- Good Morning Britain star Charlotte Hawkins took her daughter to the Maldives
- They stayed at the family-friendly Conrad Maldives Rangali Island hotel
- There they enjoyed activities including snorkelling and a sunset dolphin cruise
For me, one thing that nudges these islands ahead of their rivals is the seclusion. There are more than 100 island resorts, giving an exclusive, boutique feel. You are never more than a few paces from a beach, and if you’re lucky you can have an entire one to yourself.
The waters are crystal clear and shallow enough to give a spectacular view of an amazing array of marine life.
Having first visited for our ‘babymoon’ when I was six months pregnant with our daughter Ella Rose, my husband Mark and I decided to return and show her the paradise we had fallen in love with.
We opted to stay at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which has twice been voted the Indian Ocean’s best hotel.
It ticked the family-friendly box, and the prospect of eating at an underwater restaurant sounded as if it would not only appeal to us, but also to a two-year-old with a short attention span.
Before we left the UK, I had been concerned that Ella Rose would find the 11-hour flight an endurance test, so we booked an overnight service – and it worked a treat.
As luck would have it, I had completed a ‘fear of flying’ course the week before for a Good Morning Britain live broadcast, which was just as well as the seaplane transfer from the capital Malé to our resort was a bit of a daunting prospect for me, but I did get a fantastic view of the islands.
As soon as you step off the seaplane you’re encouraged to kick off your shoes as you don’t need them.
There are more than 100 island resorts in the Maldives, giving an exclusive, boutique feel, and you are never more than a few paces from a beach
I looked ruefully at all those I’d packed ‘just in case’. You don’t even need to wear shoes in the restaurants – the food may be exquisite but they don’t expect your footwear to match.
Conrad hotels feature a ‘Stay Inspired’ programme containing various activity ideas depending on how much time you would like to devote. Only got one hour? How about sunset yoga. Three hours? Try shark snorkelling. Five hours to spare? What about a fishing trip to catch your dinner?
For us, by far the most frequent activity was helping Ella Rose jump into the swimming pool over and over again.
On our first day, I thought I’d ease myself in gently with an hour-long massage in the magnificent over-the-water spa. A range of pampering treatments was available, including the Indigenous Maldivian Experience which involves being massaged with a heated coconut stick! However, I chose the tried-and-tested full-body massage to ease away the tension.
We then had lunch at the resort’s Mandhoo Spa Restaurant, where flavours are intricately combined. For health-conscious visitors, staff give a full nutritional breakdown of your meal.
If you can, it’s worth timing your visit to coincide with fish-feeding at 1.30pm – that’s when the marine life swimming below the restaurant, which is built on stilts, get their lunch too.
But to get the best view of the underwater life, you really need to get wet, so we booked a three-hour snorkelling safari.
Having done one in the Maldives before, I knew it was the ideal way to spot the most interesting creatures. You are guided to the best locations and the dive team talk you through exactly what you are looking at.
Charlotte stayed at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (pictured), which ticked the family-friendly box and hosted plenty of activities
Being in such close proximity to the coral reef means there is an extraordinary range to see. It is exhilarating to be able to swim among reef sharks, and we were thrilled to spot manta and eagle ray, parrot fish, the beautifully striking oriental sweetlips, turtles, and even Nemo and Dory!
Ella Rose was able to bob around holding a float since the dive team help out with little ones.
For another three-hour excursion, we went on a dolphin cruise at sunset, a really special experience where you cruise the ocean in a yacht while sipping champagne and eating canapes.
Watching a dolphin somersault as you hold a glass of bubbly in your hand while the sun dips below the horizon is truly unforgettable.
Later during our trip, we enjoyed an underwater dining experience at Ithaa – the world’s first undersea restaurant.
A four-course set menu includes butter poached lobster, squid ink consomme, and Bresse chicken. But be warned: there are only top-end wine choices at this restaurant and the cheapest is about £60.
It is an utterly absorbing experience to eat 15ft below sea level, contained within glass walls and a domed glass roof, as the sea life darts all around you.
There are 12 restaurants at Rangali Island to choose from, including a Chinese restaurant from award-winning chef Jereme Leung, a seafood restaurant, and a Japanese grill.
All of those we tried were excellent; you can see why this place was named the Indian Ocean’s leading culinary resort a couple of years ago at the World Travel Awards.
One of our favourite evenings was sharing a seafood platter at the Sunset Grill, an open-air restaurant built on stilts.
All the waiters paid special attention to Ella Rose and offered thoughtful little touches such as bringing her favourite foods – red grapes at breakfast and rustling up an off-menu pasta dish for lunch. They also decided that, due to her name, she must have a special connection with the Maldives, as the national flower is a pink rose.
There is a kids’ club on site but children under three have to be accompanied, so we spent time together as a family instead.
Steps from the hotel’s decking lead to the ocean, so you can snorkel straight from your back door, and find a fascinating range of creatures. Pictured, a pair of oriental sweetlips
We saw little ones going off on mini-excursions and taking part in cookery lessons, so there were plenty of activities for those who wanted them. The infinity pool with sun loungers around the shallow areas meant parents could catch some sun as well as keep a watchful eye on their children.
We spent time meandering in a pedalo, but for the more daring there is a full array of watersports on offer, including flyboarding, where you are propelled above the water while wearing jet boots. This took place out at sea near the beach bar – watching the less successful participants proved to be a highly entertaining spectacle.
Rangali Island is actually two islands connected by a footbridge. One island has an adults-only area, and the other is predominantly for families.
Staying in a water villa means you can make the most of the view all around you while still feeling secluded. The top decking area is completely enclosed, so it is safe for little ones. The second bedroom for older children comes with bean bags and video games.
Steps from the decking lead to the ocean, so you can snorkel straight from your back door, and you’ll find a fascinating range of creatures under the villa. Frequent visitors include baby sharks and rays which you can spot through a glass panel set into the bathroom floor. A jacuzzi on the deck is the perfect place to watch the sun go down while sipping a glass of wine.
It is a long journey to get to the Maldives but certainly well worth it. You are guaranteed to get a warm welcome.
There is something magical about the golden sands, vivid blue water and abundance of shimmering fish. The anticipation starts on your journey in – as you peer from the window on the plane, you get a spectacular view of the islands mapped out beneath you.
It is all the more poignant knowing that these islands may not be here forever – they are under threat due to rising sea levels. When asked about the chances of his grandchildren being able to live in the Maldives, one former president said it was 50-50.
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