Holiday Inn Kandooma, not to be confused with the city hotel Holiday Inn Malé, has surpassed itself in the recent renovation of what was a backpackers' hangout. The slick and fresh beach house style is charming and the quality of the services offered is of a high standard. The hotel has a real beach family holiday atmosphere - not ideal if you are looking to feel completely secluded. However, the resort does offer the best of both worlds. The beach house accommodation and water villas are found far away from the main activity of the hotel, creating a real peace haven looking out to the sea. Kandooma Island is very different to most islands in the Maldives as it is multifaceted when it comes to its landscape: the cluster of hotel facilities is blessed with a calm pristine lagoon whereas the opposite end is open to breaking waves giving guests variety in the scenery. The island is fairly large and although it is not blessed with a lush green jungle, there is sufficient vegetation to get lost in whilst taking a leisurely stroll. Although a more casual hotel than its luxurious rivals, we loved the Holiday Inn Kandooma Island which provided a refreshing surprise in terms of its beach house accommodation and in the variety of the landscape. For a real island feel with a lively holiday atmosphere, this is the place.
The Maldives consist of over a thousand islands arranged into what is commonly-known as atolls, or groups of islands, although the word 'atoll' actually denotes an island made of coral surrounded by a lagoon. Located in the South Malé Atoll, Kandooma Island is accessed via a 20 minute speedboat journey.
Around 200 islands of the archipelago are inhabited (recorded at the time of our visit in April 2010). Each hotel has its own island (unless you stay in the capital or Hulhule, the airport island). Among the 200 or so inhabited islands, some are inhabited by locals only - hotels and locals rarely mix unless in a work environment within a hotel structure. By this, we mean that there are no local villages which share a hotel's island and vice versa. Tourism and local life are kept separate. This means that there are no cultural activities on hotel islands, although most hotels tend to organise excursions to neighbouring local islands for the day.
Upon arrival at the airport, everything may seem very confusing, with people milling around all over the place looking lost - you will notice a row of hotel kiosks, and a row of Maldivian Air Taxi or Trans Maldivian Airline kiosks behind that. When you come out of the arrival doors, just look out for your host who should be waving a Holiday Inn Kandooma Island placard. Your host will then take you to the right jetty to board the speed boat to the island.
Opened in December 2009, the Holiday Inn Kandooma is very far from all preconceptions one might have of the chain which will surprise any guest upon arrival. For guests who find it hard to switch off, rest-assured, for there is complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the resort.
Kandooma Island's landscape is very varied, which is rare in the archipelago where lagoons are king. Guests have it all here: a dream like lagoon, breaking waves, a neighbouring inhabited local island and plenty of vegetation scattered all over the island. Most of the hotel facilities are clustered close to the arrival jetty to the front of the island. The buildings, tall and round in shape, look like barnacles, which is different to the customary thatched roofed pavilions usually found in the Maldives. The resort doesn't work in harmony with nature despite its ocean theme, but it is looking to attract guests looking for a modern resort with lots of facilities and a happening atmosphere. Very smart and contemporary, the interiors have been created with great care and thought. Around the main hub of activity, guests can expect to find a high-ceilinged fresh-looking reception area with a coffee shop and an indoor recreational area on the first floor just above the reception desk. Here you can use one of the five Mac computers with internet access for free. There is also a pool table, library and television/DVD player. The path leads to the second barnacle, where the main hotel restaurant welcomes guests for buffet meals. The two main buildings line the infinity-edge pool which lines the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean. In the same area you can also find the very lively kids' club, DJ box - yes, that's right; the resort has its very own in-house Dj who plays music throughout the day all over the resort. That is not to say that there is booming music everywhere; it is mainly restricted to the main pool area.
The pool area is really lovely despite all the activity going on! It is rare to see so many guests congregating in one area in other resorts, so guests coming to Kandooma must enjoy socialising. Guests wanting peace and quiet can also keep to themselves throughout the best part of the day by lounging about in a nook along the jagged coastal edge towards the beach house area. There is a lovely wild feel about the island once you get away from the main area. This makes up the real charm of the place. The gym and luxury branded Como Shambala spa are nestled in the island's peaceful clearings away from any loud music and squealing children.
The resort has a couple of dining options including 'Kitchen' which is the ŕ la carte restaurant and the roof top lounge boasting wonderful views over the ocean.
All the accommodation is found far from the main cluster of activity to give guests as much privacy as possible. An authentic Robinson Crusoe atmosphere can be found here as you look out to the breaking ocean from your terrace. There is no real lagoon around the accommodations but the rough wild scenery has its charm. There are 160 rooms altogether, starting with the Garden View villas, followed by the Beach View villas, Garden View beach houses, Family beach house, Island View overwater villas, Sea view overwater villas and the Pavilion.
All the accommodation is of excellent quality and is highly aesthetically pleasing in a white washed beach house style, which is the first of its kind here in the Maldives. Simple yet effective, we fell in love with the Sea View beach houses. Set on the jagged edge of the island in a calm little haven of tranquility, the two storey houses look more like a surfer's hangout than a luxury villa. The ground floor is completely open and consists of an outdoor living area. The stairs lead up to the bedroom; bright, light and fresh, the room has a balcony looking out to the sea as well as all the mod-cons one would expect to find such as a flat screen television and DVD player, complimentary tea and coffee making facilities and, something we loved and haven't seen anywhere else: a fresh orange juice maker with oranges! Extremely practical if you don't want to head down to the main restaurant for breakfast.
All rooms have been decorated in a similar style. Most have a private deck complete with hammock. Even the bathrooms are pleasant - the lead in category has a small bathroom with an open air shower. All amenities are refill own brand products. The overwater villas are also charming but the island accommodation is much better value. Isolated from noise, fairly private due to the mangrove separating the villas and close to the beach, the island accommodation is less expensive but more convenient and pleasant. The water villas have a notable disadvantage - during low tide there is hardly any water around the area meaning that despite the direct access to the water, some guests may be disappointed about not being able to make the most of it all day. The water accommodation is a little more spacious that the other categories. There is also an outdoor freestanding bath tub on the deck. However, as you will notice from our photographs, the villas are fairly close together meaning that any noise is audible next door.
The main hotel restaurant is located in the main cluster of activity close to the pool. Meals are served as a buffet. There are often themed evenings here but the food is generally a mix of international cuisine. The restaurant itself is very smartly decorated. It does get quite busy at meal times so if you want something a little quieter then opt for the ŕ la carte restaurant situated towards the heart of the island. Fun looking, the restaurant does tend to get quite busy so do make sure that you book in advance. There is also a lovely roof top lounge with stunning views which makes for an ideal spot to watch the sun set.
The best beach area is found to the front of the island, close to the pool area. The sands are powdery and lined by glistening turquoise waters. The lagoon is beautiful here. The rest of the island hasn't been blessed with such a lagoon, but the rugged edge adds a wild, natural dimension to the island. There are small alcoves towards the beach house accommodation where a swim is possible. However around the water villas there is hardly any water at low tide. The area isn't the best for snorkelling; however the diving centre does organise snorkelling and diving trips.
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