Maldives is Still Magical Ten Years Later!
Sometimes when you visit a place that leaves a strong impression, you return years later to find out that either the place has changed or that you have changed, and it leads to disappointment. Other times a place is so magical that when you return you still feel the same excitement and remember exactly why you loved the place so much in the first place.
Over the past ten years, I have been reflecting on good memories from living in the Maldives. When I graduated high school and finished the remainder of my commercial pilots license, I had a great opportunity that transported me halfway around the world. I went from suburban Toronto to an exotic island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It felt like a dream flying celebrities in seaplanes, overnighting at luxurious island resorts and experiencing a culture so different than what I was used to.
When we bought Skylark, the idea of cruising around the Maldives and returning to the places I spent the first part of my adult life was very appealing. Would we anchor nearby landing seaplanes? Visit gorgeous resorts? Eat some of the local Maldivian food I suddenly craved again? I was building high expectations in my mind.
When we arrived in Maldives back in January, part of me was worried that it wouldn't be as great as I had remembered. I am no longer that 18-year girl who showed up in Maldives to her first flying job with endless teenage enthusiasm. Over time, both the world and I have changed. From the moment we arrived in the Maldives, I was on a mission to determine if everything I loved from over ten years ago was still there, and as magical as I remembered.
The seaplane experience is still unique
The Maldives is famous for its beautiful resorts with seaplane transfers and boasts the largest fleet of Twin Otters in the world. The Twin Otter is a very robust aircraft capable of landing in choppy seas, so rough that I would not want to anchor Skylark in. The large operation at Male’ international airport allows tourists to seamlessly transfer from their international connections to a seaplane flight. The seaplane transfer offers stunning views, and cuts down on transfer time to reach remote resorts. It is truly a unique experience.
Ten years ago, I was a Twin Otter First Officer flying passengers around the country to spectacular resorts with Maldivian Air Taxi. The pilot uniform consisted of green shorts, a pilot shirt with epaulettes, and no restrictive neck tie. We flew barefoot making a pedicure essential. We flew up to 20 sectors in a day, and flights were as short as 5 minutes, and only as long as 2 hours. There was no autopilot either! The views from the sky were beautiful and the breeze on the walk around, also known as a swim around, was idyllic. I ultimately left this paradise to pursue the airlines, but the satisfaction of a greaser water landing has been far more rewarding than any jet landing I have ever done. It was the best first flying job I could imagine and to this day I am grateful for the opportunity
Now, I returned as a furloughed airline pilot and sailor instead. Maldivian Air Taxi merged with Trans Maldivian Airways and is under the TMA branding now, but the planes are the same familiar colors as the original MAT. We anchored next to resorts and watched seaplanes taxi, takeoff and land next to us. Many mornings I would crawl out of the aft cabin hatch in my bikini and half asleep, and watch the seaplanes take off. It was an amazing sight I would never miss, and I would always wave as they taxied by hoping it was somebody I knew.
We had an opportunity to book a seaplane flight when we needed to fly back to the USA for a week for an interview. It was Chris's first time in a seaplane and we sat in the first row to get a good view of the cockpit. We were happy to have the wonderful Captain Yasir fly us. It was a ‘milk-run’ flight stopping at the JW Marriott and the Movinpick resorts. Masks were mandatory and the cockpit instrumentation was more advanced than the Twin Otters I had previously flown, but the exterior views were as spectacular as I remembered. The loud roar of the PT6 engines reminded me of the good ol’ flying days! When we arrived at the seaplane base, I saw so many airplanes I had flown both in the Maldives and from Switzerland and Africa on ferry flights. Our friend Captain Mafaz showed us around the base and I ran into former colleagues who were great to see after more than ten years!
Skylark tip: Anchoring near resorts with seaplane service will give you the opportunity to have Twin Otters land next to you!
The beaches are still fun to play at!
The Maldives boasts world-class beaches that are consistently excellent in texture and beauty. Why not become a little bit creative with the pristine sand?
Ten years ago, my sister Melanie
visited me in the Maldives for a couple of weeks. We visited a few resorts together including Constance Halaveli, and enjoyed all their beautiful facilities and lounging on the beach. The sand was so pure and clean, that we decided to build a sand castle. Sisters by chance, friends by choice! Our castle did not include any features such as a dining table, so we had to go to an overwater restaurant and indulge in a gourmet meal instead. I would have to wait ten years more years for such innovation to happen on the beach.
Now, I’m past 30 and still making masterpieces out of sand. Along with Paul and Novi, we designed a karaoke booth complete with a table. I dreamed up this idea after seeing a luxury resort offering beach dinners with awesome chairs crafted out of sand. I proposed my vision to the group the best I could with words, and then just started drawing lines in the sand and telling everyone to help me dig. Together we turned the sand into a spacious booth and finally everyone understood my idea. We set towels on the seats, and a tablecloth on the table and decorated it with seashells, coral and coconuts. We set up our projector and speakers, careful not to get sand inside the electronics. We fitted a large white sheet to some sticks to make a large screen worthy of a premier Japanese Karaoke studio. After all our manual labour, we had a picnic dinner and then got busy singing our favorite songs. Luckily nobody else was on the island to hear us!
