THE BIG ISLAND:
Four Seasons, Hualalai
Hands down the best overall property (spa and resort) I visited on the islands. The new, 28,000-square-foot spa features indoor and outdoor treatment rooms and waiting areas that take full advantage of Hawaiian materials and climate. The “Waiea” or “Water of Life” garden functions as an outdoor relaxation or waiting room, complete with waterfalls and chaises strategically placed to maximize privacy and views. There are four outdoor treatment rooms or “hales” and locker rooms have outdoor plunge pools and showers. One of my favorite treatments here was the “Apothecary” which allows for custom mixing of ingredients for a wrap or scrub. I was able to choose from over 15 ingredients, all indigenous to the islands and all with specific therapeutic uses, including Spirulina (dried seaweed), crushed macadamia nuts, powdered kalo (taro root), ginger, volcanic clay, and salts galore. The treatment itself began with a dry brushing, an application of my custom mixture, a cocooning wrap during which I was given a facial massage, scalp massage, and foot massage. After being rinsed by a gorgeous Vichy shower there was a massage with coconut oil and I was sent off in a blissful state to enjoy my room (one of the resort’s new one-bedroom suites with an ocean view). 888-340-5662, www.fourseasons.com/hualalai
Bottom line: If you can only go to one resort on the islands, and can afford it, this should be it.
Hawaii Island Retreat
When I visited the eight-room hotel (in the style of a Hawaiian royal house, inspired by Spanish Colonial architecture) it was finished but the spa was still under construction, so my treatment was a massage from owner Jeanne Sunderland, incorporating a technique called “Neurolink” which helps the brain fix the body (in my case, bursitis. It didn’t really work but I found it interesting). Sunderland is legendary in the Hawaiian spa world for debuting the “spa without walls” concept at the then Ritz-Carlton Hotel. At the time of this writing the spa was still not finished (it’s Island Time there, and Jeanne’s husband is doing much of the building himself), but when it is completed in first quarter 2010, it will include four outdoor treatment rooms, two facial/wet treatment rooms, a salt purified infinity lap pool and Jacuzzi, a Far Infrared sauna, watsu pool, and steam room. Many of the oils and scrubs used in treatments will be made on-site from ingredients that grow on the property. This is a truly eco-hotel, off the grid thanks to solar power, gardens galore thanks to the help of WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), low-water toilets and special showers, organic amenities, composting, and a lot more. It should be noted that the actual land around Hawaii Island Retreat is considered very important because King Kamehameha the Great would come here with his advisors. A walk around the property reveals petroglyphs on old stones, a specific stone where Kahunas would mix medicines, a sacred altar and, further along an old sugarcane road, a herd of Nubian goats (milk bath anyone?). 808-889-6338, www.hawaiiislandretreat.com
Bottom line: The jury is out. The hotel itself is in a nice, quiet, and secluded spot and the food was very good. The spa wasn’t finished when I visited but with Jeanne’s impressive background I’m guessing it will be first rate.
It’s all about water here: nine pools, seven water slides, one Tarzan swing, and a grotto that would make Hugh Hefner proud. It’s also all about honeymooners (couples galore) and families (note: seven water slides). If you fit into the aforementioned categories, chances are you will like the Grand Wailea. If you’re into a more solitary or Zen experience, there are better choices. Art lovers note: the resort has a great collection of Botero sculptures. The recently renovated Spa Grande was the most crowded of all I visited but, in their defense, it was a holiday weekend. Again, the theme is water and specifically, a series of Terme baths—mud, seaweed, aromatherapy, papaya, enzyme, and Hawaiian healing—that each guest is encouraged to partake in before a treatment. I’m not into baths and “forgot” my swimsuit in my room, only to be given a disposable bikini so I could experience them after all (so much for avoidance). After each bath I’d step under the cascading waterfall shower or tropical rainstorm shower (with 50 hydrotherapy jets) before trying a different bath. It’s hard to get comfortable in the baths when they’re small and often you are sharing them with one or more strangers. And, unlike many other spas on the islands that take full advantage of the scenery, this one has almost no outdoor space. I was one of the first to experience a new treatment called the “Hawaiian Diamonds,” built around a locally found mineral called Olivine. I was originally told it was a massage with Olivine, but the actual treatment involved the application of a hot oil (made locally using olive, avocado, and castor bean oil by a company called Pala-au) followed by an exfoliation using sandalwood powder (also indigenous) and a spritz of an elixir that has Olivine in it. I was a bit confused after the treatment, as I feel that a spritz of something doesn’t make a treatment and furthermore I had found out that Olivene is protected in Hawaii. Long story much shorter: there’s no actual physical olivine in the crystal, it’s made using vibrational energy and involving lunar cycles. The treatment was perfectly nice but, from my perspective, not accurately marketed. I’d say that if you’re into a hot oil massage and a sandalwood exfoliation, which I didn’t see anywhere else, it’s great. If you’re into Olivine, go to the Green Beach on the Big Island to truly experience it first-hand.(800-888-6100), www.grandwailea.com
Bottom line: If you don’t mind big hotels that feel big or want a more social resort experience, this is it. If you want Zen, go elsewhere.
The brand new (when I visited) 30,000 square-foot spa is part of the Kapalua Villas complex here, adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton, and was one of my favorites. Surrounded by Kapalua Bay with views of the island of Molokai, the spa has 19 treatment rooms (10 are outdoors), with both single-sex and coed outdoor relaxation areas. I sat in the hot tub, tried the cold rain walk (a nice alternative to the expected cold plunge), and took a swim in the saline lap pool before heading in for treatments. The first was one of the most memorable of the trip. The Awa & Cacao Lomi Wrap begins with a beverage that’s a mixture of Awa (similar to Kava Kava) and water. My therapist, who also drank it, said it was for “deep relaxation.” I’m not sure how she did any work after that drink – it put me out à la Ambien. The treatment consisted of a scrub with awa and cacao mixed with heated Kukui nut oil followed by a Pikake oil massage (Pikake is a Hawaiian flower that smells like Jasmine). I was so deeply relaxed afterwards that I was groggy for several hours, which I attribute more to the liquid Awa than the treatment, although I thoroughly enjoyed the treatment and especially the ingredients used. Note: if you have trouble sleeping, get some powdered Awa or Kava Kava and dissolve in water per instructions (which involve cheesecloth). If this doesn’t work, nothing in the natural world will. Some Hawaiian parents won’t let their kids near the stuff. My second treatment here was the “Intensive Hawaiian Facial” with paraben and petroleum-free products from a local company called Pure & True (www.pureandtrue.com). Extraction was minimal, facial massage and compliments on my skin were maximal, loved all around.
Bottom line: the spa makes the Ritz a much more attractive choice on this island. It’s also set away from the more crowded spots, making it good for those seeking a more chill environment.
A 45-minute, incredibly scenic, ferry ride from Maui drops you on the tiny island of Lanai which, with two Four Seasons Resorts, probably boasts more luxury rooms per capita than anywhere else in the world. The resorts have two distinct personalities: The Four Seasons Manele Bay is on the beach, while the Lodge is up in the mountains. From my room at Manele Bay I could see dolphins jumping, while my room at the Lodge boasted views of landscaped gardens and families of wild turkeys running around. Manele Bay has a spa with non-inspiring décor but nice outdoor tented treatment “rooms,” where, if not careful, you can give beach-goers an eyeful. I chose to wait outside by the pool for my treatment, rather than inside in the official relaxation area (another spa in Hawaii without outdoor elements, go figure). At the Lodge, my treatment took place in a room set aside for that purpose, that unfortunately overlooked the hotel entrance so sounds of cars idling and people chatting wafted up regularly. Neither treatment was stellar. The first was a Lava Shell massage with allegedly local shells, but it turns out they are sourced from the Philippines. The second was an aloe massage said to treat sunburn (something that I, as an olive-skinned person do not normally experience) and involved the application of aloe and aloe leaves. Unfortunately the aloe itself isn’t rinsed off, leaving one very sticky. Rinse-off required.
The star of the spa show here is not a treatment but an activity: custom perfume blending. I spent a couple hours going through various oils, choosing scents I liked, and ultimately arriving at a blend I took home with me.
Bottom line: I wouldn’t recommend either resort for spa services alone, but the Lodge offered an incredible setting I didn’t find elsewhere in Hawaii (at this level of hotel) and is absolutely worth a visit.
Four Seasons Manele Bay, 808-565-2000
Four Seasons The Lodge at Koele 808-465-4000,
At just 121 rooms, Koa Kea feels more like an apartment complex than a hotel, albeit a super-stylish one. The lobby feels more Miami than Hawaii, the rooms feature dark woods accented with shades of blue, and most have an ocean view via a balcony. And their Poipu beach location, where you can watch surfers while the sun sets, cannot be beat. If you’re on a budget, it’s worth knowing that a house vodka martini here is just $10, as is the Ahi sampler plate at the bar, where you can chat with Jim the bartender (and historian, entertainer, etc) and munch on complimentary edamame. The spa is hidden behind what looks like normal guest room doors, with five treatment rooms and two local, all-natural product lines (Pure & True and Malie). It also has something that none other does, a man named Gary Remes who invented a technique called Neuro Fascial Re-Education. It is hard to put into words so I’ll quote directly from the spa brochure: “NFR treats common pain conditions resulting from injury, postural problems, and neuro-muscular diseases. By re-educating the nervous and fascial systems through application of direct pressure to select trigger points, body alignment is immediately improved resulting in a decrease or elimination of pain.” That description doesn’t really explain what happens, but I’m not 100 percent that I can either. All I can say is I had clothes on, at times Gary used some kinesiology moves, at times trigger point therapy, but I came out feeling lighter and pain-free and felt that way for a few days.
