Sunday, May 24, 2009

Maui Update III

Welcome to our third update from the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui!

In this review: Snorkel Maui, Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea Resort and Nick's Fish Market at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort, Komodo Bakery and Casanovas in Makawao, Kula Botanical Gardens, and Skyline Eco Adventure Zipline tour.

Sunday, May 17th

Being neophytes in the world of both swimming and snorkeling, we decided to take a snorkeling lesson from Snorkel Maui. Run by expert snorkelers and marine biologists, Snorkel Maui specializes in teaching beginners. Our instructor, Evelyn, was patient, fun, and a great instructor (along with basic equipment, she provides wetsuits for extra buoyancy and a boogie board to hold onto as you peer at the underwater world below)!

After our snorkel class at Kapalua Bay in west Maui, we headed south to the beaches and resorts down along the far coast of the island.

Miranda visited the Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea Resort while Sid whiled his time away on Wailea beach.

Spa Grande is perhaps the best resort spa I have ever visited. The space is gorgeous, the staff incredibly attentive without being invasive or overbearing, and the pools and treatments are fabulous. As at most resort spas, you are encouraged to arrive early to take advantage of the pools, steam and sauna rooms, ect. Spa Grande has some of the nicest of these I have seen anywhere (including other resorts in Hawaii and resorts in Las Vegas).

First you are given a tour of the facility by a personal attendant, then you receive a loofa scrub-down in a wet room - the perfect way to ease into the experience. The pool circuit consists of a Roman style hot and cool plunge bath, a steam room and sauna room (along with iced towels for your face), a Japanese style hot and cold plunge pool (with a Japanese style shower - sitting on wooden stool with wooden water dippers), and a series of "treatment pools", including Moor mud baths, an enzyme bath, and several aromatherapy baths. You spend about an hour enjoying these areas of the spa (including the usual water, iced tea and fruit) before being called for your scheduled treatment (of which they have over two dozen to chose from).

I scheduled a traditional Swedish massage with cocoa butter - it was beyond awesome and I would recommend this to anyone. As I mentioned before, this was probably the best two hours I've spent in any spa, anywhere.

After the spa, we enjoyed our first formal dinner out on the island. All of the guidebooks we read, and most online information, describe Nick's Fish Market (at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in south Maui) as among the best restaurants on the island. The service, in particular, was touted in most sources as being elaborate and seamless. While the food was very good and the service in no way rude or limp, we weren't too impressed.

First off, anyone visiting Maui and planning to dine out needs to be aware that it is difficult to do so for less than $100 per person (and that is if you drink only a glass of wine each or chose an inexpensive bottle). Nick's ran us just over this and was least impressive of the dinners we enjoyed over the course of the week.

For our starters we had the Ahi Tiger Eye Sushi (the entire roll was tempura style and served with a sake mustard sauce) and the Lump Crab Cakes Oscar (served "oscar" style with a bearnaise sauce). The sushi was by far the better of the two, but we've frankly had better sushi rolls in Brooklyn.

For dinner we opted for two different preparations of the Island Snapper (or "Ono"), which was the fresh day boat catch that evening. Both were very good (one was served in a miso broth with a drizzle of hot peanut oil and the other was served on a island sweet potato hash (very different from the yams to which mainlanders are accustomed) with a lemon caper sauce - this latter preparation was their house special). Portions were large, the fish was very fresh, and the preparations were tasty. Nothing was amiss, but nothing was mind-blowing either. For dessert we shared a bananas foster - good, but by that point we were too full to really enjoy it.

One other note: the service, so touted at Nick's, was not well-orchestrated. This restaurant is one that likes to have an elaborate set of different servers with different purposes. Such an arrangement can work well, but only if the roles of each server are well-defined and they are on hand when you need/want them. This wasn't really the case at Nick's.

In sum, Nick's was a pleasant dining experience, but we expected a bit more for nearly $225. I'd recommend choosing from among the island's other fine dining establishments (see our later posts on Merrimans and Mama's Fish House for particular recommendations).

Monday, May 18th

Having decided to sleep in rather than rise at 3:00am to drive to see the sunrise at Haleakela, we started our day with a leisurely drive to upcountry Maui. On the advice of friends, the internet, and guidebooks alike, we stopped first in the tiny little mountain town of Makawao for pastries at Komodo Bakery.

Truly nothing to look at, from either the inside or out, this hole in the wall has great eats. The malasadas (sugared donuts on a stick) were brilliant. I ate many of them.

Again on a friend's recommendation (thanks Tawnya!) we got sandwiches prepared and packed up from Casanovas (an Italian restaurant that has both a formal dining side for dinner and a casual cafe for breakfast and lunch - it was humming with local residents when we stopped in). Enjoyed later in the day, the sandwiches (artichoke hearts with brie and salami with mozzarella, both on fresh Italian baguette) were super-yum (yes, that is technical term).

After whiling a little time away at the Kula Botanical Gardens (cute, plenty of well-labeled exotic plants, and even some interesting exotic birds, $10 admission per person), we hit our first activity of the day - Skyline Eco Adventures - for a zipline tour of the mountainside.

Being a complete coward, Miranda chickened out just moments before the tour departed, but she got to hike along with the zippers and took plenty of pictures of Sid. Having been very hyped up for the zipline, Sid reported that it did not live up to his expectations, being both tamer and less scenic than anticipated. This tour operates another tour down in the west Maui mountains near Kaanapali that has longer and more ziplines, so thrill-seekers might try that one instead.

After the zipline tour (which takes a total of about 1 1/2 hours), we decided to drive up to the Haleakela crater and check it out. The drive is long, winding, and - unfortunately for us - completely socked in with clouds, fog, and rain.

It was freezing at the summit (literally) and we couldn't see the hands in front of our faces. Oh well - not everything can be perfect!

Somewhat exhausted, we drove back to the Mahana and prepared our own dinner. One of the great advantages of staying in condos like the Mahana (aside from freedom from resort crowds, no resort fees, privacy, etc.) is that you can cook either in your room (all have kitchens) or at the many gas grills located on the condo properties.

This is great not only because its fun (if you like to cook - which I'm assuming you do if you're reading this blog!) but also because it saves you a *ton* of money!

Here is a shot of the sunset as we enjoyed bbq from our lanai.

Aloha until our next post!

Komoda Store and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Nick's Fishmarket (Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Casanova on Urbanspoon

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