When I first started dating NewMan (my poorly chosen name for my partner of over seven years) he was the first person I knew who had been to the Maldives. I don't know for certain but I think he was the first to introduce me to this unique country that is 99% water and made up of tropical islands, and as with only a handful or two of places, once I saw a photo of the Maldives, I wanted to go, badly.
For years we talked about it, but we did a lot of exotic travel during our two nomadic years and in many ways beaches in Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and even places like Spain and Portugal scratched the itch. Once settled in Amsterdam we talked about it some more but my travel for work, and trips to see family and friends took priority. Then I got pregnant (by desire, I should add!) and the Maldives pretty much got relegated to the "In my dreams" folder of aspirations I never expect to realise, like getting my pre-baby waist size back or actually looking like Beyonce when I dance.
And then a few weeks ago, I got emailed a press release about a special offer in a new "lifestyle" resort called Kandima in the Maldives and it seemed a good deal. Nay, it seemed a great deal. A few emails and a lot of sums later, we made our dream holiday a reality. Every single time I questioned the cost, the practicality, the three flights each way with a toddler NewMan turned to me and said "You deserve this holiday. We deserve it." and after the rollercoaster two years we've had adjusting to life as a family (including a life-altering bout of post-natal depression/anxiety and a year of not sleeping) I stopped arguing with him.
I explain this background because on social media and to family and friends it probably looked like we just went to the Maldives "on a whim" because we have so much free time and stacks of cash lying around that we can afford to be this crazy indulgent. This is not true. But we work hard and we can afford to take advantage of special opportunities like this.
Anyway, all of this background is completely regardless. What really matters is the COLOUR OF THE OCEAN in the Maldives.
I have honestly never seen anything like it. The many different shades, the many different shapes, the many different waves - fast and slow, rolling wild and crawling in without breaking - the ocean in the Maldives has a mind of its own.
On our first morning waking up on Kandima Maldives, we walked to breakfast along the beach and we didn't see another soul... unless you count the hermit crabs skidaddling sideways across the sand. More than this I remember on that first morning just how bright it all was under a clear sky and big bold sun.
My poor two-year-old son kept covering his eyes with his hands because the white sand was reflecting so much light that even with his hat on, there was too much light coming up at him from below. I've honestly never really experienced that before...
A few days into our trip I learnt that a year previously, the island was nothing but jungle. A so-called "virgin island", it was developed by a Maldivan family who were already established in (and I suspect incredibly rich thanks to!) the island resort business. A whole lot of cash and hard work later, Kandima Maldives was opened and welcoming guests to its shores of ivory white sand.
Here is when I need to interrupt the dreamy narrative of walking along the beach to breakfast and swimming in neon blue waters - yes NEON is the only way I can describe that shade of blue - although our time there was definitely those very things on repeat, but it's important to highlight something before we go any further. Yes, Kandima is a beautiful island resort with many luxuries, but it prides itself on not being just another luxury island getaway in a country famous for them. It is a "lifestyle destination", not a luxury resort.
The lifestyle part of this equation may need some explaining. Most importantly it means "inclusive". Kandima Maldives aims to be a place that more people can get to in terms of being able to afford to stay there. Accommodation prices start at as little as $160pp a night (so $320 for a couple), and this is on a half-board basis (which means you get two meals included). This is the kind of price many high mid-range places in Europe charge in high season, but without the meals, and definitely without the tropical island surroundings.
We arrived at Kandima after a long 23-hour journey that involved two flights and a seaplane, the latter an experience that deserves a post all to itself, and as we walked up the long jetty to the island, the sun was setting behind us. Thanks to very little sleep on our overnight flight, and a sleeping baby weighing my arms down, I didn't turn to see it until I was in the lobby and being handed a welcome drink and cool towel which I tried to juggle with the deadweight of my son. Sand lay underfoot, fans whirled above our heads and a very smiley and happy "Buddy" welcomed us to Kandima.
I'd love to say that that was the moment I relaxed, but it wasn't. I didn't fully feel free from the stress of the journey until the following morning when I woke after a ten hour sleep and pulled back the curtains to see our private pool and a short walkway leading to the beach...
I took a moment to just listen to the waves gently thundering against the sand... I closed my eyes and also heard the rippling of palm tree branches rustling together. It's a sound not unlike the pitter-pattering of rain falling and for the first few days I would often look up to search for a grey cloud, but it was actually just the hundreds of palm trees surrounding us.
Finding out we had two meals included in our rate, was a pleasant surprise, but I have to be honest and say that we didn't really have high expectations. There's something about the words "all-inclusive" and "buffet" that conjurs up images of hot trolleys and dried out food. I'm very happy (and a few kilograms heavier) to report that this was NOT the case at Kandima. Each morning we were spoiled for choice at the many cooking stations and buffet spreads, and each evening I would do at least three "tours" of all the cold and hot food options. For each meal there was a special kids' corner laid out with a choice of healthy foods and fun treats for little ones. The sandwiches, banana bread and fruit were special hits with our boy.
While there were other restaurants and we tried all but one, the relaxed atmosphere and very good food at Flavour was too easy and too convenient (and yep, too free) to not make it our go-to dinner destination. That said, I have to say that we enjoyed two delicious meals at Smoked, the grillhouse restaurant that served up one of the best burgers I've ever had, and we also loved our meal at Azure, a Mediterranean-themed outside dining spot. For lunch we would often just share a pizza between the three of us as we didn't need much more after big breakfasts... that and maybe an ice cream or smoothie...
