Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 1: Flying BA’s new non-stop service

BA 2043 to Male

Hmmm. For the longest time I swore off booking separate resort bookings and commercial flight bookings. Such an approach gave one much more flexibility, but I could never get a deal that matched the complete package prices and the fine service of the tour operators. They got (a) special pricing from the resorts, and (b) flew cut rate charters like Monarch. Furthermore, my loyalty was secured a few years ago by great customer service from Kuoni. The Iraq War had started messing up air space in the Middle East and wreaking havoc with the flights. It could have been a situation of high stress and inconvenience (waiting interminably at Male airport). Instead, the local Kuoni rep was on top of everything and called us to reassure us and tell us to just relax by the pool until the update plans were sorted. It turned a potentially stressed situation into an extra free day of holiday and earned us loyalty for life.

This time, however, we were finding it difficult to locate a deal that left and returned on days which suited the somewhat less flexible family members this go around. The clincher was BAs new direct service to Male which I am flying on as I write this sentence. Today’s flight is the third one flown as it was just launched this week. BA has a number of attractive deals which made the flight portion reasonably attractive – about £500 per person.

That just meant finding a resort. I thought that this would be the easy part and was stunned at how difficult it was. First the web sites. Amazing how clumsy, awkward and difficult many of the resort’s websites were to book dates. I quickly abandoned this approach and thanks to Skype could make inexpensive phone calls to speak directly to a human being. This is where the language barrier came in. The Maldivian (and other nationality staff who often work at resorts) speak fine English for basic questions on familiar areas (“where is the restaurant?”, “how do I book and excursion?”). For more complicated subjects like discussing booking options, the conversations actually became quite laboured. In the end, I turned to Destinology which was recommended by a TripAdvisor forum member. They provided excellent service in finding a great rate for a resort and sorting out all the paperwork and logistics (eg. transfers to the island).

We are going to the 5-star resort Kurumba which also came to about £500 per person for room and board. So the whole deal comes to about £1000 per person (closer to £1200 when all the taxes, charges, etc. are loaded in) which is about a low a price as I could find for any resort. And those other resorts had a lot more constraints when I was researching the package route.

Now that I am on the BA flight, I’m not sure I will ever do package again. If the prices can stay comparable and the web makes the booking logistics relatively easy, then the commercial flight is soooo much better. More comfy seats, more service (advance online check in – no queues), frequent flyer points, in flight on-demand entertainment, amenities, free snacks and drinks. The whole experience is more relaxed and comfortable.

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 0: Anticipation and packing

For the first time since the launch of MaldivesComplete, I am returning to the tropical paradise of my dreams. This trip has a bit of the old (the whole family getting together for another travel adventure which happens less frequently these days with the kids all grown up) and the new (a planned trip into Male for exploration and business).

Given the many hours of research on the Maldives intensified over the past year with MaldivesComplete, this trip has special anticipation.

Lots of traffic in the travel forums like TripAdvisor cover ‘what to pack’. Being a generally quite seasoned traveller and this my 6th trip to this particular destination, you would think that I would have the whole preparation thing down. It is curious the packing decisions I grappled with…

  • Fins – On one hand there is a comforting feeling having all your own snorkelling stuff that’s yours and fitted for you. On the other hand, all the resorts offer plenty of fine quality free snorkelling gear for convenient use through your stay. We debated whether it was worth the space and the weight to bring them and decided to in the end.
  • Computer – The Maldives trip used to be associated with such complete and utter relaxation that it was the one of the few holidays where I didn’t bring my computer. Now out of the corporate world, my laptop is no longer the spectre of tooling evil. It is just a handy device. With Wifi in the rooms, I decided it would be fun to carry on my MaldivesComplete blog with ‘live’ reports. Also, it is a handy large screen DVD player for the long haul (10 hour) flights. Our daughter is bringing hers as well and my wife and our son I think will be queuing up for access. Some might think that this digital obsession is sad, but frankly the devices are useful and fun tools. We can send updates to friends, not have to worry about the house because we can be in touch in neighbours, etc.

