Family cycling

Review: A familymoon in the Maldives at Niyama Private Islands

Catherine Hudson discovers Paradise on Earth can be even better when shared with family

A holiday to the Maldives with (very lucky) babies and children on board is becoming ever popular; and for great reason. Clear, warm waters, with shallow shorelines, and guaranteed sunshine – and no cars means you can wave ‘bye-bye’ to that cumbersome car seat. Many of the showstopping qualities, that have attracted an audience almost entirely of honeymooning couples since it became a ‘destination’, are now the things attracting families. The ultimate fly-and-flop holiday for newlyweds to chill is the perfect, safe idyll for families to spend quality time together; just add bucket and spade, and dollops of sun protection.

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Plenty of couples deciding to get married already have children, and families are ever more willing to travel further, so a familymoon to the Maldives feels like a bit of a no-brainer. We have discovered the perfect island to play on: Niyama, a resort on Dhaalu atoll. There are 1,192 atolls that make up the Maldives. We can speak from experience, having been guests of this glorious ‘playground’, twice – once as a baby-free-romance-fuelled couple staying in an overwater villa, and once, now, as a family, with our 20-month-old daughter, Evie, staying in a beach villa. Both equally memorable and luxurious, and both uniquely tailored to the style holiday we were after. Clever stuff.

What makes it unique?

Niyama private islands, Maldives

The secret of Niyama’s success (aside from its utterly heavenly location, of course) is in the brilliant design – Niyama is laid out over a set of twin islands, which are very closely linked by a small bridge, over which you can walk, cycle or hop a ride on a thakuru-driven buggy. One island is know as ‘Play’, and the other ‘Chill’. ‘Play’ houses the kids’ club, treetop restaurant, teppanyaki grill, beach restaurant, surf shack, scuba centre, and beachfront villas. ‘Chill’ is home to the spa, overwater villas, watersports, outdoor cinema, and jetty to the underwater restaurant. Both feel extremely secluded, and you can cycle and walk about not really seeing too many other guests; ideal for getting plenty of quality family ‘alone time’ in. The busiest part of the beach is in front of Epicure, the buffet-style restaurant, and one of the two pools, where you can join in with aqua classes and listen to some chilled beach tunes.

From spending classic family beach and pool time, to wildlife spotting and stargazing, when you finally fancy some time as a twosome, which you will, there is a tip-top kids’ club that you will struggle to get them out of, when they have tried it out. Being in one resort on, near enough, one island, will give children a rare sense of freedom. It’s fun watching Evie playing when she doesn’t know we are looking, and seeing her, from afar, collecting coral, running on the sand, watching the sun set and dipping her toes at the water’s edge provided endless beautiful memories.

How to get there

It’s around a 10-11 hour direct flight from London to Male, and direct flights are available during peak season, usually from November to April. We booked bulkhead seats in advance, to utilise the bassinet area for our daughter to sleep, and the extra leg room for her to play. I also wrapped up lots of small toys, and every time she was a bit fussy, she was distracted by unwrapping and happily playing. We chose to take a 30-minute domestic flight from Male to an island nearby, then a short 10-minute speedboat the the resort. The seaplane from Male is 40-minutes direct, and provides a very cinematic entrance, but it is much more expensive and very noisy, so weigh up your own pros and cons when taking kids. Either way, a representative meets you at Male and you are guided through the process, so stress is minimal.

In fact, on arriving at the jetty, any kind of stress melts away. Our daughter loved the speedboat and waved at the staff greeting us with a smile. We met our thakuru (personal butler for the week), and were whisked away on his buggy to our beachfront pool villa. This is a good choice of accommodation for families, as it will save you the fear of baby falling off the deck of anything over water. Although, we found we had our little one in sight all the time, anyway, to stop her falling in the pool or slipping over with wet feet after paddling in the bathroom water feature. Wait – did I mention our villa had an outdoor shower?

Where do we sleep?

All 134 of Niyama’s villas are big and beautiful. Outside our beach villa, number 123, opposite the kids club, were a couple of low-rider bikes, one with child seat attached, with wooden tags carved with our names. The small, thoughtful touches just keep coming, here, and hanging outside our front doors was a sign, ‘Catherine’s Family Home’; and that’s exactly how it feels. Comfortably luxurious, with unlimited homemade ice cream and fresh popcorn on tap. A friendly, nothing-too-much-trouble thakuru at the end of a phone 24-hours a day, which takes a bit of getting used to but comes in handy, especially when you need a lift through a tropical rainstorm to the restaurant.

Big bed, cute travel cot, deck with daybed swing and pool and secluded path down to the beach… so far, so standard luxury. However, push open the double doors to your bathroom, and prepare for jaws to drop. The bath and sink area is undercover, but all around and ahead is tropical jungle planting, with a sunken water feature that include steps to a rainforest-style outdoor shower. Once our daughter had thrown all of her toys into the water, she banged at the bedroom sliding doors until we could resist the call of the beach no more. Within 20 paces, we were on our own slice of the resort beach, overwater villas in the distance to our left, house coral reef to our right and no one else in sight. It never felt busy, during our stay, feeling instead like our own private island plenty of the time.

