indicate how a property has performed against expectations.
  • Industry awards are (mostly) just pay-for-cachet shills.

INDUSTRY STAR RATINGS

Traditional “star” ratings (eg. “5-star hotel”) were developed by industry bodies and were determined by a methodical list of criteria. The advantage to this approach is that is objective. The problem was that the checklist reflects quantitative metrics, but not qualitative aspects. It counts things like the number of electrical sockets and whether the bathroom has a bidet, but doesn’t assess the quality of design, materials, aesthetics, etc. Resorts quickly learned to game this system by installing the cheapest versions of anything that would tick the assessor’s boxes to get a coveted “5-star” designation for a fairly chintzy property.

SOCIAL MEDIA REVIEW RATINGS

The Internet and social media introduced the notion of crowd-sourced reviews. The stars that visitors gave were anything but methodical or defined. The reviews were completely haphazard with “1-star: Terrible” reviews going to exceptional properties who made one slip-up during their visit, and “5-star: Excellent” reviews going to mediocre properties visited by people who were just delighted to be on holiday or wanted to boast to the world how amazing it all was.

The notion is that a savvy reader will dismiss the outliers and focus on the shape of the score histogram (eg. shifted more heavily to positive or negative side). Social media does add the richness of two features: (a) the text review itself (so you can drill down into the specifics of the assessment as make your own judgement about whether the attributes focused on concern you or the assessment seems justified), and (b) the authority of the writer (based on reputational scoring like “Helpful” votes).

Seth Godin articulates this dynamic well in this piece “I Hate This Restaurant” (and this is just the inadvertent failure ignoring the deliberate toxic practice of social media extortion where people find tiny failings and demand a big discounts or compensation under threat of them unleashing their condemnations all over social media):

  • ·If you look at many 1-star reviews (of books, of music, of restaurants) this is precisely what you’re going to see. A mismatch of expectations. A mismatch that is blamed, completely, on the person who created the work, not the critic. It doesn’t matter that the thing was clearly marked. It doesn’t matter that the thing was extraordinarily well-produced. And it doesn’t matter if just about everyone else experiencing it was thoroughly delighted. Because for this spoiled, under-informed and impatient patron, it failed.”

As a result of this “expectations driven” reviewing, many resorts have shifted the direction of their approach to ratings. Instead of trying to goose their rating as high as possible with covering the official bases as expediently as possible, now many properties voluntarily downgrade the advertised “rating”. So they might officially be a “5 star” property, but they advertise as a “4+ star”. That way, guest come expecting one standard of quality, but find a higher than expected one. Exceeding such expectations is the key to strong social media ratings. Better to be a 4-star on the profile but a 5-star on TripAdvisor, than visa-versa.

INDUSTRY BODY AWARDS

Whatever you do, dismiss the press releases and website merit badges from industry awards (eg. “Best Hotel in the Indian Ocean by the So-So-So Travel Group”). Said industry body charges X-thousand dollars for a resort to buy a table at their award ceremony and pretty much makes sure that everyone who attends, walks away with an award. In fact, in some cases, the more awards a resort flaunts, the more likely they are trying to cover up major inadequacies by buying endorsements (Yes, I know, I have featured some awards on the website and my email signature, BUT I did not pay anything for these and would never).

So with all of these review shortcomings, how is one to assess the quality of a resort in researching a holiday? I do check out the social media ratings (mostly TripAdvisor). I look at the shape of the star distribution (eg. how many 1-stars, how many 2, etc…). I will take a peek at a couple of 1-star reviews our of curiosity to see if they had identified anything truly serious, but in nearly all cases it is just the rambling trolling of a disaffected whinger. I do select for the most highly rated reviewers (eg. most Helpful votes) as these folks are likely to have sensible perspective so that their review will share useful insights.

Best of the Maldives: Upcycled Table – Amilla

Amilla - upcycled table

Furniture can be just as artistic as paintings and sculpture. It is sort of a living, functional sculpture which makes experiencing it all the richer. My favourite art is those pieces with a story as enchanting as its aesthetics. Like Amilla’s upcycled dining table in their Mystique Garden. The resort hosts chef’s garden meals there. The table itself has been made out of reclaimed wood from the island’s previous jetty. So you are dining in the middle of the island, eating produce from all around you, sitting on part of the island’s history.