Reopened in January 2008 after a $180-million renovation, the 463-room Ritz-Carlton Kapalua boasts up-to-date rooms, top-notch dining, a quality spa, polished service, and beautifully landscaped grounds of national park proportions. It all comes at a slight risk, however, since its location comes with the least consistent, windiest, and rainiest weather of all of Maui's major resort areas.
A full-scale, $180-million renovation in 2008 updated this 54-acre property set within a 23,000-acre resort; it's full of amenities and has an exclusive, low-key feel
When I viewed the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua for the first time, I found myself wondering, "Are those the hotel grounds or a golf course?" Although there are two large golf courses next door, the grounds of the resort itself also seem cared for down to the last blade of grass, making a stunning 54-acre platform. The rooms, buildings, and amenities are fairly concentrated on top of a slightly sloping hill, set somewhat far back from the beach compared to other Maui resorts. Outside of the totally remote Hotel Hana, this is the most secluded resort in Maui -- even luxury resorts in Wailea, on the island's dry, sunny south coast (like the Four Seasons Maui or Fairmont Kea Lani) don't approach this same feeling of exclusivity.
Built in 1992, the hotel shut down for $180 million of renovations in July 2007 and reopened in January 2008. The result is an up-to-date property with a modern Hawaiian design and new amenities like the 17,500-square-foot spa and state-of-the-art gym that all center around a three-tiered pool overlooking the Kapalua coast.
Though the property is vast, the facilities themselves take a more modest approach than resorts like the Grand Wailea or Fairmont Kea Lani, which can overwhelm guests with waterpark-like facilities and endless amenities. Instead, the Ritz seems to favor quality over quantity, and encourages families to learn about the surrounding culture and ecology with programs led by Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ambassadors of the Environment. Its expansive, gorgeous vistas attract daily handfuls of nonguests, who walk the resort trails, have drinks at the lobby's Alaloa Lounge, or splurge on a fabulous meal at the signature Banyan Tree restaurant.
For the price and level of exclusivity, the Four Seasons is really the Ritz's only competitor on Maui, but there are trade-offs. The Four Seasons is in Wailea, which enjoys consistently dry, sunny weather; the Ritz's Kapalua setting, though beautiful, gets the most wind and rain of Maui's resort areas. But the Ritz is more remote than just about any Maui resort, and the surroundings are far more exclusive and peaceful than the setting (a cluster of resorts) around the Four Seasons.
The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua does what it takes to please guests, yet steers clear of a too-formal approach. The friendly front desk staff addresses patrons by name and fulfills all requests competently. Though the Four Seasons Maui goes slightly further to wait on guests hand and foot (spritzing faces poolside and offering many free services), the impressive, friendly staff here shows excellent preparedness. Even in the face of a passing hurricane, general power outage, and swaths of frustrated guests, the staff maintained a calm veneer and was prepared with printouts of indoor activities and glow sticks for guests venturing into pitch-black lobby bathrooms.
Guests receive a full aloha greeting on arrival, welcome drink and lei included.
24-hour concierge is extremely accommodating and well-prepared, plus there's a separate lobby desk for scheduling spa treatments.
Twice-daily housekeeping, plus turndown service (includes light-dimming, curtain closure, and television set-up, but no little gifts)
In a remote northwestern corner of Maui where weather can be inconsistent
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 outside of Hotel Hana, 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.
Remote, scenic Kapalua surroundings feel exclusive and safe.
Least consistent, windiest, and rainiest weather of Maui's resort areas
Minimal off-site entertainment and restaurants within walking distance; Kaanapali's shops and restaurants are about a 15-minute drive away
Approximately a one-hour drive from Kahului Airport (Kapalua Airport is minutes away for interisland flights)
The resort provides direct access to the D.T. Fleming Beach Park -- a mile-long crescent of sandy beach that's public (like all of Hawaii's beaches). It's also a bit farther away from the rooms and pools than the beach is from most other Maui beach resorts: It's about a five-minute walk from the main property to the shore. The resort provides beach chairs on its own property's lawn, at a beach lookout, but there are no umbrellas or chairs provided on the sand.
