Every now and then in life, you deserve to truly kick back, do relatively little or nothing at all, and soak up the ambience of a tropical island paradise, where the only thing you need to worry about is what time to hit the 24 hour free-flow of booze, or what to eat from the generous buffets. Or, as was the case for me, picking the perfect time to propose. Welcome, then, to the Maldives, and, more specifically, to the paradisiacal Meeru Island Resort and Spa, in the North Male Atoll (http://www.meeru.com/) where Veronica and I would be staying for 6 nights in a Jacuzzi Beach Villa.
As with anybody planning a trip to the Maldives, I’d spent endless hours researching the best place to stay, reading review after review. As it’s bloody expensive, and quite possibly a once in a lifetime experience, it was important to get it right. With Meeru, I’d found perfection. Meeru was a great choice for me because:
1) It’s a ‘proper’ desert island experience. A lot of the resorts are only a 10 minute speedboat ride from the capital, Male. Some of these resorts are also amongst the most expensive. When you go to the Maldives, you want to feel like you’re on your own little desert island. Islands close to Male often have the view of Male from them. Or the ‘rubbish’ island, where all the rubbish from the islands is incinerated. The waters, surely, can’t be as clean. Other resorts, much further away, cost an absolute fortune to get there by seaplane. Meeru is a 55 minute speedboat ride away – far enough from Male to feel you’ve left civilization behind, and not too far to feel weary from more flights or longer boat rides. Perfect.
2) Space. Meeru Island is a big place. It’s 1200m long by 350m wide. Big enough to feel you’ve got the place to yourself in parts. They have 2 main buffet areas at either side of the island, and a nice sprinkling of bars, a fantastic over-water restaurant, an over-water spa, a lovely clubhouse, and 2 big infinity pools. Areas of accommodation (286 rooms) are spread over the island, from Garden Villas to Water Villas, with Jacuzzis slightly more expensive extras. All in all – there’s space. They even have the only FIFA-approved football field, which hosts regular Staff vs Guests games.
3) Adult’s-only. What a great idea! No pesky kids running around screaming or crying to disturb the peace you deserve. One half of the island is a kids-free area. So that means a kid-free restaurant, kid-free bar, and, very importantly, a kid-free pool!
4) The beach. The ocean. 1.5 km of white sand, palm-tree fringed beach lightly lapped by the warm, turquoise, Indian Ocean. Heaven.
5) Excursions and Activities. Plenty to do if you feel like getting off the sunloungers: Scuba-diving, snorkeling at the house reef, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, table-tennis, tennis, badminton, pool, golf, football, and fantastic excursions like the sunset cruise, trip to Male, love boat day sail, Robinson Crusoe island experience, seaplane photo flight….loads to do.
6) The staff. Friendly, helpful, full of good tips, genuinely concerned about you. The staff at Meeru are from all over the place, and I found them all fantastic, from the jolly Maldivian waiter assigned to us at the buffet restaurant to the helpful French woman who helped me arrange my romantic proposal dinner on the beach, to the practical German woman who helped me organize the day trips. Everyone was so nice, and I felt like I was treated as a special individual rather than one of the crowd.
7) The all-inclusive package. You only live once. I had to go for it. It’s an optional plan, which includes unlimited “all you can drink” alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages “all day – all night”; plus water, soft drinks, beer, wine, coffee, tea, iced coffee and iced tea from the Mini Bar; 24 Hour “Afternoon” Tea; one ½ bottle of Champagne, one Sunset Cruise; one half hour group lesson for Snorkeling, Windsurfing and Golf Driving Range; the Fitness Center, and daytime use of the Golf Driving Range, Tennis, Volleyball and Badminton Courts, the Games Room; Kayaks and Windsurfers. Definitely worth it.
The flight from Singapore arrived in the late evening, so we had to spend a night in Male. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to get out and explore, as it looked like it could be an interesting place. Instead, we were met at the airport by a driver from the hotel I’d booked for the night, the Hotel Octave (http://www.hotel-octave-maldives.com/) , and were whisked to the airport (for free), a small journey which included a 10 minute boat ferry ride from the airport across to Male, and then 5 minutes from there to the hotel through the narrow streets of the capital. The hotel was nice enough, if expensive. We had a bite to eat, a celebratory drink, then went to bed.
