Best of the Maldives: Ice Buckets – Finolhu

Finolhu - ice bucket

Black Friday and the American Christmas shopping season has started.  Thanksgiving yesterday serves as sort of a starting pistol for the Yankee yuletide season.  While there are plenty of impatient transgressions, it’s generally considered a bit of poor form to decorate, play carols or otherwise engage in Krimbo merriment until after sleeping off an excess of poultry consumption. 

EVERYONE comes home for Thanksgiving.  More so than for Christmas.  Hence the term “Homecoming” (as in “Homecoming Queen”) which is the big, local school football game where everyone gathers to see friends who have also returned and to build up an appetite while the turkey is cooking at home.  As a result, the Friday after (Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday) is nearly always taken off from work.  So you have a house full of relatives and a day off.  What to do that everyone will enjoy?  A trip to the Mall to start Christmas shopping!  Also, it’s helpful that everyone is around to help find things everyone wants, check sizing, etc.  Hence the near hallowed tradition of “Black Friday” emerged as savvy stores scrambled to grab as much of this early spend from the Christmas fund as possible.  Their promotions and marketing just stoked the mania even further till you get the consumer madness we see today.

If you are looking for a present for me, one of the nicest items we saw this summer was Finolhu’s signature ice bucket with a powder blue explorer-chic design.  It evokes Alviero Martini’s “Premiere Classe” fashion line (that Lori and I have several pieces of).  The resort also features tissue boxes, toiletry boxes and other items and amenities, but the ice bucket is for sale at the shake shack for $200.  Dear Santa…

Best of the Maldives: Best for Laundry – Club Med Kani

Club Med Kani laundry

It’s not just the fashionistas, but also the fashion itself that needs a good wash. With the sun-drenched sweat, salt-water spray, and copiously applied suntan lotion, clothes are lucky to last a full day in the tropical conditions. Then you have a variety of outfits from snorkelling swimwear (suit and rashguards), lounge-by-the-pool wear, to some breezy comfort clothes for drinks and dinner time.

Most resorts do offer laundry services, but that can start to add up in costs. You can hand wash some underwear in the sink with some hand soap, but it’s a faff, takes forever to dry and doesn’t come out fluffy fresh. It sounds silly but one thing that we missed the most on our longest stay (17 days) was a washing machine to do some laundry. If only we were at Club Med Kani, they offer a complimentary laundry facility with washers, dryers and ironing all at your convenience.

Best of the Maldives: Triple Shower – Amilla Fushi / Finolhu

Amilla Fushi - outdoor shower

Innie, outie and innie/outie. Dual indoor and outdoor showers have become pretty much table stakes at the five-star properties. A few of the higher end properties have introduced the drench waterfall showers. But Amilla Fushi and Finolhu not only feature the drench showers, but also have a triple shower combo with outdoor showers on both the front and back decks.

Amilla Fushi - in out shower

Amilla Fushi - indoor shower

Best of the Maldives: Room Abstract Paintings – Summer Island

Summer Island - painting 1

I’ve always wondered why the Maldives resorts didn’t use more Maldivian artists for room décor. I’ve come across so many impressive talents in my decades of Maldives visits. Their renditions of the Maldivian vignettes are as personal as they are authentic. But my favourite of all resort artwork are the commissioned room paintings for the Summer Island resort revamp.

When I entered my the first room on my resort tour this July, I was stunned by the abstract painting over the bed (see below). It had captured the paradise parfait of colour that define the vistas from any point on any island. White sand, turquoise lagoon, azure ocean, green island, robin’s egg blue sky. This distinctive striation inspired my own graphic design in the header to this blog (see top of page). Also, you can see it in the header picture of the Maldives Complete Facebook page.

Every room has its own unique piece. And the “Do Not Disturb” signs for the door were similar crafted. All the work was done by an in house artist.

Mastery in the master bedrooms.

Summer Island - painting 2

Summer Island - painting room tag

Best of the Maldives: Resort Airport – Kooddoo

In many places, being “close to the airport” is seen as a negative. The new Mercure Maldives Kooddoo actually boast its aeronautical geography with its press releases announcing: “Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort is the first ever water villa resort built on an airport island in Maldives.”

Kooddoo is an airports like Heathrow with jumbo jets roaring in and rattling the rafters every 30 seconds. Instead it gets one or two flights a day from relatively small planes. The infrequency makes it more of an event than a disturbance (“De plane, de plane!” – Tatoo, Fantasy Island). On the positive side, it makes for an incredibly convenient outside-Kaafu transfer. For most distant resorts, you can either take a seaplane that will land at your resort but many consider very loud inside and too small and cramped for some people’s liking (not to mention expensive). Or you can take small jet planes to an increasing number of mini-airports around the country, but then you still have one more transfer by speedboat to finally get to your resort. At Kooddoo, you have the comfort and cost-savings of a conventional flight and when you touch down, you are just a short buggy ride to your villa.

