Photo Friday – Hibiscus

Ack! I am wildly behind on my blogging to-do list, including a couple of additional Maldives posts, but I’m otherwise wrapped up in another project at the moment – me! I’ve been spending my free time at the gym, trying to get into better shape for an upcoming trip that will involve a bit of high-altitude hiking (more on that soon!), and by the time I get done I’m usually too exhausted to think, type, or even sit upright, all of which are required to blog. So I hope you’ll forgive me for the lack of updates here! I promise to have a what-I-packed-for-the-Maldives post up soon, as well as a recap of our quick visit to Dubai!

In the meantime, here is a hibiscus, as spotted on the island in the Maldives.

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Dining with the Fishes at 5.8 Undersea Restaurant

Shortly after Chris and I booked our week at Komandoo we caught word of a new resort that would be opening up nearby, and I have to admit I felt a tiny pang of regret and I briefly considered switching our reservations. Who doesn’t want to stay at brand-new accommodations where everything is shiny and fresh? But the more I continued to read glowing reviews pouring in daily for Komandoo, I couldn’t help but be curious about the slice of paradise with repeat guests returning multiple times despite all of the other choices out there.

We decided to keep our original plans (and we were beyond thrilled with that decision), but we found out that the new resort would be home to an extraordinary restaurant called 5.8 Undersea Restaurant and that we would be welcome to dine there. In my over-excitement, I immediately contacted them to make a reservation months before they even opened!

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On the last day of our stay at Komandoo, a boat picked us up promptly from the main dock and zipped us away for lunch at the neighboring sister resort, Hurawalhi. The 90-villa, adults-only luxury resort opened in December of 2016 in the Lhaviyani Atoll a few minutes’ boat ride from our island. Hurawalhi seemed at least double in size compared to Komandoo, so we were thankful to be escorted to the restaurant by golf cart, a much-appreciated mode of transportation in the mid-day sun.

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We headed along this walkway, and then we dove straight into the water to swim to our table. (Just kidding. The entrance to 5.8 Undersea Restaurant is within that building in the background.)

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At the entrance to the restaurant, we saw a sample section of the glass used to construct the tunnel-shaped walls and ceiling. The entire structure was built in New Zealand, shipped to the Maldives via cargo ship, and then lowered into the water in one piece. It’s currently the largest underwater restaurant in the world!

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There’s no need to hold your breath or wear scuba equipment to enter the restaurant, and you won’t even get your hair wet. A long spiral staircase descends down into the ocean where that thick glass encases the dining room at 5.8 meters beneath the surface of the sea. At lunchtime the room was lit with bright rays of sunlight, and we had the perfect viewing conditions for observing the surrounding reef. Schools of colorful fish circled and gazed in at the guests, and at one point a pair of sting rays glided straight overhead, but I was too busy savoring my lunch to capture it on camera.

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With five courses including snacks, appetizers, mains, and dessert, the menu provided a culinary adventure unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. The service was attentive yet also unobtrusive. We started by ordering a couple of tasty tropical drinks to enjoy while we identified the fish near our table.

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Our first course included a selection of snacks that weren’t specifically identified on the menu, so it was an exciting activity to try to guess what we were tasting. Actually, I’m not usually good at that. I tend to want to know all or at least most of the ingredients in my food, but I was feeling especially adventurous that day. And every bite was incredibly delicious. Not to mention the beautiful presentation!

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In the next two courses we were treated to shrimp ceviche with cucumber wasabi sorbet and then a gorgeous scallop with butternut squash, pinenuts, and raisins. Both wonderful.

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For my main I selected the sea bass and Chris opted for the Angus beef. I’ve never tasted such a perfectly prepared piece of fish in my life. I would eat it every day if I could. Chris thoroughly enjoyed the steak as well.

