Review: Emirates B777 new First & Business Class

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Today (December 6, 2017): a tour aboard Emirates B777 new First & Business Class.

Last Friday, December 1st 2017, Emirates operated its first Boeing 777 aircraft that features the newly designed and highly anticipated Business and First Class cabins. Brussels, my home airport, was the first destination in the Emirates network to welcome the brand new plane. A media event was hold to celebrate the occasion, and Emirates invited me for the occasion (my first ever press meeting!).

After a small reception and a few obligatory speeches by representatives from both the airport and Emirates, I was offered a tour aboard the B777 aircraft (before its scheduled departure to Dubai). While I was not impressed by the new Business and Economy Class cabins, I have to admit that the new First Class product blew me off my feet.

I made a Youtube clip with my impressions, which you can watch below.

Click to view slideshow.

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FIRST CLASS

The Emirates B777 new First Class is one of the best First Class products I have ever seen. The product was created in collaboration with Boeing, Rockwell Collins interior systems, Panasonic, Jacques Pierre Jean Design studio and Seattle-based design firm Teague. However, despite some phenomenal design features such as virtual windows (more on that below), it’s not as revolutionary as the A380 First Class Apartments that you find on Etihad Airways A380 planes (which I reviewed here) and the soon-to-be-launched Singapore Airlines A380 suites.

Emirates newly delivered and refurbished B777s feature only 6 First Class suites arranged in 1-1-1 layout: 2 window suites on each side and 2 suites in the middle aisle (instead of 4 middle seats in the older B777 First Class cabins). The cabin itself feels claustrophobic and the aisle is very narrow, but that’s because the six suites – each one offering up to 40 square feet of personal space – take most of the cabin’s space. The suites are so large that they have ample space to change in the privacy of your suite even after the bed has been made.

Each suite is fully enclosed with floor to ceiling sliding doors, a first in the airline industry. Contrary to Emirates older B777 and A380 First Class suites – which feature a lot of walnut veneer and gold trim  – the new B777 First Class suites features a sleek interior with a new color palette of soft greys, cream and champagne, conveying a contemporary, open and airy feel, with quiet and timeless luxury. Above the three windows, you’ll notice an artistic motif – representing the Ghaf (prosopis cineraria) tree – that is used as a design highlight throughout the aircraft. An indigenous evergreen plant, the Ghaf is a considered the national tree of the United Arab Emirates, and has deep cultural and ecological significance.

The suite’s layout it very similar to Emirates’ old First Class product (which I reviewed here), with an ergonomic seat at its center, which can recline into a fully flat bed of 86 inches (218 cm) long with retractable armrest. In front of the seat is a large desk with vanity mirror below a 32-inch Full HD LCD TV screen. The latter can be commanded with a tablet located in the arm rest. There are subtle differences though with the old First Class suite, such as the location of the private minibar on both sides of the TV screen instead of in the arm rest, but overall, the suite feels very similar. That said, the new First Class suites do feature some new spectacular design elements:

  • The soft leather seat reclines into a fully flat bed that can be placed in a ‘zero-gravity‘ position inspired by NASA technology, giving a feeling of relaxation and weightlessness.
  • To ensure all First Class passengers have a view, Emirates introduced the industry’s first virtual windows for the two suites located in the middle aisle. These virtual windows project the view from outside the aircraft using real time camera technology. Wow! This is probably the first plane where I would prefer an aisle seat over a window seat.
  • In the window suites, binoculars are available for passengers who want to explore the sky outside their windows.
  • Passengers can easily communicate with the cabin crew, or request for room service using a video call function.
  • The suites also come with a service window where passengers can be served drinks and canapes undisturbed.
  • The inflight entertainment experience is enhanced with brand new Bowers & Wilkins Active Noise Cancelling E1 headphones. These headphones were designed exclusively for Emirates to ensure the sound was optimised for the First Class cabin.
  • Each suite is fitted with an inspiration kit which features a luxury Byredo skincare collection.
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE
EMIRATES B777 NEW FIRST CLASS SUITE

BUSINESS CLASS

Emirates B777 new Business Class is very similar to the old product (which I reviewed here), although it has a more sleek overall look and feel. The design and shape of the new Business Class seat was inspired by the interior of a modern Mercedez-Benz sports car, with a diamond stitch pattern on the full leather cover and ergonomically designed headrest. In fact, is the first time an Emirates product has been so influenced by another luxury brand.

Despite the sleek look, the seats are still configured in a 2-3-2 layout, which means not all passengers have aisle access: passengers in the center seats and window seats will have to scramble over their neighbor’s legs to reach the aisle. It’s quite incomprehensible that Emirates sticked to this bad layout, although almost all other carriers are now going for a 1-2-1 seat configuration in Business Class. Nevertheless, this ‘traditional’ layout is quite good if you are traveling with a group of friends or family. In comparison: Emirates A380 aircraft feature a staggered 1-2-1 configuration, which is much better for solo travelers (and which I reviewed here).

The B777 new Business Class seat is almost identical to the old B777 Business Class seat: it has a pitch of 72 inches (183 cm) and also has touchscreen controls for the seat and inflight entertainment system, several personal lighting options, privacy panels between seats, and a shoe stowage area. However, there are 3 major differences which makes this product an upgrade as compared to the old B777 seats:

  • The seats are fully flat beds (and not angled flat beds) and move into a fully flat sleeping position, which is a huge improvement.
  • Each seat comes with an ottoman or footrest, covered in soft leather.
  • There’s a personal mini-bar in the arm rest.
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT

EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT
EMIRATES B777 NEW BUSINESS CLASS CABIN & SEAT

ECONOMY CLASS 

The Economy Class cabin now features a color palette of soft greys and blues. The ergonomically designed seats come with full leather headrests that have flexible side panels and can also be adjusted vertically for optimum support.

EMIRATES B777 NEW ECONOMY CLASS CABIN & SEAT

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Top 10: (almost) plane crashes that prove how safe flying is

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (December 4, 2017): Top 10 (almost) plane crashes that provide proof that flying is absolutely safe.

Although I realize very well that statistically flying is the safest mode of transport, the thought of being in an airplane makes me anxious and break out in cold sweat. And apparently, I am not alone since multiple surveys have shown that about 60% of all passengers admit they are somewhat stressed by commercial airplane travel, including 10% who claims to be very afraid. Some famous people have openly discussed their fear of flying in interviews and on social media; they include Miley Cirus, Ben Affleck, Britney Spears, Megan Fox, Whoopi Goldberg, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Anniston, and Dutch ex-footballer Dennis Bergkamp to name a few. My fear of flying stems from an experience as a student flying on a Continental Airlines Boeing 767-400ER that was struck by severe turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean. But it also boils down to my lack of understanding and technology to keep planes in the air and to my feeling of being helplessly exposed to a machine and 2 (sometimes 3) hopefully skilled pilots. However, reading the Aviation Herald – a website which reports on daily incidents and accidents in civil aviation – helped me to understand that the aviation industry is indeed one of the safest out there, with multiple layers of protection preventing the aircraft from dropping from the air when something goes wrong. As is evident from the following 10 (near) crashes, planes are very robust machines – even in the worst case scenarios and most terribly frightening situations – and these amazing stories have somewhat helped to ease my nerves.

Do you suffer from a fear of flying? Leave a comment or take my poll below.

Click to view slideshow.

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10. A POLISH AIRLINES LOT B767 LANDS WITHOUT LANDING GEAR

On 1 November 2011, a Boeing 767-300ER operated by Polish Airline LOT on a flight from Newark (USA) to Warsaw (Poland) suffered a hydraulic leak within 30 minutes after takeoff, which resulted in the loss of all the hydraulic fluid that powered the wing flaps and the primary landing gear system. When the backup system was activated, only the flaps were operable. The decision was made to continue to Warsaw across the Atlantic Ocean to burn off fuel, something LOT was later criticized for. While approaching Warsaw, all attempts to lower the landing gear failed, forcing the pilots to make a belly landing, the first (and so far only) jetliner to do so in modern time. All 231 passengers aboard survived without any significant injuries. The aircraft however sustained substantial damage, and was written off. The spectacular belly landing was captured on camera and demonstrates that large widebody aircraft are capable of landing intactly in the unlikely case that this scenario may repeat itself.


9. AN ALOHA AIRLINES B737 LOSES ITS ROOF MID-FLIGHT

On 28 April 1988, flight 243 from now defunct Aloha Airlines suffered an explosive decompression while en route from Hilo to Honolulu in the Hawaiian archipelago. The Boeing 737-200 abruptly lost the upper half of its front fuselage, extending from just behind the cockpit to the fore-wing area, a length of about 18.5 feet (5.6 m). Sadly, one flight attendant was ejected from the airplane during the event. Thirteen minutes later, the crew was able to perform a successful emergency landing at Kahului Airport on Maui Island. The missing flight attendant nor the piece of the fuselage that was blown off the aircraft were ever found, but the investigators were still able to determine that the fuselage failed because of corrosion damage and improperly-repaired fatigue cracks. The safe landing of the Boeing 737 – despite the extensive damage inflicted by the decompression – was and still is regarded as a miracle in the history of aviation. However, the fact that the damage was limited to the roof above the First Class cabin and that the plane did not disintegrate midair was no coincidence as the skin of a plane’s fuselage is built in such way that it prevents cracks and failures to spread outside designated areas.


8. AN AIR FRANCE A340 CRASHES DURING LANDING IN A FIERCE THUNDERSTORM

On 2 August 2005, an Air France Airbus A340 – operating flight 358 from Paris to Toronto – approached the Toronto airport in terrible weather conditions – severe winds, heavy rain, and thunderstorms – after an otherwise uneventful flight. The plane touched down farther along the wet runway than usual and the crew deployed the thrust reversers too slowly, resulting in the plane overrunning the runway, breaking through the airport’s perimeter fence, before plunging into a ravine and bursting into flames. Miraculously, all 309 passengers and crew survived. The accident -which is sometimes referred to as the Toronto Miracle because nobody died in the inferno – highlights the role played by highly trained flight attendants during an emergency. It also demonstrates the strength of modern airframes that can withstand and remain intact under large forces (such as a crash landing), hence increasing the chances for survival for those inside.


