Best of the Maldives: Longest Local Island Bridge – The Residence

The Residence - jetty

While the Maldivians have traditionally scurried from island to island by dhoni and more recently motor boat, funds from tourism have provided the resources for more permanent connections with bridges. One of the sights of our recent tour was to see the completed Male to Hulhumale bridge, one of the Maldives’ largest infrastructure projects in its history. On a more modest scale is the The Residence’s new connection to its adjacent sister property The Residence Dhigurah (and to reduce confusion, the original “The Residence” now is going by the name “The Residence Falhumaafushi”). I’ve already posted about the jetty’s charming little deserted island that flanks it at about the halfway point, but the jetty itself is also distinguished as the longest resort-to-resort jetty in the Maldives at half a kilometre (nearly twice as long as Conrad Rangali’s jetty between its two island).

With this post, I’ve added a tag for “Bridge” for all the various bridges that occasionally link the scattered islands.

The Residence Dhigurah - jetty

Best of the Maldives: “Peter” Diving – Faarufushi

Faarufushi - Peter scuba 2

Despite its fame as a diver’s paradise, we didn’t dive in the Maldives until about our fifth year of going there. Lori’s sister did diving and Lori decided to get certified to join her when the sister came along with us one trip. Even then, I stayed up on top snorkelling with the kids. I remember one day, the kids and I were just finishing with the morning house reef snorkel when Lori was just setting out on her dive. She had to get the gear ready while we just threw on our fins and masks and jumped in. When she got back, we asked what she had seen on the dive. Sharks, morays, colourful fish, sting rays. It was all the stuff we had seen snorkelling. I continued to question why bother with all the equipment and faff of scuba diving when so much can be seen so close to the surface.

Since those days, I have succumbed and gotten my PADI Advanced Open Water and done over 60 dives there. And they have all been delightful. I still make a point to snorkel every house reef and there is still something alluring about the simplicity of snorkelling – no encumbrance, the ability to pop your head up and talk to your buddy, the sun on your back.

But I will admit that you do have to deal with the nuisance of seawater sloshing into your snorkel and being limited in how long you go underwater before you have to return to the surface for a breathe. Faarufushi’s “Peter” breathing system provides the unencumbered simplicity of the snorkelling experience with the underwater breathing freedom of a scuba system. Instead of the air supply being strapped to you, it floats on the surface and follows you through an extra long regulator tube.

Another benefit of the Peter is for giving people a stepping-stone taste of the scuba experience. Many dive centres offer complimentary “Try Dive” sessions. You put on all the scuba gear and have a little underwater swim in the safe confines of the shallow lagoon. But the Peter sessions are even less effort and might serve to ease more people into the underwater experience.

The “Peter system is also featured at Sun Siyam Irufushi and Kandooma resorts, but at Faarufushi it is included in their AI package.

Faarufushi - Peter scuba 1

Faarufushi - Peter system

Best of the Maldives: Reef VR – Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem - underwater VR

While still many “not seen yet” possibilities, my research is uncovering “finally seen” features I’ve proposed ages ago. Like Carpe Diem’s (also at the Raa atoll but didn’t get a chance to stop by this tour), house reef VR (which I proposed in Haven’t Seen #11 post, #4 a couple of years ago). The resort is doing more than just providing a sexy view of its underwater seascape, but is actually using the footage to assist with its reef conservation efforts:

  • “Carpe Diem Maldives is excited to expand on the Dive with a Purpose marine conservation programme this September in collaboration with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the United States of America…Using innovative imaging and data technologies to archive reefs digitally and watch how populations change through time. Recreational divers joining the cruise will learn how to take their own reef images to recreate a virtual reality of the dive using special software. During the Dive with a Purpose week on Carpe Vita from September 9th – 16th Dr Brian Zgliczynski, Project Director of the 100 Island Challenge will present to Carpe Diem’s guest divers the research work involved in the project and go diving with the Carpe Diem Maldives team and guests to lesser-known dive sites in Raa Atoll as they accomplish conservation tasks.”

Best of the Maldives: Vistas – LUX North Male

LUX North Male Atoll - vista 1

Where to begin with the LUX* North Male Atoll? Tour 2019 came back so many candidate “Best of the Maldives” features for LUX that it’s hard to choose. Maybe just start at the top. And I do mean tippy top. With a crowning distinction which plays to a long loved aspect of mine when resorts find a way to highlight this defining characteristic of the Maldives – vistas.

