Kaanapali Beach provides numerous options for accommodating your special occasion vacation.
By Steve Zepezauer
The 3-mile stretch of Kaanapali Beach on Maui’s sunny western shore is a mecca for tourists year-round. Since the first developments on this idyllic beachfront in the 1960s, the area has grown massively in popularity and now includes six resorts mixed in with five condominium complexes to form an epic, yet highly concentrated, Hawaiian utopia.
For many, this is Maui: the perfect mix of island paradise with the convenience of luxury amenities and an abundance of resort-like activities. One can as easily lounge away the days on one of the world’s best beaches as seek out a lomi lomi massage and an afternoon of parasailing.
It’s also one of the best locales for special occasion travel. Whether you’re celebrating a 50th birthday party, family reunion or corporate incentive trip, Maui offers many options for every group. Kaanapali Beach, with its multiple personalities, is especially accommodating for destination weddings and their diverse attendees. If you plan to host your big day here, hire a local wedding coordinator.
“You will find that these professionals are worth their weight in gold,” says Keli’i Brown, director of public relations and promotions at Maui Visitors Bureau. “Planning a wedding in your hometown or city is challenging enough. A wedding professional will remove most of the stress out of planning your special day from thousands of miles away.”
The island itself is wondrous, so choosing the perfect place to stay depends on the type of experience you want. When planning a special occasion vacation that involves more people than just your immediate family unit, there are more variables to consider—from budgets to level of activity to extreme age differences of the travelers; you will want to select the accommodations that fit best with your party’s lifestyle.
There are distinct differences between the condos and hotels here. However, one common thread between them is that all accommodations are just steps from Kaanapali Beach’s pristine ribbon of white sand and the 75-degree Pacific.
The All-Inclusive Experience
If you choose to call a hotel your home base, there are certain amenities that are usually expected—such as 24-hour room service and housekeeping, for example. Most resorts also offer multiple dining options on the property; this can be pretty convenient if you didn’t plan ahead. Additionally, if you like to visit the bar on occasion, resorts have the edge there. It’s hard to replicate that feel of a busy hotel pool bar at a condo complex. There’s also the level of personal service some resorts supply, not to mention the luxury of a spa, a concierge, shopping outlets, et cetera. And, if you have young kids, many of the hotels have “keiki” (child) programs daily.
One of the landmark Kaanapali resorts is the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Situated on 23 acres, the Sheraton Maui is set on the base of legendary Puu Kekaa, aka Black Rock, a significant area in Hawaiian lore. Black Rock serves as the location for Kaanapali’s nightly cliff-diving ceremony and is a favorite snorkeling spot. One of the most impressive aspects of this property is that almost all of the 508 rooms and suites directly face the ocean. Many of the suites are of the “ohana” (family) category and encompass two spacious and adaptable rooms, which are great for multiple couples or families with children. The Sheraton Maui is also a wedding planner’s paradise, featuring nearly 10 indoor and outdoor venues—all of which could serve as the perfect location for a dream ceremony and reception.
About a half-mile down the beach from the Sheraton is The Westin Maui Resort & Spa. Recently renovated, the hotel features a “sophisticated Polynesian” look and a new 15,000-square-foot spa with 16 treatment rooms.
If you have children, the 87,000-square-foot aquatic playground featuring five free-form pools, waterfalls, Jacuzzis and two waterslides will surely be a hit. The Westin Maui also has 42,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, which is adaptable for very small to very large groups.
Comforts of Home
If you desire a more relaxed atmosphere than the high-energy resorts provide, a condo accommodation might be a better fit. Condos offer that home-away-from-home feeling and cater to people that are somewhat independent and want a little more privacy. Most condos do not have valets and resort fees, and they include amenities like kitchens, washer/dryers and free high-speed Internet. With fully equipped kitchens, travelers can have the convenience of cooking their own meals (and save a ton of money). Most important for groups and families, condos generally offer a lot more space than the average hotel room, providing great value.
Kaanapali Alii is one of the favorites among the luxury condo set. With one- and two-bedroom units measuring in at 1,500 to 1,900 square feet—more than four times the average hotel room—families can really spread out. This property is run by Classic Resorts and does provide daily housekeeping as well as front desk service and an activities center, which is in contrast with some of the other independently run condo complexes. Other free amenities for guests include use of the classic clay tennis courts and a state-of-the-art fitness center.
