We spent a week on the cruise ship MV Ocean Paradise, cruising in South Male and Ari Atolls. This was followed by a week on the island of Kuredu, the only tourist resort in Lahviyani Atoll.
We spent the first week on board MV Ocean Paradise, with about 30 other guests (the ship was only a third full).
The food was good, but repetitive, mostly serve yourself, buffet style. For example, there was really tasty fish curry and rice on the menu at every meal (even breakfast). Well, this is the Maldives. Someone mentioned to the Skipper that we'd like a bit more variety, so the next evening meal we had four different kinds of fish curry, with four different kinds of rice!
The open air bar (on the top deck) was free (well, all-inclusive) until 11pm. The (Sri Lankan) barman was a great character. He quickly learnt all our names and drink preferences, often starting to build your favoured cocktail as soon as he spotted you climbing the steps onto the deck. Most people spent most of their time around this bar, reading, sun-bathing, keeping their fluid levels topped up.
Watch out for the sun (I sound like Patrick Moore). The very first day they took us all for a day to an uninhabited island. A fabulous island - fantastic beach, nice barbecue lunch, great snorkelling, but with little or no shade. Not surprisingly everyone went bright pink and had to avoid the sun for several days. This trip would have been better scheduled later in the week.
Two black marks against the ship - firstly, there was no shade at all on the sun-deck - it's a lot more comfortable to sit in the shade, and you still go brown. Secondly, we were descended upon by the Maldivean Minister of Tourism, with a huge pleasure yacht and retinue of family and advisers. Understandably, the skipper was anxious to please him, and show him how well the ship was catering for tourism. So for four days the entire cruise seemed to revolve around MoT, rather than the paying guests. Itineraries were arbitrarily changed at the last minute, and we paying guests often felt that we were exhibits in a circus. I wish to put it on record that I saw MoT have an alcoholic drink - there, hope that gets him into trouble.
The ship had its own well equipped on-board dive centre, which I used four times (to Shark Tilla (near Elaidhoo), Elaidhoo House Reef, Malhous Tilla (near Feridhoo) and Maaya Tilla (near Maayafushi). The last was the best - loads of sharks, a turtle, huge tuna, great reef top. Thanks to Ali, Hassan and Sechiko in the centre!
Kuredu is a huge island, for the Maldives (about 2km long and 400m wide), with 300 rooms. Our lovely room was on the north side of the island - lovely beach, nice cooling breeze, but quite rocky and stony (corally?) when you get in the water. When the tides are at springs, you can snorkel out to the drop-off, which is only about 200 meters off shore. The reef is broken and dead close to, but manages a bit of life as you near the drop-off. Linda spotted a black-tipped reef shark approx 60cm long swimming in the shallows just a couple of meters out. Must have been a baby, since they grow to 1.5m.
The south side is better for swimming, with a sandy bottom, but not so good for snorkelling (though there is a small area of really nice coral ("the Coral Garden") about 500 meters off shore), but sheltered from the cooling breeze and therefore stiflingly hot at times.
Snorkelling from the beach was nowhere near as nice as at Fesdu in 1997 or Thudufushi in 1996.
The food was surprisingly good - much better than Fesdu in 1997. Lots of choice, well cooked. Considering they have to cater for upwards of 600 guests, this is a creditable achievement.
Diving at Kuredu
The Dive Centre was extremely well equipped, very friendly, very well organised and professional, and completely relaxed while handling large numbers of divers and dive boats every day. You are normally expected to do a test dive on the house reef, no matter how experienced or qualified you are - but I managed to get out of this by pleading that I'd been on a safari boat in Ari Atoll the previous week, and had done my last dive only a couple of days before.
The Centre offers 45 dive sites around Kuredu. I visited five during our week there (Zafari Reef, Kuda Kandu, The Shipyard (two wrecks for the price of one), Fushivaru Outreef, and Kuredu Express). They were excellent - beautiful coral, reef fish (hundreds of species - all sizes, all colours), sharks (grey and white-tipped reef), morays (including honeycomb), rays (eagle and sting); and varied locations (reef tops for pottering about in the calm shallows watching the millions of reef fish, channel crossings for the bigger fish, walls and drift dives). Thanks to Markus, Tina, René, Angela and Sabine for some great dives. I was fortunate to be buddied up for most of the week with Tom Cross - an experienced South African diver living in Johannesburg. We were well matched.
My only beef was that you could not choose your dive destination - you put your name down for, say, the morning boat, but the Centre then allocates you to one of the maybe dozen morning boats. You don't know which dive site you're going to until you get on the boat.
This leads to frustration at times - for example, I hired a Sea and Sea underwater camera for one trip. You have to give 24 hours notice that you want to hire the camera - but when I got on the boat, I discovered that we were going to do Kuredu Express - a drift dive, where you are swept along at up to 2 or 3 knots by the tidal rip. Very exciting, but totally useless for underwater photography. So I left the camera on the dhoni. To their credit, the Centre cancelled the camera hire charge when I complained.
Here are some stills taken with our new Panasonic NV-DS5B Digital Video camcorder, and digitally imported directly into the PC via the serial port - no scanner involved! It's a excellent camcorder.