This is a guest post from journalist Sally Chaplin, who is married to Gavin, 55 an IT consultant. They have three children – George, 17, Alice 15 and Sarah 11. This was the family’s first foreign beach holiday in 12 years and they made the decision to go to the Maldives, foregoing their normal Eastbourne holiday, to stay at luxury resort Kandima…
As we waited at Hamad International Airport for our flight to Male, I started to doubt my sanity. Here I was, half way round the world with three kids in tow, two of whom have Asperger’s Syndrome and cannot sit still for a minute. Our flying time totalled 13 hours and we were on our way to a small island in the Maldives, which would either turn out to be prison or paradise.
It was our first foreign beach holiday in 12 years. Every summer, we head to Eastbourne, which is so familiar to my son George, 17 and daughters Alice, 15 and Sarah, 11 that it feels like a home from home.
Our last holiday in sunnier climes was to Spain when George was five. We didn’t know then that he was on the autistic spectrum and it was hellish. He spent more time having tantrums than sleeping. He hated the food, the sun and the unfamiliar surroundings.
As he’s grown older, he is happier to travel, but if we go abroad it is always to cities as he has an insatiable appetite for discovery. You can also take that to mean he needs constant stimulation.
His younger sister Sarah, 11 isn’t as far along the spectrum as her brother, but she too has boundless energy. She’s like one of those bath bombs that fizzes around the tub, bumping into the sides in a blaze of effervescent bubbles.
Why was I going to the Maldives? Because I’d read that Kandima Maldives, a new resort on the Dhaalu Atoll, has an exhaustive range of activities for children of all ages. The idea was, my husband Gavin and I would sign them up for everything going, while we reclined on a lounger with a Mojito.
That was the idea anyway. It could go horribly wrong. We’d be trapped on an island with nowhere to go. We are an argumentative family at the best of times. There was a chance we might kill one another…
Our seaplane landed next to what looked like a piece of decking floating in the ocean. It was only a few metres square, but our bags barely touched the ground as they were whisked into a waiting speedboat. We felt like extras in a James Bond movie as we zoomed over to the jetty where we were high-fived by the Kandima Krew.
Kandima Maldives is billed as ‘the new Maldives’. You don’t check in – you rock in. The kids loved it. They take no persuasion to high-five and soon made themselves at home in the Kandima HQ – an impressive open air building with a living wall of lush greenery and furniture that wouldn’t look amiss in the Conran shop.
We were given wristbands to open the doors of our Sky Studio and handed complimentary cocktails and mocktails as a Kandima buddy talked through how things work on the resort.
There are 10 restaurants and bars scattered along the 3km island and there’s a 24 hop on/hop off electric bus service to ferry you to and from them. Our all-inclusive package gave us three meals a day at the resort’s Flavour restaurant, which quickly became my new obsession.
The food was AMAZING! It offered dishes from all over the world from curries, through to Chinese stir-fries, traditional Maldivian delicacies and there were even some familiar UK dishes – cauliflower cheese, full English breakfast and for the philistines amongst us (i.e. my kids!) chips. I ate freshly grilled fish every lunchtime with heaps of salad, but I also attacked the desserts with gusto. The raspberry éclair was to die for, as was the mango sago and coffee crème brulee. I actually told the head chef Ken that I wanted to swap him for my husband – they both laughed, neither realising that I was deadly serious…
The Sky Studio
The first thing we did was check out our Sky Studio. It was modern, spacious and had balconies overlooking the beach. We had two interconnecting rooms and it felt more like a luxury apartment than a hotel room. The bathrooms were cavernous with fabulous walk-in rain effect showers.
It took as a while to acclimatise to the heat and thankfully, the air conditioning in our studio was top-notch – it was 30°c outside and we are all quite fair.
We spent our first hours at Kandima planning out the week – Sarah and Alice wanted to go snorkelling, I fancied sunset fishing and yoga, George was delighted to discover Burn, a fully equipped gym and Gavin had his eye on a massage at the newly opened esKape spa.
I never did get round to doing the yoga, but the kids did do a raft of activities. They learned how to snorkel in the diving pool with a fantastic instructor called Anna. Sarah who wasn’t a strong swimmer, was like the Little Mermaid by the time we went on our snorkelling trip with the resort’s marine biologist and I was the one who got cramp, salt in her eyes and a sunburned bum!
We went on a sunset fishing trip as a family and George was the first to haul in a catch – a Red Snapper that appeared to scream like a parrot at the shock of being caught. Then, a Chinese lady landed another Red Snapper and was so terrified of the flailing creature, she totally lost the plot. Hilarious!
George spent most of his time in Burn training, but he did also try out a Jet ski, allowed himself to be pulled across the ocean at great speed on an inflatable sofa and attended a talk with the resort’s marine biologist.
Sarah and Alice made pizza, candyfloss and mocktails. Sarah also discovered Kandiland, the resort’s enormous kids club that has a wet play area to rival Legoland’s. It is for the under 12s, so she just about squeezed in. It looked so good, I wanted to have a go too, but feared I might break the trampoline.
No parent needs me to tell them that a holiday with kids is never really a holiday – I trailed around after them all week, begging them to apply sunscreen and wear rash vests. They’re used to the sun in Eastbourne and it’s a lot fiercer in the Maldives. Ironically, the only people who got burnt were Gavin and I!
We did have some moments of respite. There was a zorb on the 100 metre long swimming pool in the centre of the resort, which amused Alice and Sarah for hours. George was never out of Burn and thankfully, the gym also had its own infinity pool.
My highlights were sitting on the swing seat on our balcony at night and gazing at the stars. I also swam in the sea every day. It was like a warm bath, crystal clear and teeming with fish – there were sharks in the shallows, but they were babies and I am told the lagoon is their nursery area.
Gavin loved the esKape spa. He booked a massage that involved a small Maldivian woman clambering over his back and he looked a different man when he emerged. The pair of us have been to some of the best spas in the UK and this one took some beating, especially as you can hear the waves pounding on the shore during your treatment.
Incredibly, Kandima Maldives was able to offer something for all of us. We didn’t even argue over where to eat like we usually do as we all loved the Flavour restaurant and were equally impressed with Kandima’s signature Chinese restaurant The Sea Dragon and the BBQ and grill house Smoked.
We were all reluctant to leave after our five nights on the island and were eternally grateful to staff who opened up for breakfast at 5am in time for our early departure. I must add, the Kandima Krew were incredibly attentive. Our shower broke and within five minutes, a team of maintenance men swooped in and fixed it.
I’d like to say the journey home was uneventful, but when we were a couple of hours from Heathrow, a passenger fell ill and I had to stand up and scream “Is there a doctor on the plane!”
Three doctors and a nurse appeared as if by magic. I don’t know what happened to the stricken passenger. He was carried into the galley and medics, police, Qatar airline staff and officials swarmed the plane as soon as we landed. It was rather heartening though, to know that whenever you are on a packed flight, you’re likely to be seated amongst several medical professionals.
We couldn’t believe how cold it was when we got home. Or how grey the sky seemed. And every time I heard a distant hum in the distance, I imagined it was a seaplane.
The kids were straight back to school the next day and took great delight in telling pals about their best holiday ever. It was amazing and we’ve set the bar really high now. Eastbourne is lovely, but Kandima Maldives – how are we ever going to top that?