Best of the Maldives: Eco-Offer – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi - eco offer

First rule of exploring the undersea world is “hands off”…but if you do want to get “hands on”, then Soneva Fushi there to lend you a hand. They are offering a special deal where you actively engage with their extensive eco-sustainability initiatives and get special pricing (thanks Paola)…

  • “Stay five nights with us at Soneva Fushi, and if you agree to participate in the following initiatives, your next five nights will be on us. A tailored programme will be prepared for you for a few hours per day, over five days, incorporating the following elements:
    • Land: Assist our horticulturists, mycologists, and gardeners in maintaining the vegetable gardens and learn how to grow your own vegetables. Deliver the vegetables to our restaurants and learn how to create a seed bank to ensure future sustainability of important crops. Help us to make sustainable bricks in our Eco Centro Waste to Wealth facility
    • Water: Snorkel with our marine biologists to help with turtle identification and coral rehabilitation. Spend time each morning clearing debris from the island that may have washed up, and help us to register the fish caught by the local fisherman. Participate in reef clean ups in the Baa Atoll to reduce marine debris and prevent injuries to marine life.
    • Community: Work alongside our community engagement manager on established projects with nearby communities, which may include local swimming classes, composting projects, beach clean ups, and other education initiatives.
  • To book the Stay for Good offer, contact reservations@soneva.com or call at +91 124 4511000 and quote ECOPKG17. Upon confirmation of your stay, we will begin tailoring a programme to suit your preferences.”

You have to hand it Soneva for their handy way to handle the many environmental challenges in paradise.

Best of the Maldives: Day Passes – Anantara Dhigu

Anantara Dhigu - ticket to island

One of my top 10 FAQs is “where can transient visitors to the Maldives (eg. flight and cruise stopovers) visit a resort island for a single day (no night stay)?” By and large, the resorts have not had this offer for part time guests. The fear is that the island gets overrun by low margin guests just cherrypicking some of the sunshine and beach space without spending money in the restaurants, bars, activities or lodging.

One resort, Anantara Dhigu, is making day visits available. They are managing the risks by tightly containing the number of passes issued. The pass is not a standing offer, but is issued on a case by case basis, mostly when the resort is at lower occupancy. At the moment price is USD 150++ per person (10% service charge, 12% GST) and out of this USD 100 will be used as F&B credit which is non-refundable.  I think Anantara is clever thinking that many people stopping in will love the resort so much that they will make it a point to come back for a proper stay  Also, by keeping the offer to lower occupancy periods, it can help the overall resort experience for all because the resort can run at optimal efficiency (eg.  there’s not a lot of food waste on the buffets with few people there, but the resort wanting to maintain the choice and options for the guests).

Best of the Maldives: Battle of the Luxury AI

All Inclusive Maldives comparison table

In the traditional travel market, the term “all inclusive” often connotes a bit of a down market, budget holiday with white-label booze and tired buffets. I often get enquiries that are concerned about the quality of a resort because it has all-inclusive offer. As with so many aspects of luxury, the Maldives destination re-writes the conventional wisdom and the “AI” package is in many cases a cornucopia of luxury.

All-inclusive got its reputation catering to budget travellers who had saved up precisely a certain amount for their vacation and not a penny more. They couldn’t chance facing some big check-out bill of extra charges and still hope to pay the rent the next month. To some degree, the same dynamic takes place in the Maldives…but at an entirely elevated level. For many, a trip to the Maldives is a trip of a lifetime. Celebrating a special occasion like a honeymoon or anniversary or milestone, people splash out their life savings for this bucket list adventure. Despite spending thousands, they too want some bounds on just how much the trip will set them back. So a number of the finest resorts offer AI packages to help plan and contain their expenditure.

And it’s not just about financial planning. It’s also a handy convenience. Write your cheque and then don’t worry about prices or money or signing things at all for your entire holiday. Just let the resort pamper you with all they have on offer.

What is on offer is becoming a bit of an escalating arms race in its own right. When I visited the World Travel Market in London this year, I go around to the resorts exhibiting and ask about their distinctive features and offers. Two properties – Centara Grand and OZEN – claimed to have the “most luxurious” AI package in all the Maldives. And that’s no small claim given some of the extravagant packages on offer including a previous Best of the Maldives post on Lily Beach as well as an impressive rival I uncovered at Kandolhu this summer.

