Review: Maldives seaplane flight (Male to Soneva Jani)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

I recently enjoyed an AMAZING holiday in the Maldives. You can read my trip reports here:

Today: Review of the seaplane transfer to Soneva Jani

Located on an uninhabited five-island cluster in the Noonu Atoll, Soneva Jani is the Maldives’ most exclusive and famous resort. The resort features 51 overwater pool villas, spread along two jetties that curve into a 5.6 km (3,4 mi) magnificent lagoon of crystal clear waters. Known as Chapter One and Chapter Tow, both jetties are connected to the Maldives’ largest resort island, a tropical paradise fringed by pristine beaches and blanketed with lush tropical greenery. Highlights at Soneva Jani include the villas’ retractable roofs, private water slides, a wide range of sublime restaurants, personalized experiences & excursions, and a spectacular new spa facility, Soneva Soul.

There are three ways to get to Soneva Jani:

  • Most guests will arrive at Soneva Jani by shared seaplane from Velana International Airport in Malé (priced at $1100 USD per adult and $550 USD per child in high season)
  • Some guest opt for a shared wheeled flight transfer fom Velana International Airport in Malé to Maafaru Airport in the Noonu Atoll, followed by a 15-minute speedboat to the resort (priced at $550 USD per adult and $225 USD per child in high season)
  • The lucky few will fly by private plane directly to Maafaru International Airport, which operates 24/7 and handles domestic and international flights and private charters.  The airport boasts a 2200 m (7218 ft) long runway with a state-of-the-art terminal with a VIP lounge. The airport can land large aircrafts such as Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.

This is a review of the seaplane transfer to Soneva Jani. To make it more ‘visual’, I’ve made a YouTube movie documenting my transfer to Soneva Jani, which you can watch below.

Upon arrival at Velana International Airport, also known as Malé International Airport, and after passing immigration, guests are met by the Soneva airport staff members, who take care of the luggage and provide assistance with the check-in at the Manta Air counters so secure the seaplane boarding passes. There are two seaplane operators in the Maldives: Manta Air is the newest airline while Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) is the oldest air transfer operator in the country. Manta Air is the most premium of the two airlines: it has a pre-departure lounge open to all passengers and its seaplanes feel more modern and offer a little bit more space per seat. Some resorts work with TMA while others (such as Soneva) have contracts with Manta Air.

Once checked in for the seaplane transfer, the Soneva or Manta Air staff will transfer you to the seaplane terminal, which is located on the other side of the airport’s perimeter. The drive to the seaplane terminal takes only 5 minutes. At the seaplane terminal, most of the Maldives’ most exclusive resorts have their own lounges, where guests can wait in all comforts for their seaplane departure. During my visit, the Soneva lounge was temporarily closed for refurbishments but it should have reopened by the time you are reading this review. It was no big deal as I was given access to the Manta Air lounge instead.

The Manta Air lounge is small but comfortable nonetheless; it features a modern decor and has large windows on one side, which overlook the seaplane docks. A limited selection of drinks and snacks is offered at a self serve buffet on a complimentary basis; WiFi is offered as well. Waiting time at the lounge will depend on the Manta Air seaplane schedule, and may vary from one to two hours. Check-in for the resort – with credit card and passports – is done at the lounge itself, so that once you arrive at the resort, you will be immediately whisked away by your butler on a golf cart to your villa to start enjoying your holiday.

From the lounge, it’s a short stroll to the seaplane docks. There are two seaplane choices available: either the Soneva seaplane or the Manta Air seaplane. The Soneva seaplane is private and more comfortable (seating 10 passengers in a VIP layout), while the Manta Air seaplane carries more passengers (15 in total) and may stop en-route at other destinations before arriving at Soneva Jani. I have previously published a review of the Soneva seaplane, which you can read here (or watch my video below). Unfortunately, it’s not possible to know upfront whether you will be transferred in a Soneva seaplane or in a Manta Air seaplane (the schedule depends on Manta Air, which also maintains the Soneva seaplanes).

Each seaplane in the Maldives has a crew of two pilots and one flight attendant (alias luggage handler), all of them wearing shorts and operating the plane barefoot. The cabin seats 15 passengers in total, with single seats on one side of the plane and double seats on the other side. Seats are not assigned, so the first ones on board can choose the best seats. There’s no door between the cockpit and the cabin, so you can observe the pilots’ activities when you are not distracted by the awesome views while flying over the atolls.  It can get quite hot in the cabin, although some fans cool down the temperature as soon as the seaplane leaves the docks. Also, the seaplane is really loud, and passengers are provided ear plugs for their comfort. There are no toilets onboard.

The flight from Male to Soneva Jani takes around 35 minutes, although it may be 50 minutes in case a stop-over needs to made at another resort to drop-off other passengers. There’s no service onboard, and there’s not much to do, except for enjoying the phenomenal views as you fly over several atolls. For most people, thé iconic image of the Maldives is that of a deep blue ocean interspersed by tiny palm islands surrounded by ridiculously clear lagoons and sugar white beaches. The only way to see that breathtaking view of 50 shades of blue is from the air, and although you will catch a few glimpses of the islands from your plane upon landing or departure at Male airport, the best vantage point for the breathtaking panoramas is offered by the seaplanes that take guests to their resorts. Flying on board a seaplane in Maldives and admiring the picture-perfect archipelago from a bird’s eye perspective is one of the ultimate experiences that the destination has to offer.

At Soneva Jani, the seaplane lands at short distance from the resort (as not to disturb the guests on the island and in the villas). Upon arrival, guests are taken by speedboat to the resort (a ride which only lasts 2 minutes) and welcomed by a fresh coconut drink and a cold towel. To be continued next week …

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