There are many things to consider when choosing the right place for your stay in the Maldives. Whether you travel with children or are going away without them there are many key things to consider. Of course you can just go and book a package through one of the luxury travel agencies, but I believe it is way more rewarding to find a perfect place on your own initiative.
This is probably one of the main factors to take into consideration. Most people think of the Maldives as only a five star luxury destination. This is wrong, there are plenty of lower budget options available, but review your budget and then stick to it. Also remember that even if you go all inclusive there might be additional costs that you might not have thought about before hand so do some research and allow for these.
Water Villa, Beach Hut or Hotel Room?
We stayed in a water villa during our stay in the Maldives. This was definitely an incredible experience. Water villas are usually in the atoll lagoons on stilts with privacy and direct steps into the sea. Staying above the water may not for everyone. If you have smaller children you might prefer to stay in a beach villa where you do not have to worry about your child falling into the sea, in case you are not keeping an eye on them for a second. Some hotels do not even rent water villas to families with small children out of principle for exactly that reason. A beach villa also has the advantage that a child can spend time on the beach, building sandcastles and play and run more freely. Water villas are usually more expensive than beach villas and both more than a standard hotel room. Check your accommodation plans online.
Boat or Seaplane Transfer?
Boat transfers have the advantage that they are cheaper than seaplane transfers, albeit that they restrict the range of choices to nearer the airport. A few people I met have told me though that the water quality at resorts with boat transfer (due to their proximity to Male boat traffic and the airport) can be less good at times, so the water might be a little murkier than if you go for a place further away.
Seaplanes are a great experience, not only do you get an amazing view of the reefs and the sea from the air, it is also a very different way of flying. Two things to keep in mind if you opt for sea plane transfer, it is expensive and only a limited amount of luggage is included. If you have lots of bags and suitcases they might not get onto your plane and could arrive with one of the later ones, plus they will cost extra. If you were planning on taking pushchairs I would reconsider. First of all you would need to pay extra and you might not be able to use it on the sandy islands anyway. The charge for additional luggage can be quite hefty. Also check if the transfer is included in your hotel booking. If you book a package it most likely is, otherwise make sure you are not in for a nasty surprise once you arrive at Male airport.
Another important fact to take into account if you are planning on taking a seaplane is that if you arrive after 16:00 local time, you will probably have to find overnight accommodation near Male for one night as seaplanes only fly by daylight.
Private Island Get a Way, Resort or a Stay at one of the Local Islands?
If you want to go all out and do not care about the costs then a private island getaway is your place to stay. Depending on the size of the resort you can feel like Robinson Crusoe. There will only be you, the other hotel guests and members of staff. You might miss out on local colours and experiences, but then this is probably not what you came for anyway. Be aware that you will be restricted to your resort in terms of food and activities.
On a local island you will have the chance to meet locals and see how they live their daily lives. You might have the options to eat at other restaurants and cafes and do some shopping or head to other local islands in the vicinity. Please note that alcohol is prohibited on most local islands according to local laws. A stay on a local island can be much cheaper, however, there might not be the same offer for water sports and other activities.
The Maldives is a Muslim country; therefore bikinis are a no-go on the local islands beaches unless the island or hotel has a private garden or a tourist beach. To be honest the locals are far more tolerant now of western dress, t-shirts and shorts, sundresses and vest tops are not frowned upon. Having said that away from the resorts and hotel grounds female travellers should dress modestly, keeping your chest covered and not wear short skirts or shorts. This is essential if you are planning on visiting a local village, mosque or even a Maldivian home. We should respect Maldivian culture and their religious values.
Size of the Island
The size of private atolls with exclusive resorts can differ a lot. This impacts not only the amount of people you will be stranded with but also the offer of general facilities, like restaurants, pools, kids club, water sports activities, spa and other recreational facilities. Some people might prefer to stay on a tiny island with just a few other people for a more intimate and exclusive feel, while others prefer the anonymity of larger resorts. If you travel with children a larger resort might be preferable as there will be more choice on activities for them to not get bored, plus more space to explore.
Many people do not consider the choice of restaurants for their stay, however, you have to remember that if there is only one choice of restaurant you will be eating there breakfast, lunch and dinner. You might be bored of the food after a few days and this could detract from your holiday. Remember you cannot easily leave most resorts and go out for dinner somewhere else. Also check if the restaurant is buffet style only. It might make your exclusive stay less exclusive if you have to get your food and drinks yourself every time you eat.
