Maldives Tour 2019: Maldives Weather in July

July Maldives weather

Per ritual, we checked the weather.com forecast for the Maldives the week before we departed. We tend to visit in July and pretty much the standard forecast is “Thunderstorms” EVERY day. But this time, several of the days showed the graphic above – pretty much a perfect depiction of Maldives weather in July. It combines in a single JPEG rain, cloud, thunder, sun. It’s basically the meteorological equivalent of saying “hell if we have a clue?!?”

One would think this profusion of thunderstorm forecasts would spark trepidation for our keenly anticipated trip to the tropical sun. It certainly does for a number of TripAdvisor Maldives Forum posters who fear their trip of a lifetime is going to be spoiled when they see these predictions. But, as I have described numerous times, you have to know how to interpret these forecasts.

When it says “Thunderstorms”, it doesn’t mean that thunder and lightning will be raining down on you from dawn till dusk. In fact, in many cases, the predicted storms hit at night when you are tucked comfily in your cozy villa and when you wake the sun is breaking through the clouds to dry up the puddles littering the sand-scape. The thing is that most of these storms come in quite isolated “little black rain clouds” (as Winnie the Pooh would say). Sometimes we entertain ourselves sipping cocktails and watching these storms approach our island and placing bets as to if it will hit us. It gets closer and closer with the sheets of rain becoming more and more visible. Sometimes it just bypasses us completely. Other times, it hits us full on and we scamper for cover while it passes over for a few minutes.

The video below is a classic example of one of these isolated “showers” we filmed at Faarufushi. We had just emerged from snorkelling (so a bit damp already) and the heavens just opened up on us. Strangely, the day was quite sunny and when you looked all around you saw plenty of blue sky. It’s just that one particularly sodden cloud decided to dump its precipitation on us then and there.

As I was flying amidst these mid-summer clouds themselves, I perused the Trans Maldivian Airways Magazine “Island Skies” piece from Eleonora Fiorini titled “It’s Always the Right Time to Visit the Maldives”. He starts off noting himself “Bruno’s father used to visit the Maldives islands every year for a month in July, and every time, he never had more than just a handful of consecutive days of rain.” The article goes on to look at Bruno’s meteorological study of the area explaining why Maldives weather is “basically nice all year round”. ]

First of all he noted that the Maldivian weather is, by definition, unstable saying “The climate at the Equator is like a boiling pot, and you have to guess where the next bubble will come up” (and micro”storms” like the shower in the video below is a perfect example of a little bubble of weather).

  • Constant Low Atmospheric Pressure – “first index of weather instability
  • Surrounded by Hot Water and Humidity – “it is enough that the atmospheric pressure drops slightly for the air around to raise enormous quantities of moisture from the ocean, dragging them into the atmosphere where they quickly condense generating clouds and downpours in a short time.”

But what the equatorial conditions do to volatility, they also do to moderation:

  • No Coriolis Effect – “…Which allows huge amounts of energy to be stored in the atmosphere, no hurricane can occur in the Maldives, and bad weather doesn’t last long.”
  • Low Moisture Accumulation – “The atmosphere is not able to accumulate amounts of energy so the bad weather episodes cannot last weeks as in other parts of the world.”
  • Highly Localisation – “If it is raining on our island, chances are that the sun shines brightly on a island located two sand banks south

Maldives Tour 2019: LUX North Male Atoll

LUX North Male Atoll - tour 4

It’s always great to finish a trip on a high, and LUX* North Male Atoll (LNMA) wasn’t just a highlight of our 2019 Tour…it was one of the high points of twenty years of visiting the Maldives. Not just because it is an exceptional resort in its own right, and not because it represents so well the spirit of creative innovation that I celebrate in this blog with “Best of the Maldives” series that I research extensively on these trips, but also because it was in several ways a crowning culmination of the past ten years of Maldives complete – the 100th Maldives resort that I had visited (more on that milestone later in the week).

