Maldives Wrap Up
The Maldives were the last addition to our trip (along with the corresponding transit stop in the UAE). I was pushing for some stops in Africa and Europe; Alyce reigned me back in and said enough…probably for the best.
Still, I had one last bullet left to fire…The tropical paradise known as the Maldives.
Alyce was resistant at first, like most things with the trip. But, she opened up to this addition relatively easily. Our final itinerary was set.
The Maldives are a chain of island atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There are 1192 islands in the chain, 192 of which are inhabited. The entire country’s population is just over 300,000 people and about a third of the population resides in the capital island of Male.
We chose the Park Hyatt resort located on Hadahaa Island which is in a further south atoll and is a little further of the typical tourist beaten path (the islands closer to Male)…and I use the word “chose” loosely. It was that or nothing.
We stayed on points (aka for free), and it was still very expensive. Without being able to stay on points, a stop in the Maldives definitely would not have been in the budget.
Fortunately, the Park Hyatt seemed like a place I would have chosen anyway. It was a little more off the beaten path than some of the other islands and not overly large/crowded – check. The food was supposed to be good – check. The house coral reef was listed as one of the best in the Maldives – big check. And there were supposed to be some very good, less crowded dive sites nearby – sold.
The resort lived up to our expectations. We paid to upgrade to an overwater bungalow, and I think it was definitely worth the experience having never stayed in an over water bungalow before. For a point of reference, the upgrade cost to the over water villa made our “free” room the most expensive room of the trip…Though, it was still wayyyy less than the $2000 USD retail a night it would have been.
That said, the biggest benefit (after you get used to the novelty of staying over water) is the quick and easy access to snorkeling. There were a couple times that I just got up and went in the water that I probably would not have had we been staying on land.
Speaking of which, the reef was exceptional. There were fish all over the place, and we averaged seeing probably 3-5 reef sharks each hour spent in the water…Though don’t worry, if you don’t want to see a shark you won’t.
I met a British couple on the over water walkway and pointed out a shark in the water. They were surprised and said that they weren’t going back in the water…They had been there for two weeks (including lots of snorkeling) and had not yet seen a shark. Like I said, you have to know what to look for if you want to see one.
The resort was 100% booked when we were there. The clientele seemed pretty evenly split between Europeans and Chinese. I’m pretty sure that we were the only Americans at the resort during our time there. Talking with some staff members, it seemed that they don’t get many Americans, which isn’t too surprising considering the resort is pretty much on the polar opposite side of the planet.
The food was surprisingly good. Breakfast is included for all guests and was delicious.
The island has two restaurant choices for dinner. One is by the pool, where breakfast is served. The other one is nearby and on the beach. There were also a couple different special set ups on a couple of the nights. The food was uniformly good; we got some type fish every night and were never disappointed with that. The hotel F&B director confirmed that the fish was all fresh and caught at a nearby island. The meat selections – obviously – were not near as fresh.
And while I certainly would not call the meals cheap, I was expecting worse. We made it out of dinner for around $100 to $130 most nights. Breakfasts are very large, and lunch is really not needed. We did pass on having alcohol with dinner, which would have dramatically raised the prices. For good food on an island, this was pretty reasonable.
There was a bar at the main beach area. The drinks were ok, while being pretty pricey. I believe snacks (burger type food, etc.) were also served at this bar during the day.
The beach itself was very nice – like what you’d expect from an island post card or a Corona commercial. We’ve been to some very nice beach destinations, but this was easily the most picturesque.
The island never felt overly crowded, but it was definitely apparent that we were there in high season. I had read some reports by people that said “we hardly ever saw another person.” Either low season is dramatically different high season, which it may be…Or that was a bit of an exaggeration.
I’m still going to recap our day by day experience, but it’s mostly going to go like this…Wake up, snorkel, eat breakfast, snorkel, hang out on beach, snorkel, dinner, bed…oh, and some days had diving mixed in.
We woke up after the previous day of feeling “off” and were definitely doing better. Thank God, as this would be our longest day of travel outside of the trip to and from the US…and those were different because the majority of those days were spent being served in first class.
There was time to eat an early/quick breakfast at the Chedi Club. As we were heading out, we saw the honeymooning couple we had met from Chicago and told them good bye.
