Having travelled to the Maldives five times and experienced twelve resorts over the course of two years, opened my eyes sufficiently to pen this article on 6 tips on how to choose your ideal resort in the Maldives. This can help readers to better cut through the clutter and make a more informed decision when choosing their ideal resort. A trip to the Maldives certainly doesn’t come cheap and so getting that “perfect” resort with the best bang for your hard-earned money is important.
For a start, pretty much all resorts in the Maldives will offer you a similar spectacular Maldivian sensory experience – turquoise sea with the gin-clear sea, beautiful powdery white sand beaches and of course, a “picture-perfect” climate. It would not be an exaggeration to assume anyone visiting the Maldives for the 1st time will fall in love with the place.
2017 alone saw the opening of many new resorts, with more in 2018 and there are in excess of 120 resorts currently vying for your money. With each new resort differentiating itself with unique features and the wide band of Tripadvisor reviews on tap, how do you decide?
Tip #1 – Cost
I am sad to start with an unromantic tip on a romantic place. But the cost is the key consideration that will determine your choice. For a vacation that typically lasts at least 4 days 3 nights, the expenses on food and beverages, activities like scuba diving, sunset dolphin cruises, spa treatments, etc, can certainly stack up fast and furious. The current GST is 12% and 10% service fee while there is a Green Tax of USD6 per person per night stay. Getting your budgeting right is a great start to your escapade to the Maldives.
Water or Beach Villa? The cost difference quickly escalates. You can always earn back your money but not the time that has passed.
International hotel-chain managed, owner-managed or local owned resorts? All will give you that lovely Maldivian vibes but the difference is in the “wow” factors that you want to enjoy. And it’s safe to assume that the pricier the resorts, the more distinctive vibes will be, you get what you pay for.
Tip #2 – Island features and vibes
It will be good to understand the resort’s clientele profile. A look at the resort website will assist in an initial assessment. It will also help if you have a trusted travel agent that specialises in the resorts they are representing. Getting in-depth information helps to achieve that “right fit”, e.g, Club Med Maldives may not be suitable for those looking for peace and quiet. Some resorts target families with kids’ facilities so these resorts may not be the ideal choice for a honeymoon or romantic getaway. Other resorts may target specific clientele from certain countries so their activities, food menus, and staff attitudes may be skewed toward that populace. Understanding the resort vibes will help plenty.
Is the resort’s vibe what you look for? Relaxing traditional Maldivian or quirky modernistic decor? Aesthetic consideration can affect one’s expectations and enjoyment of a resort.
Is the resort couple-centric? This will be reflected in the layout of the resort, the facilities offered and the overall ambience.
Is diving or snorkelling an important consideration? Then a resort with a mature house-reef will be a key deciding factor. As resorts with no house reef will require a boat ride to the nearest reef, which consumes time and may be chargeable too. And if whale-shark or dolphin sighting is on your to-do list, then choose those resorts that are located in the areas where those marine lives are a regular feature.
Does a unique landmark attract you? The Fairmont Maldives has world-renowned sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor built his signature partially submerged The Coralarium right at the resort beach. Such celebrity artist has a cult following that is like a magnet for eco-travellers the world over.
Are you curious about unique experiences? like this underwater fine-dining restaurant at Anantara Kihavah. One of a kind attractions is one of the ways that resorts set to distinguish themselves. Likewise, the dining concept and theme of the resort can be a deciding factor.
Are kid’s facilities a key consideration for you? Families with young children will gravitate toward them, while honeymooners will do their best to choose elsewhere.
Are the spa facilities a must-do? Most, if not all resorts, will have an in-house spa that is either outsourced or self-managed. Some resorts even have an award-winning spa franchise at their resort.
Tip #3 – Accessibility
The resort’s proximity to Malé will affect costing and (to an extent, enjoyment too). The 3 basic modes of transfer are – a speedboat ride, seaplane or domestic flight followed by a speedboat. This is dependent on which resort you chose, of course.
The perks of speedboat transfer are that you get to enjoy your piece of paradise much faster after exiting the airport immigration, besides the lower cost (USD100-300/pax) The flip side is Malé (city and industrial island) is visible from some of the nearby atolls. So you need to decide whether the sight of civilization on the horizon is a problem for you. Likewise, some nearby islands on seaplanes’ flight paths will mean vacationers be “entertained” by regular buzzing seaplanes. Is this an issue with you? It’s good to know that the seaplanes operate only during daylight hours -6am-3.30 pm.
