Fantasy Island

Issue 5 - 2016
· Images Getty Images

Louise Carpenter’s daughter Albertine had always dreamed of a holiday in the Maldives. This is what happened when she got the surprise of her life – and fantasy became a reality

Issue 5 - 2016
· Images Getty Images

Louise Carpenter’s daughter Albertine had always dreamed of a holiday in the Maldives. This is what happened when she got the surprise of her life – and fantasy became a reality

It is curious how children’s dreams are made, the way they fixate on an imagined future life. In the case of my 10-year-old daughter, Albertine, it has only ever been about visiting the Maldives, glimpsed first on a godmother’s screensaver. “I’ll be 88 by the time I’ll get to go,” she has often wailed, “and I’ll be wearing hip huggers by then!” During a family lunch she might volunteer “Maldivian food is largely based on coconut”, or “Maldivians are some of the friendliest people in the world”. It became a family joke. I’d find her Googling “the Maldives”, gazing at images of the white sand and aquamarine sea with a sort of restrained longing. She never once said, “Please take me,” but rather, “When I’m older I’m going.” As a family of six (four children under 12), we have only ever holidayed in Europe, our car stuffed to the gunwales with buckets and spades. The Maldives, a honeymoon location, was as far from her life as could be. Until one day I thought, “Why not? Why can’t I go with my little girl to the place of her dreams?” A once-in-a-lifetime location, just the two of us together, where she won’t have to share me with her siblings? In other words, why can’t I have a honeymoon with my child? And even more, why not make it a surprise?

I settled on the Six Senses resort in the Laamu Atoll, both for its five-star luxury and also for the fact that it is superbly set up for families. After a nail-biting three months of planning (buying bikinis, renewing her passport, packing her summer clothes in secret, informing her teacher, answering emails about our schedule, which she almost saw), we got her to the airport by pretending I was going to the US on a business trip. At check-in, I presented her with two wrapped boxes, the first containing new bikinis, the second our tickets. It took a while to register and when it did there was an awful lot of sobbing (both of us). There was shock, and a bit of hyperventilated breathing, but when the reality set in, cliché as it is, my little girl (who hadn’t even flown long haul) was the happiest child in the world.

So, this is my diary of a very different kind of honeymoon...


Two’s company for Louise and Albertine

DAY ONE

Arrival at Six Senses, after the connecting flight, was by speedboat, about the most glamorous arrival conceivable. The resort hoved into view as we zipped across the lagoon, its thatch-roofed water villas built on stilts in a formation of three jetties stretching out like a village in the sea. The water villa delivered everything you could possibly dream of: an infinity pool; a deck with direct access to the sea, from which Albertine, a strong swimmer, immediately jumped; a glass bath over a glass floor; a private but “outdoor” shower; a draped four-poster bed. She ran from one to the other exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.” She embraced the Maldives ethos immediately; no shoes on the resort – just barefoot, with our own bicycles to help us zip from villa to beach to pool; as much complimentary ice cream as she could possibly eat; complimentary flippers and snorkelling equipment enabling her to see the incredible fish on the house reef. And, at the end of day one, slightly jet-lagged but very, very happy, she called me, “Mama, come here,” – and there, below our villa, gracefully swimming past, was an eagle ray. The fish were giving her their own welcome.

DAY TWO

I was keen for the holiday to introduce some firsts for Albertine, formative experiences that would make her feel grown up and special that perhaps might have been more out of kilter if organised for her in the UK (who takes a 10-year-old fine dining?). Six Senses is known for its incredible spas, so we booked in for a joint appointment, our two beds side by side. “Can I have cucumbers on my eyes?” she asked, “and some of that white cream on my face?” While I had a massage, she had a body scrub, but it was the ritual that she loved the most; the spa slippers and gown, the smells, the music, the ginger tea with honey that we had in a little teapot while looking out to the sea. Because I wanted to enhance her self-esteem and build her confidence through treating her like an adult, this definitely meant no children’s bedtime, so much more possible with just one child. With four restaurants offering supper, we were spoilt for choice. Leaf, the fine-dining restaurant, high on stilts accessed by a wobbly I’m A Celebrity-style bridge, with its organic garden directly below (41 different types of leaves and herbs) seemed an obvious choice (again, four children fine dining back home? Forget it). As she sat opposite me, holding the menu the waiter had respectfully handed her, I had a rush of love and tears filled my eyes. She reached for my hand and said, “I love you, mama,” and I thought, “Yes, a honeymoon indeed.”
Delicious fresh seafood

one day I thought, “Why not? Why can’t I go with my little girl to the place of her dreams?”

