Best of the Maldives: Reef VR – Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem - underwater VR

While still many “not seen yet” possibilities, my research is uncovering “finally seen” features I’ve proposed ages ago. Like Carpe Diem’s (also at the Raa atoll but didn’t get a chance to stop by this tour), house reef VR (which I proposed in Haven’t Seen #11 post, #4 a couple of years ago). The resort is doing more than just providing a sexy view of its underwater seascape, but is actually using the footage to assist with its reef conservation efforts:

  • “Carpe Diem Maldives is excited to expand on the Dive with a Purpose marine conservation programme this September in collaboration with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the United States of America…Using innovative imaging and data technologies to archive reefs digitally and watch how populations change through time. Recreational divers joining the cruise will learn how to take their own reef images to recreate a virtual reality of the dive using special software. During the Dive with a Purpose week on Carpe Vita from September 9th – 16th Dr Brian Zgliczynski, Project Director of the 100 Island Challenge will present to Carpe Diem’s guest divers the research work involved in the project and go diving with the Carpe Diem Maldives team and guests to lesser-known dive sites in Raa Atoll as they accomplish conservation tasks.”

Best of the Maldives: Accessible Underwater Restaurant – You & Me

You & Me - H20

All underwater restaurants are stunning experiences, but they often come at an equally eye-watering expense. For starters, most are found at super-premium resorts that start at $1000/night. Then, enjoying the restaurant is an equally premium supplement to your already hefty holiday bill. When we visited You & Me, we were struck by how many luxury details the resort featured while its price was a relatively manageable by mere mortals. No part of the property more exemplified this reasonably priced luxury than their H20 underwater restaurant.

  • Six-metres underwater, almost half a kilometre away from the pearly shores of our island is our greatest gift – H2O, the world’s best underwater restaurant, conceived by world-renowned designer Daniele Lago. With room for twenty-six guests, H2O’s seventy-four feet acrylic glass exterior is made to mesmerise. Nestled in a lush coral garden six metres below the sea this enchanting restaurant draws all manner of marine life to delight viewers.”

The first feature makes the restaurant truly accessible in the literal sense – a lift.  For anyone who might have difficulty with the circular stairway descending into the depths of the resort’s lagoon, they have the option of taking the restaurant’s lift.  Rare enough in Maldives resorts in general (I only recall seeing one at Velaa),

But the “accessibility” that benefits most of us is H2O’s relatively affordable price.  I sort of hesitate to call out H20s “affordability” as its defining characteristic. The description might come across as a low-end version when it is absolutely anything but that.  The dinner was sumptuously gourmet quality with a full menu of choice delicacies (see photo below).   As our tour report made clear, we were utterly enchanted by our evening there (with the mesmerizing dinner show by the resident octopus). 

The facility itself stands shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the other Maldives underwater restaurants at the super deluxe properties. In fact, its semi-circle fully glass arch is the state-of-the in these underwater rooms with only Hurawalhi and Rangalhi sharing this totally immersive submersion. The restaurant also includes some special aspects which make it distinctive in its own right – a reef restoration collaboration, a meteorological station, maybe the most unusual ingredient I have ever had in a meal anywhere not just the Maldives (stay tuned). 

But if there is one aspect which will have the most impact on the most people it will be its quite reasonable price. I have simply met too many people who passed up the chance to experience this bucket list activity at other resorts because the price was too dear. To save money, they go in and have a glance and take a few selfies, but that is not even a fraction of the joy and adventure of spending a few hours under the ocean enjoying the toings and froings of the sea creatures like you were some sort of fellow resident. The big advantage of diving over snorkelling is that you get to linger underwater and see the creatures at their level (rather than just looking down on them). But even with diving you are limited to 60 minutes (not to mention all the faff and expense). At H20 you get to savour hours of undersea loitering. And all the while, lingering over delectable dishes and sipping fine wines or decadent cocktails as bonus treats to the experience.

The prices are $280 per person for dinner and $180 per person for lunch (we definitely recommend the dinner as you get to experience the transition from day to night of the aquatic world). It’s not cheap, but it’s considerably less expensive than the other alternatives in the Maldives. And remember, it’s not just a meal. It is a unique experience of a lifetime that includes and is accented by a meal.

H20 is the underwater restaurant by You & Me and the rest of us.