Guests can stock their gourmet kitchens with products from the local grocery store in Lahaina or through a butler provisioning service. For those who choose not to cook in the condo’s kitchen, beachside grills are available; visitors can get tips from one of the complimentary grill masters, who also offer rubs and herbs for your protein of choice.
Kaanapali Alii has another personal touch that’s hard to find in any hotel or condo: Fred Torres, hotel manager and Hawaiian cultural specialist. Fred is omnipresent around the grounds and is always available to discuss Hawaiian customs, legends and traditions. He also teaches free ukulele lessons for children ages 6 to 12.
Tee Time: Ka’anapali Golf Courses
When traveling to Maui for a special occasion, don’t forget to take a break from the glassy blue water and white sandy beaches to visit the island’s greens.
One of the most popular activities on Maui is golf, and for those staying along the Kaanapali coast, Ka’anapali Golf Courses are just a short distance away. Recently undergoing a $13 million renovation, the two picturesque courses feature panoramic views of both the Pacific Ocean and West Maui Mountains from most vantage points. The Royal Ka’anapali Course is a classic Robert Trent Jones Sr. design with wide fairways with large undulating greens. The Ka’anapali Kai Course provides a more forgiving layout and is great for all skill levels.
For those wanting an elevated and educational playing experience, David Havens, PGA director of instruction at Ka’anapali, is your man. He was recently honored as Teacher of the Year by the Aloha Section of the PGA and is an affable and entertaining playing partner. Private and group lessons are available. David sets the standard there and guides the special programs offered in 2015, which include Golf My Way, a program that allows guests to play 18 holes of golf over seven days. There’s also a robust juniors program with kids’ tees and the popular juniors-play-free program (June to Aug. 31).
Something for Everyone
Keli’i Brown, director of public relations and promotions at the Maui Visitors Bureau, practices what he preaches. Here, Keli’i shares his experience bringing relatives together for a special occasion on the island.
For my daughter’s high school graduation celebration, our family ventured to Maui from Michigan, Indiana and Arkansas. Each individual (representing three generations) had their own unique ideas of what they wanted to see and do. Most booked their top choices a few months in advance as I recommended. Some decided to be active and zip lined, snorkeled, hiked and paddled (Hawaiian outrigger canoes). Others were focused on sightseeing, including witnessing a sunrise atop Haleakala, visiting farms in the Upcountry region, taking in Iao Valley and traveling the storied road to Hana in East Maui. Still, some simply wanted to unplug via beach time with a mai tai in hand.
Everyone did their own thing during the day and we all came together for dinner. What resulted was the natural sharing of their experiences. Sometimes this resulted in a last-minute change of plans. A nephew who surfed one day decided to drive to Hana the next based on his aunt’s experience and recommendation. Not everyone needs to do the same thing all the time. Further, many of Maui’s offerings are half-day experiences and are within close proximity allowing for completely different experiences in a single day. There are cultural treasures to discover and as many “ed-ventures” as there are adventures for the entire family. This is truly the beauty of Maui. —Keli’i Brown
Island of Love: Oahu
For those seeking another island for a romantic getaway—whether it’s a destination wedding, honeymoon or just to spend time as a couple—the urban oasis of Oahu is filled with amorous sites, luxury resorts and premium shopping and dining destinations.
WHERE TO STAY
For a prime location in the center of Waikiki, stay at Halekulani. The hotel’s La Mer restaurant, specializing in French cuisine prepared with tropical ingredients, is ideal for a romantic dinner. The views are incredible, with the iconic Diamond Head in the background illuminated by city lights. (halekulani.com)
WHAT TO DO
During the day, take advantage of the warm Pacific water by reserving a couple of stand-up paddleboards to traverse the calm waves in the afternoon, then sail the ocean during a sunset dinner cruise aboard the Star of Honolulu. On Friday evenings, the seven-course meal concludes with a brilliant fireworks display from the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. (starofhonolulu.com)
PLAN AN EVENT
The island is also the perfect place for a destination wedding. Unlike the mainland, where weddings typically occur on weekends, any day of the week is suitable for exchanging vows on Oahu. Custom celebrations are the area of expertise at The Kahala Hotel & Resort, which can host ceremonies and receptions of any size at 13 different areas—from extravagant indoor ballrooms to spacious oceanfront lawns—throughout its grounds. (kahalaresort.com)
For a more intimate affair, opt for the Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk. The Ivanka Trump terrace and the infinity pool deck transform into event space for couples to celebrate their nuptials with close friends and family. (trumphotelcollection.com) —Kirsti Correa