Best of the Maldives: 2010 Calendar – Soneva Gili and Soneva Fushi

Kingfisher Soneva Gili 2010 Calendar

Still looking for that last minute Christmas gift? Calendars for the new year are certainly popular and if Maldives is what you seek, then Soneva Gili and Soneva Fushi have hosted this year’s Kingfisher Swimsuit calendar.

What strikes me about several of the shots…is the sharks (I know most readers and my wife are thinking, 'rrriighht…you’re looking at the sharks in that picture??…hmmmm…’). The mini black-tipped reef sharks are as common to Maldives lagoon shallows as squirrels are to Central Park and just as skittish. We can never get close to the cute little sharks without them scurrying away. But the model doesn’t seem to have any problems attracting the cruisers to her. And the shot below is just too much with the shark on the left with its mouth open like it is smiling for the camera.

Kingfisher Soneva Gili 2010 Calendar 2

Best of the Maldives: Most Bars – Kuramathi

Kuramathi Map

Kuramathi island just this past month combined the three ‘resorts’ there – Blue Lagoon, Cottage Club and Village – into a single, consolidate resort. It always was a bit confusing having them sold as ‘separate resorts’ though all on the same island and sharing the same infrastructure.

The consolidation means it is one of the largest resorts with the most extensive facilities. Its 290 rooms is amongst the largest, it has 9 room types. But perhaps most prominent is the sheer number of its watering holes. 7 in total including a wine and cigar bar.

We visited several years ago and were pleasantly surprised by the resort. It had been somewhat affected by the tsunami which led to some renovations and the new work was a 5-star standard (eg. the new spa), not the 3-4 star quality that the resort had been known for. The new renovations accompanying the consolidation seem to have upgraded the island even further. Also, we were apprehensive about going to such a big island because we loved the distinctive diminutive quality of the Maldives, but we were struck by how little the size put us off. We couldn’t walk the circumference between drinks and dinner, but it still had a quaint, remote and intimate feel. The picture below is the family enjoying a game of Pirateer (our traditional Maldive board game) chillaxing at the ‘Pool Bar’.

Kuramathi Pool Bar

Best of the Maldives: Seating – Kandooma

Kandooma - chair

Speaking of cool seating, Kandooma recently completed a revamp of its resort and its web page so you can get an good sense of the impressive overhaul. The first item to strike me was its ‘funky’ beach chairs. Actually, when I was in Kurumba last month, I remember thinking to myself how all these fancy resorts have all this distinctive design and yet when you look at the beaches you see the same old white, plastic beach loungers one sees all over the planet. They just seemed a bit pedestrian relative to how remarkable the locale is. Kandooma seems to have decided to make their beach seating as eye catching as the beaches themselves.

I also love how they have created a special ‘in water’ seating area at their new pool (see below). You often find ‘bar stool’ seating in Maldives pools, but this is the first time I have seen lounge seating right in the pool. It is like having a stationary lilo complete with side table.

In fact, funky seating seems to be a real focus for the new design will all sorts of quirky chairs sprinkled across the resort. Examples include the Kids Club ‘swing seats’ and ‘Pineapple Chair’ lounger shown below and the gallery on their website has plenty more.

Kandooma - pool chair   Kandooma - kids chair   Kandooma - bench

Best of the Maldives: Pool Seating – Holiday Inn Male

Holiday Inn Male - Pool Seating

I don’t usually do two ‘Best Of’ awards for the same place back to back, but this one so naturally followed last week’s that it made sense to put them together. Most resorts have the classic white plastic lounge chairs. The good resort will throw in a cushion to make it more comfortable. But no seating compares with the luxurious, giant comfort settees offered by the Holiday Inn Male at its rooftop pool deck. These lounges are like pool king-size beds with luxurious mattresses and headboard cushions. Really more like ‘pool beds’. The pool itself is a delightful infinity pool with a lovely wall fountain at one end. Poolside indolent luxury.

Holiday Inn Male - Pool Seating 2

Best of the Maldives: View – Holiday Inn Male

Holiday Inn Male - View

 

 

At 13 floors up, the Azure restaurant (and pool) of the Holiday Inn Male is the best hotel view in the Maldives. I counted 17 islands visible from this elevated perch not to mention the many toings and froing of boats in the harbour and the surrounding environs.

Normally, I would hesitate to include Male hotels as ‘resorts’. It has no beach, no alcohol (Male is ‘dry’ while the resort islands are granted special licenses). However, I do have the Nasandhura in Male as well as the Hulhule resort on Hulhule island which is more like Male in characteristics than a dedicated resort island. Also, I suspect that a number of Holiday Inn ‘Priority Club’ member maybe interested in exploiting their points as a vehicle for getting to the Maldives.

The Azure restaurant shown here just opened the 15 October and features absolutely delicious fusion (French/Japanese) dishes.

If you are looking for a ‘room with a view’ in the Maldives, Holiday Inn Male is the highest and furthest.

Best of the Maldives: 2010 Annular Eclipse – Huvafen Fushi

Google Map - Maldives eclipse

On 15 January 2010, an annular eclipse will be visible from a 300-km-wide track that traverses central Africa, the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia.  Several resorts will be in the shadows path (follow the handy Google map plotting the course above), but Huvafen Fushi is the one resort where the centre passes directly over the island.

