Maldives Tour 2015 – Day 5: Zitahli Kudafunafaru

Zitalhi Kudafunafaru - tour

Sometimes good things do come in big packages. Big resort, big villas, big common areas, big house reef, big (well, gargantuan) beach. The key thing that is not big about Zitahli Kdafunafaru is the price.

Actually, the island itself is moderately sized (250m x 750m). And a massive chunk of that is its expansive soft, white sand beach (Fun fact – the sand bank at the tip of the island “wags like a tail” as the monsoon currents shift its position around).

The resort can keep the individual scale generous because it has built a relative modest number of 50 villas on the island. A serious 5-star property that ticks all the boxes of well-appointed comfort and service, but a contender for one of the best value 5-stars in the Maldives (Kudafunafaru has 2 of the best 10 prices per square foot among 5 star properties).

In many respects, Kudafunafaru is the answer to many UK Maldives veterans’ lamentations. I read countless complaints about Maldives crowded dive sites, noisy motorised water sports, small beaches, unaffordable prices and fussily posh styling. Kudafunafaru doesn’t have any of that. What it does have is the 6th lowest guest population density of a dedicated resort island in the Maldives. In fact, it’s remote location, low guest population density and lack of motorised waters ports makes it a contender for one of the quietest and the most peaceful resort in the Maldives.

The voluminous scale doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. We’ve not seen table coral this big since Bandos. The house reef extends for a long way, but it really does require either a strong snorkeler or guided assistance as it is quite a ways out and in relatively deep water. Or you can go even further out and sample one of the dozens of untouched dive sites of the Noonu atoll with their Werner Lau dive master, Julie. We asked for Ribbon Eels and she delivered Ribbon Eels. Four in fact – 3 juveniles and a blue male with a yellow stripe (QI feature to follow on this amazing creature).

Kudafunafaru makes a big impression on everything but your wallet.

Maldives Tour 2015 – Day 4: Coco Bodu Hithi

Coco Bodu Hithi snorkeling

Stick to the classics and you can never go wrong.” – Alexa Chung

More Mayfair than Soho. More Connaught than Crazy Bear. More Corrigans than Balthazar. Coco Bodu Hithi skirts the trendy chic in favour of timeless elegance. It’s the kind of boutique property that Rick Steves would feature for its character and good value.

An example of their subtle style is the tiles used extensively in their décor (eg. pool, bathroom). At first glance, I was unsure about the tiles (natural stone and brushed concrete being the new trendy materials), but on closer inspection I realised just how exquisite they were. Very inviting colours tinged with subtle streaks of gold in each. We admired them so much, we are considering looking for something similar for our next house renovation.

I’ve long paid homage to the creative Room Art that so many resorts treat their guests to and Coco Bodu Hithi adorned our bed with a gallery worthy piece. Coco’s artistry extends from the bedroom to the breakfast table in such a notable way that it inspired me to add a new Album of “Food Art” to the Maldives Complete Pinterest. The ingenious Maldives flag in tri-colour pancake batter was featured for this week’s Maldives Independence Day post.

Indeed, an essential ingredient to classic luxury is gourmet fare. Some of our most memorable food we have eaten in the Maldives was at their sister resort Coco Palm Dhoni Kholu way back in 2004 (mango chicken salad, mmmm). Bodu Hithi didn’t disappoint. Every menu (we ate at 3 different restaurants) featured a range of not just well prepared food, but delectable recipes that brought them to life.

Coco Bodu Hithi is an impeccable 5-star classic.

[photo of Lori and I above shot by marine biologist Chiara during house reef snorkel]

Maldives Tour 2015 – Day 3: JA Manafaru

JA Manafaru - tour

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that there is nothing to do in the Maldives. If they do, send them to JA Manafaru. It’s like a no boredom zone in paradise.

They have a wide range of the typical activities from water sports to tennis, fitness, etc. They have live entertainment…every night! Most typically, they have live singers come in, but the resort is so committed to the entertainment experience, they have their very own Boduberu group comprised of staff members. Boduberu animations are pretty conventional fare in the Maldives, but Manafaru’s had a bit different vibe. With familiar faces singing and beating, the guests seemed a bit more comfortable joining in and soon the dance floor was packed with guests giving this traditional dance a go.

