Hotel Review: Banyan Tree Maldives Vabbinfaru

We landed at the Male airport at night and had to spend one night in the city before we departed to our island, Vabbinfaru. At the airport, a Trader’s Hotel representative met us and ushered us to sit at an outdoors seating area while we waited for our boat that would take us to the hotel, where we spent our first night.

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Being from New York, I am used to crowded spaces. But not used to lots of people smoking in these crowded public spaces! I remember being miserable being at the outdoors seating area at the airport and inhaling tons of second hand smoke while we waited. The boat finally arrived and we we boarded along with about 10-12 other people. It was dark on board. Things were dimly visible due to the street lights outside. They handed us life jackets, bottles of cold water and a cold towel. The water bottles were strange- They looked like they were sealed (had that extra band of plastic attached to the cap) but when you opened it, the whole cap twisted off along with the band of plastic which is supposed to remain around the neck of the bottle so we weren’t sure if the bottles were really sealed or if they’d been opened before. We opted to not drink the water.

Trader’s was about a block away from the dock. We were instructed to leave our luggage behind because they’d transport it to the hotel separately. We only had 2 rollerboards so we decided to not part with ours. IMG_2360

Our room was small, with a modern decor, and faced the waters on the North side of Male. There was a small, delicious piece of cake wishing us “Happy Honeymoon” waiting for us on the table. We were jetlagged so we didn’t sleep much but the bed was definitely very comfortable. In the morning we looked out our window and could really see Male for the first time. It’s a crowded city with VERY narrow streets. But look beyond this and the beautiful waters surrounding the city are breathtaking. I spotted some turquoise colored water from our hotel window and was getting really excited!

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The breakfast had a good spread. This was the beginning of my love for breakfast at Asian hotels for one simple reason: they serve conji! In addition to that, we had  Malaysian potato curry and flat bread. The fruit spread was one aspect that was not entirely impressive – I was expecting more tropical fruit but there was only a variety of melons, grapes & bananas, most of which did not appear very fresh.

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When it was time for us to catch our boat, the hotel van gave us a ride to the dock, which was a little further than the one we arrived at the night before. At the dock, we boarded a VIP boat that was much nicer and airier than the one that brought us from the airport to Male. The sides and the rear of the boat were lined with a clean looking sofa which was decorated with throw pillows. We were 1 of 2 couples on board. This time, the water bottles opened the way they were supposed to!

On board the VIP boat

On board the VIP boat

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View of Male from our boat to Vabbinfaru

View of Male from our boat to Vabbinfaru

We arrived at Vabbinfaru after about a 30 minute pleasant boat ride. As we approached it, I admired what a beautiful island it is! The sun was shining bright and made me truly feel like I was in paradise! At check in, they gave us cold towels, and ginger lemonades (delicious and free the first time, but $7USD per glass afterwards).

Ginger Lemonade & cold towel upon arrival

Ginger Lemonade & cold towel upon arrival

They told us to set our watches 1 hr back because island time was different from Male city time. They took a photo of us at arrival and said they’d take another one before we left and that we’d be able to see how relaxed the island has made us through our stay. This they never did, but more on our chaotic check out later…

As we were on our honeymoon, we were upgraded to a deluxe ocean view villa, a double upgrade from the room we actually paid for. Our villa was really cozy, but small. There was peaceful instrumental “Banyan Tree Music” playing when we walked in and there was a complimentary bottle of wine and fruit basket waiting for us. There were no televisions in the room, which I loved! I hate watching TV on vacations – I’d rather stare at the beautiful waves. Our bathroom had windows that were forever open… which we didn’t like during the nights due to insects flying in. The bathroom had an indoor shower as well as an outdoor shower and a jacuzzi. Our backyard had a wooden pathway leading to an open hut with day beds.

Walkway inside villa leading to the room

Walkway inside villa leading to the room

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Our Backyard

Our Backyard

Bathroom with Forever-Open Windows

Bathroom with Forever-Open Windows

Outdoor Shower

Outdoor Shower

Hot Tub

Hot Tub

Room at night with mosquito nets down

Room at night with mosquito nets down

We arrived at the island when lunch was about to end so we quickly dropped our belongings in the room and headed to the area of the island where the restaurant was located. It was an outdoors BBQ, which didn’t happen everyday. And I’m not sure if it’s because we arrived at the end, but a lot of the food had flies sitting on it. This was in addition to lots of flies flying about everywhere. Not pleasant. We weren’t that hungry due to our big breakfast at Trader’s so we skipped most of the food and settled for ice-cream from an enclosed case. We were there during late July and it was HOT. Despite the gorgeous view, sitting outdoors and eating was uncomfortable. We quickly ran back to our air conditioned room.

View During our First Lunch

View During our First Lunch

Of all the meals we had on the island, breakfast was always the best. Here I truly loved the fruits! There was lots and lots of good guava, lychee, mangosteen, and tons of other tropical fruits. And they weren’t pre-sliced- you go up to the table and pick what you want and they slice it for you on the spot. Since breakfast was always indoors, they could keep flies away by setting up candles around the periphery.

Tropical Fruit for Breakfast

Tropical Fruit for Breakfast

Both breakfast and lunch was always a buffet but breakast always had the better options. In addition, we could come back as many times as we liked while the breakfast was open. We always woke up really early everyday due to jetlag, and we enjoyed a quiet light breakfast early in the morning and a 2nd more heavy breakfast later on.

Lunch and dinner, unfortunately, didn’t compare to the spectacular breakfasts. Lunch was usually a bit better than dinner because it was a buffet, but was inevitably very crowded. Looking back, I kind of wish we went to one of the islands that did not allow children for our honeymoon. Starting with the 2nd day of our stay till the very end, there was a HUGE (10-15 people) group of people that always sat together at lunch and dinner and were extremely loud. They had a kid with them who cried and wailed at the lunch/dinner tables. The times when we didn’t run into them, we were lucky. This was a painful way to realize that for our honeymoon, we should have picked a resort that didn’t allow kids or large groups.

The food wasn’t very good at the dinners – others with a different preference may have enjoyed it but the set menu seemingly meant that we had little say in what we were going to eat. Each meal did consisted of 3-4 courses and we found the food to be extremely bland most of the time.

Chicken Dinner Entree

Chicken Dinner Entree

A lot of the menu usually included fish and though I usually like fish, I dislike bland fish. Towards the end of the stay I figured out that I could have guava (or ice cream, or other fruits) for dessert even if they weren’t on the menu and that significantly improved our dinner experience on the last two nights.

dinner- first course

dinner- first course

dinner- first course

dinner- first course

potato leek soup

potato leek soup

guava sorbet for dessert

guava sorbet for dessert

fish dinner entree

fish dinner entree

guava for dessert!

guava for dessert!

Another perk we got due to us being our honeymoon was a private dinner on our villa’s porch. They brought a grill and served us grilled chicken, lamb, and prawns. This was probably the best dinner, not only because the food was better, but also because it was extremely quiet – all we could hear were the waves.

The hotel staff (locals) that you interact with daily were extremely nice. Everyone spoke impeccable English so communication was never an issue. They try to cater to your comforts any way they can- you could choose the fabric of your sheets, and the thickness/material your pillow is made of. Even though drinks are not included in the package, they do give you refillable glass bottles of filtered water in your room everyday. The fruit basket we were originally given for being honeymooners kept being refilled everyday. The person in charge of our room figured out that I liked lychee and he gave us a whole bunch one day.

Lychee!

Lychee!

Our room was cleaned twice a day and even then, between the cleanings, some  bugs would show up on the floor. We had mosquito nets that were put out during the turn down service. One night, there was a pretty big flying insect that was on the mosquito net. Fortunately my strong, new husband was able to save the day! 🙂 One evening the whole island was smelt of strange chemicals and there were fumes rising into the sky. When we inquired, we were told it is routine to fumigate the island once in a while to keep the bug population under control.

We spent most of our days in the room, where we could hear the waves, have a beautiful view of the beach, and the control the temperature. We took early morning and late afternoon/early evening walks, when the temperature was not as high. We were a bit cautious of going into the water because of these jellyfish creatures called Portuguese Man O’War – the hotel staff told us that a lot of the guests had recently been stung by them.

Stingrays

Stingrays

Portuguese Man O'War

Portuguese Man O’War

We did go canoeing around the island, which was fun but also scary to me. I don’t know how to swim and the water is SO CLEAR that you can see all the coral you are floating over. I had an irrational fear of what would happen if I fell onto them. There are tons of other activities that they can arrange for you, but everything is super expensive.

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The check out process was truly chaotic. And much of it had to do with the huge family of vacationers that we dreaded and tried to hide from throughout our stay. They occupied the whole lobby and the attention of most of the staff. We had to wait quite a while before someone took care of us. Due to the noise level, I could tell that even the person helping us with check out was irritated and could not give us her full attention. And no one took a photo of us as promised at check in to see how we had “changed” due to our stay.

This time, there was no VIP boat. We boarded a crowded boat (much like the one that brought us from the airport to Male) with the huge gang of loud and noisy people. They continued to talk loudly with each other without a care for other guests on the boat. The two women sitting directly in front of us acted as if we were invisible to the point where one was kicking me without even noticing. We had to ask her to please retract her leg into her personal space.

Overall, we loved our stay, but mostly due to the amazingly beautiful nature (minus the bugs) surrounding us. I would not return back to Banyan Tree Maldives for another stay. There were talks of them renovating while we were there. And yes, renovate, the must. There has to be a better way to keep bugs out of the room. They should start by adding an option to close the bathroom door and windows at night. Although most of the staff (in the lower ranks) were super nice, the staff at the higher positions (managers and others) did not seem very interested in catering to the guests’ needs or comfort (unless of course, you were willing to spend extra money).

We do plan to return to the Maldives someday, but this time we will make sure to stay in an over-water bungalow.

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