Thudufushi, Maldives 2023
Resort report and review of our two-week stay at Diamonds Thudufushi, Ari Atoll, Maldives, in March 2023.
An uneventful 11-hour overnight 777 BA flight from Heathrow. Reasonable food and more legroom in Premium Economy, but we no longer get a glass of bubbly as soon as we boarded - now it’s just orange juice or water. A similar long daytime flight on the return leg.
We decided to use a Meet and Greet service at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, and we selected MBW Meet & Greet. This worked smoothly: we dropped the car off at a particular location in the Short Stay Car Park, and handed the key to the MBW man, and then took the lift down to Departures. On the way back, having collected our bags from the carousel, we rang MBW, who confirmed that the car was ready waiting for us, and a short walk to the lifts brought us up to the car park, where we picked up the key and the car from the MBW man. We’d definitely use MBW again.
Terminal 5 Departures is a nightmare – crowded and confusing to navigate round. There are three separate buildings for T5: The “A”, “B” and “C” Gates, connected by a transit train. Once you've checked in, dropped your bags, and passed through Security, you emerge airside into the "A" Gates building. Those in the know on the internet suggested that long-haul flights nearly always went from either the B or C gates, with short-haul flights going from the A gates. So we made our way via the transit to the quieter BA lounge at the B Gates, rather than use the crowded ones at the A gates. Then we discovered that our flight was going to go from one of the C gates, but this somehow wasn’t accessible from the terminal buildings, so we were told to go back to the A Gates to get on a bus to take us to our plane at the C Gate. This is awkward, because you can’t use the transit train to return to the A gates, so we had to find the right lifts (opposite Boots) down to the underground walkway tunnel to walk the 400 metres or so back to the A Gates, so that we could queue up to board a bus to drive back to the C Gates to climb the wobbly stairs up to the plane's door. We hate LHR T5 Departures.
By contrast, the Arrivals process on the way home was superb – really smooth and speedy.
A lot has changed at Male airport in the Maldives. The huge new Terminal building is still a building site – it looks like it will be years before it’s finished. The charming old Seaplane terminal has been demolished, and a new impersonal modern one erected in its place.
This time, Male Arrivals was much improved – there were more staff at Passport Control, making for a much speedier arrivals process – but this just means a longer wait at the baggage carousel. The TUI rep was visible, and guided us to the seaplane check-in desks, somehow by-passing the main queue. A lovely 30-minute flight to Thudufushi, touching down in the lagoon, for the welcome committee at the end of the jetty. Our favourite barman Kholil walked down the jetty to meet us personally – hugs all round. They all made us feel like important guests returning home.
Male airport Departures coming back was another nightmare. The terminal was vastly overcrowded and chaotic. It took us an hour queueing up in the heat just to get into the terminal building. They are much more stringent checking suitcases than they used to be – they didn’t like the look of one of our bags, and we had to open it up for a fingertip search and a swab for explosives. Thankfully, checking in our bags, passport control, and access to one of the lounges were all much swifter and easier.
The Maldives have introduced an online version of the paper-based Passenger Locator form that used to be handed out on the plane.
Called IMUGA, you need to fill in
the form online before you go, stating where you are staying, how long for
etc. The IMUGA web page needs to take a photo of your passport photo page
(it magically extracts all the printed data on the page to help fill in the
form), and it also needs to take a photo of you.
Important: IMUGA generates a QR code which you need to save to your phone or print out. This is supposed to help you get through passport control more speedily.
Important: You also need to fill in another IMUGA, and get another QR code, before your homeward bound flight.
The island was just like we remembered it – all very familiar. The big issue is the sand moving around the island from season to season, and from year to year. We were anxious about the beach outside our room, and were pleased to be given detached Beach Villa Suite 35, with a big, wide stretch of sand down to the Indian Ocean. In 2020 there was no beach outside this room at all, and the decking area was completely undermined by the wave action. This year the beach at no. 35 was big and wide, and the decking area firm and stable.
This year, it was the Main Bar that was under threat of being washed away, and the resort managers (Jaco and Carla Steenbergen) have decided not to use the sand-pumping machine, but to fight the destructive wave action with sandbags – hundreds of them, forming a long wall beside the Main Bar and the water villa jetty. They continued to add many more bags to the wall while we were there. Good luck with that, Jaco. There were a few Beach Villas which could have done with more sand – notably around rooms 10 and 45 to 47.
The weather was mixed – during our first week, the wind was unseasonably strong – Force 4 (widespread whitecaps), with the wind changing direction from day to day. This made snorkelling a bit uncomfortable at times. During our second week, the weather improved to proper high-season quality: a gentle Force 2 breeze, and a calmer sea. There were one or two tropical showers, soon over, and on one day it rained hard from mid-day through to sunset.
Kick off your footwear as soon as you get to your room – you don’t need to wear anything on your feet until your departure date. But watch out for the wooden jetties - they can get hot in the mid-day sun.
