So when you follow my travels, you know I tend to vacation quite the opposite of most travelers. For me flying overseas (9000+ miles) to stay in one location? Well, that can be awesome but it can also annoy me to travel so far and only be able to scratch the surface of a particular country I have never visited before. Truthfully at times I can also get antsy being in one spot for too long.
With over 1200 atolls (islands) within the Maldives, narrowing down which atoll to book can be an exercise in itself! Let me just advise before you read the rest of this blog post, that it is entirely possible to do a budget vacation in the Maldives by using public ferries and not staying at pricey resorts. This, however is not the subject of this blog post or trip.
In the Maldives, you can go budget (as mentioned), mid-level, luxury, and ridiculous! Irrespective, the General Manager of the first resort I stayed clued me in as to why there were not many American visitors to some resorts. Americans tend to book with resort brands they are familiar with such as Hyatt, Hilton, Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Shangri-la, Club Med and Hard Rock to name a few. As well, depending on budget, Americans are familiar with staying at various levels of Marriott and Starwood properties. These include Westin, Ritz Carlton, Aloft, JW, St. Regis, W and Sheraton. Towards the end of several weeks of being frustrated trying to pick the perfect property for what I wanted, as well for ease of mind, I almost did the same and booked the entire week stay at the St. Regis, Maldives. In the end however, I decided to brave the unknown, explore the island differences by staying two nights each at three different five star resorts throughout the week.
My Maldives criteria included a mix of the following requirements: All-inclusive five star properties, none too large in size, butler service included for at least one of these properties including being able to splurge for two of those nights in an overwater villa room.
Traveling solo meant I would not be splitting any of these costs, so let me explain why those above requirements can financially add up. Everything on the Maldives islands must be shipped and/or flown in. This includes gasoline, food, paper products, meats and alcohol. Bear in mind that the Maldives is a Muslim country where only the resorts are allowed to serve alcohol. So French champagnes, Brie cheese and the strawberries served at your luxury resort located in the middle of the Indian Ocean have been taxed thoroughly.
This cost is reflected in room rates. As well, things we take for granted in the United States such as ice and hot water are considered commodities. For that reason, I do appreciate a resort that emphasizes green energy and recycling practices.
Next, you don’t just land at Male airport and drive or uber to your hotel. Either a seaplane or boat transfer is necessary and each transfer is an additional cost added on top of your hotel nightly room rate.
If transport by seaplane is needed, count on adding an eadditional $400-$700 r/t per person per location. If you book hotels on your own, here is where you might see the nightly rate total and then an additional line item for resort transport. Below I have screen shot an example of what I am referring to.
Seaplanes are contracted and negotiated by TMA, a wholly separate company from any of the hotels. TMA pilots use visual flight water landings therefore only operate thier seaplanes during daylight from sun up to sun down. Be careful of your International flight arrival time. With bad planning, arrive too late in the day such as after 3:30pm and you will be required to stay overnight in Male losing an entire day, flying onward in the morning.
I flew Ethiad Airlines to Male. The flight from Abu Dhabi arrived at 2pm. I was met outside of international arrivals by a resort representative and was taken to the hotels’s seaplane departure lounge 8 minutes away by air conditioned van. At the hotel lounge you wait inside for the seaplane transfer flight. Each luxury resort has a waiting lounge at the departure dock area although some do share lounges. There is free wifi throughout along with snacks and water. Expect to wait up to two hours for other passengers to arrive to fill your seaplane flight. Delays are common. TMA routes are based on resort destination and number of passengers arriving each day. There are no pre-set or advanced flight schedules. Do check TMA luggage restrictions as weight is a huge safety component on their seaplanes.
Most TMA pilots are commercial expats. Uniforms consist of casual short sleeve shirts, shorts and flip flops. It is not unusual to see pilots kick their flip flops off after take off in order to fly barefoot.
There is no assigned seating onboard so if you want your choice of seat, be among the first to board and try to avoid sitting over the wing windows which often have blocked views. Seaplanes run loud and are very warm, so keep your noise cancelling headphones handy and hand fan if you have one for there is no air conditioning.
Seaplane flights either land in open water then pull up to the resort jetty or land at an open water pontoon float where a resort boat will be waiting to complete the minute or so ride to their beach jetty. Some seaplane routes serve more than just one resort so don’t be surprised if you experience more than one landing on your way.
Don’t panic when your hotel is unable to advise you in advance of what time your return seaplane flight departs to Male. Due to whatever complicated algorithm TMA uses, departure times probably will not be conveyed until the night prior to departure.
This is one of the reasons when I selected my final resort destination, I chose a resort which used speedboat instead of seaplane transport which I will explain further.
Etihad’s departure time from Male was 6:10pm in the evening. Remember seaplane flights only are possible during daylight hours. TMA random seaplane scheduling might have left me with several hours to kill at Male airport which is sparse with not much to do. Being stuck there would have been quite an anti-climatic way to close out a superbly luxurious week in paradise. The closer proximity of my final selected resort took into consideration use of transport by speedboat. This meant there was more control of a later resort departure transfer time. In fact, even without a late hotel checkout, I was able to use the resort facilities and stay there until afternoon.
So, speedboat transfers. Speedboat distance from Male can cost considerably less but cost is still dependent on resort and distance. Transport could still end up costing $400 r/t per person. Once you calculate these additional costs in, island hopping can get hella expensive which is why staying at one resort throughout makes better financial sense.
Well I must have lost my senses because as previously mentioned, I did the unheard expensive island hopping through the Maldives.
Close to two weeks out from departure, I did finally narrow my choice to three resorts. I calculated distance, value and quality of all-inclusiveness (not all-inclusive is top shelf), reef conditions, scuba diving proximity and traveler reviews. Self researching the Maldives can be tough. I did not have all the above information and had to piece together what I could from a variety of sources. In addition, I wanted to find resorts that might be more female solo traveler friendly. I wasn’t keen to be surrounded by screaming children or be surrounded by love stuck couples during breakfast, lunch and dinner.
After narrowing down my search to three resorts which I felt met my criteria, I was ready to book each individually. However something still nagged at me. No one I personally knew vouch for any of my choices or determining factors.
Towards the end of my research I did locate some Maldives blogs members mention of a particular UK travel company which came highly recommended specializing in Maldivian travel. Having not used a travel agency in over a decade I was skeptical but I needed reconfirmation of my choices. I went ahead and sent them my proposed itinerary. Angelfish Travel did not bat an eye or try to talk me out of my insane schedule. In fact, they confirmed my resort choices and order of my choices. Angelfish Travel advised the itinerary made the most sense in that I would be going from the lower level five star all-inclusive to the most premium five star all-inclusive. I sent to them the price quotes I had sourced (inclusive of resort transfer). Angelfish Travel sent me back their proposal which beat out my researched costs by $500. The best part was they would do all the inter-resorts groundwork discussions regarding inter-island transfers so I didn’t have to do a thing. Mind you this all came together within a week of departure and even up to flight doors closing. They really made the trip that much more enjoyable and I absolutely highly recommend their services and would use them again.
Next up, I will review the individual hotels. Overall the Maldives were everything you would expect. Truly beautiful and truly luxurious.