Centara Grand Maldives is a picture perfect, five star resort in the Maldives. However it’s the ultimate all-inclusive arrangement, that includes spa treatments, diving and excursions, that sets it apart from the rest.
One of the scariest moments of my life was in the Maldives. Hard to believe really, when you think of a paradise island with nothing to do but relax, right? Wrong. The biggest surprise from our family holiday in Centara Grand Maldives, apart from an encounter with a 10 meter whale shark, was the amount of things to do in the Maldives.
I had been selling this bucket-list destination for years, (I was a travel agent for 24 years before I started writing), to honeymoon couples who I thought wanted to spend their holiday gazing into each others eyes. The Maldives is romantic, it is idyllic and it is for honeymooners, but I really wasn’t prepared for the amount of activities available, or for the chatter in the bar in the evening times. I pictured tables for two in restaurants with little atmosphere. It was the opposite.
Couples and families got together and shared pictures from their activities that day, in fact, most nights we were engaged with other islanders at some point. I loved the whole vibe, it reminded me of being in a surfers resort, everyone was active, there was loads going on and there was a fun, holiday atmosphere throughout the island. I only booked six nights in Centara Grand Maldives, (we combined our trip with a family holiday in Dubai), because I naively thought it might be too quiet.
One thing to note about holidaying in the Maldives is that each hotel has it’s own island, so obviously all islands / hotels are different. We stayed in Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa, but this does not mean that every island will have the same amount of activities or lively atmosphere.
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Centara Grand is renowned as being one of the best All Inclusive hotels in the Maldives. When we visited we enjoyed its Ultimate All Inclusive offering. However, I understand they now have a two-tiered system. Meals and drinks are included in your stay, but if you opt for the Grand All Inclusive, selected activities and excursions are also included. Check the latest board arrangements here.
The bizarre thing is that although myself and Cormac were able to have $100 dollars of free spa treatments each day, I didn’t go once! Cormac had a head and shoulder massage on one occasion only. There simply wasn’t enough time to partake in all the activities that were included, so my first TOP TIP is to stay a minimum of seven nights, or longer if possible.
Something else that I loved, is that there were no roads or paths. The whole island is sand so you can leave your high heels and fancy shoes at home, flip flops is all that is needed here! Regardless of which restaurant you ate in, dinner attire was fairly casual. Most women were in flowing dresses and flip flops and men dressed in smart shorts and tee-shirts. It was far removed from ladies day at Ascot. Even the pilots flying our sea-plane from the capital Malé to Centara Grand Maldives wore flip flips!
Speaking of the sea-plane, this was superb way to start our family holiday in the Maldives. The views of the islands below (there are around 1200 different islands in the Maldives), are spectacular and it is an experience we will never forget.
You can go by speedboat, it is cheaper, but it will take about 90 minutes. After a 35 minute flight, we arrived to a pontoon in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A boatman from Centara Grand arrived to bring us straight to the island. We arrived in the evening time and were welcomed with bright smiles and champagne. After a brief run through on dining options and excursions, we were brought straight to our over-water villa.
I always wanted to stay in an over-water villa, and Centara Grand is one of the few places that allow children to do this. In fact this was one of the reasons we chose this hotel, after our travel agent, The Holiday Shop recommended it.
It was beautifully furnished with a round jacuzzi bath and a massive balcony. Because of it’s location, the balcony had a wonderful breeze, it was amazing to sit out at night time and enjoy the night sky with a bottle of wine. Incidentally there were two bottles of wine in our mini-bar, along with beers, soft drinks and snacks. These were replenished each day as part of the all-inclusive arrangement.
The kids were delighted with the over-water villa too. There were able to watch fish jumping and baby sharks swimming from the balcony. They also loved the bunk beds and playstation console in their room.
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Dining at Centara Grand Maldives
There are a huge choice of dining options in Centara Grand Maldives. We were advised by The Holiday Shop, to book restaurants in advance and we were glad we did. The buffet restaurant is great, albeit very hot, the choice of food is excellent and the kids loved it, but personally I prefer waiter service.
We decided to eat in the buffet restaurant the night we arrived and for breakfast each day, but on all other evenings we ate in the à la carte restaurants. These were all part of the Grand All Inclusive arrangement, we could dine in any restaurant, as many times as you like, throughout your stay.
There are supplements for some premium drinks and for selected dishes like seafood platters etc. This did bug me a little at the beginning, I felt for a five-star luxury hotel, that prides itself on it’s Ultimate All-Inclusive offerings, these supplements should be limited.
Of course I understand champagne and lobster usually incur an additional charge, but I was surprised at some of the things that were not included. To be fair, as the week went on, and I realised how much was actually included in our stay, I felt almost ashamed that these little things bothered me at all.
The food was superb in all restaurants, as was the service, I couldn’t fault a thing. The 1:1 ratio of staff to guests is noticeable throughout the resort. There was no need to ask someone to take your photo, there always seemed to be someone there offering to assist.