As the various inclusions are a bit of an apple-to-orange comparison, I’ve decided to assemble the summary table above to let you all figure out which opulent omneity best suits your tastes. I haven’t included the pretty standard stuff that many if not most resorts provide FOC to all guests like snorkelling equipment, wifi and use of non-motorised sports facilities.

I’ve also now added the Tag “All Inclusive” to track all of the best AI offers.

Best of the Maldives: Budget Water Villas – J Resort Alidhoo

J Resort Alidhoo - water villa back

One of the most popular Bucket List items in the world is “Staying in a Maldives over water villa”. And the nearly as popular obstacle is “But I never will be able to afford it…”

For some, just seeing the iconic plot-of-sand-and-a-palm-tree destination is a financial stretch. But there are still modest resorts on lovely islands (eg. Bathala) that we definitely within many people’s reach (as long as they are willing to be happy with modest accommodation and simple, if not tired, décor). And with the advent of Guest Houses, even more budget options become feasible.

However, for some, the fantasy is more than the Bounty Bar island (one of my favourite terms picked up this trip from Hideaway Beach’s Kat Anthony). For some, the dream includes immersion in the over-worldly turquoise lagoons in a nearly as iconic water villa.

For this reasons, water villas always command a premium (over their more pedestrian Beach Villa counterparts). A quick calculation through the Room Type database shows that on average Water Villas are 25% more expensive per square metre than Beach Villas. Furthermore, the lower end islands tend not to have them so they tend to reside in the high rent corner of the market putting them that little further beyond reach.

But J Resort Alidhoo is offering their water villas at exceptionally affordable prices. The resort has been waiting for some investment in their infrastructure and cosmetics and so it knows it doesn’t have the flashiest product and most comprehensive services. But it is making up for it by being extra competitive on rates. In some deals, you can get a night in a water villa for $300…full board! You struggle to get modest, tiny hotel room in London, McDonalds Breakfast, Subway lunch and Harvester dinner for that price in the UK.

And the rooms are quite impressive. Yes, they could do with a fresher paint job for 5-star aesthetics, but they don’t look bad. The thatch roofs are in dire need of a refurb, but that looks worse that it is (the thatch is only decoration and just because some palm fronds have been blown off, doesn’t mean the roof is any less weather-proof). Still, if you do secure a J Resort Alidhoo, I would make sure you have travel insurance and be prepared for things go a bit awry (as anything could happen if they do secure investment and they might shut down for renovations). But if all goes well, it could very well be the bargain of a lifetime for the dream vacation of a lifetime.

Best of the Maldives: Babymoon – Park Hyatt Hadahaa

Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives babymoon Getty Images non-commercial embedding

As Baby New Year brings us 2015, Park Hyatt Hadahaa brings us an inspired new package to bring baby to the Maldives this year. Their new “Babymoon” bridges two of the Maldives’ most dinstinctive allures – honeymoons and families

“The six-day Babymoon offering has been specially designed to prepare, relax and reinvigorate expecting mothers, with pampering treatments taking place at the hotel’s luxurious Vindhun Spa…Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa’s new Babymoon package is available at £413.00 per couple for 6 days and includes a pregnancy massage, aqua yoga, head and shoulder massage, pregnancy Yoga and breathing, Abhyangyam massage, and a hydrating facial”

Happy New Year Maldives fans!

Best of the Maldives: Cashless – Centara Grand

Centara Grand spa treatment

 

Centara Grand is getting rid of another kind of paper in its business…cash. ETurboNews resports

“Guests arriving at Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa Maldives from November 1, 2012 can leave both their shoes and their cash behind, because from that date the resort begins its Ultimate All-Inclusive experience. Although Centara has always featured fully-inclusive accommodation, Ultimate All-Inclusive takes this concept to an entirely new level and represents the ultimate in luxury escapes. Included are champagne breakfasts served all the way through until mid-morning, a choice of three restaurants for lunch, and sumptuous dinners that offer a daily theme buffet, Thai cuisine, Italian dining at a romantic overwater restaurant, Japanese teppanyaki cooked to order, fresh seafood, and international dishes…Also included are credits of US$100 per person, per day, to spend at Spa Cenvaree village spa, with a range of treatments that include foot massage, Indian head massage, face relaxing massage, and a choice of body scrubs and upper-back massage…The package also includes Wi-Fi access in the rooms and across the resort, use of fitness facilities with programs designed by a personal trainer, tennis, snorkeling equipment, motorized water sports, and windsurfing lessons…A number of off-island excursions are also included such as a whale shark tour, sunset fishing, sunset cruises, and the local island discovery tour.”