7. A BRITISH AIRWAYS B747 FLIES THROUGH A VULCANIC ASH CLOUD

On 24 June 1982, a British Airways Boeing 747 Jumbojet – performing a night flight from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Perth (Australia) – suffered a flame out of all its four engines over a time span of just a few minutes. In addition, smoke began to accumulate in the cabin of the aircraft and passengers noted an unusual fluorescent blue light around the wings. The aircraft went into a glide mode and the crew prepared for a ditching in the Indian Ocean near Java as it was too far away from the nearest suitable airport. However, as the plane descended, the pilots were able to successfully restart the engines (although one failed again soon after) and divert to Jakarta Airport for a safe landing. Although the reason for the failure was not immediately apparent to the crew or air traffic control, it was later determined that the engine flame outs were caused by volcanic ash spewed by Indonesia’s Galunggung mountain during a major eruption. Since this incident, aircraft avoid any airspace that may have volcanic ash in it, since the ash damages the engines and can coat an airplane so much that it becomes tail-heavy. This was a great problem in 2010, when an ash plume from Iceland’s yjafjallajökull volcano grounded 100,000 transatlantic flights, affecting millions of travelers.


6. AN EMIRATES A380 AND AIR SEYCHELLES A330 AVOID A MID-AIR COLLISION

On 14 July 2017, an Emirates Airbus A380 plane and an Air Seychelles Airbus A330 plane narrowly avoided a mid-air collision above the Indian Ocean near the island of Mauritius. The Emirates A380 – operating a flight from Dubai to Mauritius – had been cleared to descend to 38,000 feet by Mauritius Air Traffic Control on its approach to the Indian Ocean island, around the same time the Air Seychelles A330 – which was flying in the opposite direction from Mauritius towards its home base in the Seychelles – was advised to climb to 37,000 feet. However, the Emirates crew descended the world’s largest passenger plane lower to 36,000 feet, heading directly towards the path of the Air Seychelles flight. The ‘Traffic alert and Collision Avoiding System’ (TCAS) on both airplanes alerted their crews that they were seconds away from a collision and consequently, the Air Seychelles pilot made a sharp right to narrowly avoid the A380, although large passenger aircraft are required to be at least three miles apart horizontally or 1,000 feet vertically. Mid-air collision are indeed very rare thanks to TCAS, which helps pilots to identify the location and tracks the progress of another aircraft equipped with beacon transponders, hereby assisting pilots to avoid colliding with other airplanes in the air.


5. A SCANDINAVIAN AIRLINES MD81 CRASHES ON TAKEOFF IN WINTER WEATHER

On 27 December 1991, a Scandinavian Airlines McDouglas MD-81 took off from Stockholm (Sweden) for flight 751 to Copenhagen (Denmark). However, moments after liftoff, both engines failed at an altitude of only 3,220 ft (980 m) and the pilots were forced to make an emergency landing 4 minutes after takeoff in a field near Gottröra in Sweden. Remarkably, although the plane broke into three parts before coming to a stop, all 129 passengers and crew aboard survived. Investigation revealed that clear ice from the tops of the wings was ingested into the engines as the aircraft became airborne on takeoff, causing the rare dual engine flame out. The flight crew, and especially Captain Rasmussen, were lauded for the skilled emergency landing in a fast-developing, potentially fatal situation. The accident highlighted the extreme importance of properly deicing planes in icy, snowy conditions as build up of ice or snow on the surface of one of the plane’s critical areas (e.g. wings and stabilizers) not only adds extra weight, but most importantly, it also disrupts the flow of air, hereby reducing lift.


4. A UNITED AIRLINES B777 FLIES 3 HOURS ON ONE ENGINE OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN

On 17 March 2003, the captain of a United Airlines flight 842 – operated by a B777-200ER and flying from Auckland (New Zealand) to Los Angeles (USA) – was forced to shut down one of the plane’s two engines because the oil pressure dropped dramatically. The captain continued to fly its 255 passengers for more than 3 hours on the Boeing’s sole functioning engine over the vast Pacific Ocean, before making a textbook landing in Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island. The 192 minute diversion on one engine is the longest ever single-engine diversion under extended-range twin-engine operations (ETOPS) rules, which define the maximum time a plane can fly away from the nearest suitable airport. In fact, the United Airlines’s Boeing was only certified for 180 minutes, but the Triple Seven encountered severe headwinds, extending the flight by another 12 minutes. The incident shows that planes are capable to fly very long distances on one engine, a scenerio for which aircraft and airlines are certified although it may test the nerves of the passengers.


3. AN AIR TRANSAT A330 LOSES ALL POWER OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN

On 24 August 2001, an Airbus A330 of the Canadian company Air Transat Flight 236 ran out of fuel while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. The fuel starvation was caused by a fuel line fracture in the right engine (due to improper maintenance work) and a wrong decision of the pilots to transfer fuel from the left wing tank to the near-empty right wing tank. However, the pilots of the aircraft became heroes as they glided their plane without engine power over a distance of 120 km (75 miles) to a runway at a naval base on an island in the Azores, saving all 306 people (293 passengers and 13 crew) on board. It’s the longest glider flight of a passenger jet in modern history and a statement to the robustness of the Airbus A330 plane. As a result of the incident, Airbus modified its on-board computers to continuously check all fuel levels against the flight plan to detect early anomalies.


2. A US AIRWAYS A320 LANDS ON THE HUDSON RIVER SHORTLY AFTER TAKEOFF

On 15 January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was scheduled to fly from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas. However, about 90 seconds after takeoff, the Airbus A320 struck a flock of Canada Geese and lost the power in both engines. Unable return to LaGaurdia or to reach any airport nearby, the crew glided the plane to a successful ditching in the Hudson River. All on board survived, and the incident became known as the Miracle of the Hudson. The plane’s humble captain – Chesley Sullenberger – was instantly projected into stardom, although the event’s happy ending was the consequence, not only of good decision-making and teamwork by the cockpit crew, but also by the A320’s fly-by-wire technology, by which the pilot uses a side-stick to make control inputs to the flight control computers and which automatically adjusted the glidepath in the case of flight 1549.


1. A QANTAS A380 NEARLY CRASHES AFTER AN UNCONTAINED ENGINE FAILURE

On 4 November 2010, a Qantas Airbus A380, operating flight 32 from Singapore to Sydney, suffered an uncontained engine failure in its number two Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine shortly after takeoff, resulting in extensive damage to its left wing, fuel system, and flight controls. The experienced crew made it back to Singapore about two hours after the incident occurred, with no injuries among the 469 passengers and crew members. Investigators found that a manufacturing fault in the engine caused a fatigue crack. The captain of the A380 aircraft, Richard Champion de Crespigny, has been credited in the media and by investigators for one of the finest examples of airmanship in the history of aviation by guiding the seriously crippled double-decker jet back to Singapore Changi Airport and averting what could have been a catastrophe. The incident was a huge blamage for Rolls-Royce, but at the same time a statement to the great safety of the A380 aircraft which kept flying despite multiple, extremily severe technical failures (although Rolls-Royce powered A380s were temporarily grounded at the time).


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Review: Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea (Hawaii, USA)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Last summer, I traveled to the Hawaiian Islands, where I had a wonderful time. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (November 29, 2017): Review of Four Seasons Maui at Wailea (Hawaii, USA).

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea is located on 15 ocean front acres, overlooking a beautiful crescent-shaped gold sand beach in Wailea, an exclusive resort area on Maui’s sunnier side of the island offering 3 championship golf courses, upscale shopping, and a spectacular 2 mile (3 km) beach walk that runs along the ocean. The hotel, which epitomizes a classical Hawaiian palace resort, has 376 spacious rooms and suites located in an 8 story mid-rise building fronting the ocean. Room features include a private lanai or terrace, luxurious marble bathroom, and refrigerated mini- bar customized to guests preference. A stroll through fragrant plumeria trees and art-laden public areas reveals a study in relaxed elegance. What sets the Four Seasons Maui at Wailea apart from other hotels on the islands is the wide array of complimentary services, activities and facilities that are included for all guests which most other Hawaii hotels charge for. Service and attention to detail are the key focus of the hotel staff to ensure a relaxing and memorable stay.

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels & resorts in Hawaii, the world’s best family hotels, and the world’s best beach resorts.

In this review (more info below my slideshow & Youtube clip):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

Click to view slideshow.

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The resort enjoys a central location in Hawaii’s most exclusive resort enclave, Wailea. Nestled beneath the leeward slopes of Haleakala – the world’s largest dormant volcano – Wailea exudes a sense of privacy, serenity and freedom, spread across 1,500 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds with staggering ocean views. The area is home to several high-end resorts, including this Four Seasons property, the Grand Wailea – a Waldorf Astoria hotel, the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, and the Fairmont Kea Lani. Wailea’s big draws are the beautiful beach, the perfect climate (the area is located on Maui’s sunny south shore), a stunning golf course, a word-class shopping mall, and its proximity (a 30 minute drive) to the airport.
  • Built at a cost of approximately $180 million USD, the Four Seasons Maui opened its door in 1990. At the time, it was Four Seasons’ third resort property, and the first Four Seasons resort in Hawaii (although the group now manages 5 ultraluxe properties in the archipelago). Despite being more than 25 years old, the hotel makes a modern and contemporary impression, thanks to two major, multi-million dollar, floor-to-ceiling renovations in the recent past which have kept the property in line with expectations of modern-day discerning travelers. On the outside, the U-shaped, low-rise building is not very remarkable and not different from most large-scale Hawaiian resorts, but the interior features a refined, luxurious and open air decor.
  • All facilities – such as restaurants and pools – are located in the vicinity of the hotel’s piece de resistance, the large lobby, whose glorious open design brings the tropical outdoors in. Besides a reception and concierge desk and several lounge areas, the lobby features a lively bar that overlooks the main pool area and where Hula dancers perform to the sounds of live Hawaiian music each day around sunset. Hawaiian decoration motifs (such as ceiling fans and rattan chairs), Koa-inspired wood furnishings, but also subtle colonial design touches such as coffered ceilings, fountains, and stout white columns lend the airy space a chic and tropical ambience.
  • Four Seasons Maui is a work of art – literally – as hundreds of original art pieces by Hawaii-influenced artists are found throughout the property. The artsy character of the resort is clear from your very first moments at the property as you walk past two gigantic ceramic heads glazed with bold stripes that guard the lobby entrance. The hotel’s art collection abstractly, subversively and passionately depicts the history and culture of Hawaii from its founding in 1959 through today. The curator behind the collection, Julie Cline, once referred to the 2300-piece strong collection as ‘subliminally edgy’. Free podcast – including the words of some of the artists themselves – are available to guide guests through the hotel’s curated art collection.
  • The hotel’s 383 accommodations, including 75 suites, are all located in the U-shaped building that surrounds a green courtyard with fountains and waterfalls. During my visit, I was upgraded to a so-called garden view suite, which came with a lanai or terrace that overlooked the lush gardens and the adjoining parking. Despite the rather underwhelming view, the suite was smartly designed, with a comfortable and inviting living space (with kitchenette and pull-out sofa) and a separate master bedroom with a heavenly bed. The large marble bathroom featured two sinks, a deep soaking bathtub, and a separate shower. The suite could comfortably sleep 2 adults and 2 children.

