8 Ds of Snorkeling Distinction

A short montage of “couples on the reef” from our July 2022 snorkeling adventures

Happy Snorkelling Day 2022! Reefs in the Maldives have taken a beating in recent years from warming ocean temperatures, higher water acidity, disruption from development, Crown of Thorns Startfish, and El Nino. But one of the most satisfying discoveries from our 2022 research tour last week was the prevalence of promising coral growth. The block corals in particular (eg. Diploria and Porites) seem to be faring the best (in fact, recent research published in Global Change Biology supports the hardiness of certain species like these). But encouraging croppings of a range of species are also to be found.

And this endurance is probably part of the reasons that Snorkeling Seas’ “The best countries around the world for snorkeling” rates Maldives as #2 behind Australia. But while the corals are the literally bedrock to the Maldives’ famous reefs, coral is not the only aspect that makes for exceptional snorkeling. Whenever you find a piece on the top snorkelling spots in the world, they come with the obligatory disclaimer that such distinctions are highly ‘subjective’.  Yes, any qualitative assessment is by definition so, but a bigger part of the challenge is the complexity of the ranking.  There are many aspects to great snokelling.  You might see an octopus riding a manta-ray using a moray eel as a whip which would make for a pretty spectacular snorkel outing.  But the spot itself might be missing lots of other standard features (and that cowboy octopus might not be a reliably regular sighting).

I’ve been snorkelling in the Maldives for two decades and have visited over 100 different islands.  To help break down the Distinctions, I’ve come up with the 8 D’s…

  1. DensityAre the fish and coral just packed in like a Tokyo metro or scattered more widely?  The best spots are like a grandma’s attic packed the brim with colourful and curious sights. Or “fish soup” as it is sometimes colloquially referred to.
  2. DiversityDoes the destination present a wide portfolio of sea life or is it a one-hit wonder?  Maybe a spot presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim with a manatee or see a whale migration, but are there side shows as well?  The best spots are a veritable 3-ring circus of multiformity.
  3. DazzleIs there a ‘wow’ factor?  The place to start here is the ‘Snorkel Safari Big 5’ (ie.  Shark, Turtle, Ray, Moray, Lion Fish).
  4. DistanceIs it easy to just jump in and you are on the reef in minutes?  Easy accessibility is also part of the carefree, unencumbered, relaxed and spontaneous ethos of snorkeling culture.  Something close to shore or the resort so you can throw on your mask and fins and pop-in at the drop of a hat.
  5. DegreesHow’s the water?  Some amazing underwater sights are situated in less temperate areas.  As a result, a wet suit is a advised and sometimes even a dry suit is needed.  Whatever the underwater allure, chilly water is definitely a detraction.  The ideal snorkeling is enjoying the sun on your back and nothing more to fuss with than a t-shirt.
  6. DetectionHow far can you see?  This is a big D word for ‘water clarity’.  Clarity tends to be good on reefs which are essentially giant water filtration systems, but they can vary due to currents, sea bed constitution, and ecosystem.
  7. DependabilityHow reliable is the great experience?  Are some excursions delights and other duds?  A number of sites will have renowned ‘events’, eg. migrations, seasonal activity, feeding, but are only there certain times.  The less predictable the less appealing.
  8. Drop-offWhat is the shape of the underwater landscape?  A reef ‘drop-off’ is ideal combining the inner reef lagoon shallows (where one can meander horizontally and even stand on sand – never coral! – and see fish in brightly lit sunlight) with a dramatic vertical dimension with deep water schools and marine animals.  Pure deep water and pure shallows are never as good as a drop-off combo.

Note: The TripAdvisor Maldives Forum also features a robust discussion of the subject of “What Do We Mean By A Great Reef”.

Tour 2022- Eriyadu

Maldives tour 2022 - eriyadu

Eriyadu is another vintage Maldives classic – tiny island, fine house reef, decades long pedigree – tarted up with a few reburbs inside the villas and around the property. In particular, the villa rooms themselves were quite smart. The new bathrooms were almost 5-star in quality (but I must say that situating them in a carved-out part of the previous front room and leaving the initial front door in place, was a curious aspect). The house reef is especially accessible straight off the main jetty and drifting down to the dive school jetty for coming in. We saw several sweet reef sharks and a striking eagle ray as well as even more encouraging coral growth.

