Maldives 2017 - Meedhupparu, Raa Atoll

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Review of our two-week stay at Adaaran Select Meedhupparu resort in Raa Atoll, Maldives, in January/February 2017.

Travel

A good, punctual, non-stop, trouble-free, early evening flight with BA from Gatwick to Male, then the usual chaos as you leave arrivals.  We were supposed to be met by our travel agent’s rep “Aitken Spence”, but they were nowhere to be seen – we eventually found the “Adaaran” kiosk round the corner.  Adaaran has its own lounge at the seaplane terminal, with free tea/coffee, biscuits etc, all air-conditioned to teeth-chattering levels. 

We then had a spectacular 35-minute seaplane flight over the coral reefs and islands of North Male, Baa and Raa Atolls, before touching down and taxying over and tying up onto the south jetty of Meedhupparu island.  We were then taken to have a bit of lunch before checking in. 

The return journey was smooth and trouble-free, but Adaaran insisted that we leave the island on an early 0800 seaplane flight out, which meant getting up at 0500, well before dawn, in order to get a shower and breakfast before bags-out at 0645.  This meant hanging around at Male airport for over three hours before our flight home.

Meedhupparu

We chose Meedhupparu as it was about half the price of our favourite Maldivean island, Thudufushi, for the same period.

We weren’t impressed by Amjad, the Guest Relations team leader, who met us off the seaplane, as he didn’t know (and didn’t seem to want to know) that we had paid for the Silver Upgrade (more about this later).  We had to insist, and show him the invoice to prove we’d paid for it, before he finally flounced off to check for himself, returning later with no apology.  He then promised us a welcome meeting the following morning, but when we turned up, he claimed he didn’t have the time, and asked us to come back the following day.

We’d asked for a room in a specific crescent of rooms in the south-east part of the island, and the resort manager Michael had given us room 268.  If we were to go back again at the same time of the year (late January), we’d probably ask for a room in the 305-315 crescent on the north-east end of the island, or in the 155-168 crescent on the north-west side of the island.  These have a good beach, with plenty of shade if needed, and are exposed to the north-east breeze at this time of year to help keep you cool.

It was windier than we expected for the time of year – the breeze only dropped below force 3 for a few hours on a couple of days.  Most of the time it was force 3 or 4.  This helps you to feel cooler on the beach, but in room 268 on the south-east side, we were protected from this north-east wind, making it stiflingly hot on the beach.  We also had more rain than we expected.

We liked our room which was large and comfortable, with a huge double bed, a couple of chairs, two wardrobes with plenty of hanging space, shelves, and a large room safe.  Tea and coffee-making facilities were on the dressing table that contained the minibar fridge, two drawers and several shelves.  The bathroom had the WC, two washbasins, a shower cubicle, towel rails, shelves and a hair drier.  The open-air shower was a disappointment, as it’s a waterfall shower (heavy on the head), but worse, there seemed to be no way of adjusting the temperature, which was too cold.  We therefore didn’t use it, and used the under-cover shower cubicle instead.

The large patio doors led out onto the covered veranda with two comfortable chairs and a coffee table, plus a clothes horse for drying beach towels etc.  The beach towels were replaced daily.  There’s also a footbath for washing the sand off your feet.  You get two very heavy, but comfortable wooden sunbeds, with mattresses.

Food+Drink

The quality of the food was the biggest disappointment of the holiday.  The food was mainly buffet-style, with a choice of dishes in tureens, which were usually over-cooked and dry.  Some of the dishes were really odd – chicken in a raspberry sauce, or beef in a coffee sauce were two examples.

We’d paid a premium for the “Silver Upgrade” package.  This entitled us to some branded spirits, a table in the smaller Sufura restaurant, and the option of a set menu at lunch and dinner.

To be honest, we felt we should have opted for the main restaurant (where the food was the same as at Sufura), even though it’s huge and the tables are closer together, because the tureens would have a higher turnover, and be more often refilled with freshly cooked food – less overcooked and dry.  In addition, the main restaurant had ready prepared salad items (grated carrot, lettuce leaves, tomatoes etc), so you could help yourself to the salad you wanted, whereas Sufura didn’t – there was a salad bar, behind which was a chef who would prepare you a salad on the spot from whole carrots, whole lettuce, etc, chopping it up in front of you.  This sounds better than it was, since it delayed your salad by several minutes.

