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.

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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.”

Best of the Maldives: Logo Shot – W Retreat

W Retreat - underwater W

On our tours, we always take a shot in front of the resort welcome sign. We are not alone as this is definitely one of the top photo types one sees posted online.

The literally iconic “W” of the iconic W Retreat is not only probably the most popular logo shot in the Maldives (at least judging by Instagram posts – see bottom photo for example), but the resort generously lends a hand. The minute you step on the jetty, they take the shot for you and by the time you have checked-in and made it to your room, a framed photo of your arrival is waiting for you at the room (see ours below).

As with so many touches, the W takes this feature a step further…or should we say deeper. They have submerged a “W” in their lagoon for underwater photos. Not quite the underwater sculpture garden I “haven’t seen yet”, but along the same lines.

W would win world water witness with wonderful water wrinkle we want.

W Retreat - logo shot

Kiki Sunshine (Russia) – W Retreat

Best of the Maldives: Longest Reef – Alimatha

Alimatha - Fottheyo longest reef

While the Maldives might have limited links land above sealevel, it’s undersea world is an expansive wonderland. And the most expansive of them all is the Fottheyo reef in the Vaavu atoll

We all know that Australia has the Greatest Barrier Reef in the World, but how many of you know, which one is the Greatest One in Maldives in terms of square kilometres?! The biggest one is Fottheyo Reef in Vaavu, with its 68 SQ KM.”

Great QI challenge by Paola.

Above Ground Under Water Restaurant

Huravalhi - underwater restaurant

I’ve always wondered how they made those underwater restaurants (and spa and night clubs, etc) in the Maldives. Did they drop in components and then pump water out? As it happens, these subaquatic wonders are completely refabbed, shipped to the resort and lowered whole into their new lagoon home.

The new resort of Hurawalhi is the latest in the underwater pantheon. And some recent reports on their underwater restaurant is providing a behind the scenes look at this remarkable engineering. The supplier M.J, Murphy in New Zealand posted some “how do they do that” details on their site recently…

“Following the usual 10km route from Fitzroy’s factory to the port, the 410 tonne Underwater Restaurant was manoeuvred alongside the giant crane ship “The Fairlane”, using 3 trucks. Then on 11 Feb, the two giant 400 tonne cranes lifted the UWR onto the ship and readied for its 3 week trip to the Maldives…The acrylic is optically perfect, so diners will feel ‘immersed’ and surrounded by the ocean and the fish life. There will also be a large spectacular panoramic underwater acrylic window (190mm thick) in the end of the UWR which is expected to wow the lucky diners, with amazing long views along the sloping coral reef.”

Here’s hoping that everything goes down well at Huravalhi.

 

Huravalhi - underwater restaurant 2

Best of the Maldives: Underwater Wine Cellar – Anantara Kihavah Villas

Anantara Kihavah Villas - underwater wine cellar

 

 

The Maldives oceans harbour treasures of all sorts. The vibrant house reef of Anantara Kihavah Villas hosts a trove of colourful gems from sparkling beauties to full-bodied crimson rarities. And you don’t need to get wet to view these treats. As they are found in the world’s only underwater wine collection. En route to the Kihavah underwater dining and function area, the resort keeps its finest wines shielded from sunlight and temperature variations in its unique cellar. Sort of a connoisseur’s version of a Marine Protected Area.

 

Best of the Maldives: Proposal Coaching – Conrad Rangali Maldives

Conrad Rangali underwater wedding proposal

 

 

Happy Valentines Day. The epicentre of romance in the annual calendar. As such, one of the most popular days for people to propose. And with the Maldives being the geographical epicentre of romance, when the two combine expect big things. Like Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s “Marry Me” packages…

“Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is launching a ‘MarryMe’ package for those planning to pop the question on Valentine’s Day. Priced at US$150, the package includes a bottle of celebratory champagne and assistance from the resort in planning the proposal. As part of the offer, couples dining in Ithaa undersea restaurant on February 14 can use the services of the dive centre for a memorable underwater proposal, complete with a diver swimming outside the windows of the restaurant to help ask the question.”

7 Underwater Wonderful Activities in the Maldives

Underwater bubbles

The 7th of the 7th for 7 Wonders. Everyone knows the “7 Wonders of the World” (well, like the Seven Dwarfs, they always forget the last one like “Doc” or “Mausoleum at Halicarnassus”). In the age of listicles, there seems to be a “7 Wonders…” of jut about every description. Of course, a while back there was the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World” scam.

For Maldives fans, the latest of interest has to be the “Seven Wonders of the Underwater World”…

  1. Belize’s Barrier Reef
  2. Deep Sea Vents, Ecuador
  3. Northern Red Sea, Africa
  4. The Great Barrier Reef
  5. Lake Baikal, Russia
  6. Galapagos Islands
  7. Palau Reefs

One might argue that Maldives is glaring by its omission. But I have always thought that the Maldives’ ultimate charm is not below the water nor above it. But right at the water’s edge. It occupies that magical balance not being mostly beneath (like the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea), nor being quite high above (like the Galapagos or much of the South Pacific). If you are looking for that wonder that is right on the edge of aquatic and atmospheric, the Maldives commands a list of only 1.

1. Get Engaged – Conrad Rangali Maldives.  Mastering neutral buoyancy to get down on one knee.

Conrad Rangali wedding proposal

2. Get Married – Centara Grand. Buddy breathing for life.

Centara Grand underwater wedding 2

3. Run the Country – In 2009, the President held an underwater Cabinet meeting to highlight the risks of global warming.

Underwater cabinet meeting

4. Build a Reef – A number of resorts (eg. Kandooma, Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Four Seasons Kuda Hura, Kurumba) now offer Reefscaping which involves attaching small pieces of coral onto support frame which allows them to grow

Kandooma reefscaping 2

5.  View an Art Exhibit – Soneva Fushi. New meaning to “Watercolours”.

Soneva Fushi olly and suzy art 1

6. Shoot a Movie. LUX Maldives. Life Aquatic sequels galore.

LUX Maldives Underwater Festival

7. Celebrate the Holidays. Anantara Kihavah. Eau Christmas Tree, eau Christmas tree…

Anantara Kihavah underwater Christmas tree