Best of the Maldives: Raquet Sports – Reethi Beach

Reethi Beach badminton

48 resorts have tennis, 11 have squash courts, and 7 have badminton courts (according to my research). But only Reethi Beach has 2 tennis courts, and 2 squash courts and 2 badminton courts. And they are all in pristine condition. The latter two are situated in their large indoor sports complex in the centre of the island. The tennis courts are all weather surface with flood lighting. Also, the extensive indoor space becomes a hedge against any unlucky bouts of weather or just a break from an overdose of sunshine.

Reethi Beach tennis court

Best of the Maldives: Exhibit – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru exhibit

 

The number one objection to visiting the Maldives is the thought that there is nothing to do there. If you don’t (a) dive, (b) have a newlywed to stare into the eyes of, or (c) work on your tan, then what do you do on an isolate plot of sand in the middle of the ocean? Most resorts have good watersports centres which provide an extended range of options for the hyperactive. The Maldives Complete ‘Best Of’ section highlights a number of further original distractions and offerings. But few innovations are as ambitious and comprehensive as Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru’sMarine Discovery Center’. In fact, the centre itself contains 3 ‘Best Of’ distinctions in itself (Fish Nursery, Sculpture, Kids Education).

Lori and I were given a tour of the facility by Harry Masefield (see pictures). While modest in size, the center is packed with exhibits that are not only intriguing, but also stylish and inviting. The tour took almost and hour, but we could have spent all day there. There are visual exhibits, an interactive kiosk, a kids hands-on area, the research area, reefscaping workshop, art, presentation area, aquarium among the many resources to explore. More details to follow in future posts.

 

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru exhibit 2

Best of the Maldives: Spa Arrival – Four Seasons Kuda Huraa

Four Seasons Kuda Huraa spa dhoni

My recent visit to several prime resorts in the Maldives uncovered a wealth (65) of distinctive features that I will be exploring in depth over the coming months. I thought I would start off with a taster selection over the coming week for each resort.

The first resort on the itinerary was Four Seasons Kuda Huraa. Every spa treatment is a treat. And the best Maldive ones build up the anticipation with lovely receptions infused with incense and ambient tones that start the process of transporting you away mind and body to another place. Four Seasons Kuda Huraa takes this ‘transporting’ quite literally to a whole new level with its shuttle service to its spa. The Kuda Huraa spa sits by itself on a small little island just off shore from the main island. You could take a short swim over I guess, but the quaint ‘Kuda Dhoni’ (‘Little Boat’) ride over is just the thing to shift gears from the resort to your own little special sanctuary.

And the destination is worthy of mention. It is certainly one of the top massages we have had (the therapist was very attentive to a neck pain and spent extra time on that area that was very effective).

Best of the Maldives: Team Building – Sheraton Full Moon

Sheraton Full Moon corporate team building

 

When I first started working for the big corporation of Microsoft many years ago, one of my sales guys proposed that we do some corporate hospitality with some of our customers. When I asked him what he proposed, he suggested the classic big sporting event packages that many hospitality companies provide – Wimbledon, rugby, Henley. Sounded interesting, so I asked the price. The answer came back of ‘£800’ per person. My response exclaimed in shock, “I could take these guys to the Maldives for week for that kind of money!! [I had just priced my latest trip there.] I think they would have a bit more memorable time than a catered chicken lunch and some strawberries and cream.” That incident led to me becoming a bit of a pioneer with innovative and inspired hospitality and team building. I was always looking for truly unique activities and venues.

Now it looks like taking your team or customers to the Maldives is not that far fetched an idea. In fact, a number of resorts have geared up a bit for the corporate segment. But Sheraton Full Moon’s programme really stands out for the degree of forethought and attention they have given this area. They have crafted a range of offering that offers a wide assortment of classic activities for a team building session…

  • Introductory Games – name games, ice breakers
  • Fun Olympics – water bucket relay, obstacle course, ball games, canoe, tug-of-war
  • Trust Games – blind obstacles
  • Tournaments – tennis, ping pong, billards, beach volleyball
  • Karaoke

Talking with their Senior Sales Manager Mohamed Nuaas, Sheraton has really developed a sophisticated understanding of what makes these events productive and successful. Combined with an extensive 5-star infrastructure Sheraton Full Moon appears ready to cater to any corporate quirk or whim which is critical to get such an important (and costly) event just right.

Sheraton has run a number of these programmes now and their experience is valuable. It means that not only do they have the concepts and infrastructure (meeting rooms, audio-visual), but they also have staff knowledgeable in this facilitation. Sometimes team building companies in the UK will charge so much for the organisation and facilitation of a team building event that the cost does become comparable to sending everyone to the Maldives.

