How to Pick the Perfect Maldives VILLA

Perfect Maldives villa

By far the highest engagement post of Maldives Complete is the post “How to Pick the Perfect Maldives Resort” (200+ comments and new ones coming in every day). But now the destination landscape has changed so people are looking as much for the perfect “villa” as the perfect “resort”. It used to be that the resort choice drove most of the variation in experience. The few room categories on offer simply provided some modest variations in size and location of your room. Most of the amenities (eg. pool) were shared across the property. Today, resorts typically offer over a dozen different room/villa categories with massive variations in size, amenities, and of course budget.

Like the Maldives Complete “Resort Finder”, the companion “Room Finder” was developed to filter a short list down from an even more overwhelming number of room types to choose from – 1,137 Room types versus 164 (active) Resorts. Below is a guide to the top considerations and what to take into account when considering them:

  1. BUDGET!! – As with the “Perfect Resort” piece, the very first question is your budget. Choosing a general star-category (eg. 4-star, 5-star) no longer narrows down the expected expenditure. The top of range villa can be many times the price of the entry-level one. The majority of resorts, even some 4-star ones, seem to offer a blockbuster “Presidential” villa which is many times the cost (and size) of their standard lodging.
  2. ISLAND – While the villa is the focus, you still have to consider your surroundings and ask yourself the other questions about the “Perfect Resort” (eg. size, house reef, public facilities).
  3. LOCATION – Location, location, location. For resorts themselves, that question is usually about transferring and distance to Male. With villa types, that question refers to a spectrum of possibilities essentially stack-ranked by proximity to the ocean:
    1. Water Villa (Middle of the Ocean) – Completely detached from the home island (with a shuttle boat service).
    2. Water Villa (Jetty) – In the middle of the water with jetty to the island.
    3. Water Villa (Water’s Edge) – Sometimes referred to as a “Lagoon Villa” or some other slightly different level. The front of the villa rests over very shallow water with the rear of it pretty much over land.
    4. Beach Villa – On the island typically within a few dozen metres of the water’s edge.
    5. Garden Villa – Typically tucked deeper in the island often without even a view of the water.
  4. PRIVATE POOL– When I first started my Maldives Complete research 20+ ago, a main focus was to identify which resorts had a pool for our kids to play and it’s #7 on the “Perfect Resort” check list. Now, the majority of 5-star resorts (and 5-star properties are the majority of resorts) feature your own private pool with your villa. Even these have a bit of a sliding scale with the most luxurious at the top:
    1. Luxury Pool – Some pools have special feature like glass sides or slides.
    2. Swimming Pool – The standard in this consideration of something that you can more than immerse yourself in, but even move or play around in (maybe even swim laps).
    3. Plunge Pool – Too shallow to swim, but plenty big enough to immerse yourself for a refreshing dip.
    4. Jacuzzi – Some villas feature a jacuzzi which does allow you to immerse yourself, but the inability to move around much is compensated to some degree by soothing bubbles.
  5. SUNRISE/SUNSET– The last I checked, a sunset view is going to cost you on average $200 per sunset. I’m happy watching the sunset at the bar with a fresh cocktail in my hand, but enough people must value watching it in the privacy of their villa. If this matters to you, it will affect your price. This variable is not (yet) in the Room Finder as the majority of resorts don’t make this distinction, but it is something you might want to consider in your final choice. Either in looking at the published room categories or, if not a distinct category by the resort, submitting a preference when you book.
  6. SIZE– Both in number of bed rooms and in square footage. Not a big deal to me, but if it matters to you, it is something that is easily filtered on the Room Finder.
  7. FAMILY– Minimum age. For Resort’s, it something people seek. For Room’s it’s something people need to avoid (if you have children that age).

The Room Finder also allows you to filter on “Glass Floor”, but primarily because that it relatively easy data to get a hold of, but frankly sure aesthetic touches are not something I would recommend using to guide your choice.

There are actually dozens of amenities and features that vary by resort and room (eg. hair dryers, bidets, safe, kettle, deck chair). I’ve never felt these were serious determinants of where to stay so I haven’t done the work to put them in the database, but if you are interested in such details (maybe to split hairs on a toss up choice between options), I recommend Mondo Maldives whose website does a thorough job of tracking this information.

How to Interpret a Resort Review

Review maldives

Ratings are often the first thing people turn to in deciding on their resort of choice, but these handy shorthands are also fraught with biases and confusion. I thought I would pull back the curtains a bit on these metrics and badges to makes then easier to use and interpret when research your perfect resort.

