A sunny Bank Holiday Weekend was an inspiration to invest a bit of time on Maldives Complete and revamp the Best of Maldives section a bit. With now over 300 distinctions, I’ve had to add yet another tabbed page (‘Service’) to hold them all. I split out sub-categories in a few areas like adding a ‘Sweets’ section for ‘Food’ and splitting ‘Drinks’ into ‘Soft’ and ‘Bar’. I added a new section called ‘Workplace’ distinctions since good management and workplace innovation are pet professional subjects of mine.
With more resorts with more distinctions than ever, it has never been harder to wade through the riches of choice to find the resort for your often once in a lifetime trip. The Sunday Times featured a piece a short while back on ‘How to Pick the Perfect Resort’, but it focused on skiing). I often get emails and other contacts from Maldives Complete fans looking for advice on choosing the best resort for them (there is no ‘best resort’, there is only ‘the best resort for you’). I thought I would document the steps I often go through to help them winnow down the selection…
- What’s your budget? – Don’t ever say ‘Money is no object’ in the Maldives unless you are a billionaire. This is the single most important question to ask to start with and will narrow your search significantly (resorts vary in cost from £1,000 per week to over £10,000).
- Large or small island? – Some people prefer the intimacy of a place barely larger than a plot of sand and palm tree. Others prefer more to explore and more infrastructure to support a broader range of options and activities (islands range in size from 5,000 square metres to to over 2 million)
- How important is off-beach snorkelling? – This is also known as the “House Reef” question. You can snorkel on any Maldives island. But real snorkelling afficionadoes eschew the limited fish and coral life of the sandy lagoons for the thrill of the ‘main event’…house reefs that plummet from the shallows into deep open water where large schools of fish and forests of variegated coral fill the wall between land and ocean. The most active and enthusiastic snorkelers will often insist on a great house reef. Those who just want to try a bit of great snorkelling are happy with going on a few snorkel safari excursions.
- Seaplane ride? – The resorts split roughly down the middle between (a) those that are a speed boat ride away from the main Male airport, or (b) those that require a seaplane transfer to a more remote atoll (81 out of 132 resorts are a seaplane ride away). The advantages of the the seaplane ride is that it opens up more resort options, but more importantly the trip can be an exhilarating experience in its own right. The birdseye view of the mottled blue tapestry of island, reef and ocean is almost like visiting another planet. The disadvantages of the seaplane include…
- Extra cost – Typically about $500 round trip.
- Extra time and logistics for the transfer – Especially on the return leg where the resorts need to book lots of extra time into your transfer to make sure no weather delays have you miss your plane.
- Noise – You can’t even talk to your seat mate the small turbo props are so loud in the cabin (ear plugs are standard issue on all flights to reduce the irritation).
- Fear of flying – You pretty much had to get on a plane to arrive in the Maldives in the first place (unless you are on a cruise stop), but nervous flyers who can just about handle jet planes can find smaller planes a bit to unsettling.
- Children? – Some resorts actively cater for children. Other resorts (or sections of them like their water villas) actively discourage them (or a few even prohibit them).
- All Inclusive? – Some people prefer ‘all inclusive’ plans so they know what total costs they are on the hook for and don’t have to keep track of the extra charges that they are racking up. (38 out of 132 resorts offer all inclusive).
- Pool? – While the resorts are ostensibly surrounded by the world’s biggest swimming pool, an actual pool is often appealing to some for lounging, refreshing, exercising or playing. We often found that the children could only take so much irritation from the salt and sand of the beach and preferred spending a chunk of time at a more sanitised pool environment (86 out of 132 resorts have pools). [ADDENDUM October 2020] In my first post, this comment referred to a common area resort pool, but a decade later, pretty much every resort has a main pool so this is no longer a distinguishing feature. What is a distinguishing feature is whether you want your OWN private pool at your villa. This villa feature has skyrocketed in popularity to the point that fully half of all room categories now include a private pool.
