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Whalers Village may be small compared to other shopping centers in Hawaii. However, thanks to a two-year, $27 million renovation, the Kaanapali-based facility has evolved into a shopping, dining and entertainment hub unlike any other around the islands.
“We’re definitely not what people think of as a traditional mall,” said Corinne Arquero, general manager for Whalers Village, during a recent site inspection. “We’re an outdoor resort retail center with a great mix of national, regional and local merchants. You can buy something Maui-specific here that you won’t be able to find elsewhere.”
This is the first major renovation of Whalers Village since its opening in 1970, which makes the news a big deal, according to Arquero.
“We’ve revitalized everything, from the flooring, lighting and railing to new stores and restaurants,” she said. “We’ve created a more visitor-friendly environment.”
New Whale MuseumOne product of the renovation will be The Whale Center of Hawaii, which will open this fall. Its predecessor — the third-most-visited attraction on Maui before it closed in 2015 — focused on the history of the whaling industry. The new museum, which is part of a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), integrates the past, present and future of all things whale, Arquero says.
“It’s appropriate to have the new whale center here,” Arquero said. “We face the ocean, and we sit on one of only 13 protected national marine sanctuaries. We try to be stewards of the environment.”
Toward that end, the trademark whale skeleton by the Whalers Village entrance has been raised to make room for a new kiosk. There, clients can chat with NOAA staff and listen to talks about the wonders of Maui’s seas.
“We want to present a Hawaiian sense of place while remaining relevant and charming,” Arquero said.
Upgraded Shops and RestaurantsThe renovation has also added luster to Whalers Village’s scores of stores. Maui Resort Wear, Tommy Bahama and Tori Richard are reliable names for aloha shirts and tropical togs. Totally Hawaiian Gift Gallery sells koa bowls, Niihau shell jewelry and other creations by island artists. The new Cariloha features clothing and accessories made from bamboo. Retailers such as Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade appeal to affluent travelers, while ABC Stores specializes in general merchandise at moderate prices.
In dining news, a high-profile addition is Monkeypod Kitchen, part of a chain by famed Hawaii Regional Cuisine chef Peter Merriman. When it opens later this summer, it will serve farm-to-table fare such as seared ahi tuna melts and Maui Cattle Company cheeseburgers.
Repeat visitors can rest assured that Whalers Village still offers the full-service Hula Grill and Leilani’s On the Beach. Fast food options include Fresh…Live Well Eat Well, Joey’s Kitchen and Nikki’s Pizza. Beachgoers can cool down at Yogurtland, whose soft-serve comes with exotic toppings such as mango, pineapple, lychee and coconut flakes.
Wooing All AgesWhalers Village now boasts play areas for kids. Youngsters can test their climbing skills on a new structure resembling enormous flower petals and surrounded by protective netting. The Splash Pad has interactive water features. Another multigenerational lure is a 20-foot-high outdoor movie screen, which shows family films every Tuesday after sunset.
One thing that hasn’t changed at Whalers Village is its dedication to the culture. It presents free, daily Hawaiian activities such as lei-making, ukulele-playing and hula dancing, plus live evening music and hula. And it continues to host events in conjunction with annual happenings like the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival and Chinese New Year.