Paradise Old School Style – Maui, Hawaii

Paradise Old School Style
Maui, Hawaii

"We don't do this fruit stuff in Chicago!" screeches a woman with a stadium sized voice from the lobby of Maui's Kaanapali Beach Hotel. Apparently the wedge of fresh pineapple in her drink is sending her midwestern palate into a state of shock. Welcome to paradise…no one ever said it was going to be a private paradise. On the contrary, every Tom, Dick, Ethel and Marge will be sharing this magical island with you, after all, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois aren't exactly balmy come mid-February and you really can't beat those internet specials.

The staff at 'Hawaii's most Hawaiian hotel", decked out in purple and green muumuu's and kukui nut necklaces, are beyond helpful, especially the bellman, though if you look closely you may detect a worn thin patience behind their silky smiles and helpful manners, a side-effect no doubt, of large guests with larger voices screeching about fruit garnishes. One gets the feeling that the Kaanapali Beach Hotel was once the height of American exotica with its Tiki gods and Lava Flows. Kind of like when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii minus the ancient burial grounds. What was once modern though, is now a little tired, and like a crazy aunt who still wears false eyelashes and frosted eye shadow you have to either disassociate or join the club: the outdoor hula show starts at 7:00.

Try not to be put off by the dropped-ceiling fluorescent lobby lights circa '74 or worse, the creepy oxygen-less hallways (also fluorescent lit) leading to your room. Don't mind the carpeting or the ancient bedding: 100 percent synthetic. Resist the impulse to run for the hills, to the Sheraton, the Hyatt, or anything with a 300 thread count and a Frequent Stay Program. If you give it a chance and keep an open mind you will see that the magic of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel goes much deeper than its 1965 exterior.

Old Lahaina Luau
Old Lahaina Luau

The best thing to do after you get over the fact that you're paying $250 for something that would be $59.99 back on the mainland is get out of your airplane clothes and into something more Maui – flip flops plus anything breezy will do. Next, go and stand on your lanai (that's patio, Hawaiian style). Now breathe. When's the last time that felt so good? Next float out of your room and down to what I believe to be the heart of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel: the outdoor Tiki Bar, where the aforementioned open air show is performed nightly by Rudy Aquino and his band La Hau Nui. Mr. Aquino used to play with Don Ho back in the day. That's right, Tiny Bubble's Don Ho, you can't get much more authentic than that. His ukulele skills and vibe prowess will transform you to another time, and that Lava Flow you're downing doesn't hurt matters any. The show is honest and easy going – wait, isn't that how the Midwest is described? – complete with one of Rudy's daughters performing the hula. Keep an eye out for Smiles, the stone-faced bass player with shoulder length hair, brilliant.

When you get back to your room hours later the fact that the sliding screen door falls off its track if you look at it sideways or that the shower sprays water everywhere but on your body won't bother you nearly as much as it did when you arrived. Sleep to the sounds of the crashing waves and awaken to a symphony of overly expressive birds the next morning. Pull back your industrial strength drapes and you'll realize you're definitely not in Kansas (or Chicago as the case may be) anymore. One of the nice things about the grounds at KBH is the organic, laid back feel they have, no topiaries or showy stone statues here, just a carpet of green, green grass, gorgeous flowering trees, seductive palms, and a fun oversized checkerboard complete with red and black painted coconuts for game pieces.

Maui Sunset
Maui Sunset

On a friend's recommendation, my sweetheart and I purchased beach chairs at the Wal-Mart near the airport, thereby avoiding the $30 dollar a day charge for a private cabana – though it has always been a dream of mine to have a cabana boy, better to save the dough for more 'useful' things like umbrella drinks and pineapple shaped refrigerator magnets. Once ensconced in the sand, drop-dead gorgeous view of neighboring islands and all, spend the day drifting in an out of consciousness while intermittently dipping yourself into the sparkling blue waters. You know those Salt Glow things you pay 70 bucks for back on the mainland? It's right here baby, and it's free. If you get hungry doing nothing, lazily make your way up to the Tiki grill next to the whale shaped pool and order a cardboard container of yummy fries or better still a hot dog (avoid the teriyaki chicken and beef skewers at all costs, incredibly salty with a highly questionable texture).

Later in the afternoon, make like the other guests and move to one of the many free chairs on the lawn to read your copy of Michener's Hawaii or the latest issue of Oprah. Go back up to the room (which at this point is really growing on you) and nap for an hour or so then take a delicious shower around 4:00 or 5:00 and get yourself back down to the beach for the near religious experience of a West Maui Sunset. If you're traveling with a painter as I was, watch as the artist falls to pieces over the mind-blowing display of color: purples, indigos, pinks, oranges. It is, as they say, worth the price of admission.

There's so much to do on Maui it's enough to give any travel bee a panic attack: how can you do it all in such a short time? Guess what, you can't, so kick back, pick a few things you really want to try and do those, whether it's a sunrise bike trip down Haleakala the dormant volcano (we opted out of this after we found out a van picked you up at 2:30 AM for this 8 hour trip), a whale watching tour, or the drive on the infamous road to Hana. On our 8 day trip, my guy and I drove to the hippie surfer town of Paia, watched windsurfers at Ho'okipa Beach, went to a hemp store in Haiku, went whale watching, snorkeled Black Rock, explored the rugged coast of North Maui, took in the Old Lahaina Luau (highly recommended) and went to a magic show for humiliation, Rodney Dangerfield style (not recommended). All that and we still had time for hours of being and nothingness. We ate at a bunch of great places including Mama's Fish House which felt like being on the set of South Pacific – gorgeous – and bought raw Ahi Poke from the local grocery store, basically tuna sashimi in ponzu sauce, for a picnic dinner of our own next to the ocean: simple and perfect.

The fact that Maui is literally crawling with honeymooners can make those of us living in sin feel a little left out, never mind downright pressured. If the constant 'you two just married?' question starts to grate on you simply smile, nod and hoist your Lava flow to the heavens, best not to disappoint. Who knows, maybe he'll get some ideas… A pleasant side effect of all the just marrieds is that there is a considerable lack of creepy singles slithering about. The locals do of course have their own cruising behavior involving the universal slow driving, low slung cars and parading of low slung jeans but if you're a pasty mainlander, you can consider yourself invisible.

So if you're looking for pristine grounds and the perfect tea service, try one of the five dollar sign behemoths such as the Four Seasons or the Fairmont. Everything will be freshly scrubbed and sterilized for your, um, pleasure. If, on the other hand you want to relax and work on that thing you used to have called fun, try paradise old school style: the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. Tom, Dick, Ethel and Marge will grow on you and your smile will grow with the passing days. Just don't be surprised if you come home with a muumuu collection, an ultra-bronzed tan and a penchant for extra long cigarettes.