Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach Hotel bills itself as the island’s “Most Hawaiian” hotel. It’s not a deluxe property, but with its focus on Hawaiian culture, especially in its extensive program of cultural activities for guests, you definitely feel like you’re in Hawaii, not at an anonymous resort that could be anywhere in the world.
Cultural Activities Program
The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel takes its commitment to Hawaiian culture seriously. Since 1986, it’s had a program of Hawaiian cultural education that benefits both staff and guests.
The hotel even maintains a “Hawaiian culture” website listing 110 reasons why it deserves its “Most Hawaiian” designation, from encouraging employees to study Hawaiian language, arts, and dance, to growing traditional Hawaiian plants on the hotel grounds, to training staff to use and explain Hawaiian words.
Every day, both adults and keiki (kids) ages 2-12 can choose to join in complimentary cultural activities. You can learn to play the ukelele, make a lei, or dance the hula, find out the proper way to cut a pineapple, or listen to traditional Hawaiian stories.
During my recent stay, I opted for a morning “Cultural Gardens Tour,” where our knowledgeable guide led us around the manicured property, pointing out various plants and explaining their uses in traditional Hawaiian medicine and cooking.
As part of our tour, we stopped at the Hale Papamu, a thatch-roofed shelter on the lawn that houses a traditional game called konane, which is similar to checkers, played with small stones.
The guide also showed us a spectacular outrigger canoe that staff had built in memory of a local youth. The boy had once asked his father if they could construct a canoe from a large tree on their property. After the boy’s sudden death at age 11, his family donated the tree to the hotel, under the condition that they use it to build a canoe that would be named “Ka‘ililā‘au” after their son. (Read more about this canoe construction project — with photos — here).
Every evening, from 6 to 9 pm, a Hawaiian music group performs in the open-air Tiki Bar; hula dancers frequently join the musicians as well. The performances are free to guests, with no cover charge or drink minimum, and you can come and go as you like.
Several times each morning, staff bid farewell to departing guests with a lei ceremony in the lobby, singing a “good-bye” song and giving each guest a kukui nut lei.
Opened in 1964, the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel has 432 air-conditioned guest rooms in four different wings. The simply decorated units feature Hawaiian touches ranging from rattan furniture and carved armoires to traditional print bedding.
Room configurations include two queen beds, two doubles, or a king bed plus a day bed. All have mini-fridges and coffeemakers, but none have kitchen facilities. The dated, motel-basic bathrooms are functional, although an update would be welcome.
Most rooms have a balcony or lanai, with two chairs and a small table.
Internet access in the guest rooms is wired only, and the hotel charges $9.95 per day, per device. Parking is $10/day for self-parking and $12/day for valet service.
The rooms I’d avoid — unless you’re really pinching pennies — are the “Aloha Value” rooms that face the parking lot; they start at $169/night. Garden View rooms on the lower floors start at $182/night, and higher-floor rooms that overlook the gardens and pool are available from $203/night.
The best, and most expensive, rooms (from $292/night) are the oceanfront units in the Kauai wing. They’ve been updated most recently, and they’re directly overlooking the bay. The older Molokai wing, a three-story structure with no elevator, also has oceanfront units.
TIP: The hotel’s quietest seasons, when rates tend to be lowest, are May-June and September-October.
Location and Amenities
One of the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel’s best features is its oceanfront location on Ka’anapali Beach on Maui’s sunny west side. The hotel shares the beach with several more upscale properties, including the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort and the Sheraton Maui.
A watersports center at the beach rents snorkel gear, paddle boards, beach chairs, and other sports gear. They’ll also organize sailing trips and other activities.
The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel is built around a large lawn with a swimming pool in the center. If you can’t manage without your daily spin on the elliptical trainer, note that there’s no fitness center or workout room.
For shoppers, the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel is just a short walk from the Whaler’s Village Mall. The hotel is about a 10-minute drive north of the town of Lahaina, where you have numerous options for dining, drinking, and souvenir hunting. Allow about an hour to drive between Ka’anapali Beach and Maui’s Kahului airport.
The Maui Visitors’ Bureau provides lots of information about things to see and do on the island.
Of course, I wasn’t able to visit every hotel on Maui to test the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel’s “Most Hawaiian” claim (though when that gig becomes available, I’ll be the first to sign up!). Many other Maui hotels now offer programs that encourage guests to learn at least something about Hawaiian culture.
But I was impressed with the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel’s emphasis on Hawaiian culture, arts, and language, which seemed genuinely to permeate throughout the property and among the staff. At the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, posh rooms and deluxe amenities take a back seat to local culture, and most guests appear to like it that way.
Have you stayed in a hotel — on Maui or elsewhere — that offers an excellent program of cultural activities? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the new travel guide, Moon Handbooks: Ontario. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. We paid a discounted media rate to stay at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel.