The king is dead, long live the king. This customary announcement of royal succession comes to mind when thinking about the new Lily Beach. What has actually happened is that the same resort has been entirely re-imagined and given a new life.
The beach is still good for the beach bungalows, the reef is still close-by on both sides, the vegetation still grows well in the rich soil and you can still walk barefoot everywhere on the sandy floors.
And it is still an all-inclusive island, where you don't sign for anything, where the tennis, gym, watersports and snorkelling equipment is all free. The difference today is that the quality of everything is greatly improved. It is not so significant that the tennis court is perfect, that the gym and watersports have the latest and best equipment, but it is significant that all the rooms, the restaurants, bars and swimming pools have been completely redesigned to five star standards.
Everybody comes to Lily Beach on their Platinum Plan. This is described as the first premium all-inclusive plan in the Maldives. I think Athuruga and Thudufushi would have something to say about that but, in my opinion, Lily Beach now surpasses those fine islands.
Inside Outside Design
The public buildings and the rooms use natural materials in a pleasing scheme of sand colours and dark wood. The framed glass 'walls' open up to draw the views inside, while the natural materials and sandy floors help to break down the distinctions of outside and inside. The decor is modern chic but the atmosphere is still relaxed and casual.
The buffets are very good, with quality ingredients throughout, from the fresh fruit juices to the prime cheeses. For variety, there are two barbecue nights with exotic meats, such as ostrich and kangaroo, alongside the lobster and tiger prawns. Also included in the Platinum Plan, at least for now, is one evening meal at the specialist restaurant, Tamarind, that has both a Chinese and an Indian chef.
The three bars act as outlets for snacks at other times of the day, as well as a constant source of liquid refreshment - be it water, juice or alcoholic beverage. Only premium brands of spirits are served and used in the cocktails. The wines are not the finest but are in good condition. The room mini-bars are kept filled with beer, wine and soft drinks.
Over-water spa and Balinese house speciality
One spa treatment is included in the package, to be enjoyed at the purpose built, over-water Tamara Spa. The treatment rooms are good and have a private deck looking out to sea but the spa's open, central 'lounge' is simply by-passed in the hot day's sun and there isn't really another place to get into the mood before or relax afterwards. Nonetheless, the experienced therapists from all over Asia do what they do very well.
Still on the package, every guest gets one free sunset fishing and one excursion to an uninhabited and an inhabited island. The inhabited island is Dhangethi, which has a cultural centre and decent shops. The uninhabited island, Theluveligaa, has a great reef for snorkeling, with massive table corals. The excursion list as a whole, though, could do with some updating to make it more enticing.
With so much to do for free on the island, it is not surprising that most people just stick to that. Apart from all the sports, there is always house reef snorkelling and diving.
Coral regrowth for snorkelling and diving
I was very happily surprised by the speed of the coral regrowth and this was confirmed by the dive base leader, Patrick, who said the corals had really taken off in the last year or two. As a narrow, east/west island within a channel, there is good snorkeling on both sides, though the diving is better on the south side. The reef edge is usually 10 to 20 metres away from the beach. Unless there is a very low tide, snorkellers can drift across the top of the corals. Divers have eight channels cut through for their use.
This being southeast South Ari Atoll, the diving is excellent. There are world renowned thilas and channels to the north and south of the island. In the summer months mantas are frequent nearby, while in winter you can take a two hour trip to Rangali (Conrad) to see them. Whale sharks are seen year round on the very southern tip of the atoll, sometimes coming up past Lily Beach on the east side.
The new water villa rooms have made snorkelling access even easier - just a few steps down and a short drift to the reef drop-off. This is glorious, and not at all common despite the number of water bungalows now in the country. It is a massive bonus to already very good rooms. Not that you have to go far from the beach or lagoon rooms, I hasten to add.
Similar rooms, different sizes and locations
All the rooms share close similarity in style, materials and fittings but differ in size and location. The Beach Villas come in pairs (63), six of which are inter-connected for family use. They have light shade around them and views through to the beach and lagoon. Just like the more expensive rooms, they have a nespresso coffee-making machine, a jacuzzi bath and big LCD flat screen satellite television with dvd player, ipod dock and surround sound. Every room also has wifi internet connection (or will have shortly).
The Lagoon Villas (16) are on the north side, the opposite side to the Beach Villas. They have steps down into the lagoon but their front doors are on land. The bonus here is the quietness, away from lapping waves or any service area sounds. Another bonus is the fact that the green-wrapped coral wall that ran down the whole length of this side has gone. Or at least, mostly gone. These rooms do have a low coral wall in the lagoon in front of them to save the beach from erosion.
The 36 Deluxe Water Villas are very fine rooms that open out to a wooden deck and jacuzzi plunge pool overlooking the corals. The Sunset Water Suites (4) are half as big again as the Deluxe Villas and have bigger TVs and pools and, crucially for some, a private view of each day's sunset.
Families, fun and children
Finally, this is a resort that is full of class but, at the same time, is relaxed and fun. The Vibes bar does disco or live music twice a week and this place is happy for fun and games to be happening (here at the eastern tip of the island) until the last person is helped back to their room.
Families are welcomed and there is both an outdoor play area (for children less than about 6) and two indoor rooms for guided games and entertainment for children up to 12.
Reviewed by Adrian Neville