An Open Letter to the Mauna Lani
Dear Mauna Lani,
We love you. Really, we do. My wife used to visit the hotel every year with her family. Then we got married here ten years ago, and we’ve come back at least once a year since then. Some years we come twice. We know the staff. Edwin is like family. We got hugged by virtually all of the restaurant staff when we went to the Bay Terrace for the first time this week.
But (and here’s the tough love part) you’re not family-friendly anymore. Not even a little bit. Which is funny because a LOT of your guests have children. We’ve made requests over the years to different managers that were never acted on. I know other guests have as well, because we talk to them by the pool. So in the interest of continuing our love affair with you and maybe, just maybe, improving the relationship, here are eleven suggestions. Most cost a little money. Some cost a little more. But when we go on vacation, if the kids aren’t happy, we aren’t happy. It’s time for you to invest a little bit in the kids staying at your hotel.
Suggestion 1: New toys at the pool and beach. Have you ever bought beach toys? The kids love the play area by the beach cabanas. But all of the toys seem to be from guests who have left them behind, and many are cracking, creating a potential hazard. Could you run to Costco or the ABC Store and pick up some fun new sand toys? And the noodles at the pool are practically disintegrating. We were excited to see a basketball hoop on the side of the pool when we arrived, and the kids played with it for over an hour…up until the owner came to retrieve it.
Suggestion 2: Bring back the toy wagon. At check-in for many years the Mauna Lani would let kids pick out a toy. They were always stuffed dolphins or beach balls or other appropriate thematic toys, and the kids loved it.
Suggestion 3: Bring back the in-room sand pails and snacks. Every year for maybe four years, when we arrived there would be a Mauna Lani pail in the room for each kid filled with snacks. We have them at home in all the baths. We take them to the beach in California. The kids always had fun getting the pails and snacks. But then they disappeared.
Suggestion 4: Bring back anything at check-in. For a couple of years after we got married there would be a note and a bottle of Champagne waiting in the room for us. Then it changed to a note and a fruit plate. Then we had kids and it was a note, the sand pails/snacks, and a fruit plate. The kids always ate the fruit immediately – a perfect snack coming off a 5-hour flight. This time, for the first time, there was…nothing. Not a note. Not a fruit plate. Not anything for the kids. And we had even let you know that we were coming back for our ten-year anniversary.
Suggestion 5: Implement a Mauna Lani family rate – a real family rate. For years you had an Ohana rate, whereby a second room would be half off – a nice idea, since in our case having one extra kid doubles our room costs. The problem was that the Ohana rate never made sense, since it was based on your most expensive rack rates and didn’t apply to any specials. Every year we would be told that the Ohana rate would work out to, for example, $500 + $250 = $750 for two rooms, where a special rate including breakfast would be $320 + $320 = $640 for two rooms. Could you bring back the Ohana rate, but make it an actual deal? It doesn’t have to be 50%. Maybe let someone book any package and then give them the second room for 20% less than that. Would make it a much better feeling to book every year, given that we’re always going to need that second room.
Suggestion 6: Open up the gym earlier. It’s nice for one of us to work out early, especially slightly jet-lagged, before the kids are awake and wanting to head to breakfast. A 5:30 opening time worked perfectly, and my wife especially always took advantage of it. The new 6:00 time doesn’t work as well. And on the workout theme, could you reduce the minimum amount of rental time for the stand-up paddle boards and kayaks? It’s fun for young kids to try something new, but they usually don’t want to do it for an hour. A half-hour option would be welcome.
Suggestion 7: A kids’ club open to kids anytime without paying $80/day. We’re not interested in using a kids’ club for an entire day. But during the hottest part of the day, it’s great to be able to duck in and let the kids do crafts for half an hour. At least that’s what we’ve done often at other hotels. It’s unfortunately never been an option at the Mauna Lani.
Suggestion 8: A playground. There’s a great grassy area on the way to the condos, past the Bay Terrace, that’s perfect for a playground. Again, it would be a place for kids to go after spending a morning at the pool and beach, to get out of the sun for a little while. It’s largely a one-time expense that would quickly become a kids’ hub. Put in a few milo trees and additional coconut palms for natural shade and you’re set. This would especially come in handy this week when it’s so windy that no one wants to be at the beach, getting sand-blasted.
Suggestion 9: Put in a little more shade at the pool. Do you ever notice in the afternoons that the chairs under the umbrellas or shaded by palms are all occupied? This continues the theme above: please give us more options to get out of the sun with the kids, short of heading up to the room early. We didn’t come to Hawaii to sit in the room.
Suggestion 10: Bring back the kids’ activities. We’re happy that you still do the fish-feeding, but we loved the s’more fire pit in the evenings, and we were looking forward to the scavenger hunts when the kids got a little older. Then those both disappeared.
Suggestion 11: Bring back the nightly torch lighting. Continuing on the theme in suggestion 10, we’ve noticed a lot of things disappear over the years. Some things aren’t a big deal – we never used the shoe horns or the in-room ice anyway, and we didn’t need evening turn-down every night. Some we definitely miss: the free morning coffee; the Honu Bar sushi, drinks and pupus when watching the hula/music in the evenings; the Ocean Bar restaurant; free parking; free internet; all of the kid things previously mentioned. But one of the kids’ favorite things is to run along with the torch lighter every night at 6:00 as he goes around the hotel. We took it for granted that that was one tradition that wouldn’t disappear…until this time. According to the weekly schedule, he’s now down to four nights a week. No! Bring him back every night. Please!
So that’s it – a lot of little things and a big thing (a playground) that would make us fall in love with you all over again and make the kids (and us) truly excited to return to the Mauna Lani every year. Now is a great time to reverse your cutback trend, and do it by starting with the kids. Remember, they’re the ones who are going to be excited to return with their own kids someday – if you make it fun for them again.
Eric Stoen (Travel Babbo)
The Mauna Lani has now been purchased by Auberge Resorts Collection and renovated. We have not been back yet and the hotel has not let me know whether they implemented any of the above or whether they’re not really interested in families. Looking at their website I don’t see any mention of a Family Rate. Prices overall have gone way up.
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Kisha Kamlesh Kataria says
It seems like the resort was running out of money, so they sold to cut their losses while still keeping the lights on.
Eric Stoen says
Others have told me that the company that purchased the Mauna Lani years ago only did it for the land around the hotel that they could develop. They built and sold their houses and took revenue from the hotel and never put anything back in. Unfortunately I don’t know that the current iteration is better. The Big Island didn’t need another Four Seasons. It needs upscale family-friendly hotels with soul that honor tradition. Auberge’s room rates and the photos I’ve seen make me worried that the Mauna Lani that so many people loved is gone for good.