Prologue and Day 1 (February 4)
Note - this will likely not be a typical trip report. A lot of stuff has happened since my last report, and my reaction to that is to write a lot. It just so happens that this interacts with my trip, so while the nominal focus of these reports will be Maui, there will be a fair amount that is kind of personal and not specific to Maui, but fits with the general narrative. I will also not follow my previous practice of posting daily - as the days are completed, they'll come out.
The experiences we have when we travel are probably more important than recounting the taste of the Mai Tai at bar #5 on your tour of Kaanapali, and so this report will be a bit different. I won't be spending a lot of time talking about where or what I ate. Your mileage/patience may vary.
I began the planning for this trip pretty much the day after I got back from last year's visit. It is pretty bad when you're plotting things out and your tan hasn't even faded.
Why is this? What is it that makes this place so special for me? Is it the respite from the cold and gray of Seattle, or watching the beauty of the sun's rays lighting up the cross channel islands even as you sit in comparative darkness? Is it a chance to turn off my phone and get away from things?
I came to the islands 3 times when I was a teenager. One trip was all Oahu, one was a Christmas trip to Maui & Oahu (they were still parasailing during whale season, which seems like a scene out of the Dark Ages), one was Big Island & Oahu, but of all those trips the Maui one sticks out in my mind - there really is no comparison between the islands. I go back now and Waikiki feels to me like Vegas with a good beach - everything seems so fake. The Big Island, with endless miles of lava fields, minimal beaches, and the presence of my ex-neighbor/girlfriend, feels like a wasteland to me.
Maui, though, is special. From a purely natural perspective, it has everything. Great beaches, soaring mountains, unparalleled snorkeling, jungles, and something I finally realized was important when I visited both Vegas with a Beach and the Wasteland: a view of other islands.
The view from the shores of Oahu and the Big Island is beautiful in its own way, but it is also bleak and forbidding, and not that much different from what you get on any other beach anywhere in the world - water as far as the eye can see. To gaze out to sea means only to be reminded of the empty void Out There. Hawaii is, of course, the most geologically isolated place on Earth, and Earth is but a small speck of dust in an otherwise largely empty universe. Much of the time, the view from Earth is much the same as from those other islands. It becomes difficult to dwell too much on that after a while.
But Maui is different. It has neighbors that are visible all the time. Those neighbors even used to be connected physically to the island if these "geologists" are to be believed. Maui knows it isn't alone, even as it is permanently separated from its brothers and sisters. It feels tremendously isolating to look out on the sea from the other islands; from Maui, you know you're not alone.
Anyway, last May, after the 5th straight day of rain and a maximum high temperature of 46 degrees in Seattle, I could bear it no more and went ahead and booked my trip to Maui beginning the day after the Super Bowl (just in case the Steelers were playing - I didn't want to waste a beach day sitting in a bar) for two weeks, including one night on Oahu to see an Aunt and Uncle who live there, with a redeye out of Oahu on Saturday night. The Maui portion would be spent at the Royal Lahaina, and the Oahu portion at the Kahala. My company was having a very good year, and I wanted something special to cap off the trip.
As fate would have it, the Steelers got Tebowed right out of the playoffs in early January. I had a huge pile of HawaiianMiles, so I rebooked my ticket for the Saturday before the Super Bowl, picking up two extra days. On top of that, Hawaiian Airlines apparently decided to kill all of its redeye flights back to Seattle, which meant that if I followed my original plan, I would have slightly less than 24 hours at the Kahala. That wasn't enough, so I extended the trip another day, with a 3 pm flight back to Seattle on Sunday. 16 glorious days. I'm going to need it to get ready for what awaits me when I return to the real world, both personally and professionally.
I checked the Royal Lahaina, but the rooms they had available for those extra days were not what I was looking for - I had a choice of Garden View, the Cottages, or a suite. None of those worked for me (in order - I need to see water from my room, the reviews of the cottages are so bad they should give the space away for free, and I'm a single guy - I don't need a suite) so I started looking around and found a pretty good deal on an Ocean View room at the Makena Beach & Golf Resort.
