THE BLOG

Splurge Vs. Save: Maui

11/16/2012 07:43 am ET | Updated Jan 16, 2013

A natural beauty, the Island of Maui caters to a bevy of vacation budgets, at once calling wallet-conscious wayfarers and Louis Vuitton-toting jetsetters to its sandy shores. A true high-low destination with hotels, beaches, and restaurants for every stripe, we have assembled the best spots to save and splurge on the island of Maui.

Where to Stay

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Splurge: Beckoning a brood of international jetsetters, Wailea is Maui's chicest resort cluster. Manicured with the same attention to detail as a Hollywood celebrity, five-diamond hotels glisten on its cliffside and beachfront shores. At the Southern end, the Fairmont Kea Lani is as international as its guests, mixing white and blue Greek Isles-styling with tropical touches like bouganvilla billowing from every balcony. Stay in one of 413 rooms at the all-suite hotel or go for the ultimate splurge: a villa with private plunge pool. Suites from $499 per night, villas from $1750 per night.

Save: The Paia Inn is one of Maui's only true boutique hotels, straddling the town's main action and the bohemian beach. Opened four years ago with five rooms, the intimate and service-oriented escape has expanded to 15 rooms ranging from a petite, city-front standard to a three-bedroom beachfront villa frequented by Hollywood's elite. Rooms from $189 per night.

Insider Tip: If you really want to save, check out 4500+ vacation rentals (on Maui alone) via VRBO.com. Recently we scored a basic, one-bedroom rental (with kitchen) in Kihei one block from the beach for $75 a night.

Where to Eat

Splurge: Mix rustling palms, a secluded cove, flickering tiki torches, kitschy ocean finds, vintage Polynesian-print tablecloths, and the day's fresh catch, and you've got Mama's Fish House, a famous restaurant-slash-institution located just past Paia on the North Shore. Splurge-worthy entrees call out the fishermen by name, like the deep-water ahi caught ten miles offshore from Hana by Matt Smith with Hamakua mushroom sauce and Molokai sweet potato mash, only add to the ocean-to-table, candlelit atmosphere. A dinner for two with drinks, appetizers, entrees, and a dessert will set you back about $200.

Save: Just a 45-minute jaunt from Mama's Fish House, a toned down version of Wailea connects beachfront towers along a white ribbon of sand. At the center of Ka'anapali, stop by the Hula Grill, a beachy, barefoot gem (literally, the bar sits on sand). Settle in during Aloha Hour (Hawaiian happy hour), which runs from 3 pm - 5 pm daily. Save on drinks starting at $3 and munch on crab and macadamia nut wontons or beer-battered mahi-mahi and chips for a song. Live ukulele-strumming gents included. And when all else fails, book it to one of these fantastic farm tours to learn more about (and indulge in) pineapples, coffee, and lavendar.

What to Do

Splurge: What splurgy getaway would be complete without a spa day? A 20-minute walk (or one-minute shuttle) from the Fairmont takes you to the largest and most luxurious spa in the state; Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea. Plan ahead and spend the day losing track of time in the East-meets-West escape while dipping into the Japanese-inspired termé hydrotherapy circuit or lounging on the private lanai. When it's time for a treatment, go local with the Niu Coconut Muscle Relief massage using every part of the coconut to exfoliate and massage the skin into buttery bliss ($225), or go all-in with the 20-Hand Duo Massage using 10 therapists and 100 fingers to perform the "hula wave" on you and your beau ($2000). Ahh-loha!

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Save: Rent a car and the island is your oyster. Maui's diverse terrain allows for free, island-wide exploration, starting with every beach on the island. Armed with snorkel gear, float over Maui's coves and reefs, again and again, for free. Some of our favorite spots to ogle sea life include Honolua Bay, Ahihi Bay, and Turtle Town in front the Makena Resort. If you need a little more direction, there are all sorts of classes to sign up for on the island of Maui. Think of it as your vacation's lesson plan, with options like swimming with turtles, ukelele, hula 101, and Hawaiian cooking classes.

Getting Around

If you're only going for three or four days and your main priority is umbrella drinks by the pool, don't bother renting a car, especially if you're staying in a resort area like Wailea and Ka'anapali where you can walk to restaurants, beaches, and snorkel spots (or easily hail your resort shuttle).

However, if you're visiting for five days or longer, renting a car is the best way to dip your toes into secret surf and snorkel spots from the North to the South Shores.

Splurge: Maui mavens (usually honeymooners) favor Jeeps, top down of course. Based on a week rental, you can score a Wrangler for as little as $400 in low season. In high season, the splurgy price skyrockets to $1300.

Save: If you're not picky about the size or make of your vehicle, try an opaque booking service like Priceline or Hotwire. Using both of these booking sites, we secured a week-long "compact car" rental for as little as $10 per day.

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-- Trish Friesen

Photo credits: Fairmont Kea Lani courtesy of Fairmont Hotels; Honolua Bay courtesy of Trish Friesen