Lindsay Taub

Maui: A few days in paradise

2011-03-14 by Lindsay Taub

We are fortunate in California to be a short four-and-a-half hour flight from one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific. The Hawaiian Islands are a popular destination for honeymoons, romantic vacations, and adventure seekers from around the world, but here in Los Angeles, it’s even more popular for a mini-vacation, to spend a few days in paradise away from the craziness.

There, we can enjoy the tropical breezes that carry with them a mixture of floral aromas and the scents of the sea, breathtaking sunsets that melt into the ocean, and the panoramas of stunning island beauty. Four days may be just enough to shed the city and come back sun-kissed and refreshed.

This past trip was to Maui, an island I had never been to. It held up to its reputation of being somewhere in between the lush serenity of Kaua’i and the more cosmopolitan paradise of Oahu.

The Grand Wailea was everything that you’d expect from a Waldorf Astoria resort, from the variety of pools (including the elegant Hibiscus Pool reserved for adults only and the Activity Pool that includes waterslides, rapids, a rope swing and swim-up bar) to three award-winning golf courses, a perfect beach with chair service, and the Spa Grande (a 50,000 square foot facility voted one of the top 10 spas in the U.S.), not to mention world-class shopping and seven fine restaurants (including my personal favorite, “Humu” or formally, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, which I learned to pronounce by the final day of the vacation). With the vast array of hotel activities and amenities, it’s not hard to understand why so few venture outside the 40-acre property.

As a side, I was disappointed to learn that all of the beautiful purple orchid flowers that accessorized our tropical cocktails were not in fact local Hawaiian flowers. They are shipped in overnight daily by the tens of thousands from… wait for it… Thailand. Note to self: things are not always what they seem.

The Spa, however, deserves a moment of interlude as it is truly one of the (if not THE) centerpieces of the Grand Wailea. The resort itself was built and designed around the Spa, atypical of most large hotels where the spa is an afterthought. Here, no detail from the flow and décor to the theme (a balance between the traditions of the East, West and Ancient Hawaii) was overlooked.

Being on a mini-vacation with the sole purpose of tuning out the city, I took advantage of every amenity the spa had to offer and treated myself to a couple of body treatments that left me feeling a sense of calm that I hadn’t experienced in quite some time.

By far my favorite part of the spa was the Ancient Hawaii room that included three individual jacuzzi tubs with overhead waterfall jets that massage your upper back and two “car wash” showers with jets from all sides to rinse off before going into one or more of the five individual sea salt baths. Each bath, named for a different island or part of Hawaii, was a different color as result of its blend of salts and essential oils designed to target your needs, from relaxation and detoxification to soothing sore muscles and sunburn. My bath of choice (although I tried three of the five) was the Kaua’i, a blend of Tropical Guava, Lava Red Sea Salt and Ala’ea clay from the Garden Isle that infuses your skin with more than 80 minerals. Or in other words, heaven in a bath.

Starting the trip with a little spa time was a perfect way to let the relaxation begin, but what would that be without great food too? Hawaii isn’t necessarily known for its cuisine, but in all honesty, we dined extremely well. Next to the Grand Wailea we enjoyed dinner at the Wailea Beach Marriott’s Mala, whose hallway as you enter is filled with photos of celebrities who have dined there from Steven Tyler and Carlos Santana to Lindsay Lohan. (The original and first location is the popular Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina, Maui).

Another not-to-be-missed restaurant is the Tommy Bahama Restaurant at the Shops at Wailea. From the crab bisque to the coconut shrimp and macademia-crusted mahi mahi, you can’t go wrong. Expect to wait at least 30 minutes for a table without a reservation, or plan to do that, because a couple doors down is the Célébrités Gallery of Celebrity Art which is exactly that – a gallery of memorabilia and art for sale from primarily musicians such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix, to name just a few.

Whether you entertain the eye-popping price tags or not, you can still be enthralled with the memorabilia, like original song lyrics jotted on a piece of paper, and photos on the wall of celebrities checking out other celebrities’ art. (P.S. I had the pleasure of sharing the pool one afternoon with none other than funny man Hank Azaria.) And there I was thinking I had left the Land of La La for the Land of Aloha…

But what would a Hawaiian vacation be without some adventure? One of the highlights of the trip was a day trek out to the Ka’anapali Coast, which we made in a “rough and tumble” yellow Jeep, my preferred method of transportation in the islands. Exploring the awesome vistas is a sight to be seen, with some areas that allow you multi-island views of Moloka’i, Lana’i, and Kahoolawe. (Molokini can be seen along the Wailea Coast.) It was here that we took up with Skyline Eco Adventures to go ziplining.

The van trip to the top of Mount Kahalawai makes the rough and tumble jeep seem tame, with helmets mandatory on the drive up. Once there, our group of 15 was led by two guides, Pete and BJ, who could have been an incarnation of Owen Wilson with their comedic antics and perfectly-timed jokes. Four hours later, our group had made eight zipline crossings, the final line being 1200 feet of speedy fun.

On the way back to Wailea, we stopped in the Whaler’s Village of Lahaina, which was busy, lively, and anything but the serenity we sought after a morning of adventure. We toured around a bit to check out the sites, had a good giggle over the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” locale, then sought refuge and a much-needed Mai Tai in a peaceful nondescript ocean tavern somewhere between Lahaina and Wailea. Because it is officially whale season in Hawaii, when the great Humpbacks are migrating their way back to Alaska, there was no shortage of spouts and tails to be seen in the distance off the coast.

So while mini-vacation and relaxation was the goal and I can say it was achieved, returning to LA with bronzed skin and a sense of calm, my time in Maui was all too short. There was more to see, more to do, and much more cleansing of La La to be had. I was vehemently reminded of this as I arrived at the airport for my return flight, only to be surrounded by a wall of angry people extending the entire terminal three long rows deep.

I made my flight along with other LA passengers just in the nick of time, but not without a question. How had I been in Maui for four days and was just then learning as I was boarding the plane that the reason for the mass amounts of people was due to Elton John, who had performed there two nights in a row to sold-out crowds. And now I, along with all the concert-goers happened to be returning to the mainland at the very same time. Just my luck.

As I arrived back in LA, I was comforted to know that I still had a couple pieces of paradise in my bag to bring back the Aloha spirit… two bags of Kona and Vanilla Macademia Nut coffee and the all-too expensive 10.6 jar of Kaua’i Bath Salts without which I just couldn’t bring myself to leave…

*This story also ran on The Pacific Punch.

Tags: adventure travel, Grand Wailea, Hawaii, Maui, Pacific Punch, Spa, Spa Grande, Wailea, ziplining

Posted in Pacific Punch, Travel |

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