Maldives Tour 2017 – Review

Maldives Tour 2017 - sea plane port

Another annual pilgrimage to the sacred destination of our dreams concludes. The sunrises, snorkel spottings, villa photoshoots, property tours, transfers, treatments, pina coladas, sunsets and star-gazing has finished. Now begins the remote re-living of our time cataloguing the photos, editing the videos, transcribing the notes, emailing the follow up questions, updating the database and reliving the our time there from afar.

Here are the vital statistics of Maldives Tour #8 (Complete-Ly by the Numbers)…

  • Resorts Visited – 8
  • Days of Travel – 13
  • Seaplane Rides – 4
  • Average Air Temp – 33 degrees
  • Average Water Temp – 29 degrees
  • Rain – 53 minutes (20 mins Rihveli, 10 mins Hakuraa Huraa transfer, 23 minutes at Olhuveli)
  • Snorkel Spottings – 18
  • Dives: 4
  • Room Profile Photos Added – 119
  • Dive Charts Added – 75
  • Best of the Maldives pieces identified – 102

This whirlwind exploration of Meemu anew, Baa renewed and assorted undiscovered corners of Kaafu brings our lifetime total of resorts seen to 84…

Maldives tour stats

At the bottom of this post is a map of where we have stayed (all the green stars are places visited and all the yellow ones are all the others which are on our bucket list).

This particular odyssey introduced us to many new properties, reefs, sights and people which we have shared over the past fortnight. But it has also inspired a number of general reflections and observations about the Maldives destination overall.

AFFORDABILITY

I don’t understand these people who cry out that the Maldives is not affordable any more. Yes, a big number of billionaire playground 5+ star super luxury properties have arrived…but you don’t have to stay at them.

This particular trip discovered a number of value priced gems I would gladly recommend – Rihiveli, Summer Island, Medhufushi, Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa, Olhuveli. This is not always the case. Sometimes we stay at a lower end resort and can’t really wait to get off of it.

On a related note, I don’t understand why more people don’t visit here in July. It is the destination’s “low season” with often the lowest rates. We almost always come at this time of year because rates are the lowest. Also, because the resorts are less fully occupied, the staff have more time to assist us with our research and gathering of material for the website.

In some destinations, the “low season” is determined by the time with the worst weather, but that it not the case with July in the Maldives. The weather is always superb. As noted above, we got less than an hour of rain across the entire two week visit.

If there is one word that describes the July environment, it is…”clouds”. Not just clouds dotting or sometimes spread out across the sky, but also a bit cloudier water for the snorkelling and diving. The plankton tends be a bit more in bloom and the sand stirred up more by the regular breezes. But these clouds definitely have their silver linings. More plankton means more mantas around. The cumulus clusters provide a bit of relief from the tropical sun and contribute to the pleasant ocean breezes. Not to mention much more affordable prices.

TECHNOLOGY

People bemoan the Internet. Many come to a place like the Maldives just to escape the ubiquity of the steady digital drip. It seems at times a bit incongruous to see people staring down out their phones when they could be staring at a lovely seascape.

But technology used in moderation can have huge benefits to a trip. This trip, it allowed Lori to be in touch with her family about her sister who got taken to the hospital for emergency surgery, it allowed us to look up troubleshooting for figuring out how to sort a problem with our new Suunto D4 dive computer, and of course, it allowed us to share highlights in videos and pictures with hundreds of friends and family around the world.

There was a time when we first started coming in the late 90s when Internet didn’t even exist out here (it was relatively new in the UK and USA for that matter). Then a few Internet kiosks arrived around the turn of the millennium. Then a few wireless hotspots in the reception and bar (which is where a good chunk of resorts still are). Mostly the 5-stars have invested in full room wifi. But the thing is that even at the fanciest resorts, the Internet connectivity is a bit of a challenge. The rich media of photos and video that we are accustomed to in the broadband world is not quite there yet in the Maldives.

Flying through the Middle East, which most of the main Europe-to-Maldives carriers do (eg. Turkish Airline, Emirates, Qatar), meant we were stung by the laptop ban in plane cabins for flights from these countries into the UK (and the USA). We were fortunate enough to be aware and read the notices, but dozens of our fellow passengers on TK730 didn’t. It meant that in addition to the incredible aggravation at our Istanbul connection (they started boarding the flight 2 hours before scheduled take-off and still were late) and no computer games or work or high-def films during the flight, those folks had a further delay on the other end queuing up for the airline’s jerry-rigged checking system.

