I’ve been working on this post for days and I am so excited to finally share it with my readers. I’ve put together a travel guide as to how I planned my trip to the beautiful Maldives after hours and hours of research! Whether you’re planning a trip for your honeymoon, anniversary or a just-because-you-want-to holiday I hope this guide will help you. We travelled to the Maldives in April 2015 for 7 days 5 nights.
The Maldives is a beautiful island nation located about 600kms south-west off the coast of India in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It’s made up of 26 distinct naturally formed regions known as atolls. Each atoll houses many islands – in total, there are 1190 islands in the Maldives!!
The capital city is Male, and this is where the main international airport is located (albeit on a separate island to the main city).
Deciding on when to go
We believe the best month to visit is April. The weather is still gorgeous, it is less busy and the resorts usually start to discount their prices after Easter. Don’t bother checking the weather before you leave – the forecasts are almost always wrong and fingers crossed you will have days of endless sunshine like we did. Leading up to our trip, I checked the forecasts on a daily basis and saw thunderstorms and torrential rains. I didn’t see a single drop of rain the whole time we were there – just pure sunshine.
Weather wise, the Maldives does have a monsoon season from May to November. I would personally avoid those months as the resorts are still expensive and there’s a very real chance that you’ll experience some unpleasant weather. But for the rest of the year, you’re good to go.
There are no direct flights to the Maldives from Melbourne. To help with finding flights, we used kayak.com to find options and then booked direct with the airline. The airlines we found with the shortest flight times to the Maldives were Malaysian and Singapore Airlines, with a transit in either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore depending on the airline you choose. If you wish to transit in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific also flies to the Maldives however the flight time is obviously longer. Although Malaysian Airlines was cheaper, we decided to fly with Singapore Airlines as we like to break up the journey with a quick stopover. Singapore is very convenient for this, with plenty of hotels and eating options near Changi airport. Also, if you find yourself having to transit for only a few hours, Changi airport is clean, comfortable and tourists also get free money to shop!!
Timing your flights is important. Depending on which hotel you choose, you may have to take a sea-plane or speedboat from Male to your island resort. Most sea planes stop operating after 3 or 4pm. Hence, if you arrive in the evening, you may end up spending the night in Male unless a speedboat option is available. Singapore Airlines operates two flights a day to the Maldives from Singapore. One arrives in the morning and the other at night time. Make sure you get the morning flight if you want to head straight to your resort!
For us, we decided on the 6pm evening flight from Melbourne to Singapore and spent a night in Singapore. We then caught the morning flight from Singapore to Male, and rode the sea plane to the W Hotel that afternoon. Note, if you don’t mind overnight flights,you can also depart Melbourne at midnight and still catch the morning flight from Singapore to Male. We are too old for overnight flights!
The flight from Melbourne to Singapore is about 7 hours, and from Singapore to Male is about 4 hours. In terms of time difference, you will gain 2 hours flying to Singapore and another 3 hours flying to the Maldives. The Maldives is 5 hours behind Australia’s east coast.
I spent days on end searching for my perfect Maldives experience. The resort websites all look idyllic when you’re looking at them through the window of your computer, and it’s hard not to feel as if your holiday has already started.
So how to choose? Tripadvisor is a good place to start but you will be inundated with a sea of ‘perfect’ reviews. Keep an eye out instead for the negative reviews, which will most likely be exaggerated but still helpful in pointing out potential drawbacks and giving you a more accurate picture. Initially I had 15 luxury resorts on my list. I then culled them one by one, based on the following list of what was important to me:
1. House reef
For me, the house reef is the most important factor to consider. Let’s face it, you’re going to the Maldives for the water right? Otherwise, you may as well go to Bali. Whilst I am not an expert swimmer, snorkelling in the Maldives is something that I treasure. The house reef is the reef that surrounds your resort, and the one that you will spend the most time exploring, so find one with healthy coral beds and a variety of marine life. I found the following website useful in explaining the difference between lagoons and house reefs: Dreaming of Maldives
Having enjoyed One & Only Hayman Island just last year, One & Only Reethi Rah made it to my initial list. However after further research, I discovered the island is artificial (literally a bed of concrete), and more importantly there is no house reef for snorkelling. Instead you get strong waves and deep ocean. C-U-L-L.
We were celebrating our 2nd wedding anniversary, and so looked for resorts that were more couples orientated. Ok fine, I looked for resorts with no kids. There I said it. Don’t judge. I culled Conrad from my list for this reason. Here’s a tip – if you see lots of Tripadvisor reviews from ‘families’ then again, C-U-L-L.
Jump on Google Maps and take a look at a map of the Maldives. This will give you an idea of where your resort is, and how long your journey from the airport will be. Whilst most resorts are either a quick speedboat or short seaplane ride away, some resorts like Six Senses Laamu require you to catch a connecting domestic flight before boarding your speedboat. I really don’t see the point when there are many blissful resorts that are closer.
Also, have a look on the map and see what is near your resort. I would avoid the resorts that are close to the airport and also, if there are other islands nearby as is the case with Six Senses Laamu, you may literally experience rubbish. Need I say it again? C-U-L-L.
4. Room Decor
I’m adding Room Decor to the list as I prefer a more modern feel, and am not really partial to the rustic Maldivian style of some resorts like Gili Lankanfushi. But to be perfectly honest, you’re going to be spending most of your time outside your room so I don’t think the room is as important as the other factors.
5. Food & Service
If you’re going to be on an island and captive to the resort’s restaurants, then food and service definitely warrants consideration. If food is high on your priority list, I’ve heard good things about Baros.
And then there were two.
My final two choices were the W Retreat & Spa and Huvafen Fushi. Both appeared equally stunning. My first preference was Huvafen Fushi but decided on W because Huvafen was more pricey. I know, it seems a little incredulous to talk about pricing considering we are already paying thousands per night, but every penny counts right? Both resorts satisfied my first four criteria with mixed reviews for the fifth.
Alternatively, Anantara Kihavah is worth checking out. I came across a fellow traveller aptly named Azurelagoon who has been to 14 islands in the Maldives. Fourteen! You can check out his reviews on other islands here.
Here are two tips that you can try to get better rates for your accommodation. Firstly, try booking with the resort directly. Find out what their best advertised rate is, and then give them a call. You’d be surprised at how willing to negotiate some resorts are. Even if you can’t reduce the rate, you can often get freebies like spa treatments or transfers thrown in. We managed to get a better rate booking directly with W than booking through a travel agent.
Secondly, join a few accommodation booking websites such as Hotelclub, Expedia or Booking.com. These sites will often have site wide promotion codes giving you up to 20% off their advertised rates. Note that not all resorts will be available through these sites.
W Retreat & Spa Maldives
1. The Arrival
The moment we stepped into Male International Airport, we were greeted by W welcome staff. Actually, I lie. First we had to clear immigration and customs where all our bags were scanned. We had two nice bottles of wine that we had to leave with customs (the Maldives is an islamic country) – so don’t bother bringing any alcohol!
The W staff quickly took care of our luggage and got us checked-in for our seaplane transfer. We were then transported by bus to W’s well-appointed airport lounge where we waited for our seaplane. The seaplane ride itself was around 20 minutes but the views weren’t as amazing as I thought it would be. The helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef is much more spectacular.
2. The room
I would highly recommend to split your stay between the overwater lagoon villa and the beach villa. We spent our first 3 nights in an overwater lagoon villa and 2 nights in a beach villa. Although it is slightly troublesome to have to re-pack, I wouldn’t have it any other way. They are both totally different experiences worth trying.
Let’s start with the water villa. The views, as you can see below, are AMAZING. When the full power of the sun hits the water, the beautiful turquoise and azure colours generated are like something out of Picasso’s palette. And the W overwater villas take full advantage of these views with beautifully appointed wooden decking, outdoor Bose system, sun lounges and cabana, your own private plunge pool, and of course direct access to the water.
One of my fave moments was listening to music on the deck during sunset – it was just such a surreal feeling.
Here’s an insider tip. Overwater villas come in two flavours – ocean facing and lagoon facing. Our villa was lagoon facing, which means it faces the shallower water of the lagoon – although at no point could I actually stand and touch the bottom! The view is pure TURQUOISE. On the other hand, ocean facing villas face the ocean (yes really!). Whilst you have unobstructed views because you are right at the edge of the deep water where the house reef meets the ocean, your water views are deep dark blues as opposed to turquoise. This is also something to keep in mind if you’re not a confident swimmer. However, you will probably see a greater variety of sea life right outside your room. I personally prefer the lagoon turquoise view.
I did however have an issue with privacy. The rooms are relatively close and you can hear what your neighbours are doing on the deck. However, I don’t think this can be helped when you’re in a water villa even if it is at another resort.
The beach villa is completely different and in many ways I had a lot more fun at the beach villa. I think if I were to go again I would probably spend more time in the beach villa. The sand is soft white Maldivian sand. You can swim 10 metres out and there are SEA TURTLES – we had not one but TWO playing with us. The view is not as stunning as the water villa, but I preferred sun baking on the sand than on the deck.
3. The resort
The W resort itself is a beautiful place, with postcard worthy scenery everywhere you turn. You can’t help but soak up the relaxed and chilled atmosphere, especially when sipping cocktails and watching the sunset at SIP. But the fun hip vibe that was promised by the marketing materials appeared to be missing. Nowhere was this more evident than at 15 Below, the not so happening underground night club.
Food was also a bit hit and miss. Breakfast every morning at KITCHEN was an enticing affair. They have delicious made-to-order dishes (try the healthy bowl) complimented by a sumptuous buffet. The chefs do their best to get creative and personally offer guests their latest creations – my hubby loved the pie and shot of beer to start the day!