From the moment your flight approaches the Maldives archipelago, you are mesmerized by the expansive vista of blues spreading out beneath you across the ocean. Unfortunately, with a destination known for its diminutive elevation, most views of this aqua-coloured dreamscape are are obliquely cast across the surface. Just getting a bit of elevation can extend and enrich the panorama of blue pantones before you.

I’ve long had a “Vistas” as a “Best Of” category tag, and LNMA provided several to add to that collection. In fact, the vista is one of the central design tenets of the entire property. Every single villa is architected around an open rooftop deck with king-sized loungers for lying back to gaze with equal comfort and wonder at the waters below or the heavens above. They even have a name for this area – your “Sky Lounge”. You can have dinner served there (including an open-air BBQ), have a film under the stars projected there, or just sit and enjoy the 360 degree scenery.

But its not just your villa where you can enjoy the vertical perspective. The INTI restaurant is situated on a second floor with a completely open view of the pool and beyond. The Café LUX coffee shop sits upstairs looking over the ocean. Even the kids club offers a raised floor with a view.

LUX North Male Atoll just raised the bar on enjoying Maldives ‘ spectacular vistas.

LUX North Male Atoll - vista 2

Best of the Maldives: Buggy Tracker – Dhigali

Dhigali - buggy tracker 2

There are “Best of the Maldives” features…and then there are like “soul mate” features. Features that I just adore. Not everyone will have the same effusive reaction I had to Dhigali’s “Buggy Tracker” application, but for me it was one of the highlights of the 2019 Tour.

The Buggy Tracker is an app that is both part of the resort’s own “Digalhi Maldives” app which you can download onto your smartphone (for iPhone’s, see the AppStore or you cann scan the QR code which is on every room key) – see photo below. It is also supported with an array of monitors dotted around the island at each buggy stop. The app/screen shows a map of the island as well as an icon for the constantly circling buggy so you can see how far away it is from you (see video clip at bottom).

Why a Buggy Tracker? Because Dhigali is sort of a middle sized island. We can and did walk around it, but a complete circumparaumbulation (yes, I love that word) takes nearly half an hour. If you are on the opposite end of the island to where you want to go, you might prefer to forego the stroll and just take the buggy ride. Maybe you are particularly relaxed, maybe you refreshed or it is especially toasty and you don’t want to sweat, maybe you need to be somewhere and are running behind (eg. excursion departing). On tiny island, you just walk everywhere because you are always a couple minutes away from anywhere. On big islands, you have to call for (or wait for) a buggy. When you call, you still have to wait which can be a while if they have other pickups scheduled. On a middle sized island like Dhigali, you can find yourself constantly debating “Should we walk or should we wait for the buggy?” And if you want to take the buggy and it is an on-call service, you sometimes feel a bit lazy and guilty ringing it up for a relatively short journey.

The Buggy Tracker takes all the questioning away. You look at your app or look at the screen and you can see exactly how close the buggy is. If you see if is coming round the bend, you might pop out that minute faster to grab it rather than miss it and wait for it to come around again. If it is on the other side of the island, you might choose to just hoof it. Or if you do decide to wait, it is reassuring to know exactly how far away your ride is and not have to wonder if you are going to be there forever.

Why do I love it so much?

  • Innovation – The whole spirit of “Best of the Maldives” is really about innovation. Sure, a property might be able to be the biggest or the blingest by just spending the most on some feature, but more of my pieces are about creative touches and distinctive aspects that no one has done in quite the same way in the Maldives.
  • Technology – As a software guy for my day job, I have a special appreciation for cool applications in this area. I have a particular software soft-spot for geo-location apps. Snorkel Spotter, Dive Site Database and the Admiralty Map DeepZoom all essentially mapping apps.
  • Utility – The system is so simple and so useful. I love innovations that truly enhance the customer experience.
  • Maldivian – I always enjoy meeting the fascinating people behind the scenes of the Maldives resort operations especially the local Maldivians to bring this paradise to life. Many have such distinctive talents and contributions. The entire project was the initiative of Mohamed Furuqan, the resort’s IT manager (see photo top). We got to meet up during my stay and geek out a bit about tech. It’s also especially inspiring to see the innovation stem from a homegrown initiative supported wholeheartedly by the management.

