Category Archives: Hotel Reviews

Hotel Review: Maui Seaside Hotel

maui seaside beach
To kick off our Hawaiian get-away in September, Nicoleen and I stayed one night at the Maui Seaside Hotel in Kahului.  This small, Hawaiian-owned hotel is located a few minutes from the airport, which was the main reason we chose to stay there.  Since our flight arrived after 8:00 P.M. we needed an inexpensive place to sleep to avoid wasting a free night at one of the two main resorts of the trip.

A one-night stay doesn’t provide a lot of material for a review.  On the other hand, a short stay really puts the hotel to the test.  They get one chance to impress you, so they better get it right!  Let’s see how well Maui Seaside Hotel did at impressing us. . .




The Room

We booked into a “standard room” with two double beds.  As far as I can tell, the only difference between the different room types is the size and location.  The website lists virtually identical in-room amenities for each type.  Every room type has only two options for bed configuration: 1 king or two double.

Maui Seaside Hotel standard room

The standard room was nothing special.  The TV and table and chairs were one one side of the room and the two beds were along the opposite wall.  The bathroom was small but adequate for our short stay.  The fridge and coffee maker were in the coat closet.

Maui Seaside Hotel soaps

Maui Seaside Hotel fridge

Despite the fairly dated decor and furniture, the room scored high on what we consider the #1 category: cleanliness.  In my book you can get away with a lot if the place is immaculately cleaned.  The Maui Seaside Hotel seems to understand that part; we had no complaints at all about the condition of the room.

Our view was basically a parking lot view but on Maui there’s no such thing as a totally bad view.  Almost anywhere you look either Haleakala or the West Maui Mountains are visible on a clear day.

Amenities

Maui Seaside Hotel is fairly thin on amenities, but it’s not billed as a resort so that’s perfectly fine.  There is a central courtyard with a pool and patio area.  We didn’t get a chance to swim but the water felt nice and the chairs were comfortable.

The courtyard at Maui Seaside Hotel, with the pool and lounge chairs visible in the background.

The courtyard at Maui Seaside Hotel, with the pool and lounge chairs visible in the background.

A notable side effect of the time change when flying to Hawaii from the mainland is that you naturally wake up very early!  It’s probably less pronounced for West Coasters, but for us Midwesterners it’s a 5 hour difference.  We got up around 5:00 AM and couldn’t go back to sleep so we got to see the hotel “wake up.”

We noticed some grounds workers sweeping up every single dead leaf that had fallen on the parking lot and lawn areas.  The lawn was some kind of turf that was as soft and smooth as a putting green.  The combination of the workers cleaning everything up and the freshly rain-washed courtyard gave the place a very clean feel.

A leaf-camouflaged slug we spotted after the early morning rain.

A leaf-camouflaged slug we spotted after the early morning rain.

Some of the lovely flora of Maui. I took this photo while walking on the beach in front of Maui Seaside Hotel that first morning.

Some of the lovely flora of Maui. I took this photo while walking on the beach in front of Maui Seaside Hotel that first morning.

The beach isn’t specifically meant for swimming as there’s no lifeguard or beach chairs.  However, on our morning walk we saw a few people taking a dip in the morning waves.

Dining

Maui Seaside Hotel is connected to Tante’s Island Cuisine (www.tantesislandcuisine.com).  After our jet-lagged sleeplessness and morning walk, it was time for breakfast.  Tante’s has an awesome breakfast menu with lots of variety.  Nicoleen was ready for some familiar fare, and I was excited to try one of the many savory and hearty options to kick off our culinary journey in this new destination for us.

Maui Seaside Hotel - Tante's Island Cuisine breakfast

Shredded Kahlua pork, bacon, fried rice, eggs, and grilled sausage for breakfast? Why don’t we do this kind of stuff on the mainland??

Nicoleen eagerly awaiting her food, with Tante's ambiance in the background.

Nicoleen eagerly awaiting her food, with Tante’s early morning ambiance in the background.

Because we were some of the first ones in the door that morning, the food came exceptionally fast!  We split Nicoleen’s meal and I couldn’t finish mine so I got a to-go box.  Her review was “good” and I heartily enjoyed my meat-filled, salty, island breakfast.  I couldn’t tell if the passion-orange juice was fresh made or from a can, but I especially enjoyed it either way.  The prices were very reasonable as well.

(We returned to Tante’s for breakfast a week later after descending Haleakala, from where we watched the sunrise.  This time the service was quite a bit slower but I attribute it mostly to the fact that it was Sunday at brunch time.)




Cost and Value

Our one-night stay at Maui Seaside Hotel and our car rental were the only components of our trip that we paid “full price” for.  Even so, I looked for a good deal when shopping around for each.  This hotel provided complimentary airport transportation and was reasonably priced so it fit our criteria.

The price for our room on the hotel website was $149, which turned into $168.99 with taxes and fees.  As I explained briefly in the main trip review page for our Hawaiian get-away, I booked this room through Rocketmiles.  Booking through that website showed the same $149 rate but after taxes and fees it was somehow $179.49. 

-= Rocketmiles =- makes you pay up front for your hotel stay, but gives you bonus frequent flyer miles (program of your choice) as a reward.  Each hotel earns you a specific number of miles, starting at 1,000.  Maui Seaside Hotel is worth 1k miles, but through an e-mail promotion I got an additional 4,000 for using a specific credit card to pay for the room.  Since 5k American Airlines miles is much more valuable than the extra $11 it cost to get the room through Rocketmiles, it was well worth it!

Click here to check out Rocketmiles for yourself.  It’s a pretty simple program and if you’re paying for a hotel room, the extra miles earned may be worth it for you too! 
(I get referral bonus miles if you reserve a room through this link)

Overall impressions

maui seaside

Our stay at Maui Seaside Hotel was an afterthought in the big scheme of our trip.  It was basically there to absorb our first half-wasted day so we could maximize our time at the luxury resorts we stayed at for free later in the week.  Accordingly, we didn’t expect much.

Overall, our expectations were slightly exceeded.  The place was a bit dated but was very well kept up.  The few staff we encountered we very friendly and seemed to genuinely care about guests’ experiences.  Complimentary airport transportation was a nice touch and helped solidify our decision to stay here.

If our trip had been less resort-centric and more sightseeing-centric, Maui Seaside Hotel would have made a perfectly acceptable base of operations.  If we ever return to Maui and need to pay for a hotel for one or more nights, we won’t hesitate to stay again at the Maui Seaside Hotel!


Check out these other posts related to our Maui Vacation 2016!

Our Hawaiian Get-Away 2016
Hotel Review – Andaz Maui at Wailea
Hotel Review – Grand Wailea: A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Maui Vacation Field Report #1
Maui Vacation Field Report #2




Hotel Review: Hilton Amsterdam

Our free stay at the Hilton Amsterdam was a nice little bonus at the tail end of our anniversary vacation.  I wanted to get our return flight out of Frankfurt but there was nothing available in our date range.  I expanded the flight search to nearby airports and found a flight out of Amsterdam.  The flight left around noon so I figured a hotel stay nearby would make getting to the airport less problematic.  We didn’t want to risk missing the flight due to last minute ground transportation problems.

I had two free nights at any Hilton that I earned with my Citi Hilton Reserve card, so the extra night of lodging wouldn’t cost us anything.  As a bonus, we would get to experience a new city and add another country to our trip!

Hotel Overview
The Room
Executive Lounge
Dining
Cost and Value
Overall Thoughts

This post is part of a series reviewing our 2015 Anniversary trip to Europe.  For a full list of the posts in this series, and for an overview of the trip, check out the index page.

Hotel Overview

The Hilton Amsterdam was the first international hotel built in The Netherlands.  It’s an 11 story V-shaped building in a quiet part of the city, away from all the tourist traps.  The hotel has some interesting history; notably it was the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Bed-In” for peace in 1969.  For more general info on the Hilton Amsterdam check out the hotel’s heritage page or its Wikipedia page.

The Hilton Amsterdam is currently rated 4.5 out of 5.0 on Tripadvisor and is ranked #42 of 364 hotels in Amsterdam.

The Room

Due to my Gold status with Hilton HHonors from my Citi Hilton Reserve card, we got a free room upgrade at check-in.  Our room was an “Executive King Room” on the 8th floor, which was dedicated to executive rooms.  Our room key also granted us access to the 10th floor, which is entirely taken up by the rooftop executive lounge.  More on that later . . .

Our room was impeccably clean.  It looked like it was recently renovated as well.  A clean, newly renovated room will get a great review from me every time!  Our executive king room at the Hilton Amsterdam was large enough for our needs and had a convenient lay-out.  The view of the city was fantastic.  Overall we were very pleased with the room.

Hilton Amsterdam room

Hilton Amsterdam bathroom

The top shelf was the only usable space for personal items in the minibar fridge. The other items were automatically charged to the room upon removal. Be careful!

The top shelf was the only usable space for personal items in the minibar fridge. The other items were automatically charged to the room upon removal. Be careful!

The complimentary bottles of water we got as a Gold Status perk. The Hilton pen that was by the note pad was the nicest hotel pen I have ever pilfered (until the Grand Wailea, that is).

The complimentary bottles of water we got as a Gold Status perk. The Hilton pen that was by the note pad was the nicest hotel pen I have ever pilfered (until the Grand Wailea, that is).

Executive Lounge

One of the reasons I chose the Hilton Amsterdam among the other Hilton properties in the city was the executive lounge.  Gold status gets you access to these lounges at any Hilton that has one.

After getting settled in our room we headed up to the rooftop floor.  The executive lounge is the only thing on the top floor, and only executive floor room keys will get the elevator to stop there.  The lounge was open from 6:00-9:00 in the evening, daily.  We arrived right at 6:00 so we got the first pick at the assortment of complimentary food and beverages.

ams-exec1

Poor Nicoleen was 7 months pregnant, so she couldn't take advantage of all the complimentary beer and wine that were available in parts of our trip. Pictured here, she finds solace in a carrot chip.

Poor Nicoleen was 7 months pregnant, so she couldn’t take advantage of all the complimentary beer and wine that were available in parts of our trip. Pictured here, she finds solace in a carrot chip.

Besides the food and drink, there were newspapers available.  The views of the city were beautiful, and overall the place had a very relaxing ambiance.  Most of the other guests appeared to be traveling on business.  I guess that fits the “executive” part.

The view of the business center of Amsterdam from the executive lounge at the city Hilton.

The view of the business center of Amsterdam from the executive lounge at the city Hilton.

I would have been happy to fill up on the free beer and hors d’oeuvres, but Nicoleen wanted to get a flavor of the city, so we headed out for supper.

