Christmas Trip: Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa Maldives

Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa Maldives

It has been way too long since I have written any updates, let alone talk about our Christmas trip to the Maldives! I figure if we’re going to spend the same amount of money as a new Kia (U.S. prices of course) to go on a 6-day trip, then I better write about it to get my money’s worth! Plus, how else will I show some of the cools pictures. Time to get back on board.

This ‘review’ gives the resort  4.5 out of 5 stars for our one-week stay. For those who wonder where we went, the Republic of the Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean comprised of 26 atolls approximately 250 miles southwest of India. The 1,100+ islands are spread over 35,000 square miles. The average ground level is less than 5 feet above sea level. No risk of altitude sickness here! Dhivehi is the official language and Islam is the official religion.


We stayed for 6 days at the Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa in the Maldives. We picked Christmas week, a Sunday to Saturday trip. This is an all-inclusive resort and like most in the area, it is on its own island. This is the wow factor! The hotel has 112 suites and villas and you can walk the circumference in about 15 minutes. The majority of rooms are villas constructed out over the reef. The island is in the South Ari Atoll, which is a 45-minute seaplane ride from Male proper. Although we really only saw the sun the last day, the weather temp was ideal for wandering every day and night around what little land there is. It was perfect for relaxing. There is one main pool, one pool at the private club, a lot of beach, and a whole lot of warm ocean


All-inclusive means we often ate at the main buffet style restaurant, which actually has a Japanese grill that is included free for one night. There is a Thai restaurant and an Italian/Seafood place. The restaurants, other than the buffet, have set menus that are 2-3 courses depending on your all-inclusive package choice. We usually ate lunch at the Italian place and breakfast was always the buffet. They have the typical standards which include pancakes for me! This is a very popular destination for Asian ‘snowbirds’ and the meals have specialties for their palate as well. Christmas-eve buffet was an extra charge but they had a great selection and I am never one to pass up 2-3 stops at the dessert table. Some of the staff were even caroling during dinner. We spoke to one of the bartenders the day before and he commented how many weeks he and his peers had spent learning the Christmas carols. They did well!


Because we paid extra to be part of the Island Club, with top shelf free flow alcohol at any restaurant or bar (it was a HOLIDAY!), we could also eat at the Island Club restaurant which had 4-course set meals and a more private atmosphere. The trick was to look at the menu the day before and see which place you preferred. For dinner, it was recommended reservations be made the day before. For the first 4 days, the resort guests were less than 60% of the capacity which meant we rarely ran into anyone and never had issues at mealtime. It became a little more crowded as the after Christmas but ready for New Years guest arrived. The overall food for the week was not the best of our various resort stays but relatively good with a wide selection. Each night the buffet was a different theme. We ate at the Thai place one dinner and the Island Club most nights. The quality of the food is one of the two reasons I can’t give a full 5 stars to the resort.




Our room was five stars. We had an overwater villa facing the sunset. The first and last night were the only two sunsets we saw however. The other nights were overcast but still warm. Based on our wandering around, we had one of the best room locations at the entire resort. Looking at the picture from the air, we were in the middle of the right hand side overwater villas near the long walkway down the center (Outside edge of the upside down C). The interior reminded me of a room I would expect in the U.S. Northeastern seaboard. It was a very nautical décor with small lighthouses and other sea or fishing artifacts. Warm wood floors, white walls and blue and white striped curtains. The room was huge and had a great cathedral ceiling. The bathroom was as big as our master bedroom in Singapore! There was a separate bathtub with a view straight through the bedroom out through the double doors over the deck to the ocean. The free mini-bar was handy in the afternoon for cleansing the palate after swallowing some salt water. There was even a reading nook which was very useful. After all, there is only so much snorkeling, eating, and walking circles around an island you can do each day. Reading or relaxing is the norm.


Our Deck I have always wanted to stay in an over the sea villa and YAW let me pick this trip! Being from California, I expected my goal would be reach in Fiji or Tahiti but since the Maldives is only a 4.5 hour flight from Singapore, who am I to pass this one up. The outside deck was my favorite part of  this hotel.  The deck has two levels near the water and a sun-deck above. The sun-deck provided nice shade for lower main deck. You actually don’t ever need the sun deck since the second lower deck is exposed to the elements with two comfy lounge chairs. There was a small set of wooden stairs that led directly into the ocean. I used those steps at least twice a day to go snorkeling. While in the water, YAW would throw breadcrumbs and I was quickly surrounded by hungry fish. Luckily the small reef sharks don’t seem to like bread. The first day I ventured out, I saw something strange sticking up from the muck. As I swam to investigate, I discovered an umbrella stuck tip down in the sand! Needless to say that allowed for some amusing pictures in the middle of the ocean. Doesn’t it look like there is nothing anywhere near me? Scary! I hope I can follow the bread crumbs home. Not likely, dang fish.