  • Industry star ratings indicate how many boxes a property has ticked against a list of criteria
  • Social media star ratings (mostly) indicate how a property has performed against expectations.
  • Industry awards are (mostly) just pay-for-cachet shills.

INDUSTRY STAR RATINGS

Traditional “star” ratings (eg. “5-star hotel”) were developed by industry bodies and were determined by a methodical list of criteria. The advantage to this approach is that is objective. The problem was that the checklist reflects quantitative metrics, but not qualitative aspects. It counts things like the number of electrical sockets and whether the bathroom has a bidet, but doesn’t assess the quality of design, materials, aesthetics, etc. Resorts quickly learned to game this system by installing the cheapest versions of anything that would tick the assessor’s boxes to get a coveted “5-star” designation for a fairly chintzy property.

SOCIAL MEDIA REVIEW RATINGS

The Internet and social media introduced the notion of crowd-sourced reviews. The stars that visitors gave were anything but methodical or defined. The reviews were completely haphazard with “1-star: Terrible” reviews going to exceptional properties who made one slip-up during their visit, and “5-star: Excellent” reviews going to mediocre properties visited by people who were just delighted to be on holiday or wanted to boast to the world how amazing it all was.

The notion is that a savvy reader will dismiss the outliers and focus on the shape of the score histogram (eg. shifted more heavily to positive or negative side). Social media does add the richness of two features: (a) the text review itself (so you can drill down into the specifics of the assessment as make your own judgement about whether the attributes focused on concern you or the assessment seems justified), and (b) the authority of the writer (based on reputational scoring like “Helpful” votes).

Seth Godin articulates this dynamic well in this piece “I Hate This Restaurant” (and this is just the inadvertent failure ignoring the deliberate toxic practice of social media extortion where people find tiny failings and demand a big discounts or compensation under threat of them unleashing their condemnations all over social media):

  • ·If you look at many 1-star reviews (of books, of music, of restaurants) this is precisely what you’re going to see. A mismatch of expectations. A mismatch that is blamed, completely, on the person who created the work, not the critic. It doesn’t matter that the thing was clearly marked. It doesn’t matter that the thing was extraordinarily well-produced. And it doesn’t matter if just about everyone else experiencing it was thoroughly delighted. Because for this spoiled, under-informed and impatient patron, it failed.”

As a result of this “expectations driven” reviewing, many resorts have shifted the direction of their approach to ratings. Instead of trying to goose their rating as high as possible with covering the official bases as expediently as possible, now many properties voluntarily downgrade the advertised “rating”. So they might officially be a “5 star” property, but they advertise as a “4+ star”. That way, guest come expecting one standard of quality, but find a higher than expected one. Exceeding such expectations is the key to strong social media ratings. Better to be a 4-star on the profile but a 5-star on TripAdvisor, than visa-versa.

INDUSTRY BODY AWARDS

Whatever you do, dismiss the press releases and website merit badges from industry awards (eg. “Best Hotel in the Indian Ocean by the So-So-So Travel Group”). Said industry body charges X-thousand dollars for a resort to buy a table at their award ceremony and pretty much makes sure that everyone who attends, walks away with an award. In fact, in some cases, the more awards a resort flaunts, the more likely they are trying to cover up major inadequacies by buying endorsements (Yes, I know, I have featured some awards on the website and my email signature, BUT I did not pay anything for these and would never).

So with all of these review shortcomings, how is one to assess the quality of a resort in researching a holiday? I do check out the social media ratings (mostly TripAdvisor). I look at the shape of the star distribution (eg. how many 1-stars, how many 2, etc…). I will take a peek at a couple of 1-star reviews our of curiosity to see if they had identified anything truly serious, but in nearly all cases it is just the rambling trolling of a disaffected whinger. I do select for the most highly rated reviewers (eg. most Helpful votes) as these folks are likely to have sensible perspective so that their review will share useful insights.

What’s So Special About the Maldives?

Magical Maldives

You know those iconic cartoons of a deserted island with a plot sand and palm tree in the middle of the ocean…that’s the Maldives. A thousand of those.

The Maldives sits at that a magic elevation of pretty much exactly sea level. The Great Barrier Reef is just below sea level (hence very few islands and hardly any resorts). Tropical islands like Mauritius and the Seychelles *tower* above rising to hundreds of feet in the air. The Maldives rest right in the sweet spot. Virtually right at sea level like linen white sand rafts floating in the ocean. The interleaving of water and land in cozy embrace liken the destination to a tropical Venice.