The highlight of their entertainment on tap is their expansively equipped games area called the “Chill Zone”. Every form of pastime is there including foosball, pool, a luxury mahjong table, ping pong, board games. They also have a state-of-the-art cinema for watching films (for a late night chill or a “plan B” for those rare rainy days).

The classic activity in the Maldives is exploring the underwater wonders. The house reef is not that accessible, but the resort runs many excursions to exceptional, untouched sites. But the headline excursions are the dive trips. The head of their dive school, Bea, literally wrote the book on Haa Alifu diving. She set up shop even before the construction on Manafaru had started and explored most of the virgin dive sites herself and with her team. (I’ll be adding dozens more dive charts for the area when I get home thanks to her Sun Diving centre.) Some of the “worth the trip” features are Nasfaru’s Ribbon Moray, Kurolhi Thila’s Albino Moray and Becky’s Caves soft coral wall.

Of course, if you choose to “do nothing”, you can “do” that too. In fact, the resort’s answer to Hideaway’s “double housereef” is Manafaru’s own “double beach”. The first is one of the top beaches in the Maldives (judged by size, extent around the island, softness of sand, and depth of sand). But across the lagoon is an uninhabited island called Medhafushi, which also sports its own stunning chunky necklace of bright white sand. And on the inside of the island, they have an equally extensive spa compound (that is definitely one of the largest in the Maldives), for more pampered “doing nothing”.

Maldives Tour 2015 – Day 2: Hideaway Beach

Island Hideaway - tour

And in this corner, challenging for the title of Best Maldives Resort in the 5-Star weight class, wearing the black-and-white brand colours – Hideaway Beach. Not the best resort in the Maldives. Not the “best” of the super-premium “5+” stars (sometimes referred to by the apocryphal “6 star” designation). But the best of the classic “5-star” category. That is what Hideaway is aiming for and based on my investigation, it makes a serious run at the title.

Like a fighter who wants to win the Heavyweight title. Not bulk up to win the Super Heavyweight one. Hideaway focuses on luxurious touches that are top class, not over-the-top. That raise eyebrows, but don’t make you roll your eyes. That cater to the taste of millionaires, not billionaires.

My visit also allowed me to connect with the third TripAdvisor Destination Expert (well, DE-emeritus) during one of our visitsKat Anthony. A 13-year veteran of Maldives management and one of the most respected authorities on Maldives resorts in the world. Kat is one of the first big name transfers in a Hideaway dream team that Carsten Sheick is assembling to take Hideaway to the top of the 5-star league table. They are in the middle of an ambitious programme to take the already superb Hideaway to knockout levels while still keeping it squarely in the 5-star class (eg. no underwater squash courts, no gold leaf adorned haute cuisine,).

I couldn’t fault Hideaway in any way and that is part of their focus. Getting all of the fundamentals impeccably right. And then adding a few fun, creative and thoughtful touches to spice the experience with distinction.

Another defining characteristic of the resort is “big”. It is a big island – 1,000 meters by 300 meters. Usually bigger islands are found on atoll plateaus which make for a weak or distant housereef, but Hideaway has as rich and accessible housereef as you will find on any inner-atoll classic poka-dot island. It’s just that there is a lot more of it. In fact, Hideaway has so much housereef that it is the only resort to boast a “double house reef” (details to follow).

The scale of the island has also translated to the scale of the accommodation. All of the villas are suites with living areas. This layout makes them great for families. Both for family games and hanging out, but also for extra sleeping accommodation if needed for children. In fact, their Hideway Palace was for a long time the largest single villa “complex” in the Maldives (though Soneva Fushi’s recent goliaths have surpassed it). Mind you, the price for the Palace is a not so crazy with a peak season rack rate of just over $4,000 USD which when you consider that it can house 12 people makes the price a sane ~$330 person (in fact, Hideaway Beach has 4 of the top 10 “Lowest Cost Per Square Foot” positions of the 5-star Maldives properties and the Hideaway Palace sits t #8). So if you want to unleash your inner Philip Green by having a large bunch of friends or family for a getaway to tropical paradise, you could rent out this “room”. Kat tells me that it is a great “party” villa (though the term “villa” sort of undersells it…it is really more of a “compound”).

