The Hawaiian island of Maui is one of the top paradise destinations for luxury travelers in search of both adventure and relaxation. With 360 degrees of breathtaking scenery, and so many options for luxury accommodations, Maui is the premier island among all of the Hawaiian islands for luxury travel. Though Maui bodes warm tropical weather year-round, visiting during mid-February not only meant I was able to celebrate my birthday on this beautiful island, but the month of February is also peak whale watching season and therefore a great time to visit. As for where to stay in Maui, out of all the luxury resorts on the island, I chose to spend my birthday at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. The Ritz are among the top resorts on Maui, and they provide a whale watching excursion that cannot be beat, so I was very happy about my decision to stay there. Continue reading for my review of the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, my whale watching trip, my very own guide for the Road to Hana’s best stops, and the best places to see and things to do on the island.
Where to Stay in Maui: The Ritz Carlton Kapalua
If you are considering which hotel to stay in Maui, definitely do not overlook the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. The Ritz Carlton Maui resort exudes the feeling of aloha in every sense of the word. The hotel and its staff are all so warm, welcoming, and ready to ensure your time on the island is as comfortable and relaxing, yet invigorating and enthralling as it can be. The Ritz Carlton is situated on the beautiful beach of Kapalua, and the resort itself is a part of one of Hawaii’s largest nature preserves and has two marine sanctuaries on site.
6 restaurants on property make for plenty of world class dining options, and all of them provide some of the tastiest and freshest Hawaiian and fusion cuisine on the island. Breakfast at the Terrace includes a full daily buffet spread; or those in search of a quick bite can grab coffee, açaí bowls, pastries, and quick breakfast items at the Kai Cafe. For lunch, enjoy cocktails and tacos by the ‘Ai’ Ono pool bar, (they even have poke nachos!) or hit the burger and milkshake shack right on the beach. At sunset, have drinks and light fare while watching the daily sunset ceremony followed by nightly entertainment at the Alaloa lounge; and for dinner, the upscale Banyan Tree restaurant offers heavenly Hawaiian farm-to-fork delicacies.
Activities and Amenities
Activities await at every corner of the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. For those interested in recreational sports, the resort contains 2 championship golf courses, 2 award-winning tennis courts, daily yoga classes, a gym with amazing views, beautiful hiking trails, and a huge pool with private cabanas to relax by after a solid workout. Beach activities include snorkeling, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, and jet skiing.
The Ritz in Maui is as much of a playground for activities and adventure as it is a sanctuary for rest and relaxation. I received one of the best massages at the Ritz’s Waihua Spa, right after enjoying a nice soak in the spa’s sauna and hot tub. Local Hawaiian plants, flowers, fruits, and herbs are used for all different types of spa treatments at the Waihua Spa; however one of my favorite features about the facility is their aromatherapy and vitamin-C-infused showers. The spa is also a great place to relax if you want to wait out one of Hawaii’s infamous tropical storms, and provides several areas to rest and unwind.
For off site activities, the Ritz Carlton offers plenty of excursions to show you the best of Maui. ATV/horseback/helicopter tours, sunset sailing, whale watching, luaus, and Ulalena (a modern Hawaiian hula dance show) are among the top activities offered by the Ritz Kapalua. The resort’s friendly concierge are also extremely resourceful in helping you plan your own perfect D-I-Y itinerary should you want to explore the island on your own. My favorite off-site activity offered by the Ritz was without a doubt the whale watching trip. If you are visiting during whale watching season, (May 15 – December 15) the maui whale watching tour is one activity that definitely should not be missed.
Whale Watching in Maui
The Ritz Carlton Kapalua and the Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment Maui whale watching excursion is unparalleled to all others on the island. Led by a certified naturalist and marine biologist, we were joined by just a few others for an intimate 2 hour excursion. Out at sea, we learned about the social behaviors of Humpback whales and the interactions between mother whales and their calves, as well as between males and females. My favorite part (aside from the sightings of the whales of course) was listening to whale sounds through the underwater hydrophone. Through this device we were able to detect when whales were near, and the anticipation as we waited and watched for whales to pop out from the water was so exciting to experience. Each time we spotted a fin reach from the surface or watched in awe as water exploded out of a blowhole, we observed intently as we anticipated the whale’s next move. Would it be a simple dip and tumble or a large breaching splash? Just like a safari, whale watching is best when you go multiple times as each time is different and you never know what you’ll see. A huge thank you to the Ritz Carlton Kapalua for gifting me this unique experience – I can’t wait to go whale watching again.
