Cara Langston

Around the world in 10 days: Maldives and Shanghai

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Last summer, my husband and I were brainstorming for our next big vacation. We’re both of the mindset that, being young and childless, we should go to the far-away places on our wish list while we have (1) the frequent flyer miles, (2) our health, and (3) fewer responsibilities. After all, we can go to Europe and do one of those bus tours or river cruises when we’re much older.

So we scoured some world maps and Pinterest, and we each chose our dream destination. I wanted to go to New Zealand and do a road trip around the South Island. We started determining an initial itinerary–what time of year is best, how long would it take, etc. I even got on the TripAdvisor boards and researched which cities we should stop in. However, my husband wanted to use his many American Airlines miles to get upgraded, and it turns out they rarely give out business/first award tickets on that route.

With the New Zealand option no longer viable (until we want to fly economy), my husband said, “What about the Maldives?” I thought he was joking. “We can’t afford the Maldives,” I replied. But I humored him, and he planned our fabulous trip from which we just returned.

On the way to the Maldives, we flew Etihad Airways in first class, direct from Dallas to Abu Dhabi. They were award tickets that we were able to redeem through a combination of my husband’s business travel and putting nearly every household expense on an American Airlines credit card.

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2015-02-05 03.07.24Fourteen hours after departing DFW, we arrived in Abu Dhabi, where we had an overnight layover. Even though we used the Etihad chauffeur service in Dallas and were technically not allowed to use it again, we went to the chauffeur counter in AUH and confidently told them we needed a chauffeur to our hotel. They gave us a voucher without further question, and we continued on our way to the Crowne Plaza at Yas Island.

Jetlagged, we woke up at 3 A.M. and decided we’d rather spend the morning in the Etihad Premium Lounge as opposed to lounging in the hotel room for another 4 hours. In the lounge, we ate breakfast, booked one of the free, 15-minute massages in the Six Senses Spa, and waited for our flight to Male.

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From Abu Dhabi to Male, we flew Etihad business class. It was an uneventful, 3.5-hour flight, during which I watched Boyhood. Good film, but long and uneventful enough that I’ll probably never watch it again.

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Finally, after more than a day of travel, we arrived in Male, the capital city of the Maldives. Male is located in the northern swath of atolls. The resort we selected–Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa–was located in the southern atolls. So we were shuttled to a lounge in the airport to wait for a 1-hour regional flight on Maldivian Airlines.

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After our arrival in Koodhoo, we were met by Park Hyatt employees and taken via golf cart to a speedboat. It was a 30-minute journey to the resort, by which time it was dark, so I have no photos.

To summarize our entire stay into one paragraph: The resort was gorgeous. It was like living in a high-definition desktop background for 5 nights. The snorkeling was incredible, and the amenities were great. There were some examples of less-than-stellar service in the dining room and the food was certainly expensive, but overall, it was paradise.

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Eventually, we had to bid the resort farewell. With 20 mosquito bites on my legs and the beginnings of a sunburn, I was honestly ready to be in less tropical climates.

Our return journey consisted of the 30-minute speedboat ride, the 1-hour flight to Male, a 1.5-hour flight to Sri Lanka, a 4-hour flight to Hong Kong, an 8-hour layover in Hong Kong (during which we visited all Cathay Pacific lounges), and a 2-hour flight to Shanghai, where we had a full day before our flight to the U.S.

This was my first time in mainland China. Given our arrival the week before Chinese New Year, it was supposedly less crowded than normal. There was also pretty good visibility for a city normally oppressed by air pollution. My husband has been to Shanghai numerous times on business, so he was my guide. We stuck to the touristy areas–walking along Nanjing Road, visiting Yu Garden, and getting a photo in front of the TV tower.

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We were due to leave Shanghai on the American Airlines flight to Dallas on Friday evening. American’s first class on that route is nowhere near as nice as Etihad’s or Cathay Pacific’s. The seats are aged, and the entertainment system was terrible. But hey, it’s still a hell of a lot better than sitting in a middle seat in economy for 12+ hours. Perspective.

Unfortunately, after a 2-hour delay due to Chinese military exercises and air traffic congestion, one of the pilots went illegal and our flight was cancelled. So we sat on the plane for a couple more hours, were taken back to the terminal, had our departure stamps cancelled by immigration officers, retrieved our luggage from baggage claim, and returned to China. They bussed us to a Sheraton in the middle of nowhere, where I was able to get this lovely photo:

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They brought us back to the airport the next morning, and we finally made it out of China, 16 hours behind schedule.

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All in all, the Maldives was beautiful. Would I return? Absolutely. But in 10+ years and at a resort closer to the international airport.

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