And the elevation distinction goes in both directions – not just the height of the land, but also the shallow depth of the water surrounding the land. As a result, the lagoons have a mill pond stillness which makes for crystal clear water. You can enjoy the dazzling aquatic sights from above the water seeing all manner of colourful fish like a giant aquarium.

The ubiquitous reefs lurking near the water’s surface produce a mesmerizing seascape tapestry of blues that is otherworldly. It is one of those special places on Earth (like Iceland, Grand Caynon, Zhangye Danxia) that make you feel like you are not just on a remarkable part of the planet, but on another planet altogether.

The tininess of the islands and their proximity to not just the ocean but the aquatic wonderland within it, makes for a uniquely intimate connection with the sea that is rarely experienced. I have world traveling friends who go to all sorts of tropical resorts and they always report back to me, “This place is wonderful…but it’s not the Maldives!”

Happy Birthday Maldives (Independence Day today)!

Best of the Maldives Online: Dhivehi Lessons – Maldives Secrets

  

If you do find yourself staying for an extended period or are just looking for some other project to embrace in the final months of lockdown, then why not learn the local language of the Maldives, Dhivehi? I reached out to the stars of this fun and helpful vlog, Kate and Hambe, who gave Maldives Complete an exclusive interview about their project:

  • What prompted you to make the Dhivehi lesson video?I personally couldn’t find a strong source for learning Dhivehi online, so I thought, why not create online lessons with both a fluent Dhivehi speaker and non-Dhivehi speaker? I thought this would ease the learning and through bite-sized and theme-focused lessons that are around 5 minutes each, we hope to provide a quick and fun learning experience!
  • What’s your favourite Dhivehi word or phrase? – I like the phrase “iru ossey manzaru varah reethi” which means “the sunset is very beautiful”.
  • Can Kate read Dhivehi too? – I am learning how to read, it takes more time and practice. We would potentially start writing lessons in the future too.
  • Are there any special sounds in the Dhivehi language (that might be a bit unfamiliar to a new speaker)?Not that I can think of. Most of the syllables / vowels are the same sound and it is quite a basic language with little complications.
  • What do you do for your day jobs?Hambe and Kate are both working as freelancers, in the aim of putting aside enough time for Maldives Secrets to truly blossom as tourism starts to pick up in the Maldives over the next few months. Hambe is a musician and Kate works in Marketing and by being based in Hulhumale, they have the flexibility of being able to travel easily to all islands in the Maldives.
  • What are your top 3 tips for choosing a guesthouse? / What is your top tip for choosing a guesthouse?The Island: When choosing a guesthouse, it’s important to understand the island you’ll be staying on. With thousands of islands in the Maldives, it may seem challenging to pick the right one… but trust me, there is definitely a local island that will suit your needs. Head to Dhigurah for the once in a lifetime experience of swimming with whale sharks, or explore the lush agricultural farms of Thoddhoo… Or go to the eco-friendly paradise of Hanimadhoo in the very north of The Maldives and do yoga every morning on the beach. These experiences are tailored to the island you’ll be staying on… so pick wisely!
  • How well do people who run guesthouses speak English? Usually very well, Maldivians in general tend to have a good level of English as it is a requirement to learn it at school.
  • What are the most useful phrases when staying at a guesthouse or visiting a local island?
    • What type of food would you like?: Koaccheh kaan beynumi?
    • I want to try Maldivian food: Aharen kaan beynumi dhivehi keun
    • No spice: Miroos naala
    • A little spice: Kuda kuda koh kulhikoh
    • A lot of spice: Varah kulhikoh
    • Can we have the bill?: Bill genes dheebah?
    • Where are the toilets?: Koba fahana?
    • Food is great: Varah meeru
    • I need some water: Aharen fen fodheh beynun
    • Thank you for the service: Varah bodah shukuriyyaa
    • Thank you!: Shukuriyyaa!
    • You’re welcome!: Marhaabaa!

   

No, The Maldives Doesn’t Suck At All

I don’t know if this Top Tens writer had a few too many Guinness’s (Happy St. Patrick’s Day today) when writing this piece or whether they were just trying to be as provocatively counterintuitive as possible for click-bait. But nonetheless, I am open-minded and thought I would check out their “10 Beautiful Places in the World That Actually Kinda Suck”. The video piece not only featured the “Maldives” at #4, but actually highlighted it as their splash image to the video.

