Those who know me know that I am what is politely described as ‘thrifty’ – I’ll never forget trying to heat up a 49p soup can in a hostel sink in London. However, my husband Thomas likes some of the finer things in life, so for our honeymoon we decided upon the Maldives. Though we considered a bunch of destinations – Vietnam, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tahiti made the short list – the pictures of the stunning white sand and azure water of the Maldives had us hooked.
Before we got our heart set on visiting the Maldives, I knew it was expensive. To be honest, though, I didn’t know quite how expensive. Once we started looking at resorts online, we soon realised we were looking at a an extraordinary $5,000+ for just three days in an overwater bungalow – and that was without factoring in things like activities, food, and drinks. Not to mention transfers to the hotel from the capital, Male – starting at a nasty $350USD per person for a short speedboat journey, and heading up exponentially from there. Although we’d set our heart on our luxury Maldives experience, the my budget travel soul just couldn’t book it.
Enter Luxury Escapes
I had signed up for the website Luxury Escapes back in 2015 after being suckered in by an ad on English TV. I’d taken one look at the website and realised that even at 30 – 70% off, I still couldn’t afford luxury travel! However, things have changed a bit since then – both Tom and I have full-time jobs which have brought a bit more financial freedom to our lives.
Luckily, just a couple of days after being shocked senseless at the prices in the Maldives, I received an email advertising an all inclusive package at Finolhu resort at Baa Atoll. The deal started at $4,999 and was a 5 night stay with all drinks and meals included, plus additional meals at the resort’s three restaurants, as well as a few activities. Pushing aside my reservations, we hit the ‘book now’ button – even choosing to upgrade to a pool villa for $5,699. Considering I travelled throughout Europe for 3 months on $7,500 back in 2010, it was a bit of a shock to the system – but we were off!
I also wanted to visit Sri Lanka (more on that soon), so we flew via Colombo with Malaysia Airlines. Our flights from Adelaide to Colombo set us back just $900, due to using points from my new American Express card. We then flew from Colombo to the Maldives capital, Male, at a cost of about $350 each.
Landing in Male, we had barely disembarked from our flight when we were met by a friendly Finolhu representative. It seemed he was under strict instructions not to let us out of his site; he carefully accompanied us to a small but comfortable lounge where we were to wait for our domestic transfer. I suppose a lot of people travelling super luxuriously in the Maldives don’t enjoy navigating their way through a fairly basic airport like Male, however as someone who has navigated trains and buses solo in locations such as Nepal and Egypt, it felt a little strange to have a ‘babysitter’ keeping such close watch!
There was a three hour wait to our domestic flight to Dharavandoo Island. We hopped on board the propellor plane (of reasonable size), listened to the Islamic prayer for the journey (the Maldives is a strictly Muslim country), and took off for a 20 minute flight to Dharavandoo. Looking out the window at all of the small atolls that make up the island was amazing, and the flight was comfortable. Our ‘minder’ then reappeared to take us to the speedboat which was the final leg of our journey.
Another option to avoid the wait is to take a seaplane. This had been Tom’s transport of choice, however when we researched it and found out it would be in excess of $1200 USD per person for a twenty minute flight, it was a hard no from me. I must admit, though, the sea planes did look pretty cool taking off and landing.
Arriving at the resort, we checked in and were taken on a lightning quick golf buggy tour of the island. We tried to play it cool as the facilities were pointed out – tennis court, restaurant #1, restaurant #2, area where the cirque d’soleil performers do their show (what), gym, and then into our gorgeous 60s style overwater bungalow. At this point I lost my cool and exclaimed, ‘it’s just so fancy!’, before quickly trying to reclaim my “yeah we do this all the time” aura.
One of my concerns about our five night stay in the Maldives was that I might get bored. I’m not really a ‘beachy’ person, much preferring to keep my feet on the ground. Plus, I tend to like to find adventures on my travels; I didn’t think I’d find this on a small tropical island.
I can honestly say, however, I was never bored in the Maldives. Even though I’m not much of a swimmer, I did love lying in the sun just admiring the sheer beauty of the island. The free book exchange helped too! Much to Tom’s disgust, I also managed to fit in a fair few naps. While it might not count as an ‘activity’ to many, I love napping and waking up to a stunning view over the water was amazing!
For those wishing to be a bit more active there are a bunch of complimentary things to do. This includes tennis (I don’t play tennis, butI do play softball, so we used the court a fair bit); snorkelling (there are 3 free tours each week, plus you can snorkel just about everywhere, including off your villa); runs around the island; and a talk with a marine biologist. Our package also included a sunset cruise, which turned out to be the highlight of our whole trip! We were lucky enough to see an enormous pod of dolphins, playing and swimming right near our boat. It was beautiful!
There is also a fully equipped dive centre which offers lots of additional excursions. Truthfully, it is a bit eye wateringly expensive. Much like ‘wedding prices’, there are definite ‘Maldives prices’. We opted for a turtle snorkel, which was $110 + 22.5% tax (added onto everything) – unfortunately we only got one murky glimpse of a turtle, but just snorkelling around the reef seeing the beautiful fish and coral was great. This was all done under the guiding of a marine biologist, which was also pretty cool.
After dark, there is a live band and some casual cirque d’soleil performers to keep you occupied. Plus a sheesha bar!
The food was pretty good, although I found overall the hot and humid weather kind of killed my appetite, despite my best intentions to ‘get my money’s worth’ at the buffet. Most meals were served at a buffet, which had lots of tasty options and nightly themes. There were also three restaurants: Kanusan (Asian), Baahaa Grill (North African) and the Crab Shack (pretty self explanatory). All three were good, although the serving sizes were freaking ridiculous.
The drinks menu was also pretty extensive, with stacks of spirits, wine and beer to choose from. The mocktails were also delicious! Again, however, the weather kind of dimmed my enthusiasm for heavy drinking – although it was probably a good thing overall (I wanted to remember every second of our $1000 per day escape!)
So, did living the life of luxury kill off the budget traveller inside me?
Absolutely not! Although it was an absolute trip of a lifetime and I loved every minute, I’m quite happy to “tick the box” and resort back to my old ways. The Maldives is so visually spectacular, and the resorts so over the top, that I do think that if your budget can stretch to it, a luxury escape is a great way to go.
If you are looking to save some dosh, definitely check out sites like Luxury Escapes and go for all-inclusive. The prices of everything at the resorts is nuts, and it’s not like you have any other options. For example, we paid close to $40 USD for a bottle of sunscreen after ours ran out (the sun is very, very intense in the Maldives). What else were we going to do?
In recent times, the Government has allowed more locals to open up their own guesthouses and accommodation options, so I understand there is a burgeoning budget travel scene. However, a word of warning – on non resort islands, the Maldives is a very, very conservative Muslim country (it is the only country other than Saudi Arabia to claim to have a 100% Muslim population). Wearing revealing clothing, public displays of affection, alcohol and eating pork are all outlawed in all places except the resort islands. Therefore if you do stay off the resort islands, be aware of these expectations.