  • Guests that stay in a Club room or Club suite enjoy complimentary access to the hotel’s exclusive Club Floor Lounge. Like a ‘hotel within the hotel’, the Club Floor has its own concierge team solely dedicated to the 26 rooms and suites on the top level. Here, guests enjoy complimentary all-day refreshments, a full-service bar, and other appealing extras.
  • The resort’s courtyard garden cascades down to an oceanfront pool complex, which comprises three separate pool areas, catering to the needs of all guests. The resort’s central pool is called the fountain pool because of a giant picturesque fountain that emerges from the heated waters of the pool like Botticeli’s Venus. The pool – which has two whirpools at both ends – is surrounded by plenty of cabanas that can be used free of charge (one per room). This pool area is open 24/7 and is very popular with kids and teens but opens up to a more tranquil lawn – with plenty of chaise loungers – that overlooks the beach and ocean.
  • Presenting a quieter but equally fun-filled alternative to the central fountain pool is the so-called waterfall pool. This free-form lagoon-style pool is located next to the fountain pool and draws its inspiration from the ponds of Maui. The waterfall pool is separated into two parts, one higher than the other, that are both linked together with a short slide. This pool mainly attracts families with younger children, and parents can relax in one of the cabanas while keeping an eye out for their youngsters. Food and beverage service are also available poolside, both here and around the fountain pool.
  • Both the fountain pool and waterfall pool are very crowded – especially during the school holidays – so for an oasis of peace and quiet, you should retreat to the resort’s stunning, 3rd pool area, the so-called serenity pool, which is located one level above the other two pools at the resort’s southernmost edge. This rectangular pool is covered with glass mosaic tiles and features two hot tubes and four bubble loungers on its side. From its infinity edge, you can marvel at panoramic views of the ocean and beach, that is if you don’t prefer to be serenaded by the underwater music system while swimming. The pool is surrounded by 60 loungers and six private luxury cabanas available for rent ($450 USD per day).

  • Visually obscured from its neighboring resorts, the Four Seasons Maui fronts the southern end of Wailea beach. The latter is a crescent-shaped, golden sand beach that stretches 2100 feet (640 metres) along the coast and eases into the clean, warm, coral-free waters of the Pacific Ocean, making it the perfect spot for strolling, swimming, and paddle boarding. From sunrise till sunset, the hotel staff sets up two to three lines of chaise loungers, either in the sun or under the shade of an umbrella, that can be used free of charge by hotel guests only. Towels and sunscreen are provided as well on a complimentary basis, while the beach staff also offers ice water and soothing spritzes.
  • Wailea beach is located between two black lava outcrops, keeping its waters clear, safe and calm. The southern end of the bay, right in front of the hotel, is dotted with coves perfect for snorkeling. Turtles are often seen here, so it’s known as a popular and excellent snorkel spot. Snorkeling conditions are best in the (early) morning as winds tend to pick up during the day. The resort offers complimentary snorkel gear to all guests for one hour per day, and complimentary introductory scuba diving lessons in the pool each morning. For even better snorkeling and diving, you can book an excursion to the partially submerged crater of Molokini, where brightly coloured tropical fish swimming over and through antler coral gardens.

  • Despite its massive size and the large number of guests, I was very impressed with the impeccable service, something which the ultra-luxe Four Seasons brand is known for. The service at the pool and on the beach is particularly good. I don’t know how they do it, but the staff members seem to consistently monitor the beach and pool, and pop up every time you need them. Throughout the day, pool attendants provide cooling spritz of Evian, cold towels, and cooling cucumber slices to lay over your eyelids. Complimentary sunscreen is provided, sunglasses are cleaned on regular intervals, and refreshing amenities are offered every hour.
  • Dining at one of the resort’s three restaurants is a real treat. The resort’s signature restaurant Spago – which is the only Hawaiian outpost of master chef Wolfgang Puck – offers a remarkable fusion of Hawaiian and California cuisine, paired with panoramic ocean views in Maui. While Spago is located in the lobby, the two other restaurants are located one level below on both sides of the fountain pool. Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante is Wailea’s only beachside al fresco restaurant, offering a casual menu at lunch and authentic Italian cuisine for dinner. Duo Steak and Seafood restaurant has a reputation as the best steakhouse on Maui, and is also the scene of a great breakfast buffet each morning (although not as good at the sublime breakfast buffet offered by its sister resort at Lanai).

  • From the open air lobby, the pool area (especially the serenity pool) and the beach, guests can enjoy breathtaking views of the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean with the island of Lanai, the massive West Maui mountain range – one of the wettest spots on earth – and the small islands of Kaho’olawe and Molokini at the horizon. Humpback whales can often be observed frolicking just off-shore in winter, when two-thirds of the entire North Pacific humpback whale population return to Hawaii to breed, calve and nurse their young. The resort also faces the west, so you can enjoy spectacular sunsets with expansive skies showcasing brilliant hues (a phenomena Hawaii is known for).

  • One level down the lobby, there’s an art gallery where local artists showcase their work for viewing enjoyment and purchase. Here, you also find trio of distinctive boutiques – Ports, Cabana and 22 Knots –  that embody the resort’s high standard of luxury, offering an array of retail merchandise, from exclusive logo wear to world-class designer collections. Shopaholics can also head to nearby ‘Shops at Wailea‘, which is Hawaii’s most upscale shopping mall. The center features dozens of shops, including distinct luxury brands, local favorites and fine art galleries, and also offers free cultural activities and some of the island’s best entertainment.

  • The Wailea resort area features three premier golf courses: the Gold Course and Emerald Course, both designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, and the Wailea Blue Course, laid out by Arthur Jack Snyder. The rugged Wailea Gold Course caters to experienced players, with 18 scenic holes of undulating terrain, strategically placed bunkers and masterfully designed doglegs that reward good strategy and finesse. The Emerald Course offers a more leisurely play on a lovingly tended tropical playground with kinder fairways, few forced carries and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and Mount Haleakala. The Wailea Blue Course rests on the lowest slopes of the dormant Mount Haleakala and features 18 holes of classic-style golf.
  • Contrary to other resorts in Hawaii, Four Seasons Maui does not charge a resort fee (there’s no nickel-and-diming here). Besides being the only hotel on Maui to not charge a resort fee (which is a great feature), the resort also has a long list of meaningful complimentary extras, such as use of cabanas, resort car service (to golf, tennis, shopping and dining in the Wailea area), use of sunscreen, introductory fitness classes (including Mat Pilates, Aqua Cardio Fusion and more), use of snorkel equipment for the first hour, introductory daily scuba lessons, and Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddling excursions.
  • The resort is especially great for families, and actually ranks among my favorite luxury hotels in the world for a family vacation. The hotel offers thoughtful amenities and fun-filled activities to keep everyone happy during a family holiday, such as a dedicated swimming pool for the youngest kids, a free game room for the younger teens (with foosball, ping-pong, pool tables, shuffleboard, PlayStation, and Nintendo), and a seemingly endless array of snorkel equipment, sports gear, and DVD rentals to keep the older teens entertained. The resort also offers a ‘Kids For All Seasons’ program, which engages kids in all sorts of fun and educational activities that draw on the landscape, history and culture of Maui.
  • The hotel is managed by Four Seasons, one of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands. And the Four Seasons brand makes island hopping in the Hawaiian archipelago an easy experience as the company operates four other properties in Hawaii. The Four Seasons Hualalai is set near the volcanic beauty of the Island of Hawaii (also known as the Big Island). The Four Seasons Resort Oahu is located on Hawaii’s most dynamic island, not far from the state capital Honolulu. And the beautiful spectrum of scenery on Lana’i is home to two of the most exclusive properties in the luxury hotel chain, the Four Seasons Lanai (which I reviewed here) and Four Seasons Resort Lanai, The Lodge at Koele (re-opening soon).

  • Polynesian traditions, exceptional scenery, and diverse aquatic adventures make a trip to Maui – home of the Four Seasons resort – an unforgettable one. With world-class beaches, extensive coral reef systems, lush valleys with waterfalls, and the wonders of Haleakala National Park – Hawaii’s second largest island offers visitors a remarkably beautiful and welcoming environment to enjoy a wide variety of ocean and island adventures. Read here my top 10 list with the best things to doin Maui.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Fresh off a multi-million dollar renovation, the Four Seasons Maui Resort at Wailea is one of Hawaii’s best resorts. Despite its great setting, beautiful beach, delicious food, wide range of amenities and excellent service, the property does have some setbacks though that you need to beware of before considering a stay here:

  • The hotel’s major problem is its own popularity, which results in the property being very crowded, seemingly at odds with Four Seasons reputation as an exclusive hotel brand. I visited the resort during the holidays, and it sometimes felt more like a mass market resort than a genuine luxury resort. The fountain pool area is especially crowded with families and you can’t have a relaxing swim in this pool without bumping into screaming and ball-throwing kids. Finding a cabana here can be mission impossible as most are occupied by early morning (although the resort staff does not hold unoccupied cabanas longer than one hour). The crowds are somewhat inescapable, even at the exclusive adults-only serenity pool where guests are sometimes waitlisted for lounge chairs.
  • Due to its popularity and setting in an easy accessible, famous resort area, the hotel lacks the serenity, exclusivity and tranquility that you find at its sister properties in Lanai (Four Seasons Lanai) and the Island of Hawaii (Four Seasons Hualalai). That said, if you have kids or just love to be around them, this is thé place for you as families with kids are everywhere and the resort caters especially well to families with all the fun-filled activities and amenities on offer.
  • The resort has been renovated on multiple occasions, including a recent multi-million dollar overhaul of the guest rooms and suites, so everything looks modern and contemporary. Only exception to the rule is the spa which makes an outdated and disappointing impression. Although quality of the treatments is top-notch, the facility could use a refurbishment since it lacks the wow factor.
  • Although I am a huge fan of the Four Seasons brand, and their hotels are always my first choice, I have to admit that the Andaz Maui Resort at Wailea (which I will review soon) is the best luxury option in Wailea, despite featuring smaller rooms. Not only are the facilities, architecture and design more elegant, the resort also feels quieter (although it also has many families among its guests), the restaurants are more refined, the pool areas enjoy a better layout, and the room rates are often half those at the Four Seasons (although the Andaz experience feels more luxurious and serene).

