Vilamendhoo Resort – Activities!

Closing out our Vilamendhoo series (that I’m way behind on), I wanted to cover the activities available for guests! As I mentioned in my initial resort post, excursions were a big draw for us, specifically the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. While Vilamendhoo offers up a quiet island to relax on, they also offer a multitude of things to do, should you decide that you want to get out and have some fun!

First up, let’s talk about the scuba diving available at the resort. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or beginner, they have plenty of choices, including a 3 days series of dives meant to get you PADI certified. Jen and I have been diving before, but it was a long time ago, and neither of us are certified, and Bayley had never been. Before sinking a bunch of money into an excursion, we wanted to see if it was something she’d like, and fortunately Vilamedhoo’s dive center, run by Euro Divers, offers up a free beginner class. You sign up at the dive center at least a day in advance, and on the day of your lesson, the instructor takes the group out to the lagoon where you take turns trying out the gear in the shallow water. Each person in our group got around 15 minutes with the tank on, while the instructor assisted. We all enjoyed the time in the water, and also discovered that it was something Bayley liked. We’d planned on signing up for one of the non-certified dives to get a closer look at the house reef, but weren’t able to make the timing work when looking at the rest of the activities we’d scheduled. Next time!

Next up, watersports! Next to the Sunset Bar, they have a little shack on the beach where you can check out equipment to kayak and windsurf, among others. The all-inclusive package we had included a free windsurfing lesson that the girls were excited about, but the day they went to do it, the wind kicked up after the beach portion of the lesson, and the guy at the shack wouldn’t let them go out on the water. We did check out kayaks on our last full day there, and while the trip under the dock and around the back side of the island was fine, the current on the front side was really strong, making it a tough trip back to the point of return. Whatever you do, just keep an eye out for snorkelers, you don’t want to run any of them over accidentally!

Moving on, we happened to be there over World Environment Day, during which Vilamendhoo hosts a few activities guests can take part in. We signed up for two of them, the first being a back house tour. It’s pretty much what it sounds like, one of the staff members took a group of guests on a behind the scenes tour, showing us how power is generated for the island, how water is desalinated and cleaned, and how recycling happens. All very informative!

The second event we signed up for was reef cleaning. We headed out with a couple of their excursion guides and our snorkeling gear and swam around the house reef in small groups looking for any trash that had made its way into the water. Another group was in full dive gear going out along the outer edge of the reef in deeper spots we couldn’t get. I think we spent about an hour swimming the front side of the island collecting trash. As you can see from the bags, we cleaned a bunch of stuff out of the reef!

 

Next up on page 2, snorkeling the house reef and searching for whale sharks!

Vilamendhoo Resort – Paradise Found

As I mentioned at the start of our Dubai post, deciding on a destination for this trip was a painstakingly long effort, one that we didn’t finalize until early April. Once we decided on the Maldives, narrowing down our resort selection took a while too, with Jen spending a decent amount of time talking to various vendors. Our goals we simple, we wanted and over water bungalow at a resort that offered an all-inclusive package and the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. That’s not too much to ask for, right ;-)?

Being focused on the first two requirements, we narrowed our choices down to Kuredu and Conrad, but the Conrad didn’t offer all-inclusive packages. One down. Contacting Kuredu, she was informed that they didn’t have whale shark excursions, recommending instead that we look at one of their sister resorts, Vilamendhoo, as they were closer to the area whale sharks frequent. In talking to them, we learned that in addition to offering an all-inclusive plan, they offered excursions throughout the week that would give us the chance to see and swim with whale sharks, among other sea life. After a little research on our own, with fairly glowing reviews, we booked! This post will cover the resort arrival, facilities, activities, and rooms we stayed in. You may want to keep their site map open in another window as a reference, it definitely helps put things in context:

https://www.vilamendhoo.com/overview-map

Here’s a shot I took of the map, too:

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Getting to Vilamendhoo from Malé, as with many of the resorts in Maldives, means taking a short floatplane ride, in our case around 30 minutes. We were pretty excited about this, it was the first time any of us had flown in one. One caveat going in, your checked and carry-on luggage is limited to lighter weights than a typical plane ride, with the one checked bag each person is allowed being limited to 44lbs and the carry-on no more than 11lbs. Anything over that incurred a fee before you could get your ticket for the float plane. We knew this ahead of time, and with my suitcase and carry on both exceeding those, were prepared when they told us we’d be assessed a $40(USD) fee based on that overage. That’s a one-time fee that covered both directions, as well. We paid that and then were shuttled over to Vilamendhoo’s private lounge near the float plane terminal. We had around a half an hour before boarding, so we relaxed, grabbed some free sodas and got mentally prepared for what was to come.