We ate in the Teppanyaki restaurant once, the Thai restaurant twice, and Azurri Mare, an Italian / sea-food restaurant three times. Suan Bua Thai Restaurant was excellent. They have indoor and outdoor tables and great Thai cuisine. We managed to get a table beside the lotus pond on both occasions, it was very much an authentic Thai setting.
I loved the Pad Thai and the spicy red curry, but there were some delicious fish dishes too. They also had a great selection on the kids menu, the home-made chicken tenders with satay sauce were a big hit with Alex.
Azurri Mare is their overwater Italian and seafood restaurant and probably our favourite on the island. You can literally hear fish jumping in the ocean from your table. The views are spectacular and the food is great too. They have homemade pizza and pasta and some delicious fish dishes.
We also enjoyed lunch at the Teppanyaki restaurant. I have been to many all-inclusive resorts and there is normally an extra charge for the Teppanyaki restaurant. It was great to see it was included in the cost, as the kids loved the interactive show.
Regardless of which restaurant we dined in, it never felt like a ‘hotel experience’, but instead your favourite local restaurant. The quality of the food and the service was akin to a top class restaurant. Every meal started with their own home made infused tea. This was different every day and had a host of different flavours, from honey, orange zest to cumin. This was a nice touch and made you try teas you wouldn’t ordinarily have.
To be able to walk away at the end of the night with no bill was bliss. We never paid extra for premium dishes because the à la carte menus were so good. There was always a great variety on the menus for adults and children and every meal was accompanied with a delicious bottle of Chianti – what more could we want!
Accommodation at Centara Grand Maldives
The ironic thing was we were advised by our travel agent, The Holiday Shop, to stay in the beach villas at Centara Grand, but I insisted on trying the over-water villas too. We decided to stay two nights in a deluxe family water villa and move to the beach villa for our last four nights.
While we loved the over-water villas, the beach villas are actually more practical with kids. The bungalows have a large balcony with railings, for children’s protection, but this means they don’t have unrestricted views of the sea and you can’t just dive in whenever you feel the urge, you need to take the stone steps down to the water. There is lots of coral here so you need to be careful underfoot.
I should point out that Centara Grand have different over-water villas on the other side of the island for couples. The ocean water villa has netting that stretches out over the water and an open balcony. In these villas you can just jump into the ocean at any time ❤️.
We moved to a luxury 2 bedroom beach villa with a private pool for our last four days and it was perfect. We should have listened to the advice of The Holiday Shop and stayed here the whole time. The kids loved the pool, I loved the beach and the villa itself was beautifully furnished with a mezzanine and an outdoor bath. There was a shallow lagoon just outside our door so even toddlers could paddle around in the ocean safely here.
If you opt for the sunset ocean pool villa, which is an over-water bungalow with a private pool, you will automatically have access to ‘The Club‘. This is an intimate retreat within the resort, that offers a more fine dining experience, a superb infinity pool amongst other benefits. You can also pay $100 per day to have access to the club. We were kindly offered a complimentary pass for our last day.
The decor is certainly more stylish and the food was stepped up a notch. The breakfast was particularly impressive. Cormac had eggs benedict and I enjoyed a South African breakfast, both were delicious. However, I found The Club somewhat lacking in atmosphere. It was a little too quiet for us, we found ourselves whispering to each other at one point. The Club is ideal if you want a quiet escape and it is nice to dine somewhere different for a change, but one day was enough for us.
All Inclusive Activities at Centara Grand Maldives
When we managed to tear ourselves away from our private beach villa, we enjoyed countless activities each day, all part of the Ultimate All Inclusive arrangement. We could have taken a different boat trip each day, there was that many to choose from, but we opted for the whale shark trip and sunset fishing. We had actually pre-booked three other boat trips, but ended up cancelling them because there was so much to do on the island. Note All Inclusive offerings have changed since our visit – check the latest arrangements here.
The whale shark trip was the one I was looking forward to the most. I purchased a new GoPro in Dubai airport and was all set to get amazing footage, or so I hoped. I’m not sure what I was thinking, it is possible I confused feet and meters, or maybe I just misheard, but I certainly had no idea that I might be swimming next to a 10 meter whale shark.
I should point out that I can’t swim well at all! I was wearing a life jacket but I am not very competent in the water. After a brief talk from the captain, telling us not to get within 10 feet of them, we jumped in. Myself and Luke (age 11) were the only two brave (or mad) enough to do it, Alex and Cormac stayed on the boat and watched….
I was really enjoying snorkelling with Luke, it was a different experience from snorkelling at the hotel. The water was so deep and there was so many shoals of fish visible beyond the reef. We snorkelled for about 15 minutes, enjoying the underwater paradise and posing for photos as you can see! Suddenly I saw the whale shark. It seemed to come out of nowhere and he was gargantuan!
It was the biggest mammal I have ever seen and it was coming right for me. I completely panicked and almost tore Luke’s arm off trying to get him out of the way. All I could see was his tail flapping and I was sure I was going to get a belt. It seemed like a lifetime, the whale shark just kept coming and I couldn’t seem to get out of his path quick enough. I knew if his tail hit me I was going to be catapulted through the ocean. I finally bolted and grabbed Luke with me, with inches to spare.
