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....Not so Fast!
Ok, we've heard that before. Visit Maui once and you’ll understand why some of the most luxurious resorts in the world are built on this island. Who wouldn’t love it here? Reader polls for most every travel magazine on the planet named Maui “Best Tropical Vacation Destination” more times than you can shake a coconut at. Conde Naste readers consistantly rate Maui's beaches as the best in the world. But cheap?? Well, like the lawyers say; “It Depends”!!
Following are tips and advice for doing a luxury vacation in Maui for half or less what you might think, along with some of our favorite restaurants and activities. After that, Ladies & Gentlemen of the jury, I’ll make the case for that “Best Of” destination title.
LUXURY FOR LESS
Airfare –Watch the Expedia and Orbitz specials and try Bing Fare Tracker. Fares often drop to $500-$700.
Lodging – Try a Vacation Rental. I like a luxury hotel as much as the next guy (or gal). Heck, I’ve been running them for 30 years. But the savings, convenience and “spread out and relax” of your own private residence is crazy good. (And yes, we have just the condo for you.) A vacation condo can be every bit as luxurious as a hotel, and the savings in food, drinks, resort charges and tips can easily cover your airfare. First Class for that matter. If you’re really budget conscious remember that spring through fall are the best times for values. Rates are often half of peak season (Dec-March) and the weather is basically the same.
For those that don’t know the island, Kihei is on the sunny south side of Maui. Kihei borders Wailea, home of the ‘luxe 5 star Resorts like the Waldorf Grand Wailea and the Four Seasons Kea Lani, along with the most prestigious beaches and Golf Courses in the World. Kihei is generally more 3-4 star with a decidedly laid back atmosphere yet you're in the same neighborhood as these exclusive resorts.
Maui Kamaole is a condominium Resort whose entrance is technically Kihei, but sprawls into the Wailea zip code. Make a left out of the resort and you’re almost immediately into the miles of stately Monkeypod trees & lush foliage of Wailea; take a right and you’re into the hustle and bustle of Kihei. Maui Kamaole itself is on about 23 acres of incredibly lush landscaping, our unit, MK L-104 is toward the back of the complex in a quiet & secluded area.
Meals - A not so secret-secret for a savvy traveler is to eat (& drink) like a Local. Here are a few tips:
Shop Like a Local –For groceries (including alcohol), the Wailea Safeway is just like your mega-store at home. Prices are similar to the mainland, it’s big, new, has the same line up you’ll get at home but with more fresh fish and fruit than you’re probably used to. Costco’s a great option for laying up on staples. Skip the fancy restaurants for breakfast out on your own private ocean view Lanai with fresh pineapple & yogurt, or maybe toss together some pecan banana pancakes with coconut syrup. Visit one of the Farmers Markets for a fun trip and great local produce. For convenience items, try Zachs Deli & General Store across from Maui Kamaole; great for a sandwich or curry salad. They also offer wine & spirits, even a decent cigar line up.
Dine Like a Local- We like to do the 50% off and happy hour(s) dinner specials at some of the top Wailea restaurants. Try Monkey Pod Kitchen or Joes Grill; check out their websites for the specials. In Kihei, you’ll find restaurants are casual and VERY reasonably priced. We love Coconuts Fish Café, Sansai Seafood & Sushi and Maui Tacos. For a truly gourmet experience, take a drive upcountry to Haliimaile, a top restaurant on the island but again with 2 for 1 entrees in off-peak periods. http://bevgannonrestaurants.com/haliimaile/
For meals at home we’ve outfitted our condos with new premium cookware. Note: Like most condo complexes on Maui, barbeques aren’t allowed in individual units. UNLIKE most condos however we have nice premium gas barbeques just a few yards from our units (see photos) which are seconds away from your kitchen. Oh, and remember those breakfasts out on the lanai? If you’re playing hard enough to deserve a treat, while the coffee’s brewing somebody needs to run up the street for a couple of the truly outrageous cinnamon rolls at Cinnamon Roll Fair.(Check out all these spots on Trip Advisor restaurant reviews.)
Adventure & Activities - I’ll lay out some our favorites, many of which are free. For the paid attractions try hitting the activities center in Kihei Plaza, they offer deep discounts for things like helicopter tours, snorkel catamaran trips, zip line tours and more.
Snorkeling & tennis are pretty much daily activities for us and they’re FREE. Our condo includes quality gear for both, there’s great courts on site at Maui Kamaole, and good snorkeling across the street from the condo. In addition to zillions of beautiful fish you’ll likely be swimming with turtles in that area. Kam III Beach Park (Across the street and 1/10 of a mile to the right) offers fantastic snorkling and beach with shower. Wailea Tennis Club has daily clinics and lessons along with player pairings.
Bikes & Boards – Prices are reasonable, equipment good and they’re cheap entertainment. We’ll typically get a weekly rate for the bikes and it’s our main means of transportation; as I said Maui Kamaole is right next to Wailea with wide easy sidewalks and bike lanes. We like to ride east past Wailea and Makena to the Lava Fields, Big Beach and the National Marine Sanctuary for incredible snorkeling. Try the Surf Shack at the Mana Kai across the street for both the bikes and SUP’s, or South Maui Bicycle for better bikes. For surfing lessons (beginners and intermediate), take a right out of resort, Kamaole II Beach Park, 1 mile west.
