An Island for Everyone: Top family-friendly resorts in the Maldives
Text and photos by Holly Tuppen
Islands small enough to walk around in minutes, hushed retreats, loved-up honeymooners and flashy holiday-goers. The Maldives aren’t an obvious place to turn for a relaxed family holiday. But, if you pick the right resorts, they are in fact perfect. What the Maldives may lack in space and accessible culture, they gain in ease. The picture-perfect beach is a few steps from your villa, tropical weather means there’s no danger of long rainy days, and food and drink is served up (prep and washing-up free) throughout the day. For parents used to hauling kids around a city like London, such simplicity is what holidays are all about. I recently visited three resorts, catering for families of all shapes and sizes:
Best for toddlers: Angsana Ihuru
A perfectly formed little paradise island in the North Male Atoll, Angsana Ihuru is only 20 minutes by speedboat from Male airport, making it one of the easiest resorts to get to—good for little ones after a long flight. There is no pool and it only takes ten minutes to walk around the whole island, but the beach is enough to keep toddlers entertained for hours and the house reef is one of the best in the Maldives. Snorkelling equipment is free to borrow and the dive centre is full of helpful information about the reef and its many inhabitants. There’s not many places in the world where you can swim alongside a turtle, reef sharks, eagle rays, octopus and much, much more, all just a few yards from the beach. For the more adventurous the island has an excellent Padi centre and there’s a wreck to explore 17 metres below. Unfortunately there is no kids’ club or official babysitting, but the staff are more than happy to help out where possible. Two of the reception staff looked after our 20-month-old on a couple of occasions and seemed delighted to do so.
Lining the beach are 45 thatched ‘villas’, set back enough for each to have their own patch of sand, plenty of shade and lounging space. Villas themselves are just one large bedroom with a semi-separated living area and pretty outdoor bathroom—some with just showers and others with jet pools. Cots and fold-out beds are provided for kids. Meals are served in the beachside restaurant either in buffet or set menu form—rotated every night so there’s no fear of food fatigue. Little ones get their own menu and are kept entertained by the reef sharks drawn to the lights of the jetty and the crabs competing for beach space below. If parents would rather dine when the kids are in bed, in-villa dining experiences are on offer. We opted for an on-the-beach seafood BBQ—a feast of reef fish, lobster and prawns served up by candlelight under a star-filled sky with not a soul in sight, except a few eagle rays flapping about at the water’s edge.
If cabin fever is a concern, one of the best things about Ihuru is the ferry service throughout the day to sister island Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru. Getting on the water is what it’s all about in this island state and sampling the bars, restaurants and beaches of the slightly more upmarket Banyan Tree resort makes a nice change. Take the boat over one afternoon to catch the daily sting ray and turtle feeding followed by sundowners on the beach.
For more information go to www.angsana.com/en/em-maldives-ihuru.
Best for kids (big and small!): Soneva Fushi
I’ve been back in London for a week and am still reeling from the magic of Soneva Fushi. This island in the Baa Atoll manages to balance sophistication and a sense of fun in a way that leaves everyone happy. Kids can be kids and, as an adult, it’s hard not to get caught up in the Robinson Crusoe adventure. Needless to say, this is the place to head for a family holiday of a lifetime.
Whereas some Maldivian resorts are designed for a ‘fly and flop’ experience, often tied in with Sri Lanka, Soneva Fushi is a destination in its own right. The island is bigger than most—although it still takes only 45 minutes to circumnavigate by foot—and having been a resort for over 15 years, the vegetation is lush and dense. White sand paths weave their way around the jungle interior, past giant banyan trees and scuttling lizards and under a canopy of greenery alive with birdsong. Bikes are provided for all sizes, making simply getting from your villa to breakfast an adventure in its own right. Beyond your villa there’s plenty to explore—beaches for all occasions, outdoor cinema, garden growing everything you could imagine, observatory, kids’ club, dive centre, spa, yoga retreat and eco centre. And that’s before I’ve even mentioned the food, which was unbelievably good at each of the seven outlets (a special mention should go to fresh sushi, the chocolate room, homemade sorbet, breakfast juices, Fresh in the Garden jungle-top feasts, sunset cocktails and lots more!).
