For as long as I can remember, traveling to the Maldives has been at the top of our bucket list. Who doesn’t dream of that gorgeous blue water and white sand beaches? We were smitten by Instagram photos of the iconic overwater villas and videos of undersea adventures. Let’s face it, a destination like the Maldives pretty much sells itself.
But when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, and actually choosing accommodation, there are a dizzying amount of options. That’s why we were looking for a resort that stood out among the rest. Maybe it would have stellar reviews on its super friendly staff, maybe it was committed to environmental sustainability and had the practices to back it up, maybe it would have a plethora of activities that let us interact with animals from a safe and respectful distance. Or maybe…. It would have all three!
Yep, we actually found a resort that knocked it out of the park in terms of hospitality, sustainability and overall gorgeousness (yep, making up a word there) – the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives. I know what you’re thinking. The Holiday Inn? Isn’t that a city hotel? That’s what we thought, but this resort couldn’t be further from that. It’s every bit the luxury island accommodation you want from the Maldives.
Arriving at the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma
After arriving at Male international airport we boarded a Holiday Inn speed boat to the island of Kandooma. Upon boarding we were immediately met with the warm hospitality that makes the Holiday Inn Maldives so special. Zuhree, the staff member that accompanied us on the ride, greeted us with a bottle of water and a cool, mint-scented towel, both a refreshing treat after the stuffy plane ride. Not 5 minutes into our journey we looked to our left and spotted a pod of over 100 dolphins. The driver kindly turned the boat around so we could get a closer look. It was a perfect introduction to the natural wonders of the Maldives.
One of the perks of staying at the Maldives Holiday Inn is its convenient location to the airport. Unlike further resorts that are further from Male, you don’t need to coordinate taking a seaplane, which only runs from 6am to 6pm. Instead you’ll hop on a speed boat which takes less than 45 minutes to reach the resort. A seaplane might be a novelty, but trust us, once you get to the Maldives you’ll want to spend a much time as possible on the water.
Like clockwork, our boat pulled up to Kandooma 40 minutes later, the water beneath us quickly turned from deep blue to bright turquoise. As soon as you see the color of this water you know that the raving reviews of the Maldives have not been exaggerated. Yep, the water really is that blue! Docking at the island, it felt like our eyes were bulging as everything looked like technicolor. From the turquoise water to the white sand to the green palm trees, every color was bright as can be.
Checking in at the Holiday Inn Resort Maldives
The first smiling face that greets you when you pull up to the dock is Russel. With her million dollar smile, she gave us a warm welcome and escorted us across the bridge to the lobby. Russel is from the Philippines and she graciously let us practice our rusty Tagalog (the national language of the Philippines), without laughing too much at us.
At check in, we were greeted with a refreshing drink and another cool towel, which was much needed because it is warm in the Maldives. Our bags were transported to our rooms so we didn’t have to lift a finger. With our cold drink in hand we were ready to leave the real world behind us and soak up this island paradise.
For the first two nights we stayed in an overwater villa. And we’ll start off by answering your most pressing question. YES! Yes it was amazing and just like the photos we dreamed of. There are no cars on the island, so to get to our villa a golf cart escorted us to the opposite side of the small island. At the end of the sand stood the quintessential Maldives overwater villas. With the curving dock that you’ve seen in a million Instagram photos and the villas jutting out over the water on either side. Our villa was filled with natural light from the three sets of sliding glass doors that opened to the breezy outside. The decor is simple and beachy, with white wood floors and furniture. Leading out to the deck is an outdoor shower and an outdoor bathtub (!!!) Yes, there is a regular indoor shower in the bathroom, but why shower indoors when you can soak up the sunshine while under the water? Don’t worry, you’re hidden from view so feel free to toss those inhibitions into the wind!
The balcony and the villa’s deck are really the “pieces de resistance.” Walk down your private deck and you’ll find yourself looking at some of the clearest water you’ve ever seen. You can lounge in the deck chairs or hop in the overwater hammock, where the only thing separating you from the water is a thick netting. The view extends out to the deep blue of the ocean, where a break water keeps the rough waves at bay (pun intended). On a windy day there’s still a bit of a current, so make sure you don’t drift too far out, unless you’re ready for a workout swimming back. Also, the sand below has sharp rocks, so we recommend bringing water shoes. Other than that, all you need is a swimsuit and your SPF 30!
For the rest of our stay we were in a beach house overlooking the water, which we thoroughly enjoyed as well. The set up was similar to the overwater villa, except the beach house has two stories. The ground level is an outdoor sandy lounge space with a daybed and chairs. Upstairs the room has a balcony with an ocean view. There was a row of daybeds a few hundred feet from our villa and the water was just 50 feet in front of those. It was a convenient spot to go out in the morning and grab a bed before they were all taken. We also loved that the bed in our room was facing the balcony, so we could pull aside our curtains in the morning and wake up to a view of the gorgeous ocean.
Hospitality at the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma
When we were initially researching the Holiday Inn Kandooma, we were stoked to find their sustainability initiatives and ethical animal activities, but we wren’t sure if the hospitality would live up to their incredible reviews. We had read TripAdvisor reviews that raved about the staff in every department, praising cooks, servers and receptionists by name like they were old friends. Surely, the hospitality couldn’t be that good, could it?
