Many of the resorts hold special ‘beach dinners’ which sometimes are just part of the normal agenda and sometimes incur a supplement charge. Do not miss these. Not only is there usually a distinctive buffet of locally caught seafood and local dishes (or whatever the theme is), but also the pleasure of eating by candle-light with your bare feet in the warm sand and the ocean gently lapping the shore a few feet away is one of the most idyllic dining experiences.
But you don’t have to wait until ‘beach buffet’ night. Most of the restaurants are right beside the beach, but often their tables are under an enclosure. Often the enclosure is not much more than a thatched roof. We always ask if we can have our table moved from the electric light lit enclosed area onto the beach itself closer to the water and under the countless stars. Sometimes the wait staff get a little thrown off balance by the request, but in general the people there are so service oriented, so relaxed and friendly, they are willing to accommodate. It is a small adjustment that transforms each evening’s dinner from delightful to divine.
(The picture above is our family at the Coco Palm beach restaurant nestled in the palm trees during the day to protect against the sun, but where we moved our tables out to the water’s edge in the background at night).
Tim Godfrey’s ‘Dive Maldives’ is focused on diving, but also has excellent general history, geography and background. The islands may look like plots of sand with a few palm trees, but they actually have a fair amount of diversity. In the picture above from his book, Godfrey outlines some of the key parts of a Maldive atoll island along with its Dhivehi name which are words you will come across often especially in the names of different places (ie. thila, giri, fary, finolhu, fushi).
If being just a few feet away from the edge of the Maldives’ glorious waterside appeals, then one of the special treats of a visit to the Maldives is to be in one of the ‘water villas’ or ‘water bungalows’ where you can stay right on top of the water. These days most resorts feature water villas (you can search on this characteristic with ‘Resort Finder’), but by far the most spectacular of all of these is the 7 “Crusoe Residences” at Soneva Gili (not to mention the special ‘Private Reserve’ residence). These villas are not just off the land, but they are actually detached from the land. Guests access them by their own personal motor transport.
The defining element and the very essence of the Maldives are the coral atolls. Aesthetically and aquatically stunning geological formations that captivate from the first moments where the long haul jet is coming into the area on arrival. One of the first questions visitors have is ‘what are these things and how did they get here.’
Wikipedia has good article on Atolls and their formation including animation of atoll formation shown above. Britannica also has a similar illustration, but annotated with terms here.
A trip to the Maldives is often one planned months in advance and as one starts to investigate you quickly note that the prices vary dramatically according to the time of year. This pricing seasonality is fairly typical in the travel business with high seasons and off seasons and airline prices varying by all sorts of considerations. While there is officially a ‘rainy’ season between May and October, as you can see from our post on climate, the average hours of daily sunshine varies little and the Maldives have lots of if not predominantly glorious weather even at this time of year.
Maldives Complete has gathered up all of the published rates for the UK tour operators serving the Maldives (Kuoni, Hayes and Jarvis, Thomas Cook, Thompson, Seasons in Style and Cosmos) and averaged up their prices for each month which is shown in the above graph. Note that these are published ‘rack rates’ and often deals and promotions can be found which will be discounted off these. The basic analysis shows February, June and November to be the least expensive times to visit and January, March and July the priciest.
In the spirit of the Ithaa restaurant at the Conrad Hilton Rangali, the Huvafen Fushi resort has opened an underwater spa. A number of spas have delightful settings on jetties and beaches right near the water, but if you truly want to be immersed in the aquatic serenity of the atolls, the Lime Spa.
Greetings are always a curious part of any language. The Hawaiians have ‘aloha’ which means ‘hello’ and ‘good bye’ as does the Italians’ ‘ciao’. The English – as in what people in England speak – have an all purpose word ‘cheers’ which can not only be used as ‘hello’ and ‘good bye’, but also ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’.
Dhivehi is the native language of the Maldives islands and it has no direct translation for ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhivehi_language). Instead, islanders greet each other with a smile or the raising of the eyebrow and just ask "where are you going?" followed by "what for?" The tradition evoked for me one of the earliest ever Dilbert cartoons show above (featured in Dilbert’s ‘Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies’).
Virtual Earth and Google Earth provide useful and sometimes stunning images from above of the Maldives to provide a sense of where you are heading to. But often the images are months if not years old. If you want the uber-birds-eye view, especially to see what the weather is looking like, check out Eumetsat hourly satellite photography online for a peek at the (usually) blue skies awaiting you. The ‘Southern Asia’ (which covers the Maldives) colour photos are found here. If you select the ‘Play’ option, then the site goes through the pictures in sequence to provide an animation of the weather movements.
(our children, Isley and Chase, fish watching including ‘wading with the sharks’ – harmless, mini-black tipped reef sharks – on the right)
I had originally thought of creating a web site on the Maldives called ‘Maldives for Families’. It is renowned as a top diving and honeymoon destination, but we found it distinctively suitable for children.
The first and foremost appeal is safety. You never really have to worry about them running off or for that matter being absconded because the islands are so small and there is little traffic on an off. If you lose sight of them, you know that they can’t be far because there is not far to go. In fact, in many islands, no one is ever more than shouting distance away.
Of course, the circumpresent water is always a potential danger, but of all fun in the sun beach destinations the Maldives are about as safe as you get. Their unique archipelago topology means than most islands are surrounded by shallow calm lagoons, often protected several metres offshore by a coral reef. This means that there is often very little current and swimming in the ocean is like swimming in a paddling pool (or your own personal aquarium when you consider all of the colourful fish around – always a delight for the children).
Despite the charms of the beach for children, one recommendation I always make to families of all ages is to select a resort with a pool (Resort Finder allows you to filter for Pools). After a while, the salt and sand get aggravating for children and the cleaner more confined pool makes for a crucially refreshing change of pace.
For a fine piece on other aspects to vacationing in the Maldives with children, check out the Sunday Times article “The Maldives: now for children too”.
While just about any part of the Maldives are dazzling and remarkable, a few place within the magical atolls stand out even for paradise.
There are dozens of enchanting ways to enjoy a meal in the Maldives – on the beach with the water lapping at your toes, on a deserted spit of sand in the middle of the ocean – but perhaps none so distinctive and ‘Maldivian’ as the Conrad Maldives Rangali’s Ithaa underwater restaurant.
“Dine 16 feet below sea level at Ithaa, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s unique undersea restaurant. Marvel at 180° views of reef and marine life, sip champagne cocktails and sample Maldivian-Western fusion cuisine at this spectacular Maldives venue – the world’s first all-glass, undersea restaurant.”