Dhigali - buggy tracker

Best of the Maldives: Soft AI – Kudafushi

Kudafushi - soft AI

You don’t want even the trip of a lifetime to cost your life savings. That is why All-Inclusive (or “AI”) packages are so popular. You pay for your holiday and you know that is it. Everything is included. You can enjoy yourself and not have to worry about rocking up to the cashier’s desk on the final day and being hit with a massive outstanding bill. You don’t have to be thinking about every pina colada you order at the pool bar to figure out if you are still within your budget.

The problem is that AI packages themselves add a fair supplement to the price of the holiday. Especially in a location like the Maldives where alcohol is especially dear, giving guest unlimited access needs to be priced pretty high to make sure that they don’t drink the property out of all its profit. Unless you *really* like to drink, or you *really* value the peace of mind factor, I always counsel people against AI because it can add so much to your bill.

As a part of Kudafushi’s drive to be one of the best value 5-star resorts in the Maldives, it has introduced the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too (all the cake you want) package of the “Soft AI”. “Soft” as in “Soft Drinks” included. Kind of a “Full Board Plus”. That’s not just your waters (resort bottled still and sparkling) and fizzy drinks, but also a wide range of mocktails, coffees, teas, juices and even milk shakes (see bar menu above). On top of that, you are also allowed 2 beers from your mini-bar each day included in the price. And if you, are still hankering for a stiff drink but don’t want to budge from your budget, then the resort holds a cocktail hour every Thursday from 6:30 – 8:00 pm which serves free drink (and canapees to boot).

Best of the Maldives: Easy Wipe Forms – Reethi Faru

Reethi Faru - easy wipe forms

For decades, the dream of the digital revolution was the eco-friendly paperless office. Yet, despite the profusion of connectivity and devices, dead trees still seem quite prevalent in the world of administration. You can understand that there are just some areas and applications where electronic record keeping is just impractical. Like on a dive boat where water is sloshing around and the risk of loss is high. Still, despite the extra obstacles of its environment, the Sea Explorer dive centre Reethi Faru is one of the most radically paper-free operations I have come across.

And they have not had to invest tons of money into fancy applications and sophisticated electronics. Just some clever approached. Their innovation is simply to laminate all their forms and fill them out with easy-wipe markers. Once completed, the centre takes a smartphone picture of the phone and saves it electronically. Simples. They use this technique for their registration forms, nitrox logs, dive logs and every part of their business that needs something completed and recorded.

Best of the Maldives: Art Immersion – Joali

Joali - art 4

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ― Pablo Picasso

Joali has created one of the most beautiful Maldivian properties.

Lori thinks it is the most splendid of the 100 we have now visited (I couldn’t make such an assertion as there are just too many apples-to-oranges aesthetics to compare). For example, Soneva uses the natural rough-hewn materials as its design palette. LUX North Male Atoll opts for striking contemporary hues to reflect the natural beauty. Joali has made itself a garden of artistry depicting inspired interpretations of this paradise.

In the ethereal segment of the Super-Premium 5-star, the typical differentiator is the “Wow-factor”. Sort of an X-Factor for guest experience that makes the property stand out in a clear and explicit way. It’s not just incrementally ratcheting up the Michelin stars of the food, or exclusivity of the wine cellar, or the thread count on the linen, but rather a step-change element which makes the whole place stand out from any other. For Joali it is their island-sized gallery of art, inside and outside, which provides a ubiquitous museum-quality exhibition of creative renditions of the tropical and indigenous themes that frame it:

  • You will be delighted when you realize that Joali is the first and only art-immersive hotel in the Maldives. The island is infused with interactive and experiential artistic pieces that you have never encountered before. The Art Map of the hotel pinpoint all the art and sculptural pieces you can discover. Some of these pieces are created in collaboration with artists and local arttisans in order to support the local community and to revive the artisanal works made in the Maldives. If you are a collector, some of these unique pieces will be available for purchase as well.”

One of my favourite kids activities in the Maldives are treasure hunts. Joali is like a treasure hunt of [artistic] gems for adults.

