During our stay on Maui, we stayed at the Grand Wailea resort in the Wailea-Makena area on the southwest side of the island (see map). This place was, by far, the nicest place we've ever stayed at. And the prices at the hotel reflected how ritzy the place was. The room we stayed in went for $699 a night, a beer at any one of the bars on the property was $7.00, and breakfast at the hotel's breakfast buffet was $36.95 per person. As I've said before, the only way we would have been able to pull off staying at a place like this was because of using Hilton Honors points. And it took me something like 480,000 points to stay there compared to about 250,000 points to stay for the same amount of nights at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Our flight to Maui was overly pleasant as we took Hawaiian Airlines, named by the Airline Quality Rating report as having the best performance of 18 airlines something like four out of the last five years. We flew three legs on Hawaiian Airlines during our trip to Hawaii and each time was one of the most pleasurable flying experiences I've ever had. I just wish mainline airlines would have as comfortable seats, as efficient boarding processes and as pleasant personnel as we experienced with Hawaiian Airlines.
As we got into Maui's Kahului Airport, our bags were literally waiting for us at the baggage carousel. We walked out to the rental car area and the bus to take us to the Hertz counter was waiting for us. Two minutes later we were on our way to Hertz and two minutes after that we pulled into the Hertz lot. I went into the building, went to the Gold Member line and they had my paperwork ready to go. I signed the contract, gave them my credit card (we'd already pre-paid last fall to get a good deal), and they pointed to where the car was. We went out, loaded the bags and took off. It was a lot better than our experience when we landed on the Big Island a few nights before. Within 25 minutes of walking off our plane, we were on our way to the hotel.
It's about a 20 minute drive from the airport to the Grand Wailea. As we arrived at the hotel's valet stand, a young Hawaiian girl welcomed our arrival and placed a lei of flowers around Cindy's neck and she placed a lei of banana leaves around mine. Actually, I sort of wanted the flower lei. I'd never seen a banana leaf lei before.
The Grand Wailea first opened in 2003. And like the Hilton Waikoloa Village, the Grand Wailea used to be a Hyatt property until about five years ago. Hilton signed a 30 year management agreement for the resort in the summer of 2006 and turned it into one of their high-end Waldorf-Astoria Collection properties. Even with the downturn in the tourism economy in Hawaii, I heard the Grand Wailea was actually looking to expand. But I understand that Morgan Stanley investment company owns the resort and the property is pledged as collateral against a $1 billion dollar loan that is due in 2011. The investment firm is trying to negotiate a new loan agreement, but if it does default on the loan it appears that Hilton may be waiting in the wings to take over ownership.
We entered the spacious and open air lobby area of the Grand Wailea and went to the desk to check in. The lady at the desk said that we were in a courtyard-view room. I asked if we could get an upgrade to a top floor ocean view room. She said that wouldn't be a problem. Since I booked the room last fall with my Hilton points, I knew there would be an upgrade charge above the free rooms we were going to get. I asked the lady, "How much is it a night for the upgrade?"
She said, "It's $38 dollars a night, but I'm not going to charge you for the upgrade as you're a Hilton Diamond member."
(It was supposed to be a $25 a night upgrade for our room at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. I thought they had charged me for the nights we stayed there, but a quick perusal of our bill showed that they did not. Hilton Diamond members are eligible for free upgrades at most Hilton properties, even when you're using points to get free rooms.)
The only problem is that the room they had for us had two queen beds instead of one king bed as we requested. Cindy asked, "Is it possible that we can have that room for one night, but then move us to another room with a king bed for the rest of our stay?"
The lady didn't hesitate and said, "Sure! We can do that!"
And they did. We spent the first night in a room with two queen beds and then the next day they moved us 10 doors down to a room with a similar view of the ocean and a king bed. Actually, the bathroom in the king bed room was nicer than the one in the one with the double queens. And with just one bed, it was much more roomy than the other one. We had some great views of the sunset each and every evening we were on Maui. The one to the right is no exception.
This is the view when we'd walk out our door looking to the east. There were a number of condos and houses on the hillside surrounding the Wailea Old Blue golf course. What is known as the Maui Upcountry is in the background. There were also some spectacular moon rises over the ridge on the first couple three evenings were were there.
The Grand Wailea has a number of restaurants on the property, but we found all of them to be somewhat pricey. As we became acquainted with the property with a little walkabout after we got settled in, we stopped off at the Bistro Molokini for a couple mai tais and something light to eat since we hadn't had lunch that day. They had a wonderful seared ahi tuna appetizer that we devoured and then ordered another one because it was so damn good.
We were talking with one of the bartenders and looking out over the ocean to one of the Hawaiian islands that was off in the distance. She said, "That island over there is Kahoolawe. That's the island in the chain that the government used for target practice during World War II." She was telling us that a group of people got the government to pay for clean-up of old shells and unexploded ordnances back in the 90's in a movement to eventually have Kahoolawe become a natural wildlife park. "But they've only cleaned up about 40 percent of the island before they ran out of money earmarked for the project," she said.
She pointed at a littler island just off of Kahoolawe. "And that's Molokini - that's what this place is named after." Molokini (right) is a small crescent-shaped dormant volcano that is partially submerged. It's a popular place for divers and snorklers.
