“You’re going to Maldives? I’m so jealous!” Pride radiated from my blessed face as I was fawned over by hundreds (OK a few) friends as I discussed my plans. “Which resort are you staying at? Or are you going on a safari boat again?” I was untouchable as rapture and envy captivated my audience.
The crowed hushed and shushed as it was clear I was about to speak. “I’m staying at the Holiday Inn.” Silence. Brains worked hard to grasp the shift in reality. I love shocking people with my travel plans, usually to war torn countries, but the Holiday Inn has so far received the greatest reaction…or maybe disappointment.
Most people would rather stay in one of the lavish resorts or even use Maldives timeshare resorts, but I wanted to try something different.
After a fresh dose of explanation and cajoling everyone finally agreed that a) it’s one of the cheaper options; b) I wasn’t talking about the one on the capital island, Male; and c) I just might know what I was talking about.
After a 45 minute speed boat transfer from the international airport, the resort on Kandooma island came into view over the impossibly turquoise blue waters. This is not the Holiday Inn most Americans think of and we soon find out that the brand has a higher market image in Europe, which the Maldives caters to.
Plus, as three guys, we weren’t looking for an uber-romantic getaway week, just a nice room and access to world class diving at our dock. A few young people to talk to once we got on each others nerves would be helpful as well. The Holiday Inn on Kandooma gave us all that and more. First the hotel. Like most resorts in the Maldives it has its own island and is completely self-sufficient. With a choice of garden view singles, beach and water view duplexes (which just means a sandy lounge area on the ground floor), and the famous water villas that sit over the lagoon, there is something for everyone’s budget…everyone who considers $200 US a night an OK base price. Tip: if you book sign up for their rewards card as this gave us a room upgrade to a duplex beach view.
The staff is where the resorts shines. They are attentive, fun and from all over Asia. We never had a problem that was less than two people away from being solved. Of course the nightly entertainment was more geared to families and their children, so we opted out of the hermit crab races and drank beers in the lagoon all night. There are not too many things as pleasurable as floating on your back in the soft sea, full moon over head and a beer in one hand and a hand rolled cuban cigar in the other (the benefits of a friend just returning from Cuba…thanks Naoko!). If you are looking to save money, stick to two meals a day, drink your fill at happy hour, and go night fishing where they will cook your catch afterward as part of the fee. One concerned and confused customer, afraid he would have to share his fish with the rest of the group, snatched his catch out of the barrel and disappeared into the darkness as soon as we docked. I still have images of Smeagol eating raw fish in the bushes.
The island also boasts a renovated, world class dive shop operated by Euro Divers. The island’s location puts it right in the middle of some of the best dive spots in the Maldives, with fast moving corners with the big fish and coral filled canyons teaming with soft and hard corals, perfect for drift diving. While the dive sites are amazing, I was less than impressed with the pricing at Euro Divers. Their staff and equipment was top notch, and their commitment to safety was perfect but they were more expensive than I had anticipated. Their website does little to help as it indicates 10 dives with full rental is US$400. When we arrived the pricing was actually 5 dives for US$400, definitely on the high end of my dive experiences around Asia. So if the corporate bosses read this take heed, your staff was great, but your pricing will keep me away on my next diving trip.
All in all picking the Holiday Inn was the right move and we were able to limit our predicted budget overrun. We had a amazing time, met some great people and had the pleasure of being circled by 15 six foot gray reef sharks while they had their teeth cleaned by tiny brave fish. However, if I return to the Maldives it will not be to a resort, but the more dive oriented safari boats.
Have you been to the Maldives? Leave your stories and tips in the comment section.