Bottom Line: I’d stay here again for the location alone, but if you’re super into spa-ing and want to be on Kauai, the Grand Hyatt is probably a better choice. 808-806-2299, www.koakea.com
I would normally avoid any island property with the word “Grand” in its name, but I was surprised at how much I liked the Grand Hyatt. It sits on over 50 acres, and while it does seem vast, there are places all over the property—a solitary bench with a view, for example—where you can have a quiet moment. My room was far from the lobby (with its live parrots), near the newly renovated Anara spa, my absolute favorite spa on the trip (the Four Seasons on the Big Island wins for overall resort and spa). At 45,000 square feet it is also vast but takes full advantage of the outdoors with meandering stone paths through lush gardens. The main open-air courtyard includes 11 treatment rooms each with private garden and fountain, there are five free-standing outdoor thatched roof hales with private outdoor showers and sitting areas, a 25-yard lap pool and open-air lava rock showers. The outdoor relaxation room was the nicest I’d seen, and my treatment began with a foot soak and scrub there. The therapist had arranged the scrub mixture to form a yin-yang symbol in the bowl, a nice detail. This was followed by a “Majestic Noni” treatment in an outdoor hale—a kukui nut and sea salt scrub, followed by an herbal wrap, application of Noni elixir (by Epicuren), and a massage with Kukui nut oil. Divine. There were more surprises here beyond the spa. It turns out the property is greener than expected. Solar panels generate over 438,000 kWh of electricity annually for the resort, use of compact-fluorescent bulbs save 800,00 kWh per year, there are low-flow showerheads and toilets in all rooms, they compost all green waste, waste cooking oil is collected and processed into bio-diesel fuel, recycle bins are all over the property for guest use, and a heat-to-energy conversion system uses heat produced by the air conditioning system to heat water for guest rooms, laundry and swimming pools, decreasing environmental pollution and conserving 205,000 kWh of electricity each year. 808-742-1234, www.kauai.hyatt.com
Bottom line: get a room near the spa, and spend as much time at the spa as possible.
St. Regis, Princeville
The newest of the lot, the St. Regis sits on the former spot of the Princeville Resort and maintains the same footprint as the previous hotel. It’s the only luxury property on Kauai, and sits right on Hanalei Bay with gorgeous views of Bali Hai. The 11,000 square-foot spa, called Haele`a or “House of Joy” was, design-wise, a disappointment. While the interiors are perfectly stylish and incorporate local woods and other design elements, with the exception of a not-yet-ready poolside Spa Cabana, there’s not one outdoor element here—no outdoor waiting room or garden or pool or anything that takes advantage of the incredible scenery surrounding the resort—a major missed opportunity that continues to confound me.
I did, however, have two very good treatments here. One was an Organic Seaweed Repair Facial using 100 percent certified organic Voya products from Ireland, a product line I haven’t seen in any spa before. There was no extraction but a nice massage and the products felt great on my skin (Seaweed is used to hydrate the skin, which is especially useful after an afternoon in the sun). I also experienced the Rainforest Shower and Taro Butter polish, a scrub of organic coconut oil, cocoa butter, and grapefruit seed extract, followed by a Vichy rinse and application of a specially formulated Taro Butter by Malie, a lovely light moisturizer with an equally nice light scent.
Bottom line: if you are someone who prefers 5-star accommodations and don’t mind a more formal island environment, this is it. I wouldn’t recommend it as a destination spa on this island—Grand Hyatt wins in that category. But when it comes to luxury resorts on Kauai, this is the only game in town. 808- 826-9644, www.stregisprinceville.com
Arriving in Waikiki is culture shock after spending weeks on other, super-laid-back, islands. I checked in at the Moana Surfrider, a gorgeous landmark hotel that originally opened in 1901 and has a very interesting history (I don’t have room to go into it here, so check the website). The lobby scene is chaotic—Japanese brides getting their picture taken on the grand staircase and tourists galore. While my tiny corner room had wonderful ocean views, it also looked into apartments in the building right next door, signaling the end of the Zen portion of my trip. The Moana Lani spa here feels corporate and is generally uninspiring. While they bill it as the only beachfront spa on Waikiki, that’s not exactly the case; some treatment rooms have views of the beach but there are no outdoor cabanas or any part of the spa that’s actually right on the beach. Adding to the confusion here, therapists are required to perform a ritual chant before each treatment that in this setting seems ridiculously contrived. I did have a great therapist but even he couldn’t save the treatment—a Hawaii Clay wrap that was seriously lacking in the clay department.
Bottom line: a good hotel choice if you want to be in the middle of Waikiki and like a historic hotel (and all the quirks that go with it). Skip the spa. 808-237-2535, www.moana-surfrider.com
Of all the spas on the list, the Sullivan Estate has the most “green street cred” because it is owned by Jurgen Klein, a legendary chemist and horticulturalist who founded Jurlique. The Estate is a truly holistic, all-natural spa about 90 minutes drive from Honolulu on Oahu’s north shore and welcomes guests for either overnight stays or day services. The former requires booking the whole estate and Spa amenities with meals (starting at $15,000 a night). Day Spa guests are welcome with a minimum of two multi-hour packages, and only when there are no overnight guests, guaranteeing that only one group is on property at any given time.
My visit began with a steam and sauna, followed by a JK7-SPA Sensator treatment, which is like a floating meditation, taking place in an indoor pool and involving different sounds, colors, and mists over the course of 45 minutes. I got antsy towards the end but found it an overall relaxing and meditative experience that could be addictive. This was followed by a massage and organic pupus (hummus, banana dip, edamame spread) with an ocean view. What makes it eco: all the heat and electricity are solar powered, food is organic and (mostly) locally sourced, and treatments offered use Klein’s new body and skincare line, JK7, made on-property with natural and organic ingredients.
Bottom line: expensive but absolutely worth it for a truly personalized spa experience. It’s also one of the only places (for now) where you can experience and buy the JK7 products. 808- 638-7020, www.sullivanestate.com
Still in the middle of things but off the main drag, the Halekulani was my favorite “city” hotel in Hawaii. The room was impeccably designed with thoughtful touches, including a closet accessible from both bathroom and bedroom, a bedside control panel for lights, privacy and temperature, and amenities that included laundry soap and a toothbrush. (And a Toto toilet with bidet feature in the half bath.) At the spa I had my first experience with individual suites, meaning my locker was in the treatment room (but sadly the bathroom was oddly located in the main reception area). Every treatment room has a Japanese Furo Bath, which I soaked in after the Nonu treatment—massage with a bag filled with Hawaiian rocks, then massage with the actual rocks that had been dipped in Noni oil. It was simple but perfectly done.
Bottom line: good location, gorgeous room, and a legendary Mai Tai all in one place. If you have to do Waikiki, do it here. 808-923-2311, www.halekulani.com
Located off the beaten path in a quiet residential area of Honolulu, The Kahala has become a refuge for those who want to be in the city without the craziness of Waikiki (celebs especially love it). This was, appropriately perhaps, my last stop on the whirlwind three-week spa tour and my room was located on the lagoon, home to four dolphins. Like the Halekulani, the Kahala has individual spa suites with lockers, and also bathrooms and outdoor sitting areas. I had booked a variation on the O Pa Pualu Lomi Lomi Ritual, which was described as a combination of “hula with Lomilomi massage”—a foot ritual, followed by a Wild Lehua honey scrub followed by a synchronized four hands massage that they said “reflected the grace of the hula.” That part is a bit gimmicky, but the four handed massage was fabulous, if not totally synchronized (one person works on the upper half of the body while the other attends to the bottom). They also used a Lomi Lomi stick for part of the massage, something not offered elsewhere. The stick is carved from a guava tree branch and can be used to give yourself a pretty deep trigger point massage (Lomi Sticks by Ronald, 808-286-3902). This treatment also has a facial component that I eliminated since the products weren’t up to Organic Spa Magazine’s natural standards.
Bottom line: The most Zen you’ll find in a hotel on the south shore of Oahu, with the added bonus of a great spa. 808-739-8888, www.kahalaresort.com
Best spas overall:
• Four Seasons Hualalai
• Anara at the Grand Hyatt Kaua
• Sullivan Estate
Best resort overall:
• Four Seasons Hualalai Most green:
• Sullivan Estate
• Hawaii Island Retreat
• Grand Hyatt Kauai
Most interesting treatments:
• Neuro Fascial Re-Education with Gary Remes at Koa Kea
• JK7 Sensator at The Sullivan Estate
Most surprising non-beach scenery:
• Four Seasons, the Lodge at Koele
Best hotel room design:
• Halekulani and Koa Kea
Best indoor treatment rooms:
Best outdoor treatment rooms:
• Four Seasons Hualalai
• Grand Hyatt Kauai