The Fairmont Kea Lani
is one of Maui's finest (and most expensive) hotels, with its own unique character. Luxury and casual relaxation are rarely so effortlessly combined.
Firstly, the property is gorgeous (see above). I know, I know; throw a rock in Maui and you'll hit something scenic, but the Fairmont, in Maui's lavish Wailea area, doesn't impose upon the landscape. Because the hotel wasn't originally a Fairmont, it doesn't ascribe to the usual layout standards and blends nicely into the island. The pools are lovely and include a terrific 140-foot waterslide, which takes you directly from the pool bar to the basketball net. (For those looking for a quieter or more romantic place to sun and swim, there's a chicly appointed adults-only pool set at a distance away.) One of the real draws is the beach upon which it sits -- all beaches in Hawaii are public by law, but the rock outcroppings on either side of the stretch keep the beach feeling private and secure, and the sand is a beautiful mixture of white sand and ... sand-colored sand, creating a lovely marbleized effect.
Not only does the hotel fit into the environment, but it respects it, as well. Fairmonts are known for being among the greener choices in the bunch, and this hotel recycles water, uses biodegradable materials when possible, they give food scraps to local pig farmers, and in each room they have a special thermostat that starts cooling when you check in and stops when you check out -- it's wired to the computer. There's more: "The smart thermostat detects when a door is opened, signaling motion detectors to scan the room. If no motion is detected, the temperature adjusts to five degrees higher." These thermostats reportedly save them over 20 percent on their electric bill AND help save the Earth.
Every room in the Fairmont Kea Lani is a suite (unless it's a whole villa), and each has its own refrigerator (not a minibar) and a microwave. There's also a "Deli" located on the premise which sell everything from cereal for the kids to beer and wine for grown-up time. The hotel is equally popular with families and with couples on honeymoons -- maybe other hotels should pick up on this "I don't want to spend $200 in a restaurant every night" mentality. The hotel is by no means cheap; prices range from $339 for a one-bedroom suite (the smallest room they've got) to $2,000 per night for a 3-bedroom, 2200 square foot, ocean-view villa (includes rental of a minivan, convertible or luxury car). It's nice that they give you the option to eat and drink by your own rules.
The guests and staff alike seem to love the place. A bartender, an east-coaster who's been there since before it became a Fairmont eight years ago, noted the "casual elegance" of the place, and the guests agreed. "At the Four Seasons, you have to have closed toed shoes, and dress up ... here it's just more casual. And the staff remembers you -- they don't have it all plugged into their computer; they recognize you from last year, know you by name and know what you like for breakfast." His wife added with a relishing smile that the nearby golf course is fantastic. The bartender reminded me of the type you'd find in a pub in Brooklyn or even Dublin; easily comfortable with the well-to-do and the young partying types, and striking up a witty conversation with everyone. "I don't feel like I have to 'perform,'" he said.
"Casual elegance" really is an excellent descriptor for the hotel. The staff exudes an almost midwestern friendliness, and the guests are smiling and unaffected. No one around the pool was sucking in their stomach. I liked that.
We wouldn't put it on Luxist if it weren't a fabulous place, but in the interest of full-disclosure, here are the drawbacks: Nothing is included but coffee, neither breakfast nor boogie boards, so unless you're a coffee-and-cigarettes-only type, you should expect to spend some money (and cigarettes aren't included, either). The decor in the villas is somewhat bland -- there isn't much on the walls and nothing feels Hawaiian or otherwise remarkable -- but they are slated to be remodeled in a couple of months. Lastly, the hotel has no shuttle and is a $56 cab ride from the airport before tip.
If that stuff doesn't phase you too much (and after you have a look through the gallery, it probably won't), I recommend you come and visit the Fairmont Kea Lani. "Every hotel attracts a certain kind of guest," said an Indiana-native PR rep. "I love the guests we get here. They're so relaxed." We looked around and found she was quite right. Someone urgently stopped her as we were heading out, but it was only to ask how much a nearby sculpture cost. Some people just can't turn it off.