2021 Tour Review #18

Tour 18 - seaplane

What this tour limited in (barely) post-COVID constraints it made up for with long anticipated visits. Tour #18 was short (with even fewer resorts covered due to COVID monitoring alerts), but in a number of different ways included a triad of 3 of resorts would most want to visit:

  • · Biyadhoo – The longest standing, most anticipated and probably cheapest resort we haven’t visited.
  • · Soneva Jani – The most coveted and probably most expensive resort we haven’t visited.
  • · Amilla – About the only resort where we will break our rule to not re-visit resorts.

General destination observations:

· Local Island High Rises: Transferring to Biyadhoo in the South Male Atoll I was struck by the number of “high rise” (over 2 stories, up to about 8 stories) buildings on local islands. Of course, with horizontal acreage at a minimum, going vertical makes absolute sense. It does erode some of the primitive vibe to the surroundings, but the Maldivians obviously should not be trapped in some yesteryear nostalgia for primitive aesthetic of huts on islands.

  • Inter-Island Transfers: The whole COVID process has gotten so much smoother than when we came late December. And the process is massively easier than our trip to another archipelago, the Azores, that we visited in July (17 pages of forms required). Now, BA has a methodical app to check out your COVID credentials and the Maldives has the IMUGA website. Once those forms are completed, the desk agents and passport control simply check your QR code and that’s it. But, inter-island transfer limited by any COVID outbreaks.  Bit like having region or even town-specific lockdowns.  Multi-island visits (like my tours) are a bit of a dice roll though there is low incidence of problems and they are dropping.  Our mixed itinerary was affected but a bit of juggle and it all worked out.
  • Conditions Conventional Wisdom: Specific medium-term weather was never a perfect science, but some general rules of thumb did apply to different months which on average would affect the general balance of conditions across a given week. In fact, speaking to a Maldivian during our stay, he said that he used to be able to have a general feel for how weather was going to be in a given period as he was growing up, but now he admits he simply doesn’t have a clue and just about anything can happen any time and the weather has gotten much more unpredictable. So just about any historical conventional wisdom about weather and house reef conditions (two major concerns of prospective visitors) is getting increasingly outdated in recent years
  • Wind, Wind, Wind: We have tended to travel in more “unsettled” periods of Maldivian year when it comes to weather – mid-summer and late-autumn. Especially, Lori (being of a “certain age”) quite enjoyed the gentle ocean breezes. However, this week’s trip was not wafting, but downright windy. And not just in gusts or periods in the day. But non-stop throughout the day. And through the night…so much so that we were regularly wakened by the howl of the blustery conditions outdoors.

Google mpa of resorts visited

Tour 2021: Amilla

Amilla - 2021 masks

I have two hard and fast rules about the resorts I will visit on our tours:

  1. Never repeat a visit to a resort.
  2. Always repeat visiting a Jason and Victoria Kruse resort.

Before their Amilla posting, I made the same exception to their Kurumba property visiting there 5 times. Hence, Tour 18 brought us to the Amilla for our 3rd stay and a chance to see the Kruse’s and their latest creations.

Why do I never repeat? Because I need to use my limited time in the Maldives to gather as much fresh material for the website and extend my first-hand experience of the destination as broadly as possible. I also love discovery and adventure which drives me to seek out and explore new places.

Why do I make an exception for Jason and Victoria? Because they are our soul mates in their love of the Maldives and how we manifest that adoration with creativity and contribution to others:

