Getting Better All the Time

The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua has been at the creative edge of service and amenities since 1992

By: Marty Wentzel

KAPALUA, Maui Times have changed since 1992, when The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua first opened. While the luxury property has settled nicely into its northwest Maui surroundings, it has steadily fine-tuned its offerings in response to the fluctuating needs of its high-end clients, who are more discriminating than ever, given the state of the nation’s economy.

A case in point is the hotel’s Anuenue Room, an elegant and expensive dining room that just couldn’t turn a profit, despite favorable reviews. The restaurant closed in late 2001, and in its place the hotel will soon open a less formal “personality restaurant,” as one hotel official put it, overseen by a new chef.

On the other hand, The Ritz-Carlton’s casual Banyan Tree restaurant is going like gangbusters. Where once it was an open-air affair by the pool, with simple salads and sandwiches, now it’s a hip dining spot with eclectic Pacific cuisine such as coconut, corn and lemongrass soup with rich chunks of crab. The Banyan Tree went through a physical transformation as well, adding seating and a new roof; and it offers live music on most evenings.

Recently, I was hosted at The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua during Pleasant Holiday’s Tournament of Centurions, attended by 100 travel agents and their guests.

During my stay, I got a firsthand taste of how the property handles groups, a mainstay of its business during trying economic times.

In 1998, The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua built the 19,200-square-foot Aloha Outdoor Ballroom, a permanent outdoor function space that’s perfect for a region where unexpected rain can dampen alfresco events. The hotel can put together any of nine theme parties in the AOB, ranging from a 1950s drive-in, complete with a soda fountain to a Shogun-inspired setting with sushi bars. The Mardi Gras bash for our group was an animated scene of face painters, strolling jugglers, a make-your-own-mask station, live entertainment and creole cuisine such as spicy gumbo and warm beignets.

In terms of guest services, The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua stays on top of the trends. For instance, high-speed wireless Internet access is now available to guests for $13 per day.

From the famed Plantation Course, home of the prestigious PGA Tour’s Mercedes Championships, to the Arnold Palmer-designed Bay and Village Courses, golf in Kapalua is top-notch.

During the December 2002 holidays, the resort launched Adventure 7, a seasonal program for teens. Guests ages 13-17 can participate in activities like art classes, beach parties, barbecues, surfing, snorkeling and kayaking. “Adventure 7 was a success during the holidays, and we’ll ramp it up again for spring break,” a hotel spokeswoman told me.

Over the years, the look of the 548-room Ritz-Carlton has stayed fresh, thanks to frequent renovations. My room boasted a new feather bed, and since the new bed was higher than the old one, I also got a taller and more expansive armoire, so that my feet didn’t get in the way when I was watching television. Since it opened, one thing that hasn’t changed at The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is its attention to individual needs. I found a scale in my guest room bathroom and, not wanting to know the bad news, I asked for it to be removed. No problem, said the housekeeping staff. Later, I felt that the lighting in the bathroom was a bit dim. One call to the concierge and voila brighter lighting. Clearly this is a hotel that aims to please, no matter what the times bring.

Hotel Review

Hits: The rich Hawaiian culture of the area is thoughtfully incorporated into guest programs and hotel furnishings.

Misses: A property this sizable should have a free-standing spa.

Be Aware: It’s a long walk from the lobby to the guest rooms, which are at the end of each wing.

Clientele: 60 percent groups, 40 percent leisure travelers.

Outlets: Seven in a standard guest room, including an easily reached outlet by the desk.

Rates: From $375 per night, double occupancy; with suites from $635.

Contact: 800-252-8440;