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Experiencing the Extraordinary Maldives During COVID-19

Let’s face it, 2020 was an extraordinary year for all the wrong reasons. We all faced unprecedented challenges and for me, one of those was not being able to travel. So it's not lost on me that, in December, when we were allowed to travel for a brief interlude, I was exceptionally lucky to be able to escape to the extraordinary Maldives for a holiday of a lifetime. It’s a fantasy paradise destination that had been on my bucket list for many years…

Cocktails in the Maldives

Cocktails in the Maldives

Getting tested

At the time of writing, travelling to the Maldives required the presentation of a negative PCR test, taken a maximum of 96 hours before the departing flight. As it turns out, you now need one when you return to the UK also – more on that here.

We spoke to our Flight Centre Travel Consultant for advice on where and how to get tested. About 90 hours before our scheduled departure, we visited the local pharmacy and collected our kit – which comes complete with very clear, step-by-step instructions. After taking our own swabs, we then simply dropped the sample in the collection bucket and, less than 24 hours later, we received our negative results and certificate via email. I was particularly impressed with the SMS alerts we received, keeping us updated throughout the process.

Mick in his Qatar-issued face visor

Mick in his Qatar-issued face visor

Forms

Passengers travelling to the Maldives also need to complete an online Maldives Health Authority form. It's important to note that this form is only valid for 24 hours, so do bear that in mind and check the time before submitting. You'll need to allow enough time to go through the airport, take your flight (or flights!) and clear immigration in Male. If you're stopping over, it may be easier to complete your form at your stopover destination. The form itself is extremely straightforward and asks pretty basic questions about your trip. Crucially, it also asks you to upload your negative test results. Once completed, you get a confirmation email with a QR code that’s scanned on arrival in the Maldives.

At the airport

We departed from Heathrow’s Terminal 5, home to British Airways. Since the closure of terminal 4, it’s also started accommodating flights from several other airlines. We’ve covered the Heathrow experience in a number of our other blogs (including our What it’s Like to Fly During a Pandemic article), but the key takeaway is that the airport has done a tremendous job in adapting to COVID-19 changes. There are hand-sanitising stations wherever you look, not to mention social distancing reminders and blocked-off seats. Of course, everyone was wearing masks. It’s worth noting that the queues were slightly longer than normal at the check-in desks, so arriving as early as possible (three hours before your flight at minimum) is strongly recommended.

QR code for your dining order in the British Airways lounge

QR code for your dining order in the British Airways lounge

As we were flying Business Class with Qatar Airways, we were able to make use of the British Airways Club Lounge. The most notable difference is that you have to order your food and drink via your phone. But that was no big issue – our order arrived less than two minutes after we placed it, and was almost certainly quicker than if we’d gone to the bar.

Boarding the plane

We arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare, refreshed from our time in the lounge. As we began to board, the Qatar Airways crew handed out face shields to everyone. All passengers are asked to wear their face shields (as well as a mask) throughout the entire journey. However, when travelling in the spacious QSuites, it is less of an issue because social distancing is much easier.

Qatar Airways' protection kit

Qatar Airways' protection kit

I’ve been fortunate to have flown Qatar Airways Business Class several times before and it's clear, although there are some noticeable changes to the service, it still remains a luxurious and enjoyable experience. I couldn’t think of a better way to start a very special holiday. The cabin crew wore full PPE throughout the flight, and every customer received a safety hygiene kit, which included additional face masks, beautiful smelling hand sanitiser and gloves. Qatar prides itself on its full ‘Dine Anytime’ menu and this was as comprehensive as I remember, with multiple starters and mains on offer, as well as separate (and vast) drinks and wine list.

QSuites food with protective covering

QSuites food with protective covering

The main difference is that individual food items and cutlery come with a protective film or lid, wherever possible. Everything else seems as before. The attentive crew were as brilliant as always and really went above and beyond to ensure everyone felt comfortable and safe. In fact, on one of the flights I noticed the cabin crew were cleaning the toilet between each and every customer. Now that’s attention to detail.

Qatar Airways lounge buffet, Doha

Qatar Airways lounge buffet, Doha

Transiting

We had a brief stopover in Doha where, once again, we took advantage of the beautifully designed lounge. Complete with water feature and two restaurants, it was both calm and clean. For food, we had a choice of a la carte or buffet, we went for the latter, where a member of staff was on hand to dish up all the foods we wanted.

From here we took a speedy four-hour flight onto Male, refreshed and ready to start our Maldives adventure…

Seaplane, Maldives

Seaplane, Maldives

Postcard paradise

Once we’d arrived in Male and been through customs, we embarked on our 45-minute seaplane transfer to the 5-star Fushifaru resort. This was a highlight in itself, and the perfect opportunity to take in the beauty of the Maldivian atolls from above.

