Resort Review: Ritz-Carlton Kapalua — Maui’s Shining Star

Resort Review: How does one improve on perfection? Well, if you’re the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, an oceanfront AAA Five-Diamond resort, you undergo a $180 million transformation, providing a dramatic new appearance and amenities to further enhance the guest experience. We stayed here on our honeymoon 10 years ago, and we were delighted to return.

Sometimes it’s just the simple little things that add up. One our first night here, we had forgotten shaving cream, while our supermarket-bought sandwiches lacked pickles. We called the front desk to explain our plight, and before you can say, “Service with a smile,” the forgotten items magically appeared from a staffer. And when we called the front desk, our amiable staffer explained how the hotel aims to go beyond the call of duty, and sure enough it did, and at no extra charge. It’s no wonder, then, that the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua has won awards too numerous to mention – AAA’s Five-Diamond awards for numerous years in a row (and you can’t get any better than that!); a “Top Hotel” pick by none other than Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Departures Magazines; as well as the “Number One Hotel in Hawaii” from American Airlines’ Celebrated Living Magazine’s “Platinum List.”

The Excitement Was Building
The resort, located on 54 acres, has reinvented itself with an interior design concept that incorporates the area’s vibrant colors of the lush mountains, natural rainforests and ocean. The 463 guestrooms and suites now feature dark wood floors, all new furnishings, travertine bathrooms, and Hawaiian print artwork framed with koa wood. Guestrooms also offer the latest technology, including LCD flat-screened televisions, iPod docking stations, DVD players and wireless Internet access. The transformation also included upgraded amenities to the signature 10,000-sq.-ft three-tiered pool, including a new children’s pool, 20,000-sq.foot sun deck, and enlarged luxury cabanas with the latest technology.

Yet if there’s anything that really sets this property apart, it is this: the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua employs its own cultural advisor, Clifford Nae’ole, who has been in this unique position for the past 16 years. Mr. Nae’ole, a Maui native with more than 35 years of hospitality industry experience, advises and educates employees and guests on proper Hawaiian protocol and customs, shares fascinating accounts of his homeland ancestors, and maintains a presence of the Hawaiian culture in the hotel, while he encourages a cohesive relationship with the community. If you’re looking to experience Maui beyond the surf, sand and sun – this is the place. For example, Mr. Nae’ole created the hotel’s complimentary “Sense of Place” program. It features a presentation of Dr. Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey’s award-winning documentary, Then There Were None, which is about the dying out of the Hawaiian culture, followed by a discussion of the history and subjects broached in the documentary. There is also a 13.6-acre parcel of land between Honokahua Bay and the present site of the hotel, called the Honokahua Preservation Site, which is the resting place of more than 2,000 Hawaiian kupuna (ancestors) from 850AD to the early 1800s.

The resort also features Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program, which includes an environmental and cultural education center with excursions led by expert naturalists. The program is part of a recent agreement between The Ritz-Carlton and Jean-Michel Cousteau (the renowned diplomat of the environment), and his Ocean Futures Society. The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua was the first to launch this agreement, which was based on the success of the program at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman.

What does all of this mean? Guests can hike through the Hawaiian rainforest, snorkel among Maui’s beautiful coral reefs, and participate in underwater photography sessions, while always exploring the relevance of Hawaiian culture. For example, Maunalei Magic features guided hikes in the Kapalua Resort’s Arboretum; Cities Under The Sea are underwater photography snorkeling sessions; Whale Wonders are seasonal whale-watching excursions. With these distinctive programs, the resort invites all of its guests to learn about Hawaii’s unique ecosystems and nurture exploration of alternatives for a sustainable future.

A Place in the Sun
There’s also a sense of place in more ways than one. The property has two new organically-managed gardens featuring a variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables – impressive! For example, the beautifully manicured chef’s herb garden grows 18 different types of basil plus 10 varieties of mint including pineapple, orange and ginger. There’s also a second, larger garden, with 15 different types of lettuce, 16 styles of tomatoes, and 15 selections of peppers that grow in soil produced from the hotel’s new compost. Chefs from the resort’s restaurants pick fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits daily in order to prepare select menu items. We can’t stress enough how impressive this program is – Deb personally visited the garden – and it’s not your garden-variety, if you catch our drift. Chef Scott Toner showed her everything being grown on-property including chives, cilantro, green onions, lemongrass, oregano, papayas, eggplants, cabbages, bananas, pumpkins, squashes and so much more. From their cucumbers the hotel chefs custom-make bread-and-butter pickles; with the herbs they make their own herb-infused oils. It makes a huge difference, when you dine at a restaurant with this kind of commitment to local sustainability and quality. The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is definitely doing something right – and something pretty terrific. If you want to see for yourself, the hotel offers a complimentary interactive chef’s tour, “Ai Pono,” (Eat Well), of the herb gardens, which is held every Monday at 3PM. At the conclusion, the chef prepares a delicious raw smoothie made of fresh berries, grapes, spinach, Asian apple pear and apple juice.

