I had read about the water, beaches and beauty of this island republic for years, but honestly, who makes a 22-hour journey for water and beaches, when so many wet and sandy destinations are closer to Texas? Once I was committed to an around-the-world trip, though, the Maldives were at the top of our list, and one of the main reasons we selected Dubai as our first stop.
The world's most amazing business class lounge
I can’t write about the Maldives without mentioning the four-hour, 10-minute flight from Dubai to Male, the capital of the Maldives. The Dubai airport and its government-owned airline, Emirates Air, are — as is everything else about Dubai —over the top; I mean this as a compliment. We have all heard that many non-U.S. airlines put a premium on service, but to experience it firsthand was special.
What boggled my mind was the Emirates Business Class lounge, which has the capacity for 3,000 passengers.
Fly Emirates’ business class, and Emirates will send a car to pick you up. Once you are at the airport, a representative meets your car, whisks you to a check-in counter, sees you through customs and to the Emirates Business Class Lounge. Terminal 3—exclusively Emirates—is the largest building in the world measured by floor space, and includes the newly opened Concourse A to serve their A-380 fleet. The terminal has 10 floors (four basement and six above-ground) including a multi-level structure for departures and arrivals..
What boggled my mind was the Emirates Business Class lounge, which has the capacity for 3,000 passengers. By contrast, United’s largest club holds a fraction of that. And how does Emirates get 3,000 people in an airline lounge? The lounge is two floors above the departure gates and stretches the entire length of the terminal, with separate elevators and escalators serving each gate.
When we arrived, we were directed to the part of the lounge above our gate, which seemed almost a quarter-mile walk. There were at least six serving stations featuring hot and cold buffets with a variety of freshly prepared Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Western dishes, together with juice bars. Across the marble-floored entry is a full-service spa and beauty salon. Alternatively, you can visit a wine cellar and sample and purchase vintage wines.
When our flight was called, we approached a nearby elevator that took us downstairs to the door of our plane. No waiting in line to board, and three gangways for quick and painless boarding for each class of service. No crowding, no waiting; we hardly saw anyone except the passengers sitting near us on our flight to Male.
Like all of the Emirates fleet, our Boeing 777 was relatively new; its interior is thoughtfully and tastefully appointed and impeccably clean and appointed with large-screen entertainment, flat-bed seats with massage functions and food that was quite tasty for airline fare. Emirates’ entertainment system offers forward and underbelly camera viewsm the ability to text or make phone calls from your seat and more than 1,000 channels of movies, TV and games. I watched the Rolling Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane as well as One Direction’s This Is Us and the movie Blue Jasmine to boot. I'm a somewhat jaded traveler (125,000 miles for business last year); it takes a lot to impress me, but this was one flight I could not wait to share with others.
The Maldives is not one island but an archipelago of 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean (only 192 of which are inhabited) extending more than 600 miles from north to south and 300-plus miles off the coasts of both India and Sri Lanka. The largest island of the chain is only about three square miles, and none of the islands is more than seven feet above sea level.
We landed at the airport on the tiny island of Hulhulé, which is a five-minute ferry ride from Male, the Maldives’ capital, a city of 103,000 and one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Virtually all of the resorts in the Maldives are either a boat or seaplane ride from the airport. For us, the 92-room Four Seasons on the island of Kuda Huraa was a 25-minute speedboat ride.
One might think that four days on an island less than a mile long and one-fourth of that at its widest could become boring. Not true here.
The Four Seasons has a reputation for service, and its resort on Kuda Huraa is no exception (there is a second, slightly larger Four Seasons on another island and a third Four Seasons that is an 11-stateroom catamaran). Located on an island that is so small that you can walk it end to end in 15 minutes, it is not someplace you go for lots of action; you come here for swimming, solitude and incredible beauty.
No cars, disco, gambling, shopping or large-scale entertainment — that is, unless you count Mother Nature as entertainment (and I’ve found she has all other forms beat). The resort is so small that you take a one-minute boat ride to its spa on an adjacent island or to the tennis court on yet another adjacent island. The multinational, multilingual staff is gracious and embodies what you would expect from a Four Seasons.
We were lucky enough to be upgraded to one of the resort’s 38 over-water bungalows, which you reach by taking a boardwalk from the main island to a smaller finger of a jetty. Our bungalow looked out on the Indian Ocean, which is breathtakingly beautiful. Our bungalow featured a large, wooden, decked over-water patio, with steps leading into the ocean, large lounges with a shade umbrella and table and chairs for outdoor dining, where we had dinner two of our four nights there. Our living area which, like everything at the resort, was decorated in beiges, aquas and greens — in order not to detract from the ocean —featured sliding glass doors that opened to our own infinity pool. The bathroom featured a large soaking tub and both an indoor and outdoor shower.
The Maldives is three degrees north of the equator, with year-around air temperature in the mid to high 80s and water temperature from the high 70s to the low 80s. Nights are only a few degrees cooler than days and only slightly less humid, so air conditioning is a welcome addition, although at night we found ourselves turning it off, opening the sliding doors and enjoying the ever-present breeze and sound of the ocean.
The Four Seasons has a reputation for service, and its resort on Kuda Huraa is no exception.
When you stay at a Four Seasons, you have committed to an expensive vacation, so don’t punish yourself by worrying about the prices. Having said that, pardon the pun: a $98 steak and a $37 hamburger is a lot to bite off.
One might think that four days on an island less than a mile long and one-fourth of that at its widest could become boring. Not true here. There is snorkeling, diving and fishing, but sitting, reading a book, watching the ocean change colors and soaking up the breeze are hard to beat.
We rented a jet ski boat and, with a guide, headed out on the Indian Ocean to a sand bar five miles away. I must admit I was a little nervous. The ocean was very rough, and half the time I could not see because of the waves crashing on the jet ski. Suddenly, out of dark blue, foaming waters appeared a sandbar. We anchored the jet ski and walked onto the bar and took pictures as we stood on the whitest mound of sand imaginable, surrounded by a rainbow of aqua, green and blue waters.
The spa was another adventure. A small boat ferried you to a tiny, adjacent island. The small, enclosed wooden native boat held only two passengers and a variety of aromatherapy oils to start the relaxation process. The massage treatment rooms were huts over the water with one side open to the ocean. Part of the floor was glass, so as you listened to the waves, felt the breeze and enjoyed the treatment, you watched a variety of colorful fish play.
Our adventure in paradise suffered a bit of sticker shock when the bill for four nights totaled five figures. We had no idea about all the taxes they would add. A bed tax?
Even so, we would swim to go back. As we pulled away from the dock 5, a worker held a sign that said "See You Soon" and waved until we were out of sight. We both cried. Who says you can't buy love?