KITCHEN is the main restaurant, and serves decent lunch and snacks throughout the day. Every alternate night they also serve dinner, with a mix of asian and western cuisines. It was my favourite restaurant in the resort. When KITCHEN is closed, a barbecue seafood buffet is offered at FIRE. I have to admit that I was quite disappointed with the food at FIRE – it lacked what can only be described as taste. And everything was overcooked. When you’re charging $125 USD per person, not including drinks, this is pretty unacceptable.
FISH is the fine dining restaurant and is situated out on the water. The food was better than at FIRE, but not by much. Surprisingly, it wasn’t any more expensive (for the two of us) than dining at FIRE either. If you’re looking for a dinner alternative, try the room service. The food is prepared by the chefs at KITCHEN, and you can ask them to cook you whatever, whenever. We had them prepare a traditional Maldivian fish curry and it was delish. The cooks are Maldivian so you really can’t go wrong.
In terms of service, we had a good experience. The staff are friendly and make a genuine effort to engage with you. However it lacked character and personalisation. At other resorts that I have been to, the manager would come and greet and address you by name and get to know you. There was none of that here.
But all is quickly forgiven (by my husband anyway) when you come across one of many drink stations scattered around the island. These complimentary havens of sugary goodness offer up unlimited cans of cold Milo, carbonated beverages, bottled water, and Magnum ice creams.
One of the best things about the Maldives (or at least the W resort) compared to other tropical resorts is the relative lack of mosquitoes. We heard that defogging was to occur on one of the days that we were there, but we personally didn’t even notice it.
Lastly it’s worth remembering that the W is part of the Starwood group. As such, if you have a late night return flight you have the option of getting transferred to the Sheraton Full Moon Resort in the afternoon (for a fee of course) which is right near the airport. You can either chill by the pool or get a room to relax. We opted for the room and were given an overwater villa, with complimentary views of a nearby factory! Let’s just say that compared to the W, it really isn’t a comparison. It’s not even close. Even the snorkelling outside the room is crap, although my husband did get excited (and shit scared) when he happened across a 2 metre long shark. We then ate dinner at the SAND COAST restaurant, and actually thought that the food was much much better than any of our meals at the W. Go figure!
4. Things to do
People often ask me, ‘what is there to do besides sun baking and the occasional dip? Is five days too long?’
Activities on a tropical island should be relatively self explanatory. And you can do them all at the W (some for a fee of course). Parasailing, jet skiing, glass-bottom canoeing. There is also a Dive Center, where you can get certified with a full range of PADI courses. There are also various excursions, including some to other islands if you want to see some local Maldivian towns. And then of course there is the snorkelling.
We went snorkelling EVERY day. The water was calm, a constant 30 degrees, crystal clear, EVERY day. The house reef was fantastic and you see different sea life every time you jump in. We also took a speedboat to explore other nearby reefs with a guide. Highly recommend doing this. Whilst I am no expert, we went to Hardy Reef at the Great Barrier Reef last year and the snorkelling was much better at the Maldives. The coral beds, and the variety and abundance of fish were just breathtaking. It was like watching a 3D movie.
Besides the water activities, there are feel good activities like sunset and sunrise yoga, and the AWAY spa is definitely worth a visit. If you plan on utilising the spa a lot, I’d recommend booking the spa package when booking your accommodation which will get you discounted treatments.
All major resorts in the Maldives charge in USD. So for us Aussies, that means adding on an extra 20-odd percent depending on the exchange rate. Then you also have to factor in GST (12%) and service charges (10%) which adds a whopping 23.2% on to your base bill.
By now you should know that accommodation is fairly expensive (even more so during peak season). Seaplane transfers to and from the W are 480 USD per person. Breakfasts are included, but dinners are generally not unless it’s part of your accommodation package. Expect to pay at least 100 USD per head if you are dining at one of the restaurants for dinner. Room service can actually work out to be a fair bit cheaper. Drinks tended to be about 20 USD, no matter what you ordered, even if it was just bottled water.
Our speedboat snorkelling excursion cost about 100 USD per head, and the Sheraton transfer (with room and dinner) was about 380 USD.
Snorkelling gear is complimentary though!
Honestly, you are already there, just pay and don’t think about it.
What to pack
Your camera! For our above water shots, we mainly used a Canon 6D DSLR camera. It gives great manual control and allows you to deal with various beach lighting conditions easily. For the underwater shots, we used both a Sony RX100 (with underwater housing) and a GoPro Hero 4 Silver. The Sony is great for portrait shots, whilst the GoPro lets you get up close and personal with marine life if you use an extendable pole. For the GoPro, make sure that you bring some extra batteries and we also recommend using a red or magenta lens filter due to the quirks of shooting underwater.
I’d also recommend buying your own goggle and snorkel set. Don’t worry about the fins. This is so you can ensure the fit is comfortable and correct for your face. For some reason, the gear from resorts never really fits me that well. I purchased a basic set from Rebel Sport.
Lots of bathing suits, bikinis, hat and sunscreen and you’re good to go!
We are so happy we went and we don’t regret any bit of it, even though our bank account is still bleeding. It is definitely not good-bye but see you again soon Maldives. Please share your tips and experiences with me!