Hotels in the Time of Corona – A Westin Resort Review

As a Maui woman, a favorite past time for me is spending a day at a resort. Sipping maitais, lounging, letting the kids splash and play and get wonderful tan lines. Its an expensive hobby, but given the right season and a special occasion you can approach this in a budget friendly manner. Not to mention I live in the PERFECT place for resort hopping. So when the entire world shut down last year, resorting was the first thing to go. I’d visit the surrounding beaches and walk past vacant, boarded up luxury properties who’s pools still boasted pristine aqua tones of a cool, clean resort pool. I could almost smell the rum saturated pineapples.

It was bizarre to look at these places, these engines of our island economy, sitting at a stand still, no family of six on their dream vacation from snowy eastern towns, no lobster toned college kids looking for weed and hula girls on the kaanapali strip, no miles and miles of rental vehicles testing our aging infrastructure. Most of Maui celebrated. It was a sight to see, our home, tourist free. It felt like a much needed reprieve from the overcrowded beaches, waterfalls and national parks. But I couldn’t help but think of all those negatively effected on an individual level who lost jobs and income. The cancelled destination weddings, honeymoons and dream vacations. I looked at each vacant hotel room as a portal, where money just poured in and dreams satisfied, with each check in and check out. Now they stood dusty, quiet and dark. I looked at the closed restaurants where waitstaff lost huge amounts of tips from the visitor industry. The small businesses that serve visitors.

I think a huge lesson learned is this idea of the “Kama’aina Economy” where an island would be could be majority self-sustainable and not dependent on long distance dollars. So “Support Local” became a huge thing. Bigger than it already was. From the trendy tourist boutiques down the street to the farmers that once supplied food to resorts.

Long ago many retailers, restaurants, events and resorts would offer a special rate to locals. It began dwindling over the years and now it is near non-existent. I often wonder if resorts and restaurants looked around and realized how important and overlooked their local dollars were. It was fascinating to see business models bend to reach locals in a new way, many condos and hotels began offering 50% off rooms when hotels were allowed to reopen. Others opted to remain closed until tourists could return.

I hoped that when tourists reemerged that the idea of “supporting local” would go both ways.

The reopening has been slow to start. Which I believe is a good thing. We must proceed cautiously when there is still a pandemic looming. So even though the resorts reopened a couple of months ago I did not feel the need to immediately throw on my bikini and get going. I’ve been comfortably conservative throughout covid. But once the moment called for a celebration, we decided to jump in and experience hotels in the time of a pandemic.

In shopping for resorts, which in January was about 1/3 capacity, or less, I found that the Kama’aina rate had not been reborn as I had hoped and the prices remained quite high. I wonder how much of that is due to the operating costs of a hotel in a pandemic including cleaning measures and an inability to fill their restaurants and resorts to capacity.

I decided on the Westin Kaanapali Resort & Spa, which recently completed some major renovations, including a total pool makeover and a specialty “Lana’i semi indoor pool”. Let me tell you: this hotel is gorgeous! Lush landscaping that takes hotels years to acquire paired with new wooden wall ways and modern seating and bar.

The hotel feels spacious and at ease, which could be due to the low occupancy. It’s a bit apocalyptic at times. A bit of a reminder of how hard this industry has been hit.

The waitstaff are pleasant, prompt and attentive, hustling mask on in the hot Lahaina sun. There is a hand sanitizer in every elevator and a two-at-a-time or one-family-at-a-time rule to each elevator trip. Masks are required as you roam but once you sit down in your pool chair you can be transported to sun-basking-heaven and sip your corona as you forget all about nasty ‘rona. I enjoyed the Fresh Catch Salad, which came with fresh cooked mahi and an inspiring creamy herb dressing. Your girl was so thrilled I ordered that each and every day of our staycation. The kids had the panko chicken nuggets and french fries (of course) served with bbq sauce and equally as delicious as salad.

The resort is very kid friendly with their new keiki (kiddie) pool and small slide. Perfect to let the little ones roam and splash safely within parent’s watchful eye.

The property has three additional family pools, great for swimming, their large slide is still a favorite. There is an adult pool that’s super quiet, and though there is a hot tub it was not in operation (due to covid). The adult pool now has a small infinity pool that is heated, and was the next best thing to a hot tub. Perfect for sunset watching and selfies.

Ofcourse, you want to know all about the poolside maitai. It is not your typical sugar hangover pineapple beverage, but has a hearty rum flavor, less sweet, very refreshing, just right. One or two will do the trick and then you can have an excellent air-conditioned nap over looking beautiful black rock and pacific ocean.

I found the beds to be absolutely insanely comfortable. Perhaps the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. We were kindly upgraded to the new tower which boasts bigger beds, though I could not tell how they were bigger they were definitely very cozy. The new tower is supposedly fancier, more expensive and comes with access to the Lana’i pool, but I could not use it being that the upgrade was free.

Some bummers/workarounds:

So about that Lana’i Pool… One of the reasons I booked the Westin was to enjoy their Lana’i Pool, a Mezzanine level pool that’s semi indoors, semioutdoor. It looks great but I found out that I could not access this pool unless I wanted to pay an extra $150 a night. Yes, one hundred and fifty dollars a night. It was a huge bummer to discover that it was a VIP pool for only big spenders. The “VIP” thing feels like rejection and a tad insulting when you have already spent a great deal of money to get your family there but can’t afford to swim in a pool on the same property. Thats a weird factor that I hope they reconsider.

There is no valet in these unprecedented times. But you can park in the valet slots and there is tons of parking when there is low occupancy, this was a huge, convenient bonus. Parking is still $30 a day.

There is no housekeeping making your bed fresh each day in these unprecedented times. I think this is a small price to pay to keep hotel staff safe from your germs. Make your own bed. Manage your own rubbish.

The bathrooms lacked privacy for the toilet. There was a fancy looking but impractical glass shower door that only covered half the shower and left room for water to get all over the sleek bathroom floor. The bathroom door did not lock (no matter how hard me and the husband tried if you know what I mean).

But these are all mere details to the greater experience. The true experience is in the people who show up at their jobs daily, pandemic be damned, to show tourists and locals a good time. This is the “Aloha” that they are always talking about. This is how they show the world what Hawai’i is and who Hawaiians are. All of the staff I encountered were enthusiastic, friendly, and professional. These have been very serious very hard covid times and we all need to escape every now and then. I’m grateful to have this wonderful island with amazing places to enjoy.

I was happy to breathe some air into a hospitality industry that is coming out of its coma and finding its new way in this new world. Meanwhile this experience breathed a little air into my world and gave me and my family memories, full bellies and a sweet tan line.

I would recommend staying at the Westin with your family. It has a wonderful setting and sits conveniently close to the Whalers Village shopping and dining. I wish I had the chance to visit the Lana’i pool to tell you if it’s worth the $150. But perhaps this will require a means for a second stay.

For those on a budget, looking at the Ka’anapali area, I would recommend looking at the Whaler, which is a condo style resort next door, or the Sheraton, which sits adjacent black rock and has a slower paced, spacious easy vibe. For those with kid-centric hotel needs, check out the Hyatt Regency which has an incredible kids pool and is my kids favorite hotel.

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