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 8/10
  • Design: 8/10
  • Pool: 8/10
  • Rooms: 8/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: 7/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, whether it’s booking a room at the cheapest price or receiving complimentary VIP perks (e.g. upgrade, breakfast, resort credit, etc …).
  • Save money: enjoy free VIP perks at Four Seasons Resort Lanai when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, welcome cocktail, and $100 USD resort credit).
  • Save money: Four Seasons guarantees that every reservation booked through its websites will have the lowest room price (including all taxes and fees) publicly available on the internet. If you find a lower rate within 24 hours of making a booking, Four Seasons will be happy to match the rate. All you need to do is submit a claim form.
  • Room tip: if your budget allows, book a room with a sea view.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Hawaii’s off-season – when the best rates are available and the islands are less crowded – is spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) – a paradox because these are the best seasons to be in Hawaii, in terms of reliably great weather.  Winter (December to March) can be a surprisingly cloudy and wet affair, although Lanai is one of the driest and sunniest islands in the archipelago.


HOW TO GET THERE

The Four Seasons Resort Maui is located a 20 minute ride from Maui’s Kahalui Airport. Many large air carriers offer direct flights to Maui from approximately 20 cities in mainland North America. Key Maui airlines include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin America. Kahului Airport is unusual for Hawaii, because it offers so many direct non-stop flights from North America, but none at all from Asia. Check the wikipedia page of Kahalui Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Maui. Inter-island Hawaiian air travel is easy and frequent, with regular Maui jet service to Honolulu, the Big Island (aka Hawaii Island) and Kauai. Commuter planes and ferries travel to the neighbouring island of Lanai.


DRIVEWAY TO HOTEL ENTRANCE
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OCEAN VIEW SUITE: ENTRANCE
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OCEAN VIEW SUITE: LIVING ROOM
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OCEAN VIEW SUITE: LANAI
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OCEAN VIEW SUITE: WELCOME SNACK
OCEAN VIEW SUITE: ROOM SERVICE
HOTEL EXTERIOR & GARDENS
HOTEL EXTERIOR & GARDENS
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HOTEL EXTERIOR & GARDENS
HOTEL EXTERIOR & GARDENS
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HOTEL EXTERIOR & GARDENS
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FOUNTAIN POOL
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WAILEA BEACH ( IN FRONT OF GRAND WAILEA HOTEL)
WAILEA BEACH (IN FRONT OF GRAND WAILEA HOTEL)
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FERRARO’S BAR E RISTORANTE
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FERRARO’S BAR E RISTORANTE: LUNCH
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BEACHWALK CAFE
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DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
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DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST
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DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: DINNER
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: DINNER
DUO STEAK AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: DINNER
RESORT AT NIGHT
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)
MAKENA BEACH (BIG BEACH)

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Top 10: best things to do on the island of Maui (Hawaii)

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (November 27, 2017): Top 10 best things to do on the island of Maui (Hawaii).

Maui, known also as ‘the Valley Isle’, is the second largest Hawaiian island, behind the Big Island. While the Hawaiian island of Oahu – home to Honolulu – is most popular with Japanese tourists, the island of Maui appeals to visitors mostly from the U.S. mainland and Canada, and with good reason. The island is beloved for its world-famous beaches, the sacred Iao Valley, views of migrating humpback whales (during winter months), farm-to-table cuisine and the magnificent sunrise and sunset from Haleakala. It’s not surprising Maui has been voted ‘Best Island in the U.S.’ by Condé Nast Traveler readers for more than 20 years. I hereby share with you my favorite 10 things to see & do while on holiday in this beautiful island.

There is more info below the slide show.  Think I missed a Maui attraction? Leave a comment or take my poll below!

Click to view slideshow.

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10. STAY AT HAWAII’S MOST EXCLUSIVE RESORT DESTINATION, WAILEA

Known for its five beautiful, crescent-shaped beaches and stellar golf courses, Wailea is Hawaii’s most luxurious resort community, located in South Maui and spanning 1,500 acres of land with staggering ocean views. The area is home to a myriad of resorts where you can relax and do nothing at all, including 5-star resorts like the Andaz Maui at Wailea and the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea (which I will review soon). The area’s signature beaches include Wailea Beach (which has been named America’s Best Beach on several occasions), Polo Beach (with excellent swimming and snorkeling), and Ulua Beach Park (where early morning and sunset walkers and joggers abound). The Wailea Blue, Wailea Gold and Wailea Emerald courses make up the 54 holes of championship golf that have made Wailea so famous. The ‘Shops at Wailea’ is a destination in itself, featuring world-class restaurants and shops, along with regular entertainment programs.


9. EXPLORE WHITE, RED AND BACK SAND BEACHES

With 120 miles (200 km) of coastline, Maui boasts over 30 miles (50 km) of beautiful beaches. On these world-famous shores you’ll find white, black and red sand beaches, renowned surfing and windsurfing spots as well as some of the best beaches in the world to simply swim, snorkel and sunbathe. Many are easily accessible beach parks with lifeguards, picnic facilities and restrooms. Others are undeveloped ‘secret spots’ found off the beaten path. Maui’s most diverse beaches are found around Hana. White sand Hamoa Beach was called by Author James Michener the most beautiful beach in the Pacific. The stunning black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park offer good swimming, snorkeling and freshwater pools. And Red Sand Beach in Hana town is a dramatic and beautiful hidden cove unlike any other, although the short hike to the beach is hazardous.


8. BE ADVENTUROUS IN THE WORLD’S WINDSURFING CAPITAL

Although Oahu’s North Shore is Hawaii’s most legendary surf spot, Maui has its own share of famous beach to experience the ‘sport of kings’. To watch pro surfers in action, head to Honolua Bay and Hookipa Beach near Lower Paia during winter big wave season. East of Hookipa, you’ll find Maui’s most famous surf spot for big wave surfing: Peahi, also known as Jaws. During big swells, surfers are towed into Peahi’s massive waves by jet-skis. This technique has lead to the emergence of a new sport called ‘tow-in surfing’. Maui is also famous for another form of surfing: windsurfing. Hookipa Beach on Maui’s northern shore is considered the windsurfing capital of the world, when the big north shore waves make this beach a magnet for pro windsurfers and kite surfers. No matter which style of surfing you want to try, lessons are highly recommended for your safety and the safety of your fellow beachgoers and surfers.


7. SEE MAUI FROM THE AIR BY HELI FLIGHT

There is no better way to view the sheer scope and striking environmental contrasts of the island of Maui than from above. What’s more, helicopters can access parts of the island unreachable by boat, car or foot. Popular operators such as Air MauiBlue Hawaiian Helicopters and Maverick Helicopters offer tours of West Maui  and Hana and take passengers above the moon-like summit of Haleakala Crater, while others go on on scenic, hourlong flights of the whole island. No matter which route you choose, you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas of Maui’s waterfalls, craters, cliffs and valleys. Be sure that your heli tour includes a flight over the neighboring island of Molokai, where waterfalls stream down the sea cliffs before plummeting into the ocean 3000 feet (1 km) below. Most heli excursions depart from the Kahului Heliport in west Maui (packages do not include transportation to or from the helipad).


6. DISCOVER MAUI’S UNDERWATER WORLD AT MOLOKINI

Don’t leave Maui without snorkeling or scuba diving around the island’s magnificent reefs to see colorful fish, sea turtles and coral formations. The small, crescent shaped island of Molokini off Maui’s southwestern coast offers the best snorkeling and diving in the Hawaiian archipelago, offering visitors a kaleidoscope of coral and more than 250 species of tropical fish. When the USA entered World War II, the military used Molokini Crater for bombing practice. Years of protests and lobbying led the US government to deem Molokini Crater and the surrounding 77 acres a Marine Life Conservation District and Bird Sanctuary. The reef has restored its health and the fish have returned. Molokini is only accessible by boat tour. Tours are available from nearby Maalaea Harbor in Kihei and Lahaina Harbor on Maui’s western shores.


5. DRIVE THE HANA HIGHWAY, MAUI

When your mind imagines Maui, it probably looks a lot like the island’s epic east side: cascading waterfall pools hidden in lush rainforests, roadside pineapple stands, hairpin turns around plunging sea cliffs. It’s all here, along the legendary Road to Hana – one big reason why East Maui is a must-see on any traveler’s list. The Hana Highway snakes along the island’s northern coast for 52 miles (83 km)  and the drive to Hana can take as few as 3 hours or last an entire day, depending on how many pictures you stop to take and food stands you sample.  After you’ve navigated the more than 600 white-knuckle turns and 50 bridges, you’ll enter Hana – a charming small town where time seems an abstract concept and aloha is a way of life. Considered staying a few nights at one of the most remarkable resorts in Hawaii, Travaasa Hana, which is located in the tiny town of Hana on the eastern tip of Maui and will immerse you in the real Hawaii.


4. HIKE THROUGH LUSH BAMBOO FORESTS

Just beyond Hana is the stunning Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park (cf below), where a hike to a stunning water fall and a refreshing swim is the perfect reward after a long drive. The Kipahulu area boasts plenty of self-guided hiking trails that weave through forests of bamboo, past roaring cascades to the green heart of the island. Consider the Pipiwai Trail, one of the island’s best trails, which leads to the 400-foot (121 m) Waimoku Falls. Make sure to consult park rangers at the Kipahulu Visitor Center before you embark on this three- to five-hour hike. Expect to get muddy, and don’t forget your hiking shoes. Here, you also find the famous Pools of Oheo in Oheo Gulch, which are beautifully tiered pools fed by waterfalls, where – weather permitting – you can take a dip in the tranquil waters, fed by streams starting 2 miles (3 km) inland. The pools of Oheo are currently closed though due to rockslides in the area, so be sure to get the latest information from the national park service site.


3. RELAX ON MAUI’S BEST STRETCH OF SAND, MAKENA BEACH

Maui’s southwestern shores are home to many extraordinary beaches, including Makena Beach, also known as ‘Big Beach’ and considered one of the island’s best. This is one of the largest beaches on Maui, with 1.5 miles (2,4 km) of golden sand stretching as wide as 100 feet 530 m) in places. Visitors can swim or snorkel in the pristine water, picnic in the shade or simply sunbathe on the seemingly endless expanse of sand. Nestled between two black lava outcroppings, Makena offers protection from the trade winds and provides great views of the islands of Molokini and Kahoolawe. Restrooms and picnic facilities are available, and a handful of food vendors operate out of trucks both inside and just outside the park. Big Beach is located south of Wailea near the Makena Beach and Golf Resort and provides a secluded alternative to more crowded beaches in Kaanapali and Lahaina.


