Where to Stay in Maui: Westin Ka’anapali

Way back in February of 2016, when I was still collecting a paycheck and reporting to a cubicle, I received an offer from the Westin Vacation Club that seemed too good to be true. 5 nights in a vacation villa at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort, a $75 resort credit and a 6-day rental car credit – all for $798. I immediately called a travel-savvy friend to double check that it wasn’t a scam, and then reserved my spot! After a 2008 trip to Oahu, I’ve always wanted to explore other Hawaiian islands. As I started planning my trip, I didn’t have to worry about where to stay in Maui!

Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas

Villas at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort

The basic package was a studio suite, which was perfect for me as a solo traveler. Of course, I would have loved an ocean view wraparound balcony, but you pay extra for those! So I settled for the island view and a juliette balcony. The room was pretty standard for a Westin property – Heavenly Bed and White Tea toiletries, with the added convenience of a kitchen and laundry.

Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas

I stopped at Wal-Mart on my way into town and stocked up on breakfast supplies, only to find out that the hotel gives you breakfast buffet credits for each day that you decline housekeeping service. I usually don’t use housekeeping anyways for stays of less than a week, so this was a nice bonus!

Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas

You don’t have to buy into the ownership program, or receive this special preview offer to stay at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas. You can reserve a villa through SPG.com. I’m told it’s pretty random how they select who receives the offer, but being a Starwood Points member is most likely how I got on their mailing list. Shockingly, the offer I received did not even require a vacation ownership presentation. However, for an additional $100 resort credit, I did take a tour and review the program with a sales representative. It’s an interesting program, and something I would definitely consider in the future. You know, once I’m working again and have a primary home established, lol!

Amenities at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort

Beach at Westin Ka'anapal Ocean Resort Villas

While the beach here is not the best for lounging (narrow and steep) the pools here more than make up for it! In total, there are six outdoor pools, including two children’s pools and one for adults only. Gazebos and umbrellas are available for an additional fee, as well as water-sports rentals or beach loungers.

Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas

Spa Helani is a great place to use your resort credit for a relaxing day at the spa. With your spa treatment (I enjoyed a massage) you will also have access to the relaxation areas (indoor and outdoor) for the rest of the day.

Hanali SpaWestin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas

Another great amenity at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort is the complimentary shuttle bus that will take you to Whaler’s Village, Lahaina, or any of the other Starwood properties in Ka’anapali. Even though I had a rental car, it was just so much easier to hop on the shuttle and not worry about parking or gas for the whole week. There are two shuttle routes, and the schedules are posted clearly at the shuttle stop. They run about every 20 minutes. Super convenient for going out to dinner, or heading to a luau for the evening!

Restaurants at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort

Westin KOR has 3 on-site restaurants to choose from, where you can dine in convenience by charging everything to your room. There is also a convenience store in each tower with some grocery and snack items, although if you plan on cooking, you will save a lot of money by grocery shopping before you arrive at the resort! (There are gas grills available for guest use, too!)

French Toast at Sheraton Maui

  • Auntie’s Kitchen – I enjoyed several meals at Auntie’s kitchen, including the breakfast buffet served daily. There is one night each week designated as Crab Fest, when you’ll need a reservation and the full menu is not available. Check the schedule so you’re not caught off guard and hangry like I was!
  • Pulehu Italian Grill – this is an award-winning fine dining experience in the North resort. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesday, open only for dinner hours.
  • Pailolo Bar & Grill – food-truck style sports bar near the north pool

Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas

Activities at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort

Upon check-in you’ll receive an extensive list of ongoing activities for the week. This is also posted throughout the resort. You will find craft fairs, BINGO, fitness classes, craft classes and local tours. Some activities require a reservation, so you may want to spend a few minutes after you get settled to decide what you’d like to participate in during your visit.

Have you visited Maui? What resort do you recommend?