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Here is where the menu lost me a juuust little bit. I’m not a huge cheesecake fan, but I do like it every now and then. I was happy to try their blueberry cheesecake with blueberry ice cream for dessert, only this wasn’t a cheesecake anyone would recognize! I didn’t expect it to be sort of deconstructed (the swirl in the photo below is similar to a typical cheesecake filling), and I’m not quite sure the little puffs of pistachio sponge actually qualifies this as a cake. 😉 But it was so pretty, like a piece of art, and it was fun to try. The Baileys coconut praline, however, was amazing. I could have eaten a few more of those.

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After lunch we headed upstairs to the Aquarium Restaurant & Bar, another dining option at the Hurawalhi resort. (We didn’t eat or drink here, but this is where we paid our bill as guests from Komandoo.)

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We lounged outside for a few minutes while awaiting our golf cart escort back to the boat, and observed our surroundings at the resort. Hurawalhi is a beautiful, brand-new option in nearly the same stunning location as Komandoo. We were thrilled with our decision to stay where we did, but I don’t think you can go wrong with either option!

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If you do stay at Komandoo, I highly recommend a trip over to 5.8 Undersea Restaurant for this one-of-a-kind dining experience. At $150 per person for lunch and $280 per person for dinner (plus $25 per person for the boat transfer), it’s definitely a big splurge item. We originally made reservations for breakfast which was a little easier on the wallet and the menu looked amazing, but shortly after opening they decided not to offer breakfast so they graciously reserved lunch for us at the breakfast pricing instead. I’m happily checking this one off the bucket list!

“Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor. Such wonderful things surround you. What more is you lookin’ for? Under the sea…under the sea…”

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Resort Life at Komandoo

And now for some unintentional rhyming, welcome to part two of my Komandoo review! For my thoughts on the resort’s accommodations, reef, and on the island itself, please see the previous post. In this post I’ll cover Komandoo’s service, recreation, and food.

Spoiler alert: I loved this place. I miss everything about it.
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Service

As I mentioned in my previous post, we were instantly wowed with the service from the moment we stepped off the plane. Our luggage was whisked away to our room (I’m so grateful for not having to drag our bags through the sand), we were handed a a cold towel, a fresh coconut, and a scoop of homemade coconut ice cream, and then Stefanie gave us a helpful overview of the island while walking us to our villa.

Speaking of the villa, our room attendant, Ibrahim, made sure we always had everything we needed throughout the week. He quietly swooped in and out when we left to go to the restaurant or to snorkel, and we loved returning to our temporary home to find everything completely spotless along with fresh towels expertly crafted into animal shapes. We enjoyed the little sweet treats he left for us at the end of each day, and we especially savored the white chocolate-covered strawberries on Valentine’s Day.

Every time we ate at Falhu, the main restaurant, Shimaal and Ali waited on us with grace and care. No request was too big or too small, and we didn’t want for anything day in and day out. Things seemed to run seamlessly at the restaurant and in all areas, for that matter. We felt taken care of by the entire team at Komandoo – they seem to truly love their jobs. Everyone we encountered beamed with smiles and gave us the warmest greetings, and we felt they genuinely wanted us to have a wonderful time at the resort.

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Recreation

I’m generally not a do-nothing kind of traveler even when it is vacation, and Komandoo’s recreation and relaxation offerings provide the perfect place for someone who likes to stay busy. But it’s a fun and/or relaxing kind of busy, of course.

An extensive menu of treatments and services at the Duniye Spa is an excellent place to start, but I didn’t end up getting to use the spa! I kept thinking I would go, but before I knew it our time on the island was up and I hadn’t booked a single treatment. Even the laziest of days passed so quickly, so my advice is to take advantage of everything your heart desires. I’ll be sure to promptly sign up for a service or two on our next visit.

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On the more active side of things, Komandoo provides plenty of outlets for sporty and adventurous types. With a fully outfitted dive center right on the island, guests have a wide range of scuba diving opportunities for both beginners and experienced divers. They also offer snorkeling trips and rental equipment. Chris and I opted to bring our own fins, masks, and snorkels since we planned to do as much snorkeling as possible, but it looked like the dive center and shop had a great selection of gear.

