One&Only Reethi Rah, The Maldives: Happy As A Sandboy.
At last count, the Maldives had 1,900 islands, 200 inhabited by locals and about a hundred colonized for the sole activity of holidaying. We’re all agreed they look like a honeymooner’s paradise but just how suitable is such a tranquil clime for your brood, however well behaved? Well, in truth the majority of islands are best left as an exclusive domain for cooing couples and if children are not explicitly solicited then the general rule is don’t go where you’re unwelcome.
That said there are a handful of islands that are perfect for families. The phrase ‘as happy as a sandboy’ couldn’t be more fitting for children visiting the Maldives; in essence a giant sandpit surrounded by an irresistibly warm aquarium full of cartoon coloured fish with funny names like oriental sweetlips. There’s no malaria or vaccinations required and people are as friendly as they come.
The larger islands best suit children’s needs for practical as well as esoteric reasons. Space to accommodate an activities club and water-sports in one corner without destroying the sanctuary of peace and quiet for other guests is key to success. Top of the list for older kids and teens is One&Only’s flagship Reethi Rah (literally meaning ‘beautiful island’) lying only an hour by boat from Malé International airport (with direct flights from Europe, the Middle East and the Far East). It’s the largest leisure island in the Maldives – in fact, half-natural and half-fabricated in the shape of a seahorse with over six kilometres of beach.
The 130 villas, many with private pool, are sleek and spectacularly spacious, spread out around the circumference of the island, each with a garden area and ocean view. The offshore breeze that blows three sheets to the wind means that noise doesn’t travel further than you, or your neighbours, want it to and makes the need for air-conditioning redundant both day and night. You can choose how to get around: on foot, bicycle, or by electric buggy. And before you can say ahhh, the children will be shell seeking along the shore, a mere seven metres away.
A kid in tow doesn’t mean compromise. You’ll be met by a guest attendant and welcomed with iced tea cocktails and a soothing ESPA foot massage before a quick orientation of the room and resort, which offers a simpatico blend of comfort and nature, with, I confess, rather more comfort than nature. However, when colours that look like they’ve been picked out of Aladdin’s paintbox surround you, creating an implausible cocktail of blues and yellows, even Mother Nature seems illusory.
The ‘magic’ restaurant
Of the three restaurants, our favourite was the higgledy-piggledy Fanditha (meaning ‘magic’), resembling a ramshackle open-air furniture sale – as if a ship has been wrecked on the reef and all the islanders have rushed to rescue its booty and brought it ashore. Lamps, rugs, hardwood tables and intricately carved treasure chests laid here, there and everywhere. There’s something remote and out-of-place about a dining table sitting in bare sand, epitomising the whole twenty-first century trend for barefoot-luxury. It’s certainly eccentric and a welcome bolt from the mundane normality of samey restaurants. An added bonus is that teenagers think it’s cool too.
As the competition stakes hot up for who can out-do who, hotels are showcasing their innovative service-par-excellence with new fads and fashions. One new ploy to wow guests – and an absolute winner with kids – is personal iPods down on the beach, pre-loaded with over a thousand tracks.
The KidsOnly Club has been designed to give mums and dads some time out while children enjoy non-stop fun with their peers. Located on the south-eastern tip of the island and surrounded by a sand-filled shaded playground, shallow swimming pool, beach and lagoon, the air-conditioned playhouse offers everything from art decks to PlayStations. Understandably most kids just want to be outside, so days are planned with this in mind. A common passion for hermit crab hunting and racing, fish feeding, snorkelling, building sandcastles and crab kingdoms, nature walks, picnics and pizza making keep younger guests happy.
Teens have their own clubhouse with a tactful semi-supervised choice of activities including diving trips, beach football, windsurfing, campfire soirees, table tennis, snooker and the normal gamut of Internet and computer games.
The 18,000-square-metre spa has embraced the best money can buy – from crystal steam rooms to airbeds and ice fountains. You have the choice of ESPA, Thai or Ayurvedic methods and the Bastien Gonzalez’s foot and leg treatment (not to be confused with a cosmetic pedicure) that left my nails, skin and muscles feeling ten years younger.
A paradise for all
Various off-island excursions are offered. The dhoni trip to find the Secrets of Tila, an underwater wonder of fish and corals laying only a metre below the surface, is highly recommended. An hour’s snorkelling followed by a feast of salads, tuna, wraps and chocolate brownies. It’s a great and safe way for all age groups to experience the endless spectrum offered by this patch of ocean.
Equally fun, the night fishing trip was a great hit. Sailing from the island just as the sun lost its sting, we immediately began tying hooks and weights on to long spools of twine. Within seconds, the dubiously primitive self-made lures had a nibble, and then a tug as the line went taught, followed by thrilled pulling until a very respectable red snapper came aboard, then a grouper and finally a tuna – too big to pull onto the deck.
On and off the island, it’s a paradise for all. Reethi does indeed come at a price, which will rule it out for many, but world savvy travellers whose kids have seen it all won’t be disappointed. It’s fancy, somewhat flamboyant and full of fun.
Other favourite family hotels include: Reethi’s sister hotel Kanuhura (less chi-chi but especially good for under-fives) in the beautiful Raa Atoll; the brand new Landaa Giraavaru in northern Baa atoll – where Four Seasons has come up trumps again with a critter camp complete with marine biologist, coconut bowling, croqkick and Blu – the world’s most dazzling restaurant (note: rooms on the south of island are preferable for families as the north shore is rocky with a smaller beach). Lastly but by no means least, check out Per Aquum’s Maakanaa, an all-villa resort, purpose built for families and their helpers.
IDEAL AGE: 4–17
FYI:KidsOnly Club for children aged four to eleven, open daily
9.00 a.m. – 9.00 p.m. ClubOne for children aged twelve to seventeen, open every afternoon