Guestrooms exude a warm, residential feel. // © 2011 Ron Starr/The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
It had been more than three years since my last visit to The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua so, when I entered the resort, it felt at once familiar and foreign. It still had the same classy porte cochere that I remembered from the past, the same warm greetings from the staff and the same spectacular ocean view from the lobby. But something had changed. This was The Ritz-Carlton, reinvented.
In January 2008, the luxurious northwest Maui resort reopened after an extensive $180-million transformation that took an already exceptional property to the next level.
During my recent return, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua's group sales director, Marc Nasser, took me on a site inspection to show off the hotel's many improvements.
"Our focus throughout the property was to incorporate an authentic Hawaiian sense of place," said Nasser, pointing out the island artwork and koa wood panels in the lobby.
As we toured a few of the accommodations, I could see just what he was talking about. Gone were the traditional Ritz-
Carlton white walls and, in their place, were warmer hues with koa-framed Hawaiian art. Guests make themselves at home amidst dark wood floors, area rugs with tropical floral designs, new furnishings and travertine bathrooms. The rooms feel more residential than before the renovation, and feature such niceties as flat-screen LCD televisions, DVD players, iPod docking stations and wireless Internet access.
One of the major changes at the hotel was the creation of 107 full-ownership residential suites as part of its 463-room inventory. The suites, available for booking, feature kitchens, one or two bedrooms and large living rooms.
Further perpetuating the hotel's sense of place are its restaurants, which have been redesigned to interpret aspects of Maui's geography and history. The Banyan Tree features a new outdoor bar and lounge with ocean views. Kai Sushi, which moved across the lobby from its former location, boasts a design inspired by the native Hawaiiansí arrival across the sea. The new look of the Terrace restaurant recalls island plantation days, and its expanded glass-enclosed lanai reinforces the connection with the landscape.
Alaloa Lounge's black lava stone wall with a red ribbon of light symbolizes a path from the mountains to the sea.
During the renovation, the resort's fitness center was relocated to the lobby level, where it now offers dramatic ocean views. Three times the size of the old facility and open round-the-clock, the fitness center offers top-of-the-line cardiovascular and weight-training equipment and a range of fitness classes including yoga and Pilates. Outside, the hotel's signature 10,000-square-foot, three-tiered swimming pool now has a children's pool and luxury cabanas with a range of indulgences, from a fruit platter upon arrival to flat-screen televisions and wireless headphones.
As I entered the hotel's reconfigured spa, I was dumbfounded. There is nothing remotely similar between the new 17,500-square-foot facility and its predecessor. It draws its inspiration from the healing waters of Waihua, which the ancient Hawaiians believed was the purest form of water that was captured by the leaves of the taro plant. That explains the design, from the entrance -- featuring wood panels carved with images of taro, and walls of stone in a river bed design -- to the interior, where glass walls glimmer with running water and groves of tall bamboo create a sense of privacy.
Providing 15 treatment rooms, half of which open to private outdoor shower gardens, the spa emphasizes Hawaiian-based treatments, many incorporating natural ingredients such as pineapple, papaya, kukui oil and coconut. A subtly lit volcanic-stone grotto area -- with its jacuzzi, eucalyptus dry sauna and steam room -- creates a dreamy, timeless setting for relaxation.
The resort was wise to preserve the services and amenities that were well-liked before its renovation. Guests who stay on the Club level still enjoy the perks of the private lounge, with its concierge staff and five daily food and beverage presentations. Weekly cultural programs and activities enliven the public spaces, reminding clients that they are in Hawaii. The beach, a quick walk or shuttle ride away, offers opportunities for snorkeling, scuba, kayaking and boogie boarding. The resort features six tennis courts, scenic jogging and walking trails and 36 holes of golf on the Plantation and Bay courses.
In short, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, is a textbook example of a renovation done right. They say that change is good, and in this case, they're absolutely right.