The Maldives: now for children too

Sunday, 26 October 2008 07:41

Once you couldn’t move for the honeymooners. Not now. The island has been transformed for kids.

In word-association tests, if you don’t answer “The Maldives” when the psychologist says honeymoon, the good doctor will give you a sideways stare.

These so-romantic Indian Ocean atolls are now as indelibly imprinted on the gilt-edged marriage map as the best man’s cringeworthy double entendres and the embarrassing dad dancing at the evening disco. So the latest focus for its top resorts is rather puzzling – they’re pushing their kids’ clubs.

In the past, you practically had to walk around ringing a bell if you dared turn up with an infant, but the new hot hotel in the archipelago, Diva, is placing every bit as much emphasis on attracting brats as bridezillas.

To ensure a rose-tinted, Waltons-on-Sea appeal, it has drafted in Johnny Mathis, the exacting Swiss general manager who turned the Anassa in Cyprus into the poshest, family-friendly property in the Mediterranean.

Mathis explains: “The Maldives don’t require a string of vaccinations, and the shallow lagoons here mean that the beaches are incredibly safe for kids. Some islands are tiny, so mixing families and honeymooners might not work, but Diva has 4km of beach and we can easily accommodate both groups.”

The resort offers plenty to tempt the grown-ups, including six restaurants, six bars and a spa. Some areas are strictly adults only. But there is also a large children’s club, The Nest, which is complimentary and open daily from 9am to 10pm for 3-to 12-year-olds (under3s must be accompanied by a parent, or a baby-sitter for a nominal fee). It has a cinema lounge, a well-stocked library, a computer room, a large outdoor playground and a “siesta lounge” for when your toddler tires of excess and needs an afternoon nap.

Next door, just for teens, is the Place, stacked with WiFi computers, PlayStations, table tennis and pool tables. Beach-volleyball matches are organised here, and tennis tournaments are held on its two dedicated courts. There is also Musik, a nightclub with live bands – though since this also doubles as a conference space, it’s never going to rival Mahiki for ambience.

Diva isn’t alone in targeting those with children. When Reethi Rah opened three years ago, Jodie Kidd and Aidan Butler and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were among the stream of high-profile honeymooners seeking out its six-star seclusion. But what really surprised the resort’s bosses was the demand from families. During the Easter and Christmas breaks, 80% of its guests are nowen famille.

Reethi Rah already has an impressive complimentary kids’ club, complete with dinky swimming pool and pint-sized sun loungers; and ClubOne for teen-agers, staffed by its own sports and entertainment team. Now, it is looking to boost its family appeal further by introducing a “parents go lightly” scheme.

This would allow guests to preorder everything from nappies to buggies for their villa, rather than run the risk of having their baby milk mistaken for sarin at the airport.

The Beach House at Manafaru, which opened in February, is another newcomer with its eye on looking after junior. Apart from complimentary kids’ and teen clubs, it has a giant trampoline, tennis, volleyball and badminton courts, Ninten-do Wii, an 18-hole golf simulator – and a special spa menu. For the “Lil’ Mud-Man” treatment, youngsters are given a bowl of chocolate mud to smear over themselves, before jumping into a mud bath and having a mini massage... followed by a slice of chocolate cake.

The idea is catching on, too. In May, the Conrad Rangali followed gooey suit with its Ice Cream Spa, where kids can have a “Super Sundae Supremo” body scrub and massage using “Gotta Have It Pomegranate”. And if the thought of those ingredients doesn’t make you feel queasy, the prices will – the Supremo costs about £45.

Which brings us to the question of cost. Why whisk your family to one of the world’s most expensive destinations when the kids could just as easily chew sand on Bournemouth beach?

Adrian Burley, sales manager of Constance Hotels, reckons he has the answer. Constance owns child-friendly luxury hotels such as the Lemuria in the Seychelles and Le Prince Maurice in Mauritius, and it will open Halaveli in the Maldives next March.

“Le Prince Maurice was envisaged as a sophisticated boutique hotel for couples,” Burley says, “but we found that lots of families came and loved it too, so we added a kids’ club. There are lots of parents who aren’t willing to compromise on standards and go to some awful holiday village just because they’ve had children.”

Child-friendly touches at Halaveli will include mini slippers and bathrobes, and welcome trays with mock champagne in an ice bucket.
So that’s the kids sorted... all we need to worry about now is how mummy and daddy are going to pay for it all.

Travel brief All prices below are for a week for a family of four, including flights and transfers

Susan d’Arcy travelled as a guest of Seasons in Style (01244 202000, www.seasonsinstyle.com), which offers Diva from £8,910, half-board; and Reethi Rah from £9,170, half-board.

Abercrombie & Kent (0845 618 2212, www.abercrombiekent.co.uk) has The Beach House at Manafaru from £5,999, B&B.

Azure Collection (01244 322770, www.azurecollection.com) has the Conrad Rangali from £11,844, B&B.

Sovereign Holidays (0871 664 0227, www.sovereign.com) has Halaveli from £7,710, B&B

KIDS’ CLUBS ON A BUDGET

If you can’t afford the five-star kids’ clubs, here are four more wallet- and family-friendly Maldivian islands. Little Johnny might have to manage without the massage, though. Prices are for a family of four, for a week, including flights and transfers.

Kuramathi Villageis a three-star resort, one of three hotels on a large, pretty island. From £3,476, half-board, through Kuoni (01306 747008, www.kuoni. co.uk).

Reethi Beachis a chic, small island that has a laid-back, no-shoes, nonews philosophy. It has a good sports centre and would probably better suit families with older children. From £3,796, B&B, through Hayes & Jarvis (0871 664 0246, www.hayesandjarvis.com).

Handu Fushi Resortis situated close to a local village, so visitors can get a glimpse of Maldivian life. Although there is no kids’ club, there is a children’s swimming pool. From £4,496, half-board, through Hayes & Jarvis (0871 664 0246, www.hayesandjarvis. com).

Kurumbahas children’s menus in all its restaurants, a small play area for toddlers, and swimming and snorkelling equipment for, in their words, “the younger traveller”. From £4,636, half-board, through Kuoni (01306 747008, www.kuoni. co.uk).

Source: www.timesonline.co.uk


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