Vivanta by Taj – Coral Reef – A Review By Punam Mohandas
Vivanta by Taj – Coral Reef is located on the small, private island of Hembadhu in the North Male atoll and is a one hour ride by speedboat from the airport.
One alights at the hotel’s jetty and spirits are instantly revived by the warm and unique welcome – all the HOD’s of the Coral Reef line up to welcome each boatload of guests, thus ensuring that visitors are familiar with those in charge of various departments at the resort.
The lobby is in a small villa over the lagoon, open on three sides. Check-in processes are carried out informally; indeed, the staff too dress casually and can often be seen wading into the water or snorkeling alongside the guests.
With 62 villas spread across the nine acre island, room categories include: Superior Charm Beach Villa (66sqm) Deluxe Delight Beach Villa (75sqm) with the only difference between the two being the size; Premium Indulgence Water Villa (85sqm) and two, two-bedroom Nirvana Suites (215sqm)
The Superior Charm Beach Villas comprise of very cosy room spaces, with a grey and cane décor. The roof beams are painted grey and complement the whitewashed walls in a simplistic manner, where the only startling splash of colour comes from the aquamarine lagoon outdoors. These cottages are right on the beach and have a hammock slung outside as well as a couple of deck chairs.
The Water Villas are quite stunning, with the bed facing the jaw-dropping expanse of the placid lagoon and the same aquamarine colour theme balanced against the coconut coir carpeting, white walls and grey-beamed roof in the interiors. There is an artwork made of bamboo twigs. This room is of course, much larger, with a chaise lounge by the doors leading out to the sundeck, which has sun loungers as also a small table with chairs.
Guests here have their own direct access into the lagoon. Two villas share space in each water pavilion; while they are not connected and have separate entries as also wooden partitions on the deck to screen off from the other villas, it does mean that the neighbours or indeed, anybody swimming past in the lagoon, will be able to observe one swimming or sunning oneself.
The bathroom is quite large, with – unusually – a lovely hanging lamp above the bathtub. There is a direct access to the deck outside. On special request to the resort, the Housekeeping team puts in its best efforts to make the last night of stay as memorable as possible, with a rose petal bath, aromatic bath oils and candles.
The Nirvana suites have a private pool literally right on the beach. Close by is a four seater table, a couple of settees as well as a couple of circular diwans for better relaxation and of course, a hammock slung on the beach. The interiors are very pleasing, with mustard, sea blue and forest green colours aesthetically complementing the coconut coir matting and stone floors. The bed as well as chaise lounge face the sea. There are ceiling fans provided in the bedrooms as well as bathrooms.
The bathroom is decidedly spacious and has a large wall mirror framed by seashells. Twin washbasins flank an equally sizeable shower cubicle. There is a separate powder room with a similar seashell mirror.
The bedroom upstairs has the same colour combination, offset by fawn coloured drapes and has a very roomy bathroom and walk-in wardrobe.
The Taj Coral Reef uses Forest Essential toiletries across all room categories. In-room amenities include large screen television, tea/coffee maker, electronic safe, torch and life jackets. Visitors are welcomed with a chocolate platter, while the fruit tray is replenished daily. Guests are also given little gifts, such as a luggage tag with the resort logo and a CD with pictures and specially selected music. Three complimentary 500 litre bottles of soda as well as three one litre bottles of drinking water are provided daily. All room categories have bathtubs and outdoor showers, although unfortunately, none of the bathrooms are equipped with jet sprays. Fire extinguishers are placed outside each room.
F&B options include the 88-covers, multi-cuisine Latitude restaurant; the 40-covers Reef Bar, with an additional 20-covers outside; the 40-covers Pizzeria, open from 11am-6pm only and the highlight – the 40-covers Open the Grill which overlooks the sea and serves south American cuisine (dinners only.) Moreover, the Moon deck can also be organized for a romantic cabana dinner for a couple. The bar has a very casual and friendly atmosphere, just like any English pub, except that this one is open from all sides to the sea! Sheesha is also available. On Sundays, there is live music here and a dance floor can be set up as well.
A point that definitely deserves a special mention is that the Coral Reef offers a choice of four menus for a packed breakfast, for guests who have an early morning check-out. I was particularly struck by this as this is most unusual; one seldom comes across such consideration for guest comfort.
