Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 7: Kurumba wrap

Kurumba staff

Well, we say goodbye to our now beloved Maldives and our new dear friend, Kurumba. I started the week with a ‘first impressions’ post and thought that I would finish with a wrap up review. As the week went on I certainly began to appreciate more and more about the resort, though a few things did start to irritate me.

The irritations first. I’ve already mentioned in my ‘Meal Plan’ post my frustrations with dining locations so I won’t belabour that point. One of our favourite locations was the ocean side bar. Great room, drinks, service. The only thing to fault it was the tiresome and repetitive muzac. Our kids played a game to bet when the next playing of Kanye West’s ‘American Boy’ was coming around again. Seriously, for a place this classy, it deserves classy music to set the atmosphere (they had a live band mid week which was excellent actually). I recommend something simple and acoustic like a gentle jazz piano or Spanish acoustic guitar.

Now, the extra good stuff. First and foremost has to be the extra good staff (two of which are Operations Manager Ankush and Guest Relations Eilidh in the photo above) . And the Maldives generally has a superior standard of service anyway. Certainly, everyone was very friendly and attentive. In fact, we met a couple from Wales who had been to Kurumba several times and always come back because they are convinced that the resort has the best staff in the Maldives. That is a pretty tall and subjective claim, but I have no specific argument against it. But above and the call of duty examples included Myat Su who lent us her personal memory stick to help us fix a computer problem. The games they have stocked for use included Scrabble and Chinese Checkers (two of our family favourites) that were a real godsend (and directly boosted bar sales for two nights).

Also deserving of special mention is the landscaping. The more time I spent and explored, the more I appreciated the landscaping. Really impeccable and colourful. I liked that the foliage between the beach villas and the water was just enough to provide colour, shade and visual interest, but not so dense as to actually obstruct the view (a problem that I often bemoan with other resorts). They even have a nursery where they cultivate tons of orchids and other flowers for use on the resort that you can go into an explore. Also, the design feature of the numerous, rectangular pools was a lovely touch.

Finally, the Aquum spa was excellent. I am a bit of a Thai massage connoisseur and therapist Dinny executed several complex moves that I had never before had. Our daughter doesn’t dive so we treat her to a spa treatment instead and she reported that therapist Lyle gave one of the best massages that she had ever had. They also had very good spa music.

All and all, I would highly recommend Kurumba without reservation as a value for money, top quality resort. Be aware of the impact its proximity to Male and the prevalence of concrete walkways and dining areas has. A couple types of visitor that I think would find Kurumba especially appealing would be mobility constrained and larger groups. The concrete actually works in favour of people with mobility issues and Kurumba has ramp access nearly everywhere. Also, I think groups (extended families, corporate team/groups) would work well at Kurumba because there is such a range of offerings and choices that there is something satisfying for everyone. Some of the more boutique resorts in the Maldives are amazing in certain special ways, but sometimes those ‘ways’ are not everyone’s cup of tea.

If you like lots of choice, great food, great service, great gardens, convenience to Male, then Kurumba could very well be a top choice for you.

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 5: Male Visit

Holiday Inn Male Azure

One of the commonly offered excursions by resorts in the general Male area is a trip to visit Male. Male is the heart of the nation with a third of its population. We always landed right next to Male, but never actually ventured into it. The planning of this trip was actually influenced by my desire to visit Male to do some research for MaldivesComplete and so the whole family decided to join in for a change of pace and to see this tiny, island capital.

The family visited the National Museum (a small, unassuming place), the Islamic Center, the Friday Mosque (the oldest mosque in the Maldives made entirely out of coral), the Mulee Agee (presidential palace), the and the local fish/fruit market (see picture below). The whole guided excursion combined with some souvenir shopping took about 3 hours. And that was pretty much all there was to see in Male. It really provided a taste of the ‘real’ life of the Maldivians with the toing and froing of their national hub.

We then met up for lunch at the new (opened September 2009) Holiday Inn Male at their rooftop restaurant, Azure (see picture above). It was a real gem of stylish design, great views, brilliant fusion oriental cuisine at very reasonable prices and a number of other treats (‘Best Of’ blog posts coming soon on these).

