It wasn't the most romantic of flights. Seven hours inside a silver box is far from lovely-dovey but the flight was uneventful. Nothing is everything when you have three small children.
We were finally going to the Maldives — the honeymoon paradise we'd always dreamed of. The only difference to the holiday of our dreams was that we were bringing the children.
You are WHAT? my sisters asks, horrified that our 10 years of honeymoon planning has culminated into a party of five. But we are explorers, we've brought the children to the museums in Florence, to Venice, to Girona, to Florida...they are curious about the world and I don't want that to ever change. Besides, I'd have missed them too much.
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The idea of travelling long-haul with children aged 4, 7 and 8 sounded tough on paper but once they can use the bathrooms themselves, are out of bottles, nappies and prams, it is really rather enjoyable. The entertainment on board meant they watched movies and played video games together. They slept for at least five out of the seven hours on the way to Dubai. We'd decided to break up the journey on the way over because of the long flight times and it was one of the best decisions we made. We stayed in Dubai for a few nights, sightseeing and discovering all the really wonderful aspects of our first exposure to the Middle East. The children were fascinated.
The onward journey to Malé, where the International airport of the Maldives is located was going to be four hours. We opted for the 3am flight from Dubai. There was another less horrific one at 10am but we wanted to spend as much time in paradise as possible. Buoyed up with the prospect of touching down to palm trees, we didn't really mind getting up so early and staying in the airport hotel in Dubai made all the difference. (We only had to wake up half an hour before our flight boarded).
We were staying in Club Med Kani, the all-inclusive resort geared, in this case, towards family fun. There are not too many resorts in this part of the world that cater to little humans so the Mini-Club, sailing lessons for children and the circus school (The resort has the only flying trapeze in the Maldives). I'd had spent many happy holidays travelling to Club Med destinations as a child and then worked as a GO (Gentil organisateur means kind organiser in French) in its many ski resorts around Europe. I knew what to expect. Or so I thought.
In many of the Club Med resorts, there is a loud, inclusive, happy-clappy aspect that so many enjoy. We realised a little after we arrived at the private island that this was going to be a more demure and lackadaisical holiday. That suited us just fine. The backdrop was dramatic enough. We were happy to daydream by the pool for the afternoons.
Back to the arrival. Malé is a small port city where a third of the population of the Maldives live. The Maldives is made up of over 1,200 coral islands. It is the flattest country in the world with most of the land just 4 feet 11 above sea level. Some scientists fear that warming seas mean the entire country could be submerged in as little as 80 years. We were welcomed at the airport by Juri, from Malé, jumped into a speed boat which is located about 10 feet from the airport door (The airport is basically on the jetty) and suddenly we were whizzing through the bluest blue water I've ever seen in my life.
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It is hard to describe the beauty of this part of the world. We were 1,000 miles South East of the coast of India — a speck in the vast Indian ocean. Our tired Irish eyes took a while to adjust to the technicolour of our surroundings. Up ahead the white sandy hump on the horizon was our destination, the tiny 1km by 300-metre island of Kanifinolhu. It is an oasis of elegant palm trees swaying lazily across the powdery sand. White boats bob in the bay with names like Pearl and Scallywag. From the beach, suites on stilts arch out into the soft blue ocean. We are silent, then ecstatic, then a little vindicated — the postcards didn't lie — places like this do exist and there is nothing filtered about it.
We are greeted with cool coconut drinks and warm smiles – a typical Club Med welcome but with a Maldivian twist. Aya, a GO from Japan, points out Dory and Nemo hiding in the coral as we walk down the wooden jetty. A sign announces ‘no news and no shoes beyond this point’ and for seven days, we don’t wear shoes- not even at dinner. My gold strappy sandals sit abandoned at the bottom of the suitcase.
We are shown to our room, an interconnecting bungalow that opens out onto the coconut grove palms. The sea was our front garden, the hermit crabs the only traffic that passed. The entire resort is nicely small. It feels safe enough for the children to have a little more freedom that we were used to on other holidays. There is one large pool that overlooks the beach where all the usual Club Med activities take place – water polo, the famous crazy signs (a zany dance designed to get everyone up dancing) aqua aerobics, sailing and beach volleyball.
Sundowners and baby sharks
Beyond the pool is the Sunset Bar where we enjoyed sundowners every evening (afternoon). As many of the cocktails and spirits are included in the all-inclusive package, we never had to faff around with cash. In fact, even our magnetic bracelets which we were presented with on arrival allowed us to open the bedroom doors which meant annoying key cards were unnecessary. No shoes, no key cards, plenty of cocktails. So far so awesome.
In the middle of the island, an ancient banyan tree rises out of the sand. Its Lord of the Rings-esque shadow keeps the reception area, boutique and ping-pong area nicely cool. The main restaurant is called Kani and is a masterclass in how to do the world's best buffet. The resort was quiet so there were never any queues which can be off-putting during mealtimes. The children loved the Indian and Italian sections and of course, were the ice-cream scoop man's best customers. We dined on freshly caught reef fish, mouth-watering stir fries flashed in the pan by the Chinese chef to order.
One of the days we get a knock on the door — we were invited to dine on the jetty which is surrounded by colourful coral. We were served this time — a feast of lobster, king crab, fillet steak, a chocolate tart of dreams. Champagne flowed and we felt peak happy. The children spot a black-tipped baby shark in the water and the walk back down the candlelit jetty to bed was unforgettable.
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The kids club, called in the Mini-Club was ideal for our children's age. We didn't push them to go, knowing that no matter what, they were going to have fun in the pool together or on the beach five feet away from our sunloungers collecting crabs. Luckily, they wanted to join in the treasure hunts and crab races. They were always nearby waving at their lazy parents but they had warm and -funloving GO's to play with so everyone was happy. At the beach, they learnt how to sail catamarans while we were out sailing too. They kayaked and played pool games and took part in sandcastle building competitions. The best part is that they were usually within eyeshot.
We go snorkelling on a boat trip with the children. We visit a deserted sandbank, miles from anything. We float in the shallow reef, mostly as a chain of five, peering at the jaw-dropping world beneath. Live coral with giddy unicorn fish skitting about curiously, an eagle ray — our guide shows us how we can actually touch the fish they are so unused to humans. The Maldives didn't appear in any way touristy to us. Perhaps it was because we were whisked off to our paradise island but overall the sense of being exploited or having things shoved in our face was non-existent which was refreshing. It still felt like we'd discovered it ourselves. It was perfectly serene and ours for the day.
So was it romantic? I'd wager it would be impossible to be transported somewhere as beautifully tropical as this and not feel your heart skip a beat. The company enhanced the experience of course and to be honest, part of the romance was having our little loves with us. Our sun, moon and stars. Grown-up romance is lovely and we had a great deal of time to catch up on life, read, and even just sitting together peacefully was a joy. But seeing our children unravelling a little piece of paradise with us was something really special.