Ahhh.  That’s it.

These are the only words that usually escape my lips during a massage – as it should be. When on Maui, the main goal is to relax, and you just can’t do that with all your muscles still carrying the tension of the past year, or month, or week.  Whatever.  We make it a point to start off our vacations with a little body-work.

This year, Vlad and I elected to do an 80 minute couple’s massage at the Heavenly Spa at the Westin Maui Resort.  Before I get any angry emails from my readers, a couple’s massage is one room, two tables, and two therapists.   We chose it because we’re getting the same treatment, and going with the couple’s version saved us about $50.

I was highly disappointed they didn’t have the Island Body Butter treatment this year.  It was on their website, but when I called to book it they said they can’t get the product any more.  Rats – I was really looking forward to it.   My bank balance, however, was very happy with the situation.   Hmm – maybe I can get that extra pair of sandals after all…..

One of the things I usually like best about the Westin Spa is the steam room, sauna and jacuzzi in the Women’s locker room.   However, I was a bit disappointed this time.  The jacuzzi was only lukewarm, and the steam room had a moldy kind of smell in it instead of the usual eucalyptus.  It was very unusual, and it was strong enough for me to back out of there fast.  Pity – I really enjoy time in steam rooms.

This gave me more time to sit on the wonderful chaise, sip cold  cucumber-lemon water and watch the play on the ocean in front of the huge windows.   There was a pod of dolphins frolicking in the distance, followed by a bunch of tour boats.  I saw one punter in the biggest boat lean out for a photo and fall into the water.   I’m sure it didn’t do his or her camera any good, but that’s one way to swim with dolphins!  There was only one other lady in the quiet room (another unusual event – usually there are a lot of people at this spa!) and she and I enjoyed a quiet laugh at the sight.  Vlad and Alexei missed it – they came into the quiet room a minute later .  For a look at the spa, click here.

Alexei had the hot stone massage because he tweaked his swing a while ago, and it was bothering his back.   A few sessions with his favorite pro cured the tweak, and Alexei hoped the massage would bring him back to fighting form.  After all, he would be playing two rounds with his uncle in a few days, and he wanted to be in good enough shape to beat the tar out of him.  He really enjoyed the massage, but his uncle was still able to keep up with him on the golf course – but that’s a different story!

Vlad and I went in for our massages, and it was as good as always.   They’ve done some funky stuff with the aromatherapy choices (can hardly smell them!) but the massage itself was just what we needed.   Be sure to ask for Diana or Jeff (our two therapists) when you make an appointment.  They were both pretty awesome.

Back we went to the car, missing most of our brains, but with very happy muscles.    Hmm – nap or dinner?   Nap or dinner?   Which would you do?

(Yeah – we chose dinner too….)

Barefoot Bar:

This place in Kaanapali’s Whaler’s Village is one of our favorites,  with a nightly hula/live music show, known as one of the best on the island (different from a luau!).   It’s a very nice show with excellent live music that varies from Hawaiian slack guitar and traditional tunes to Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley.  They have two restaurants – their Barefoot Bar, which is a big sand pit (yes, you do go barefoot) with chairs and tables under umbrellas that serves excellent, reasonably priced pub food – families with kids can go here with no problem, and the kids love the show.

Not your traditional pub menu, however.  Yes, they have excellent burgers and sandwiches, but they take it one step beyond for those

These crab wontons are incredible!

with palates.  Their hors d’oeuvres are also superb.   We love the crab wontons in soy-mustard dipping sauce.   Alexei and I start craving those wontons about 3 months before each trip, and we have to have them at least 3 times each trip.  Try them – you can join me in figuring out how they make that sauce – and then please let me know how you did it.

For entree’s, their burgers are really good, their fish sandwich is excellent (ask for the ahi to be seared!) and their fish and chips are actually really good – not greasy at all, but crisp and in a light batter.   My nephew Harald also  gives his highest approval on their kid’s menu.

For dessert, go for the brownie sundae with raspberry coulis.   Yum.  That is, if you can still face food after that dinner!

