I told you so. 3 years ago, I awarded Kurumba the “Best of the Maldives for 5 Star Value”. This week, the rest of the world agrees awarding the resort the Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Award for Best All-Inclusive. Not just in the Maldives. IN THE WORLD.
The “All-Inclusive” category is all about value-conscious travelling. Many travellers push their budget to the absolute limit in order to afford a bucket-list trip-of-a-lifetime to the Maldives. They don’t want to check-out and get hit with a bunch of unanticipated extra-charges. They want to relax and relaxation means peace of mind that they can do whatever the heck they want and not worry about it.
With the rise of the Maldives’ worldwide profile in recent years, room rates have gone up and up. Many people are opting for a few of the budget options that are out there that still provide the enchanting Maldives experience, but do offer quite simple accommodation, food, décor and amenities. The charm of Kurumba is that it maintains true 5-star exquisite luxury standards in all parts of its operation…and still remains reasonably priced. No wonder so many people have returned from their stays there and raved out it in their TripAdvisor reviews.
[Kurumba staff celebrating their recognition]
While Maldives Complete is my virtual world outlet for experiencing a bit of paradise when sequestered in the damp and dank boroughs of Britain, but once a year I get to inject a bit of real-world Maldives into my life. That is the annual World Travel Market where the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation comes to town with its marquee stand.
I always visit to saw hello to a few MMPRC and resort friends. But this year brought the added bonus of a “meetup” with some of the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum digital comrades. Pictured above is the TA and Maldives veteran Katherine Anthony holding the two awards won by her resort Ayada – “Leading Resort in the Maldives” and “Leading Water Villa Resort in the Maldives” (big congrats “KatfromAyada” and Ayada).
Joining us were Christine Aldridge of No Shoes No News Travel and Amit Patel of Simply Maldives. We all went out for a post-show nosh-and-natter catching up on all things Maldivian. Going around the table for the resorts sharing our perspectives – between us we had visited over 130 resorts (with obviously a lot of overlap). We whipped round sharing our superlatives like which resorts surprised us the most (in a good way) – Gili Lankanfushi, Soneva Fushi, Bathala, KATH, Komandoo.
The big news of WTM was the Thumburi guest house island project. It looks like an inspired initiative to have your cake and eat it too for both guests and Maldives entrepreneurs. It provides an island and infrastructure to reduce the costs of development and required investment so smaller businesses can investi in Maldives tourism. It also provides scale, diversity and competition to provide high-quality, but value-priced properties for the middle market aspiring to enjoy Maldives paradise.
I got to connect with some new resorts – Embudhoo, Equator Village, Summer island, Sun Siyam Iru Fushi, Diamonds Athuruga and Thudufushi, Barefoot, Centara, and Ayada (obviously).
A little virtual sunshine in my week. Maybe not the palm trees and pina coladas, but I still got to bask in wonderful smiles and gregarious warmth endemic to the Maldives at least for a day.
This post has a new category tags to the blog for “WTM” as this is now the 4th instalment of Maldives presence here.
Chaaya Reef Ellaidhoo is like a 4 star Kurumba. Primarily because of it being a classic round Maldivian island shape surrounded by a ring of sea barriers. Some people are put off by the stone defences saying that they detract from the idyllic views over the ocean. But one dividend they provide is a safe haven of snorkelling for beginners and weak swimmers. It is the closest thing to an open water swimming pool. Yes, the sandy lagoon that are all over the Maldives also provide this sanctuary, but they also offer very limited things to see snorkelling. The sea defences themselves often provide a vibrant platform for all sorts of creatures. And the seas defences are positioned at the precipice of the house reef drop off, so the resort does offer that dramatic snorkelling for those who wish to venture out a bit more at some point.
But another reason for the comparison is its value for money. Kurumba is one of the best value-for-money 5 stars and I think Ellaidhoo might just be one of the best value-for-money 4 stars. Don’t take my word for it. I got the notion from a real Maldivian expert and veteran. Known as “Turquoise 23”, as she is known on the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum, we overlapped on our visits this trip and arranged to meet up during our stay (see photo below).
My tours are starting to become TripAdvisor Meetups. We swapped stories and perspectives from her 15 trips to the Maldives. She has run the gamut from Shangri-La Villigili to the now defunct Lohifushi. Ellaidhoo is the third resort that she has graced with a return visit. She explained her decision to me saying she had a really great time here on her last visit and doing her research this time around, it was the best value going.
