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!


5 Things We’re Excited for on MSC Seaside!

(Note – Any Seaside images/renderings used here belong to MSC Cruises)

In 4 short days, we embark on MSC’s newest ship, the Seaside, for two back to back sailings, kicking off with the 2-day inaugural that includes the naming ceremony, followed by an 8-day Christmas sailing. This is one we’ve been excited for going back well over a year, as we’ve become big fans of the MSC product, and are really looking forward to checking out their brand new ship! If you’re not familiar with what the Seaside has to offer, this post is for you! Let’s take a look at the top 5 things we’re looking forward to seeing onboard!

Our Cabin – Aurea Suite 9250

While the inside portion of the cabin itself doesn’t appear to be any bigger than a standard balcony room, it comes with a longer balcony, giving us more space outside, and it overlooks the outside boardwalk area. Having done standard balconies, larger Yacht Club balconies, and even an aft wrap, we wanted to try something new this time around, and this seemed to fit the bill! With this cabin comes all the Aurea benefits, which are a nice added bonus! I’ve circled the area where our cabin is here:

seaside5

Zipline and Waterslides

Ziplines at sea are always a blast. We’ve done the one on Oasis of the Seas, and very much look forward to trying out the one on the Seaside. I hope they allow you to take a camera, too, as I’d like to make a 360 video of this similar to the one I did for Royal Caribbean’s zipline on Labadee! The Seaside’s zipline is billed as the largest at sea, and I’m excited to take a run or 3 down this. Check out Captain Scala’s test run to see it for yourself!

The 4 water slides available on Seaside far surpass the single slide on the Divina, and include two high-speed racing slides that include clear loops extending over the sides of the ship. Yes please! They also have something called “Slide boarding technology” that, in their words combines “an interactive game, lights, music and a 367-foot water slide”. Sounds like fun!

Dan Marino

Okay, he’s not really a feature of the ship, but he’s going to be present for the naming ceremony on Thursday evening, which we’ll be at! I admit, I’m a fan, and hope that we get the chance to meet him! Yes, with all of the celebrities they’ve announced as being part of the ceremony, Marino’s the one I want to meet :). Pretty sure if you asked Jen who she wants to meet, it’d be Mario Lopez, but does Lopez hold the record for most games with 450+ passing yards? I think not!

If you want to watch the naming ceremony live, keep an eye on the event page around 6:45pm ET on 12/21!!

Boardwalk-Style Design

The Seaside’s design is a new take on exposing passengers to the sun. Instead of only offering the traditional upper deck outdoor spaces, Seaside takes that a step further with the Waterfront Boardwalk and Infinity Bridge on deck 8, and the South Beach pool at the rear of deck 7. The ship itself is modeled after the South Beach condo scene, with the pool sitting below all of the aft balcony cabins and the panoramic elevators that are between those cabins. It definitely gives off that vibe in the pictures, and I can’t wait to check it all out!

Restaurants

While I’m exited to try the included main dining room and really looking forward to that awesome MSC pizza, this is more about the specialty restaurants. As I mentioned in a previous post, we finally tried a couple of the specialty restaurants on the Divina during our last sailing, and loved them! The list of restaurants on the Seaside includes one that we’re definitely going to visit, the Teppanyaki restaurant by Roy Yamaguchi. We love a good Teppanyaki style eatery! We’ve eaten at ones on the Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Epic and Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas, and the ones on the Escape and Harmony set very high bars in our eyes (both were outstanding in their own ways), so I’m excited to see how the Seaside’s compares!

The Crew

I know I said I was only going to mention 5 things, but I simply couldn’t leave out the crew, so consider it a bonus! We’re excited to see some of the same faces we’ve come to enjoy from our past Divina sailings:

  • It all starts at the top, as we’re very happy to be sailing with Captain Scala again, easily one of our favorite cruise ship captains.
  • This sailing will be the 4th one with Andre Schlemmer as our cruise director! Woot! I’ve talked up their entertainment team in past posts from each sailing, and that all starts with Andre!
  • A few members of Andre’s Seaside staff have been on at least one of our past Divina sailings, including Carlos and Wally!
  • We know Erwin from our last sailing is on, and think that Noel may be too, can’t wait to see them again!

I’m sure there are some crew I’m leaving out, and apologies if I did, it wasn’t intentional. There are others we’re not sure of, like Giuseppe from Le Muse. Even though we’re not in Yacht Club this time, it’d be cool to stop in and say hi!

Well, that about covers it. There is a lot more to look forward to on the ship than the things I’ve covered here, so feel free to check out the Seaside info on MSC’s site, and follow us on social media (Instagram / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube) for pictures and video from the ship!