No reservations at the Barefoot Bar – you must put your name in and wait – up to an hour during primetime.  Nice thing is that they have a GREAT bar with a lovely view of the sunset.  You can also order dinner from the bar tables.  For a large group with fussy children, send someone early to put your name in and order a drink at the bar.  Or, if you like shopping, you can wander around the very good shops in Whaler’s Village and pick up that swimsuit, sandals or goodies to take back home.

The view from your table at the Hula Grill

Unfortunately, they’ve reduced the quality of their liquor, and the best vodka they have is something called Three Olives, which is not good at all.  I tried what USED to be my favorite chickdrink, the Plantation Lemonade, and the new ‘top shelf’ vodka they have just ruined it.   Rats.   I switched to their draft beer that is from the Maui Brewing Company and I have to say it’s EXCELLENT!   They have a great Big Swell IPA, their Mana Wheat has some overtones of pineapple (trust me, it works!) and their Bikini Blonde is a nice light lager.  They also have a proprietary brew called Barefoot Brew that is mid-range hoppy and very good too.

They also make a pretty good Mai Tai – but be sure to ask for Meyer’s dark rum, or you’re in for a nasty surprise.  That is, if they haven’t cut more corners and gotten rid of it.  If they have, stick to the beer.  You won’t be disappointed.

Hula Grill (main dining room):

The restaurant section of the Hula Grill is excellent.  A bit more expensive, but the menu is very imaginative and very good.  Chef Peter Merriman has an excellent menu and the place is wildly popular at a very reasonable price for the quality of the cuisine. The kids menu is the same as at the Barefoot Bar.   A wide variety of specials supplement a strong set menu.   Don’t make any decisions until you hear the daily specials – you won’t be disappointed.   Reservations are imperative.    We always eat at the main restaurant one night, and the barefoot bar one or two nights, and have yet to decide otherwise.

May the Restaurant Gods be with you!

Kimo’s/Leilani’s/Duke’s/Kapalua Grill:

Here you find the same menu, three locations, and nothing fancy.  It’s a great place to take adolescents who eat everything in sight and aren’t too picky about the quality.   They have local fresh fish, prepared one of three or four ways, depending on the fish and the special.   We used to be able to recommend the Ono or Opakapaka, either broiled with lemon-caper butter, or with the orange marmalade/macadamia nut glaze, depending on your cholesterol level, but based on the lunch we just had, I’m not sure I can even recommend it anymore.   Large portions are served, with salad and dessert included.

Hula Pie - nice presentation, but not as good as in the past.

Kimo’s is located on the main street of Lahaina, and they have a great bar for sunset watching.   I just wish the food was better.  It has seriously deteriorated in the past year.  We had lunch there yesterday, and the fish tacos had a slab of some brown fish in it rather than the nice flaky white fish we remembered, and my reuben sandwich had flavorless pale pink pastrami that looked like it came out of one of those meat packages I’ll never buy at Costco.  Yuck.

Our favorite dessert, the Hula Pie, has also been cheapened.  It used to be smothered in hot fudge, but now it’s thin chocolate sauce.   They’ve also reduced the quality of their top-shelf liquor – another cost saving tactic that has now lost a client in our family.  Cost saving is right.  We’re not going back.

If you can get past all of this, and really don’t care about good food, children are welcome at the bar tables in all the restaurants, and they serve a variety of ‘virgin’ drinks.    Leilani’s is located in Kaanapali’s Whaler’s Village, on the water.  It is another place for a sunset drink (assuming you don’t mind the downgraded alcohol quality) and we used to like it for lunch.  Didn’t even want to try it this year after the Kimo’s debacle.   Duke’s is at the Marriott Timeshares in North Ka’anapali just before Honokowai, and I heard from some guests at our condo complex that the sandwiches they had were pretty good.  Maybe they’re not saving quite as much up there.  The Kapalua Grill is in the Inn at Kapalua, and has a good view of Molokai when it’s not raining – which is not very often.

Very popular with families, these restaurants don’t take reservations, but are large enough that there is usually only a short wait.  We recently heard that the Kapalua Grill was taking reservations, but have yet to confirm that personally.  And at this point, there’s NO way we’re going to chance it.

Hard Rock Café:

Been to one, you’ve been to all – the only thing different is that this one is on Lahaina’s main street, in the shopping center, and the t-shirts say “Maui”.  ‘Nuff said.  Tour buses stop there and disgorge lots of tourists just after they’ve been to Hilo Hattie’s for his-and-hers Hawaiian shirts and muumuus with the requisite black socks and light shoes or sandals.   Good for a look as you’re walking by, and a laugh.   Wear earplugs if you’re eating there.  The music is very loud at some tables.

Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Factory:

Yikes. Located on Lahaina’s main street, across from Longhi’s.  We’ve never even been tempted to try this one.  If anyone is brave, please let us know how you liked it.  We have some good stuff written about  in the guest book from some of the guests who rent our family’s condo, so it seems to have some allure for people who like their fish fried.   You can see a large line of very large people waiting to get in at early-bird dinnertime, all of whom obviously love fried fish, if you know what I mean.  With so many excellent restaurants, I don’t understand why people would waste their time here – I guess the low prices bring them in.  The only thing I know in its favor is that it has a great view for the sunset and their name comes from a very good movie.

Buzz’s Wharf:

In Ma’alena, on the way to Lahaina or Kihei from Kahului Airport.  Terrible place.  Alexei had their clam chowder for lunch after golf on his last trip and spent the evening  in the bathroom with food poisoning.   Need I say more?

It’s August.  Budget is done, pet sitter arranged, out-of-office set on email and voicemail, and bags are packed.   I should be thrilled to be heading out to Maui for the Annual Family Trip.  So why am I not feeling it this year?

Perhaps it’s because things were so rushed in the weeks leading up to the trip.  Being crazy-busy to the point where my family was ready to stage an intervention is not a good place to be right before a holiday.   Or the fact that Vlad wasn’t arriving to join us until Friday.   Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t able to find a swimsuit once again this year – the designers obviously didn’t read my blog post last year of I swim therefore I stress.   Whatever the reason, I just wasn’t in the proper mood.

It must have been the Travel Gods playing one of their games.

That funky mood stayed with me all through the long airport security line (sigh!), the line to get sandwiches for the flight, and the pre-flight hoo-hah where we were delayed waiting for some dude who checked his bags and then didn’t show up.   After 30 minutes, they hauled his bags off the plane and we were ready to go.  Wait – what’s that loud voice I hear?  The clueless dude who spaced in the terminal and had the gall to argue loudly with the flight attendant why his bags were removed from the flight and wouldn’t arrive for another day.

Dude – you’re lucky you weren’t lynched as you made the long walk to your seat in the back of the plane, muttering under your breath.  Trust me, we all thought about it.

This was the first time we took the nonstop Alaska Airlines flight from San Jose to Kahului.  It’s a tiny little 737 plane, chock full of screaming babies, wiggly toddlers and harassed, stressed-out parents.   We had a surprisingly pleasant flight, once the angry dude was strapped in and we could take off.

The flight attendants on our plane were the nicest I’ve been exposed to on domestic travel in a long time.  They didn’t overload on the ‘Mahalos’ (a major pet peeve of mine) and didn’t make the plane say “Alooooooohhhaaaa” back to them, which increases the [GAG] factor.  (Are you listening, United?)  They joked with the passengers and were attentive to those parents who wouldn’t control their kids.   One of these awesome attendants actually took a parent to task, to the delight of all of us around him.

Alaska, unlike other airlines who shall remain nameless unless I get really ticked off at them, does not believe in dehydrating their passengers.  There are 3 beverage services on this flight, the last of which serves mai tais to all those over 21.  When I looked a bit skeptical, the flight attendant leaned down and said “it’s good – it’s from Trader Joe’s”.   Gotta love that.

We did a bit of a turn around Maui to come in to the airport, and looking out the window, I could see Kahoolawe on the left and we did a nice turn (with only a bit of rollercoastering – this pilot was good!) and came in over the sugar cane fields to the runway.   Ahhh – seeing the red volcanic soil interspersed with green from all the yummy things growing in the fields, I felt the stress start to melt away.

By the time we meandered down to baggage claim, our bags were there waiting for us.  That has NEVER happened at Kahului, and we even got out without having anyone fall onto our suitcases. (see blog entry Aloha, Travel Gods)

There it is – that Aloha feeling.  I have it, and I’m happy.  I’m also going to take Alaska Airlines to Hawaii from now on.  A great flight and awesome service always starts a trip off right.

Mahalo, Travel Gods.   I really needed a break, and I’m grateful you decided to go easy on me.  I will pour a libation in the sand to you tonight in thanks.

Balm for the Soul

One of the nicest things about being on the west coast of anywhere is you get to see the sunset over the water. Sunrises, while lovely in their own right, are not the same. You can’t really relax with a glass of wine and watch a sunrise.  Well, I suppose you can, but if you do, you have another problem.

Sunsets over West Maui are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere in the world, and I’m not the only one who feels that way.   When talking to friends and readers who have been to Maui, one of the first things they always say is “and the sunsets are amazing”.  When you think that many of them live in California and see water sunsets all the time, you’ll understand these are something very special.  Look at these pictures and you’ll see why.  I have dozens of these, each wonderful in its own way.

Who watches sunsets?

It’s always fun to see how many people come out to watch a sunset when in a resort setting. It seems there are  days when there are more people on the chaises watching the sunset than there were during the day to enjoy the beach.   As a long-time people-watching fanatic, I love to classify the groups around me.

The Honeymooners can be spotted immediately.   Smooching and cooing are normal, but some go a bit farther.  There’s always the one couple whose antics prompt comments from the little-peanut gallery like  “Mom – what are they doing?”.   The laughter from the other guests at this innocent comment usually breaks up the action, and results in applause and calls of “encore, encore”.

Yeah – we’re a tough crowd.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Golden sunset

Children as a species are supremely indifferent to sunsets, and it’s fun to watch the thoughtful parents try to enjoy the view at the same time as preventing their MiniMe’s from disturbing the other guests. The smart ones bring out some sort of hand-held video whatevers and are able to enjoy in peace.

I’m not even going to talk about the idiot parents who let their kids disrupt the experience.  They deserve to live with the bratty kids they’ve raised.

It’s the Partiers that can spoil the experience for everyone. You know these guys – the loud ones who come out with pitchers of some green or pink tinted concoction and spend their time laughing inordinately at how Jim-Bob’s nose looks just like Molokai’s mountain.

Last year the rudest partier swam into a swarm of jellyfish the next day.   Karma.  Just sayin’.

An incredibly beautiful site

Then there are the Appreciators – the fellow guests chatting quietly on the chaises, watching nature at it’s finest.  And here, it’s very fine indeed.

We like to bring a glass of very nice wine, our cameras and our silence.

After a long year of the Daily Grind, I find myself fondly thinking about this sunset, and the peace it brings to my soul.

It’s time to plan another trip to Maui.  Now you know what I’m going to do this holiday weekend.  Jealous??

I acknowledge the complete mastery of the Travel Gods, and will no longer fail to give them their due when traveling to Maui.

After a lovely two weeks with the family on Maui, we packed up our gear and headed to the airport.  A nice smooth flight to Los Angeles (when flying on miles, United likes to make it as difficult as possible for you so you’ll throw up your hands and pay instead), and we thought we had it made. A two hour layover for the connecting flight to San Francisco was just enough time for a beer and some pizza at LAX. We thought we had the Travel Gods beat.

Right. The laughter in Valhalla must have been deafening as the Travel and Weather Gods teamed up for a real doozy.

After an ATC delay of 30 minutes on the LAX tarmac due to delays in SFO, we finally were airborne for the 55 minute flight from LA to San Francisco. It’s a nice flight, but as we approached the Bay Area, the captain came on the speaker to say we were in a holding pattern and should be landing in 15-20 minutes. Not unusual – even a strong breeze causes delays in SF.

Well, 45 minutes later, we’re still holding, and the captain comes back on to announce that we’re going to have to make an emergency landing in San Jose Airport to take on more fuel. It’s about 12:45am at this point, we’re an hour late landing, and now going to the wrong airport – with no ATC. The captain had to do a declaration landing, warning other pilots over the radio he was coming in for an emergency landing.  I could almost hear the Travel Gods having a jolly time over this one.

