Grand Wailea on MauiFree-diving about 50 yards off Maui's southern coast, I decided the leash tethering my left foot to an 11-foot standup surfboard was more than long enough for a closer look at the reef.

I'd strapped on a borrowed snorkel mask just moments earlier and slipped over the side of my rented standup to explore a vibrant gathering of corals fronting the black lava rock formation at the northern end of Wailea Beach.

Diving deeper now for a better look at the fragile complexity below me, I swam up close to a sheer reef wall that housed a range of Technicolor sea life while the lazy shadow of my distant board kept watch above.

The typically calm morning ocean in front of the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, makes it an excellent location to combine two usually separate activities: standup paddleboarding and snorkeling.

A hot spot for Hawaiian green sea turtle sightings, the destination offers standup paddlers two different coral reef targets, each just a few minutes from the sandy beach, and those looking to do some more intimate marine ecosystem study need only bring a mask or goggles along with them to get a wonderful look at the underwater attractions and sea creatures waiting just off shore.

A kingdom for kids

It's certainly no secret that the Grand Wailea, home to 780 guestrooms and 52 suites, is an uncommonly popular place for families, but during a recent stay I was still surprised by just how many kid-friendly amenities the 40-acre property offers.

Home to a sprawling collection of activity pools, loaded with several twisting water slides, winding lazy rivers, an over-water rope swing and a highly popular water volleyball venue, the resort also sits right in front of one of Hawaii's most gorgeous and user-friendly stretches of sand.

Grand Wailea adult pool"The beach is just fantastic," said Tom Donovan, managing director at the Grand Wailea. "And it's really for all ages, because you can have little kids in the water on most days because the surf is typically pretty calm in this area."

The resort also provides parents a range of supervised activities for kids of different ages, including a Camp Grande product for younger children and a lounge for teens that's open until 10 p.m., featuring foosball; pool; pingpong; Xbox 360, PlayStation and Wii video games; a snack bar; and even karaoke.

"They also have great suites that are really quite large," said Joelle Arriola, Classic Vacations' product development director for Hawaii. "We sell those quite a bit when we have families of four looking for something luxurious but also spacious, so they can have privacy away from the kids when they need it."

New rooms

Work on a $30 million guestroom renovation at the Grand Wailea is scheduled to begin this month, an improvement that Donovan said is probably the most significant room redo since the property opened in 1991.

"We should get most of the property done before Dec. 20," he said of the room upgrades. "And then we'll stop for the holiday season and get the rest of [the non-suite rooms] in the first quarter."

Work on a suite renovation is scheduled to begin next fall, according to Donovan, while an ongoing, staged deck refurbishment at the property's activity pools should be finished in October. The Grand Wailea's adult pool underwent an overhaul that wrapped up earlier this spring.

"The big deal is putting the grand back in the Grand," Donovan said. "I don't think it's really a departure. It's a reinforcement of what the Grand represents, and it will be good to get a nice product in the guestrooms. Our customers have been telling us for a while to do that."

Planned enhancements include new furniture; 55-inch HD TVs; a bathroom tile, lighting and flooring overhaul; new carpeting and artwork; contemporary power stations; and tile work in the entryways.

"The renovations are greatly needed," said Susan Tanzman, president of Los Angeles-based Martin's Travel and Tours, who stayed recently at the Grand Wailea with her son. "I think if they're going to be competitive with the new hotels and the rest of what Wailea has now become, they really need to make some improvements to bring it up to a Waldorf level."



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