Maldives Tour 2019: You & Me

You and Me - tour 2019

Super-deluxe for the rest of us. Have you ever yearned for the stylishly exotic Swiss Family Robinson chic of Soneva/Gili/Six Senses, but couldn’t swing the budget? Or fantasized about dining under the waves in an undersea restaurant like Conrad/Kihavah/Hurawalhi, but shrunk away due to the price? How about enjoying the personalized service of a la carte dining, but worried about bill shock at the end of the stay? Or having your own personal butler to help ensure every detail of your dream trip is attended to? You & Me resort provides so many features of the super-premium experience, but at a more conventional 5-star price (rooms starting under $1000/night).

The a la carte approach is good for the environment as food wastage is dramatically reduced, but it is actually good for the guest as well. We always find ourselves simply over-eating at the ubiquitous buffets. You just can’t help yourself making one last trip for “just a taste” of that inviting dish you saw, or “just a sliver” of the dessert you couldn’t fit on your plate. We found ourselves enjoying healthy meals without the post-prandial bloating and regret when we avail ourselves at the troughs of buffets.

Their H2O underwater restaurant was one of the most memorable activities of our two decades of visiting the Maldives. The facility is a sterling example of these special portals to the sub-aquatic wonderland of the Maldives with broad, open glass including an entirely glass semi-circle section at the far end. The meal is a luxurious gourmet meal featuring a range of seafood delights. Yes, apropos to the venue, but we did feel a little self-conscious eating in front of all these aquatic creatures. But the star of the night was the special appearance by the most charismatic visitor of all, a resident octopus (see below). He entertained us with chameleon colours and dazzling shape-shifting. He scooted from coral cropping to coral cropping enveloping it and transforming to match it. The surrounding fish seemed to take as much interest in his activity as we diners did. We thought that maybe he was trying to suck out fish babies hiding in the coral and the fish were trying to ward him off. It turns out that he was actually blowing into the coral to flush out stuff hiding and settled there, and the other fish were trying to steal some of the scattered pickings.

You & Me has been designed with the same emphasis on flair as their sister resort, Cocoon. For example, H20 was designed by the same Italian designer who crafted much of Cocoon’s distinctive look, Daniele Lago. For people looking for opulent luxury at an affordable price, You & Me offers the aesthetic brio and many amenities of the finest resorts at a more manageable price.

Maldives Tour 2019: Faarufushi

Faarufushi - tour 2019

Pristine Maldives. The unspoilt natural beauty combined with a fresh new property of contemporary flair define the Faarufushi resort.

When we first started coming to the Maldives over 20 years ago, there was only a single property in the Raa atoll. None of the dive books had hardly any dive sites listed for it. It remained for years an untouched corner of this paradise destination. In recent years, a dozen new resorts have launched opening up this remote area. Now in an era of sustainability and environmental awareness, their development and operation aim to have much less impact on the surroundings than their less woke predecessors in the other atolls. And in this relatively undiscovered atoll, the most far-flung is Faarufushi. Situated the northmost of all and furthest from all the other neighbours.

During our visit, we were fortunate enough to be able to explore some of the dive sites that heretofore have only been seen by safari boats. A number of the dive sites in the area haven’t even been dived yet. The whole experience felt quite privileged. We were visiting the top dive sites in the area. Sites with a noticeable amount of more colourful coral and vibrant marine life (though apparently fewer of crowd-pleasing sharks). A yet there were no other divers on the site. The top sites in the other atolls are usually crawling with divers from surrounding resorts. In fact, there weren’t even any other dive boats on the water for as far as the eye could see. A pristine sub-aquatic wonderland all to ourselves.

For the non-divers, the house reef is a delight. It has been hit by bleaching over the years, but it seemed more alive than many reefs we have snorkelled in recent years. Just enough coral peeking back as well as squadrons of colourful fish. It is a bit of a swim from shore (100m), but the dive centre jetty drops you conveniently right at the drop off.

The pristine aesthetic wasn’t limited to the water. The resort itself was paragon of freshness and care. Carefully preserved original, dense palm canopies draped over the meticulously manicured flowers and eye-pleasing gardening across the grounds.

The food itself is also clean and fresh. The Executive Sous Chef Bir Yadav describes the “lightness in the menu” which the kitchen is striving for which means minimizing starches and ingredients that can bloat you. And the presentation boasts some of the most distinguished flourishes in the Maldives (stay tuned for details).