A number of people ask about visit and staying a Male. I think our visit was just right. Worth it if any of these activities appeal to you. If you wish to or want to spend a day there, I highly recommend the Holiday Inn. As mentioned, the restaurants are top notch, the rooftop infinity pool a treat and a handy spa also had fine treatments at competitive prices so plenty to fill one’s day.

 

Yes we have no more bananas

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 6: Meal Plan

Kurumba beach dinner

Not only did we do our whole trip DIY (buying resort, air travel, connections all separately), but we also opted for the a la carte meal plan (versus full or half board). This decision of which meal plan is one of the most prominent in deciding a Maldives visit.

We are happy with the a la carte for the following reasons. First, Kurumba has lots of restaurants (10) to choose from. Perhaps a smaller island would have less choice and restaurant options and this advantage would be less strong. Secondly, we prized flexibility whether we even ate. We had planned on going to Male for a day where we had lots of options to dine quite inexpensively so not having to pay for this day is an advantage. Also, 3 of our 4 strong party are watching their diet (and the 4th is not a big eater) and so several times we either skipped lunch after a big breakfast or felt like a small snack for dinner after a big lunch.

So far this week, our decision has been by and large a good one. Kurumba offers a $50 (+10% service) half board supplement and a $80 (+10% service) full board supplement. If we had taken either of those, we probably would have saved some money on our total meal bill. But, our meals would have been confined wholly to the Vihamana restaurant with its themed buffet style eating. I checked out the buffet and the food looks diverse and delicious. But you are still stuck with the selection on offer that night rather than the whole range of the other 9 restaurants.

Perhaps more of an issue is the dining location. This issue was particularly acute because all of the restaurants have tiled floors. We much prefer the sand floors so many resorts offer. Though natural floors are not everyone’s cup of tea, most people I speak to about the Maldives do prefer them and in fact find it one of the ‘wow’ factors. Also, all but one of the restaurants are quite removed from the water’s edge (and lovely ocean with its gently lapping water is a defining characteristic of the islands obviously). Going a la carte, we had more options to eat ‘where’ we wanted to. Some of our best meals were in special locations. The first was the beach side eating area by the pool. This spot is the best dining area on the island and yet they close it for dinner. Go figure. Probably my biggest beef with the resort is this issue.

One way we managed a ‘beach dinner’ was to order room service. The room service menu is a rich selection of offerings from the various restaurants which when it arrived we simply took it outside to our beach chairs and tables to eat by the ocean and under the palm trees. It was the kind of exotic setting that we savour in the Maldives. We since found out that the resort rules say “Glass containers or any other breakable substances that shatter, are prohibited on the beach.” We didn’t bring any glass, but I guess the plates would officially be ‘breakable…that shatter’ (though hard to do on soft sand). I guess if you want to follow our lead for romantic beach side room service, you might want to bring some plastic or paper plates to move your meal to in order to abide by the rules strictly.

Also, the food came in very generous portions. Halfway through the week we figured this out and made it a family rule that we could only order one portion (side or main) because that was almost always enough. If we have stuck to that approach, we would have saved more money early on and probably would have gotten our food bill down to the supplement costs for the standard service. Still, we would have preferred our approach because our dining was more distinctive with more special settings. Some honeymoon friends adopted the strategy of sharing portions which also worked well to halve their food bill.

Overall, the food was uniformly without fault and on many occasions truly distinctive. Of particular note were the soups (especially the gazpacho), sushi platter, and Black Bean Beef (Chinese). Food quality is a real plus at Kurumba and I hope they make some changes to make the eating locations just as special.

PS. Love the tables at the Ocean Reef restaurant. We are thinking of making similar ones for our own dining room table we liked them so much.

Kurumba table

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 4: Manta madness

Manta Point

Best dive of my life. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It was raining this morning so we cancelled our snorkel trip and went on a dive trip to Manta Point. Coincidentally, Manta Point was the last subject of this blog before my departure for Kurumba and so I was all geared up for brilliant possibilities.