During my short stay, I uncovered 5 distinctives to write out in the coming months.
“If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade.”
This is the week for blogging milestones as my other major (and longer standing) blogging pursuit – ‘Bruce Lynn Blog’ – celebrated its 7th anniversary yesterday. The site explores the themes of ‘Leadership and Management’ as well as ‘Embracing Failure’. The two subjects are united in the common thread of how people deal with risk.
To celebrate the occasion, I thought I would post something apropos. Perhaps one of the all-time classic ‘embrace failure’ sayings is about making lemonade out of lemons, so I thought I would turn to the best and most varied lemonade I have found in the Maldives.
Mirihi offers 10 different signature cocktails at Muraka bar including the following tart treats…
- Mihiri Lemonade – “Fresh muddled strawberries, aged rum, strawberry and vanilla liguer with soda.”
- Wild Honey & Orange Lemonade – “Vodka, Drambuie, Cointreau, honey, oranges and orange lemonade”
- Green Tea & Chili Lemonade – “Green tea, fresh limes, Southern Comfort, Brandy and a bit of chili” (see above enjoyed with fellow TripAdvisor Forum contributor).
Admittedly, ‘embracing failure’ by drinking lemonade in a tropical resort isn’t too hard of a sell.
The Reviewer’s favourite might be Cocoa Island, and the Forum’s favourite might be Vilamendhoo, but what is the Experts’ favourite?
The other thing I noted in my survey (looking at the past 6 months of Trip Advisor Maldives Forum posts) was responses by the Destination Experts (DE’s) to the question ‘Which Resort?’ (which is most typically followed by the response, “What is your budget?”).
First, I must say that I was impressed with the range and balance of their recommendations. After having visited 19 myself, I’m not sure I would be so balanced in my recommendations (we all have our favourites).
Despite the impressive balance of recommendations, there was a clear favourite…Athuruga. It was both the top 2 DE’s top recommendation as they suggested it 13 and 7 times respectively. Their next most recommended resorts were Maayafushi (11) and Mirihi (10) collectively. Curiously, most of the Maayafushi suggestions came in the first 3 months and the Athuruga one’s more recently (a shift of sentiment?). In total, 32 different resorts were proposed by the DE’s. Other favoured resorts include Dhiggiri (8 mentions), Vilamendhoo (6), Bandos (5), Kuramathi (5). The top DE recommended a total 24 resorts on 81 occasions (again, this is just counting those instances where a poster asked a very open ended ‘which resort’ question).
Also, a hats off to all the DE’s on Trip Advisor who do a pretty heroic job of answering the most repetitive and obscure questions with speed, expertise and often a bit of light-hearted fun.
Having been an active TA Maldives Forum participant (“Maldives Complete”) for a while now, I’ve noticed that one does see the same sort of things come around as regularly as sting rays at feeding time. Discussions mosquitos, weather, snorkelling, children, snorkelling children, whale sharks. Many of these have been helpfully turned into FAQs by the Destination Experts (DEs). Obviously, one that comes around very regularly (about one out of every ten posts I discovered) is the question “Which resort?”. With over a hundred resorts to choose from and a few dozen more in the works, we can all appreciate the dilemma.
But for all of the extensive choice, I found it curious that some resorts seemed to dominate the Forum while other great ones were virtually non-existent. I wondered whether it was just my perception so I did a little test. I pulled the Maldives Forum posts for the past six months (August through January) and simply logged any resorts mentioned in the post title. Not extremely scientific as an indicator, but easy, effective and objective.
Vilamendhoo came out the most popular resort enquired about. But just only as they pipped Reethi Beach 49 mentions to 48 over the last 6 months. Rounding out the top 5 were Kuramathi (40 mentions), Lily Beach (38), and Biyadhoo (37). The lions share are shown above which you can click on to see in a clearer, larger version.
I was also intrigued by the quite prominent resorts that have never come up on the forum at least as an explicit post. Many were Italian oriented resorts more like to go to an Italian language site – Alimatha, Dhiggiri, Gangehi, Kihaadhuffaru, Madoogali. Other were pretty exclusive so that the butlers probably book the travel – Banyan Tree Madivaru, Dhoni Island, Nika, The Rania Experience. There was clearly an bias towards the lower priced resorts in terms of mentions. Admittedly, while there are typically fewer rooms/guest on the more expensive/exclusive islands, the modest difference in bed number was not enough to explain the quite extreme difference in post numbers.
The Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Awards have been announced and the top Maldives resort was Cocoa Island, the only one featured in their 10 lists. It came in #5 in the ‘Top Luxury’ resorts worldwide (wresting the title from last year’s honoree Angasana). A well deserved honour, it would seem, given the very recent report by Francis where he described it as bringing him to tears. Just to top it all off, Cocoa Island also tops Trip Advisor with the highest review ratings of any Maldives resort.
As I mentioned way back at the outset of Maldives Complete, I had originally thought that I might build a website called ‘Maldives for Families’ out of the conviction that this destination was so superbly suited for adults and children alike. Little did I know that online, especially at Trip Advisor, there is a massive debate between this school of thought and the view that the Maldives is no place for children. So of the ‘anti-children’ views try to argue based on patronising forced logic (eg. long-haul flights not suitable for children who are going to kick seats and cry, loud and obnoxious children will spoil my idyllic holiday that I paid thousands for, specialised medical treatment is not immediately at hand). I always speak out in support of children being welcome, but in the end I appreciate ‘to each his own’.
To support people finding just the right resort for them, I’ve added a field to the Maldives Complete database which delineates the resorts into one of 5 categories about how ‘Child Friendly’ they are…
- Children restricted
- Children discouraged
- No information
- Children special facilities
- ‘Best Of’ child offerings
So you can filter in the Resort Finder on ‘Children Welcome?’ I have also added a note box to the resort Profile which provides additional detail about the restrictions, facilities and ‘Best Of’ offerings. Finally, for further reference. Trip Advisor also has a handy FAQ on the topic.
Maldives is one of the world’s leading diving destinations right up there with the Red Sea, Great Barrier Reef, Caymans, and Belize. But which is the top resort for diving among this top destination. Certainly a subject for much debate and hair-splitting. Picking out out a premier site over the 90,000 square kilometres of atolls would be a bit of a tall order.
TripAdvisor Forums have also discussed this topic and offer a range of other nominations with a particular fondness for the South Ari atoll. But the most prominent consensus pick appears to be ‘Fotteyo Kandu’ in the Felidhoo Atoll. Tim Godfrey’s book on the Maldives, ‘Dive Maldives’, describes in his full page review of the site (page 115) which includes the pictures featured here…
“An excellent dive regarded by many divers as the best site in the Maldives. It is a photographers’ paradise and a mecca for marine biologists. This is a dive with many possibilities.”
The dive travel site appropriately named ‘Maldives Dive Travel’ also anoints it #1in its own top 5 list with this compelling description…
“Many scuba divers consider Fotteyo Kandu to be the best Maldives dive site and it is also rated among the top 5 dive sites in the world. The mouth of the channel is exposed to the ocean and during north east monsoon when the currents are incoming, a good variety of fish species gather at the entrance to the channel. Animals commonly spotted at Fotteyo Kandu include Gray Reef Shark patrolling the channel mouth, Jack and Tuna in the deeper water, schools of Midnight Snappers and Red Snapper form in huge groups. The wall features caves, overhangs and swim-thoughs at different depths. These caves and overhangs are filled with colourful yellow color like soft coral, deeper caves and overhangs are filled with huge bushes of black corals. The Thila in the middle of the channel entrance is the best place to do the safety stop. A surface balloon is a must at Fotteyo Kandu.”
Two resorts are in the Felidhoo atoll for those seeking out Fotteyo, Dhiggiri and Alimatha, but Alimatha gets the nod because it about 4 kilometres closer to the site.
An example of the kinds of questions that TripAdvsior Forum and its experts can help you with was a topic that comes up regularly – ‘All Inclusive’ packages. Many guests are drawn to the notion of all-inclusive so they can truly relax without worrying how much more in ‘extras’ they are going to rack up at the end of their already wallet-biting holiday. But what is included in ‘AI’ packages varies dramatically. Typically, they do include drinks, but some resorts have only a limited selection of drinks available to AI guests and all other drinks are extra. Some activities are included and others are not in places.
According to Spammie, one of the top all-time Maldives destination experts, Athuruga is the premier offering when it comes to ‘all inclusive’…
“to my knowledge, there are only two resorts that will give you “real AI” – without the dreaded exclusions that mount up to a big bill at the end – as their base standard. the newly refurbished Athuruga and its sister island Thudufushi , which is due to close for refurbishment over this summer. depending on when you are planning to go, Athuruga is your only choice.”