Other than that, the packing list was pretty much the basics – shorts, under garments, t-shirts, short sleeved shirts, sun glasses, dive logs/cards, snorkelling gear, sandals, games, books, cameras, US dollars,reading materials.

Paradise, here we come!

Best of the Maldives: Mantas – The Haven

Manta YouTube

Possibly one of the most placidly dramatic aquatic encounters in the Maldives is the graceful and commanding creature Manta Ray. Quite prevalent across most of the Maldives, we have seen them a number of times from shore. In fact, Conrad Hilton Rangali had a regular manta visitor who came every evening like clockwork to feed on the small sea life attracted by the lights of the dock. The resort guests would go down to watch the balletic display of this spaceship-like fish doing loop-the-loops underwater scooping up big mouthfuls (see picture below we snapped).

The YouTube clip above is from a National Geographic piece on Mantas in the Maldives which has great pictures and commentary. It provides good tips on ‘when’ to see Mantas (and other large pelagics like Whale Sharks). Unfortunately, the ‘best’ time for pelagics is the ‘worst’ time for weather, ie. the monsoon season. The seasonal rains spur the growth of the microscopic food on which these filter feeds feast.

The top spot for Mantas is the eponymous ‘Manta Point’ (see dive chart below) near The Haven resort. Tim Godfrey’sDive Maldives’ book describes,

“Manta Point has a world-wide reputation as being one of the most consistent sites for attracting large numbers of manta ray…In eight metres of water on the south east corner of Lanaknfinolhu reef are several large coral rocks which mark the point where mantas converge during the south-west monsoon season. Mantas have been photographed here as early as April and as late as December. These rocks are one giant cleaner station for the mantas. Blue-streak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, often working in pairs, can be observed swimming out to the hovering mantas to remove old skin and parasites. The mantas circle the rocks awaiting their turn to be cleaned and when finished they swim gracefully up and down the reef feeding on zooplankton in the shallow water.”

If you can’t make it to Manta Point, but still want to regale in a spectacular show of these majestic creatures in the Maldives, MaldivesComplete has the scoop that BBC2 will broadcast ‘Andrea: Queen of Mantas’ on Wednesday 11 November 8 pm (if you do not live in the UK, check out the BBC iPlayer website to see if and when the programme will be broadcast over the Internet which many of their shows are now).

“Andrea: Queen of the Mantas tracks student Andrea Marshall over the course of a year as she dives the Indian Ocean unlocking secrets about the manta ray – a balletic cousin to the shark, with ‘wings’ which can span 7 metres (20 ft) wide…[R]evelations in the film include…the first tv footage of around 150 mantas massing near the Maldives…[in conjunction with the show] an online campaign seeking better safeguards for sharks and mantas is being run by The Save Our Seas Foundation, a main sponsor of manta ray research in Mozambique and around the Maldives.”

Rangali Manta    The Haven Dive Chart

Best for Bartending – Sheraton Full Moon

Sheraton Full Moon Bartenders

Somehow a pina colada never tastes quite so good as on the deck overlooking the tropical waters. But if you fancy a bit more variety, the Sheraton Full Moon has the bartending expertise to deliver the finest concoctions to complement the perfect sunset or evening repose.

“Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa is proud to announce that two of their associates have received the top honours at the SIMDI – Bacardi/ Marie Brizzard Classical and Flair Bartender of the Year Cocktail Competition on Tuesday, 6 October 2009. Both Rajandra Joshi and Argus Setiawan, won first place in the Classical & Flair categories respectively. Ruwan Dinesh also received an Honorable Mention in the Classical Category.”

  • Rajandra Joshi – Cinnamon Sunrise, winning cocktail of classical category (Cinnamon stick, Bacardi Gold, Apricod Brandy, Martini Rosso)
  • Argus Setiawan – Lady Pick, winning cocktail of flair category (Bacardi, Gallino, Blue Curacao, Fresh Orange Juice) Juggled, tossed, twirled and even danced his way to the top.
  • Ruwan Dinesh – Blue Horizon (Bacardi, Blue Curacao, Southern Comfort, Fresh Orange & Honey Melon Juice)

“Rajendra and Argus will receive sponsorship to participate in the John White Elite Bar Management course in Singapore, which is conducted by the International Bartender Association. They will also be given an opportunity to take part in the annual Classical & Flair Bartender of the Year (Asia Pacific Region) competition in Singapore.”