If you are a work-hard-play-hard kind of person who has earned the treat of one of the world’s special experiences like a trip to the Maldives, and you value the finer things in life, but also value your hard earned money enough to not go splashing it around on extravagant excess, then Hideaway should be on your shortlist.

Maldives Tour 2015 – Day 1: J Resort Alidhoo

J Resort Alidhoo - tour

After last year’s visit to the Maldives’ southernmost (big) atoll, Gaafu Alifu / Gaafu Dhaalu (Addoo aka Seenu is further south, across the Equator even, but it is quite small), this year we’re first off to the other extreme to its northernmost big atoll Haa Alifu. Hanimadhoo (an island which has a small runway for prop-planes) is so far up north, it is just one hour’s plane ride from India. After this tour, we will have visited 63 resorts in total and we will have literally visited Maldives top to bottom.

I am looking forward to this tour with a bit extra anticipation simply because many of the resorts in this area are really less well known. They are less talked about on TripAdvisor. For example, our first resort J Resort Alidhoo has 2 reviews and 15 TA Maldives Forum mentions (versus 1,267 and 2,497 respectively for a popular favourite like Kurumba). So the basic research side of the trip should be most helpful.

Our first stop was the very little known J Resort Alidhoo as it has mostly catered to the Chinese market in recent years. But there are some aspects to the resort that could appeal very strongly to the European market. The resort is in transition at the moment, but that means a chance to pick up a real deal. Everyone is looking for a modestly priced island. Especially, if they want to bring the family which ratchets up the bill even more. The Alidhoo rooms are big and well appointed. They are very reminiscent in scale and layout to W Retreat (in fact the same designer worked on both) but with simpler, more modest finishes. On top of the faded cosmetic wear, some of the infrastructure needs a revamp and the resort is even having some operational issues (eg. the bar was not well stocked). 

But if you can look past these foibles, then you have a delightful gem of a Maldivian island with an accessible housereef, in an relatively off-the-beaten track atoll, with commodious accommodation for less than a cheap hotel and a Spaghetti House meal in London. Their current off-season Full Board rate is $208 per night for the Beach Villa and an astonishing $308 per night for the water villa. And the resort is happy to add extra beds to add up to three children.

The meals are classic fresh reef fish and fresh tropical fruit. How bad can it be? And, the main restaurant looks over the expansive infinity pool which looks over the ocean. It produces an inviting raked amphitheater effect focusing on the star attraction – Maldives azure vista.

We always say that you could stay in a cardboard box on a Maldivian island and it would still be one of the most thrilling and sumptuous holidays of your life. J Resort Alidhoo is far from perfect, and it has plans in the works for a revamp.  In the meantime, it offers so much for its incredibly modest price. A real bargain opportunity for the patient and forgiving.

Maldives Tour 2015 Take Off

Turkish Airlines - landing screen

Our 14th trip to the Maldives and my 6th Tour and before I’ve even arrived I have experienced a few “firsts”…

  • 1st Transfer Flight to Maldives –When I first started visiting the Maldives, the tour operator flights on Monarch Airways stopped in Bahrain for refuelling, but you stayed on the same plane. In recent years, I’ve always flown direct usually on the trusty BA2043 (though one year I tried the Sri Lankan Airways direct flight).
  • 1st Time in Turkey – Transfer in Istanbul had me set foot on Turkey for the first time in my life (though I can’t really tick it off my country list since I didn’t officially “enter”).
  • 1st Time on Turkish Airways – I travel quite a bit for both business and pleasure using a range of carriers (I favour BA for the miles and perks of my Silver status, but I readily choose a more convenient or better priced option), I had never used Turkish Airways. Generally quite impressed (see below).
  • 1st Full Atoll Itinerary – I typically focus my Tours on a particular atoll for the mere sake of logistics. It’s easier to speedboat to the next resort across the water than jockeying seaplane transfers through Male. Despite my efforts, I have in the past always missed off a resort or two. But this year’s trip to Haa Alifu and Noonu hits all the active resorts there.

