Best of the Maldives: Accessibility – Amilla

Caring for customers isn’t just about having a gracious smile and attentive service, but it involves really understanding each of your customers as individuals, catering to their distinctive needs as best one can. The top Maldives properties have achieved this with specially trained ‘butlers’ (and assorted variations on that theme). But some needs require more work than just a resourceful attendant’s hustle. In fact, some people – those with disabilities – often want an experience where their ‘luxury’ is being able to do everything as independently as possible.

Disabled individuals are used to tackling and overcoming diverse obstacles that the world throws at them. But holiday is when one wants a break from not only job work, but also just the daily work of housekeeping, cooking, cleaning and other chores. So going to an exotic locale renowned for sand and water (neither of which are disabled individuals’ particular friends) is always going to be less appealing.

Amilla Maldives breaking down these obstacles with a property-wide initiative to make their resort as accessible as possible:

  • “The sandy island paths, beaches, water jetties, villas and restaurants across the archipelago have for too long remained the exclusive domain of non-disabled visitors, excluding this as a dream-destination for guests with additional mobility, sensory or cognitive requirements, who would come if they only believed they could…Inclucare officials are auditing the entire resort island to identify any physical adjustments or adaptations that can be made to authentically establish Amilla, and the Maldives, as an accessible and inclusive dream-destination for all….Amilla is now on target to soon become the first Inclucare-certified resort in the world.

Amilla outlined a range of accessibility enhancements they implemented (including the following), but talking with resort leadership couple, Jason and Victoria, many more are on the way.

  • Amilla already had many easy-access ground floor villas, with wide doorways and accessible showers, as well as a beach wheelchair and a floating wheelchair for swimming and in-villa phones for the hearing impaired that light up when they ring… New innovations on the cards at Amilla include deaf-alert systems, adaptive yoga and snorkelling adventures, and sensory touch, aroma and sound experiences through the jungle for vision-impaired guests. And there will also be another groundbreaking addition: ‘calming spaces’, for regulating sensory input. They will allow guests on the Autism spectrum, with learning difficulties, or dementia, to control their emotions, reducing anxiety and stress.”

Amilla introduced their initiatives hosting British TV personality and disability advocate, Sophie Morgan. Not only does she provide a compelling “proof of the pudding is in the eating” test to Amilla’s initiatives, but she also provides extensive reassurance through live demonstration on her Instagram (see embedded post here).

Accessibility is especially near and dear to our hearts. Lori worked for nearly a decade as Head of Therapy for the UK Epilepsy Society where she was supporting clients with a broad range of often severe disabilities. And I coach disabled athletes in the sport of rowing, and even have a website with comprehensive information about that – In fact I have a series of posts called “Can You Row With…” (eg. “Can You Row with Multiple Sclerosis?”, “Can You Row With Cerebral Palsy?”, “Can You Row With a Hearing Impairment?”). So, ‘Can You Go to the Maldives with a Disability?’ To Amilla, you certainly can!

Best of the Maldives: Accessibility Aesthetic – Joali

Joali - accessibility 1

Both Lori and I work with disabled individuals and we are sensitised to the accessibility that is provided for them. Fortunately, we live in an age where accessibility is the norm. Not just to help those with disabilities, but helping a range of people facing their own mobility issues like the elderly or parents with prams and so on. There is something to be said for this norm just being integrated into the infrastructure in a pedestrian manner. Still, I was impressed that the aesthetic obsessives at Joali applied some of their style sense to the accessibility features as well. A few examples shown here are the marble accessibility ramp leading into the main bar (below) and the funky restroom symbols (above).

Joali - accessibility 2

Best of the Maldives: Accessible Underwater Restaurant – You & Me

You & Me - H20

All underwater restaurants are stunning experiences, but they often come at an equally eye-watering expense. For starters, most are found at super-premium resorts that start at $1000/night. Then, enjoying the restaurant is an equally premium supplement to your already hefty holiday bill. When we visited You & Me, we were struck by how many luxury details the resort featured while its price was a relatively manageable by mere mortals. No part of the property more exemplified this reasonably priced luxury than their H20 underwater restaurant.

