Like a leaf floating in a pool, Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa is a tiny patch of verdant green in the sapphire sea of South Ari Atoll. Approaching Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa, I immediately noticed the rich growths of coral that bloom under the aquamarine waves of its lagoon.
I visited the resort at a time when the winds had picked up and waves were being a bit friskier than usual. So I arrived by speedboat at the eastern jetty. From there, I was introduced to the Coral Bar. The vibrant colors and cozy décor of the bar immediately made it feel like home… a fun home! Out on the deck shaded by bright umbrellas, I could see the outdoor pool with two sculpted fish spitting up jets of crystal clear water heavenwards. There were rows of sun loungers arrayed up to where the deck abruptly ended at the edge of the lagoon. Indoors on the counter reposed trays of tasty pastries for all to grab. The comfortable seating and lovely little swings indoors made me want to sit there forever. But I perked up at the mention of the ‘E-Zone’ and absolutely had to see it.
The E-Zone sits over the Coral Bar, being a spacious area meant for recreational activities. It was a fun few minutes in there! I tried my hand at table tennis and pool, before throwing myself into the large beanbags on the floor and sinking down into its heavenly depths. In the E-zone one can enjoy computer games or read books. Younger couples on their honeymoon would surely love the hang-out area, as would children of families who visit the resort for vacation. The gym is close by, too, along with a small sandy area in the bar reserved for cultural boduberu dances during the weekends. For a moment I wondered why anyone would want to step away from the Coral Bar and its immediate vicinity. I could just remain there for the duration of my stay and still be happy.
But apparently, there was more to the little island. I bade farewell to the Coral Bar and started off down the sandy path winding through shoreline bushes. The main Reef Restaurant was nearby with a tasteful interior and offering meals ranging from Japanese to Brazilian cuisines. There’s a teppanyaki table which has to be pre-booked, for those who need more excitement in their meals. I also passed by the Thai restaurant Suan Bua, standing by a lotus pond. I was told that there was a specialty Italian restaurant as well, the over-water Azzuri Mare. These also had to be pre-booked, a chance I would have liked to explore had I more time.
I was introduced to The Club shortly after having a look at the compact spa. The Club is an exclusive hangout for guests who may want to enjoy the luxuries of food, drink, and relaxation away from the other facilities on the island. Supplements available at The Club include a private chef and a private team of Centara staff. The area reserved for The Club is airy and regal, with a pool on which there’s an overwater dining spot. There’s a library and an air-conditioned indoor working area, along with recliners to lounge on while waiting for private lunch and dinner. The Club will suit those seeking a lavish and cossetting atmosphere, while the Coral Bar will be best suited for those who thrive in exuberance and activity. From here it was clearly safe to say that Centara Grand had something for everyone: from young to old, and singles to couples.
Beyond The Club I walked onto the timber walkways that have become a trademark of almost all resorts in the Maldives, extended out into the lagoon, a means of accessing the 112 water villas flanking the island. The Sunset Ocean Pool Villa, Deluxe Water Villa, and Ocean Water Villa are all breathtakingly quaint, perfectly whitewashed little love-nests for honeymooners. Each villa has a terraced area with outdoor shower, sun loungers, and stairs leading down to the sea if the tenants spontaneously wanted a dip. The Ocean Water Villa is the highest you could aim for, with its very own private pool and absolute privacy.
The Family Water Villas are located further south of the island. They’re markedly different from the others, having safety features such as railings around the terrace. The 93 square meter rooms have bunk beds for kids, PlayStation gaming setup, Jacuzzi, and free wireless internet access. With in-villa dining available around the clock, families will find a lot of time saved while getting the most out of the magnificent scenery.
Walking down the walkway, I could see swathes of coral growth here and there in the lagoon, and I was told that the management gave priority to coral health, even bringing in coral specialists and doctors annually to check up on the local marine ecosystems. The corals help attract a myriad fish for snorkelers to enjoy. The lagoon area is not prone to strong currents and is relatively safe and calm all year round for snorkelers to explore.
Centara also offers three choices for beach villas, which gives direct access to the pearly beach where vegetation gives just the right amount of shade when you need a time-out from working on your tan. The paths through the island almost seem to be tunnels of greenery, and I can vouch for the privacy of the beach villas.
At noon, to get the adrenalin pumping, water sports are all the rage. Non-motorized water sports were all complimentary, with a chance to get one ticket for one motorized ride. Needless to say, a veritable battalion of children were enjoying banana boat rides, tube rides, and various beach games. In the lagoon bobbed a red half-submerged submarine; I was told that it had a clear bottom that would offer the sights of the house reef in all its glory, with seating for a dozen people.
The PADI dive center on the island is always eager to take guests for some serious diving if the need arises to delve deeper into the aquatic wonderland of Maldives. Centara Grand is not far from one of the best dive spots in South Ari Atoll, where forests of coral attract turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and throngs of varicolored fish. The best thing is that there’s a shipwreck as well, which is exactly the kind of thing that appeals to eels and sharks.
My departure was from the western jetty, timed perfectly with the sunset. The sun cast its last rays over the overwater Aqua Bar, a cool breeze passing through its interior unobstructed. Sundowner parties are often held there, and the vibe was electrifyingly positive. Three seats floated over the water, the perfect nests for couples to cuddle on while sipping pre-dinner cocktails or nightcaps. Centara Grand Resort and Spa may be a small island, but it packs a punch of a lifetime for vacationers. The island surely left me breathless for more.