With BA’s recent service reduction to Male for half the year, I was forced to succumb to the dreaded stop-over flight. The transfer was Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. One would think that with Istanbul/Constantinople’s heritage as the gateway between Occident and Orient an airway hub would be a prime opportunity for Turkey to reassert its position at the center of the Eastern Hemisphere.

And it appears that they are certainly thinking along these lines. The airport is quite an extensive place, but what really sets it apart is its crossroads role. We arrived late in the evening around 11:00 pm. In every airport I have ever been to (and I have been to a fair few), this sort of hour is when the airport is pretty much closing up. The stores and restaurants are shuttered, the terminals empties, the lights dimmed, the janitorial staff buffing floors as the final arrivals filter in. At Istanbul airport, midnight might as well as be noon. The place was packed with passengers all in transit to their ultimate destination (so packed that Lori and I struggled to find a free seat to sit down). Destinations all over Europe and Asia listed on the Departures board showed a regular stream of flights taking off throughout the wee hours of the morning. .

Turkish Airways mostly impressed me, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. First the good news…

  • Price – Not a huge differentiator as our tickets were maybe £100 cheaper than the alternatives, but they were the cheapest.
  • Selection – Turkish Airways had by far the most flight options for us. This helped considerably to craft just the right itinerary which accommodated our schedules on departure and arrivals to a tee.
  • Timing – Most east-to-west long haul flights are pleasant day-time affairs as chasing the sun keeps the whole journey confined to a single day. But most west-to-east long hauls entail an overnight. That is where stop-overs (especially with changes) can cause problems. When we first used to fly charters to the Maldives, they would depart London very late and stop in Bahrain at about 5:00 in the morning. You were just getting to peak bleariness when you had to drag your bleary-eyed self off the plane while they refuelled to wander around a duty free and modest café. The Male itinerary left late afternoon (giving us a full morning to ourselves to sort final personal details out at home) and arrived in Istanbul in less than a 3 hours (a hop short enough to not really get uncomfortable). And then you could disembark and stretch your legs a bit before boarding for the red-eye portion of the trip.
  • Hub – As noted above, all the stores and restaurants were open with some decent choices including international standards like Burger King and Sbarro.
  • Courtesy Pack – Choppard badged courtesy kit with little slippers and the obligatory toothbrush kit and eye mask (see picture below)
  • Take-Off/Landing Video – This fun feature brings a bit of spectacle to take-offs and landings to or from any airport, but in the Maldives the vista is all the more spectacular cruising into one of the most beautiful airport approaches in the world.
  • Internet – In flight Internet for a very reasonable 1 hour for $10 USD and 24 hours for $15.
  • Big Bathrooms – Not really sure what benefit this is unless you just find the typical airline water closet a bit claustrophobic, but TA has the biggest bathrooms I have seen.
  • Dinner – Quite a tasty meal. I’m a bit tired of the chicken curry / stewed beef / cheese pasta selection on most long hauls. So the poached salmon and mashed potatoes was a fine little treat with credible accompaniments (including chocolate mousse which I think all airlines should default to for their go-to dessert. It’s hard to screw it up and who doesn’t like chocolate whip?).
  • Entertainment – Substantial high resolution screens (about iPad sized) with a good range of shows, games and other things on demand.
  • Tea – The hottest tea I have had on an airplane (and it tasted lovely). It makes me wonder even more by British Airways, the flagship carrier for the land of the cuppa, has to serve such tepid dishwater.