Check out was quick and easy. We told Japa bye and gave him one of our leftover bottles of wine; there is a strict no alcohol importing policy in the Maldives.
The ride to the airport was a quick one according to our driver, taking just over an hour. We were perfectly fine with arriving early, considering our general preference with doing so and the close call (relatively speaking) with our last flight. Plus, we were back in business class, so we had lounge access.
A word of caution, we could not get in to the airport to check in without a boarding pass according to the security guard. This didn’t make any sense as you need to check in to get the boarding pass. Fortunately, a print out of my ticket confirmation did the job. This is one of many reasons I always print out and carry all travel confirmations.
The lounge was nice enough. Our flights were on Singapore Airlines, but this was a contract lounge (the Premier Lounge). It had some decent food/beverage selections and internet.
The flight from Denpassar (DPS) to Singapore (SIN) was fine and lasted a little over 2 hours. It was on an older, short haul 777. So, we had the short haul business class product (comparable to US domestic first class). The seat was nicer than a domestic first class seat, but still nothing to get overly excited about. Service is something Singapore Airlines is known for and was very good.
We had a 5 to 6 hour layover in Singapore, which wasn’t too bad of a deal. Singapore is frequently listed as one of the nicest airports in the world; I can’t disagree with that in our experience. Plus, it was Singapore Airline’s hub and we had business class lounge access – so we were expecting a nice lounge.
And it was. There was a very wide and good selection of food, including a nice selection of sushi. The drink selection was equally good. We parked ourselves in some comfortable chairs and worked on blogging/pictures for most of the time.
It was finally time for our flight to leave at 8:30. It was a 4.5 hour flight, and we gained 3 hours on the way – putting us in Male at a little after 10:00 p.m.
This flight was in business class on an Airbus A330. The seats were very nice on this flight. It was a recliner type chair with a nice big TV screen. We were pretty worn out, so we didn’t get any pictures. But here a couple I found on the internet (source: Singapore Airlines press release and airliners.net):
Service was again excellent, and the food was also good as well.
It was dark outside when we landed, so there wasn’t too much exciting scenery upon arrival in Male. We collected our bags and made it through immigrations and customs, which was uneventful.
Landside, a Park Hyatt employee was waiting for us. He directed us to the domestic terminal and checked us in for our flight to Kooddoo. Our bags (all of them) were weighed – in addition to being weighed ourselves. I don’t know what the limit is or if we exceeded it, but we were given no trouble with our bags.
The Park Hyatt employee showed us to the lounge in the domestic terminal. Access was included as part of the transfer to the Park Hyatt. We didn’t have too long of a wait for our flight.
The domestic flight was about an hour long on a prop plane that held about 30-40 people. Another Park Hyatt employee was waiting for us upon landing. They sat us and another couple heading to the property on a golf cart while they retrieved our bags.
We talked with the other couple for a little bit while waiting. They were only arriving from Singapore and called this an “epic journey.” After some more talking, they said they were there for work…Work? I immediately asked what kind of work he did because I wanted in. He was a hotel consultant and was hired by the hotel to evaluate them…Not a bad gig.
We still had a boat ride ahead of us, but it wasn’t too bad at only about 30-45 miuntes.
We had finally made it to the Island…and it was pretty much just dark. We’d have to wait for the following day to determine if the journey was worth it. We were briefly checked in inside our room, and then we passed out.
The day was long – 20 hours of traveling…3 flights, a long car ride, and a boat ride. We also cleared airport security 4 times (Bali, arriving in Singapore, Boarding in Singapore, and domestic boarding in Male), and there were two more customs security clearances on top of that (Bali and the Maldives).
I debated heavily whether to go all the way to the Park Hyatt this night or sleep in Male and get up to head to the Island the following day. I am without a doubt happy we knocked out the long day of traveling in one day. We woke up on vacation the following day vs. facing more travel. And I’ll put my money where my mouth is because we will be doing a very similar day of travel in the not too distant future.
After the late arrival, we allowed ourselves to sleep in. Though, we were still up at 10:00, so it’s not like we overdid it.
We got our first glimpse of exactly what we were in for now with the sun out…and it was worth it. The place is straight out of a post card.
