Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 12: Club Med Kani

Club Med Kani Abdul Samad Ibrahim

Welcome by Abdul Samad Ibrahim to Club Med Kani

Activity Central, Maldives.

Many resorts seem to tick the box by offering a night time DJ, local band, traditional dancing or the like. It always seems a bit depressing when so many times these events are so sparsely attended. At Club Med Kani, these events are always hopping with enthusiastic and ‘join in the fun’ audiences.

And it’s not just night time that people get bopping. When I arrived at lunchtime, the water aerobics was just beginning. Perky announcements were blaring from the loud speakers around the common areas repeated in half a dozen languages. Then a hard driving club beat came over the sound system and no less than 30 people aged 5 to 75 jumped in the pool and started moshing to the instructions of a couple of fit youngsters.

The energy is pulsating constantly. No fear of boredom here. Lots of laughter and chatter everywhere I went. “Friendly and convivial” is how the resort was described by Chief of Village, Ryan Leach.

Club Med Kani is not for lovers of quiet unless you sequester yourself on the premium side of the island. Like Kuredu and Meeru, Club Med Kani has segregated a part of the island for a more premium product. It is not officially classified as ‘5 star’, but all of the design criteria are 5-star quality. The trademark boisterousness is kept to a minimum down that end, it seems.

High octane fun.

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 11: Velassaru

Velassaru flowers

You never forget your first time.

Lori and I returned to the first ever island that we visited in the Maldives back in 1996. Back then it was the 3 and half star ‘Laguna Beach.’ Simple, but enchanting for us first-timers. It wasn’t the perfect resort, but it seemed perfect to us. One of our recommendations is to go to the most basic resort you think that you can tolerate on your first visit to the Maldives. The Maldives have so much beauty and delight to take in, if the resort piles even more on top, it is almost too much to take in at once.

On our transport over there, we felt like we were going home, but you know the adage, ‘you can’t go home again.’ Certainly not to Laguna Beach. Universal Resorts has since completely overhauled it into a dazzling 5-star gem renamed ‘Velassaru’.

If the W is over-engineered, over-priced or just OTT for you, the Velassaru offers a cut-rate version of a glossy, stylish, modern 5-star. Velassaru is less than half the price of the W Retreat. Kind of ‘V’ as half a ‘W’. The one area where Velassaru does best the W is with the glass floor in its top room. Velassaru’s Water Villa Suite boasts a 138 square foot glass floor beating the W’s top floor of 100 square feet (it also boasts one of the longest private water villa pools at 100 feet).

Another thing that Velassaru did better than the W was its desk location. Like Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, they have placed the desk behind the bed, facing outside. I have only seen it in a few resorts, but thoroughly applaud it as someone who regularly has to be on the computer and do work during my stays. It’s bad enough if you have to be on the computer or even work in paradise, but most of the resorts add insult to injury by placing the desks in some back area facing a blank wall, making you feel even more like someone being punished.

One thing we remembered so fondly about ‘Laguna’ was its colourful landscape. We have not yet come across an island with such dense flowers as we remember from Laguna (Vadoo is close with its two gardens taking up the better part of the island). While not quite as concentrated, there are still lots of flowers lining the paths, especially a hyper-abundance of multi-coloured bougainvillea.

The colours don’t end with the greenery. Velassaru could make a case for a ‘Best for Turquoise’ award. It is surrounded by an extended, shallow, sandy lagoon which produces a dazzling azure blue everywhere you look. On the water villa side, the lagoon extends over a mile. We still remember snorkelling that part of the island with our small children. Even though the water was only waist deep, we were well over a half mile from shore and felt, ‘Hmmm…maybe it’s time to head back.’

While completely transformed, it was certainly a treat to head back to Laguna in its new guise as Velassaru.

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 10: Meeru

Meeru water villas

Meeru is a simple, tasteful formula that works.

It’s smart casual. Not ‘chinos and polo shirt’ smart casual, but ‘boho chic’ smart casual. Rattan furniture and natural blonde wood interiors give the chalet-like villas a tasteful simplicity. A relaxed and breezy style where nothing is forced.

