Swimming With Whale Sharks

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I want to tell you about our day spent snorkeling with whale sharks. For those of you who don’t know, whale sharks are absolutely massive, and the Maldives happens to be a hot spot for them. We spent most of our time snorkeling on the house reef (or eating. There was a lot of eating.), so ended up only doing this one excursion. Plus, as you can imagine, it was obscenely expensive.

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Heading to catch our speedboat

So what did it entail? Well, to be honest, it was pretty cool. We hopped into a speedboat with about six other people and a guide and sped away from the resort. It was about an hour long ride to our whale shark spotting destination, so we settled down and enjoyed the breeze, the waves, and the islands we were passing. Probably the coolest part was that in our wake, thousands of flying fish skipped away from us. Have you ever seen a flying fish? I hadn’t but they’re really cool, and watching them soar across the water, like skipping stones, was really neat.

The way shark spotting works is that you get to the hotspot and your guide literally climbs up on top of the boat, searching for enormous shadows in the water.

Unfortunately for us, there didn’t seem to be any sharks around. We spent hours trawling the water, slowly, searching for these guys. And it’s not like you can miss them, right? The problem is that whale sharks don’t normally swim so close to the surface, and they can (and do) dive right down and stay there.

They’d told us that the young males were the ones who usually swam up near the surface, but we had no luck.

So. One guy.

One guy had a drone. Brand new, top of the line, really cool. So he volunteered to fire up the ol’ drone and see if he could spot any whale sharks from high up. A cool idea, in theory.

He sent it up, and away we went, following after it as he searched. See, the problem though, was that drones can only fly for about twenty minutes at a time. Twenty minutes pass and we slow down, coming to a stop as he attempted to land it.

I mentioned we were in a speedboat, right? And that his drone was new, brand new?

Yeah. So there he goes, trying several times to lower it to the deck, only for it to- finally- hit the edge of the boat and *splash* right into the water.

And no, it didn’t float. Immediate panic ensues and he runs to grab a diving mask. He jumps in and flails around, while the guide leaps into the water- and- I kid you not, just dives.

It’d had time to sink by now, so I don’t know how far down she went. But she was under there for a while. A long while. I began to wonder if she was dead or simply lost, but then- miracle of miracles- up she popped from the depths, drone in hand.

You guys, this woman freedived into the Indian Ocean to find a lost drone. I can’t even find my goggles in a swimming pool.

The jury’s still out if he ever got it working again, since it wasn’t waterproof, but he did mutter angrily that it was a $1200 waste of money.

Shortly thereafter, we started to make our way back, disappointed at not finding any whale sharks- when- to our immense joy, we ran into a boat that had found one.

And once you find one, you gotta jump in ASAP because they don’t stay at the surface for very long. So in we went, flippers on, choking on saltwater and swimming furiously after this guy.

I’m going to take a moment now to thank my parents for all the swimming lessons they forced me to take, because I managed to stay in the front of the group and get an uninterrupted view. It was incredible.

Our guide had a GoPro with her. Take a look at the video below.

-Carissa “This Is Why I Don’t Have a Drone” Rawson

I Survived Snorkeling: A Tale of True Bravery

Hello Dear Readers!

When trying to figure out what to talk about, I usually scroll through my photos. I try to take a fair few, and use them to spur the stories I tell you guys. And that usually works out well for me.

But I realized something while going through my photos of the Maldives.

Paradise looks great:

But it also looks pretty similar in every photo. And we spent most of our time in the water, which meant we took no photos at all.

So you’re going to have to rely on my story telling skills more than my visuals, I’m afraid.

In that same vein, let me tell you about our snorkeling.

Now, I’ve been to a fair few places for snorkeling (and even once dived successfully in Australia), so I’ve always figured I knew what snorkeling was about. You go in,  see some cool fish, swim around a reef, try to not touch the urchin and get poisoned. You know, normal things. So when they told us they had a reef just off the beach of the resort, I was excited but not expecting much.

I cannot even tell you how badly I misjudged this reef. It stretched the entire length of the island, and during our time there we saw more different aquatic animals than I’ve seen in all my previous snorkeling put together.

We spent so much time snorkeling that, while my face was completely unburnt, I was unable to sit comfortably for over a week. And yes, I was wearing sunscreen.

The best part about this reef was that you could walk right out to it. The water was so close to it, and it was so expansive, that at times your belly was about an inch away from the coral and the reef stretched on literally as far as you could see. You had to be a good swimmer (or at least floater) in order to avoid getting caught up on the coral.

And this place was packed. Aside from all the regular recognizable fish (Nemo? Dory?), we also spent hours swimming with giant schools of fish, found an octopus hiding inside some coral, followed a sea turtle for over twenty minutes, and even swam out over the “drop-off” which was exactly like the one in Finding Nemo and exactly as terrifying as you’d think.

But my favorite part, which Harrison completely missed (he was frolicking in a school of fish), was when I was wandering along and happened upon a barracuda- or at least that’s what I thought it was. Turns out it was a Moray Eel, but at the time all I could think was “oh god please don’t bite me.”