Once the plane was ready, we headed out to the docks and hopped on the plane. There were two other couples on our flight, so the plane was pretty empty, not that it seats a huge number of people. The ride over was pretty smooth, and gave us some amazing views of the area, as you’ll see in the video linked below. After you land, the plane pulls up to a small floating dock just off the island. We all exited the plane and boarded the boat that was waiting to take us and out luggage (that the resort was fully handling for us) to paradise. We were obviously incredibly excited at this point. Frankly, I don’t know that I’ve ever looked forward to a destination this much before, so I had really high expectations going in. On the ride over, one of the Vilamendhoo staff members welcomed us gave us the rundown on how the check in process would work once we docked.

As soon as the boat hit the dock, we all disembarked and were led to the main guest services building, where they sat us all in different sections of the room. We were then greeted by the guest services staff, given what can only be described as an amazingly delicious fruity drink, and walked through the check-in process.

It was relatively painless, and after a few minutes we were headed out as another staff member led us to the jacuzzi water villa we’d be staying in the first half of our stay. Having booked so late, the over-the-water rooms were only available the first four nights, having already been fully booked during the last four nights of our stay. This meant that we’d have to change rooms, but we’ll get to that later. For now, on to the room! I put together a video showing our journey from Malé to Vilamendhoo, which ends with a walk-through of jacuzzi water villa 318, our home the first four nights. I know it’s a bit long, but I wanted to be sure and capture as much of the experience as possible. That floatplane ride was amazing, something I’ll never forget.

As you saw in the walk-through at the end of the video, it’s a good-sized room situated over the beautiful blue water of the resort. The mini-bar includes a number of sodas, water, wine and beer that are included with the All Inclusive Plus package we were on. Just take your drink, note it on the little sheet above the fridge, and the item gets refilled the next time housekeeping comes. The snacks above the mini-bar are not included, however. The couch was converted into a 3rd bed for Bayley to sleep in, and I’d say we had plenty of room for all of us, including storage space.

The real star of these rooms is obviously the balcony. Sitting over the beautiful lagoon waters, you can lay in one of the two loungers, sit in one of the chairs, or head down the stairs right into the warm waters of Vilamendhoo’s lagoon. We loved every minute of our time in this room, as it’s one of the coolest places we’ve ever stayed, right on par with our night in the Kirkenes Snowhotel in Norway last year. I’ll add that in addition to my walk-through, be sure to check out Vilamendhoo’s video tour of this room type, it was spot on. You don’t always see a company accurately represent a room in a walk-through, but this one hits the mark. In addition to the videos, here’s a 360 shot of the room and the view from the balcony. Once you’re done looking around, move on to page 2, where we look at the Jacuzzi Beach Villa we spent the second half of our stay in!


Four Days in Dubai

To kick off my series covering our most recent vacation, we’re looking back at the first few days of our trip, spent in Dubai. First, it’s prudent to give a little history on how we got here. Our daughter graduated from college this year, and as both a present to her and a last hurrah before she goes off into the workforce, we decided to let her choose where she wanted to go for a graduation trip. Initially she was looking at Bora Bora, and at least once we were within a couple of clicks of booking a trip to that area on either a Paul Gauguin or Windstar cruise. She really wanted to swim with whale sharks, and once we discovered that it’s not really the season for that in the south pacific, we started looking elsewhere. Along the way, I came across some package rates to the Maldives, one of the few places where whale sharks are prevalent this time of year, so we started looking closer. As I looked at the various packages, I came across a solid deal on an 8-day Maldives trip that included a 4 day stop in Dubai first. We all fell in love with the idea of seeing this city, and in early April pulled the trigger on it!

The trip started off when we boarded an Emirates A380 from JFK to Dubai direct. The flight itself, while long (12 hours), was pretty uneventful. There’s plenty of legroom in economy on these planes, and while it was fairly comfortable, none of us slept all that much.

