Health Society & Culture Tourism

Discovering Paradise During a Pandemic

It’s our last evening after a week in paradise, and we’ve been ushered from the resort’s main restaurant, down a red lantern-lit path, to a secluded spot at the water’s edge, under a canopy of stars and an ocean backdrop. Our table for two is adorned with freshly picked flowers, lit only by candlelight and a festoon of lanterns. A bottle of bubbly in a bucket of ice sits between us, and all I think as we listen to the waves hit the shore is “please don’t propose, please don’t propose”.

Seven days earlier, we touched down in Male airport after an early flight from Dubai. After weeks of agonising about cancelling the holiday, we’d finally made it. The vacation we’d spent months dreaming about had fallen, unfortunately, slap bang in the middle of an escalating, volatile global health crisis — Covid-19. We’d resistantly left the UK four days prior to arrive in Dubai, where we stayed with family as Dubai shut down around us and came to a standstill. There was no backing out of going to the Maldives, while the flights were still leaving Dubai, we were still going on one of them, even if we’d end up, quite literally, left beached in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The only alternative being, losing thousands of pounds.

From Male, it was a 45-minute seaplane journey to our resort (a frightening but ultimately impressive experience with the plane landing on choppy waters smoother than most flights I’ve been on), You & Me by Cocoon on the phenomenal Uthurumaafaru island, situated in Raa Atoll, North Maldives. It was time to try switching off for a few days and enjoy everything this beautiful island has to offer. When you arrive at the island and check-in, they then take you on a buggy to your room with your baggage arriving shortly after you. The resort team member who drops you off also takes you through a tour of your room and how the resort operates before adding you on WhatsApp to communicate with you throughout your trip — this is who you message if you want to make a restaurant booking, arrange an excursion etc.

We stayed in a luxurious, sunset overwater villa, and let me tell you, the word spectacular does not do it justice — it is beautiful. With polished wooden floors, rustic beach vibe furnishings, a walk-in rain shower, a king-sized bed, and the pièce de résistance — a private balcony/deck with steps leading into the lagoon. Regardless of where you stand in the room, you can catch a view of those magnificent turquoise waters that the Maldives is famous for. The villa is full of dolphin-inspired artwork, homely touches and with a blissful indoor and outdoor experience, you really will find it difficult to leave.

Some of the guests spent their time embracing the privacy of their suites, some spent entire days exploring the marine life and snorkelling by the reef that’s a 10-minute swim away from the shore, others spent their day around the various dining experiences, and then everyone else wanted to do a little bit of everything. From the moment we arrived, the You & Me resort was happy to cater to whatever category you fell into, from their in-room dining options, the numerous excursions you could book and the several areas that the resort was split up into to enjoy each day from a different sun lounger.

We’d set money aside for a number of excursions on offer — a dolphin sunset cruise in the waters around Raa Atoll, an island tour to a private deserted island with a picnic and a bottle of prosecco, and an excursion at Hanifaru Bay to snorkel with whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea. Plus, my boyfriend had spent hundreds of pounds qualifying for his open water diving qualification for a diving trip to some of the Atoll’s most striking dive sites. Also promised were daily group excursions to other islands for an evening under the stars with a bonfire and BBQ with fellow guests. By our second day at the resort, they’d stopped new visitors arriving at the island, sending everyone else to their larger, sister resort. Sadly, with more holidaymakers leaving every day and no one replacing them, group excursions and activities were cancelled indefinitely as there were no longer enough staff or guests on the island to make it financially viable for themselves to run anymore. The only experience I was able to enjoy (before it also closed down) was a trip to the You & Me Spa for a 90-minute Balinese massage. Using ancient Indonesian healing to relax muscle tension and pressure techniques to boost the immune system to deeply rebalance the body, it was an utterly pampering experience. Set in an overwater hut, the treatment bed is perfectly positioned over a small area that’s been cut out of the floor, with a direct view into the lagoon and the fish below as you enjoy your massage. It’s certainly the most beautiful spa setting I’ve ever experienced.

As each day passed, with more BBC blasts detailing the burgeoning chaos of the world around us, it became an even more unsettling experience. We emailed and WhatsApped Emirates Holidays daily, asking for further clarity on what it meant for us, but we were told to just enjoy our holiday and we had to chase them to amend our holiday as we were no longer able to stop off in Dubai for a few days on our way back to England as Dubai had shut its borders to everyone but UAE citizens. Rumours flew around the island about Male airport shutting down, and flights being cancelled or moved forward, and the resort was quite evidently closing down around us. But still, we persisted, as until we were told otherwise from an official source, we would not only lose our money if we left the island early but also pay more for amended flights.

