The underwater, well, everything in the Maldives is so amazing that every visit should feature as much of it as possible. I love underwater facilities, but I especially like when the resorts expand their use to for other things so as many people can enjoy the underwater experience as possible. OBLU Ailafushi and OBLU Lobigili are using their underwater restaurants as a marine classroom. And part of their coral-life curriculum is a fun treasure hunt for different species of marine life. And the activity is not just for guests, but the properties also invite local Maldivian school children over to enjoy and benefit from this unique classroom experience.
- “The Educational Marine Tour sensitises school children between the ages of 5 to 12 years about marine life. They identify fish and corals, connecting with the country’s fragile ecosystem. This initiative attempts to educate future generations who may decide to have a career in hospitality. Every month the resort will invite students from different schools in Malé for the program.”
Two of my favourite things to enjoy in the Maldives – underwater and treasure hunts!
One of my favourite tropical island activities with the kids when they were young was setting up treasure hunts around the resort island where the “treasure” was a box of sweeties. Various resorts have introduced their hunts for children, but Amilla has a sort of a treasure hunt with much healthier fare. A virtual walk through their “Foraging Lunch” was shared in their description:
- “This new eco-adventure sees guests led by staff including the Chef, the Landscaping Supervisor, and the Sustainability and Wellness Mentor, Victoria Kruse, through the lush island to gather edible plants including indigenous varieties such as ‘kulha fila’ (Maldivian rocket). This fun and educational interactive tour highlights the island’s indigenous and island-grown herbs, vegetables and fruit. It culminates in a feast using the freshly-plucked ingredients…Starting out on the Sunrise Beach at the southeastern end of the spacious private island resort, the guests were guided to Amilla’s jungle-clad grove known as The Plantation, where local varieties of small, sweet bananas are cultivated, as well as chillies (a Maldivian staple), lemongrass and passionfruit. Then it was on to the resort’s new Hydroponics Garden, where they discovered a wide array of homegrown greens, before moving on to the UN (short for ‘UNdo the Harm’) where the Amilla Islanders make their own cold-pressed coconut oil from the island’s bountiful supply of coconut trees. Amilla’s chicken coop, Cluckingham Palace, was the next port of call, to see if the pampered chickens there had any fresh eggs to offer…The next destination was the vast area of natural jungle that covers over 70 percent of the island. From this area, the group collected dry coconuts for coconut milk and young coconuts to make ‘mudi kashi’ (the flesh of young coconuts), with a little help from Amilla’s skillful tree climbers. They also helped harvest some wild breadfruit from 15 metres up in the jungle canopy…Finally, the group circled back to Amilla’s beautiful Mystique Garden, where the hungry team collected even more salad greens as well as sugarcane and the traditional Maldivian staples of aubergines, okra, and sweet potatoes.”
Also, helpful survival training for if you ever get marooned on a desert island. Bear Gryll’s paradise edition.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ― Pablo Picasso
Joali has created one of the most beautiful Maldivian properties.
Lori thinks it is the most splendid of the 100 we have now visited (I couldn’t make such an assertion as there are just too many apples-to-oranges aesthetics to compare). For example, Soneva uses the natural rough-hewn materials as its design palette. LUX North Male Atoll opts for striking contemporary hues to reflect the natural beauty. Joali has made itself a garden of artistry depicting inspired interpretations of this paradise.
In the ethereal segment of the Super-Premium 5-star, the typical differentiator is the “Wow-factor”. Sort of an X-Factor for guest experience that makes the property stand out in a clear and explicit way. It’s not just incrementally ratcheting up the Michelin stars of the food, or exclusivity of the wine cellar, or the thread count on the linen, but rather a step-change element which makes the whole place stand out from any other. For Joali it is their island-sized gallery of art, inside and outside, which provides a ubiquitous museum-quality exhibition of creative renditions of the tropical and indigenous themes that frame it:
- “You will be delighted when you realize that Joali is the first and only art-immersive hotel in the Maldives. The island is infused with interactive and experiential artistic pieces that you have never encountered before. The Art Map of the hotel pinpoint all the art and sculptural pieces you can discover. Some of these pieces are created in collaboration with artists and local arttisans in order to support the local community and to revive the artisanal works made in the Maldives. If you are a collector, some of these unique pieces will be available for purchase as well.”
One of my favourite kids activities in the Maldives are treasure hunts. Joali is like a treasure hunt of [artistic] gems for adults.
The collection includes specially commissioned works from the following internationally distinguished artists:
- Ardmore Ceremics (South Africa)
- Chris Wolston (USA)
- Doug Johnson (Canada)
- Teleksan Onar (Turkey)
- Studio Glithero (Engaldn)
- John Paul Phillip (USA)
- Misha Khan (USA)
- Porky Hefer (South Africa)
- Nacho Carbonell (Spain)
- Reinaldo Senguino (Venezuela)
- Seckin Pirim (Turkey)
- Soojin Kang (Korea)
- ·Zemer Peled (Isrea)
And the art is not just “of” the island, but “for” the island. Many of the pieces are immersive or experiential. You don’t just look at them…you use them. And in so doing you become a part of them. And one of the most prevalent themes in this languid paradise is relaxing. So many pieces are seats, settees and loungers (like John Paul Philippe’s chair shown below with Lori sitting on it). Perhaps none more so immersive than the flying Manta loungers.
