Those of you who have been around for a while know that Hawaii is a place of almost spiritual significance to me. It brought me back to life at a time when I was feeling lost, and I’ve been scheming how to get back ever since the moment my six week stint there in late 2012 was over. But while Hawaii occupies a permanent corner in the back of my heart and mind, it’s not exactly the kind of place you can just, like, pop over to, you know?
Then finally, in late May, it was time to return.
It took me all of about five minutes of being back on Maui before I was on the phone with my airline (seriously, I called from my rental car), trying to see if I could extend my ten day trip to, I don’t know, foreverish? All those first flushes of love came rushing back right away. Windows down, music tuned to island radio, driving past turquoise beaches, waiting in line for a tropical fruit smoothie with barefoot surf bums, warm alohas and a conversation about GMO-free foods and fighting The Man in the parking lot — I belong here, I thought.
I’d been on island for less than an hour.
So many themes of this trip echoed my first — the stunning beaches and smoldering volcanoes, the quirky characters, the adrenaline filled adventures, the deep respect for culture and stewardship of the land among locals. But one aspect was very, very different. On my first trip to Hawaii, I spent six weeks sleeping in the guest rooms and on the couches of family and friends, and in one fabulous hostel. On this trip, as a guest of the Maui Visitors Bureau, I got a taste of the other side of the Maui accommodation scene.
The one that looks like this.
The Grand Wailea, our base for the first three nights of the trip, was about as grand as they come. I think the photos of the place kind of speak for themselves; it’s the kind of paradise they make movie sets of. But what really blew me away was the service. The exuberant alohas from the staff, the beautiful leis upon arrival, the thoughtful touches from the valet… actually, guys, we need to talk about the valet for a minute.
Because when I got the chance to speak to the Director of Public Relations for the hotel, I couldn’t stop talking about the valet service. To the point where she looked at me a bit funny, but perhaps that was because I asked her if one of the guys wouldn’t want to just possibly come back to New York with me and work out of my house or….? But seriously, every time I went to pick up my car they had cleaned out the trash, left me cold water bottles and warm towels, asked me if I needed directions anymore, and waved me off like a dear friend. And when I returned, they were waiting there to warmly welcome me back and whisk me out of the driver seat. I felt like I needed to write them a thank you note at the end of it (though I settled on reciprocating my warm fuzzy feelings with generous tips.)
Yes, The Grand Wailea was a special place and I was not ready to leave when it was time to make my way to West Maui. After waving goodbye to my new BFFs on the valet team one final time and watching the hotel shrink in the distance, I vowed that someday I’d return with my family in tow.
And soon I’d be adding another destination to that fantasy future holiday — my digs at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas were equally drool-worthy. I’m a huge fan of Starwood ever since my travel hacking score with them, and I loved that this property had a completely different feel to it than any of the ones I’ve stayed at before. As an all-villa property, each and every room has a kitchen and living room and there’s even a small market on site. I got the sense that guests really make themselves at home here, and I loved walking around one evening and seeing all the families barbequing out on the open air grilling stations.
And yeah, it wasn’t exactly hard to look at, either.
I had this really glorious Forgetting Sarah Marshal style moment where I’m checking into this beautiful and enormous villa and the very sweet local bellboy is asking me, “So, is your family meeting you later or…?” And I said, “It’s actually just me!,” and he looked simultaneously very sad for me and embarrassed for himself and I couldn’t stop laughing so I tipped him enormously too much.
But man, I didn’t feel sad for me one little bit. I was all about these little homes away from home, and even more so when I read about the hotel’s dedication to sustainability. I loved that there were recycling bins everywhere there were trash bins, including in the villa kitchens, and that unopened food left in the villa kitchens at check out are donated to the Maui Food Bank. More warm fuzzies!
But the very best part of my trip to Maui had nothing to do with fancy hotels (which frankly, I spent very little time in as I was so busy out exploring!) or insanely delicious meals — it had to do with these people. I absolutely loved getting to know each and every person on the #seeMaui team, and to see the love our hosts had for their island.
Rocking out on a fabulous live music sunset sail with Trilogy
Over the next two weeks, I’m looking forward to sharing all the new sides of Maui I explored on this trip. Though technically quite a small island, I was absolutely amazed all over again at the diversity of activities and adventures on offer, and the wide array of interests catered to. Last time I was writing about Hawaii I got quite a few emails from readers who told me I’d finally convinced them to take a trip there of their own, which filled me with all kinds of happy. So that is my goal once again, to convince you all to come over the the Aloha side with me.
And when you see what I got up to, I don’t think it’s going to be hard.
Mahalo for being amazing, Maui!
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Many thanks to the Maui Visitors Bureau for hosting me and showing me so much aloha. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.