Back in 1990, I had the privilege of attending the opening of the beautiful Grand Wailea Resort on Maui. I had dreamed, as a kid, of perhaps someday visiting Hawaii – and there I was, on my first trip, greeted by gorgeous grandeur, the likes of which I had never seen before. I was a Contributing Editor to The Robb Report magazine at the time, and the press trip was a “wow” every step of the way. The resort’s owner at the time had spent about a million dollars to bring in journalists just for a weekend. All invited travel journalists were given convertibles to drive, taken on snorkel sails to Molokini, trips to Haleakala, received spa treatments galore, and dined on ever-present – and perfect – food and beverage. My experience was, in a word, as spectacular as the resort itself.
Now, 33 years later in 2023, I am happy to report that the Grand Wailea Maui, a Waldorf Astoria resort, in the posh, upscale area of Wailea in south Maui, is bigger and better than ever. This, in light of the devastating wildfires that destroyed the popular town of Lahaina. Thankfully, the Wailea side of the island was left untouched, and the resort continues to open its doors to travelers. If you are considering taking a vacation soon – please guide your path to Maui, and help the Maui economy – and its hard-working residents – recover from the tragedy. And please be empathetic and kind when you are there. That server offering you a pina colada may have very well lost his home. (And bring plenty of cash – I tipped as much and as often as I possibly could.)
The Grand Wailea just completed a $350 Million renovation, including the guest rooms, lobby bar, the popular Olivine restaurant, its special Humuhumunukunukuapuaa restaurant (so named after the state fish.) The property’s glorious new 50,000-sq.ft spa is still in the works at this writing and will open in early 2024. The Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea was always the gold standard for spas, and I can only guess what a knockout the reimagined one will be next year. About $60 million was spent to make it one of the best in the world. Says Brian Kaufman, Managing Director at Blackstone Real Estate: “Since 2018, we have been focused on elevating and reimagining all aspects of the iconic Grand Wailea to ensure it remains a premier destination for decades to come. The Kilolani Spa is the latest addition to our ambitious project, and we are thrilled to bring this state-of-the-art wellness retreat to life in a way that honors its rich heritage.”
I had a treatment in the Mohalu Spa Garden – an interim spa during construction of the new one– and my service was performed in an outdoor hale. It was a signature specialty – the honey-macadamia-nut indulgence, and indulge me it did. It was a two-hour treatment consisting of a massage with honey-and-macadamia-nut-cream, and it smelled heavenly. After that, there’s a scalp massage with a vanilla passion flower cream that absolutely melted away every worry I ever had. It follows with a bee propolis application to your back, to help with your immune system. And if that wasn’t enough, my feet were then exfoliated. After two hours of such cashmere care, I had to get a golf cart to transport me back to my room, as my legs – and my mind – were jelly, and ready for a good long nap before dinner.
One of the best things I love about traveling is the opportunity to discover new things. Personally, I am a lover of all-things-spa – and who isn’t these days? I can tell you that the Grand Wailea spa retail area is filled with exquisite upscale products, many of them made locally, which are available for purchase and designed to inspire your ultimate wellness. A few thoughts here about Ola, a company based in Hilo that makes gorgeous Hawaiian products, which I discovered there. Ola – which means “life force” in Hawaiian — is an authentic tropical apothecary that makes beautiful body products that are organically grown on their farm in Hilo. Their passion fruit (“lilikoi”) body butter, $40, is their bestseller, and it’s basically Hawaiian joy in a jar. One whiff and you’ll be hooked.
Another characteristic to love about the Grand Wailea is its popular Loulu health-food café, where you can find a wealth of wonderful goodies, to eat right there, or take up to your room for a posh picnic. This café is clearly an adjunct to the spa, focused on well-being and filled with yummies to live your best-ever life. We happily consumed all manner of salads, sandwiches, pizzas, juices, and so much more. In fact, the hotel has recently partnered with the uber-popular Erewhon – the beloved LA-based organic grocer — and features lots of super snacks. One that I discovered – which is actually ideal for traveling – is Nufyx – an organic, surprisingly delicious, pea-protein drink (with no fillers and gums) that comes in portion-controlled packets. One packet of its Heavenly Powder – with a whopping 18 grams of protein – is a tasty treat with only 100 calories – and is a great discovery for hungry travelers, especially when you’re on a plane with nothing healthy to eat around you. In fact, as soon as the resort began its entire store-wide partnership with Erewhon, “The products flew off the shelves,” says the resort’s Managing Director, John Paul Oliver.