The one thing I definitely set out to do on this trip was a snorkeling excursion to see manta rays. We stopped by the ProDivers dive center to sign up, but we were told by one of the dive center members that the unfortunately manta rays had not been out and about the past couple of weeks and that he didn’t want to disappoint us, which I appreciated. So we’ll just have that on our list for next time. We have been on quite a few boating trips to snorkel, and we were really looking forward to being able to snorkel right off the shore. That’s exactly what we did almost every day and we loved it.

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In addition to scuba diving and snorkeling and fishing trips, several water sports are on offer including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and wind surfing. I love kayaking and would have enjoyed trying SUP and/or wind surfing, but we had an unusually crazy windy week on the island and I didn’t want to wind up on another island or even lost at sea, so we didn’t attempt any of these. My list of reasons to return to Komandoo is quite long at this point, so I guess we’ll just have to go back!

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As it turns out, I truly needed a good bit of unscheduled downtime, so it was perfectly fine that we didn’t do any water sports (other than snorkeling) or the manta ray excursion. Chris did beat me at a leisurely game of giant chess though. And tucked into various areas all over the island we also found other ways to stay active if we wanted to – table tennis, a dart board, a fitness center, and a volleyball/badminton court.

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Last but not least, Komandoo offers boat trips for deep sea fishing, visiting local islands, or to watch the sunset. I hear the sunset cruise frequently includes dolphin sightings and we signed up for that one, but we missed it. Someone, I won’t mention names, fell asleep that afternoon. Instead, we happily watched a beautiful sunset with cocktails from the Thundi bar, which ended up being one of our daily rituals.

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Food & Drinks

Let me first preface things by saying Chris and I are not necessarily foodies, but we do love to eat and drink and we did a lot of it at the resort. Komandoo has two restaurants and two bars, one of which also serves food. We might not be qualified to comment on the spa or the water sports activities, but we certainly ate and drank enough to have opinions about the food and drinks!

A note on Komandoo’s all-inclusive packages. We opted for the full board plan which includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Falhu restaurant, and drinks like tea, coffee, and also juice at breakfast. I went back and forth on whether or not to upgrade to one of the all-inclusive package with alcoholic drinks. All guests in the booking are required to be on the same package, and while I do love my cocktails, I wasn’t sure I’d drink enough to hold up my end of the price difference. And yep, in the end the full board plan worked out well for us and it wouldn’t have been worth upgrading, even with our daily use of the mini-bar and happy hours.

The Thundi bar was conveniently located steps from the water villas, so we frequented this spot and enjoyed tropical drinks to go with gorgeous sunsets.

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The Kandu Bar, situated by the pool and reception, offered a larger selection of drinks including a fabulous version of my island favorite, a banana piña colada, along with a food menu. We ordered lunch here a couple of times (not included in the full board or all-inclusive packages) when we were craving burgers/sandwiches or fish and chips and we absolutely loved the food. Everything came to us fresh, hot, and wonderfully prepared.

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We ate at the main restaurant, Falhu, for all of our other meals outside of those two lunches and one lunch at sister resort Hurawalhi. We had several breakfasts from Falhu via room service in our villa, and were pleasantly surprised to find a reasonable fee for doing so ($7 per person). We didn’t end up trying the Aqua fine dining restaurant at Komandoo since we opted to go to Hurawalhi’s 5.8 Undersea Restaurant instead (separate post coming soon) and it felt a little weird to pay for full board meals and miss too many of them.

I read so many reviews ahead of our trip that raved about the food at Komandoo. Falhu serves all meals buffet style, so I assumed the reviews meant the food was good…for a buffet. We’ve been on a couple of cruises and tons of weddings, and I expected typical buffet food.

This wasn’t typical buffet food.  Not to mention Falhu’s wonderful atmosphere: soft sand floors, open-air with a cute thatched roof, and stunning views from the deck.
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Each meal we were presented with an inspired array of international dishes: Maldivian, Italian, Indian, and one night we were even treated to a beach barbecue. I failed to get more photos of Falhu’s buffet like the meat-carving station and the made-to-order pasta station because I was just too busy filling my plate with deliciousness each time. I can be kind of a picky eater, but I always found plenty of things to enjoy. And of course, it was fun to try two three four different mini desserts guilt-free.