We had been there the day before, but I didn’t get to see mantas. Both our son and I had some minor problems with our equipment and decided to come up relatively early. My wife Lori stayed down and saw several. The other dive group with us said they saw three baby mantas which the dive master found humorous (“most Mantas are very graceful moving smoothly, but these babies were a bit uncoordinated and were flapping much more erratically obviously trying to find their sea wings…most amusing.”).

So we decided to give it another go today and boy are we glad we did. About 15 minutes in, we rounded the corner and there coming straight at us was three of the most alien looking creatures you could ever see. It turned out to be a parade of large Mantas with some reaching 8 feet across. They turned and circled the coral outcropping which was one of their ‘cleaning stations’. Then for the next 15 minutes we just sat there while this group of majestic submarine airships floated, cavorted, did loops. They floated inches over our head.  They seemed to be attracted to the air bubbles and I couldn’t help think that they liked how the bubbles felt on their freshly cleaned tummies.  After all, this coral cropping was like a big Manta ‘spa’. Mantas come for miles around to have sucker fish clean their bodies. Maybe the scuba bubbles are a Jacuzzi-like bonus.

They are the most peaceful and seemingly happy creatures I have ever encountered in the wild. Outstanding!

The picture above is from a video taken by Kurumba photographer Mohamed Ibrahim (the diver at the right hand side of the screen at minute 1:09 is around my wife and diving buddy Lori).

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 3: Stormy weather

Male weather forecast

One of my greatest fears when visiting the Maldives in past years was not sharks in the ocean, or travel complications, but the weather going sour. It was all so perfect that you just wondered whether it just might turn some day. We have generally visited in February which is the absolute best/dryest month for ensuring the best whether, but we have also visited in June and October. Out of 6 weeks of visits, we have encountered only a single afternoon rain shower that lasted about 20 minutes. In fact, it was so unusual, and we were already wet from snorkelling, that the rain was somewhat of a curious novelty that didn’t hurt the holiday one bit.

Still, each day when we woke up, the room was always dark from the shades being pulled and being so dark I wondered if when I pulled the shades, I would reveal a dreary, grey day for once. Well, every single time, I opened the windows to a sparkling sunny morning with bright blue skies. It seemed just uncanny how regularly bright and sunny the days were.

So you can imagine my trepidation when I looked at the weather for this weeks stay and every single day of the week forecast “Scattered T-Storms” (see graphic above with its ominous dark cloud and lightning bolt!). We are officially at the end of the May to November ‘monsoon’ or ‘rainy’ season. But having visited during this period before without seeing a drop of rain, I wasn’t overly apprehensive. Plus, it was ‘at the end’ so statistically any raininess would in my logical mind be tapering off if anything.

Well, we arrived to scattered clouds some of which turned into a torrential downpour for about half an hour. That was interesting, but then it stopped and the rest of the day was cloudy, but very warm (30 degree Fahrenheit) and it was thoroughly pleasant. In fact, the rain seemed to perk up the many flowers and soften the landscape. Then yesterday started with a mostly cloudy skies, but plenty of inspiring blue and all and all a very pleasant weather. As it happens, another 30 minute downpour came down in the late afternoon, but it was while we were napping after our afternoon dive and we didn’t even know it had rained until we emerged for Pina Colada time by which time things had settled nicely.

Today should have been my worst fear. I woke up early, pulled the curtains back and there was a steady rain outside. Mind you, it’s not as nice as waking up to sparkling sunshine, but it was not as bad as it could be. Somehow the day is brighter than when it rains in England. The sky is white with cloud, not grey. The rain is warm, not chilling. Not bad for a periodic change of pace, but if a lot of the week was going to be like this, then I would start to miss the dazzling sunshine certainly.

There certainly are downsides to the clouds and rain. Less eating outside (more windy and wet), less lovely ocean sunsets (though a little bit of cloud is ideal to create the best sunsets), less sunbathing (not my thing).

Actually, when it stopped, it made you appreciate the good weather more (‘yay, the rain stopped’). Another bonus of the still cloudy skies was the perfect temperature, perfect lighting for reading outside. Interesting that the rain and cloudy days haven’t ‘ruined’ the Maldives, but just sort of muted it. Sort of like a delicious meal that needs salt and pepper. Maldives without sunshine is like a savory stew of paradisiacal delights that just needs that dash of spice for perfection. Maldives without the sparkle, but still the glow.

