Four Seasons versus Ritz-Carlton: Which hotel chain serves up the best luxe digs in Maui?

A pro for both hotels? They're in Hawaii.
A pro for both hotels? They're in Hawaii.

If you're heading to Maui for a luxurious getaway, the Four Seasons Maui and The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua are obvious top contenders to host your stay. Both are five-pearl resorts and belong to well-respected, iconic hotel groups:

The Four Seasons, which has 83 hotels in 35 countries, is one of the most recognizable luxury hotel brands in the world -- for a reason. Its hotels offer the plush accommodations and top-notch amenities you'd expect in this price range, but it's the consistently exceptional service that elevates the Four Seasons to the ranks of the best of the best.

The Ritz-Carlton name -- from which the adjective "ritzy" is derived -- says it all. Some Ritzes are ritzier than others, of course, but travelers can count on supremely comfortable rooms, elegant decor, and top-notch service and amenities at all 70 of the chain's properties.

So how do you choose between the two? We'll argue that you can't make a bad decision, but after the jump, we'll map out the pros and cons of each Hawaiian hotel so you can pick the luxe digs that will best suit your needs.

Beachside grounds at the Four Seasons
Beachside grounds at the Four Seasons

Location, Location, Location:

The Four Seasons is one of the four luxury resorts in Wailea, a manicured, planned resort development that lines two spectacular beach-dotted miles of Maui's southwestern shore. Besides the beaches and the almost perfect weather -- rain rarely falls in this arid microclimate, and the temperature hovers around 85 degrees year round -- nearby golf and shopping are the area's big draws. The resort sits on Wailea Beach, one of the finest and calmest beaches in Maui.

The beach at The Ritz-Carlton
The beach at The Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton lies on 54 acres in the northwestern corner of Maui within the Kapalua Resort's greater 23,000 acres. More remote than just about any resort on Maui, the surroundings are far more exclusive and peaceful than the lineup of resorts in Kaanapali (or even in Wailea). On the other hand, the weather here is considerably less reliable (it has more wind, rain, and storm exposure than other resort areas) and there's little within walking distance. You'll have to drive to nearby Kaanapali and Lahaina for things to do, especially when the weather gets bad -- and the rough-watered beach is about a 5-minute walk from the resort.

Winner: Four Seasons Maui--we're all about calm waters, perfect weather, and nearby entertainment!

The spa at the Four Seasons
The spa at the Four Seasons

Time for some R & R at the spa:

The on-site spa at the Four Seasons has 13 treatment rooms and outdoor hillside huts for massages overlooking the ocean; the facilities -- lockers, robes, and vanity stations -- are free to guests but the lounge has just two chairs and no hot tubs.

The Ritz-Carlton spa
The Ritz-Carlton spa

The Ritz-Carlton's 17,500-square-foot Waihua Spa opened in 2008 and is one of Maui's best and largest spas. It includes 15 treatment rooms, separate men's and women's facilities, and a coed relaxation area and outdoor whirlpool.

Winner: The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua--we gotta have a hot tub!

The kids club at Four Seasons
The kids club at Four Seasons

Making the kids happy:

The Four Seasons opens its arms wide to families, with a free kids' club -- nearly unheard-of in Hawaii -- as well as a host of child-friendly accommodations and services like a game room and a family pool with a waterfall, a kiddie ledge with shin-deep water, and a short waterslide. Best of all -- kids age five and under eat free at DUO and Ferraro's; all three restaurants and room service provide kids' menus.

The children's pool at The Ritz-Carlton
The children's pool at The Ritz-Carlton

The remote, safe location and kid-friendly pools make The Ritz-Carlton a great place for families. The Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors Center's educational activities and half-day programs for kids (usually $89 per child) are a unique and refreshing alternative to Xbox games centers and plastic-toy focused kids' camps. The property itself is ideal for low-key, self-sufficient families who would enjoy hiking, hanging out at the beach, or simply playing by the pool.

Winner: Four Seasons Maui--we read "free" twice!

Ahi poke at Four Seasons restaurant Spago
Ahi poke at Four Seasons restaurant Spago

Fine dining and good eats:

The three restaurants at Four Seasons, all with open-air views of the ocean, serve high-end fare, but it's tough to get a meal for less than $30. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's Spago offers Hawaiian-inspired appetizers like ahi poke in sesame miso cones as well as more standard fare, and Ferraro's Italian features high-end, but typical, resort fare.

Banyan Tree at The Ritz-Carlton
Banyan Tree at The Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton's six restaurants offer a nice variety -- from the signature, upscale Banyan Tree to a great sushi spot to the more casual Beach House Restaurant and Pool Bar & Café -- and they all enjoy beautiful settings, often with views of the beach and sunset. Eating on the cheap isn't really an option, however, but a $15 lunch is doable at the poolside or beachfront restaurants.

Winner: The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua--this was a tough one to call, but we like the variety and endless options at the Ritz!

A standard room at the Four Seasons
A standard room at the Four Seasons

The comforts of your home away from home:

The comfortable rooms at the Four Seasons are fairly average size for the price range, but still spacious at 600 square feet. They have some unique details (like an arrival gift), plush linens, 42" plasma flat-panel TVs with DVD players and 55 channels, and extra service (like free unpacking assistance). The quarters combine the chain's trademark beige with welcome island-style accents like woven dark wood desk chairs, a picture of a shell necklace on the wall, and two-poster beds. And the bathrooms are huge, with separate showers and deep tubs.

A terrace room at The Ritz-Carlton
A terrace room at The Ritz-Carlton

After a 2008 renovation, the rooms at The Ritz-Carlton are among Maui's most luxurious, even if they're a little smaller (440 square feet) than those at other luxury resorts. In addition to their modern, Hawaiian-inspired décor, and plush beds, they also have up-to-date electronics like 37'' flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and iPod alarm/radios in each room.

Winner: Four Seasons Maui--at the end of a day at the beach, we want to come back to large rooms and deep tubs!

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