Albertine snorkels to the house reef

DAY THREE

Watching your child grow in confidence is the best gift of all and this was experienced through Albertine’s relationship with the sea. The snorkelling in the Maldives is second to none, and by Day Three she had mastered the breathing and the confidence to swim to the farthest reaches of the house reef, which stretched around the Chill Lounge and Bar and further out towards the white beach. With the help of the resident marine biologist, Jenni Choma, she began to be able to identify the family groups; the angel fish, the butterfly fish, as vividly hued as anything she had seen on the computer. We saw trumpetfish and needlefish, trevallies and a stingray, slowly and elegantly gliding past. We often swam and snorkelled together, holding hands and pointing our finds to one another, watching the fish eating the coral, but she was just as happy snorkelling on her own while I watched.

DAY FOUR

There are 26 coral atolls in the Maldives, which are made up of hundreds of islands. The sea between the islands is called a lagoon and it’s further out in the lagoon that you have a chance to see a dolphin. We went on a speedboat at sunset – no dolphins (“They are wild animals,” our guide told us), but what a sunset. It’s hard to imagine how the darkness blanketing the gold and blue of sun and sea could be as arresting, but the Maldives at night is truly thrilling. As we lay on our deck – after a late-night swim in our pool, which became our routine after supper (Vietnamese, Japanese, Maldivian – she tried all types of food) – the waves lapping beneath us, the sky filled with stars, Albertine said to me, “Mummy, we are in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Just you and me.”
Albertine enjoys a speedboat ride

Meeting locals at Hithadhoo island

DAY FIVE

Tourism started in the Maldives in 1972. Now, along with fishing and the building of boats, it provides the majority of employment in the country. Many of the 400 employees of Six Senses – the people who brought us our drinks and our food and cleaned the villa – live on the neighbouring islands of Hithadhoo and Maamendhoo, accessed by boat, and we were keen to see real life beyond the tourism. I also wanted her to understand the whole picture of this country. While I had prepared myself for a bit of resistance on this (she was never happier than when snorkelling and swimming), it was actually one of her highlights. We travelled to the tiny island of Hithadhoo by boat with a guide and in the blazing heat, we saw the mosque, the school, the justice building and the pharmacy, functional buildings which spelled advancement. But it was the people who fascinated her the most, from the veiled grandmothers and bare-chested elderly gentlemen to the tiny children, who stared at her like she was a mini celebrity.

bags packed with snorkels, flippers and a picnic, we became Robinson Crusoes for the day

DAY SIX

Six Senses Laamu has an extremely well-staffed kids’ area, The Den. On the few occasions we went there, I turned its use around so that it felt like it gave Albertine independence from me rather than me independence from her. What better memory of her trip than having a henna tattoo snaking up her arm? That evening, emboldened by her first very successful Japanese meal the night before, we ate a lobster BBQ on the beach, our table lit by candles, yards from the sea. How very grown up my little girl seemed to be.
Albertine takes the plunge

Louise and Albertine post-swim

DAY SEVEN

When you’re existing in paradise, the promise of your own uninhabited private island for the day feels like the icing on an already extremely well iced cake. What more could we want that we didn’t already have? But on our last day, bags packed with snorkels and flippers and sunscreen, and a picnic supplied for us, we took the opportunity to become Robinson Crusoes for a day.
It’s hard to imagine what it feels like to be alone in the middle of the ocean with your child, since modern life is never thus. The island was so tiny we could swim around its circumference. The vegetation was heavy, the air full of the squawks of tropical birds. The lagoon was wide, shallow and as warm as bathwater. Albertine hopped onto my front for a carry ride and I said to her, “This reminds me of when you were in my tummy,” and she laughed. “It was how it all started, before you were born. Just the two of us.”


For more information on staying at Six Senses Laamu, call Scott Dunn on 020 8682 5020

Albertine’s view

How does it feel to go on the holiday of your dreams? Albertine relives her magical Maldives experience...
There we were at Heathrow airport, me thinking my mum was flying to New York for a week for work. I was handed a wrapped box of bikinis, which made me quite suspicious. When mum told me she was taking me to the Maldives, I nearly fainted! It had been my dream to go, and this was the best secret that had ever been kept from me. After arriving in Malé, we took a small plane to the speedboat that transported us to our villa. I was utterly stunned – the sea was clear blue and I felt as if I’d fallen inside Google Images in a big computer. We were taken for a tour of the resort. I loved it – it was like a mix between jungle and luxury. Our villa had an infinity pool, a huge bed and a glass bath over the Indian Ocean – it was incredible! As soon as we got to our deck, we jumped off into the sea like celebrities. Spending time just with my mum was very special, having my first proper spa pamper, snorkelling with a marine biologist, seeing where Maldivian families live – it was all amazing. I love the way the staff are super-friendly, and the way they treat children like they’re just as important and grown up as adults. I will never forget any of it.
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