Some can only imagine what it must feel like to arrive in paradise… unless of course you’ve visited the Maldives before. A short 4 hour flight from DXB landed us in the country which consists of more than 1190 islands of which only 185 are inhabited. We then jump on a transfer to the seaplane port. A scenic 25 minute joy ride from the main land lulled us into a dreamy state. We touch down on water and the welcome from the LUX* team was too cute. There they stood, all in white, waving endlessly and greeting the new arrivals, us, to their humble home at South Ari Atoll where an experience awaits.
“Wow!” we said over and over, as we stepped off the seaplane and onto the pier; in awe of the aqua blue waters, luscious green vegetation and pure white Sandy shores that are in front of us. The marine life was buzzing beneath us. We couldn’t believe our eyes. It’s even better than the photos.
Each guest that arrives at LUX* South Ari Atoll is greeted with a welcome drink and has a dedicated host for the duration of their stay. This host, takes you on a tour of the island via buggy, showing you their facilities including multiple pools, 8 restaurants, library, gym & spa before dropping you to your room. They also add you in a WhatsApp chat group where you can ask questions, make reservations and receive the daily activity schedule.
The first thing we do after checking in is get changed into our bikinis and head straight out into that glorious weather, 27 degrees, bright sunshine but slightly humid. The water temperature was beautiful. We explored the island by foot, took multiple naps then enjoyed an iced coffee as we watched our first sunset.
The sunsets in the Maldives are like no others. The colors are mesmerizing and each minute a different surprise. The sea life comes alive at dusk and we spotted a sting ray, multiple manta rays, reef sharks and fish galore. In one direction we can see the sun setting and the other the moon is rising.
We pass out relatively early after a delicious dinner at Senses, the Indian restaurant on the island. The excitement is building the next morning we’ve booked for the whale shark tour.
We’re up at the crack of dawn, not only to hunt the famous message in a bottle, but also for breakfast at East Kitchen. They serve everything from dumplings & noodles to eggs & pancakes, to oats & smoothies, even home brewed kombucha! Dining on the deck overlooking the sea is a lovely way to wake up.
We head to the dive center to sign in for the whale shark tour and receive our snorkel gear & flippers. We load up with sunscreen and then wait patiently for the other guests to arrive before boarding our speed boat.
On the tour we also searched for Manta Rays, Sea Turtles and Dolphins. We missed out on swimming with the Mantas but we spotted some spinner dolphins instead so we watched them as they played with the waves the boat was creating. Then continued on our journey to try and see the whale sharks.
We continue on our search and it wasn’t long until our captain spotted Walé from Malé. I was the first keen snorkeler to jump into the ocean with this giant beauty. Those first few moments laying eyes on such a gigantic but gentle creature was surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually swimming with a whale shark! It was a dream come true. Mesmerized by its sheer size and speckled coat I floated over him for some time before swimming ahead so I could see his mouth, eyes and smile. The crew estimated Wale to be around 8 metres in length. They’re such friendly creatures who didn’t seem bothered by the crazy humans on the surface trying to catch a glimpse. We stayed with Walé for a good 30 minutes before it got a bit overcrowded and he decided to depart. Swimming with Walé is a memory that will last a lifetime.
That afternoon we availed our massage but upgraded to the over water bungalows which includes a glass floor to watch the fish or in our case a manta ray sighting before being blissfully lulled into relaxation mode.
Our daily routine included stopping for a fresh coconut juice sourced by the LUX* staff by climbing yo the top of the coconut palms. That afternoon we tried out another pool and enjoyed some cocktails and snacks. That evening we had dinner at Mixe, an international buffet barefoot restaurant with sand floors.
The next morning we woke early and utilized the free island bikes to go searching for the message in the bottle. Lucky for us and thanks to a tip from the gardener, we found one!!! We were super excited as these glass bottles are well hidden. We won a sunset cruise trip. After a breakfast at Mixe, we saw the hotel manager Mahmoun who remembered us by name (impressive). We headed to Cafe LUX* for a free iced coconut latte and sat on the swinging chairs, watching the seaplanes arrive with new guests.
Today was the day we moved into our over water villa! Oh. My. Gosh. I’ve never seen anything like it. Ultra modern beach villa with an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, a swinging cocoon chair and a projector screen! They also add special touches like a bottle of sparkling and a fruit platter. After soaking it all in, we changed bikinis and headed to a small strip of the island which is a sand bank which you can walk right out into the ocean as the tide is out.
That afternoon we rode our bikes over to Beach Rouge where a DJ was playing house tunes as we sipped cocktails on the pier and watched the sky evolve around us. A storm was rolling in from a distance so the color of the sky was ever changing. Post cocktails we moved inside Beach Rouge, a Spanish Tapas bar and had a delcious dinner. We opted to sit outside for our multiple desserts.
