A Few Notes on the First Few Days in Maui: And Can Everyone on Yelp Just STFU?

We’re starting our 4th day here at the Westin Maui, and I thought I’d share some initial thoughts about the place.

But first, the biggest thing I’ve learned during this trip is that people’s complaints on Yelp are absolutely hysterical. My kids and I read through the Yelp pages on this hotel as well as the Hyatt Luau last night and you would think that the horrors of spending time at both the hotel and that event would be akin to sleeping in a Cambodian child brothel. My favorite review was someone who complained both that the in-room coffee was terrible, and that housekeeping never replaced the coffee cups (waiter, this soup is terrible…and the portions are so small!)

Here’s what the Westin is really like: It’s a very, very nice Westin. This is a large resort with 700+ rooms. If you thought this was an intimate, luxury boutique:

a) I have no idea why you would have thought that; and
b) You are way, way wrong.

There are several large resorts along this stretch of beach in Kaanapali: the Westin, the Marriott and the Hyatt (among others). From what I’ve seen they’re all pretty similar, with a beautiful location on the beach opposite the green hills. If you have children, the pools at the Westin seem to be the most fun – there are 4 kid-friendly pools with 1 large waterslide and 1 small. But the pools at the other resorts looked great as well.

We have friends who stayed at the Honua Kai Resort in Kaanapali and from what we saw of the place, I would call it half a star better than these 3 resorts and perhaps 1 step less infested with kids.

About the kids: The Westin, Hyatt and Marriott are kid-friendly resorts. There will be lots of children here. I was surprised to read about all of the people complaining about the children. There are children here now, there will be children here next week, and there will be children here when you are here. If you don’t want to be around kids, do not stay here. They do offer an adult-only pool (which, unlike Vegas, does not mean people are topless, which is not necessarily a bad thing when I consider the crowd here), and it is quiet and wonderful and you’ll feel like you’re at a different resort, so I’m not sure why people don’t just hang out over there and stop whining about it.

People are also unhappy with the parking situation, which is tighter than one would expect for such a large resort. But if you drive through self-parking and find no spaces, they will valet you for free.

The check-in situation also frequently gets mention, and we did have a bit of a line when we arrived. I can understand this complaint a bit, as after 15 hours of traveling I didn’t really feel like standing around for 15 minutes as other parties checked in. But here’s what seems to be happening: a handful of flights land around 1pm-ish, which gets everyone to the hotel around 3-4pm and there’s a crush then. But I’ve noticed it’s very quiet before then, and it’s very quiet after then. But if you’re part of that crush, may I suggest stopping at the Costco right outside the airport in Kahalui and treating your children to the 2-leis-for-$12 they sell there, partaking in the free samples, and taking your time making your way to the hotel.

The other issue at check-in is that every SPG Gold member checking in here apparently believes that they are entitled to the Presidential Suite (there isn’t one here, but you get my point). There is a ton of DYKWIA (Do You Know Who I Am) during checkin that I could hear, as everyone was haggling over the rooms they reserved. Here’s my advice: book the room you want, and if you get upgraded consider yourself lucky. Every middle-manager from Orange County is coming here with their family and their hard-earned 100,000 SPG points. Not everyone can be a VIP, sorry.

On to the rooms: We used points here, and base rooms start at 12,000 Starwood Points per night (5th night free). They don’t really advertise it, but you can use points to get yourself into a better room. We, instead, used 14,000 points to get 2 Ocean View rooms. I think the 2,000 points (or in our case, 4,000 points) was well, well worth having the view.

There are 2 towers (Beach Tower and Ocean Tower). The Beach Tower has larger rooms, but some people don’t love that you have an angled view of the ocean and are overlooking a shopping area. I don’t have an issue with it (see photos below), but if you want a straight-on view of the ocean, you’re not getting that in the Beach Tower.


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The Ocean Tower rooms, however, are about 1/4-1/3 smaller than the Beach Tower rooms, and if you’re heading here over the next couple of months they’re doing construction over there that is apparently rather annoying.

If you’ve been researching this hotel, you’ve likely noticed that Westin also operates the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas. This is basically a condo-hotel that is quiet nice and much quieter (kid-wise) than the Westin Resort and Spa (though there are certainly children there). The issue there is that 30,000 points gets you a Studio room (bed with a pull-out couch) but larger rooms double in price for miles, so a 1-bedroom is 60,000 points per night. Given that I can get 2 ocean-facing connecting rooms here for 28,000 points that seemed like a bargain (“bargain”).