We arrived in Dubai around 8:30am local time Sunday morning and headed to our hotel. Being the offseason, and Ramadan, we got a great rate at the JW Marriott Marquis in what’s referred to as New Dubai. On arrival at the hotel, we decided to take them up on a pretty reasonable upgrade to a corner suite on the 61st floor, complete with a large living room, master bedroom, and good sized master bath. Click on those links and check out the 360 degree views of our room, A6106.

After cleaning ourselves up and grabbing a bite to eat in the hotel’s outstanding breakfast buffet, we decided to hop the Marriott’s shuttle to the Dubai Mall, one of the 56 malls in the city, and the one containing the huge aquarium and the entrance to the Burj Khalifa tour. After a bit of a walk around the mall (it’s huge), we decided to grad some lunch. Being Ramadan, almost every restaurant was closed, so our best option was the food court, as it was barricaded off, allowing those who weren’t fasting the ability to eat. The main food court in this mall is huge. Larger than any mall food court I’ve ever seen. We ended up eating Shake Shack, and which breaks our main travel rule of not eating anywhere we can eat at home, but under the circumstances, I was happy with the choice.

After some more mall walking, we headed back to the room to get some rest before dinner, as we had a busy day on tap the next day. We ended up eating at the hotel again, this time in the executive lounge. Executive club access is something we added for a pretty reasonable charge, and it was werll worth it, with the breakfast buffet included, along with snacks and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) included in the benefits. The small buffet in the executive lounge each evening had some delicious items as well.

Monday morning brought our first excursion of the trip. We’d booked a private guided city tour with Tours by Locals, and were picked up by our guide at the hotel at 9am. Our guide Sunil was outstanding, and this tour was definitely the highlight of our time in Dubai. We started off with the Dubai Mall, and since we’d walked that the day before, he just showed us a few of the highlights before we moved on to the Emirates office tower area as one of our first picture spots. The architecture in Dubai is amazing, and this was the perfect place to really kick things off:

Next up was Za’abeel Palace for another photo stop. This obviously isn’t a place where you can just walk up to the gate, so we hung out by the Mercedes police G wagon and took a few pictures:

Our next stop was a local fish market, which was really cool. We were warned before hand that the vendors selling would be on us as soon as we walked in, but would back off if we ignored them or said no thank you, and he was right. For those familiar with pushy vendors in Caribbean ports, this wasn’t even close to as bad as some of those can get, frankly it was pretty mild. Inside, there were a ton of fish lined up, but being Ramadan, the place wasn’t completely full of vendors. We walk through the fish area, the meat area, and ended in the fruits and vegetable area. Note that this isn’t for the faint of heart, as you do see things like cow heads in the meat area. All in all, I’m glad he added it to the tour, it was cool to see how a normal market worked in the area.

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After a short stroll through the small attached mall, it was off to walk around a couple of the souks in the area! This was probably the highlight of the tour, and at times felt like something out of either the Amazing Race or Indiana Jones. He took us through a gold souk before giving us a little instruction, setting a time to meet, and sending us off on our own to explore. Again, the vendors will approach you, but nothing as pushy as some Caribbean ports, and they were always friendly. We did buy a couple of items, with Bayley picking up a hanging glass ball decoration and Jen getting a scarf. Our guide did help us negotiate the price of those two, these vendors will haggle. After walking a few streets here, we hopped on a water taxi to another park of the city to stroll through a few more souks:

After finishing up the time-lapse above, which was Sunil’s idea, we walked over to the Dubai Museum. While not overly large, this has various exhibits giving you the opportunity to learn about Dubai’s history. This was followed by a walk down a few more areas, including stops at a local art gallery, coffee museum and coin museum. From the time we started our initial walk through the first souk until we got back to the car, I think we were on our feet for around 2 hours. Considering the heat here, that’s a long time, but having hydrated before we got out of the car, it wasn’t a big issue.

I should take a minute to point out that while Ramadan prohibits eating or drinking in public during daylight hours, our guide did have water available for us in the car, so had we not brought our own, we would have been fine.

Following all of that walking, we had a bit of a break to cool off, as it was a bit of a car ride to our next stop, Jumeira Mosque. This is the only mosque that allows non-Muslims to tour the facility, however, they weren’t doing tours at this point, so we were just seeing the outside. On our guide’s recommendation, we did go back for the official tour on Wednesday, and I’d agree with him, it’s worth the time, very interesting and informative!