Kooddoo - airport island

Best of the Maldives: Excursion Desk – Finolhu

Finolhu - excursion desk

At the WTM, each country invests all sorts of creativity and panache into their booths to stand out from the crowd as agents and operators mull what trips to send their clients on. But no Excursion Desk in the Maldives, where you go to decide what trips you want to go to during your stay, have the flair of Finolhu’s pink microbus. All part of the resort’s retro chic vibe.

Maldives’ Best Dive Sites in Each Atoll

If you can only dive one dive. This is the question we often find ourselves asking during our tours as we will typically spend only one or two nights at a resort and so only have the opportunity for one dive. So when we are planning our dive, we will ask, “well, what’s the best dive around here?” Even for people with the luxury of an extended stay, this is a fairly typical question. When we were having longer stays with the family years ago, we would still ask this question. Many times, we loved the dive so much we just opted to keep repeating it through the week (we went to Manta Point during our Kurumba stay three times).

One common feature that I noticed about many of the selections is that they are situated in channels at the edge of the ocean where the open water merges with the protected inner atoll waters. Such dives will often have a degree of current to them which limits them to AOW divers, but it is the current which contributes to the marine life and activity there.

For the research, I relied on the input from a range of dive schools and dive masters I have met over the years as well as Sam Harwood’ and Rob Bryning’s superlative book “Dive the Maldives” with occasional reference to Tim Godfrey’s “Dive Maldives”.

The list below is admittedly extremely subjective, but the choices are as good a place to start as any. I welcome suggestions and alternative proposals in the Comments section.