Wailea Beach Trail starts (yet again) right across from Maui Kamaole. You can stroll or run this ocean front path for miles, past and along the Four Seasons, the sexy new Andaz Maui Resort, and the many multi-million dollar beach front homes in that area.
Bigger Adventures – The snorkel and dive boats on this part of the island depart from the Kihei Marina. (Located, you guessed it, directly across the street from Maui Kamaole). EZ parking at the boat ramp and we’ve included travel mugs for your coffee (Return or replace them PLEASE!). For dive trips we like the gang at Mike Severns. http://www.mikesevernsdiving.com/dive-guides.html . They offer a bit more variety for experienced divers with 2 tank wreck dives, Molokini island dives and more.
The bike ride down Haleakala Crater is an adventure you’ll remember forever. The tour companies take you to the top of the crater, you get to watch the sunrise, then bike down on your own where you meet up at the bike shop. The gotta-do here is to stop at the Kula Lodge on the way down for breakfast. For horseback riding upcountry we recommend Piholo Ranch. Try the cowboy for a day experience where you'll be working cattle and learning more horsemanship. http://www.piiholo.com/horseback.html .
Less Strenuous but amazing – Speaking of Haleakala, seeing the sunrise over the crater is an experience you will be talking about for years. You can drive yourself or take one of the tour buses up. (5 am, rise and shine!) Look for photos and video on our web site. (Seriously, it’s COLD up there. As in freezing. Worth tossing thermals, gloves & hat along into your luggage for this.)
Visit Ioa Needle State Park http://hawaiistateparks.org/parks/maui/index.cfm?park_id=36 for hiking and spectacular views. Its rain forest up there, yet is less than an hour from the condo. For big wave surf (viewing?) head over to the North side of the island. You’ll also pass the Speckles sugar cane museum, give yourself an hour to see a really interesting history of the islands history.
If diving and snorkeling aren’t your bag but you want to see some of the sea life, hit the Maui Aquarium or better yet, an honest to God submarine adventure. http://www.atlantisadventures.com/maui. The sub drops you down to about a hundred feet and tours the bay and a wreck. Big glass windows on both side of the sub provide pretty amazing views. We’ve taken my elderly mom out on this; a fantastic experience for virtually any age.
The Luau – Like Ululanis Shave Ice (oh…say “yes” to the coconut milk topper on any of the flavors), there are some experiences that you just have to do at least once in Hawaii. The generally accepted most authentic and best dining experience is The Luau in Lahaina. Make reservations a few days in advance.
Shopping – Kihei has lots of shopping opportunities and Lahaina is well worth an afternoon, but if you want the upscale experience you should wander through the shops at Wailea. Also several really good restaurants there including the Best Fish Tacos of my life (really!) at Tommy Bahamas. For a video tour; https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EqUZOvRz9E4.
Spas- Each of the resorts in Wailea has an over the top Spa, and non-hotel guests are welcome at the same prices (High). A couple of them allow pool access with a spa treatment if you’re in to the mega-pool-zoo scene.
Swimming & Beaches - Beaches abound in Kihei, and the beaches in both Wailea and Makena have public access. You might be tempted by the many top rated spots around the island but we find Kam III beach park is often the best and right by the condo.
Water falls & natural pools are definitely part of the Maui experience. These range from the convenient to remote, depending on the level of seclusion you're looking for. (The search is half the adventure so we’re not gonna tell you our favorite.) Hint; the road to Hana has many turnouts and paths leading to great spots.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS - THE CASE FOR MAUI
Researching that best destination has been tough work. We’ve been to Jamaica, Bimini, Australia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, many of the Caribbean islands, Costa Rico, the Keys, blah blah, blah blah. The reasons we’ve returned to Maui again and again, and why we’ve purchased a place we can someday call home, are outlined below.
Access - is easy, with direct flights from just about every major city in the states. Kahului Airport (OGG) is small and friendly, the attractions and beaches almost all within a 30 minute drive to the condo. Rental cars are plentiful, clean and cheap. Not having to deal with Customs is also a BIG advantage these days.
Language – Call me a Provincial, but there are real advantages to having most everyone speaking the same language as me. Every menu, map & street sign is easy to understand, with no clumsy interpreter challenges EVER. I’ll get my “adventure junkie” fix through the many activities and sports available here in Maui.
Safety – We’ve never had a real problem in any other country; we’re careful. In Maui though there’s a whole different level of relaxation since violent crime is almost non-existent and there’s no really “bad neighborhoods” that I know of. Lock your valuables in your trunk on outings since pilferage is high, but that’s the same anywhere.
Activities & Ambiance – The fun I’ve outlined above can keep anyone busy for years. Serious surfers and kite boarders, backpackers, nature lovers, sport fishermen and spa aficionados can all get their respective fixes on Maui. For truly remote experiences there are multiple day ferries to completely undeveloped nearby islands.
Prices – I’m always surprised when friends reference Maui as expensive. Yes, it’s got plenty of $500 a night resorts with $20 umbrella drinks and restaurant prices to match. But Maui is one Paradise where you can get out and live like the locals and still fit right in.
Beauty – The diversity of Maui, from rain forest to desert, beaches to ranch country, never ceases to amaze me. All within an hour’s drive. Miles of cane fields on the slopes of those incredibly green mountains, surrounded by that beautiful blue ocean everywhere you look, is truly magical.