All Inclusive, Full Board, Half Board or Breakfast only
Our stay at Lux South Ari was our first ever experience of an all-inclusive holiday. It was the best decision we made before booking our stay on the island. We knew exactly what we were letting ourselves in for, and there were no surprises at the end about additional costs. While you might think you will keep track of your expenditure at the resort or hotel you could rapidly lose the oversight and find out at the end that your activities, food and drinks have cost more than you had anticipated. Trust me, drink and food on the islands come at a price – not only have they been shipped in from all around the world, some hotels charge extortionate prices for just the basics like drinking water. You also do not want to worry about the second drink with dinner or the ice cream in the afternoon as a treat?
Some resorts and hotels have a discount for children or some even offer free stay and food for kids. Of course some resorts and islands naturally do not offer all-inclusive, I would then at least consider for half or full board. Be careful though some hotels have restrictions on where and what you can eat/drink if you are all-inclusive or on a meal plan. Research your options to ensure you get the best deal.
All-inclusive at Lux also included free snorkelling equipment and some of the water sports activities. They did have a restriction on the Japanese restaurant Umami, where we only received a discount on food and drinks, but then we had so many other options on where to eat dinner that it did not bother us and we only went there once for a treat. You can always request a list of the inclusions and exceptions (some do not include alcohol or cocktails for example) before booking to make sure you are getting a good deal and know what to expect.
Child Friendly or more Adult Orientated
Check weather your choice of hotel/resort is child friendly, this includes everything from food aimed at the little ones to the activities they offer. If you have very young children you will need to check if they offer nappies and other baby essentials as shopping is unlikely if you run out of supplies. Also find out if there a kids club or kid friendly activities if you want a break for a few hours by yourself and/or a babysitter service so you can enjoy a romantic dinner for two.
Do you want to get away from the children for a childfree holiday or cannot imagine your honeymoon with children running about? There are plenty of adult only resorts and hotels that offer a great break from the little ones of course
Snorkelling, Boat Trips and Other Water Activities
One of the main highlights of a trip to the Maldives is the incredible snorkelling. Depending on your resort you may do so off the beach or on boat trips out to the reef edge. I would advise to do some extensive research on this topic if this is one of your main reasons for a visit to one of the islands. If you travel with children, bear in mind that your children (and you) need to be confident swimmers and snorkelers, there usually are tests before the resorts will give you snorkel equipment or let you out on boats.
Resorts with sandy beaches surrounding them will be better for younger children and if you want to just go for a swim in the clear sea.
Keep in mind that if there is a coral reef within swimming distance that depending on the tide you might not be able to snorkel at all. Coral can be painful if you accidently touch it or if walk on a fragment washed up on the beach so I would advise to take water shoes to protect your feet. Educate your children not to touch coral, these are living creatures and should be treated with respect. There are some resorts and islands where you have both, sandy beaches on one side and the coral reef on the other. We stayed at Lux South Ari and they offered free snorkelling tours twice a day to the house reef. It was fun to go out on the Dhoni boat and we always went to different places depending on the current and the tide, which made it more interesting than always snorkelling in the same spots. A few other resorts offer similar, but be aware that the trips can get booked up so you may have to plan ahead.
It is worth considering that children under the age of about seven will not care whether they are on an island in the Maldives or a beach on the Mediterranean Sea. It is certainly worth thinking about whether they will benefit from a trip to a tropical paradise before they are a little older.
Besides snorkelling, diving is naturally another popular sport for the Maldives. The quality of dive centres vary, so do the fees. Make sure they are PADI certified courses and guides. Again check websites for prices and read reviews to find out if the centre is right for you.
The Ari Atoll is a famous spot for whale shark tours. The sharks live here all year round unlike other destinations where they can only be seen at certain times of the year. It is an unforgettable experience to snorkel with the largest fish in the world. Have a look at my post about our snorkelling trip with whale sharks. Other big fish like Manta rays can be seen at different places but may involve a long expensive boat ride to reach.
Most hotels will offer a variety of other water sports, including swimming pools, jet skis, banana boat rides, kayaking, pedalos…and more. You can also go on sunset cruises, fishing trips… Check the hotels website for a list and prices. Many will cost extra.
Out of the water it is worth checking what the resort offers as well, as whilst children love the water they cannot be in it all day. For example we enjoyed at Lux the tennis courts, pool tables, and outdoor chess sets.
When to go?
The Maldives are a great beach destination all year round. The dry season is from November until April, with the most popular times around Christmas and New Year. Temperatures are around 25-30C all year. The humidity in the months from May to October during wet season might make it feel slightly hotter though. During the wet season you might experience not only more rainfall but also windier conditions than in the dry season.
We had two days of rain during our stay in February, which was apparently unusual for this time of the year, but thanks to the warm temperature we did not let this bother us and still went swimming and snorkelling.