- Any favourite activities? – The old myth (and mystique) about the Maldives is that there is nothing to do. Now with over 120 resorts, there is something for everyone and virtually every activity and pastime are catered for. If you have a particular interest or hobby like kite surfing, painting or cigar smoking, finding the resorts that offer these will get you right to a short list of places that will offer these special treats for you.
The answers to the first 6 questions typically will get you down to a manageable shortlist through the Maldives Complete Resort Finder. From there people use question 7 as a tie breaker or just surf the Maldives Complete Profile section to see which property most captures their fancy.
Now maybe the rest of the world gets some nice weather like the Maldives. This weekend is a three day weekend in both UK (Spring Bank Holiday) and the USA (Memorial Day Weekend). Both informally kick-off the summer. And the traditional celebration is the backyard barbeque in both countries. And especially in the USA that means hot dogs!
I’ve never had much good luck with sausages in the Maldives. Their limitations on pork in the non-resort part of the country might contribute to supply and choice limitations. The first sausages that I ever went back for seconds were those BBQ’d on Sun Island (see above). Even better than the chicken dogs I subsisted on when I first bach’ed it after university (chicken dogs were healthier and cheaper). And it underscores that you can make really delicious sausages out of all sorts of meat besides pork. Beef hot dogs are the best, and I have had lamb and turkey sausages here in England.
In the growing world of travel options, the holiday industry is getting more and more specialised in its offerings and positioning. This trend was one of my motivations to starting Maldives Complete in order to help people navigate the growing range of resort options and styles. Maldives has long been a destination for (a) honeymooners, and (b) divers, but in recent years, it has been also established a worldwide reputation for (c) snorkelling, and (d) surfing. It is also an outstanding destination for families which was one of my earliest inspirations for building the website.
The Maldives has been renowned for indolent seclusion and lazing about in the sunshine with the counter downside perception of there being “nothing to do”. But now many resorts offer extensive water sports centers, underwater features and a range of creative activities and events tailored for the most esoteric interests.
As a result, many of the emerging “travel buzzwords” enumerated in the Telegraph’s recent article “The most irritating travel buzzwords” are on offer in the Maldives…
- Spacation – spa trip
- Floatel – a hotel on water
- Voluntourism – combining a holiday with charity work
- Spafari – safaris combined with "wellness"
- Flightseeing – viewing an attraction, the Grand Canyon, for example, from an aircraft
- Digital detox – a holiday without your mobile, tablet or laptop
- Twixmas – a short break between Christmas and New Year
The Maldives is also a center for another term – the “Surfari” – as described in the recent Newswire piece “The Rise of the 'Surfari' Highlights the Maldives' Potential to Appeal to Active Holidaymakers”. I think that the Maldives’ biggest world-leading activity of Snorkeling also needs its own buzzword. “Reefcation”? “Snorkelooza”?
100th Chelsea Flower Show, one of the bellwethers of sunshine and blossoms in climate-challenged England, opens today. To mark the occasion we have our own online exhibit of botanical curiosity. Mirihi not only has it’s very own blossom, but it is its namesake. GM Martin Vossen describes, “Mirihi is named after the flower! 🙂 I think it can be found on other Islands as well, but I have never seen it anywhere else and I would not be aware of where else it can be found, so it is really quite unique.”
Luxury + Seaside = Lobster
Wherever you place luxury next to the seaside, at the top of the restaurant hierarchy will always be lobster. It pretty much defines the pinnacle of seafood cuisine. Today being Lobster Day, perhaps a few of you with be donning the plastic bib and wielding the nutcrackers and silver picks.
So no surprise that lobster dinners are pervasive throughout the Maldives. Especially since they do live in profusion just metres away and just about any diving or snorkelling excursion will stumble upon one or more hiding under a crevice. But if you don’t want to get wet checking out these crustaceans in their native environment, then check out Kandooma’s lobster pen. Set in the resort’s lagoon by their pier, they have set underwater fencing in an area about the size of a pretty ample swimming pool and they keep their lobsters there. No piles of lobsters crammed on top of each other in a restaurant lobby fish tank. Their final days awaiting their dining table fate is spent in a spacious and natural home environment.