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You can forgive the confusion

He was a mere few inches from my face and I frantically backpedaled, getting far enough away to wheel around and begin swimming in the opposite direction.

At which point I encountered two reef sharks.

And ok. Reef sharks aren’t huge. But they were sharks! And I was panicking! Alone!

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Ahhhhhhhh!

At this point I wheeled just 90 degrees (still avoiding the barracuda) and began swimming in towards the shore as quickly as possible.

Of course nothing happened to me. I mean come on, you think the Hilton is gonna let a shark eat their customers? No.

But it was scary!

– Carissa “The Bravest” Rawson

The Magnificent Maldives- Reserving a Room (For Free!)

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve made so much fuss over the last year about the Maldives, and previously when I wrote about going, I detailed how I would spend points for nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives. Well, like I told you before, I ended up trading in those nights for a 4 day stay at the Conrad, simply because it was easier (and I wanted to go to their underwater restaurant.)

So how did I do it?

Well, the Conrad Maldives is the absolute highest category hotel that they’ve got, clocking in at an astonishing 95,000 points/ night. For reference, their cheapest hotels (Category 1) go for a mere 10,000 points/ night.

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I spent all year saving up for this, using sign up bonuses from the Hilton Honors Ascend card (which offers 100k points after 3k spend in 6 months) and the now defunct Citi Hilton Reserve card, which offered two free weekend nights at any hotel after 3k spend in the first three months.

I also saved up all the points I’d ever earned from doing my Diamond status challenge and made sure most of my stays during the last year were at Hiltons. This wasn’t just to earn points (though the earning ratio is vastly improved when you have status), but also because being a Diamond member means I get better perks here than at any other chain.

If you’re looking to acquire Hilton points, you can get the card I mentioned above as well as the Hilton Honors Aspire card, which earns you 100k points after 4k in spend in the first three months. (It also gives you Diamond status simply by owning it). There’s also the no annual fee Hilton Honors card, which gives you 50k bonus points after 1k in spend in the first three months.

Obtaining these three cards will net you a minimum of 250,000 points before spend (which will easily drive it up another 10-15k)- nearly enough for three nights at the Conrad Maldives. If you can get yourself up to 380,000 points (very doable in a year, as the Hilton cards earn rewards very quickly), you’ll have enough points for 4 nights. The Hilton Honors program gives the 5th night free on all hotel stays, so you’ll be able to stay for 5 nights for the cost of 4!

So, yes, it’s expensive. But you’re also redeeming your points at a hotel that regularly goes for over $2,000 a night, so you’re making it well worth your while.

The reward room you get is the beach villa, which is nice enough on its own. But a mere month before my arrival, Hilton accidentally made overwater villas (normally a $150-$300/ night upgrade) available for redemption for only 95,000 points a night- the same rate as a beach villa!

Unfortunately, I was past my cancellation window, so thought I had lost the opportunity to snag this. However, I still gave the Diamond desk a call and to my extreme surprise, they pulled some strings, replacing my 4 night stay in a beach villa with 4 nights in an overwater villa at no extra cost! I was more than a little pleased, and have continuously gloated since.

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For us!

Anyway, if you’re looking to stay, those three cards are the easiest way to earn large quantities of points, and once you’ve accumulated enough, it’s worth your while to aim for 4 nights and get 5. If you’re averse to too many cards, American Express transfers points to Hilton at a 2:1 ratio, so you’ll need a mere 190,000 American Express points for your 5 nights at the Maldives.

Up next, more fun and less points. See you soon!

– Carissa “Smug AF” Rawson

Maldivian Money- The Monopoly Money That Wasn’t

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve got a great many things to say about the Maldives even though it was a relatively short trip, but half of them are to do with points and the other half are about what I actually did while I was there. And if you’re not into points- well, then, today is your lucky day!

Today I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a good story- a tale of both woe and triumph, (but mostly woe), where a girl learns a costly lesson but also has an amazing time. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?

So. I told you all how the Conrad Maldives is expensive, right? And I knew this going in. In fact, I broke down for you exactly how to save alllll kinds of money during your trip.

And yet.

And yet.

It was our first night, you see. Harrison and I had just arrived, met up in the Conrad Lounge at the airport, and made our jolly way via seaplane to the resort. (Which was amazing, by the way).

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Super cool!

And we’d enjoyed the bottle of sparkling wine that they’d left in our room. We’d taken a dip in our own private pool, and had already swam off the edge of our overwater villa down into the ocean.

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We were flying high, you could say.

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So we wended our hungry, tipsy, way down to dinner. It was gorgeous, an absolutely phenomenal view. The restaurant was built on a deck over the beach, and nearly no one else was there, which meant that the lights, softly glowing, fell only on us, the sand, and water, while the gentle crash of the waves kept us company. Such a scene paved the way for excess, as the magic was kept alive through small glasses of champagne, toasted tipsily to each other, to our fortune, and to our immense luck at being there in paradise, together.

One, two, perhaps three glasses of champagne each.