LNMA’s sister property, LUX South Ari Atoll is one of the top holders of “Best of” distinctions (48, 3rd highest). So I couldn’t wait to see what LNMA had in store. Of course, I spotted a number of familiar signature LUX* fun features right away like Phone Home, Message in a Bottle, and Café LUX. After over a decade of writing about the best and most distinctive in the Maldives (with over 1,400 written), it becomes all the more difficult to find things that haven’t been done before. And yet, I found more potential (I always do a bit of follow up research) “Best Of’s” at LNMA than the other seven resorts visited this tour (30 identified for them).

But LUX North Male Atoll goes beyond the collection of signature touches of flair and innovation. The entire concept and execution of the property is more striking in its ambition and execution than any of the other 100 I have seen. Its hyper-contemporary stylings are an Instagrammer’s dream looking like something straight off the pages of Architectural Digest. If Jonathan Ive (of Apple fame) designed resorts, I would expect him to come up with something like this with its brushed concrete with burr wood highlights and textured finishes. Or perhaps Jean Paul Gaultier as the edgy, ultra-modern aesthetic (and its location venue in middle of the otherworldly destination of the Maldives) is what I imagine the Fhloston Paradise to be heading towards.

LNMA is the latest property splashing out the brilliant white palate for the villas (and, well, all its buildings). White is a central colour to the Maldives palette (along with palm jungle green and the ubiquitous tapestry of blue from sea to sky). The luminous hue of the coral sands, wispy clouds and waves crashing on outer edge of atoll. The Santorini-esque amplifies the brightness of the sunshine and make the whole place dazzle.

Some traditionalists poo-poo such modern constructions. I think they would like all of the Maldives to be fitted out with old-fashioned thatched huts like some sort of tropical Williamsburg. But fusion of modern with tradition, fabricated with natural, can meld the best of both with innovative new approaches. Much like LNMA’s own Peruvian/Japanese fusion restaurant “INTI”, blending two different worlds for an entirely fresh and unique new experience.

Design isn’t just about scrumptious materials and artistic rendering. It’s also about achieving satisfying function through inspired form. LNMA gets so right what so many resorts get so wrong – the view. Every single villa has a roof deck that provides that extra vertical dimension (in a locale defined by its very horizontality) of taking in the Maldives’ stunning vistas. One of my biggest pet peeves with Maldives resorts is when they mess up a view, and one of the aspects I appreciate most is when they accentuate a good one.

My enthrallment with LNMA wasn’t just because of its own dazzling aesthetic, but also because it exploded a few of pre-conceived notions I had…

  • Myth #1 – Male Atolls Are Not Remote: Being the eponymous home of the capital, the main airport, its busy port and a tight cluster of the some of the earliest properties, the image in my head was that the Male atolls are all a bit close to the action and to get truly remote you need to hop on a plane to a far-flung atoll. But cruising the 1 hour speedboat transfer to LNMA, I realized just how massive North Male atoll is. Halfway through the journey, there were hardly any islands in sight and I felt as removed from civilization as anywhere I had been in the Maldives.
  • Myth #2 – North Male Doesn’t Have Great Snorkeling/Coral: Again, I think this myth stems more from the 20 minutes radius around Male where tourism began and the growth of construction and activity have certainly stressed those reefs, but out at LNMA, the house reef was the most vibrant with coral growth on any we have seen for years.
  • Myth #3 – Islands on Reef Shelfs Have Weak Snorkeling – I’ve always associated the best house reefs with the inner atoll gum-drop islands. I thought that the islands at the atoll’s edge sat on broad plateaus where on one side the reef was inaccessible (with open ocean waves pounding on it) and on the other side far away and sloping without much drop-off. But LNMA’s house reef starts a few feet from east water villa jetty and goes directly to the overwater spa jetty (conveniently marked with a series of red buoys) making it extremely accessible with as lovely a drop-off as you’ll find.

These revelations of LNMA reminded me of my first visit to Singapore. My expectations were a bit apprehensive as reading about it, I feared that it might just be too contrived. I also thought that the slick aesthetic would probably be limited to a very contained and exclusive part of the city. But this urban metropolis wowed me. It wasn’t just modern, it was space-age. It wasn’t just glossy, but it was sensible and easy to take it. And it wasn’t just certain neighborhoods, but the modern quality pervaded the entire urban landscape.

