Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 6: Meal Plan

Kurumba beach dinner

Not only did we do our whole trip DIY (buying resort, air travel, connections all separately), but we also opted for the a la carte meal plan (versus full or half board). This decision of which meal plan is one of the most prominent in deciding a Maldives visit.

We are happy with the a la carte for the following reasons. First, Kurumba has lots of restaurants (10) to choose from. Perhaps a smaller island would have less choice and restaurant options and this advantage would be less strong. Secondly, we prized flexibility whether we even ate. We had planned on going to Male for a day where we had lots of options to dine quite inexpensively so not having to pay for this day is an advantage. Also, 3 of our 4 strong party are watching their diet (and the 4th is not a big eater) and so several times we either skipped lunch after a big breakfast or felt like a small snack for dinner after a big lunch.

So far this week, our decision has been by and large a good one. Kurumba offers a $50 (+10% service) half board supplement and a $80 (+10% service) full board supplement. If we had taken either of those, we probably would have saved some money on our total meal bill. But, our meals would have been confined wholly to the Vihamana restaurant with its themed buffet style eating. I checked out the buffet and the food looks diverse and delicious. But you are still stuck with the selection on offer that night rather than the whole range of the other 9 restaurants.

Perhaps more of an issue is the dining location. This issue was particularly acute because all of the restaurants have tiled floors. We much prefer the sand floors so many resorts offer. Though natural floors are not everyone’s cup of tea, most people I speak to about the Maldives do prefer them and in fact find it one of the ‘wow’ factors. Also, all but one of the restaurants are quite removed from the water’s edge (and lovely ocean with its gently lapping water is a defining characteristic of the islands obviously). Going a la carte, we had more options to eat ‘where’ we wanted to. Some of our best meals were in special locations. The first was the beach side eating area by the pool. This spot is the best dining area on the island and yet they close it for dinner. Go figure. Probably my biggest beef with the resort is this issue.

One way we managed a ‘beach dinner’ was to order room service. The room service menu is a rich selection of offerings from the various restaurants which when it arrived we simply took it outside to our beach chairs and tables to eat by the ocean and under the palm trees. It was the kind of exotic setting that we savour in the Maldives. We since found out that the resort rules say “Glass containers or any other breakable substances that shatter, are prohibited on the beach.” We didn’t bring any glass, but I guess the plates would officially be ‘breakable…that shatter’ (though hard to do on soft sand). I guess if you want to follow our lead for romantic beach side room service, you might want to bring some plastic or paper plates to move your meal to in order to abide by the rules strictly.

Also, the food came in very generous portions. Halfway through the week we figured this out and made it a family rule that we could only order one portion (side or main) because that was almost always enough. If we have stuck to that approach, we would have saved more money early on and probably would have gotten our food bill down to the supplement costs for the standard service. Still, we would have preferred our approach because our dining was more distinctive with more special settings. Some honeymoon friends adopted the strategy of sharing portions which also worked well to halve their food bill.

Overall, the food was uniformly without fault and on many occasions truly distinctive. Of particular note were the soups (especially the gazpacho), sushi platter, and Black Bean Beef (Chinese). Food quality is a real plus at Kurumba and I hope they make some changes to make the eating locations just as special.

PS. Love the tables at the Ocean Reef restaurant. We are thinking of making similar ones for our own dining room table we liked them so much.

Kurumba table

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 4: Manta madness

Manta Point

Best dive of my life. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It was raining this morning so we cancelled our snorkel trip and went on a dive trip to Manta Point. Coincidentally, Manta Point was the last subject of this blog before my departure for Kurumba and so I was all geared up for brilliant possibilities.

We had been there the day before, but I didn’t get to see mantas. Both our son and I had some minor problems with our equipment and decided to come up relatively early. My wife Lori stayed down and saw several. The other dive group with us said they saw three baby mantas which the dive master found humorous (“most Mantas are very graceful moving smoothly, but these babies were a bit uncoordinated and were flapping much more erratically obviously trying to find their sea wings…most amusing.”).

