Abi Campbell passed on a Maldives honeymoon in favour of a road trip through northern California. Now, she feels
it’s time to make amends
I know it’s a generalisation to say the Maldives top most people’s wish lists (apparently, there are some people who can’t stomach beach holidays in paradise), but once I’d made the decision to take my children to the St Regis Maldives Vommuli for half-term, the groans of jealousy and disgust from friends and acquaintances confirmed this. All I could do to minimise fallout was warn people to quieten our feeds on social media.
But first I had to address my paranoia about tsunamis, seaplanes and shark attacks. If you have preteens, you may be familiar with the YouTube comedy animation Dumb Ways to Die – well, this destination made a few methods spring to mind. So, I researched ‘dangers in the Maldives’ and discovered that, short of death by falling coconuts, there were surprisingly few threats compared to other tropical destinations.
Armed with this information, therefore, I booked our flights and packed our bike helmets. When we were greeted by the friendly face of the St Regis ambassador at Malé airport, all residual long-haul stress melted away. Our bags were whisked off and we were chauffeured to the luxury seaplane terminal to await our transfer to the Dhaalu Atoll 80 miles to the south. Flying over turquoise-fringed coral islands is the beginning of our Maldivian experience. We’ve all seen screensavers of this natural phenomenon, but to witness it with your own eyes is something else. Once we’d reconciled the disconcerting feeling of taking off from water with a pilot in flip-flops and an open cockpit window, we relaxed, the kids’ noses pressed against the glass for the 40-minute journey, mouths open in an distinct O shape. The seaplane circled once above the all-villa (there are 77) resort, treating us to a surreal aerial view of our island home before stepping onto it.
Taxiing to dry land, we spotted our welcome party: 10 immaculate staff lined up on the jetty waving hello, echoing every review I’d read about the resort’s exemplary service. Lengthy check-in processes are waived in favour of refreshing baby coconut water and empathy. We were introduced to our personal butler who’d written weeks earlier to enquire after our likes and dislikes. I’d listed a loathing of petty sibling rivalry, but acknowledged this probably fell outside his remit.
I could write a full feature on my first impressions of our family villa – but I’ll be brief. It was designed to resemble the region’s traditional dhoni boat. The interiors successfully walk the tightrope between elegant and modern, with bathrooms larger than most hotel rooms we’ve stayed in. A wooden terrace over the beach included family-sized sunbeds and our own pool, despite nature’s own lapping at its feet. My kids gauge hotel rooms on the bounciness of the beds; mine passed with flying colours. But then our butler asked, ‘Guess where your bedroom is, children…’ Yes, the villa was that big.
He handed us iPads to control the entertainment system, mood lighting and – our favourite – the electric curtains which we ceremoniously swished open every morning to reveal unobstructed views of the dayglo reef. Breakfasts in the poolside restaurant Alba were a banquet. From Indian dosas to sashimi, Belgian waffles, duck confit with maple syrup, and even foie gras or lobster. Later, mounting the pretty white bicycles outside our villa, we took to the immaculate sand paths to explore. The main point of interest for my two was the recreation room, tucked away in the centre of the island so as not to disturb.
This funhouse was equipped with enough tween distractions to ensure you needn’t see them for the entire holiday, if you don’t want to, including a full-size air hockey table, pool table, PS4 and super-sized board games such as chess and Scrabble. Next door was the Vommuli house, home to the gym, anti-gravity yoga room and a chill-out area with vaulted ceilings and retro orange pod chairs equipped with sockets for your devices to give full surround sound.