When you want to indulge: One of the restaurants that just opened at the Grand Wailea is Olivine, and it’s an Italian standout. According to Mr. Oliver, “We have a farm in Kula. About 92% of our food-and-beverage products are sustainably grown here in Hawaii.” Impressively, the hotel also has an apiary on its roof, an herb garden, a tropical fruit garden, and even grows its own cacao – and all of these goodies are incorporated in the dining venues. Clearly, the Grand Wailea walks the walk.
But back to Olivine. The service here was sensational, and our server, Ken, also serves as the venue’s sommelier. We rarely drink alcohol, but he almost gave us a course in Wine 101. The property has partnered with Antinori, one of the oldest Italian wineries in the world, and it serves many of its labels. The resort also carries Chateau Y’quem (a bottle costs $1,124), which happens to be a “liquid gold” world’s best sweet dessert wine. That said, we instead opted for the Michele Chiarlo Nivole sweet wine, which is a Moscato d’Asti that is lightly sparkling. A bottle goes for $68. Mind you, we didn’t know any of this beforehand – and Ken educated us well. It was sublimely delicious – and a great complement to the flourless, dense chocolate cake for dessert. “The wine should always be sweeter than dessert,” Ken told us.
As for dinner, Olivine certainly merits your reservation. Just the fresh-made focaccia complemented with the resort’s own fresh-grown rosemary was excellent – and that was just the bread portion. A salad with house-made balsamic reduction was delicious. The Jidori chicken piccata was rich and dense, as it was dressed with a lemon demi caper sauce. We definitely went to the gym the next day after that. And it’s a gym dandy — three rooms on two floors with a wealth of equipment, including a punching bag and boxing gloves. I was there 1.5 hours every day.
When you book your reservation here, opt for the Napua Tower. Mr. Oliver told me that rooms in this part of the hotel cost about $600 more per day for two people (kids can stay for free), and what’s great about this is that you can take advantage of the terrific Napua Lounge. This 8th-floor special lounge area offers bites and beverages all day long – including a hearty breakfast, luncheon snacks, and cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and desserts at night. We enjoyed a wealth of goodies here – from exceptionally good scrambled eggs at breakfast, to gourmet granola bars, Maui chips and fresh fruits, hummus with crackers, all kinds of cheeses, shrimp poke, and super salads, to name just a few yummies, along with all kinds of beverages including made-on-Maui sparkling water, plenty of Diet Coke, guava juice, and cocktails at night. And here is an insider’s secret – there is a refrigerator right there in which you can get Haagen-Dazs chocolate-covered ice cream bars – as many as you want, along with locally made melon and strawberry popsicles. Everything here is a treat. In addition, Napua guests can enjoy a rotating lineup of special experiences in the Napua Lounge on the 8th floor, including a chef’s station and live entertainment.
One of the best rooms in the house is the Royal Suite, #7052, overlooking Lanai and Kahoolawe and Molokini, and the extremely beautiful and highly manicured Hibiscus Pool area that is flanked by elegant royal palms. Do yourself a favor and rent yourself a cabana here, and luxuriate in it all day long – and include lunch as well. Just remember to bring your tube from home – there’s nothing more relaxing than floating in the elegant adult pool, under the palm trees, while you savor an umbrella drink. The Adult Hibiscus Pool Standard Cabana with a view is $1,250 for a maximum of four guests.
The cabana comes complete with a mini fridge stocked with fresh fruit; complimentary beverages; a goodie bag filled with local snacks; and yummies scheduled throughout the day – from pineapple to Popsicles.
All guests also have access to beach yoga and outdoor fitness classes, culturally immersive activities such as hula and ʻukulele lessons daily, admission to scuba clinics and snorkel lessons, use of Beach Cruiser bikes, complimentary beach umbrellas and chairs for use on Wailea Beach and more; all based on availability.
Grand Wailea offers water experiences for everyone. You can enjoy the perfect family day at the famous Wailea Canyon Activity Pool, featuring four jungle pools, five intertwining slides, a whitewater rapids slide, a Tarzan pool with rope swing, a sand “baby” beach, six waterfalls, caves, three Jacuzzis, and a swim-up bar. Whew!
All in all, the Grand Wailea is a grand resort indeed (and a part of Hilton Honors). Now, I’m paid as a journalist to be objective, and to point out all things good and not so good in my travels. So I will offer this observation: I did find that, occasionally, our room in Napua Tower could be a bit noisy at times, especially with the bustling Botero Bar right downstairs in the atrium. Just be aware if you’re the type of person who goes to bed early.
Because you will want to get up early, to take advantage of all the wonderful offerings at this dreamy destination. The Grand Wailea definitely puts the “Wowee” in Maui.
For more about my Wanderlust and Wellness travels, please Follow me on Instagram at @DebbiKickham.