The entire island is surrounded by a coral reef and the underwater scenery, even close to the villas, was great. I was disappointed in how gray the coral was – seems resort by products are damaging the coral in the area I venture to guess. I expected bright vibrant colors. Yet it was still well worth the swim. When I swam out a few hundred feet from our villa, I came to the edge of the reef surrounding the island. You quickly realize the ocean drops away at least several hundred feet. I could not see the bottom.  It was very cool but a little intimidating. Strange to suddenly come to an edge and wonder if you continue, will you make it back?

Reef and Shark

Up close, I saw reef sharks, manta rays, stingrays, colorful fish, funny slugs, and giant clams. At least I justified my Xmas present, an Olympus Tough TG-1 underwater and shockproof camera (Thanks Honey!). It took great shots and I used it everyday. One day I took a long boat ride out to look at whale sharks. I only saw one but at one point I was within 20 feet of it while taking a video of it swimming by. There were 8-10 boats and over  50 people dropping in the water at different points trying to follow this one shark. Comical in a way but it was crazy. I heard there are other areas where groups of 15-20 sharks can be found and that would have been a lot easier. Not sure the hour-long boat ride each way in crappy weather was worth the trip. It was very choppy out and a little choppy heading back. I did a lot of standing into the wind taking deep breaths. At the resort there is a full dive center if you need more adventure. They even have a shipwreck close to the island.

Whale Shark

When it is time for the extra level of stress relief, there is a small spa at the resort. Our package included a 30-minute spa session each day per person. I think we only used it 3x each but I do remember the coffee body scrub. It felt like being rubbed by rough wet sandpaper but it smelled good. The spa is small and there are no after treatment facilities like a steam room or dry sauna.

Time for the second reason I can’t give 5 stars. Our room attendant was great. Within two days he realized we ate breakfast at 7AM and dinner around 7PM. This meant our room was always tidied up when we came back from either meal. He was the only staff I hunted down before we left to tip. The team at the Island Club was also very nice and talked to us, specifically more to YAW who spent a lot of time at the smaller pool there during the day while I was snorkeling around. The morning buffet wait staff was nice too. We often came in when they first opened for breakfast since we decided there was no real reason to get adjusted to the time zone difference from Singapore.

Where I was surprised with the majority of staff was the lack of smiles or even a nod while passing by. Some might say good morning or hello but rarely with a smile that made you feel welcomed. We believe, after some research, this is just the culture in a country that has only been inundated with these types of resorts for the last few decades. However, it is their country and culture and we are the visitors – I respect that.  Although I don’t expect everyone to love us visiting, when I stay at a 5-start resort I do expect that the HR team has done a little extra prepping the staff. When we compare it to places in Bali or Hawaii where the staff greeted us by name within a few days, this is why I give it a 4.5 star rating. I know we won’t return to this resort.  This is in large part because of the staff and well quite honestly it would be too far from the U.S. once we go home!

There were a few other little things that we did not expect. I knew we had to take a seaplane but did not expect it to stop at another resort first and then land at our resort where the seaplane dock is free floating. While rocking on the dock, you wait for a boat to come and take you to the island. The day we landed, it was a little rougher and that wasn’t the best experience but we got through it. Next time though, we will pick a resort with one less transfer point, i.e. a seaplane dock linked to the island. The view from the air is very nice as you pass a number of islands with resorts. The schedule for the seaplanes means you will spend a few or several hours waiting at the airport before and after your resort stay. We landed on Sunday at 11:00 AM but did not leave for the resort by seaplane until after 2 PM. We did have a short chat with the Australian Minister for Tourism who was on the plane with her family. On the way back after our stay, we had a long wait too but at least had access to the nice airport lounge.



We think this will be our one and only trip to the Maldives. Although the islands are beautiful, I like the more tropical and Polynesian feel of Hawaii and the like. Therefore I guess Southern Philippines, Fiji, or Micronesia is still on the To Do list! We realized 6 days are 2 days too long for us to spend on an island. We can relax like the best of them but it actually gets a little slow. The good news is that means cheaper trips to these exotics destinations in the future.

Next up: Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, and Shanghai (no, not all at once!).

Reef1Reef3Reef4 Reef5Under Our Stairs