Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 5: Reethi Beach

Reethi Beach jetty

Reethi Beach is a value for money Maldives Classic.

Small island (we could circum-perambulate, which is one of our favourite arrival rituals), excellent food strongly featuring on local produce and local cuisine (including a wood fired grill and a tandoori oven that produced the best, freshly baked naan bread I have ever eaten, despite years of trawling premiere UK curry houses). Sincere hospitality. A relaxed atmosphere with the staff, who freely intermingle with the guests in the bar and restaurants.

I was not surprised when Denise Schmidt (the acting manager) told me that 30% of their residents are repeat visitors. It is a classy enough place to fall in love with and relaxed enough to feel at home.

Stopping in at Reethi Beach Resort (RBR) was a real gear shift from the top of the line resorts we had been visiting earlier in the week. RBR is not a glitzy posh place. It maintains a deliberately laissez-faire, organic approach to the landscape without lots of fussy gardening. Leaves are periodically collected and shredded and then re-spread to allow the nutrients to return to the grounds naturally. The experience is much closer to being dropped off on a deserted tropical island that happens to have some dwellings on it. Much to my bias and delight, RBR has maximised the ‘no shoes’ experience. Sand paths wind everywhere including all the restaurants and even the games room.

But after its October revamp, it has upgraded in many areas. Its greatest strength is value for money. We are not very stingy people when we travel, but sometimes the super-premium prices prevalent in the Maldives do leave a bit of a sour after-taste, as you can’t help but choke a bit on the numbers. RBR boosts satisfaction because you pay very reasonable and even bargain prices. We ate a la carte at the Grill restaurant and I had a lobster bisque with a proper roux and brandy base that I struggle to find in the best restaurants in London – for less than the price of a Starbucks (menu price = $5).

Much as the super 5 stars blew us away in many respects, RBR did bring us down to earth. It reminded us that many distinctions are truly hair-splitting in this stunning destination. Nicely grilled fish caught that day is nicely grilled fish caught that day. It’s a rare massage or spa treatment that doesn’t make someone feel great and how great is really hard to argue. And of course, Maldives paradise is Maldives paradise even if you were just plopped down on one of the deserted islands. For people a bit more constrained on their budget, I can assure you that going to a strong, but lower priced resort like RBR, is going to deliver a stunning and memorable experience.

Reethi Beach jetty 2

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Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 4: Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Landaa Giraavaru Reception

As a Craig Revel-Horwood would conclude…’A-may-zing!’

Without triggering a torrent of debate, Landaa’s recent accolade for one of the ultimate ‘Best Of’ awards – Conde Nast’s ‘Best in the Maldives’ – is no surprise. It is without doubt a contender for one of the top resorts in the Maldives.

As GM Armando Kraenzlin commented, “There is no perfect island”. He is right there. Landaa does not have an easily accessible house reef with a big ‘drop off’ (though it has an impressive lagoon reef enhanced by its coral regeneration as well as very easy and plentiful snorkel excursions that just about make up for this shortcoming).

Landaa is also quite a large island which not every one’s mug of tea (many prefer a setting closer to the ‘palm-tree-on-a-pile-of-sand’ idyll). But Landaa turns the scale to advantage with a sheer expanse of offerings and large accommodations (each villa is really the size of a small house with its own courtyard and pool). The obvious difficulty of getting around it minimised by a fleet of buggies which respond immediately.

Landaa’s not perfect in execution and on the surprising rare occasion a service or serving would disappoint just a bit.  But boy does it aim for perfection.  I think sometimes the nit-picks stemmed from being so constantly spoiled that one’s expectations just start to creep up stratospherically (and it is certainly one of the high end price resorts which will justifiably also fuel high expectations).

But what most captivates the most is the excruciating and creative attention to the tiniest details. Many of these will be highlighted in the no less than 16 ‘Best Of’ candidates I scrounged up in my very short stay. I was often anticipating the very best and then found myself surprised by Landaa delivering something beyond what I had ever fantasized about. I also have a number of petty ‘tests’ that for me separate the royalty from the pretenders and Landaa passed every one (eg. excellent souvenir t-shirts, decent bar snacks, positively supporting the most quirky seating requests I could devise).

If you get a big bonus or budget and are looking for a resort with big things on offer and attention to the smallest finer points, then you can’t miss with Landaa.

 

Landaa Giraavaru Water Villa

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 3: Sheraton Full Moon

Sheraton Full Moon Sand Coast

If Kuda Hura is a story of regeneration, then Full Moon is one of reinvention.

Kuda took a distinctive property and made it better; Sheraton took a weak property and shifted gears entirely. While Kuda moved up the league ranking, Sheraton changed leagues with a promotion to the Premiership.

Similar to Kuda Hura, I had always shied away from Full Moon because it was a larger island situated on a broad table reef (can limit snorkelling). I was always tempted by some of the juicy offers from its 3-star days when the big size often meant lots of unsold inventory. But, I always decided that there is no value if there is no quality. Sheraton has come along and recast the resort as a player that can stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with any of the other many 5-stars.

With all of the resorts asserting 5-star status, it made me reflect on what really determined that 5th star. First of all, you have to get the fundamentals down. No obvious gaps or weaknesses. But really that’s just 4-stars and table stakes for playing in the 5-star big leagues. 5-stars calls for something exceptional. Something beyond the expected. It may not be best in class in everything, but it has to be in something. And, of course, the big driver to my visit this week has been to do research for Maldives Complete, especially the increasingly popular ‘Best Of’ section which showcases just these sorts of distinctives.

And Sheraton Full Moon didn’t disappoint as I came away with 6 ‘Best of the Maldives’ candidates (stay tuned for special postings on these). That is on top of the ‘Best for Kids Club’ and ‘Best for Bartending’ that have already been posted. I can now personally attest to the bartending kudos as I was served the best pina coladas I have ever had. And I always get pina coladas in the Maldives (a few years ago we had to put time and quantity limits on my pina colada consumption since I was starting at lunch and not being able to stand by dinnertime).

Other highlights were impressive but maybe not unique. They hold a weekly beach party with a DJ every Thursday night (lots of resorts have regular discos inside, but I love the notion of a regular dancing on the sand). The Euro Divers dive instructor Chris was the most fun, warm and engaging dive master I have met. Although I am an advanced diver, I am still a bit apprehensive especially with troubles I have equalizing. Chris was so supportive and attentive, it really put me at ease as evidenced by my longest underwater time ever (47 minutes) indicating how relaxed I was.

All in all, the best thing I can say about Sheraton Full Moon is that it thoroughly exceeded my big league expectations. That is quite a tall order for a resort asserting 5-star status and me being quite picky.

 

Sheraton Full Moon Dhoni

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 2: Kuda Huraa Four Seasons

Four Seasons Kuda Huraa villa

Kuda Huraa is an inspiration of regeneration.

Kuda’s environment has imposed some challenges, and Kuda has both worked around them and in the process enhanced the environment itself.

Ironically, Kuda Huraa was the first island I was told not to visit in the Maldives a decade ago…wow have things changed. I was told that the beach was coarse…now it is flush with soft white sand. I was told it was stuffy…my visit encountered nothing but the most charming and down to earth people.

But the biggest transformation has been the snorkelling. Kuda Hura’s geography means there is no real ‘house reef drop off’ accessible from the beach (though snorkelling excursions can be arranged easily enough for a reef snorkelling experience). And the waters close to the island are actually too shallow to snorkel in many places. In response, Kuda Huraa (in concert with its sister resort Landaa Giraavaru), have invested heavily in Reefscaping (also known as ‘Reef Rehabilitation’).

One of the things that make the Maldives unique is its snorkelling. Maldives’ uniquely shallow expanses coupled with extensive reef development make it one of the tops in the world. Snorkelling is certainly a must-do activity in the Maldives, but many visitors have various concerns about it. Younger children need supervision and support, seniors are concerned about exertion and safety, people unfamiliar or uncomfortable with water need a calm and easy place to swim, handicapped people have their own special support needs. Lagoons can be great, calm, shallow places to try snorkelling, but unfortunately, a bit drab. Not much besides boring expanses of lifeless white sand and the occasional fish and rock.

