Hotel: Grand Wailea
Location: 3850 Wailea Alanui Drive, Kihei, Maui HI 96753
Getting there: The resort is 26 miles (about 35 to 40 minutes drive) from Kajului Airport. The Grand Wailea concierge can assist with options for transport, including the Speedi Shuttle and taxis ($60 one-way). Drivers are available for a fee for groups. And keep your eyes open: If you arrive by day, there’s a beautiful view of the ocean on the way into the resort.
The Vibe: Go big or go home, family-friendly Hawaiian glam
Background: With a design inspired by the riches of Hawaiian culture, its people, and nature itself, the iconic Grand Wailea (a Waldorf Astoria Resort) has 780 rooms, including 52 suites. It sits on 40 acres covered with tropical gardens and Polynesian touches like water features, and tiki torches along the southern shores of Maui. There are eight restaurants and bars, several pools, the famous Spa Grande, an on-site chapel, kids’ and teens’ clubs, and more. Grand Wailea also boasts an impressive $30 million art collection from international, regional and local artists, including several sculptures by Fernando Botero displayed in the open-air lobby.
When to go: It depends what you’re looking for. The weather is beautiful and things are quieter in fall, while the holidays are busy. Early summer months are great for snorkeling. Even in the off months of late January and February, the weather is largely lovely and the whales come in, and you can see them jumping from the beach at the Grand Wailea.
One of the rooms that hasn’t undergone the reno. (Grand Wailea)
The rooms: The Grand Wailea is so big that there is an incredible range of rooms, suites, and villas all with different levels of service. Rates range from $300 per night for lowest off-season rate to $16,000 a night for a three- bedroom suite during high season. (The hotel also offers nights in their one-, two-, and three-bedroom Ho’olei condos, which are across the street from the Grand Wailea and have their own pool and fitness center. Guests there also have complimentary access to all hotel amenities.)
Tower by tower, the rooms at Grand Wailea are currently being remodeled. The older room that I stayed in was beachy and contemporary if a little lived-in. The newly remodeled rooms are clean, modern, and totally wired with amenities including smart TVs and extra outlets. Many of the rooms have spectacular views. I actually saw whales breaching off in the distance from one room with a great balcony.
Humuhumu restaurant (Grand Wailea)
What you can eat: There’s a great breakfast buffet in the Grand Dining Room, which is decorated with beautiful art and has outdoor dining that overlooks the property for a lovely view. There are also several restaurants on the property. One of the best is Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (named after Hawaii’s state fish — you can call it Humuhumu). The ambience is tres Polynesian with thatched roofs, carved wooden furniture, and covered outdoor seating surrounded by shallow pools teeming with fish. The chef here utilizes produce from local vendors, like organic Kumu Farms, and gets his inspiration from whatever is in season.
What you can do around here: If you don’t ever want to leave the resort you don’t have to — they have everything from surprisingly good shopping to photography classes to snorkeling. However to really experience Maui, rent a car (a black or red Jeep seems to be the standard tourist ride). There are several adorable towns all about 20 minutes away (sans traffic) in different directions. Iao Valley is beautiful and lush and boasts the famous “Needle.” Lahaina is great for snorkeling, shopping, and eating, and sweet little Paia is a hippie town made for people watching. Head about 10 minutes further down the road and you can watch the local kite surf in monster waves. The famous Road to Hana also starts not far from Paia. Another can’t miss activity is Haleakala Crater, about a two-hour drive from Grand Wailea. It’s worth leaving in the wee hours of the morning to make it up there by sunrise. Or book an excursion to dive or snorkel Molikini Crater, which on a good day is said to have visibility of 180 feet. In January and February, the boat ride there is a bonus — you’re very likely to see whales breaching along the way.
Luxurious spa (Grand Wailea)
Don’t miss: The Grand Wailea’s Spa Grande is a gem. The property is also famous for its 25,700-square-foot Wailea Canyon Activity Pool, which is nine pools connected by river — it also has water slides, rapids, caves, a rope swing, a water elevator, and more. Teens will love the supercool hangout spot just for them and there’s babysitting for the younger kids. There’s also a chapel on the property, and even if you’re not getting married, it’s worth a peak with its mahogany walls, cherry wood pews, Murano glass chandeliers, and Polynesian stained glass windows by local artist Yvonne Cheng. And last but certainly not least, don’t miss the amazing sunset. Check the time and head down to the oceanfront walk for the best seat in the house.
What I loved: The views and the proximity to the ocean (the resort sits right on Wailea beach, with stretches of rocky shores dropping off into the ocean on either side). The hotel really utilizes the beauty surrounding it — the enormous open-air lobby has amazing views of the some of the bluest water you’ve seen and swaying palm trees. The covered walkways are draped with plants and lined with fruit trees; the smell of Hawaiian passion fruit is thick in the air as the citrus ripens and falls to the ground.
What I didn’t love: Grand Wailea is so big that you can actually get lost and you have to leave enough time to walk from your room to the restaurants or the beach if you’re on a schedule. The size of the place and scope of the amenities are great for families but can be a bit overwhelming if it's not your thing.
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