And dessert. You can’t have a luxurious dinner without dessert, right? Molten lava cake and ice cream, melting messily on our plates as we laughed, drank, and toasted.

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Such indulgence, the scene was almost fantastical, like something out of a movie. I could write you volumes about it, but suffice to say that it was so great I almost don’t regret what happened next.

You know those places that don’t publish their prices? And their saying is “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Well, we should have asked. Because when that bill came- oh Lord did it come.

It was so expensive that at first glance I looked down, scoffed, and reached for my wallet, thinking that the prices were in “Maldivian Money-” some sort of Monopoly money that meant nothing to my mighty US dollar.

No, no they were not.

And that’s the story of how I spent my entire budget on my first dinner in the Maldives.

– Carissa “Worth It” Rawson

The Magnificent Maldives- Diamond Status Is Important!

Hello Dear Readers!

Are you guys as excited as I am for this series of posts on the Maldives? I had such an excellent time there, and really cannot think of a more excellent way to spend my 28th birthday.

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Mandatory paradise selfie

So aside from all the beautiful photos, there are actually quite a few things that went into coordinating my trip to the Maldives.

Our topic today is Hilton Diamond status, which I’ve written about before, but whose importance becomes significant when talking about the Conrad Maldives. You see, when you book a $2,000/night hotel, they sort of expect you to be able to afford it. Their bottom line doesn’t rest on travel hackers who use points to manipulate themselves into luxury. And why would it?

But here’s the thing. When your hotel comes in at 2k a night, it suddenly seems reasonable to start charging $50/person for breakfast. Or $500/person for dinner.

What I’m saying is, it’s not cheap.

And I’m only fake rich. I’m points rich. Which means that I absolutely cannot afford to eat my way through my annual budget.

This is where status comes in. You see, Diamond members receive all kinds of perks whenever they visit Hilton hotels. At the Conrad Maldives, there’s an entire list of benefits you get- check these out!

• Free breakfast for two at their restaurants Atoll and Vilu, daily

• Afternoon Tea at their Mandhoo Restaurant from 4-5pm, daily

• Happy hour at Vilu, from 5-6pm, daily

• Fruit basket with chocolate in your room at check-in (refilled daily)

• Free bottle of wine at check-in

• $25 spa discount card on arrival

These benefits are especially important when you consider the fact that I wasn’t kidding about those meal prices. The price to eat dinner at their underwater restaurant really is $500/person, though you can certainly eat cheaper at any of their other restaurants. Over the course of a four night stay, your meal bill can easily run into the thousands, and that doesn’t begin to cover alcohol. But, if you play your cards right, you can avoid most of the costs of staying at the hotel- eat breakfast late, snack on fruit for lunch, indulge in tea at 4, and run over to happy hour to have a few free drinks before dinner. With that, most of your day is covered. It turns an incredible indulgence of a vacation into something financially manageable.

So that’s what we did. Harrison and I enjoyed the hell out of their massive breakfast, which included a sushi station, an egg station, ice cream, crepes, pancakes, waffles, and even sparkling wine! In short, it’s amazing. You better believe I ate as much food as humanly possible.

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Round one of ten

Even better, our personal concierge, upon learning that it was my birthday, arranged to have a cake (complete with candles and matches) sent to our room. It was excellent!

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Feeling like a queen

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Anyway, long story short, the importance of Diamond status cannot be overstated, especially at these crazy expensive resorts, where you can save hundreds of dollars on your vacation simply by having status. Oh, and how did I get it? Check it out here, for a guide to matching your way to elite status.

See you all soon for more posts on the Maldives!

-Carissa

The Magnificent Maldives- For Real!

Hello Dear Readers!

I think you all should now that I’m on a plane in pajamas right now.

No, I don’t normally fly like this. But I’m coming back from the Maldives, and somewhere in my mind I thought “oh, I’m heading to a tropical paradise, where I will need only shorts and a bathing suit to wear.”

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And nowhere in my mind did I think “perhaps it will be freezing when I return from my tropical vacation to Scotland.”

So I’m in pajamas.

But on the plus side, the Maldives were great! As I’ve said before, I spent a total of four days there. However, while I had originally planned on staying at the Park Hyatt Maldives, I changed my reservation to the Conrad Hilton for a couple different reasons:

1. I have Diamond status at Hilton, which meant I got lots of free things.

2. They have an underwater restaurant.

3. I was able to finagle better free nights at the Hilton than the Park Hyatt.

These things require quite a bit of explanation, so they’ll be done in multi-posts, starting with Diamond status, how I got it, why it’s important, etc, tomorrow.

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See you then!

-Carissa “Could the Water Be Any Bluer?” Rawson

I’m 28!

Hello Dear Readers!

So many things to celebrate these last few weeks, including the blog turning a year old!

But more importantly, it was my birthday on the 10th, which everyone recognizes as the national holiday Carissa is the best person ever day.

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Proof.

I’ve spent the last 4 days in the Maldives, a trip I’ve been planning for over a year, and I can’t wait to show you all the photos. In the meantime, here are some tasters:

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-Carissa “Help Me I’m Nearly 30” Rawson