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Gastronomy Tour in Marana, Arizona

In 2015, UNESCO named Tucson, Arizona a “City of Gastronomy.” Tucson was the first city in the U.S. to earn these bragging rights, although San Antonio just joined the list in 2017, along with cities like Parma, Italy and Chengdu, China. Tucson received this honor for having the longest agricultural history of any city in the U.S and a thriving culinary culture. While Tucson’s vineyards, orchards and livestock ranching go back 300 years, there is human history and agricultural evidence here dating back thousands of years. To showcase the UNESCO designation, the town of Marana, in conjunction with Gray Line Arizona, has put together the most unique Arizona food tour you will find, which also happens to be the first tour approved by UNESCO.

The Marana Gastronomy Tour is “an epicurean journey illuminated by 4,000 years of Agriculture.”

This Arizona food tour and history lesson is offered just a few Friday’s each month, so whether you are a Tucson native or visitor, you’ll want to make a reservation for this tour as soon as you can! For $109, you will be escorted on a 6-hour gastronomy journey around the town of Marana, concluding with an exquisite sampling of local foods at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain. What is truly unique about this tour is that is it led by Dr. Suzanne Fish,University of Arizona Emerita Professor and Arizona State Museum Curator and one of the world’s experts on Hohokam foodways.

The Marana Gastronomy Tour includes 4 stops in and around the town of Marana. The entire presentation is built around 3 kinds of food: ancient wild foods, ancient farm foods and food brought by the Europeans.

Gastronomy Stop #1: Los Morteros Conservation Area

Our first stop is Los Morteros, named after the mortar holes found here, which you can see in the photo above. This is where Hohokam women would gather to grind mesquite pods into flour. This area is also rich with artifacts such as pottery sherds. (Yes, sherds, not shards – it was news to me as well!) Anytime we found something, we excitedly brought it to Dr. Fish to tell us what we’d found, hoping for a groundbreaking discovery! This is also the site of an ancient ball court, which you can still walk the perimeter of today.

(Above: Dr. Fish shows the Mayor of Marana examples of painted pottery)

Gastronomy Stop #2: Catalina Brewing Company

After walking around the desert site, we had worked up a thirst and an appetite! Luckily, our next stop was Catalina Brewing Company.

Catalina Brewing Company manufactures and distributes a variety of craft beers designed and created from local materials with the southern Arizona market in mind

Our five beer tastings included Monkey Brew, made with white Sonoran wheat, the same strain that Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary, brought to the region in the 1700’s. There is also a prickly pear ale, a mesquite porter and a mesquite agave brew.

While Catalina Brewing Company doesn’t prepare food, this stop also included a sampling of Bean Tree Farm foods, such as salsa with barrel cactus and prickly pear, desert chutney, and mesquite chocolate chile sauce.

Gastronomy Stop #3: Agave Farm

After refueling at the brewery, it was time to get back in the bus for our next stop at the Hohokam agave fields historical site. Dating back to 1100-1300 AD, nearly 20,000 acres of former agave fields have been discovered between Tucson and Phoenix. The farm system here was extensive with rock beds built to capitalize on the water flow and roasting pits also uncovered in this area. Agave has many uses for food, drink and textiles.

Gastronomy Stop #4: Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain

By late afternoon, it was time to head to our final stop at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain, which was the perfect cap to this unique food tour. As you can imagine, the resort is in the most gorgeous setting (nearby hiking trails have become my new favorite) and they also had a life-size dine-in gingerbread house which can be reserved for a private dining experience. Our tasting was specially created by Executive Chef David Serus, and featured an assortment of the ancient and wild flavors of the region. The menu changes with the seasons, so no two tours are the same!

We started with a Heritage Grain Salad made with white Sonoran wheat berries, pecans, pistachios, tomatoes, dates and bee pollen.

Marana Gastronomy TourRitz Carlton Dove MountainHeritage Grain Salad

Followed by a green corn tamale made with poblano pepper, asadero and heirloom corn masa.

Our third course is a White Sonora Cavatelli, again made with the Sonoran wheat, porchetta, pistachio and onion, followed by a White Sonora Bunuelo for dessert, drizzled with saguaro syrup.

To accompany these delicious plates, we also had red wine from Arizona’s Burning Tree Cellars and a special cocktail made from Tucson’s Del Bac whiskey.  Each course was presented by the chef, with background story on how and why the ingredients were selected.