Maldives Tour 2019: Thulhagiri

Tour 2019 - Thulhagiri

Thulhagiri is an island that many old-hand Maldives aficionados dream of. It seems like the most common complaint among the veteran sufferers of Maldivitis are the lack of affordable properties with good food, service, views and a house reef. Thulhagiri has all of these and more. Maybe that’s why they were at pretty much 100% occupancy during what is traditionally a low season.

Classic Maldives. A resort that has been around for a while, but has been well maintained and updated (eg. bathrooms) so it still feels fresh. Soft sand (including in the bars and restaurant), extensive tasty buffet.

And the classic main event at the Maldives is the shore. The beach above and the house reef below. And Thulhagiri boasts exceptional examples of both. The soft white sand beach is massive for the size of the island. And the house reef is everything you’d expect from an inner atoll gum drop of an island. And exits and entries are laid out with red buoys about every quarter of the reef’s circumference. We headed clockwise with the current from the exit by the dive centre and it took us a leisurely 45 minutes to reach the next red buoy which guided us in with a rope laid to shore. Along the way, we enjoy plummeting reef walls off which schools of colourful fish lingered. The treat of the day was coming across probably the biggest reef shark we had ever seen snorkeling (close to 2 metres) only to be followed by another pair of good sized adults swim right by us only a few feet away (rare for such skittish creatures).

The island hasn’t established any set pathways. All of the under-canopy is kept tidy so you can walk feely (joining other curious critters who do so including Crab Plovers, Parakeets and Bunnies). Sometimes you do have a somewhat adventurous weave around low hanging branches and direction deviating greenery. But it makes it feel more like a natural island with some villas on it instead of a manufactured tract.

We thought Thulhagiri would be an ideal contender for someone’s first visit to the Maldives especially if they had a more limited budget and they wanted to enjoy the classic Maldives resort experience.

Maldives 2019 Tour: Arrival

Tour 2019 Bunyamin

We’re on our way! Whew. It’s a shame that Turkish Airways which excels in so many ways as an airline to take to the Maldives, especially with its sparkling new Istanbul hub, is so Byzantinely archaic with its website and ticket purchasing.

Seriously, Turkish Airlines online system is a disaster. It took me 2 hours to purchase the ticket. And then, because of a fault in their system, the booking required a repair that took (no exaggeration) over 4 hours of my patient time on the telephone to fix. Here are some of the most glaring problems that hit me…

  • English Illiteracy – The biggest problem of all that triggered so many problems is that Turkish Airlines considers ALL of your forenames (ie. your first name and any middle names) to be your “First Name”. When it asks for your “First Name”, it wants you to enter them in one big string. So for me, my “First Name” is “BRUCECHARLES”. Maybe this is some sort of Turkish language convention, but it is not English. And if they want to follow this esoteric grammatical convention, then they need to be much more explicit about it on their website. Instead, it just shows the following…Turkish Airlines - webform

    My “Name” as shown in my Passport is “Bruce”. But when I entered that, all hell broke loose. It did not match mile Miles & Smiles record (which had me as a “Bruce”). As a result, half of the functions didn’t work in the online booking (eg. seat selection, passenger passport information).