Add it all up and means you’re in for a gastronomic treat. On our visit the legendary Banyan Tree restaurant was closed, so we headed to The Terrace, which is also open for breakfast. The Terrace is a grill and steakhouse that’s sure to please the most discriminating palates; expect to pay about $100 for appetizers and entrees, without dessert, tip or alcohol. There are also three-course prix fixe dinners for $42pp. As it says on the menu, the hotel supports more than 20 different local farmers and ranches on Maui, and highlights their products on its menus. We had a sensational dinner, and recommend the house-made Maui onion rings; corn-and-lemongrass soup; cilantro-macadamia-nut-crusted mahi mahi; and the shrimp and scallop gratin. The sides are marvelous, especially the whipped truffle potatoes and wild mushroom orzo. Follow it all with an amazing warm chocolate cake complemented with homemade chocolate malt ice cream – Deb swears it’s the best chocolate ice cream she’s ever tasted.

Other restaurants on the premises include the Banyan Tree, the hotel’s signature, award-winning restaurant that incorporates worldly influences with fresh, local Hawaiian ingredients. Kai Sushi offers the island’s freshest sushi and Japanese cuisine from Chef Tadashi Yoshino. There’s also an Alaloa Lounge offering specialty cocktails; The Beach House, a local favorite for lunch; and the Pool Bar and Café, which is also open daily for lunch, with casual fare.

Ah Spa! And More
The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua also offers a world-class Waihua Spa, which also underwent its own renovation. Here, Deb experienced the signature Kapalua Castaway ($225 for 80 minutes, plus 20% gratuity), which is ideal if you’re seeking the ultimate Maui meltdown. (See Deb’s story about "The Top Five Spas of Maui,” which contains a full report, also on JustLuxe)

This sybaritic service included a body scrub with Epicuren pineapple papaya lotion, followed by a lomi lomi massage with coconut lotion. After, you can enjoy a terrific lunch (try the chicken-mango salad, or a turkey wrap, accompanied by organic wine). There’s also a relaxation room (with volcanic stone grotto areas) where you can munch on fresh fruit and nuts; or take advantage of the sauna and steam room. One fabulous thing about this spa is that the locker rooms feature a full array of Ritz-Carlton signature products – including just about everything under the Maui sun, from mouthwash to deodorant, which makes a visit to the Waihua Spa even more of a pleasure. Retail products for sale include Epicuren, Eminence Organics, Intraceuticals and Fruits & Passion.

The resort also features a golden sand beach, and if you prefer, a beautiful pool area featuring seven new luxury cabanas that include personal attendants; flat-screen televisions; iPod docking stations; refrigerators; and ceiling fans. The cost is $250 for full-day usage from 8AM to 5PM; included are a tropical fruit platter; water or non-alcoholic beverage service for four; choice of magazines and newspapers; and more.

One thing we couldn’t enjoy, which made us crestfallen: The Club Floor, which offers five amazing food presentations per day. It was closed during our visit, and scheduled to open about a week later. We have cherished memories of the fine dining we did on the Club Floor during our previous trips to the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, and we’re still thinking about those huge, Frisbee-sized chocolate-chip-macadamia-nut cookies (which, we understand, many guests beg to have sent to them after their trip). The cost for the Club Floor is about $150 extra per day, per guest room, and this is a huge value-packed deal, in our book. You’ll have amazing breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, all in this exclusive “home within a hotel,” and we highly recommend it. The five food and beverage presentations daily include continental breakfast; midday snacks at lunch; tea and pastries in the afternoon; appetizers and cocktails every evening; and chocolates and cordials after dinner. Club rooms in 2010 start at $595 per night.

Other amenities include complimentary shuttle service to and from Kapalua Airport and throughout Kapalua Resort; safe deposit boxes; executive business services; free Wireless internet in all rooms; scenic jogging and walking trails; plus award-winning Kapalua Golf with 36 holes surrounding the hotel, including the Plantation Course and Bay Course. All things considered, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is a whole in one.

In 2010, oceanview suites start at $745; and oceanfront suites start at $995. All rooms and suites also carry a $20 resort fee that covers, among other things, daily internet use, local telephone calls, discounted golf fees, 24-hour fitness center access, and more.

Book this hotel now with confidence! Personal Service. Best Rate Guarantee. 100% Luxury Hotels. Book Now! Give The Gift Of Ritz-Carlton
With the holiday season fast approaching, the question “what do you give to the person who has everything?” has just been answered by the award-winning hotels and resorts of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. A gift card. Also perfect for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, the new gift card allows the recipient to choose their own special experience from a romantic weekend getaway to luxurious spa treatments and connecting with friends and families for a relaxed reunion and vacation. Available at all Ritz-Carlton properties and online, the colorfully designed gift cards feature a contemporary artists’ portrayal of the iconic Ritz-Carlton lion and crown logo. The card offers the ultimate convenience and benefits including: registration online to protect against loss or theft, no expiration date, and the ability to reload the amount of the gift card to purchase other memorable moments. They are available in denominations to cover afternoon tea for two or accommodations in a tropical island villa. To make the gift card presentation even more appealing, it is available in either standard or an upgraded deluxe packaging. “We believe people are as interested in special memories as they are in traditional presents. The new Ritz-Carlton gift card gives purchasers the chance to present that special person a gift they will never forget—and never return!” said Simon F. Cooper, president and chief operating officer, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

See all Luxury Hotels in Hawaii

William & Debbi Kickham

Debbi K. Kickham is a professional travel journalist and veteran member of the Society of American Travel Writers, She is also former Editor of Robb Report Magazine ' 'The Millionaire's Magazine,' Debbi is also former Contributing Editor to Bridal Guide Magazine, for the Travel Section. She is currently at work on her third book, a diet/beaut...(Read More)

Related Articles

Around the web