Friday, February 24, 2012

Hotel Review: Kaua’i Marriott Resort

All of Hawaii has a special place in hearts because we lived on Oahu for 3 years and our son was born there.  We've spent time on several islands and found Kauai to be what one would expect Hawaii to be.

Our family stayed at the Kauai Marriott Resort a couple years ago.  We booked 2 rooms and had 2 of my wife’s sisters join us (love having babysitters along).  I’m a little torn on how I feel about this resort, but overall, how can you complain about being on Kauai, probably the most beautiful Hawaiian island.  Perhaps that is the reason I feel torn because Kauai is so beautiful and so pristine, yet this hotel lacked some charm due to its age and the development around the resort.  I think I was hit with this feeling after visiting the north shore of Kauai that “next time I come to Kauai, this is where I want to stay,” and perhaps for that reason I might judge the Kauai Marriott a little unfairly.

The resort is in Lihue, the largest town on the island.  For convenience sake it is nice since you have easy access to a Costco, restaurants and other conveniences.  That said, the resort is right next to the airport so you will hear jets landing and taking off (although they’re not massive 747s flying in and out of little Lihue airport).  If you packed light, you could literally walk to the resort from the airport.

The resort seemed quite old, but the grounds and common areas have been kept up quite nicely.  They had some beautiful gardens, tons of vegetation and the crowing roosters that Kauai is famous for.  I know at one time the hotel boasted the largest swimming pool in all of Hawaii.  I’d be surprised if there is one larger.  It was immense and there were plenty of lounge chairs to accommodate everyone.  There were also 4 large hot tubs. 

The bay that the Marriott sits on is quite special.  It is surrounded by mountains with just a small opening to the open ocean and thus the waters are generally quite calm.  The beach is fairly wide with very soft sand.  However, it also happens to be the port where cruise ships anchor brining in the hustle and bustle of all the tourists disembarking.  It kind of takes some of the charm away from the location and you have the feeling of this special location being a little overdeveloped.  This may be the one place on Kauai that feels that way.

The rooms were not great while we were there, but in fairness the hotel was doing a remodel and having looked at Tripadvisor, I haven’t seen any complaints about the rooms so I’m guessing that is all complete. 

As for what we did in Kauai, we just tried to take in as much of the scenery as possible.  We spent a couple amazing days at Ke’e Beach snorkeling and admiring some of the monk seals we saw there.  We also went to Poipu Beach because it’s the sunny side of the island and where most of the newer resorts have located.  Hanalei Bay is an amazing place that must be seen by anyone visiting Kauai.  My wife and left the kids with their aunts a couple times and had some amazing meals at Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant.  We also visited Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Hawaii.  We also had a lot of fun eating at this great little food truck parked up by Hanalei Bay.  I also got to play golf at the Kauai Lagoons Golf Course which had some of the best holes of any course I’ve played in Hawaii.

Kauai is a place I’d love to go back to.  It embodies exactly what I pictured Hawaii to be as a kid thinking “I want to go to Hawaii someday.”  The Kauai Marriott Resort isn’t the best place we’ve ever stayed.  It sort of falls in that category of “think how amazing this would be if this location hadn’t been developed in the 70s.”  That said, the staff was kind, the scenery beautiful and our kids loved the pool.  Those are generally 3 ingredients for a great vacation.
Gwen with Aunt Cori and Aunt Kara at Ke'e Beach

Gwen feeding the fish at Kauai Marriott Resort

The massive pool at the Kauai Marriott Resort

Ke'e Beach and a glimpse of the Napili Coast Line

North Shore Kauai

Monk Seal at Poipu Beach

View of Waimea Canyon "The Grand Canyon of Hawaii"

Wailua Falls, Kauai

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hotel Review: Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club

Our family spent a week at Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club in a two bedroom unit in the new Napili Tower.  The property sits on the northwest part of Maui close to Lahaina on the Kaanapali Beach.  It’s a very famous beach that also is home to Westin, Hyatt and other high end resorts.  Whales are known to breach off the shore during the winter months and you can see the island of Lanai across the water.

The resort is a little unusual.  There is the original resort that was converted into timeshare units.  Most of the restaurants and facilities are in this original building.  I would guess the building has been around since the early 80s, but it has been kept up nicely.  On either side of the original building are two new towers that were purpose built as timeshares.  We stayed in one of the new units, which was great, because of the kitchen, washer/dryer, refrigerator, etc.  There were two bedrooms with king beds, a pull out couch in one of the bedrooms and another pull out couch in the family room.  Our family always loves staying in Marriott Timeshares where they’re available.

The grounds of the resort are great.  There is a huge pool on the property that has a waterslide, a waterfall and a “pirate ship” for little kids.  There are also plenty of grassy areas to lounge and relax.  Along the beach is a sidewalk that takes you all up and down Kaanapali Beach.  It’s difficult to jog on this path because there are quite a few people that stroll up and down the beach.  From the resort, it’s about a 10 minute walk to Whaler’s Village which is a small shopping center that has restaurants, galleries and clothing stores.  Generally they have some form of entertainment and it’s a great place to relax in the evening.

We didn’t do a ton of activities in Maui.  We spent some time in the town of Lahaina, which was quite charming.  We also did some drives around the island and visited Wailea where we had a great dinner.  This is a vacation that you’ll definitely want to have a rental car.  Our family also went to brunch at Kapalua, which was a wonderful way to spend a morning together.  We spent some time at Kapalua Beach which has been voted "America's Top Beach," and is right next to the Ritz Carlton.

