While those on the East Coast consider Hawaii a long trip and tend to go to the Caribbean and Europe ahead of Hawaii, us West Coasters look at Hawaii differently….it’s a good long weekend, or a much needed break in between other vacations. There really is something special about Hawaii, it just has that feel and allure that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s sort of the “Exotic” America that needs no passport and there’s no other language to know. The food and water are safe and great, however it is a bit pricey if you don’t pick the right place.
On my recent trip to Hawaii for the Travel + Leisure magazine Advisory Board meeting we spent time with many travel industry vendors who concentrate on Hawaii: Hawaii Tourism, The Ritz Carlton Residences-Waikiki Beach, Montage Kapalua, Prince Resorts, Marriott (formerly Starwood) Resorts Hawaii and Tahiti Tourism. They all had valuable insights on the Hawaii islands and the South Pacific.
One of the most interesting presentations, and following conversations, was with the representative from Hawaii Tourism. While many West Coasters just go to Hawaii to sit on the beach, there’s so much more to do that we tend to not talk about nor arrange ahead of time. There’s night snorkeling with the Manta rays in Kona, visiting the coffee plantations in Maui (actually each island has their own coffee plantations), horseback riding in Lanai and one of the more interesting suggestions – fly into Hilo, drive 45 minutes to the Volcano on the Big Island, spend a few hours, then drive 3+ hours to the Kona side of the island to your favorite luxury resort.
Our trip began with the non-stop into Kona, arriving ½ hour early (10:45am). We checked into the Four Seasons Hualalai and enjoyed our regular first day tradition of a tuna melt and Longboard draft beer at the Residents Beach House Restaurant, as our rooms are not usually ready that early. FYI – Hualalai is normally 90+% full on an annual basis, so early check-ins are a rarity. However, a quick change and we’re sitting at the pool by 1pm.
As a reminder, Hualalai has 4 pools each with its own crescent of rooms around the pool. “Kings Pond” – black bottom, lava lagoon type pool; “Seashell” – all the families with young kids are at the Seashell pool; “Beachtree” pool – all the families with teenage and older kids (our favorite pool); and “Palm Grove” – the quiet pool adult pool. All 4 areas are great, and all regular Hualalai guests have their favorite areas, and the hotel is really good at putting clients where they like/want.
While only 10 minutes from the airport, the resort is about 30+ minutes from the town of Kona. Kona has many fun Hawaiian restaurants (as do all the islands when you leave the resort). Since our trip was so short we chose to eat at the resort each night. Hualalai Grill, Ulu, Residents Beach House and the Beachtree restaurant are the 4 dining venues and all are really great. We tried something new this time when having dinner at The Beachtree restaurant, which we had never heard of, and probably many people don’t know about. It’s the Ohana style dinner, or family style menu, and the menu is determined by the chef so you don’t know what’s coming. It was a great experience, all the food was great, and there was way too much of it. It’s definitely worth setting up in advance.
While Hualalai is our favorite Hawaiian resort, we usually visit a second island (and resort) on many trips. This time we went to Maui and spent time at the Montage Kapalua. While we flew into Kahului Airport (an hour from Montage) you can also fly into West Maui Airport (smaller planes and less flights) which is only 10 minutes from the Kapalua resort area.
This was our second time at Montage Kapalua and we enjoyed it even more. All the accommodations are 1, 2, 3 or 4 bedroom units with large living areas, large verandas (overlooking the ocean) and perfect for families or couples to share. The grounds and views are fantastic, and there’s a public beach right next door with great snorkeling. We saw many turtles, fish and the reef was great, definitely something NOT to miss.
The thing I like about Kapalua (including the Ritz Carlton) is the lack of hordes of tourists you see in many Hawaiian resorts and the variety of great local little restaurants to enjoy in the area, most within walking distance. Two of my favorite breakfast places are within a 10 minute walk of Montage, The Gazebo and the Sea House restaurant, both great and worth a visit. FYI – The Gazebo usually has a line after 7am which can be up to an hour, but the setting and food are worth it, and you get to chat with other tourists in line while taking advantage of the coffee station they set up, along with umbrellas to shade you from the sun.
I do have a slight challenge with the lack of dining options at Montage. Each unit does have a full kitchen, so there are options for those who like to make some of their meals or snacks. There’s really only one restaurant, but the food is served at 3 locations on property, in addition to by the pool. However, the food is really good, and there’s enough of a variety to pick something different. But adding on to the lack of dining options, the food/pool service is hit and miss. While we had wonderful servers by the pool and restaurant, there tends to be more instances that lack the type of service you’d expect at a resort the caliber of Montage Kapalua. While it is an issue in my eyes, no one else of my peers seemed to share my sentiments.
3 nights at the Four Seasons Hualalai and 4 nights at Montage Kapalua is a great week in Hawaii. There’s just something about Hawaii that always calls you back, and it’s always sad leaving… until next time…Aloha!