Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Bay Offers Culturally Immersive Retreat
The drive to Kapalua, along Maui's Honoapi'ilani Highway, hugs the western rim of the island and provides an amuse bouche of what awaits: a nearly endless horizon of surf and sky, perfumed air and an unusually strong sense of place. That last element being especially evident at the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences, Kapalua Bay. If the mention of Hawaii still produces reflexive images of tiki heads and loud shirts, the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences has made it a point to provide a more authentic, and thereby transcendent, island experience for its residents and guests.
Not to be confused with the Ritz-Carlton hotel, the Club and Residences property is part of the brand's equity-based program that allows members to either purchase a fractional residence at a specific location or sample any of the portfolio's options through a real estate trust. Either way, buying in results in a deeded interest that can be passed down to family members. But the quality sure to lure most into the former arrangement with Kapalua Bay is the lengths the Ritz-Carlton has gone to ensure that luxury and cultural accuracy aren't mutually exclusive concepts.
Perched just above rocky, volcanic outcrops reaching into teal waters-with the islands of Molokai and Lanai nestled beyond- Kapalua Bay recognized its provenance from the beginning. After the discovery of native burial sites during construction of the hotel, Club and Residences developers engaged the local community to ensure a respectful process whose ultimate result would be embraced. This included the atypical step of even putting construction workers through cultural sensitivity training.
As you enter the reception area, the eye immediately rises to the high-pitched ceiling, built to resemble a traditional halau wa'a canoe house, with its lashed logs cut from of the native 'ohi'a tree. Hair tussled by the ever-present ocean winds that buffet the property (acting like a thermostat to keep the location cool despite temps in the upper 80s), it's a short walk to either the sprawling pool area or to one of the 146 residences. Divided into two, three, and four-bedroom floor plans (depending on Club or Residences designation), the arrangements provide ample square-footage, full kitchens, multiple baths, laundry rooms, and generous balconies with stunning panoramic views. What's best is that even at near full occupancy the grounds felt intimately personal.
When speaking with the welcoming staff, who dole out pineapple steeped ice water and (at least to this writer) hugs, you'll find a sense of reverence for the natural environment that peppers conversation with talk of "the land" and "the ocean." Many, like general manager Doug Chang, are native Hawaiians and undergo regular local language, history, and protocol training. "Our commitment to sharing our culture is founded on educating our members and owners about traditional customs and protocols," says Chang. So while you can engage your hula and lei making curiosities at Kapalua Bay, you're also going to learn how to do it the right way. "We realize that we would be doing a disservice to both the culture and [the Club and Residences] member if we take the attitude that we can teach someone to dance the hula in an hour," says Chang matter-of-factly.
To that end, Kapalua Bay recently appointed Silla Kaina, a Hawaiian educator and hospitality veteran, as its new cultural advisor. Part of Kaina's job will be to expand the educational programs offered at the property, which are designed to engage all age levels. Even the 30,000-square-foot spa takes a local approach to its services with treatments that employ Hawaiian Kai sea salt, Kula lavender, and Lomi Lomi massage, performed in bamboo and coconut wood hale (traditional buildings).
At times it can all get a little heady, almost in a drinking-the-Kool-Aid sort of way. But when you wake up every morning to Kona coffee and fresh-baked banana muffins in the members' lounge, it's easy to see why.
Gallery: Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Bay Residences