 

Good Times on Harmony of the Seas!

Another year, another national conference in the books! As I’ve mentioned in the past, our parent company holds our national conference at sea each year, and we were fortunate to attend for the 3rd year in a row, with this one being the Halloween sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas. Being that we were busy with sessions and other business-related events most of the week, we didn’t get to enjoy everything the ship has to offer, but it was still an awesome cruise nonetheless! If you happened to catch my Oasis of the Seas series last year, you might have noticed that I was a little disappointed in aspects of that sailing. Going in to this trip, that experience was forefront in my mind, but I’m happy to say that this trip exceeded my expectations in just about every area.

I’m still not a fan of the layout of the port itself, as we decided to park right at the ship and had to wait in a rather long line of cars to get in to the lot due to some pretty poor traffic management, but once we were in, everything else was cake. Embarkation went even faster than last time! Once we got past security, we headed up to the desk to check in. With no line, we got up there immediately and were checked in pretty quickly. Walking up to the waiting area, we found that they were already boarding, and had no wait here either. We basically walked in to the building, checked in, and headed right on to the ship. Start to finish, everything took maybe 15 minutes after we parked. It always amazes me how fast they are able to board a ship of this size!

Royal Caribbean set the bar really high all week in how they treated our group, and day 1 was no exception. They blocked off the Silk dining room for us to grab food after boarding, knowing that we needed to eat pretty quickly so we could drop our stuff in our rooms and head to our first general session. Frankly, they took good care of us all week, especially at the parties they hosted for us. Take the first night, for example. We were in the skating rink, Studio B, and they laid out an amazing spread of food, drink and ice sculptures!

They went all out on our Halloween party, too. I feel kinda bad for the rest of the passengers, as Royal closed the boardwalk that night for a few hours to host our party, and once again, it was well catered and an absolute blast. Oh, and yes, we brought our costumes! Frankly, I was surprised at how many people on the ship brought theirs, too. We walked through the promenade a few times after our party, and there were a lot of people dressed for the occasion! It was fun walking through in costume, too, we had a number of people stop us for pictures and selfies, which was really fun!

Royal also hosted a beach party on Labadee’s Adrenaline Beach for us too, which was awesome. Free Labadoozies, fun competitions, and beach time, what could be better? Oh, right, a trip down Dragons’ Breath Flight Line! That last one we paid for, but having done it on our Oasis trip, Jen and I both were excited to try it again! Last time we did this I had my GoPro with me and got some decent (but shaky) video, but this time around I had my new toy, a Garmin Virb 360. I like this footage a lot more than the GoPro, as you can use a VR headset or something simple like Google Cardboard to watch it in a VR-like mode and fully immerse yourself in it. Don’t have those? Well not to worry, you can still watch it on YouTube in a normal way and drag around the video to see it from every angle! It’s also now a featured video on one of the major VR platforms, Veer VR! Check it out, and be sure to move around and see all of the action around me, not just the forward view!

Moving on, let’s talk about our room. We again had a boardwalk balcony, which I wasn’t a huge fan of last time, as I found the balcony fairly useless outside of aqua shows, due to the boardwalk acting as a trap for the heat and humidity during the time of our sailing (mid-May). This time around we did find it more useful, as it wasn’t quite as hot outside on this sailing. I used it a few times, including once where I hung out there in my wolf mask for a little bit just to mess with people :). The room itself had plenty of space for us and was very comfortable, and this time around came with a couple of really nice boardwalk balcony amenities: The Royal Refreshment soda package, and a 4-person credit to Johnny Rockets. Those are definitely nice additions to the room category!

Moving on to the internet speed, I was pleasantly surprised. On last year’s sailing, I was pretty disappointed in the overall speed and reliability of the Voom offering, and wasn’t sure what to expect this time around, since they had given all conference attendees the fastest package, which meant that in addition to the regular passengers that would be using the internet, there were 1,000 for sure that had would be on it constantly too. Outside of a couple of small outages (WiFi hotspots totally disappeared from device view), it was pretty reliable and fairly quick. I also really like the unlimited packages, as I hate having to worry about the amount of time I use. It’s not so bad when uploading pictures, but when attempting to upload video, you have to hope things are moving quickly, otherwise you burn a bunch of time off your plan. Not on Voom, however! I ran a couple of speed tests during the week just to see how it looked, so here’s one taken around noon on a sea day, which should have represented a peak time:

