When you think of the Maldives, you may think of super luxury accommodation, beautiful clear waters, white sandy beaches and adults only. You’d be right about everything except the adult only part.
Family travel is a big business these days and resorts in the Maldives that were once reserved for honeymooners have re-branded themselves as being family friendly to get a slice of this business. This is great news for families because the Maldives tops our charts for an all-round great family destination. If you happen to have (been lucky enough and) wangled a child free week, fear not, there are over 132 resorts in the Maldives and many have retained their adult only status.
We had been to the Maldives before having kids and knew just how amazing it was so when we were booking our December 2018 Sri Lanka flights with Emirates, we thought it would be a great idea to tag on a free stopover in the Maldives. When it came to looking at accommodation, the prices were eye-wateringly expensive because it was over New Year but we managed to find that the Centara Grand had a special offer on which was not being matched by the tour operators. Always check with the hotel direct in case they have a better offer on. We Googled and found it was consistently ranked as one of the most family friendly resorts with great reviews so we took the plunge and booked.
If you are considering a family holiday to the Maldives, keep reading for our review of the Centara Grand.
Transfers from Velana Airport in Male
Transfers to the resort are by seaplane. If you go to the Centara desk at Male airport, staff will look after you and take you to the seaplane check-in desk. The flight is around 30 mins and if you have a window seat, you will have beautiful views as you fly over the other islands. We arrived into Male too late to get a transfer that night so we stayed in a cheap airport hotel for our first night in the Maldives. It is worth considering doing this even if you can just make the last flight because you are paying such a large amount for food and services that you won’t even use if you arrive at night. We had a VERY early transfer the next morning (which we didn’t find out about until we checked into our hotel as they only sort out the flight schedules the day before). It worked out just fine as it meant that we were on the island for 7.30am and were able to enjoy a full day there. If you can handle the early alarm (4.45am) you might want to consider asking for an early transfer if you are staying overnight near the airport.
The seaplane transfer was very exciting for the kids. It is a very small (and noisy) plane and there were about 6 of us on it. We boarded just as the sun was rising at around 6.30am so we had beautiful views during the flight.
Arrival at the Centara Grand Resort
A boat came to pick us up from the pontoon and gave us refreshing cold towels (even at 7am it is very warm!). It was a lovely touch after an early morning start as we had skipped a shower!
We checked in and were able to grab a few essentials from our bags for the beach. On the walkway to the island from reception, the boys were admiring the little fish they could see in the crystal clear water and suddenly spotted several baby reef shark swimming about. Ernie turned to me and asked, ‘Mummy, is this paradise?’ Well, it certainly was a good start!
We went for breakfast (which, by the way, was a huge spread of delicious options to cover many continents and includes house champagne if you are feeling decadent!) and then headed to the beach. They got our room ready as soon as possible and while you are waiting, there is a day area where you can change and shower.
Accommodation at the Centara Grand
We opted for a family beach villa because there were no over water villas available when we booked. It was 84sqm, split level with a bedroom and toilet upstairs and the lounge with a sofabed. It had indoor and outdoor showers and a minibar which was refilled daily (including chocolate which had to be hidden from the kids)!
We were initially a little disappointed with not having the over water experience, but in hindsight, the beach villa meant that the boys could run onto the beach in the morning without us having to leave our terrace, whereas with the over water villa, you would need to pack everything up and head out, walk along the pontoon and find a spot on the beach which was not directly in front of someone’s villa so as not to poach ‘their’ space.
There is also the safety issue of the overwater villa. Some resorts just don’t offer them to families with small children for this reason, but the Centara does offer the choice if you would like to give it a go. There is no doubt that the overwater villa is the image you probably think of when you think of the Maldives, but it is worth considering the suitability. Having said that…… they do look beautiful!!!
Food & Drink at the Centara Grand
The food was outstanding and is the reason we piled on a few pounds while there (excluding the kids of course who had so much to do, they were burning it all off)! There is the main restaurant (Reef) which serves buffet style breakfast, lunch and dinner. The options change every day but overall it is the same style. The food was great but if you are staying more than a few days, it is worth considering making bookings at the other a la carte restaurants for a bit of variety. To be honest, it is worth trying them anyway as they are really good! Try to make the bookings when you first arrive so you don’t miss out.
Thai (Suan Bua)
This was a great choice for dinner or lunch. We loved it so much we went twice. It is pretty authentically Thai and in the courtyard there are waterlily ponds. The menu is on an Ipad which we were allowed to keep while waiting for our meal for taking silly selfies. There is a kids menu and the boys went for satay chicken with chicken rice. I just cannot express how deliciously fresh it was. Of course it is all washed down by your choice of drink. The boys opted for their favourite blue ocean and red sea.
Italian (Azzuri Mare)
This restaurant is set just next to reception off-shore. The setting could not be more perfect. As you are eating lunch you get to watch the fish swim by and the views of the overwater villas are beautiful. The food is divine and very authentic. You cannot go wrong with seafood of course, but they had some delicious pasta and pizza options and the steak was incredible.
