This pandemic has certainly been a good reminder that life is short, life is capricious. Therefore, we have been more intentional about spending time and making memories with our loved ones over the past few years. Both our moms enjoy traveling but haven't been able to travel overseas over the past 2 years, so we decided to invite our moms to join us on our trips this year, and continue to make more memories together. =)
This 'Making Memories with Moms' journey started with a visit to Denmark and Finland with MIL, checking off the last 2 'main' Nordic countries on our travel list. My journey then continued with a 2nd visit to the Maldives, this time around with my mom. We are well aware that the pandemic ain't over yet, and with all things going on in the world now, we definitely do not take for granted the opportunity and ability to travel abroad these days.
When we visited Conrad Maldives last year, I thought that was my once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Maldives, because I usually avoid traveling to the same place twice and Maldives is very expensive. But almost exactly one year later, I traveled to Maldives again for the 2nd time. Post-pandemic revenge travel is real...lol!
So what brought me back to the Maldives for 2 years in a row? An exciting hotel points deal for the brand new Le Meridien Maldives shared by Frequent Miler last May that was too good to be missed (no longer available). Good deals like these are usually gone pretty quick and since I was sitting on quite a lot of Marriott points, I went ahead and made 3 'speculative' bookings - Sept 2021, Nov 2021, and Mar 2022. FOMO you know...lol! I ended up canceling both 2021 bookings but held on to the March 2022 booking.
Since mom had never been to the Maldives and had been tirelessly taking care of my dad for the past 2 years, I figured this would be a good trip for her to enjoy a well-deserved break/vacation and this would be a good first mother-daughter trip for us.
Made 2 separate bookings for our 7D6N stay. Booked the first 5 nights back in May 2021, and the last night using my 75-night free night award when I finalized our flights in Jan 2022. 5 nights in the Maldives in an overwater villa for 140,000 Marriott points (28,000/night) was a pretty solid deal. The cash value of our stay would have been approximately $5,060 and this same stay would require 250,000 Marriott points now.
As I was sorting out our travel plans for the first half of 2022, I intentionally planned the travel dates for Finland and Maldives back-to-back, with the plan of making Maldives a 'detour' on my way back from Finland to Malaysia. As if planning a multi-country trip during a pandemic wasn't complicated enough, the complexity increased as I was also planning for mom's travel from Malaysia and for us to meet up at Male airport. Fortunately, Maldives dropped the PCR testing requirement effective March 5th (3 weeks before our arrival) so that was one less thing to deal with. We only had to fill out the IMUGA health declaration and provide our hotel reservation to the airport check-in staff.
27 Mar 2022 (Sun): Helsinki - Doha
I was originally supposed to arrive Male at 8.25am on March 27th, and mom's flight was scheduled to arrive Male at 8.15am (10 minutes before me), so it would have been a perfect timing for us to meet up in Male airport and go through immigration together. However, after missing my flight the day before, my scheduled arrival to Maldives was delayed by about 1.5 days. Thankfully mom's journey from Malaysia was smooth so she arrived on time, boarded the seaplane and checked into the hotel as planned on Mar 27.
I'm grateful that the hotel staff, especially Haroon, the Resort Manager, took care of mom's arrival when I informed them of my delayed arrival. P.S. This was mom's first time traveling alone so I was definitely more worried about her than myself so I was relieved that everything went smoothly for her.
After spending a night at Holiday Inn Helsinki Vantaa Airport, I managed to check-in successfully for my 5.20pm flight from Helsinki to Doha. I thought about stopping by the Aspire lounge before going to my gate but glad I didn't because I didn't realize I still had to go through passport control to get to my boarding gate, which was quite a walk away from the lounge. Certainly don't want and don't need to risk missing another flight...lol!!
This flight was not full so I was able to get a row of 3 all to myself, and made myself very comfortable with my 'economy flat bed' for this 6 hour flight. Had vegetable fried rice with chicken and Stella for dinner before sleeping for the rest of the journey. As you can see from the flight map, our flight route avoided Ukraine because of the war.
Arrived Doha airport at 11.30pm. There is no time difference between Helsinki and Doha. The airport was a lot more busy this time around as compared to our transit last year. I had a 9.5 hour overnight transit in Doha and was planning to hangout at the lounge but there was also a long line to get into the lounge when I first arrived so I had to wait.
