Aloha and greetings from Maui. This is the first in a series of installments from Hawaii's second-largest island, and the journey begins in Wailea, a sun-soaked community on Maui's Southwest side.
It's a fitting place to start given that Wailea's resorts boast 54 holes of championship golf, countless shops and activities, and -- naturally -- plenty of prime real estate right on the Pacific. I checked into the Grand Wailea, a supersized resort hotel that was designed to resemble a turtle exiting the ocean (check out the photo above) and gobbles up 40 acres of this coveted land -- and they know how to use it. We're talking 780 rooms, 15 shops, nine separate pools, seven waterslides, five restaurants, a 50,000-square-foot spa and a partridge in a pear tree flock of mynah birds in the palm trees.
A couple of hours after deplaning in Maui and checking in, it was time for dinner. (Side question: Why is the act of getting off an airplane called "deplaning," but exiting a train is not called "detraining"? And why isn't hopping off a truck "detrucking?" English makes no sense sometimes. Back to Maui.) I stayed at the resort and wandered over to one of the island's most acclaimed restaurants, Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. This is not a typo -- it's also the state fish. Locals refer to the spot as "Humuhumu's," but tourists can also have a little fun with the name. For instance, you can say things like HeyI'mFeelingHungrySoIThinkI'llGoTo Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. Rolls right off the tongue. Anyway, the thatched-roof joint sits seaside, and master chef Isaac Bancaco cooks up some of the best surf and turf on the island. On this day Bancaco's daily special happened to be crab-crusted sea bass, and if that photo doesn't say enough, I'll add one more word: sensational.
The first round of golf was at the Wailea Gold Course, and it's a great way to start a week if you're into perfect landscaping, challenging greens, exotic wildlife and 18 consecutive holes with a view of the Pacific. The service is also great, and Valerie on the beverage cart was quick to persuade me to ditch the traditional morning bloody mary for a "pink gecko" -- guava juice and vodka. "Good for 100 percent of your daily allowance of vitamin C," she said happily. Who am I to argue?
As great as the course was, the views were even better. I mean, even the driving range has an ocean view.
The Gold is fantastic, but it's not the only act in town, as the Wailea's other courses, the Emerald and Old Blue, also bring the heat when it comes to a resort golf experience. After the Gold, I swung by Old Blue and found a course with wide fairways, sculpted greens and a more budget-friendly price tag -- especially for you and the kids, as the course offers junior rates, family rates, and four-person golf carts. Before there were resort hotels at Wailea -- or much of anything -- there was Old Blue, which opened in 1971. Like the Gold course, ocean views abound. Barry Helle, Old Blue's general manager, said that at Blue these views are known as "visual hazards." That's so good I plan to use it the rest of the trip, and I will probably attribute my soaring scores to these diabolical hazards.
Maui by The Numbers:
12: Hours spent in the air on two flights from New York City to Maui. Totally worth it.
3: Number of trips down the jumbo waterslide at the Grand Wailea pools. It's the longest waterslide in Maui, and I don't care what you say, you're never too old for waterslides.
1: Mai Thais consumed.
4: Lost golf balls at Wailea Gold.
6: Three-putts at the Gold. Those greens are tricky, America.
0: Minutes spent worrying about my total score.
Random snack of the day: Spam Musubi
One of my colleagues tipped me off to this processed meat treat before I departed, and it took all of 24 hours on the island before I stumbled upon it at a hotel café. Musubi is a slab of friend spam pressed into a block of rice and then wrapped in nori, the edible seaweed often found in a sushi roll. Sounds awful, doesn't it? Looks atrocious, right? (Maybe even another form of visual hazard.) I actually liked it. I'm not even ashamed to admit it. And at $2 a pop, it could turn out to be one of the best value snacks of the trip.
More surprises, dietary and otherwise, coming soon. Until then, Aloha.
(Photos: Grand Wailea, Jeff Ritter)