Dining

The Amsterdam Hilton has three restaurants, a bar, and a fitness center.  The restaurants looked top notch, but we had other plans for dinner.  The one evening was the only chance we had to soak up some Dutch culture so we wanted to find out where the locals ate.

Nicoleen walking down a typical street in Amsterdam, packed with bikes.

Nicoleen walking down a typical street in Amsterdam, packed with bikes.

The great thing about the Hilton’s location is that it’s far from the tourist-trap center of the city.  A short walk from the hotel and we were surrounded by locals.  We found a small French café and ate a light dinner, which was enough after we had partially filled up on appetizers in the executive lounge.

Breakfast Buffet

Our gold Hilton status got us free breakfast at the buffet.  This was normally $30 per person so it was quite a good value!  The host seated us at a table and took our drink orders.  Thirty dollars for a hotel breakfast seemed a bit steep until we saw the wondrous cornucopia that awaited us!

The spread at the Hilton Amsterdam was probably the most extensive breakfast buffet I have ever seen.  It had anything you can think of from multiple cuisines.  There was the full European spread: multiple breads, meats, and cheeses; müsli, sweet bakery goods, and boiled eggs.  British specialties like veal sausage, tomatoes, and mushrooms were on hand as well.  There were French crepes and omelettes made to order.  The whole American breakfast experience was available too: bacon, sausage links, scrambled eggs, fruit, cereal, biscuits and gravy, etc.  There were even African and Asian dishes that I didn’t recognize at all.

It was like having several breakfast buffets from multiple continents, all combined into one!

On the way out, there was a table with to-go options.  That’s rare at a buffet!  There were little paper cartons you could fill with tiny muffins or fruit, and to-go coffee cups as well.  That’s awesome service right there!

The to-go goodies I grabbed on the way out of the buffet. "Have a nice day". . . don't mind if I do!

The to-go goodies I grabbed on the way out of the buffet. “Have a nice day”. . . don’t mind if I do!

Cost and Value

Our executive level room at the Hilton Amsterdam was a steal at $0.00!  I used one of my two free weekend night certificates on this hotel stay.  My gold Hilton status and the free night certificates are some of the perks of the Citi Hilton Reserve card, which I had opened a few months prior to planning the trip.

Had we paid cash for the same room at the time of booking, it would have cost $385.48.  I wrote above that the buffet breakfast was $30 per person.  But if we would have added the breakfast onto our booking as a package, it would have been an extra $20.47.  That brings the total value of our free stay to $405.95.  Not a bad deal for half of a credit card sign-up bonus!



Overall Thoughts

Our one night stay in Amsterdam could have been purely functional; it served the purpose of getting us close to our departure airport.  The Hilton turned our 16 hours in The Netherlands into much more than that.  It was a fun and refreshing finale to our anniversary trip!

All the staff at the Hilton were extremely courteous and professional.  I don’t know how much of it was due to our gold status, but we received white glove service throughout our short stay.  (No, really . . . the doorman was wearing a tail coat and white gloves!)  Like everyone else in Holland, the hotel staff all spoke perfect English.  The concierge helped arrange a taxi for us to get to the airport in the morning and everything went smoothly.

There were plenty of other hotel choices in the city.  Had we been paying cash for the room we would have probably chosen something cheaper and closer to the airport, but I don’t think the Hilton is overpriced for the service and room quality they offer.  It’s a clean, beautiful hotel in a beautiful, vibrant city.

🙂 Thanks for reading my review! 🙂

executive_loungerBW(This was actually my second choice for using my Hilton free night in Amsterdam, but that’s another story for another blog post. . .  )

Hotel Review – Andaz Peninsula Papagayo

Andaz PapagayoWe recently spent three nights at the Andaz Papagayo Hotel & Resort in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.  The trip was an awesome break from the Minnesota winter!  Read my trip review here for details on how and why we planned this short, delightful vacation.  Experiencing the 90+ degree weather and the luxurious Andaz Papagayo was awesome in and of itself.  Paying only $150 for a $1,541 hotel stay was even more awesome!

Jump to section:
Overview
The Room
Amenities
Dining
Cost and Value
Overall Thoughts
Tips for Your Stay

Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort Overview

The Andaz Papagayo opened in late 2013, which made it just over 3 years old at the time of our stay in February 2017.  There are 153 rooms, 3 restaurants, multiple pools, 2 beaches, a spa, and a kids’ center.  The architecture is all naturally inspired and blends in to the surroundings.  The resort is located on a steep slope and is positioned lengthwise so that most of the walking is across the slope.  Even so, you will definitely stretch your calves at the Andaz Papagayo; ramps and stairways are needed to access most locations.

Andaz Papagayo paths

Cross-slope pathways connect different parts of the resort.

Guanacaste is on the dry, Pacific side of Costa Rica.  The weather is heavily dependent on the time of year.  They rainy season is May-November and the rest of the year it is very dry.  The vegetation is very different from the rain forest only 75 miles away.  The forest on Peninsula Papagayo is classified as a “dry tropical” forest, and it becomes mostly brown during the dry season.  Despite the thick forest cover everywhere we looked, we saw more cacti than palms!  Click here to learn more about the climate in Guanacaste.




The Room

We booked 2 nights with our anniversary free nights from our Chase Hyatt cards, and one night with Hyatt Gold Passport points (15,000 pts).  Anniversary free nights and award stays can only book into the standard room, called the “Andaz Double” or the “Andaz King” depending on the bed configuration.  We got an Andaz King in building 7.
Andaz Papagayo resort map

I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get one of the many rooms with views of the bay I had seen in reviews.  Our room looked out into the forest and we could just barely see the ocean through the trees.  As our stay progressed I came to realize my disappointment was undeserved.Andaz papagayo balconyYes, the view would have been nice, but our room had two advantages the higher up buildings and rooms didn’t have.  One advantage was the monkeys!  We got very close and personal with the white-faced monkeys that roamed the property.  The rooms with balconies above the forest canopy didn’t have our front row seats for the monkey show.  The second advantage to our “no view” room was the privacy.  In three days I didn’t see a single soul from our balcony or bay window.  By the end of the stay I was comfortable changing into my swim trunks anywhere in the room.  It also allowed us to fully utilize the walk-through open air shower without fear of being creeped upon.
monkey2
monkey3

The rooms at the Andaz Papagayo have a very contemporary, clean design and utilize native wood in the cabinets and other decor.
Andaz papagayo king suite

The bathroom and shower has a contiguous river pebble floor which we really liked.  It felt like a mini foot massage with every step!  As I mentioned before, the shower has an open design, with a glass door to the vanity area at one end and a large folding door opening onto the balcony at the other end.  There’s a removable shower head and a large rain shower head.  There was ample space on the vanity top:
Andaz Papagayo Bathroom Vanity

Andaz Papagayo bathroom

The shower with vanity and toilet closet behind. Photo was taken from the balcony.

Our one complaint about the bathroom was the toilet closet.  The frosted glass door between the toilet room and the main bathroom area doesn’t seal at the top, bottom, or side.  And the frosted glass doesn’t provide adequate privacy.  As my long time readers may know, I’m a sucker for sleek design and aesthetics.  But there are some cases where function needs to trump design.  The poor planning on the toilet enclosure is one of those cases.

bath productsThe quality of the soap, shampoo, and body wash was a nice surprise.  The shampoo was some sort of tingly minty stuff, and the body wash smelled like an entire citrus grove smashed into a tiny bottle.

Like the Andaz Maui where we stayed for free in September, there was a small bonus amenity kit on the bathroom vanity with q-tips, make-up remover, and other such things.

Speaking of small bonus surprises, when we arrived there was a hand-written, personalized note on the desk welcoming us to the Andaz.  There was also a plate with three fresh oranges and another plate with biscotti and Nutella.  In my book, those little extra touches are definitely worth the resort’s cost, as they make guests feel that much more welcome and special.
andaz room gifts

Andaz Papagayo king bed

Our king bed. The hats (and flip flops – not pictured) were ours to keep.

The king bed was very comfortable, with a nice firm mattress.  The lighting options and brightness controls in the room were mind blowing, although with everything on full blast it was still not very bright in the room.  We also noticed that two of the light controls in the bathroom (for the vanity sconces and the shower) had their labels reversed.  One final nit pick about the lighting is that the snack cupboard light didn’t automatically turn off when the door was closed, as it was supposed to.  Being the manly man that I am, I was able to fix the switch in short order. 🙂

That snack cupboard with the broken light switch is one of the trademarks of the Andaz brand.  Well . . . the complimentary snacks; not the broken light.  Every day the cupboard is refilled with coffee, several kinds of chips, Diet Coke, Coke, Fresca (a citrus soft drink – not the early 90s American Fresca), and bottled water.  Like the Andaz Maui, this fridge is not a true fridge, but a cooling cabinet.  Drinks get cold but it takes a long time.  Unlike the Andaz Maui, this “fridge” was actually large enough to store some of our own drinks.
Andaz Papagayo snacks

Jpeg

The clock/alarm/stereo also came in handy.  The little unit actually had really good sound with the “Mega Super Bass Enhancer” (or whatever it was called) turned on.  It has an iPod dock but can also be used with any 1/8″ headphone jack device (bring your own patch cord).  While I’m on the subject of cords, I’ll also mention that the TV has VGA and HDMI inputs, but again: bring your own cord.

Overall the room was awesome.  We used every feature of the room: the small table and lounge chair overlooking the bay window, the closets, both balcony doors, the balcony furniture, and the desk.  The shower was wonderful and besides the complaint about the toilet closet, the bathroom was functional and convenient.  Room service was wonderful.  Despite the lack of an ocean view, the monkeys and their antics made us very happy with our room location!
monkeys4

Amenities

Non-award bookings at the Andaz Papagayo Peninsula pay a resort fee which seems to fluctuate with the price of the room.  A few sample bookings on the website just brought up nightly resort fees of $37-75, depending on the time of year.  The fees cover use of all the facilities (this should actually be considered part of the room rate) and the included beach activities.  Award bookings and free nights have the resort fee waived.

Aside from the food and drinks, it feels a bit like an all-inclusive resort.  Most of the beach activities are included with the resort fee.  At all the pool areas there are towel stands with complimentary fruit-infused ice water and 3 different types of sunscreen.  We ended up with some sunburn despite frequently re-applying copious amounts of sunscreen from these stations.  There’s a reason why all the locals wear long sleeved shirts and shaded hats; the Costa Rica sun is strong!




Swimming Pools

The zero entry pool in the kid-friendly area. Click photo to see a larger version.

The zero entry pool in the kid-friendly area. Click photo to see a larger version.