2. ENJOY THE BEST WHALE WATCHING ON THE PLANET

Just as Hawaii’s idyllic weather welcomes tourists from around the world, the warm and shallow waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands are a favorite destination for kohola, or humpback whales. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of the entire North Pacific humpback whale population return to Hawaii to breed, calve and nurse their young. They race more than 3000 (5000 km) miles from the Gulf of Alaska to Hawaii, then stay for a lengthy vacation, frolicking just off Hawaii’s shores and delighting spectators from December through May. Whales have great cultural significance for Native Hawaiians as they play a large role in Hawaiian legend and appear in ancient petroglyphs on several islands. Although humpback whales can be seen from all of the Hawaiian Islands, the shallow Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai and Lanai is one of the best whale-watching destinations in the world.


1. WATCH THE WORLD’S MOST ICONIC SUNRISE

Towering over the island of Maui and visible from just about any point, Haleakala Crater is a force of nature in every sense. At 10023 ft (3 km) above sea level, this dormant volcano is the stage for a breathtaking range of landscapes and skyscapes. Haleakala means ‘house of the sun’ in Hawaiian, and legend goes that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last longer. Many visitors wake up early to drive to the Haleakala Visitor Center, the best spot to watch what may be the most spectacular sunrise on earth. As the sun peeks over the horizon, an ever-changing swirl of color and light dance across the vast sea of clouds—a sight described by Mark Twain as ‘the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed’. Perhaps just as impressive are Haleakala’s sunsets and the bright, starry skies revealed at night.


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The post Top 10: best things to do on the island of Maui (Hawaii) appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Top 10: best ski hotels & resort in North America

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (November 20, 2017): Top 10 best ski hotels & resort in North America.

It’s that time of the year again, when ski areas across the northern hemisphere are gearing up for their winter season as temperatures cool down. I have previously published a post about the best ski resorts in Europe, and today, we’re heading to North America. While North American ski areas may not be as extensive as their European counterparts in the Alps, they often boast more spectacular and deserted mountain scenery, better powder quality with more frequent snow dumps, less risks for avalaches, and fewer queues at ski lifts. The best ski resorts are found in the USA states of Utah (Park City), Wyoming (Jackson Hole) and Colorado (Aspen, Vail, Beaver Creek), and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia (Whistler) and Alberta (Lake Louise). All of these areas feature a wide range of five star resorts to suit the more discerning travelers, not just good skiers and snowboarders. So, before you head out to hit the slopes, have a look at my top 10 list of the most exclusive ski hotels & lodges in North America.

There is more info (with reviews) below the slide show.  Think I missed one? Leave a comment or take my poll below!

Click to view slideshow.

*** Read: how to get complimentary VIP perks at luxury hotels & save money ***


10. FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE, ALBERTA

Surrounded by soaring mountain peaks, the majestic Victoria Glacier and a glistening emerald lake, the world-famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel is located in Alberta’s Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is recognized globally for progressive environmental stewardship and responsible tourism. Originally built as a base for outdoor enthusiasts and alpinists over 100 years ago, the massive Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a year-round luxury mountain resort offering scenic hiking and canoe activities in summer and heli-skiing, dogsledding, ice-skating and sleigh-riding in the dramatic winter months. After a long day on the slopes in the fresh air, you can retreat to the hotel’s excellent spa facilities or enjoy fine dining in one of the many restaurants.

  • Hotel website: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
  • Other accolades: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise also features in my top 10 list of the best hotels in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, early check-in, late check-out, daily breakfast, and a souvenir personal portrait session with a professional photographer).


9. SUNDANCE RESORT, UTAH

Nestled at the base of and owned by actor Robert Redford, Sundance is a haven for discovery and inspiration that offers diverse mountain recreation experiences year round. Only an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City and 45 minutes from Park City, Sundance features 95 rustically elegant mountain cottages and 10 mountain homes that echo the simplicity of the natural setting. Each of lodging units is uniquely appointed in a style that integrates with mountain environment, including rough-hewn wood, warm tones and Native American accents. Many of suites include a stone fireplace and a deck or patio. All cottages offer easy access to downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding. The award-winning restaurants and spa contribute to the diverse amenities of this quiet mountain village and resort.

  • Hotel website: Sundance Resort
  • Other accolades: Sundance Resort also features in my top 10 list of luxury hotels owned by celebrities.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (upgrade on arrival, daily continental breakfast, and a three course dinner for 2).


8. THE LITTLE NELL, COLORADO

With the city of Aspen at their front door and Aspen Mountain in their backyard, The Little Nell is the only hotel with ski-in, ski-out access to historic Aspen Mountain, and Aspen’s only recipient of both the Forbes/Mobil and AAA Five-Diamond Awards. The Little Nell has 92 spacious guest rooms including 11 suites and three signature suites. From the finest in haute cuisine to the 20,000 bottles of wine in their cellar, from the concierges in the lobby to the concierges on the mountains, and from family adventure to après ski, this hotel is – guests have said – ‘the Aspen of Aspen’. Regular celebrity guests include Jack Nicholson, Kevin Costner, Kate Hudson, Felicity Huffman, Elle Macpherson, Heidi Klum, Jennifer Aniston and Mariah Carey, who has reportedly bought out the penthouse in prior years for a view of Aspen Mountain.

  • Hotel website: The Little Nell
  • Other accolades: The Little Nell also features in my top 10 list of luxury hotels loved by celebrities.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (upgrade on arrival, daily continental breakfast, and $100 USD resort credit).


7. FOUR SEASONS RESORT VAIL, COLORADO

Four Seasons Vail offers a fresh approach to alpine style, blending sophisticated contemporary design with cozy mountain tradition. Within a nature-inspired, eight-storey landmark, the hotel offers 121 high-tech guest rooms, including 24 suites – most with mountain and pool views, a furnished balcony, a gas-burning fireplace and a spacious bathroom with free-standing oval tub. With its spectacular view of Vail Mountain, the outdoor, heated pool allows for year-round enjoyment. After an invigorating day in the mountains, the alpine Spa at Four Seasons is the perfect place to soothe, restore and enhance your well-being. You’ll find a variety of dining venues on-site – including the luxe and hip The Remedy Bar – which celebrate deliciously nutrition-conscious cuisine inspired by Vail’s healthful, active lifestyle.

  • Hotel website: Four Seasons Resort Vail
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast,  $100 USD spa credit).


6. STEIN ERIKSEN LODGE DEER VALLEY, UTAH

Named after Norwegian Olympic Gold Medal skier Stein Eriksen and nestled mid-mountain at Deer Valley Resort, the lodge is a European getaway in the heart of Park City. The hotel more than lives up to the hype, with a 23,000-square-foot spa, world-class dining, legendary service, and ski-in/ski-out access to 2,000 acres of powdery terrain. Each one of the 180 rooms or suites is designed with rich colors, natural textures, and sumptuous fabrics, and each echoing elements of Norway’s traditional style mixed with contemporary American aesthetics. More than 145 stone fireplaces throughout the property, many en-suite, add coziness and warmth to the cathedral ceilings in the well-appointed common areas. Seasonal, locally sourced cuisine at its restaurant Glitretind has made it one of the areas top dining venues.

  • Hotel website: Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast for 2, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD spa credit).


5. VICEROY SNOWMASS, COLORADO

At Viceroy Snowmass, one of North America’s greatest mountains is at your fingertips. Just minutes from downtown Aspen, this spectacular ski-in/ski-out resort resembles a huge fortress that could just as easily fit in the Himalayas as it does here. The resort’s 173 residentially appointed accommodations feature custom-designed interiors, pillow top mattresses with 100% Egyptian cotton bed linens, granite-counter kitchens, and private sundecks. The 7,000-square-foot spa with its waterfall-fed soaking pool offers a selection of wellness experiences, from Ute Native American-inspired therapies to contemporary beauty rituals. Dining choices are inspired, as is après-ski action. And the resort has been praised for its sustainability efforts, helping to preserve the pristine Rocky Mountain playground outside.

  • Hotel website: Viceroy Snowmass
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast for 2, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD resort credit).


4. FOUR SEASONS RESORT WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Home to what is by far the largest ski resort in all of North America, the pedestrian village of Whistler is on Canada’s breathtaking west coast – just north of Vancouver. Guests at the Four Seasons Whistler can choose from endless activities on or off the mountain before retreating to one of the resort’s 273 inviting guestrooms, suites or townhouses, or 20 luxurious private residences. All accommodations are richly appointed in wood – each with their own gas fireplace – and offer superb views of the mountains, forest, valley, pool or courtyard from private balconies. After the rigors of skiing, golf, or shopping, you inhale alpine air while you’re massaged with the clay from a nearby lake or survey the snow-capped peaks while soaking in the outdoor whirlpools. The hotel’s celebrated restaurant, Sidecut Modern Steak, serves Canadian Prime Beef

  • Hotel website: Four Seasons Resort Whistler
  • Other accolades: Four Seasons Resort Whistler also features in my top list of the best luxury resorts of Canada.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast,  $100 USD spa credit).


3. ST REGIS ASPEN, COLORADO

The famous St Regis Aspen hotel is a contemporary version of a Gilded Age mountainside manor, providing an uncompromising base for arbiters of fine food and wine, connoisseurs of culture and adventure seekers. Located just steps from Aspen’s signature slopes and featuring premier amenities and St. Regis service, the resort is surrounded by icy mountain streams, shimmering alpine lakes and majestic snow-capped peaks. Each of the resort’s 179 guest rooms offers stunning views of the Rocky Mountains, inspiring guests to wake at the crack of dawn and hit the storied Colorado steeps. The Remede Spa is open year-round, complete with a 24-hour fitness center. Located in an ideal spot at the base of Aspen Mountain, the hotel is within walking distance to Aspen’s ultra exclusive shops, restaurants and entertainment.

  • Hotel website: St Regis Aspen
  • Other accolades: St Regis Aspen also features in my top 10 list of the best ski hotels in the world.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast for 2, $100 USD food & beverage credit, early check-in, late check-out, and a welcome note accompanied by fresh fruit bowl and mineral water).