Like its sister resort, Kuredu, Meeru is a large island with lots of activities. It also is the only other resort with a ‘Golf Club’. The pitch and putt is compensated for its diminutive size with sumptuous landscaping including well manicured ‘fairways’ and water lilies in the hazards (curiously enough, no ‘sand’ traps). Like Kuredu, Meeru also has segregated the resort into ‘kid-friendly’ and ‘no kids’ sections. Children (under 18) are only allowed to stay in the Garden and Beach Villas, and not allowed in the Pavillion pool or the Uthuru Bar.

Meeru’s house reef is only accessible by excursion, but their house lagoon so impressed me (as have some other resorts I have visited like Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Kanuhura, and Velassaru) that I am going to change the Maldives Complete house reef categorisation. I think that there needs to be a category for ‘Weak House Reef, Good Lagoon’. The lagoon is filled with lots of coral croppings (that Meeru is adding to with an active reefscaping project) as well as lots of big and colourful fish.

Certainly a the resort is a candidate for ‘Best for Dolphins’. Rasheed Mohamed, who took me around, boasted that their dolphin excursions have a 95% success rate in sightings. Lo and behold, on my boat transfer to Meeru, we came upon a giant pod of dolphins with dozens cavorting and swimming around the ship. The captain pulled up and we just sat and watched them for a good long time. Then when we pulled off again, the dolphins loved riding the waves made by the ship’s wake behind us.

A natural charm.

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 9: Kurumba

Kurumba tour

My first ever repeat. After visiting 29 resorts with a credo of always trying new resorts, I have returned to a resort for the first time ever. Kurumba. My motivation pretty much describes Kurumba’s key differentiators – great value 5-star luxury, business convenience to Male, and variety of offerings.

Kurumba is the grand old man of Maldives resorts with all of the dignity and refinement the years of practice bring. It knows, though, that it has to keep in shape with all of the young luxury marque whipper-snappers coming into the neighbourhood on a regular basis. Current General Manager Jason Kruse has undertaken a particularly aggressive investment in updating the look and standard of the rooms. I revisited the Deluxe Beach Villa that we stayed in two years ago and it was a completely different class of room. Simple tasteful style touches livened up the whole look. But they haven’t flown in a bunch of Swedish style-boffins nor imported a boatload of Milan decor. Instead, they have done most of their work themselves to reflect a more Maldivian flavoured style and produced the touches right on the island by their own in house artisans.

Would you buy a second-hand Rolls Royce in excellent (not mint condition) cared for by loving, caring owners? Or would you prefer a brand new Audi for the same price with its new car small and whizzy state-of-the-art bits? If the former, then Kurumba is a place to consider.

They have kept their food standards very high with a constant refresh of the menu. The restaurants are all truly gourmet (eg. ‘Magic Fish’…a dish as fine as its name). Also, Kurumba is a top candidate for ‘Most Sharks as Diner Companions’ recognition. Their Ocean Grill sits over the water in a place frequented by the reef’s many juvenile black-tipped reef sharks. At one point we counted 8 circling just below our table.

Looking forward to settling in and enjoying a bit of this classic for a few days.


Kurumba Ali Farooq

Welcome at the Ocean Grill restaurant by Ali Farooq who I friended on Facebook after our last visit.

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 8: Kandooma

Kandooma tour

Kandooma has architected, in its landscape and buildings, vast inner spaces from a tropical canopy to a striking set of main buildings. Walking around the island, one feels a dramatic cathedral-like sense of interior space both in the built up and natural areas.

The island has no house reef and only a few small swimming lagoons. The downside is that there is hardly any snorkelling from the beach (but snorkelling excursions are offered for free everyday at 3:00 pm). One upside is good wave breaks for those interested in surfing. But this type of reef gives the island a different atmosphere to the classic, quiet little plot of sand in a lagoon. Instead of calm water gently lapping the shores, the ocean in many places (not all) around Kandooma rolls in with modest waves that fill the air with the ambient sound of gently crashing surf.

The surf is just the beginning of its more vibrant feel. Kandooma is popular with young families, so one hears peals of laughter, splashing of water and scampering around by giddy youngsters. The resort also offers different entertainment every night from local bands to karaoke.

Kandooma’s island does not sit alone in the ocean like W Retreat, nor is it tightly clustered with other islands like Anantara, nor amidst big built up islands like Vadoo, but there is a collection of islands in the immediate vicinity. Like a little Indian Ocean neighbourhood of islands.