REEFS

Last year, we were nearly heartbroken over the state of the reefs due to generally rising ocean temperatures, the added shock of El Nino and then the final blow of the COTS outbreak. This year, the state of the reefs was less dismaying. Maybe it was our expectations being reset (they still have much less variety, quantity and colourful coral), but the reefs didn’t seem quite as bad. We were maybe taking the glass-half-full perspective. Instead of disappointment of broad stretches of dead coral, we took immense delight over all of the fresh, new coral croppings emerging. We are hopeful. I remember visiting W Retreat by in 2000. It has a reputation as a top house reef, but on the heels of the 1998 El Nino it seemed like a giant coral graveyard when we explored it. And yet, it came back strongly in the subsequent years to regain its health and beauty. We are hopeful that the reefs around the Maldives will do the same this year. One truly encouraging sign was the complete absence of COTS in all our dives and snorkels. Last year, the resorts had mostly gotten only top of the COTS issue, but we were still struck by how many of the starfish we still came upon. This year, not a single COTS was spotted in two weeks.

SEA GRASS

If COTS and bleaching wasn’t enough of a blemish on the seascape of this paradise, I became aware a new potential issue for the warming shallow seas of the Maldives – sea grass. Over two decades, we had rarely happened upon the stuff. Nearly all of the lagoons we explored were boundless expanses of underwater white sand deserts. Now increasingly, we were coming upon jungles of undulating seagrass. The key factor driving the sea grass growth is warming sea temperatures. It thrives in the warmer water. Resort staff we spoke to confirmed that it is becoming a growing concern.

Sea grass might seem an innocuous bit of ocean vegetation flourishing, but it causes problems for the resorts who thrive on aesthetic beauty of their location…

  • Beach Beauty – A locale who markets itself for its brilliant white coral sand beaches loses a bit of its cachet when it is littered with piles of black sea weed.
  • Lagoon Beauty – The very defining distinction of the Maldives is the tapestry of light blues of the shallow lagoons over that coral white sand. The blooms of sea grass, however, appear as big, dark grey splotches on that vista.
  • Lagoon Comfort – People want to sink their toes into soft sand, not slimy sea vegetation like you would find in some stagnant pond. Furthermore, the sea grass covers over bits of dead coral which hard and sharp if you step on them. Normally, you can avoid them by watching where you are walking in the shallow, but the sea grass masks them.
  • Lagoon Swimming – The sea grass doesn’t just stick to the sea floor, but detaches constantly as the dead leaves float to the top of the water. So you end up swimming not in crystal clear waters, but amidst floating detritus that clings to your skins like a leafy leach.

It might have been the luck of the draw. After having hardly ever seen it in our history, we did see a fair amount sea grass at one of the resorts we stayed at last year. It quite surprised us as we just assumed that the dark patches in the water were going to be interesting coral croppings, but instead they were endless fields of boring sea grass. But we saw it in major extents at nearly half the resorts we visited covering three different atolls.

I think that the Maldives needs to get on top of this situation with some marine biology and environmental research. It causes lots of aesthetic problems for resorts and considerable costs in managing its effects (one resort once had a team of 30 staff working full time to collect the dead grass washed up). It could be as much of a problem for the infamous turquoise lagoons as El Nino and COTS has been for the reefs.

  

Maldives resorts visited

Maldives Tour 2017–Olhuveli

Olhuveli - tour 2017

Olhuveli has it all (almost a phonetic palindrome).

A have your cake and it eat too property. A small quaint island with extensive facilities. An accessible ‘steep drop-off’ house reef steep as well as a vast lagoon and low tide sand banks. Extensive buffet restaurant and a la carte dining options.

The biggest win-win is the quality and choice at the affordable price. Typically, if you have a budget constraint, then you have to identify few things to do without or a few areas to downgrade a bit. Olhuveli is another 4-star resort really underselling itself with the range and quality of features and service on offer.

My reaction was curious. I am always on the hunt for “Best of the Maldives” distinctions on these research tours, and frankly, I didn’t come across that many things that I hadn’t seen elsewhere in the Maldives. It might not have had the quirkiest curry recipe or the most bizarre water sport, but it didn’t seem to lack for anything. Including, very importantly, affordability.

Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the 200+ guests there when we stayed. Olhuveli was at 100% capacity in late July. We normally go to the Maldives in July because it is the “low season”. It means that we can get the most affordable rates, but also the resort staff have more time to help me with my research for Maldives Complete. Mind you, there is really nothing ‘wrong’ with the end of July (more on this in my next post). It’s just that it’s not popular for a lot of markets. Most of the big European markets (eg. France, Germany, Nordic) tend to take August off as holiday. The British don’t take many tropical holidays in mid-summer as its one of the rare times when weather at home is pretty agreeable. The timing doesn’t have any particular appeal to the Chinese market. And Eid is over and done with for the Middle East market. Some of the Maldives resorts are as low as 20% occupancy this time of year and most are around 50%. 80% is the max I’ve tended to see. So to be filled to the brim is a real testimonial. And with 100+ rooms, it’s a sizeable number of testimonials.

It’s actually a bit difficult writing about Olhuveli at the moment because they are just completing a major investment programme in the resort. I got a sneak peek at some of the new villas and facilities. They look superb. Stylish bright beach villas with protected infinity pools gazing out to the ocean. And an entire second island next door being developed with higher end offerings (and joined by a jetty bridge). Don’t worry about the work disrupting your peace and quiet as most of the heavy lifting is done and throughout the work, the resort has blocked off selling any rooms anywhere near work being done. So watch this space.

Maldives Tour 2017: Rihiveli

Rihiveli - tour 2017

The legend that is Rihiveli is true. Our expectations were a bit piqued for Rihiveli as one of the top Maldives experts and good friend, Francisco Negrin, dubbed it his favourite island. Since he has stayed at over 40 resorts in the Maldives, including a number of 5+ stars, it was quite an accolade.

Many of those tales I have heard (most through Francisco) and ended up writing about, unfolded before our eyes. Our stay (coincidentally since it was quite short) included one of their longstanding “White Parties,” which was bopping more than any other disco we have been to at a resort. Coming back from a dive trip to Ran Thila (one of the top ten dive sites in the Maldives) we came upon the resident pod of dolphins. Slapping on our fins and jumping into the water, at least 40 swam right by me. There are hundreds of these Spinners who live in the lagoon which is a bit of a sheltered breeding ground for them (tiny baby dolphins were everywhere, plastered to their mothers’ sides).

Coincidentally, Rihiveli shares a number of qualities with Dhigufaru, the island we had just departed. Tiny islands both with only 40 rooms of simple accommodation and simple amenities. Though the more rustic Rihiveli was sort of like Dhigufaru’s bohemian older sister.

There was one aspect of this retro throwback that we experienced for the first time at Rihiveli – no air-conditioning. We started visiting the Maldives as early as 1998, when whether or not air conditioning was available was one of the data fields I tracked in my by research spreadsheet of resorts. We have always had air conditioning. Rihiveli is a rare vestige of a by-gone era in Maldive tourism. I think only Fihahohi doesn’t have AC (of the resort islands, many guest houses are bringing the non-AC option back into fashion, of sorts). Why would anyone endure the tropical heat without the refuge of modern Freon? Well in Rihiveli’s case, to enjoy one of the finest island/lagoon combinations in the entire country with a bit of rustic simplicity and authenticity.

It was indeed a bit toasty at Rihiveli during our stay. That meant plenty of dips in the refreshing lagoon (Rihiveli doesn’t have a swimming pool, either). The big concern was sleeping at night. Especially for my wife, Lori, who describes herself being particularly heat sensitive as a “woman of a certain age”. What we ended up doing was retreating outdoors to our villa lounge chairs on the beach to sleep. They were big, sturdy and comfortable (nice padding). We took our pillows from the bed and fell asleep under the stars with the gentle ocean breezes as our natural air conditioning and the soothing wash of the waves on the reef as our lullaby. If you absolutely cannot conceive of enduring tropical heat without AC, don’t worry. There are 6 rooms that do offer aircon for the very reasonable supplement of $35 per night.

Rihiveli shows you don’t have to serve up gourmet cuisine to offer up delicious and satisfying food. After missing it at our 5 star stays, Lori finally got her Mas-Huni (a bit on the spicy side, but delicious nonetheless). The Thai Red Seafood Curry ($22) was as tasty any you could get at a typical Thai restaurant in the UK. Some of the best baked goods we’ve tasted this trip that could hold their own with 5-star offerings – freshly baked brioche, lemon meringue pie (with soft crust, which I adore, versus the hard, crunchy crust which is the resort norm), white chocolate donuts, King of Puddings and coconut Danish (Best Of the Maldives contender). Shows what you can do with simple dishes prepared well. We were even treated to superb sushi on the buffet.

