By Jim Milio:
The Grand Wailea Resort
“This is already the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at!”
“Honey, maybe we should see the room first.”
We had just checked in, but my ten-year-old daughter was already in the thrall of the main lobby and atrium of Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort. Towering several stories above us and brimming with native flowers and massive Botero sculptures, the Grand Wailea lobby does make an impressive first impression.
I was also traveling with my 12-year-old (going on 37) son, who has been riding me for years to get us to return to Maui because of his fond memories of Hawaiian trips past. While some kids obsess over Harry Potter or Xbox, my son dreams of Hawaiian beaches, coconuts, and sugar cane.
Set on 40 acres, the Grand Wailea is certainly like its own little city, with a large selection of shops, a wedding chapel, spa, kid’s camp, and dozens of other amenities. The resort offers off-premises golf and tennis courts as well. During our entire stay, I continued to marvel at how such an immense mega-resort could feel so intimate and quiet at the same time. Even when the place was crowded, it never felt that way.
Once we arrived at our room, which featured two queen beds along with a panoramic view of the hotel and the Pacific Ocean just beyond. The kids immediately awarded the room two “Awesomes!” .
The hotel also offers one and two-bedroom suites (and even villas to rent or own just next door). Room rates currently start at $369 a night and up, but check their website for any deals that may crop up.
“Dad, check out this bathroom, it’s awesome!”
(Although my kids had volunteered to help me write this review of the Grand Wailea, I needed to expand their vocabulary of superlatives, or this story was going to be less than awesome to read.)
The bathroom, with a separate tub and glass-enclosed shower, was indeed elegant and inviting.
GRAND WAILEA’S WATER PARK
We put on our bathing suits and took advantage of the “water features” (as my son had already taken to calling them) of the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool. First, the kids decided we had to ride up in what apparently is our solar system’s only water elevator. An attendant pulls open a large metal door and up to 15 people sit on a giant circular seat inside. Then 18,000 gallons of water lifts everyone up about twenty feet to more waterslides and other fun. Do I really need to mention that my daughter thought it was awesome? Definitely this was a one-of-a-kind experience, which we ended up experiencing at least a dozen times during our stay.
We then sampled several different waterslides, the lazy river, waterfalls, caves with warm hot tubs, and a rope swing that deposits you over a deep pool. My kids loved that there was a swim up bar, but were disappointed by the fact that you had to be 21 to actually swim up and enjoy a drink there. I quickly volunteered to have a Mai Tai and found the swim up bar to be delightful.
My kid’s only issue with the Grand Wailea’s “water features” was they thought the water in the sandy beach pool was too salty. Whatever. My kids love waterparks and they thought the Grand Wailea held its own in this regard. They happily played in the pools and slides every day of our stay.
One night the resort offered a free “dive-in” movie, projecting the animated film “Rango” onto a screen in the middle of the pools. The kids could swim while watching chameleon Johnny Depp search for water for the town of Dirt. Great fun.
The Grand Wailea also offers a stretch of sandy beach and my kids couldn’t believe how pristine it was compared to some of the nasty, trashy Southern California beaches we occasionally confront.
Beach attendants provide chairs, umbrellas, and there’s a desk where you can rent boogie boards, snorkel gear, kayaks and paddle boards. We planned to rent a kayak and snorkel to a local area featuring green Hawaiian sea turtles called Turtle Town, but stiff trade winds turned our plans into wishful thinking. In any case, those same trade winds made for some great body surfing waves. The winds eventually grew fierce enough that the attendants closed up all the umbrellas, but we still had plenty of fun.
The Grand Wailea also offers free scuba lessons, but we only had time on our last day and by then, the free class was already sold out.
During our brief visit, we tried as many of the Grand Wailea’s dining spots as possible.
One of our first tasks was lunch at the poolside Volcano Bar and Grill. My son declared his meal, “Best. Tuna. Sandwich. Ever.” I reminded him that he wasn’t required to love everything just because we were working on a review. “Dad…Best. Tuna. Sandwich. Ever.” Okay, duly noted. I felt a minor twinge of pain thinking about the hundreds of “best” tuna sandwiches I thought I had made during my many years as a parent.
My daughter ordered the kid’s hot dog. When it arrived in a plastic beach bucket complete with shovel, she exclaimed, “This is the perfect meal for a kid.” Dad, however, thought the inclusion of Jell-o, mini Oreo cookies, Capri Sun juice, and apple slices drove this lunch’s sugar quotient through the Grand Wailea’s ornate roof.
There are at least nine different dining options at the Grand Wailea, and the trick seems to be how to leave the resort not looking like a whale.
We decided to dress up for dinner at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the overwater restaurant at the hotel. It’s named after a local fish. I can’t bring myself to spell that twice, much less pronounce it, so I’ll refer to it in the shorthand everyone uses and call it Humuhumu.
We loved Humuhumu’s giant fish tank and bought two koa wood tikis from a nice lady at the entrance. Dinner — consisting of a sashimi plate, stir-fried soba noodles, and macadamia crusted Mahi Mahi over island sweet potatoes — was scrumptious. The decadent Hula Pie dessert, with its Oreo crust, coffee/macadamia nut ice creams, and whipped cream, could have easily fed four people. The three of us failed to finish it, although we gave it our best shot.
For breakfast, we sampled the buffet at the Grand Wailea main dining room. We were able to choose from a variety of local and non-local fruits, several kinds of mini pastries and muffins, a made-to-order omelet bar, breakfast meats, potatoes, cereals, and bagels, plus a full line up of Japanese breakfast items.
We had no problem finding something for everyone — but beware the marauding finches. They seem to be trying out as extras in “The Birds,” swooping in as soon as you leave the table. Their birdie shadows on the beach umbrellas above us could be seen as either adorable or foreboding, depending on the level of Hitchcock that resides in your soul.
One afternoon we dropped in for a snack at the Molokini Bistro, which offers a full restaurant menu. We ordered Maui onion rings, flatbread with dips, and a Kimo’s fruit canoe, which was a selection of fruits in a pineapple boat. The service and the food were both excellent.
On the way back to our room, we strolled by the Hibiscus pool…I gazed at it longingly because it’s the “adults only” pool at the Grand Wailea. “Dad, if you really need to hang out at the adults only pool, you can for fifteen minutes,” offered my daughter helpfully. That never happened. Sigh.
My son had been bugging me for months to get him a massage at a spa and I figured, why not get him one at a spa that’s supposed to be one of the best in Hawaii, if not the entire country? Maybe because there’s nowhere to go but down after that. After all, this 50,000 square foot facility is home to more than 100 different spa treatments.
It was truly a hoot watching my son’s gaping mouth as he caught a glimpse of the Grand Wailea’s Spa Grande for the first time. Unfortunately, according to the spa attendants, Hawaiian law prohibits children under 16 from being in “clothing optional” spa areas. So he wasn’t able to partake of Spa Grande’s famous Terme bath experience – several warm tubs redolent with different concoctions of bath salts. He also couldn’t try the waterfall showers, steam room, sauna, and other common areas. I tested everything out in his stead and could have stayed in the waterfall shower all afternoon.
I ordered a relaxing lomi lomi massage that certainly helped continue my decompression from work-related stress.
Despite not being able to enjoy many of Spa Grande’s offerings, my son absolutely loved his first massage, which was called “The Wave” and included hot stones and crystals. “That was perfection,” he sighed blissfully, and then spent the next half hour in a massage-induced trance as we meandered back to the room.
While my son and I were being spa rats, my daughter sampled Camp Grande, the Grand Wailea’s daily kid’s camp. We got her the half-day package, which went from 9:00 am to 12:30 and included lunch.
During her time at camp, they visited a nearby tide pool and got to check out local sea creatures. She also made a stained glass fish which now happily hangs in her bedroom. My princess also spent time playing video games, and met a few new friends during her time at camp. Although the camp is for kids from ages 5-12, my daughter thought that kids over 10 might not have that much fun there. She, however, had….yes, an awesome time.
Perhaps it’s all part of what they call the “Aloha” spirit, but every single employee at the Grand Wailea projected a wonderful attitude and always had a smile ready for us, no matter where we were or what we did. Anyone who travels has encountered places where the employees don’t like their jobs. It really does make a huge difference when you feel that the resort staff stands ready to make your vacation as pleasurable as possible.
One minor annoyance – it took several phone calls and some service help to get the resort’s free wireless access to link up with my iPad…and even then it only seemed to work sporadically. Actually, one of my goals was not to be so tethered to my computers and phones during this vacation, so this problem ended up facilitating that concept a bit.
Yes, the Grand Wailea Resort can be a bit on the pricey side – $14.00 Mai Tais, anyone? But if your goal is to create a memorable vacation experience for your family, you can enjoy dozens of unforgettable vacation moments here. My kids and I had a truly fantastic time and it will remain in our memories as nothing less than….awesome.
NOTE: This trip was sponsored in part by Grand Wailea Resort
Wailea Maui is a pretty cool place, and I am lucky to live here on Maui. I have been living and diving in Maui for 25 years now, there is a great diving location in Walea, just south of the Grand Wailea towards Makena, its call Five Caves no far from Makena Landing.