You & Me - plankton

Underwater Beauties of the Maldives

Every resort has underwater spectacles in the Maldives especially when the fashionista crowd pull a reverse-Ariel and cavort for the camera…

  1. Mary Shum and Tori Son (Russia) – Ranveli
  2. Christine Ren (USA) – Palm Beach
    Christine Ren (USA) - Palm Beach
      
  3. Valentina Zenone (United Kingdom) – Thamburudhoo
    Valentina Zenone (United Kingdom) - Thamburudhoo
      
  4. Mari Kühn (United Kingdom)
    Mari Kühn (United Kingdom)
       
  5. Diana Melison (Russia) – Dusit Thani
    Diana Melison (Russia) - Dusit Thani
      
  6. Loves Nature (Russia) – Dhigurah
    Loves Nature (Russia) - Dhigurah
       
  7. Katri Kats (Estonia) –Ayada
    Katri Kats (Estonia) -Ayada
      
  8. Egzona Syla (Germany) – Bandos
    Egzona Syla (Germany) - Bandos
       
  9. Paige Rene (USA) – Maalhoss
    Paige Rene (USA) - Maalhoss
       
  10. Irina Britanova (Russia)
    Irina Britanova (Russia) 3
       
  11. Josie Prendergast (USA) – Adaaran Hudhuranfushi
    Josie Prendergast (USA) - Adaaran Hudhuranfushi
       
  12. Sally Fitzgibbons (Australia) – Four Seasons Kuda Huraa
    Sally Fitzgibbons (Australia) - Four Seasons Kuda Huraa
       
  13. McKenna Ray (USA) – Conrad Rangali
    McKenna Ray (USA) - Conrad Rangali
      
  14. Mariya Andriichuk (Ukraine) – Eriyadu
    Mariya Andriichuk (Ukraine) – Eriyadu 2
       
  15. Karina Irby (Australia) – Adaaran Hudhuranfushi
    Karina Irby (Australia) – Adaaran Hudhuranfushi 2
       
  16. Ocean Bloom (Canada) – Amilla Fushi
    Ocean Bloom (Canada) – Amilla Fushi
      
  17. Pearl (Thailand) – Veligandu
    Pearl (Thailand) - Veligandu
       
  18. Anna Lorin (Canada)
    Anna Lorin (Canada) 2
       
  19. Janni Honscheid (Germany) Cokes Surf Camp
    Janni Honscheid (Germany) Cokes Surf Camp
       
      
  20. Erika NKL (Hong Kong) – Meeru
    Erika NKL (Hong Kong)
       
  21. Diana Efimova (Russia) – Gili Lankanfushi
    Diana Efimova (Russia) - Gili Lankanfushi
       
  22. Crystal Jean deSilva (USA) – Adaaran Hudhuranfushi
    Crystal Jean deSilva (USA) - Adaaran Hudhuran fushi 
       
  23. Fiona Peters (Australia) – LUX South Ari Atoll
    Fiona Peters (Australia) - LUX South Ari Atoll
      
  24. Anastasiya Alt (Russia) – Kuredu
    Anastasiya Alt (Russia) - Kuredu
      
  25. Cherise (New Zealand) – Meedhupparu
    Cherise (New Zealand) - Meedhupparu
       
  26. Sandra Da Costa (Portugal) – Velassaru
    Sandra Da Costa (Portugal) – Velassaru
       
  27. Flavia Valenti (Brazil) – Coke Island
    Flavia Valenti (Brazil) – Coke Island
      
  28. Rosie Thomas (United Kingdom) – Huvafenfushi
    Rosie Thomas (United Kingdom) – Huvafenfushi
      

Best of the Maldives: Underwater Villa – Conrad Rangali

Conrad Rangali - underwater villa 1

Conrad Rangali’s latest show stopping “wow” feature finally introduces an underwater bedroom to the Maldives. Or should I say “re-introduces”. Actually, Conrad pioneered not only the first underwater restaurant (which was actually my very first “Best of the Maldives” post that kicked off all my blogging about the Maldives over a decade ago), but also experimented with converting the underwater room into a bedroom for guests to sleep in. They discontinued it as it was too difficult to transform the room into a bedroom and back to a restaurant quickly enough to make it work. For example, the guests paying an extreme amount of money to sleep there (at the time the most expensive room in the Maldives) had to wait until later in the evening to access their room when guests had finished dining there and the resort had cleared the restaurant items and set up the bedroom.

So in my 4th “Not Yet Seen” piece I had to add “Underwater Bedroom” back to the list. But now, it can go back to the “Finally Seen” catalogue.

Conrad describes the master bedroom masterpiece as follows….