A major shortcoming for Maldives aficionados is the lack of a house reef. The lagoon is still full of marine life – the aforementioned dolphins, turtles and baby sharks we saw, a family of resident nurse sharks. But some great snorkel spots are a short boat ride away. Really, though, this lagoon is as much a distinction as a drawback. As the tales tell, it offers one of the most dramatic wading in the Maldives (a land of shallow waters). Specifically, we decided to pay a visit to the nearby L’Ile de Soleil Levant just a stone’s throw away. We asked the resort if we should take a boat and they responded, “Boat? You can walk there.” Which, indeed we did, as the entire distance was no more than knee deep.

So many Maldives aficionados yearn for the simpler days of yore. Free of butlers, Jacuzzis and iPad room service menus. What I appreciate about resorts are the ways they make themselves distinctive. Those features may not appeal to everyone, but for those they do appeal to, the resort stands out with memorable and striking uniqueness. Riviheli will be a legendary treat for anyone seeking simple, pure, unadulterated Maldives.

Maldives Tour 2017: Dhigufaru

Dhigufaru - tour 2017

Dhigufaru might just be the island of my dreams.

I often characterise the Maldives this way: “You know that image of a plot of sand with a palm tree on it in the middle of the ocean? That’s the Maldives. A thousand of those.” Admittedly, that stereotype is really an exaggerated caricature of reality (in fact, its most frequent incarnation is cartoon form). But Dhigufaru comes closer to that meme than any other resort. Maybe not just a single palm tree, but actually no more than a dozen or so mature ones counted.

I am admittedly partial to petite islands, and Dhigufaru is a diminutive one. Just a few minutes walking gets you from one side to the other. Contrary to popular myth, just because the island is tiny doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to do. The resort’s activity centre is packed with equipment. They were taking advantage of the July breezes doing kite surfing in the expansive lagoon while we were there. It also has a top flight beach volleyball and beach court (permanent padded nets with fixed boundary markers and lighting).

It turns out that Dhigufaru was originally neither an inhabited island nor uninhabited “island”. It was just a lonely, white sand bank in the middle of the ocean. As a result, pretty much all of the vegetation has been planted by the resort. Even some of the wildlife was introduced, as the owner’s parakeets were homed here and live in bird houses scattered around the islands.

I would summarise Dhigufaru as Birds, Beaches and Brightness.

  • Birds are the pronounced theme of the property with drawings of various types adorning the rooms and public areas. The very logo of Dhigufaru is the tail feather of a “Dhandifulhudhooni” (ie. “White Tail”) which frequents the island and nests there.
  • Beaches dramatically dominate the island. In fact, one of the Best of the Maldives distinctions that I am investigating is that Dhigufaru might just be the “Beachiest” resort in the Maldives.
  • Brightness of this unique sand pile shines out at you the minute you arrive. The combination of spacious pearly beaches and minimal towering trees to block the sun means the island radiates with a dazzling brilliance.

Do you believe in love at first sight? I do. I met and proposed to my wife of 32 years after 3 days. I might just have been smitten with similar speed by Dhigufaru. Maybe my tropical lust was simply piqued by this scantily clad plot of sand with her dazzling alabaster beaches exposed so provocatively.

Maldives Tour 2017: Amilla Fushi

Amilla Fushi - tour

Everything old is new again. Amilla Fushi has taken contemporary to a new level in the Maldives. It features simple lines, open and flowing interior spaces, generous use of light. And like all good modern architecture, it nouveau style is inspired by traditional reference.

The Maldives has become synonymous of late with thatched roof water villas, but actually that motif was imported from Bali. Like all tropical cultures, the locals certainly did use pervasive palm fronds in many constructions, but more recent and more prevailing architecture was based on a truly indigenous masonry. The Maldivians would create their own cement by burning coral and charcoal. The resulting mixture would be formed into white blocks out of which the homes were constructed. The practice is now banned to preserve the precious reefs, but you will find more coral block constructions around the inhabited islands than thatched huts.

It turns out that the very name “Amilla Fushi” means “Island Home”. Mind you, the sheer elegance and grandeur of these villas might be more fitting of island royalty. The staff are actually called “Katheebs” which translates to “Island Chief”. The implication is that an island chief can do anything. This designation underscores how empowered they are to get things done to satisfy the guest. You will certainly live like a chief during your stay.

