Go Inside Two Hot New Hawaiian Hotels in Maui and Oahu

The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas

Travel Agent has just returned from a whirlwind tour of two recently opened Hawaii properties. Both are part of Marriott’s Distinctive Premium Portfolio, though they couldn’t be more different. 

The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas on Maui is a haven for the upscale family-with-stroller set. The Laylow on Oahu is a hipster hangout with an international vibe. 

Both offer a take on Hawaii as unique as the islands themselves. 

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Westin Nanea Ocean Villas opened this spring as a sister property to the popular Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas. The name Nanea means relaxation and repose and it’s an easy sell. 

The 390-villa property sits on 16 oceanfront acres of North Kaanapali Beach. The one-, two- and three-bedroom villas come with all the comforts of home. That is, if your home features king-size Westin Heavenly Beds, massive free-standing stone tubs and a palm-shaded lanai with views of Molokai. 

Our two-bedroom villa included a queen-size sofa sleeper in the living room. It could easily accommodate four adults and two children. The fully-equipped kitchen comes with stainless steel appliances, a coffee maker, pots, pans, dishes, stemware and neatly-arranged cleaning supplies. (Daily housekeeping service is also available.)

There’s a washer-dryer combo in the closet, flat-panel TVs in every room, and conveniently-located charging stations for smartphones and iPads. 

In sum, more than enough for a comfortable stay. But, we didn’t spend much time in the villa. Nor do we imagine other guests do. 

The spectacular west Maui scenery and Pacific Ocean breeze is much too enticing. 

Guests head to the lagoon-style swimming pool and kid’s area that includes a sanded beach pool and splash pad. Commercial-sized barbecue grills by the pools are popular, as is the Inu (Drink) Pool Bar. We grabbed bowls of ahi poke (raw fish salad, an Hawaiian staple) bowls at lunch, and in the evening, a glimpse of a bright orange sun ball disappearing on the horizon. 

Guests of the Nanea villas have resort privileges next door at The Westin Kaaanapali Ocean Resort Villas. That includes Spa Helani, a Heavenly Spa by Westin. It’s one of our favorite island spas, so we willingly obliged when asked to experience the newly-created Nanea Ritual at Spa Helani.

Sometimes, one must sacrifice for one’s profession. And, if that means enduring an 80-minute aromatherapy-infused hot stone massage from a skilled, buff therapist named Toby, so be it.

Our stay coincided with Global Running Day. That means we were up at dawn to take part in the RunWESTIN program. It encourages guests to run the gorgeous path from resort to resort, assisted by the resident Run Concierge. 

Our favorite part of the program: loaner workout clothes, so you don’t have to pack clunky running shoes, etc., in your luggage. 

After taking part in the run (or at least the stretching workout that preceded it), some indulgent dining was in order. The property’s main dining venue is the Mauka Makai Restaurant (Mauka is Hawaiian for toward the mountains; Makai: toward the ocean). 

We enjoyed an evening presented by the ebullient executive chef, Executive Chef Ikaika Manaku. His take on some culinary classics showcase the thriving island farm-to-table scene. And, he’s no slouch in the presentation category. 

Our favorite course was a salad of smoked local octopus, fern, Kula tomatoes, Maui onion and blue ginger. It appeared as a scene from the ocean, in a clear, stone-lined “aquarium.” 

The night before, chef had treated us to a private poke demonstration, accompanied by libations prepared by the Beverage Manager. 

Drinks at the Nanea Ocean Villages also take on a local twist. We sampled Hibiscus Margaritas and libations made with local vodkas and tequilas and liquors made from ginger and elderflower. 

Speaking of local, cultural experiences are integral to the property’s philosophy. At its heart is the Puuhonua o Nanea Cultural Center run by director of culture, Makalapua Kanuha. Born and raised on Maui, “Maka” oversees a staff that includes graduates of the state’s Hawaiian language immersion program. They’re part of a movement to keep the Hawaiian language, culture and traditions alive.

Guests can wander in to the center at their leisure, or sign up for classes on ukulele, hula, Hawaiian language and lei making. 

“We wanted to provide a sense of place, to tell our stories and let guests know about this part of the island,” Maka tells Travel Agent. 

At dinner, she told her own stories, as revealed through the extensive tattoos on her arms. 

Stories are what kept Hawaiian culture alive. We experienced a little of that first-hand earlier in the day. We took an outrigger canoe excursion, available to Nanea Ocean Villages guests. After some paddling instructions and lessons on how to get in and out of the canoe, we pushed it into the water and set off. Our ride along the shoreline of North Kaanapali Beach included tales from Jamie, the canoe company’s owner. 

He too grew up on Maui; learned to swim before he could walk and still lives by traditional customs. In fact, he uses different last names on different islands, depending on his ancestral connections there. 

Jamie convinced the more intrepid in our group to jump off the canoes, swim to the famous Black Rock cliff and jump off into the ocean. He declared our group particularly lucky. Our ride was graced by a double rainbow over the mountains and a sea turtle following beside us. 

“Oh, that’s not surprising. Jamie grew up riding sea turtles,” Maka remarked at dinner, after hearing our story. 

Some in our group had never seen a double rainbow, much less a sea turtle. It doesn’t get much better than that. 

In contrast to Maui’s mythology, Waikiki was as bustling as ever. It’s been but a year or so since our last visit. To say that the famous tourist strip is in growth mode is an understatement. It’s long been a hodgepodge of international brands and glitzy shops (including the world’s highest-grossing Luis Vuitton store). And it’s getting even more cluttered.

Call us old-fashioned. But, we still look forward to buying snacks at the ABC Store. We don’t really need a Dean & DeLuca. 

All the more reason that The Laylow, a member of Autograph Collection Hotels, is a welcome newcomer.

The Laylow

The 251-key property is not actually new per se. It’s a 1960’s-era structure tucked away on glammed-up Kuhio Avenue. It’s most recent iteration was as an Aqua hotel. A $60 million renovation has brought it squarely into the modern era via the past. Or back to the future. 

The Laylow is a whimsical melting pot of midcentury modernism-meets-Hawaiian kitsch. Vintage hula bobble dolls adorn the check-out counter. Drink parasols mounted on the wall spell out the name of The Hideout restaurant. And, a retro orange, hot pink and cobalt blue monstera leaf motif pops out on wallpaper. 

It all works because of the thought that went into it. We heard those thoughts first-hand, from hotel designer Fritz Mesenbrink. The Portland-based Mesenbrink was on hand for our visit. And, he spared no detail on the vision, inspiration and good-old fashioned ingenuity that went into the project. On a property tour, he explained how his team reinterpreted classic furnishings, cabinetry, light fixtures and even bath amenities to complete The Laylow concept. He also gave us some technical tidbits. Like the fact that the saltwater pool needed special reinforcements to make sure it didn’t cave in to the parking lot.

Our room on the 15th floor came with a view of Diamond Head close enough to touch. A welcome amenity basket (included in the resort fee) included the familiar monstera leaf print on a plush beach towel and two pair of flip flops (or slippers, as they’re known here). Local munchies, including the hard-to-find Hi-Chew tropical candies, artisanal sodas, chips and Honolulu Cookie Co. samplers helped stave off any hunger pangs.

Not that snacks were in short supply. 

One of our favorite features of the hotel is the self-serve coffee and snack station right in front of the elevator on the 15th and 16th premium-level floors. It consisted of a K-Cup (Kona blend) coffee maker, espresso machine, filtered water fountain as well as fresh fruit, fried malasada donuts and popcorn-macadamia snacks. 

It was a nice alternative to traditional executive club lounges, which tend to be on the stuffy side. We confess that more than once we ventured out to grab provisions in our PJs, and we weren’t the only ones doing so.

Another fun hotel feature: room service from The Hideout arrives in cardboard containers packed in a glossy shopping bag. It’s much more in the spirit than a heavy rolled cart or silver tray laden with starched linens. 

The Hideout serves Pacific Rim classics sourced from local ingredients. The emphasis is on fresh. Executive Chef Bryan Byard told us that the ahi in our (ubiquitous) ahi poke bowls was still swimming in the Pacific that morning. 

We ordered The Hideout’s Ribeye Bulgogi Rice Bowl from room service for lunch. For breakfast, a classic Fried Rice Skillet with Spam and Portuguese Sausage arrived at our door piping hot. 

“Guagamame Dip,” Kalua Pork Egg Rolls with Pineapple Jam, and Crispy Pork Belly with Brussel Sprouts and Macadamias were favorites at our group’s sit-down luncheon. 

The Hideout’s bar counter of tumbled Italian marble serves Stumptown Coffee Roasters beverages to ward off time-zone jet lag. It also serves adult libations in the evenings facing an open-air terrace dotted with fire pits and real sand. The venue, which overlooks Kuhio Avenue has become a local hangout, with a rotating roster of musicians in the evening.

The Laylow’s favorable opening reviews are a testament to general manager Robert Friedl. 

But, it’s Mesenbrink who still has the spark in his eye about touches yet to be done. 

The highlight of our stay took place off site, at a historic landmark called Liljestrand House. Designed by Vladimir Ossipoff on a hillside overlooking Honolulu, it’s widely-considered a masterpiece of midcentury Hawaiian modernism. 

Completed in 1952, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. We enjoyed an intimate tour of the house, followed by a slightly drizzly dinner on its grounds. Liljestrand House served as an inspiration for The Laylow’s design.

Touring it with Mesenbrink, we heard him remark about several features he hadn’t noticed before. We could see the wheels turning. And, can’t wait to see what new details we’ll discover at The Laylow on our next visit. 

Visit www.westinnanea.com and www.laylowwaikiki.com. Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for all your latest Hawaii travel news. 

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