Nonetheless, despite being the absolutely worst day of weather we had ever experienced, it turned out to be one of the best days I had spent here (great dive in morning, perfect outdoor reading conditions midday, superb snorkel with the family around the house reef in the afternoon). There is an old bumper sticker which says ‘A bad day sailing/golfing/etc. is better than a good day at the office.’ It just goes to show you that ‘A bad day in Maldives is still better than a good day just about anywhere else.’

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 2: Kurumba first impressions

Kurumba resort entrance

We’ve arrived at our resort Kurumba. We chose Kurumba as a good value, highly rated resort near Male and pretty much it delivers on all fronts. We will see how the week transpires to uncover the pleasant surprises and the annoying disappointments, but here are my first impressions.

Kurumba makes me think of the ‘Marks and Spencers’ of Maldive resorts (or for Americans, the analogy would be ‘Nordstroms’) – high quality, nothing to fault it, fine service, fine choice, but still a big, commercial establishment rather than a charming boutique. A perfect place to go for that safe and standardized, but don’t expect the magically quirky and distinctive. Perhaps another retail metaphor would be that it is Selfridges not Harrods or Nordstroms not Bergdorf Goodman.

BUILT UP AREA – The first thing that really defines the character of Kurumba (which can be said for all of the Maldives resorts) is its location. Kurumba is one of the closest to the main centre of Maldives’ capital Male. What that means is that you are surrounded by lots of other developed islands (in more remote islands, there are often other islands around you, but they are deserted), big freighter ships, yachts, the city of Male itself (quite a relatively modern and prominent area across the water), and airplanes coming and going from the airport. I hadn’t thought that the lattermost one would be of bother, but I think now that Maldives has developed more as a destination and a country, the air traffic is that much more and the take-offs and landings of quite big jets is quite regular and has a palpable effect on the peace and quiet of Kurumba.

CONCRETE – Perhaps the most prominent feature that really transforms that ‘feel’ of the resort itself is the pavement. Paved walkways, concrete infrastructure, solid restaurant floors. Great if you (a) want easier walking, (b) are fashionable and prefer to wear dressy shoes around (I personally prefer going barefoot *all* week, but I did see someone in high heels at breakfast this morning), or (c) mobile handicapped (in fact, I would hazard that Kurumba is the most wheelchair accessible resort I have seen with not only the paved walkways, golf carts to take people around if needed and lots of ramps to structures). Furthermore, a number of areas appear to be concrete with a layer of sand laid over them. Unfortunately, some of the sand has blown away exposing the concrete in many areas. Finally, all of the restaurants have floors. I really miss the sand floors of so many resorts that I have been to. Again, if you are into wearing nice shoes to dinner, this might actually be a plus for you. But for me and my barefoot existence here, it is a drawback. On top of that, they do not offer any dining on the beach. Most resorts at least hold BBQs and special events on the beach once a week. Others allow you to move a table from the restaurant down to the beach. Kurumba was very unwilling to do the latter when we dined which really gets up my nose. If I am at an ostensibly 5-star hotel and paying $40 per entree (yes, that is a typical price a la carte here) and I want to move my table 10 feet to enhance the experience, then I had better be able to do so. That is what real service is all about. Not just pushing in your chair for you and bringing your breakfast omelette to your table for you. 🙁

I would recommend Kurumba for very conservative travellers, or those who prefer a more elegant and refined resort at a price you can afford. Kurumba is often advertised as a 5 star rating, but that seems a bit dated and I would put it more at 4.5 which is where the TripAdvisor rating comes in at. Still, it is one of the least expensive advertised 5 star places, and hence best value, that I have come across.  Our daughter Isley said that the resort had less ‘romance’ than the others we had visited (this is our 7th trip to the Maldives). She didn’t directly mean in it in a love-and-kisses romance way, but more in an aesthetic, idyllic way, but the characterisation definitely holds for that kind of romance as well obviously.