Tour 2022- OBLU Helengeli

Maldives tour 2022 - oblu helengeli

Take me back to the Maldives. And take me back to the Maldives that we fell in love with is what OBLU by Atmosphere at Helengeli certainly does. Walkable size, retro early-tourism era structures (like their games area cement seating), sand floors in the bar and restaurant (oh how I miss these in so many of the luxury properties, but I guess they do a number on the LE BOUTIN stilettos), North Male atoll convenience (no seaplane to mess with, but sitting but on the upper fringe of the atoll, it does have a distinctively remote “middle of the Indian Ocean” feel). But Helengeli has also kept up with the times with some well-chosen revamps and additions – dining area with over water seating and big windows, charming “spa oasis” laid out around a water garden, and even and over-water gym!

And like classic Maldives, the main event at Helengeli is the snorkelling. Situated on not one but two channels provides an extra flow of water helping the corals a bit and providing an appeal boulevard for a range of marine life making it one of the most vibrant house reefs in the Maldives. We saw encouraging growth especially among the block corals like porites and diploria (brain coral) along with three of the Snorkel Safari Big 5 – shark, turtle, moray.

Tour 2022- Ritz Maldives

Maldives tour 2022 - ritz carlton

If you want to see blue, and you don’t know where to go, why don’t you go where fashion sits? Puttin’ on the Ritz.

It’s all about the view. For me, the number one reason to visit the Maldives is to gaze upon the tapestry of dappled blues that make the destination other-worldly with its dazzling aquatic vistas. When your flight first enters the Laccadive airspace, the expanse of variegated azure and turquoise beneath seems like you are not descending on just one of the planet’s premier destinations, but rather that you have arrived an entirely different planet altogether. One of our biggest thills when visiting resorts is finding unique ways the property has optimized the bucket-list worthy views (and conversely, one of our biggest pet peeves are when such views are disrupted or not optimized).

One advantage to Ritz Carlton Maldives being built on reclaimed land is that they were able to design the entire island layout from the outset. Holistic design is definitely a hallmark of this relatively recent entry to the super-luxury class of Maldives resorts. The Ritz does literally put the “O” in “OMG” employing an “O” thematic element. The villas, the kids club, the spa, various common areas and features are all constructed in this circular shape (see photo below).

Contrary to the Louis XVI rococo ornamentation of its London patriarch, the style aesthetic was contemporary simplicity executed with a palette of natural colours and textures. Brushed concrete and washed wood evoke a cashmere-like softness to all the surfaces.

But our favourite aspect of the design was its optimization of views. For starters, the reclaimed land meant that the foliage was less dense anyway. Also, the extensive square meterage of the island provided copious space to afford optimal layouts (many times disrupted views are the casualty of having to squeeze too many things into too small of a space). And the narrow shape of the property meant that just about every inch was ocean view. And the designers did not squander this bonanza. Everywhere we sat seemed deliberately optimized for a spectacular view of the Indian Ocean expanse.

If you are going to put your resort in the super-premium sector, then having some sort of “Wow” factor is fairly important. Many of these resorts opt for the subaquatic vista with an underwater restaurant. A few have opted to go “up” with vertical vistas (eg. Anantara Kihavah, Jumeirah Maldives, Velaa). But the Ritz’s distinction was to go closer to the ocean. They do so with expansive floor to ceiling windows covering nearly the entire width of the villa. Furthermore, the villas are positioned relatively close to the shore line and have only a smattering of small foliage between. As a result, when you enter your room, your entire peripheral vision is filled with the ocean so clear and close that you feel you could stretch out and dip your toe in it. It brings the outside in. Sitting in our bed in the beach villa, we felt closer to the water than we have in many water villas (and in the water villas themselves, this design only amplifies their aquatic intimacy).

Ritz-Carlton Maldives - O

Tour 2022 – Arrival

Maldives Tour 2022 - arrival

Tour #19 of the Maldives. Seven new resorts – Ritz Carlton Maldives, OBLU Helengeli, Eriyadu, Emerald, Cora Cora, Fihalhohi, OZEN Maadhoo – to explore and find new gems. But first, I had to try a new airline – Emirates.

My research early in the year found lots of plaudits for the UAE state airline and the schedule and prices fit well so I thought we would try it.

First, we had to a run the gauntlet of mayhem that was Terminal 3 Heathow. We arrived nearly 3 hours ahead of departure time and barely made it to the flight as Lori was literally the last person to board the plane. There were delays at every juncture, but most was the 90 minute security queue. So much for our relaxing pre-trip cocktails.