  • Six-metres underwater, almost half a kilometre away from the pearly shores of our island is our greatest gift – H2O, the world’s best underwater restaurant, conceived by world-renowned designer Daniele Lago. With room for twenty-six guests, H2O’s seventy-four feet acrylic glass exterior is made to mesmerise. Nestled in a lush coral garden six metres below the sea this enchanting restaurant draws all manner of marine life to delight viewers.”

The first feature makes the restaurant truly accessible in the literal sense – a lift.  For anyone who might have difficulty with the circular stairway descending into the depths of the resort’s lagoon, they have the option of taking the restaurant’s lift.  Rare enough in Maldives resorts in general (I only recall seeing one at Velaa),

But the “accessibility” that benefits most of us is H2O’s relatively affordable price.  I sort of hesitate to call out H20s “affordability” as its defining characteristic. The description might come across as a low-end version when it is absolutely anything but that.  The dinner was sumptuously gourmet quality with a full menu of choice delicacies (see photo below).   As our tour report made clear, we were utterly enchanted by our evening there (with the mesmerizing dinner show by the resident octopus). 

The facility itself stands shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the other Maldives underwater restaurants at the super deluxe properties. In fact, its semi-circle fully glass arch is the state-of-the in these underwater rooms with only Hurawalhi and Rangalhi sharing this totally immersive submersion. The restaurant also includes some special aspects which make it distinctive in its own right – a reef restoration collaboration, a meteorological station, maybe the most unusual ingredient I have ever had in a meal anywhere not just the Maldives (stay tuned). 

But if there is one aspect which will have the most impact on the most people it will be its quite reasonable price. I have simply met too many people who passed up the chance to experience this bucket list activity at other resorts because the price was too dear. To save money, they go in and have a glance and take a few selfies, but that is not even a fraction of the joy and adventure of spending a few hours under the ocean enjoying the toings and froings of the sea creatures like you were some sort of fellow resident. The big advantage of diving over snorkelling is that you get to linger underwater and see the creatures at their level (rather than just looking down on them). But even with diving you are limited to 60 minutes (not to mention all the faff and expense). At H20 you get to savour hours of undersea loitering. And all the while, lingering over delectable dishes and sipping fine wines or decadent cocktails as bonus treats to the experience.

The prices are $280 per person for dinner and $180 per person for lunch (we definitely recommend the dinner as you get to experience the transition from day to night of the aquatic world). It’s not cheap, but it’s considerably less expensive than the other alternatives in the Maldives. And remember, it’s not just a meal. It is a unique experience of a lifetime that includes and is accented by a meal.

H20 is the underwater restaurant by You & Me and the rest of us.

You & Me - plankton

Best of the Maldives: Swimming Wheelchair – Kurumba

Kurumba - swimming wheelchair 2

Today is International Day for Persons with Disabilities. The subject is a bit personal to us as I am currently coaching para-rowing and Lori works with disabled clients for the Epilepsy Society of the UK. The versatility of materials and miniaturization of components has led to an inflection point in disability adaptations that remove countless obstacles that previously impeded impaired individuals.

Like those visiting paradise and wanting to soak in all of its magic including its sparking lagoons. Kurumba is already the resort leader in accessibility, and they have added even more to their support with swimming wheelchairs. Not only designed (with big wheels) to move easily across the soft sands of the beaches, but also to continue right into the water.