Kandooma itself has the feel of a little ocean town, especially around the reception, which overlooks a main mini-harbour surrounded by the restaurant and the towering upside-down ‘coconut husk’ buildings. Kandooma is not small at all, but doesn’t feel big either. You can easily circumnavigate it in the time it takes to drink a pina colada. It has a very open feel, especially in the interior where there are lots of trees and greenery, but not lots of shrubbery or ground cover. A pervasive tropical canopy of greenery shrouds an endless expanse of white sand.

Like its syllable shuffled counterpart Komandoo, Kandooma is really a 4+ star. It ticks all the boxes for a 4 star rating but adds quite a number of 5 star touches like rain showers and free in-room Wifi. The rooms are smart and stylish with antiqued white wash decor. It has stylish design with its use of burr-wood, the ‘coconut husk’ inspired architecture, and dramatic white canvas awnings of the main areas.

An ebullient bubble of paradise.

Kandooma tour 2

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 7: W Retreat

W Retreat breakfast

Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Distinction. I knew all about the W chain’s exacting attention to detail, their preoccupation with style, and their boundary-pushing service ethic. These qualities are the very spirit of the ‘Best Of’ distinctions I ferret out across the Maldives. In fact, even before my visit, I had already featured the W Retreat many times.

W displayed endless little magical touches…

  • Laser cut ‘W’s in the stationery
  • Sculpted orange wedges in welcome drink
  • Welcome mat that says ‘Good Morning’ and changes for ‘Afternoon’ and ‘Evening’
  • All tables with adjustable leg bottoms so they never wobble
  • Lychee fruit on the half-shell
  • ‘W’ embossed on toilet paper triangles
  • Michelin star quality Crab Corn Chowder (as born-and-bred New Englander who knows his chowders like me can attest)

Those above are probably too small for even my Best Of section, but the W won’t miss these Best Of pieces, because my short visit uncovered enough distinctions to draft over 20 other pieces. Combined with the 4 I’ve already done on the W Retreat powers them past Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru’s 22 pieces (published or in the works).

Style. There’s ‘Hip Hotels’ and then there is the Hip Hotel Chain…the W. I’ve stayed in W hotels a number of times so I knew what to expect. This tour, I’ve gone from the jazz of Komandoo, to the pop of Kuredu, to the ‘chill out’ of W Retreat. If Kuredu’s guests were eye candy, the W Retreat resort itself is the eye candy. Sometimes pictures exaggerate how nice something looks, but I think pictures don’t capture the actual refinement and polish of the W.

Service. The W abounds with ‘W’ alliterations, one of which should be “Where everyone knows your name.” Quite literally. Be warned it can be a bit creepy for the unsuspecting to have everyone calling you by name, but it really does make you feel like a bit of a celebrity.

Service is not an add-on for the W, but an ingrained part of its DNA. At first, I was curious that there was no butler service which has become de rigueur for the super-premium properties in the Maldives. Then, I realised that every member of staff was trained and positioned to be a ‘butler’. Actually, all staff are referred to as ‘Service Talents’. I was going to say the service is ‘baked in’, but it rather seems like it is ‘engineered in’. The way that German automakers ‘engineer in’ quality, and Italian designers ‘engineer in’ flair. You get the sense that there is some W R&D laboratory somewhere with a bunch of style and service boffins in white (linen) coats sitting around experimenting with new innovative touches.

Service is not just about cheery faces and intense willing. It is about excellent processes that both handle issues when they arise and avoid issues altogether. It is also about deep training of the staff so that they can execute smoothly on the demands placed. All top resorts say ‘this is what we offer, but we can do anything you like’; the W says ‘what we offer is anything you like.’ The service sort of feels like how your spouse treats you on your birthday (”Anything you like honey, it’s your birthday”).

Some people critique that the W is too officious in its service, but I think that they do need to be a little forward in spelling out what a guest can ask for and get. Simply because most guests simply wouldn’t think of asking for some of the things that the W will do.

Chic, current, charismatic.

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 6: Kuredu

Kuredu Darren Hancock and Alison Sampson tennis

Welcome to Eden. Eden resort of the film ‘Couples Retreat’ that is. I wrote yesterday about the uncanny parallels between sister resorts Komandoo and Kuredu as depicted in the rom-com ‘Couples Retreat’. One of the plot lines of the film is that the guys on the ‘Couples Retreat’ island plot to find a way to get over to the ‘Eden resort’ where all the fun and excitement seems to be. Well, Lori and I finally made it over to ‘Eden Resort’ today. You sense it as soon as you arrive as the reception music changes from Komandoo’s gentle jazz (an inspired playlist actually) to Kuredu’s ‘house’ and ‘top 40 pop’.

