Sunday, October 30, 2011

The difference between a 4 and a 5 star resort

One of the benefits of living here in Maui is our ability to enjoy a really amazing "staycation".

Last night we had 3 events to attend on the other side of the island, and we were going to be out late, and conveniently our babysitter was going to be in the same area for the night. So we got a hotel room at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and Spa.

I have visited this property a few times, but I haven't been there overnight since they opened their gorgeous Mandara Spa about 5 years ago. I looked forward to the opportunity to revisit this resort, which is in a great location in Wailea.

The resort has been renovated, and you will see clean lines and a modern vibe throughout. The lobby area is wide open to the outdoors, with a gorgeous view of the ocean. The rooms have adopted the minimalist, modern decor that most hotel rooms have begun to feature - which means that no matter where in the world you are, or what hotel you are staying at, chances are your room will always look exactly the same: Dark sleek wood furniture throughout, a chair or sofa, one or two beds - many times on a platform - with white linens for bed and bath. There will be a few non-descript pieces of "art" on the walls - ours included a print of a red spot, matted and framed. Just a big red spot. The floors are tile - which I like both because they keep the rooms cool, and eliminate the possibility of stains or weird smells. However, the tile floor is slppery when wet, and claimed a water glass which hit the floor after being bumped off the counter. Proceed with caution.

The resort experience itself was mixed - some parts are great, some are......less great. So I think it's best to make a list of pros and cons.

There were a few positives:
~ Marriott beds are incredibly comfortable, and I happen to like clean white linens and a duvet on my bed. I really appreciate that hotels have finally figured out that people go to hotels to SLEEP - and therefore the beds and pillows should be exceptionally comfortable.
~ There is a Starbucks in the lobby. I support local businesses, but it was so nice to be able to grab my favorite treat: a Venti Soy Chai in the morning. It really did make my staycation a lot better all-around.
~ They have a great restaurant (Mala) and spa (Mandara) and both of these are places I would happily visit even if I were not a hotel guest. I think that says something - we have a lot of restaurants and spas here on Maui to choose from, and it is really nice when two excellent ones are located in your hotel.
~ The location is central, and located right next door to one of the best shopping areas on island - The Shops at Wailea. So if you wanted to try a different restaurant, there are five great choices a very short walk away.

All in all, the Marriott has a lot to offer. If I were on my honeymoon, I would be perfectly happy here. But I am not on my honeymoon - I am traveling with two kids, and I have traveled enough to notice when the guest experience could be improved.

Which brings us to the negatives:
~ Despite a hefty resort fee of $30 a day, there is no free wifi in the rooms. There should be free highspeed wireless internet throughout the resort - and especially in the rooms. Period. End of story. It's 2011. Even motels offer free wifi.
~ Signage sucks - we were frequently lost and wandering through corridors, having followed an initial sign and then left to figure out the rest on our own. This is a common problem in large resorts that have an expansive outdoor area, and is pretty easily rectified. Any time you come to a fork/crossroads, put a small sign.
~ The Starbucks (which has wifi, by the way) closes at 5pm - so at about 8pm when I really wanted a cup of coffee to get me through the rest of the night, I was out of luck and we had to drive 15 minutes to get coffee - any coffee. They did have a coffee maker in the room, but we were already heading out for the night.
~ The staff we interacted with ranged from amazing to indifferent, and one was downright unpleasant. In this economic climate, when people are lining up to apply for even the most menial jobs, there is no reason any resort of any caliber should have employees that are anything less than thrilled to be working in a gorgeous oceanfront resort. Providing excellent customer service and treating your guests like, well, guests, should be a no-brainer. So when I found myself interacting with staff on more than one occasion who seemed bored, indifferent, or (in that one instance) rude - it was surprising.

But by far, my biggest concern in recommending this property to families is that the kids pool zone needs to be completely re-designed. There were three umbrellas for the entire area - and no cabanas whatsoever. As a mother that has rented cabanas at other resorts and stayed poolside for the day (including naptime, with the resort providing a both pack n play and a cooler in the cabana) I can assure you that not offering shade and a meeting place for families to snack and rest during the day at the kids pool is a huge mistake. The children's pool is isolated from the rest of the resort, and there is no bar or food service delivered to the seats (you know, the ones that are out in the hot sun). There is a snack bar with a limited menu - but you wouldn't know it was up there if you sat with your small children down by the kiddie waterpark structure - it is completely out of sight, up at the top of the water slides.

And about that play structure in the kids pool - it is a rusty peeling mildewed mess.

My kids could not have cared less.

And that, right there, is the difference between a four and five star resort. Four star resorts offer many amenities, and the issues that come up are usually minor and easily rectified. You may notice infrastructure that needs updating, and you may find yourself feeling nickle and dimed a bit - but you can have a perfectly lovely vacation if you do a little research and know what to expect. However, if you are used to staying in 5 or 6 star resorts, you will find yourself bothered by the small things - things that can add up after awhile and eventually take away from your experience.

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