  • Genesis Soul Mate – Back in 2007, I had dabbled with throwing my collected research onto the web, but it was a visit to Kurumba which inspired me to put some real effort and investment into making the site more extensive. We were on a family holiday at Kurumba when one of the Maldivian servers came up to me and exclaimed, “You’re that Maldives Complete guy. We love your website.” On the heels of that, Jason reached out and invited me to come back to Kurumba and visit the other Universal properties and write about them. This was 2009, before social media (and before annoying “Influencer” types had flooded the web with lifestyle porn and annoying requests to resorts). That visit kick-started a supply of material and impetus to make Maldives Complete into the extensive compendium that it has become. The real launch of Maldives Complete was Jason’s embrace and encouragement.
  • Creativity / UX Soul Mates – From the outset, I never wanted to write that same old, palm-tree pablum that most travel writers churn and hosted celebrities spew out about the destination getting all gooey over the sunsets, pina coladas and blue waters. Yes, those are wonderful aspects to this paradise, but they have been so done to death. I wanted to dig out the truly distinctive and individual touches that each resort added as their bit of spice to this bucket list essential. Similarly, Jason and Victoria have never settled for just palm trees and pina coladas for their properties. Like a Golden Ticket “Got Talent” singer, they take an island and “make it their own” with their special touches, creative offerings and staff-friendly management.  They got Kurumba to punch-above-its-weight and have similarly transformed Amilla. The key reason that I shun re-visiting properties is that I want the adventure of discovering new things. And the key reason that I re-visit a Kruse place is that it always has new things. As much as I like spotting creatures (on land and underwater alike), I also like spotting distinctions. Special touches of care and creativity. And Amilla is one of those top spots where you can keep returning and be assured of lots of great and satisfying spottings. This trip, I identified 20 items to do “Best of the Maldives” posts about (in fact, I spotted 4 within 15 minutes of setting foot on the island). Their resorts are like the proverbial Zen river – you never spend the same day there.
  • Destination Soul Mates – We have met in Jason and Victoria a couple who love the Maldives as much as we do. As with Maldives Complete, you get the sense that their motivation is not about the money or career, but the sincere love of the destination.
  • Soul Mate Soul Mates – Jason and Victoria share a distinctive partnership collaborating to pool their energies and expertises to the best resort. In a similar fashion, my soul mate Lori is an essential partner to building Maldives Complete helping with input, insights and her equally extensive experience of coming to this destination.

Tour 2021: Biyadhoo

Biyadhoo tour

I have yearned to get to Biyadhoo for longer than any other resort I’ve haven’t seen yet. When I first started going to the Maldives in the 90s, it had a reputation for one of the best house reefs in the Maldives and terrific value. I never went because the apartment block lodging didn’t really appeal to the family, but we finally fit it into our post-pandemic return tour..

The value is still there and accented by a special promotion to induce people back in the early days where uncertainty remained high. I paid less per night for bed and breakfast than I sometimes pay for my bar bill at luxury properties. For about £100/nt, we couldn’t buy our dinner in the UK never mind A DAY IN PARADISE! It was the Lidl/Aldi of resorts – super cheap but limited choice, service and aesthetics. Nothing fancy, but still couldn’t really fault it for anything.

The premises on land significantly exceeded our expectations. I guess at those prices I was expected run-down and limited infrastructure, but instead the facilities and rooms were mostly smart and appealing. Mind you a few more licks of paint in certain places (like the duplex stairwells) wouldn’t go amiss, but the rooms were very attractive, clean, fresh and comfortable (they had a bit of a refurb a few years ago).

And there were plenty of expectation exceeding pleasant surprises. Their spa is brilliant with treatments cheaper than we can get at home (£50 for 50 minutes) and quality as high as the fanciest facilities. Lori even got a bonus creative little hair braiding by her therapist which she really liked (see below).

Some aspects were a bit of a mixed bag. The sand throughout the island – beach as well as interior paths and common areas like the bar – was exceedingly soft. Unfortunately, it was not possible to circumambulate (a word made for Maldives islands) the entre island as the far side was blocked from access. The dinner was superb (BBQ one night), but the lunches were quite mediocre. The whole place could do with a customer UX make-over to fix a plethora of small but annoying oversights and issues. For example, when we arrived a single woman handled the prolonged (over a half hour) registration of about a dozen guests that had arrived while three idle men stood at the registration desk doing nothing.

Unfortunately, the house reef (like so many in the Maldives) is a shadow of what its former self must have been. Hardly any live coral, and (not surprisingly as the obvious knock-on effect) very modest marine life. Still, the diving is great. We did a couple of dives with the resort’s Dive Ocean dive center where we enjoyed another serendipity encounter. As our dive master was registering us he looked at Lori’s PADI card and shouted to his manager, “Hey, Antonio…you certified this woman 20 years ago at Coco Palm!” The small world of small islands.

Biyadhoo - lori hair braid

BA Direct to the Maldives (Sort of)

BA Direct flight

Last January, BA resumed it summer direct service to the Maldives, the only UK direct service available. Until then, it was only offering a winter sun service. But when the lock-down relaxation roadmap was announced then, it was key that vaccination penetration was one of the main considerations of whether UK would give countries the “Green” light. At the time, the Maldives boasted one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world so it seemed a sure thing that they would be at the front of the pack. While others like dithered about the risks, we jumped on the opportunity for a direct flight for our annual July tour. As a result, we were even able to use Avios points to pay for our booking. Everything was starting to look up.

