In good company

It may be a perennial favourite among honeymooners but The Maldives is also making waves as a destination for groups of friends, families and solo travellers, says Charlotte Flach

As I grab the mic, the first sultry beats of ‘Back to Black’ pump rhythmically through the speakers and I prepare to take centre stage. My audience: a group of travel journalists and influencers. My backdrop: the inky blackness of an infinite Maldivian night.

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The new AVANI+ Fares is perfect for millenials

The light of the constellations seems to emanate in sync, and the gentle lap of the waves provides much-needed timing to my interpretive dance moves.

I’m lucky enough to be on one of the first media visits to the brand-new AVANI+ Fares; it’s a trip so exclusive that the island hasn’t even opened to guests yet.

But the resort is more than ready for our gaggle of girls, and has set up a karaoke machine by the pool so we can torture the on-duty bar staff, who are mixing up the most potent of cocktails for us.

Although there is a lengthy drinks menu to work through, the resort prides itself on a holistic wellness experience.

Top-notch spa treatments join with healing sessions, high-octane watersports, and gourmet menus to provide the perfect mix for a memorable night with friends.

AVANI+ Fares makes no secret of its desire to attract groups, positioning itself as a brand catering for millennial women.

This is apparent in touches from the pop-up vanity mirror to extra closet space, to full-length mirrors with nearby plug sockets to unlimited in-room snacks and coffee pods.

The brand also understands what these groups expect from a holiday, giving ample opportunity to dress up for special occasion dinners, sunset dolphin cruises with Champagne, and offering affordable all-inclusive packages.

Ready to mingle

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Sun Siyam keeps guests busy with watersports
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Amilla has a calendar of solo retreats

As our rowdy cohort of women in their 20s and 30s is proving, The Maldives is most definitely not just an expensive honeymoon destination for couples and many resorts, including AVANI+ Fares, have huge appeal for both solo travellers and groups.

“Several islands have a focus on wellbeing with world-class spas, yoga pavilions overlooking the ocean or morning stretches on the sands,” says Stacey Owens, Communications Executive for Kuoni. “These can be popular with couples, friends, mother and adult daughter trips, and single travellers too.”

The tide is turning in the Maldives as hotels and resorts are becoming attuned to solo travel, investing in retreats and solo-focused packages and experiences, especially for female visitors. 
Vakkaru Maldives is one resort which has embraced the solo traveller experience with dedicated yoga and Ayurvedic workshops, mixology classes and special dinners to offer solo travellers an “empowering and rejuvenating getaway”. 

These types of travellers will appreciate the luxurious and group-friendly nature of many of the activities, such as exploring a house reef swimming alongside turtles, whale sharks and tropical fish, or a luxury cruise in small groups where solo travellers can easily make friends.
On the other side of the scale, a recent study conducted by Sun Siyam Resorts – which has five private-island properties in the Maldives – supported the idea that the destination attracts groups seeking luxury.

According to the survey, almost half (42%) of people recognised that the idyllic islands are well-suited to multi-generational travel, while around a quarter felt the archipelago was well suited to adventure seekers (29%) or nature enthusiasts (23%) – a significant shift from the long-held reputation as purely a honeymooners’ paradise.

What’s new

New flights: A growing number of direct flights from the UK is making travel to the remote atolls easier, including British Airways’ year-round direct route from Heathrow to Male and Virgin’s new flight which starts at the end of October.

Regional departures are also possible via the Middle East, says Owens. “It is super easy to fly via with Emirates, for example, and customers can enjoy the combination of some glamour in Dubai with total relaxation in Maldives.”

In fact, twin-centre breaks are growing in popularity, despite the need for seaplanes between different islands. “We are seeing all-inclusive resorts, overwater villas and private pool villas selling well. We are also seeing some customers island hopping and staying on two islands,” adds Owens.

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Dhawa has added social hubs for solo travellers
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Hop between the islands on a seaplane

New openings: The idea of island hopping is a concept that the rebranded Dhawa has adopted with a new twin-Island dine-around concept which offers travellers a chance to explore premium dining at sister resort Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, while new social hub, the Nest, encourages guests to connect.

Amari Raaya Maldives, 45 minutes by seaplane from Velana International Airport, has opened on one of the largest natural islands in Raa Atoll. The resort features 187 villas, from beachfront to overwater pool villas. To celebrate the opening, ONYX Hospitality Group is offering up to 40% off stays, complimentary transfers for two, a private photo shoot and a group sunset cruise for bookings made before December 23, 2023.

Six Senses Kanuhara is due to open this September with 91 beachfront and overwater villas, plus 12 new ‘Beach Retreats’. Suitable for families, couples, or friends, sustainability is a key focus with projects in place to support a neighbouring island community, focussing on education. Rates start from £757 per night, based on two sharing a beach villa.

Huvafen Fushi Maldives will reopen in September after undergoing renovations. All 44 bungalows will be refurbished and two new two-bedroom Ocean Pavilions will debut, offering uninterrupted views of the Indian Ocean.

Newly-opened AVANI+ Fares offers a Stay Longer special offer, rewarding guests who book for 10-nights or more.

The deal ncludes 10% savings on accommodation and breakfast, with lunch and dinner included on full-board and buffet dinner included on half board.

Accessibility initiatives: Amilla Maldives has become the first resort to be verified by UK-based accessible and inclusive hospitality experts Inclucare.

New adaptions and innovations include deaf-alert systems and adaptive yoga and snorkelling adventures. Also planned are sensory touch, aroma and sound experiences for vision-impaired guests. Also planned are dedicated ‘calming spaces’ – anxiety and stress-reducing havens for guests on the Autism spectrum, with learning difficulties or dementia.

Top group experiences

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JA Manafaru’s Ocean Residence can accommodate groups and families

Sealife spotting: Guests wishing to get up close to marine life can book a two-hour Sunset Dolphin Cruise at JA Resorts Manafaru Maldives. Showcasing sunset views over the Indian Ocean, guests can spot a plethora of ocean life, including the friendly dolphins that skim the surface. Keen fisherman can also try their hand at traditional sunset fishing with a local.

Sky’s the limit: Astronaut Tim Peake is visiting Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas Resort this November. ‘Journey Beyond Earth: An Inspiring Conversation with Tim Peake’, will take place on November 2. Tickets cost £130pp for up to 20 people and include an hour’s stargazing session, Champagne and canapes.

Take a pause: Amilla Maldives is to host an inaugural Pause Retreat – the Maldives’ first-ever menopause-focused wellbeing retreat from September 7-18 2023, the retreats will be led by naturopath and wellness coach, Claire O’Sullivan. It is priced from £4,540pp, including 30% off accommodation, complimentary upgrades to half-board and half-price transfers.

Hang out with rays: Clients can take a trip to Hanifaru Bay, a Marine Protected Area located on the eastern edge of the northern Baa Atoll — a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve — which draws in a mass of plankton and hundreds of feeding manta rays as part of a ‘cleaning’ process. Guests will snorkel with manta rays accompanied by Paralympic swimmer and artist, Gregory Burns.

Where to book it

Dial a flight
Dial a Flight offers a package rate based on low season 2024 for 3,079pp, staying in an Avani Beach Villa on a B&B basis. It includes flights with Etihad via Abu Dhabi from Heathrow, with domestic flights & speedboat transfers.