I’ve taken several food tours, but this tour was such a unique combination of food and history. As someone intrigued by Native American history and culture, I loved the format of this tour and highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Tucson area. It’s not everyday you get to dine at the Ritz Carlton with a world-renowned anthropologist! There is quite a bit of walking through dusty fields, so keep this in mind when choosing your footwear, and you will be out in the sun, so sunscreen and a hat are a good idea!

Do you love food tours as much as I do? What’s been your favorite?

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I was a guest of Discover Marana for this tour. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.

Maui Adventures: Old Lahaina Luau

A uniquely Hawaiian experience, attending a Polynesian luau should be part of any Hawaiian vacation itinerary. When planning my visit to Maui, I asked around to my travel friends and all recommendations pointed to Old Lahaina Luau as the best luau in Maui. They have an easy online reservation system, put on a show every night, and are conveniently located right behind the Lahaina Cannery Mall, which also happens to be a shuttle stop for many hotel shuttles. Open Bar + No Driving = Winning!

When making your reservation for this Maui luau, you will have two choices in seating. The “traditional” seats are in the front row around the stage, where you will sit cross-legged on cushions and dine from a low table. “Table & Chair” seating is also available, and as it sounds, you will be seated at a table with regular dining chairs. Both tables seat 8, and your party will be combined with others if you don’t have eight to fill a table. The price ($125/adult, $78/children under 13) is the same regardless of the seating style you choose. I was lucky to have a front row table/chair seating, otherwise I would have likely chosen traditional seating to be close to the action!

Old Lahaina Luau

Upon arrival at the Old Lahaina Luau, guests are greeted with a fragrant floral lei, and offered a mai tai immediately. A guide will then show you to your table, and give you the layout of the luau grounds so you can explore a bit. There are craft vendors on-site, dancing and of course the beachside “imu” where the pig is roasted. My only disappointment of the evening was that I was told a later time for the pig to be unearthed, so by the time I wandered over there, the crowd was too dense for me to see. It’s a pretty cool experience, so definitely try to time it right so you can see this! (Photos from the Hale Koa luau on Oahu, 2008)

12/22 - Hale Koa luauLuau boys about to dig out our pig for dinner

12/22 - Hale Koa luauBringing the pig out of the ground

Old Lahaina Luau also provides a program/menu that is really well done. The program walks you through the various phases of the Polynesian performance, explaining the history and traditions behind hula dancing. It also gives you an overview of the menu, which is helpful as there is a TON of food to choose from! Also included is the all-important drink menu – beyond mai tai’s, you’ll find any combination of sweet alcoholic treats, including some frozen drinks as well! These are all included in your luau ticket! Just be sure to bring cash to tip your bartender and servers!

You’ll start off with a light appetizer (taro hummus, in our case) as the evening’s performances begin. Each table will then be led by their server to the buffet line to load up their plates full of delicious food like imu roasted pork, poke ahi, island style chicken, maui style fish, and so many side dishes. I was sure I’d go back for seconds, but ended up super full after the first run!

Not too full for dessert, of course! That coconut pudding had my name all over it!

Once everyone is served, the big performances begin. There are a couple of emcees narrating the dances throughout the night. Several performances tell the story of Pele, the fire Goddess, and her quest for love. Another performance depicts the arrival of the missionaries, who at one time banned hula. All of the evenings performances build up to a grand finale, a dance-off of sorts.

As the evening came to an end, our served gave us mini-loaves of delicious Hawaiian banana bread to take home, and then we were on our way. The luau ends around 8:30, so for those with the energy, there is still plenty of time to have a night out on the town. I already had a very full day, with an early morning start for the Ultimate Whale Watch snorkel trip, so I was tired and went home with my banana bread!

When it comes to Hawaiian luaus, you’ll have many options, often right at your own hotel, but I highly recommend attending the Old Lahaina Luau if you are in Maui. By all accounts, it’s the best luau in Maui!

Have you been to a luau? What did you think?

Planning a #maui vacation? Do not miss @oldlahainaluau - amazing food, drinks and performances! Click To Tweet

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I received a discounted media rate in exchange for my review. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.