It also means that you can get some pretty big boys into the pen. The specimen in the photo above is about as big as my thigh (and my thigh is not small). And the number to choose form is just as large as we counted several dozen when we sat observing them crawling about.
I’ve never found any variety of lobster to be as tender and sweet as the famous Maine Lobster from where I grew up, so I don’t splurge for these delicacies very often in the Maldives. The most tempting preparations are those dishes prepared with a bit of local and gourmet flair that bring something extra to this exquisite ingredient. Kandooma’s luxury restaurant specialises in lobster dishes offering a broad range as well as a very tempting Lobster Gourmand Menu. It also offers a number of lobster dishes as part of its ‘Fishermans Market’ event held every Wednesday.
Free range lobster!
Cannes Film Festival starts today which is a great showcase of fine smaller, independent productions like Norway’s “Kon Tiki”. Which as it turns out features the Maldives as the setting for the final scene (at the resort of Biyadhoo it seems). It’s no surprise then that it was film director Francisco Negrin who alerted me not only this Maldivian cameo (“Just watched kon tiki, this year’s oscar nominated norwegian film. The final scenes, when the raft hits Polynesia, were filmed in the maldives…”), but also all the films ever set in the Maldives.
If you want to have your own Maldivian Film Festival, then if you search IMDB for “location = Maldives”, you will get a list of over 33 films such as ‘The Island President’, “Caught Inside”, and “Dhinveynugehithaamaigaa”.
If I hadn’t saved up all my vacation time for visiting the Maldives, I might be traipsing about Cannes flogging a script myself (yes, like any self-respecting Los Angeles resident, ‘I have a script’). A script of a Maldivian story. If anyone is interested in producing a paradise-set cinematic tale, then drop me a line and we can do lunch. Plot: “Accountant becomes pirate.”
Maldives Complete also doesn’t do boats in its profiles or ‘Best of’ reviews. I’ve shied away from getting into the whole ‘Live Aboard’ segment of Maldives holidays because, like Guest Houses, I’ve never been on one so I wouldn’t know which criteria to feature or how to write about it.
But, this post’s distinction is sort of a resort/cruise hybrid so it just passes. It’s sort of the ultimate water villa. A mobile water villa.
We have always fantasized about taking a cruise boat actually as a way to see lots of nooks and crannies of this mystical archipelago. Having been to many resorts and enjoying the discovery of new gems, the notion of touring along a stopping at all sorts of little islands off the beaten path and then retiring to the ultimate in ‘water villas’ sounded entrancing.
We can see the appeal of such a floating holiday…
- If you ever wanted to try out the mega-yacht life for the experience of your very own (ever see those gigantic yachts parked in swish harbours with ports of call on their bow for ‘C.I.’ and ‘V.I.’ and wonder what staying on them would be like?).
- If you’ve ever thought of going beyond even the picnic island excursions of resorts to the most secluded and far flung hidden parts of the Maldives strung together like your own customised ‘virtual’ resort.
- If you are thinking of an extended (time and budget) holiday over say two weeks and definitely want to split into two resorts
Well, any of these have crossed your mind, then the Four Seasons has an offer for you with their Four Seasons combo offer on the exquisite Four Seasons Explorer offers a brilliant option.
- 22 guests
- 39 meters
- 1 suite
- 10 state rooms
- Wi-fi (this surprised me…I thought I would have to forfeit my digital connection for the tour)
- Underwater videography
- Kayak, snorkel, water-ski
- Spa therapist on board
Another possible title for this post is “Billionaire for a Week”. Like my “Billionaire for a Day” post. The price of chartering the Four Seasons Explorer is $16,000 per day (last I checked) for whole yacht. For 22 people that’s a bit over £500 per day which isn’t exactly billionaire price bracket. But it certainly is the billionaire lifestyle.
