Hotel Review: Aston Ka'anapali Villas

Our first stay in Maui was at the Aston Ka’anapali Villas, just a little bit north of the main drag in Lahaina.  We arrived after full day of travel from the mainland and were quite exhausted.  Anthony, our efficient front desk associate, checked us in, gave us our parking pass and instructed us on how to get to our one-bedroom condo.  Our initial impression walking into the condo was one of shock and awe.  Why?  Well, we realized that the picture on our room keycards was the same view we were looking out our windows too.
Our Key Card!
The view from our room...I think the palm trees grew a bit.
Aston Ka’anapali Villas is one of many resorts in the area with a combination of owner-occupied units, as well as vacation rentals.  Our condo included a kitchen, a bathroom, a small living room/dining room area, and a bedroom with a very comfortable queen-sized bed.  Each morning, we could wake up and roll over to the right and see the ocean from our room.  It was stunning!
The bedroom, notice the large sliding glass doors.

Kitchen and living room area.
The property features a pool area with plenty of lounge chairs to lay out and catch some rays.  There is a pool-side bar, called the Castaway Cafe where one can purchase light snacks and meals.  The beachfront area was beautiful, with plenty of space to put down your bamboo mat and beach towel to lay out after taking a dip in the ocean.
Looking to the northern part of the beach.
Hawaiian music while sipping on free mai tais.

Free mai tais and kettle corn!
Our initial impression was very positive. Anthony, our front desk associate was very patient with our questions and made sure to tell us about the General Manager’s Mai Tai party while we were staying there.  As our stay progressed, we started to notice a few things.  Our budget was pretty tight for this trip, so we were looking for other dining options and it was hard to get a clear answer out of anyone for local places to eat.  It seemed like they were instructed to only direct patrons to the Castaway Cafe, which was more than we wanted to spend for dinner on the night of our arrival.  I am sure their prices are reasonable for the resorts in the area, but it was quite spendy for us.  After a full day of travel, all we really wanted to do was find a place to sit and eat a quick meal before heading to bed.  This proved to be a challenge, which I will expand on in a later post.
We noticed the other guests and our interactions with them to be quite odd.  We are from the Pacific Northwest where people tend to be a little more relaxed, and it’s not uncommon to say hello when you are passing someone on the sidewalk.  We are friendly people.  This was not to be the case here.  Other guests seemed shocked when we acknowledged them, or offered to press the button for their floor in the elevator.  I can’t tell you how many blank stares we got.  It was weird.  We tried not to let it distract us from our stay, but it was something we would notice more and more, and not just at this resort. 
So, all of that being said, would I recommend this place to stay?  Sure.  It is conveniently located near many other resorts, there are lots of options in the area for food and drink, and they have free Mai Tais on Thursdays!  Be prepared for families with kids and for the guests to be a little uptight, though.  The staff is friendly, the rooms are clean and the views are stunning.
Our first Maui sunset.
Resort Information:  Aston Maui Kaanapali Villas, 45 Kai Ala Drive, Lahaina, HI, 1-808-667-7791

This trip was won by me from the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau.  This was NOT a press trip.  There was no expectation or requirement for me to write about my experiences, but I am.  Accommodations, car rental, airfare and snorkeling trip for two were all a part of the package.  I brought along a good friend of mine who shares a similar travel philosophy.  The original trip was for six nights, but we paid out of pocket for two extra nights accommodations and car rental.  We were responsible for all of our food, gas and other expenses while on the island.  All opinions are mine and you will find me to be quite honest about my experiences.

Travel Resolutions for 2012

BootsnAll has created the Indie Travel Challenge 2012 this year.  The first week is all about travel resolutions.  I am not one to make resolutions for anything at the beginning of the year.  However, I do make travel plans and 2012 is shaping up to be a good year.  Here are my travel goals for 2012:

Maui in March
It has a certain ring to it, don't you think?  Back in July, I was invited to my first (and only) press briefing, courtesy of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau.  I wasn't even sure I wanted to attend since Hawaii has never been on my destination list.  I decided it might be fun and a good way to network with other travel bloggers so I went.  I learned a lot about Maui, Lanai and Molokai and the various activities one can do while visiting.  I actually wanted to go to Maui to check things out!  A few weeks after the press briefing, I received an email notifying me that I had won a trip to Maui, courtesy of the MVCB.  I had completely forgotten all of the participants names had been tossed into a hat, and apparently my name had been drawn as the winner!  I am looking forward to flying Hawaiian Airlines, snorkeling with Trilogy, and staying at Makena Surf, Napili Kai and Aston Maui Ka'anapali Villas, in addition to two extra nights at an AirBnB location in Kihei.  I'm taking a friend with me who shares a similar travel philosophy and is looking forward to the experience as much as I am. Our plans include plenty of beach time, as well as hiking, whale watching, sea kayaking and experiencing the cuisine of Maui.

West Coast Trail Backpack
Ever since I returned from walking the Camino de Santiago in 2010, I have been looking for other long walks to do.   A friend of mine told me about the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada about six months ago.  I have been obsessing about it ever since.  The trail is 70km from Port Renfrew to Bamfield.  It takes most people 5-7 days to do the trail, depending on how fast you are walking.  It's a technical hike in some areas with ladders and cable cars for river crossings.  Over 100 people are rescued a year.  It is not a trail for the weak of heart.  I just set a date for mid-May and am recruiting people to go with me, but am perfectly okay with going solo.

Camino Portuguese
In April/May of 2010, I walked from Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain along the 800km Camino Frances route.  This year, I am planning to walk from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, then continue to the end of the earth, aka Finisterre and then onto Muxia.  Depending on how much vacation time I can get approved at work, I am hoping to meet up with friends in Morocco before heading home.

Travel Oregon
Recently, a team of photographers put together an amazing time-lapse video focussing on the natural beauty of the state of Oregon.  It is called "Finding Oregon" and it has inspired me to explore more of the state I have called home for most of my life.  I am planning trips to the Alvord Desert, the southern Oregon coast, and places in Eastern Oregon like the Wallowas, Baker City and Pendleton over the next year.  Look for posts about these trips as I share the beauty of my home.

Thanks BootsnAll for the inspiration. I am excited to participate in this project!

There's A First Time For Everything

Today, I had the opportunity to attend my very first press briefing!  I received an invite a few weeks ago from the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau to attend a small gathering of  public relations and marketing representatives from Maui, Lana'i and Moloka'i.  I thought it would be fun to check out because I have never been to Hawaii before and perhaps I would learn a few things that might interest me in planning a trip to Hawaii in the near future.  

I arrived at the Hotel Modera in downtown Portland and was warmly greeted by everyone, including being given a beautiful plumeria lei, flown in fresh from Moloka'i.  It was almost overwhelming how welcome I felt!  The spirit of aloha shined through in all of the interactions I had with everyone.

There was a powerpoint presentation about tourism to Hawaii, with various statistics and information.  After this, the presentation moved towards specific niches specific to Maui, Lana'i and Moloka'i.  I was especially captivated by the following areas: food, culture and adventure/activities.  Even though the focus was more on resorts, which is a bit different than I like to travel, I was reassured there are plenty of budget options for someone like me who enjoys hiking, camping, backpacking, learning about local culture, and meeting the locals. 

It was a great first experience for a press briefing and I look forward to planning a visit to Hawaii in the next year.  Mahalo to all of the representative from Hawaii I met today!  Enjoy your time in Portland and I hope you get to try a Voodoo Donut before you leave town!