While the island has an extensive (and growing) array of distinctive features and offerings, it is also the sister resort of the imaginative Finolhu property in the south of the Baa atoll. As a result, guests are welcome to enjoy all Finolhu also has to offer as well…only a 30 minute speedboat ride away. A number of the “Best of the Maldives” distinctions that I identified on my Finolhu visit are shared by Amilla Fushi as well.

Maldives Tour 2017: Finolhu

Finolhu - tour 2017

I love quirky islands. Yes, the Maldives “classic” is the round, green drop in the middle of the ocean. And some are long and skinny stretching around the edges of an atoll. And then there is crescent shaped Finolhu. As you enter the lagoon, it seems as if two, white extended arms are stretching out to embrace you with a welcome.

The resort is built on an expansive natural scythe-like lagoon. The Small Island Company has added the water villa jetty to one end in a great sweeping arc mirroring the outstretched sand spit opposite. I think it’s the biggest enclosed lagoon area in the Maldives. It reminded me of a mini-Seenu atoll which we visited on last year’s tour where the inside side of the resort provides this sweeping circle around you (you can look to the opposite side if you prefer the vista of boundless ocean).

The topology is just the tip of the faru to this property’s quirky character and funky style. Finolhu is a sort of Sushi Samba of resorts – youthful, stylish and epicurean fusion of styles in whimsical ways. The concierges are dubbed “Mojos” and this place has as much of it as a revitalised Austin Powers (the name of one of their signature drinks). The décor is vintage in both theme and styling with distressed wood with beach house blue and white wash. It is peppered with iconic references to the 60s and 70s while a Big Chill soundtrack permeates the public areas.

Finolhu is also a foodie haven. Run by a former London restaurateur Mark Reader who wielded his skillet at top London eateries early in his hospitality career. All of the food is top gourmet quality. I must say that the lunch we had at the Crab and Fish Shack is quite possibly the best lunch we have ever had in two decades in the Maldives. The lunch is a hard meal to excel at. People’s tastes are more limited to lighter fare where there is less opportunity for extravagance (eg. no one wants Lobster Thermidor or Chateau Briand for lunch). Not only was everything we sampled distinctive (King Crab Gazpacho, Soft Shell Crab Tacos, Truffle Fries), but the venue itself was one of the most exquisite eatery locations in the Maldives (more to follow on all these features in future Best of the Maldives posts). To top it all off, we popped on our fins and went for a snorkel right behind the remote crab shack and had a delightful snorkel.

But the restaurants aren’t only places for epicurean indulgence. The villas provide not two, but three showers including the sumptuous waterfall drench (Side note: It has been intriguing watching the shifting goal posts of luxury showers in the Maldives as the luxury grade progressed over the years from Hot Water Shower to Power Shower to Massage Shower to Rain Shower to Waterfall/Drench Shower. I can’t imagine what comes next).

I must admit that when I come on these research trips in recent years, I often wonder how much more there is to see and whether I will actually discover things that I haven’t seen yet in my 80+ stays at Maldives resorts. Resorts like Finolhu inspire me that my job ferreting out the distinctive and unusual will never be done. When creativity and investment are applied, the potential for the new and surprising remains boundless. Despite over 1300 “Best of the Maldives” items published (or pending), I still found dozens of candidates at Finolhu, placing them in the top 10 of the resort league table.

Maldives Tour 2017: Summer Island

Summer Island - tour

Going native. After visiting 74 resorts, one would think that we might go a bit native after a while. We have visited more Maldives resorts than any even Maldivian we have met (we are beyond the “that’s a lot” response to the “that’s amazing”, but always followed by the observation “you must really love the Maldives” #true).

Summer Island was a superb way to start our latest Maldivian adventure. After nearly two decades of visiting this tropical paradise, our arrivals now feel like we are coming home. And Summer Island has a very down-to-earth, homey feel. It was smaller than I imagined it. At the reception end, the island is so narrow that you can hear and almost see the ocean flanking you on either side of the sandy path down the middle of it.