We rode our bikes to Senses for the quiz night, which we thought we aced but we ended up coming last. Finally the rains arrived so we headed back to the room. We decided to watch a movie on our projector screen. I thought Finding Nemo was an appropriate choice. We slept soon after and were woken up by the sound of thunder, crashing waves and lightning. The tropical storm came with all it’s force however the heavy downpour only lasted a few hours until it passed.
The next morning we woke up and enjoyed a floating breakfast with sparkling wine in our pool. We rode to the ICI and enjoyed some coconut flavored ice cream. We left a message on the wishing tree and that afternoon we availed our prize and went on the sunset cruise. We saw a small rainbow. That evening we had a wonderful dinner at Unami a Japanese restaurant on the island.
We checked out the next morning and enjoyed a coffee, juice and pastry at the bar and we’re given a cute farewell pouch with LUX* bracelets inside. Our seaplane arrived and we waved “Au Revoir” to the most magical place on earth. Promising that we’ll visit again some day. “You can go, but be back soon” – LUX*
Izakaya is a Japanese bar and restaurant located on the 5th floor of the iconic twin towers inside JW Marriott Marquis, Business Bay and is just one of 11 restaurants inside the hotel.
The quirky decor starts as soon as you get towards the restaurant with kawaii puns posted over the walls and a sake cart. The fun doesn’t end there; you pass a giant cherry blossom tree, which arches over the bar, multi-colored Japanese umbrellas that hang from ceiling and a ‘wasabi girl’ complete with a green wig and looks like she is straight out of Harajuku.
If you’re like me and were tired of being cooped up inside and wanted a change of scenery then you’d understand my need to book a staycation as soon as the hotels reopened in Dubai.
Less than 20 minutes drive from my house and off the beaten track is a cluster of hotels all belonging to the JA Resort. Our final destination is JA Palm Tree Court a spacious property with it’s own 800m long private beach surrounded by luscious greenery. Upon arrival the security guard conducts temperature checks before letting you inside the car park facility and unfortunately due to the current circumstances valet is not offered. Although if you’ve parked as far away as we did they can offer to collect you via golf buggy.
The reception is shaped like a hut and reminds me of Africa. Once again your temperature is taken before entering the lobby and hand sanitizers are aplenty. The staff give us an overview of the hotel premises as it’s our first stay with them and recommend we book our dinner & breakfast due to it’s newly enforced limited capacity inside the restaurants.
Once check-in was complete the buggy awaited us. We zoom swiftly through the narrow lanes past an abundance of greenery and many vibrant feathered friends. The resort is home to families of peacocks who roam freely. Our ground floor hotel room means it has its own garden with sun beds that you can enjoy sans face mask.
After a quick change and an application of sunscreen we take a stroll down to the beach to enjoy the sunshine. (Note: You will need to carry the beach towels from your room). The staff are vigilant in checking your temperature and this time it’s the lifeguard who checks and records. The other hotel guests are scattered around on sun beds and are all adhering to the social distancing rules.
We later roam over to the beach bar which uses QR code’s to scan for the menu rather than handing them out. The staff are respectfully wearing gloves & masks at all times. They even encourage payment to be added to the room tab.
What I love about this resort is that it’s home to a lot of outdoor activities. One which is recently reopened is wake surfing so I booked myself and some friends in for a session. After a hour of fun and excitement we relax in the sports bar with some refreshments.
We head back to our room to shower before dinner and we encounter the hotels feathered friends and some stunning flora. Feeling fresh and sun kissed the stroll to the restaurant at sunset provides with many photo opportunities.
We head off to dinner at White Orchid but not without snapping shots of the sun setting over one of the pools. We opted to sit outside to catch the last of the sunset but later semi regretted the decision as the pesky crows linger whilst were trying to enjoy a lovely meal. They served up a limited menu of Thai inspired dishes. I enjoyed sea bass wrapped in a banana leaf with fragrant herbs and spices with a side of stir fry veggies in an oyster sauce.
We check out the library upstairs before waddling back to our room via the beach to hit the sack. The hotel beds and pillows were plush and super comfortable which made dozing off particularly easy.
The next morning our breakfast is served in the same restaurant and we sat outside in the same table. This time there’s a guy with a slingshot and a falcon downstairs both used to scare off the crows. Breakfast is from a set menu and the food is aplenty.
I make a detour via the gift shop to pick up a snorkeling set before heading back to the room to pack and check out. We call a buggy to save us carrying our bags to the lobby. The check out process was seamless and the reception staff wished us well and thanked us for staying with them. I’d highly recommend a staycation at JA Palm Court and would love to stay there again some day!