With its jumbo jet-sized rooms and proximity to Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s Wailea Gold golf course, the Fairmont Kea Lani is arguably the best hotel choice on South Maui.
MAUI, Hawaii - If you love the beach the way Oprah loves cheesy self-help "gurus" (come on down Dr. Phil!), you want to spend time in South Maui.
This is the hottest part of Hawaii's hottest island of the moment. It's where the white sand beaches are so fine that even a non-beach person can enjoy a stroll.
Of course, it's also where the highest concentration of high-end hotels on Maui exists. Looking for a luxury brand to make the neighbors back in snowy Wisconsin swoon? You'll find it here. In fact, after spending a few days in South Maui you may become convinced this is where out of work butlers should congregate on street corners as sort of a Robin Leach version of day laborers.
Regular folks have to be a little more discerning with their money though. For those honeymooners, golf addicts on a dream trip and family vacationers alike, a South Maui stay can be a significant investment. A night can cost $300-$400, and the better rooms skyrocket up from there.
It pays to do a little more than cursory research for this part of Maui.
Those who do will find out that Fairmont Kea Lani is one of the more highly rated choices. It turns out it's also one of the more unusual.
Fairmont Kea Lani is right on luxury resort row in Wailea (don't let the Kea Lani fool you. That name seems to be more about being contrary than anything - this is a Wailea address, Hawaii's version of 90210). Its neighbors are the Four Seasons and the Grand Wailea. The Fairmont's a little different though.
For one thing, it's all white. It looks like a hotel that's been lifted straight from the Caribbean or someone's Arabian Nights fantasy. It would probably look in place in Dubai. In Maui, it sticks out.
Pulling up the circular drive definitely makes you feel like you're on vacation.
It certainly helps that almost as soon as you're out of your rental car, a good-looking Hawaiian woman in a grass skirt is draping leis around the head of every one in your party (colorful flowers for the ladies and big bead necklaces for the men). Then, a yummy welcoming drink is placed in your hand.
Most Hawaii hotels try to be a little more welcoming than their American mainland counterparts. But Fairmont Kea Lani outdoes even other Maui high-end spots.
"It's almost like they're actually happy to see you," said Chicago vacationer Deane Bell. "I can't remember the last time I thought a front desk clerk was happy to have a guest checking in."
The big open-air lobby definitely adds to the atmosphere. From the minute you're out of the car, you can smell the ocean and feel its breezes.
Fairmont Kea Lani does not seem to go cheap on the extras either. At the time of this review visit, there was a huge Christmas tree in the lobby that seemed like it wanted to compete with the White House Christmas tree.
Hundreds of photos were snapped in front of this tree. Chances are if you know someone who stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani around the holidays, you're getting a Christmas card with that tree sparkling behind your beaming friends.
The best part of Fairmont Kea Lani isn't the welcome or the tree though. It's not the fact that there's an adults-only pool that is not nearly as exciting as it sounds (just a bunch of kid-hating old folks, for the most part, with nary a bikini in sight), along with the two anyone-can-swim pools.
It's not the 140-foot waterslide that's a blast for even 40-year-old kids.
In fact, the best part of Fairmont Kea Lani is not even being right on Polo Beach and its easy-walking white sand. This is the best beach sand found in two weeks of Hawaii exploring.
The No. 1 reason to stay at Fairmont Kea Lani is the super-sized rooms.
All the rooms at Fairmont Kea Lani are suites or complete villas. Banish any thoughts of that "suite" with that slightly separated sitting area that a Gnome could entertain in (maybe) you stayed in at a chain hotel on the mainland though.
The smallest of Fairmont Kea Lani's suites are big - 840 square feet with a large living room that includes a sofa bed, a balcony and a large marble bathroom with a nice-sized soaking tub. These are some of the very largest standard rooms in all of Hawaii. Better still, they're very clean.
Staying at Fairmont Kea Lani means you're paying some nice jack ($425 per night for the standard suite) to get something extra. Here, you actually do get it. At Fairmont Kea Lani, you'll have the space to really decompress and kick back.
Wailea Golf Club and its three high-end, high-dollar courses are a quick drive or shuttle away. (Play the Wailea Gold Course without question if you're only going to play one of this area's splurge plays - it's the best by far).
For food, just pop downstairs and eat in the candlelight of Nick's Fishmarket - if you want to pay $45 for a piece of fish. There's also a Wailea mall with chains like Ruth's Chris that is only an eight-minute drive away.
Of course, the best choice of all may be just kicking back in that super-sized room you paid for and relaxing.
You're in South Maui. You can help yourself. Who needs gurus?
January 2, 2008