I had the opportunity to visit the Indian Ocean island nation of The Maldives, and the city of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. My journey began on the non-stop Etihad Airlines flight from LAX to Male, connecting through Abu Dhabi. Etihad is one of the national carriers of the UAE. Service, food, and comfort was top notch for all legs of our trip. The flight from LA to Abu Dhabi is 16 hours, another four hours to Male.
As the connection to Male, Maldives was not till early the next morning, we overnighted at the Viceroy on Yas Island, 15 minutes from the airport. This spectacular hotel is surrounded by the world renown Ferrari World racing track. At night this landmark hotel has multi-colored displays on its unique outer-shell -- a beautiful modern sight and something you would expect to see in Las Vegas without the casino!
My one-bedroom junior suite was quite comfortable, with views of the marina. Rooms have the most up-to-date technology, with buttons for the automated curtains and shades! Service was delightful, and the lobby was filled with wild orchids that just made it extra special.
Our next leg of the trip was the four-hour flight south to Male. The Maldives are located near the equator, and the capital city has the most dense population of any island in the world. The Maldivian atolls are world renown for their resort havens, crystal aqua blue lagoons and surfing.
As the airport is located on its own private island across the lagoon from the city island, tourists really do not get a chance to walk around Male; once you have landed you are escorted to the boat launch for private transfers to your resort. However, from any direction you fly or boat to/from, you can see the tall high-rises packed from end to end across the lagoon. Jet aircraft and popular seaplanes can be seen from sunrise to sunset.
Normally a traveler would stay put on their island resort for their entire stay. As we were on a working trip, we pre-arranged for multiple stays to experience several resorts.
Our first island stop at the Anantara Veli Resort, a 35-minute boat ride from Male airport. The Anantara resort complex consists of four separate island resorts, each independently managed, and connected by a foot bridge or via boat. They are Anantara Dhigu Resort and Spa, Anantara Kihavah Villas, Naladhu Maldives (Private, gated beach villas), and Anantara Veli Resort & Spa (suited more for couples. Children only allowed after 6pm in the restaurants.) Each of these Anantara resorts offers something different, whether more family friendly, very private beach residences behind a private gate, or more sports minded.
The Veli offers a choice of beachfront and overwater bungalows. My beachfront bungalow consisted of a large room, entryway, large bathroom with a tub overlooking the sea and an outdoor shower. It also comes with a private butler! A box containing miniature pillows is provided so you can pick from the “pillow menu.”
After our lovely stay, we boated back to Male airport for our one-hour flight south to the island atoll of Laamu. Maldivian Air offered efficient prop service. We were greeted by the engaging staff of Six Senses Laamu for our 30-minute boat transfer. While on board, each of us was given a shoe bag that said “No shoes, no news.” Once you take your shoes off you seem to never want to put them on again!
Our two nights at Six Senses Laamu was fantastic. This contemporary, modern resort, on the most crystal blue/turquoise lagoon, is absolutely magnificent! The resort is constructed with overwater public areas and villas like I have never seen before: quite exclusive and built of sustainable materials. Upon arriving to my bungalow, my own bicycle was awaiting me with a personalized “license plate” of my initials carved into a small piece of wood!
Walking into the bungalow there are his and her sinks so unique, I could not believe it. Each sink is in an old suitcase from the early 20’s! The outdoor shower area is very private and there's a “plexiglass overwater bathtub! Stairs lead up to an outdoor perch for lounging, viewing or whatever tickles your fancy!
The bedroom overlooked the large verandah that had a covered and uncovered seating area and netting you could lay on! The wc had a see-through floor so you had something to do while doing your business!
Environmentally friendly is the key to this nearly self-sustained resort. A huge garden is located in the middle of the island and many of the veggies served in the restaurants are picked fresh morning and night. Manta rays are seen nearly on a daily basis passing thru the lagoon, and a count is kept on a yearly basis. World famous surfing breaks are just a few minutes away via boat.
One of the highlights was our excursion to a private island, located about 35 minutes by boat. This was on a motu with crystal clear water and could not have been more romantic. Snorkeling, beachcombing, relaxing, photo-taking was the order of the day on “my” island. Our lunch was carried in a portable ice chest with cold lobster, fish, dumplings, fruit, freshly baked pastries and delicious beer and wine. Such privacy is at a premium today. If you want to get away from everything, a day trip to the private island is well worth it and can be arranged upon arrival to the resort!
While many of the resorts in the Maldives try to outdo each other, Six Senses has really reached the pinnacle of the overwater experience. All the restaurants, arrival/departure dock, bars, boutique are overwater! There is even an overwater wine “cellar” that included a “cold“ room for meats, cheeses and wine tasting!
One of the most beautiful and magical sunsets I have ever seen was experienced at the Six Senses! Regretfuly, we departed on our next adventure. We boated back to the airport and flew back to Male to catch our 25-minute boat transfer to “Gili Lankanfushi.” This lovely resort is also well known for its self-sustaining capabilities. The chefs here utilize the herbs grown in the garden for their superb menu items.
My bungalow was located facing the open lagoon where many fish, turtles and sharks passed from time to time.
The outdoor deck also has a resting net, and there is an upstairs perch from which to view the scenery. Walking into the villa you enter the living room and to the right thru the outdoor walkway you enter the large bathroom with double sinks, wc, closets and glass enclosed outdoor shower! Also there is a sliding glass door with steps that take you into your own snorkel garden below your villa!