Of course all my fellow snorkellers thought I was so lucky to get that close to him. Not me. It was terrifying! Whale sharks eat plankton, so there was no fear that he would eat us, but that didn’t cross my mind when he was hurtling towards me!
On our journey back to the hotel, the crew told me that there are three whale sharks that frequent that part of the sea. They have called them Adam, Fernando and Kokko, they somehow made them sound cute! The phrase ‘Gentle Giants’ was used on many occasions and I was repeatedly told how they wouldn’t harm me. All that being said, when I saw the photos and spoke to the crew, bizarrely, I wanted to get back in and see if I could see him again. Strange what happens when we face our fears….
It was a superb trip and is one I will never forget. I’m delighted Luke got to witness him too, he was actually much calmer than me throughout the whole experience. I have no doubt it is something we will talk about for many years to come.
We also enjoyed a sunset fishing trip which was tame by comparison, but very child-friendly. Everyone was given a spool rod and we were able to cast our lines from the boat. We didn’t manage to catch anything, although the lady beside us caught nine fish! Clearly we didn’t have fisherman’s luck but the views were spectacular.
The local island trip was something I had planned to do, where we could explore one of the other islands on foot with a local guide. I also fancied trying the sunrise yoga but didn’t get around to that either. Unfortunately we just didn’t have time to do everything. We came to the Maldives to relax, but it didn’t really turn out that way! The beaches were spectacular, the water was crystal clear, I had to spend some time enjoying that too.
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The watersports centre has lots of different activities available. My husband went on a diving trip to see the nearby shipwreck (you are allowed 3 dives per week as part of the all-inclusive arrangement) and there were windsurfing lessons, paddle boats, canoes, paddle boards and even banana boat rides, which we really enjoyed.
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Island life at Centara Grand Maldives
While all of these boat trips and activities were superb, I loved that we could just grab our snorkels from the garden at any time and set off from outside our beach villa. Snorkelling equipment is provided for the duration of your stay, so you can snorkel all day if you wish. The water is so shallow and crystal clear so visibility is superb. This also meant that we all didn’t need to snorkel at the same time. There were a few occasions when Alex played in the pool, Luke paddled with fish in the lagoon, Cormac went snorkelling and I went for a swim, yet we were all within ear-shot of each other.
Why Centara Grand Maldives’ has been voted the most family-friendly resort
We spent many late-afternoons in the Coral Bar. Most guests culminate outside as boats return from the various excursions. We talked about what we saw that day, while the kids swam in the large infinity pool. Ice-cream, snacks and afternoon tea is served and there is daily fish feeding, which the kids loved.
Large nurse sharks and sting-ray come right up to the Coral bar at 6pm each day. The kids were able to get very close to them, it was like visiting the best aquarium in the world, according to my daughter Alex. It was hard to believe that we could actually snorkel with these large creatures. I asked the barman and he nonchalantly said that nurse sharks are lazy and wouldn’t bother us and once we didn’t step on the sting-ray’s tails, we would be ok! I wasn’t overly convinced of this strategy but luckily we didn’t come across any when we were snorkelling close to the shore.
Once the fish-feeding was over, this was our cue to go back to our villa to get ready for dinner. This was a game-changer. The kids were able to swim in our private pool, or go to the kids club, while we enjoyed pre dinner cocktails – on our own! There are two kids clubs, a camp safari from age 4 and an e-zone for older kids and teenagers, kitted out with pool tables and games consoles. We have never been in a position to leave the kids at this time before. There is nothing on the island only the hotel, so it always feels extremely safe. They loved the independence and let’s be honest we did too!
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While they were off enjoying themselves, we sat in the most breathtaking location and enjoyed sundowners. It really was one of those moments where we felt like we were in paradise. We sat on large lounge chairs that were suspended over the water, and had amazing seaviews. Mouth-watering cocktails and incredible sunsets – I never wanted to leave. And just like that, an hour later, the kids would arrive up and meet us for dinner. Perfect endings to perfect days.
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Final thoughts on Centara Grand Maldives
Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa was voted the Maldives’ most family-friendly resort two years in succession, and I can completely understand why. Their ultimate All Inclusive package is superb, the food and service is excellent and there are more activities included than you could possibly want throughout your stay.
It may be more expensive to book than other resorts in the Maldives, but once you are there you can literally walk away without spending anything. Our bill at the end of six nights was only $106, and that was mostly tips! I think I would be hard pushed to find a better family resort in such an idyllic location, anywhere else in the world.
How to get there:
We combined our family holiday in the Maldives with a three-night stay with Dubai. We booked all flights and hotels through The Holiday Shop in Donabate, Dublin. They have fantastic first hand knowledge of Dubai and Maldives and knew exactly what to recommend. They also have superb rates that you may not be able to get elsewhere.
We flew direct to Dubai with Emirates (7.5 hours ) and then took an onward flight to Mahe (4.5 hours) before taking a seaplane (30 minutes), direct to Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa. There are many other flight options with other airlines including Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Etihad Airways.
This post is part of a collaboration with The Holiday Shop where I was given a small discount on my stay at Centara Grand Maldives. However, all views, as always, are my own.
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