Best for Privacy – Banyan Tree Madivaru

Banyan Tree Madivaru Island

Recently someone posted a question to Trip Advisor Forums asking what the ‘most private’ resort in the Maldives was. Now the very definition of ‘privacy’ is a bit subjective and elicited a number of nominees – Naladhu, Dhoni Mighili. But if you are considering the purely objective measure of number of fellow guests on the island, then the winner is Banyan Tree Madivaru with its only 6 rooms. As described in the Forum and on the website

“The Banyan Tree Madivaru comprises 6 Tented Pool Villas. Each Tented Pool Villa comprises three individual tents, distinctively equipped to function as living, sleeping, and bath areas. The spacious bath tent features a pair of spa beds for enjoying in-villa treatments that include signature Banyan Tree Spa massages and facials. Interior furnishings exude a warm and tropical ambience, replete with timber flooring, rattan and teak furniture, handcrafted wooden and canvas accents, and luxurious ceiling canopies.”

Best for White-Tip Reef Sharks – Bathala

White Tip Reef Shark

Eeek a shark! One of the most prevalent sea creatures that you will encounter in the Maldives is the white-tipped reef shark. But for those who have gorged on too many Hollywood special effects, rest assured there is nothing to fear. In fact, one of the most prominent characteristics of these infamous fish is how skittish they are themselves. After a while of snorkelling and catching glimpses of them, you really start to want to see them closer and realise how apprehensive they are about getting anywhere near you.

The most prevalent are the bitty ones you see in the lagoons like the one our children Isley and Chase are admiring above. But they do grow up to several feet long, but those ones are just as harmless (in fact, the bigger they are, the bigger scaredy cats that they seem to be).

If you want to see as many of these popular and populous creatures, then the place to go is Maaya Thila, described at the ‘White Tip Reef Shark Capital of the Maldives’. While Maayafushi and Halaveli are nearby, the closest resort to this specially protected marine area is Bathala.

Tim Godfrey describes Maaya Thila in his book ‘Dive Maldives’

“The smaller white-tips are the centre of attention, with dozens of them circling the reef. Maaya Thila is about 80 metres in diameter and can be easily circumnavigated in one dive – if the current is favourable – although it is not uncommon for divers to spend the entire dive in one area to digest the incredible diversity of marine life.”

Maayaa Thila Dive Chart

Best of the Maldives: Painting – Robinson Club

Werner Fink

With such dazzling scenery from the turquoise crystal waters to the lush tropical foliage, one would imagine the Maldives to be an ideal venue for artistic inspiration. To enhance the inspiration, the resort Robinson Club is offering a special program of a art inspired events including ‘Art in Full Bloom’ and ‘Cook n Art’.

Heidi Gerstner, the recognized Queen of Roses, has made her name in the art scene with her precious flower and blossom paintings. With stimulating and professional guidance, she will introduce you to her refined spatula technique and lead you into the sophisticated art of acrylic painting…Nowhere else is the flora and fauna so diverse, inspirational and incomparable, as in ROBINSON Club Maldives-best conditions for good motifs, exciting days, and enjoyment. Experience in a gorgeous setting a workshop, which you will long remember.”

“At this unique event you will experience a symbiosis of cooking art and exciting passion. We look forward to welcoming, Werner Fink, renowned expert for our exclusive event. Werner, who is famous in Germany and an award-winning chef, who was cooking at the Olympics over two decades and winning many gold and silver medals for recipes, will guide you through a wonderful and creative week. Originally self-taught, but later known as a student, he studied with well-known art professors at the Frankfurter Staedel and also made himself a name with his beautiful, meaningful and large-scale artworks. He is regarded as an exceptional talent and combines the two skills like no other…In addition, you will be introduced in Werner`s workshop to the art of painting. Painting your own chef`s jacket with tropical or culinary motifs, every other hobby chef will envy you, and you can take home an unforgettable souvenir and the memories of a beautiful and fabulous week in paradise.”

Both events are full week long programmes with daily activity.