If you go left from the living area, you pass the outdoor pantry with mini bar and then you enter the private bedroom with small bathroom. There can be 1 king or 2 queens and there is also a daybed that converts to a third bed at night for families.
One of the more unique things Gili has is the underground wine cellar! As you descend the steps you enter a beautifully contemporary “cave” filled with hundreds of bottles of wine and 2 cold rooms, one with cheeses/olives/meats and the other with delicious chocolate truffles. They even have an outdoor movie night set up in the middle of the mangroves!
Sadly once again, we left Gili Lankanfushi and made a short stop at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa. The service is what you would expect at a Four Seasons. The bungalows are built to match the island “life”. Many are garden views, offering much privacy. The unique aspect of this resort is its private island spa! A small boat transports you less than two minutes to the island and immediately you feel as if you are a million miles away from everything!
We were whisked by boat to the next resort, Huvafen Fushi. Huvafen Fushi is more than I could have imagined! So contemporary, yet with an understated bit of luxury. Quite far enough away from Male that you cannot hear or see any aircraft, so you really are “away from it all”!
My overwater bungalow here offered a very large living room, with full-sized minibar and see-through floor to the lagoon, state of the art stereo system/CD (you can adjust to have the music inside or outside on the deck), a bedroom, the bathroom with glass shower and a 4 – 5 person jacuzzi tub! Each of these rooms has a private door that leads to the extended deck with private infinity plunge pool! My heart skipped a beat when I first laid eyes on this bungalow!!
Our dinner that night at the overwater restaurant included a great two-man band singing popular songs of the day. Main fare is seafood, of course, and we chose our lobster from the tank. (not for the faint of heart to see them prepared), but it sure was delicious!
Should you have a spa treatment in the underground massage rooms? Yes! We entered an underwater aquarium set up with four massage tables and all the “spa” oils and treatment accoutrement. Once I was comfortable on the massage table, face down, the masseuse positioned a mirror so that I could see the reflection of the fish swimming by. I must say that had to have been one of the most unique massages I have ever experienced! I cannot wait to go back to have a treatment at night!
Sadly again, we made our way to the next resort, but not without a tear; Huvafen Fushi is one resort I will never forget!!
Our final resort in the Maldives was the One and Only Reethi Rah. My spacious bungalow was on a beautiful stretch of very well maintained beach, offering privacy from the neighboring bungalows as there is quite a bit of flora and fauna. My only companions were the beach lizards! Quite small and cute!
Huge living area with all the comforts that led into a large open bathroom with his and her sinks and huge jet tub that was is perfect to relax in and view the sea. And just beyond the tub was the wc and black-tiled large shower. The infinity pool was just a delight and the beach service was phenomenal! Every time we visited the beach and picked out our lounges with umbrella, the butler was there asking if we needed anything, and within minutes returned with plush beach towels, Avian facial cooling spray and the best iced tea I've ever had!
The open air restaurant shared the bar area which lead into a lounge with stage and dance floor. Various popular bands from the Maldives come to play at One and Only and, from all the resorts we visited, this was surely the most “lively” resort of all. It is great for families with kids of all ages too! Lots of activities including state of the art gym, a rock climbing wall, golf demo, beach activities, non-motorized water equipment, a large kids play area and a fabulous spa complimented the island resort. On occasion an artist “in residence” will have lessons and show off their unique artwork. (Most of which is for sale.)
One of the specialty restaurants included Japanese fare. The “wagyu” beef is world renown as being one of the most desired in the world. The cattle are genetically predisposed to intense marbling and a high percentage unsaturated fats. To me it was as if I were eating silk!
As with all good things, our Male trip was coming to an end. For the final leg of our journey we transferred back to Male airport island for our 4 hour flight north to Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi is a vibrant modern-techno marvel. With all the new multi-million high-rises and billion dollar business, it is set to become the cultural center of the Middle East. Dubai attracts the Las Vegas type traveller and Abu Dhabi could be compared to San Francisco: hip, but with a twist of modernistic cultural and modern history. We stayed at the Shangri-la Hotel. Very Arabian feel and look, not far from the airport.
As the future of Abu Dhabi is set to explode with growth, a new international airport is being constructed. Once finished it will be one of the largest airports in the world.
While in Abu Dhabi, we visited the newest cultural center, located on Saadiyat, “reclaimed” land from the gulf. After a very informative stroll thru the cultural center that explained what the future of Abu Dhabi holds, we visited a re-creation of the “old” Abu Dhabi. Examples of trade, art, housing and general desert living was depicted. For May, the temperature was already pushing 105. And our final visit was at the famous Mosque. We arrived just as the 4pm prayer session was ending. The echo of Arabic prayer filled the air. Shoes were removed and women had to wear burqas.
One of the more noteworthy hotels we visited was the Emirates Palace Hotel. Everything that looks gold, is gold! Even the presidential suite has woven silk and silver in the wallpaper. The “hallways” were impressive alone! The decorative palm trees were “mummified” to depict a more realistic look.
Our last night in Abu Dhabi we dined on traditional Middle Eastern fare of Hummus, pita, chicken kabobs and tabouli salad. To say the least our trip ended on a very filling and delicious point!
One last note regarding flying the non-stop from Abu Dhabi to LA. We actually cleared US customs in Abu Dhabi! There are only 3 such operations that Etihad utilizes in the world with US customs. Upon arrival to LAX we walked off the plane and followed the signs to the departure check in area of the Bradley Terminal, walked outside and down to a domestic luggage area. A bit confusing for all debarking passengers, but certainly a time savings of not having to clear customs in busy LAX.
Julie Northington, CTC