Travel Thursday: Rediscovering Maui And Its Hidden Gem, Hana

We were very excited when our plane finally touched the tarmac late in the afternoon on the island of Maui, Hawaii, one of the top vacation destinations in the world.  From the moment you land, there’s a sense that you know you have arrived at someplace very special.

After grabbing our bags and picking up the rental car, we headed over to our first destination, an overnight stay at the ultra-hip and modern Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort.  Having not visited any Andaz properties before, we found the introduction to the property uplifting.  From the moment we entered the lobby, the stunning views and contemporary vibe left us awestruck.  After an easy check-in, we headed to our room which we would describe as being both trendy and chic.  Our view encompassed both the property and ocean, reminding us exactly how lucky we were.

After unpacking and resting a bit, we decided to explore the beautiful hotel as we were only staying for just a single night.  Andaz Maui is truly a beautiful resort. You can’t go wrong with four cascading infinity pools with poolside cocktail lounge. We checked out the resort’s several restaurants, but since it was late, we could not get a table at the famous Morimoto (tip – reservations are a must) so we decided to check out the 24-hour market which serves great quick options of hot and cold food. Flat bread pizza was our choice and it was delicious.

The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast at Ka’ana Kitchen, known for serving Maui’s best dishes family style.  The restaurant was bustling and full of smiling people.  We chose to do the breakfast buffet, because that’s what you do when you visit Hawaii, and we were not disappointed.  The food and the fresh juice bar were exceptional and the service very friendly.

Reflecting on our stay as we checking out, it was clear why Andaz was so busy during our visit.  With top-caliber restaurants, modern and sophisticated premises, and a great proximity to the beach, Andaz has an amazing appeal.

Unfortunately for us this portion of our trip was too short (isn’t it always?), but we were still very excited as we had our main destination to enjoy - the hidden remote gem of a town called Hana.

There are 3 main ways to get to Hana.  The long road, which can take up your whole day, the shorter road (aka the terrifying, but gorgeous road), a winding single-lane, two-way road at cliff edges with long sheer drops, or the third option, a short 20 minute plane ride from Maui Airport.  Having taken both roads in the past, this time we opted for the flight with Mokulele Airlines.  The plane ride itself should not be discounted as just a quicker commuting option, for it is an experience in itself.  We enjoyed the short flight with our female pilots.  Tip - keep your camera handy for the planes from Mokulele Airlines fly low over the coast, giving you spectacular views of waterfalls and more.

Arriving by plane at the tiny Hana Airport is a beautiful adventure as it is a small strip located in a lush sea of vegetation.  With the exception of the occasional flight, it is pristine and quiet.  We were transported to our destination property, the historic Travaasa Hana, by its free shuttle service to and from the airport.  The Travaasa is a beautiful retreat that’s deeply rooted in Hawaiian tradition.  This renowned spa resort is spread out over 70 plush acres of East Maui coastline at the edge of Hana Bay, a truly ideal spot for honeymooners as there are rooms, bungalows, and suites overlooking the ocean and gardens.  We partook in the all-inclusive package at the Travaasa Hana, which includes three meals per day, unlimited non-alcoholic beverages and resort spa credit.

Our ocean bungalows had truly breathtaking and endless views.  We found ourselves spending a great amount of time on our private lanai overlooking Hana Bay.  Be warned, there are no tvs in the bungalows , which is perfect for us as we didn’t come all this way to watch television!  Instead, we marveled at the beauty and culture of the town and ventured out to check out the rest of the resort grounds.  It’s an amazing property where you can feel the essence of Hana, with its tropical surroundings and fresh ocean air.  And especially unusual for a destination resort, we noticed that the property layout made it feel very spacious and we never felt crowded or rushed.  It’s pure relaxation and dare I say it – heaven.

For our first lunch, we headed to the resort’s main restaurant, Preserve Kitchen + Bar.  Not being too hungry at the time, we just had small and quick bites.  But by the time dinner time arrived, we were ready and the Chef did not disappoint.  Both the food and service were amazing, especially the fresh fish.

After dinner, we took a romantic stroll around the grounds to gaze at the beautiful night sky bursting with stars that came to life because of the very little light pollution in the area. It was just magical and blissful.

