After taking my 15 month old to child-friendly Bandos Island, I find out the Maldives is not just a paradise for honeymooners, it's a paradise for young children too
When people think of the Maldives, they think of honeymoons and romantic holidays on tiny little islands of paradise. It's probably not a destination you’d consider once you start a family. However that's exactly where my husband and I took our 15-month old daughter (and a suitcase full of food jars and nappies), in search of some winter sun.
The Maldives is made up of 1190 islands, of which 87 are resort islands. Surprisingly, plenty of them do cater for families with children of all ages. The islands are safe, free from malaria and there are no essential injections required.
Considerations When Choosing Where to Stay
After plenty of research, we decided on Bandos Island Resort & Spa, a four star family resort in the North Male Atoll, 15 minutes by speedboat from the Capital, Male. It’s one of the biggest islands in the Maldives with a 1.2km circumference and 225 rooms. It wasn't exactly the no news, no shoes type of island you might imagine, but we picked this particular one because it had numerous child-friendly facilities including a kids club and swimming pool. There was an Island doctor and it was near the mainland in case we needed to get to a hospital in an emergency.
We flew direct from London Heathrow to Male International Airport with Air Sri Lanka. It takes about 11½ hours. The speedboat transfer to the island was quick and exhilarating, just what you need after a long journey with a tired and restless toddler. She was so excited, having never been on a speed boat before.
It’s hard to describe the sense of excitement I felt seeing the flat, oval-shaped island jutting out of the water, its centre of thick, green foliage surrounded by a ring of white sand and vivid blue sea. I found it hard not to jump in for a swim there and then!
About The Resort
We had a standard room (not much point upgrading when you have a little one running around) which was basic but big, and right on the beach. The hotel provided a cot too. Top of the range accommodation was a Water Villa, off limits if you have children under 12, for safety reasons. I wouldn't recommend them as they weren't that impressive, however the Jacuzzi Beach Villas looked amazing. Our room was on the opposite side of the island to the main restaurant, bar and reception, so it was away from any noise, but despite it only taking 20 minutes to walk around, it was a hot walk to dinner. Thankfully some of the pathways were made of tarmac, a godsend if you had a buggy as they do not move well on sand!
The resort had a relaxed atmosphere and was a good balance between luxury and local style. The casual dress code, even for dinner, meant that bikinis, flipflops, shorts and sundresses were all you needed. There were lots of families with babies and toddlers as it was term-time in schools. There were some couples, although I definitely wouldn't have chosen that resort if I didn't have a child.
Four restaurants included an open-air buffet and white glove service dining with air-conditioning. Kids menus were also available (they would also warm milk for bottle feeds and blend food). We went half board, which included an excellent buffet breakfast. The buffet dinner ranged from good to average, however the desserts and wine were disappointing. Decent wine was expensive and mostly sold out. Initially we would take it in turns to get our food, so one of us could watch our daughter. It was a somewhat unrelaxing experience. After a few days, we worked out it was better to feed her first, get her to sleep, even if that meant pushing her buggy around and around so we could relax.
Nightly entertainment included a band, magician and dancing, which the older children enjoyed, although we generally preferred to have a few drinks at the bar. However, the crab-racing was great fun.
There were lots of things to keep you occupied on the island. Watersports included waterskiing and wakeboarding, and there was a gym and Anggerik spa. I had an Indian Head Massage, which was heavenly. It also offered treatments for teens. Excursions included island hopping, sunset dolphin cruise and submarine or glass-bottomed boat trip.
Sun, Sea, Sand and Swim Nappies
The beach itself was stunning, the sea, a rainbow of shades of blue. It had plenty of secluded and shady spots and the water was shallow, although it was much more choppy than expected - apparently due to the tides. The water was the perfect temperature. There were plenty of young reef-tip sharks to or rays to be seen in the warm shallows. One of the highlights for our daughter was taking bread from breakfast and feeding the fish, that would swarm around us in a colourful frenzy. It would be gone in a matter of seconds.
There was also a large infinity pool, with had a swim-up bar for thirsty parents and a small pool for the younger ones.
The Maldives are very close to the equator and the sun is fierce all year round, even first thing in the morning. The average temperature is 29-32 degrees Celsius but it felt much hotter, even first thing. It's how important it is to use Factor 50 sunscreen for children (which we even used on ourselves), sun suits and hats from the minute they go in the sun, and to keep them out of the sun, especially between 10.00am and 3.30pm.
The Kids Club (for children aged eight months to 12 years) was open from 9.00am to 5.00pm daily and was run by friendly local women in an air-conditioned room that was part of the sports centre. You could pick and choose when to book your child in and it was a good way of ensuring they were out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. An evening babysitting service was available. The main problem was our daughter refused to into the club, despite numerous attempts. We decided it would be better to keep her with us, knowing she was happy.
Swimming with Sharks
If you’re interested in diving or snorkeling, the Maldives is the place to do it. The quality and variety of tropical fish on the house reef at Bandos was remarkable, even though some of the coral was damaged on one side of the island. My husband, a keen diver, was happy simply snorkeling on the reef as there was plenty to see, including plenty black tip reef sharks. The initial fear one felt when seeing a six-footer swim past, was soon replaced with a curious fascination. Having our daughter with us did mean we had to take it in turns to snorkel and dive.
The dive school was very well run and even offered dive programmes for children. I gained my open water diving certificate whilst there, having completed the theory part of the course back in the UK to minimise the time away from my family on the holiday. The course was expensive - about $250 (despite having already done part of the course), but it was worth it.
A Child-friendly Paradise
When you travel with babies the parameters change, but it doesn't mean you can't go to exotic locations or have a good time. My husband and I enjoyed ten blissful days on Bandos Island. Our daughter had a whale of a time too, but then again what child wouldn’t enjoy getting covered in sand and splashing in the sea all day?
If you’re looking for a paradise that has plenty of facilities for children, incredible snorkeling and diving, where lazing on a beach is the order of the day, then the Maldives is a fantastic option.
Cost: £3000 for 2 adults and 1 infant (under 2) in a standard room (B&B)
When to go
For maximum sunshine, visit between December and April/May, which is the dry season. As this is the high season it will be busier and prices are higher, particularly around Christmas and New Year. If you have pre-school children, avoid school holidays, it will be less busy and cheaper. From June to October, it's still warm, but humidity is higher with more chance of rain. For divers, the water is generally recognized to be clearest in November and April
Air Sri Lanka flies directly. It takes 11.5 hours. The time different is +5 hours.
Word of warning
Don’t bring alcohol into Male, it will get confiscated. Visitors should respect local custom which does not permit topless bathing.