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There’s a reigning champion for the title of “Most Hawaiian Hotel,” and that honor was first bestowed upon Kaanapali Beach Hotel (KBH) by Waiaha Foundation in the ’90s. Though the nonprofit organization has since disbanded, KBH’s moniker stuck — largely because the 432-room Maui hotel, open since 1964, still upholds all 110 criteria originally used to examine its dedication to authentic Hawaiian culture.
These standards range from simpler matters — including use of the hula in hotel programs — to conceptual goals, such as instilling Hawaiian values in management philosophy. The latter is particularly apparent in how Mike White, general manager for KBH, and the rest of the executive team lead the hotel staff.
Years before earning the designation, in 1986, KBH had introduced its award-winning Pookela program for employees. The program dives into the fundamentals of dozens of Hawaiian values, such as hookipa (hospitality), hoamana (empowerment) and the program’s namesake, pookela (excellence, to constantly seek improvement). Since Pookela’s launch, the hotel has conducted 70 lesson plans and counting, with each class lasting four hours.
“If you want an authentic Hawaiian experience, this is the place to visit,” White said. “We aren’t the fanciest hotel by any stretch of the imagination, but we certainly are the one with the most heart.”
Indeed, there likely isn’t a hotel on the islands with a team more well-versed in Hawaiian culture than KBH’s, and this shows in the guest experience. During our stay last April, my partner, Ben, and I felt warmth not only from the island sun, but also from the hospitality provided by everyone on staff.
What’s more, employees sincerely want to share their gathered knowledge, as evidenced by more than a dozen complimentary cultural activities (sign-up is required). There’s everything from lei-making and ukulele lessons to “hularobics” (a combination of aerobics and learning hula steps) and conch-blowing lessons. A few additional classes, such as constructing a bamboo nose flute or trumpet, are offered for a small fee ($10 or less) to cover the cost of supplies.
But these classes do more than just keep people busy. During each activity, the attending staff members discuss relevant Hawaiian values, too.
“We want to transmit what we have learned to our guests,” White said. “And the reason we don’t charge for the activities or only charge nominally is because in old Hawaii, you gave from the heart.”
Clients will also find this ode to Hawaii in the guestrooms. The decor — as well as that of the entire property — pays tribute to KBH’s traditional roots, instead of catching the wave of modern style sweeping the islands. I was told that guests should feel like they’re at “auntie’s house” — a place that is comfortable and feels familiar. And our oceanfront room in the property’s Molokai building fit the bill, with its rattan furniture; a bedspread in a Hawaiian-style quilt pattern; a wooden armoire; and glass sliding doors that opened to a balcony.
Meanwhile, the stunning island of Maui is an epic playground, so guests are encouraged to go outside and explore rather than stay indoors. Hale Huakai, the hotel’s water activities center, can assist in such ventures. Ben and I opted for an early morning of stand-up paddleboarding and slowly made our way over to the iconic Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock, a landmark that was formed by an ancient lava flow. Besides being a solid snorkeling spot, the area attracts locals and visitors alike, who scramble up the rocks before jumping into the ocean — just as the renowned King Kahekili, a former Maui chief, once did.
I may not be royalty, but I was able to muster up some wiwoole — the Hawaiian value of bravery and courage — before inching my way up the jagged outcrop, taking a deep breath of salty ocean air and jumping right in.
The 432-guestroom Kaanapali Beach Hotel (KBH) has long been recognized as the “Most Hawaiian Hotel;” pictured is a junior suite. // © 2018 Kaanapali Beach Hotel
The hotel’s decor pays tribute to its traditional island roots. // © 2018 Kaanapali Beach Hotel
Guests can take a dip in the on-site whale-shaped pool or stroll the tropical gardens. // © 2018 Kaanapali Beach Hotel
They can also participate in more than a dozen complimentary cultural activities, such as conch-blowing lessons. // © 2018 Kaanapali Beach Hotel
Paddleboarding lessons are available via the KBH’s water activities center, Hale Huakai. // © 2018 Kaanapali Beach Hotel
KBH’s location on Kaanapali Beach offers easy access to places such as Whalers Village, which features 66 stores and restaurants. // © 2018 Kaanapali Beach Hotel
- Kaanapali Beach Hotel (KBH) does not charge a resort fee.
- KBH has 432 rooms, including 14 suites.
- An orientation breakfast meeting upon arrival and a lei ceremony upon departure are both complimentary.
- The hotel hosts a luau called Legends of Kaanapali Lu every Monday in its Tiki Courtyard.
- Parking is $12 per day.
- Whalers Village, which features 66 stores and restaurants, is a five-minute walk from KBH.