But Turkish Airlines also had a few disappointments…

  • Orderliness – The boarding queue was just short of a Ryanair scrum for a Malaga flight on mid-term break. The blatant disregard for order and rules came to peak as dozens of passengers stood up from their plane seats while it was still taxing in from the runway. Not a few feet from the terminal, but virtually as soon as the plane touched the ground. Unfortunately, Turkish Airways didn’t do much to manage the chaos and just let the throng rule.
  • Hub – Yes, I know I listed this one as a “positive” also (I’ll give it its due credit for a few assets). Despite its scale, Istanbul airport is just two cartons of live chickens short of a third world airport. The toilets are the worst of any major airport I have been to. It’s cramped, overcrowded, and ill-equipped. Happy to get on the plane to Male.
  • Breakfast – The “Turkish Pastry” was, well, interesting even to my eclectic palate, but the “scrambled eggs” were, hmmm, ridiculous. I had to look on the menu card to see what this yellowy runny foam was. Some exotic middle eastern delicacy? No, probably powdered eggs hardly cooked. Probably the worst item of food I have ever been served on a plane (and that includes my travels on Air Afrique in the 80s!).

Descending on the magical, otherworldly paradise of the Maldives is always a treat (enhanced this trip by the Turkish Airways nose camera). Ibrahim Nassim Airport itself continues to develop and expand. The latest welcome addition is a Wellness spa right at the entrance so you can have one final indulgent treatment before boarding your plane (we had a delay in our domestic transfer and took the opportunity to have some foot massages)

?yi Yolculuklar!

 

[POSTSCRIPT] If you are in the Maldives relaxation/spa frame of mind, Istanbul airport does offer a few options for that prelude or postlude treatment.  Unfortunately, none of them are listed on the airport’s directory of “Services”

  • TAV Airport Hotel has a spa offering massage treatments (opens 8:00 am)
  • Tuina Spa is located by Gate 215 offering chair back/neck/shoulder massage, foot massage and “aqua massage” all for $2 per minute (make sure you get the older women who are more expert)
  • Massage Chairs (4) are located by Gate 300 (coin-op).

 

Turkish Airlines - complementary bag

Maldives Tour 2014 – Review

Maldives Complete in sand

Tour 5 At-a-Glance…

  • 10 islands
  • 3 atolls
  • 5 new Resort Profile pix
  • 74 new Room Type Profile pix
  • 143 ‘Best of the Maldives” pieces
  • 2 ideas for Maldives Complete website enhancements
  • 19 Snorkel Spottings
  • 34 pages of notes
  • 5 dives
  • 4 spa treatments
  • 11 pina coladas

A few over-arching observations from my latest tour.  The “super premiums” (5+ stars) just keep coming with new distinctions and new options for style and luxury.  But you can still find fine value resorts that won’t break the bank (eg.  Royal, Chaaya Island Dhonveli).  The development of new atolls opens up new exciting new discoveries both on land and underwater.  Some other observations include…

  • Gaafu Alifu – Is Gaafu Alifu a rival to the South Ari Atoll’s crown for best diving and snorkeling? South Ari has the whale shark allure, but the dolphins of Gaafu Alifu are also thrilling and a lot more prevalent and predictable. We saw dolphins every day of our trip to Gaafu Alifu including a pod of dozens and a family of three who visited us during a dive (wow!).
  • Chinese – The rise of the Chinese visitors to the Maldives is well documented, and some of stereotypes about them have made some prospective guests apprehensive about resorts popular with the Chinese.
    • Everywhere – First of all, the prevalence of this group is not isolated to certain resorts, but is pretty extensive across the Maldives. The Chinese love this place. There are lots of affluent Chinese these days and the Maldives is a lot closer to China (6 hour plane trip) than to Europe. There was not a resort we visited where Chinese visitors were not prominent.
    • Fine Behaviour – Given the stereotypes, I paid particular attention to their behaviour. And instead of confirmation bias, I found quite the opposite.  The Chinese behaved identically to every other nationality. I’m sure people can point to instances of bad behaviour by Chinese, but I have witnessed bad behaviour in the Maldives by absolutely every nationality.  There are acknowledged cultural weaknesses with their swimming (many Chinese don’t learn to swim), but resorts have adapted to that with better communication, education and safety approaches for these guests.
  • Departure Tax – Maldives recently re-introduced a departure tax. Maldives veterans will remember a period back when you had to keep a certain amount of dollars cash on hand to pay this fee at the airport when you left. While there were rumours circulating they were re-introducing this system, they appear to have mostly incorporated it into flight charges in your plane ticket. When we left, there was no sign of any departure tax collection.