The next morning, after our included breakfast, we headed to the spa for a couple’s massage.  Given that we were already feeling mellow because of where we were, the massage just put us over the top.  After the spa experience, we explored some of the many activity options they offer.  From yoga, to mixology, to horseback riding, there are activities for all to enjoy.  Most are free, but some do have an additional charge.

For lunch, we headed into town to explore and to enjoy our surroundings.  With a population of only about 2000 residents, Hana is a small and remote town that feels like you’ve stepped back in time.  Traffic violations are about as bad as the “crime” gets around here.  And with everyone knowing everyone else in town, little kids can go out safely at night on their own, knowing that the community will keep an eye on them.  Experiencing this kind of an environment in 2017 is enough of a reason to visit!

After lunch, we decided to spend some time on the property and just appreciate the pool and the views and read our books – the ultimate Hawaii trifecta!  After a relaxing and wonderful lazy day, we met up with the hotel General Manager for our final dinner.  Once again, the food was amazing, but this time we were blessed with tremendous company so it made it even better!

The next morning sadly came and it was time to say bye to Travaasa Hana, an amazing property in an amazing location that is no like other - a place we can honestly say, one of our favorite destinations in the world which we cannot wait to enjoy again.  If not on your regular to-do list, Hana is a must for your bucket list.

Travel Thursday: Hotel Spotlight: Hilton Waikoloa Village on the "Big Island" of Hawaii

The moment I touched down on the "Big Island" of Hawaii, I felt at ease. Upon my arrival, I immediately felt the warmth and friendliness of Hawaiian culture. 

The laid back vibe is a refreshing change for someone used to city life. And thanks to the slower pace, it wasn't long before my mind and my body began to let go of the worries and stress of the everyday. The beauty of my surrounding was begging me to relax, and enjoy myself.

After my quick and easy exit from Kona International Airport I retrieved my luggage, and headed out of the terminal to catch a shuttle to pick up my rental car. And after a short and peaceful drive along the beautiful Kona coast of Hawaii, I arrived at Hilton Waikoloa Village.

The Hilton Waikoloa Village is a modern day oasis, nestled within 62 sprawling oceanfront acres. Boasting over 1,113 guestrooms and suites, the property provides guests with a choice of transportation: choose a tram or a canal boat to transport you from end to end of the lush, colorful property. Of course if you'd prefer, feel free to explore the grounds on foot, which is probably the best way to take in the beauty of the resort's many beautiful gardens.

Soon after I checked into my room in the Makai Lagoon Tower, I noticed the incredible mountain and ocean views I was afforded from the comfort of my balcony. Gorgeous!

Then after I put away my luggage and slipped into my swimsuit, I made my way down to the lounge chairs surrounding the refreshing Kona pool. After a quick dip, I further explored the property.  As I wandered, I'd take note of the Kohala Spa, where during my stay I could take advantage of complimentary access to amenities like plush robes and bottles of water. 

"I could definitely get used to this," I thought to myself.

As I explored the grounds, I'd find that the Hilton Waikoloa Village boasts a 4-acre ocean fed lagoon with a white sand beach, and a total of three pools (one of which features a 175-foot waterslide!) And don't worry if there are crowds, because peace and quiet can always be found at the adults only pool. 

If you have the time, I'd suggest you check out the Legends of Hawaii Luau, the most popular Luau on the island. It's a great way to take in the beauty of Hawaiian culture thru ancestral songs (mele) and dance (hula), while enjoying delicious food.

And if you enjoy golfing, the Hilton Waikoloa has championship golf courses, designed by well-known course architects.

Or, if you prefer, have some fun at the Dolphin Quest – an experience of a lifetime, where you can interact hands-on with dolphins. 

If you are in search of some relaxation, the Kohala Spa is the place where you want to be. This 25,000 square-foot spa offers specialized massages, wraps, scrubs, facials and hydrotherapy treatments. They also offer a fitness center and provide expert salon services.  And in case you want to take some of the locally sourced spa products home, there's a sundry shop were you can stock up.

Even if you can't make it to the Luau, dining at the Hilton Waikoloa Village is a treat! With an abundance of resort restaurants and bars to choose from, there's something to satisfy everyone in your party. I liked to start my day with a hearty Big Island Breakfast – a lavish buffet where I could create my own omelet, enjoy freshly baked pastries, fresh island fruits and, other traditional American, Chinese, and local cuisine.

