Kaanapali Beach Hotel ~ The most Hawaiian hotel

Share Button

I stayed one extra night on Maui because Julie Yoneyama said I had to see the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, which is the only hotel in the state to have the distinction of being named “the most Hawaiian” by the Waiaha Foundation based on over 100 criteria. Indeed, as soon as I entered the building, I thought of my friend Lurline Kawainui, who has infused Hawaiian culture into Pearlridge Center over the last decade.

Kaanapali Beach Hotel deliberately doesn’t have the uber-luxurious trappings or the bells and whistles found at other beachfront hotels in the area, but is no less comfortable. There are touches throughout that you would find in many Hawaiian homes, and the staff is trained to “live aloha” in every aspect of their lives.

“In 1984, George Kanahele challenged our general manager Mike White to promote hospitality through Hawaii’s unique culture,” explained Kalani Nakoa. The hotel then started a Po’okela program, in which all employees are immersed in Hawaiian culture, traditions, and history. The result is a staff that practices the culture and attitude so naturally that they carry it over to their home life.

The most visible result of their cultural training is during the makahiki season, when each department makes items used in Hawaiian culture (see the gallery, below). This took on new meaning last year when the entire hotel staff bonded to build a single-hull canoe.

They found a 100-foot tree on a West Maui property that was the perfect size for building their canoe. When they went to the owner to ask if they could use the tree, they were dumbfounded by the man’s response.

His son, Ka‘ililā‘au, had died in an accident six years prior. In a conversation before his death, Ka‘ililā‘au asked his father if they could build a canoe out of the tree. The father told his son that he couldn’t because he didn’t have the knowledge or equipment to do that, but “maybe one day someone will come to ask for the tree to make a canoe.”

Chicken skin? I felt it when I heard the story. The canoe, named Ka‘ililā‘au after the boy, now sits in a prominent place on the property.

Here are some highlights of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel and its grounds:

Kaanapali Beach Hotel

Picture 1 of 11

Ka‘ililā‘au, the canoe that was made by the 280-member hotel staff in just four months, sits on the grounds for all to see. If you go close, you can read the story on the placard.

Also, since I know my Fodorite friends are reading this blog to get a preview of their upcoming stay here: The Kaanapali Beach Hotel rooms are cool and comfortable with lanais to lounge on. I forgot to take a picture of the bathroom, especially the shower, but I found it interesting that it seemed to accommodate shorter people like myself. Not that you’ll be uncomfortable if you’re tall; you’ll just be more comfortable if you’re short.

If you are planning to be in the area on a Sunday, try to get a reservation for the Kaanapali Beach Hotel’s Sunday brunch. It’s the equivalent of Oahu’s “Perry & Price” weekend show, with an entire morning of live entertainment and interviews with KPOA radio’s “Morning Goddess,” Alaka’i. It’s not just fun, the spread — voted by the Maui News as the island’s best brunch —is an incredible value at about $30. I walked in thinking it would be a basic breakfast brunch, but was blown away at the crab legs, prime rib, oysters, and three huge lines of food. It was better than brunches of the same price here on Oahu. I had a hard time taking pictures of the buffet, but here are some of the favorites:

Sunday brunch at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel

Picture 1 of 12

When you first enter, you see all the seafood, plus a carving station.

This was a really long blog post, so if you made it this far, just know that I only touched the tip of the iceberg with this entry. In a nutshell, if you want to stay in a laid-back hotel on Maui and soak in a lot of Hawaiian culture, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel is a great choice.

31 comments
M
M

Hello Melissa!
That's great to hear the hotel is doing that.

lkawainui
lkawainui

Mahalo nui loa Melissa for sharing a wonderful articles. I loved the canoe story, it had me in tears. I've stayed at other hotels next to it, but never there. I'm there on the next visit to Maui.

johngarcia
johngarcia moderator

Seems like ya'll are digging the Hawaiian culture, huh?! Would you folks like to see more cultural based articles on Nonstop?