Catering well for children leads me to the real reason we loved Kandima. The Kids Club, or Kandiland as its called. There's something a little sad about two parents thinking the best part of a holiay is the kids club but for us, if we know our kiddo has a place to go to play, be with other children, and yes, be left with other loving, caring and watchful adults so that we can go and take some time as a couple to enjoy each other's company and a few activities, well, let's just say it's worth all the praise I'm giving to them. It means everyone has a relaxing holiday.
Managed by the always smiling Sheila and staffed by a very friendly team, Kandiland was a child's paradise and it prides itself as the largest kids' club in the Maldives. As big as it was, the best part for me was that I felt Baby Bird actually learned things when he was there. From playdough to books to the trainset to running around in the water outside, everytime we left him there for a few hours we felt confident that he was in a really happy and positive place. He learned a few colours, he started singing Baa Baa Black Sheep to me, and he got to play with "grown-up" lego for the first time, making cars. There was also a room with cots for naps and a kids' only toilet (i.e. loos so low you can't get up from which I learnt the hard way!)
Thank you Sheila and your team! (FYI Kandiland is free for all children over the age of four. Under that age you have to pay an hourly rate for a babysitter which is what we did - money well spent!)
So what did we do during our childfree hours... Well, maybe I'll let the photos give you an idea?
We took a snorkelling trip, we went wakeboarding, we went to the spa (twice), we watches the sunset, we drank cocktails, we lay in the sun and in the shade, we took bike rides, we went snorkelling just in the water near our villa, we played pool, we played backgammon, and we chatted. My partner and I actually talked more than I think we have in the last few years. It was so good for us.
And then there were the things we did together as a family... we ate ice cream, we flew a kite, we walked along the beach, we flew a kite, we hunted for crabs, we collected pretty shells then putting them back, and that's without mentioning the hours and hours we spent just splashing around in one of several pools we had access to... I also have to mention how riding around in the hop-on, hop-off golf buggy buses was one of Baby Bird's favourite things to do. There is so much to do on this island I only read two books in twelve days, which for anyone who knows me will know is a very poor performance. And that is why Kandima call themselves a "destination" not a resort.
Perhaps you're wondering what's missing from a place like this that isn't luxury, but is "lifestyle"? Well, it was explained to us that the main difference is the absence of the usual Maldives extras like a butler service, a turn-down visit by housekeeping in the evening and on-demand buggy lifts to wherever you want to go. I didn't miss any of these extras apart from the on-demand buggies but that's purely because waiting in the blazing sunshine for a bus or walking around the island with a toddler often proved a little stressful or difficult (sand and pushchairs are not friends). But there was even a solution to this; we hired bikes (at $5 USD++ a day) and managed to fashion a seat for Baby Bird out of the front basket. I hasten to add that this was COMPLETELY AT OUR OWN RISK and we were probably breaking a few rules in doing so, but you can take the family out of Amsterdam, but you can't easily take Amsterdam out of the family! This meant we could get around easily and not have to worry about sunburn our waiting for the buggy. My partner and I also used the bikes to explore the island and head up to the Beach Club that was at the other end of the island from our villa.
Speaking of our villa, and the other types of accommodation available at Kandima, here are some pics of a few different studios and villas as I was lucky enough to have a nosey around the options, including the entry level Sky Studio that is designed to open up the market to other budgets. I was surprised to see that the interiors are all very similar, both in terms of design and finishings but also in terms of space and comfort levels. And every single studio or villa had a luxurious (and very comfortable) sofa bed so families can easily occupy all options. I would also add that while the Ocean Villas were the most expensive and most spacious, I actually preferred our Beach Villa in terms of location and the beach access. It's also the very best option for young families as both the Aqua Villas and the Ocean Villas are elevated over sea water and there are no railings around the terraces which gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it...
At the end of our long but much needed twelve days in the Maldives, we left knowing several staff by name, and with the bright white Maldivan sand in all our nooks and crannies. The weather may not have always been perfect (which we expected because it was rainy season) but I think we averaged more sunny than rainy days, which I'm happy with. There were also so many options to entertain ourselves and on rainy days we took it in turns to go to the gym while the other parent hung out with Baby Bird in Kandiland or at the villa, or if we were lucky enough to have a babysitter booked we went to the spa, played pool in the Breeze bar, or just stayed inside watching a bunch of TV shows we'd long been saving but our busy lives don't always allow for. (There was something a little odd watching all those wintry Game of Thrones scenes in the Maldives...) I'll write a bit more in due course about travelling to the Maldives with a toddler and in low season but needless to say, avoiding peak season means you pay less too.
So does Kandima Maldives deliver on its mission to be a more "inclusive" resort rather than "exclusive". Well, if inclusive means that you feel part of a big family, then yes, it does. If inclusive means that you can enjoy high quality hospitality but also a relaxed environment to play, laugh and (when Baby Bird doesn't get his own way) make a lot of noise in, then yes, it does. And if inclusive means you feel like you've enjoyed a luxury getaway without wiping out your savings, then absolutely yes, it does deliver, and I really do hope that one day we can go back and feel part of the Kandima family again.
Photos shot with Canon 700D with its standard lens and a 40mm lens, as well as some on my phone and our GoPro Hero4.
Find out more about Kandima Maldives and their rates, and special offers on their website.
Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+