And then a few months later, the “Delta variant” hit. And as its erstwhile moniker, the “Indian variant” would imply, it hit the Indian Ocean destination early and hard plunging the Maldives into the Red list. Fairly soon after, we received notice that our flight has been cancelled. So we called BA to see what to do.

On the plus side, despite being an Avios trip which usually has considerable booking date restrictions, BA let us change our flights to any date we wanted. We thought of just moving the whole thing to the following summer during our traditional July period. But BA informed us that the summer direct service would be discontinued (again) in 2022. So we settled for November which is usually a relatively lighter month for resorts.

Despite the COVID flexibility, the run up to the departure was a bit fraught with difficulties.

  • System glitches: We paid hundreds of pounds for extra-leg room seats (given my height). A week before the flight, I went to double check that everything was all okay in the “Manage My Booking” section. For some reason, it would even let me see seat selection. I assumed that it was because we had already chosen our seats. Then, when we started the pre-flight COVID paperwork a few days before the flight, we could see our seats an they were no longer extra leg room at all.
  • Terrible Customer Service: I tried for two days to get through to BA customer service on the phone to try to fix the problem. I got the now ancient “due to usually high call volume” (that has been that “unusually high” for decades now), you may have to wait. But after running through the barrage of menu selections (where they try to foist you off to a computerised recording), I final got to the point where they said, “Unfortunately, no customer agents are available right now. Please try back later.” And line went dead.

As a courtesy for their mix up, the gate agent offered us complimentary access to the BA Lounge which saved us a bit of money from going to Gordon Ramsay for a pre-flight nibble. Their replacement to their buffet (due to concerns over COVID spreading) was intriguing as you ordered your food online and gave them the number of where you were sitting and they brought the food to you.

In the end, we were stuck in the very rear of the plane for the long (10+ hour) red-eye flight. Extra legroom seats are sort of “poor man’s business class” which we were disappointed to miss out on. But we did luck out on “impoverished man’s business class”…a 4-seat row to ourselves. When we booked our seats, we saw just a couple empty rows at the back of the plane. We each took an aisle seat in the hopes that being sat n the middle between us would be the last place subsequent set bookers would choose. And it worked out.  Another bonus is the BA in-flight wifi which is allowing me to post this piece from 30,000 feet.

Our flight was a pretty much typical of post-COVID traveling – lots of changes and complexities that aren’t always handled that adeptly, but with a bit of perseverance and luck, you can be back traveling again.

To compare airline experiences, I have now added the tag “Flights” to the blog.

 

  

Tour 17 – 2020 Tour Review

Tour 2020 sum

We didn’t think we would pull off a research tour in the write-off year of 2020, but as mentioned, when the pandemic settled a bit and travel restrictions eased in the autumn, some compelling offers were available to entice people back onto airplanes and over to far flung destinations that had the virus more under control (like the Maldives). While the trip was indeed a bit more complicated than usual and beset with some inconveniences, they were in no way overwhelming and certainly worth it to be able to escape to some joy and paradise. In fact, the journey just seemed to take us back to a time when the level of difficulty we experienced before Maldives tourism had matured and the digital innovations streamlined so much of the travel process. In the end, most of the added steps and requirements simply added to the safety of travel and stay which provided the benefit of enhanced peace of mind during our visit.

We noted several notable changes in just over a year of absence:

  • Safety – The measures introduce to protect against COVID are not just numerous but pervasive. Once in country and on the resort, they are more re-assuring than troublesome.
  • Families – Families everywhere. When I first started the “Maldives for Families” vision. One of the things that struck me on our recent mini-tour in December was how family-centric the visitor base had become. I tried to find some stats, but age seems to be tracked only periodically. What I did find showed young visitors (under 24) growing from 8% in 2011 (https://webunwto.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/imported_images/36136/maldives_tourism_performancereport_for_2011.pdf) to 10% in 2015 (https://www.tourism.gov.mv/en/downloads/visitor_survey). If that segment is growing at 0.5% per year, in share it would be about 13% now. It does seem also that catering to families is the default now. The list of Adults Only properties is really the exclusive list (only about 20 of these). Then, there is a segment of Family Agnostic resorts which I would estimate to be about a dozen or so. These properties tend to be lower end properties who have few amenities and services in general. They have no problem with kids, but they just haven’t made any investments in a kids club or other features that are aimed particularly at kids. So that would be about 30 resorts out of 160 active one that are *not* especially family friendly making a catalogue of family friendly ones about 130 properties long.
  • WhatsApp – The lion’s share of our service was provided by WhatsApp. As soon as you check-in, your “butler” (or whoever else is your point of contact), connects with you on WhatsApp. Every resort worked this way. And it was a revelation. No more calling reception, or looking for the right button on your room phone, or worrying about the time of day. Just send a WhatsApp message to the person looking after you and they respond immediately. It sounds like a simple introduction, and yet it made service provision seem to run that much more easily and slickly.

