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Old Oct 13, 2008, 12:58 pm
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The Luxury Hotels of Hawaii

I recently returned from a site inspection visit to three Hawaiian islands — Maui, Lanai, and the Big Island. This is a summary of my impressions.


I spent two nights in the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. The positives: It's a beautiful resort, beautiful rooms, great pool, and the Beach House Restaurant right by the beach was an idyllic place to have lunch, sitting in the shade of the palm trees. The Club Lounge was quite nice. The resort has the award-winning Ambassadors of the Environment kids program. The negatives: It's too big. The walk from the lobby to our room took us down two long hallways. And there was an especially long walk from the rooms and pool area down to the beach. (The reason: an ancient burial ground was found where Ritz-Carlton originally wanted to build the hotel, and so the location was moved further from the beach).

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. The FS was more compact than the Ritz-Carlton, but it's too compact in my view. Too much resort is crammed into too little space. The rooms are newly renovated; they were nice, but I can't say that I absolutely loved them (the color schemes didn't do it for me). The property is currently constructing a Serenity Pool in the southwest corner of the property, an adults-only facility that will allow couples on a romantic weekend to enjoy a pool where kids aren't splashing and making noise. Plusses: a complimentary children's program. DUO is a great restaurant.

Fairmont Kea Lani. This is a large, all-suite property, and the best thing I can say about it is that you get a lot of space for your dollar. Suites are 840 square feet. However, the suites are tired and in need of renovation, and the grounds did not have the lush landscaping that other Hawaiian resorts feature. The architecture (hard to describe -- Moorish?, Mediterranean?) did not create an island feeling for me.

Where to stay in Maui? It's not a five-star luxury property, but I've always liked the Napili Kai -- a low-rise property with condominium units on a very nice beach.


I next spent two nights on Lanai. This is a smaller island I had never before visited -- with just 3000 residents, only 65 miles of roads, and no traffic lights. We took the ferry from Lahaina (45 minutes) and were meet at the dock by representatives from Four Seasons who got our luggage from the ferry and drove us to The Lodge at Koele. This is a truly beautiful resort with gorgeous grounds. It is located about 1000 feet above sea level and enjoys temperatures about 10 degrees cooler. There is a challenging 18-hole putting course (in addition to a regular golf course) that I really enjoyed playing.

Four Seasons bought their two properties on Lanai from Castle & Cooke, and the facilities do not have the "feel" of typical Four Seasons hotel rooms. Our room at The Lodge was beautiful in every way - but there was only a single vanity in the bathroom, and there was not a separate shower stall. No marble either - but some very attractive and colorful tile! This did not detract from our experience, but it's something to be aware of.

A complimentary shuttle runs every thirty minutes between the Lodge and Manele Bay. The ride takes 25 minutes, and guests can charge everything to their room, no matter which property they are staying at. Manele Bay has a beautiful and secluded beach.

I would recommend staying at the Lodge (I preferred the rooms here) and shuttling down to the beach.


Four Seasons Hualalai. This is, without question, my favorite of all the properties I saw. Except for the fact that there is some major construction currently underway.

This is a low-rise property with the units contained in four "crescents" facing the beach. Guest rooms are beautiful, and many of the ground floor rooms have private outdoor showers. Each crescent has its own pool. They say that guests either love or hate King's Pond (at the north end of the beach). This crescent surrounds a completely natural pool formed with lava rock, and I saw guests snorkeling in it. However, the crescent doesn't have the beautiful lawns that the other three crescents have - and I personally wouldn't want to stay here. The Palm Grove crescent (at the south end of the beach) is best for honeymooners and couples on a romantic trip to Hawaii as it has an adults-only pool.

What about the construction? This is heavy construction. There is a special unpublished website that has a map showing the state of construction for any set of dates that you would want to consider. FS is "filling in" the space between some of the detached buildings in order to create additional suites, and there was heavy construction equipment in plain view on the Kings Pond crescent during my visit. The entire Beach Tree crescent was closed as they were enlarging the pool.

Where else to stay on Hawaii while the FS is undergoing construction? There's not a clear-cut answer.

I spent two evenings at the Fairmont Orchid in a Gold Level room. This was originally a Ritz-Carlton property that Fairmont has taken over. The rooms are large, and the bathrooms have dual vanities with separate tub and shower. The grounds are beautiful, and there is a safe swimming beach off to the south side of the property. However, I had the same experience of having to walk down a long hallway to get to my room - which detracts from the feeling I want a beach resort to provide.

The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel has smaller rooms than the Orchid, and I thought the bathrooms could use some updating. However, this property has the better beach ... and has an "open-air" design that I found very appealing. There are no closed hallways; everything opens up to a central courtyard (click on the link for a picture).

Finally, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is under renovation but is scheduled to open next spring. Located on a beautiful, wide beach, this was originally a Rockresort. I couldn't see any of the renovated guestrooms. I did see a photograph, but it's hard to judge the quality of the furnishings from a photograph. We did see some rooms at the adjoining sister property, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, which claims to be 4*. The rooms smelled musty and not up to the standards of your typical ... Marriott.

So where to stay for your visit to Hawaii? I have no clear-cut answers. Once FS Hualalai has finished its renovations, this is the obvious first choice. Until then ... you might consider the Kahala Resort on Oahu. I stayed there several years ago and loved the setting ... and their rooms have since been completely renovated.

Last edited by DavidO; Oct 13, 2008 at 4:39 pm
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