Recreational options are a-plenty. Herons and cranes walk around as though they own the place and are particularly very regular at breakfast time, much to the delight of children and adults alike. There is an infinity pool and outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the sea, as well as a double hammock strung close to the water’s edge. A small shop beside the Reef bar stocks beach essentials and souveniers. Beside this is a table tennis table, while the bar also has a pool table. Adjacent to Latitude is a small library. Of course, the highlight would be the daily 5.30pm feeding of sharks and stingrays – it is all extremely safe, as there are hotel security personnel to keep a sharp eye on the guests. This activity is accompanied by a beach high tea for all guests.
The hotel has a PADI diving centre since there are coral reefs around this property, even – an honest-to-goodness shipwreck! Snorkelling equipment is provided complimentary for all guests.
Vivanta by Taj – Coral Reef also has a Jiva Spa on its premises. A flagged stone path leads to an understated Reception area done up in stone. There are four treatment rooms – two couple and two single, with steam room facilities are available. The spa also has a salon that offers treatments such as manicure, pedicure, facials and hair spa.
The signature treatment at Jiva is the Soma, involving a one hour aromatherapy massage followed by a rose petal bath accompanied by a bottle of champagne. The other treatment highlight is a 21-spices body scrub, said to be good for detoxification. The signature facial is an hour long treatment and uses products determined according to skin type, for instance, those with dry skin would be recommended to go in for a tulsi (basil) and rose water scrub as well as pack. The treatment begins with a 30-minute back massage with frangipani oil, followed by the facial, which also include face cleansing, steam and blackhead removal.
The Coral Reef tries to minimize any damage to the environment by using golf carts only in cases of emergency or for physically challenged guests. In any case, the island is so small that one can walk all across it in half an hour. Apart from this, the resort tries to make use of natural materials wherever possible and so the steps leading to the villas have dead corals embedded in them, while path lights are cunningly camouflaged by coconut shells, in fact, even the flower beds are edged by coconut shells.
Furthermore, in a bid to encourage guests to do their own bit for the environment in a more practical way, there is a garden that has little plaques with guest names on, where those who have planted and “adopted” a tree have been so commemorated. It costs between US$ 150-200 per tree and regular photos and updates are sent to the guests.
Comparisons will be inevitable, with a hotel group having two properties within the same country. The Coral Reef is not upscale like its posh cousin Taj Exotica at Emboodhu Finolhu on South Male atoll. Nonetheless, it is a friendly little place, with tucked-away benches amid the lush greenery or swings on the beach. Pest control could be improved on, though.
Although the Coral Reef is not as premium as its more luxurious counterpart, the service element is unmistakeably Taj. F&B, Front Office and the Security teams are all attentive and courteous. Mr Brij, the F&B Director, is present at all mealtimes and is to be seen sometimes clearing tables as well, if staff are busy. Equally, the head of security, Mr Nair, is diligent in his rounds of the property, particularly during the shark feeding and during the nights. Housekeeping is not only efficient, but assiduous; I must make especial mention of Saif, who is a local Maldivian and is friendly, smart and speaks very good English.
The Vivanta by Taj – Coral Reef operates its own speedboats for the transfers to and from the airport, which is an hour long journey (longer, if the sea is choppy.) Taking a seaplane anyplace is more expensive and also time consuming as it does a hopping leg.
Most major airlines fly into Velana International airport at Male. If you are looking for budget options, consider flying with Sri Lankan airlines with a brief stopover at Colombo, from where the flight to Male takes only 1.5 hours. The Maldives is considered to be an expensive and over-priced destination. Here’s why: each resort is responsible for its own power generation (the government does not provide electricity!) and recycling as well as waste management. Everything has to be imported into the island, often with high taxes. Therefore, Vivanta by Taj – Coral Reef offers some splendid packages that are quite unbeatable when one factors in all the costs involved. One such package is priced at US$ 750 for a couple, per day, including all meals and taxes, unlimited beer and other alcohol, plus a diving excursion. For more information, please contact the resort directly.
Please note that there is also a US$ 6 “green” tax per person, per night spent in the Maldives.
Vivanta by Taj- Coral Reef, Maldives
TEL: + 960 6640233
FAX: 960 6643884
Punam Mohandas asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. Any views or opinions expressed in this review is that of the author.