  • “The entire lower suite was built on land in Singapore, fittingly made of acrylic from Japan’s premiere aquarium manufacturer Nippura Co., and sealed with Shin Etsu Marine sealant, which was used in the construction of Ithaa Undersea Restaurant. Then the 600-ton structure was hoisted by crane onto a specialized ship that could transport it to the Maldives and moor near the reef without damaging it. It was then submerged into the ocean and held firmly in place by 10 concrete piles that ensure it will not move or shift due to a high tide or rough seas.”

Conrad Rangali - underwater villa 2

Conrad Rangali - underwater villa 3

Best of the Maldives: Mermaid Photography – Palm Beach

Palm Beach - mermaid classes

Little Mermaid Day today celebrating the release of Disney’s “Little Mermaid” film in 1989. If you want to release your inner mermaid under da sea (sort of a reverse Ariel if you know what I mean, the Palm Beach is offering an aquatic photoshoot by one of the premier photographers of this style.

· “Imagine building a portfolio of one-of-a-kind underwater portraits in the serene, private setting of a Maldivian Atoll. A place where you’re photographing skilled underwater models against the backdrop of pristine coral reefs and large marine mammals while also funding local ocean conservation efforts…. Now you don’t have to just dream it; you can experience it. Professional underwater photographer Chiara Salomoni leads a once-in-a-lifetime 6 day, 5 night all-inclusive masterclass at the Palm Beach Island Resort in the Maldives on Lhaviyani Atoll, Nov 12th-17th, 2018. This customized workshop enables scuba-divers and photographers alike to gain technical mastery in every aspect of underwater portraiture, working in a variety of settings from pool to open-water shallows and even deep ocean scenes with marine mammals. Expert underwater models Christine Ren and Syrena, Singapore’s premier mermaid performer, will pose as the subjects and provide training on how to work safely with both non-models and models in the water. But the best part is 10% of the trip’s proceeds are reinvested locally into marine conservation projects. Travel somewhere beautiful, learn amazing new skills, and save the ocean – what’s not to love?”

That’s why is hotter, Under the water!

Maldives Tour 2018–Hurawalhi

Hurawalhi - tour 2018

Hurawalhi is a “5+” star resort. I could almost make the case that it is a “6 star” resort, but the marketing director for the resort says “Wait till you see Kudadhoo” (Champa’s latest offering under development just across the water along their chain of properties at the top of Lhaviyani atoll).

One of our frustrations in past was that everyone in the Maldives was calling themselves a 5-star (over 60% of the resorts in the Maldives Complete database are listed as 5 star). And you will find some real divergences in the quality of what is being called 5-star. On one end are properties that are quite indistinctive but get away with over-rating with a “5-star” label because, essentially, the destination is 5-star. People come and no matter how tired the décor and limited the offerings, the place still seems like a 5-star experience because the guests are blown away by the stunning surroundings of the landscape and seascape. I have often said that you could have a 5-star experience in the Maldives staying in a cardboard box on the beach.

On the other extreme are properties that really don’t seem right to call ‘just’ 5-stars. The ultra-deluxe properties that seem to defy any sort of rating scale. I tend to call these “super premiums”. They are really in a class by themselves and hence some people in the industry refer to them colloquially a “6 star” properties (the Burj Al Arab took a bit of stick when it opened, referring to itself as the world’s first “7-star hotel”).

The whole star rating system is a bit of a mess. It started as a hospitality industry standard tick-box exercise for certain amenities on the resort (eg. the number of power outlets and whether you had a bidet or not). People confused the hotel “rating” with the review ratings of guides like Michelin and Zagats. Then, crowd-sourced ratings came to the web on popular travel sites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com. These ratings tend to reflect another aspects altogether. They are really about ‘performance against expectations’. As a result, you can get real dives getting ‘5 star’ reviews because the experience is so much better than the guest expected for the pennies that they paid. Furthermore, all the reviewing is basically being done by amateurs.

Given the power of ratings from sites like TripAdvisor, many properties now seem to be going in the direction of under-rating. They call properties that could easily pass as 5, a 4-star. But they often append the now popular “+” designation to note a cut above the rest of class with a bit of style and distinction, but (sensibly) fear exaggerated expectations if they don the 5-star moniker. It is a way of saying “4 star with 5 star touches”. All of this diatribe about rating is to provide context for my description of Hurawalhi. Hurawalhi is the first resort I have found where this approach would be appropriate at the 5-star level, ie. 5+ star resort.

Hurawalhi is very much a 5-star star through and through. Every design feature, attention to detail, material choice, offering, etc. are all specified at the first class level. Natural wood everywhere (and the wood shingled roof, instead of thatch, which will save lots of total cost of ownership). Think Rocky Mountain Lodge or Chamonix Chalet, not native hut. Every single fixture and external appliance is tastefully and craftily covered. Their flawless attention to detail with this simple, natural material shows that you don’t need Italian marble and exotic materials to produce a stunning environment. Just elegant design with quality materials.