Other resort have done ulta-all-inclusive plans comparable to this, but one feature that stands out for me here is the $100 daily spa credit. Nice touch.

Best of the Maldives: 5 Star Value – Kurumba

Kurumba welcome

You won’t find anything near ‘free’ and even ‘budget’ options are limited in the prestigious Maldives, but if you want to dive down to the deepest value for the most dazzling quality, then you want to filter on the ‘Cost Per Star’ field in the Resort Finder. In these challenging economic times, people who need to mind their budgets but don’t want to compromise their trip of a lifetime have a great balance in Kurumba.

Ratings are one thing, but enough money will buy lots of sizzle and quality anywhere in the world. A big question is value-for-money. Who gives you the most star-value for your day rate?

The winner for 5-star value is Kurumba. Not only does it price itself very aggressively, but it is a good sized island which means there are often some excess inventory deals with operators who will discount the resort even further close to departure date. I find that the ideal timing for ‘last minute’ deals is about 6 weeks before intended departure – much earlier and the operators haven’t resorted to discounting yet, and much later the deals are mostly gone.

Kurumba is a proper 5 star in every respect. A number of Maldives resorts do sometimes advertise ‘5 stars’, but some are being a bit ambitious in their assertion. But Kurumba constantly looks for new touches and enhancements keeping it solidly in class. It’s not trying to be a super-premium with crazy luxury like butlers and underwater cinemas, but it has enough to satisfy most any fussy traveller.

The price for a 7 night stay Room and Breakfast (for a couple sharing) in mid-February 2013 from London is £1460 on Kuoni. That’s a £292 per star. The next best 5-star value is Robinson Club at £426 per star.

Resort / Room Approximate Cost Explanation

“What’s your budget?”

That is the very first question I or the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum will ask of anyone looking for advice on which of the 120+ resorts to book. And be careful about saying ‘money is no object’ because in the Maldives, the top rooms top out at over $10,000 *per night*.

So when I built the Maldives Complete database that would allow people to filter on the key variables for them, I had to include ‘Cost’ as one of the top variables. The challenge in the whole site is keeping it ‘complete’ (ie. data for as many islands as possible). A clean, consistent, ideal definition of cost would be great, but would be a nightmare to get and maintain for all resorts. In fact, it is this difficulty of getting such information broadly across the resorts that inspired me to build the site in the first place. So I had to choose a definition of ‘Cost’ that was useful and relevant as well as available.

On the Finder page, the ‘Approximate Cost’ is defined as ‘£ GBP for half board and transfers for 7 day stay’. And on the Profile page it is described as ‘UK Feb 15 Cost (GBP £)’. So what exactly does this mean? And why did I choose this measure? That was the question posed by ‘Froggy’ in the recent Trip Advisor Forum post ‘New categories for Complete Maldives’.

