6 great cruises that will take you to the Maldives

Feb 19, 2020

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Located in the Indian Ocean, about 600 miles south of India, the Maldives is known for stunning white-sand beaches, impossibly clear blue waters and dozens of over-the-top luxury resorts.

If you’re thinking about a Maldives trip, you’ll want to look closely at these resorts, some of which promise pampering and privacy of a sort found in few other destinations on Earth. Many of them, including the recently reviewed JW Marriott Maldives Resort and Spa and the W Maldives, feature overwater bungalows — a signature feature of high-end properties here. They often are set on their very own private islands, only reachable by seaplane or boat. Exclusivity is the watch word.

But there is another, lesser-known way to visit to the Maldives that you might want to at least consider: A cruise.

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The Maldives is definitely not a major destination for cruise ships. Only a handful of vessels visit the archipelago each year. But those that do often arrive as part of unusual, long-distance itineraries that will let you visit not just the Maldives but other destinations in the region such as the Seychelles and Sri Lanka in a single trip — all while only having to pack and unpack once.

Cruise lines that sail to the Maldives

The lines operating cruises to the Maldives vary every year. Holland America, Oceania Cruises, Ponant and Costa Cruises are among the operators that send ships to the destination most often. Seabourn Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line also have sent vessels to the Maldives recently, or have at least one ship scheduled to visit in 2020 or 2021.

In some cases, the vessels are just passing through the region while in the midst of epic, around-the-world voyages. Holland America’s 1,380-passenger Amsterdam, for instance, will visit the Maldives in April as part of a 128-day, globe-circling sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that began in January. The voyage also includes ports in South America, Australia and Africa.

Other vessels stopping in the Maldives are on Indian Ocean-focused itineraries. One example is a seven-night Costa Cruises voyage beginning in Male, the capital of the Maldives, on Feb. 22 that includes two days in the Maldives, a day in Sri Lanka, and three days in India.

The line that traditionally has offered the most in-depth voyages around the Maldives is Ponant, a France-based company that specializes in upscale, small-ship voyages to exotic locales. It sometimes runs trips that are almost completely centered on the Maldives and include visits to half a dozen of the archipelago’s 26 atolls.

Planning a trip to the Maldives? Visit TPG’s Maldives destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while there.

The pros and cons of a cruise to the Maldives

If it’s a classic Maldives experience you crave — days spent relaxing on pristine beaches, swimming, snorkeling, diving and splurging on spa treatments — a cruise is generally not the best choice. You’ll want to fly to the Maldives and spend extended time at one or more of its many island resorts instead.

In most cases, cruises that touch the Maldives only include a brief stay at the island nation — and we mean brief! Many ships that stop in the Maldives as part of broader Indian Ocean sailings only do so for a single day. Others will stay for two days, which isn’t much better if your goal is to get a true sense of the archipelago’s spectacular beaches, coral reefs, diving spots and other allures. Much more rare are cruises that feature up to a week in the destination.

White-sand beaches, crystal-clear water and luxury resorts with overwater bungalows such as the Four Seasons Resort Maldives Laadaa Giraavaru, shown here, are top allures of the Maldives. (Photo courtesy of Four Seasons).
Pristine beaches, clear water and luxury resorts with overwater bungalows, such as the Four Seasons Resort Maldives Landaa Giraavaru, shown here, are top allures of the Maldives. (Photo courtesy of Four Seasons).

 

In general, cruises that include the Maldives are best for travelers who just want a quick sampler of the destination and other hot spots around the Indian Ocean such as the Seychelles and Goa, India, in one easy-to-book, easy-to-manage trip. On a cruise, you sometimes can visit three, four or even five places in the region in just a week or two, with someone else figuring out all the logistics.

The downside, of course, is that you’ll get very little time in any one place.

For the coming year, the only major cruise line that has voyages with extended time in the Maldives on its schedule is Ponant. Featuring visits to half a dozen destinations around the archipelago, the line’s Essential Maldives trips offer vacationers the chance to see more of the destination in a week than would be possible staying at a land resort.

Another more in-depth “cruise” around the Maldives is a multiday trip on one of several liveaboard diving boats that call the Maldives home.

Here, we take a closer look at the best cruises and cruise-like itineraries to the destination:

The “Essential Maldives” with Ponant

By far the most interesting Maldives itinerary currently on the market is the eight-night Essential Maldives routing offered by Ponant. Nearly every day of the itinerary brings a stop at a different Maldivian atoll — six in all — for snorkeling, scuba diving, beach-going, wildlife watching and other pursuits. The routing thus offers a broader exploration of the Maldives than you can get from staying at any one land resort or even several resorts.

The itinerary includes a day at Baa Atoll, one of the archipelago’s wildest corners. Listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Baa is known for its globally significant biodiversity including stony and soft corals, reef fish, marine turtles, manta rays and whale sharks.

There’s also a day scheduled for Rasdhoo Atoll, a hot spot for scuba diving and snorkeling where passengers can see hammerhead sharks as well as rays and turtles. The four other atolls on the itinerary are Noonu, Ari, Mulaku and Male.

France-based cruise line Ponant offers voyages around the Maldives on an intimate, 184-passenger vessel. (Photo courtesy of Ponant).
Ponant offers small-ship voyages around the Maldives that include a visit to Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. (Photo courtesy of Ponant).

 

Ponant typically operates just a couple departures of the itinerary each year on one of its small, yacht-like Explorer Class ships. Holding just 184 passengers, the vessels are designed for off-the-beaten-path “expedition” cruising. They have Zodiac boats on board for landings and an aft marina for water sports. They famously have an underwater lounge called the Blue Eye.