Kurumba - swiming wheel chair 1

Best of the Maldives: Disabled Access – Kurumba

Kurumba walkways

For moving around beyond the water’s edge, most resorts have buggies for helping to move baggage and helping guests, but can also be very useful transport for disabled and mobility challenged. Nonetheless, sometimes disabled people prefer to get around on their own devices whether it is a wheelchair, crutches, walking stick or other mode of movement. They can be independent and enjoy soaking up the surroundings as they make their way around the resort with a bit more intimacy than a buggy escort. For those seeking such a handicapped accessible resort, the Kurumba is real designed literally from the ground up to support such guests…

  • Paved Walkways – Kurumba has an extensive paved walkway (see photo above) which connects every part of the island. While this feature might be a turn off for those who prefer the more natural, sand-in-the-toes lay of the land, it is a great benefit to anyone handicapped who had to negotiate around the tropical island. Furthermore, every place we saw, the walkway nicely joined the main structures and buildings with ramping. (These walkways might also come in handy for fashionistas who insist on wearing high heels around a resort which might be considered its own form of perverse handicap).
  • Available Carts – Kurumba also has several electric golf carts which people can call on for transport from place to place on the resort if needed (though most able-bodied people rarely use them since the island is only medium sized).
  • Proximity to Male – The proximity to Male is one final benefit for people whose handicaps derive from elderly age. It reduced further travel time for those who have already endured a long haul flight. Also, being close to Male means being close to the country’s largest medical facility. This consideration may be of particular interest to elderly concerned about venturing too far out into such a remote destination.

Kurumba even produced a Kurumba Guide for Disabled Persons to further assist guests with various mobility and other challenges which outlines its whole range of support.

I posted this suggestion to TA a while back and got the following endorsement from Trip Advisor Destination Expert nefertari2Uk…

“Agree with Bruce, Kurumba is excellent for wheelchairs as there are concrete paths all around, ramps as well large showers in some room categories where you can even take your wheelchair if necessary. Some of the rooms have small steps but the carpenters also put ramps up as well. Definitely one of the best for wheelchairs in my opinion and although not your typical Maldivian island, the service is excellent as is the food and service.”

As it happens, on my recent visit, I met a ‘wheelie’ staying at Kurumba, Mitzy Wells and got to speak to her about her experience. Mitzy uses a wheelchair since and accident a year ago and found Kurumba very accommodating. She is mobile with a walking stick, but gets tired readily especially on the hot days. She applauded not only the high number of ramps and pervasive paved pathways, but the extra efforts of Kurumba. They had a ramp at the ready for her bungalow (see photo below). They didn’t just shift it into place, but they actually nailed it in secure for the duration of her stay. She did note that the paved pathways had cambered edges which a wheelchair user needs to watch out for because getting a wheel too close to the edge can precipitate a spill. But overall she was delighted to be a Kurumba.

Kurumba wheel chair access

Best of the Maldives: Wheelchair – Baros

Baros beach wheelchair

Nighttime arrivals aren’t the only difficult and awkward movements in the Maldives. For many disabled or mobility challenged guests, the ubiquitous sand only makes footing and moving around problematic. Not at Baros though where the resort offers the latest in beach mobility. The Daily Mail covered it in its piece “Meals by moonlight, diving with sharks and rolling on Beach Wheels in the mazy Maldives

“My eyes also fell on another device that looked as if it had been lifted from a Nasa lunar project. Beach Wheels was an aquatic wheelchair, an Australian invention with huge tyres that allowed someone like me to glide smoothly over the sand or be dumped neatly into the sea.”

How people use the beach wheel chair? 

“Disabled guests who asks for the wheel chair are provided with our Beach wheel chair. It has big air filled wheels and therefore is easy to manoeuvre on sand, even on the most soft one. One person has always to be there to push the chair.”

What people have said about it?

“People are really happy about it, as it is incredible convenient for them. We offer it also sometimes to guest, who have problems to walk or are injured – they are really impressed by this service.”

Anything surprise you about its use when you got it?

“Not really surprising but interestingly – even if it was not built for that usage – guests tell us, that they feel like being able to float in the water. It is made of very strong material like fibre glass, and therefore does not rust at all.”