We drank some water (you get water bottles included in your room) and made our way to breakfast. Everyday at breakfast, you start off with a platter of three levels with fruit, tuna, and pastries. The tuna was good and the fruit was delicious. My favorite – Mangosteen – even made an appearance. By the end of our stay, I was requesting a plate of mangosteen.
You can then order pretty much whatever you want from the menu. We really enjoyed the breakfasts here.
After a nice leisurely breakfast, we made our way over to the dive shop to get some snorkeling fins. I also enquired about when we should sign up for dives (as I had done by e-mail well before our arrival and was told to wait until we got to the island). They said anytime before they close the day before was fine…ok.
Now armed with fins, in addition to our own masks and snorkels, we were dying to get out on the house reef…and it lived up to our expectations. We saw plenty. And we spent plenty of time in the water each day here.
We lounged around on our porch after snorkeling…and then went back for more. Following our second go, we got cleaned up and headed to the Dining Room Restaurant for dinner. We each had fish, and it was delicious. We checked out the night sky and watched some of the action in the water back at the villa before heading to bed.
I woke up earlier today and couldn’t resist the urge to jump in and snorkel. Alyce was up when I returned, and I rinsed off in the shower very quickly before heading to breakfast – which was excellent again.
After breakfast, Alyce hopped in and did some snorkeling while I had to work on an engineering paper I had written over the summer. I submitted it to a journal and had heard back with some minor comments. Still, they had to be incorporated…which may have been the last thing on the planet I felt like doing. Oh well, I sucked it up and got it over with…followed by more snorkeling.
Before heading to dinner, we passed by the dive shop to let them know we wanted to join the morning two tank dive. Generally the shop requires a supervised check out dive on the house reef for all divers…oh and it costs like $120 a person. They said that we could skip the checkout dive when we talked to them the previous day.
Today, they wanted to see our log books – this wasn’t mentioned previously. We don’t keep log books – I know… we should. I lost my mine in Katrina and never got back in to it. I offered to get in touch with any of the several shops we dove with over the last couple months to verify our experience; all were very good about responding to e-mail and this would be superior verification to a log book entry anyway.
The guy said he’d be right back, and it turned out the boat was “quite full” for the following morning so we’d have to do the afternoon one tank dive. I was pretty annoyed at this point given the lengths I typically go to to make sure this doesn’t happen. Oh well I guess. We’d do the worse value, worse site afternoon single tank dive. I had my suspicions that something else was going on…
We had another nice dinner at the Island Grill restaurant and retired to our room for the night.
Today, we’d be doing some diving…But not before we ate our breakfast and got in some snorkeling.
Now we were pretty excited about diving in the Maldives. It’s hailed as some of the best in the world, and – if the snorkeling was any indication – we were in for a treat.
That said, the island dive shop was expensive. And we’ve dove with island resort dive shops previously…and this was significantly more expensive. Still, we weren’t going to make it all the way to the Maldives and not dive. So, we sucked it up and paid the costs.
Upon arriving to the dive shop for our afternoon dive, we were presented with the bill before the dive…I’ve never had this happen. You always pay after diving and typically at the end of your trip. I was considering doing a package, but they said I had to decide on the spot…That was completely unexpected – and something I probably could have had changed had I wanted to complain. Further, our bill was wrong, we were overcharged.
When we got to the boat, I was pretty sure my suspicions from the previous day were confirmed. The boat was huge; they could take half the island diving and not be too crowded. They just said the morning boat was full to size up our diving ability…which is fine if they would have been honest about it…I never like being lied to, and especially not when paying these prices.
Oh well, move on Justin…Don’t let it ruin your dive. Unfortunately, we were diving with a couple of French goobers. They put on each other’s wet suit when getting ready and had to switch back. You’d think they’d be attentive at that point, but they subsequently put on each other’s BCDs. I was concerned after seeing this that they’d run out of air quickly.
Sure enough, one of them was out of air in about 25 minutes. The dive guide told us to hang tight while he brought them to the surface. Thankfully, we got to continue the dive, but it did kill about 10 minutes of the dive.
The reef itself was…not so exciting. We were expecting much more. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do anymore diving in the Maldives at this point, but I figured we had to try one of the morning dives.
We got back to the island, and I was pretty annoyed. A nice relaxing break on the beach followed by some more snorkeling put me in a much better mood.