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Now that we are back home, I am sorely missing our daily life at Komandoo! I think the only thing I would change about our visit is to stay longer next time.

Up next: our culinary adventure at 5.8 Undersea Restaurant.

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Welcome to Komandoo

After twenty-plus hours of flying and transit, we arrived on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean to the smell of salty air and the sounds of Maldivian drums accompanying an inviting chant: “Wel-come to…Ko-man-doo. Have a nice…hol-i-day.” It was a rhyme Chris and I repeated throughout the week with affection for our temporary home in absolute paradise. And have a nice holiday we certainly did, thanks to the ultimate relaxing environment of Komandoo. The pampering commenced immediately as we were greeted and handed a cold towel, a fresh coconut, and a scoop of homemade coconut ice cream.
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Paradise. There is really no other word to describe our surroundings. Everywhere we looked, we felt like we stepped right into a postcard. I photographed the same scenes over and over, hoping to capture at least a fraction of the magic and to do this utopia justice.

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In my last post I detailed how we ended up choosing to stay at Komandoo, and in this two-part review I’ll cover a full report of our time at the resort.

The Island

Situated in the Lhaviyani atoll, Komandoo is a 40-minute seaplane transfer going north from Malé. Resort accommodations consist of fifty beach villas and fifteen water villas, so compared to the majority of Maldivian resorts, Komandoo is on the smaller side, which is exactly what we wanted since we were craving a quiet, laid-back experience. The island itself stretches less than a kilometer lengthwise and it’s even shorter across the width. The beach villas line either side of the island, tucked into the lush foliage, and a half-moon of water villas curve around the end of the island, connected by a wooden jetty.
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I noticed right away how immaculate the island was at every turn. As if by magic, though I know it’s due to a lot of hard work from the grounds staff, all of the pathways and beaches were perpetually free of debris and trash. The overall aesthetic at Komandoo is well-manicured but natural.

As a sign on the island states,”If you’re not barefoot then you’re overdressed,” the majority of guests spend their days sans shoes, enjoying the feel of the powder-soft sand beneath their toes. The restaurant, reception area, and bars all have sand floors, and there is even a flip-flop station at the end of the water villa jetty in which to deposit your sandals for the day. (We did find it necessary to wear our shoes to walk on the hot jetty.)

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Almost every nook of the island is dedicated to making this a magical and peaceful place for guests, from the major amenities like the beach bars, restaurants, and spa, to the smaller touches like hammocks and wooden swings throughout. This is an island that evokes instant relaxation and wellness, and it literally invites you to put your feet up at every opportunity.

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One of my many favorite things about this trip is that I didn’t suffer even one bug bite thanks to the care of the grounds crew (they treat the area on a regular schedule) and maybe also to the luck of having a breezy week. We spotted a few cute crabs and small lizards around the island, but aside from one bee at lunch and a few tiny ants after we left a cookie sitting out in our room (our fault, we know better), we never saw any bugs or spiders.

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At night the island glowed courtesy of beautiful lanterns and tiny sparkles along the beach that mimic the water’s bioluminescence.

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The Villa

Now I want to gush about our villa and how happy we were with the choice to stay in one of Komandoo’s Jaccuzi Water Villas. The novelty of a bungalow perched right over the jewel-toned water of the Maldives claimed a spot on our bucket lists a while ago, and we decided to splurge a bit on this trip by booking one of the resort’s fifteen water villas. At 77 square-meters, Eagle Ray #9 provided more than enough space for us with plenty of storage, too. We were actually a little surprised at just how big the villas are, especially when you factor in the oversized bathroom and the huge deck with steps that lead directly into the ocean.
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Our amazing room attendant took great care of us the entire week. Fresh towels transformed into animal art topped our bed each day, mini bar staples and bottles of water were replenished daily, and nightly turndown regularly included sweets along with special treats on Valentines Day.