Maybe we can throw Melissa and Cat in a lo'i and have them pull kalo or send Ed to a traditional imu and have him help to cook some kalua pig and other hawaiian foods.

Give us feedback!

CindySJ
CindySJ

What a great company culture! Having boys myself, the canoe tale made me cry. I've always thought Kaanapali had more high end, expensive resorts. Glad to hear they are doing well!

Monica_Pileggi
Monica_Pileggi

Thanks Melissa for your wonderful review! I hope that my plans go well for my Maui trip this May. I picked this place because of the Hawaiian atmosphere and the employees who make the place special by keeping local customs.

Loved the canoe story too!

Monica

MaxMaxMax
MaxMaxMax

Back in 1990 I worked on the design of a MAJOR renovation of the Kā'anapali Beach Hotel to bring it up to date with the more modern hotels. It included a new 15 story double wing tower in the center, and re-roofing/exterior redesign of all of the other wings with major suite upgrades. The landscaping and central, exterior amenities were inline for extensive renovation also... The basic philosophy was to bring it up to RItz Carleton or Four Season-like standards.

But, 1991 saw a recession that lasted a few years and it never went through... maybe it was a fortunate downturn because it wouldn't have been the "charming Hawaiian hotel" you decribed had it happened.

808marv
808marv

Well now I know where to go for Sunday brunch on Maui. Always thought that side of the island was kinda pricey but that's a good price for a buffet!

jlieu
jlieu

PS- I always love the pictures. i wish I could be outdoors more... :P

jlieu
jlieu

That is awesome, hotels keeping Hawaiian Culture top of mind... WINNAH!!!

yuenhdz
yuenhdz

I'm happy to see hotels incorporating Hawaiian culture in this way. Thanks for sharing this info.

Ynaku
Ynaku

Melissa, I saw that TV special on Ka'ilila'au's family and how the staff at the hotel all had a hand literally to build the canoe and name it after that young boy who died at such a young age. It was such an emotional piece. *sniff*

*sniff* Is that crab I smell?

Annoddah_Dave
Annoddah_Dave

Delicate Blossom: Nice review. It has been awhile since I last stayed there...um..over 40 years??? Looks like a gout attack type brunch!

johngarcia
johngarcia moderator

@Melissa808 Well, as you know, I see every comment left on Nonstop and your hundreds of comments in here prompted a reply. :)

The Hawaiian culture ties in to so many facets of what we're all about — lifestyle, eating, traditions and who we are as a people. We should definitely tie it in. It's what makes us unique!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@johngarcia heh. I knew you'd be on this, John! And yes, I think this might be a good subject to explore every so often, maybe touch base with people in the community and see what they're doing to promote the Hawaiian culture.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@CindySJ I hope this kind of company culture becomes more common with other hotels!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Monica_Pileggi I think you'll like it, especially since you grew up in Hawaii and have been away for a while. I still can hear your voice as I drove you down Ala Moana Boulevard the last time you came home, when you saw all the new towers and said, "Whaaaaat the hell happened?!"

This hotel really took me back to a simpler, more laid-back time. Not to mention, it's beachfront, so you can wander out to the water if you want.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@MaxMaxMax interesting! And yes, I think it was a fortunate downturn. Gotta have variety in lodging!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@808marv Seriously, the pictures don't do the buffet justice. When I walked into the ballroom, I was like, "We're gonna eat all DAT?!" Even for a big-time eater like me, I had to really plan out what I would pick & choose. The buffet selections are very extensive.

p.s. bring wet naps. The crab legs get messy!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@jlieu even Waikiki hotels are striving to be like KBH. Their support comes from the top, down!

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@Melissa808 @yuenhdz i agree. i remembering featuring gm mike white on the cover of hawaii business back in the 90s when they were first getting recognition for their hawaiian approach. v gratifying to see how long it's been successfully sustained.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Ynaku Yeah, Emme Tomimbang did a special on it. Chicken Skin, boy! (The feeling, not the smell)