Sunday, March 31, 2013

Grand Wailea #2 (lots of pictures)

Without a doubt, the lobby and common areas of the Grand Wailea are beautiful. 

The lounge in the lobby.

Indoor/outdoor lobby with lots of water and art.

The lobby is all interconnected walkways around fountains and pools (reflecting, not swimming.)

 We walked a LOOOOOONNNNGGGG way to the pool area. In order to sit on the pool deck area, you must have a wristband. You get the wristbands from the activity centre in the middle of the the pool complex, which involves going up and down, over bridges and under caverns. The pool complex is extremely elaborate- much more themed and extravagant than most Disney resorts I have visited. We lined up for our wristbands and getting one require a computer check and a phone call. We all needed to give our names and they were matched with the code on the wristband and entered into the computer. I get that they are trying to protect against pool usage by non-guests, but this was some high security stuff! At the activity centre, they had some craft tables that looked a little worse for wear (I think it was tie dye t-shirts one day- for $25) and they also sold shave ice ($7.00!). We decided to have lunch at the poolside cafe. Our server was actually quite amazing- she had been there for 17 years, and seemed to totally love her job. She was good at her job, too, because we were all talked into refillable plastic pineapples to hold our cocktails and smoothies ($22, refills of boozy drink- $15).  The food at this restaurant is served in plastic and is all pre-made. I had sushi, it was fine. For four lunch dishes (one sushi and 3 sandwiches) and four refillable cocktail glasses (2 non-alcoholic) plus two cocktail refills, the bill was $220.00. Yeehaw! Thank goodness those cocktails were boozy. 

After our lunch, we sat on some loungers around the pool while the kids swam. The loungers are packed very tightly around the pool- touching, with no space at all in between. We had to climb up from the bottom to sit on them. We waited, and waited, as the lunch buzz wore off and the clock ticked. I went and checked on our room again at 3:00, explaining again that we had (very expensive) luau tickets on the property and wanted to change before it began. I was reminded by another robot (oops, I mean front desk clerk!) that check in is not guaranteed until 4:30. I expressed my disappointment and went back to our seat around the pool. Finally, around four, our cell phone rang and we were told we could come get our room keys.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dinner at Ko, Fairmont Kea Lani

Mostly pictures....we had a very nice dinner here. There is a lovely Hawaiian guitarist and the restaurant opens up to a gorgeous view of the adult pool. It is expensive- out dinner for four was $275.00. 

The girls had virgin cocktails in real pineapples. They were $15.00. This was a highlight for them, so well worth the $. 

Guitar guy. He played "Somewhere over the Rainbow/Wonderful World" by request by us. It was goosebumpy good.

Bread, crackers, edamame hummus, Korean BBQ sauce and Honey Butter.

Deep fried ahi sushi. Tasted good, but pieces were huge!


Tempura vegetables.
 Our server was professional and very sweet. Overall, we had a good experience. The food was good, but not great. It was definitely hotel food. 

And on to the Grand Wailea.

We had a beautiful six days at the Fairmont. I will intersperse the rest of this blog with posts about that. But you came here because you are considering and trying to decide between a few Maui hotels. So I will get on with it!

It took us way too long to pack up out Fairmont room. We slept in that day and had a relaxing morning. Check out is not until noon. 

Once we got our bags packed and said a sad goodbye to the room (my daughter actually cried- she's a little emotional!) we went to get our car, which valet had stocked with two bottles of water. 

I knew that check in at the Grand Wailea was not until 3:00. It was 12:30. We left the Kea Lani and arrived at the Grand Wailea exactly one minute later (ha!). We pulled over and I went in to see about checking in early. 
Grand Wailea beach. 

I had booked this room through a Preferred Partner website called WhatAHotel. This was one of the best deals I had found- the room rate was the same as the Grand Wailea's own site, but WhatAHotel offered an upgrade (based on availability), a $25 resort credit and breakfast for two daily. 

The reservation at the Grand Wailea was for two nights. We really wanted to check out the pools. Our daughter had seen the Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston movie Just Go With It, which features the hotel. As I mentioned way back in the beginning, I love hotels, so there was no way I was going to Maui and seeing only one hotel.

The lobby of the GW is also very big, but very different from the Kea Lani. There is no sweeping view, no open air facing the ocean. Parts of the lobby are open to the sky, but I immediately noticed the lack of a view. 