An annular solar eclipse does complete cover the sun with the moon, but it takes place where the moon is too far from the Earth to completely cover the sun’s disk.  That leaves a blazing “ring of fire” shining around the moon as it passes in front of the sun from Earth’s perspective. It is not quite as dramatic as a ‘total eclipse’, but quite a dramatic celestial event nonetheless.  The GIF (click on graphic to see animated version) above shows last year’s annular eclipse in the Maldives that was 93% annularity. This year, the instant of greatest eclipse occurs at 07:06:33 UT when the eclipse magnitude will reach 0.9190. At this instant, the duration of annularity is 11 minutes 8 seconds, the path width is 333 kilometers and the Sun is 66° above the flat horizon formed by the open ocean. On dramatic point is that such a long annular duration will not be exceeded for over 1000 years (3043 Dec 23).  The timing in January is one of the driest periods of the year which helps to ensure an unobstructed view. Lots of people go to Maldives for the sun, and here is a chance to go for a ‘sun event’.

Annular Eclipse

Photosynth Maldives

Kurumba Photosynth

One of my tasks when I visited Kurumba last week was to get a boat and circumnavigate the island taking pictures to create a Maldives Photosynth. Thanks to the kind assistance of Andreas Ronecker of the Unlimited Watersports centre there, I got a full set of photos. Unfortunately, being my first go at a Photosynth, my ‘synth’ didn’t turn out as great as I would have liked. I didn’t get enough pictures for the calculation engine to map and model the island effectively. My ‘synthy’ measure was a low 12% so not many of the picture groups joined into a whole. Though you can take the tour around the ocean perimeter of the island using the ‘slide show’ function.

Not too worry, Maldive resorts are becoming more and more popular subjects for Photosynth and the Microsoft gallery now has 32 uploaded. Photosynth is sort of more than a 360 degree virtual tour. Because it builds a 3D model of the subject, you can really explore and get a sense of dimension and scale.

Best of the Maldives: Choice – Kurumba

Kurumba snorkel

Given my experience and investigation into Maldives resorts, people often ask me ‘which one is my favourite?’ It is a bit like asking which of your children are your favourites. They are all great in their own distinct way. But it is their ‘own distinct ways’, many of which are highlighted by MaldiveComplete’s ‘Best Of’ posts, that either turn on or turn off people. Some people like a big island, other like small. Some like lots of activities, others like peaceful tranquillity. Some like family catering, others like to avoid children for the stay. That is why it is important to know what is important to you and then select for those key features. This is why two off the key features of MaldivesComplete is a (a) database filter/search facility (‘Resort Search’), and (b) this very own ‘Best Of’ highlights.

But sometimes decisions are a tough thing. Especially if you your preferences vary or if you are in a diverse group. In that case, what you might want it lots of choices. Kind of like an American cake mix aisle. After having stayed there last week and cross referenced a few data points, I am convinced that if ‘choice’ is what you want, then Kurumba offers the widest, deepest set of resort ‘choice’ in the Maldives.

Two upcoming ‘Best Of’ awards for Kurumba are ‘Most Room Types’ (7…and that’s without having any water bungalows), and ‘Most Dining Choices’ (10…seafood, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Arab/Lebanese, Indian, buffet, coffee hours and two bars). And if 10 isn’t enough for you, then you have easy access to Male where a whole host of further offering await you (I especially recommend the Holiday Inn Male rooftop Azure restaurant, but there are a range of ethnic eateries as well as a range of very good Maldivian restaraunts featuring local fare). Kurumba also has 3 pools, 3 tennis courts, 2 gyms when most resorts will typically have one. Finally, the water sports centre features everything imaginable (including ‘pedal surf’ and soon a ‘sup’).

As I said in my ‘Kurumba Wrap Up’ post, 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.

Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 8: Maldives Departure

Maldives departure November 2009

As we transferred to the Male airport for our departure, the Maldives hit us with everything it had left in its rain/wind/storm system as a final inclement send off. While it certainly made saying good-bye easier, we reflected (as noted in my ‘Stormy Weather’ post) how little it had ruined the vacation.

We had just about come to terms with these plusses and minuses until our final day when we woke up to what seemed to be National Monsoon Day. Scores of splashy downpours paraded by one after the other each one trying to outdo the previous one. The umbrella was pretty useless because the rain hit the ground so hard that it bounced up and attacked you from underneath. Still, when the weather broke a little we still went out for a family snorkel. The weather acted up a bit and it was a bit funny snorkelling in a monsoon but ‘under the sea’ everything was calm and we saw this giant stingray digging for food in the lagoon.

I think there were several keys to enjoying the holiday despite such a string of bad weather days (which all the veterans noted was uncharacteristically poor…statistically November is the 6th driest month) which are hints for the many travellers I meet who fret about the sunshine…

  • Enjoy each other’s company – The trip for us was a long overdue family get together and being together, playing board games, joking around, was half the fun that the weather didn’t touch. I think if your fellow travellers were not your favourite people, the time in the confined space would be a bit less fun.
  • Not sunbathers – Many people do come to the tropics for lounging in the sun and working on that tan. If that is a key objective to the holiday, then there is not much solace to be had in missing sun (no pun intended…oh well, maybe a bit).
  • Undaunted – Many would have hunkered down with even just the regular threat of wind and rain, but we boldly went out on activities like snorkelling and visiting Male and they all worked out fine if not as spectacular as a sun-drenched day would have been.
  • Upbeat Attitude – Every one was pretty upbeat constantly. Appreciating the many upsides and savouring the delightful experiences and striking beauty that takes more than a little rain to dissolve.

The forecast early in the week was right and we had rain every day. While the rain came down in torrents, it only lasted 20 minutes or so. The downer was not the rain but the clouds. As stated previously, the lack of sun seemed to mute the Maldives experience and take away its sparkle. It was a lovely holiday, but not idyllic. It had its silver linings (easier reading, more mild temperatures), but more downsides (no sunbathing, less dazzling, less visibility and warmth snorkelling). It just goes to show you that even in ugly weather, the Maldives is beautiful. The major impact of unkind weather is that instead of the Maldives being ‘wow’, they were only ‘wonderful’, instead of being ‘exhilarating’, they are only ‘excellent’.

Male airport November 2009

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.