After $180 million of renovations completed in 2008, the 463 rooms and suites still feel freshly unwrapped. They're among Maui's most luxurious, even if they're a little smaller 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 large flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and iPod alarm/radios in each room.
All rooms are 440 square feet and have small balconies with a table and two chairs; views vary with some offering pretty ocean views.
Suites range from 900 to 2,560 square feet, and have larger balconies and separate living rooms, but no kitchens (even the 2,560-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Suite only has a butler's pantry -- not a full kitchen).
A choice of king or two double beds in standard rooms (suites have king beds); Sealy for Ritz mattresses with 400-thread-count sheets are luxurious and comfortable.
37-inch, LG flat-screen TV, DVD player, and iPod dock in each room
Free, fast Wi-Fi connections in all rooms and suites; wired connection also available
As is typical in Hawaii, there are no prestocked minibars, but guests can order specific items to be stocked in their empty mini-fridges; coffeemaker and bottled water provided
Everything seems to look inward to the Ritz-Carlton's stunning three-level, 10,000-square-foot pool, with an even larger poolside deck that has a gorgeous view of the Kapalua coast and D.T. Fleming Beach. The resort's spa and gym, along with unique environmental programs at the on-site Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors Center, add to its luxury appeal. Though the property's volume of amenities is more modest compared to Maui's other luxury resorts like Grand Wailea, Four Seasons, or even Fairmont Kea Lani, they're all fresh, new, up-to-date, and top quality. The hotel's features are concentrated on what's actually a stunningly massive property -- the larger Kapalua Resort has 100 miles of walking trails and two golf courses.
One of Maui's best fitness centers, accessible 24 hours a day with room key; overlooks hotel grounds with up-to-date equipment and men's and women's locker rooms; better than what the Four Seasons offers
Separate fitness studios for classes like tai chi, spinning and yoga, priced from $10 to $18 per class
Four tennis courts with free daily lessons and private instruction
Free on-call shuttle service to any Kapalua resort location between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
On-site events and entertainment, like live music in the lobby during the evening
Kapalua Resort is home to two 18-hole courses: the Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane-designed Bay Course and the Plantation Course, designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Both are oceanfront and located on opposite sides of the Ritz-Carlton resort, facing different sides of the Kapalua Coast.
Named 15th best Golf Resort in North America by Golf Digest
Par 73, 7,411-yard Plantation Course hosts the PGA Tour SBS Championship each January.
Par 72, 6,600-yard Bay Course faces Molokai.
Kapalua Golf Academy is a state-of-the-art teaching facility with a 23-acre practice area, individual lessons, clinics, and extensive golf school programs.
Riskier weather than in Wailea
Guests get discounted rounds; the resort also offers five-day, unlimited golf packages ($399 for guests).
Comfortable choice for families, with unique environmentally focused kids' program
The remote, safe location, excellent child-welcoming service, and kid-friendly pools make the Ritz Kapalua a great place for families, but for the price, the Fairmont Kea Lani and Four Seasons Maui offer larger rooms and more kid-centric amenities and activities. The Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors Center's educational activities and programs for kids, however, 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.
Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ambassadors Center acts as the resort's kids' club, offering an assortment of mostly half-day programs (most cost around $89 a person and are open to kids five to 18); in contrast, the Four Seasons offers a free, full-day program for kids, though it's more traditional
Child care/babysitting available with 24 hours' notice
The 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. While it doesn't have quite the impressive facilities that Grand Wailea's Spa Grande offers, the treatment and day access prices are lower. Hotel Hana's spa offers similar facilities with free day access to all guests, but it's smaller.
Open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; access to facilities is free with a treatment or service; $50 without treatment
Separate men's and women's sections each have cedar saunas, eucalyptus steam rooms, lounge areas, and whirlpools.
Coed facilities include a relaxation area, outdoor showers, and an outdoor whirlpool.