I expected that we would not be permitted to check in early, but I tried to be extra charming and nice and see if I could check in just a little bit early. We planned to go for lunch at the hotel, then were hoping that a room would be ready at around 2:00 ish. We had tickets for the Grand Luau on the property for that night, and I expressed our desire to have a few minutes to change/lay down before rushing to the luau at 4:00. The front desk clerk was ice. No smile, no interest, no nothing! And certainly no effort to check us in early. She "preregistered" us, which allowed us to charge food and drinks, and also to be allowed on the pool deck. She took my number and said that they would call when our room became available, which would be after three but there was no guarantee for a room until 4:30. Wow, that is late! I was hopeful. We placed our bags with bell services and our car with mandatory valet ($30 plus tax) and headed to the pool restaurant.   

Kea Lani- Thoughts in the first few days

So far, I was very happy with the Kea Lani. 

Here are the pros and cons after the first few days:


The room was spacious and well-appointed. 
Housekeeping made up the pull out without us even asking after the first day.
The bathroom is plenty big for four people. 
The grounds are stunningly beautiful and exceptionally well maintained.
The staff is warm and friendly.
The store/deli is handy.
The oddly placed exit stairwell leads to a quick path to the pool and beach. 
There are dispensers of green tea iced tea and ice water in the lobby. 
There are flowers everywhere.
The beach is pretty, with soft golden sand. 
Other guests are mostly families or couples, and everyone is in super relaxation mode- mellow. 
Bed is very comfortable. 


The walk to the room is FAR. 
The room overlooks a parking lot.
There is lots of noise- mowers, trimmers, golf carts. Only medium annoying, though. 
The food onsite is expensive, even in the deli. 
Drinks are expensive- $15 for a mai tai, lava flow, or other tropical cocktail. They have daily drink specials for $10, different each day. Also, happy hour is 40% off beer, wine and well drinks- no fancy cocktails included. 

I was pretty happy thus far.  Tomorrow is our outrigger canoe and cabana day.


Kea Lani #6 The Beach

Okay....back to day one. 

The beach at the Kea Lani is beautiful. I have very little experience with beaches, but I was shocked at how soft the sand was. There are beach staff that immediately set up chairs for you. They never ask your room number or anything. We didn't book an umbrella, but you could for free. The umbrellas are only allowed in the back rows, chairs can be anywhere. We forgot to put on sunblock (it had been kind of overcast) and we regretted that later. Not used to the intensity of the sun! 

There are signs saying that no alcohol is allowed on the beach, but we walked up to the pool bar and they happily made this tray of drinks for us to take to the beach, complete with cup o' bar snacks. Love it! 

We played in the waves a bit, then asked at the beach kiosk about renting a little wave board...but they were $9.00 an hour, or $40 a day. I bought two at Long's Drugs in Lahaina the next day for $17.00 each. They were cheap but worked. 

We had some appetizers in the lounge for dinner, then walked down to see our first Maui sunset. It was fantastic! So beautiful.

We played on the hammocks on the property for awhile. This guy comes around to light all the torches (which are all over the place and are really beautiful). 

I was tired early...the time change was hard on me. I went to bed early and vowed to sleep past seven.

Sidebar- Nakalele Blowhole-Pictures!

Skipping ahead to day two.....

Since it was overcast that day, we decided to take a drive. I was dying to try Ululani's Shave Ice, so we headed to Lahaina. The shave ice was really delicious! I had it on four more occasions on this trip. The people who work at the two locations that I visited were so nice and friendly (actually, almost everyone we met was...I thought it was just a cliche that Hawaiians said "Aloha" but they actually do! All the time! It's wonderful!) 

We drove quite a distance- all the way to the Nakalele blowhole. I had read about on TripAdvisor forums, so I was aware of the danger- but the little crosses and warning signs kind of freaked us out, and we observed from a very generous distance! There were others, though, that were right down near the hole- yikes! The waves were pounding, so there was quite a bit of "blow"!

The blowhole was a cool detour; glad we saw it. 

The sun was starting to shine, so headed back, stopping at Safeway in Kihei on the way back. Whoa, sticker shock! That was an eye opener! We bought a few breakfast-y things for the room, and it was $130.00. I guess, when everything has to travel by boat or plane....Maui Gold pineapples were only .99, though! 

I took this photo in the Fairmont deli/shop. 

$6.95! For a loaf of bread! Wow!

Headed back to the hotel for some beach time....

Kea Lani #5 Breakfast

Our first morning, after seeing the view off the lanai in the light for the first time (it was quite solidly overcast), we headed down to breakfast at the buffet breakfast restaurant. I had originally booked a breakfast package directly with the hotel. After I had booked it, however, the hotel had a fifth night free promotion, so I changed packages (and saved over $600.00). We thought we would have the breakfast, though, if it was worth it- I had heard great reviews. 