But Kuda Huraa is an ideal choice for any of these beginner or tentative snorkellers. The Kuda Huraa lagoon is protected and yet, thanks to the extensive coral regeneration ‘Reefscaping’ initiative (300 frames installed to date), the Kuda Huraa lagoon is becoming a real underwater treat. It has the equivalent of a ‘Coral Garden’ that is being cultivated as carefully and successfully as an English country manor home’s floral borders. As a result, Kuda Huraa’s marine and coral biologists are creating a coral sanctuary that provides both a delightful haven for blossoming snorkellers and blooming coral alike.

And as a veteran snorkeller, who has explored countless sites of all types, my snorkel off Kuda Huraa was one of my most inspiring. I have been on a number of outings where much coral has died back sue to El Nino. However, the decay presents shades of what could happen with warming and acidifying seas. These past excursions were very depressing, like touring stark, coral graveyards. But Kuda Huraa inspired new hope. Every single Reefscaped frame was rife with intense new growth coral. Crisp and bright in countless branches. As I swam by frame after frame, it illustrated the potential that the world still has to bring back this underwater richness.

Four Seasons did not disappoint in delivering trademark luxury with its attention to detail, impeccable service, and no weaknesses. There are no shortcuts, no faded edges, nor neglected areas. In my brief stay, I identified 9 ‘Best of the Maldives’ distinctions for Kuda Huraa (stay tuned for special posts to come). A lot of resorts are dubbing themselves ‘5 stars’ these days, but I’m not sure how true to form some of these really are. Four Seasons Kuda Huraa delivers 5-star luxury in the true classic sense.

 

Four Seasons Kuda Huraa pool bed

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 1: Sri Lankan Airlines UL502

Sri Lankan Airlines arrival

We’re back! We always make a point of going to a new island each visit. It keeps a sense of exotic adventure and discovery alive even though we have now been to 8 resort islands. We’ve just arrived for what promises to be adventure on steroids. 8 islands in 7 days. Now that the kids have grown up, we have more mobility. Most importantly, it provides a huge opportunity to scour new treasures and gems for MaldivesComplete.

The adventure started with our flights today on Sri Lankan Airlines (flight UL 502). As noted in our trip last year, we have always bought ‘package’ with the flight included. But last year’s ‘DIY’ trip planning worked really well. So well that you would wonder why we flew Sri Lankan Airlines instead of BA. BA did a great job last year and I have my frequent flyer miles with them, so why the switch?

  • Convenience – My wife Lori had fixed dates that she could accompany me that could not move. Sri Lankan had more choices of direct flights and two of those flights fit our needed perfectly. In fact, schedule constraints is the primary reason to book yourself rather than opting for a tour package since the packages typically have very fixed dates.
  • Cost – Sri Lankan Airlines was about £100 cheaper than BA and about £200 cheaper than Emirates (the other direct carrier who also happened to have fewer flight options).
  • Curiosity – I have been flying the UK national carrier for the past two decades since we arrived in the UK and I was curious about the service and approach that the local national carrier performed and approached the route.

The flight was fine. Pretty conventional amenities. The in-seat entertainment system was modest, but at least there was one. The service was especially cheerful and the colourful uniforms of the flight attendants helped set the tone for a trip to paradise.

Halloween Treat – On a 10 hour long haul flight, the first concern is seat comfort. I immediately noticed that touch extra leg room (32” versus BA’s 31”) as well as the surprisingly helpful extra seat width. Then I also quickly noticed the ‘SICMA seats and lumbar-support’ tucking into the small of my back. Along with a neck pillow, this support made it the easiest flight to sleep in the sitting position that I have ever experienced.

 

Halloween Trick – I had bought the ticket on the Internet and like many places was supposed to present the card that I bought the ticket with to the check-in desk. The only thing is that last week we lost one of our Mastcard cards and had to have it replaced (and new number issued). As a result, when I showed up with the replacement card to the check-in, Sir Lankan Airlines made me reissue the ticket on the card at an extra cost of £30. Lesson – If you have to have a new card, still keep the old card if you need to present it in order to check-in to an online purchased flight.