Some people will be mesmerised by the many viral photos of LUX North Male Atoll which seems to just epitomise luxury and they won’t be disappointed. Others will be wary of its edgy aesthetic, but I they might just find that this spark of panache provides a bright new look at piece paradise tucked away on the remote edges of its namesake.

LUX North Male Atoll

Maldives Tour 2019: Dhigali

Tour 2019 - Dhigali

Someone who has put their customer-thinking cap on is Dhigali. Another Raa relative newcomer, it benefits hailing from the veteran Maldives stable of parent company Universal. Compared to our immediately preceding stop, the basic 5-star of Kudafushi, Dhigali has invested in a number of distinctive touches. And as such, its rack rates are also a bit higher. So are the touches worth the money? Well, that’s down to each individual guest (my mantra – “there’s no best resort…just the best resort for you”). But I will say, at least all of the special touches were clearly crafted with the guest in mind.

Dhigali have crafted an inspired sunset bar, Haali, with fun swings, comfy beach cushions. The other landscape feature they have optimised is the dense jungle of their island interior. They’ve created a little “Jungle Walk” through it which is a narrow path winding around with some guide signs posted providing fun factoids about the flora and fauna they pass. I love their main pool which sprawls and includes a number of enticing features. But my favourite optimisation is their Buggy Tracker app. Part of an overall handy app provided to all customers which is itself a superb innovation, the buggy tracker makes hitching a ride easy and convenient without the faff of calling for a buggy or waiting and wondering when one will be by.

Dhigali puts their touches of luxury into things that don’t just make the property look prettier, but more importantly directly enhance the pleasure and comfort of staying there.

Maldives Tour: 2019: Kudafushi

Kudafushi - Tour 2019

Don’t need all the fussy bells and whistles, but do want top notch quality throughout? Check out Kudafushi. It describes itself as an “entry level 5 star”. And it is positioned precisely where so many visitors want to be. They want to splash out for the luxury of seeing this paradise, they want to be assured of a solid standard of quality for the basic creature comforts, but on top of that they don’t really want to pay extra for lots of bonus amenities and luxuries that don’t exactly float their boat.

It’s an intriguing sub-segment, as I have seen a number of quite fine properties in the Maldives position themselves as “4+ stars”. So, what would be the difference between them and a starter for 5? I think the key thing is consistency. A 4+ might just have some quite exceptional features, but it also might have a number of aspects which really don’t make the 5-star grade. These resorts position themselves a “4+” so that guests are pleasantly surprised by the 5-star features without being slated on TripAdvisor for some of the aspects not quite at 5-star standard.

The property and its proposition reminded me of the UK High Street icon Marks and Spencers. “Marks and Sparks” are renowned for having simply the best quality, at a reasonable price, food and clothing. Smart looking basics like your first business suit, or your underwear. Curiously, while the clothing line is dependably mainstream, the food court section is a cut above most grocery competitors. Similarly, Kudafushi’s fare was quite distinctive. A destination leading pasta station, jumbo grilled prawns and homemade ice cream.

One area that was especially distinctive was the house reef. It had that relatively uncommon combination of both great lagoon snorkelling (lots of big coral blocks in shallows for easy snorkelling for beginners) and a rich, steep house-reef drop off. We encountered a lovely turtle in the shallows that we swam with for a while (he seemed totally nonplussed by our presence) and a manta had visited the house reef just a few days prior.

Kudafushi ticks every box for all the fundamentals of a great property. Lori (whose long and unruly hair is particularly challenged in the humid atmosphere and salty water of the Maldives) noted that even the shampoo in the villa was exceptionally good..  Kudafushi haven’t splashed out on lots of flashy design or opulent features, but every aspect is quite simply first rate. Smart and high standard throughout from the minute you arrive to the minute you leave.

Maldives Tour 2019: Reethi Faru

Tour 2019 - Reethi Faru

When you have a classic production, people just can’t get enough of it even with repeat after repeat. Like “Top Gun” whose long anticipated sequel has just had its trailer released last week, Reethi Beach is a long time Maldives resort classic with a cult following that goes back decades itself. So it is with eager anticipation that its fans (and others) awaited the launch of its successor property Reethi Faru a year ago.