I was able to play golf at the Kapalua Plantation Course.  This course holds the first tournament of the PGA each year in January and is an amazing course with views of the ocean.  It can get a little windy, but fortunately there was no wind the day I played.  I try my best to play as many courses as the pros play, and I was really excited to get the chance to play Kapalua. 

Maui was a great vacation.  It is probably a better representation of what a mainlander pictures Hawaii to be than Oahu.  The thing with Hawaii is you just have to accept each island on its own merits and Maui is pretty balanced as far as having civilization but still feeling a little low-key.  We were very happy with the Marriott Ocean Club and would definitely go back.
Gwen and Mason in Maui

Mason thinking of riding a turtle

Mason enjoying brunch at Kapalua

Maui Coastline

Katie and the kids on a windy point

Great picture of Gwen

Driving around Maui

Kapalua Beach

Mason marching into the water

The kids enjoying Kapalua Beach

Kapalua Beach

Gwen at Kapalua Beach

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hotel Review: Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, Oahu, Hawaii

I am a little bit biased toward the Ko Olina Beach Club because it is a timeshare that we own and our family has lived at Ko Olina for about 3 years in the Coconut Plantation Condos.  Ko Olina is an idyllic place to live and certainly an amazing place to visit for vacation.

Turtle at North Shore
The resort itself is very tranquil.  Most people hen they think of Oahu think of the craziness of Waikiki Beach (where about 95% of Oahu hotels are located) or they think of the famous North Shore where Turtle Bay is found.  Ko Olina is unique in that it is found on the southwest side (the dry side) of the island and is in a gated master planned community.  Within the gates of Ko Olina are the JW Marriott Ihilani, Disney’s Aulani Resort, Ko Olina Beach Villas, Ko Olina Marina, Paradise Cove and Ko Olina Golf Course.  There are 4 major lagoons within Ko Olina.  Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club is currently the only resort built on the large 3rd lagoon.

Sunset at Lagoon 3 Ko Olina
From first check-in, it is easy to see this is a special place to stay.  The staff greets you with the warm Aloha Spirit that Hawaii is famous for.  The lobby area is open air with a tremendous view of the ocean.  There are also plenty of couches and areas to sit and enjoy the ocean breezes, watch the palms sway and hear the birds chirp.

The rooms are timeshare units, so they have 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a full kitchen and a washer and dryer.  Obviously the size of these rooms is very convenient when traveling with kids and is very nice and clean.  Having a full kitchen is so nice.  Rather than paying $100 for every meal, our family usually stops at the nearby Costco and Safeway to pick up drinks, cereal, and other must haves for quick, easy meals for our kids.  The washer and dryer are great because we find ourselves packing a lot less and since we’re constantly doing water activities, it’s great to have a place to wash the sand covered shirts and bathing suits.

There are 3 pools at the resort.  One is more of a shallow kid’s pool.  One tends to be of the adult pool.  The third is the family pool that has a water slide, waterfall and grotto.  There are a couple pool bars and several hot tubs scattered throughout the resort.  That said, our family spends much of our time on the beach.  Because the lagoon is protected by rocks to break up the surf, the waters of the lagoon are often very calm.  The water starts very shallow and gradually gets deeper, so there aren’t any drop offs or rip tides to worry about.  Lagoon 2 is the best for snorkeling and with little effort you can find tropical fish and sometimes, even turtles.

If you haven’t been to Hawaii, just a fair warning, Oahu is very busy.  It is home to most of Hawaii’s population and isn’t the Hawaii most mainlanders imagine.  That said, if traveling with family, it is probably the best island as far as activities and things to keep the kids busy.  We’ve been to Hawaii several times, and as mentioned even lived on Oahu.  As for activities we usually do, we generally do a day at Waikiki Beach.  We always spend some time on the North Shore.  I play golf and can highly recommend nearby courses Ko Olina Golf Course, Kapolei Golf Course, Coral Creek, and Ewa Beach Golf Course.  It is also worth getting up to the North Shore to play Turtle Bay.

As for eating, there are several great restaurants within Ko Olina including a Roy’s.  For us, we spend a lot of time in Kapolei eating Korean BBQ, Pho, Thai and so many of the other great food that have been impacted by the Asian influence on Hawaii.  We also seek out Spam Musubis (don’t get the Spam Musubis at 7-11, they’re much better at ABC Stores) and Pork Hash.  Katie and I also try to make sure to visit Tokkuri-Tei, a great Japanese restaurant in town.  There is convenience store in Ko Olina called ABC store and the prices are better than you’ll find at the market at the Beach Club.

We love Ko Olina and Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club.  It is a special place with special memories and friends.  Our son Mason was born there.  Gwen learned to enjoy life and not take things so seriously while living in Hawaii.  Katie and I made some good friends that will be lifelong friends.  I’m happy we own there so we have an excuse to go back.
Gwen and Mason Boogie Boarding

Waiting for the perfect wave

Gwen showing Mason how to spot the waves

Gwen in the background waiting for a wave

Thanks to friends, Gwen did get up and surf

Gwen with Uncle Sean O'Reilly 

Day at the Beach

Mason motor boating

Mason at the hot tub overlooking Lagoon 3

Mason enjoying Ko Olina

Gwen, Mason and friends at the pool

Getting ready for a chicken fight

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