Spoiler alert: It is! Over our week at the resort we actually developed genuine friendships with the staff. It was a joy to hit the buffet every morning and catch up with our friends from the food and beverage team. (Side note: At the buffet breakfast, you’re greeted by a staff member to take your drink order. You can choose from a warm pot of tea or an entire pot of coffee, freshly plunged right at your table. If you’re a coffee drinker, you know what you a treat it is to have a hot pot of coffee all to yourself. OR you can ask for an espresso drink made to order. Complimentary lattes with breakfast? Keep ‘em coming!)
We loved that when we settled into breakfast, our favorite team members would often come to our table to see what we were up to for the day. This seemed to be consistent during our time at the resort. We often had staff members checking in with us to make sure everything was perfect and to see if they could make our stay even more fantastic. And before you assume that we received special treatment because we’re bloggers, we actually saw many instances of staff members going above and beyond for other guests. Whether it was a very patient waiter communicating with a guest through Google translate, or staff from the Kids Club making funny faces for the younger guests. Everyone seemed to be truly have a great time.
During our stay we often ate at the the poolside restaurant Bokkurra Coffee Club. During our leisurely lunch and dinners we’d chat with the staff there and really learn more about their story. We made friends with Nayez, who just finished school and has dreams of becoming a graphic designer, with the talent to back it up. And Issey, who got married in February of last year, the same date that we got engaged! He’s a fantastic artists and shared with us drawings of his cat.
Or Saika, our favorite bartender at the beach bar. She’s from Nepal, but has worked around the world, including the Seychelles and now the Holiday Inn Maldives. She loves working at the bar because she can get to know guests as they sit and chat with her over a drink. By asking about their vacation she can find out if there is anything she can do to make their stay even better. Or Ratheesh, one of our favorite cafe managers, who made us a plate of curry from the buffet just because he thought it would compliment our meal at the cafe (it did!). These are just a few of the many, many wonderful staff members we befriended while at the Holiday Inn.
Before the week was over we were invited to watch the last game of the staff football tournament. There are over 400 staff that work at the resort, many of whom live on the island. To keep fit during their time off, the Holiday Inn organizes sports tournaments, where different departments compete against each other. We were expecting a friendly lowkey game, but it was actually very official. The teams had uniforms and trophies were handed out afterward. The final game was between security and housekeeping. After a thrilling match, it came down to penalty shots and security won. During the rest of our stay it was really fun seeing the players around the resort and chatting about the game. These little interactions and the friendliness of the staff are what makes this resort stand out from the rest.
You could spend all your time in the picturesque Maldives ocean during your trip and be happy, but it doesn’t hurt that the Holiday Inn Resort Maldives has some pretty spectacular facilities available to enjoy. The infinity pool is somehow the PERFECT temperature and overlooks the beach closest to the lobby. If you want to be in the mix, this beach is the most popular, but never once did it feel overcrowded. There are lounge chairs and bean bags, and the beach bar is so close that the waiters will bring a drink directly to your chair.
If you’re looking for a quieter area to swim and relax, the swimming area near the overwater villas is blissfully quiet. Just a few day beds and a handful of lounge chairs are scattered around the sand, overlooking some of the bluest water you’ll see on the whole island of Kandooma. There’s a little alcove here so the water is protected from the current. It’s a bit like floating in a natural pool.
But it wasn’t all laying around on the beach working on our nonexistent tans. Jules pumped some iron in the well equipped fitness center and I (Christine) took a fantastic yoga class with Simone, the Perfect Wave surf and yoga instructor. They have twice daily classes, a morning Hatha class and an evening Yin class. Both take place on the jetty and are a perfect way to start or end the day overlooking the water in full zen mode.
If you’re a keen wave rider than you can add surfing in Kandooma to your list of holiday activities. Kandooma has some great surf breaks just a short paddle from your door, making it the perfect way to catch some waves while also having a super relaxing vacation.
Those that prefer the type of wellness that doesn’t require breaking a sweat can enjoy a spa treatment at the Kandooma Spa by Como Shambhala. We had the signature Como Shambhala couple’s massage and enjoyed every second of it. The treatment started with a foot scrub, followed by a full body oil massage. We left feeling gloriously relaxed. The facilities at the spa are immaculate and serene. We recommend the signature massage treatment, as well booking the Spa Suite’s private garden with your very own plunge pool. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a blissful afternoon for two.
Overall there’s a million little details that make this resort so enjoyable, from the facilities, to the gorgeous surroundings. But the biggest thing that made our stay so incredible was the hospitality. Every morning Jules and I walked out of our villa feeling like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, with housekeepers, gardeners and other staff greeting us with a big, cheery “hello” on our walk to breakfast. Resorts have a reputation for being cookie-cutter and a bit stuffy, that’s why it’s so incredible to feel like you’re part of the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma family. On our last day we walked around the resort to say goodbye to everyone and that’s when it hit us just how many new friends we’d made. After cheery hugs and exchanging Instagram details, we promised to be back someday to enjoy this incredible island once again. And we plan to make good on that promise!
Thanks to the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives and InterContinental Hotels Group for hosting us in the Maldives. As always, all opinions and thoughts are our own and we’d never recommend a destination or hotel we didn’t fully support.