Two Majestic Maui Resorts Celebrate Major Anniversaries

A pioneering Maui hotel that’s about to celebrate its 60th anniversary. And a quiet, highly polished luxury property that’s been going strong for 30 years. The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa and the Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua are two of the best-known hotels in a state with more than its fair share of terrific places to stay. And their milestones highlight the strength of Maui's hospitality offering.

Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa.

Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

The 23-acre Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, completed in 1963, was one of the first resorts on West Maui, and has evolved into one of the top hotels on the island.

The Sandbar lobby bar at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Photo courtesy Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa.

The hotel completed a multi-million-dollar renovation of its lobby in 2020. Guests now enjoy a new lobby bar and café, lounge, and reception area in an open-air setting that brings the ocean air and outdoors in with an expansive lanai and viewing deck, offering panoramic views of iconic Kaanapali Beach. The new lobby bar/lounge is called Sandbar, a wide-open affair with a nice breeze wafting through and the smell of tropical flowers in the air. It’s a great spot for a Mai Tai and a bite to eat (try the fish three ways dish) to watch the nightly torch-lighting and the ceremonial cliff dive into the Pacific Ocean (see below).

Another great sunset spot is the Cliff Diver Grill, which is just inches from the beach and adjacent to the hotel’s expansive, free-form pool.

Eighty three per cent of the resort’s rooms offer views of the ocean and neighboring islands, Molokai and Lanai, with terrific sunsets. We had a room with a large, tiled entry way and lots of storage space, as well as a good-sized marble bathroom with a powerful shower. We also had a kettle, coffee maker, mini-fridge and a microwave. The room was done in soft, neutral tones, with splashes of bright blue and green.

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We had a large balcony overlooking the ocean and north Kaanapali Beach, with two chairs and a table; an ideal spot for our morning coffee and for watching the sun dip into the ocean.

Swimming pool at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Photo courtesy Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa.

The free-form pool has a deep area for swimming, and then a long, winding section that’s like a lazy river without the current, mostly four or five-feet deep. It’s surrounded by large rocks, small waterfalls and colourful flowers, including wild red ginger and purple bougainvillea.

The Spa at Black Rock (the hotel is built on top of a large piece of black lava rock) is a renowned spa for a couples or individual massage. They also do authentic luau’s on the resort’s expansive lawn, just steps from the beach.

The Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa sits high on a cliff known as Black Rock. Photo courtesy Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

Black Rock (Puu Kekaa) is famous for its calm waters for snorkelling, kayaking and paddleboarding. I spotted dozens of fish just a few feet from shore when we visited last month, including the state’s famous humuhumunukunukuapuaa.

Legend says the last chief of Maui, Kahekili, proved his spiritual strength by leaping from sacred Puu Kekaa into the Pacific. A young cliff diver recreates the feat every night, leaving a trail of glowing tiki torches atop the rock as he heads out to the diving spot. He offers his torch to the ocean, casts his flower lei into the sea, and dives into the rolling surf below.

Ritz Carlton Maui, Kapalua.

Ritz-Carlton Maui

Just a few minutes up the road, is the Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua, which sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean and the island of Molokai across the channel. The hotel is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

The Club Lounge at the Ritz Carlton Maui, Kapalua. Photo courtesy Ritz Carlton Maui, Kapalua

The Ritz-Carlton has a posh new Club Lounge with fabulous food and serene views. There are plenty of nooks and crannies for privacy and a fresh décor with deeply polished wood floors, curved grey sofas with cheery yellow-green cushions, local art, and tons of fresh flowers. There’s also a good deal of outside seating on a nice verandah that offers views of the Kapalua Bay golf course and the blue Pacific.

The menu changes daily, and they have five separate food groupings during the day; breakfast, lunch, snacks, hors d’ouevres, and then cordials and hand-crafted desserts.