There is also a Teppanyaki in the main restaurant which needs to be booked as the table is for 10 only. If you have gone for the Club upgrade, you can access the Club restaurant (and facilities). We had a slight issue as there was a mix-up with a diving session so we were given access on the day of check out as an apology – and we are so glad we got to try it.
The food was another level up from all the other food on the island. The service was faultless and they had a choice of finer wines and champagnes.
There are also a couple of bars to choose from to enjoy some sunset cocktails. There are babysitting services so you can enjoy drinks after dinner but with all of the daytime activities, we were content with a couple of drinks on our terrace once the kids had gone to bed. We did, however, manage a great New Year’s Eve night out with cocktails galore so we can vouch for the drinks 🙂
With your ultimate all-inclusive package, you will receive $100 credit for spa treatments per day per guest. There are 3 x 30 minute treatments (Head Massage, Head & Shoulder Massage or a Mini Facial) you can have for $100 each which means no need to spend any more – or you can put it towards longer treatments for some ultimate relaxation. To be honest, I didn’t want to miss out on all the other stuff going on, including the beautiful beach, so 30 minute treatment daily was enough for me. If you don’t fancy any spa treatments but are a keen diver, you can swap your spa credit for up to 2 dives per week (more if you are staying 7 days or longer).
There is a dedicated dive centre in the resort and the island is situated close to some of the best snorkelling sites in the Maldives, as well as having a great house reef. You can do your PADI qualifications there but if you are just going out on an orientation or regular dive, you will need to be a certified Open-Water diver and make sure to bring your PADI card with you.
We decided to try a free snorkelling trip one day. The kids had begged to go into kids club anyway so we took the opportunity to do something we both love but virtually NEVER get to do together as one of us is always watching the kids. You can hire snorkelling equipment from the watersports centre for free. We had masks with us so just borrowed some fins. If you are not a confident swimmer, you can still go with the aid of a life jacket.
The boat trip was about 30 minutes and we anchored by a nearby reef. There was a lot of sealife, including a beautiful Lion fish and some lovely coral formations, although they had mostly been bleached. The guide showed us where the better corals and fish were but we were pretty much left to our own devices after that.
You can of course snorkel away to your hearts content pretty much anywhere around the island. The kids stayed in the calm waters right outside our villa. The main aim of their holiday was to catch a baby shark. They were clearly never going to catch one so it kept them entertained all holiday. We took full face masks for the boys which were bulky and they hated! They’d practised in the bath before we went but when it came to it, they could not get the hang of it. I tried it and must admit, I much prefer the traditional snorkel mask which is what we ended up using and can be hired from the watersports hut so you don’t need to take all the gear with you.
Other activities offered free with your all-inclusive package are Whale Shark boat trip, Sunset cruise, local island exploration and sunset fishing.
A big reason for us travelling together as a family is so that we get to spend quality time together, but we also think it is important to have some child-free time and so when booking our Maldivian resort, a great kids club was very high on our list of requirements.
Our kids can be a little shy and dropping them at nursery was always a struggle. We had never used a kids club before and were not sure what to expect. We thought we would be lucky if we got 30 minutes to ourselves to enjoy a quick drink or a stroll around the island. We did not expect the kids to be begging us to go and refuse to be picked up!
The great thing about the Centara is that it attracts lots of families and so there are lots of children around to play with. The boys hit it off with a few of the kids and demanded that we take them to kids club so that they could see them. The two lovely ladies running it (sisters) are so great with kids and ran a really fun and varied programme of activities. There were things like treasure hunts, sand castle competitions, face painting, pom-pom making, sunset cocktails, ice cream excursions and being a pizza chef in the Italian restaurant. The kids club room is bright and colourful with lots to keep younger ones busy and there is an outdoor area with play equipment.
There was one main pool by the Reef restaurant. It is a large infinity pool and has a shallow separate pool for little ones. The pool area is a little dated with some loose tiles. We highlighted this to the management so we hope that they have rectified this. Nevertheless, our kids had a great time with the large inflatables
There is also a separate pool in the Club area but you do need to have paid for your membership to access it.
Some of the villas come with their own plunge pool which is a nice touch but we didn’t feel the need for a separate pool as the ocean is like a large pool anyway with the added bonus of baby sharks!
Now, if you Google enough, you will be able to find all of this information, so let me say something about our personal experience of the resort. We mentioned that we chose the Centara Grand because they had a deal on and over the Christmas / New Year period, the prices of the other top family-friendly resorts were just extortionate. We weren’t sure what to expect. We knew it wasn’t the most luxury in its category, but the facilities still looked pretty good. In fact, the facilities turned out to be excellent, but what really made the stay for us was the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff. They made every effort to get to know you and were so good with the kids.
Overall we had such an amazing, relaxing, fun-filled, active holiday as a family in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. You really can’t ask for much more than that – and to answer Ernie’s question as we stepped onto the island, “Yes, it is paradise”.