2. PARK HYATT BEAVER CREEK RESORT AND SPA, COLORADO

Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa is a magnificent chateau-style Vail resort that incorporates the grandeur of its idyllic Colorado Rocky Mountain setting. From the hotel’s winter ski in-ski out access in the village, to the thrill of white-water rafting, hiking and outdoor adventures for all seasons, the best of Beaver Creek is waiting for you, just outside the hotel’s doors. The wood and sandstone interior complements the magnificent Rocky Mountain views, which can be enjoyed through the French doors of each room. The warm accommodations feature wood and sandstone interiors with a signature Hyatt bed fitted with soft linens and down duvet piled atop a plush pillow-top mattress. The hotel offers ski-in/ski-out access, a year-round heated outdoor pool, and an outdoor fire pit for roasting s’mores as the sun sets.

  • Hotel website: Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa
  • Other accolades: Park Hyatt Beaver Creek also features in my top 10 list of the best ski hotels in the world.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast for 2, $100 USD food & beverage credit, early check-in, and late check-out).


1. AMANGANI, WYOMING

Situated close to some of the USA’s finest ski slopes as well as Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, Amangani is an all-season resort overlooking the beautiful valley of Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Amangani – meaning ‘peaceful home’ – clings to the crest of East Gros Ventre Butte, some 7000 feet (2200 m) above sea level, and affords magnificent views of the Grand Tetons and Snake River Valley below. It was the first Aman resort  in North America and evokes the atmosphere of the American West. Sensitively designed with materials native to Wyoming, Amangani features redwood walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, and woven cowhide chairs. Spacious suites include king-sized beds, a fireplace, and a daybed, with sliding glass doors leading to a deck with mountain views.

  • Hotel website: Amangani
  • Other accolades: Amangani also features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in the USA and the best ski hotels in the world.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast for 2, early check-in, late check-out, and one lunch for 2).


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Which USA airlines offer lie-flat seats to Hawaii?

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.

Today (November 17, 2017): Which airlines offer lie flat seats to Hawaii?

Although an exotic trip to the incredible scenery of Hawaii ranks among the ultimate holidays of a lifetime, getting there can be an exhausting experience. The Hawaiian Islands are located in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean and although they’re often wrongly labeled as the most remote landmass on earth – that claim to fame belongs to Chili’s Easter Island – the Hawaiian archipelago is still one of the islands farthest away from any continental land mass. Flights from the USA to the idyllic archipelago take at least 5 hours from the West Coast but the time in the air can add up to 12 hours when you are leaving from the USA Coast, and that’s only for when the USA is your point of departure. When I recently flew to Hawaii from central Europe, it took me more than 24 hours to get there.

To ease the misery of the journey, you can either spend big dollars on a seat in a carrier’s Business Class cabin or be smart and use miles to book one for free. It’s important to keep in mind that Business Class is labeled ‘First Class’ for domestic flight within the USA, such as from the USA mainland to/from Hawaii. Although different airlines offer different kinds of First Class seats, your comfort at 40,000 feet en route to Hawaii will not so much depend on the carrier but rather on the aircraft type. Yes, you read that right! These days, the market between Hawaii and the USA mainland is dominated by narrow body planes (e.g. Boeing 737s, Boeing 757s, and Airbus A320s) and that’s not a good thing for First Class travelers since all narrow body aircraft to Hawaii feature recliner seats or angled lie-flat seats rather than fully flat beds. So if you’re heading to Hawaii, make sure you book a seat on a wide body aircraft with lie-flat seats in First Class (e.g. Boeing 777, Boeing 767, or Airbus A330). It’s a bit complicated though since some airlines clearly state when a flight offer flat beds but some do not and in addition, some carriers operate a mix of wide and narrow body aircraft on the same route, offering different types of First Class products.

To help you, I have compiled a list a list of all airlines and routes that offer lie-flat seats between the USA mainland and Hawaii. My main advice though is to always check the aircraft type (on the airline’s booking website) and the seat map (on seat guru) to make sure that you will enjoy indeed the best seats en route to paradise. 

Which airline do you prefer to fly to Hawaii? Leave a comment or take my poll below!


UNITED AIRLINES

The Hawaiian Islands are an important part of United’s history. With the maiden departure of a United DC-6 Mainliner from San Francisco to Honolulu in May 1947, United played a major role in helping to make Hawaii an easily accessible destination for tourism and business. In fact, United’s West Coast hubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco remain the USA’s largest gateways for connecting passengers to Hawaii.

Currently, United flies from the following USA key cities to Hawaii with a mixed fleet of Boeings B737, B757, B767 and B777:

  • From the East Coast: United offers direct flights from Newark and Washington to Honolulu with Boeing 767 planes.
  • From the Mid West and South West: United offers direct flights to Honolulu (from Chicago, Denver, and Houston) and Maui (from Chicago) with Boeing B777 planes, in addition to a direct flight from Denver to Maui with a Boeing B757 plane.
  • From the West Coast: United offers multiple daily flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco to the major Hawaiian Islands (Ouahu, Maui, Big Island, and Kauai) with a mix of narrow body planes (which come with recliner seats) and B777s, although the latter only operate on the routes to Honolulu and Maui.

The domestic First Class product offered by United on its wide body fleet is quiet decent:

  • When you’re flying on a United B777, you can be sure you’ll get lie-flat bed seats with custom-designed duvets and pillows provided by leading luxury specialty store and New York-bred retailer Saks Fifth Avenue. The seats are the same as United’s old Business Class seats and are quite comfortable for a domestic ride, although they are narrow and come in an awkward forward/backward 2-4-2 layout. I have previously reviewed United’s B777 First Class product here.
  • United’s B767s also offer lie-flat beds, albeit in a different layout than the B777 (2-1-2 configuration) with all seats facing forward. These First Class seats are similar to the Business Class seats that United installed on its dreamliners, which I reviewed here.
  • United B757s are narrow body planes (not wide bodies) but I mention them here since some of these aircraft feature flatbeds (those flying between Denver and Honolulu), although most come with ordinary angled seats (those flying between Hawaii and the West Coast).

Recently, United announced a considerable increase of service on several routes connecting the continental U.S. and Hawaii (beginning December 20th, 2017), offering customers more flights between the mainland and the Hawaiian Islands than any other carrier:

  • Service between Denver and the Big Island (Kona), Lauai (Lihue), and Maui will increase from seasonal to daily year-round service. The airline will continue its year-round daily service from Denver to Honolulu.
  • Offering already daily nonstop service between Chicago and Hawaii, United will also increase  its current once weekly service to Maui to five times per week.
  • United will also increase service between the West Coast and the Big Island (Hilo and Kona), Maui and Kauai.


DELTA AIRLINES

Delta – officially known as Delta Air Lines – also flies from multiple getaways on the USA mainland to the Hawaiian Islands:

  • From the USA East Coast: Delta has a seasonal direct service from New York City to Honolulu, flown by a Boeing B767.
  • From the Mid West, South Eats and South West: Delta offers direct flights to Honolulu using its Airbus A330 with international Business Class configuration from Minneapolis/St Paul, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City, although the flights from Minneapolis/St Paul and Salt Lake City only operate on seasonal basis. Delta is considering though offering its Minneapolis/St Paul-Honolulu route year round (they already extended this service last summer). Starting next month, Delta will also fly a Boeing B767 from Salt Lake City to Maui on seasonal base.
  • From the West Coast (Los Angeles and Seattle): Delta offers multiple daily flights to the major Hawaiian Islands with a narrow body fleet. Only one flight between Los Angeles and Honolulu is operated by a B767.

Delta operates a not so consistent domestic First Class product on its wide-body fleet:

  • When you fly onboard a Delta A330, you will get the excellent international Business Class lie-flat seat which are configured in a reverse herringbone 1-2-1 layout, with aisle access for all passengers.
  • Delta’s refurbished Boeing B767 feature a staggered layout, similar to the ones you find on Swiss and Austrian. This is basically a 1-2-1 seat configuration, whereby the foot compartment for each seat is located between and under the seat(s) in front.
  • There are still some old Delta Boeing B767 planes flying around that feature recliner seats and worn interiors.

So basically, when you want a lie-flat seat, you’re safe on Delta’s A330 but the carrier’s B767 are a more risky choice. However, Delta makes it very easy to search for flights with lie-flat seats by adding a bed icon as an amenity in the search results (although there’s always the risk of course of a last-minute aircraft change).

DELTA A330 FIRST CLASS SEAT

AMERICAN AIRLINES

The Boeing B757 used to be the workhorse for the USA’s largest carrier on Hawaii bound routes, especially for flights departing from the West Coast. However, that era came to an end since American replaced its aging B757 fleet by brand new Airbus A321 planes, capable of flying the non-stop route between the West Coast and Hawaii, although the carrier messed up at the start of the A321 operations by accidentally flying a non-ETOPS certified and thus unsafe plane to Hawaii. Unfortunately, the A321s operating on the Hawaii route are not the same as the A321s that fly the transcontinental route between Los Angeles and New York, featuring American’s excellent First Class seats. If you want to fly in a lie-flat seat of American Airlines to Hawaii, you only have three options:

  • You can start your journey in Dallas, from where American flies a Boeing B767 directly to Honolulu and Maui.
  • Occasionally, American operates one of its international long-haul B777 widebody aircraft on the route between Los Angeles and Honolulu.
  • One of the two daily flights from Phoenix to Honolulu  is operated with one of ex-USA Airways’ A330s which all feature lie-flat seats.

The variation in hard product offered onboard American’s wide-body fleet is a bit similar to what you find on Delta (cf above):

  • American Airlines’ Airbus A330 fleet features lie-flat seat in a reverse herringbone 1-2-1 layout, with aisle access for all passengers.
  • American Airlines’ Boeing B767 aircraft feature a staggered layout in a 1-2-1 seat configuration.
  • American Airlines’ Boeing B777 planes feature a 1-2-1 seat layout, with aisle access for all passengers, although there are some subtle differences in layout between the B777-200ER and B777-300ER aircraft. You can read here my trip report onboard an American Airlines B777-300ER.

The goods news is that – contrary to Delta – all of American’s B767s that are still in operation have all been refurbished (the older planes with angled seats have been retired), so as long as you fly in one of American’s wide body aircraft to Hawaii, you are sure to get a lie-flat First Class seat.


