Mention the Maldives and cynics dismiss this “paradise on Earth” as a holiday destination for the super-rich – your bills are subject to a 10 per cent service charge and 12 per cent government tax, in US dollars. So can you have a Maldives vacation on a budget?
With some careful planning, your family can enjoy an affordable beach holiday there, like my family did at the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives.
1. THE SPEEDBOAT WILL DO
There are well over a hundred resorts in the Maldives, each on its own atoll.
Pick one that’s far away from Male International Airport and be prepared to pay through your nose for a seaplane transfer.
A 30-minute return flight, which takes you 100km across the turquoise waters, can set you back by US$500++ (S$677++) per adult and US$250++ per child at one resort we checked.
Now, compare this to a 40-minute speedboat transfer to the Holiday Inn, which is 35km away from the airport.
It costs US$229 nett per adult and US$139 nett per child below age 12.
Related: Tips for buying travel insurance
2. JUST ONE ROOM FOR US, PLEASE
Here’s another reason we appreciated the resort: kids under 12 years old stay and eat free here.
The king-size bed was big enough to fit all four of us comfortably.
Neither did we have to shell out for their meals at the resort’s Kandooma Cafe – up to four children can dine free when two adults pay the full price.
3. TAKE YOUR TODDLER HERE
It turns out that little guests below age four are the true VVIPs.
In addition to the Kids Stay and Eat Free programme, they get free water sport activities and cruises, as well as speedboat transfers between the airport and resort.
We’re so glad we planned this trip before our son turned four. With the savings, we signed up for a one-hour cruise (US$59++ per adult; kids aged four to 11 pay half the price) to spot dolphins in the open sea – and we did!
Lucky us, they even did acrobatic jumps, flips and spins right before our eyes.
4. TIME YOUR VISIT RIGHT
Generally, March to November is the low to average period in the Maldives, so you pay less for accommodation.
Avoid booking during the peak season from December to February.
At Holiday Inn, you also enjoy a 25 per cent discount from its best available rate on the website if you stay at least seven nights.
5. FORGET ABOUT OVER-WATER VILLAS
You’ve seen them in photographs of Maldives.
They’re fab for couples on romantic getaways – your floor-to-ceiling windows look out to the views of a wide-open horizon and you can jump right into the waters from your door to snorkel.
But this is also why most resorts require parents with kids under age 12 to sign a disclaimer if the family wants to stay in one.
We took the safer – and yes, cheaper – two-storey Beach House, which opened directly onto the white sand. Rates are from US$350++ per night, less than half of an over-water villa’s US$800++.
To stretch your dollar further, you can ask for the Garden View villa which starts at US$300++. You won’t be in your room all day anyway, right?
6. FULL BOARD VS HALF BOARD VS A LA CARTE
Besides snorkelling, scuba diving and cruising, a Maldives holiday is one for you to sit back, unwind and eat… at the resort.
So it’s important that you check how much a meal can cost before booking your accommodation.
Rather than going for a la carte options, you can save money by picking dining packages.
At Holiday Inn, it costs US$99++ for half board (breakfast and lunch) and US$139++ for full board (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at its Kandooma Cafe. Prices do not include beverages, except water.
7. BE A LOYAL CUSTOMER
One tip we often hear from seasoned globetrotters: Book your stay at a big-chain hotel to earn loyalty points.
You can use them to offset your bill or to redeem subsequent stays.
Before we left for our trip, Hubby reminded me to sign up for Holiday Inn’s IHG Rewards Club.
It’s not just for the points, he said. “Club members get free Wi-Fi, very important!”