|IN SEARCH OF THE HULA MOON: EXPLORING MAUI AT SEA LEVEL|
|January 10, 2004 12:00 am|
A vacation adventure
by Bill Lundquist
You promised her the moon if she'd marry you. You know you did.
Then life happened. There were kids, jobs, good times and tough times. The years, 20, 30, 40 went by and she stuck with you. Whatever happened to that moon you promised?
I found my honey's moon (pardon the pun) in June on Maui, in the state of Hawaii.
The crescent Hula moon hung in an indigo sky punctuated with jewel-like stars above the neighbor islands of Kahoolawe and Lanai.
We strolled along a path between plumeria-scented hedges and the crashing tropical sea until we found ourselves on a slope overlooking one of the fantastic pleasure palaces lining the beach.
A band was playing Hawaiian music for a party, but we felt it was just for us. Alone under a palm tree and the hula moon, we danced slowly.
As the song says, "Isn't it romantic?" You bet. Isn't it also expensive?
Well, we spent virtually our entire life's savings on our 30th anniversary, but not foolishly.
We got a good deal on first-class airfare and a room at the top-rated Four Seasons Resort Maui through Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays and Pelican Bay Travel on Chetco Avenue.
Flying first class on Hawaiian Airlines is, by the way, a great way to start a romantic holiday.
They greet you with champagne or guava juice, serve you recipes from one of the best gourmet restaurants on Maui, and give you all the legroom you could desire. All for the same price as a budget ticket to Tahiti.
Hawaiian coach service didn't look all that bad either, with pretty good food and adequate legroom. You'll pay extra for movies and drinks, however.
It's not too early to plan that summer vacation in Hawaii, but winter rates between New Years Day and spring break are great, as is the weather.
We stretched our budget by eating in inexpensive, but good, restaurants outside of the hotel most of the time, and by not indulging in our room's usurious "honor bar."
Those looking to duplicate our romantic evening walk along Wailea Beach on the cheap can find less expensive hotels on the same beach.
Those really wanting to save a bundle could stay in an inexpensive hotel a few miles north in Kihei.
That area is a bit crowded and hectic, but the beaches are superb. Wailea, with the silkiest golden sand on the planet, is only a short drive away and, like all Hawaiian beaches, is open to the public.
While you can pay less in several places, you can also pay more than you do at the Four Seasons, but you won't get the service.
Our beach concierge (yes, the Four Seasons boasts beach and pool concierge services) said to us as he was setting up our cabana on the beach one morning, "See those people at the place next door (the Grand Wailea Resort)? They have to carry their own beach chairs."
"Barbarous," we thought to ourselves smugly. At the Four Seasons, you don't have to do anything for yourself. Regardless of room category or price, every guest is actually treated like he or she owns the place.
The Four Seasons is not the biggest or most ornate resort on Wailea, but nobody equals its customer service.
Not that it is exactly a dump in any other respect. All the rooms are big, the sheets 300-count, the unobtrusive maid service twice a day, the bathrooms pure marble.
The hotel's main restaurant is (get this) Spago. Yes, Chef Wolfgang Puck's Spago. We had been warned it could take days to get a reservation there.
We approached the reservation desk in the morning, explained it was our 30th anniversary, and got in that evening.
They even set up a special table for two for us with a view of the entire length of Wailea Beach. They threw in an expensive dessert as a gift.
You may be thinking, "At places like Spago, you pay mostly for the name."
Sorry folks, but I've never had seafood as perfectly cooked, and I'll never again consider mashed potatoes complete without some lobster mixed in.
As for the dessert, the only thing I could compare it to shouldn't be discussed in a family publication.
We ate most of our meals at inexpensive Mexican, Thai or "cheeseburger in paradise" type restaurants, but we did budget one meal at the Four Seasons' Ferraro's Italian restaurant.
Spago deserves its world famous reputation, but Ferraro's is the Four Seasons' most romantic restaurant.
By day, it's an excellent, though expensive, outdoor cafe. At night, the market umbrellas come down, the fine linen and silver come out, and Ferraro's becomes a beach-side slice of Northern Italy under the tiki torches and stars. To make it more romantic, a chamber quartet serenades the diners.
It's so Italian the waiters speak barely comprehensible English, but they still deliver excellent service.
You always hear about pasta that is done to perfection, not too firm or soggy, but you never really find it, except at Ferraro's.
Our pasta and gnocchi set the standard by which we will judge all Italian food from now on.
Likewise our tiramisu dessert. It was small, but a quarter teaspoon of it was like having an espresso machine explode on your tongue.
All of this was simply the prelude, however, to our actual anniversary night, when we drove an hour up the coast to the Old Lahaina Luau.
Don't confuse this with the Royal Lahaina Luau or any other imitator. The Old Lahaina Luau is recognized by every travel book and Travel Channel show as the best and most authentic luau on Maui, and probably in the entire state.
The luau is consistently sold out weeks in advance, so make your reservations before leaving home.
It's expensive, but there is more than enough food to go around, including a whole pig cooked in an underground pit.
All drinks are included. Ask the bartender to make you six mai-tais, and he will do it in about 20 seconds, complete with pineapple spears and little umbrellas.
The authentic Hawaiian hula show is what really brings people here, however.
This is the real thing, so there are no Fijian fire dances or Vegas-style lounge singers.
The show starts out with traditional Tahitian dance, and progresses through the missionary and modern eras of hula in Hawaii.
We found the ancient hula, or Kahiko, to be the most moving. Danced only to drums and chants, each movement is precise. It is as much a prayer as is a Gregorian chant or a Baptist hymn.
Once again, we got better seats by mentioning it was our anniversary. The show also features a romantic slow dance where they invite honeymooners, those celebrating their anniversaries, and all those in love to come down to the lawn in front of the stage.
Shy, we stayed on the edge of the crowd, which put us on the beach under a coconut palm. Did I mention that Maui can be very romantic?
While two people in love could easily spend an entire week in their room or beach cabana, however, Maui is also one of the most active places on earth.
We ended up spending a lot more time away from our luxury resort than we had planned.
In the other two episodes of this series, you will be told how to experience the highs (10,020 feet above sea level) and the lows (150 feet under the sea) of Maui.