- Equatic Vibe
- DJ Vifak
Hurawalhi is a “5+” star resort. I could almost make the case that it is a “6 star” resort, but the marketing director for the resort says “Wait till you see Kudadhoo” (Champa’s latest offering under development just across the water along their chain of properties at the top of Lhaviyani atoll).
One of our frustrations in past was that everyone in the Maldives was calling themselves a 5-star (over 60% of the resorts in the Maldives Complete database are listed as 5 star). And you will find some real divergences in the quality of what is being called 5-star. On one end are properties that are quite indistinctive but get away with over-rating with a “5-star” label because, essentially, the destination is 5-star. People come and no matter how tired the décor and limited the offerings, the place still seems like a 5-star experience because the guests are blown away by the stunning surroundings of the landscape and seascape. I have often said that you could have a 5-star experience in the Maldives staying in a cardboard box on the beach.
On the other extreme are properties that really don’t seem right to call ‘just’ 5-stars. The ultra-deluxe properties that seem to defy any sort of rating scale. I tend to call these “super premiums”. They are really in a class by themselves and hence some people in the industry refer to them colloquially a “6 star” properties (the Burj Al Arab took a bit of stick when it opened, referring to itself as the world’s first “7-star hotel”).
The whole star rating system is a bit of a mess. It started as a hospitality industry standard tick-box exercise for certain amenities on the resort (eg. the number of power outlets and whether you had a bidet or not). People confused the hotel “rating” with the review ratings of guides like Michelin and Zagats. Then, crowd-sourced ratings came to the web on popular travel sites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com. These ratings tend to reflect another aspects altogether. They are really about ‘performance against expectations’. As a result, you can get real dives getting ‘5 star’ reviews because the experience is so much better than the guest expected for the pennies that they paid. Furthermore, all the reviewing is basically being done by amateurs.
Given the power of ratings from sites like TripAdvisor, many properties now seem to be going in the direction of under-rating. They call properties that could easily pass as 5, a 4-star. But they often append the now popular “+” designation to note a cut above the rest of class with a bit of style and distinction, but (sensibly) fear exaggerated expectations if they don the 5-star moniker. It is a way of saying “4 star with 5 star touches”. All of this diatribe about rating is to provide context for my description of Hurawalhi. Hurawalhi is the first resort I have found where this approach would be appropriate at the 5-star level, ie. 5+ star resort.
Hurawalhi is very much a 5-star star through and through. Every design feature, attention to detail, material choice, offering, etc. are all specified at the first class level. Natural wood everywhere (and the wood shingled roof, instead of thatch, which will save lots of total cost of ownership). Think Rocky Mountain Lodge or Chamonix Chalet, not native hut. Every single fixture and external appliance is tastefully and craftily covered. Their flawless attention to detail with this simple, natural material shows that you don’t need Italian marble and exotic materials to produce a stunning environment. Just elegant design with quality materials.
The biggest above-and-beyond the world of typical 5-star is the resort’s underwater restaurant, 5.8. I’ve posted about the 5.8 previously in its construction stage where its sheer ambition presented so much promise…and expectations. But now I can put a bit of first-hand perspective into the account. The food doesn’t get much better than this. “Smoked lobster and sea urchin mousse served on a garland crest with cognac emulsion, lobster salsa, squid ink brittle, poached langoustine tail and topped with beluga caviar served 5.8 metres underwater.” Yes, that. We’ve eaten at several 3-star Michelin’s in our foodie adventures and 5.8 stands shoulder to shoulder with them.
But the real experience is the room itself. I have visited several of the Maldives underwater facilities, but I had never actually taken the plunge (so to speak) of dining in one. More than any other one I have visited, Hurawali has done an exceptional job of placing the restaurant and enhancing its location. One side is right on the edge of the house reef drop off and the other opens to the expanse of the lagoon. Between the two, through the floor to ceiling glass wall is a sort of canyon that provides a view of coral and fish in sort of a raked fashion. Like many other underwater rooms, they have done a bit of reefscaping to provide greater visual appeal and to attract more fish. But a clever little twist is a sunken mini-dhoni ‘wreck’ in the lagoon which not only provides an added lure for reef fish (and a sequestered moray we spotted), but also adds a bit of eerie mystique to the whole vista.
While they do both a private breakfast and a lunch seating, the best time to go is for dinner. You are greeted with a sunset cocktail while the sky is still bright and underwater is still vibrant with sunshine piercing into the water. But as the 7-course affair progresses, the light subtly changes with every course and so does the marine life and activity. Until by dessert, it is completely dark and the nocturnal activity is in full swing. And it’s not just the sea creatures that are a buzz. The whole place has a unique camaraderie of a unique shared experience. Diners commenting to each other on curious spottings, asking questions, sharing reflections, helping with photo taking.
Objectively, 5.8 is the greatest (in size) underwater restaurant in the world. But subjectively, 5.8 might just be simply the greatest underwater restaurant, full stop. And Hurawalhi might not let you call it a 6-star, but it is so much more than just 5 stars.
In addition to having the world’s first underwater yoga session, Hurawalhi also secured one of the world’s best yoga Instagrammer, Jessica Olie. Her collection of Maldives shots are some of the best yoga post shots I have come across (and that is quite a competitive category in the atoll photo anthology). Here are a collection of some of the most stunning…
- “Jessica promises the 1-hour vinyasa flow to provide physical and mental rewards, with captivating views of fish around you as you move from one pose to the next bringing you even closer to a state of the zen-like state of mind.”
The one hour Vinyasa flow session was conducted by Jessica Olie (who frankly has one of the best yoga Instagram feeds…stay tuned for more on that).
Kudos to the resort s who celebrated World Snorkeling Day yesterday…
- Kuredu – “Kuredu is pleased to announce its very first Snorkelling Day! The celebration of this wonderful sport and the magnificent coral reefs of Lhaviyani Atoll will take place on Sunday, 30th July 2017, at 15:00. Snorkelling is one of Kuredu’s major draws: both the lagoon and the reef offer a wonderful array of marine life that will most likely be one of the highlights of your Maldives’ holiday.” [see photo below]
- Hurawalhi – “In honour of the Maldives’ reef ecosystem and in celebration of the wonderful sport that is snorkelling, Hurawalhi is excited to announce its first Snorkelling Day. Prodivers and the Marine Biology Center invite you for special afternoon snorkelling trips on Sunday, 30th July 2017. During these 1,5-hour excursions, you can expect to see a wide range of underwater sights that – if it weren’t for the snorkel in your mouth – would make your jaw drop!” [see photo above]
Patrick de Staercke’s Maldives general management goes back nearly as far as Maldives Complete (2010). Lori and I might have stayed at more resorts than anyone, but he has managed more than anyone – 4 (Vilamendhoo, Komandoo, Hurawalhi, Kuredu). We first met Patrick in the earlier days of Maldives complete (see photo below) when Maldives Complete was just getting going, hardly anyone had heard of a blog and “social media” was still in the early adopter stage. He was one of the GMs who appreciated the site’s comprehensiveness and welcomed us very warmly. Over dinner, we mused about all sorts of possibilities for guest offerings and resort enhancements. Many managers in the hospitality industry tend to hop around globe in their career, but Patrick has made the Maldives a second home with an unmatched tenure. We always catch up briefly at the World Travel Market trade event in London, but it is great that he has provided a Maldives exclusive interview to provide a snapshot of his professional life in paradise…
- What was your first ever job?
Working in my student bar at colleague I was 16 years old in Seaford Colleague Sussex England. We were paid in beer just great.
- What was your first job in hospitality?
When I was 18 I had a job in Lausanne as waiter and pot was for 6 months and loved it.
- What has been your favourite sighting on a house reef?
I love octopus so cool how they change color .
- What has been an idea (eg new dish, a new activity, a new offer) that completely failed?
Remote control boats do not do well in sea water who knew?
- What tropical or Maldivian treat are you most addicted to?
Sipping cocktails in the sun and sending pictures pretending that this is what a GM does every day.
- What treat from home do you most miss having easy access to?
My wife and child.
- What are your favourite parts about opening a new resort versus taking on an established one (and what is your favourite part about taking on an established one)?
The favorite part is the end and the product you have produced gets the feedback we are getting now is just a wow. All that hard work sweat, team work, is paid off when the guests are blown away from the resort but also the service. Job well done.
- If you had $1 million to add one single feature to Kuredu, what would it be?
I would have to invest in two areas as they are just as important upgrading guest rooms but also staff rooms as they are the reason to a resorts success.
- What’s one question I didn’t ask that you either wish I asked or were surprised that I didn’t ask (and what the answer)?
‘Do you have what it takes to make a difference?’ My proven track records show I will make a difference in enhancing both customer satisfaction and bottom line figures. What’s the secret to my success? Well that’s why I am so valued at CCR and have to keep that a secret?
I’ve always wondered how they made those underwater restaurants (and spa and night clubs, etc) in the Maldives. Did they drop in components and then pump water out? As it happens, these subaquatic wonders are completely refabbed, shipped to the resort and lowered whole into their new lagoon home.
The new resort of Hurawalhi is the latest in the underwater pantheon. And some recent reports on their underwater restaurant is providing a behind the scenes look at this remarkable engineering. The supplier M.J, Murphy in New Zealand posted some “how do they do that” details on their site recently…
“Following the usual 10km route from Fitzroy’s factory to the port, the 410 tonne Underwater Restaurant was manoeuvred alongside the giant crane ship “The Fairlane”, using 3 trucks. Then on 11 Feb, the two giant 400 tonne cranes lifted the UWR onto the ship and readied for its 3 week trip to the Maldives…The acrylic is optically perfect, so diners will feel ‘immersed’ and surrounded by the ocean and the fish life. There will also be a large spectacular panoramic underwater acrylic window (190mm thick) in the end of the UWR which is expected to wow the lucky diners, with amazing long views along the sloping coral reef.”
Here’s hoping that everything goes down well at Huravalhi.