The island of Lanai was also easily visible to the northwest of the Grand Wailea. The waters between Maui, Kahoolawe and Lanai were full of humpback whales that were easily visible from the deck from our top floor room. Cindy spent her mornings sitting on the deck and watching the whales pop up from time to time in the early morning light.
The Grand Wailea was situated right next to the ocean, but unlike the rocky shores that surrounded the Hilton Waikoloa Village there was a nice, sandy beach that abutted up to the property. There was a public walkway between the beach and the hotel grounds and it was pretty busy with walkers and joggers. We walked down to the south end of the walkway one morning and were nearly run over on a number of occasions. It wasn't very wide. Thankfully, they didn't let bikes on the trail.
The Grand Wailea also has a large spa - the Spa Grande - on the property. It was voted one of the Top 10 spas in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler and a couple other travel magazines. As spas go, it was pretty nice. We decided to do a "spa day" - actually it was more of an afternoon. They have "his" and "hers" parts of the spa, but both are about the same as far as amenities are concerned. Cindy signed me up for a foot and scalp massage. But part of the spa experience is that you get to use the hydrotherapy facilities for 60 minutes before you get your massage or spa treatment. This included these five warm baths that featured a sea salt treatment, a eucalyptus bath, some sort of Hawaiian bath and a couple others that were designed to get the stress out of your body.
You lay in these baths for up to 10 minutes (I only did about five minutes, each), then you got out and showered off. They had conventional showers, or they had these jet showers that shot water out of the wall from different directions. The first time my male appendage got smacked by one of those jets of water, I was out of there.
The best shower was this three-inch wide spigot that was about 10 feet above a marble seat in a small bath. Water just flowed out of this thing and you could sit on the slab and position the water on the back or your neck or back. It was just fabulous. I immediately wanted one for our home. Quite honestly, it was the highlight of the spa for me.
They also had a large Roman bath, a eucalyptus steam room, sauna, whirlpools, and hot and cold baths. I sat in the hot bath for about five minutes, then got into the cold bath. I got up to my knees before I said, "Screw this! I didn't come to Hawaii to get cold!" And it was cold - the water temp was easily 55 degrees, if not lower.
So, after all that, an attendant - a male attendant, in my case - comes and gives you a skin exfoliation with an exfoliation sponge. Now, I just thought it was a little weird they did that. It sort of made me feel rather uneasy to have a man who wasn't a nurse sponging my body. But he was a good guy and was making small chat with me to make me feel more at ease. And he didn't sponge off my naughty bits, so that was good.
I got a robe and went to this terrace to wait for my foot and scalp massage. The terrace overlooks the grounds and pools of the property and has a nice view of the ocean, as well. It wasn't long before my masseuse, Ursula, came to get me.
Ursula was a middle-aged blond, slightly built German woman who had trouble pronouncing "W's". So I was "Vill" to her during the massage process. I got all settled under a sheet and she came in and asked what I'd like to have done first, my feet or scalp. Now, when I get a haircut and the girl shampoos my hair, I could just let her go on and on because there's nothing better than someone else shampooing your hair. I figured that since I just got a pedicure before we came out to Hawaii - which included a foot massage - I'd go with the foot massage first and the scalp massage second.
But it wasn't. She just sort of "kneaded" my scalp. She didn't get down to the surface and really massage the scalp with her finger nails. I was telling DaMel Howard at Salon Luce in Davenport as I was getting a haircut after we got back, "Abby does a better job of massaging my scalp when she shampoos me than this lady did at the spa. I should just flip Abby a twenty and a say, 'Keep this up for another 15 minutes, would ya?' " I was highly disappointed in the scalp massage.
After the massages, I was allowed to go back and use the hydrotherapy area of the spa. I went back in and sat under the one of the big faucets, shown here on the right. Oh man. That was great. I could have sat in there all afternoon, but Cindy was waiting for me. I almost went back just for the hydrotherapy part of the spa.
Much like the Hilton Waikoloa Village, the Grand Wailea had a number of paintings, sculptures and other artwork around the property. This was one of their "artists in residence" working on a wood sculpture on the grounds. But unlike the other hotel, the Grand Wailea didn't have a series of upscale stores and shops to buy things. Oh, the property had some small shops and the like, but nothing on the scale of the what the Hilton Waikoloa Village had to offer. However, the Shops at Wailea upscale shopping mall was located less than a 10 minute walk from the Grand Wailea. We only discovered the place the day we were leaving.
And like the Hilton Waikoloa Village, there were a number of Japanese tourists at the Grand Wailea. Menus and signage were in both English and Japanese. But there didn't seem to be as many - if any - gay couples that we saw; and the amount of kids at the Grand Wailea was not as many as what we encountered at the Hilton on the Big Island. I'm guessing the cost of the hotel probably had something to do with that.
We found that we got better information and recommendations on restaurants and what to do and see from the parking valets than we did with the concierges. I thought the valets, in particular, were pretty strong with their insights as to the better places to go in the Kihei/Wailea/Makena area.
I would have to say the only bad thing about our stay at the Grand Wailea was the wireless Internet connection. When I could get on - and the signal wasn't all that strong to begin with - to check something out like a restaurant or an attraction, I usually got kicked off when the signal strength would drop. And I will say once again the prices were pretty high at the place. But other than that, the service we got from an overly accommodating staff, the beautiful rooms with the great views and a world-class spa helped make it an enjoyable stay at the Grand Wailea. I'm going to have to save up for about four years just to be able to pull off another week long stay using Hilton points.