About those connecting rooms: This Resort (and the Grand Wailea where we’re moving tomorrow) have a policy of charging you to guarantee connecting rooms – here at the Westin it’s $200/night to guarantee the connecting rooms in advance. I find that egregious. I wrote to the General Managers of each hotel a week in advance asking if they could waive this fee (nicely – very nicely) and each wrote a lovely note back waiving the fee. Those 5 minute notes saved me $1,000.

And the food: Food here is servicable and pretty much what I would expect, price-wise from a resort. Maybe I’m just jaded from Manhattan that it doesn’t seem wildly unreasonable. If you don’t want the crazy breakfast prices there is a Starbucks on-site with cereal, bagels, and other breadstuffs that’s pretty reasonable. At lunch the poolside menu has stuff available under $10. We’ve gone into Lahaina (about 5-10 minutes) twice and had wonderful very, very casual breakfasts at Sunrise Cafe and Aloha Mixed Plate. I recommend both.

Finally – the Luau. If you go on Yelp (and oh do I recommend it) there is a ton of complaining about the Drums of the Pacific Luau at the Hyatt. A ton. I went to it 15 years ago, and they’re still doing it nightly today, which means that in those 15 years they’ve put on 4,000+ performances and somehow people keep buying tickets. Which is to say, shut the hell up already. We bought our tickets at Hawaiidiscount.com – they’re about 15% off list price, plus one of the kids was free.

Is the Luau “authentic”? I have no idea, but let me put it this way: I know that lions cannot sing, and yet I enjoyed The Lion King even though it is not “authentic” and featured singing lions. It is a show, and if you view it on those merits – and on the merits of spending 3 hours on the beach with a beautiful view listening to Hawaiian music, then I thought it was great. My kids were blown away by the fire dancer and the look on their faces while he was DANCING WITH KNIVES ON FIRE was priceless. Or $240.92 depending on how you view priceless.

I’ll wrap up with the only real issue we’ve had: the pool chairs. There are plenty of pool chairs to go around. There are not plenty of pool chairs in the shade to go around. And when my wife went to the gym this morning at 630am, she saw that most of the under-umbrella chairs had already had towels placed on them by assholes – er – “guests”. I am very, very willing to not play by the rules in certain situations, but I cannot stomach the “reserving” of pool chairs. We’ve been getting to the pool around 11 and have to settle for a place in the sun, and we then move our seats after lunch when people seem to get up. It hasn’t ruined the trip or anything, but it’s pretty annoying.

Overall? It’s wonderful here for a large resort. If you want something quiet and “old Hawaii” and rustic, may I suggest the Hanalei Colony Resort on Kauai where I stayed a few years back. It’s not luxury, but it’s perfectly nice and located at the end of the earth in Hanalei. There are no TVs, but a 2-bedroom villa-ish thing is under $500/night. No, you can’t use points, but it was exactly the opposite of where we’re staying now. (Of course we didn’t have kids, and my own children would have been bored to tears, but every trip has its own purpose, no?)

I’ll finish with on this note: this is my 4th trip to Hawaii, and each has truly been incredible in its own way. I understand the knocks against it (“too touristy” “the real Hawaii is gone” etc), but I don’t care. It’s so easy to avoid the touristy stuff, or to partake and just enjoy the touristy stuff while getting yourself off the beaten path once in a while. Hawaii is still a magical location for lots of people, as evidenced by how many people were celebrating anniversaries (25th, 40th, etc) at the Luau last night…and I really do think you see it on the faces of the guests at the hotel. This is different than hanging out at a Westin in the Caribbean. People still think of Hawaii as a truly special location – that it holds something in the minds of many of the people who come here who view this as different than just a random beach vacation. Those of us on the East Coast have lots of opportunities to just go and sit on a beach somewhere — I’ve never heard anyone talk about The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Aruba or the other islands with the way that people who love Hawaii talk about Hawaii. If the shitty in-room coffee is going to ruin your vacation, this is not the place for you. But I just got back from sitting and watching the sunset at Merriman’s in Kapalua, and I’ll gulp down a whole pot of that sludgy crap if it means I get to see that even once in my lifetime.



  1. Best blog post I’ve read all month and I’ve read a lot.

  2. which one of the kids was free?