It was busy in the restaurant, even though it was barely 8:00 am. I guess everyone is time-shifted, too.  We were sat with menus. I asked for one kids menu, as one of the 13 year olds in our party is the lightest, pickiest eater ever! The other one eats like an adult, so I have no issue paying for an adult portion. However, it pains me that the other one has aged out of kids menus. Three of us decided to get the buffet, and my partner decided to try Loco Moco, in keeping with a pledge to eat as local as possible. The buffet was $34/person. I was immediately disappointed by the buffet selection- the fruit consisted of canned peaches and mandarins, some pale cantaloupe, green bananas and sour, unripe pineapple. Hey! Wait a minute! I am in Hawaii- where are the fresh fruits!? The rest of the items- baked goods (very nice), cereal, eggs benedict, omelette station- were okay. Nothing I haven't had a hotel in Toronto in February. I was just expecting something else, I think...maybe an orchid here and there? The restaurant is half inside, half out. We sat in a kind of weird spot in a courtyard- our fault, my daughter wanted to sit by the waterfall- but it was probably a bad choice a it was kind of tucked away and maybe even a little dismal...although the people sitting outside by the adult pool were fighting off bold sparrows that tried to eat off their plates. 

Plate one from buffet. 

Loco moco- rice, soy sauce flavoured gravy, a hamburger patty and two fried eggs. 

Overall, a sort of so-so breakfast. I was glad that we weren't committed to it every morning. In fact, it was the only time we ate there in six days. The bill came, and it was $135.00. Ouch! Our server didn't even ask about the kids menu on the table...just billed the kids both as adults. So here is how I feel about that: both my partner and I have a long history in the Hospitality business. One of us owns a restaurant, and the other is a Hospitality high school teacher. I really think that servers should be trained to observe! Especially at a buffet service. If our server, who didn't actually seem that interested, were observant, they would note the kids menu on the table, and the half bagel with one bite out of it on the plate, and note mentally that the kids rate ($16.00) would be more than fair. I get that the hotel probably sees way too many cheapskates trying to pass off their ravenous teenagers as kids...but come on. A little observation and attention goes a LONG way. That's all! I didn't feel like bickering over the bill on this first morning of a long planned holiday, so I paid it and vowed that we wouldn't make that mistake again. 


Kea Lani #4

Woke up bright and early on the morning of Day one- like, 4:30 am. I was kind of expecting to, with the time I was sooo excited to check out this hotel. My 13 year old daughter was up too, so we quietly got dressed and headed to the lobby to have a look around. 

Wow, the hallway in our tower is long...then, after a quick elevator ride, it's down another long hallway, then across a mezzanine (with shops on one side and a view of the ocean/pools on the other, so interesting at least) to get to the lobby. It was very dark, and a little drizzly. There was no one around expect a few hotel staff members. There was coffee, tea, and hot chocolate set up in the lobby so we happily got a cup and sat on big, soft comfy chairs with footrests in the open air lounge right off the lobby. I discovered later in the trip that this complimentary coffee and tea is only available until the restaurant opens for breakfast at 6:30. The lounge has a big staircase down the middle, which goes from the lobby to the grounds, and seating on either side. I think it opens for drinks and a very limited menu of appetizers around 11 am. The chairs all face a wall of huge arches- there is a real Middle Eastern/Mediterranean vibe to the architecture here- that are wide open to the outside and have a stunning view of the grounds, a koi pond, the lawn and the ocean beyond it. 

A not very good picture from the lounge at night. This is what it looks down onto- Pools, landscaping and Nick's Fishmarket. 

Since it was dark, we could only hear the waves and not see them. We were coming from a brutally cold Canadian winter, and the concept of sitting in short sleeves, with fresh, warm air rich with the intoxicating smell of flowers and green, was still incredibly novel. We just sat and relished that for awhile and this is one of my fondest memories of the entire trip. Gradually, the sky lightened and we went up to the room around 6:30.

Since the rest of our party was still sleeping, I went out on the lanai and looked around at the view. I looked to the left and was astonished to see a big, beautiful mountain topped with moody looking clouds, with the sun shooting golden rays around it. What the heck is that!? I mean, I had read there was a mountain (or two!), but I didn't picture it being right there! Wow, what a stunning backdrop! 

