Maldives Dec 2014 - Diamonds Thudufushi, Ari Atoll

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Review of our two-week stay at Diamonds Thudufushi, Ari Atoll, Maldives, in December 2014.

Getting there

Our Wednesday evening overnight BA flight was better than some of the recent ones we’ve had.  They didn’t run out of anything, the seats and screens worked, and they arrived more or less on time.  However, there were no films available that I wanted to watch in the entertainment system.

BA are no longer flying the route after March 2015, although they’re re-starting in November 2015.  Presumably, they only want to operate this flight in the high season (December to end March).  This is very annoying for Maldives fans, as there will be no non-stop flights to the Maldives during the low season – you’ll have to use another operator and stop somewhere on the way, possibly involving a change of plane.

Following the merger of the two old seaplane operators, the new TransMaldivian Airways (TMA) now operate from the old TMA and MAT terminals as before, but they’ve now been sub-divided and renamed Terminals A, B, C and D.  There was, as usual, much confusion about our seaplane transfer to Thudufushi.  Initially we were delivered to Terminal C by minibus, and waited while our flight was delayed several times, only to be called back to Reception, packed onto another minibus and taken back to Terminal A for our marvellous seaplane flight over the blue Indian Ocean and the coral reefs. 

I expect to see seaplane transfer prices rise, as the new TMA now has no competition.  I wonder why the Maldivian government have allowed such a monopoly to be created.  Answers on a post-card, please…

The weather turned bad on our last day, with thunder and heavy rain, and we were dreading the seaplane flight back to Male.  However, the rain stopped just in time, and the persistent low clouds meant that we flew even lower than usual, affording even better views of the reefs.  With the low, thundery clouds, we’d expected a bumpy flight, but miraculously it was smooth.  The BA flight home was uneventful, although we were 45 minutes late taking off due to the restricted manoeuvring space at Male airport.  Once again there were no films that took my fancy, so I left my screen on Moving Map, which was unstable, quivered all the time, and occasionally crashed.

Thudufushi

This was our fifth visit to Thudufushi, and our seventeenth to the Maldives.  Please see our comments about Thudufushi from our previous resort report in March 2014.  The beach which was threatening to disappear from in front of beach bungalows 30 to 45 has reappeared, and therefore (at least in December 2014), there was a reasonable-to-excellent area of beach outside every room.  However, the sand does shift around the island with the seasons and over the years, so the amount in front of your bungalow may vary in future.  The resort have been pumping sand onto the beach during the summer months and it seems to have worked.  While this means everybody has a good beach outside their room, it also can mean the unsightly pumping pontoon perhaps moored just offshore from your room, and also means trying to snorkel through a sea rendered milky and opaque.  Fortunately they’d finished pumping by the time we arrived, and the sea was clear once again.  We were told that they share the pumping pontoon with sister-island Athuruga, so presumably it’s Athuruga’s turn for it in summer 2015.

Once again, British guests were very much in the minority on the island.  There was another Brit couple during our first week, and they were replaced by another Brit couple during our second week.  Everybody else was either Italian or German, with a few French and Chinese couples thrown in as well.

This time, unusually, there were several couples who had brought toddlers with them, which sometimes made mealtimes noisy.

Our room

The rooms haven’t changed since our last visit – see our comments then.  The Beach Bungalows (BB) are still in need of a facelift.  In our Beach Bungalow 17, the wardrobe doors didn’t fit together properly, and the dark-wood colour scheme could do with brightening up.  The water in the shower still flows away from the drain, and the room safe is still far too small.  Otherwise, the room is perfectly comfortable, and kept spotless by Siraj, our “room boy”, who topped up the minibar and the tea/coffee-making supplies each day.  Ants sometimes make an unwelcome appearance in the bathroom, and an aerosol of insecticide is left on a shelf there to enable you to deal with them.  There’s effective air-conditioning and a ceiling fan. 

Some of the BBs have been converted into Junior Suites, by converting the existing veranda into an enclosed sitting area, and adding a new veranda area in front.  The seating area had a small sofa, and the new (and larger) veranda area had a dining table and chairs as well as the usual lounge chairs and coffee table. The Junior Suites have also had a white paint job, which cheers them up immensely. 

Food+Drink

The main restaurant buffet was excellent as usual.  There’s a big variety of food available, with the recipes constantly changing.  You are bound to be able to find something you like.  How they manage to serve piles of crisp, crunchy, fresh salad leaves twice a day on this tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is beyond me.  Where is it grown?  There’s no large-scale farming in the Maldives.  How does it get there?

All the food was up to Chef Giacomo’s usual high standards.  And the bbq grill cook is producing much better-cooked fish and meat from his beach bbq station than he was on our last visit in March.  The freshly-caught Tuna steaks and Sea bass fillets were sensational.

One thing we noticed was that quite a few Water Villa guests (who had therefore paid for the supposedly up-market, waiter-service Water Villa restaurant) used the Main Restaurant instead, and when we asked a couple why, they said that they felt the choice was better. 

The house Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was very acceptable, and our waiter soon decided to provide us with a chilled bottle in an ice-bucket on the table at dinner.  Looking around, we were surprised to see how few people were drinking wine with their meals.  Most seemed to be drinking bottled water or soft drinks.  On an All-Inclusive holiday!

Bar Manager Roshan and his staff were very attentive.  Thanks to Kholil, Udaya and Akash for looking after us.

Other Facilities

Wi-fi

There’s free Wi-Fi available at Reception, and in all the Water Villas.  We’d heard that they have a limited number of Wi-Fi access points available on demand for Beach Bungalows as well, and we managed to bag one.  The speed provided wasn't fast, but good enough for making Skype calls home – much cheaper than using your mobile (there’s a good mobile phone signal on the island).