You may find great deals if you are prepared to travel offseason and outside school holiday periods. The weeks just after the New Year usually has good offers for holidays to the Maldives.
Eco and Environmental Friendly Considerations
This is an important point and should be considered before booking a stay. Some hotels unfortunately still do not care enough about the fragile eco system that surrounds these beautiful islands and atolls. Some island have now implemented desalination plants, rainwater tanks, drinking water is produced on the island and bottled in re-usable glass bottles, no plastic bags, coasters, straws and the like are used on site…tourism is never entirely green, but I recommend checking what efforts your destination is making to minimise their impact.
Things to Take – Packing list
I mentioned earlier that your luggage allowance for seaplanes is considerably less than on your average plane journey. It is important to think about what is essential for your trip to the Maldives. High temperature all year around make it easier, as you will not need to pack any warm clothes, just a light cover up for a breezy evening dinner should be taken into account.
Do you really need to bring a pushchair to an island where you need less than a few minutes from one end to the other or can make use of a cart that will whizz you around? Pushchairs and sand do not go that well together either, so I would leave it at home. Make sure that the hotel provides everything you will need for your baby and toddler, including nappies and baby food as you will not be able to purchase these essentials anywhere unless you stay on or a water taxi ride from one of the larger local islands like Male.
Items that should be in any luggage when travelling to the Maldives:
- Sun hat or some kind of protection for your head. Plus of course a pair of sunglasses, even for the kids.
- UV rash vest, ideally long sleeved. If you are very sensitive to the sun’s rays and have fair skin you should consider an all body UV suit if you are planning on spending a long time snorkelling or swimming as the sun is strong! We had never used a UV vest before but it was definitely worth the extra cost as we would have been burned on our very first snorkel, despite using sun tan lotion. Even the boys who are generally not prone to sunburns could feel the difference in the sun’s intensity. Remember you are not far from the equator!
- Plenty of sun lotion factor 50. Make sure the lotion or cream is waterproof. Take plenty, you might be able to buy more if necessary at the hotel’s shop but this comes at a rather hefty price.
- Cover up tops. Bring light weight cover ups, which you can wear as an extra layer to protect your skin from the sun, or on a boat trip but also in the evening when it might be slightly cooler.
- Bikini, swimsuits and swimming trunks. Take a few, these do not take up much space and weight.
- Snorkel, masks and flippers. Even though most resorts and hotel will sell snorkel equipment it might be better to bring your own to make sure everything fits, especially if you have a child with you as they might not have the right size available.
- Flip flops are a great staple for a beach holiday, they will protect your feet from hidden coral on the beach but also on the hot sand and wooden planks in the middays heat. Some of the more upmarket resorts will give you a complimentary pair of flip-flops, while other resorts claim to be barefoot only, I cannot imagine how hot their feet must be at certain times a day…
- Beach or water shoes. If your hotel/resort is surrounded by coral reef and you are planning on snorkelling it might be advisable to bring a pair of water shoes to protect your feet from the coral while swimming and snorkelling or wandering on the sands.
- Underwater camera. Invest in a quality one like a go pro if you are really serious about snorkelling or diving. We did not have a go pro and realised afterwards that the quality of the photos was mediocre. Do not forget the charging cables!
- Games and books. We always bring plenty of different card games to play on the beach, by the pool or over dinner. A kindle or other e-reader is a great way of bringing plenty of books without the additional weight. Think about leaving ipads and game consoles at home – make it a proper family holiday rather than just spending time in front of a screen.
- Bring some smarter shoes, shorts, linen trousers and shirt (polo shirt is accepted in most resorts as well) for the evening meals. Some resorts will not allow you turning up in flip-flops and a football shirt for dinner. Do not bother bringing a pair of heels, you will just make a fool of yourself wearing them on the sand. If you are unsure check the hotel’s website for the general dress code.
- Beach towels are not essential at most upmarket resorts but it is better to check beforehand if they are provided, as you would not want to be stranded without.
- The same applies to amenities like shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. Most hotels provide these and unless you are fussy about what you use you can leave them at home.
I feel like I have included everything you need to know and think about before booking your journey to paradise.
One other thing to consider, we normally book our flights, hotels and trips completely separate from each other. With the Maldives I made an exception, as the overall price was considerably cheaper than if I had it booked individually and booked it online through a travel agency. I would therefore advise you, especially if you are planning on staying in one resort during your entire stay, to check with several travel agents online for the best offer. You then also have the option to seek help or complain if part of your trip does not go as planned. I am more than happy to answer any of your questions in case you need help. Enjoy!