Kandooma (Holiday Inn) Maldives
Having written about Hudhuran Fushi, where I recently holidayed for nine days, I will now talk about Kandooma where I stayed for five nights. We chose these two particular islands mainly due to the surf breaks for hubby. The experience at both islands was quite different; Hudhuran Fushi (also known to surfers as Lohis) getting a RAVE review from me and Kandooma presenting many problems.
Firstly let me say that the Maldives are like nowhere I have ever stayed. In a nutshell: paradise. The water is as blue and clear as the postcards depict, and from the air the blue circles in the middle of the Indian Ocean are surreal, like God has dropped bright blue dye from a pipette into the sparkling ocean. The atolls are composed of coral sand, tropical plants, shrubs and coconut trees, and the water temperature is similar to the air temperature, in our case that was 28 degrees!
The Maldivians are a proud, slightly built, gentle, attractive and softly spoken race with beaming smiles of welcome, and at both islands we found the locals to be charming. However, as opposed to Hudhran Fushi where there were predominantly Maldivians, Kandooma Holiday Inn employs many different races from all over the world and the staff are obviously well trained in commercial tourism.
Arriving at Male after a 30 minute boat ride from Hudhuran Fushi, we were left to stand in the hot sun at the harbour for well over 90 minutes while confusion reigned as to the whereabouts of our boat, the tour guide not being particularly helpful. Nevertheless, the boat finally arrived and the crew bade us a warm welcome, offered a drink, fitted us with life jackets and we had an awesome boat ride along the edge of the reef, seeing many wonderful sights along the way, flying fish being a major feature as they rode the wake of our boat. We were met at the wharf and transported to reception by golf cart, where we were offered a mocktail and seated.
Here the indoctrination began. Asked to sign a disclaimer, and hand over $500 USD (even though we had paid in full for our accommodation and breakfast daily), with a long list of ‘dos and don’ts’, and pressure to purchase an all-inclusive package, the reason for the attention we were receiving soon became patently clear: money. Still, I was anxious to get settled into our luxury beach house and dive into the clear water to explore the reef. Problem being, there’s no reef! What? Yes, you heard me correctly, although the internet doesn’t exactly state this…Kandooma has no reef around it. Thus: no snorkelling, apart from going on a boat trip: more about that later… But there is a surf break, and we requested a beach house overlooking the break and hubby was dying to get amongst it, so… oh, dear…more about that later too!
Beach houses: We paid extra for a beach house as they looked spacious and luxurious on the website and we wanted one overlooking the surf break, however the accommodation was far from spacious, and not exactly luxurious, although ours was kind of overlooking the break, there were too many trees in the way to actually see the surf. Still, trees are good and there was always downstairs… I felt the accommodation was tired looking, and the upstairs/downstairs didn’t really work. It would have been better to have been much larger all on one level. The aircon directly above the bed is loud and blows straight onto you, the TV is in an awkward place, pictures are not hung but sit along a wall, there’s no door on the toilet, the room is so small there’s no room for a table and chairs and the lighting is shocking. Our bedside lamp flickered and despite requesting the globe be changed, it never was. Great outdoor shower.
Beach villas: The beach villas are very small and all attached in long lines, so not private at all.
Overwater bungalows: Unlike the traditional overwater bungalows dotting the water of other islands in the Maldives, the ones on Kandooma are modern, very small, hot and not in a particularly good position.
Kandooma is all about cost, so make sure you bring plenty of money with you! Plenty! We opted for accommodation and breakfast only as the alternative, an all-inclusive package, unlike Hudhran Fushi, seemed exorbitant. One thing that really got me riled up was the issue of drinking water. Our room was equipped with 750mls of Kandooma water (desalinated water in their own glass bottles) per person per day. This water is needed for drinking, teeth cleaning and tea/coffee making and is certainly not adequate, particularly in the tropics. When I requested more water, I was told that each bottle would cost $6 USD++ (service and taxes of 18%). No water was available in dining areas either, although they did serve it around the pool area. Still; not good enough, and after some debate, I succeeded in getting 4 bottles a day but not without a daily dispute with housekeeping!
Meals are served in three locations:
The Kitchen: This is Kandooma’s upmarket a la carte fine dining restaurant and the meals here are extremely pricey and although we didn’t eat here, the reviews from fellow guests were less than glowing, one man stating he had a steak that was tougher than his rubber thongs (footwear in Australia!) and cost him over $100 USD++. Enough said.
The Buffet: Average food but wide variety. From $55 USD++ per person per meal. No free water.