These trips are also a focusing lens which inspires ideas on how I can improve the website. I spend a lot of my time during the tours talking to fans of the site and hearing their feedback and questions. This year, I have come home with the following plans…

  • House Reef Profiles – Maldives Complete has long been the only site with house reef information, but that was limited to a very crude grading. I have long been torn on how to provide a richer perspective. House reefs are quite diverse with a number of characteristics which affect their enjoyment. Also, a number of resorts have weak “house reefs”, but have some impressive coral in their “lagoons”. Mulling over the issue while snorkelling off Soneva Fushi I came upon the solution – a House Reef Profile. I am going to do a whole house reef profile page with information such as the following…
    • Regeneration efforts (y/n)
    • Drop Off Coral rating
    • Lagoon Coral rating
    • YouTube Link (lots of YouTube vids now thanks to GoPro)
    • Snorkel Spottings (total number, most recent, and most prominent)
    • Residents (critters renowned for regular appearances in predictable places)
    • Distance to Drop Off (metres)
    • Dive Center email address
    • Marine Biologist email address
  • Design Refresh – My niece Katrina, a design student at Cornell, had been urging me to update the look and feel of the site with a fresher and more modern layout. Enough people have felt that a bit of spiffing up would be a boost to its appeal and popularity. I had considered changes in this area but have always been hesitant for a couple of reasons…
    • Skill – I’m not a professional web site designer and working up the expertise to make some of the changes would be a fair amount of effort.
    • Difficulty – Most of the site is focused on utilitarian functionality which has some pretty sophisticated code behind it and moving that around it not super easy.
    • Platform – I built the site back in my days at Microsoft and like a good corporate citizen, I used the portfolio of Microsoft tools. As has become pretty apparent, Microsoft ended up not faring so well in the online space and so many of those tools have obsolesced (eg. Community Server, DeepZoom, Silverlight) and been surpassed by superior tools (eg. WordPress, HTML5). Moving the complex functionality not to mention the extensive database of archived material is not a trivial task.
    • Artisinal – Finally, I kind of like the simplistic look of the site. It has a sort of artisanal charm that sets it apart from the ubiquitous and uniform glossy travel sites.

Until next time (can’t wait)!

Maldives Tour 2014 – Day 11: Kurumba

Kurumba tour 5

The Cliveden of the Maldives. A grand stately home that has kept up with the times refreshing and reinventing itself to maintain its revered status as a 5-star icon.

With our obsession for discovering new resorts, we have an unofficial policy to avoid repeat visits. Kurumba is like that is the exception to that rule. It is on my short list of all-time favourite Maldive resorts. I never hesitate to recommend it to someone keen to come to the Maldives, wants to enjoy a bit of luxury while here, but is on a budget. For your money you won’t find a higher standard room, higher class of service or and you get one of the most vibrant house reef in terms of fish life (coral has a way to go but they are investing in regeneration efforts) that you will find as a bonus.

The perennial question mark over Kurumba is that it is “close to Male”. The Maldive purists will say that the ideal island needs to be as far away from civilization as possible. A part of that trepidation is the airport at Male. The sound of the periodic passing plane has never bothered me much. It’s not like MLE is LHR so it’s not that frequent. And I actually find that the turbo-prop seaplanes occasional buzzing by add an air of mystique to the whole ‘remote tropical paradise’ vibe. Male proximity is not necessarily a bad thing for first timers especially. Male is itself is an intriguing micro-city and its mini, floating-in-the-ocean skyline has a charm of its own.

Our visit this week was our 4th visit to Kurumba. One might think that over time and repetition, it would get faded and familiar, but on the contrary it just keeps getting better. I’m always keen to see what innovations the GM Jason Kruse (see photo above) has added. Despite all the previous visits as well as 26 “Best of the Maldives” pieces to date, I still came away from my trip with another 7 candidate distinctions.

Maldives Tour 2014 – Day 10: Anantara Kihavah Villas

Anantara Kihavah tour

Mary Poppins of Maldives resorts. ‘Practically perfect in every way.’ That’s Anantara Kihavah.

