After a 5,500-mile journey through five time zones, arrival at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa can be welcome medicine. The approach to the front desk via an immense, open-air lobby ameliorates jet lag with the sound of water (fresh, salt and chlorinated water courses throughout the entire 40-acre property) and the visual splash of pink, white and red kalanchoe blossoms that line the walkways.
Further refreshment arrives after check-in, in the form of ice-cold glasses of POG (a combination of passion fruit, orange and guava juices) handed to bedraggled travelers while their luggage is whisked up to guest quarters.
All rooms are equipped with mainstays such as minibars, 27-inch televisions and shaving mirrors. However, little things--balconies with large, wooden lounge chairs and bathing-suit drying racks; bottomless baskets of tropical fruit; air-conditioning that shuts off when balcony doors are opened; separate toilet, bath and shower stalls--make the Grand Wailea slightly extraordinary, especially since many other hotels in Maui look a bit tired.
The Grand Wailea is also set apart from its competition by the quality of food and services provided within the hotel complex.
There are eight restaurants, four bars and a nightclub on the grounds. Two of the restaurants, Humuhumunukunukuapua'a (Humu Humu for short) and Kincha, are superior. At Humu Humu, an appetizer of tempura-fried, soft-shell crab with Japanese ponzu sauce was spicy and oil-free, and an entrée of spiny-lobster sashimi (the lobsters swim in a saltwater pond that surrounds the restaurant, so they are very fresh) was outstanding. Also superb was a delicately grilled slab of ahi (local tuna).
Sommelier Harlan Hughes perfectly matched a Puiatti Collio Pinot Grigio from Italy, 1991 ($39) and a bottle of Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc from Napa, 1991 ($36) to our entrées.
The most complete dining experience can be had at Kincha, a world-class Japanese restaurant that features a 17-course kaiseki degustation menu. Originally reserved for samurai and feudal nobil-ity, kaiseki is ritual dining rarely experienced outside Tokyo.
Highlights of this three-and-a-half-hour trip to culinary ecstasy included a daikon radish carved into an edible bowl filled with soybeans and crab sashimi; a gold basket of breaded, creamed crab served on a shiso leaf with a side of white-pepper dipping sauce; an ice dome filled with eel, tuna, yellowtail and squid sashimi; a crab roll of daikon, cucumber, scallion flowers and spinach served in a hammered sterling-silver bowl; a homemade tropical-fruit wine and desserts of coconut ice cream simply presented in a papaya, and a carmelized sweet potato topped with macadamia-nut sauce.
As one would expect, kaiseki dining is expensive, with set-menu meals ranging from $150 to $500 per person.
Of course, after all this food, a little exercise is in order. If you enjoy water sports, the Grand Wailea has a myriad of pools, a water-slide park for children and adults, a diving pool for scuba lessons and a private beach offering classes in sailing, windsurfing or regular surfing.
But most guests forgo rigorous activity in favor of the more relaxed approach to fitness--Spa Grande. Fifty-thousand square feet of the hotel are devoted to the spa, where facilities include a restaurant, beauty salon and various saunas and baths, along with massage and cosmetic treatment rooms.
Guests who choose any of the spa services, such as the massage sampler (including lomi lomi--a Hawaiian technique--Swedish and shiatsu, among others), are encouraged to follow up with hydrotherapy. Water treatments include a hot and cold plunge, a Turkish steam room, Japanese furo tub, waterfall massage and a range of aromatherapy and essential-oils baths--from papaya enzyme to seaweed.
After a full day of sunning, bathing and dining, it's nice to sit back with a cigar. Luckily, finding a cigar-friendly spot at the Grand Wailea is not a problem. In fact, the hotel held its first cigar dinner last April.
A good place for everyday smoking is the Game in the Bar, a clubby nook with a pool table, shuffleboard and chess sets. Lloyd Yukawa, the bartender, will make you a mean Blue Hawaii or show you the humidor stocked with Davidoff's entire line.
Watching the sun set into the Pacific while smoking a cigar just might be the Grand Wailea's best therapeutic offering--a massage for the senses enhanced by the most expensive hotel ever built in Hawaii.
-- Michael Frank
Grand Wailea Resort & Spa
Wailea, Maui, Hawaii
Phone: (808) 875-1234 or (800) 888-6100
Room Rates: terrace $350; suites $950 to $8,000