Best Stops on the Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is a full day trip and one of the most beautiful drives you will ever experience. We began our expedition at 6:00am and did not get back to the Ritz until 6:00pm. The road to Hana is not about the destination, it is about the journey, and the journey does not end in Hana itself but extends far beyond it. Take your time and savor the roads, sites, and stops along the famous Hana Highway as there is a lot to experience. My strategy for sites to stop at on the Road to Hana was simple: quality over quantity, and skipping the more laborious and difficult falls to get to. Here are my favorite stops along the way. If you want a more detailed guide for Road to Hana stops, click this link.
Haipua’ena Falls – mile marker 10.5
Lookout spot over Honomanu Bay – right after mile marker 14.5
Ke’anae Peninsula – around the 15-16 mile marker, take the dead end road to the coast
Ching’s Pond – just before mile marker 17
Waikani Falls – between mile marker 18 and 19
Upper Waikani Falls AKA Three Bears Falls – between mile marker 19 and 20
Makapipi Falls – shortly after mile marker 25 you’ll be directly above it
Nahiku Road – Next to Makapipi Falls, 2 1/2 miles down park near the church and follow the lush path down Nahiku Road to the ocean.
Coconut Glen’s – best coconut-based ice cream past the 27 mile marker
Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach – just past the 32 mile marker
*Red Sand Beach (Kaihalulu) – in Hana. Yay you made it to Hana! Now keep driving…
*Edit: A reader wrote in with the following note: “We are trying to reduce the visitations to this beach as it has numerous safety issues…This is a beautiful spot that needs to be kept quiet. Too many visitors are coming unprepared…” There are other red sand beaches in Maui that are safer and more accessible. I can no longer recommend visiting the Red Sand Beach in Hana. Visit at your own risk.
‘Ohe’o Gulch AKA Seven Sacred Pools – Haleakala National Park a few miles past Hana
There are two ways to go home after Hana: Option 1, go back the way you came from or option 2, keep traveling through Upcountry as you loop back to where you started from. I highly, highly recommend option 2 (even though your rental car company might not). Driving through Upcountry will provide even more new and incredible sights and is a great way to see a part of Maui that is so different from the rest. If you plan to stay in Hana overnight, consider heading to Upcountry for sunrise at Haleakala. Even if you are not staying over, a trip back is worth it to witness this majestic and legendary sunrise, followed by a trip to the Haleakala crater.
Best Maui Day Trips
Obviously the Road to Hana should be a part of every Maui itinerary, but if you are looking for day trips from Maui that leave the island, you can take the ferry to the islands of Lanai or Molokai.
Other Maui Favorites
- Nakalele Blowhole
- Snorkel at my favorite snorkeling spot at Honolua-Mokuleia Bay (on the way to the Blowhole)
- Walk down Front Street in Lahaina with its many shops, restaurants, and bars. Make sure to stop at Ululani’s for the best shaved ice on the island (and make sure to get it with ice cream on the bottom!)
- Visit Banyan Tree Park at Front Street that is home to the oldest tree on Maui
- Relax at my favorite beaches: Kapalua Bay (good snorkeling and great sunsets!) Napili Beach, and Ka’anapali Beach
- Eat fresh poke. An insider informed me that some of the best and freshest poke could be found at a liquor store of all places. Tamura Fine Wine & Spirits did not disappoint.
- On the way from or to the airport, have lunch or dinner (make a reservation in advance!) at Mama’s Fish House for fresh seafood at the most famous restaurant on Maui
With its lush greenery, breathtaking beaches, and so much to see and do, the island of Maui is easily one of the best of all the 8 large Hawaiian islands. Maui is a beautiful island that deserves to be explored in its entirety. I recommend staying at least 4 nights and renting a car to experience as much of the island as you can.
So now that you’ve made it to the end of the post (first of all, congrats!) you may be dreaming of drinking a Mai Tai in Maui but thinking that staying at the Ritz Carlton is too expensive or slightly out of reach. Well, here’s my tip for making all your Ritz Carlton Maui dreams come true: Sign up for the Ritz Carlton credit card to get 2 free nights at the Ritz plus $300.00 USD travel credit. There is an annual fee of $450.00 USD for the card BUT with the $300.00 travel credit you receive back, it is like you are spending $150.00 for 2 nights at the Ritz – a steal! Another bonus for signing up with the Ritz Card is a membership to Priority Pass which grants you VIP lounge access at airports, plus a reimbursement for Global Entry/TSA Pre-check, which is a must for every traveler. So what are you waiting for? There is no bad time to visit Maui.