The art is displayed across the property, but also each villa is packed with special pieces. And if you want to take an exquisite piece home, many are for sale at the resort boutique.
If you fancy a bit of personal archaeology into the Digital Age, then you can undertake your own digging about for a Maldives geocache.
Thulhgiri (that resort’s first Best of the Maldives award) and Paradise Island are the two resorts which feature geochaches in the Maldives (there are 8 in total across the country). As the Paradise Island description says…
“If you are bored wink by snorkeling, diving, swimming, looking for fish, shells, sharks, manta’s, crabs or just of relaxing and enjoying the beach and the sun, this box can be a little alteration.”
Another “Finally Seen” (Not Yet Seen Part 8 – item #25). As I’ve mentioned so many times, the Maldives exudes a tropical paradise pirate treasure mystique. And so “treasure hunts” are particularly appropriate entertainment during a visit (so much so that with this post, I’m adding a category tag “Treasure”). We used to stage them for our kids, but with geocaching, all ages can join in the fun.
Happy Easter! If the Easter Bunny didn’t bring you enough eggs, then maybe you need to go hunt for them. When our kids were younger, we not only organised treasure hunts on our Maldives visits, but we organised Easter egg hunts at our house or church before we tucked into our traditional Easter dinner of roast lamb and Lori’s famous carrot cake.
Park Hyatt Hadahaa offers a gastronomic treasure hunt every day (including eggs, though not the chocolate version), with their “Culinary Indulgence”. For $670 per couple, you are treated to 5 meals (breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, evening cocktails with canapés, and dinner) at assorted special locations around the island.
Fortunately, I pilfered a treasure map about from a scallywag rogue indicating where the culinary treats and treasures can be found.
First comes honeymoon, then comes babymoon, and then comes familymoon. Kids don’t have to be the end of romance when romantic paradise is a great destination for them too. Our own Maldives history was years of family holidays to various resorts there so we’ve amassed a fair number of tip and tricks for enjoying a week on some remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
I was inspired to jot our favourite advice down after reading Constance’s fine blog post “5 tips for taking kids on a luxury holiday”
- Tips on packing for a luxury family holiday
- Encourage them to keep a travel journal
- Get to know your hotel concierge
- Book a trip to celebrate a special occasion
- Make travel an educational as well as a fun experience for kids
Our own Maldives-specific recommendations centre on two key dimensions of distinctive entertainment and excitement – snorkelling and adventure.
SNORKELING – The main event in the Maldives is snorkelling. Part of its appeal is its easy accessibility to people of all ages and abilities. Even poking around the coral croppings in the 2 feet deep lagoon shallows can be a delightful experience watching a menagerie of sea life. Still, even for kids comfortable with water and swimming, the activity of snorkelling throws in a few more variables which can frustrate. And if kids get too frustrated right off the bat, then their whole attitude can be turned adverse and they can balk at the participating the entire holiday.
- Practice Snorkeling –The biggest thing to get used to is snorkelling itself. The notion of the nose being covered and breathing through the mouth can be awkward for not just kids but neophyte adults. If you have the opportunity to try out a mask and snorkel in the familiar confines of a local pool or even a bath tub, it can get your child ready for this contraption before the holiday itself.
- Try Goggles – If snorkelling is, for whatever reason, too difficult or daunting for your young one, then try swim goggles. Our first couple of days, our young son preferred just using his familiar swim goggles for the underwater explorations in the lagoon. He had to hold his breath underwater, but he was okay with that. Eventually, he got so entranced by what he saw, it gave him to motivation to figure out the snorkel gear so he could keep his head under water longer.
- Prepare them for Salt Water – If your child has not had a lot of experience in the ocean itself, then before snorkelling be sure to just have a play in the water. This frolic will get your child introduced to two irritations of the sea – salt and sand. If they jump right into snorkelling and they have some difficulty with it, then the added irritations of salt and sand can tip them over the edge in terms of frustration with the whole thing.
- Prime their curiosity – Take a trip to the aquarium or show them a video like “Blue Planet” to pique their curiosity and interest (and definitely don’t have them watch “Jaws”). There is always something magical to see a picture of something and then later to find yourself in and amongst the real thing.
- No touching – Remember…no touching. Especially young children may be tempted to reach out and “pet” one of these lovely sea creatures. Most fish will just be startled away, but some (eg. Trigger Fish) can take an extended finger very near to them as an invitation to have a chomp (and since these fish have jaws designed to crush coral, they can do some pretty good damage to a little finger).
- Share your sightings – One of the most common phrases heard around the resort is “What did you see snorkelling today?” The Maldives Complete Snorkel Spotter gives your kids a way to log their special spottings with the whole world.