They say if you are looking for a good restaurant, bar or club on holiday, then find out where the locals go. And Summer Island is popular with the Maldivian’s out for a special break. We met a few during our stay and our host, Alson, noted that during the celebration of Eid, the resort was at 100% capacity. Summer Island has an inherently Maldivian vibe. Ample heaps of soft, white sand on not just the beach and the paths, but also the reception, restaurant and lounges. Maldivian swings everywhere. A number of chickens roams freely so your breakfast egg station is truly free range, but also my host noted that they decided to let the birds roam free because it adds to the authentic native island ambiance where such poultry perambulation (my words, not his) is the norm.

One of the earliest resorts, it had a complete overhaul a couple of years ago modernising it and updating it. It’s billed as a 4-plus star category which suits it just fine. It doesn’t have lots of luxury amenities, but it does all of the basics exceptionally well – over water spa, big bed with soft linen sheets and mattress pad, outdoor bathroom, diverse and tasty buffet, infinity pool.

So many Maldivian veteran bemoan the trend of classic Maldives properties getting refurbed and then upgrading to an out-of-reach super-premium, but Summer Island bucks this trend. They have done a sterling job remodelling the resort from top to bottom, but have kept it a very affordable 4 star property. I would highly recommend it for a first visit to the Maldives (I recommend that people go to more modest properties for their first time even if they are multimillionaires, because if you start with the full-trapping super luxury ones, between the natural beauty of the destination and the extra [stimulation] of the resort amenities and features, there’s almost too much to take in at once.

Simply stylish unpretentious paradise.

Maldives Tour 2017: Arrival

Tour 2016 - Arrival

Welcome home! Tour 8 started with a few minors startles. Turkish Airlines changed our extra leg room seat we reserved…but they found us another one. We didn’t see the resort rep when we arrived…but we got in touch eventually (we came out late due to a delay with Lori’s bag). We had a couple hours to wait at Male Airport until the next transfer, but that didn’t stop us from starting our holiday. We checked into the Plaza Premium spa for a shower, chair head-neck-back massage (50 Euros for 30 minutes), some refreshment and a general chill out. Topped off with a DQ strawberry milkshake (as well as a Lemon-Lime Artic Blast for the boat ride).

The spa and junk food amenities weren’t the only thing happening at the newly renamed Velana Airport.  The Maldives is doing a complete overhaul of the facility with a new runway and new terminal.  So the site was buzzing with construction and new development.  Above, I am standing next to a scale model on display at the main terminal entrance.

This trip will take us to yet another new atoll (Meemu, our 14th) as well as a return to Baa to check out some of the new properties there, and we will stop in at a few in the Male area as well. 8 new resorts in total (Summer Island, Finolhu, Amilla Fushi, Dhigufaru, Rihiveli, Medhufushi, Cinnamon Hakura Huraa, Olhuveli) bringing our total stayed at to 81 (and total visited to 85).

I will also be doing my traditional micro-blog report on the TripAdvisor Forum with a snapshot profile of the following key points of each resort and stay…

  • Ambience (first impressions and overall feel)
  • Snorkel Spotting (what I saw snorkelling)
  • Favourite Food (served)
  • Weather (always a popular topic)
  • First World Problem (the most petty criticism I can find)
  • Most Reminded Me Of (comparing it to another resort)
  • Learned Something New (fun fact of the day)
  • Welcome Drink
  • Pina colada test (one of our acid tests as this simple treat varies so much from place to place)

Bring on paradise!

Maldives Tour 2016–Tour Review

Shangri-La Villingili - double rainbow

Another tour of paradise comes to a close.

After this tour I feel that I have hit a milestone of reaching nearly all of the “core” resorts and atolls.  Resorts that have either been around for a while or otherwise have some other sort of notoriety.  I’ve also seen most of the resort groups which typically provide a very similar feel and product.  For example, I haven’t been to NIYAMA, but I have been to Per Aquum’s other property Huvafenfushi.  Of course, there are new resorts popping up every month, but those I have not yet had a chance to grow a hankering for.  During this trip, Shangri-La Villingili, Equator Village, Athuruga, Cocoa Island and Kandolhu all had a longstanding mystique for me which was very gratifying to finally explore.  There are still a few that are high on my list that I have not yet seen, but often they are in isolated resorts (eg. Six Senses Laamu) making the logistics of touring difficult unless I want to spend all of my time and money hopping on and off sea plane transfers.

Over the next week or so, I will be posting my initial “Best of the Maldives” pieces on each of the resorts I visited in order of the visits. Meanwhile, here are a few overall reflections that apply to many if not all the resorts on the itinerary.