Best of the Maldives: Equatorial Adventure – Alila Villas Hadaha

Zero Degree Crossing 2010

Small world. My other water-based pre-occupation (besides Maldives Complete) is coaching and supporting the sport of rowing in the UK for my local school, Sir William Borlase Grammar School, So it didn’t take many degrees of separation to hook up with neighbours down the road who were organising the inspiring Zero Degree Crossing 2010 project in the Maldives.

Their headline objective was to break the record for rowing across the equator. Essentially rowing from the Maldives southern most island in its southern most atoll (Huvadhoo Atoll aka Gaafu) to the northern most island just south of the equator in the Fuahmulah atoll.

The area is referred to logically enough as the ‘Equatorial Channel’ and the organiser, Guin Batten, is a bit of an authority on ocean channels. The British Olympic silver medallist holds the record for a solo crossing of this very channel as well as for solo crossing the English Channel.

Despite a comprehensive training and planning effort the actual crossing did not succeed as Minivan reported

“The aim, says Batten, “was to trash my record for the single crossing, in a quad (four rowers, one coxswain).” “Unfortunately the weather against us. We started quickly, and might have managed it in 5.5 hours, but we were not fast enough for currents and it began to look like it would take us 15 hours – which meant the support vessel was going to run out of fuel,” she says. The team had trained for an endurance slog, but the brief window in the weather had closed and conditions rapidly began to deteriorate and the attempt was reluctantly called off after three hours.”

While disappointing, the result was not a loss because their venture had many more objectives than just a gruesomely ambitious excursion. First, they succeeded in bringing Maldives into the sport of rowing worldwide as the country because the 131st member of the International Rowing Federation (FISA) which officially brings another official sport to the country. Yet another emerging activity one can partake in on the Maldives placid waters (within the atolls though these folks ventured into the choppier area outside the protected lagoons).

It turns out that rowing has a proud, but dormant tradition in the Maldivian culture (no surprise in a land of 1200 islands). The Adaraan Huduranfushi GM Asim Mohamed was telling me all about this subject during my stay.  Traditional rowing was referred to as Kura Fali” and was similar to ‘dragon boat’ racing in that the boat was powered by people on either side with paddles synchronised in the stroke by a drummer at the front. Cultural shows often put on by local villagers at Maldives resorts often feature a drumming exhibition which portrays this tradition. Unfortunately, not a single ‘Kura Fali’ boat remains in tact.

The Zero Degree Crossing team spent much of their visit introducing some of the latest equipment and techniques for rowing to various residents for whom the activity represents not only a competitive pursuit as a sport, but also a basic form of transport.

The whole undertaking was a massive logistical effort with help coming from many corners. Not least of which was the Alila Villas Hadahaa resort which hosted them for their project this past week and are looking to get more involved with the activity and sport going forward.

 

Zero Degree Crossing 2010 rowing

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 9: Recap

Bruce Tour commuting

I never thought that I would use the words ‘frenetic’ and ‘Maldives’ in the same sentence, but that was my past week seeing 9 resorts in 7 days including 5 stops at Male airport for transfers. The objective of ferreting out a number of unsung quirks and curiosities exceeded every expectation.

I also came to some broader upbeat realisations about visiting this paradise…

  • Elephants can dance – I have always gravitated towards the smaller islands in the Maldives. The one step up from the plot of sand with a palm tree on it. To me the small islands exemplified the Robinson Crusoe fantasy. But serendipity brought me to a number of larger properties and I found them universally packed with their own charms and assets.
  • Weather – Don’t sweat the weather forecast. I checked the weather forecasts before our departure and it was calling for ‘Scattered Thundershowers’ every single day. And yet, over the week, not one drop of rain fell on me. We had a shower overnight one day and on another day a brief shower hit while we were in the restaurant. We woke up to an overcast sky one morning, but were slathering on sun block hours later. Everything else was gorgeous sunshine with enough scattered clouds to make for great sunsets.
  • The Deal’s the Thing – When looking for the right holiday for you, filter on what you want and look for the best deal. Most quality is proportionate the standard rates in most cases and the stars rating is not helpful as just about everyone is a 4-plus or 5.
  • Coral Can Come Back – Faster than imagined. Yes, it will take generations to rebuild reefs, but in a few short years you can really see dramatic growth. Active Reef Regeneration like Kuda Huraa’s and Landaa’s really inspired me, but also just places like the Vadoo reef showed vibrancy I have not seen for a while.
  • Food patience – It’s hard to get food right. Not one resort consistently blew me awayon the cuisine front though there were many memorable highlights. The best food works with the relatively local ingredients (tropical fruits, fresh seafood), but I appreciate the challenge of parochial visitors who either (a) want their familiar meat-and-potatoes or fried-rice, or (b) want more variety.
  • Rise of China – Anyone who thinks that China’s prosperity is about a bunch of factory workers getting more rice might want to look at the Maldives’ visitor statistics. In 2010, China rose to the top of the table as the country sending the most visitors to the country’s resorts (maybe I need to do a Mandarin version of Maldives Complete insightful remarked my friend Alex Weindling).  It wasn’t just an empty or dry statistic, but you could see the Chinese every where I went.  One dive master commented that a real challenge (among many) to this shift is that the Chinese are generally pretty weak swimmers and many of them are getting into troubles in the ocean quite often.