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 1: Flying BA’s new non-stop service

BA 2043 to Male

Hmmm. For the longest time I swore off booking separate resort bookings and commercial flight bookings. Such an approach gave one much more flexibility, but I could never get a deal that matched the complete package prices and the fine service of the tour operators. They got (a) special pricing from the resorts, and (b) flew cut rate charters like Monarch. Furthermore, my loyalty was secured a few years ago by great customer service from Kuoni. The Iraq War had started messing up air space in the Middle East and wreaking havoc with the flights. It could have been a situation of high stress and inconvenience (waiting interminably at Male airport). Instead, the local Kuoni rep was on top of everything and called us to reassure us and tell us to just relax by the pool until the update plans were sorted. It turned a potentially stressed situation into an extra free day of holiday and earned us loyalty for life.

This time, however, we were finding it difficult to locate a deal that left and returned on days which suited the somewhat less flexible family members this go around. The clincher was BAs new direct service to Male which I am flying on as I write this sentence. Today’s flight is the third one flown as it was just launched this week. BA has a number of attractive deals which made the flight portion reasonably attractive – about £500 per person.

That just meant finding a resort. I thought that this would be the easy part and was stunned at how difficult it was. First the web sites. Amazing how clumsy, awkward and difficult many of the resort’s websites were to book dates. I quickly abandoned this approach and thanks to Skype could make inexpensive phone calls to speak directly to a human being. This is where the language barrier came in. The Maldivian (and other nationality staff who often work at resorts) speak fine English for basic questions on familiar areas (“where is the restaurant?”, “how do I book and excursion?”). For more complicated subjects like discussing booking options, the conversations actually became quite laboured. In the end, I turned to Destinology which was recommended by a TripAdvisor forum member. They provided excellent service in finding a great rate for a resort and sorting out all the paperwork and logistics (eg. transfers to the island).

We are going to the 5-star resort Kurumba which also came to about £500 per person for room and board. So the whole deal comes to about £1000 per person (closer to £1200 when all the taxes, charges, etc. are loaded in) which is about a low a price as I could find for any resort. And those other resorts had a lot more constraints when I was researching the package route.

Now that I am on the BA flight, I’m not sure I will ever do package again. If the prices can stay comparable and the web makes the booking logistics relatively easy, then the commercial flight is soooo much better. More comfy seats, more service (advance online check in – no queues), frequent flyer points, in flight on-demand entertainment, amenities, free snacks and drinks. The whole experience is more relaxed and comfortable.

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 0: Anticipation and packing

For the first time since the launch of MaldivesComplete, I am returning to the tropical paradise of my dreams. This trip has a bit of the old (the whole family getting together for another travel adventure which happens less frequently these days with the kids all grown up) and the new (a planned trip into Male for exploration and business).

Given the many hours of research on the Maldives intensified over the past year with MaldivesComplete, this trip has special anticipation.

Lots of traffic in the travel forums like TripAdvisor cover ‘what to pack’. Being a generally quite seasoned traveller and this my 6th trip to this particular destination, you would think that I would have the whole preparation thing down. It is curious the packing decisions I grappled with…

  • Fins – On one hand there is a comforting feeling having all your own snorkelling stuff that’s yours and fitted for you. On the other hand, all the resorts offer plenty of fine quality free snorkelling gear for convenient use through your stay. We debated whether it was worth the space and the weight to bring them and decided to in the end.
  • Computer – The Maldives trip used to be associated with such complete and utter relaxation that it was the one of the few holidays where I didn’t bring my computer. Now out of the corporate world, my laptop is no longer the spectre of tooling evil. It is just a handy device. With Wifi in the rooms, I decided it would be fun to carry on my MaldivesComplete blog with ‘live’ reports. Also, it is a handy large screen DVD player for the long haul (10 hour) flights. Our daughter is bringing hers as well and my wife and our son I think will be queuing up for access. Some might think that this digital obsession is sad, but frankly the devices are useful and fun tools. We can send updates to friends, not have to worry about the house because we can be in touch in neighbours, etc.

Other than that, the packing list was pretty much the basics – shorts, under garments, t-shirts, short sleeved shirts, sun glasses, dive logs/cards, snorkelling gear, sandals, games, books, cameras, US dollars,reading materials.

Paradise, here we come!