I wondered if they were just going to harp on some esoteric, quirky aspect of the destination with a semi-justified albeit tongue-in-cheek winge. But as it turns out, their piece appears to be as completely serious as it is completely misinformed. It’s like they didn’t even bother to do any proper to do any proper research and chose instead to parrot some schoolyard gossip that they heard about this popular cool kid who they envied.

I thought about correcting their errors here, but instead I chose to try my hand at my first Maldives Complete “reaction video”. As it happens, I’ve been quietly been posting videos to my “Maldives Complete” YouTube channel primarily as a way to conveniently host videos for sharing here. But as “Subscribe” is the new “RSS”, please hit the “Like” and “Subscribe” button if you want me to do more videos.

   

Maldives Vaccination Leadership

Maldives Vaccination Leadership

The Maldives is en route to another world leading mark – the country getting the highest proportion of its population vaccinated the fastest. Already, they have one of the highest proportion of their country vaccinated. For countries over 100,000 in population, the Maldives is only surpassed by Israel, OAE and the UK. And their current rate of penetration surpasses everyone.

As I noted in my December visit, with so much of their economy dependent on tourism (in fact, the highest proportion of GDP in the world), the pandemic’s effect on travel means a double whammy to their country from this disease. From the outset, they have had strong incentive to tackle COVID-19 and to make extra investments in ensuring the safety of their destination. And that includes aggressive vaccination of the population especially in recent weeks. Of the Top 20 counties with the highest dependency on tourism, the Maldives was the runaway leader in proportion of population vaccinated (of countries over 100k population, see chart below).

Those investments appear to be paying off. Maldives visitor numbers have rebounded strongly. In fact, the Maldives appears to be turning adversity to advantage as many people around the world are extra keen on the Maldives’ distinctive isolation to protect themselves during the pandemic. And as lock-downs have transformed the degree to which people can and do work remotely, people have all the more freedom to escape to the Maldives and work from there. If you are forced to hunker down and avoid contact with people, what better place to do it than a villa in paradise?

Maldives Vaccination Leadership 2

5 Reasons to Go to the Maldives Now

Imuga

When the pandemic first hit and the lockdowns were imposed, we made an emphatic decision to simply not travel in the year 2020. We were seasoned enough travellers (and savvy enough health professionals both working in the medical arena) that we knew it would be many months before the world had a grip on this grippe. We knew that there would be no switch flipped that turned matters from terrible to fine. Rather, the process would be a long and drawn-out chipping away at the pandemic making life more safe and allowing more activity to go on bit by bit.

We had decided that it would simply be too risky and stressful to travel during the year with all the variables and all the volatility of the situation, not to mention the first and foremost risk, which is contracting the virus itself. We would not do anything that wasn’t deemed an acceptable risk, as per our medical training. But within the first 6 months, the world pretty much figured out how to contain the spread (the biggest problem is getting people to behave in a manner which contained the spread) so some possibilities for travel were emerging.

Travel is already a highly regulated environment for safety (just think of the boarding screening process), so the industry is pretty well structured to adopt safety measures. After an accident or terror threat, the aviation industry makes changes pretty effectively and pretty quickly. It has to. So, we felt that they would probably institute protocols that would mitigate most of the risk fairly well.

What we didn’t trust was the governments. A government springing a change in rules at the last minute throwing our trip up in the air. And as anticipated, that is exactly what happened. We bit the bullet and booked a trip to the Maldives for mid-November only to have the entire thing upended by England Lockdown II. And not just official pronouncements being sprung on us, but also lower-level functionaries whose job it was to implement them not reading or confusing the fine print in the latest directive and in so doing holding us up at some point for some confusion over paperwork or something.

Still, we persevered got ourselves to our beloved Maldives this week.  Several days in the trip has been magical. Not perfect by any means. But nonetheless magical.

Here are the reasons to consider taking the plunge and escaping to paradise:

  1. Great Deals – The deals are the catalyst. In November, we started reading about some of the deals on offer, and we couldn’t help but salivate. Air fares and resort prices were both 30-50% off. With our 8 months of cabin fever, we couldn’t resist the temptation.
  2. Flexible Terms – It used to be that to get good prices, you had to commit sizeable sums of non-refundable deposits. Even a minor change in plans would incur big service charges. COVID has changed most of that. Airlines and hotels are now very flexible in their terms so risks of losing your payment are much lower. That said, do check the terms of your travel and if your airline or hotel is not providing flexibility, then look elsewhere. As it happened, this consideration hit us in our planning. We had planned for our trip in November…but then the UK lockdown hit scuppered it. But we were readily refunded all of our booking charges or were able to move them to our revised trip in December.
  3. Aggro in Perspective – Yes, COVID protocols have added extra aggro to the whole process of travelling. The biggest being the PCR “Fit to Fly” certificates, but smaller inconveniences like wearing a mask through the airport and throughout the flight, health declaration forms, etc. While these will seem onerous to the modern casual traveller, they are not really any harder than visas and a vaccination required for typical adventure travel even a few years ago (I remember that I had to hire a consultant to help me get a Russian tourist visa a few decades ago because the process was so convoluted). COVID has just made all travel into “adventure” travel in terms of logistics. Yes, the airport queues are longer dealing with all the protocols and paperwork, but this isn’t entirely new to the world of travel. And people are regularly pointing remote thermometers at you. A bit of work, but not unbearable.
  4. COVID Safety – Tourism is the lifeblood of the Maldives so it is no surprise that they have instituted some of the most stringent COVID precautions in the world. As a result, the incidence of COVID in the Maldives is one of the lowest in the world, earning the Maldives a travel corridor with a number of countries, including the UK (which means that you don’t have to quarantine on return).
  5. Post-Lockdown Paradise – The Maldives feels like the antithesis of lockdown. Sitting on a beach taking in an infinite horizon is the perfect antidote to months of staring at the same four walls.

Guesthouses and Liveaboards Budget Options

Guesthouses and Liveaboards

A whole category of Maldives offerings that I’ve not yet seen are the guesthouses and liveaboard/yacht options. I have researched them quite a bit. And Hotellier Maldives asked me to share a few perspective from my investigation for people considering these alteratives. The result is the recently published article “Bunking with the Billionaires on a Budget – Part 2”.

  • Some guest houses cost as little as $50/night. For certain types of travellers, being on an inhabited island has added dividends of being able to explore and interact with the local community and experience their island life. But these offerings also have a number of constraints that you should be aware of and do limit their appeal to some visitors.”
  • “Liveaboards have long been a cheap option for divers to bunk while going from dive site to dive site. But in the Maldives, the cruising options have gotten quite sophisticated and expansive. You can find quite well appointed bedrooms in lovely vessels serving delicious food. Some boats even offer spa services onboard.”

World Travel Market 2019

WTM 2019 - Jason Kruse

This year’s World Travel Market was like a trip back to where it all began. In more ways than one.

First, I bumped into to one of the charter members of the Maldives GM Hall of Fame (figure of speech) – Jason Kruse. After I had developed Maldives Complete as a way to play around with new web technology at Microsoft and to share my trove of Maldives resort information, it was our family trip to Jason’s resort (just before he arrived), Kurumba, that convinced me that I should invest a bit extra in this undertaking. Throughout our stay, various Maldivian staff came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re that Maldives Complete guy. We love your website.”

While I had made it a policy to never re-visit a resort I had already seen (primarily because I wanted to see as many resorts as possible), Jason convinced me to stop by Kurumba again during one of our first tours in 2011. He and his wife were so much fun and so helpful with information about the Maldives, that we subsequently made an exception to our steadfast rule and ended up visiting Kurumba every year as a part of our tours. It was a convenient final stop near the airport, but primarily a great chance to catch up with Jason and Victoria.

Sadly, those annual catch-ups have been interrupted a couple of years ago when Jason took on a resort manager role in Fiji closer to his home in Australia. But Jason is back! He has taken on the GM role at Amilla Fushi. And he was at WTM London to get word out about some of the changes being introduced there. Sounds like some classic Jason magic and I can’t wait to see what he does there.

If that long-time-no-see meeting wasn’t enough, my next meeting was even more nostalgic. Every year that I have been going to WTM, I always check out whether the country of Togo, West Africa has a stand. Togo was by first stint as a travel researcher and writer. I was stationed there as an overseas correspondent in 1980! My first experience in investigating and sharing an exotic destination with the world. Togo has always been a small country and has been hit with its own challenges (like most of Africa) since the fall of the Berlin Wall (when the two superpowers stopped caring about the continent as pawns on a geopolitical chessboard and unceremoniously and disruptively upped stakes leaving discord and conflict in their wake). They haven’t really had the resources to rebuild its tourism industry…until now. Strolling over to the “Africa” section, I came upon Togo’s first stand and had a chance to meet with their representatives (see below) from the same Tourism Ministry that hosted me to their own colourful and enchanting country four decades ago!

WTM 2019 - Togo