A final tip is that the Dhiraagu wifi in the departure area is a rip-off. Buying access isn’t cheap and the service is horrendous (the app is poor and the connection is weak).

Pandemic Paradise (just kidding!)

Tour 17 – Hard Rock

Hard Rock - tour 2020

Hard Rock brings its iconic hip style to the Maldives injecting a bit of up-tempo vibe to this paradise spot.

So many prospective visitors ask about entertainment and activity on offer in the Maldives fearful that a however idyllic, such a holiday might just be too indolent for them. Hard Rock Maldives should put their worries at ease that they will be too much at ease.

A centrepiece to their lively atmosphere is their pool equipped with a thrilling slide (dubbed appropriately “Deep Purple” for its colour and elevatin), luxurious floats and a poolside party swim-up bar. The energetic fun seems to go day and night as stumbled across the largest and most enthusiastic audience for an evening’s entertainment I’ve ever seen in the Maldives. It was at karaoke night hosted by the Hard Rock Café during our stay (we had dropped in to purchase a few of the iconic Hard Rock t-shirts as gifts) and was full of all ages (families and couples), all enthusiastically appreciating every rendition of Abba or whatever else was available on the playlist (see clip below)

Yes, Hard Rock has the brilliant white beaches, tranquil waters and swaying palm trees for any one looking to just chill out as well.

Good, good, good, good vibes at hard Rock Maldives.

Tour 17 – SAii Lagoon

SAii Lagoon Tour

SAii Lagoon is the most lush, opulent resort in the mid-market Maldives.

We’ve not seen a resort more packed with colourful landscaping which complements the colourful décor of the villas. And this rich visual aesthetic is carried inside the rooms themselves inviting décor filling the space. So many resorts slap a perfunctory print on otherwise barren walls, but SAii Lagoon rooms are filled with detail. The resort reminded us of Velaa in its opulent aesthetic (but a fraction of the price) and of Cocoon or Finolhu in its funky vibe.  SAii Lagoon describes itself as the “chilled” sibling in The Crossroads resort complex to Hard Rock Maldives’ more active vibe.

I found the resort a masterclass in product marketing. They know who they are. They are not afraid of people to not like them them because the that is the price of being distinctive enough that many people adore you.

Like The Crossroads, itself we felt transported to a version of the Maldives that was current, cosmopolitan and still in keeping with the aquatic and tropical aesthetic that has been drawing us to this paradise destination for decades.

COVID PROTOCOLS – SAii Lagoon (and all of The Crossroads complex) is taking COVID prevention extremely seriously including the following measures:

  • Health form completed on entry
  • Temperature check on arrival and departure
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers distributed liberally throughout
  • “This Table Has Ben Sanitised” signed
  • Hilton “Clean Stay” protocols
  • Sanitising floor mat (see photo below) – I haven’t seen this measure before either in the USA or the UK!

SAii Lagoon - tour 2020

Tour 17 – Crossroads

Crossroads - aerial

A destination within a destination – Patrick de Staerke, GM

And what a “destination” it is! The Crossroads complex is an exciting manifestation of a colourful and inviting 21st century Maldives. Infusing itself with the palettes and ingredients of the Maldives while building a vibrant, modern incarnation of this sunny paradise.

“The Crossroads” refers to the overall archipelago within an archipelago of a 9-island complex being fashioned by ambitious terraforming (ie. making islands from sand dredged from the bottom of the ocean) as well as the circular maritime hub at its heart. The latter forms a circular harbour with the waters’ edge lined with colourful seaside bistros and boutiques (see photo below). So much has been written about the ‘sinking’ of the Maldives with rising ocean levels, and yet this is a story of the Maldives rising out of the ocean. It is not just a new property, and not just a new concept, but it is an entirely new class of resorts for the Maldives. The biggest change to Maldivian tourism since the introduction of guesthouses.