  • Summer Weather – Everyone is worried about the rain in the low season, but it is really the wind and clouds that can detract.  The rain is really infrequent, often takes place at night when you are tucked up in bed or else last for short bursts.  I find the more pervasive issue is the wind and cloud.  Actually, most of the time during this time of year, they are welcome additions shielding the sun and providing a cooling ocean breeze.  But the winds get too much, they make the water rough, make snorkelling more difficult, kick up currents as well as sand to reduce visibility.  And when the clouds get excessive, they cast a grey pall over paradise, and ruin photos especially the coveted sunset shots.
  • Turkish Airlines – I covered Turkish Airlines with a full post last year.  I am further convinced that they are a, if not the, top option for going to the Maldives from London especially when British Airways is not flying direct (April through September).  They offer the most options to best accommodate your schedule and they offer the best prices to accommodate your budget.  Talking to my host at Club Med from Mauritius, he flies Turkish Airways for home trips even though the route is Male-Istanbul-Johannesburg-Mauritius since it saves him so much money.  I must say, also that I was extremely impressed with the service.  One passenger was having trouble getting her phone charged with the in-seat USB charger they offer and the flight attendant spent several minutes finding a suitable alternative including taking the device up to Business Class.  When my extra-leg room seat got moved with an equipment change, the attendant sought out another one for me.  These exact issues have happened to me on BA and the response is always the inevitable “I’m terribly sorry sir” (Translated from British to International English means “Go screw yourself”).
  • Year of the Turtle – Each year seems to be dominated by a particular sea creature.  2014 was the Year of Dolphins, 2015 Year of Eagle Rays.  2016 was the Year of the Turtle seeing them nearly every single outing and seeing more than any other time ever at Kandolhu.
  • Room Types with a View – After this trip, I’ve decided to add new Room Type picture/field – “View from Room”.  I had started collecting distance to shore data, but didn’t keep it up.  This trip, I realised that the view is the most important thing.  You can be 20 feet from the shore and still not see the ocean if it is shrouded in dense foliage or not be able to access it if is rough coral.  In fact, a number of room types I inspected were differentiated purely by their view.  I’ve already covered how just west-vs-east view distinguished room types in many resorts.  But this trip I’ve noticed that other view distinctions were affecting the room category.

Here is Tour 7 At-a-Glance…

  • 5 atolls (Addu, North Male, South Male, North Ari, South Ari)
  • 1 new atoll (Addu)
  • 11 resorts
    • Embudu
    • Canareef Herathera
    • Equator Village
    • Shangri-La Vilingili
    • Taj Exotica
    • Kandolhu
    • Safari Island
    • Athuruga
    • Thudufushi
    • Cocoa
    • Club Med Finolhu
  • 3 new Resort Profile pix (at 98% completion, not many missing to get)
  • 58 new Room Type Profile pix
  • 28 Snorkel Spottings
  • 52 pages of notes
  • 5 dives
  • 6 spa treatments
  • 15 pina coladas
  • 94 Dive Charts added
  • 47 candidate “Best of the Maldives” pieces

Kandolhu - Napoleon fish diving

Maldives Tour 2016 – Day 12: Club Med Finolhu Villas

Club Med Finolhu - tour

Forget all your preconceived notions about hyper-ebullient, non-stop entertainment and buzz of activity at Club Med resorts. Their Finolhu Villas marquee property in the Maldives couldn’t be more contrary to that persona.

Instead of a whirlwind of activities, Finolhu Villas was tranquil and peaceful. There is no animation team pumping up the volume every night or leading the children in a pool frolic. In fact, no children under 12 years old are even allowed on the island, and only adults (over 18) are allowed in the water villas.

Instead of value priced villas typical of many Club Med resorts, Finolhu Villas is masterfully designed with artistically undulating curves (no not *that* kind of curves) most prominent in its distinctive roofs, but echoed as a motif throughout the resort. The resort features an array of modernist styling including its striking glass floor in its over water bar, and the grounds are meticulously landscaped like some tropical stately home.

Actually, “Villas” are a misnomer. They should be called “Finolhu Suites”. All of them have living areas for lounging completely segregated on the opposite side of the bathroom characteristic of a suite. In fact, both rooms have their own large screen plasma television. I guess that is good if you can’t agree on what to watch, but if that kind of argument is happening on your honeymoon, you might want to invest in some relationship counseling. 😉

Finolhu Villas is more than an upgrade from Club Med Kani. It is a whole new luxury concept.