So, there we were, 2 miles from home, and stuck in a full sardine can of very unhappy passengers and flight crew, looking at the dark airport, and hoping someone came soon with a fuel truck. The captain was not too encouraging about when we would get to take off. With my luck, we could be stuck there until dawn.

Several passengers (Alexei being one of them) asked the crew if we could just get off here, but no luck there. The airport was closed, and we couldn’t get a gate to get to the terminal. Hey – I would have jumped the fence and walked home at that point.

After another hour of waiting, the guy with the fuel truck poured the equivalent of an emergency can into the tank, and off we rumbled back into the air. 7 minutes from wheels up in San Jose to wheels down in San Francisco. That’s how long it took us – has to be the shortest flight that landed on wheels on record since Orville and Wilbur. The passengers all wearily clapped their hands when we finally arrived.

Looking out the window as we landed at 2am, the reason for the delay was obvious. The Weather Gods conspired with the Traffic Gods once again.  SFO was socked in with fog that reached the ground. There was NO visibility pretty much anywhere at the airport. The funny thing was – there was NO fog anywhere else – 100 yards from the airport was clear all around.    We finally got home around 3am.

There is no way this was a coincidence.    It was clearly divinely caused.    No mere mortal can compete with the combined forces of the Gods.

Before my next trip, I will sacrifice an old suitcase to the Gods in the hope they will leave me alone.

Yeah, right.



Hyatt Regency Kaanapali’s Swan Court:

Good brunch spot.   Yes, there really are swans – lots of them.   Keep your fingers to yourselves- we’re told they bite by someone who should have known better.   Food is good, with typical brunch fare, Hyatt style.  Nice Polynesian buffet, with lots of local island specialties.  This is the favorite brunch place for several of our friends, who recommend it highly – even with the nipped fingers.  I’m told it’s a great place to take young children, with plenty of high chairs and attentive service.  I can’t attest to that, never having taken Alexei there when he was small, but we do think it has a great view, with lots of waterfalls and ponds filled with swans that will keep the small ones interested.   Pretty flowers, too.

Westin Kaanapali:

This is our favorite on Hotel Row for Sunday Brunch Buffet.   They have two offerings – one for the typical brunch fare, including lots of great fresh island fruit, and one for the sushi lovers.   The Westin caters highly to the Japanese tourist, but not everyone likes raw fish for breakfast like Alexei and I do.  Vlad rates the traditional brunch as the best of the three main hotels, and we think the sushi selection is great – everything is made right in front of you, and is extremely fresh. There’s something for everyone, and in enormous quantities.  The swans here are too well mannered to bite. Perhaps they’re paid more.

The restaurant has an incredible view, with a waterfall and a very nice pond just beyond your table.  A string quartet sometimes plays in the background, and you feel very civilized as you sip your champagne.   Bring an appetite, and make a reservation – several days ahead if you want a good starting time on Sunday.  They also serve better quality champagne than either the Ritz or the Hyatt, but who’s counting (except me??)

By the way, the Westin also has the best spa on the Ka’anapali strip.  Go for the Lomi-Lomi massage (see Spa entry) – after brunch and champagne, someone will need to pour you into your car by the time you’re done.

Ritz-Carlton Kapalua:

A typical Ritz-type buffet is served for brunch in their main restaurant.   I think they have one menu world wide, and stick to it like glue.   Good brunch, but you if you’ve eaten at the Ritz in New York, Paris, Half Moon Bay, or Hong Kong, you’ve already seen the menu – and eaten it.  Over and over and over….

There are more fruit choices on this buffet than in other Ritz locations, but the only real concession to Hawaii is the Hawaiian music they play in the background.  If that wasn’t enough to scare me off permanently, the service is also reported to be rather slow, according to a friend who visited in early February.  OK view if it’s not raining, but since it does just that with alarming frequency that far north, don’t plan on going for the view.

Since they’re the only real brunch spot in Kapalua, it’s crowded, so you’ll need to make reservations.


Longh’s in Lahaina does a great brunch if you want lighter fare or don’t want a buffet.  Their french toast is amazing, and my nephew  says they make the best cinnamon rolls.  He’s an expert, and I trust his judgment on that.  I like their smoked salmon eggs benedict best, and Vlad and Alexei swear by their omelettes.


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