Doctor

There’s a surgery three times a day, provided by a series of Italian doctors, lured here for a few weeks by the promise of a free holiday.  Fortunately I didn’t need it this time.  Most of their business is treating ear infections and coral cuts.

Shopping

There are wildly expensive shops selling touristy stuff and clothes.  There’s also a tailor who can run you up a suit, dress, shirt or whatever before you leave.

TV Room

Usually tuned to Italian satellite stations.

Gym

Air-conditioned, and equipped with half-a-dozen of the usual torture devices.  Never saw anybody using it.

Deep-sea Fishing

Outside the atoll.  You can catch marlin, sailfish, wahoo etc.

Excursions

A variety of paid-for excursions are available.  For example, “Fisherman’s Island”, to a nearby inhabited island to see how the locals live.  Or “Whale Shark Check”, a four-hour round trip by speedboat to the south of Ari Atoll to try and snorkel with the biggest fish in the sea.

Entertainment

Every evening the entertainment staff lay on something for the guests.  For example, an illustrated lecture on the marine biology of the Maldives, or an evening of Bodu Beru (Maldivian music involving rhythmic drumming and chanting), or a film quiz, or karaoke night etc.  You don’t have to join in if you don’t want to.

In addition, they have a live singer at lunchtimes and in the evenings.  Your opinion on this will depend on whether the singer can sing, and whether you like his or her choice of music.

Underwater

Snorkelling

There’s good snorkelling here on the house reef.  You can see lots of underwater life, including reef fish, corals, moray eels, etc right up to white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, turtles, eagle-, sting- and even manta rays, all just a few metres from the beach.  One morning we were strolling back along the beach from breakfast on a really flat-calm day, and we could see two manta rays swimming on the surface at the drop-off a few metres away – we could clearly see their backs, tailfins and wing-tips breaking the surface.  It's not unusual to see pods of dolphins passing by close in-shore on such calm days.

The currents can be quite strong, so check carefully to make sure you can get back safely. 

You can borrow snorkelling kit free from the Watersports centre, and they run free guided house reef snorkelling trips twice a day.  They also organise paid-for snorkelling trips by dhoni to nearby reefs, as well as the expensive Whale shark expedition by speedboat.  We heard from guests who went that they did indeed find and snorkel with a whale shark, but that it was a bit crowded, as there were fourteen other boats all circling around the one shark!

There are a couple of Hobie Cats and dinghies, and a number of canoes and windsurfers to borrow for free.  You can also go water-skiing.

Diving

The dive service provided by the IDive dive centre is very good, if expensive.  The staff are all friendly and helpful.  The Italian instructors all speak good English, and are always pointing out stuff you’ve missed underwater.  The equipment is all good-quality ScubaPro, and the boat staff will disassemble your kit after the dive if you don’t want to do it yourself.  You leave all your kit in your crate on the boat, and the staff will take it ashore, rinse it and hang it up to dry for you.  The following day’s dives are advertised on the noticeboard outside the dive centre, and all you need to do is add your name to the list.  Your crate containing your kit will be loaded onto the boat ready for you.  Nitrox is free for qualified divers. 

On one dive this trip, the wrist-strap on my dive computer snapped just before the dive.  Stefano from IDive immediately provided me with a spare computer, and, unprompted, after the dive he made a good temporary repair to mine with bungee cord to enable me to continue to use it for the rest of the holiday.  Thanks, Stefano.

There’s a morning dive at 0930 and an afternoon dive at 1500, and, once a week, the opportunity for a night dive.  Boat-rides to the dive sites vary from 15 minutes to an hour.  There’s space for up to ten divers on the boat, but there are rarely that many.  The boat is equipped with a loo, fresh-water showers, a sundeck, towels and an icebox containing soft drinks, as well as all the usual safety gear.  The boat staff come round with tea or coffee and bits of coconut after the dive.

Visibility wasn’t that brilliant this time – about 15 to 20 metres.  I assume that’s just the time of year, and maybe it’s all the plankton which brings the mantas back.

Highlights this trip included:

  • four Mantas at Panettone Manta Point and two more at Panettone Kandu (the first of this “manta season”!)
  • Five different kinds of Nudibranch (two new to me) at Kuda Miaru Thila and Panettone Manta Point
  • Lots of Spotted eagle rays, Hawksbill turtles and several big tuna at various dive sites
  • An enormous Great Barracuda at Himandhoo Kandu
  • A huge pod of about 50 dolphins swimming up to the boat on the way back from Panettone Manta Point

… in addition to millions of reef fish and other reef life on all the dives.

My ten dives cost US$979, which converted to GBP622, ie £62 per dive.  This is getting seriously expensive, as IDive's prices increase each year.  It’s also partly down to the Maldivian government, who keep increasing the General Sales Tax (GST).  In the past few years, it’s gone from 2% to 12%, and we hear that the plan is to get it up to 20% eventually.

Thanks to instructors Stefano, Justyna, Govinda and Manuel for some enjoyable dives.

Conclusion

Another wonderful holiday at Thudufushi.  We like the relaxed yet professional philosophy of the Italian hotel operators.  Everything is done to make your stay smooth and enjoyable.  The staff are all friendly and relaxed.  It’s nice to be greeted by the staff who recognise you from previous visits.  The food is excellent.  The beach bungalows need a bit of TLC, but are comfortable and clean.

The diving and snorkelling are outstanding.  As we've said before, there’s little to do on the island, if you don’t go in for diving or other watersports, but if you’re happy basking in the sun reading a book on the beach, you’ll like it.

We’d recommend this resort, and will certainly come back.

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