Like all the best sequels, Faru stays true to the elements, formula and style which brought it success. Fine house reef (with even the occasional manta known to swim by). An all-natural aesthetic with pervasive sand floors and unkempt jungle interior. A laid-back and somewhat social vibe. And of course, affordable pricing.

And the sequels, building on the bankability of a proven formula, are always blessed with a bigger budget, bigger stage and more ambitious script. Reethi Faru is also taking the original concept to a new proportion. This expanded size does invariably alter the experience, making direct comparisons between the two more difficult. Faru is not quite as intimate as Reethi Beach, which is less than half its size. Faru still maintains the no-shoes, pervasive soft sand experience but with longer paths meandering through the tropical undergrowth. In fact, I think Faru is about the largest island we’ve been to without buggies or even bikes used to move people around. So bigger yes, but more bustling, no.

It’s hard for me to make a direct comparison to Reethi Beach as we visited it in one of our first tours back in 2010. Since that visit, Reethi Beach had a bit of refurb (a digital re-mastering if you will). Like Reethi Beach, Faru’s infrastructure and design is quite straightforward stuff. Not lots of fancy flourishes, but simple and smart looking. The rooms are quite handsome with inviting paintings of local scenes and a fresh, comfortable décor.

One cosmetic feature that does stand out is its flora. Like Reethi Beach, the island is jammed packed with trees and brush. And the resort has nurtured that lush landscape even further. They have nearly an acre large flower nursery growing all varieties of colourful blossoms to be spread around the island. And through the centre they have constructed a 100 metre long arbour. When the passionfruit plants enveloping it mature, it will be quite a romantic tunnel of love.

The avid fans of Reethi Beach who cherish its aboriginal terrain, an inviting house reef, a chilled island vibe and an affordable price tag, will applaud the release of Reeth Faru.

Maldives Tour 2019: Joali

Joali - Maldives Tour 2019

Joali is state of the art. Quite literally, as the first “art resort” in the Maldives. I will have to delve into this inspired concept and the expansive collection that manifests it in a later post(s). But the resort is not just about the finer things in life, but fine art itself. Different artists from around the world were commissioned to create a collection of works inspired by the islands themselves. The notion reminded me of the legendary Ice Hotel who annually invites a platoon of ice sculptors to carve ice blocks into stunning pieces of art.

A major source of Joali inspiration is sitting down and enjoying paradise. Much of the art is meant to be “experiential art” that is engaged with, the most common engagement is just sitting and enjoying paradise. The name “Joali” is from “Joli” the name for Maldivian swing chairs with “a” inserted to represent their Turkish Parent (Alibey). “When people are sitting in their joli, they are enjoying life”. Hailing from the “Chairboys” town of High Wycombe ourselves, we were especially fond of this motif.

I’ve already posted on Joali’s exquisite Manta loungers. The arrival jetty is masterfully inspired by Mantas. Less mimicking their outline and more capturing the graceful, sinuous flow of their languid swimming. Appropriately enough, a group of dozens of mantas were spotted passing by the reef just a week ago.

But museum quality pieces aren’t the only state-of-the-art that Joali boasts. The villa environmental controls are something you would expect in Bill Gates’ house. Every electrical item from lights to curtains to home entertainment are all easily controlled from the handy bed-side iPad. Furthermore, all the lights are also controlled by a user-friendly pad of room settings like “Enter” (turn all lights on), and “Exit” (turn all light off) or “Ambient” (just turn on the low, indirect lighting). And the curtain controls don’t just open and shut them, but allow you to specific precisely how far you want them opened or closed.

The resort’s distinctions and touches of elegance made our visit a treasure trove as we discovered as many Best of the Maldives pieces as we had for virtually all the other resorts visited so far put together.

Joali is a new masterpiece in the azure gallery of beauty that is the Maldives.

Maldives Tour 2019: You & Me

You and Me - tour 2019

Super-deluxe for the rest of us. Have you ever yearned for the stylishly exotic Swiss Family Robinson chic of Soneva/Gili/Six Senses, but couldn’t swing the budget? Or fantasized about dining under the waves in an undersea restaurant like Conrad/Kihavah/Hurawalhi, but shrunk away due to the price? How about enjoying the personalized service of a la carte dining, but worried about bill shock at the end of the stay? Or having your own personal butler to help ensure every detail of your dream trip is attended to? You & Me resort provides so many features of the super-premium experience, but at a more conventional 5-star price (rooms starting under $1000/night).