 What is there to do for the kids?

Swim, sand and sea – all the classic ingredients of a tropical beach holiday, for sure. But if you want to take up some of the watersports on offer, take a walk around the island without worrying about your little one refusing to wear their sunhat, or head off on a morning’s snorkelling trip or fly board experience, then the Explorers Kids Club provides a welcome solution. After spending a couple of hours, there, playing, our daughter asked for ‘kids club’ every morning, meaning we could head off, parent-guilt-free, in the knowledge that she was having a brilliant time with expert staff.

Sarah, who heads up the Scott Dunn childcare team, is reassuringly confident; which encourages you to feel the same when doing the drop off. The inside is well-appointed with an array of toys and games, as well as a chill out area, and outside there is a shaded kitchen and theatre, as well as a water play garden, trampoline, climbing wall and loads of slides and swings. The staff can take the kids over to Blu restaurant for lunch, if you wish – look out for the kids’ club buggy – it’s the one covered in polkadots!

Niyama’s kids club is one of the few in the Maldives to take kids from age 12 months, and they accommodate up to age 12 years. Teens can obviously join in with watersport activities, but might also be interested in things like the outdoor cinema, boat trips and marine and reef conservation education. Basically, the creme de la creme of entertainment is on offer and, whatever age, they’ll be talking about it for years to come – and most definitely requesting a return visit.

It felt a little strange at first, dropping her off in Paradise, but the first class service ensured we felt confident in leaving Evie to have fun with the staff and other kids while we shared a few hours actually talking to each other and not chasing our toddler. After she came back, babbling non-stop about ‘kids’ club’, we felt happy to take up the offer of an evening’s in-room babysitting service, while we visited treetop restaurant, Nest, for dinner, while Evie enjoyed endless stories and bedtime, sleeping soundly. Any kind of ‘grown-up only’ time feels like a luxury, since having a baby, but having dinner (spring rolls, curries and ice creams) while seated in the treetops was incredibly special.

What is there to eat?

Niyama’s restaurants are something to talk about – not only the quality, but the epic locations. The treetop restaurant at Niyama, Nest, is our favourite place to eat. Alongside its leafy styling, the food is incredibly delicious, if you like your Asian curries. Best, we’d say, visited in the evening while taking advantage of the brilliant babysitters. You can also take a boat half a kilometre out to sea to eat at Edge restaurant, which serves the freshest local fish, and while there head downstairs to Subsix to eat and drink under the sea. You can also set up bespoke dining experiences, like dinner or drinks on the beach. For everyday dining, Blu restaurant is beside the pool on Play island, and is a great option for Mediterranean style snacks and lunch. The buffet served for dinner at Epicure, on Chill island, is themed nightly – from Mexican to Turkish and Thai, the selection every night is extensive and exquisite, meaning we were all satisfied and there was always loads of options for Evie, and lots of thakurus and waiters cooing over her as she weaved her way dancing around the buffet stands. And if your little one will only eat pasta and pizza, of course, that is available on demand.

Magic moments

Nature provides the raw ingredients for magic, here, and the hotel and staff provide the opportunities to make it happen. We chose to cycle to dinner, most nights, and on the way back stop to spot baby sharks and rays from the bridge. Sitting in the warm night air, dangling our legs, underneath a blanket of stars was a perfectly happy moment.

A favourite hangout spot of ours is on Play island, at the Surf Shack. Niyama is one of the best spots in the Maldives for surfing and has constructed a chilled bar and snack truck, with swing seats perfectly positioned for watching the sun set to the sounds of reggae music, while the surfers catch the last of the day’s waves. We took our seats, pointing out the hundreds of crabs scrabbling around at the shore, and chatting about the millions of pieces of white coral washed ashore.

Is it still romantic when you take kids?

Yes! Taking your children needn’t dampen the romance – you can find workarounds to carve out some time for yourselves, and the rest of the time you can enjoy as a family. Plus, taking our daughter definitely took the edge off having to strive for picture perfection. Going as a family meant we were already prepared for a few meltdowns and having to ‘style’ out some situations, (you live it, you learn it), but everything exceeded our expectations and we all just went with the flow – which is our best advice. The staff absolutely love having little guests on the island, at the kids club, but in the restaurants, too. If you want privacy, it’s easy to find. The secret to a successful familymoon is balance. That and a picture-perfect sandy beach, of course.

Go there

Room rates at Niyama Private Islands are from £688 per room per night staying in a Beach Villa on a B&B basis. To book, call +960 676 2828, email reservations@niyama.com or visit niyama.com.

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Turquoise Holidays (turquoiseholidays.co.uk) is offering a 35% discount for stays between 9th January and 7th May 2020. A seven night stay for a family of four is priced at £5,199 (usually £7,999) on a half board basis, with international flights, seaplane transfers and three meals per day from the children’s menu included. A seven night stay for couples is priced at £2,072 (normally £3,189) on a half board basis in a Beach Pool Villa, with international flights and seaplane transfers included.