Ponant currently has just two departures of this Maldivian itinerary open for booking, starting on Jan. 25, 2021, and Feb. 2, 2021, respectively. The voyages are one-way between Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Male in the Maldives. Fares start at $4,410 per person, not including $900 in port taxes. For more information, call 888-400-1082 or visit us.ponant.com.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

A short visit to the Maldives with Oceania Cruises

Ships operated by upscale line Oceania Cruises typically stop in the Maldives two or three times a a year as they move between Europe, Africa and Asia.

Usually, these Oceania vessels only will stay in the Maldives for two days — typically in the capital, Male — as they make their way across the Indian Ocean. As a result, passengers on the sailings only get a tiny taste of the destination.

On the flipside, these cruises offer a chance to see not just a slice of the Maldives but also multiple places around the Indian Ocean in one relatively quick and easy trip.

Oceania’s 684-passenger Nautica, for instance, will visit Male for two days in February 2021 as part of a 30-day voyage from Cape Town, South Africa, to Singapore. In addition to four stops in South Africa and a visit to Mozambique, the sailing will include calls at such Indian Ocean draws as Reunion Island, Mauritius and the Seychelles (for two days). Stops in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia round out the voyage.

Fares for the Nautica trip start at $8,299 per person, including government fees and taxes. For more information, call 855-335-2609 or visit oceaniacruises.com.

A quick trip to the Maldives with Holland America

One of the more unusual Indian Ocean voyages on the schedule for the coming year is a 20-day Holland America sailing out of Singapore.

The round-trip itinerary pairs four stops in Malaysia and a single day in Phuket, Thailand, with a multiday visit to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

As is the case with the Oceania sailing mentioned above, the Holland America voyage only includes two days in the Maldives. But there’s a twist to the visit: In addition to a day stop in the capital of Male, the stopover includes a day in Utheemu, also known as Haa Alif Atoll. The latter is rarely visited by cruise ships.

The voyage will take place on Holland America’s 1,258-passenger Maasdam. It kicks off Jan. 24, 2021.

Fares start at $2,999 per person, not including up to $210 in taxes and fees. For more information, call 855-932-1711 or visit hollandamerica.com.

A diving cruise on a floating Four Seasons

If you’re a diving enthusiast, one of the top ways to cruise around the Maldives is a trip on the private Maldives diving yacht operated by Four Seasons. (Yes, that Four Seasons.)

Dubbed Four Seasons Explorer, the 11-cabin catamaran sails three- and four-night trips between two Four Seasons resorts in the Maldives: The Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa and the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru. Customers also can string together the two itineraries to create a seven-night loop.

Featuring stops in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the trips are aimed specifically at divers, with opportunities for three dives per day, plus occasional night and sunrise dives.

The 22-passenger Four Seasons Explorer operates diving cruises around the Maldives.
The 22-passenger Four Seasons Explorer operates diving cruises around the Maldives. (Photo courtesy of Four Seasons)

 

Four Season Explorer is billed as the fastest and most luxurious dive vessel in the Maldives. Capable of carrying up to 22 passengers, it has its own PADI Five Star diving center, comfortable cabins with en suite bathrooms, a main dining room and plush open-plan lounges. In addition to diving during sailings, passengers can sign up for spa treatments on uninhabited isles and take part in island barbecues, stargazing, sunset fishing and water sports.

Four Seasons Explorer cruises can be combined with a stay at one of the Four Seasons resorts in the Maldives to create an extended Maldivian vacation. Note that the spa at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru just made our list of the seven best spas in the Maldives.

Fares start at $2,550 per person for a three-night cruise, not including a 12% goods and services tax and 10% service charge. For more information, call 800-819-5053 or visit fourseasons.com.

Related: How to plan a cruise with points and miles

A cruise from the US to the Maldives

Yes, you can get all the way to the Maldives and back from the United States by ship. There are just two big caveats: First, you need to block out more than 100 days for the trip. Second, the opportunity doesn’t come up very often — usually just once every year or two.

The opportunity arises when a cruise line unveils an around-the-world voyage beginning and ending in the U.S. that includes a visit to the Maldives.

As of the publishing of this story, there are just two such voyages open for bookings:

  • Oceania Cruises plans a 196-day around-the-world sailing from Miami departing on Dec. 21, 2021 that includes a one-day call in the Maldives. The trip, on the 684-passenger Insignia, ends July 5, 2022 in New York. Fares start at $42,199 per person.
  • Crystal Cruises has scheduled a 116-day around-the-world voyage from Miami departing on Jan. 17, 2022 that also includes a one-day call in the Maldives. The trip, on the 980-passenger Crystal Serenity, ends in Miami on May 13, 2022. Fares start at $37,097 per person.

Smaller segments of both trips also are available for booking.

The 980-passenger Crystal Serenity will visit the Maldives in 2022 as part of an around-the-world voyage from Miami. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises)
The 980-passenger Crystal Serenity will visit the Maldives in 2022 as part of an around-the-world voyage from Miami. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises)

 

Nobody goes on these around-the-world voyages just to see the Maldives, of course. The typical around-the-world cruise includes stops at dozens of countries on multiple continents. But, if you’re looking to add the Maldives to your country count while visiting an array of other nations, too, all while never boarding a long-haul flight, these two sailings are the cruises for you.

Planning a cruise for 2020? Our planning guide starts here:

Featured image courtesy of Four Seasons

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