  • Poor Data Integration – So I call the Miles & Smiles programme on the phone. When you call, they ask you to enter your membership number and then they laboriously repeat it and ask you to confirm it. When you get through, what’s the first question they ask you?…”What’s your membership number?” (which you have to laboriously repeat to someone for whom English is not their first language).
  • Poor Customer Service Training – I called their Customer Service center before I had completed my ticket booking due to the problems of putting “Bruce” as my “Name” for some guidance on how to resolve the problems it was presenting. The useless Customer Service rep then told me to do something which was the exact opposite of what someone should do and something which ended up costing me 4 hours of further aggravation. She told me that if I just went ahead and paid for the ticket, all the issues would resolve themselves. Simples right? So I followed her instructions. The issues did not go away.
    So I called the service centre again. This rep informed me of the huge problem that I now had on my hands. He explained that for Turkish Airlines, “Name” meant this conglomeration of all your non-surnames (ie. “BruceCharles” in my case). He said that I would have to change the name on the ticket or else at the airport I would be refused getting on the plane (because the “Name”…well, Turkish Airline perverse notion of what a “Name” is).
    • Ok, got it…let’s fix the name.”
    • “Sorry sir, I can’t do that. You will have to go onto our website and fill out an online complaint form and then in 7-10 days we will get back to you as to whether we determine that your request to change you name is approved and then you can call back with your reference number and the name might be able to be changed.”
    • “What if someone determines that it can’t be changed?”
    • “Then you lose the entire ticket and the £2000+ you paid
      #facepalm (I did not go into an apoplectic fit of rage because I still had confidence that sanity would previl at some point
  • Antiquated Computer Systems – After 10 days I got an email saying that my application to change the name on my ticket from “Bruce” to “BruceCharles” had been approved. All I had to do now is call their customer support center and sort everything out. They explained that their (medieval) computer systems would not allow them to change the name on the ticket so we would have to cancel the old tickets, arrange for full refunds and then book new ones from scratch. Good grief.
  • Using American Express Confuses Them – As I had faced when I booked, they seem to have no idea how American Express works. When I booked my tickets, the website asked for the “3 digit security code the back of the card”. Well, lacking all confidence in their competence at this point, I went ahead and put in the FOUR digit security code which is the convention for Amex cards (even though they do have their own 3 digit on the back of the card) which worked. Also, American Express cards can be used for booking flights, but not for booking seats. Which I discovered through trial and error. The customer service rep didn’t have a clue. He knew that Amex was accepted for some things and not other…but he didn’t know which things.
  • Even More Antiquated Transaction Systems – It turns out that for some reason they could not process the new credit card charge in one transaction. Instead, I had to enter my credit card details once for my new ticket and one for Lori’s new ticket. Each time, the service rep switched me to an over-the-phone system to tediously enter (and confirm) my credit card details. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had purchased extra-leg room seat and those purchases all needed to be paid for individually. That’s 2 legs (Istanbul flight change), 2 directions (going and returning) for 2 people. I had to go through the torturous phone credit card entry EIGHT times (hence the 4 hours on the phone).

It is a shame that the process of buying a ticket on Turkish Airlines is so painful, because the process of actually travelling with them is really quite a treat. Speaking of treats, the food served is actually quite tasty. Nothing Cordon Bleu, but I found everything from the Mediterranean salad to the mousse dessert to be very palatable (I usually find something in an airline’s food service that I just can’t stomach).

But it is the transfer in Istanbul that really distinguishes Turkish Airlines. With the rise of Asia, the Middle East is indeed in the middle of everything. The junction of these two continents (not to mention emerging Africa to the south). Hence, the race by Emirates (Dubai), Qatar Airlines (Doha) and Turkish Airlines (Istanbul) to establish themselves as the hub of the eastern hemisphere. Despite, the former two airlines extravagant airports and extensive service, Turkish Airlines is now really winning this race by clear blue water.

Turkish has long been able to exceed all other in service options. This means that you have the most choice of flights to suit your schedule and the shortest lay-over times (I can always find Turkish Airlines flights with a total travel time of about 13 hours, while the shortest I can find with the competition is about 15). It has flights leaving every couple of minutes in and out of Istanbul 24 HOURS A DAY.

In most other airports, things are shuttered up late at night and the floor polishers are out by the janitorial staff. When we did our transfer at 2:00 am, Istanbul airport was like Grand Central Station buzzing with passengers filling its cavernous terminal packed with more extensive stores than Westfield shopping centre. Istanbul has always had a busy terminal, the epitome of late-night shopping and round the clock bustle. But recently it just opened it state-of-the-art monstrosity Istanbul Airport which took their hub game to a whole new level. More space, more amenities, more stores, more restaurants, more inviting architecture and décor (see photo below).

Ever since BA stopped its non-stop service to the Maldives in the summer months, we have been using Turkish Airlines more or less satisfactorily (we especially appreciate its in-flight entertainment system which shows a live video of the plane landing), but after the ticketing fiasco this year and the plans for BA to resume direct service next year, I suspect that our Constantinople stop-over will come to an end.

The best part of our journey was being greeted at Arrivals by Maldives’ own digital ambassador, Bunyamin Ahmed (see photo below). Maldives and Bunyamin…#WeMeetAgain!