I am in love with the Andaz vision for swimming pools!  Like those at Andaz Maui, the pools at Andaz Papagayo are incredibly beautiful.  They contribute equally to both the beauty of the resort and to the potential for tropical relaxation.
Andaz Papagayo swimming poolAndaz Papagayo has two main pool areas.  One is a family-friendly pool complex (pictured above) and the other is a single infinity pool in another area, for adults only.  The family-friendly area consists of a smaller pool on the highest terrace, with a larger zero-entry pool below it.  Another pool is around the corner, directly under Rio Bhongo restaurant.

The adults-only area contains a single swimming pool and is located under Ostra restaurant, at the far end of the resort from our room.  We didn’t swim in this pool until our last morning.  The distance from our room and the lack of obnoxious kids at the family-friendly pool area gave us little reason to swim here.
Andaz Papagayo Adults-only pool area

The peaceful adults-only pool.

The peaceful adults-only pool.

During our stay there were a few little kids in the family-friendly area, but it certainly wasn’t overrun.  We spent most of our time in that area since it was right next to the building with our room.

All swimming pools have infinity edges.  None are heated, from what we could tell.  The signage says the pools close at 9:00 p.m. but upon checking in, our host told us they were open 24/7.  Major points for having 24 hour pools!  We were however disappointed to find out there is no hot tub on the property.  It would have been the perfect place to hang out in the cooler evenings and meet fellow travelers.  In fact, the lack of a hot tub was our biggest single complaint about the property.

Beach and Activities

Prior to our trip I read multiple reviews decrying the lack of a good beach.  Knowing this ahead of time helped us avoid disappointment, but I have to agree with those reviews.  The two beaches at the Andaz Papagayo are small (virtually nonexistent during high tide) and the ocean floor is far from pure sand. On top of that, the water was as cold as a Minnesota lake!

This is as close as we came to swimming in the bay.

This is as close as we came to swimming in the bay.

However, what the beach lacks in swimming potential it makes up for in interesting flora and fauna.  We found tons of little hermit crabs on the sand and on the rocks.  During low tide the beach, which is a beautiful blend of tan and black sand, is littered with shells.  From the beach we got a good look at many types of lizards, including some 3-4 foot long iguanas.  They would scurry up into the woods a second before we would get close enough for a good photo!  As a forester, I was interested in the hundreds of different tree species in Costa Rica.

We signed up for a snorkeling tour the first morning of our trip.  When we got to the meeting place on the beach, the guide told us she had to cancel the tour because the bay was full of jellyfish.  No arguments here!  She told us they might be out to sea by early afternoon, but that the wind might be a problem.  The danger was getting blown into shore where the rocks are covered with spiny urchins.  There were also sharks to watch out for, and tiger eels, and poisonous sting rays, and occasionally deadly sea snakes. . .  We decided to sign up for a kayak tour instead, and see the sea life from above the water!

The kayaking tour was pretty fun.  They use plastic 2-person kayaks and the tour moves at a leisurely pace.  I told Nicoleen not to paddle and I don’t even think I broke a sweat.  The tour goes south along the coast and then back.  We saw puffer fish, a blue heron, an osprey, and several other kids of fish.  The guide talked about the peninsula and Costa Rica in general, focusing on the climate and biology of the area.

Stand up paddle-boarding was also an option and there was some sports equipment on the beach during low tide.  Wave runners were also available for rent: $75 for 30 minutes or $150 for an hour.  We considered renting one but decided to get in some more swimming pool time instead.

Neither of us used the fitness center or the spa, so I can’t comment on them.




Dining

The resort sits in a fairly remote location on the Peninsula Papagayo.  Therefore, guests are pretty much forced to eat at the on-site restaurants.  I call this kind of situation “hostage dining.”  There are restaurants at the nearby marina and beach club, but online reports indicate they are similar in price to the Andaz restaurants, with slightly less food quality.  I can’t imagine a scenario where resort guests didn’t eat at least some of their meals at the on-property restaurants.

The Andaz Papagayo offers three dining choices:

  • Rio Bhongo is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Chao Pescao is open for dinner, tapas menu, bar is open late.
  • Ostra is the signature restaurant, open for dinner, reservations recommended

Having known about the hostage dining situation before the trip, we packed a carry-on sized suitcase with snacks, pop, and booze.  I used to make fun of people who brought their own food on vacation, but we didn’t do it to avoid local or cultural foods.  We did it to avoid $15 drinks and $100 restaurant breakfasts.  It did feel a bit lame though, but it did save us a lot of money and more importantly: time.  Quick breakfasts in the room meant more time to relax by the pool!

All that being said, we did end up having some meals at Rio Bhongo, so this review will cover the food and service at that restaurant only.  The restaurant is next to the kid-friendly pool area and gift shop.  Like all of the public areas at the resort, the building is open and airy.  Our first night at the Andaz we had a light supper.  Nicoleen had pasta and I got the patacones (fried plantain) appetizer.  We were both slightly underwhelmed by the food but I was pleased with my first taste of the Costa Rican beer they served.

Andaz Papagayo Rio Bhongo food

The fried plantains should have been crispy, but they were tough.

Rio Bhongo also services the pool area during the day.  Our second day we split a poolside chicken quesadilla.  (I don’t mean to say it was made with poolside chicken; I mean it was served to us when we were by the pool.)  The quesadilla was enough for both of us.  It was served with the same awesome fresh pico and guacamole I had the night before with my patacones.  The quesadilla was above average.  But having food delivered right to your face while drinking beer and sitting on a lounge chair by a scenic swimming pool is what really made the small lunch worth the ~$20 charge.
Andaz Papagayo Rio Bhongo quesadilla

The third and last time we ate at Rio Bhongo was for dinner.  I had been craving seafood and Nicoleen wasn’t up to the octopus I had been eying on the Chao Pescao menu.  So we returned to Rio Bhongo to discover it was “special grill night.”  Two of four selected sides were included with any grilled entree.  I got the salmon and Nicoleen got the steak.  It was probably the best grilled salmon I’ve ever had.  The rice and plantains in maple honey were wonderful as well.  In Costa Rica I learned that good pico and guac go with almost anything.
Andaz Papagayo Rio Bhongo salmon

Our only dining regret was not checking out the bar at Chao Pescao on our first night, when we heard the live music from our balcony.  Without a hot tub on the property, the live music and evening bar crowd seem to be the only after-dark opportunity for socializing.

Cost and Value

When we planned this trip in late November (3 months prior to traveling) the published rate for our room averaged $405 per night.  After adding the resort fee and taxes, the total cash value for our 3 night stay was $1,541.32.

micro-hyattBy using anniversary free nights from our Chase Hyatt cards (full review of this card coming soon!) for the first two nights and booking the third night with Hyatt Gold Passport points, we paid $0.00!  If you want to include the 2x $75 annual fees we paid on our Hyatt cards to get the anniversary nights, you could say it cost us $150 for a $1,541 stay.  Not bad at all!

Rooms at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo cost 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points.  This category 4 resort is a definite sweet spot in their redemption table.  In contrast, the comparable Andaz Maui at Wailea costs 25,000 per night.  The Andaz Papagayo is also relatively easy to book with points.  There are minimum stay requirements on some dates, but they are far less restrictive than some other Hyatt properties.  With only a three month notice, I was able to find three nights in a row during a peak season.  Each night I searched was individually available for a points or free night redemption.  No minimum stay requirement blocked my search.

Hyatt Gold Passport is a 1:1 instant transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards.  You can get 59,000 Ultimate Rewards with the sign up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  That’s almost enough for 4 free nights at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo!

Click to ApplyClick Here for my review of the Sapphire Preferred and a link to the application page.
(I earn referral bonus points through the application link, which help to support this site.)

I am very confident this was a worthwhile use of our Chase Hyatt annual free nights.  The value of paying the $75 annual fee to get the annual free night is likewise a pretty easy case to make, considering one night here would normally cost over $500.  For 15,000 Hyatt points it’s also a steal.  A points redemption at the Andaz Papagayo puts Hyatt Gold Passport points at around 3.3 cents each; higher than most commonly assigned values for these points.

Whether or not a stay at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo is worth the published cash prices is not for me to say.  It’s largely up to your personal finances and travel budget.  However, I hope this review helps to inform your opinion on how valuable staying here would be for you!

Overall Thoughts

This was our second stay at an Andaz brand resort and we continue to be impressed.  Hyatt has really nailed their goal of creating a chic, luxury, boutique experience with this chain.  Overall we received excellent customer service.  The grounds and facilities are as amazing in person as they look in the photos.
Andaz Papagayo entrance
Although this trip was as close to the equator as either Nicoleen or I have ever been, we didn’t get the typical “tropical vacation” feeling we’re used to.  Three factors gave the Andaz Papagayo a different feel than any other tropical location we’ve visited:

  1. The brown vegetation.  As you can see from my photos, it’s a beautiful landscape but don’t expect many palm trees.
  2. The low humidity.  Relative humidity percentages dropped to the 40s and 50s during the day.  Nighttime recovery was barely into the 80s.  Despite walking up steep hills in the heat and paddling for two on the kayak tour, I think I barely broke a sweat the entire time.
  3. The bay view.  The resort is located in Culebra Bay so you can’t see the horizon on the open ocean.  Instead, you get what could be described as a lake view.

Although we visited during the dry season and much of the natural vegetation was brown, the resort landscaping did a good job creating a lush atmosphere.  Around the resort there are lots of planted trees, shrubs, hedges, and flowers.  This landscaping is irrigated so it stays green all year round.  The builders must have taken great care to protect the existing vegetation.  The resort is only three years old but the mature forest comes right to the edge of many buildings.
monkeys1
During our stay the guest demographics were pretty varied.  There were couples in all age groups and a few families with small children.  Over half the guests seemed to be American, but we encountered people from Costa Rica, Germany, and Russia as well.  This was in sharp contrast to the guests we met at the Andaz Maui at Wailea, who were almost invariably affluent, 20-somethings from either L.A. or New York.  The Andaz Papagayo seems to attract laid back travelers of all ages and, of course, fellow points and miles aficionados!