After breakfast we were taken back to the airport to meet a representative from Meeru hotel at the Arrivals Hall at Champa Trade and Travels booth number 59, who escorted us to a sizeable boat with comfy seats at the lower deck which would be taking us to the island. On the boat were mainly couples, many of whom had flown in that morning from Europe. We were given water and then whisked off to Meeru. On the way we passed other resorts on islands, some big, some small. Each island was surrounded by a body of turquoise water, and some of the islands had wooden huts with thatched roofs over the water on stilts connected by a wooden walkway, just like I’d seen on TV and the internet so many times. We approached Meeru, which didn’t disappoint on first viewing. It looked long, and water villas were over at the northern end as we approached, and a large wooden building to the southern end over the water which we learned was the Asian Wok bar and restaurant. We got out onto the jetty, and followed it onto the island to the arrivals meeting point at the Kakuni Bar, housed in a typically Maldivian thatched roof wooden cottage (which is also the style of most of the accommodation). It took Vero and I a while to get there though, as we were already busy snapping photos of the idyllic scene, and we were also mesmerized by the little blacktip sharks swimming around just under the jetty.
We sat down with quite a crowd of other new arrivals and we were given a welcome cocktail, which was delicious. Some of the reps working for British holiday companies like Thompson (not a bad job if you can get it) were giving instructions to the Brits, and the Meeru staff were extending their welcomes to all of us and giving us some useful information. We were allocated our rooms, and, after filling in a few forms, were allowed to wander off and find our rooms.
We walked towards the northern part of the island, the ‘adults only’ side, and to our wooden Jacuzzi beach villa, number 616, which was actually set some way back from the beach and between quite dense areas of forest. The villas were sensibly spaced out, not attached to each other, and there was a real sense of privacy. We entered the villa, and were impressed with the interior. At 80 sqm, it was spacious, and included a four poster bed, a private, walled-in outdoor area where the toilet and rain shower was, and, on the upper wooden sundeck, a Jacuzzi for two, with chaise lounges just under it on the lower sundeck, and tropical plants everywhere. It was an oasis of calm and opulence. The room had a huge TV, ipod deck, sofas, and, importantly, a fully-stocked mini-bar. We celebrated with a drink, then kicked off our flip-flops and headed out to explore. We walked down the track through the trees and to the lovely beach. It was quiet. Hardly anyone in sight. We walked around to where our restaurant was, named The Malaan. It was time for lunch. We were welcomed and shown to a table. A waiter was assigned to us, who would be looking after us every time we ate at The Malaan. Shiyam was friendly, chatty, and had a mischievous streak. He told us many stories throughout the week, including how much the resort has taken a disliking to Russian guests (he claimed they demand vodka for breakfast and are generally very rude to staff and other guests). Vero and I took to him instantly. We had a glass of white wine, and walked over to the buffet. It was incredible. They had everything. There was a cooking section, a bread section, a cold-cuts and cheese section, fish, pizza, pasta, desserts….an incredible array of culinary delights for us to feast on. And feast we did. After a few glasses of wine and three plates full of food we had to stop. We were getting too excited. We wouldn’t survive the holiday if we carried on like this. Stuffed to bursting, and slightly inebriated, we bade Hassan goodbye and headed off to the Pavilion bar and pool, strolling on the beach in front where the over-water honeymoon suites are situated. The pool here is an infinity pool, looking out onto the Indian Ocean. We found a sunlounger, one of the few spare. Some people had clearly been here lazing around and drinking all day. A lot of Europeans. Loads of sunburnt Brits. I’d see them everyday in the same spot they no doubt crawled out of their huts in the early hours of the morning to stake with a towel before the Germans beat them to it. Next to the pool there’s a bar, the Hot Rock bar, and Vero and I ordered a couple of Blue Hawaiians. Later, we ordered some chips and some sandwiches. All ‘free’. Dangerous!
After lazing off the enormous buffet lunch, we strolled around the rest of the island, passing the golf driving range and the football field, and ending up at the Kakuni Bar, where we had a game of table tennis, a drink, then a game of chess on the oversized outdoor chess board, then we walked to the other pool, the Dhoni Bar pool, which was the best place to watch the sunset, and became our nightly sunset spot. We enjoyed our first sunset with a cocktail and a snack, then retired to the villa for a Jacuzzi under the stars. The evening was spent feasting on the banquet buffet at The Malaan, followed by a relaxing drink and shisha at the chilled adults-only Uthuru bar. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more relaxed, sat toking on a pipe with a cocktail, listening to Café del Mar music and the sound of the waves of the Indian Ocean lapping onto the beach on this little island in the Maldives.
The rest of the trip played out in similar fashion, with a couple of memorable events, and one or two to forget:
- Robinson Crusoe Experience.