On our fourth day, we booked a lunch reservation at H2O, the resort’s underwater restaurant, with 360-degree views of the Maldives’ spectacular marine environment from a dining room fully submerged in the lagoon. Arriving at the reception promptly at 12.15 pm, you’re taken on a short boat ride to the restaurant, where you descend down 6-metres to the level below. Nestled in a lush coral garden below the sea, complete with a (purposefully — we did check) sunken boat that draws all manner of marine life to delight diners. The food is served up in five courses of gourmet quality dishes, which we washed down with a delicious bottle of bubbly as we enjoyed the hypnotising view from our seats.

The staff were excellent, catering to our very difficult list of allergies and dietary requirements and adapting the menu to suit. It costs $180pp for lunch, or $280pp for dinner. Our only regret? Not going for the dinner experience, to watch the transition from day to night from the below the sea. As for the other eateries available on the island, they came at no extra cost as we were part of the all-inclusive package, and they included; Rising Sun — a fine-dining Japanese restaurant serving lunch and dinner, La Pasta — an Italian option for lunch and dinner, The Sand — the main restaurant serving up international cuisine, open for breakfast and dinner, Green Carpet — a pool-side eatery for lunch only, and the Cheers Bar — serving up snacks and a long list of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

On our second evening, we tried out La Pasta, which sadly, didn’t advertise any pasta on the menu, only offering a long list of pizzas. The pizzas were incredible, cooked in a shore-side pizza oven and served up with incredible sough dough bites to start. We were also disappointed not to see the sushi and sashimi that was advertised on the You & Me website at The Rising Sun restaurant the following day, where they only served up a bowl of miso soup, a plate of egg fried rice and fried pineapple and ice cream to finish. We found out from guests later on that they’d restricted the menus at all the restaurants when we’d arrived, limiting the amount of food available and the seating times as they were slowly closing up shop. Every day, the food menu seemed to shorten, which was something we certainly didn’t expect when we handed over so much cash for our all-inclusive deal.

On our penultimate day at the resort, we found out that our upcoming scheduled departure out of Male was literally the last flight back to Dubai before everything went on lockdown. Not wanting to cut it so fine, we asked Emirates to move our flight to the prior one a couple of hours later, for which they wanted to charge us £150 each. While we were still debating whether to do so, only a few hours later our flight was cancelled anyway, and they had to move us to the flight they wanted to charge us for… Not only did we end up catching the last flight out of Male to Dubai, and then one of the last flights out of Dubai to Heathrow, we landed the day before the UK airports shut down. Talk about cutting it close.

It came to our last evening, and we’d enquired about dining on the beach but decided against it after finding out it was an extra $80pp. So, when we turned up the restaurant for dinner, the visitors who were leaving the next morning (pretty much the rest of the island) were treated to a stunning floral display on their tables thanking them for their stay. When we sat down at a plainly set table, we felt mildly disappointed that they’d forgotten about us, and watched on as the restaurant staff talked confusedly about who was dining at the private table set up down on the shore. Turns out, there was a misunderstanding, and they’d set it up for us! Offering it to us for free to make up for the confusion, they led us to our table for “our special evening”. It was a picture-perfect setting as we watched the last of the sunset, and all eyes from the main restaurant looked down on us throughout, waiting with bated breath for my boyfriend to fall to one knee. It might’ve been the dream set-up for a proposal in a different circumstance, but after a week of unsettling news, fighting for our trip home the next day, the prospect of coming home to weeks of self-isolation and lock-down, this holiday we’d spent so much money on and time dreaming about to only be let down with unmet promises and expectations at the resort, it certainly wasn’t the right time. Thankfully, my boyfriend didn’t think so either (nor was he planning to propose in the first place!).

Of course, we’re so lucky to have made the trip across the world and landed home the next day safely and successfully after everything that could have gone wrong. The resort was absolutely mind-blowingly beautiful, and at any other time, it would have met every expectation, dream and more. The crisp white sands, the cerulean, rich and diverse waters, it’s the perfect isolated spot cut off from the rest of the world in the middle of the Indian ocean; it had the potential to be absolute perfection. So, I would definitely recommend the You & Me resort, and you can visit their website here to learn more and book your own Maldivian adventure. This hopefully won’t be the last time we visit the Maldives, as it was just as mind-bogglingly picture-perfect as you’d expect from the destination.

Full details are available at the link below:

Source URL: Medium

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