Tips for Your Stay

If you have an upcoming stay at the Andaz Papagayo, here are some tips Nicoleen and I came up with, based on our stay:

  • There is no hot tub on the premises.  Don’t expect one!
  • There aren’t any publicly accessible ice makers. We called the front desk to have ice delivered and it never came. If you need ice, the bartenders by the kid-friendly pool will fill up any container you bring them.
  • The sun in Guanacaste is not like the sun in Florida or Southern California.  At 10 degrees north latitude it’s very strong.  Apply more sunscreen than you think you need!
  • If you’re on any sort of budget, don’t hesitate to bring some of your own food and alcohol.  It seems like a common thing to do at this resort.
  • All restaurant and bar prices will have a 13% tax and a 10% service charge added to them.  We never figured out if the service charge was supposed to cover the tip, so we added a tip anyways.  If anyone knows the standard tipping customs in Costa Rica, please explain it in the comments.
  • The whole beach basically vanishes at high tide, so mind the tide chart provided at check-in when planning beach activities.
  • Scenery, prices, wildlife, and weather all vary a lot depending on the time of year.  Plan accordingly.
  • Anything left on your balcony is subject to search and seizure by monkeys!  Thankfully we realized this without learning the hard way.
  • Have a back-up plan if you’re signed up for any activities involving the ocean.  Weather and sea life conditions may cancel your plans.

🙂 Thanks for reading my review! 🙂

Costa Rica monochrome

Review – Couples Negril Resort Activities

Couples Resorts claim to be the Caribbean’s most all-inclusive, all-inclusive resorts.  What they mean by this is that you’re not just getting food and drinks with your room.  Couples offers a whole suite of activities, excursions, and rentals to their guests, all included in the price of the room.  I think they try to make it so you could spend your whole vacation at the resort and still never get bored.

And that’s exactly what we did on our anniversary trip.  We never left the resort (on land, that is) and felt completely satisfied with our experience.  It’s not like we are averse to getting to know the local culture; in fact it’s usually one of our goals while traveling.  But this vacation was only 4 nights and we had a lot of relaxing to catch up on!
couples-relax
To avoid bogging down my review of Couples Negril with too many details, I decided to write this separate post and do mini reviews of some of the amenities and activities we tried at the resort.  Click here to read my main review of Couples Negril, or click here to learn more about the planning and cost of the trip.

Glass bottom boat ride

We almost didn’t sign up for this tour because we thought it sounded a little boring.  When we got to the boat at the appointed time we realized no one else was looking for excitement either; we were the youngest couple by far.  (In fact, we were in the youngest 5% of all guests at the resort, at 31 and 33.)

It’s true the glass bottom boat ride was not a “thrilling” experience, but we had a good time nonetheless.  Mainly because this tour had something we weren’t expecting at all: lots of humor!  The tour guide, Milton, had us laughing a good portion of the time.  And you can’t attribute it to the alcohol either . . . Nicoleen was pregnant at the time and she was in stitches with the rest of us.
Couple Negril Resort Activities glass bottom boat
The boat ride goes along the edge of Bloody Bay and over to a nearby island and then back.  We saw lots of fish on the reef and some big sea stars in an open sandy area.

Snorkeling

Nicoleen and I brought our own fins, snorkels, and masks so I can’t comment on the rental gear.  We were disappointed to learn we were required to wear life jackets during the snorkeling tour; no diving for us.  We met the boat on the beach at the appointed time and were ferried out to the south end of Bloody Bay.  The guide gave a few warnings about urchins and currents and then let us go.  For first timers he stayed at the boat and gave a mini lesson.

My mask was leaky, which cut into my enjoyment quite a bit.  The currents were strong and there was a strong wind, so it wasn’t a very relaxing experience.  However, the reef was a good one, with lots of different fish and sea life to look at.  I would recommend the snorkeling tour but I would try to wait until a calm day.

Sunset catamaran cruise

The catamaran cruise was our most memorable boat ride of the trip.  Around 3:00 we waded out into the water to board.  The large cat was staffed by a cruise director, a bartender, and a couple of deck hands.  The cruise began with some introductory instructions and safety messages by the cruise director.

As soon we we got underway, the bartender filled the entire bar top with plastic cups of pirate punch.  The bartender was awesome; he was singing, dancing, and lip syncing to the blasting reggae music the whole time he was shuttling out drinks.  Some mixed drinks were available upon request, and there was always punch on the bar, ready to walk up and grab.

NOTE: The catamaran is provided through a third party, so it’s not subject to Couples Resorts’ no tipping policy. Bring some cash and tip the crew!

The cruise took us south out of Bloody Bay and along the Negril coast.  At the halfway point we anchored in a little cove where steep cliffs overhung a cave.  The cave formed a horseshoe and we were invited to swim through it.  The cave walls were full of fossils and the floor was pure sand.  We were greeted by some local kids inside the cave who later dove from the cliffs for our entertainment.  Of course they were trying to get tips and several cruise guests indulged them with $1s and $5s as they swam near the catamaran.  The boat was equipped with a waterslide that launched you off the side, into the water.  Several other cruisers were amazed that Nicoleen, 12 weeks pregnant at the time, was feeling well enough to use the slide.

Couples Negril Resort Activities - catamaran cruise cliffs

A cliff jumper.

Couples Negril Resort Activities

Nicoleen flying off the waterslide.


Couples Negril sunset cruise

By sunset the party was getting pretty rowdy!

After the pause at the cave, we motored north again, back toward Bloody Bay.  As promised, we arrived at the bay just in time for a lovely sunset.  After the sun dipped underneath the horizon, we moored in front of Couples and disembarked.  The catamaran cruise was definitely worth the time!
couples sunset

Game room

Couples Negril Activities - Game Room
The game room is next to Lychee restaurant and has a pool table, board games, and gambling machines.  It also houses our secret snack source, a popcorn machine.  The slot machines take dollars and were the only time we used cash the entire stay at Couples Negril.

Stand up paddleboard

Couples Negril Resort Activities - paddle board

If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s available.  I personally find the idea to be boring and pointless, but Nicoleen took one out on our last morning.  She said it was nice to be above the water and to have good visibility into the water.  She saw a stingray but not much else for sea life.

Conclusion

The extra included amenities and activities at Couples Negril are definitely more than just marketing.  With a longer stay I think we would have taken advantage of more of the activities.  Some were more fun than others but I don’t think we regret spending out time on any of the ones we did.  Hopefully my mini reviews on this page will help you decide what’s worth it for you if you’re planning a stay at Couples in the near future.

Hotel Review – Couples Negril Resort, Jamaica

Nicoleen and I stayed at Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica, Feb 27-Mar 03, 2015.  This was my last big travel splurge before fully embracing my new life of free travel.  The occasion was our 10 year anniversary, but the trip was actually a decoy to conceal my larger plan for a surprise vacation to Europe later that summer.  For details on how I planned the trip and got the flights for free, read my trip report post.
Couples Negril review

Couples Negril – Resort Overview

Couples is a small chain of four properties, all located in Jamaica.  It was a pioneer in the all-inclusive resort model and is owned locally by the founding family.  These resorts are for couples only and no kids are allowed.  They advertise themselves as the only true all-inclusive resort chain in the Caribbean, with all dining options and amenities included in the room price.  Tipping is not allowed at any Couples resort.

When choosing among the four resorts in the portfolio, I chose Couples Negril for a few reasons.  It requires a shorter shuttle ride from the airport than other options, which was important for our short trip.  It also supposedly has the best beach of any of the Couples locations, which I knew would be important to Nicoleen.  Reviews online also said that Couples Negril had the best customer service among all the Couples resorts, and that the grounds featured mature vegetation that offered a secluded feeling.

Couples Negril

The Couples Website has lots of good pictures of the property.

Couples Negril has 234 rooms, 5 restaurants, 5 bars, 2 pools, 4 Jacuzzis, a treehouse spa, and an au naturel beach section.  At the time of this writing it is ranked #9 of 84 hotels in Negril on Tripadvisor, and Google reviews give is 4.6 out of 5 stars.

Couples Lounge and Airport Shuttle

The resort provides free transportation from MBJ (Montego Bay, Sangster Int’l Airport) with a contract shuttle van company.  They usually wait to fill up a van before departing the airport.  Couples guests wait in a dedicated lounge near baggage claim.  The Couples lounge is pretty small and basically just contains comfy chairs and a bar top with stools.  Someone asked our names and tagged our luggage.  He then directed us to the friendly bartender who offered us our choice of Red Stripe or Red Stripe Light.  My beer came in a small plastic cup, but we saw several guests pull large tumblers out of their carry-ons, to be filled up.  In fact, we were the only ones without our own cups.  This was the first of many times we noticed that most guests were repeat visitors; a good sign for a resort!

Cool story, bro:
Halfway through our little beers, something strange happened.  The guy who took our luggage approached Nicoleen with a cell phone and asked if she would like to talk to Ms. So-and-so.  Completely confused, Nicoleen hesitantly declined.  The guy looked a little confused himself and started quietly talking on the phone.  As we were trying to figure out how someone got Nicoleen’s name and what kind of scam this might be, the guy asked Nicoleen again, “are you sure you don’t want to talk to Ms. So-and-so?”  Nicoleen timidly grabbed the phone.  “Hello?”  After a minute she seemed to understand what was going on.  I remained confused until she ended the call and explained it to me:

Nicoleen’s aunt had seen a facebook post Nicoleen wrote about flying to Montego Bay.  Her aunt travels to Jamaica a lot and happens to be good friends with the owner of the shuttle bus company, Ms. So-and-so.  Some strings were evidently pulled, and suddenly the driver of the “VIP Van” walked up and told us to get our bags immediately and head to the parking lot.  He loaded our luggage and we were soon on our way, as the other guests were still waiting.  It was a 1 hour drive along the coast, but we got to skip the midway stop at a touristy bar that the regular bus makes!  Thanks, Aunt Judy!
Couples Negril transport van

We arrived at the front entrance and were met by the bellman.  He greeted us by name, took our luggage, and told us in his deep, rhythmic voice, “You in Jamaica now, mon.  You gonna eat.  You gonna drink.  You gonna relax.  Welcome to Couples Negril.”

The Room

After being offered champagne (pregnant Nicoleen declined) we were checked into our room, on the second floor of building 1.

We booked a “Deluxe Garden” room, which was the cheapest available.  It was a simple room with a desk area, king bed, and mosaic tiled bathroom.  The room also included a stocked minibar and a furnished balcony overlooking the lush landscaping.  The minibar contained Red Stripe and Red Stripe Light, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, Ting (Jamaican citrus soft drink), ginger ale (with a hefty bite!), and juices.  A little menu card was on the desk that had check boxes for minibar requests, which included full bottles of house booze.

Couples Negril garden deluxe

Towel creatures and tropical flowers were regularly resupplied.

Coffee maker and iPod compatible radio.

Coffee maker and iPod compatible radio.