Ultimately, no matter how you choose to spend your time (eating, sunning by the pool, getting pampered at the spa, or enjoying water sports or golf) you're sure to have a pleasant stay at the Hilton Waikoloa. Everyday, I felt so lucky to take in breathtaking sunsets along the ocean.

It's definitely a trip I won't soon forget...

Hotel Spotlight: The Fairmont Orchid on Hawaii's Big Island

When you love and visit Hawaii as much as we do, you get very discriminating about luxurious accommodations. The fact that we wanted to return to one of our favorite hotels, the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island, speaks highly of its service, beauty, amenities, and of course, effortless charm. As we drove onto the property we wondered, would it live up to our memories of our last visit almost 4 years ago?

The Fairmont Orchid resort is nestled in 32 lush acres on the Kohala coast at the very northern tip of the island of Hawaii. The immaculate grounds feature waterfalls spilling over black lava rock, koi ponds, and natural island flora including orchids everywhere. But that’s to be expected from a resort that just last year appeared on Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List of The World’s Best Places to Stay, won a place on the Condé Nast Traveler Platinum Circle, and was featured in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Hotels. Not bad, but we were intent on forming our own opinions.

Upon our arrival, we were met with a welcoming aloha and a kukui lei. In ancient times, only Hawaiian royalty were allowed to wear kukui nut leis, so we already felt regal. A smiling and friendly bellhop brought us to the special reception area of the Fairmont Orchid’s renowned Gold Floor—which had a magnificent view of the ocean, Pauou Bay, and the beautifully landscaped hotel grounds. We chose the Fairmont Gold experience because of the privileges and perks - there are only 45 recently renovated guest rooms and suites on the floor, has its own private reception area, a dedicated Fairmont Gold Manager to assist guests, as well as its own exclusive lounge. One of our favorite things to do on vacay is to, well, lounge. So any time we weren’t taking advantage of the resort’s other features, we could be found there with our feet up and complementary mineral water, espresso drink, or tea in hand. We also somehow managed to show up to grab something from the healthy continental breakfast (served 6:30 to 10:00) at the reception area every morning, and then visit again for the afternoon tea with canapés between 3:00 and 4:00.  After that, there are also pupus served between 5:00 Pm to 7:00 pm daily.  It was like having our very own hide-away club in Hawaiian heaven with all the snacks you want. All that, and the staff are the most attentive, helpful, and pleasant people you’ll find on the Big Island. The Gold room is really ideal for family vacations.

Travel is hard so we felt rewards were in order. We hit the AAA Four-Diamond award winning restaurant Brown’s Beach House for open-air dining by the shore.  The Brown Derby features Hawaii Island inspired cuisine drawn from simple, local, fresh flavors.  We started with some Ahi sashimi and the Kobacha prawns. For the main course, I had the tenderloin steak and my partner enjoyed the grilled Hawaiian ahi—both done to perfection—while we shared truffled bacon Mac n’ Cheese and some brocolini to be healthy.   Our server provided excellent service, even taking photos of us at sundown, one of which is now framed and on our dresser at home. Does that sound cheesy? Well, get over it, because it’s truly hard to overstate how utterly romantic and memorable dinner at sunset is here. The ocean was lapping at the shore just a few feet away, the tiki torches were flaming, and we were being serenaded by a charming man on guitar. How could we not want to linger? “Bring us that decadent dessert menu!” Yes, we overate like mad, but we had plans to work those totally-worth-it calories off the next morning.

We woke early to hit the fitness center furnished with gleaming treadmills, lifestep machines and free weights. The gym was great but the “problem” was it looked out over the spectacular 10,000 square foot pool with the blue Pacific beyond. After about twenty minutes, staying indoors with such a paradise beckoning seemed crazy. We abandoned all good intentions for fitness. We grabbed quick showers and bellied up to the gourmet breakfast buffet at the open-air Orchid Court. So much for our workout plans. But, hey, if your pancakes have pineapple and papaya, that’s healthy, right?