One of the main reasons I chose them was that they sit on what looked to be an amazing snorkeling area, including one of the many Turtle Towns scattered around the island. I've spent a disturbingly long time on Google Earth looking at satellite pictures of shoreline for underwater reefs, and this area looked the most promising to me.
The other main reason is that I've found is that if you stay at independent hotels (not affiliated with one of the major chains), you tend to get a more family-like atmosphere, where you are actually looked at as a guest, and not just a customer. I speak from long experience with a company that prides itself on providing amazing customer service - customers can really be a pain sometimes, but the non-corporate companies seem to be far better at delivering a great guest experience.
I was also looking forward to seeing Maui from a different perspective. I've always been a West Maui guy, and seeing it from a different angle was interesting to me.
And now, after 15 paragraphs of completely unnecessary background, our story begins. Took Hawaiian Airlines flight 29 from Seattle direct to Kahului, with a scheduled arrival time of 2:45. We got in about a half an hour early, and I saw two whales from the plane during our final approach. The final approach was unique for me - on every other trip we had overflown Kahului, then looped over Kihei and landed at Kahului from the south. I collected my bags quickly - note to those of you who view collecting your bags as a competitive event, the bag conveyor moves clockwise. Position yourself accordingly.
I picked up the rental car from Enterprise (saved about $200 due to taking advantage of discounts through my company, plus their contract means that they pick up the CDW) - since I was the only customer on the shuttle, I was in and out in about 10 minutes, which is a new record for me.
The drive to the hotel should have been uneventful, but I nearly ended the trip early as I swerved to avoid a small puppy that had wandered into the middle of the road to Wailea. The only casualty from that event was my heart rate - the little guy somehow made it across 4 lanes of heavy 50+ mph traffic to safety.
My pulse racing, I pulled into the Makena Beach & Golf Resort. I had finally arrived. Checking in was seamless (woo hoo - they don't charge a resort fee!) and I found myself in a fifth floor Ocean View room.
Because of the design of the hotel, every room can see the water. That said, there is a large forested area between the hotel and the water (I was on the north side of the hotel, which is V-shaped). A very nice view, but it felt like the ocean was further away than it actually was. The room was very nice and more than large enough for me.
I made my way down to the beach, which took a lot longer than I expected - because of where my room was at the far end of the vee, it involved walking to the center where the elevators were, taking the elevator down to the lower level, and then walking around to the far end of the vee, up to the pool level, down to the trail, back up and over a sand dune/hill and finally down to the beach.
I had hoped to be able to snorkel, but the trade winds were blowing pretty hard and the wave action made snorkeling a non-starter. Spent a half an hour on the beach marveling at the view and the perspective that is completely different from my previous experience in the Kaanapali area.
Made my way back to the poolside bar. Curiously, there is no view of the ocean from there, which is another in a long line of curious design decisions made by the hotel. Sat down and had what turned out to be 3 double scotches and an enormous and surprisingly tasty grilled hot dog. Total cost before tip: $67. Ouch.
I don't mind the price as much (ok, I do a little bit) as I did the fact that the bartender used a shot glass to determine the pour amount, which seemed excessively miserly given the cost of the drinks. In addition, he didn't really make up for it with speedy delivery or a great attitude.
The hotel has a shuttle to the Shops at Wailea, and I needed to get a few things (things meaning alcohol) so I jumped on it. First stop was Maui Dive Shop for snorkel gear. Even though I rented in Wailea, their policy is to allow drop off at any of their locations on any island, which was a bonus because I intended to drop everything off on Oahu at the conclusion of my trip.
The other reason that I took the shuttle, rather than driving, is that an old bartender friend of mine from Seattle is now a server at the Grand Wailea, and I wanted to surprise her. I know her well enough that impaired driving would follow, hence the shuttle, so I would not have to worry about the driving part. Unfortunately, I picked the one day where she wasn't working, but I didn't want to spoil the surprise, so I took the shuttle back to my hotel without alerting her to my presence.
Stopped into the hotel bar for a nightcap and discovered that they don't have to-go cups. Made the trek back up to my room, filled my glass, and headed down to the beach to spend an hour or so watching the surprisingly high surf as I listened to some music and lost myself in my thoughts.