A little surprise for Veronica (one of many I’d planned on the island with the help of the staff). We walked to reception early, at around 7:30am, and stepped onto a private speedboat. In 10 minutes, the speedboat swung right, and suddenly stopped, right next to a tiny sandbank, no more than 20 metres across. The 2 staff got out and erected a big umbrella, put up a folding table, brought out 2 wooden chairs, laid the table, opened the hamper, and then jumped back in the boat and sped away, leaving Vero and I to enjoy a wonderful breakfast on this tiny sandbank in the middle of the Indian Ocean totally alone for 3 hours. Alone, that is, until a big boat pulled up after 90 minutes full of Japanese snorkelers on a day trip, and shattered the romantic illusion. Then a storm began brewing. The big boat and its passengers sped off, and we waited for our little boat huddled under the umbrella as the rain began to lash down. Still, for the first 90 minutes, it had been one of the most amazing experiences of our lives.
- Sunset snorkeling cruise.
Part of the All-inclusive package includes a free sunset cruise. Around 60 guests or more met at reception next to Kakuni bar. The cruise included free-flow of alcoholic punch. As there were so many people, the resort needed to provide 3 boats. 2 of the boats were lovely, new, sleek, white numbers, but the one Vero and I got on was the ‘chuff boat’ – an uncomfortable wooden boat with inadequate seating and a noisy engine. The sunset was OK, however, and the punch had the desired effect. It was a nice start to an evening.
- Snorkeling tour to the House Reef
Meeru provide 2 trips a day to the house reef, and numbers are limited. Vero and I signed up for an afternoon trip. The reef was nice, not spectacular, but we saw little sharks, crabs and loads of tropical fish. As usual with snorkeling tours, the ‘guided’ part was a disaster, and bunches of people chasing the guide around smashing each other in the face with their fins isn’t my idea of a good time. When we split off from the group, Vero and I, quite experienced snorkelers I’d say, had a much better time. Still, it’s not a bad little reef.
- Day trip to Kagi Island.
An absolute wash out. The weather was bad when we set out, and, really, the trip shouldn’t have gone ahead. It took a long time to get there, on rough seas. The island itself looks like the set from a B Horror movie. It’s dilapidated, parts in total ruin, rubbish everywhere, mediocre beach. Zombies everywhere. It was cold. The BBQ lunch was very basic by the standards we’d come to expect from Meeru. Most of us wanted to just head back home. After some discussion, we decided to stay on the island a bit more, and we tried snorkeling in the heavy rain. The snorkeling around the island was actually really good, much better than the housereef’s. On the way back we saw something that made the trip worthwhile – a group of Pilot Whales swimming alongside the boat.
- Champagne Breakfast.
What a way to start the day! A bottle of champers, and a buffet breakfast delivered to the villa and eaten on the tables and chairs outside looking at the sea in the distance through the trees, surrounded by nature. This made a nice change from the buffet breakfast. Highly recommended!
- Cocktail at Asian Wok bar.
This place has a great design. Part of it has a glass floor, and you can see all kinds of fish and blacktip sharks swimming around. Vero and I enjoyed a cocktail sat on comfy cushions , legs dangling over the water watching the sharks. A lovely late-afternoon treat.
- Duniye Spa
Voted the ‘Best Spa in the Maldives’, this enticing over-water haven of pampering is a must. Vero and I were treated like royalty from the moment we set foot in the reception area. We chose a package, had a refreshing ice tea, then proceeded to our over-water hut to enjoy a couples massage. Veronica had an oil massage, I had a hot-stone massage that was too hot, but to be massaged while gazing at fish swimming about below you is a memorable experience.
- Candlelit Dinner on the Beach.
This was the most special of all. We had the beach totally to ourselves. Only one table with white table cloth, silver cutlery and wine bucket – ours. Red wine to start, soup, then a lobster dinner followed by a delicious dessert. Then I took the opportunity to get down on one knee, here on this deserted beach on a remote island in the Maldives, under the stars and right next to the gently lapping Indian Ocean, and ask my girlfriend to marry me. After we’d run down to the sea in celebration at the ‘yes’ and returned to the table, the waiter had already opened a bottle of champagne for us to enjoy the celebration. Everyone at Meeru was in on my plan, everyone except Veronica, and the staff were genuinely delighted the next day that my plan had worked. A magical moment to live forever in the memory.
So, all in all, it had been one of the most amazing weeks of my life. Cripplingly expensive, but oh so worth it. Meeru had been the perfect place, and I would highly recommend it to first timers in the Maldives. As the boat back to Male left at the end of the holiday, and the staff assembled on the jetty to wave us goodbye, I felt a million dollars. The smile still hasn’t left my face. Go and enjoy it while you still can!