The room decor and furnishings were nothing to write home about but nothing was in disrepair.  Everything was very clean, which is important to us.  No little piles of hair and dust in the corners!  The wifi and air conditioning both worked well.  I did not do a speed test on the connection.  More than once, we ran into room service during the day.  The ladies were always courteous and let us retrieve whatever we needed from the room.  Our favorite room feature was probably the balcony.  During the daily afternoon showers we would sit on the balcony with a book or headphones and watch the tropical birds zoom around the trees and shrubs.
cn-balcony

Couples Negril bird

They were greedy little buggers!




Amenities

Couples likes to advertise that they are the Caribbean’s most inclusive all-inclusive resort.  The range of activities and excursions included in your room price is truly impressive.  They offer all the basic amenities you would expect: beach volleyball, board games and billiards, short guided walks, horseshoe pits and other games, etc.  The beach options include snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, Hobie Cat sailing, water skiing, and paddle boats.

Nicoleen paddleboarding on our last morning at Couples Negril.

Nicoleen paddleboarding on our last morning at Couples Negril.

However, Couples also offers complimentary activities which are usually paid excursions at other “all-inclusive” resorts: Glass bottom boat rides, sunset catamaran cruise, Scuba lessons and daily dives for certified divers, dance classes, golf (cart, caddy, and club rental for a fee), tennis lessons, and transportation to several local beach bars.

Of course there are also some options if you feel the need to spend some money.  The on-site spa offers a variety of treatments, and you can pay to have a private dinner on the beach or in the treehouse.  There are also several excursion options arranged by the resort that use contracted guides.

It was our impression that you could return to Couples for many years in a row and never run out of new things to do.  In our 4 night stay we didn’t even scratch the surface.  In addition to what I already listed, there are a lot of little extras that would pop up all over the place at different times.  There was almost always some live music somewhere and there was a very nice beach campfire with a great guitarist on our last night.  A few days a week there are local vendors selling handmade art, crafts, jewelry, and clothing.  Prices seemed reasonably good but we quickly realized this was a haggle zone.  I enjoy that whole song and dance; Nicoleen does not. 🙂

Evening campfire with music.

Evening campfire with music on the beach.

Merchant tables. We got most of our souvenir and gift shopping for the kids done at these.

Merchant tables. We got most of our souvenir and gift shopping for the kids done at these.

One day we stumbled upon a round of beach games that was about to start.  The winners would get Couples Cash which could be spent at an auction held on certain evenings.  We missed out on the auction but we saved our cash for next time!

Pool, Jacuzzis, and Beach

Couples Negril has two pools and 4 Jacuzzis.  We only used the main pool and the 2 hot tubs connected to it.  The main pool has two levels connected by a soft infinity edge.  The bottom level contains the swim-up bar, which was almost always busy.  There was typically a wait for one of the submerged bar stools.

Couples Negril Pool

Does this picture look familiar? It’s the thumbnail for the ValueTactics Facebook page!

The hot tub was the hang-out spot during afternoon rain showers.

The hot tub was the hang-out spot during afternoon rain showers.

The hot tubs on either side of the main pool were our go-to refuge from the daily afternoon rain showers that came like clockwork.  We learned this trick from some of the repeat guests we met.  Who cares about a few rain drops if you’re sitting in a hot tub with a beer?  This tactic came in handy over a year later on our free luxury vacation on Maui when we had a couple days of rare rainy weather in Wailea.

The resort is located on Bloody Bay, which is known for its pristine beaches.  We were impressed by the cleanliness of the beach and the clarity of the water.  There wasn’t any big surf while we were there, despite some windy weather.  As expected on any Jamaican beach, we occasionally encountered wandering troubadours.  Some had something to sell: cds, ciiiiigarettes, cigars! cigars!, . . . other dried plants.  None were pushy or intrusive, and it was apparent that Couples beach/security staff actively kept out most of the real riff raff.
Couples Negril beach - Bloody Bay

We saw little red flags on sticks, scattered around next to chairs on the beach.  After observing for a few minutes, we realized they were for drink service.  If you stick the flag upright in the sand, wait staff will come and take your drink order.  Sometimes the service was really fast and other times it took up to 15 minutes to get a beer.

I will write another review of some specific activities we personally experienced.  This resort review post is becoming a book. 🙂  — Read that article here! —

Dining

On the resort’s website it says Couples Negril has 5 restaurants.  This is a bit of a stretch when you consider that one “restaurant” is a self-serve snack bar within the Beach Grill, and that breakfast is only served at one restaurant of the five.  Lychee and Otaheite are only open for dinners, for about three hours per evening.  There are also small time gaps before lunch and dinner where there is no food available.  These were naturally the times when I went looking for a snack.

I made this handy spreadsheet to help visualize the dining options throughout the day:

Click here to download the original .xlsx file

Click here to download the original .xlsx file

You can find sample menus for each dining option here.

Side note: If you’ve never dined in an all-inclusive situation, it can be a weird adjustment to make.  Most people have eaten at an all-you-can-eat buffet, but ordering off a menu with no prices is not something our brains are used to.  For most people, price always plays into the decision on what to order.  At Couples we formed some opinions on how to eat at an all-inclusive.  Ordering off a menu and having food brought to your table, all nicely plated, is a pleasant experience.  Removing the price aspect is fun because you can truly order whatever your heart desires.  However, buffet style dining has its perks as well.  The whole meal takes less time out of your day, precious vacation time.  You can also see all the food before you try it, so there’s less risk of being disappointed.  Overall we found that a mix of the two options was best.  We usually saved the sit down meal for the evening so it didn’t cut into our beach and pool time.

Cassava Terrace

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I’d call this the “main” dining option.  It has the largest seating area on the property and has an attached bar, buffet area, and stage.  The array of breakfast food was vast.  All the standard American fare was available, as well as some European style options like bread rolls, cold cuts, and cheeses.  Many of the warm dishes were Caribbean specialties, including several fish and seafood items, which I thought was interesting for breakfast.  Our favorite breakfast item was the warm syrup with bits of banana and other tropical fruits floating in it.  It was great on French toast and waffles.
cn-breakfastcn-breakfast2

cn-coconutThe breakfast is a self-serve buffet but after seating yourself, a server will take beverage orders.  (It took us a few minutes of standing around, confused, before we realized all this.)  The coffee was excellent; local Jamaican coffee from the Blue Hills, French pressed.  Nicoleen tried a coconut water on our last morning, after watching people get them from the bar each day.  She was happy to discover she hadn’t been missing out – she hated it. 🙂

We ate dinner at Cassava Terrace a couple times.  Service was friendly and the food was pretty good.  One evening the end of our dinner overlapped with the start of the live entertainment on the stage.  It was a really good reggae and cover band.

First meal at an all-inclusive and of course I went for the lobster tail!

First meal at an all-inclusive and of course I went for the lobster tail!

 If you have a sweet tooth, you'll love the dessert mountains on display for lunch and dinner!

If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love the dessert mountains on display for lunch and dinner!

Beach Grill and Heliconia

We never ate dinner at Heliconia, so this review is for the Beach Grill.  The same building and terrace that houses these two restaurants is also where the fruit and veggie bar is located during the day.

The fruit and veggie bar is basically a small buffet line on a counter top near the order window for the grill.  There was an assortment of salad bar, fruit, nacho components, and ice cream.  The tortilla chips for the nachos were burnt one time we tried to get some, and down to pieces and crumbs the other time.  Nicoleen liked to get a small plate of fruit to nibble on while sunbathing.

According to other reviews I had read, the Beach Grill served up a mean jerk chicken.  The walk from our room to the pool brought us right past the large barbecue where these chickens were being cooked, so I had been smelling their goodness for a day or two before I ordered one for lunch.  The small half chicken was very yummy!  The meat was tender and the jerk seasoning was a lot less spicy than I expected.  Nicoleen enjoyed her burger from the grill as well.
Couples Negril - Beach Grill jerk chicken

Otaheite

We were never really sure exactly how to pronounce it, so we just called this the fancy restaurant.  The dress code at Otaheite is one step under “jacket required.”  We made our reservations for our last night, after our sunset catamaran cruise.
Couples Negril - Otaheite
The food was a half step above the other meals we had experienced, and the service was attentive and pleasant.

Rack of lamb in the front.

Rack of lamb in the front.

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We had a great time listening to our British neighbors' entics during after-dinner drinks!

We had a great time listening to our British neighbors’ antics during after-dinner drinks!




Overall Thoughts and Tips for Your Stay

Couples Negril exceeded my expectations in most respects.  (Nicoleen had no expectations since she found out where we were going at the airport.)  The room was clean and adequate, although we didn’t spend much time there.  I definitely wouldn’t pay extra for any room but the basic one; there’s so much more to do than hang out in the room!

The food and booze were not super gourmet, but we ate and drank better than we would have normally paid for at home.  Nicoleen was pregnant so we didn’t fully realize the value of the free alcohol (but she drank her share of diet Pepsi and virgin cocktails!).  All of the other included amenities and activities were definitely worth a lot.

Even though we paid full price for our room ($405/night) I actually think we got a good value.  Assuming we each ate and drank 3 nice restaurant meals a day, that’s $100-150 a day easily.  We took a catamaran cruise, glass bottom boat rise, and guided snorkeling tour, which would have averaged close to $100 a day.  If you take these values into consideration, we probably paid under $200 a night for just the room and normal resort facilities.  The lush, mature vegetation and beautiful grounds and beach make Couples Negril an enviable place to stay, even without the many inclusions.

If you have an upcoming stay at the Couples Negril, here are some random tips Nicoleen and I came up with, based on our stay:

  • Put down a towel as a doormat in your room to capture the majority of the sand you’ll inevitably track in.
  • Try the fruit infused syrup for breakfast (warm pot of syrup with little bits of fruit floating in it).  It’s great on French toast and waffles.
  • At Cassava Terrace request an outer ring table for dinner.  It’s more private than interior tables and when the evening entertainment starts, you won’t be right next to the sound system.
  • A little known secret snack opportunity:  There is a popcorn machine in the recreation room with the slot machines and the pool table.

🙂 Thanks for reading my review! 🙂

cn-thanks

Hotel Review – Grand Wailea: A Waldorf Astoria Resort

Grand Wailea title
The second major hotel stay on our 2016 Hawaiian get-away was at the opulent Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria resort.  Our two night stay wasn’t nearly enough time to fully appreciate the scope of this place.  One of the first major resorts built in Wailea, it covers 40 acres and has almost 850 guest rooms.  Like every property in the Waldorf Astoria portfolio, the Grand Wailea oozes elegance. . . and has a price tag to match.  Including all taxes and fees, the cash price for our room was 480.90/night.  Our cost after employing value tactics?  $31.25/night!  Before I get to the full cost breakdown, here’s the review:




Grand Wailea Resort Overview

Coming directly from our 4 night stay at Hyatt’s Andaz Maui, we were shocked at the size of the Grand Wailea.  The resort boasts 847 guest rooms, 5 dining options, a swim-up grotto bar, a large spa and fitness center, an on-site wedding chapel, several shops and art galleries, a full service beach club, cabanas for rent, and a huge pool complex featuring water slides, a lazy river, a sand bottom zero-entry pool, Tarzan swing, SCUBA dive pool, a water elevator, an adults-only pool, and several hot tubs.