The lavish bathroom offered a giant Jacuzzi tub, double sinks, a spacious shower, and a separate water closet. Thoughtful touches included toiletries and plenty of places to hang wet towels and swimsuits. Bonus: you might laugh, but I marveled over the privilege of being able to flush toilet paper in our bathroom. Some of the Caribbean island homes we’ve stayed in (even on the more upscale side) don’t always have that luxury!

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While we had gorgeous skies almost the entire trip, we did encounter an unusually windy week on the island. As a light sleeper, I sometimes noticed a slight shimmy in the villa at night, and I could often hear the water slapping against the steps and the stilts, but I quickly became used to water villa life and managed to get a pretty deep sleep most nights. Our king-size bed felt supportive and cozy, and it was always a welcome respite after a day of fun in the sun.

The WiFi signal wasn’t always the fastest, but we were able to check in with friends and family back home and upload a few photos. It was enough to feel connected, but also slow enough to encourage us to disconnect, which we definitely needed! And as hot as it gets during the day, it’s worth mentioning that the air-conditioning kept us perfectly comfortable whenever we needed it.

Our favorite part of the villa was easily the outside space. The design and layout of the water villas ensures that each guest has ample privacy. To take full advantage of the outdoors, we treated ourselves to room service for breakfast on most days (more on Komandoo’s food in the next post). Starting our day by enjoying a delicious meal on the deck, gazing out onto the Indian Ocean became one of my favorite daily rituals.

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Any time we got a little too hot, we descended the stairs right into the water to cool off. It felt like stepping into an aquarium – we found several coral heads and tons of colorful fish only a few meters from our villa. We even spotted an eagle ray gliding along the lagoon one afternoon.

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The Reef

Chris and I have become avid snorkelers over the past few years and have had the opportunity to explore some of the world’s best snorkel sites, so having a good reef topped our resort requirements list. Fellow travelers mentioned Komandoo frequently on travel forums with regards to a good reef, and we can now wholeheartedly agree!

On one side of the island, the reef was super easy to reach – from the sunset beach bar we could enter the shallow and super clear lagoon, and swim a few meters past the barriers and then through a cut in the reef. We did this routine a couple of times since it was quick access from our villa. I did notice a bit of coral bleaching, but from recent reports it sounds like the reef is well on its way to recovery.
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On the other side of the island, the swim out to the reef was a bit longer, but with the reward of a huge section of healthy coral teaming with fish. We snorkeled most days, and it was amazing to see a few new-to-us fish for the first time: unicorn fish, Maldives anenomefish, and an eel. We hung out with one of Komandoo’s resident turtles one day, and we always loved walking along the shore accompanied by baby black tip reef sharks.

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I miss everything about the island, and I can’t wait to return again someday. Now that we are back home in the States, we occasionally find ourselves chanting fondly: “Wel-come to…Ko-man-doo. Have a nice…hol-i-day.” Thankfully I get to relive our trip by writing about the experience! In part two of my review I’ll talk about Komandoo’s service, activities, and food. Stay tuned!

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  • AdrienneMarch 13, 2017 - 11:18 am

    That looks so amazing! I can see why you loved taking your breakfast on your deck every day. And the reef looks incredible – love all your underwater photos, especially that turtle close-up and those little Nemos!

  • AlvinMarch 23, 2017 - 7:43 am

    Susan this is GREAT stuff!! I love this collection of images…

  • Marilyn GreenApril 11, 2017 - 6:17 am

    You have made this island come alive with your description. We have visited the Maldives three times now but after your blog we are going to try Komandoo. Thank you

  • SusanApril 11, 2017 - 10:51 am

    Thank you, Adrienne! It was a spectacular island and reef, indeed!

  • SusanApril 11, 2017 - 10:51 am

    Thanks, Alvin! It’s pretty impossible to take a bad picture there. 😉

  • SusanApril 11, 2017 - 10:52 am

    Marilyn, that’s so wonderful! I think you’ll absolutely love Komandoo! Have an amazing time (I know you will).