So we decided to give it another go today and boy are we glad we did. About 15 minutes in, we rounded the corner and there coming straight at us was three of the most alien looking creatures you could ever see. It turned out to be a parade of large Mantas with some reaching 8 feet across. They turned and circled the coral outcropping which was one of their ‘cleaning stations’. Then for the next 15 minutes we just sat there while this group of majestic submarine airships floated, cavorted, did loops. They floated inches over our head.  They seemed to be attracted to the air bubbles and I couldn’t help think that they liked how the bubbles felt on their freshly cleaned tummies.  After all, this coral cropping was like a big Manta ‘spa’. Mantas come for miles around to have sucker fish clean their bodies. Maybe the scuba bubbles are a Jacuzzi-like bonus.

They are the most peaceful and seemingly happy creatures I have ever encountered in the wild. Outstanding!

The picture above is from a video taken by Kurumba photographer Mohamed Ibrahim (the diver at the right hand side of the screen at minute 1:09 is around my wife and diving buddy Lori).

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 3: Stormy weather

Male weather forecast

One of my greatest fears when visiting the Maldives in past years was not sharks in the ocean, or travel complications, but the weather going sour. It was all so perfect that you just wondered whether it just might turn some day. We have generally visited in February which is the absolute best/dryest month for ensuring the best whether, but we have also visited in June and October. Out of 6 weeks of visits, we have encountered only a single afternoon rain shower that lasted about 20 minutes. In fact, it was so unusual, and we were already wet from snorkelling, that the rain was somewhat of a curious novelty that didn’t hurt the holiday one bit.

Still, each day when we woke up, the room was always dark from the shades being pulled and being so dark I wondered if when I pulled the shades, I would reveal a dreary, grey day for once. Well, every single time, I opened the windows to a sparkling sunny morning with bright blue skies. It seemed just uncanny how regularly bright and sunny the days were.

So you can imagine my trepidation when I looked at the weather for this weeks stay and every single day of the week forecast “Scattered T-Storms” (see graphic above with its ominous dark cloud and lightning bolt!). We are officially at the end of the May to November ‘monsoon’ or ‘rainy’ season. But having visited during this period before without seeing a drop of rain, I wasn’t overly apprehensive. Plus, it was ‘at the end’ so statistically any raininess would in my logical mind be tapering off if anything.

Well, we arrived to scattered clouds some of which turned into a torrential downpour for about half an hour. That was interesting, but then it stopped and the rest of the day was cloudy, but very warm (30 degree Fahrenheit) and it was thoroughly pleasant. In fact, the rain seemed to perk up the many flowers and soften the landscape. Then yesterday started with a mostly cloudy skies, but plenty of inspiring blue and all and all a very pleasant weather. As it happens, another 30 minute downpour came down in the late afternoon, but it was while we were napping after our afternoon dive and we didn’t even know it had rained until we emerged for Pina Colada time by which time things had settled nicely.

Today should have been my worst fear. I woke up early, pulled the curtains back and there was a steady rain outside. Mind you, it’s not as nice as waking up to sparkling sunshine, but it was not as bad as it could be. Somehow the day is brighter than when it rains in England. The sky is white with cloud, not grey. The rain is warm, not chilling. Not bad for a periodic change of pace, but if a lot of the week was going to be like this, then I would start to miss the dazzling sunshine certainly.

There certainly are downsides to the clouds and rain. Less eating outside (more windy and wet), less lovely ocean sunsets (though a little bit of cloud is ideal to create the best sunsets), less sunbathing (not my thing).

Actually, when it stopped, it made you appreciate the good weather more (‘yay, the rain stopped’). Another bonus of the still cloudy skies was the perfect temperature, perfect lighting for reading outside. Interesting that the rain and cloudy days haven’t ‘ruined’ the Maldives, but just sort of muted it. Sort of like a delicious meal that needs salt and pepper. Maldives without sunshine is like a savory stew of paradisiacal delights that just needs that dash of spice for perfection. Maldives without the sparkle, but still the glow.