HAWAIIAN AIRLINES

Hawaii’s flagship carrier offers flights between the tropical islands and New York-JFK, Oakland, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle. At the moment, Hawaiian only flies wide body aircraft to/from Hawaii, although that will change soon since they have ordered several A321 planes to be operated on these routes. Despite its current all wide body aircraft operations to/from the Hawaiian islands, the product offered by Hawaiian Airlines is a mixed bag at best:

  • Hawaiian’s A330 planes have all been recently refurbished with excellent First Class cabins, which offers fully lie flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration (and are probably the best product to be found on any route to/from Hawaii). I will soon publish my review of a Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business Class flight between Honolulu and San Francisco.
  • All of Hawaiian’s B767 feature recliner First Class seats, which are huge downgrade from the experience described above (and should thus be avoided). Hawaiian will begin retiring its small remaining 767 fleet next year, replacing it with next-generation A321 and A330 aircraft.
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES A330 FIRST CLASS

OTHER CARRIERS

Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, and Allegiant Air also offer direct flights between the USA mainland and Hawaii, but these carriers only operate narrow body aircraft that feature recliner seats in their First Class cabins.

When your’re departing from Canada, you’ll be flying with either Westjet or Air Canada Rouge, which do not offer lie-flat seats.


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Review: The Royal Hawaiian Resort (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Last summer, I traveled to the Hawaiian Islands, where I had a wonderful time. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (November 15, 2017): Review of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel.

When The Royal Hawaiian opened in 1927, the hotel – also known as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific” – ushered in a new era of luxury travel to Hawaii. With its rich history, magnificent Spanish-Moorish architecture, and connection to Hawaiian culture, this iconic Honolulu hotel is spectacularly located on the famed Waikiki Beach and the ideal starting point to any adventure in Honolulu. The 528 rooms and suites at The Royal Hawaiian feature modern comfort, indigenous accents and refined luxury. In the Royal Beach Tower, each room provides an intimate lanai for a private vantage point of the sparkling Pacific Ocean. In the Historic Building, fresh and elegant guest rooms are furnished with custom dark wood, crisp white bedding, boudoir pillows, a warm paint palette accented by a bold fuchsia pink and platinum silver headboard. The resort’s signature restaurant, Azure Restaurant, is perched along the Waikiki beachfront and serves some of the best seafood in Honolulu.

The Royal Hawaiian features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels & resorts in Hawaii.

In this review (more info below my slideshow & Youtube clip):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

Click to view slideshow.

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The Royal Hawaiian has been the most iconic hotel in Honolulu for almost a century. It was built more than 90 years ago at a price tag of $4 million USD to attract wealthy luxury-cruise passengers. When it opened in 1927, the resort instantly became a playground for the rich and famous such as presidents, royalty, and actors, but that era of opulence came to an abrupt end on December 7th, 1941 when Japan attacked nearby Pearl Harbor. During WWII, The Royal Hawaiian was leased by the US army as a major rest and relaxation center for the Navy personnel. After the war, the property was restored to its pre-war elegance and became Honolulu’s Grand Lady – and it still is today.
  • Although Waikiki beach itself is word-famous, it’s not particularly attractive as it is quite narrow, extremely crowded, and dominated by high rises. That said, the Royal Hawaiian does enjoy the most coveted and enviable location on Waikiki’s white sands. The beach in front of the hotel is considerably wider than any other part of Waikiki beach, making it the best strip of sand in Honolulu. Although the beach is public, The Royal Hawaiian cordons off a private plot of sand with chaise loungers and umbrellas, directly adjacent to the resort grounds and for exclusive use of its guests (albeit at a fee of $40 USD per day plus tax for two loungers).

  • The hotel is the ideal starting point to any adventure in Honolulu or the island of Oahu. Shopaholics will be delighted to know that the hotel is minutes from Kalakaua Avenue, which is lined by hundreds of retail stores, including high-end boutiques such as Tiffany, Cartier, and yes, even an Apple store. Foodies will appreciate that The Royal Hawaiian not only features a terrific restaurant (more on that below) but is also within walking distance from Honolulu’s best dining scene.
  • The site of The Royal Hawaiian boasts a majestic royal lineage.  The area was used as a playground for King Kamehameha, after he led his forces in the legendary Battle of Nuuanu, which resulted in the conquering of Oahu and the eventual unification of the Hawaiian Islands under one rule in 1810. The summer palace of Queen Kaahumanu – the favorite wife of King Kamehameha I who also acted as regent of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi as Kuhina Nu – was previously located in what is now the hotel’s Coconut Grove garden. As a testament to its rich history, the resort still offers guests a complimentary tour of its historic royal grounds.

  • Known as the ‘Pink Palace of the Pacific‘, the Royal Hawaiian’s bright pink hue of its concrete stucco façade makes it the most remarkable building in Honolulu. The six-story structure was fashioned in a Spanish-Moorish style which popular during the 1920s (when the resort was built). Its design was heavily influenced by Hollywood film star and legend Rudolph Valentino and his Arabian movies. And it’s not just the exterior that is pink. Many other elements of the hotel feature a pink shade as well, from the corridor walls and lobby ceiling, to the umbrellas and the staff’s outfit. The hotel’s somewhat overwhelming pink theme is soothed by the classic, elegant and dark interior.
  • The Royal Hawaiian features a grand lobby, centered along a T-shaped, high-ceilinged hall which features vaulted archways, a few seating areas, and boutique shops on both sides. The reception & concierge area is tucked away in a corner of the lobby, from where an oustide pathway – with beautiful tiled floors – leads to the hotel’s bakery and Coconut Grove gardens. Remarkably, the hotel’s architects designed the lobby away from the sea since the hotel was built in the 1920s, when travellers reached Hawaii by steam ship and were tired of ocean views after all those days on a ship. It’s only at its far end that the lobby opens to a lovely and perfectly manicured lawn, stretching all the way to the sands of Waikiki Beach.
  • This historic oceanfront resort features 528 rooms, including 33 suites­­ with 18 situated oceanfront. Rooms are either located in the 6-story 1920s historic wing or the more contemporary 16-story Mailani tower, which was added in the 1960s. Accommodations in the Mailani wing come with balconies (so called ‘lanais’) with plush pink outdoor seating. During my stay, I was upgraded to a very spacious ocean front suite (the so-called Duke Kahanamoku Suite), an upgrade I received thanks to my booking via Virtuoso. The suite – which came with breathtaking views of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu’s famous Diamond Head crater – had a separate living area, a large bedroom with king-sized bed and a small but functional bathroom with a shower in a bathtub and one sink. It featured dark wooden furniture, paddle fans, and a warm paint palette accented by a bold fuchsia pink and platinum silver headboard.

  • I found the food at the hotel’s signature restaurant Azure to be one of the highlights during my stay. This truly world-class seafood restaurant is perched along the beach under the canopy of The Royal Hawaiian’s dramatic architecture and serves locally caught fish served with bright tropical and innovative Hawaiian flavors. During the day, Azure is transformed into the breezy Surf Lanai restaurant, which offers a buffet breakfast (complemented by a la carte items) in the morning and light American fare and simple island cuisine during lunch time. At the hotel’s celebrated Mai Tai Bar, you can mingle with international jetsetters and Hawaii’s elite while sipping in refreshing cocktails and contemplating the lovely panorama of Waikiki Beach.
  • Nestled in the Royal Grove Courtyard of the hotel, Abhasa Waikiki spa is noted for being the only spa in Honolulu offering luxurious treatments in a serene tropical garden setting. The spa offers a variety of treatments from classic to local massage styles, traditional to tropical facials, body wraps and cocoons, nail and hair salon services, and more (although I did not try out any of that during my stay as I prefered to lounge on the beach and explore Honolulu).
  • The Royal Hawaiian has two pool options: the intimate Malulani pool and the larger Helumoa playground. Located in the shade of the Mailani tower, the Malulani pool is a quiet pool area that fronts Waikiki beach, with lounge chairs under pink umbrellas and private poolside cabanas surrounding a tiny round pool. The much larger (and crowded) Helumoa plaground is shared with the neighboring Sheraton Waikiki Hotel and features two extensive fresh water swimming pools, with a slide and fountain areas for kids and two large whirlpool spas for adults. The hotel has a pool chair tagging policy for chairs left unattended for more than 2 hours, which is great thing given the number of guests.

  • Despite its massive size, service at the hotel is excellent and feels personal and upscale. From the flower lei at check-in and chilled towels distributed along the pools to the evening turndown service with water and chocolate, the staff will do all they can to accommodate your wishes and treat you with the warm hospitality that is Hawaii is known for.
  • The hotel is managed by The Luxury Collection, a brand of the Starwood Hotel Group, which was acquired last year (2016) by Marriott. Under the umbrella of The Luxury Collection, the hotel closed in the 2000s for major upgrades that were necessary to preserve the historic charm and elevate the accommodation to match the luxury expectations of the times.  In 2009, the resort once again re-opened its historic wing and in 2010, the 17-story Mailani Tower re-opened, gracefully bridging the sumptuous splendor of the property’s original allure with the conveniences and comforts expected by modern travelers.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

The Royal Hawaiian is the best luxury property in Honolulu’s Waikiki beachfront suburb. Its historic charm (blending with modern comforts) is a welcome respite from the high-rise resorts in the area. Rooms are spacious and the facilities are great. Nevertheless, to set your expectations right, you need to know the following before considering a stay here:

  • Albeit charming and romantic, rooms in the historic wing have an old-fashioned and dated look and are definitely in need of a refurbishment. If you prefer a more contemporary decor, rooms in the oceanfront Mailani tower are your best bet.
  • The hotel has a private area on Waikiki beach, but it charges a steep rate when you want to relax here. The fee for a private beach set is $40 per day plus tax, with each beach set including one umbrella and two chaise lounges. I feel a hotel of this standard should offer its guests, at a minimum, complimentary beach lounges (especially since you already have to pay an obligatory resort fee; more on that below).

  • Self parking is not possible anymore at the property. Since April 2017, The Royal Hawaiian has switched to an all-valet parking experience for its guests. The charge for valet is $40 USD, plus tax, per day.
  • Since April 2017, the Royal Hawaiian charges a daily resort fee of $37.70, tax inclusive, per room per day. This is common practise amoing resorts in Hawaii (albeit not done at the Four Seasons properties), but it is still a bitter pill to swallow. The resort fee does includes a lot of extras though, such as WiFi, one day rental of a GoPro Camera, cultural classes, a 15 minute surfing instruction, a bag of baked goods from the Royal Hawaiian bakery, 10% off spa charges, and unlimited local, long distance, and international telephone calls. It doesn’t seem to add up to me though when you still have to pay for beach loungers ($40 per day) and valet parking ($40 per day).
  • You’d better like pink since the pink motif is pervasively present, even in the pancakes that you order at breakfast.
  • Like most resorts in Hawaii, The Royal Hawaiian is a massive property with 500+ rooms, so if you prefer a boutique hotel with an intimate ambience, you’d better look to stay elsewhere (although small-scale luxury hotels are remarkably absent in Hawaii).
  • As said above, the Malulani pool is shockingly small and has the size of a whirlpool spa. Finding available sunbeds here might be mission impossible in high season. However, guests of The Royal Hawaiian also have access to the two larger pools below the tower of the neighboring Sheraton hotel, although that pool area is very crowded and chaotic, as it is understandably very popular with families.