Also here was the impressive kids’ club with huge windows framing views of tropical fauna. From the well-balanced activities we chose a treasure hunt, scavenging for seeds, grass, leaves, shells and a hermit crab, which we used to make a natural habitat back at base camp. We flew kites, made Maldivian flags, lanterns and pizzas, and were taught to plait palm leaves into a decorative fish on a rod. I was one of those mums who shoved their newborns’ heads underwater in infant aqua classes – I’ve got my very own iconic ‘Nirvana album cover’ to prove it. The outcome is two kids who are more at home in water than on dry land, which explains Jemima’s recent birthday present, a waterproof mermaid tail which she barely took off all holiday. The Maldives, as you may have guessed, is all about the sea – on it or in it, the variations are extensive. A snorkelling trip took us 30 minutes from shore on the resort’s dive boat.
With an experienced guide, we jumped into the big blue and made our way to the barely submerged sandbank drop-off. Within minutes, we’d spotted a turtle and the children’s muffled squeals of joy were audible even underwater. My son Ellis, who’s animated about very little outside of a virtual world, removed his mask as we climbed back aboard and announced, ‘I know what I want to do for a living now!’ The resort dive centre offered the full smorgasbord of watersports, but it was the Cayago Seabob that caught Ellis’ eye. Made by Porsche, with an eyewatering £11,000 price tag, it had James Bond written all over it. It’s essentially a powerful, shiny, bullet-shaped engine that pulls you along underwater. Not much skill is required outside of steering dexterity, a vicelike grip and breath-holding techniques; this could very well be the most fun a teenager can have in the ocean.
My kids have done a fair bit of crabbing in their time, but never fishing, so I signed us up for a night-fishing trip. We set off at sunset and anchored way out at sea, casting our handheld reels of nylon line off the back of the boat as darkness fell. Within minutes, Jemima caught a red snapper, but being a soulful child, she struggled with the concept of taking a life and retreated sad-faced to the end of the boat, from where she watched her caveman brother bag six more.
That evening, our catch was served to us in Orientale, mine steamed with lemongrass and the kids’ battered with chips. Of the six hotel restaurants, we loved this intimate zen eatery the best. It’s next to a quiet, sheltered beach where the children spent their time between courses, and where I was beckoned intermittently for a tour of the spaceship they’d constructed in the sand – fully equipped with a USB hyperdrive tracking system for alien lifeforms and three body-shaped star-gazing beds.
After our meal, we lay in them under the sparkly sky and named a shooting star Luna, in memory of our recently deceased kitten. Halfway through the trip, we moved to an overwater villa. These are the stuff of dreams and (if your kids are slightly older) a must-do, even if only for one night. The bank of floor-to-ceiling windows the length of the room slid open onto a vast deck, doubling the size of the already generous accommodation. Our private pool and the gigantic nets over the water kept us from ever wanting to leave.
We were spellbound by the iridescent sea below our water villa, which was like a gentle wave pool of crystal-clear bath water. We dipped in and out of it all day from our private dive platform, gathering shells and other treasures off the seabed, and barely flinching when the odd reef shark swam by. We agreed the Maldives was easily worthy of its reputation as the most beautiful place on earth, and that we may possibly never see anything quite as spectacular again.
In the past, I’d been reluctant to visit, due in part to the artificiality of flying across the world to what is essentially a hotel. I am a culture vulture, and the idea of being corralled with other holidaymakers on an island didn’t sit easily with me. On reflection, I was wrong to judge. The Maldives gave me permission to shift gear and slow right down, to focus on little else but the beauty surrounding me and on my children, without feeling guilty for doing nothing more than be in the moment.
The St Regis Vommuli unquestionably transports you to another dimension, a place to forget about troubles and the craziness of the modern world. I can vouch that it was worth every second of the 46-year wait – only now that I’ve been, I’m not sure once-in-a-lifetime is going to be enough.
Elegant Resorts offers seven nights for the price of six from £19,595 per family – a saving of £3,355. Price is based on two adults and two children sharing a two-bedroom family beach villa with pool on a B&B basis, a 10% rate reduction together with a Kids Pass offering a variety of dining options for children under 12, flights from Heathrow with Emirates, including shared seaplane transfers and UK lounge passes. The offer is valid 11 May-30 September 2018.