And like the portrayal of the film, I would say Kuredu would be a top nominee for the ‘Best Looking Guests’. Lots of young and sporty folks like Darren Hancock and Alison Sampson playing tennis during my resort tour (see picture above). If the arty emos are off to Komandoo, then the ‘cool kids’ have congregated here. It’s not quite party central like Ibiza, but it is as lively and as busy a place as you’ll find in the Maldives.

Much of its energy comes from its unmatched array of sports. They exploit their size to offer the fullest range of activities including some of the top diving in the Maldives, a fine water sports centre, a brand new all-weather football pitch and the ringer…a golf club. All the facilities were in steady use during our stay in addition to a range of folk playing games on the beach and in the water.

And when you have worked out enough, the Duniyespa spas are truly first rate. My wife particularly raved about Tini (see below) who was able to relieve neck pain she has been suffering from despite various treatments. One of the best treatments my wife has ever had and she has had a fair few.

Kuredu is big enough that they have divided it into 3 areas each with its own reception, restaurants and atmosphere. The east side is the quiet side with no kids under 12, no water sports, no sea plane, etc.  While Komandoo felt smaller than its real size, Kuredu feels bigger. Kuredu is half the size of Kuramathi, but it feels bigger than Kuramathi. It has the closest thing to ‘roads’ this side of Gan. In fact, walkways are set aside as coconut-husk lined ‘sidewalks’.

Kuredu is a big resort. Big in size, big in offerings, big in energy, and big in personality.

Tini Duniyespa Kuredu

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 5: Komandoo

Komandoo welcome

Intimate. Intimate is the one word that describes Komandoo. Intimate island. Intimate cottages. Restaurants with just a few tables and a simple buffet (not mounds of food like some resort smorgasbords). Filled with honeymooners and second honeymooners. It isn’t even in the top 20 of smallest Maldive islands, but it still fosters this feeling more so than some smaller islands.

When I started the ‘Best Of’ feature in Maldives Complete, one of my motivations was to dispel the myth that ‘there is nothing to do in the Maldives’. But with Komandoo, I have to concede. There is nothing to do. There really is nothing to do except snorkel/dive, sail/canoe, badminton, chess, volleyball and do spa treatments. And I guess stare into each other’s eyes.

That is not a shortcoming, but a design point. It is like the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ but for ‘Stress Retreat’. Instead of broken relationships, it fixes broken blood pressures (and I’m sure it doesn’t do relationships any harm either). For folks who suffer from withdrawals of activities, Komandoo is right down the atoll from its sister resort Kuredu which conversely has one of the largest arrays of activities of any resort (kind of like the Eden resort on ‘Couples Retreat’).

It is this deliberate shun of trappings that misleadingly penalises Komandoo on the official ‘star rating’ front. It is billed as a 4 star property, but they say that they aspire to 5 star service. I actually think that Komandoo is a 4.5 star or a 4+ star if there ever was one. Mostly, they are a case study for how broken the conventional hotel rating system is, especially when applied in the Maldives. You have an incomparable property that gets official dings because it doesn’t have a bidet that no one would use any way. It gets dinged for no swimming pool, and yet for its positioning of being kid-free, there is really no strong reason for a pool. Evidence of this disjointed system is the fact that Komandoo have won several prominent awards, including Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Award 2009 and #1 Romance Holiday Destination in Asia. You don’t win awards like those if you are ‘just a 4 star’.

Natural wood styling pervades, which imparts a sauna-like aroma. The wood has a washed finish which is lighter and brighter than many of the wood-finish rooms on other resorts. The villas are raised up slightly higher than most beach villas and so the deck has a bit of an overlook providing more perspective on the tapestry of aquamarine colours just a few metres away.

The pina coladas were the best I’ve had in a long time (so much so that I broke my own self-imposed limit of 2 and got a 3rd). And the buffet was the first where I had to sample every dish on offer – they all looked and smelled (and tasted) so good.