Nonetheless, despite being the absolutely worst day of weather we had ever experienced, it turned out to be one of the best days I had spent here (great dive in morning, perfect outdoor reading conditions midday, superb snorkel with the family around the house reef in the afternoon). There is an old bumper sticker which says ‘A bad day sailing/golfing/etc. is better than a good day at the office.’ It just goes to show you that ‘A bad day in Maldives is still better than a good day just about anywhere else.’

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 2: Kurumba first impressions

Kurumba resort entrance

We’ve arrived at our resort Kurumba. We chose Kurumba as a good value, highly rated resort near Male and pretty much it delivers on all fronts. We will see how the week transpires to uncover the pleasant surprises and the annoying disappointments, but here are my first impressions.

Kurumba makes me think of the ‘Marks and Spencers’ of Maldive resorts (or for Americans, the analogy would be ‘Nordstroms’) – high quality, nothing to fault it, fine service, fine choice, but still a big, commercial establishment rather than a charming boutique. A perfect place to go for that safe and standardized, but don’t expect the magically quirky and distinctive. Perhaps another retail metaphor would be that it is Selfridges not Harrods or Nordstroms not Bergdorf Goodman.

BUILT UP AREA – The first thing that really defines the character of Kurumba (which can be said for all of the Maldives resorts) is its location. Kurumba is one of the closest to the main centre of Maldives’ capital Male. What that means is that you are surrounded by lots of other developed islands (in more remote islands, there are often other islands around you, but they are deserted), big freighter ships, yachts, the city of Male itself (quite a relatively modern and prominent area across the water), and airplanes coming and going from the airport. I hadn’t thought that the lattermost one would be of bother, but I think now that Maldives has developed more as a destination and a country, the air traffic is that much more and the take-offs and landings of quite big jets is quite regular and has a palpable effect on the peace and quiet of Kurumba.

CONCRETE – Perhaps the most prominent feature that really transforms that ‘feel’ of the resort itself is the pavement. Paved walkways, concrete infrastructure, solid restaurant floors. Great if you (a) want easier walking, (b) are fashionable and prefer to wear dressy shoes around (I personally prefer going barefoot *all* week, but I did see someone in high heels at breakfast this morning), or (c) mobile handicapped (in fact, I would hazard that Kurumba is the most wheelchair accessible resort I have seen with not only the paved walkways, golf carts to take people around if needed and lots of ramps to structures). Furthermore, a number of areas appear to be concrete with a layer of sand laid over them. Unfortunately, some of the sand has blown away exposing the concrete in many areas. Finally, all of the restaurants have floors. I really miss the sand floors of so many resorts that I have been to. Again, if you are into wearing nice shoes to dinner, this might actually be a plus for you. But for me and my barefoot existence here, it is a drawback. On top of that, they do not offer any dining on the beach. Most resorts at least hold BBQs and special events on the beach once a week. Others allow you to move a table from the restaurant down to the beach. Kurumba was very unwilling to do the latter when we dined which really gets up my nose. If I am at an ostensibly 5-star hotel and paying $40 per entree (yes, that is a typical price a la carte here) and I want to move my table 10 feet to enhance the experience, then I had better be able to do so. That is what real service is all about. Not just pushing in your chair for you and bringing your breakfast omelette to your table for you. 🙁

I would recommend Kurumba for very conservative travellers, or those who prefer a more elegant and refined resort at a price you can afford. Kurumba is often advertised as a 5 star rating, but that seems a bit dated and I would put it more at 4.5 which is where the TripAdvisor rating comes in at. Still, it is one of the least expensive advertised 5 star places, and hence best value, that I have come across.  Our daughter Isley said that the resort had less ‘romance’ than the others we had visited (this is our 7th trip to the Maldives). She didn’t directly mean in it in a love-and-kisses romance way, but more in an aesthetic, idyllic way, but the characterisation definitely holds for that kind of romance as well obviously.

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