Fantastic hotel. In my opinion, anyone who doesn’t like KBH doesn’t like ice cream. I once heard an employee say, “We may not be the fanciest hotel on Maui, but we have the most heart.” Absolutely correct. He would also be correct in saying, “We’re the most Hawaiian hotel as well.”
After reading some recent negative reviews that I think grossly mischaracterize KBH, I’m going to write my first Trip Advisor review here, ever. I figure it’s time and I’m qualified to do so, since my wife and I have now stayed at KBH for nearly fifty nights since our first visit in 2006.
Let me first frame my comments by saying that my wife and I have had the good fortune to experience some great hotels while traveling for business in the past 25 years. We have also lived in a resort community with world-class hotels (Scottsdale, Arizona) for nearly as long. And while we’re not wealthy, we personally do not go on vacation to save money. If necessary, we will save for years to ensure we have a great time when we do travel. We have vacationed in the Hawaiian Islands 13 times, including Oahu, Kauai and Maui. Our first stay in Maui was in 1987 on our honeymoon and we stayed at the (then) Kapalua Bay Hotel. Ten years later we stayed at the Prince Hotel down in Makena. In 2003, we stayed at the Ritz up in Kapalua. Nice hotels, all of them.
In late 2005, I found KBH listed in a Costco travel brochure. We had always liked the Kaanapali Beach area, so the hotel’s location was appealing. Moreover, the Costco package included a rental car and free daily breakfast. Further research yielded a high rating from Frommer’s, saying it was one of the world’s best hotels for the money. We figured, why not? We made reservations for early January 2006, and we made that trip. And then we came back to KBH in December of that year for the Christmas holidays. And then for the Christmas holidays in 2007, and then the Christmas holidays in 2008. I think KBH had us that first Christmas morning when we woke to the sounds of Christmas carols being sung by the hotel staff on the lawn beneath our balcony. Our last trip there was early December 2012, and while it wasn’t actually during Christmas, the Christmas spirit was alive and well and we had the place to ourselves. In 2013, we are going back in early December again, our ninth trip to Maui and our sixth to KBH and this visit will be our longest of any on Maui: 14 nights. We haven’t stayed anywhere else in Hawaii since discovering KBH.
Any visitors to Maui who lobby-hop any of the Kaanapali Beach hotels (which include a Sheraton, Hyatt, and Westin), will no doubt note how different KBH is from the chain hotels. Walking the beach boardwalk looking inland to the hotel, or driving by the front entrance, passersby might see KBH as relatively non-descript. Perhaps even dated. To this I say, “exactly.” If the Brady Bunch ever vacationed in Hawaii, this is where they would have filmed the episode. I would also describe it as quaint, authentic, and agree with those who call it “charming.” What this hotel is NOT, is dirty or threadbare. The hotel was built in the mid-60s, and since it is only a modest six stories tall with 400+ rooms, easily half of the 11 acres the hotel sits on is open space. It is independently owned, Mike White has been the General Manager there for nearly 30 years and is a sixth-generation Hawaiian, the staff is overwhelmingly of Hawaiian/South-Pacific descent, and many employees have worked at the hotel for years, if not decades.
Here’s what else you will find at KBH: Clean, well-appointed rooms with large balconies. An inner courtyard that lies between the hotel and beach with acres of lush grass, plumeria trees and old-growth kukui nut trees, and a variety of tropical plants that include poi and bananas (and best of all, you can walk anyhere on the grounds you like and take a towel or chaise lounge with you). There’s a great coffee shop called The Mixed Plate that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Tiki Terrace, an open-air restaurant, serves three meals as well. There’s an outdoor Tiki Grill for pool food and a Tiki Bar that serves a generous pour, a mini mart/grocery, an easily-accessible parking garage, a wonderful gift shop, and an activities/concierge desk with no margins tacked onto services/events/excursions. You’ll find a staff that regards you as “Ohana” (family) the second you walk in the front door, and truly embodies the “Aloha” spirit. The cultural activities and workshops are innumerable and free; I took my first ukulele lesson at KBH and my wife took her first hula lesson there. Continuing education that enables hotel employees to learn more about Hawaiian culture is ongoing and they will gladly teach you all that you want to know about Hawaii. You’ll find easy access to arguably the nicest stretch of beach to be found anywhere in Hawaii. You’ll find the best Sunday brunch on Maui, as well as the best musical entertainment, with a different act every night on the outdoor stage. We have friends who stayed at the neighboring Sheraton recently but admitted they spent every evening at KBH’s Tiki Bar soaking up the live Hawaiian music.
One thing I find most notable is how drawn the locals are to this hotel. I think this says a lot about KBH. On the weekends especially, they come from other parts of Maui or from other islands to relax here. Sometimes they just come for Sunday brunch. One of my best memories was of a Sunday brunch last year when a group of senior “aunties” seized the moment to stand up from their meal, execute a perfect hula dance to the live music for several minutes, and sit back down to loud applause. Then everyone went back to eating. To them, maybe it was just another everyday “Maui” moment, but I remember thinking at the time, “Man, it doesn’t get better than this!”