On arrival at the island paradise, we were greeted by a small front of house team, who bestowed us with a flower necklace, welcome drink and entertainment in the form of a traditional drum performance. It was a truly memorable welcome. I’ve heard the term “barefoot luxury” bandied around in the past, but this is really the only way to describe the oasis that is Fushifaru. The small island has just 63 villas, and we pretty much spent the entire week not wearing shoes – not even flip flops! You can take a leisurely stroll around the island in about 20 minutes and the varying shades of blue, bright-white sand and lush green vegetation, is simply breathtaking. I had finally discovered my childhood fantasy of escaping to a small tropical island. Any fears of feeling claustrophobic were immediately quashed as I settled into one of the most relaxing and calming weeks I have ever had.

Mick and husband Waldemar on the beach at Fushifaru

Mick and husband Waldemar on the beach at Fushifaru

What truly makes the island magical, apart from the natural beauty, is the friendly, relaxed and attentive service from the team who seemed to take real joy in sharing their hidden paradise with you. Most of the team are local Maldivians and, by the end of the week, it was a sad to say goodbye. Everybody on the island has a story to tell and a heart-warming presence. Nothing was ever too much trouble and we communicated directly with our specific host (similar to a butler) via WhatsApp. We were always addressed by our first name and it was always a genuine pleasure to chat to the team.

We stayed in a Sunrise Beach Pool Villa for four nights (you can also opt for a Sunset Beach Pool Villas on the opposite side of the island), complete with a fabulous outdoor bathroom, private pool and direct access (20 metres down a private path) to the beach and the mesmerising Indian Ocean beyond. We also spent three nights in one of the resort’s brand-new Water Villas. That’s when things got next level. These stunning, incredibly spacious villas allow direct access to the crystal-clear waters below, directly from you balcony. I’ll never forget the feeling of falling asleep to the gentle sound of the water lapping against the stilts of our villa. All villas have fantastic amenities, are serviced twice daily and include unlimited fresh drinking water – a key addition in any resort. You can also get instant coffee and tea included, while those enjoying all-inclusive will also benefit from minibar drinks included in their package. 

Mick sat on the Overwater Villa deck

Mick sat on the Overwater Villa deck

In terms of communal areas, the resort features a spa (tucked away at its heart), two main restaurants (a la carte menu and buffet style), and a bar/café that’s open all day. We opted for the all-inclusive package, so ate most of our meals in the buffet restaurant, where most of the tables are outside on the sand. The food was excellent and included a live cooking station with different themed cuisine every night. We also enjoyed a beautiful seafood platter in the a la carte restaurant; again, dining under the stars, sand underfoot.

The infinity pool, which juts out into the ocean, was also one of our highlights. It’s connected to the bar, where we enjoyed many cocktails in the afternoon and into evening, when fairy lights illuminated this enchanting space. But one of our favourite things was the on-site dive and activity centre. The team here arranged a Turtle Quest tour for us – included as part of our package – and we got the chance to snorkel and swim with a huge variety of sealife (more than I’ve seen on the Great Barrier Reef!), as well as visiting the resort’s underground playground – complete with swing and bike! Finally, we indulged in a bit of romance with an evening picnic on the island's private sandbank, a quick 10-minute boat ride away from the main island.

The infinity pool at Fushifaru

The infinity pool at Fushifaru

Social distancing at its best

Despite having 63 villas and more than 50% occupancy, as most of the villas have their own pool, we rarely saw other guests, apart from at mealtimes. It was the ultimate in social distancing. All around the island are really kooky pieces of art and rustic outdoor furniture to simply sit, stop and reflect. We loved taking multiple, peaceful walks throughout the day, discovering little nooks and Instagrammable spots, such as the over the water hammock.

Mick in the hammock at Fushifaru

Mick in the hammock at Fushifaru

The resort takes COVID and its guests' health and safety very seriously, but in a discrete way that has minimal impact on your enjoyment. Whilst the staff all wear face masks at all times, there is no requirement for guests to wear one. There are multiple hand-sanitising stations around the island, most notably at all food and beverage locations. The fact the island can only accommodate a limited number of guests, and that you eat, drink and relax outdoors, keeping a safe distance from others is not an issue. And, perhaps best of all, being on a small island in the middle of the ocean, you feel a million miles away from the stresses back home. It’s the perfect place to get away, recharge and reset.

Written by Mick Heitzinger

Mick Heitzinger is the Product Director for Flight Centre Travel Group Europe and has travelled to more than 50 countries. His passion for travel started when he travelled from his home country of Australia to Europe at the age of just 18 months.

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