Arrived Doha airport at 11.30pm. Surprisingly, there was no time difference between Helsinki and Doha. The airport was a lot more busy this time around as compared to our transit last year. I had a 9.5 hour overnight transit in Doha and was planning to hangout at the lounge but there was also a long line to get into Al Maha Lounge when I first arrived so I waited till 2am to enter the lounge. I had visited this lounge a year ago, but this wasn't a Priority Pass Lounge last year. Looks like it was renamed as Al Maha Lounge and is now a Priority Pass Lounge. The maximum stay in the lounge was 4 hours so I timed my visit to allow me enough time to take a shower before my next flight. I was also hoping to take a short nap here but ended up researching back-up plans of places in case I miss the last seaplane and get stuck in Male for another night.
28 Mar 2022 (Mon): Doha - Male - Le Meridien Maldives
After hanging out in the lounge for 5 hours, the lounge staff came over to tell me that it was time for me to 'check out'. I probably could have recheck-in with my Priority Pass but I decided to walk over to gate and wait for my 8.55am Qatar flight to Male. The airport was busy and I noticed they had removed the 'social distancing' signs used to block the seats last year. Our gate was located downstairs and that meant we had to take a shuttle bus to our plane, no jet bridge unfortunately.
I was hoping for an on-time departure with the hopes of arriving Male ahead of schedule but the boarding process was slow and the pilot notified us that there was a lot of 'traffic' that morning so it took longer for our flight to take off. I had a baked mushroom egg dish and was constantly monitoring flight map throughout the 5 hours flight to check the planned arrival time. I was worried that I wouldn't make it in time for the seaplane. Despite the delayed departure, we landed at Male airport at 3.30pm, about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Based on our experience last year, I knew we still had to take a shuttle bus to the terminal and it could take quite a long time to get through immigration so I tried to get off the shuttle quick and find the shortest line (far left) at the immigration.
I was planning to ask people to let me go first at the immigration but since there were only about 10-15 people ahead of me, I decided to just wait. Getting through immigration was quick as they already have my Imuga health declaration in the system so I only had to show my passport. I got through immigration around 4.25pm but all our bags were not unloaded on the carousel yet. As I was waiting for my bags, I called the resort to let them know that I was just waiting for my bags and asked if I was still able to make it for the seaplane. They assured me that the hotel representative was waiting for me at the arrival hall and I should be able to make it for my seaplane. P.S. The seaplanes can't fly after sunset at 6.15pm so the last departure from Male will be about 5.15-5.30pm.
As soon as I got my bags, I ran out to the arrival hall and spotted the guy with the Le Meridien sign. He quickly helped to take my bags and escorted me to the TMA seaplane counter to check-in for my seaplane. The TMA staff weighed all my bags, including my backpack and as expected, my bags were slightly over 25kg so I had to pay for $15 of overweight charges, which was collected by the resort at checkout. I honestly didn't care about this $15, I was just so happy and relieved to get my boarding pass because that meant I wouldn't be stuck in Male for the night!
After checking in for the seaplane and dropping off my bags, the Le Meridien representative escorted me to a TMA bus that took us to the TMA lounge to wait for the seaplane. The TMA lounge is located in the seaplane terminal, which was approximately 8-10 min away from Male airport. Le Meridien is temporarily using the TMA lounge for its guests. When the new seaplane terminal is ready, Le Meridien will move to their own lounge in the new terminal. The lounge was pretty empty when I arrived at 4.45pm, and there was only one other couple who was also going to Le Meridien. There were some pastries and drinks in the lounge (no alcohol). I had some sandwich and 2 cans of coffee (to keep me awake for the rest of the evening as I hadn't slept much in the past 24 hours).
After chilling at the lounge for about 30 minutes, the Le Meridien rep came over at 5.15pm and escorted us to the seaplane waiting area to board our 5.30pm flight. We were definitely one of the last flights to depart that evening. So so glad I made it. =)
The seaplane transfer took about 45 minutes and costs $420 (incl. tax) round trip per person. This was the most expensive part of our trip because I couldn't use points or miles to 'pay' for it. However, as compared to the $590 we paid at Conrad last year, Le Meridien was still relatively cheaper.