The a la carte approach is good for the environment as food wastage is dramatically reduced, but it is actually good for the guest as well. We always find ourselves simply over-eating at the ubiquitous buffets. You just can’t help yourself making one last trip for “just a taste” of that inviting dish you saw, or “just a sliver” of the dessert you couldn’t fit on your plate. We found ourselves enjoying healthy meals without the post-prandial bloating and regret when we avail ourselves at the troughs of buffets.

Their H2O underwater restaurant was one of the most memorable activities of our two decades of visiting the Maldives. The facility is a sterling example of these special portals to the sub-aquatic wonderland of the Maldives with broad, open glass including an entirely glass semi-circle section at the far end. The meal is a luxurious gourmet meal featuring a range of seafood delights. Yes, apropos to the venue, but we did feel a little self-conscious eating in front of all these aquatic creatures. But the star of the night was the special appearance by the most charismatic visitor of all, a resident octopus (see below). He entertained us with chameleon colours and dazzling shape-shifting. He scooted from coral cropping to coral cropping enveloping it and transforming to match it. The surrounding fish seemed to take as much interest in his activity as we diners did. We thought that maybe he was trying to suck out fish babies hiding in the coral and the fish were trying to ward him off. It turns out that he was actually blowing into the coral to flush out stuff hiding and settled there, and the other fish were trying to steal some of the scattered pickings.

You & Me has been designed with the same emphasis on flair as their sister resort, Cocoon. For example, H20 was designed by the same Italian designer who crafted much of Cocoon’s distinctive look, Daniele Lago. For people looking for opulent luxury at an affordable price, You & Me offers the aesthetic brio and many amenities of the finest resorts at a more manageable price.

Maldives Tour 2019: Faarufushi

Faarufushi - tour 2019

Pristine Maldives. The unspoilt natural beauty combined with a fresh new property of contemporary flair define the Faarufushi resort.

When we first started coming to the Maldives over 20 years ago, there was only a single property in the Raa atoll. None of the dive books had hardly any dive sites listed for it. It remained for years an untouched corner of this paradise destination. In recent years, a dozen new resorts have launched opening up this remote area. Now in an era of sustainability and environmental awareness, their development and operation aim to have much less impact on the surroundings than their less woke predecessors in the other atolls. And in this relatively undiscovered atoll, the most far-flung is Faarufushi. Situated the northmost of all and furthest from all the other neighbours.

During our visit, we were fortunate enough to be able to explore some of the dive sites that heretofore have only been seen by safari boats. A number of the dive sites in the area haven’t even been dived yet. The whole experience felt quite privileged. We were visiting the top dive sites in the area. Sites with a noticeable amount of more colourful coral and vibrant marine life (though apparently fewer of crowd-pleasing sharks). A yet there were no other divers on the site. The top sites in the other atolls are usually crawling with divers from surrounding resorts. In fact, there weren’t even any other dive boats on the water for as far as the eye could see. A pristine sub-aquatic wonderland all to ourselves.

For the non-divers, the house reef is a delight. It has been hit by bleaching over the years, but it seemed more alive than many reefs we have snorkelled in recent years. Just enough coral peeking back as well as squadrons of colourful fish. It is a bit of a swim from shore (100m), but the dive centre jetty drops you conveniently right at the drop off.

The pristine aesthetic wasn’t limited to the water. The resort itself was paragon of freshness and care. Carefully preserved original, dense palm canopies draped over the meticulously manicured flowers and eye-pleasing gardening across the grounds.

The food itself is also clean and fresh. The Executive Sous Chef Bir Yadav describes the “lightness in the menu” which the kitchen is striving for which means minimizing starches and ingredients that can bloat you. And the presentation boasts some of the most distinguished flourishes in the Maldives (stay tuned for details).