I also had some downbeat reflections about the pet peeves that really niggle me…

  • No good tshirts on sale.
  • Eating set far from water or view.
  • Weak bar snacks (olives, crisps, peanuts).
  • Inappropriate ‘pop’ music (especially when played too loudly – more resort managers need to watch this short video clip).

In all, I uncovered 65 ‘Best Of’ candidates on the tour. Next couple of weeks I will be featuring one of my favourites from each of the resorts.

 

Kuda Huraa villa windows inside

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 8: Vadoo

Vadoo Tour

Adaaran Presitge Vadoo exemplifies the ethos of ‘less is more’.

Less size (one of the Maldives’ tiniest resort islands). Less activities (no watersports centre, though access to the one at their sister resort at Club Rannalhi). Less food (none of the ubiquitous buffet). Less beach villas (none, actually, as they only offer water villas). It is a paragon of tasteful understatement.

The biggest ‘less’ is the price. Vadoo is positioning itself to battle in the ‘super-premium’ segment (5+ stars, whatever that means). Individual butler service, exquisite design, distinctive infrastructure. All for under £2000 per week, Vadoo is a super premium bargain.

Several super-premium resorts have piled on the glitz and bling and most guests that I have spoken to are not fond of it (though I definitely know there are people to whom that style appeals). For sun, sand and ostentation I would send people to Dubai. Dubai is even creating artificial micro-islands for those who want the mini-island experience.

Packed into its small scale were plenty of special treats with 11 Best Of candidates identified. Assistant Manager Alex Kovacs (see photo above) thought that the house reef was one of the best in the Maldives, so we had to check it out. It is certainly first class. It is a mere 20 metres from shore through an easily accessible channel. It drops off to a depth of about 30 meters and has a healthy array of coral. We saw a lovely turtle getting her morning spa treatment from cleaner fish as well as the biggest box fish we have ever seen (2 feet at least).

Style, service, distinctions punching well above its weight class measured in size of island or size of budget.

 

Vadoo villa

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Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 7: Club Rannalhi

Club Rannalhi tour 2010

Adaaran Club Rannalhi lends a whole new perspective on the Maldivian resort.

Rannalhi is a smaller island. And when you can’t expand out…expand up. In an country with an average elevation of a few metres and predominantly built up with thatched villas, Rannalhi is almost entirely 2 stories. All the beach villas are 2 story apartments. The spa, the reception and several new water villas are all two stories. It was refreshing to look out over the mottled blue seascape with a bit more of an aerial perspective.

Our penultimate day was a whirlwind of seeing two other Adaaran properties before our departure. We zipped down to Club Rannalhi for a tour by Front Office Manager Yaameen Abdul Rahman (see photo above), lunch and snorkel. And then back up to Vadoo for dinner and a night at their Prestige property.

Adrian Neville’s seminal resort guide ‘Resorts of the Maldives’ clarified that Club Rannalhi is very popular with an Italian tour operator who runs a ‘club’ concept, but that the resort still maintains a strong international mix of clientele.

I felt that the resort would be good for a Maldives novice. It is small and so easy to learn your way around. I also found the posted guidance very transparent and helpful. They had a sign at reception clearly indicating how one could enjoy a night at the distinctive water villa for a $100/night upgrade supplement (a very reasonable price in my view). They also had all of the activities, excursion, events and special meals all clearly posted on a board by reception. In the past, I have struggled to suss out the lay of the land at resorts until I could get to the concierge desk to see the excursion schedule, go to the restaurants to see the special meal postings, and go to the orientation session to hear everything else. Within minutes of arrival I could see my options and possibilities right away.