After a couple of other short picture stops to get views of Burj Al Arab, we headed in the direction of Palm Island. We had a couple of options, ride with them up to the end of it where the Atlantis is located, or take the monorail from the trunk to Atlantis. We chose the latter 😊. Riding the monorail is fun, and I highly recommend (on his recommendation, actually) being in the front cabin so you can watch the trip.

After the monorail ride and a short stop outside of Atlantis and one other spot along the branches for pictures, we headed back to the hotel quite happy with the tour we’d chosen. This is probably one of the best we’ve ever done, as both Sunil and our driver were outstanding. They showed us a large part of the area, ensured hydrated and fed even with Ramadan happening, and added stops upon realizing we had plenty of time for them along our 8 hour tour. I’d be more than happy to book with Tours by Locals again!

After cleaning ourselves up and resting a little, we decided to end the day by heading over to a spot Sunil recommended, Dubai Garden Glow. This is an awesome little place that packs three separate areas in to one facility, including and ice park, dinosaur land, and a while section with lit up displays to enjoy. You don’t have to do it all, as they sell tickets at varying prices that allow access to some or all of the park. Considering that we have no idea if we’d ever make it back to Dubai, we bought the full pass.

It was a fun walk through the whole thing, with the glow garden section being the longest walk. They’ve got a ton of lit displays, typically the kind of thing you only see around Christmas in the US. After a pretty lengthy walk through that area, I was ready to hit the ice park and cool off. Even though it was night, it was still pretty hot and humid out. Entering the ice park, you’re handed a coat and some gloves, and you head in to a large warehouse type setup with a bunch of ice sculptures. Most of it appeared to be landmarks from around Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa, some camels, and Palm Island. This is the shortest walk in the park, as it’s not really that big, but it’s definitely a good way to cool off while in the park. After leaving our icy detour, we headed into the dinosaur section, which is basically just a bunch of outdoor dinosaur exhibits you walk around. Here’s a look at some of the things we saw in the Dubai Glow Garden:

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Our first full day in Dubai was tiring, but really fun! Next up on page two, a day of skiing, penguin hugs, and off-roading in the desert!

Crons in the Capital – Day 3

For our final day in DC, Bayley and I started off by heading over to Arlington National Cemetery. Taking the DC Metro on the weekend is a very different experience than I expected. There are a lot fewer people riding it, and as a result (I assume), fewer trains running, which was really only an issue when we left the cemetery, thankfully.

On arriving, we slowly headed up a main road towards JFK’s grave site, taking time to read some of the headstones along the way, including that of Marine Staff Sergeant William Windrich, awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the Korean War. That link’s an amazing read and well worth the time.

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After visiting the grave sites of the Kennedy family, we headed towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After a bit of a hike, as the hills and heat were a bit tiring, we arrived to see that they were just finishing up a changing of the guard, and as the crowd filed out, we found spots almost dead center to watch the guard walk and pay our respects. As we stood there, with most of the crowd being silent and respectful, one of the most maddening things I’ve ever seen took place. In this picture, you’ll notice the guard is off the mat:

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He came off of the mat to rather loudly remind the crowd that a level of silence and respect needed to be maintained (example of how they handle it here). So why did he have to do that? Well, because someone to my right was on his cell phone. Even after the guard resumed his walk, this person continued talking on it, at which point someone working there came over and demanded he get off his phone. He didn’t, he just walked up the stairs and over to the far side of the building behind us. Amazing lack of respect shown there. Regardless, we stayed for a few minutes watching the guard’s precision movements across the mat before heading back down the hill on a different path to see more of the grounds.

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We headed back to the Metro station, only to realize that due to the limited service, we’d have to wait ~25 minutes for a train, which while annoying did give us some time to rest in the shade. Our next planned stop was the National Archives once the train did finally arrive.

After reaching the Archives stop, we decided to get some lunch. We found what looked like a cool little burger place in the area, Plan B Burger Bar, and headed in. The place was dead, but frankly the whole area was. They had plenty of staff on hand, and while the food was pretty good, the service was horrible. Our server, who for most of our visit only had our table, was MIA most of the time. She got another table shortly before we finished, so it ended up taking almost 20 minutes to just get the bill and pay it. All this while three other employees were up at the main entrance chatting with each other at the hostess stand, and other employees were just wandering around trying to look busy. As far as the food itself, I really did like my burger, having selected the bacon cheese burger, sans onions, on a pretzel roll:

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The fries were okay, but I wish I’d gone with the tots. Oh well, live and learn, although not sure I’d go back after the service issues. I understand stuff like that when restaurants are busy, but not when there are only two tables of people in the entire place.