Maldives Tour 2019: Thulhagiri

Tour 2019 - Thulhagiri

Thulhagiri is an island that many old-hand Maldives aficionados dream of. It seems like the most common complaint among the veteran sufferers of Maldivitis are the lack of affordable properties with good food, service, views and a house reef. Thulhagiri has all of these and more. Maybe that’s why they were at pretty much 100% occupancy during what is traditionally a low season.

Classic Maldives. A resort that has been around for a while, but has been well maintained and updated (eg. bathrooms) so it still feels fresh. Soft sand (including in the bars and restaurant), extensive tasty buffet.

And the classic main event at the Maldives is the shore. The beach above and the house reef below. And Thulhagiri boasts exceptional examples of both. The soft white sand beach is massive for the size of the island. And the house reef is everything you’d expect from an inner atoll gum drop of an island. And exits and entries are laid out with red buoys about every quarter of the reef’s circumference. We headed clockwise with the current from the exit by the dive centre and it took us a leisurely 45 minutes to reach the next red buoy which guided us in with a rope laid to shore. Along the way, we enjoy plummeting reef walls off which schools of colourful fish lingered. The treat of the day was coming across probably the biggest reef shark we had ever seen snorkeling (close to 2 metres) only to be followed by another pair of good sized adults swim right by us only a few feet away (rare for such skittish creatures).

The island hasn’t established any set pathways. All of the under-canopy is kept tidy so you can walk feely (joining other curious critters who do so including Crab Plovers, Parakeets and Bunnies). Sometimes you do have a somewhat adventurous weave around low hanging branches and direction deviating greenery. But it makes it feel more like a natural island with some villas on it instead of a manufactured tract.

We thought Thulhagiri would be an ideal contender for someone’s first visit to the Maldives especially if they had a more limited budget and they wanted to enjoy the classic Maldives resort experience.

Maldives 2019 Tour: Arrival

Tour 2019 Bunyamin

We’re on our way! Whew. It’s a shame that Turkish Airways which excels in so many ways as an airline to take to the Maldives, especially with its sparkling new Istanbul hub, is so Byzantinely archaic with its website and ticket purchasing.

Seriously, Turkish Airlines online system is a disaster. It took me 2 hours to purchase the ticket. And then, because of a fault in their system, the booking required a repair that took (no exaggeration) over 4 hours of my patient time on the telephone to fix. Here are some of the most glaring problems that hit me…

  • English Illiteracy – The biggest problem of all that triggered so many problems is that Turkish Airlines considers ALL of your forenames (ie. your first name and any middle names) to be your “First Name”. When it asks for your “First Name”, it wants you to enter them in one big string. So for me, my “First Name” is “BRUCECHARLES”. Maybe this is some sort of Turkish language convention, but it is not English. And if they want to follow this esoteric grammatical convention, then they need to be much more explicit about it on their website. Instead, it just shows the following…Turkish Airlines - webform

    My “Name” as shown in my Passport is “Bruce”. But when I entered that, all hell broke loose. It did not match mile Miles & Smiles record (which had me as a “Bruce”). As a result, half of the functions didn’t work in the online booking (eg. seat selection, passenger passport information).