HIGH SEAS ADVENTURE. The mystique of tropical paradise is most colourfully portrayed through the extensive oeuvre of “pirate” tales of exotic adventure. Tapping into the swashbuckling vibe can be a fun way to spice up the trip…
- Read books of tropical adventure – In fact, a great way to pass the long haul flight or have some quiet family time. The classics include “Treasure Island” and ‘Robinson Crusoe”, but I would also recommend “Island of Blue Dolphins” and “The Map to Everywhere”.
- Do a treasure hunt – Some resorts like Jumeirah Vittaveli and LUX Maldives have their own special treasure hunts set up for young guests. But you can always DIY your own (the photo above was taken from our very first trip in 1998 to “Laguna Beach” resort, now Velassaru, and the treasure hunt we concocted with two other boys our kids befriended that trip). A small bag of sweeties as a treasure and a few imaginative clues posted around the island is all that is required.
- Play Pirateer – A bit of swashbuckling parrying over a post-prandial night cap, “Pirateer” was our family’s favourite after dinner board game during our Maldives’ trips. It is very simple and the board and piece (removed from the box and put in a small bag) take up very little space or weight. Suitable for quite young ages and fun for adults.
The exotic tropical islands of the archipelago just scream out the fables of “buried treasure” from pirate lore. A number of resorts now feature the sorts of treasure hunts that we used to concoct for our kids during our visits. But Jumeirah Vittaveli has made the treasure a bit more edifying than the sweeties I used to leave at the X-marks-the-spot. Each specially sequestered box, like “Fenesse Point” above, includes an educational tidbit about the island and life there. Knowledge is indeed riches worthy of a prince or princess.
Off on the next Maldives adventure! This year we focus on the North Ari resorts (with, as usual, a stop in a few Male resorts)…
Last year, we visited South Ari which, after the Male atolls, had the highest number of resorts overall and the largest number I hadn’t visited. The next one after that, not too surprisingly, was North Ari. And that is the destination for this year’s Maldives Complete research trip.
Once again daily island hopping to see at least one (if not more) resorts every day. I’ll be keeping a log here with a daily tour report to provide initial impressions and perspectives. I’ll also be paralleling that with a special update on the Maldives TripAdvisor Forum where I am an active contributor.
With Adventure in mind, it seems like a good time to call out one of last year’s resorts who have crafted a distinctive ambience with their flair for creative detail.
The ‘Best of the Maldives’ highlights some pretty esoteric distinctions. Some are excruciatingly particular (like “Longest Left-Hand Surfing Break”). Others are quite vague and abstract (like “Best for Seth Godin”). The more abstract, the more subjective, based purely on some feeling or ‘ambience’ I have identified about the property. After visiting LUX Maldives last year, one theme definitely stuck me about their overall experience – Adventure.
Some would say that any trip to the Maldives is quite an Adventure. But LUX Maldives really amplifies that sensation with so many of its special touches which often reveal hidden surprises scattered throughout the island…
This feel turns the large size of the LUX island into a real asset as it provides an expansive tableau for exploration and discovery.
You might need a looking glass when looking for this glass. LUX* Maldives’ ‘Message in a Bottle’ is one of the most creative and apropos touches to their resort experience I have come across.
LUX* hides bottles around the island with special messages inside. They even hide some in the lagoon underwater for snorkelers to happen upon.
First, the notion just conjures up exactly the mystique that permeates this tropical paradise. When describing the Maldives to someone who doesn’t know about them, I say, “You know those pictures of a plot of sand with a palm tree in the ocean…that’s the Maldives.’ And if you were to think of one image on that empty, isolated island it would proabably be a message in a bottle. Either a shipwrecked soul sending out a rescue message or a lonely sole having one float to shore (typically as part of a punch line to some New Yorker cartoon).
The other prominent image for this exotic landscape is swashbuckling pirate adventure. When our children were young, one of the highlights was us organising a ‘treasure hunt’ on the island with a sequence of clues scattered around the island ultimately leading to a bag of sweets. At LUX*, my wife and I could just lounge by the pool and set the kids off in search of the elusive ‘message in a bottle’ lucre.
The messages all include a special treat for the luck treasure hunter. Best one is a free massage at the spa. Wait for it…’Massage in a bottle’
Secret bar! ‘Nuff said.
That was certainly the reaction by the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum when word got out about the ‘Secret Bar’ at LUX* Maldives. It’s just one of the countless surprises in the neverending adventure that is a stay at LUX* resort.
The ‘Secret Bar’ is on wheels so it can change location daily. When our family would visit the Maldives each year with our children, one of the ritual highlights was a treasure hunt we would stage for them on our own buccaneers isle. If we stayed at LUX* back then, I know that one way I would get an extra hour’s sleep and get them nice a tuckered out would be send them on a daily sortie to find Dad’s ‘Secret Bar’.
It works like a public mini-bar on an honesty system (genius) and so far they haven’t had any problems with unsavoury scallywags pirating liquid lucre.
Shiver me timbers! Me’ll have two black jacks’ of grog.