I don’t do Guest Houses, but I do do Snorkeling.
I’ve shied away from adding the new Guest Houses in the Maldives to the Maldives Complete database for a few reasons. First, I’ve neverstayed in one so I have no real first-hand experience to understand the key characteristics to profile. Second, there is less information on them on the web for me to research. They are often small mom-and-pop operations and comprehensive websites are not often provided.
But I have been a big advocate of Maldives being the best place to Snorkel in the world. And from that perspective (and in the spirit of ‘Best of the Maldives’ distinctives and uniques) I just had to add a post about the Keyodhoo guest house’s new ‘Power Snorkeling’ activity…
“Power Snorkeling – Only available at Keyodhoo. If you like snorkelling, you’ll just love Power Diving! With Power Dive’s free-floating Power Snorkel, you can dive to 6 metres with a friend for more than an hour on the 35 a/h battery. There are no tanks to carry, wear or refill and, after your dive, simply recharge or exchange the battery and do it all again! You don’t need a dive ticket to use it. View video in sidebar. $35 per couple, or $20 per person.”
Not a person in sight.
What most of the prospective visitors on Forums ask about is the lowest population density. Perhaps burnt by crowded beaches and resorts elsewhere in the world, they are drawn to the Maldives by the tranquil seclusion. Relative to these other sardine seasides, even the highest density Maldive islands we have visited always seem sparse by comparison. Seeing fellow guests on the beach and around the island is always a bit of a rare event. I often ask ‘where is everybody’.
But if you want the ultimate in Robinson Crusoe human isolation, then Soneva Fushi is the expanse for you. Unlike most resort profile pictures, the pervasive natural landscape is evident from its aerial shot (see above). Mathematically, Soneva has 65 rooms on a 688,500 square meter island which is an agoraphilic 10,592 square metres per room. Perhaps not surprisingly, the ‘Population Density’ filter was suggested by a friend (Mark Richardson) who happens to be a Soneva Fushi devotee.
In my ‘best of’ filtering, I’ve excluded resorts that are not on their own island (eg. Equator Village on Gan, Traders Hotel on Male) because even though the ‘rooms per hectarage’ is small, there is lots of other infrastructure and ‘residents’.
To be low in density, the trick is to (a) be rather large in size (the numerator in the equation), (b) not have water villas (which add rooms beyond the land area). So for some who prefer the smaller more intimate islands and the luxury of a water villa, a low density is not a big appeal.
And if that density is still too crowded for you, Soneva has their distinctive picnic island (see below) where the density drops right down to nada.
One trick to SEO is ‘keyword density’, ie. packing each page with the words ‘Maldives Resort’ every where. I didn’t think you folks would appreciate such gratuitous, self-serving clutter so I’ve avoided such contrived measures.
One trick to ‘Population Density’ (ie. rooms per square metre of island) on a Maldives Resort is lots of water villas. And the new leader is the new kid on the block. Safari Island now wins hands down in the ‘Population Density’ stakes. Maldives Complete has all the population densities of all the resorts. The previous king of cozy was Jumeirah Vittaveli with 91 rooms on 14,000 sqm for 154 sqm per room. Safari has 84 rooms on 8,000 sqm for 95 (!) sqm of island per room. Another relative newcomer has also opted for the jam them in approach, Centara Ras Fushi (140 rooms on 29,000 sqm for 215 sqm per room).
But on the horizon is a resort that Dutch Docklands is building whole resorts in lagoons with no island at all. Mathematically, a population density of infinity (that’s what you get when you divide by zero). Actually, the other Maldivian Jumeirah, Dhevanafushi, already sort of has an ‘all water villa’ feature with its complete detatched ‘Ocean Pearls’ villas set out in the middle of the ocean (see below), and Gili Lankanfushi pioneered the boat-only water villas with its collection of residences.