As any first-time parents will know, the first year (probably longer!) is a whirlwind of totally new experiences and finding your rhythm as a new family. For us, this also meant that holidays were limited to the British seaside and the very exotic location of northern France, as we could take a ferry. As the more adventurous one, I was always ready for the challenge of taking our son on a long-haul flight, but my husband needed more convincing. Needless to say when the opportunity arose to travel to the Maldives, I jumped at the chance and worried about the practicalities later. Although, as it turned out, it couldn’t have been a better choice.
When the Maldives springs to mind, you instantly think of pure white beaches filled with romantic couples, chilled cocktail in hand watching the sunset over crystal-clear seas. I was once one of these couples without a care in the world and packing for a holiday consisted of just throwing in a bikini, a few dresses and wondering what new movies there would be to watch on the flight. This time around, the packing had started months in advance and the dread of being in a confined space with an energetic toddler was real – however, for a self-confessed list addict, planning would be our saviour.
My husband (and it seemed everyone I spoke to) also expressed concerns thinking the Maldives is only for honeymooners. Although it’s one of the most incredible destinations for couples, it has also become increasingly popular and perfect for families, too. From the excellent kids’ clubs, to the kids’ spa treatments (I’m not kidding!), the staff welcome you like their own family and even though you might never feel quite as relaxed as that child-free couple next to you, you can be guaranteed to feel refreshed by the time you leave.
First and foremost, when you’re planning a trip to the Maldives consider what would make your stay perfect. Luckily for us we had been to the Maldives before having a baby, so we knew the score, but obviously the goal posts had somewhat shifted since. Suddenly, the babysitting services were increasingly important and the need for a good kids’ club was high on the agenda. After all, we would be spending a lot of time there (at almost all of the islands in the Maldives, you cannot leave your child at the kids’ club until they are over three years old). We are not ones to lie on a sun lounger all day, and so over our 12 nights we split our time between three islands – Niyama, Soneva Fushi and Anantara Kihavah Villas.
Let’s go back a step first. Planning for this holiday started months in advance and having never taken our toddler on a long-haul flight, we were anxious to say the least. I spent hours trawling the internet to find ways to make the journey more bearable, expecting the worst. But as always with children, they surprise you. My son was on the cusp of his second birthday, an age where any large mechanical object is the best thing in the world, so being on a big plane was extremely exciting for him. I had purposefully booked overnight flights in the hope he would be tired and fall asleep at some stage. Although this did happen, it took a while for the thrill of being able to watch television for as long as he wanted and play with every button in sight to wear off. The overhead reading light became more of a disco!
His ‘NeeNaw’ (aka a Trunki fire truck) was filled with endless packs of colouring books, small toys and snacks, however these were hardly touched! I’d still recommend packing everything you need – and more – because you can’t buy it when you’re there. We did however try and keep everything as close to his normal routine as possible for familiarity. We also invested in a small inflatable cushion for the footwell, which meant he had a little more space to stretch out – not all airlines allow you to use these, so do check before travelling. After a quick changeover in Doha we made it to the Maldives, slightly worse for wear but amazingly still in good spirits. Our first stop was Niyama Private Islands, a 50-minute seaplane from Malé with spectacular views of the Maldivian islands from above. For those who haven’t experienced a seaplane before, it’s incredible to see the seemingly endless expanse of coral islands from the air. It can be hot and noisy as well, so we’d prepared by changing into lighter clothes and I had a pair of ear defenders for my son at the ready.
I have to admit, I felt a huge sense of relief after arriving at Niyama. After all the planning and anticipation, we had finally arrived and I could introduce our son to its beauty. After a good night’s sleep, we were all raring to go and for the next four days we were waited on hand and foot, with our son being the star attraction. Between the amazing dining options, the bikes to get around, the private pool in our villa and the excellent kids’ club, Niyama really did tick all of our boxes. Made up of two islands – ‘Chill’ and ‘Play’ – ‘Play’ is the more family-focused island, so you never felt the inevitable toddler tantrum (yes, these still happen in paradise) would disturb a sea of romantic couples.
Our room was right on the beach with a beautiful view of the sea. Our private pool worked perfectly for us – when our son napped in the day, we could relax by the pool with champagne in hand, not having to worry about being too far away. However, we regretted not packing an extra pair of armbands as our son’s got a hole in one day three. We also spent some lovely mornings after breakfast at the kids’ club, where the splash park was a huge hit. And when we did manage to sneak in a couple’s spa treatment, the team there were excellent at making sure our son was very well looked after.
The dining options at Niyama were also a stand-out. The setting of Nest restaurant is up in the trees, surrounded by foliage and draped in soft lighting – it was our personal favourite. We also enjoyed a rare child-free meal at Edge restaurant, which is located on a platform off the island while a wonderful babysitter got our son to bed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so well behaved!
Next up on our journey was the Robinson Crusoe island of Soneva Fushi, worlds away in terms of style to Niyama but equally as gorgeous. Having been to a number of islands in the Maldives in the past, I was taken aback by how untouched and tropical the island felt. The island is large by Maldivian standards and the interior is full of natural wildlife. They even had native rabbits, which my son loved to find and feed.
We stayed in one of their Crusoe Villas, which is made of all natural materials and feels very in keeping with its surroundings. It wasn’t until we were here that we realised how vital the private pool was at Niyama, as during nap time the sea was just that bit too far from the villa for us to feel comfortable leaving our son, so we had to take it in turns for a dip during the heat of the day.
When researching islands perfect for families, you’ll undoubtedly come across Soneva Fushi and when you have experienced The Den kids’ club, it’s not hard to see why. With its pirate ship, two swimming pools, a Lego and Duplo room, dress-up and make-up area, cinema, library, music room filled with instruments, and more, The Den is a child’s dream. Unsurprisingly, we spent the majority of our days here, mostly as we couldn’t get our son to leave because there was so much to keep him entertained – that old cliché ‘when your children are happy, you are happy’ rang true here.
On our final day, we grabbed an ice cream from the resort’s ice cream room (it’s complimentary, along with the chocolate room, so don’t be surprised to come home with a few extra kilos around the waist!) for the boat journey to Anantara Kihavah. Arriving at Anantara was bittersweet, as our holiday was coming to an end but it was a great way to end an epic trip.
We were welcomed of the boat by the sound of the staff singing and fresh coconut. Our son was also welcomed with a beaded bracelet with his name on it, which was a lovely touch – it wouldn’t be the last gift he went home with. The staff here were exceptional in every area of the hotel and from the dining to the kids’ club, we were made to feel so welcome and were well looked after.
On our second night, we were invited to join in with a stargazing experience at the overwater observatory and as a keen wannabe astronomer, I was mesmerised. It was clear how much passion these staff had for the stars and seeing the craters of the moon in this much detail was an experience I won’t forget.
The next few days were filled with the inevitable over-indulging in the amazing food, afternoons in the Thiththi Boli Kids’ Club (our son named one of the many toys he received after it), splashing in our private pool and searching for hermit crabs at dusk.
We ended the trip on a real high. Our final day was also our son’s second birthday and to say he was spoilt is an understatement. He was over the moon to receive a cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner, accompanied each time by a choir of staff singing happy birthday to him. We also had our last lunch at Anantara’s incredible underwater restaurant – a truly magical experience. As we were eating, a friendly turtle swam past us and seemingly waved us goodbye. It was the perfect send-off after an amazing family holiday in the Maldives – proof that it’s not just for couples!