Crossroads Maldives evokes the most vibrant seaside community destinations of the world: Key West, Florida; Murano, Italy; Cape May, New Jersey; Positano, Italy; Charleston, South Carolina; Barefoot Landing, North Carolina; Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; Willemstad, Curacao; Paradise Island, Bahamas. The Crossroads is a revelation..of what the Maldives can be as a sparkling maritime cosmopolitan centre moving beyond the charming “thatch-covered fishing island turned resort” concept that has prevailed to date.

Scale not only gives you variety, but it also enables scale economies. One of the reasons why Maldives is renowned as an expensive destination is because the “one island, one resort” format greatly restricts scale. Each tiny resort island has to build and sustain a mini-city of power generation, water distillation, waste treatment and all the services required to host dozens of guests expecting catering and amenities of things not found in the Maldives. The Crossroad complex means that its properties (ie. SAii Lagoon, Hard Rock and soon to be several more) can deliver some of the best value-for-money rates in the Maldives.

A number of Maldives aficionados (and residents themselves) are not fans of this radical transformation of their sea-into-landscape. My investigation indicates that upon completion, the complex has grown immensely in popularity with the Maldivians. Some “Maldives purists” continue to protest seeming to think that anything more elaborate than a thatched villa on an island is “spoiling” the destination. They love the natural simplicity of the Maldives and its isolation from civilisation as do I. But those who accept only this quaint, longstanding model seem to want the Maldivians to live in some Williamsburg-esque nostalgia.

Some detractors express concerns about environmental impact, and surely there is some. But I am impressed with the degree of impact assessment the developers and the government did prior to construction (EIA for Enboodhoo reclamation project-Borrow area.pdf). One of the interesting stats was that live coral cover for the area was under 5%. The Crossroads also showcases their mascot “Emma” extensively around the island. Emma is a sea turtle who was found to be resident in the area when they performed their impact statement and the blueprints for the resort were modified to avoid disrupting her habitat. She still lives in the area and the dive centre even offers snorkel excursions to go see her in the places she frequents.

Crossroads - main street

   

Crossroad - mural

Tour 17 – KIHAA Maldives

KIHAA Tour

KIHAA is simply one of the best resort *islands* in the Maldives. No wonder people have been flocking to it for decades. I have coveted a visit for years for this classic property. It started as a simple divers’ haven, grew into an Italian “Club Vacances” and some refurb a few years ago. But it still retains a classic Maldives resort feel.

KIHAA achieves the rare island trifecta (the closest comparison is Anantara Kihavah):

  • House Reef – One of the best house reefs we have seen in recent years. CORAL! More than half of the reef was live coral (the “lumpy” coral varieties, eg. massives like favia or prorates, seem to be thriving better than the “branchy” varieties, eg. staghorn, fan, table). Dramatic topology. Easy access. Colourful schools of yellow striped convict tangs, sergeant major fish, Moorish idols. So good, that one of our Amilla dives came over to dive the Kihaa house reef.
  • Beaches – Big, white, wrap around beach not seen since Kihavah. Flour soft sand especially by the water’s edge. An active beach duo is cleaning it constantly. Great for sunset circumambulations. Beach dining every night (partly due to low occupancy).
  • Lagoon – Millpond calm lagoon with turquoise vistas and easy swimming (which was useful as the property’s pools were just being brought back on line after lockdown).

Furthermore, the island scale is pretty much as Goldilocks size – big enough to support good amount of infrastructure but small enough to walk around in under 20 minutes.

A resort like KIHAA demonstrates how difficult it is to pin a star-rating on a property. The island itself is a 5-star deluxe with its exceptional “trifecta” of beach, reef and lagoon. The resort also boasts exceptional sports facilities including two smart tennis courts and two first-rate squash courts as well as finely kitted out gym. The lodging is more the 4-star category with handsome styling (recently spruced up).

The operations are difficult to assess at this time given the COVID situation. After 10 months of mothballing, it is like re-opening a resort with lots of cleaning, maintenance, supplying, etc to get up and running. Like all Maldives resorts, the staff are scrambling to provide the best experience possible for the intrepid and anxious early post-lockdown guests, but they face intractable constraints on availability of personnel (who have to quarantine) and even supplies.

With the resurgent coral and the vintage villas, our visit very much felt like going back in time to our first magical visits to the Maldives years ago.

COVID PROTOCOLS – Take your temperature on arrival, all staff wear masks and sanitising stations are found throughout the island.