The collection includes specially commissioned works from the following internationally distinguished artists:

  • Ardmore Ceremics (South Africa)
  • Chris Wolston (USA)
  • Doug Johnson (Canada)
  • Teleksan Onar (Turkey)
  • Studio Glithero (Engaldn)
  • John Paul Phillip (USA)
  • Misha Khan (USA)
  • Porky Hefer (South Africa)
  • Nacho Carbonell (Spain)
  • Reinaldo Senguino (Venezuela)
  • Seckin Pirim (Turkey)
  • Soojin Kang (Korea)
  • ·Zemer Peled (Isrea)

And the art is not just “of” the island, but “for” the island. Many of the pieces are immersive or experiential. You don’t just look at them…you use them. And in so doing you become a part of them. And one of the most prevalent themes in this languid paradise is relaxing. So many pieces are seats, settees and loungers (like John Paul Philippe’s chair shown below with Lori sitting on it). Perhaps none more so immersive than the flying Manta loungers.

The art is displayed across the property, but also each villa is packed with special pieces. And if you want to take an exquisite piece home, many are for sale at the resort boutique.

Joali - art 5

Joali - art 2

Joali - art 3

Joali - art 6

Best of the Maldives: Accessible Underwater Restaurant – You & Me

You & Me - H20

All underwater restaurants are stunning experiences, but they often come at an equally eye-watering expense. For starters, most are found at super-premium resorts that start at $1000/night. Then, enjoying the restaurant is an equally premium supplement to your already hefty holiday bill. When we visited You & Me, we were struck by how many luxury details the resort featured while its price was a relatively manageable by mere mortals. No part of the property more exemplified this reasonably priced luxury than their H20 underwater restaurant.

  • Six-metres underwater, almost half a kilometre away from the pearly shores of our island is our greatest gift – H2O, the world’s best underwater restaurant, conceived by world-renowned designer Daniele Lago. With room for twenty-six guests, H2O’s seventy-four feet acrylic glass exterior is made to mesmerise. Nestled in a lush coral garden six metres below the sea this enchanting restaurant draws all manner of marine life to delight viewers.”

The first feature makes the restaurant truly accessible in the literal sense – a lift.  For anyone who might have difficulty with the circular stairway descending into the depths of the resort’s lagoon, they have the option of taking the restaurant’s lift.  Rare enough in Maldives resorts in general (I only recall seeing one at Velaa),

But the “accessibility” that benefits most of us is H2O’s relatively affordable price.  I sort of hesitate to call out H20s “affordability” as its defining characteristic. The description might come across as a low-end version when it is absolutely anything but that.  The dinner was sumptuously gourmet quality with a full menu of choice delicacies (see photo below).   As our tour report made clear, we were utterly enchanted by our evening there (with the mesmerizing dinner show by the resident octopus). 

The facility itself stands shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the other Maldives underwater restaurants at the super deluxe properties. In fact, its semi-circle fully glass arch is the state-of-the in these underwater rooms with only Hurawalhi and Rangalhi sharing this totally immersive submersion. The restaurant also includes some special aspects which make it distinctive in its own right – a reef restoration collaboration, a meteorological station, maybe the most unusual ingredient I have ever had in a meal anywhere not just the Maldives (stay tuned). 

But if there is one aspect which will have the most impact on the most people it will be its quite reasonable price. I have simply met too many people who passed up the chance to experience this bucket list activity at other resorts because the price was too dear. To save money, they go in and have a glance and take a few selfies, but that is not even a fraction of the joy and adventure of spending a few hours under the ocean enjoying the toings and froings of the sea creatures like you were some sort of fellow resident. The big advantage of diving over snorkelling is that you get to linger underwater and see the creatures at their level (rather than just looking down on them). But even with diving you are limited to 60 minutes (not to mention all the faff and expense). At H20 you get to savour hours of undersea loitering. And all the while, lingering over delectable dishes and sipping fine wines or decadent cocktails as bonus treats to the experience.

The prices are $280 per person for dinner and $180 per person for lunch (we definitely recommend the dinner as you get to experience the transition from day to night of the aquatic world). It’s not cheap, but it’s considerably less expensive than the other alternatives in the Maldives. And remember, it’s not just a meal. It is a unique experience of a lifetime that includes and is accented by a meal.

H20 is the underwater restaurant by You & Me and the rest of us.

You & Me - plankton