Our lunch over, we headed over to the National Archives building, expecting some semblance of a crowd, but we were in luck! There was no line outside, and we got through security pretty quickly. We really only had one goal in coming here, and that was to see the documents contained within the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.  We had no wait to get in there either, although it was a bit crowded inside the rotunda itself. No biggie, we got to see and read all of the documents. No pictures of it, obviously, since photography and video aren’t allowed in there.

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After finishing up there, we headed back to the hotel to rest up and wait for Jen. Once she was done with her meetings, we hopped back on the Metro and headed for the White House, as we all wanted to walk around that area while we were in town.

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After making a full loop around to check out both sides of it, as well as take in the amazing architecture of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, we headed up the road to Elephant and Castle for dinner. I wasn’t super hungry, so I just got the Jalapeno Mac & Cheese, sans jalapeno. Twas delicious, and the service was much better than what we experienced at lunch.

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That pretty much did it for us, as we were all tired from a busy week, and wanted to get some sleep before our long day driving to Baltimore for a ship inspection and driving home to Charlotte after that. It was nice to spend some time in DC and visit a few things we haven’t been to in a number of years!

Crons in the Capital – Day 2

The second day began with Bayley and I heading to a local Arlington “landmark”, the Apple store in Clarendon. The night before, there was a bit of a water related incident with her iPhone, with the device being terminal by the time we woke up. Fortunately she got AppleCare for it, and after she handed over a few bucks, they swapped it out for a new device and we were on our way.

Leaving Clarendon, we had one main goal for the day, to hit the National Zoo. By the time we made it over there, we were both pretty hungry, and decided to stop outside the park at a little Italian bistro just down the road, Lillies Restaurant and Bar. Ended up being a pretty solid choice. We were both pretty hungry, and started off with some garlic bread, which was pretty good. For the main course, I went with lasagna, which I really enjoyed. Good sauce, and the perfect amount of ricotta for my tastes. We’d definitely eat there again.

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Our bellies full, we headed in to the zoo. Again, it’s nice to have the option to visit something like this without an entrance fee, but we did donate $5 for the zoo map as we walked in.

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We didn’t plan to see everything, but Bayley did have a list of animals she definitely didn’t want to miss. One of those targets was the panda habitat. Most of the panda stuff was shut down, as one of the panda bears was getting close to delivering a newborn, which actually happened the day after we were at the zoo. All we managed to catch was a brief glimpse of one of them while over there, which I managed to capture in a shot I had to crop pretty tightly:

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Some of the other animal highlights included the tiger, who was out playing with a ball in his pond, which was pretty fun to watch, and the otters who were all out playing too, and were fun to watch as they showed off for the crowd.

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The only negative to the zoo trip was the terrain. Going in is fine, it’s all downhill all the way to the back of the zoo. The downside to that is you’re walking all the way back up to get out. It was a little humid, too, so we headed back to the hotel after that to rest a bit, clean up, and wait for Jen.

For dinner that night, we decided to head to Old Town Alexandria. On arrival, we walked from the metro station all the way down to the waterfront and see if anything along the way sounded good. When we got to the end, we ran across Virtue Feed and Grain, and after a quick scan of the menu, decided to give it a shot. Ended up being a good choice for the most part. They seated us at the high-tops near the bar area, which was a little too loud for our tastes, but we had a great server, and the food was excellent. We happened to be there during restaurant week, so I ate off that 3 course menu. After starting with the mac and cheese, which was outstanding (quite cheesy, and almost perfectly creamy). Being a meat and potatoes guy, I went with the NY strip steak for my entree, which was excellent, having been cooked to a perfect level of medium. For dessert, I had the icebox pie, which was just okay. For something with the word ‘icebox’ in the name, I expected it to be a lot colder than it actual was (it was almost room temperature).

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After dinner, we walked around a little more, even stopping for a couple of small cones at Pop’s Ice Cream before grabbing the King St trolley back to the metro station to catch a train back to our beds 🙂

Another fun day in the DC area in the books, with one more day on tap!

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