Learning from my experience last year, I kiasu-ly boarded the plane first and took the front row seat, which was better for cockpit photos and also to stretch out my legs. Our flight had 5 guests going to another resort, 3 guests (incl. myself) going to Le Meridien, and 3 Le Meridien staffs.
Our seaplane departed on time at 5.30pm. The good thing about departing this late means we were able to see sunset in the air.
Our seaplane made a quick stop at another resort's small platform to drop off some guests before making continuing on to Le Meridien.
Finally made it to Le Meridien resort at 6.15pm after traveling for days (literally). I was greeted by the staffs, including Haroon, the resort manager whom I've been liaising with. It was nice that the staff greeted me personally and informed me that my mom was waiting for me in the room. =)
I didn't take many photos upon my arrival but this was how the hotel staff greeted guests when we first arrived. The staff took care of our bags and brought them to our rooms.
The staff walked me to the lobby to complete my check-in procedures. I was served a welcome drink (can't remember what it was) at the lobby while waiting for them to complete the paperwork. The check-in process didn't take long as mom had already checked-in the day before. After checking-in, another staff drove me in a buggy to our sunrise overwater villa. This staff also recognized me and said that he was the one who was talking to me on the phone when I called 2 days ago to inform them about my flight delay and my request for them to take care of mom's arrival. It felt like the entire resort staff knew about my 'dramatic' delay...lol!!
The overwater villas are located on the other end of the island, about a 5 min buggy ride from the lobby. The staff gave me a quick tour of all the restaurants and facilities along the way. I spotted mom waiting outside of our villa as we pulled up. It was only 6.30pm but mom was already comfortably dressed in her pyjamas...lol! P.S. As a result of my delay, mom got to enjoy a solo vacation for almost 2 full days before I arrived. =P
We definitely felt very welcomed with the 'double' welcome gifts of sparkling wines, chocolates, and macarons, and a handwritten note from the resort manager. =)
Since mom were already in her pyjamas, we decided to order room service for dinner. We ordered the wok fried rice and pho with chicken. The food arrive in about 30 minutes and I requested to have them set up on our deck so that we could enjoy the sea breeze while enjoying our meals. It was too dark to see any night view though. I thought it was smart that they put the soup for the pho in a teapot (to avoid the noodles from getting soggy). We also popped open the sparkling wine to celebrate the delayed start of our vacation. =) In case you're curious, this meal costs $90 (not incl. the complimentary sparkling wine). Welcome to the Maldives. For a fun comparison, this meal would cost only $3 in Penang. =P
After dinner, I did a rapid antigen test with the test kit I brought to make sure I'm negative, especially after traveling around for the past week. I had also asked mom to bring along these Mediheal masks I bought for our self-care session before passing out for a good night's rest.
Mar 27-Apr 2 (Sun-Sat): 7 Days & 6 Nights at Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa
Instead of blogging about what we did day-by-day, I've consolidated the photos I took over the next 5 days and grouped them by categories...
Sunrise Overwater Villa (Room 213)
I booked the Sunrise Overwater Villa for our first 5 nights, and the Beach Bungalow for the final night. However, the resort 'upgraded' our booking for the final night, allowing us to stay in the Sunrise Overwater Villa for all 6 nights. Typically I'd try to ask for an upgrade if it's available but based on what I read Flyertalk, the Sunrise Overwater Villa is actually better than the Sunset Overwater Villa so I specifically informed the hotel to keep us in the room we booked to avoid any potential upgrade to the Sunset Villa.
Interior of the villa with the king bed facing the sea, and a chaise lounge at the base of the bed. We used the counter behind the bed to put all the things we took in and out of the room daily. I'm not a fan of the colors in the room, pink + turquoise doesn't match well, it'd be more aesthetically appealing if the walls were white. Oh well, it doesn't really matter coz the main reason we're in Maldives is for the outdoors. =)
The bathroom is my favorite part of the room. Great views of the water from the shower and tub. The glass are tinted but we could also lower the shades for more privacy.
Our villa had a deck with direct access to the lagoon. There's also a sliding door that allows direct access from the deck to the bathroom, which was very convenient for us after swimming/snorkeling in the lagoon. There were 2 lounge chairs, a table with 2 chairs, and an overwater net for lounging (or instagram photos). There was also a water spray beside the ladder, which was useful to clean up after swimming in the lagoon. Even though the villas were right next to each other, our deck felt very private coz we couldn't see our neighbors from the deck. I enjoyed watching sunrise and the many shades of blue from the deck. The good thing about the being on the sunrise side is that the waters were calmer, and the deck was shaded in the afternoon.
Of course, the deck was good for photoshoots...lol!
Even though there was no pool in our villa, we really didn't need one as we had this clean and clear lagoon as our 'pool' and we were able to get in any time we wanted. The water was shallow enough to walk and deep enough to swim. We were also able to swim all the way from our villa to the house reef for snorkeling. There weren't as many fishes around our villa as compared to the villas further out but we were still able to spot some fishes, including a reef shark swimming around our deck.
Night view from our deck
Beach Bungalow (Room 108)
Even though we didn't stay in the beach bungalow, we had the opportunity to stay in the beach bungalow for a few hours on our last day. I requested for late checkout at 4pm as our seaplane was scheduled for 4.15pm. However, as the staff needed to prepare the overwater villa for the next guests, they kindly offered to let us to move to the beach bungalow while we wait for our seaplane in the afternoon. They also let mom stay in the beach bungalow for a few hours the morning she arrived as the overwater villa was not ready yet.
The layout of the beach bungalow felt much smaller than the overwater villa, mainly because the bathroom area is entirely outdoor. There are 2 outdoor showers, one under the shade and one open air. I only used the shaded one as I didn't want to burn my feet. The toilet is indoor but for the short duration we were there, I noticed it was quite inconvenient to have the sinks outside. Even though the outdoor patio has direct access to the beach, there is no beach view from the room as the views are obstructed by plants. I learnt from the Resort Manager that these beach bungalows are catered to Europeans and Russians guests as they prefer these type of rooms over the overwater villas.
Dining in Paradise
It's expensive and we know it. However, thanks to the complimentary daily buffet breakfast we received as Marriott Titanium welcome amenity, we were able to save quite a bit on our meals by turning our breakfast into brunch. =) There are 4 restaurants and 2 cafes in the resort - Turquoise (International buffet), Tabemasu (Japanese), Velaa (Bar+Grill), Riviera (Seafood), Waves (Cafe), and Latitude (Coffeehouse). Aside of the room service we had on the first night, we only ate at 2 restaurants, Turquoise and Velaa. There are meal plans available, but
The buffet breakfast was served at Turquoise from 7am-11am. This restaurant is located close the lobby, about a 10-15 minutes walk from our overwater villa. We walked to the restaurant every morning, but would hop on a buggy if we spot one along the way.
The restaurant is open-air with an airy shaded seating area and some tables on the beach. We opted to sit in the shaded area every morning because it was hot outside. My favorite table was towards the end of the restaurant, in the sandy part but still under the shades, with an unobstructed view of the beautiful beach and turquoise waters.
The breakfast options were quite impressive with lots of variety. There are different sections for Western, Maldivian, Asian, cold cuts, pastries, egg station, noodle station, fruits, and juices. The staff also take orders for coffee, tea, and still/sparkling water.
There was a sign at the entrance to the buffet area asking guests to wear a mask when getting food, and that was the only Covid-related requirement I saw in the resort. I found out later from the Resort Manager that Maldives removed their mask mandate so everything at the resort was pretty much back to normal. Mom and I still wore our masks in public areas but it wasn't required anymore.
breakfast brunch here for 5 days (6 days for mom). Despite the wide variety of food to choose from, I was pretty consistent with my breakfast preference for all 5 days...Asian all the way...lol!! We also ordered the special latte which was different everyday.
Velaa was located right next to Turquoise. This is also an open-air restaurant with both shaded and pool-side seating areas, overlooking the main pool and the beach. Velaa is usually busy during dinner and you'd have to make reservation in advance.
We had early 'dinner' around 4.30pm to avoid the crowd and also to order from the lunch menu, which was slightly different from the dinner menu. We ordered the Japanese Rice with glazed eel ($35) and Grilled Fish with island's hydroponic mixed greens ($55), and was served a complimentary bread. The Japanese rice was a lil' bland imo, but the grilled fish was pretty good. The total for this meal was $116 incl. tax and tips.
Elite Cocktail at Waves Beach
Unlike Conrad Maldives where Diamond members received complimentary daily happy hour, Le Meridien didn't offer such benefits to elite members. However, we received an invitation from the General Manager on Wednesday evening inviting us to an Elite Cocktail session at the Waves Beach on Thursday at 5.30pm - 6.30pm. I believe they do this every Thursdays for all Marriott Bonvoy members.
A number of key staffs, including the General Manager and Resort Manager were present at the Elite Cocktail session. There were probably about 40-50 guests (based on my rough guess). We chatted mostly with Haroon, the resort manager, and another guest from New York who works in Air France. I believe the main purpose of this elite cocktail session was to gather feedback and areas of improvement from the guests.
There are 2 pools on the island. The main pool and kids pool are located in front of Velaa, while the adults-only pool is located closer to the overwater villas in front of the Riviera. We spent most of our time swimming in the ocean so the only time we used the main pool was for the water aerobics session.
Adults-only pool in front of Riviera. This pool is quite small though.
Main pool and kids pool in front of Velaa, where we had the water aerobics session. This area can get noisy during the day when kids are around.
The island is surrounded by white sandy beaches so there is a beach everywhere. However, I think the stretch of beach on the main side of the island is much nicer than the other side where the lagoon villas are located. There are 3 "#DestinationUnlocked swings around the island (based on what we saw), and these swings are picture-perfect.
The stretch of beach between Turquoise and the overwater villas. We could either walk along the path shaded by trees or along the beach to go between both. There is also a beach volleyball court in front of Turquoise and Velaa.
#DestinationUnlocked swing in front of Turqoise/Velaa. I don't know which photo looks best so I just upload all of them. =P
Another photo spot on the main beach is this 'piano dock'. Somehow this photo spot is not as popular (based on photos on social media. I don't think many people realizes that the boardwalk is actually painted like the piano. The swings stole all the limelight...
The island is not that big so we could pretty much walk the entire island from the seaplane platform to the end of the overwater villas and see different corners of the island within about 30 minutes. There was another whole section of overwater villas on the other side of the island that was not opened yet when we were there.
Arrival art next at the seaplane platform.
Reception/lobby area during the day and night.
Life-size chess and outdoor cinema area next to the lobby during the day and night. The resort was filming some videos for Easter while we were there hence the Rabbit mascot.
Sunset/dusk on the island. Mom was my model...haha!
Even though the island is not that big, it can still be tiring to walk in the hot and humid weather. Fortunately, there are complimentary buggies that we could call anytime to bring us to wherever we want to go the island.
The gym is located at the top floor of the Waves Lifestyle hub, `near the overwater villas. The gym is well-equipped and has amazing view of the turquoise waters. We came here a few times as a few of the activities were conducted at the gym.
If you think we'd be bored being 'stuck' on an island for 7 days....absolutely not. There were plenty of activities to keep us busy.
We were provided with this weekly planner upon arrival, and there are plenty of free/chargeable fitness and recreation activities daily that we could participate in.
Pilates, core workout, and lower body workout sessions at the gym. I was the only one who showed up for the core workout class so I had a one-to-one session with the trainer. Of course, my abs were sore for the next few days...lol!
There were both sunrise and sunset yoga classes but we couldn't wake up early enough for the sunrise yoga at 6am so mom went for the sunset yoga at Riviera beach instead.
We picked up our snorkeling equipments (mask, snorkel, fins) free of charge from the Dive Centre on the first day and kept it for the entirety of our stay. Life vests were provided in our rooms. It was convenient to leave all these on the deck throughout our stay as we could easily get into the lagoon from our room to snorkel anytime we wanted.
We could spot some fishes swimming around our overwater villa every now and then, but we also swam about 10-15 minutes from our villa to snorkel at the house reef, where we saw a lot more fishes, including manta ray, reef shark, and sea turtle. My phone's waterproof case was damaged after the first day so most of the snorkeling videos were captured in my GoPro, which I haven't had time to sort through yet.
We also went kayaking and paddleboarding. It was amazing because the waters are so clear! We tried out 2 different types of kayaks, a 2-person kayak with transparent bottom, and mom used the single kayak while I used the paddleboard the next day. We rented all these for free at the watersports center.
There is complimentary movie night every Thursdays at the outdoor Twilight Cinema. We stopped by to take a look after the Elite Cocktail session but didn't stay for the movie coz we didn't know what movie it was...haha! The ambience was really nice though.
So what other things did we do during our stay?
Took photos and videos of crabs...lol!
Mom fully enjoyed her freedom and binge-watched her shows everywhere...lol!
While I fully enjoyed this opportunity to rest, relax, and rejuvenate while getting tanned, my once-a-year vitamin D replenishment...haha!!
Other random stuffs...'stalked' our neighbor and enjoyed our sparkling wine. The resort replenishes the water in our room frequently so we never ran out of drinking water. =)
At the time of our travel, Malaysia still required all travelers to have a negative PCR test to enter the country (this is no longer required effective May 2022). The resort provides on-site PCR testing at the clinic and it costs $296 for both of us to get the PCR test, which was charged to the final hotel bill. Yes, we could have saved on this if we had traveled one month later but nobody knew when and how the rules will change so I've accepted the fact that this is just part of the cost of traveling during a pandemic.
We made an appointment to get our test done at the clinic 2 days before our departure and the whole thing took less than 5 minutes. We received the results via email the night before our departure, and also request the staff to print 2 extra copies for us.
As mentioned above, we checked out of our overwater villa around 11am on the last day and the staff helped to move us to the beach bungalow to hangout for a few hours while we wait for our 4.15pm seaplane.
Checked out around 3.30pm and waited for our seaplane at the Latitude.
Time to bid goodbye to paradise! Thank you to all the staff at Le Meridien Maldives for the excellent service. We certainly felt appreciated and well looked after. =)
Our seaplane arrived late but we weren't in a hurry as our flight departing Male airport was at 11pm. It was cool to see 2 seaplanes arriving at the same time.
We departed from the resort at about 5.10pm and arrived Male at 5.45pm.
After arriving at the seaplane terminal, the Le Meridien staff escorted us on the TMA bus to the airport departure terminal. The airport was much quieter as it was the first day of Ramadan and many shops were closed. Typically, the staff would help us with the check-in process but since our flight was only departing at 11.25pm, we told the staff that we were going to the lounge to wait.
I was glad to be able to use the Moonimaa Lounge at the domestic terminal with my Priority Pass. The lounge was pretty basic but it was still better than waiting at the terminal. We also got there at a good time as they were serving dinner. We didn't stay too long at the lounge as I wanted to make sure that we had enough time to check-in and get through security for our flight. It was only the 2nd day Malaysia changed the entry requirement and removed the mandatory quarantine so I was worried the staff may not be familiar with the new rules.
Fortunately, our check-in process went smoothly and easily. We provided our proof of vaccinations, negative PCR test results, and completed Traveler Card on MySejahtera. That was it.
I redeemed 25,000 Alaska miles per person for our return flight from Male to Penang on Singapore Airlines. Not the best value redemption but still better than paying cash, and I was glad we were able to book this night flight (gave us more time to enjoy Maldives) and was able to fly direct to Penang from Singapore without having to go through KL.
The flight was quite full so we got lucky to have a row of 3 for ourselves. Supper was served around 1am but the food was kinda meh. After about 4.5 hours, we landed at Singapore at 7.35am, about 30 minutes behind schedule due to late take-off from Male.
Went to the SAT Premier Lounge to take a quick shower and have breakfast before catching our 10am flight to Penang. The bathroom was pretty nice and towels were provided. No buffet at the lounge due to Covid so we had to order the food with the staff.
Singapore just opened its border few weeks before but there weren't too many people at the airport while we were there.
The flight from Singapore to Penang was full as well but once again, we had a row of 3 to ourselves. I was surprised they served snack for the short 1.5 hour flight.
That's a wrap for our 7D6N trip at Le Meridien Maldives. Despite a rocky start to my trip which resulted in a 1.5 day delay, I'm thankful for this wonderful and relaxing vacation with mom, and for the opportunity to make precious memories. This was mom's first trip since the pandemic, our first mother-daughter trip, and her first time traveling alone, so I am extremely thankful that everything went smoothly for her and also grateful that the hotel staff took care of her arrival and made our experience a very pleasant one.