Even if sunbathing isn’t your thing, there’s no danger of getting bored here. Let your personal ‘Mr Friday’ know what kinds of activities you’re interested in and he’ll plan the rest. We had an action-packed three days of learning the art of freediving, snorkelling with a marine biologist, dolphin and sunset boat cruises, an eco-tour, planet-gazing from the observatory, watching old classics at the cinema, realigning our chi with yoga classes and generally reconnecting as a family.
This last point is something that runs deep in the Soneva ethos. Often catering for families that lead busy, urban schedules, Soneva Fushi aims to provide a slightly more traditional family existence. The kids’ club, The Den, factors in ‘family time’ throughout the day, mostly around mealtimes, and kids are made to feel very welcome throughout the island. The friendship between kids on the island also often brings groups of adults together and many return simply to reunite with ‘Soneva friends’. Parents also needn’t feel worried about deserting kids in a club—The Den is no ordinary kids’ club, with snorkelling, boat trips and treasure hunts on the weekly agenda and staff providing some of the best childcare I’ve ever come across. The Den is also undergoing a huge upgrade, which should be complete in autumn 2015 and promises entertainment for kids of all ages (next time I might try and smuggle myself in).
Villas come in all shapes and sizes, each providing guests with their own slice of island paradise. Balinese in design—high ceilings, cedar wood, natural materials and fabrics, barefoot luxury with the outside cleverly woven in—villas all have huge outdoor bathrooms and private gardens leading down to the sea. Our two-bed Soneva Fushi Villa Suite felt luxurious and was big and simple enough not to have to worry about little hands causing trouble or getting restless. The outdoor saltwater pool offered the perfect respite to the afternoon sun and our upstairs terrace a little haven away from kids for evenings spent stargazing. If holidays are about luxuriating in a more simple existence filled with childlike excitement, then this place has hit the nail on the head.
For more information go to www.soneva.com/soneva-fushi.
Best for teens: Amilla Fushi
If this all sounds worryingly wholesome for your tearaway teens, then something a little more up-tempo might do the trick. Amilla Fushi opened last December with the aim of offering an antidote to the ‘lovers paradise’ so often associated with the Maldives. Also in the Baa Atoll, this place couldn’t be more different from Soneva. Villas are stark white units with funky interiors, either on the beach, in the treetops or on stilts over the bright blue sea. Our two-bed beach villa featured bedrooms big enough to cater for two adults and two big kids, each with their own bathroom, mini bar, TV and lounge area. Bedrooms open onto a huge private swimming pool and a terrace leading down to the beach. Just a few yards into the water, Amilla’s house reef offers an underwater playground that I doubt even the grumpiest of teenagers could get bored of.
Once your own family patch has been explored, there’s plenty more to do. Each guest is entitled to 20 minutes of free motorised water sports a day, on top of the complimentary sea kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and snorkelling gear. Whereas jumping on a jet ski would have felt a little incongruous at Soneva, at Amilla it’s more on-vibe. There’s also a giant free-form swimming pool, several restaurants, a bar with visiting DJs and free daily spa treatments. The kids’ club is currently more suited to little ones (our two-year-old was welcome for free) but they are in the process of building a bigger one for older kids, so no doubt more entertainment is on the way. What Amilla lacks in a ‘sense of place’ (you could really be anywhere), it gains in on-tap activities and mod cons.
For more information go to www.amilla.mv.
We travelled to the Maldives with Emirates, with a two-hour stopover in Dubai. In peak season (November to March) it’s possible to fly direct from London in ten hours. Transfers to Angsana Ihuru are by speedboat and to Soneva Fushi and Amilla Fushi by seaplane.