It’s a bit of a splurge for two homeless, unemployed, American backpackers to take a week long cruise of the Maldives, but it was my dream destination just as Japan was my husband’s. In fact our entire route around the world was planned around stopping in the Maldives and Japan, then spending the time in between in some of the world’s least expensive countries to make up for it!
There are several ways to visit the Maldives: private island resorts (most common and famous for over-water bungalows), guesthouses on local islands (newer option in the past few years), and live aboard ships of all shapes and sizes. I personally couldn’t imagine seeing just one of the over a thousand islands, and we couldn’t afford lodging plus food AND excursions, so a cruise seemed like the perfect option, and it was!
In researching ships I came across the Yasawa Princess, one of the largest ships cruising the area and one of the only ones that caters to both snorkelers and divers. By large, we’re not talking mega cruise ship with a wave pool and casino on board, we’re talking about 40 passengers maximum and only 22 the week we were onboard. Thankfully, everyone onboard from fellow passengers to crew made for excellent company and we were able to make many new friends.
The islands and water of the Maldives were exceptionally beautiful and absolutely filled with colorful sea life, everything I had dreamed of. It was far and away the best snorkeling of my life, and I’ve snorkeled in A LOT of places. But the Yasawa Princess made the experience even better in some important ways:
1. Cruising away from Male- Our first morning in the water blew my mind, and I have a few hundred photos from the underwater camera to prove it. But my fellow passengers (almost all repeat cruisers) ensured me that the farther you get from the bustle of Male, the better the coral gets, and they were 100% right. Within a few days we were surrounded by the healthiest reefs I’ve ever seen and there wasn’t a soul in sight our a sound within earshot.
2. Food and fun- Having meals and drinks included is enough to make anyone dance for joy in such an expensive country, but GOOD food is a double bonus! Vijay, the chef, prepared a new soup and salad for every lunch and dinner, along with vegetables, sides, meats and fish that changed with each meal as well. Oh, and some of the best homemade bread I’ve ever had. (I don’t know if it counts as “home”made on a boat, but it’s damn delicious whatever you call it.) On top of normal meals, each week includes a lavish beach BBQ dinner on a deserted island with drinking and dancing to follow the food, as well as a Maldivian Night with traditional Maldivian food followed by drumming and singing from the crew along with dancing by the crew and passengers. I don’t want to spoil any surprises here, but these two nights were most definitely memorable for quite a few reasons.
3. New locations- Being on a ship means you get to explore new islands every day. One day you’re on a deserted sandbank with umbrellas for shade, the next you’re on an island with palm trees and hammocks, and the scenery below the water changes just as much as above. If ever you don’t want to join in the fun (like perhaps when you’ve gotten a bit too much sun one day), you’re free to stay behind and hang out on the ship. On the islands you’ve got the choice of guided snorkeling, solo snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, shell collecting, or simply doing nothing at all. SCUBA divers get a dive in the morning and afternoon, but most chose to join the rest of us on the beach occasionally.
4. Excursions- Hotels and guesthouses will charge you extra, around $100 per person per excursion, for the activities that were included in our cruise. Picnic on a deserted island, check. BBQ dinner under the stars on an island with bioluminescent plankton, check. Night swimming with sharks off a hotel’s pier, check. Night fishing from the back of the ship as well as a special expedition on the dive boat, check. Searching for whale sharks in their prime breeding ground and getting to swim with them, double check! Our group even lucked out enough to swim with dolphins after lunch one day, and the previous week had spotted manta rays and jumped in the water with them. The ocean makes no guarantees as to what you will see, but being on a boat increases your odds of being able to get to the right place at the right time!
The week we spent in the Maldives is probably one of the highlights of my 32 years of life so far, and I owe a great deal of thanks to the crew of the Yasawa Princess for making it so wonderful. (They even did our laundry for free! The first time our clothes have seen a proper washer and detergent in over two months!) I sincerely hope that I get the chance to return, even though it’s half a world away from the US, and I hope the coral stays just as beautiful. If you have an opportunity to go to this magical place, take it! And if you’re wondering what the best way to experience the Maldives on a moderate budget is, check out the Yasawa Princess. Just make sure to leave a cabin open for me!
*You may recall from an earlier post that one day our ship did run aground on a reef due to some poor navigating by the new captain. A tugboat was dispatched from Male and we were safe to continue on our journey the following morning. The staff did a fantastic job of keeping us entertained and informed during the 24 hour ordeal, and they did such a good job that I would return to the Yasawa Princess without hesitation. In fact, if it hadn’t been for that accident, we wouldn’t have gotten the chance to swim with the dolphins! We ended up in the right place at the right time!