Skylark tip: A portable projector is a great device on a boat for making a movie theatre or karaoke studio under the stars. Make sure to bring bug spray if you set it up on the beach around dusk.
Mas huni roshi is still delicious
One of the best breakfasts in the world is from the Maldives. Mas huni roshi. Mas huni is grated smoked tuna with coconut, lime, chilis and curry leaf. It is eaten with a traditional flat bread known as roshi. It is consumed by Maldivian’s for most breakfasts and made from locally sourced ingredients.
Ten years ago, I would have mas huni roshi nearly every morning at the air taxi base. It cost 20 Maldivian rufia back then (about $1.50). At the staff restaurant it came in takeaway containers allowing for an easy meal to be consumed anywhere, including the airplane. It was a savory start to the morning, and puts many western breakfasts to shame.
Now, I never miss a chance to have mas huni roshi for breakfast while in the Maldives. If mas huni roshi was on the menu somewhere, I would not be ordering a western breakfast. Period. While visiting Male', we had mas huni roshi at Shell Beans and City Garden. We also made a mas huni roshi on Skylark, and it was fantastic. It is typically made with smoked tuna, which is easily available at Maldivian grocery stores. The smoked tuna has a strong aroma, but don’t let that put you off. It's delicious. I am embarrassed that ten years ago I frequently saw smoked tuna and I never had a desire to try it nor did I realize it was a key ingredient in my favourite breakfast. It was only recently when our friend Yasir (who flew us on the seaplane) took us to the grocery store for a provisioning run, explained that mas huni is made with smoked tuna, that I ever thought to buy some. Now I love it. Why did my 18-year-old self not try this? When making mas huni yourself, you can change the ingredient ratio to please your palate. In my case, extra spicy.
Skylark tip: Make your own mas huni. You can use canned tuna which is more accessible in other parts of the world and lasts for much longer. If you are in the Maldives they have vacuumed sealed smoked tuna that lasts for up to a month.
The luxury resorts are still amazing
The Maldives is a world class hub for luxury beach resorts, and attract visitors from all over the world seeking a relaxing holiday in paradise. There are some truly spectacular villas, spas and restaurants to be experienced.
Ten years ago as a seaplane pilot, I flew to several beautiful resorts. Overnight stays were often a necessity, since flying seaplanes past dark is not possible. I was already a fan of nice hotels, and quickly escalated into a bit of a hotel snob. On some resort layovers, we had the opportunity to stay in water villas and beachside villas with pools. It was easy to become spoiled staying in villas that would normally cost thousands of dollars a night, and feasting at spectacular restaurants that were included in our stay. My favorite resorts were Constance Halaveli, Soneva Fushi and the W. There was nothing more disappointing to my teenage self than having one of the highly desired resorts on my schedule all day, only to be switched last minute to a budget resort, and no greater thrill than being scheduled for a budget resort and later being switched to a luxury resort that has a seafood buffet night. There is no such thing as a disappointing seafood night in the Maldives.
Now, ever since we made plans to sail Skylark to the Maldives, I was really looking forward to visiting some of my favorite resorts. It turned out that due to the exclusive nature of the resorts combined with Covid restrictions, it was difficult to arrange this. With prior permission, a few resorts allowed us to anchor in their lagoons and come on shore. We visited the Fairmont and dined at all three of their restaurants several times, each time being an amazing experience. We were never there on a seafood buffet night, but we did happen to dine at their Japanese restaurant which had spectacular sushi. The Fairmont provided us with unforgettable hospitality, and the luxury resort yacht visit experience I had craved. My expectations were exceeded, and I can confidently say my new favorite luxury resort in the Maldive is the Fairmont.
Check out Unforgettable Fairmont: How a Luxury resort changed the course of our lives. https://www.outsidewatch.com/post/unforgettable-fairmont-maldives
Skylark Tip: Many resorts do not allow outside visitors, so contact them ahead of time to check you are welcome to visit. You may be pleasantly surprised or unpleasantly annoyed with the replies. You won’t know unless you ask!
The sandbars are still spectacular
The Maldives is home to some of the clearest water in the world, and hundreds of pristine sandbars. The vibrant blues and bright sand are a spectacular sight. Bring your sunglasses!
Ten years ago, I was a model in a charter yacht photoshoot. Before you start wondering how I was possibly scouted, it was because I happened to be off work on Tuesday/Wednesday's. One of the cabin crew at work had a friend who needed some foreigners for this shoot, and asked us if we wanted to go. It was an obvious yes, and we we ended up being wined and dined on a beautiful yacht for a couple of days while the camera captured us living our best lives. On the second day, we took jet ski’s to a sandbar for some beach shots and splashed around crystal clear water. There were no other boats around and we were in awe at how we ended up having an epic couple of days off In paradise.
Now we have our own yacht, and we did not approach the beach by jet ski, but instead with our trusty dinghy named Sir Fribs. Thank goodness 10 years later drones are widely available to capture the beauty from the sky! This time, I was not with friends in front of a camera crew, but instead alone on sandbar with my husband. It was true paradise.