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One of the other cool things we got to take advantage of on this sailing is their huge dry slide, the Ultimate Abyss. This was new to us, as Oasis doesn’t have it, and is exactly what it sounds like, a long dry slide at the back of the ship that starts on deck 16 and takes you down to the boardwalk on deck 6. We did this pretty early in the sailing, and while we enjoyed it, didn’t really feel the need to do it again. Note that you really do need to pay attention to their instructions, as you can easily turn the wrong way, lift a leg wrong, etc, and end up rubbing some skin off on the way down. I chatted with another agent that took some skin off one leg that way, and he’d seen a kid on the ship who had taken some skin off an arm by hitting the side on the way down. It’s fun, just follow their instructions and you’ll be fine! Since you’re not allowed to take GoPros on this (or the water slides, both of which were pretty disappointing) I don’t have any video, but here are a couple of pics of the Abyss instead. In the second one, you can see the two slides spiral down near the back of the ship:

Even though we were there for work, we did catch as many shows as possible. Frankly, Royal’s really stepped up their entertainment game over the years, and have some of the best shows available at sea in my opinion. We caught 1887, Columbus, The Fine Line, and Jen caught Grease, and every one of them were amazing. I really enjoyed Columbus and The Fine Line. The latter is one of the shows held in the Aqua Theater, and incorporates a lot more in the way of artsy visual elements than the traditional aqua show we’d seen on Oasis. I can’t recommend it enough!

Let’s end this by covering a few of the negatives I called out last year in my final Oasis post, as well as one or two other things called out in various posts from that sailing:

Windjammer: Maybe I’m completely mis-remembering the Oasis, but I swear that Harmony’s buffet area is bigger. We ate there a few times and it never felt as crowded as it did on Oasis. I do really like their buffet food too, some of the best of the lines we’ve sailed.

Coke Freestyle machines: I think we had an issue once all week. Last time they were constantly down/being repaired, but this time around we had no major issues with them.

Lack of water slides: We were a little disappointed last year that Oasis had none, but happy to see that had been rectified on Harmony. We both tried them after getting back on the ship in port one day and had a blast. They’ve got two slides dedicated to racing each other, which are pretty standard (but fast) waterslides, and then next to those is The Perfect Storm, a slide with several clear sections that ends up dumping you into a large bowl near the end. Fun stuff, I just wish they allowed you to take a GoPro to film it!

Overall, we had a really great week, and were treated very well by the Harmony’s crew. Next year’s conference is aboard the Norwegian Bliss out of Long Beach, and I have to say, Royal set a very high bar as a conference host, so I hope NCL was paying attention!

I do have one more post in this series covering the food we enjoyed aboard the Harmony, which I hope to have up in a few days. Thank you for following along!

MSC Divina: Debark and Final Thoughts!

Debark on our fourth sailing of the Divina went pretty smoothly. Returning on a Saturday has its advantages, and in this case, it meant we didn’t really have to rush to get off the ship right away, as we had all day Sunday to relax from the long drive home before returning to work. This meant we could stay on the ship longer, waiting until our group was actually called vs taking our luggage off ourselves as soon as they started letting passengers off the ship. We ended up with a later debar time, I forget exactly what, but we stayed in our rooms until just before 8am, then headed to the dining room for a quick breakfast.

Like previous ships we’ve been on, that last breakfast in the MDR is from a pre-set menu with a few key items they can quickly put together. They’re pretty efficient about it, but everything on my plate above was nice and warm, so no complaints here!

After eating, we headed to the main lobby to wait for our debark group to be called. We ended up hanging out in the Divina Bar for a while, and during that time only heard one or two groups called. After seeing a good chunk of the crowd clear out, we finally decided to head for the exits after 9am. There wasn’t much of a line to get off the ship by that point, and frankly getting our bags and getting through customs was pretty quick too. It wasn’t quite the escorted exit of our past stays in Yacht Club, but it was pretty painless nonetheless!

After another fun sailing on the Divina, there really isn’t too much to say that I haven’t said already. We had a great week, enjoyed the food, ship and staff, and saw a very noticeable improvement in the service. When I originally wrote my “Is the MSC Divina right for you?” post, my only real negative was the dining room experience, but this time around, our table staff were excellent, and things didn’t feel as crowded as it did on our first sailing. I’ve happily updated that older post accordingly.

If you’ve followed my entire series for this sailing, our only real issue was the embarkation experience, due more to how the contractor on the land side was handling the lines. It was a reletively small issue in the grand scheme, and aside from that, we had another amazing time on the Divina, and are really looking forward to sailing on the Seaside over Christmas!

Next up on our cruise list before that, however, is the Harmony of the Seas over Halloween! Follow us on social media, I’ll be working with a new camera and hope to do some cool things with it on this trip!

 

 

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