When Dec. 26, 2009 rolled around, Shane and I couldn’t be happier to start our 12-hour commute to Maui. After two long plane rides via DFW and LAX, we finally landed in paradise. As cheesy as it is, I can’t think of a word that better describes the island.
As we equipped ourselves with a good guidebook, my camera and our fellow travelers who have vacationed in Maui for years now (The Deutschs), we set out for 10 days of lounging on the beach, sipping Mai Tais by the pool (illegally might I add) and soaking up as much Hawaiian sun, food and culture as we could squeeze in. You know its been a success when on Day 10, the thought of eating the “Catch of the Day” makes you nauseous, your skin feels like it’s on fire when exposed to the sun, and you couldn’t possibly drink another fruity concoction garnished with that pink little umbrella ever again. Mission accomplished.
Although it sometimes felt like a small, secluded island (a.k.a. my kind of vacation!), I’ve compiled a list of Maui’s best that reveals what to do, where to go and things to see.
↑Best resort: Grand Wailea, Wailea
Situated on the south shores of Maui in Wailea, this five-star resort provides enough luxury and high-class accommodations to make you to stay on the island forever. As a part of the Waldorf Astoria hotel collection, the Grand Wailea houses two pools — complete with impressive water features, private cabanas, an adult-only pool and swim-up bars — seven bar/restaurants and possibly one of the best views on the island.
Prices starting at $369/night. Oh the price of luxury…www.grandwailea.com
Best spa: Spa Grande, Wailea
Located at the Grand Wailea, the Spa Grande is the top-ranked spa on the island. Ok, maybe not officially, but anyone who indulges in the two-hour spa treatment in a venue that mirrors a Roman bath will agree. Pre-massage, you spend an hour relaxing among the hydrotherapy circuit which includes soaking in the five aromatic baths (each with different soothing aspects, including moor mud, seaweed, aromatherapy, tropical enzyme and Hawaiian salt bath), taking a dip in the Roman hot tub, sitting under a cascading waterfall massage, being treated to a 5-minute honey mango-loofah body polish and laying in the eucalyptus steam room (eyes covered with fresh cucumber). Your next hour is spent having the best deep-tissue massage of your life. No, really. After, sit on the lanai (Hawaiian for fancy balcony) sipping tea while soaking in the views before coming back down to reality. Travel Tip: Because it can be a little pricey, seek out discounts before you go. The Hawaiian Visitors Guide occasionally offers a special for $150/per person which includes a $25 lunch voucher to two of the resort’s restaurants. www.grandwailea.com/spa-grande
↑Best Sushi for your buck: SANSEI, Kihei
Located off the main strip in Kihei, this seafood and sushi restaurant is just as appetizing as any other sushi spot on island. This local hot spot offers an eclectic mix of sushi, from your basic spicy tuna roll to the Kapalua “Butterfry” Roll (Smoked salmon, crab, fresh shiromi and veggies in crispy panko batter, served with tangy ponzu sauce). Travel Tip: On Friday nights, enjoy half off all appetizers, sushi and cocktails/beers. At 10 p.m. on the dot, the restaurant clears out and a long line of locals who have waited outside for an hour will flood the restaurant. Beware: you must sit through mediocre karaoke while you dine. www.sanseihawaii.com. (image courtesy of SANSEI)
Best family style meal: Joe’s Bar and Grill, Wailea
If I had to imagine a quite dining spot that encompassed the epitome of the Hawaiian islands — you know, the kind you would see on the movies that only the locals know about — Joe’s would be it. Open to the outside overlooking the Wailea Tennis Club, the restaurant offers diners a grass hut-like atmosphere that glows with warm, dim lighting by night. Joe’s serves the freshest seafood (like almost all restaurants on the island do) with a mix of down-home comfort food.www.bevgannonrestaurants.com/joes/index.html. (Image courtesy of Bev Gannon Restaurants)
Best high-end shops: The Shops at Wailea
Fendi, Gucci, Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton…need I say more?