I’ve described the rooms in detail on previous reports, for example Thudufushi, Maldives 2018 . They are all looking a bit aged, but perfectly serviceable, and our room attendant Abo kept it spotless.
Chef Giacomo is no longer in charge of the kitchens at Thudufushi – he’s transferred to a Diamonds resort in Kenya, to be nearer to reliable healthcare, and he’s handed over to Chef Tusita, who is trying to continue Giacomo’s high standards.
There’s always plenty of choice, with a different main menu with three choices every day, and lots of alternatives, including curries, pizzas, pastas, salads, ice-creams and sweet treats, cheese and ham, and of course the BBQ at the rear of the restaurant for freshly grilled fish and meats. There are themed nights for further variety (eg Vegetarian, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Maldivian, etc.).
One thing that has changed: You used to be allocated a particular table and waiter for your holiday. That was "your" table - nobody else used it. It's now changed to a first come, first served basis. But "our" waiter Naeem soon learned our preferences, and chose a good table for us when he spotted us walking into the Restaurant. And on your last night, your waiter used to decorate your table with coloured sand with a 'come back soon'-type message, perhaps with a graphic of a dolphin or something. But the new change prevents this from happening.
It was good seeing Kholil behind the bar, keeping us topped up with delicious drinks. And we were staggered to be greeted by the familiar face of J Ram – he recognised us and came over to say hello. We haven’t seen each other for 6 years, when he ran the bar at Athuruga.
Kholil edged our names onto the guest list for the Gala Dinner in the Water Villa restaurant. Every year they have “Dining with the Stars” - a series of young guest chefs from all over Europe who stay on the island for a week or two, providing cooking demonstrations, etc, culminating in the grand Gala Dinner. Our Russian chef, Nikita, and his team provided a delicious five-course tasting menu, which was certainly an experience. Thanks, Kholil.
I was glad to see IDive Centre Manager Govinda again, but disappointed to hear that he was to leave for home the following day, to deal with a family event. I had been looking forward to diving with him again. IDive owner Roberto had arrived to take his place.
You put your name down on the notice-board outside the dive centre for the following day’s dive, and turn up on the boat at 0915 (plenty of time for breakfast). The leisurely start means only single-tank dives, so you can get back in time for lunch at 1pm. Nitrox is provided for qualified divers at no extra charge.
The usual incredible boat crew were very keen and attentive – they wouldn’t let me do anything on the boat. My crate was already on the boat each morning, they assembled my BCD & tank before the dive, stripped it down after the dive, and put all my kit into my crate, took it ashore, rinsed it, hung it up to dry, and put it back into my crate the next morning. All I had to do was tell them whether I wanted tea or coffee after the dive, and to decide whether I could eat another coconut slice or not.
Luxury service, but at a luxury price. My 10-dive package cost USD 1210 – exactly £100 per dive. This is getting too expensive, and I’ll have to think about abandoning diving at Thudufushi. My first dive trip with IDive in 2004 worked out at £33.50 per dive.
The windy weather meant murky conditions under-water. Not ideal for photos, so I’ve supplemented the few that came out ok with some from previous years, most notably a great video of Manta Rays at Maavaru Corner from 2020.
Dive sites visited were:
Emboodoo Tilla: Turtle, Scorpionfish, Grey reef shark, Moray, Cowrie, Nudibranchs.
Ruli Tilla: Grey Reef Shark, Turtle, Yellow-margined Moray, a huge Giant Triton shell, half a metre tall, with its stomach extended, feeding on coral.
Maavaru Corner (four times): A fantastic dive site. Lots of Mantas on every dive – maximum of four at once, all circling round at this great Manta cleaning station. Plus Eagle rays, Stingrays, lots of Snappers, White-tip and Grey reef sharks, three jet-black Octopus, Titan Triggerfish, Napoleon, a big Tuna, and millions of reef fish sheltering from the current.
Thudufushi Tilla: A Manta, Stingrays, Eagle rays.
Pannetone Kandu: Massive current to fin against. Little to see.
Pannetone, Manta Point: Two Mantas, no current, huge Napoleon, big Lionfish.
Kuda Miaru Tilla: Massive current to fin against, territorial Titan Triggerfish biting divers’ fins!
Thanks to Francesca, Roberto, and Enrique. Not forgetting the great boat crew and Chokka at the compressor.
Each page contains about five to ten pictures, totalling approx two or three MB per page.
Another great holiday at Thudufushi. Good to see Kholil and J Ram behind the bar. We were pleased with the beach outside our room. Abo kept the room spotless. The food was of high quality, with plenty of choice. The weather was mixed, leading to murky dive conditions with poor visibility. Nevertheless, some nice dives, notably with the Mantas at Maavaru Corner. IDive’s boat crew are brilliant, but it’s just getting too expensive. Maybe next time I'll skip the diving…