Luxury clients with a taste for the exotic and far-flung will be richly rewarded with a trip to the United Arab Emirates and the Maldives. At first glance this may seem to be a jarring combination—the man-made desert wonders of Dubai in the Mideast and nature’s creations in the azure Maldives in the Indian Ocean couldn’t be more opposite. But logistics from the U.S. can seamlessly combine to let your clients experience some of the planet’s most awesome sights—taking the concept of a “town and country” vacation to an extreme. I recently returned from a 14-day trip that was at alternating times eye-opening, awe-inspiring and deeply relaxing.
My travel agent companions—our trip sponsors from Tahiti Legends, Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts— and I set out from California to Dubai nonstop, in the plush comfort of Emirates’ business class. Emirates sets the world standard for in-flight service with fully lie-flat bed massage chairs, exceptional cuisine, and an amazing array of in-flight video entertainment. Even after 15 hours aloft, one never really wants to deplane. Rather than connecting to the Maldives right away, a visit to Dubai, Abu Dhabi or the surrounding deserts is an ideal way to break up the trip and take advantage of Emirates’ convenient service to both locations. We decided to visit the UAE on both ends to maximize the trip.
|Ken Neibaur, Cardoza-Bungey Travel; Andrew Langston, GM of Angsana Velavaru; Heather Stewart and Rachel Hickey, Tahiti Legends; Eugene Feklistov of Angsana Velavaru; Susanne Hamer, Travelstore Platinum; Victor Koi, Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts; Frank Lazzaro, Honeymoons & Vacations; and Lara Rappo, Worldview Travel, Beverly Hills.|
Once in Dubai, we were whisked away to the spectacular Banyan Tree Al Wadi resort, just under an hour into the desert from Dubai. A complete vacation experience in its own, the glamorous Al Wadi is set among pristine dunes on 300 acres of the Wadi Khadeja desert landscape. But there is nothing stark about the variety of experiences that await—an 18-hole golf course, spectacular spa, falconry, nearby Beach Club, and horse and camel rides in the nature reserve. I suggest you dedicate two or three nights here. Their deluxe pool villas or tented pool villas are chic and sublime, but the tented villas are well worth the upsell. I will never forget seeing the moon rise over the dunes from my private infinity pool on the first night of the trip.
All too soon it was time to depart from Dubai to the Maldives. After a four-hour flight on Emirates across the Arabian Sea, we arrived at the Maldives’ Malé International Airport (MLE), an island exclusively dedicated to the airport. Very few leisure travelers stay to visit the nearby island city of Malé, which is one of the most densely populated cities on earth. But many of the nearby luxury resorts are accessible by a short speedboat ride from the Malé airport, while others require a transfer to the adjacent seaplane airport for an overwater flight. The Malé airport is basic but not unpleasant, and arriving passengers are quickly cleared and on their way.
The Maldives is an archipelago of 1,100 small islands grouped on 26 atolls. Tourism is the main industry of this Muslim nation, and while only 200 of these islands are inhabited, 100 of them are dedicated to resorts. Luxury travel advisors have a bewildering array of resort choices in the four- and five-star echelon, as virtually all the world’s luxury hotel brands have a presence here. Affluent visitors come from around the globe, including Europe, China, the U.S. and Russia.
Our first Maldivian destination was the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, a lush 48-room island resort on the North Malé Atoll. With its thatched-roof Asian village concept, this small paradise feels like a tiny island nation of its own. Every room is a villa inside a small walled garden compound, and all are oceanview or beachfront. The architecture is delightfully creative with indoor/outdoor bathrooms, personal Jacuzzis and air-conditioned sleeping rooms (sorry no TV). All the villas are currently being upgraded and refreshed to an attractive contemporary standard.
A short boat ride away is Banyan Tree’s sister property Angsana Ihuru, with just 25 villas and a chic Maldivian motif that will appeal to younger clients seeking a romantic escape. Farther afloat by boat is the Banyan Tree Madivaru, an enclave of only six tented pool villas; each consists of three tents including a private spa facility. Even deluxe clients who have “seen it all” will be swept away by the beauty and exclusivity of this amazing small resort.
|Banyan Tree Al Wadi Al Rimal Deluxe Pool Villa bedroom has canopied ceilings and Arabic artwork and antiques.|
Activities at Vabbinfaru and all Maldivian resorts are all about the sand and the surf, and there is no need to preplan daily itineraries. Guests can swim or snorkel right off their own beach, sail or kayak, attend a program in the Marine Lab, or take a scheduled island excursion by speedboat or seaplane. Vabbinfaru also has its own PADI dive center. On all occasions Vabbinfaru’s cuisine was excellent, with the signature restaurant literally placed in the beach sand. Sunday dinners in the Maldives are not to be missed, with expansive buffets and a host of BBQ meats and fish.
After several sun-filled days at Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, it was time to continue onward. After a speedboat ride back to Malé airport, we boarded our Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane for our next island afar on the North Malé Atoll. A seaplane ride in the Maldives is an experience in itself, with views across miles of resort islands and reefs. Landing pads are afloat in the waters at each resort, so the ride gives you a chance to do a sort of aerial site inspection of resorts you wouldn’t otherwise visit. Our final Maldives destination was the Angsana Velavaru, a five-star resort with two distinctly different accommodation experiences.
Angsana Velavaru is a traditional resort island of luxury oceanfront villas with cajan (coconut) thatched roofs set on an expansive sand beach that rings the island. Directly across the lagoon, however, are the jaw-dropping “InOcean Villas” built in 2009 as the first of their kind in the Maldives. Each has an over-ocean pool, two levels of glamorous living space and a personal rooftop lounge, great for honeymooners. The traditional villas across the lagoon are more private and also suitable for small families. The facilities of both are available to all guests. Highlights for our group at Angsana Velavaru included an amazing, fresh seafood dinner at the overwater Funa restaurant, outdoor spa treatments, and a snorkeling excursion to the reef’s deep edge.
Even days on island paradise must come to an end, with a flight back to Dubai on Emirates. Our home in Dubai was the Park Hyatt Dubai, a resort at the gated Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. Some may prefer to be in one of the oceanfront or high-rise city hotels, but the Park Hyatt is an ideal escape from the city and perfect for repeat Dubai visitors.
After numerous deluxe hotel site inspections—notably the new Armani Hotel Dubai—and a fantastic tour and dinner at the Burj Al Arab, we set out for nearby Abu Dhabi for a final day of touring. Abu Dhabi is under 90 minutes by car from Dubai, and a must-see day trip if one cannot spend the night. The spectacular Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi is an attraction on its own, costing $3 billion to build. It’s easy to see where the money went; in the words of our host, “If it looks like gold, it is.” But the most essential sight of Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, open to the public with proper attire. Capable of taking 40,000 visitors, the Moorish/Arab-style grand mosque took three years and 3,000 workers to build and boasts the world’s largest single carpet. Abu Dhabi is a destination to watch and is well on track to compete with Dubai, with its Ferrari World attraction, redeveloped city beachfront, and scores of luxury hotel brands planning new hotels there.
I traveled with Heather Stewart and Rachel Hickey of Tahiti Legends and recommend their services. Tahiti Legends has expanded its honeymoon and romance product portfolio to include the Maldives and UAE. Along with tie-ups with the Banyan Tree brand, the company also has relationships with a wide selection of upmarket resorts in both destinations such as Six Senses, Four Seasons, One&Only, etc.