The cost is composed of a few assumptions…

  • Duration – I found that most people thought about the costs of going to the Maldives in terms of the cost for a week. Most tour operators quoted their packages as such. So the cost is for 7 days which people seemed to both relate to and the data was readily available for (for starters, I used tour operator catalogues for research).
  • Half Board and Transfers – These considerations are meant to include the ‘whole’ cost of the holiday at the cheapest one could achieve. You have to include transfers because resorts that have a seaplane ride will be a few hundred dollars more expensive for that transfer. Half Board seemed like the reasonable minimum Board costs. Our family did Half Board our first few times when our budgets were tight. We ate huge buffet breakfasts late in the morning, skipped lunch, and then had a filling meal again at the resort buffet which is, again, all-you-can-eat. As a result, I could only get Full Board or All Inclusive rates for some resorts and I had to make an ‘adjustment’ allowing for the extra food and amenities at these rates. If I could determine the supplement cost for these Board levels, then I would simply deduct that amount. If an explicit amount was not published, I estimated £50 per day for Full Board and £100 per day for AI.
  • Lowest Room Category – The price researched was for the cheapest room category available. Again, I wanted people to be able to answer the question ‘what would it take’ to stay at this resort.
  • Feb 15 – The price of Maldive resorts varies quite dramatically across different high and low seasons. I chose mid-February as a semi-arbitrary compare point for several reasons…
    • High Season – I wanted a High Season rate so that people didn’t see a Low Season rate, think they could afford the resort, and then find the price for their time was much higher. High Seasons rates are also more consistent. Resorts typically sell-out at full price in High Season. On Low Season, people can find all sorts of bargains at all sorts of prices if resorts are trying to move unsold inventory. As a result, pegging a representive price point for Low Season is a lot harder.
    • Not a Holiday – ‘Xarla’ correctly pointed out on TripAdvisor that the very top prices are typically during Christmas/New-Year and Easter holidays. But the former typically includes special meals and entertainments, and the latter moves around from year to year. So February seemed a safe and consistent time where the prices would be most uniform.
    • From UK (and GBP pricing) – The packages differ by country because (a) different offers are available to different markets, and (b) airfare differs. I chose the UK because I was from the UK. The UK was the biggest source of guests back when I started researching. While the absolute cost might differ in other countries, the numbers should still provide a good relative comparison between the resorts.

Curiously, when I recently added the ‘Room Type’ Profiles, I adopted a slightly different definition for ‘Cost’ primarily because the type of information that you get on an individual Room Type differs from that available for Resorts overall. I had to make a few modifications to the ‘Approximate Cost’ listed…

  • US Dollars – The biggest source of information on individual room rate (especially these days) are the Room Quote capabilities and published rack rate listed on the resorts’ websites. These are always listed in US Dollars.
  • Bed & Breakfast – Looking at an individual room, it seemed to make more sense to just talk about the room price typically referred to at ‘B&B’ (Bed & Breakfast) or ‘RB’ (Room and Breakfast). Every resort includes breakfast as a part of the most basic rate. Again, if FB or AI rates were all I could find, I adjusted them as noted above.
  • One Night – While the ‘Resort Cost’ was listed per week, I listed the ‘Room Cost’ per night. It is just my assessment that people think of Resort costs per week and Room costs per night for comparison purposes.

Best of the Maldives: Loyalty Reward – W Retreat

W Retreat Starwood Preferred Guest

If your hotel loyalty endures as long as a Soneva house reef, then sign up for W Retreat’s Starwood Preferred Guest Program. I do a fair amount of business travel and have frequent stay points piled up for most hotel chains. And yet, when I have tried in the past to use these points for discounts or bonuses for a Maldives resort I have found that deep in the gotcha fine print that seems to pervade loyalty programmes that the Maldives properties were excluded. Often loyalty programmes try to pay off benefits with surplus inventory in low periods and for well run and popular resorts in the Maldives there simply isn’t much surplus.

Starwood is an big exception to this tendency. They embrace reward guests. In fact, on average 25% of their guest are members of the SPG programme. We have several friends who have gone there because of the Starwood points and though that it was the best hotel reward ever.  Mind you, a stay at the W Retreat will burn a few points, 95,000 for a beach villa, but the fact that so many people manage that is a testament to the generosity of the programme in giving out points as well as the popularity of the Starwood hotels to welcome so many stays.

Even better than a chocolate on the pillow.

Best of the Maldives: Dive Package – Palm Beach

Palm Beach dive centre

 

If you want a sweet package for diving, then Palm Beach still harkens back to an age of simple accommodations at rock bottom prices so all of one’s money can go on dives, dives, dives and more dives. It takes me back to the original dive resorts like Biyadhoo (before it was taken over by Jumeirah to be converted to Vittaveli) it was a Spartan place for divers on a budget to come, buy a beer, eat some fish curry, sleep in rooms with no TV, AC, phone or just about anything.

Palm Beach really leads the way with bargains. Like their exceptional Ful Board offering, they also have a package called ‘Dive Club’ which is almost like a Diving All Inclusive. They include special budget rooms in the interior and slightly smaller with very simple fixtures and fittings. But clean and neat and perfectly comfortable. But the real winner is that the room package includes *unlimited diving*! Dive Club is not advertised on their website so you need to email reservations for details and pricing.

 

Palm Beach dive units