KIHAA Tour 2

Tour 17: Flying the COVID-Free Skies to Paradise

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to escaping to paradise is getting there. With the “Tier 4” lockdown announced in the UK, that will scupper possibilities for many. But for those living in areas still able to do international travel, the flying is the first, and perhaps most stressful aspect of getting there is the flying. And our trip was no exception as we grappled with impediments from 3 major carriers:

  • QATAR AIRWAYS – I purchased my ticket through British Airways where I had a bunch of “vouchers” accrued from COVID cancelled trips. BA did not have any flights available, but they did present “One World Partner” options for me to use including some flights from Qatar Airways which worked well enough. What they don’t tell you (and it took hours for me to figure out) is that you cannot purchase extra legroom seats on partner flights. A big concern for me because I am so tall. BA said contact Qatar because Qatar controls seat allocation, and Qatar told me to call BA because BA issued and controls the ticket. As I have experienced in the past, these “partnerships” like “One World” are more gimmicks and be aware that if you get drawn into them, you are likely to face huge complexities in your travel. As if COVID isn’t introducing enough complications at the moment. Also, their “Privilege Club” has probably the worst customer service of any airline I have ever dealt with. I spent 6 weeks and countless communications to get a typo fixed in my profile (which is critical because if your booking name doesn’t match your passport name exactly, they can prevent you from boarding).
  • EMIRATES – I give Emirates credit for a great booking experience including and easy refund when the UK Lockdown II required us to cancel our first trip booked. The biggest problem is that when we tried to re-booked we learned that the required stop-over in Dubai violated the “travel corridor” requirements and meant we would have to quarantine in the UK on return. That provision has since been modified to allow certain stop-overs, but at the time we didn’t want to face the possibility of paying for two weeks of freedom in paradise with a fortnight of sequestration (little did we know).
  • BRITISH AIRWAYS – BA turned out to be really the only option not wanting to quarantine over Christmas And yet, shortly after booking our flights, Sir Lankan offered direct flights and Qatar/Emirates got an exemption from the stopover constraint. The prices were better than usual for this time of year, but not the super discounts of November. The booking was smooth as well as a steady stream of travel advice from BA to help preparations.

Off we go. Yes, the trip there was more complicated, but in fairness matters were no worse than travelling to the Maldives a decade ago. Back before online check-in, airport kiosks, efficient boarding, rich shopping options and in-flight amenities. I know all of us living through 2020 dream of turning back the clock, but this might have gone too far back. In fairness, aside from a few temperature checks and squirts of hand sanitizer, the primary COVID imposition was the PCR test required for the Maldives (and many other destinations)

No online check-in as they had to check PCR certificates and the Maldives QR code (you get when you complete your Maldivian arrival Travel Health Authorisation). So for the first time in years, we arrived at Terminal 5 confronted by snaking queues as agents did check-in the “old fashioned way” (boarding passes, baggage check and passport port check all done by the far-too-few overworked agents at the desks). The agents were especially exasperated by so many people trying to travel and not really having a clue as to the requirements (One family of about 8 took 45 minutes to check-in, if they succeeded. We know because we were in the queue for 90 minutes and watching this one hapless family occupy one of the precious few gate agents was one of our bits of entertainment to pass the time).

The flight itself was very well managed with lots of safety protocols. Chief among them were mandatory mask wearing at all time (except for when you were “actively eating”, ie. take a bite and put the mask back on to chew). Frankly, in the spectrum of possible airplane discomforts, this added one was pretty trivial.

We arrived to Male airport facing arrival queues also not seen for a decade since the agents were coping with the other side of PCR tests, health declaration paperwork and a generous helping of tourist confusion. Our flight had been delayed a few hours and the long lines meant that our PCR test was literally about to “expire” (ie. be beyond the 96 hour requirement). We made it through with 10 minutes to spare, but in fairness, the authorities I approached about the issue seemed pretty understanding about the delays and I don’t think they would have turned us away because we got to the desk a bit after the official expiry.

One final moan on my soapbox. My wife Lori works in an NHS-supported care facility and as such get COVID tested every week as a matter of SOP. But the results that she gets back are not PCR certificates and simple electronic messages saying “test negative”. It would seem to me that in addition to rounds of applause, a simple and pretty cost-free gesture that would save NHS staff some money would be to adapt the weekly COVID test results to be PCR “Fit to Fly” ready. Then, NHS staff wouldn’t have to pay considerable amounts for extra tests (on top of the many they already take) if they want a well-earned break.