↑Best discount shops: Kalama Villages, Kihei
This small open-air market is your best bet for finding your inexpensive, Hawaiian souvenirs. From shell necklaces to sarongs, local vendors sell to passerbys who stroll in looking for a refuge from the afternoon sun.
↑Best happy hour: LuLu’s, Kihei
This rustic beach bar offers $3 specials during happy hour that lasts from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Serving local favorites from Mai Tais to margaritas, this local hot spot gives your wallet a much-needed spending break. The drinks are cheap, the food is good and the atmosphere is chill. Perfect to end a day at the beach, located just across the street.
↑Best Mai Tai: Four Seasons, Wailea
With the right blend of gold rum, dark rum, triple sec, lime juice and Orgeat juice, anyone can create the perfect Mai Tai. Right? Wrong. A quality polynesian-style cocktail — garnished with a fresh slice of pineapple, moschino cherry and that little pink umbrella — is hard to find. Good thing we spent 10 days looking for the perfect drink. The winner: Four Seasons.(Image courtesy of Hawaii Magazine)
↑Best pub: Mulligans, Wailea
If you’re in need of a break from the beach scene and seafood, this Irish pub is great for watching your favorite sports team while trying the local brews.Travel Tip: Mulligans hosts a New Years Eve party that includes live music, a buffet and a champagne toast at midnight for $50 per person. Compared to the other New Years parties hosted by the big resorts on the island (costing from $150-$350 per person), this New Years party seems like a steal. However, with an unimpressive presentation and unorganized, lackluster service, it might be worth your while to splurge on a party at a bigger resort. www.mulligansontheblue.com
Best island-brewed lager: Bikini Blonde
This light beer, brewed right on the island by Maui Brewing Co., is the go-to lager for locals. Maybe it was the smooth taste or the girly branding on the front, but almost every chance I got (that is if I were on a break from the Mai Tai) I chose the Bikini Blonde. I begin to understand what they mean when they say, “What sailors come to shore for.” www.mauibrewingco.com. (Image courtesy of Maui Brewing Co.)
Best beach: Big and Little Beach, Makena
One of the most popular spot on the south shore that attracts locals and tourists alike is ↑Big Beach. This 2/3-mile long stretch of beach provides crystal clear water that’s ideal for sunbathing and snorkeling off shore. Located near the end of the east side of the island, this beach provides the perfect scene for a slow-paced beach trip.
↑Little Beach is located on the West side of Big Beach, accessible only by hiking up a towering wall of volcanic rock. It’s no wonder this smaller beach is surrounded by high cliffs — it’s clothing optional. If you can look past the older crowd of shameless beach-goers who enjoy the sun and surf swimsuit-free, you can find some of the best waves for bodyboarding in the area.
↑Best whale watching: Wailea and Makena Beaches
It’s hard to miss the whales jumping off the southern coast of Maui during their breeding months of November – April. Pacific humpback whales migrate to the warm waters surrounding islands after making a 3,000 mile journey from Alaska to breed. Many whale-watching tours will take you out during peak spotting times for a front row seat to one of the most fascinating shows.
Best scuba outfitter: Maui Dive Shop
If you’re interested in getting scuba certified while on vacay in Maui, the friendly folks at the Maui Dive Shop offer PADI dive certification courses. After spending two days pre-trip doing our pool dives and classroom work, Shane and I finished our open water dives with the Maui Dive Shop. For two days, we spent the afternoons diving with instructors off Ulah Beach in Wailea. While we were on the four dives, we saw aquatic life that included a Hawaiian green sea turtle, an octopus, a manta ray, a frog fish, a snowflake eel and a variety of other tropical fish. For me, the best part of the dives was being able to hear the hump back whales singing under the water. Truly an unforgetable experience. www.mauidiveshop.com. (Image courtesy of Maui Dive Shop)
↑Best snorkeling: Molokini Crater
If you’re looking to get up close and person with Hawaii’s underwater residents, visit the island of Molokini. This crescent-shaped island accessible only by boat can be seen off the south shore of Maui and is a hot spot for recreational snorkelers and divers. Many dive and snorkeling outfitter in the area offer 3-hour boat tours out to the island. If you get motion sickness, don’t forget your Dramamine!