  Afterward, we split up, one of us going stand-up paddle-boarding in Pauou Bay, and the other went off to experience outrigger canoe paddling in the open ocean. Believe me, we each ended up getting our workouts after all! Both kinds of paddling overworked muscle groups we never knew we had, so we were glad we’d had appointments for a couple’s massage at the hotel’s Spa Without Walls. Imagine a deep, lingering massage next to your partner in an open cabana by the ocean or, for more privacy, in the midst of a garden to the sound of waterfalls. Over and above the excellent massages we received, it felt exotic, glamorous, and dreamy to be taken care of so expertly amid such natural beauty. When you’re done, you can head indoors where there are treatment rooms, a meditation area, two natural lava saunas, plus a boutique featuring spa products. As we left, we passed another male couple emerging from the cabana next to ours. The Fairmont Orchid, like so much of Hawaii, is definitely gay-friendly.

Now feeling like well-pampered putty, we moseyed down to the fine white sand around Pauou Bay to do absolutely nothing but bask in the tropical sun by the lagoon. Well, that and enjoy a cocktail or two. Special thanks to Eilee at the delightful little oceanfront Kahakai Bar who kept the Mai Tais coming, and to the other hotel guests for the eye candy.

Time to get some food to soak up that rum! Not that we can’t handle a drink or five, but we giggled our way over to the outdoor Hale Kai Restaurant for some toes-in-the-sand lunch. We ordered seared ahi poke burger and their famous lobster fried rice. We learned that a short while ago, Hale Kai retired that dish and replaced it on the menu. The uproar from customers was so intense that the restaurant quickly replaced it. One delicious bite and we understood why. As for the poke burger, the combination of seared ahi, wasabi aioli, and pickled ginger was genius. We doubt that’ll be “retired” any time soon, either! While dining there we ran into the couple we had seen earlier and chatted briefly. Chuck and Michael, from Seattle, had spent their morning at the on-site tennis center, regarded as one of the best facilities in the U.S., wearing themselves out playing tennis. They were so athletic we felt like lazy slobs and were glad to hear they were just checking out. If they inspired us to do anything it was to go back to our room and nap.

Ah, our spacious yet cozy room! The enormous seven-foot high windows double as doors to let in the island’s beauty. The generous lanais are large enough to accommodate a chaise lounge, table, and two chairs. The room itself is done in relaxing wood and sand tones with plush carpeting and marble bathroom with separate shower and bathtub. As I lounged on the lanai after a refreshing nap, snuggled in the Fairmont spa robe and sipping my Keurig brewed Hawaiian Paradise Kona Blend, I wondered if there was anything better than the luxury of an afternoon snooze on vacation. Then I thought, “Yes, there is! Shirtless men dancing for me!” I’d forgotten we had reservations for the Gathering of the Kings luau that evening.

The luau is held at the Plantation Estate, which is a short walk from the lobby through towering palm trees. As often as we come to Hawaii, we’ve seen our share of lame luaus. The reason we were excited about the Gathering of the Kings was that we knew this one was terrific. We saw it the last time we were here and loved it so much that we made it a priority to go again on this trip. First off, the traditional feast of Hawaiian food is prepared by the Fairmont Orchid’s chefs, so you can depend on it being of surpassing quality. Secondly, it has a cultural depth in depicting the settlement of Samoa, Tahiti, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Hawaii. Thirdly, the production values are professional, from the authentic Polynesian music to the artful blending of modern and traditional choreography. And lastly, um, did I mention shirtless men dancing for me?

Afterward, we had a nightcap at the relaxing Luana Lounge off the main lobby. We had to leave the next morning but we each were scribbling things that we wanted to do on our next visit on cocktail napkins: Golf on one of the two seaside courses, dinner at award-winning Norio’s Japanese Steak House and Sushi Bar, the petroglyph hike, snorkeling in the bay, floating yoga, the sunrise canoe voyage….

We realized the Fairmont Orchid not only lived up to our memories, but that we’d need to come back again just to sample the rest of the things the hotel had to offer. We also decided that of all the amenities, the one that made the biggest impression on us was the friendliness of the ever-attentive staff. Good job, guys and gals, you made us feel special, spoiled, and wanting more. With the Fairmont Orchid, once—make that twice!—is never enough.