Skylark tip: When anchoring next to that picture perfect sandbar, or any other anchorage with coral around, float the anchor anchor chain to prevent the chain from getting stuck on a coral head or damaging any coral. To float the chain, tie a fender to the anchor chain every ten meters. When there is no wind, the chain will be lifted by the fender and not touch any coral.
The underwater restaurants are still breathtaking
Underwater restaurants in the Maldives are an incredible experience allowing diners to eat under the sea In style. The first underwater restaurant in the world was built in Maldives at Conrad Resort in 2005 and now there is a total of five underwater restaurants that are all glass in the Maldives.
Ten years ago, I had a layover at the Conrad and was given a brief tour of Ithaa, the first underwater restaurant in the world. It was absolutely stunning, and I hoped one day to visit an underwater restaurant with a handsome man for a romantic dining experience.
Now my life is complete. I dined with my handsome husband at the largest all-glass underwater restaurant in the world, 5.8 Undersea at Hurawalhi resort. The glass is 15cm thick and weighs 400 metric tonnes and is 90 square meters, so we were well secure at our table. There is an impressive reef next to the dome, attracting several different types of fish. It is important to book early to get your desired reservation time and date. We initially only were able to score a lunch slot, then decided to delay it a few days to attend dinner. After careful contemplation, we determined dinner is the better time slot, since it aligns closer with our happy hour schedule and we could experience various lighting. We also heard more big fish come out at night and it’s a better experience. We thankfully arrived as soon as the restaurant opened for the dinner sitting, and we scored a prime corner table. Dinner was a scrumptious 7-course meal, with a highly recommended wine pairing. While feasting on delights such as lobster and sipping on champagne, we saw an incredible amount of fish swimming around in their habitat. I’m not sure if we were the attraction for the fish or they were for us. It was an amazing experience and well worth the high price.
Skylark tip: We attempted to anchor next to the Hulawali Resort but the holding was really poor due to a rocky surface. Thankfully, the resort allowed us to moor Skylark on one of their brand new mooring buoys. Contact Hurawalhi resort for availability of their 5.8 Undersea restaurant and current visiting procedures. When we went to the restaurant, we had to stop by the medical center for a quick checkup to verify we didn't have any Covid symptoms.
JEN Maldives is still the best hotel in Malé
Just over ten years ago, the Holiday Inn Maldives was built. If you are from North America and have not been to a Holiday Inn abroad, many are much nicer than a majority of the domestic roadside locations. I promise. In 2009, the Holiday Inn was the newest hotel in Malé and offered relatively luxurious accommodations, a rooftop pool and a beautiful spa. It has since changed branding twice, and is currently a JEN hotel which is part of the Shangri-La group.
Ten years ago, my first year in the Maldives, the Holiday Inn was under construction and I anxiously awaited the opening of this modern hotel in Malé. Even though I went to nice resorts regularly and had an apartment in Male’, it still seemed like something new and exciting on the island. There was also a rumor there would be a rooftop bar. The rooftop bar ended up being dry, but once it opened, I still went to check it out. The lobby had an amazing smell, and the cold air conditioning was refreshing after escaping from the sweltering outdoor heat. The spa was serene while overlooking a busy street and offered a generous discount to work permit holders. If felt like a calm oasis in the middle of bustling city. In 2011, I completed a ferry flight from Switzerland to Malé and stayed here for a couple of nights. The rooms felt modern and had a great view, and I got to finally go for a dip in that rooftop pool!
Now I stayed again at this location under the new JEN branding, when Skylark was hauled out of the water for some maintenance for a couple of days. I knew we needed to stay at JEN because of my fond memories and the new lovely name. It also happened to be the most expensive hotel in Malé, which wasn’t enough to stop me. Chris was busy doing some manly boat work on Skylark at the boat yard on Thilafushi, the island where trash is also burned, and I was anxious to check into JEN and explore around the city I used to live. When I entered the JEN hotel, it had the same luscious scent and strong air conditioning I remembered.
While booking this hotel online, I saw in the photos that they have a pillow on the bed that says “I’m Staying with Jen” in the room. I entered the room to find no pillow on the bed! Rather than be annoyed, I politely asked a housekeeper about these JEN pillow. He informed me that due to Covid they had to remove any decorative items. After explaining my name was Jen, he gave me a pillow and took a selfie with me and the pillow. He also referred to me by name whenever I ran into him.
I made it up to the rooftop, and it was as nice as I remembered it. I sipped a watermelon juice while looking out over the pool at the view of the ocean and airport. It was great to be back in the Maldives!
Skylark tip: if you haul out in the Maldives, it’s not an easy process and there isn’t much availability since there is limited land and many boats. Only think of hauling out in the Maldives as an emergency option. If you do haul out, there is a ferry from Thilafushi to Male every hour so you can spend some time in the city during the evenings. Hotel Jen will pick you up from the ferry or pay for your taxi (2$) to get to the hotel..
The magic remains!
After more than ten years, I am happy to announce everything I loved about the Maldives is still there. It is still the sunny side of life and a world class destination that has so much to offer. It still remains a special place to me and once we leave to our next destination I know we will return sometime, and it will still be magical.