Tip – Get left side of plane window seat (not over wing) going to Maldives and right side departing. This way you are positioned best for one of the most spectacular aerial views as you first hit the archipelago (see below).

airline wiindow shot of Maldives

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Best of the Maldives: Francophile – Rihiveli Beach

Rihiveli Beach Umbrella

 

Concernant des aspects tout à fait français des Maldives, si vous préférez la vie gaulloise, il vous faut cherchez Rihiveli Beach.

The staff and the largest part of the guests are French. This cultural colour spills into many aspects of the resort such a visiting French DJs, newsletter and obviously ‘la cuisine’. If you want a soupcon of French style with your paradis.

Best of the Maldives: French Beauty – Coco Bodu Hithi / Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

Miss France logo

 

 

 

 

Speaking of French beauty and fashion lately, if you are looking for a different sort of ‘natural beauty’ or ‘stunning scenery’, then Coco Palm Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu is the place to go from 11-18th November when they are hosting the Miss France 2011 contestants for a range of activities and photo shoots.

PS. I think it is intriguing that the Soneva resorts (Fushi and Gili) and the Coco Palm resorts (Bodu Hithi and Dhuni Kolhu) seem to be vying for the title of most cool events (check out the ‘Events’ section of the ‘Best Of’ page).

 

Miss France 2011 beach

 

Best of the Maldives: Fashion Boutique – Kanuhura

Kanuhura Fashion Issa by Daniella Helayel

 

Speaking of fashion, Kanuhura has set the bar for a resort boutique. Going far beyond the cotton batiks and printed t-shirts so commonly found in the resort gift shops, Kanuhura has commissioned its own private label fashion

“Kanuhura, a hotel in the Maldives, has tapped women’s wear brand Issa by Daniella Helayel and beauty brand Miller Harris to create a range of unique products for its eponymous shop.”

One more reason to pack next to nothing on your trip to the Maldives.

Best of the Maldives: Shoes – Reethi Rah

Reethi Rah Christian Louboutin

 

 

 
When I arrive at the Maldives, I take my shoes off in my room at the resort, set them aside…and don’t touch them again until it’s time to catch our departure transfer. I love spending the entire week shoeless. For some bizarre reason, on the last several trips I brought sandals thinking that I might slip those on, but they languished at the bottom of the suitcase untouched. I particularly love the resorts that have lots of lounges and restaurants set on sand instead of concreted over floors. That said, sometimes some resorts will have places where they have a shoes required dress code (typically for safety reasons around dining and drinking areas in case a glass gets broken).

But for others, a trip to the Maldives is a decadent luxury and for the Carrie Bradshaw types, luxury means great shoes. Appropriately enough, the resort that sort of wreaks ‘Sex in the City’ opulence – Reethi Rah – has set out its stall for the footwear of the atolls

“Christian Louboutin has partnered with One&Only Resorts to create a capsule collection of espadrilles exclusively for the group’s myriad lush havens and hideaways. In designing his first-ever resort collaboration, Louboutin took his popular espadrille and re-imagined it in three styles: The Cataribbon, The Tiburon, and The Isabelle. Priced at $375.”

Best of the Maldives: Solar Powered – Soneva Fushi

Solar Panels
In honour of 
Soneva Fushi’s hosted Eco Conference taking place this week (if you go to their micro-site, you can find a number of press releases about some of the content), I thought that I would call out yet another distinctive for Soneva on the same eco theme.

Maldives have long been the poster child for environmental awareness and initiatives. The latest tactic in battling global warming that has gotten a big profile is solar with the President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed donned hard hat and tools and personally helped installed solar panels for his official residence.

But no one in the Maldives is going bigger on solar than Soneva

“Soneva Fushi, Six Senses’ flagship resort, has installed a 70kW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant system that has achieved eight months of successful operation. It is the largest renewable energy plant currently operating in the Maldives, a country that has brought international attention to the issue of global warming and rising sea levels.”