Add to all that countless koi ponds, waterfalls, lush tropical gardens and landscaping, huge open air atriums, scattered statues and other artwork, a large beach, and on-site Luau area. . . this place is IMPRESSIVE.  If you’re ever in Wailea, it’s worth a drive around the valet loop just to get a small visual taste of the Grand Wailea’s grounds and architecture.  If you don’t happen to be in Wailea right now,  you’ll have to settle for a few of my photos:
Grand Wailea Chapel

Grand Wailea Botero Bar

Grand Wailea Grounds

Grand Wailea Dolphin Pool

Grand Wailea Restaurant

It’s hard to believe a 2-night stay at a property like this is attainable for $62.50 and a single credit card sign-up bonus!

Around 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon, the front desk was a zoo.  At check-in Nicoleen’s Hilton Gold status was recognized and we were given 1000 bonus points, a $20 gift certificate for Bistro Molokini, and 2 drink vouchers for the Botero Lounge.

The bellman then escorted us and our luggage to our room on the 6th floor in the Molokini Wing, far, far away from the lobby.  He gave us a brief tour of the room and left to fetch a microwave at Nicoleen’s request.

The Room

Since we booked our 2 night stay with Hilton free weekend night certificates, we got the cheapest room category on the property, the “terrace view king.”  Of course this was code for “parking garage view.”

We knew this going in and expected the worst.  We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the beauty of Hawaii trumps the frugally devised room placement of hotel developers.  Even the worst views on Maui are beautiful:

Ignore the foreground and what do you see? The gentle slope of Haleakala on the left and the Pacific ocean on the right.

Ignore the foreground and what do you see? The gentle slope of Haleakala on the left and the Pacific ocean on the right.

In contrast to our room at the Andaz, this one was more about traditional luxury.  The king bed was very comfortable, with a custom embroidered Waldorf Astoria duvet cover and an ample pillow supply.  There was a writing desk with regular and usb charging outlets.
Grand Wailea bed

Grand Wailea room desk

I got to replenish my supply of my favorite hotel pens! The Grand Wailea had the same pens in the room as the Amsterdam Hilton. My kids took care of that one for me by taking it apart and smashing it 🙁

gw-room-outlet

Hidden, flip-down power centers on either side of the bed contained regular and usb charging outlets, which we found to be a nice added convenience.

The bathroom was marble and granite, featuring a separate shower and tub, toilet closet, and a large vanity.  Nicoleen appreciated the large vanity after the cramped situation in the Andaz bathroom.
Grand Wailea bathroom 1
Grand Wailea bathroom 2

Then lanai (balcony) was small but the furniture was comfortable.
gw-lanai-furniture

Unlike the Andaz, the Grand Wailea has mini-fridges in every room.  Above the fridge was a Keurig with a selection of coffee and tea.

Grand Wailea Keurig

This counter top was later cluttered with a microwave and all of our foodstuffs.

Amenities

Grand Wailea swimming pool complex

Grand Wailea Pools
The swimming pool area at the Grand Wailea is EXTENSIVE.  After 2 days of using the pools, we were still getting lost trying to get from one place to another.  All of the water features are woven into the garden landscaping.  The Grotto Bar, the beach & pool shop, Bistro Molokini (restaurant), and the Volcano Bar are all integrated into the pool area as well.  It’s truly an impressive attraction and is about as close as you can get to a water park experience without actually going to a water park.
from maps.google.com
Each day, registered guests need to check in at a pool desk to get the day’s wrist band, which is a different color every day.  We saw some lucky kids wearing 6-7 different colored wristbands all at once.  We only used the pools for 2 days but I wanted to be cool too, so I kept mine on all the way back to Minnesota 🙂  Towels and complimentary sunscreen were also available at the pool desks.




Understandably the pool area was pretty crowded most of the time.  However, despite what we read online, it wasn’t hard to get a chair or umbrella as long as we got out there reasonably early (8:30 and 90% of the chairs around the Hibiscus Pool were still available).
Grand Wailea Hibiscus Pool
With the number of pool features at the Grand Wailea, the easiest way to review them all is to list each one and offer some thoughts on each:

  • Hibiscus pool:  This large adults-only pool is made up entirely of 1″ mosaic tiles, with a 630,000 tile hibiscus flower design on the bottom.  Although some of the adults were acting like children when we were there, it was our go-to area to get chairs and was the most relaxing and quiet spot in the whole pool complex.
    Grand Wailea - Hibiscus Pool
  • Grotto Bar:  (covered in the “Dining” section below)
  • Lazy River:  This river doesn’t make a complete circuit.  It starts at the bottom of several cascading pools connected with tiny slides.  The first slide on the lazy river portion is wide enough for a tube.  The current moves you along the river, with chances to exit at all of the other major pool features.  We bought a cheap tube ($8) from the beach/pool shop and floated down the river one time.  If our stay would have been longer we would have probably utilized it more.  And in case you’re wondering, it’s perfectly fine to bring drinks with you down the river.
  • Water Elevator:  Supposedly this is pretty cool but after asking the attendant about it, we later returned to find it had just closed for the day.
  • Water Slides:  A quick search online will inform you that the largest and fastest slide recently closed permanently.  The other slides are apparently fun as well, but when we went to use them on our last afternoon at the Grand Wailea, they had just closed for the day.
  • Baby beach pool:  This is a zero-entry pool with a sand beach.  We saw it as we floated by on the lazy river.  It looked like the tiny kids were enjoying it.
  • Tarzan rope swing:  We didn’t try this but it was getting some pretty good use from lots of screaming, excited kids, so I assume they liked it.
  • SCUBA dive pool:  We didn’t use this pool but we thought it was pretty cool that there are mosaic tile fish and coral reef adorning it’s walls and floor.

Overall the swimming pool complex at the Grand Wailea was very fun, and we thought it had more potential we weren’t able to tap into during our short stay.  However, we have a few complaints.  The odd hours of the different pool features surprised us and prevented us from even trying out several of them.  A closer look at the resort’s website reveals the actual hours:

Pools: 7am – 10pm
Slides: 10am – 5pm
Water Elevator: 11am – 4pm

Even the Grotto Bar closes at 5:00 PM, being connected to the pool system.  The “normal” swimming pools close at 10:00 PM, which is standard for most hotels but nonetheless annoying.  With over a thousand guests, I’m sure at least a handful of adults would enjoy some late night relaxation in the hot tubs or Hibiscus pool.

Haleakala from Grand Wailea night

Haleakala at night from our balcony at the Grand Wailea

The last complaint about the swimming pool complex might be considered a nitpick, but many other reviewers have noticed it as well.  A lot of tiles were missing from all pool areas, the painted coating was worn down to concrete on some of the slides, and some of the concrete along the pool edges was crumbling.  This is to be expected for a resort of this age, but it did slightly detract from the experience.

Beach and Other Amenities

In contrast to our previous nights’ stay at the Hyatt Andaz, it was hard to figure out what was included with our $30 resort fee (waived for us since we used free night certificates) at the Grand Wailea.  The website says it’s good for free internet (which we got through Nicoleen’s gold status anyway), beach umbrellas for use on Wailea Beach, admission to twice daily SCUBA clinics, bike rentals, and free local phone calls (what year is this?).  We didn’t use the bike rental or SCUBA lessons.  The beach in front of the hotel is actually a public beach, so the umbrella perk was probably worthwhile for some people.  (NOTE: being a public beach means alcoholic beverages are technically not allowed.)
Grand Wailea Beach
The beach itself was much like the rest of the beaches in the area: spotless, calm in the morning and rougher in the afternoon, almost purely sand, and warm.

The on-property shops reminded us of the “impulse buy alleys” that you find on some cruise ship piers in the Caribbean.  However, unlike these duty free circuses, the Shops at Grand Wailea weren’t staffed by pushy salesmen.  There are several art shops/galleries, clothing and swimwear stores, and souvenir shops.  If we had the budget and the kid-free house (seems like those two things might go together) for fine art, we would have loved to buy one of the awesome glass framed photographic prints we saw, or one of the crashing wave glass sculptures.  I’m sure we would have been shocked by the prices on these pieces so we didn’t even check, but they were lovely to look at!

We were flying out the evening after our last night at the Grand Wailea, which meant we had an entire day to fill after checking out.  We had no luck trying for a late check-out, but we were offered the continued use of the pool and grounds until we departed.  Living out of a beach bag for most of the day is inconvenient but the front desk person made it easier by offering us the use of an hospitality room.  We just had to notify the front desk when we were done swimming for the day and they gave us a key and told us to try and keep it under an hour.  We were able to take showers, get changed, and repack our carry-ons.  The hospitality room available for us was a suite in Napua Tower:

Grand Wailea Suite

Our room for an hour. This Napua Nani Suite can be yours for a mere $2220 per night!

Neither Nicoleen nor I used the fitness center or the spa, so I can’t comment on these.

Dining

Of the multiple restaurants and bars available at the Grand Wailea, two were under construction during our stay.  Humuhumunukunukuapua’a was being relocated and the Volcano Bar was being renovated.  Humuhumunukunukuapua’a had plastic sheeting in the windows and the pool surrounding the restaurant had been drained.  The whole thing was an eyesore.  The Volcano Bar was getting boarded up while we watched the Sunday night NFL game from the nearby Grotto Bar.  They set up a temporary replacement bar with a limited selection of menu items in tents near one of the pools.  I guess there’s no good time to remodel a bustling resort, and yet it has to be done; but it’s still annoying when it happens to fall on the dates of your stay.

Bistro Molokini

Our first evening at the Grand Wailea we decided to use our $20 voucher at Bistro Molokini.  We made reservations for 8:40 and were promptly seated at an outer table overlooking the swimming pool area.  We ordered the onion ring appetizer and a kalua pork flat bread pizza.  The food was excellent!  The onion rings were very possibly the best I’ve ever had.

Bistro Molokini Onion Rings

Everyone loves having their picture taken while taking a bite of food, right?

