by Scott Laird
Last updated: 4:00 AM ET, Fri October 21, 2016
There's nothing quite like a great first stay at a new hotel or resort. The very fact of novelty is often enough to make a great first stay memorable. What's difficult is matching or exceeding that great feeling on subsequent stays-they never quite seem to live up to the magic of the first one. It's sort of like the holy grail of hospitality: improving your product little by little each year so that repeat guests continue to be wowed on their second and subsequent visits.
My recent visit to the Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas on Maui could best be described as "Grail Achievement Unlocked" for the staff of the hotel. It was my second stay at the property, and I left utterly astonished that the high bar set by my first visit had actually been bested by my second.
Now, that could simply be a quirk associated with the more residential-feeling fractional ownership resorts in Starwood's system. While operating like a hotel, the resort's primary business is in functioning as a repeat destination for fractional owners, so with a lot of returning guests being very familiar with how the property runs, there seems to be an innate understanding in exactly by whom and how high the standards are set. From a consumer perspective, it could easily have been a feeling of familiarity-I knew where to find Starbucks in the morning, I knew how much it would cost, I knew the best spot on the beach to watch the sunrise. That underlying current of anxiety that threads a stay in a new destination had vanished, and I was able to reassume old routines learned during my first visit a year prior.
But there was more to it than that. I recognized faces. Poolside mai tais were delivered just as quickly and with just as much good cheer as they had before. Servers spoke about menu changes in their restaurants with just as much pride and enthusiasm as they had twelve months earlier. A pop into the spa for the seasonal 80 minute Mana Ritual was yet another one of the services that improved year-over-year, with an Alaea Sea Salt scrub followed by Lomi Lomi Massage with a blend of locally harvested oils melted away a week's worth of schlep from the system.
The property also has an impressive array of dining options, considering that all of the units have kitchens or kitchenettes. The markets in both the north and south phases of the resort are a great place to pick up incidental items on shorter stays when a trip to a grocery store wouldn't be convenient, but they also have grab-and-go snack items which are great for last-minute pre-beach stops. I was also excited for the opportunity to check out Pulehu, an Italian Grill, which was dark during my visit last year (it closes during early-in-the-week demand troughs). I'm still dreaming about the risotto-crusted catch of the day, which came on roasted seasonal vegetables (fall, of course, brings squash) and a basil pesto citrus butter. The catch was monchong, a mild, firm-fleshed whitefish. The server explained that it was a perennial favorite, lasting through several menu cycles.
Next door, Ocean Pool Bar & Grill offers alfresco dining, and the menu has already changed to reflect an in-progress rebrand and rename to Auntie's Kitchen on Oct. 28. That yielded not only a chance to try the Instagram-worthy Poke Bloody Mary, but also an on-point bowl of local favorite Saimin noodles and an amazing slice of prime rib (it was really two meals - thank goodness for the refrigerator in the room!)
Room types range from studio accommodations with washer/dryer and kitchenettes, to 1 and 2 bedroom suites with full kitchens. While room categories available for hotel guests include island view and ocean view rooms, it's worth noting that ocean front rooms (that is rooms with no development between the view or lanai and the oceanfront, as the name implies) are assigned exclusively to the timeshare business and are not available for booking via the hotel portal.
The model has certainly proved popular for the Vistana (the owner of the property) as they are constructing a new phase to the north, the new Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, which is slated to open in May 2017.
The Takeaway: It's clear from a magnificent second visit that what Vistana does in Ka'anapali they certainly do well, and guests should confident booking not only their first but any subsequent stays at this remarkable resort.
The Damage: A quick low-season scan of rates found studios as low as $399 subject to season and availability. We also found discounted AAA rates with savings substantial enough to justify the cost of a year's membership.
Instagrammable Moment: Anything shot on or near Maui's famed Ka'anapali Beach is almost guaranteed attention.
Heads Up: Like with many timeshare or fractional ownership properties, concierge services are often offered as an entrée to a sales pitch. However, in Hawai'i the pitch is almost never high pressure. During our stay the concierge offered some solid recommendations on local lunch spots.
Some accommodations and meals were provided by the Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas in preparation for this story.
Note: Some Hawaiian language orthographical marks have been omitted to ensure web compatibility.
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