We weren’t sure what restaurant we wanted to eat dinner at, but while walking to go eat we saw something set up on the beach. We decided to check it out, and it was a Maldivian beach buffet with a traditional Maldivian beach show. It was pricey for what it was – you definitely get more for your dollar at the restaurant. But, it was fun to try lots of different things and watch the show.
We were up early for our morning two tank dive. I had checked with the hotel the day before, and they said that you could eat breakfast upon returning from diving. So, we decided to do that.
We were again presented our bill upon arrival to the dive shop (weird)…but they had waived our equipment rental fees. To this day, I’m not exactly sure why they waived the fees, but they didn’t do it for anyone else. To me, there were numerous reasons that warranted such action – but I never complained to the shop. So I definitely appreciated the proactive gesture (for whatever reason). It didn’t make up for being lied to – which I was 100% positive of seeing as all the morning divers this day were doing their first morning dive – but it was a step in the right direction.
I’d also add that the dive shop employees were always very friendly. That is something else that goes a long way in my book when there are other issues.
Our first dive was a channel dive, and we were set to enter at a slightly different location than the other four divers, but the current was too strong.
When we eventually jumped in, we were staring in to a deep, dark endless blue. It like nothing we’d ever seen before and was quite neat. Soon we had made our way to the reef and were moving along with the current. We had done drift dives before, but never quite at this pace. The dive guide was also racing to point out all the many different things we saw: eagle rays, sharks, huge turtle, and tons of fish.
We got our full hour’s worth on this dive and were back on board for our surface interval. That dive was the polar opposite of the previous day’s in that it was one of the best dives we had ever done.
The staff had set up a nice tea for us on the surface interval. We talked with the other two diving couples while enjoying some snacks. One couple was from Switzerland and the other was the French couple from the day before. This was one of the many things that made me feel like the morning two tank dives was a much better value than the afternoon dive.
The second dive would be on a thila. A thila is a coral reef pinnacle not too far under the surface. This dive was also a very good dive. We again saw plenty of marine life, and the coral here was beautiful and in great shape.
Overall, the second day of diving was far better than the first. I’m still not wild about being lied to – but time to move on about it.
Back at the island, we had “breakfast” at 2:00 in the afternoon. It was still delicious.
We spent a good bit of the afternoon on the beach. I had a couple beers, which hit the spot while relaxing.
There was a little window to get some snorkeling in before dinner, so we did. After that, we had dinner at the Island Grill, which was again enjoyable.
This day started off with sleeping in followed by breakfast, complete with a full plate of mangosteen.
Afterwards, we took off for a long snorkel and went all around the island for about 4 hours. I swear, I don’t think we’d ever get tired of snorkeling there.
We then made our way back to the beach for some beach drinks to top off our last day. I followed our beach time up with one final snorkel. I was sad when I got out the last time.
Since we had been to the Island Grill the night before, we decided on the Dining Room for dinner. We had fish again, and it was very good. Just like I don’t think I’d ever tire of snorkeling, I think I could eat fresh fish every night of the week and be happy.
We wrapped up the night by drinking the champagne the hotel had given us as a welcome amenity on our porch and reminiscing about all the things we had done on this trip…It wasn’t quite over yet, but the end was near…and it had been quite the adventure.
“We’re beach people at heart.” That is how we described ourselves the last day in the Maldives, and I think it’s true.
We loved everything we’ve done, but few things relax me like a morning of scuba diving and laying out on the beach in the afternoon with a cold drink and your feet in the sand. Maybe it’s because we’re generally so busy at home that we enjoy the relaxing pace.
And the Maldives may be the ultimate beach destination…Some people have compared it as a bucket list item to French Polynesia. I can’t say as we’ve never been there, but I’d imagine there being a good bit more action in French Polynesia, as resorts share an island. Also, there is probably more topside scenery in Bora Bora with the mountain right there.
Still, it is hard to imagine anywhere being as relaxing as our time in the Maldives. It was just a very chill place. Not to mention, the sea life was awesome. And even with the dive shop hiccup, we absolutely loved our time here.
I think we’ll make it back to the Maldives someday, despite how difficult it is to get to…and it just may be sooner rather than later 😉