We are six metres under water, supping on sea bass, as damsels swish by.
It's like a scene from a Bond movie. "Am I dreaming?" Grace asks.
A short speedboat ride from Per Aquum Niyama brought us to the Edge, a restaurant half a kilometre offshore. A dramatic three-tier staircase leads to Subsix, where we sit in anemone chairs beneath a ceiling of shells. This is subaquatic dining at its finest, with bottles of Bordeaux about $5000.
"We'll have the Pomerol, please," Taj asks, with a wink. "Just mineral water," I add, shooting him "the look". This ultra-modern bar – with swooping curves, like a clam – was built above ground then sunk onto the seabed. It's the world's only underwater nightclub, with "glow parties" twice a week. The view is pure theatre, with moray eels snaking past colourful coral, and Moorish idols, a distinctive looking fish, trailing delicate dorsals.
Over an amuse-guele of truffled mushroom soup, and a ballotine of fish with star anise foam (plus penne pasta and tomato soup for the kids) we decide this is the best family resort in the region.
At the moment it's accessible only by seaplane, although an airport is about to open on a nearby island. "When we land on the water, do we have to get wet?" Grace asks our host Tha'ae in the welcome lounge at Male airport. "And are there sharks?" Taj asks her colleague, Shagy. "All the sharks here are vegetarian," Shagy laughs, like his namesake on Scooby Doo.
The hour-long flight spans hundreds of islands in the Maldives archipelago. Atolls appear as zygotes, breeding across the ocean. Someone has spilled a cocktail of blue curacao, with droplets of turquoise, cerise and cyan.
Niyama comprises two interconnected islands, Chill and Play. It's surreally stunning, with tropical gardens across the interior, and a fringe of icing-white sand.
On the wharf we meet Milo, who is our butler for the week. Each villa has a dedicated thakuru, who organises activities, restaurant reservations, and transport. You only have to consider calling a buggy, and it's at your doorstep. Each guest also has a cruiser bike, to traverse the sandy paths.
Our 255-square-metre, two-bedroom suite is chic and family-friendly. The expansive children's area has a king-sized bed, fish-shaped tent, kites, sand buckets, and – the piece de resistance – a vintage popcorn-maker with a never-ending supply of niblets. Free ice-cream is delivered daily.
The parents' retreat opens to an outdoor bathroom with two rain showers, a deep bath and a zen pond, lined with glass tiles, cocooned by palm fronds. At the other end is a family-sized plunge pool, steps from the Indian Ocean. Jason turns up the chill track on the Bose sound system, as the kids splash in the pool and I snooze on the swing chair.
It's the kind of accommodation you don't want to leave, but we hop on the bikes to ride to Blu for a lunch of locally caught tuna, before boarding a boat for the dolphin watching cruise.
Within minutes, a young dolphin twirls twice in the air, ingloriously splashing into the sea. Then one of the adults – a bull – completes five revolutions. "I reckon that one should be called Che Guevara!" I quip. No one laughs. (Some of my best material is wasted on those kids …)
"The dolphins are teaching their babies how to spin," one of the crew, Mus-if, says. "Did you know each dolphin has a name? It's the first sound they utter after birth." Like all the staff, Mus-if is empathetic and intuitive. When I tell Grace to cover her sunburnt skin, he drapes a towel across her shoulders. Despite seeing dozens of dolphins, our highlight is the flying fish. Like birds, they skim the surface for hundreds of metres.
That night, we beach-test the 3D Silent Outdoor Cinema. Lounging across beanbags and daybeds, we don Bluetooth headsets to watch Avatar on a towering screen. Complete with cocktails and canapes, popcorn and petits fours, it's the ideal evening.
The adventure continues the following day on a snorkelling trip. The crew guide us around an outcrop of bright orange coral, giant purple clams, and the freakish "unicornfish", with "horns" protruding from their foreheads. After an hour I spot a streak of grey. "Shark!" I scream into my mouthpiece. "Black-tip. Follow me." It expertly slices the water, faster than a speeding woman.
The water teems with marine life: our sunrise strolls reveal ells, squid and king crabs.
We take a sunset cruise on a dhoni, a handcrafted sailboat used by fishermen. Again, out comes the Moet and mango juice, as that orange orb (the sun, not the mango) sinks into the sea.
Because of the intense heat – the temperature peaks at 36 degrees during our stay – staff are always on hand to rehydrate guests with fresh juice. The children lie on beanbags in the pool at Blu, holding multicoloured mocktails. This is filed in the folder, Things Spoiled Western Children Do. So, too, the Dolphin Massage at Lime Spa. (No, they don't use a live dolphin. That would be filed under Call the RSPCA.) In overwater villas, we enjoy a coconut and lime foot scrub, followed by a deep and relaxing massage.
Then we head to the 24-hour games room for the sports simulator, Playstation 4, and Xbox 360.
Does it get any better than this? Well, yes. Thanks for asking. Each meal is five-star, from the ostrich entree at Tribal, served by a Maasai warrior, to the modern Asian cuisine at Nest, a restaurant in a treehouse.
Before the buffet breakfast at Epicure, we are given shots of spinach, apple and ginger juice, to aid digestion. One waiter, Jerry, does napkin tricks for Taj and Grace, encouraging them to check out the kids' club.
Usually, our children call such places "baby prisons". This time, we can't tear them away. The Explorers Children's Club has a rock climbing wall, mini-pool table, in-ground trampoline, water play area, gourmet kitchen, and trips to Subsix with a marine biologist.
The Moors believed their eponymous fish – the idol – brought happiness. I'd have to agree, sitting on the deck at Edge, the sky a palette of pink. The waiter brings three types of bread, including blue cheese and walnut.
Aside from the seaplane flight and kids' club, Grace says her favourite part was the thakuru. "Yep. It's marvellous what a difference Milo makes," Jase adds, in a bid to better my Guevara gag. The kids crack up. "This is the best resort EVER," Taj insists.
With a profusion of hotels across the Maldives, it takes an effort to stand out from the crowd; Per Aquum Niyama does it in style. Family style.
Many airlines service the route from Australia to Male, either via Asia or the Middle East. It's an eight-hour flight from Sydney to Singapore, then 4½ hours to Male (see singaporeair.com). The connection to Niyama is either by seaplane or a new domestic airport nearby.
A Beach Studio costs $1497 a night, including taxes and fees (see peraquum.com). Dozens of three and four-star properties are opening across the Maldives, pushing down prices in the luxury resorts. If you need to stay overnight in Male before transferring to the resort, please ask for advice on the best options. We paid a fortune for a room online, only to discover it had neither hot water nor connectivity.
The mildest time of year is from November to April. The monsoon runs from May to October. However, we have visited in June and September, with clear skies.
Tracey Spicer and family stayed courtesy of Minor Hotels.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO
Snorkel by torchlight at night on the reef, to spot the rare "unicornfish".
Swim with the sharks at Hammerhead Point, or the manta rays of Bull Bull.
Move like a dolphin on a Seabob, an underwater scooter reaching 20km/h.
Test your skills at golf, football or basketball on the high-tech simulators.
Book the kids in for a zumba class, while you do tai chi, yoga or boxing.
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