So what is your idea of a holiday paradise and more importantly, does it exist outside your imagination in this modern well travelled world? You may want somewhere sunny and warm. A desert island, but not too deserted and not so primitive you cannot enjoy your creature comforts. You will want to be safe, relaxed and be lazy or active as and when the mood takes you. To enjoy nature at its most spectacular but still sleep in clean white sheets listening to the water lapping around and wondering if should have eaten so much lobster at the moonlit barbecue.
Well this year I lived my dream. I found the Maldives. Obviously I had heard of them before but I never once thought they could possibly be as good as the hype. 40 years in travel had taught me that you can never totally believe the brochures, websites and superlatives from other people each with their individual ideas on perfection. Besides, I thought, the Maldives were hard to get to and so very far from civilisation. So let me tell you how an old travel hand got it wrong.
Firstly I discovered that British Airways had started flying non stop to Male, the capital. You can also go direct on a Thomson charter or using a through flight via Colombo on Srilankan. If you are willing to change aircraft there are excellent connections via Dubai or Doha on Emirates or Qatar Airways respectively. These connections are very slick and usually quite painless. Some people even split their holidays with a week in Dubai and then again in the Maldives. I chose direct with BA as I got a good price and a non stop flight is more likely to get you there quickly and with your baggage.
The next obstacle in my mind was getting to my chosen island. You see the international flight lands at an airport island next to the capital Male and you still need to go either by air or speedboat to your resort. Trouble and stress I immediately thought. Wrong. They operate like a well oiled machine. As soon as you pass through customs the resort team is waiting. You either walk across the road to a waiting speed launch or onto an air-conditioned bus to whisk you and your bags to the seaplane terminal 5 minutes away.
This final short transit transforms from a chore to a plus point of the holiday. Your sea plane is usually waiting there for you. If there is any delay then most of the resorts have lounges that look over the lagoon where you can watch the coming and going. The planes are loads of fun. Yes, they are a bit noisy and yes they can sometimes get a bit hot but this is more than made up for by the thrill of take off and landing and the breathtaking views of the coral atolls you fly over. A magical experience and one to be anticipated not dreaded.
One thing to remember though is that the weight allowance on these planes is 20 kilos regardless of what you may have been allowed on your incoming international flight. Excess baggage charges are quite reasonable but bear in mind there are aircraft weight constraints which might mean they could hold a bag back for the next flight. It is always a good thing to have one bag which you keep close containing immediate essentials just in case.
The longest flight is usually around 40 minutes but more often under the half hour. You land on the sheltered side of the resort and the seaplane taxis up to a floating pontoon. From there you board the resort launch for the very short hop to the reception pier. Usually by this time you would have been given iced towels and bottled water and an enthusiastic greeting from the local staff. And yes, they really do seem to mean it as these are small islands and I think they genuinely look forward to seeing new faces.
There are numerous resorts with all types of accommodation and meal plans. You can stay in beach villas or my favourite which are built over water on stilts. Some are basic but clean and others have their own spa, pool and decking. The food and drink has to be imported (as do the chefs) and is of the highest quality and range. Most ingredients are from Australia except for the fish which is mainly locally caught using traditional methods.
So there you are, sitting on your decking and gazing out at your very own picture postcard Desert Island and aquarium but with everything you need available if you want it. Everywhere I went my mobile, blackberry and computer worked if I wanted them. I once phoned into a company conference call when sitting on a lounger under a sun umbrella with a cold beer and a staff member next to me cleaning my sun glasses! By now you have ditched your shoes and probably not wear any again until you leave.
The Maldives is a wonderful place and it did not disappoint me once. It is safe, welcoming scenically stunning and full of warm spirited friendly people. My only regret was going home. If you ever want a once in a lifetime trip go to the Maldives…except I suspect you will try to go again and again afterwards. Once you have swum with whale sharks and manta rays you become hooked