The Silver Upgrade set menu at lunch and dinner always offered two a la carte mains and two desserts.  The two desserts were always “Chef’s special dessert” (giving no clue as to what would turn up), and “Special fruit platter”, which was a delicious selection of fruit segments such as melon, pineapple, strawberry, blueberry, etc.  We nearly always finished our meals with this latter.

The first day we tried the set menu dinner, we chose the beef steak in a sauce, with vegetables, which sounded delicious, and the plate, when it arrived, contained two huge pieces of steak.  However, they were tough and incredibly chewy – completely inedible.  I only had a few mouthfuls before giving up.  Very disappointing.

About the only things that were edible in Sufura were chicken breasts and skinny fries – these were usually delicious.

Several Tripadvisor reviewers have commented that Chef Guru was much in evidence, greeting people, getting feedback from diners, and even preparing special dishes on request.  We didn’t see him, but perhaps he was on holiday, or maybe he only frequents the Main restaurant.

Our Silver upgrade also entitled us to one free steak dinner at Café Mass.  We approached this with some trepidation after the Sufura steak, but we needn’t have worried – Café Mass’s steak was equally huge, but absolutely delicious – perfectly cooked and tender.

The Silver upgrade also entitled us to snacks at Café Mass between 4pm and 5pm – we only tried these a couple of times, and found them freshly-prepared and delicious.

Our waiter at Sufura, Shaheer, was friendly, attentive and quick.

The house white wine at lunch and dinner was awful to start with – barely drinkable.  After a couple of days, the friendly Main Bar manager, Percy, told us that it was from a big box with a plastic bag inside.  When we told him how awful it was, he told us that it was all now gone, and that in future we’d be having wine from bottles – it turned out to be a blend from the EU, and was much better. 

We didn’t try the Water Village restaurant – perhaps the fare there is better.

The bar staff at the various bars were helpful and attentive.  The Main bar was big and noisy, with uncomfortable chairs.  The so-called “Sunset Bar” (which faced north-east!) was manned by the chatty Suranga, and was quieter, with some shade and a breeze.  The Sunrise bar was the smallest and quietest, but didn’t always have spare seats.  Our favourite bar was Café Mass, which had plenty of comfortable seats, and a quiet atmosphere.

Underwater

Meedhupparu’s dive centre is called DivePoint, and is located next to the South jetty, with a big storage room and compressor building halfway down the jetty.  They had 8 instructors, a mixture of German, Greek, Estonian and French.  BCDs and regs for hire were good quality Aqualung.  The instructors all seemed very professional, with keen eyesight, and knew the dive-sites well. 

I saw two dive dhonis, one of which was well-kept, the other looking a bit tatty.  Both had WCs, a fresh-water shower, towels, rinse buckets for masks and cameras/computers, hot and cold water in flasks, tea-bags and instant coffee, plus all the usual safety gear, including emergency oxygen, first-aid kit, life-jackets etc.  You usually have to make your own tea/coffee, and they don’t bring round cups of cold water to drink before the dive, and coconut pieces to chew after, unlike IDive at Thudufushi.  Your tank is supposed to be filled to 200 bar, but mine were nearly always between 190-195 bar.  I’m not a heavy breather, anyway, so this didn’t matter to me, but others might not be so happy.

I opted for the two-tank morning dive, but there were also one-tank dives both morning and afternoon, with occasional night dives available.  For the two-tank dive, you have to turn up at 0740, so that the boat can get back before 1300.  Fortunately, the main restaurant actually opens at 0530, much earlier than its official opening time of 0730, so you can get breakfast before heading out.  Nitrox is free for qualified divers, but the price list for everything else is labyrinthine, and they then add 10% service charge and 12% GST (Government Sales Tax). 

As usual, you are allocated a numbered crate to store your kit in.  After the dive, you put all your kit in the crate, and the boat crew take it ashore, rinse your kit off and hang it up to dry.  If you like the look of the following day’s dive, you just add your name to the list at the dive centre before 1800, and your crate will already be on board the boat when you turn up in the morning.