Something else that strikes me is the camaraderie of the hotel employees. I see them from my balcony in the morning as they arrive to start their day. They walk in groups of two or more, coming either from the parking garage or bus stop out front. They laugh and carry on with each other and seem to be having a great time. This sense of kinship spills over to their relationships with guests as well: I don’t recall a service elevator per se, so we regularly share elevator space with employees going about their business. Without fail, we are always greeted with an “Aloha, how are you today?” Often, they are interested in what we have planned for the day if we are leaving property, or want to know how our day went as we are returning. A cynic might argue that this is their job, to be cordial to guests. Whether one thinks it’s genuine or not (and I think it is), it means everything that they try to engage you. Employees at other hotels often can’t be bothered.
Here’s what you will NOT find at KBH: Besides a lack of awe-inspiring architecture, you won’t find room service of any kind, and a large flat-screen TV in your room (the TVs are old-style 19-inch CRTs). And, while the daily breakfast buffet is freshly prepared with a wide variety of tasty hot and cold dishes, it is not what you’ll find on a 5,000-passenger cruise ship. If any of these present a problem for you, you might be happier at a chain hotel. You must then decide what else is important to you: If you want a convention-style hotel, with noisy conventioneers overrunning the property, go to a chain hotel. If you want a hotel that hires only non-resident mainland staffers who are indifferent to your experience, where you can wander the premises for hours and not have a single passing employee look at you and say “Aloha”, (actually happened to me at two other local hotels), go with the chain. If you want a hotel with impeccably-manicured lawns that are fenced off and inaccessible, or you want award-winning but overcrowded pools with lazy rivers, loud waterfalls and ever-present Muzak, or a hotel that is indistinguishable inside from any mid-town hotel on the mainland, go with a chain hotel. If you want a hotel that considers it a right to charge you a “resort fee” and to charge what the market will bear for room rates, meal prices, parking and excursion fees, go with a chain hotel. You will find none of these attributes at KBH, and will only be disappointed.
For detractors who aren’t happy unless they have something to be unhappy about (the people who don’t like ice cream), all I can say is, deal with it. Or don’t travel at all. Don’t like paying 40 dollars for breakfast at KBH? Then go pay 70 dollars for the same thing at a chain hotel. You paid 15 dollars a day for parking at KBH? Go pay 25 at a chain hotel. You saw huge bugs at KBH? We’ve seen them at 5-star Hawaiian resorts. Birds dive-bombing your dining experience? They do that at every resort and at least at KBH the birds are polite: they wait until you leave your table. And finally my favorite: KBH clientele not high-brow enough for you? Not well-dressed enough for your tastes? Sorry, but these guests are on vacation … in Hawaii, of all places. And overall there are no huge body-image issues in Hawaii. It’s just not part of the Aloha spirit. Your implied “top-tier” standards of taste are misguided here. You’re simply not looking closely enough.
My wife asked me today what it is about KBH that I am most looking forward to, on our upcoming trip there. Three things come to mind immediately, and they attest to the hotel’s laid-back vibe. First, I look forward to opening the lanai door at night just before retiring and lying in bed listening to the live Hawaiian music wafting from the courtyard. And, because we’re on the top floor, the palm tree fronds rustle from the trade winds just outside our balcony. To me, this is Paradise.
I look forward to waking up each morning to a variety of familiar sounds: the patter of rain, or rustle of wind in the palm fronds, or of mynah birds squabbling on our porch railing, or the gentle swoosh of a garden rake sweeping up the plumeria blossoms that have dropped overnight. This is pretty much all you hear. This can all happen very early, between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., so sometimes the moon is setting over the ocean to the west. I make coffee and sit out on the balcony. Even though I’ve done it a dozen times before, I take my camera out when there is enough light and take panoramic shots of the grounds and ocean. I see that, over time, other hotel guests start to do the same. Since we usually get an end-room on the floor, there is an open-air breezeway just outside our entry door and sometimes I step outside just to look at the West Maui mountains to my left and the ocean to my right. It’s the best of views and we get to own it our entire stay at KBH.
Finally, I’m looking forward to seeing our friends again. These are the KBH employees we’ve come to know since 2006 who will stop what they’re doing when they first see you, and even though they may not remember your name, they know your face. They come up and they hug you and say, “Aloha! Welcome home!”
We have now spent enough time at KBH to know that this hotel means a great deal to many people, employees and guests alike. For the guests who have tried it and decided it may not be their cup of tea, for whatever reason, that’s fine. But if you have never stayed here, don’t dismiss it out of hand just because it’s not the fanciest hotel. Give it a shot. Not to sound all Jedi about it, but if you stay here you likely will acquire knowledge very quickly about what it truly means to be Hawaiian. And that carries with it a guarantee you’ll have the most fun and rewarding vacation ever.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Surround yourself with aloha on one of Maui's most beautiful beaches...At Hawaii's Most Hawaiian Hotel! Located on golden sand next to the clear blue waters of Ka'anapali, all rooms have balconies overlooking lush tropical gardens, inviting you to relax to the sound of gentle surf and cool tradewinds. Award winning dining, shopping and recreation are on hand or close by. Here you'll discover the best in Hawaiian culture and family-style hospitality - truly aloha at its best! ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Ka Anapali Beach Hotel
- Hotel Ka Anapali Beach
- Kaanapali Beach Hotel Maui/Lahaina