  • Poor Data Integration – So I call the Miles & Smiles programme on the phone. When you call, they ask you to enter your membership number and then they laboriously repeat it and ask you to confirm it. When you get through, what’s the first question they ask you?…”What’s your membership number?” (which you have to laboriously repeat to someone for whom English is not their first language).
  • Poor Customer Service Training – I called their Customer Service center before I had completed my ticket booking due to the problems of putting “Bruce” as my “Name” for some guidance on how to resolve the problems it was presenting. The useless Customer Service rep then told me to do something which was the exact opposite of what someone should do and something which ended up costing me 4 hours of further aggravation. She told me that if I just went ahead and paid for the ticket, all the issues would resolve themselves. Simples right? So I followed her instructions. The issues did not go away.
    So I called the service centre again. This rep informed me of the huge problem that I now had on my hands. He explained that for Turkish Airlines, “Name” meant this conglomeration of all your non-surnames (ie. “BruceCharles” in my case). He said that I would have to change the name on the ticket or else at the airport I would be refused getting on the plane (because the “Name”…well, Turkish Airline perverse notion of what a “Name” is).
    • Ok, got it…let’s fix the name.”
    • “Sorry sir, I can’t do that. You will have to go onto our website and fill out an online complaint form and then in 7-10 days we will get back to you as to whether we determine that your request to change you name is approved and then you can call back with your reference number and the name might be able to be changed.”
    • “What if someone determines that it can’t be changed?”
    • “Then you lose the entire ticket and the £2000+ you paid
      #facepalm (I did not go into an apoplectic fit of rage because I still had confidence that sanity would previl at some point
  • Antiquated Computer Systems – After 10 days I got an email saying that my application to change the name on my ticket from “Bruce” to “BruceCharles” had been approved. All I had to do now is call their customer support center and sort everything out. They explained that their (medieval) computer systems would not allow them to change the name on the ticket so we would have to cancel the old tickets, arrange for full refunds and then book new ones from scratch. Good grief.
  • Using American Express Confuses Them – As I had faced when I booked, they seem to have no idea how American Express works. When I booked my tickets, the website asked for the “3 digit security code the back of the card”. Well, lacking all confidence in their competence at this point, I went ahead and put in the FOUR digit security code which is the convention for Amex cards (even though they do have their own 3 digit on the back of the card) which worked. Also, American Express cards can be used for booking flights, but not for booking seats. Which I discovered through trial and error. The customer service rep didn’t have a clue. He knew that Amex was accepted for some things and not other…but he didn’t know which things.
  • Even More Antiquated Transaction Systems – It turns out that for some reason they could not process the new credit card charge in one transaction. Instead, I had to enter my credit card details once for my new ticket and one for Lori’s new ticket. Each time, the service rep switched me to an over-the-phone system to tediously enter (and confirm) my credit card details. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had purchased extra-leg room seat and those purchases all needed to be paid for individually. That’s 2 legs (Istanbul flight change), 2 directions (going and returning) for 2 people. I had to go through the torturous phone credit card entry EIGHT times (hence the 4 hours on the phone).

It is a shame that the process of buying a ticket on Turkish Airlines is so painful, because the process of actually travelling with them is really quite a treat. Speaking of treats, the food served is actually quite tasty. Nothing Cordon Bleu, but I found everything from the Mediterranean salad to the mousse dessert to be very palatable (I usually find something in an airline’s food service that I just can’t stomach).

But it is the transfer in Istanbul that really distinguishes Turkish Airlines. With the rise of Asia, the Middle East is indeed in the middle of everything. The junction of these two continents (not to mention emerging Africa to the south). Hence, the race by Emirates (Dubai), Qatar Airlines (Doha) and Turkish Airlines (Istanbul) to establish themselves as the hub of the eastern hemisphere. Despite, the former two airlines extravagant airports and extensive service, Turkish Airlines is now really winning this race by clear blue water.

Turkish has long been able to exceed all other in service options. This means that you have the most choice of flights to suit your schedule and the shortest lay-over times (I can always find Turkish Airlines flights with a total travel time of about 13 hours, while the shortest I can find with the competition is about 15). It has flights leaving every couple of minutes in and out of Istanbul 24 HOURS A DAY.

In most other airports, things are shuttered up late at night and the floor polishers are out by the janitorial staff. When we did our transfer at 2:00 am, Istanbul airport was like Grand Central Station buzzing with passengers filling its cavernous terminal packed with more extensive stores than Westfield shopping centre. Istanbul has always had a busy terminal, the epitome of late-night shopping and round the clock bustle. But recently it just opened it state-of-the-art monstrosity Istanbul Airport which took their hub game to a whole new level. More space, more amenities, more stores, more restaurants, more inviting architecture and décor (see photo below).

Ever since BA stopped its non-stop service to the Maldives in the summer months, we have been using Turkish Airlines more or less satisfactorily (we especially appreciate its in-flight entertainment system which shows a live video of the plane landing), but after the ticketing fiasco this year and the plans for BA to resume direct service next year, I suspect that our Constantinople stop-over will come to an end.

The best part of our journey was being greeted at Arrivals by Maldives’ own digital ambassador, Bunyamin Ahmed (see photo below). Maldives and Bunyamin…#WeMeetAgain!

Istanbul Airport