The biggest above-and-beyond the world of typical 5-star is the resort’s underwater restaurant, 5.8. I’ve posted about the 5.8 previously in its construction stage where its sheer ambition presented so much promise…and expectations. But now I can put a bit of first-hand perspective into the account. The food doesn’t get much better than this. “Smoked lobster and sea urchin mousse served on a garland crest with cognac emulsion, lobster salsa, squid ink brittle, poached langoustine tail and topped with beluga caviar served 5.8 metres underwater.” Yes, that. We’ve eaten at several 3-star Michelin’s in our foodie adventures and 5.8 stands shoulder to shoulder with them.

But the real experience is the room itself. I have visited several of the Maldives underwater facilities, but I had never actually taken the plunge (so to speak) of dining in one. More than any other one I have visited, Hurawali has done an exceptional job of placing the restaurant and enhancing its location. One side is right on the edge of the house reef drop off and the other opens to the expanse of the lagoon. Between the two, through the floor to ceiling glass wall is a sort of canyon that provides a view of coral and fish in sort of a raked fashion. Like many other underwater rooms, they have done a bit of reefscaping to provide greater visual appeal and to attract more fish. But a clever little twist is a sunken mini-dhoni ‘wreck’ in the lagoon which not only provides an added lure for reef fish (and a sequestered moray we spotted), but also adds a bit of eerie mystique to the whole vista.

While they do both a private breakfast and a lunch seating, the best time to go is for dinner. You are greeted with a sunset cocktail while the sky is still bright and underwater is still vibrant with sunshine piercing into the water. But as the 7-course affair progresses, the light subtly changes with every course and so does the marine life and activity. Until by dessert, it is completely dark and the nocturnal activity is in full swing. And it’s not just the sea creatures that are a buzz. The whole place has a unique camaraderie of a unique shared experience. Diners commenting to each other on curious spottings, asking questions, sharing reflections, helping with photo taking.

Objectively, 5.8 is the greatest (in size) underwater restaurant in the world. But subjectively, 5.8 might just be simply the greatest underwater restaurant, full stop. And Hurawalhi might not let you call it a 6-star, but it is so much more than just 5 stars.

image

Best of the Maldives: Underwater Sculpture Gallery – Sirru Fen Fushi

Sirru Fen Fushi - sculpture 1

International Sculpture Day today. And new resort Sirru Fen Fushi is launching a world class sculpture exhibit with the most distinctively Maldivian twist – it is underwater.

  • “The sculptural installation on Sirru Fen Fushi will offer visitors a unique, cultural eco-art attraction whilst creating the foundations of an artificial reef to enhance the underwater ecosystem. The centre piece will be the Coral Cube, the worlds first semi submerged art space, a portal to the underwater realm offering visitors ephemeral encounters with the natural beauty beneath the water’s surface, delivering an other worldly experience that illustrates the connectivity of man with nature, a hybrid organic form in harmony with its surroundings, a seamless link between the land and the ocean, combining two disparate wonders, one created by man and one designed by nature.”

This creative installation is another gratifying “Finally Seen” for me as I first suggested such an exhibition 4 years ago with Part 4 of my “Not Seen Yet” series (#7).

Sirru Fen Fushi - sculpture 3

Sirru Fen Fushi - sculpture 2

Best of the Maldives: Underwater Yoga – Hurawalhi

 

No joke this time (or this time), but Hurawalhi really did do underwater yoga in a world’s first:

  • “Jessica promises the 1-hour vinyasa flow to provide physical and mental rewards, with captivating views of fish around you as you move from one pose to the next bringing you even closer to a state of the zen-like state of mind.”

The one hour Vinyasa flow session was conducted by Jessica Olie (who frankly has one of the best yoga Instagram feeds…stay tuned for more on that).

Hurawalhi - Jessica Ollie underwater yoga

Best of the Maldives: Underwater Scooter – Furaveri

Furaveri - underwater scooter

Well, here’s one thing I finally HAVE seen. Since first calling it out over 3 years ago. Furaveri’s underwater scooter

We are pleased to offer the only Underwater Scooter service in the Maldives based in the most popular local island destination – Maafushi island…Underwater Scooter is creater to provide the scuba diving experience to virtually anyone without any of the rigours required by the typical diving experience. Just sitting in breathing environment and traveling at speeds of up to 2 km/hour, the rider can experience new and exciting underwater vistas.”