  3. That was the BEST blog review I have seen yet! This should really be the new style of review: See what everyone else complain’s about and tell them why they are idiots! I loved it. :grin:

  4. We stayed at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas in a studio room at the beginning of July with our 2 pre-school daughters. That is a timeshare resort and we are owners at the Westin in Scottsdale so we were using our Star Options. Having a small kitchen and washer/dryer was nice with the kids. Anyways, we took them to the luau at the Westin hotel where you are staying and they totally enjoyed it. Having been to other luaus, I thought the price was reasonable especially considering “unlimited” alcoholic drinks were included (although they seemed a bit watered down, which is probably a good thing to keep people in control – thankfully there is a free shuttle to WKORV). I thought the show was entertaining – it had more fire and less dancing than some others I have attended (apparently the fire dancing has nothing to do with Hawaiian tradition, so that’s where people probably give it the ‘authentic’ knock). Personally, I always find Yelp to be a bit more negative than Tripadvisor. I have no idea why, maybe the word ‘yelp’ to some people implies ‘complain’. You should check out Leilani‚Äôs restaurant next door in the Whaler’s Village and also the food trucks that are across the street from WKORV in the parking lot for the Sugar Cane Train (which is incredibly overhyped and lame, in my opinion).

    • Eric,
      Cn you tell me about the food trucks? We own at the villas, headed back mid September, never see food trucks but there has been a fruit and veggie stand there where we stock up on produce.

      • Karen – In July, there were 4 food trucks next to the fruit & veggie stand at the Puukolii stop for the Sugar Cane Train. One specialized in shaved ice, another had local beef burgers and korean (bulgogi) tacos, I think the 3rd was a gourmet hot dog stand, and the fourth was local Hawaiian food, i.e. fish, shrimp, kalua pig, etc. We brought back food from those trucks a few times. You can easily walk there from WKORV. In general, the hours are something like 11AM to 6 or 7pm. If you go around noon or 1PM, all of the trucks should be open. We also liked a restaurant called “Lulu’s” that was next to Safeway off the highway in Lahaina.

  5. I’m glad you’re having a good time! Great review…I agree with the previous commenters.

    On the luau authenticity front: was there spam? And really mayonnaise-y macaroni salad? If so, major authenticity points :mrgreen:

    Merrimans: Never been to the one on Maui but the original is on the Big Island, 30 minutes’ drive from my hometown. By far the best restaurant on that island.

    • We went to Merrimans because we had gone to the one on the Big Island a few years back and it was amazing. The one on Maui was also fantastic.

  6. Wait, I thought you were on an Amtrak train? I did enjoy your sarcasm about train seat pics. I haven’t taken a train in USA since the eighties. It is sooo expensive in the West. I am new to all this and I find your info. the easiest to understand. HAVE FUN!!

    • At some point I’ll write about the flights over here, but I can tell you that the LAX-Maui first class seats on United are roughly as comfortable as the seats on Amtrak. For whatever that’s worth.

  7. We’re just a bit north of you at the Sheraton Maui right now. $419 per night for a deluxe oceanfront at at AAA rate–we paid 3x this a few years ago at the Four Seasons Maui for a “premier oceanview”. We went with the many reviews that said that the Sheraton is better than the Westin, and I believe it. 500 rooms vs. 800 rooms on 5x the land–look at Google Earth. Just something to consider for anyone looking at Maui in the Ka’anapali area…….

    • @Susan – sorry we missed you at the Sheraton! (I waived when I ran by a couple of days ago)….the debate about the Sheraton vs. Westin in Maui has been going on for years. I could certainly be convinced either way. I think my key takeaway is that Starwood has done a really nice job upgrading the Sheraton brand (at least in a bunch of locations, including this one), and it gives SPG loyalists 2 really solid options at prices (as you note) about 1/2-1/3 less than you’ll find down here at the Four Seasons in Wailea.

  8. A great bit of writing…..no matter how many times you go, it IS a special place.
    You make me proud!

    • @Dad/Peter: Of course no trip compares to my first journey here with you an insane 26 years ago. That hooked me on travel and is certainly the reason I’m here today. Also, your ability to b.s. your way through pretty much any situation is legendary and my ability to do so pales in comparison.

  9. Nice write up. To sum it up:
    Hawaii = Special
    DYKWIA types = Not special :cool:

  10. Amen, brother. That post was a keeper.

  11. Hope the trip rekindles memories from your honeymoon. Having lived in Maui, two things I learned: when a local says aloha it always means get-the-hell-out and the best food was at private people’s homes. For the money, Thailand offers more quality and variety. Take a picture of your kids reaction petting a real tiger or riding an elephant through the jungle. Safe travels!

  12. FANTASTIC review! Best one I have seen. Thank you for the honest, helpful advice.