  • Addu: Maa Kandu East (Mudakan) – 3 of the 7 top dive sites reviewed by Harwood here have the top 5-star rating, but Mudakan is the most accessible and the only one with also a 5-star snorkelling rating.  “With magnificent table and brain corals, schools of fusilier, turtles, eagle rays, and sometimes manta make this beautiful dive an absolute joy.”
  • Baa: Hanifaru Bay – This Marine Protected Area has become so legendary that the government has actually put up restrictions on diving there. Still, divers can dive around the limits with the best chances to see its bountiful mantas and even the occasional whale shark.
  • Dhaalu: Fushi Faru – Recommended by St. Regis Vommuli dive centre Manish Mahadik saying, “An abundance of marine life including big schools of reef fish, colorful coral, lobsters, occasional Eagle Rays, Moray Eels and sharks…suited for all experience levels from beginner to advanced.”
  • Faafu: Jumping Jack – Recommended by Werner Lau as “This is one of our top dive sites [in the Maldives]. With milder currents, it offers less experienced divers a really truly pleasurable diving experience. Seven beautifully overgrown tilas on the outer reef edge connect the farus to the north and the south of the channel.”
  • Gaafu Dhaalu: Mafzoo Giri – One of two dive sites in the entire “Huvadhoo” (Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Dhaalu together) atoll with 8 stars (out of possible 10 – 5 for Fish and 5 for Coral) by Alexander von Mende who wrote an entire guide book just on diving the atoll. And one of just 2 (with Kondey Kandu) with 5 stars for Fish.  “Offers a lot for its size…hosts no less than six residing leaf fishes behind a dizzying wall of glass fish.”
  • Gaafu Alifu: Mas Thila – One of two 7 star sites (out of possible 10 in von Mende’s book) and described as “a real jewel…one of the best dive sites in Huvadhoo”.
  • Haa Alifu: Becky’s Caves – Recommended by a number of dive masters to us. The nearest, JA Manafaru’s Sun Diving School describes is as “At the depth of 20 meters, one huge recess of the reef shows on one side a wall completely covered of soft corals of different colors; from yellow, pink, white to orange, a real universe of colors! Bring with you your torch and your camera: one fantastic dive for everybody but one rare show to see!”
  • Haa Dhaalu: Heaven & Hell Thila – The choice of Miranda Pontiglione, Base Leader at the Barefoot diving center – “For sure this is one of the best diving spots in our area. All the thila is covered by big colourful soft corals. Along the thila wall there are many overhangs where you can find cleaning shrimps, lobster, groupers and moray eels. A couple of canyons located in the deepest part of the thila will make your dive unforgettable.”
  • Laamu: Fushi Kandu – Commended by Ocean Dimensions’ Petra Hellaman at Six Senses Laaumu who says it is especially great for seeing sharks. “The most spectacular dive is when divers cross the channel…Then, divers can swim inside the atoll to try to encounter dolphins” (Daily Dive).
  • Lhaviyani: Kuredu Caves – I was told about this site by a number of Maldives aficionados before I finally got there and having dived there it remains one of my top ten most memorable dives ever. The highlight is the turtles. Not just lots of them, but the biggest turtles you will ever see. Honorable mentions to the striking “Shipyard” double (!) wreck site with the distinctive vertical wreck (whose bow protrudes out of the water).
  • Meemu: Mantas and More – The consensus recommendation from both dive centres in the atoll.   “Nearly untouched dive sites are easy to dive and feature a great diversity of corals and fishes. Several spectacular channels, e.g. Mantas & More, count amongst the top ten in the Maldives” -Werner Lau
  • Noonu: Dhiffushi Kandu – One of two sites called out by Harwood in Noonu “The highlight of this dive are the sightings of the large Green Turtles that inhabit the reef feeding off the sponges and corals. The reef has excellent fish and this is a great dive.”
  • North Ari: Miyaruga Thila – Tim Godfrey uses a 4-star rating system where only 4 dive sites out of the nearly 300 he reviewed in all the Maldives got the top mark – and 3 were in the North Ari Atoll. Of those, got the strongest coral rating. Godfrey describes Miyaruga, “The landscape is stunning and divers can easily circle the reef in one dive if the current permits…Much of the thila is undercut with caves and the surface is coated in soft coral and colourful sponges.”
  • North Male: Manta Point – Some of the most reliable mantas in the Maldives at a prominent and conveniently close feeding station.  “An astonishing number of manta rays can be seen here with they come to be cleaned” – Harwood.
  • Raa: Labyrinth – The most frequently sites and raved about Raa site on the web and the Dive Point dive center describes it as, “Medium-sized Thila which has crumbled over the centuries and has thereby formed wonderful canyons and tunnels in the reef. The Thila distinguishes itself with its huge schools of fishes and coral growth (soft- and hard corals). A big number of bat fishes accompanies you on every dive on this reef.”
  • South Ari: Kudarah Thila – Both Godfrey and Harwood list 2 top rated dive sites in the South Ari, but Kudarah Thila is the only one they both rate tops. “One of the most exciting dives in the South Ari” says Godfrey. I omitted the any of the diving areas on the southern tip famous for whale sharks (also an MPA) because there is no single one that predominates, diving is restricted because of the whale sharks, and snorkelling is often a better way to find and see them.
  • South Male: Kandooma Thila (aka Ran Thila) – Pretty much uniformly recommended to us by dive centres as Cocoa, Olhuveli, and Rihiveli and the only 4 star dive site in South Male in Godfrey’s “Dive Maldives” (“one of the most exciting dive sites in South Male Atoll and boasts great scenery as well as prolific fish life”)
  • Thaa: Guraidhoo Corner – The only Thaa dive site noted by Harwood with a 4-star dive rating, “A large crevice in the drop-off with over hangs and caves and swimthoughs. Here as the current eddies, huge balls of snapper, rainbow runner, jack fish, tuna and shark are common.”
  • Vaavu: Fotteyo Kandu – One of Harwood’s rare 5-star sites, “This is a stunning, remote place and it is well worth diving here at least twice and at least 4 or 5 times to fully appreciate its beauty.”

Best of the Maldives: Halloween Party – Hideaway Beach

Hideaway Beach - halloween party

Happy Halloween!

When we moved to the UK in the early nineties, the British didn’t really celebrate Halloween. It’s since become a more popular holiday, but nothing on par with the USA where it is the second biggest celebration after Christmas. It’s sort of the dream kids holiday – they get to dress up and get free candy. Not wanting to deprive our own little ones of this annual ritual, we hosted our own quite spooktacular Halloween fun all through their childhood and became quite expert in these lavish affairs.

Many resorts will have a few decorations out today and a few sweeties on hand for the young’uns, but Hideaway Beach is the first resort I found that has assembled a comprehensive set of Halloween festivities with all the de rigeur traditions…

  • Pumpkin Carving
  • Creepy Mask Making
  • A Spooky Movie
  • Scary & Spooky Face Paint
  • Trick or Treat Activities
  • Fashion Show Costume Contest

Appropriately, Hideaway Beach is where we first (and only time) spotted a Ghost Pipe Fish (see photo below).  Which make me think that if I could get to the Maldives for Halloween, I would go dresses as a Batfish (Batfish crazy!).

Hideaway Beach - ghost pipe fish