Some vacationers prefer to feel “isolated’ from civilization, in which case, a more distant resort with a seaplane (USD350-900/pax) or domestic flight-speedboat transfer (USD200-400/pax) would be ideal. While the seaplane flight can take up to 1-hr or slightly longer flight, it’s an experience definitely worth doing at least once. The aerial view of the atolls is truly memorable and adds to the overall excitement. But do note that the seaplane can be cramp (and sits up to 15 passengers), very hot prior to take-off and somewhat loud engine sound (earplugs are provided). Waiting time at the resort lounge or seaplane terminal at Malé may take anything from 20 mins to several hours. Seaplanes operate between 6am -3.30pm so if your plane arrives or departs late at night, this warrants proper planning.
Tip #4 – Type of Boarding Packages
The type of boarding packages can and will affect how you enjoy the resort experience. In their quests to reach out to more prospective guests, most resorts have a range of boarding packages that will entice and sweeten the deal. They are basically – breakfast, half board (Breakfast & Dinner), full board (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner), all-inclusive (B, L, D with beverages included) and premium all-inclusive (usually include selected activities).
Depending on your dietary habit, choosing the right boarding package will go a long way in making the stay more enjoyable as you already pre-paid the costs and “saving” on the 22% taxes which you will incur if you keep spending on bare-bone packages.
Guests’ profiles at various resorts influence how the resident chef designs the food and beverage offerings. Those with a dominant Asian clientele will see more Asian food being featured. So if you are particular about food, do research the resort range of restaurants menu for a more enjoyable gastronomic adventure as dining is a big part of staying at a Maldives resort. You can’t go anywhere else if the food doesn’t agree with you.
Seafood can’t get any fresher than in the Maldives. The traditional method of fishing is still strictly controlled by the Ministry of Fisheries and all fish is hand/line caught in the Maldives. This is one the reasons why there are no “mountains” of prawns on offer or lobsters. What the resorts lack in available variety is made up for in quality, creativity and delicious cooking styles that the seafood is served.
Tip #5 – Type of Accommodation
Water or Beach Villa? Most will prefer the water villa for that fabulous sea at doorstep feel. But there are 2 main points to consider here – 1st- would you like to step out onto a beach or access the sea directly via stairs from a water villa and 2nd- is heat a big issue to you.
If you prefer to relax in the shade, a beach villa may be better for you as they are usually set up behind or under palms, with outdoor space which offers more shade and renders things a bit cooler in the hot Maldivian sun.
A beach villa with a plunge pool at Fairmont Maldives. Perfectly idyllic and shaded from the sun.
A beach villa at Grand Park Maldives, just steps from the turquoise lagoon.
If you go for the water villa option, do check out the aerial view of the resort to see how the villas are laid out (whether they overlook one another for example) and proximity to the island’s main activities centre, where most of the facilities are. Most resorts provide buggy transfer service but pick-up efficiency may be affected during peak hours (meal time).
A water villa offers direct access to the coral reef or lagoon for a swim in the crystal clear water.
The outdoor patio of a water villa is the perfect place for chilling out especially at night, under the starry skies. And the private pool is ideal for a dip at night.
Tip #6 – Size of Island
Island size – this may sound odd as a deciding factor but if you find yourself on a tiny island (e.g. you can walk right around it in 10 minutes) you may get a bit claustrophobic pretty soon. In the event, that water sports are not your cup of tea, boredom sets in pretty quickly and there are no other places to explore. Do be mindful of this consideration early on during decision-making time.
Islands vary in size quite a fair bit. Some are big enough that you can ride around on a bicycle or even a buggy. Some resorts may even be made up of several connecting islands. Big or small, it’s a personal choice.
I hope my sharing above will help those seeking the ideal resort for that amazing experience. The observation and tips are correct to the best of my knowledge and personal experience. If you are planning a visit, then you’ve chosen a wonderful destination by considering the Maldives. I like to add my 2-cent’s worth before wrapping up the article – engaging an established travel agency will certainly go a long way in getting that ideal vacation. Thanks for coming along for the pixels journey, for my other Maldives resorts review, do check out my other travelogues here.
P.S – All pictures used in this blog are all rights reserved and copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography