Maldives (Our trip to paradise)

When you think of Paradise, white sandy beaches on a secluded island come to mind and that’s precisely where our search for paradise took us, to the Maldives.  The Maldives is a string of islands located in the Indian Ocean and really embodies everything you would want; clear blue waters, gorgeous reefs, plentiful sea life, white sand, gentle breezes, and quiet seclusion.

With all that being said, if you’ve ever looked into traveling to the Maldives, you know that pristine paradise doesn’t come cheap. Not only are accommodations and airfare pricey, but there are many other costs that we don’t always think about. So I’m going to cover some of the considerations we made before we booked the Maldives portion of our trip so that you know before you go.

1. Accommodations 

Most resorts are not located on Male, where the airport is located. The majority of resorts will require a speedboat or sea plane to get to, which can run as high as $360/pp for a round-trip seaplane ride. This is a significant cost when you think about how much you’re paying already for airfare to Male. The next thing to consider is that each resort is basically an island, so that means food and drinks can only be acquired from the resort that you’re staying at, which of course comes at a premium. There is no mini mart you can go to in order to grab a cup of noodles or something like that and most people have limited space to bring “extras” like food in their luggage as there are weight limits on the sea planes. Many resorts offer a Bed and Breakfast rate (Breakfast only), Half Board (Breakfast and Dinner), Full Board (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner), and All Inclusive, or you can just pay as you go for everything.  Our resort gave us 1 L of water daily, anything over that you had to buy, but we honestly didn’t have to buy a lot of extra water (1 L of water was $3.50), for other beverages, check out their beverage menu.  Definitely take all of that into account when you are figuring out your budget for your Maldives trip.

Once you have determined what kind of budget you are on and then go ahead and search for resorts accordingly. After you establish your budget, you have to decide what your priorities are for the vacation.  If you have a specific room in mind, want mind blowing food, amazing reefs, lots of resort activities, and more then you will most likely have to stay at one of the most expensive resorts. For us, I decided that I really wanted to stay in an over-water villa (after seeing the beach villas at the resort, we would definitely do one of those as well, having the beach only footsteps away seemed really appealing) and also wanted a resort with a gorgeous reef, if I could find one with great food too, that would be a bonus, but an over-water villa and gorgeous reef were must haves this time around.

After a lot of research, I was able to narrow my search down to the Reethi Beach Resort and the Vilamendhoo Island Resort & Spa. Reethi had great reviews on the food and the reef, but the over-water villas had shared walls and some people said that their neighbors were noisy. Vilamendhoo had over-water villas with private Jacuzzi tubs and no shared walls and great reefs, but almost everyone said the food was average. After quite some deliberation, Scott and I decided that we would go to the Vilamendhoo to ensure we had a quiet and peaceful trip and thought the in villa private Jacuzzi tub would be a nice bonus.

2. Flights

Before you book your airfare, be sure to check the times if you have to take a seaplane to your resort. The seaplanes stop flying after sunset and so you want to make sure your inbound flight gets you to Male at a reasonable hour to catch the sea plane. If you do not, you will be forced to overnight in Male and in my opinion that is a wasted day that you could have been spending at your resort.  Also, you’ll have the added logistical headache of booking accommodations for 1 night in Male and coordinating transportation to and from the airport.

When looking at flights, there weren’t any non stops from Seoul, so we looked to see which Asian cities had the cheapest flights. For the days I wanted to fly Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur had the cheapest flights, after checking the flight times, we chose Bangkok and were very happy with our decision.

3. Visas

For United States citizens, you are authorized a 30 day visa free stay upon entry.

4. Money

Unless you are going to be staying in Male, you will not need to exchange any money for your resort stay. Everything we did was able to be paid in US Dollars or on our credit card.  Even tips and such are preferred in USD, Euro, AUD. Additionally, most everything you purchase at the resort will just be charged to your room.  This makes things quite convenient and simple.

5.  Cell Phone

We came from Bangkok and the strange thing was that my SIM card from Bangkok still worked on the island!  As it was a pre-paid card, I decided to use it until I ran out of money.  However, most resorts have WiFi everywhere, so you can use that. I will say that the strength of the signal at our resort was not the strongest, but hey you’re in the middle of nowhere and supposed to be relaxing.  So getting off the grid for a little isn’t a bad thing!

6. Arrival to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and Domestic transfer

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is really a tiny airport. Immigration was a breeze and totally stress free (a good start to the island vibes).

We could see from the air that Male is all hustle and bustle unlike the resort islands. Look how packed the island is!

For those taking a sea plane to the resort, you have to check in to Trans Maldivian Airways, who are the only sea planes flying to the islands.  For the speedboats, go outside to the docks.

Our flight was at 1:40 PM and luckily, we did not miss it because the next plane to our resort wasn’t until 4:20 PM! So it’s possible you might have a decent length layover in Male.

At check in, each piece of luggage was weighed, including my purse.  They have to ensure that the the plane is not overweight (Note that there is a risk that if the plane is over weight already, your luggage may have to wait to the next plane). After check in, we were taken by bus to the domestic terminal and then shown the waiting room for our resort.  The Vilamendhoo waiting room is shared with a few other resorts and it’s nothing too exciting, just some beverages. When it’s almost time to board the plane you will be called by the staff, so don’t worry.

When we were called, we were put on another bus and taken about 100 feet to the “docks” where the sea planes were (walking this enormous distance was not an option).

If you have any illusions that flying in a sea plane is exciting or luxurious, leave those illusions on land. The sea plane holds a total of 15 people, but oftentimes they can’t fully fill the plane because of the luggage weight.  The seats are pretty small as you an see it’s seriously tight quarters.  Let’s add in no A/C (just little fans) and lots and lots of propeller noise.

Here’s me basically in the cockpit with the pilots, do you see they fly with NO SHOES?!

So the flight had 3 resort drop offs, we were the first stop and they said the flight would be about 20 minutes. Unfortunately for us, our resort was experiencing a rain storm when we flew by, which let me tell you is a little scary because the tiny plane was really shaking in the winds.  Due to the storm, we couldn’t land and ended up stopping in at the Lux Resort to wait out the storm, which was pretty nice.  The Lux touts that they roast their own special blend of coffee and offered us a cup while we waited, it was quite tasty and lived up to the hype! While we were waiting, we had a chance to chat with the pilots, who were very friendly.

When we finally took off again, we were finally on our way to our resort and landed next to a floating platform.  After a few minutes,  and a boat from our resort pulled up to welcome us to the Villamendhoo!

Alright, so now let’s get to the good stuff!

With all the rain delay and such, we didn’t make it to the resort until 4:30 PM! But here we are at the Vilamendhoo Island Resort & Spa!

We were escorted to the lobby and noticed that none of the common buildings have flooring, it’s all sand.  That basically tells you that you’ll be spending a lot of time in very casual attire and probably barefoot (I know we did).

Here’s Scott and I with our welcome drinks.

One of the staff came to fully check us in and explain all of the amenities on the island. The Vilamendhoo is not very large, you can probably walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. They have a dive shop, sports areas, 4 bars, 2 buffet restaurants and 2 a la carte restaurants.

Another reason why we selected the Vilamendhoo was that all the overwater villas are considered “Adults Only,” so all the families and children are on another part of the island and honestly you won’t even see them.

We were escorted by a member of the staff to our villa and as soon as we started walking towards our cabin, we were pretty satisfied with our decision.  The layout of the Vilamendhoo overwater villas is pretty awesome and we saw small reef sharks, parrot fish, and other marine life just during our walk down the boardwalk.

So here is our home sweet home for the next 5 days, Room 317! We had requested a Sunset Villa and we were about midway along the boardwalk. Each room comes equipped with their very own “Do Not Disturb” coconut, so much cooler than a door knob hanger!

The room itself is so spacious, even though we had seen pictures, we were very surprised.

Through the back door there was an enclosed patio area with a double lounger and the jacuzzi tub.

The enclosed patio connected to the open air bathroom.

And then through the glass doors in the bedroom, you were able to reach the deck and the the main selling point of the over water villa, the direct ocean access!! We watched all kinds of sea life swimming by our villa and straight ahead where you see the dark area is the beautiful house reef. There are so many fish in the house reef and we even saw a decent sized reef shark in our first 20 minutes in the water!

Since we had arrived to the resort late, we had missed lunch.  Luckily, they were kind enough to give us a voucher for the bar so that we could grab a little food.  Before grabbing a bite to eat, we walked along the beach a little and Scott took a quick snooze…..just kidding, we were too hungry at this point!

We popped into the Bonthi Bar, which was near the reception area and ordered a burger and the fish and chips. Honestly, I will say that the a la carte food was mediocre, we were not impressed in the least. If we had to pay for that food, I would have be extremely disappointed. I was definitely starting to worry if we’d be able to eat on the island for 5 days.

Luckily, the buffet restaurants offered a wide variety of options.  We ate daily at the Ahima Buffet Restaurant since it was the closest restaurant to our villa.  I won’t say that the food is gourmet by any means, but there is a large variety and based on our experience, there is something for everyone at each meal. I will admit that I ate my weight in papaya, since that is not something we see here in Korea.

Here’s a sample of what our breakfast was like. Since we were on the full board plan, we were able to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the buffet restaurants for no extra charge.  Coffee and tea were complimentary at breakfast, but any water, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages were all extra charges.

If you get tired of eating at the buffet restaurants, you can try one of the a la carte restaurants: Asian Wok and Hot Rocks.  The Asian Wok offered teppanyaki along with a variety of asian dishes and Hot Rocks offered meat that was cooked on hot volcanic rocks. We did visit the Asian Wok one night for the teppanyaki, and I think Kobe or Benihanas does it better, which isn’t saying much. Pricing wasn’t too bad, about $130 for 2 entrees and 1 mixed drink.

The adult pool is located right next to the Ahima Buffet Restaurant and Sunset Bar. There are quite a few loungers, but every morning you would see people claiming their chairs. So don’t sleep in too late if you plan to lounge by the pool!

The resort also has the Duniye Spa, which is the first set of buildings to the right of the boardwalk to the overwater villas.  In your welcome packet, they give you a voucher for a free 15 minute massage that you can use to get a discount on a longer massage.  We did opt to get massage treatments at the spa. The massages are pricey, even with the “discount,” we spent $200 for two 75 minute massages.

The spa rooms are very nice though, instead of staring at the floor, they have glass cutouts, so you can see the ocean and the sea life swimming underneath you.  After your treatment, they take you to a relaxation room for some tea.

Diving enthusiasts love the Maldives.  Although we are not expert divers by any stretch of the imagination, we had go diving.  We had heard from other divers that they had seen whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and more.  If you plan on diving at Vilamendhoo, go to the dive shop on your first day, do not pass GO, do not collect $200, go straight to the dive shop! In order to be eligible to dive, you must do a dive orientation (this goes even for experienced divers), which is only done at 4:30 PM each day.  They will ask you for your diving certification and get you all fitted for your gear (if you bring your own, then just tell them).  Then the next morning the dive staff will take you out to the water to do a test dive to assess your dive level as some of the reefs have high currents.  The dive center has a board that lists all the upcoming dives for then next few days.  Each of those dives is labelled easy, medium, or difficult based upon the currents, so based on what the instructor rates you, those are the types of dives you will be able to sign up for.

If you’re curious about cost, we did 3 dives (including rental of all items except the mask and snorkel) which came out to $260/pp, 2 of our dives were part of a half day dive boat trip and that was an extra $34/pp, and then our equipment  and taxes totaled $35/pp. So it adds up quick!

So let’s talk about the diving.

When I say there are a lot of fish around, I mean it!

Here are some of the sea creatures we saw on our first dive. Don’t forget that even if you don’t dive, you can snorkel the reefs and go on the whale shark and turtle excursions that are through the resorts.  We saw 3 whale sharks when we went out on the snorkeling excursion. The whale sharks were enormous, like the size of a bus! Just keep in mind that if you don’t bring your own mask and snorkel, you’ll have to rent one for $9 a day.

The dive center team is very patient, and they helped to make sure we were safe and had an enjoyable time. We were happy with our experience and they also gave us a stamp in our dive book that will give us 10% off any other Eurodivers location.

If diving isn’t your thing, the resorts also offer many other activities to keep you entertained.  On the island, there are tennis courts, a staffed kids center (to keep the little ones entertained), and water sport activities (paddle boarding, kayaking, wind surfing).  Additionally there were many excursions such as big game fishing, turtle and manta ray excursions, and a sunset cruise.

The Maldives is truly a beautiful place, it was very serene and we were able to 100% relax. We slept in, took our time to enjoy the sea life and scenery. For those of you who want to stay connected, there is wifi, but it is really spotty.  Though we had a fabulous time, I still think that the total cost of a visit here is quite high.  I’m hoping i’ll be able to find a closer and less expensive paradise to visit in the near future (don’t worry, I’ll let you know about it if I do!).

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