The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is nestled within the stunning 22,000-acre Kapalua Resort on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Everywhere you go in Kapalua there are nods to the past, honoring and paying respects to this particular area of the island. The hotel itself is set on historic land, and a sacred burial ground was respectfully incorporated at the base of the hotel’s acreage. Subtle pineapple decor is dotted throughout the hotel. Most visitors probably don’t notice it, and if they did, they’d probably think it was just a standard Hawaiian visual touch.
But I know differently. My uncle was a plantation manager for the Maui Pineapple Company in the 60s and 70s. Back then, employees and their families who worked on the plantation were housed on the land above DT Fleming beach, where the hotel currently sits. Even though this was my first time staying at the Ritz-Carlton, and I truly felt privileged to be able to experience this luxury resort, I still felt in a way that I had come home.
The 17,500 square-foot hotel spa has been completely re-designed as part of the $180 million renovation of the renowned resort. Waihua – which means “fresh water” in Hawaiian – provides the spa’s defining theme. Native Taro plants, used by native Hawaiians to collect rainwater, fill the spa’s exterior spaces. Most of the spa is inside the hotel, with only minimal facilities outside, which is kind of a bummer when you’re in Hawaii.
To get to the spa, you have to start on the lobby level of the hotel and then take two flights of stairs downwards. I didn’t see any other way of getting down there (no signage at all) so it doesn’t appear to be wheelchair-accessible or easily accessible for those with limited mobility.
Inside the Waihua spa, free-flowing curved walls, a water-wall and cave-like wet lounges filled with ferns surround spa-goers with the sight and sound of water. The wet lounge — comprised of the whirlpool hot tub, sauna, steam room and a couple of chaise longues — does indeed look like a cave, with stone walls and flooring. The sauna was large but not nearly hot enough, and there was no way to make it any hotter. The steam room was large and steamy, and the eucalyptus was pretty potent — probably the strongest eucalyptus steam I’ve ever inhaled.
There are lovely quiet relaxation rooms on both the men’s and women’s sides of the spa, and although an attendant told me I could wait in there to be called for my treatment, it seems the therapist expected me to wait in the co-ed lounge and was a bit confused as to where I was when he came looking for me.
Outdoors, there is a co-ed hot tub surrounded by a few chaises, showers and several private couples’ treatment “hales” which are essentially deluxe huts with louvered shutters to let in ocean breezes. I was glad to see signs both outdoors and indoors that asked spa-goers to refrain from loud conversation, but on the day I visited it was hardly necessary as it was during the low season and the spa was practically empty.
Other areas of the spa include a full hair and nail salon, which offers services to kids and teens. Kids can get manis and pedis, but aren’t allowed inside the spa. Teens are able to get manis, pedis and facials and are otherwise restricted from using the spa. There’s also a fitness center, but it’s technically not part of the spa and is on another floor entirely.
While the massive outdoor pools are not part of the spa, you can get poolside treatments like a chair massage or a hair masque and scalp treatment.
The Ritz-Carlton spa claims to offer “ a variety of treatments and therapies based on native Hawaiian healing traditions and the potent plants, flowers, fruits and herbs abundant in Hawaii.” At first glance, it seems like there are a ton of choices but when you look more closely, there are are only a handful of treatments within each category and the potent plants, flowers, fruits and herbs are essentially pineapple, papaya, coconut and lavender.
I got an 80-minute Lomilomi with an “add-on” of the Moroccan Oil Scalp treatment, because I’m still on a quest to find the best head/scalp massage. Although this was an “enhancement” as listed in their menu, the representative told me that it didn’t actually add on any time to the treatment. Instead, it’s incorporated into your 80-minutes as an area of focus.
That was the only thing I disliked about the treatment process, and I am definitely not impressed when spas do this. Note to spas: if we are paying additionally for an add-on or enhancement, please give us that additional time, not subtract it from the original treatment.
Traditional Lomilomi practitioners use the palms, forearms, fingers, knuckles, elbows, knees, feet, even sticks and stones. It may be performed with or without oil or lotion. Lomilomi practices varied by family, traditional region and island. Traditional Lomilomi always includes work with the gastrointestinal area since the word for colon in Hawaiian is “Na’au”, which also means a person’s soul or heart. Hawaiian Lomilomi also covers cultural and philosophical practices such as essence of Hawaiian culture, conflict resolution, physical and emotional cleansing.
Authentic traditional Hawaiian Lomilomi is conducted with prayer and intention and requires years of study and practice. As this is an ancient Hawaiian practice, elders refuse to be regulated by the state or tested under Western medical standards, and as such, will not usually practice in modern spas.
So what I received at the Ritz-Carlton’s spa was a light version of Lomilomi, with some Swedish techniques thrown in and a choice between two tropical aromatherapy lotions. It does say “based on the Hawaiian tradition” not “an authentic” practice. When I booked my appointment I asked for the best therapist available, regardless of gender. I’m pretty sure I got him. Although he looked young (he was Asian/Pacific Islander so it was hard to tell) he was extremely capable and intuitive, and overall provided service befitting of the Ritz-Carlton brand.
Even though it was a Lomi-lite, and the scalp treatment was integrated at the end, it was some of the best massage massage therapy I’ve received on the island, and is in my Top 5 for best treatments ever received. The only other massage that comes close to this one was the Island Rescue treatment I had at the Spa Montage Kapaula Bay (practically next door to the Ritz-Carlton) but Montage’s was better in every way overall.
The massage and scalp treatments were therapeutic, so the pressure was firm and often intense, but I still managed to almost fall asleep and get so relaxed that I came out of there in a daze with my brain firmly switched off.
Service at the Waihua Spa is pretty much what you would expect from a hotel spa brand in this class: everyone from front desk through to the spa attendants have been thoroughly trained to serve the wealthy and entitled who have come to Maui to get away from their everyday lives and spend money. Service is gracious and efficient, and the staff apologizes for everything even when no apology is necessary. When it’s not as quick as it could be (usually due to entitled demands or requests), they are doubly-apologetic and usually try to make it right by throwing in a small freebie or discount.
I enjoyed my interactions with everyone working at the spa. They were all friendly and were more relaxed than usual since it was during the low season and they weren’t extremely busy. During low season, locals in the service industry are generally more relaxed and friendly and will take the time to chit-chat if they like you.
While the spa at the Ritz-Carlton doesn’t have the most extensive or interesting spa menu on the island, or even authentic Lomilomi (but I don’t think any spa does, to be fair), it is a great choice for post-flight therapeutic treatments in a lovely setting with all the necessary amenities to help you rest, relax and recuperate.
- Indoor whirlpool inside the stone “wet lounge”
- Outdoor co-ed whirlpool and lounge
- sauna and eucalyptus steam room
- private couples’ outdoor treatment rooms
- outdoor showers
- poolside treatments
$$$$ = Pricey
The Waihua Spa is located inside the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Hotel in Maui, Hawaii.
1 Ritz-Carlton Drive
Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
HOURS OF OPERATION
The spa is open from 8:30am to 6pm daily.
Spa services are available from 9am to 5pm daily.
The salon is open from 9am to 5pm.
HOW TO BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
I called the spa directly to book my appointment at +1 (808) 665-7079. You can also book online.