Review by James Dunford Wood, published 27th September 2011.
For most of us a holiday in the Maldives is a dream we never quite get around to doing anything about. Quite frankly, the cost is frightening - at first glance, and most of us don't give it much of a second one. Iru Fushi is worth that second glance. With deals and packages of not more than about 200 USD per night for a beach villa, this can represent exceptional value.
The Hilton Iru Fushi is a five star resort at the northern tip of the Maldives, 40 minutes by float plane from Male, the capital. Therein lies its advantage and disadvantage - while being distant enough and secluded enough from the thicket of resorts nearer Male, it also often requires an overnight stay in Male on arrival before transfer, as the float planes do not operate at night. There's also the cost of the float plane transfer to factor in.
This is a large resort, with a capacity of over 400 guests, and to cater for these it has a wide choice of resrtaurants - six - as well as loads of activities on offer, from complimentary kayaking and catamaraning to deep sea fishing trips, fabulous diving, dolphin cruises, cooking classes and alot of activities for children. In fact Iru Fushi prides itself on it's family friendly orientation. The kids club is staffed by a posse of professional nannies and is free to guests, and they organise a range of fun games. There are also all the usual soft sports like tennis, table tennis, billiards and table football, all free for guests.
Still, the Maldives is also one of the world's premier romantic destinations, so for those honeymooners or couples who really don't want to mix with families there is an adult pool and bar/restaurant. In fact the whole resort, despite its size, is cleverly designed to feel more like a village. So with the exception of the buffet restaurant, Iru, where the half-boarders eat, the place never ever feels crowded.
The villas themselves are oases of privacy. They divide into two types: the entry level beach villas, with two upgrades – the deluxe with a beachside cabana, the pool villas with a plunge pool; and the water villas on stilts. The water villas are the most expensive, and one can understand the attraction, with fishes (sporadically) swimming underneath, full sea views, and wide sunbathing decks, a number with jacuzzis and some even with plunge pools. But the interiors are more hotel-like, and they are in rows side by side, so in our view the beach villas are far nicer. These are hidden in mangroves and undergrowth for privacy, with small short pathways to the white sand and their own beach chairs. But they are huge inside - 125-130 sq metres (compared with 85 sq meteres for most of the water villas), with high conical and roofs and wonderful outside bathrooms, all of which have rain showers as well as powershowers, jacuzzi baths, and sun decks for naked sunbathing in complete privacy. For the extra few dollars the beachside cabanas are nice, but not essential. A very few have direct sea views from the bedrooms, but then are less private.
Competitor hotels to the Hilton in this level of five star resort include the Sheraton, the Anantara and the Kanuhura. Whilst the Hilton is further and more expensive to get to, it has more on offer because of its size, and larger villas.
Complaints, such as they are - and every hotel will get them - revolve around the very occasional service issues, and the position of some of the beach villas. On service, we encountered no problems at all, and all the staff go out of their way to say hello whenever you pass them. Food is good without being spectacular and arrives promptly. As for the beach villas, it is true that a number of them face west and overlook the jetty, where up to a dozen seaplane landings and takeoffs happen each day, and the ferryboat with workers on home visits to neighbouring islands arrive early on some mornings.
So you may want to request a villa on the sunrise side of the island, but the downside of this is that you are further away from the pools and recreation areas, though not too far. You might also prefer the sunsets to the sunrises, which most of us will sleep through. Wherever you end up, the plane noise is not really too oppressive.
For the price you pay for this resort, whether direct or as a package, it represents extremely good value. It has alot of activities and choice of dining, without feeling crowded. For those in search of total seclusion and the ultimate desert island experience, they may want to go elsewhere – including Hilton's smaller barefoot luxury properties, the Conrad and The Beach House - but this comes pretty close for a price most of us can afford. With its wide range of activities, moreover, Iru Fushi is especially attractive for families.