There are very few resorts that tick as many boxes as Kihavah does. Some islands are great, and some resorts are great. Finding great islands with great resorts on them is by definition rarer.

The crème de la crème resorts tick a number of key boxes for service, food, styling, etc., but the “Super Premiums” (aka “5+ Stars”) take all of the criteria a step further. Not only that, but they also have one special, added requirement – the “wow” item. The “wow” is not just an abstract effect of quality and style, but it is a very tangible thing that is the first thing you brag about when you get home. In the Maldives, the most common “wow” is an underwater feature, but it can be something like a marine discovery centre or some other distinctive experience.

The Kihavah “wow” is its underwater ”Sea” restaurant. In many respects, it surpasses the iconic one at Conrad. Conrad’s Ithaa restaurant is in the lagoon, while Kihavah’s Sea is perched on the precipice of its house reef drop-off. And what a drop off it is. Plunging straight down for 30 meters into the deep blue abyss. Novice snorkelers, unconfident swimmers, and of course land-lubbers don’t usually get to experience the aquatic thrill of the reef drop off, but Kihavah’s dining portal give it a drop-off everyone can experience.

And that’s where the crème de la crème islands star. With a vibrant and easily accessible house reefs. Kihavah has a particularly fine house reef which you enter straight from the jetties. In addition to its reef, I was quite fond of Kihavah’s modest size. I like the smaller islands that have an intimate and isolated feel to them. But the frosting the cake was Kihavah’s dazzling circumambient beach. One broad, soft, white strip of sand that encircles the entire island. As my wife regularly reminds me, such beauty is not without effort and Kihavah takes considerable effort to groom and primp. But instead of beach defenses (like unsightly groynes and seawalls), instead Kihavah lets nature take its course and then each year they rebuild the section of the beach (typically by the pool) which gets eroded.

Kihavah scores more “outstanding” marks in more areas than all but a few places I have visited in the Maldives. No surprise that I came away from my visit with 19 new “Best of the Maldives” candidates.

A must candidate for any Maldives connoisseur.

Maldives Tour 2014 – Day 9: Dusit Thani

Dusit Thani tour

It’s all about the experience at Dusit Thani.

All of the Maldives has great snorkeling. Probably the best in the world. But how do you turn that into an exceptional experience? First, you start with a great house reef (one of the best in the Baa atoll). Second, you add exceptional excursions. In the Baa atoll, this is going to Hanafaru Bay where you can snorkel with manta rays. In fact, just before our arrival the Dusit Thani folks had been on an excursion where there were dozens all over the place. And you don’t stop there, but you also add a truly inspired snorkeling programme orchestrated by your top flight dive centre (stay tuned for details in upcoming Best of the Maldives).

All of the Maldives resorts have fine food. With fresh reef fish in the surrounding sea and a range of tropical fruits in plentiful supply, add savory traditional curry recipes and it’s not difficult to put together a delectable meal. Add toes wiggling in warm sand, a canopy of bright stars overhead, and a serenade of gently lapping water on the shore and any meal becomes a stunning experience. But wheel in a talented chef and then a whole host of gustatory delights take the meals to another level.

Eating at Dusit’s “Sea Grill”, my expectations were modest. I was expecting the conventional array of basic meats and fish lovingly flame cooked. Instead, I found an extensive menu of taste treats that would impress hard core foodies in London’s West End never mind on some remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

One of my acid tests for great cuisine is the soup (I’ve written a number of times about two of my favourites – bisque and gazpacho). These are the dishes where diverse flavours can be melded into a unique taste sensation. My first challenge at Dusit was choosing. Instead of a normal “soupe du jour”, I faced a several enticing options. So I did the obvious thing being a soup fan…I ordered them all. I’m not sure I have enough data and samples to go on to award Dusit a “Best of the Maldives” for soup, but it certainly was the most appetizing that I had ever enjoyed in the Maldives.

Soups and snorkeling are just two examples of Dusit Thani’s meticulous efforts to provide guests with an experience as distinctive as the paradise they are visiting. I came away from my memorable stay with 14 candidates for Best of Maldives