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If you are considering visiting the Maldives for the first time, and are looking for some general advice and tips on choosing a resort, then this is the place to start.
The resorts: All Maldivian resorts are on their own island. These range in size from 2.5km across to just 150m across. This means that the facilities on the resort you choose (restaurants, bars, sports facilities, entertainment etc) are the only ones you will have access to during your stay. Most resorts offer excursions by boat to local fishing village islands, or to the capital Male, but otherwise you will stay on the resort island for the duration of your stay. There are 106 resort islands to choose from, ranging from affordable to ultimate luxury. If you want to experience the 'real' Maldives then you might want to consider one of the Guesthouses that are now available on 5 inhabited islands, offering rooms at very reasonable rates.
Getting to your resort: International flights arrive at Male's Hulhule airport, which is on an island of its own. Many holidaymakers arrive on chartered flights, but there are scheduled services with Emirates (via Dubai), Qatar (via Doha), Air Sri Lanka (via Columbo) and Singapore Airlines (via Singapore). Starting in October 2009 there is also a direct scheduled service with British Airways from London Gatwick three times a week. Transfers from the airport to your resort island are either by boat, seaplane or domestic flight, depending on the distance. If your resort requires a seaplane transfer, a few things to be aware of: the seaplanes only operate in daylight hours, so if you arrive after sunset you'll have to stay in Male overnight before being able to transfer to your resort. Ditto if your flight home is early in the morning - you will leave your resort the afternoon before - make sure you check with your tour operator that you will be given accommodation while you wait for your international flight. The seaplane journey in itself is an experience, as you get stunning views of the atolls - make sure you get a window seat and that you get your camera out before boarding (your hand luggage will probably be put at the back of the plane as there's no space under or over the seats). The seaplane will usually land next to a floating platform, from which you will be picked up by boat to be taken the remaining few metres in shore to your resort.
Some resorts have landing stages that allow the seaplane to deliver you right up to the beaches of your destined resorts. It is an amazing feeling to get off the sea plane & right on to the sunny white beaches of the country where waves are sweeping at your feet. NB - seaplane transfer methods vary from resort to resort.
What there is to do: The Maldives are a tropical paradise, and people visit for the beaches and the watersports - the underwater life is amazing and the Maldives has a reputation as a diver's paradise.. Most resorts won't have a busy entertainment programme, and there's definitely no sightseeing (apart from the occasional organised excursion by boat from the resort to a local inhabited island). If you're not happy lounging on a beach with a good book soaking up the sunshine in between swimming in the sea, or spending your days diving or snorkelling, then this probably isn't the place for you!
Choosing your resort: Price is obviously the initial consideration, and the Maldives has resorts for most budgets (including the unlimited!). However, there are a number of other important considerations.
Board packages: For most resorts, the standard brochure price is for bed and breakfast (although there are now a few resorts that are all-inclusive as standard). Many offer other board packages for a supplement, but make sure you read the brochure description carefully to see what is included - all-inclusive doesn't always mean everything is included. In many resorts, the meal packages (including all-inclusive) will only include meals in the main restaurant, and you will have to pay a supplement to eat elsewhere. The drinks included in AI packages varies greatly with resorts too - some don't include cocktails at all, some have a separate AI drinks menu. Some AI packages will only include drinks taken at certain bars or restaurants. Make sure you check before you go, or you may end up with a hefty bill at the end of your stay. If you're not a heavy drinker, or want to drink cocktails and they're not included in the AI package, it may end up cheaper to go half or full board. Some AI packages also include other benefits, such as hire of snorkelling equipment or use of windsurfers, but unless specifically mentioned in the brochure, assume you'll have to pay for these types of extras.
Things to be aware of: Costs of meals, drinks etc in resort will be high. Everything in the Maldives, with the exception of fish and coconuts, has to be imported, usually by plane from Dubai and then brought to the resort by boat from Male, so it's expensive. In resort, you sign for all purchase and settle up at the end, and you may well be faced with a hefty bill. Factor this in on top of the cost of the brochure price, especially if you go on a B&B package, so it doesn't come as a very nasty shock once you get there. On top of meals and drinks, additional costs will be for any excursions, watersports tuition, equipment hire, spa treatments and souvenirs/extras from the resort gift shop. BE AWARE: everything that you purchase on the island that is not part of your board basis, will attract a 10% service charge on top of the published price. A further 6% Government Tourist Tax is also added to purchases on the island. This is set to increase further in the near future. Check the resort details before you leave to see what is included - things like snorkelling equipment hire can easily mount up, especially on a two-week holiday, so if it's not included, it will probably be cheaper to buy it before you go if you want to use it every day. Make sure you take adequate supplies of things like suncream (you'll be on the equator, so you'll definitely need lots of it) and toiletries, as they're expensive once you're there and the resort gift shop won't have a big selection.
The Maldives really is paradise on earth and you'll probably have a wonderful time which ever resort you choose, but a bit of careful planning before you go can ensure that you make the best choice for you and have the perfect holiday.
An alternative to staying at a resort (or guesthouse) is to spend a week (or more) on a small cruise boat (Liveaboard) which caters for divers, snorkellers and those who just want to relax. The majority will visit resort islands, inhabited islands and deserted islands (see the Travellers Articles about various Liveaboards). It is possible to combine a Liveaboard experience with a week on a resort island.
In addition to the small 'liveaboards' there are two slightly larger ships (40 passengers) that operate in the Maldives. Both cater for snorkellers, divers and beach lovers and both are the subject of Traveller Articles (Atoll Explorer & Yasawa Princess)