The service however, was abysmal.  Our server never spoke to us from the time we ordered until she came to ask if we wanted dessert.  She helped adjacent tables several times and totally ignored us.  My beer glass was empty for the majority of the meal.  On top of it all, she was rude and unfriendly.  I’m a classic passive Midwesterner when it comes to things like this so I very rarely complain about restaurant service.  But this was really bad.  The manager must have overheard us talking about the server and offered us free dessert or another round of beers for our trouble.  We accepted the free beer.  (ValueTactics pro-tip: free beer is rare in the U.S. – take advantage of it when you can!)
Bistro Molokini - Grand Wailea
Aside from the bad service the place was also extremely loud, with groups of individuals standing by the bar emitting almost non-stop, boisterous, cackling laughter.  It’s probably not fair to judge and entire restaurant based on what was very likely just one employee’s bad day.  On the other hand, Bistro Molokini had one chance to make an impression on us and it was generally negative, so that’s the review I have to give it.  The only aspects that saved our dining experience from being a total disaster were the great food and lovely scenery.
Bistro Molokini view

Grotto Bar

After a valet driver called the Grotto Bar for us and confirmed that the Packers-Vikings game would be on the TVs, we decided this is where we would park ourselves for the Sunday evening (early afternoon in Hawaii) NFL game.  Nicoleen managed to find one open seat at the end of the bar right before the game started.  I joined her and we promptly staked a claim on the bar for Packer Nation:

Packer Nation at Grand Wailea Grotto Bar

(Just don’t ask how the game ended . . .)

Grand Wailea Grotto BarThe grotto was packed.  The lone bartender, Tim, was shuttling out $13 cocktails at an incredible rate.  We weren’t there for cocktails, however; a Packers-Vikings game requires beer.  Unfortunately for us, the draft beers all ran dry shortly after we arrived.  Even several of the bottled beer choices were eventually exhausted.  Apparently the Grotto Bar is a “while supplies last” kind of operation.  We were able to supplement our beverage needs with our own drinks brought from our beach bag.  I think this is acceptable as long as we periodically ordered food or drink from the bar.  Maybe the fact that the entire bar had one beer choice available (Corona cans) helped to soften their outside food and beverage policy.  Or maybe it’s always like that- I don’t know.

We ordered shredded pork nachos ($17) which was more than enough food to keep us full for the whole game.  They were filling, but otherwise unremarkable.

gw-nicoleen-packersSpeaking of the “whole game” here’s where our major complaint about the Grotto Bar comes in.  All three TVs had the same football game on.  The place was raking in many hundreds of dollars per hour with just the one bartender.  And yet, around the end of the 3rd quarter, we noticed that the water was being drained from the seating area.  Shortly after noticing this, Tim was taking requests for last call.  The Grotto Bar closes at 5:00 PM!  Even with one quarter left of a major sports game on the TV, there was no stopping the closing time.  We were shocked.  We had to make the 10 minute trek to our room to watch the end of the game.

Like the other swimming pool features, the Grotto Bar has a bizarrely early closing time.  Well, it was fun (and expensive) while it lasted.  (Props to bartender Tim for staying upbeat and super friendly despite the beer shortage and the angry mob of football fans having their game viewing cut short!)

Cost and Value

This is the fun part 🙂  At the time of booking (9 months in advance) the best available rate for our room was $326.80/night.  With the $30 resort fee, the $30 valet fee, and all taxes, the total would have been $435.93/night.  We used free weekend night certificates for our two nights at the Grand Wailea, earned as the sign-up bonus on Nicoleen’s Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card.  The free night certificates cover the resort fee so our only cost was the valet fee plus tax.  In total we got an $871.86 stay for $62.50!

Even if you want to include the $95 up-front annual fee on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card as part of our cost, it’s still extreme value!  When calculating the value of the annual fee, don’t forget the value of the perks that the gold status got us during our stay: free internet, the $20 restaurant voucher, the 2 drink coupons, and the 1000 bonus points (worth about $3).




Overall Thoughts and Tips for Your Stay

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the Grand Wailea.  It definitely has a different feel than our previous hotel on the trip, the Hyatt Andaz.  (In the near future I would like to write an entire blog post comparing the two.)  It took us some time to adjust to the sheer size and scope of the place.  There is a bit of a learning curve to getting your full enjoyment out of this resort.  That’s not meant in a negative way; only to highlight the amount of opportunities the Grand Wailea has to offer.

The intuitive layout and elegant appointments of the guest room were definitely a highlight for us.  Despite the disappointing hours of operation we repeatedly encountered at the pool complex, this watery wonderland was also a major favorite of ours.  If we were infatuated with the design and landscaping of the swimming pool area, I can only imagine what the younger guests though of it.  I think my 10 year old self would have been in heaven at this place!

If you have an upcoming stay at the Grand Wailea, here are some random tips Nicoleen and I came up with, based on our stay:

  • Learn the hours of operation for the pool area features early, and incorporate this knowledge into your daily schedule.
  • Plan ahead when you leave your room; many of them require quite a long walk to get to the restaurants, pools, and beach.
  • If you’re in the Molokini Wing, bring your car to the north valet.  It will make a shorter walk for you and a shorter car retrieval for the valet drivers.
  • Don’t be shy about bringing your own beverages and snacks with you to the pool complex.  The nice attendant at the Hibiscus pool even got ice for us to mix our own drinks several times.  You can even sip your libations while on the lazy river.
  • Most basic rooms don’t include a microwave; request one early if you want one brought up for you.
  • If you can’t get a late check-out, take advantage of the hospitality room to extend your stay.

🙂 Thanks for reading my review! 🙂

Hotel Review – Andaz Maui at Wailea

Andaz Maui Panorama
Our stay at the Andaz Maui at Wailea was definitely one of the highlights of our recent Hawai’ian get-away.  The property is beyond beautiful, the beach is top notch, and the service and little extras made the whole stay seem extra-special.  The staff made us feel like VIPs, which I guess is to be expected for the $439/night price tag.  But this is ValueTactics you’re reading, so we paid $26.25/night!  More on that in a bit . . .

Andaz Maui Resort Overview

The Andaz Maui is a new resort, only 3 years old at the time of this writing.  Andaz hotels are part of Hyatt’s portfolio and are branded as chic, luxury boutique hotels.  The property has 297 rooms and suites, several condos and for-sale villas, 5 swimming pools, multiple dining options, a full service spa, and a full service beach club.  Our 4 night stay wasn’t even close to enough time to see and do all this resort has to offer.

Even if we would have had the time (and money) for a larger variety of on-site activities, the resort would have provided enough of a distraction all by itself.  In fact, I spent a good deal of my time just walking around in awe, taking pictures of the grounds:
Andaz Maui infinity pool edge
maui andaz grounds 3
maui andaz grounds 4
The Andaz Maui is rife with native stone and wood.  Like a forest on a foggy day or a scenic mountain vista, the Maui Andaz makes everyone feel like a professional photographer.  Everywhere you turn it looks like a postcard.  Even the elevator waiting areas and the lobby looked awesome:
Andaz Maui Elevator

Andaz Maui lobby

View toward the front entrance from the main lobby, where you can find the front desk, concierge, and zen garden.




The Room

Since we booked our stay with free night certificates from our Chase Hyatt cards, we were put in the cheapest room category, a “garden view king”. (For details about how we booked the room, read the trip’s main page and cost breakdown.) We stayed in room 127, which is on the ground floor, facing the pool area, in the Makai wing . The lobby is on the 4th floor so the first trip to the room felt like we were going down to the sub-basement. The whole resort is built on a hill, so what felt like a basement room turned out to be a convenient walk-out right by the pool area! I’m sure the lack of an ocean view is what puts these rooms in the lowest category, but Nicoleen and I both agreed we would take the convenience of the walk-out over the better view any day. Any besides, the view from our lanai (patio) was actually quite nice:
Andaz Maui Lanai
The room is equipped with a large flat screen TV with a fully adjustable mounting arm. The TV inputs are located in the snack cabinet next to it. I wish I would have brought an HDMI cable so we could have watched streaming TV and movies from my laptop.
Andaz Maui Room TV
The microwave and the fridge had to be requested from the front desk (via the bellman) and were subject to availability. If these hadn’t been available, we were going to consider buying one of each from Walmart and then leaving them in the room upon our departure. (I think this is where the hotel’s collection of random microwaves and mini-fridges comes from in the first place.) With a breakfast buffet price of $50 per person, it doesn’t take much math to figure out that even a few meals prepared in the room would be worth the cost of the appliances. Restaurant leftovers could also be kept this way. Luckily they were available so we didn’t have to do the Walmart appliance tactic.

Andaz Maui CoolerAlthough the room didn’t have a real fridge, there was a cooler cabinet built into the desk with complimentary Hawaiian pop (yes, it’s called “pop” -deal with it), juice, and gas station-type coffee creamers, which were replenished daily.
Andaz Maui Snacks

The complimentary Maui cookies, chips, and Starbucks instant coffee were also replenished daily. In the lobby brewed Kona coffee was available every morning. If you’re a late sleeper beware though; that coffee is only available until 9:00. I missed the cutoff one morning and had to settle for the instant Starbucks.

Some other reviews I have read complained about the weird layout of the bathroom. The long, narrow shower is between the vanity area and the bedroom, with a full height glass wall looking right into the bedroom. Sliding shutter doors can be closed from the bedroom side for privacy. The vanity top is fairly small, considering the wooden slat construction which isn’t very good for setting small items on. The toilet is in a separate closet room.
Andaz Maui Bathroom
I am a sucker for design and aesthetics. I can easily forgive the weirdness and the slight inconveniences of the bathroom for the sake of appearance.
Andaz Maui soap
Maui Andaz soap 2

Andaz Maui amenity kit

The surprise little amenity kit we discovered on the vanity.

Amenities

Swimming pools

The cascading infinity pools at Andaz Maui
It’s no secret that Hyatt loves to highlight the cascading infinity pools at the Andaz Maui, and for good reason.  These are easily the most interesting and unique pools at any hotel I’ve stayed at.  And they are more than just architectural art.  With a shallow depth and lots of nearby pool chairs they are perfect for wading around, swimming leisurely laps, or leaning on the infinity edge to watch the lovely Maui sunsets.  We spent many hours just hanging out by the pools on our first couple days.  Of course part of the convenience for us came from our ground floor room.  Our drink refills, sunscreen, and e-book readers were a quick 10 second walk away.
maui andaz pool 1
The hot tub and surrounding pool are open 24 hours, which is a feature I would have appreciated on many hotel stays elsewhere.  There is a separate pool with half submerged lounge chairs that is for adults only.  During our stay the “adults only” was pretty much a joke since we saw 3 kids, all infants or toddlers, the entire time.  The bottom pool is zero entry, which is a nice feature, frequently enjoyed by those 3 toddlers and their moms.

