I won't lie. The flight to Hawaii from DC is a brutal stretch, and mine started at 5:40am. But, that meant we were wheels down in Maui by 1:30pm... so we all make sacrifices.
Maui is stunning. The islands are just naturally beautiful and everyone has been so nice. We rented an awesome Jeep from Budget. I'm about halfway through my vacation and before I share a few tips -about what you must do, let me tell you what I would do differently if I was planning this again.
1. I flew American Airlines, which normally is great because I fly so often that I have status with them. Our economy plus seats were roomy and comfortable, but plan ahead people. The eight+ hour flight does not include food, so you'll be eating two meals of snack packs or Pringles unless you pack a picnic. Next, wifi. That wasn't even an option. It didn't exist on our flight. (Though oddly, some seats had chargers underneath them. Just. Not Mine.) That's ok, right. Because you can watch one of the movies. Nope. There are only shared TV screens that were showing Mission Impossible 12 and a whole roster of single episode NBC shows... for. eight. hours. I would like to issue a memo to the person who programs this channel. If you have a captive audience for eight hours, let them marathon your best series. Get them hooked. Mid-season single episodes were at best a tease, and at worst maddening.
But who cares... Hawaii, right? I'm just saying. Pick another airline and confirm the food and entertainment in advance. Download from iTunes and pack battery packs - because your fully charged MacAir will die on episode four of Empire season one.
2. If you believe you are a person like me (one who isn't the most easy going after spending the whole day on a plane trapped with Tom Cruise and The Mysteries of Laura), do not under any circumstances book a luau the same day that you land. As cool of a local tradition as this is, your entry point to Maui should not be terrible sugary tiki drinks with Marge, Bob and the kids from [insert town.] I just didn't have the patience to watch a bikini fashion show and kids learning to hula. But, I'm here to save you. When you land, if you're near Lahaina, go straight to Hula Barefoot Bar and have a fresh-squeezed lime margarita while you decompress and stare at the horizon line until your blood pressure settles down to island time. Walk down to Black Rock Beach. If and when you are patient and relaxed enough to sit through a luau with hundreds of tourists, the Drums of the Pacific one at the Hyatt was good.
3. I stayed at the Westin in Ka'anapali on Starwood Preferred Guest points. This is usually a great idea and a great hotel chain. I love staying at Westins. This one is huge. It's great for families - with lots of pools and a slide. But, I had several fairly frustrating experiences in which staff from various parts of the hotel service equation didn't know the answers to questions like, "Where is the 7am spin class?" or "Can I order food?" or "Can I rent this cabana from you, cabana guy?" I tweeted my frustration and the always on-the-ball Starwood social team immediately reached out to get more information and even had the hotel manager call me (within minutes.) The best social media program can't solve for on-the-ground management unconcerned with customer experience though... The manager response was, "Sorry, all of those people are vendors and none of the systems talk to each other." I actually think I would have been ok with that answer if she had added, "We know it's a problem and we are working on integrating our systems to provide a more seamless experience for guests."
The hotel is fine. But, compared to other properties we visited, it needs a serious technology upgrade to the user experience. I want to write a report and send it to the Starwood experience team. Your vacation user experience shouldn't feel like a scavenger hunt. And, all of the issues were so solvable, but it didn't seem like there was any plan to solve it.
So, TL:DR... if you're looking to do burn Starwood points on a relaxing Maui vacation, the Sheraton looked much nicer, more modern and had a more spacious beach (right by Black Rock). I know it seems luxe-counterintuitive, but if I had done this again, I would have booked the Sheraton.
Stay tuned for two more posts coming with the good stuff... and there is so much good stuff to share.
ADDENDUM: You know how you see all of these images of people deplaning and getting leis? That's a lie. We didn't get them at the Westin either. On our fourth day, we checked into the Andaz. They placed luscious fresh floral leis over our heads and it was like we were transported into another dimension. I basically never want to leave the Andaz.