Sushi at the Ritz Carlton Maui, Kapalua. Jim Byers Photo

The lounge has a champagne bar with Veuve Clicquot chilled and waiting, so you’re covered for an evening sip or a classy morning mimosa. There’s a Bloody Mary bar on Sunday mornings. Each day ends with a special torch lighting ceremony and a toast to the sunset with a Mai Tai or champagne cocktail.

Club Lounge guests have access to a variety of complimentary activities, including le making, ukulele lessons and a nightly sunset ceremony. In the winter they’ll be adding whale watching (using binoculars) with an Ambassadors of the Environment naturalist. Guests also have access to an on-site concierge who can book Hawaiian activities, such as a snorkel cruise.

The hotel used to have a club level, but it was restricted to guests on a certain floor. The new Club Lounge is open – for an extra price, of course – to any guest.

We had a huge, 900-square-foot suite for our one-night stay, with a living room and separate bedroom, both with wood floors and warm, Hawaiian tones. There was a shower and toilet in the living room/entry area, and then a huge, separate bathroom off the bedroom, with a great shower, two sinks, and a massive white tub. The room also had a walk-in closet, a safe, two large-screen televisions, a mini-fridge, a Nespresso machine and a spacious verandah with two lounge chairs, a love seat, a table, and two upright chairs.

All rooms were recently refurbished, and the smallest is a sizable 440 square feet.

It’s a short walk or a very short golf cart ride down to Fleming Beach, which has a lifeguard, change rooms and plenty of shade.

The swimming pool complex goes on just shy of forever, with three pools cascading down from the lobby towards the ocean. Even the kids pool has a rock waterfall.

The grounds are immaculate, and covered with lush landscaping that includes swaying palm trees, brilliant red wild ginger, and other tropical plants.

The Banyan Tree restaurant, which features hundreds (if not thousands) of plants hanging from the ceiling, has both indoor and outdoor seating. For dinner, try the Mahi-Mahi with pineapple sambal, Japanese coconut curry and fresh veggies.

We didn’t make it, but you’ll find a food outlet called Burger Shack down by the beach. I was told they serve their Mai Tai in a carved-out pineapple, and also make a Mai Tai milkshake with two types of rum.

We were lucky to visit the hotel in February of this year and had tremendous sushi and lovely cocktails at the Alaloa Lounge.

The Ritz-Carlton participates in the state tourism board’s Malama Hawaii program, which gives hotel guests a free night in exchange for volunteer work. I was told that Ritz Carlton guests get a sixth night free when booking five nights, as well as a $300 credit that can be used for some of their Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program.

The program allows guests to book snorkel trips to learn about Maui’s coral reefs, as well as guided walks along the Kapalua Coastal Trail, also known as the Alaloa Trail. Both cost $99.95 USD.

My coastal walk guide, Kara, took me for a 2.8-km walk along the Alaloa Trail, which passes lovely Oneloa Bay and the Bay Course at Kapalua, one of the most scenic golf courses in Hawaii. We passed over ancient lava fields and walked along gorgeous Kapalua Bay before stopping to look for sea creatures in the tide pools alongside Napili Beach, to my mind the best stretch of sand on Maui.

Jean-Michel Cousteau at the Ritz Carlton Maui, Kapalua. Jim Byers Photo

The Ambassadors of the Environment also offers programs for kids, including introductory snorkelling, learning about sea turtles and taking part in a “Survivor” activity. When I was there no less an authority than Jean-Michel Cousteau himself was on site. We chatted for 15 minutes about his life’s work, film-making and protecting the world’s oceans.

“It’s a privilege to be with these young people and meet with visitors,” he tells me. “I tell people, ‘If you protect the ocean you protect yourself.”

Cousteau said he especially loves talking to children about the environment.

“Kids are like sponges. They’re amazing. They educate their parents. I come here and I see them picking up garbage every day. They get it.”

Jim Byers

Jim Byers is a freelance travel writer based in Toronto. He was formerly travel editor at the Toronto Star and now writes for a variety of publications in Canada and around the world. He's also a regular guest on CBC, CTV News, Global News and other television and radio networks.

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