A piano is a bit like a car. You can spend one hundred thousand hard to counterfeit pieces of paper on a Rolls Royce or a Steinway grand piano, or you can spend one thousand on an old Chappell upright or Nissan Sunny. Both should do the job, but both offer the user a very different experience. Holidaying in the Maldives is the same, with the difference that you can usually test drive the car or piano before you give away your hard earned cash. A holiday is a leap of faith, trusting in the myriad of reviews on Trip Advisor and online photos. So after much debate in the Emery household, we decided Angsana Velavaru was the chosen one.
Things to do in Velavaru
I’ve been to the Maldives three times in the past eight years, and each time I needed something different. The first time I was a Maldives virgin, so I didn’t know what I wanted. The second time I’m told by Mrs E that we were on a ‘Baby Moon’ (and if you don’t know what that is, nor do I…), and this time was our much-needed family holiday with three-year-old Master T.
Most peoples reaction when I mention a toddler visiting this set of 100-or-so islands in the Indian Ocean is ‘what about all that water, isn’t it dangerous?’, ‘there is nothing to do, you’ll all be bored!’ or ‘isn’t the journey to long?’ Yes, the journey is long from London’s ever-glamorous Gatwick airport, but the other two points are just stupid. I’ve yet to meet a toddler who is silly enough to wade into the sea of their own accord and keep walking until their parents finally notice and scream. As for boredom, imagine a place with no cars to be careful of, actually no vehicles whatsoever - so your little one can roam as free as a bird, safe and relaxed. A place where wild Stingrays visit for a little food once in a while. A place where you can walk from your villa, outside in the sand and heat, to breakfast, lunch and dinner, knowing you don’t need to keep quiet in any corridors. A beach which is so empty you don’t need to send a flair to find little Jonny amongst the thousand other sun-tanners. Yes, if you find the right island, the Maldives is the perfect family holiday. My only issue was that Angsana Velavaru was far less than perfect.
A two-week stay (excluding flights) in a Deluxe Beachfront Pool Villa at this five-star resort will set you back around $16,000 (USD). You could own a whole fleet of the wonderful Nissan Sunny for that amount. And sometimes, unfortunately, it felt a similar standard. It was usual for the public washrooms to have no hand towels. The minibar was restocked with the same regularity of the trains in the UK, and the same goes for the toiletries in the villa. You go into a bar or restaurant, and for some reason, the staff only ever gave me a menu; either it seems that a man should order for his wife, or they have not printed enough menus - neither of which are good reasons, especially as we are not in the 19th century. Talking about the bars, you go in as a family, order a bottle of water, and for some reason which I just cannot figure out, the staff never, ever provided Master T with a glass to drink from; and if you order a cocktail expect it to arrive anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes, again a bit like our trains. If you booked an activity, it’s not unusual for the real time of the activity to differ from the one advertised. Book a table in the over-water restaurant Azzurro, and although the food is absolutely delicious, your toddler will have to eat sitting on your lap, as they have a rarity of high-chairs. And be careful, although I’m not anti-smoking, there are no dedicated areas for smokers to enjoy themselves without inflicting their habit onto others; even in the restaurant whilst you’re eating with a three-year-old at your table.
If you are a keen snorkeler like I am, I’d advise you to find another island unless you’re happy to take a daily boat trip; admittedly this isn’t the fault of the resort, but the coral around the island was particularly affected by the bleaching of 2016 and as a result, it looks a little more like an underwater graveyard than a bustin’-with-wildlife underwater oasis. And although the island is nicknamed ‘Turtle Island’ - don’t let this fool you; none of the staff have ever seen a turtle actually nest on the island.
And then there’s the Chinese. Now, I have nothing against one of the most successful races on earth; but as this is an Asian company, and the island is heavily marketed to the Chinese, there are a lot of them on the island. Again, not an issue. But remember the Chinese are culturally different to Westerners. On the first dinner, a waiter apologised to me because of the one set of cutlery laid out, instead of a starter, main, dessert etc. He said, “it’s what the Chinese prefer so that’s what we do”. And if you make the mistake of asking a Chinese member of staff, like I did, for some sugar to sweeten me and my coffee cup, you’ll be given an ashtray.
Would I Recommend
You may think this illustrious list of bad service means I wouldn’t recommend Angsana, and that I was permanently in the bad books of Mrs E and Master T for choosing this resort, and you’d be totally wrong. We had a fabulous time. The island is stunning, one of the most beautiful places in the world; and the grounds-staff work hard to keep it that way. Despite the service in the restaurant on the water, the service in the buffet restaurant was wonderful (and a name drop to Hathim for that), and the food at both locations was superb. The variety of activities offered were wide and at a reasonable price. The cleanliness of the whole island, something so basic but so important, was flawless, and the accommodation of the 207 sqm Deluxe Beachfront Pool is great; with a garden and pool so private you can sunbathe all day with your tackle out, and no one will attempt to use it for fishing.
As for the free kids club (check the age eligibility; we were told in advance it was three and up, and got to the island to be told four and up!), I have a mixed feeling. It should have been a child’s paradise playground; with the leaflet offering ‘Movie Time’, ‘Story Time’, ‘Sea Life Discovery’, ‘Kiddies Aerobics’, ‘Sand Sculpture Building’, ‘Treasure Hunts’, and even ‘Mini Olympic Games’; sadly none of these things happened. Having said that, the lady who runs this, Tini, has been there many years and Master T liked her very much and did ask to visit quite regularly; so she must have done something right!
Within a week of being on the island, we noticed some big changes happen. Full cutlery services started to appear at dinner. Mrs E was given a menu, and Master T a water glass. Drinks arrived within the time it took me to learn the spelling of Angsana Velavaru, and the activities board has new, accurate timings. Something miraculous was happening, and now I know how they felt on the 25th December in the year naught. New management had been installed, and a new General Manager had been on the job for three days and was already turning things around. This island had been unloved for too long, and now it was like the baby Jesus being born; excitement was in the air and people started to follow their new leader.
I’d easily place a bet that if I’m invited back to visit nine months from now, all of the above will be history, and the elements that’ll shine will be the beauty of the island. The feeling of being looked after and receiving great service won’t be noticed, because it’ll just be there as standard - from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave; like driving a Roller, or playing a Steinway; like all five-star experiences in life should be.
Book recommendations on the Maldives
Lonely Planet Maldives (Travel Guide) - a short-ish paperback book covering all the main islands
Coral Reefs Maldives: Reef ID Books - a book designed for divers and snorkelers with a comprehensive photo guide to Maldivian coral reef life
Maldives - Five stars paradise - this is a 26 minute video showing a great overview of what the Maldives can give you