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Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 6: Adaaran Hudhuranfushi

Hudhuranfushi banyan

Hudhuranfushi cultivates many treats from its size.

Immediately on arrival, the staff managers provided a quick briefing to everyone about the island. I really appreciated this welcome because it helped me to get oriented less stressfully. Often when we arrive, we have to wait for an evening drinks orientation and until then we are a bit at loss as to what we should do or plan. Sitting with a lovely drink after a day of travel was smart timing for this introduction. This care to provide a helpful welcome is even more extensive for the water villa guests where they have developed a welcome dock and room at the end of the villa jetty.

Hudhuranfushi is yet another fairly large island and my first question to Patrick De Krester (see photo above) is ‘what does the extra size get you?’ as a guest. Some people feel that you lose some of the ‘tiny island’ experience. Patrick really had some of the best answers of my week seeing many big islands. First, the long seafront contributed to one of its distinctions as one of the best ‘left hand break’ surf sites in the world (more on that in a later post). Also, the interior of the island was rich in mature and diverse tropical trees which created a towering canopy over many of the sand paths. Finally, the very centre has a bountiful food garden that you can tour. In fact, I would call it more of a plantation. Obviously, as a result, the island restaurants make plentiful use of the extensive array of home grown produce.

As it happens the General Manager Asim Mohamed has a particular interest in the culinary side as he first cut his teeth in ‘food and beverage’ operation when he entered the Maldive tourism industry in its earliest days. He has decades of experience and despite numerous assignments and bountiful opportunity to travel and work just about anywhere in the world, he can think of no better place to be than the Maldives. Drinks with him in the evening was a history lesson in the development of tourism in the Maldives.

Asim gave me a real appreciation for the great work that the resort staff and management do. Unlike most resorts in the world, one is not just running a guest and property operation, but you are running a mini-society. Even small islands like Fiji and Bora Bora have access to the national grid, sewage, supply chain, water supply, local labour force, etc. In the Maldives, the resorts are virtually self-contained: their own power generation, sewage treatment, water desalinization, mini-town for staff to have a reasonable life away from work, special supply considerations.

Hudhuranfushi has the substance and experience to make turn its size to advantage in many unsung and satisfying ways.

Hudhuranfushi sunset

 

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 5: Reethi Beach

Reethi Beach jetty

Reethi Beach is a value for money Maldives Classic.

Small island (we could circum-perambulate, which is one of our favourite arrival rituals), excellent food strongly featuring on local produce and local cuisine (including a wood fired grill and a tandoori oven that produced the best, freshly baked naan bread I have ever eaten, despite years of trawling premiere UK curry houses). Sincere hospitality. A relaxed atmosphere with the staff, who freely intermingle with the guests in the bar and restaurants.

I was not surprised when Denise Schmidt (the acting manager) told me that 30% of their residents are repeat visitors. It is a classy enough place to fall in love with and relaxed enough to feel at home.

Stopping in at Reethi Beach Resort (RBR) was a real gear shift from the top of the line resorts we had been visiting earlier in the week. RBR is not a glitzy posh place. It maintains a deliberately laissez-faire, organic approach to the landscape without lots of fussy gardening. Leaves are periodically collected and shredded and then re-spread to allow the nutrients to return to the grounds naturally. The experience is much closer to being dropped off on a deserted tropical island that happens to have some dwellings on it. Much to my bias and delight, RBR has maximised the ‘no shoes’ experience. Sand paths wind everywhere including all the restaurants and even the games room.

But after its October revamp, it has upgraded in many areas. Its greatest strength is value for money. We are not very stingy people when we travel, but sometimes the super-premium prices prevalent in the Maldives do leave a bit of a sour after-taste, as you can’t help but choke a bit on the numbers. RBR boosts satisfaction because you pay very reasonable and even bargain prices. We ate a la carte at the Grill restaurant and I had a lobster bisque with a proper roux and brandy base that I struggle to find in the best restaurants in London – for less than the price of a Starbucks (menu price = $5).

Much as the super 5 stars blew us away in many respects, RBR did bring us down to earth. It reminded us that many distinctions are truly hair-splitting in this stunning destination. Nicely grilled fish caught that day is nicely grilled fish caught that day. It’s a rare massage or spa treatment that doesn’t make someone feel great and how great is really hard to argue. And of course, Maldives paradise is Maldives paradise even if you were just plopped down on one of the deserted islands. For people a bit more constrained on their budget, I can assure you that going to a strong, but lower priced resort like RBR, is going to deliver a stunning and memorable experience.

Reethi Beach jetty 2

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