The Coffee Shop: Supposedly the cheapest option. Hamburgers $32 USD++, Caesar salad $27 USD++ and Pizza from $25 USD++. No water, although they do serve bread at dinner! Wine around $12 USD++ per standard glass. Beer and cocktails around $10 USD++. Most families dined here due to the crazy alternative cost of feeding kids in the other two restaurants. One Saturday evening, the coffee shop was closed and we were told that they had a seafood buffet on that night at $75 USD++ per person. Now, for families this was very costly and they had absolutely no recourse but to either pay up or starve! We did have the seafood buffet but when we went to get our second plate of prawns we were told to eat something else as there weren’t enough prawns. ‘We have other things, Ma’am; bread, salads, desserts…’ Oh, pleaseeeee….
Forget it! The one shop on the island is barely stocked and ridiculously expensive. There are no local made arts and crafts, even at Male airport. All very tacky.
What to bring:
Take the essentials as a simple tube of toothpaste is akin to a visit to the dentist!: mosquito repellent, toiletries, loads of sunscreen (it’s very expensive on the island) at least two pairs of swimmers, thongs and light clothing. There’s no need to bring too many medical supplies as there is a medical centre on the island, but I would bring a packet of Band-aids and some medicated ointment, paracetamol and PROBIOTICS. (I’m a great believer in probiotics for everyday use but especially when travelling and you can now purchase non-refrigerated probiotics.)
Reef booties for surfers getting in and out of the surf break but no need for snorkelers as there’s no coral reef surrounding the island, also no need for snorkelling gear.
Many surfers from all over the world go to Kandooma for the surf break. It’s a right hander and fast and not for beginners! Unfortunately, if you’re not a surfer, there no shady platform for spectators and a channel of water and rock wall beyond which is covered in steel mesh (often rusted out and very sharp) prevents close viewing. No cafe close by. The Perfect Wave does offer boat trips at 9am and 3pm daily to various surf breaks. The cost of the surf boat trips can be part of your all-inclusive package, but it is far cheaper to pay as you go (approx $70 USD per trip) if you are happy to mainly surf the break on the island. Oh, and the break is not exclusive to Kandooma, so boatloads of surfers are being dropped off from their surf boating holidays at regular intervals. (Only two exclusive island surf breaks at the Maldives: Lohi’s (Huhuran Fushi, which I wrote about in my last blog) and Pasta Point.
Overlooking the harbour and beautiful waters, the swimming pool is extensive and beautiful, but unfortunately there’s no seating around the pool apart from dining seating which you can only use if you’re eating or drinking (yes, there’s that money aspect again) and all other seating is on the beach with very little shade. Not good for parents wanting to watch kids. No sunken pool bar. No deck.
There are non-motorised and motorised water sports equipment for hire and a dive centre for divers, and table tennis area. Snorkelling, I’ve mentioned – not good directly off the island but the resort does offer a free snorkelling trip, however this is often booked out and is scheduled at breakfast time daily, forcing most people to pay for their trip at a more convenient time. Again, the snorkelling areas off Kandooma are not particularly great. The one recommended area off the beach had a wonderful drawing of reef sharks close by! LOL. The island offers cruises to various locations, including a neighbouring island inhabited by locals that can easily be accessed by swimming or wading at low tide, however the Holiday Inn forbids this, encouraging guests to purchase their island trip. (Yes, money again, and I wonder how much of this fee the locals get!)
I should mention reading materials here, as that’s important! If you are an avid reader, bring a Kindle (you can download my novels from Amazon before you leave…J), or lots of paperbacks. There is a library in the computer room upstairs from the main lobby (Internet is FREE – YEAH!) although most of the books I saw were in foreign languages (To English readers).
There is a definite lack of night time entertainment on Kandooma, apart from Saturday nights where there is a free live band. The band we saw was brilliant, and sitting around in comfortable bean bags sipping on cocktails in the balmy evening was great but the staff are definitely trained to push drinks! There is a kid’s club!
Brochures in rooms have no spa prices indicated. A simple massage starts at $100 USD ++ but the centre is understaffed and often booked out days in advance.
I know I sound terribly negative in this review of Kandooma, but following our trip to Hudhuran Fushi where we could find very little to complain about and much to extol, this place was such a disappointment. It’s just so commercial and as they don’t indicate prices on the website, it feels like it is just one long handout. I did chat to some guests who were returning here and they all agreed that things had changed and many said they would not be returning again. Perhaps it is because it’s the Holiday Inn, I don’t know but the place was very empty and if I was a manager I would be asking questions…
Still, it is the Maldives, so the island of Kandooma is still simply stunning, and I have no doubt that there are some much more exy islands and perhaps they have good reason to be so, but in comparison to Lohi’s, Kandooma will not be on my place-I-must-return-to-list. Sorry!
Til my next blog.