One of the special treats is the ocean. Komandoo is reputed to have one of the top ten house reefs in the Maldives. And if that’s not enough you, Prodivers runs a sharp dive centre. I took a dive trip with Silvia Ruder and Steve Molyneux to the famous Kuredu Caves. The Caves also has to be one of the top ten dive sites in the Maldives. As I have already accounted, they are famous for their impressive turtle community residing in a distinctive array of deep overhangs on a steep reef. There are no guarantees of seeing stuff in diving, but Kuredu Caves is about as close as you get to one. The minute I descended I saw my first turtle and I was still watching one as I did my safety stop. Not just any turtles. Green turtles which are less common than the Hawksbill in the Maldives (though you see Hawksbills as well). And monster turtles. Giant behemoths doing Battlestar Gallactica impersonations. Steve was checking out a leaf fish on one ledge when one granddaddy, every bit as long as the divemaster himself and probably twice as heavy in sumo class, came along and simply pushed Steve out of his way (that turtle wanted his nap and he wanted it now!).

Refined intimate indolence.


Kuredu Caves turtle

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 4: Palm Beach

Palm Beach arrival

If Kanuhura is Bollinger, then Palm Beach is a fine Prosecco. A fine Prosecco. That’s not a slight, but a reference to Palm Beach’s strong Italian heritage and links. Like Prosecco, Palm Beach is fine, bubbly refreshment for great value.

A couple of years ago, our family rented a villa on the west coast of Italy on a prominence called Monte Argentario. We went on a diving trip by a local dive operator. The diving was fun and pleasant (didn’t real hold a candle to the Maldives though). But the highlight of the day was the lunch the Italian crew crafted on board at the end of the diving. On a little butane fire, they boiled fresh pasta, mixed some chopped tomatoes and local fresh prawns and tossed it altogether. It was one of the most delicious dishes I had ever eaten with its rustic simplicity and freshness. Palm Beach reminds me of that lunch. Nothing fancy at all. Few bells and whistles, but authentic Maldivian splendour and fun. The decor is all natural wood (though a little dark for my tastes) that is simple without coming across as cheap.

Despite its Italian popularity, you can now get Palm Beach packages through Kuoni, but some of the best deals are available directly through the Sportingholidays website. Probably best to avoid August which is the Italians’ peak season and there is quite a demand for the rooms then. In fact, a bunch of the room numbers out of sequence due to large numbers of repeaters who don’t just want to come back to this same resort, but want their very same room. That means that means that when Palm Beach adds a new villa, they just add a number no matter where it sits in the sequence so as not to disrupt the established numbers.

Ciao from Maldives!

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 3: Kanuhura

Kanuhura reception

Kanuhura is the Bollinger of the Maldives.

My wife and I have enjoyed many a good bottle of champers in our time as we have savoured many varieties of Maldives resorts in our 9 visits. We have had budget Cava, vintage Crystal, even a surprisingly delectable Indian sparkling wine (Omar Khyaam). But the one we always come back to is Bollinger NV. It is subtly distinctive, tasty, and well crafted. If our current Maldives tour is like a champagne tasting trip through Reims, then Kanuhura is the much anticipated house of Bollinger.

The One & Only group really pioneered the notion of a super premium luxury marque in hotels. And it definitely kicked off the super-premium class in the Maldives with now veteran resorts Reethi Rah and Kanuhura. But in recent years, the Maldives has been a magnet for the latest bling showpieces in hospitality. Underwater restaurants, underwater spas, luxury sea planes, marine discovery centres. One big arms race to out do one another in jaw-dropping attractions. Kanuhura has not yet come out with such buzz-stirring features, but a conversation with General Manager Vladmir Scanu made it clear that they have some very imaginative thinking about how to further enhance the already first class Kanuhura experience.

A lot of the Kanuhura quality is understated. Subtle touches pervade like flowers under spa treatment beds where your face is poking through (why doesn’t every spa in the world do this?). I get served lots of herbal infusions on my various spa visits around the world, but Kanuhura’s lemon grass ginger tea was the first time I had to ask for the recipe. One of my favourite touches is the ‘poolside sunglasses polishing service.’

In this soft spoken demeanor, Nature is a big focus and theme of the resort is clear (and I will be writing more detailed pieces in the coming weeks). Not just the aquatic type that is sort of a given for any Maldivian resort, but the terrestrial type. The nature of the island and what grows on it. They do Nature walks every Sunday and have such sophisticated orchid cultivation that they have their own variety of orchid registered ‘Dendrobium Kanuhura’.

Kanuhura is a fresh, natural classic. And truly classic style never goes out of date.