Andaz Maui zero entry pool

Zero-entry pool

The towel stations were well stocked and also had complimentary sunscreen and infused water available.  Pool attendants put seat covers on our pool chairs upon request.  We never had a problem finding open chairs by the pool.  However the hotel was not fully booked during our stay and we usually went out to the pool before most other guests, so take that for what it’s worth.

Beach and Water Activities

Wailea Beach in front of Andaz
Wailea Beach is supposedly rated one of the best in the world.  From my somewhat limited experience, the high rating is definitely justified.  The water was warm, clear, and the beach was 100% soft sand with absolutely no washed up plant matter.  (And that’s saying something, considering we were there a week after a passing hurricane caused some rain and wind.)  Great snorkeling reefs are scattered around the resort area, all accessible from shore.  The beach in front of the Andaz is sandwiched between two such reefs.  The surf was calm to start the day but as the day wore on it got up a bit, enough to do some body surfing by the afternoon, but never too wild to casually swim just out from the breaking waves.

The $40/night resort fee at the Andaz Maui (covered for us since we booked with free night certificates) includes most of the offered rentals and beach activities.

One morning we went on the outrigger canoe trip.  It’s a 30 minute tour with a guide.  (When you turn in your paddles to the rental hut, there is a chance to charge the guide’s tip to your sign-out slip.)  We went a short way down the shore, past some neighboring properties.  The guide pointed out some good snorkeling spots, talked about the other visible islands, and gave us a run down on what sea life we were likely to see at the current time of year.  We were lucky enough to see a sea turtle- something on my bucket list for the trip.  He was hanging out on the surface just ahead of us when the guide pointed him out.  He then swam down and surfaced between the outrigger and my spot on the canoe, 2 feet away from me!  He looked right at me and waved “hi” one time before diving down again.

We also took advantage of the snorkel gear and boogie board rental.  The apparently world class snorkeling, however, was ruined by murky waters caused by recent torrential rains.  Some people we talked to reported better luck snorkeling with a paid, off-shore excursion.  We considered one of those tours but never got around to it.

This doctored photo shows how crummy the water conditions were for snorkeling. We did see a lot of colorful fish, but we'll have to wait til next time for the whole experience!

This doctored photo shows how crummy the water conditions were for snorkeling. We did see a lot of colorful fish, but we’ll have to wait til next time for the whole experience!

Other Amenities

Another benefit included in the resort fee is complementary GoPro camera rentals, available at the concierge desk.  GoPros are available from 6:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night, and are first come, first served.  The camera came with a waterproof case, which was the main reason we wanted it.  The photos above of our snorkeling attempt were taken on the GoPro.  We also took it to nearby Makena Beach, more commonly known as “Big Beach.”  The surf was much bigger here than at the hotel, and we got some pretty cool pictures with the GoPro.
Makena "Big Beach" wave

The concierge gave us a map and some tips for our trip to watch the sunrise on Haleakala.  If you want to call it an amenity, we also used the [mandatory] valet parking.  Getting our car was usually pretty fast, under 5 minutes.  The only time it was a bit longer (10-15 minutes) was when we left around 4:30 PM for dinner one afternoon.  The valet drivers were courteous and always offered to put our convertible top up or down for us, depending on whether we were picking up or dropping off.  One thing to note is that calling ahead to say that we were coming for our car seemed to do absolutely nothing to reduce the wait time.  The valet fee is $25 per night and there is no self-parking option at the hotel.  This was the only expense not covered by the free night certificates!

There is a 24 hour convenience store connected to the lobby, but most prices are even higher than you would imagine.  Nicoleen went there to look for sunglasses after she lost hers and the selection was mostly Maui Jim brand, most with a $250+ price tag.  On someone else’s review I saw a photo of a $24 six pack of Bud Light cans in this store.

Neither of us used the fitness center or the spa, so I can’t comment on them.




Dining

After a quick glance at the menu prices on the Andaz Maui website before our trip, we realized we wouldn’t be doing a lot of on-site dining.  The breakfast is $50/person, cocktails are $17, and appetizers are in the $15-30 range.  Needless to say, a dinner for two would easily be over $125 . . . and that would be on the cheap end.

We never ate a sit-down meal at any of the on-site dining choices, but we did order a poolside snack one day.  Menus from Bumbye Beach Bar (located by the zero entry pool) were brought around daily to sun worshipers by the pool.  Nicoleen had her heart set on the waffle fries she had seen (and smelled) others eating.  And I ordered a Pimm’s Rangoon; that 10 second walk to the room to get a drink refresh was looking pretty arduous at the time 😉  The cocktail was good but unremarkable.  Same goes for the fries.  With tip the damage was $30.  We figured it was OK to splurge a tiny bit considering we were staying at one of Hawaii’s nicest resorts for nearly free!

Cost and Value

At the time of booking (over 9 months in advance) the published rate for the room we stayed in was $439 a night.  With the $40 resort fee, $25 valet fee, and all taxes that total ends up at $539.56 per night.  This trip was part of our Hawaiian get-away, a trip designed from the start to get extreme value out of a few strategically acquired new credit cards.  Nicoleen and I each got Chase Hyatt cards last fall.  Each card comes with a sign-up bonus of 2 free night certificates, good for the standard room type at any Hyatt property in the world.
hyatt approved 3
Between the 4 free night certificates we earned from these two cards, we got $2,158.24 in value!  All we had to pay was the nightly valet fee, which totaled $106.40.  I’d call that extreme value!

Free nights with Hyatt Gold Passport points are 25,000 per night*.  Hyatt Gold Passport points can be earned with paid stays at Hyatt properties, with regular spending on the Chase Hyatt card, or by transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio.

* Recently some Hyatt properties have been playing games with their reward night availability.  It may be difficult to find available reward stay (points or certificates) nights at the Andaz Maui.  The Park Hyatt on Maui is also reportedly extremely nice and has widespread calendar availability for reward stays.  See this Flyertalk post for more info.

Overall Thoughts and Tips for Your Stay

From the pictures posted here and elsewhere, I think you can see why everyone agrees the Andaz Maui at Wailea is an amazing property.  Some reviews I have read complained about unfriendly service by hotel staff.  We didn’t find this to be the case at all; in our experience everyone was friendly and courteous.  It seemed like they genuinely cared about guest experiences.  One night our air conditioning refused to stay on longer than 10 seconds.  It was 1:30 in the morning and a technician was there to fix it within 5 minutes of our complaint.  That episode was indicative of our general experience with the staff.

Other reviews I have read mention that the hotel is not kid friendly.  I didn’t see anything that would have been kid unfriendly.  However I do agree there is no particular draws for kids there.  A lot of the beauty of the property and the quality of the service and amenities would be lost on little kids.
andaz maui pools at ni
The Andaz Maui definitely markets to a certain demographic, and they cater to that demographic.  We estimated the average age of guests was 28 (with a low standard deviation).  Many were on their honeymoon.  Of the 50 or so people we interacted with, only 4 were from the country’s interior.  All the rest were from the East or West Coast.  Of course most of the population is from the coasts, but I think it may indicate Hyatt’s success in attracting young, affluent professionals to this hotel.

If you have an upcoming stay at the Andaz Maui, here are some random tips Nicoleen and I came up with, based on our stay:

  • Don’t miss the coffee!  The lobby coffee is available from 6:00 to 9:00 and then it’s gone.
  • Ask for a room with walk-out access.  The better view on higher floors isn’t worth the convenience of easy access to the pool area.
  • Get your GoPro rental early; the first time we tried to get one they were all out the whole day.  The same goes for any scheduled beach activity like the outrigger tour.  The outrigger tour takes reservations and the list is sometimes days out.
  • Don’t sweat the mandatory valet.  I wasn’t looking forward to the extra step every time we wanted to leave the property.  It seriously wasn’t a hassle at all.
  • If you want a microwave and/or mini-fridge, request it as soon as possible; they are subject to availability.  We called the morning of our check-in and the microwave was waiting in our room.
  • Plan on snorkeling as early in the day as possible.  When the surf rises later in the day, swimming around the shallow reefs can get dangerous.  We met one couple with bloody legs who were smashed against the rocks while snorkeling in the early afternoon right in front of the hotel.
  • Skip the $17 cocktails if you want.  You’re not missing much; at least not $17 worth!
  • Resorts on Maui seem to really roll up the streets at night.  If you’re looking for lively socialization at night, the hot tub on the 3rd tier pool deck is your best bet.

🙂 Thanks for reading my review! 🙂

grey-aloha

Hotel Review – BUILDING 7-73

In July I had the opportunity to stay at the esteemed BUILDING 7-73 at the Camp Ripley Cantonment. Fodor’s recently wrote about this hotel, “BUILDING 7-73 is hands down the 4th best facility in AREA 7.”  I heartily agree!  Of the 5 hotel facilities in AREA 7, BUILDING 7-73 is situated 4th most distant from the Education Center and Contract Dining Facility.  That puts it closer than BUILDING 7-74.  That shorter walking distance to local amenities was really convenient during my stay.

Camp Ripley Building 7-73

ROOM

BUILDING 7-73 features one type of room called “maid service room,” meaning there is room service.  To save on building materials and utilities, each pair of guest rooms have a shared bathroom between them.  My room contained a bed, desk, and sink.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find a small, corner-mounted color TV, a microwave, and a mini-fridge.

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Decorative bed cover was a nice touch. Ample clothing and equipment storage was provided in the armoire (visible far right).

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AMENITIES

Each room comes equipped with a 4 cup coffee maker.  Fresh GOVERNMENT COFFEE is provided daily.  At either end of the hallway in BUILDING 7-73 there is a large microwave with a built in pizza oven.  One picnic table is provided outside each hotel facility in AREA 7.

DINING

There are several nearby dining choices on and off base.  The closest and most convenient is the Education Center and Contract Dining Facility, located just south of the hotel, in AREA 6.

OVERALL

  • ​AMENITIES: ACCEPTABLE
  • FURNISHINGS: ACCEPTABLE
  • BED COMFORT: ACCEPTABLE
  • BATHROOM: ACCEPTABLE
  • GROUNDS & PUBLIC AREAS: ACCEPTABLE

Thank you for reading my review.

In all seriousness, this “hotel” suited my needs just fine.  I was there a few days for training at work.  My employer covered the cost, which I think was only around $20/night.  As much as I playfully mock the furnishing and amenities, these buildings are a huge upgrade from the tin shed bunkhouses that previous generation stayed in at Camp Ripley.  Interactions I had with military personnel while on base were generally positive; and I want to take this opportunity to thank all members of the United States Armed Forces for their service!