I did six two-tank morning dives during my stay, and could see that there are some real differences between the more familiar (to me) South Ari Atoll, and here at Raa Atoll.  For a start, I only saw one shark the entire holiday – at South Ari Atoll, it’s unusual not to see a shark on a dive.  However, the coral was in better condition at Raa, especially at Vadhoo dive site – a real stunner.  The smaller stuff were also much more in evidence: I saw Harlequin shrimp as well as lots of boxer shrimp, and lots more morays and nudibranchs of more different species than I’d expect to see in Ari.

The dive sites I visited were:

  • Sola Corner (three times): A very good Manta cleaning station, with huge schools of snapper.  DivePoint kept returning there, and understandably so – after all, every diver wants to dive with mantas, don’t they? The first two times, we had mantas the entire 60-minute dive, two on the first occasion, five on the second.  The third trip was a washout – with poor visibility after a spectacular thunderstorm the previous night, we only saw a brief, distant glimpse of one manta. 
  • Vakaruu (twice): a fairly dull site over a flat sandy bottom.  A couple of stingrays, some lionfish and a vast school of tiny (~5cm) silvery fish, so densely packed that you had difficulty seeing your buddy.  I was stung by a jellyfish like object which looked like a metre-long strip of Sellotape, about 5cm wide, completely transparent apart from some tiny brown spots at each end, drifting through the water, undulating in the current.  No idea what it was, but it left me with an itchy rash for a week.
  • Beriyan Kuda Thila, Beriyan Bodhu Thila and Beriyan Dekunu Thila (aka BDT, twice): three closely-located sites, with simply masses of small stuff to see – morays of half-a-dozen different species, including Whitemouth moray, Blackspotted moray, and the spectacular tiny blue and yellow Ribbon eel, as well as the more common Giant, Masked and Yellow-margined morays.  Lots of shrimps, including the elegant Harlequin shrimp, Nudibranchs, Painted Lobsters, Lionfish, a turtle, octopus etc.  At BDT there’s a swim-through and a chimney which takes you from 15m to the reeftop at 5m, where there’s good coral and lots of Christmas-tree tubeworms, but little else to see.
  • Nagili Thila: a pretty reef conveniently located just a couple of hundred metres from Meedhupparu’s south jetty, covered with good coral.  About ten nudibranchs of half-a-dozen different species – the most nudis I’ve seen in a single dive anywhere.
  • Vaadu Thila: The most beautiful reef I’ve seen in a long time, with the healthiest coral.  Usually, when you want to stop and examine something, there’s always a convenient bit of dead coral to hold onto – but not here: there’s no dead coral.  A couple of the common nudibranchs, but little marine life apart from the coral.
  • Kottefaru Kamati: Boring site near an island with little to see – just one octopus.  Notable only because when our group surfaced at the end of the dive, the dive dhoni was nowhere to be seen – we had to bob up and down in the sea for fifteen minutes before it came round the island to pick us up.  While picking up the other group of divers a couple of minutes earlier, it had pursued them round the other side of the island.

My twelve dives, with BCD and regulator, tank-fills, boat costs, service charge and GST, came to US$1035, which converted at the post-Brexit rate of US$1.257 to the pound to £823.29, ie £68.60 per dive.  A bit less expensive than at Thudufushi. 

Note that there’s a “6 Consecutive Days Non Limit” option for US$488.  This means that you could do 18 dives (3 dives a day for 6 consecutive days), and pay nearly US$400 less than if you spread these dives over your entire 2 week holiday.  Worth thinking about, though any non-diving partner will see little of you for those 6 days.

Thanks to Theo, JC, Kostas, Arnaud, Andy and Claudia at DivePoint for some good dives.

Photos

A disaster – I forgot to pack my camera, so all these photos were from my mobile phone, and there are obviously no underwater ones.

Each page contains about ten pictures totalling approx four or five MB per page. 

Conclusion

This holiday was overshadowed by the poor quality of the food.  The island is well-kept and has some attractive garden areas.  Our room was very good, apart from the outdoor shower.  The staff were friendly and attentive, apart from the Guest Relations man.  The diving was good. 

Would we go again? Not until the food improves…

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