I promised all of you a trip report on my recent engagement in Maui, which I spent some time writing during my mileage run to Bahrain. This is going to be a long one, so I’m spreading it out. If you’re planning an upcoming trip to Hawaii, feel free to ask for more details and ideas.
- The Plan
- Outbound: SEA-SFO-OGG in United First Class
- Day 1: Check-in at the Hyatt Regency Maui
- Day 2: Visiting Old Lahaina
- Day 3: Proposal at Haleakala!
- Day 4: Road Trip around West Maui
- Day 5: Snorkeling at Molokini & the Drums of the Pacific Luau
- Return: OGG-SFO-SEA in United Economy Plus
- Turning a Proposal into a Miles and Points Bonanza!
Despite at least one cruise experience in the Caribbean, Megan had never been snorkeling before. To this day I still don’t know what people do on cruises, but I go snorkeling nearly every day when I visit Hawaii. One of the best places to visit in Maui is Molokini, a half-submerged volcanic crater teeming with life a few miles offshore.
I asked Hyatt’s concierge to book us on a snorkel tour offered by the Pacific Whale Foundation on Valentine’s Day, our last full day in Maui. While many groups operate boat trips to Molokini, there are a couple of reasons why I think PWF is the best and the one I’ve used on previous trips (they’re awfully fond of reminding you of all these reasons during the trip, too).
Yes, they make you get there incredibly early, and you also have to drive out to Maalea harbor, almost all the way to Kahului. But getting there early means you are first and end up leaving Molokini just as the hordes of other boats begin to show up. They offer breakfast on the way out as well as a barbeque lunch on the way back from the second stop at a region called Turtle Arches near Wailea, plus a few cocktails for adults. You get a full morning of snorkeling without too many crowds, and you’re back on land by noon, already fed and ready for the next activity.
The best part, however, is that their staff are incredibly well-educated. Everyone was a university-trained marine biologist. Add to that the fact they are officially a whale-oriented group and February is the peak of whale watching season in Hawaii. All we took was Megan’s iPhone, so it was hard to take quick pictures when breaching whales were spotted, but in retrospect it was dry enough that I could have taken my SLR. There are also digital cameras for rent, something else I probably should have taken them up on given our failed underwater camera. Instead, we had already purchased a disposable underwater camera that we shared in the water. Also be aware they rent wetsuit tops for $10. They were clean, and although I initially dismissed them as unnecessary, I was glad to have one after being in the ocean for a couple hours. As I think I’ve mentioned, it was my first time visiting in winter.
Molokini and Turtle Arches didn’t have as much life as I remembered–a recurring theme on this trip that I can either chalk up to a misremembered childhood or the cooler winter waters. I’m going with the latter. While I do tend to idealize things and have a lot to block out, my memory isn’t that bad. We still had a few good sights.
When snorkeling you have two kinds of fish. There are the large schools of fish, usually just one or two colors. They stay near the surface, and although they’re different, I get tired of them quickly. Down below near the reef are the really cool fish. Lots of bright colors, strange appendages, but usually only one or two. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to see them at all. I was fortunate to spot a moray eel gliding along the ground at Molokini, and there were one or two turtles at Turtle Arches. Megan didn’t swim away this time…
There were lots of stops for whales on the way back, including a full breach that I unfortunately missed. We were still back at the harbor by noon and decided to venture over to Wailea since I’d never seen that part of the island before. All I can say is that I was very disappointed. Unlike the relatively naturalistic drive to Kaanapali, the drive to Wailea is more like a conventional freeway with strip malls on either side. When you finally reach the resort area, it becomes hyper-landscaped, reminiscent of Newport Beach in California rather than Hawaii. Even the Wailea shopping mall is more “conventional” than the quaint Whaler’s Village in Ka’anapali.
Although we didn’t stop to wander around the hotels, but I can’t imagine they are much different than their surroundings. I much prefer the relaxed family-friendly environment of Kaanapali and Lahaina that I grew up with, which actually seem to maintain some sense of being “Hawaiian” rather than just another resort that happens to be located in Hawaii. It joins Waikiki, which is little more than skyscrapers and a crowded beach, on my Hawaiian blacklist. I might make an exception for at least a few nights when the new Hyatt Andaz Wailea opens later this year or next.
After returning to the Hyatt Regency, we grabbed a couple drinks by the pool for an hour before heading up to change for the luau. Hyatt has one of the best luaus on Maui, the Drums of the Pacific. Although it’s expensive at $105 to $130 for adults depending on seating, the buffet is great and plentiful. It also includes unlimited mai tais and other cocktails. If you’re a Hyatt guest, you can get it discounted to $95 for general seating, but no discounts exist for the preferred and VIP tiers. I’ve also seen last-minute discount tickets advertised in Lahaina for $50 or less, but assuming those offers will be available sounds like a risk to me and may entail putting up with a timeshare pitch.
I recommend settling for preferred seating. The VIPs sit in the front row, and some are pretty far off to the side. Preferred seating is in the second row (probably the best viewing distance) and in the center. Both get to bypass the long line to get in. General seating was all over the place, and not much of it had a good view. Other luaus do exist on Maui. In the Kaanapali area there is the Old Lahaina Luau, which will require a short drive back to Lahaina, as well as a luau at the Westin Kaanapali that is new since my last visit several years ago. Walking by, the Westin’s show didn’t seem nearly as good as it was basically just prix-fixe table service with a small stage between the dining area and the ocean. The Drums of the Pacific has a huge purpose-built space, as does the Old Lahaina.
We were seated next to several other older couples–and most of the people we saw on this trip were older–who were celebrating their honeymoons, including a fellow Aggie next to Megan. (I’m getting better at spotting those rings, although this was the one night she didn’t wear hers.) Another young couple like us were locals and seated across from us. Apparently he’d gone to another college in Orange County just down the street from mine, so we had a little reminiscence of our own as I described my impression of Wailea. He was also friends with the bartender and told us if we headed over to order our own drinks, rather than asking our waiter for refills, we could get the “special mai tai” that included some extra coconut rum. It was the second-best we’d had all week!
The luau was fun if familiar. I’ve been to it twice before, and it’s always pretty much the same series of stories as they introduce you to different Polynesian cultures around the Pacific. The dancers are great, however, and do a pretty good job as far as I can tell from being a non-expert in just about everything related to luaus. All I can say for sure is that our server was great and the food and drinks were worth at least half the price of admission. Dessert, not so much, but I didn’t really have room.
And of course, you can’t go wrong with fire! It was a great ending for a very special vacation.