Marriott Makeover in Maui

Clients may not recognize the place if they haven’t visited recently.

By: By Janice Mucalov


Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

Rates: 2008 rack rates start at $525 plus $25 resort fee (includes parking)

Commission: 10-12 percent

The Serenity Pool, with its saline-filtered water, was a major focus of the renovation // (c) Marriott HawaiiClients may not recognize the place if they haven’t visited recently. That’s a good thing. The Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on the southwest coast of Maui was due for an overhaul. And now — following a two-year $60 million property-wide transformation — the 100 percent smoke-free Marriott invites both couples and families to enjoy its stylish redesign.

As the first resort in the exclusive Wailea area, it was originally built in 1976 as the InterContinental Hotel, then operated as an Outrigger property, before becoming a Marriott in 2003. The basic structure hasn’t changed; clients still find the same 1970’s-style box-like buildings (mostly low-rise) spread out along a half-mile of rocky oceanfront. But practically every other aspect of the guest experience has been enhanced.

“It’s a very different resort from before,” said Diana Shirey, a Hawaii specialist with San Diego Travel Group’s Carefree Vacations in Temecula, Calif., who just returned from staying there in April. “After the last experience I had before the renovation, I decided I wouldn’t sell it again. But since returning from this trip, I have no hesitations. In fact, I’ve already booked some people into the Wailea Beach Mar- riott. The day after I got back, I sold the hotel to some clients going this summer.”

The improvements are obvious from the moment clients check in, which is an easy and pleasant process. In the open-air lobby, they’re greeted with iced mango-scented towels at the front desk, behind which is an eye-catching aquarium.

“There were plenty of staff to help us, and our bags arrived within minutes of being shown to our room,” said Shirey.

All 546 guestrooms and suites have been completely redesigned. Where Shirey called them dark before, now the decor is light, serene and airy. The carpets were removed and replaced with white tile. Koa-wood doors and trim contrast nicely with cream-colored walls, and a rattan-like chair and loveseat in each room are upholstered in powder blue or cream fabric. Clients also find a refrigerator, 27-inch flat-screen television, iron and ironing board, coffee maker and robes and slippers.

Best of all, the low-to-the-floor beds with white linens and duvets are super comfy. On our visit in March, I could have lounged in bed all day if it weren’t for the siren call of the sun outside. The guestroom bathrooms are quite delightful, too; they feature deep-soaking tubs and a separate dressing area with large mirror.

Another highlight is the resort’s new Mala restaurant. Following the success of the Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina town, chefs/owners Mark and Judy Wellman, who have lived on Maui for more than 22 years, partnered with the Marriott to open the Mala Wailea in the hotel’s old restaurant space. Lustrous wood floors and an oceanview lanai now provide the setting for romantic dinners, which showcase delicious items like complimentary homemade chips and edamame puree dip to start, light and moist local opakapaka (pink snapper) and a decadent dessert of fruit and macadamia nut ice cream with warm caramel and chocolate sauce.

The newly opened Mandara Spa and state-of-the-art fitness center deserve recognition as well.

Outside, a major focus of the renovation was the hotel’s new adults-only Serenity pool, which opened in January. Floating in its health-promoting, saline-filtered water, clients look out over the infinity edge at views of the Pacific Ocean.

Six cabanas on fingers jutting out into the pool (available for rent at $50 day) offer the ultimate poolside experience. For extra shade, clients can rent double loungers. Apart from that, however, there are no free shade umbrellas, and for me, that’s a drawback in the heat. Other areas that could still do with some tweaking? The elevators show their age, as do some hallways and patios. And Shirey felt that Marriott should step up its activity offerings.

“The one thing that’s really lacking is some entertainment at night,” she lamented. “There’s no Hawaiian or other music in the lounge.” Clients should also be aware that the hotel doesn’t have a beach in front (unlike the other pricier Wailea hotel properties). But it’s a very manageable, short walk, towel in hand, to two excellent swimming and snorkeling beaches on either side of the Marriott property.

Still, the Wailea Beach Marriott is now a wonderful property overall, said Shirey.

“I’d recommend this hotel for upscale clients looking for a diamond in the rough,” she suggested. “It’s a great value for the money. You’re in a very expensive beautiful resort area, with a great oceanfront walkway, but you’re not paying over-the-top prices.”