This is not from the Fairmont room, but the view was similar. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kea Lani #3

Our room was very big- bigger than in the pictures I saw online. I believe it was an upgrade, possibly because I am a member of the Fairmont President's Club, though not an exceptional upgrade. The living room area was very big. In the entryway just beyond the door was a wet bar- sink, mini fridge, microwave, and coffeemaker (a Keurig or Tassimo- can't remember the exact type).  Opposite the wet bar is the bathroom, which is massive- a huge bathroom that doesn't seem to use the space very efficiently. There is just a lot of floor happening! The bathroom has a shower; a huge, deep bathtub; and separate little room for the toilet; two sinks; and a long shelf for toiletries. There were two robes and a hamper for used towels. The bathroom has a second door that leads to the bedroom.

Back to the living area. The living area had a large couch and two side chairs, and a long ottoman/coffee table. It also has a desk with two chairs. There is a huge TV with an elaborate entertainment system- speakers, DVD, etc. In this particular room, there are windows everywhere, and three full size sliding doors that lead to a huge balcony (lanai). The lanai has a table and four chairs and two lounge chairs. The lanai furniture is plain and not particularly spotless- no cushions or decoration.

The bedroom has a king bed, and is reasonably large. It has a small closet, a set of drawers, two side tables with more small drawers and a large TV. It also has a sliding door to the lanai.
This is our (lack of) view, if you look straight out.

The room seems very clean, and did not seem worn. A plug-in attachment on the desk was broken and falling off, but that was the only real sign of wear that I could see.  The bedding was very crisp and luxurious and the bed was incredible. The sofa bed was thin but the girls said it was comfortable. The front desk made sure that we would call housekeeping when we wanted the bed made up, and we did the first few nights. The whole room had blackout curtains, and sheers. 

The reason that I think this was just a little upgrade was because, although the room is bigger and has the huge, wraparound balcony, the room was on the third floor and directly faced the Polo Beach Club condo building.  There really was no view- we looked  straight down to a parking lot- the free beach access lot, which was always empty- weird!- and straight onto the condo building. If you looked to the right, there was a sliver of ocean between trees. There was always a lot of landscaping noise- but I suspect that was everywhere, as they are constantly grooming the grounds. I think you would have to be at least two floors higher to get any kind of view.  I booked and paid for no view, so I didn't really expect one. 

This is the public parking lot between the Fairmont and the Polo Beach Club. It never seemed busier than this.
This was the road our room looked...never very busy.

So, day one summary and first impressions:

Beautiful, maintained hotel. 
Huge. Big, spacious room.
Ridiculously large bathroom. 
So far, very warm, genuine and courteous staff. 

Good start. 

Since it was late, we only saw the interior of our room on the first day. 

Kea Lani #2

The hotel is huge. Really big.

First impressions- the lobby has a massive, soaring ceiling with four large domes. Everything is white marble...the floor, the walls. It was dark, but I could see that the lobby opened up to the outside. The entry of the hotel was just wide open- no doors (no wall!)- coming from Canada, I had never seen that before. The temperature was the same in the lobby as outside, warm, not humid and the air had a "soft" quality that is hard to describe. Flowers and greens were everywhere, and as we walked to our room, we passed through several areas that opened up to the sky.

We reached our tower- the hotel is like a string of five connected blocks, kind of zigzagging sideways along the property. Our room was the last room of the last block- in the Molokini tower. We were on floor K- in six nights, I never figured out the numbering system, nor did I determine if we were travelling up or down in the elevator to get to the lobby- a very disconcerting feeling. As we walked, and walked, with the bell person, we passed through three of the five blocks. The tower our room was in had strangely wide hallways- the widest hotel hallways I have ever seen. It seemed like a waste of space, but maybe there is a reason? The hallway was quite dark and the carpet has a pattern that almost looks as though it is worn- though we determined that it is the pattern, with gradient colour, and not wear. A poor design- I saw several reviews that commented on worn hallway carpets- they actually seemed quite new, I think- just a very poor choice.

We finally reached our room- K97- at the very far end. I commented that it was a hike, and the bell person (who was very nice and chatted all the way) said that the end rooms were worth it because they had wrap-around balconies. The end of the hallway had a fire exit door that was not so pretty- odd placement- actually one of the stranger hotel hallways I've seen.

Fairmont Kea Lani # 1

Hotel # 1: The Fairmont Kea Lani

Number of Nights:  6

Rate:  $539/night with the 5th night free (winter promotion)- which worked out to somewhere around $489/night

Room: least expensive category, no title, but room description says it "overlooks landscaping and neighbouring side streets"

Loyalty program: Fairmont President's Club

The Fairmont Kea Lani is an all-suite hotel. It is the southern-most resort in Wailea. It has a large property and every room is a two-room suite- a bedroom and a living room.