A wide range of treatments, from organic facials and traditional Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage, to clinical treatments like microdermabrasion and oxygen-infusion facials; prices range from $100 mini-treatments to $375 daylong programs.
An impressive variety of restaurants, including signature fine dining
The hotel's six restaurants and bars 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.
Fine-dining, dinner-only Banyan Tree Restaurant serves Hawaiian-influenced eclectic fare focused on locally grown and organic ingredients, plus an impressive biodynamic and organic wine list.
Terrace Restaurant serves three meals a day, including a generous breakfast buffet with attentive service.
The lobby's Alaloa Lounge offers stunning views of the property and occasional live music in the evenings.
The Beach House Restaurant and Pool Bar & Café serve light fare and drinks at lunchtime and in the afternoon (the Beach House closes for inclement weather, though).
The dinner-only Kai Sushi offers Japanese cuisine and sushi from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m.
Top-tier weddings at top-tier prices -- both large and intimate spaces, excellent food and alcohol, and unique add-ons. Just beware the weather.
Wedding Size: Up to 500 people; up to two weddings daily (though two is rare)
Extra Fees: Extra fees for a standard ceremony include a mandatory setup fee, fees for each printed place card, individual printed menus, table centerpiece, and another fee for each chef, bartender, and "cashier" used during the reception.
Wedding Packages: The most basic, Kamoae (trade wind) package includes a decorated ceremony and reception space, flowers for the wedding party, a license and minister, a guitarist for the ceremony, a two-tier wedding cake (20 people), two hours of photography (24 prints), a limo transfer to and from the wedding site, and the help of a wedding coordinator. Alternative packages range in amenities and cost.
Ceremony Locations: Lava Point (for a small ceremony of two to four people), the Honolua Chapel (up to 60), the gazebo (up to 100), the Napili Lawn (up to 200), or the Beach House Lawn (up to 500)
Reception Locations: The Plantation Ballroom, the Anuenue Room, or the Beach House Lawn
Food: The dinner menus range per person, and you can also opt for an imu (cooking pit) pig preparation. A desert buffet is available and is charged per person.
Drinks: An open bar ranges in price depending on liquor choice. Other options include an iced punch fountain bar, a nonalcoholic or alcoholic punch charged per gallon, a "tropical bar", an iced martini bar.
Cocktail Hour: You can get pretty elaborate -- hors d'oeuvres alone range are costly, but once you add on the ice carving seafood displays, a smoked fish presentation, and add on the carver fee and the open bar, you've about doubled the cost of your entire wedding.
Photographers and Videographers: Basic photo packages (two hours and 24 prints); basic video packages (two hours of footage and an edited DVD); no outside vendors permitted
Music: For the ceremony, options range from a solo Hawaiian guitarist or vocalist, a harpist, a cassical musician, or a hula dancer, and a sound system. For the reception, you can choose between a DJ, a live band, or full-scale luau entertainment; no outside vendors permitted.
Cakes: Two-tier cakes (20 people) and three-tier cakes are available, plus there's another fee for flowers on the cake. More elaborate designs are available. The white cake comes with either Grand Marnier and strawberries, white chocolate mousse and raspberries, or chocolate mango mousse. The chocolate cake comes with dark chocolate mousse and rum. Tiramisu, carrot, or lemon cakes also available.
Flowers and Decorations: If you don't opt for the packages, the bouquets, boutonnieres, and corsages can rack up the price, as can the flower-girl basket (with petals), leis for all your guests, decorations for the ceremony site.
Extras: Dove release, a two-hour horse-and-carriage ride, a traditional Hawaiian blessing with a conch shell blower
Spa Treatments: A variety of manis/pedis, facials, and massages available; makeup and hair styling also on-site.
Honeymoon Suite: There's no special "honeymoon suite" but the enormous, 1,200-square-foot oceanfront suite comes highly recommended.
Airport Transportation: There's no free hotel transportation from the main airport (Kahului), but there is a free shuttle to and from the local Kapalua airport (just a few minutes away).
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