When we boarded, we encountered another first – A380. I had read plenty about these airborne behemoths and had seen them on the airport tarmac, but I had never set foot in one. It was a every bit a treat as this next generation flying machine would have you hope for. Spacious, elegant, modern. Large HD video screens. A few inches of extra legroom and seat width. Not to mention the extra aisle headroom making the whole environment less claustrophobic. Nice full power sockets at each seat. The wifi was great value ($17 for entire journey), but pretty weak and unreliable.

After a very quick stopover in Dubai (too dark to see any of its iconic structures on arrival or departure), we were off on the final leg of the Maldives. The Emirates flight is a nice balance of a two-legged trip to there (in the absence of a direct flight which BA has pulled once again from its summer schedule). A longer first leg of just under 7 hours is a good length for a meal, some reading, a few computer games and a film. Then you stretch you legs in Dubai and only have 3.5 hours to go which you can nap through.

Maldives, here we are!

Things I Haven’t Seen Yet in the Maldives #19

Havent Seen - island shirt

We are off once again to the Maldives today! For the first time ever, we will be visiting the Maldives twice within a twelve month period for gathering information and material.

Claudio Lugli Island Shirt [ABOVE] – Unfortunately, the Claudio Lugli fish shirt has been out of stock since its introduction, but this latest style is a reasonable alternative for your Maldives resort wardrobe.

Marine Conservation Society Official Clothing – Sustainable and supports a good cause, but most importantly, very stylish.
Havent Seen - Marine Society

Greg Norman Shirt – For just a subtle touch of shark fashion, you can opt for this very lightweight sporty shirt from the shark of the fairways.
Havent Seen - shark logo

Shark Socks – Or for a more dramatic sartorial shark, check out these paws Jaws.
Havent Seen - shark socks

Hannah Blount Jewelry – A recent discovery by my sister (much to the delight of Lori) is designers Hannah Blount who specialises in exquisite sea themed jewelry. A delightful signature touch are the little gold barnacles she puts n the pieces.
Havent Seen - Hannah Blount

Lounge Chair Towel – Something we came across in Miami, a lounge chair towel with a pocket sewn into one end to facilitate hitching it to the top of lounge chair (without it slipping down especially if you slip off to doze and slide down the chair back).
Havent Seen - lounge towel

Glass-Bottom Transfer – When we took our first trip to the Maldives, we were immediately struck by all of the colourful tropical fish swimming by the transfer boat jetty. A glass bottom boat would let you enjoy the underwater spectacle all the way to your resort (thanks Paola).

Beach-to-5K – Holiday version of popular “Couch to 5k” with the resort organising a programme of gently increasing exercise (and recovery spa treatments) to get people to the point of running a full 5k distance at the end of their stay.
Havent Seen - couch to 5k

Healthy First Buffet – A Cornell study found that “With buffet foods, the first ones seen are the ones most selected. Over 75% of diners selected the first food they saw, and the first three foods a person encountered in the buffet comprised 66% of all the foods they took. Serving the less healthy foods first led diners to take 31% more total food items.
Havent Seen - healthy buffet

Sauna with a View – We saw these at a local outlet and thought they would be perching on jetty or even just waterside of a beach so people could look out over the ocean while soaking in the heat.
Havent Seen - sauna with a view

Moveable Bed – Soneva Jani’s retractable roofs bring the outside in, but this innovation brings
Havent Seen - Moveable Bed

Best of the Maldives: Outdoor Second Home – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru outdoor second home

One of our favourite aspects of visiting the Maldives is sitting al fresco in the (nearly) always temperate air with the equatorial warmth livened by the cool ocean breezes. A number of luxury resort feature outdoor cabanas. And other feature second buildings for children’s (or other guest’s) quarters. But Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru features an outdoor open-air “villa” that is so extensive that it is like an alternative “outdoor” residence. The two-story construction includes dining area, lounge seating as well as an area to just hang out and look out of the ocean. Also, an excellent segregated working area if you want to take your work away from and not disturb the rest of the family.

Best of the Maldives: Private Spa – JA Manafaru

JA Manafaru - private spa outside

When we first started visiting the Maldives, most resorts didn’t have spas and a few had resident massage therapists on contract who would do a treatment on a table tucked in some makeshift area in the inner part of the island. Eventually, the resorts matured to the point where pretty much every one had a dedicated spa facility. As the resorts grew increasingly luxurious, new spacious residences often featured spaces where guests could get treatments in the comfort of their own villa. But for those who want that much more privacy for their treatments (even from their own fellow guests), JA Manafaru’s Royal Island Suite (which is more like a compound than a villa) includes its very own spa building. The personal spa facility includes a steam room, sauna and massage treatment room.

JA Manafaru - private spa 2