I chose the Kea Lani because my traveling party consisted of two adults and two 13 year old girls (myself, my partner, our daughter and her best friend). As this was a long anticipated holiday, I loved the idea of a bedroom, with a door that closed- two beds in a small room for 10 nights was not appealing. Every living area at the Kea Lani has a sofa bed, so it seemed like an ideal set up.

I liked the positive reviews that I found for the Kea Lani all over the web. Most reviews were glowing, though several mentioned a lot of wear and a few reviews questioned cleanliness. 

We arrived late- our flight landed at 6:15, around dusk. It was very cloudy and overcast, with low cloud cover and misty rain. This wasn't exactly how I envisioned my first view of Maui- I definitely pictured the sun. By the time we picked up the rental car, it was dark. We made our way to Wailea- about a 30 minute drive from the airport.

It was hard to arrive in the dark- it was like arriving somewhere you had never seen before with a blindfold on.  We drove along a busy road with residential neighbourhoods and business areas, and then we entered Wailea. There are signs when you enter, but you can immediately tell that you have entered a resort area- the landscape goes from dry desert to green, lush and pristine. We passed the other hotels and the shops and turned into the driveway of the Fairmont.

The driveway had several lit torches lining the curb, which was very pretty. We pulled up and were immediately greeted by valet (valet is optional- $25/night, $15 for self park). As we gathered up our things and were discussing luggage, a bell person presented up with purple orchid leis- very pretty.  They asked our name and walked us to the front desk. The woman working was very warm, with a big smile. I felt that she was sincere in her welcome. We got the business part of check in settled, and she offered us all POG (pineapple, orange, guava) juice or water. We all accepted and it was very delicious. She outlined a few restaurant options and drew the path to our room on a map, then called a bell person over to walk us and our bags to our room.

The beginning

When I first started researching a possible trip to Hawaii, it took me a long time to decide on an island. To be honest, I ended up choosing Maui because I was flying on Air Canada Aeroplan reward miles, and the connections were kindest. Once I started really getting into my research, though, I determined that Maui was  the perfect choice- natural beauty, posh neighbourhoods, exceptional hotels, good food- all things I like when I am traveling.

A little background about me- I love hotels. In a way that is almost worrisome. I love five stars, four stars, and I'll do the odd three star. Not crazy about bare bones hotels- what's the point? I can camp for that. I spend time daily on sites like TripAdvisor, Hotel Chatter, FlyerTalk, and Oyster. I like looking at hotels in places I may never visit. I like looking at strangers' hotel pictures on blogs and Tripadvisor. I stay in hotels 25-30 nights a year, strictly for pleasure- I don't travel for work. I belong to every hotel loyalty program and collect points aggressively. I consider hotels a hobby. I put up with occasional ribbing from my family and friends, but I always make sure we have a nice place to stay, so I know it is ultimately appreciated. I know that I am not alone- check out a few travel forums and you will find lots of people like me. So I ventured into my trip to Maui with a bit of hotel saavy.

Once I committed to Maui, I had to commit to a location. I found myself completely overwhelmed- Maui is a very popular destination, with diverse towns/neighbourhoods that have loyal fans. After scouring all the forums I could, I decided that the pretty, high end town of Wailea seemed like the best fit- kind of like staying in Beverly Hills when you go to LA.

Wailea is home to a handful of hotels and several groups of condos. For this trip, I was only interested in hotels- but I certainly will consider a condo for the next trip. The hotels in Wailea are The Fairmont Kea Lani, Hotel Wailea, The Grand Wailea (A Waldorf-Astoria Hotel), The Four Seasons and the Marriott Wailea. The Fairmont, Grand Wailea and the Four Seasons are directly on sandy beaches.

All of the hotels in Wailea are top-end, beautiful and expensive. Our trip fell on Canadian March Break (typically high season) and was 10 days in length. I decided on three hotels: The Fairmont Kea Lani, The Grand Wailea, and the Four Seasons. All were within a few minutes of each other- in fact, we did not move more than a few miles during the course of ten days (except, of course, to explore the island!)

Since I read lots and lots of great blogs to prepare for my holiday, I suspect there are others who are considering one or all of these hotels and are looking for an honest opinion, which is why I decided to write this blog. Read on for opinions (which are, of course, very personal! My feelings about a hotel may be very different from yours!) about each of these hotels. I will try to stay away from facts- you can find those on the hotels own website, and I really dislike blogs that sound like travel magazines. To the hotel lovers, travel over-planners, detail addicts- welcome and I hope you find something interesting here!