  • If you are staying in the Mailani tower, be prepared for some long (and annoying) waiting time for the slow elevators. There are only 3 elevators serving all 17 guest room floors in the tower.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 8/10
  • Design: 7/10
  • Pool: 7/10
  • Rooms: 8/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: 8/10
  • Service: 8/10
  • Value for money: 8/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like The Royal Hawaiian, whether it’s booking a room at the cheapest price or receiving complimentary VIP perks (e.g. upgrade, breakfast, resort credit, etc …).
  • Save money: enjoy free VIP perks at The Royal Hawaiian when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, welcome cocktail, and $100 USD resort credit).
  • Save moneyStarwood Preferred Guests (SPG) with Gold or Platinum status are well treated, with – amongst other benefits – free high-speed WiFi, complementary room upgrade (when available), early check-in or late check-out  (when available), and free breakfast (SPG platinum). Click here to read my review of the SPG program (with pros & cons).
  • Room tip: if you like old world charm, then it’s hard to beat the romance and architectural detailing of accommodations inside the historic wing. If you want a room with a view and balcony (lanai), though, rooms in the oceanfront Mailani tower are your best bet.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Hawaii’s off-season – when the best rates are available and the islands are less crowded – is spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) – a paradox because these are the best seasons to be in Hawaii, in terms of reliably great weather.  Winter (December to March) can be a surprisingly cloudy and wet affair.


HOW TO GET THERE

The Royal Hawaiian is located 9 miles (15 km) from Honolulu International Airport. Check the Wikipedia page of Honolulu International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Honolulu.


EXTERIOR OF THE ‘PINK PALACE OF THE PACIFIC’
EXTERIOR OF THE ‘PINK PALACE OF THE PACIFIC’
HOTEL EXTERIOR: OCEAN LAWN
HOTEL EXTERIOR: ENTRANCE
HOTEL EXTERIOR: ENTRANCE
HOTEL EXTERIOR: ENTRANCE
HOTEL EXTERIOR: ENTRANCE
HOTEL EXTERIOR: ENTRANCE
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY: SHOPPING ARCADE
LOBBY: SHOPPING ARCADE
LOBBY: SHOPPING ARCADE
LOBBY: SHOPPING ARCADE
LOBBY: RECEPTION AREA
LOBBY: RECEPTION AREA
LOBBY: RECEPTION AREA
LOBBY: SEMI-OUTDOOR WALKWAY
LOBBY: SEMI-OUTDOOR WALKWAY
LOBBY: SEMI-OUTDOOR WALKWAY
LOBBY: SEMI-OUTDOOR WALKWAY
LOBBY: SEMI-OUTDOOR WALKWAY & BAKERY
LOBBY: SEMI-OUTDOOR WALKWAY & BAKERY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY (CEILING)
LOBBY: ELEVATORS TO GUEST ROOM FLOORS
GUEST ROOM FLOOR (HISTORIC WING)
GUEST ROOM FLOOR (HISTORIC WING)
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: LIVING ROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: LIVING ROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: LIVING ROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: LIVING ROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: VIEW (FROM LIVING ROOM)
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: VIEW
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: VIEW (FROM LIVING ROOM)
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: BEDROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: BEDROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: BEDROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: BEDROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: BEDROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: VIEW (FROM BEDROOM)
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: BATHROOM
DUKE KAHANAMOKU SUITE: BATHROOM
MALULANI POOL
SHARED POOL WITH SHERATON HOTEL
WAIKIKI BEACH IN FRONT OF HOTEL
WAIKIKI BEACH IN FRONT OF HOTEL (MAILANI TOWER)
WAIKIKI BEACH IN FRONT OF HOTEL (HISTORIC WING)
WAIKIKI BEACH IN FRONT OF HOTEL
WAIKIKI BEACH IN FRONT OF HOTEL
WAIKIKI BEACH IN FRONT OF HOTEL
WAIKIKI BEACH IN FRONT OF HOTEL (EARLY MORNING)
WAIKIKI BEACH IN FRONT OF HOTEL (EARLY MORNING)
WAIKIKI BEACH
WAIKIKI BEACH
WAIKIKI BEACH
WAIKIKI BEACH
WAIKIKI BEACH
MAI THAI BAR
MAI THAI BAR AT NIGHT
DINNER AT AZURE RESTAURANT
DINNER AT AZURE RESTAURANT
DINNER AT AZURE RESTAURANT
DINNER AT AZURE RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI
BREAKFAST AT SURF LANAI

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Top 10: things to see & do in Hawaii

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (November 13, 2017): Top 10 things to do Hawaii.

Home to some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, the only royal palace in the U.S. and the welcoming aloha spirit, Hawaii is like no place on earth. The glimmering ocean, lava-spewing volcanoes, emerald valleys, towering coastal cliffs, sandy beaches, and sublime luxury hotels & resorts lure thousands of tourists each year, who get lost in the spiritual beauty of the hula and find out how the warmth of Hawaii’s people wonderfully complement the islands’ perfect temperatures. Although Hawaii is comprised of a chain of 132 islands, we usually refer to only a few islands when we think of Hawaii: Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai and the Island of Hawaii (more commonly known as the Big Island).  I hereby share with you my 10 preferred things to see & do on the stunning Hawaiian archipelago.

There is more info (with reviews) below the slide show.  Think I missed one? Leave a comment or take my poll below!

Click to view slideshow.

*** Read: top 10 best luxury hotels & resorts on Hawaii ***


10. REMEMBER WWII AT PEARL HARBOR, HONOLULU, OAHU

Known the world over as a ‘date which will live in infamy‘, the devastating events of December 7, 1941 changed the course of history. It was right here that a surprise air attack by the Japanese plunged the United States into World War II, claiming thousands of lives. Today, five historic sites honor the events occurring at this National Historic Landmark, about 30 minutes from Waikiki Beach. Hear first-hand stories from survivors describing the chaotic scene on Battleship Row. Walk through an airplane hangar that still bears the scars from that fateful morning. And peer into the shallow harbor where the sunken hull of the USS Arizona rests, still leaking oil that pools on the water’s surface like black tears, as they’ve been described. Visiting Pearl Harbor is an experience that will be etched into your soul forever and will offer you a new perspective on World War II.


9. SURF THE BIG WAVES, NORTH SHORE, OAHU

If the perfect wave exists, you’ll find it on Oahu’s North Shore. The towering, glassy winter waves of this legendary surf mecca draw the best surfers in the world, while smaller and gentler summer waves are better for beginners. Stretching for more than 7 miles (11 km), the beaches of the North Shore host the world’s premier surfing competitions during the peak winter months, including the biggest of them all, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. The months between November and February are the best times to see big wave surfing.  The massive waves can sometimes swell up to thirty feet or more—dangerous even for experienced surfers—so always heed warning signs. From May to September, the waves subside, creating a more tranquil atmosphere for surfing and swimming.


8. DRIVE THE HANA HIGHWAY, MAUI

When your mind imagines Maui, it probably looks a lot like the island’s epic east side: cascading waterfall pools hidden in lush rainforests, roadside pineapple stands, hairpin turns around plunging sea cliffs. It’s all here, along the legendary Road to Hana – one big reason why East Maui is a must-see on any traveler’s list. The Hana Highway snakes along the island’s northern coast for 52 miles (83 km)  and the drive to Hana can take as few as 3 hours or last an entire day, depending on how many pictures you stop to take and food stands you sample.  After you’ve navigated the more than 600 white-knuckle turns and 50 bridges, you’ll enter Hana—a charming small town where time seems an abstract concept and aloha is a way of life. Just beyond Hana is the stunning Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park (cf below), where a hike to a stunning water fall and a refreshing swim is the perfect reward after a long drive.


7. SEE THE WORLD’S MOST ACTIVE VULCANO, BIG ISLAND

Vast, rural and remote, the Big Island’ southernmost region, Kau, is a quiet area free of large hotels, resorts and golf courses. It’s here that you find Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park, which is home to two volcanoes including Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on earth, sometimes called ‘the world’s only drive-in volcano’. It’s a sacred place of natural wonders where you can witness the growth of the island –  a primal process of creation and destruction – right before your eyes. Scientists are unsure how long the current eruption may last—it could go for another 100 years or stop tomorrow. Many locals say that Pele, the volcano goddess who lives here, is very unpredictable. The chance to watch Kilauea’s blistering lava flows meet the sea is a sight not to be missed during your visit. The extraordinary natural diversity of the park was recognized in 1987 when the park was honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


6. RELAX ON THE ARCHIPELAGO’S STUNNING BEACHES

Besides jaw-dropping natural scenery, Hawaii boasts also some of the best beaches in the world, some built around the intense drama of powerful waves crashing against towering cliffs, some so remote that they are only accessible by helicopter or boat, and some so hidden and gorgeous that they need to remain a secret. On Hawaii’s world-famous shores you’ll find white, black and red sand beaches, renowned surfing and windsurfing spots as well as excellent beaches for simply swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. The best beaches are found on Maui, with Makena Beach – a 1.5 mi (2,4 km) stretch of golden sand that is also known as Big Beach – considered the island’s best. IMHO, Kauai’s Polihale is hands-down the Hawaiian archipelago’s most breathtakingly beautiful beach though.  This seemingly deserted 7 mi (11 km) stretch is several miles from the nearest town and holds a vibe of enchantment and mystique, still alive on Hawaii today.


5. VISIT HAWAII’S TRUE ISLAND ROOTS ON MOLOKAI

Hawaii’s fifth largest island, Molokai is only 38 mi (60 km) long and 10 mi (16 km) across at its widest point and is home to the tallest sea cliffs in the world and the longest continuous fringing reef. Along the north coast of Central Molokai is the isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula, home to historic Kalaupapa National Historical Park, where victims of Hansen’s disease (commonly known as leprosy) were exiled in the 1800s. In 1873, Father Damien came to the remote colony in 1873 to care for the residents, and eventually succumbed to the disease himself after 16 years and was laid to rest at historic St. Philomena Roman Catholic Church. In October of 2009, Father Damien was canonized as a saint for his selfless dedication. Today, you can learn about the pain and resilience of Kalaupapa’s residents on a tour of the site, which is only accessible by hike or mule ride along the 1,700-foot sheer cliffs.