Istanbul Airport

Pukka Puckers

 

International Kissing Day is a great day to put all those duck pout practice shots to use and throw a kiss to all your Followers…

  1. Emma Golijanin (Bosnia) – AaaVeee [[ABOVE]
  2. Irina Novikova (Russia) – You & Me
    Irina Novikova (Russia) - You & Me
      
  3. Tatiana Tanyusha (Russia) – LUX South Ari Atoll
    Tatiana Tanyusha (Russia) - LUX South Ari Atoll
      
  4. Sierra Furtado (Canada) – Angsana Velavaru
    Sierra Furtado (Canada) – Angsana Velavaru
       
  5. Anya Mandzyuk (Ukraine) – Sun Aqua Vilu Reef
    Anya Mandzyuk (Ukraine) - Sun Aqua Vilu Reef
      
  6. Nadin (Russia) – Cocoon
    Nadin (Russia) - Cocoon
       
  7. Naomi Koch (Israel) – Olhuveli
    Naomi Koch (Israel) - Olhuveli
       
  8. Svyatoslava Vladzimirskaya and Anzhelika Pomitun (Russia) – Paradise Island
    Svyatoslava Vladzimirskaya and Anzhelika Pomitun (Russia) - Paradise Island
      
  9. Galinka Mirgaeva (Russia) – Cocoon
    Galinka Mirgaeva (Russia) - Cocoon
      
  10. Tereza Hearty (Czech) – Finolhu
    Tereza Hearty (Czech) - Finolhu
      
  11. Elena Temnikova (Russia) – Dhigali
    Elena Temnikova (Russia) - Vommuli
      
  12. Anastasia Barashkova (Russia) – Constance Halaveli
    Anastasia Barashkova (Russia) – Constance Halaveli
      
  13. Victoria Bonya (Russia) – Cocoon
    Victoria Bonya (Russia) - Cocoon
       
  14. Luana Caetano (Brazil) – Taj Exotica
    Luana Caetano (Brazil)
       
  15. Stella Lozanova (Russia)
    Stella Lozanova (Russia)
       
  16. Alvi Lalli (Ukraine) – Anantara Veli
    Alvi Lalli (Ukraine) - Anantara Veli
       
  17. Maren Anita Metoja (Germany) – Park Hyatt Hadahaa
    Maren Anita Metoja (Germany) – Par Hyatt Hadahaa
      
  18. Kanksha Mehta (India) – Kihaad
    Kanksha Mehta (India) – Kihaad
      
  19. Julynn Lau (China) – Chaya Island Dhonveli
    Julynn Lau (China) – Chaya Island Dhonveli
      
  20. Ragini Dwivedi (India) – Sheraton Full Moon
    Ragini Dwivedi (India) – Sheraton Full Moon
       
  21. Tanya DV (Russia)
    Tanya DV (Russia)
       
  22. Pamela Reif (Germany) – Sun Siyam Irufushi
    Pamela Reif (Germany) – Sun Siyam Irufushi
         
  23. Victoria Lopyreva (Russia) – JA Manafaru
    Victoria Lopyreva (Russia) – JA Manafaru
       
  24. Jyotsna Shankar (USA) – Maafushivaru
    Jyotsna Shankar (USA) – Maafushivaru   
        
  25. Pia Muehlenbeck (Australia) – Soneva Jani
       

Best of the Maldives: Kosher Food – Soneva Fushi

KSoneva Fushi - kosher kitchen

The luxury Maldives properties pride themselves on catering to any guest’s whim or need including all sorts of dietary preferences despite being isolated in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Some things can just be flown in, but others require more work on the ground. That is the case with truly kosher foods which are not just about avoiding certain prohibited food, but also about preparing the kosher items in a kosher way ideally removed from the preparation of other food which might taint it. Irufushi is the only resort I have found that offers kosher foods explicitly, but now Soneva Fushi has invested in a dedicated kosher prep kitchen to provide the tightest conformity to kosher requirements. Maldives Insider reports

  • “Soneva Fushi is the first luxury resort in the Maldives to have a dedicated kosher kitchen, which also doubles as an allergy kitchen. The kosher kitchen is a separate air conditioned kitchen where the resort’s specialty chefs will produce kosher meals. All the equipment is brand new, and will only be used for the said purpose. The resort carries kosher chicken, beef and sausages which are shipped directly from Holland by a kosher meat producer.”

Best of the Maldives: Cocktail Class – Park Hyatt Hadahaa

Park Hyatt Hadahaa - cocktail class

Drinks all around then? If you want to personally serve up your entourage of friends with cocktail concoctions, then Park Hyatt Hadahaa offers a Cocktail Making class (1 hour, $55 per person):

  • “Discover Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa’s secret mojito recipe from our skilled barmen, as well as learning a few other favourites, then sit back and enjoy your exotic creations while watching a stunning Maldivian sunset.”