It was the long plane ride, amplified by the emergency landing, that made our late night arrival at The Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui such a relief.
Our first exposure to the high standard of service was before our car wheels rolled to a stop. Several valets unloaded our luggage while a lady from the concierge desk brought us leis and chilled passion fruit juice. A sense of calm was settling in, that would last a week.
Moving into our ocean front suite, we reveled in the ocean breeze wafting through the balcony doors. The Fairmont Kea Lani is Hawaii’s only luxury all-suite and villa resort.

Maui, the state’s second largest island, has been consistently voted “Best Island in the World” by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

Despite any jet lag we were early to rise, eager to start our search for turtles. The beach staff was quick to set up our chairs and umbrella. We donned our snorkel gear and scouted the area, with pleasant success. Although the three pools were starting to become populated, there was always plenty of room once we moved from the beach. The adults-only pool was tranquil, and the two family activity pools are connected by a 140-foot water slide.
For one day we enjoyed a cabana, which included unlimited chilled water, tropical juice and sodas. The friendly staff checked in often, and also brought fresh cut pineapple, mochi ice cream and Hawaiian trail mix. Love those macadamia nuts.
Our hotel suite was very comfortable. We alternated between quietly efficient air conditioning and the huge ceiling fans with open balcony doors.
The two sink bathroom was roomy, as was the cleverly designed shower. Whether it was the tremendously comfortable bed or the results of the day’s activities, we all slept well.
Although a large resort by most measures (413 one-bedroom suites and 37 villas), the well-designed grounds provide a surprising sense of intimacy. The lush landscaping is well-maintained.

Each morning we were fortified by a robust breakfast buffet. Along with the expected array of choices, we discovered the improbably delightful Maui moco. An upscale version of a local favorite, it may be the only time I have had beef at breakfast, but I enjoyed it several days running in the hotel’s open air Joe’s Fishmarket. In lieu of hamburger, the chef uses a flavorful braised beef over a bed of rice, a fried egg and sprinkles of green onion and kimchi. At the buffet, the bevy of fresh fruit was replenished frequently.

For dinner on the grounds we were beguiled by , which translates to “sugarcane” in Hawaiian. The open-air restaurant’s cuisine and decor are inspired by the sugarcane plantation era, “a time when people from around the world came to the Hawaiian Islands to work in the sugarcane fields.”

Multiple generations of family recipes complete the menu, with selections from Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese favorites. Executive Chef Tylun Pang selects from the island’s best seafood, produce and meat to prepare the dishes.

Our clear favorite starter was the lavender honey macadamia nut shrimp, which was delicate and flavorful. From the wok we shared a marvelous seafood garlic noodle pancit, comprised of shrimp, calamari, scallops, bok choy, and shiitake mushrooms. Invariably and without remorse, we were guided by our server to the fresh catch of the day. Chef Pang offers the fish three ways: ginger steamed (Chinese sausage, shitake mushroom, ginger, scallion, cilantro, shoyu sizzling oil, jasmine rice) or the seemingly ubiquitous macadamia nut crust or lemongrass coconut broth (wok simmered with tomato, garlic rice). For our opa (Hawaiian pink snapper) we eschewed the nut crust, and instead relished the other two. The ginger steamed style was easily the best.

The handcrafted cocktails were inventive, and drew upon local flavors.

Between courses we noticed how well the décor emulated the theme of Kō: “the roof is supported without exterior beams and appears to be floating, and is designed to emulate a cloud hovering over a sugarcane field in central Maui.” It was indeed a luxurious way to absorb many flavors of historic Hawaii.

We spent several evenings on our balcony watching the sun slowly set, contemplating where the turtles we spotted earlier spend the evening.

(food and drink images courtesy of @_ellies.belly)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.