The evening before I'm sitting in Gatwick departures lounge, surrounded by and feeling distinctly grey. The following morning, after a surprisingly painless nine hour direct flight, I'm lying on a sun lounger gazing across white sands to the bluest sea imaginable, cocktail in hand (well, why not - I'm on holiday!).
And so began my totally relaxing stay at the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa.
If, like me, a family holiday usually consists of self-catering (still cooking, but in worse kitchens than your own) or group holidays (more cooking, but this time for 15 very loud children instead of the usual number), then a family trip to the Maldives is a once-in-a-lifetime (but maybe, please, not!) and very well-deserved treat.
From the moment we spotted the coral reefs of the islands stretching out below the descending plane, excitement levels rose. From the airport - a dedicated island next to the capital Male - we were whisked staight onto a boat for a 15 minute journey to our island, where we were greeted by smiling hotel staff bearing refreshing drinks and cool towels.
Here are just some of the memories I'll always treasure of a family holiday stuffed with idyllic scenes and total, blissful relaxation:
* Snorkelling in the calm (and wonderfully shallow and safe) lagoon. Dip your head underwater and you're instantly transfixed by the spectacular coloured shoals of fish. There are also boat trips to nearby coral reefs.
* Being the only people within view on the beach for whole afternoons. (There is a kids' club if they fancy more company.)
* Feeding reef sharks as the sun set. Safe and fascinating. How many kids get to feed sharks?
* Dining on delicious food (not cooked by me - can you spot the theme here?!) on the beach at night.
* Lying in my hammock on my private deck, next to my very own infinity pool, watching a spectacular sunrise across the Indian Ocean. Now there's a line I never thought I'd write. I was staying in one of the resort's 20 new super luxurious Ocean Villas.
* Talking and talking and laughing and finishing a whole book, worlds away from real life and phones and screens (although you can go online if you really must at the hotel).
* The best massage I've ever had at the hotel's Shine Spa, falling asleep to the sound of the waves through the open doors. If your occasional birthday present massage turns into a stressy chat about schools and holidays in a slightly claustrophobic treatment room, this is living the dream.
* But the most magical memory of all was a dolphin cruise. I thought we'd see one or two on the horizon. Instead, 10 or more of them played chase with the prow of our traditional boat, while yet more pirouetted and back flipped in front and behind us as we oohed and ahhed. As dusk set, the performance ended and we turned back to the lights of the island.
Kuoni (01306747008/www.kuoni.co.uk) offers 7 nights at the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa Maldives in a deluxe room with breakfast, including flights with British Airways from Gatwick, transfers in resort and use of the airport lounge in Male.
Prices for 2011 from £1356 per person based on two sharing.
For the above holiday but in an Ocean Villa, prices for 2011 from £3195 per person based on two sharing.
For more information visit www.sheraton.com/maldivesfullmoon
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