kapalua spa: did someone say ahhhhhhh?

“Poor you.” That’s the response I received from most of my friends and co-workers when I announced I’d drawn an assignment to experience Kapalua Spa. But what they didn’t know is that I was a total spa novice.

Sure, I’ve had plenty of massages, manicures, and pedicures in my lifetime, but never had I experienced the ultimate luxury indulgence of spending an afternoon at a spa. So I invited the perfect person to accompany me: My gal pal Janet, who is a genuine spa aficionado. She would show me the ropes!

Kapalua Spa is located at the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences on Bay Drive, overlooking sublime Kapalua Bay. Janet and I arrive at 1pm, an hour ahead of our spa treatments (we don’t know what they are yet, but eagerly anticipate them!), as suggested by Cecilia Hercik, regional director of spa operations. We’re enveloped in serenity the minute we enter the lobby, and are completely taken by the spectacular view: palm trees, sparkling azure sea, bobbing sailboats, and the neighboring island of Moloka‘i.

Lead Aesthetician Mila Williams-Smith greets us and helps us fill out our spa paperwork. We find out we have massages in store for us—Deep Tissue for Janet (50 minutes—$150) and Lomi Lomi for me (50 minutes—$140). Mila introduces us to spa attendant Michelle who gives us a tour of the facility. “When you book your treatment, you can come as early as you like, and stay as long as you want,” she says. Inside the elegant and well-appointed women’s locker room soothing island-style music plays in the background, and there are stunning photographs of Hawai‘i on prominent display.

Outside the locker room is a women’s only relaxation area consisting of a hot tub with stone wall backdrop, bamboo rain shower, and a sauna room, as well as a eucalyptus steam room, in which Michelle highly recommends spending no more than three to five minutes. She shows us a vessel containing sea salt from the Big Island that’s been infused with bamboo to improve circulation. “Take a scoop of salt in your hand before you go into the steam room, then rub it into your skin while you’re in there,” she suggests.

We pass through a door out to a sizeable sunning deck where there’s a whirlpool (more on that later), saline lap pool, and lounge chairs placed both in full sun and under shady palapas. There’s a station with sunscreen, ice water, magazines, and towels. Michelle points out the juice bar menu which has a nice selection of salads and sandwiches. “Everything is made in house, and pool deck orders are placed every half hour,” she says. A conspicuously gigantic clock ensures we won’t be late for our treatments.

Left to our own devices, Janet and I change into our swimsuits and put on our rubber spa slippers and super-plush robes that are a pleasant paper-bag color rather than institutional white. Let the games begin! Janet is amused by my fascination with a swimsuit water extractor—I can hardly wait to see how it works.

Janet heads directly for the eucalyptus steam room; I’m game for anything, so I follow her in after we both get a scoop of sea salt. Janet climbs to the uppermost bench and suggests, since I’m a newbie, I stay low. While she assumes a fully supine pose and blissfully breathes in the intense vapor, I quickly decide this is not for me. See ya later, Janet!

Outside I try out the hot tub and rain shower before heading out to the sunning deck, where the whirlpool beckons. Once inside, I find my Shangri-La. Ahhhhhhhh. See…I knew someone said that, and it was me! I could absolutely have stayed in there forever, but it’s two o-clock and time for my massage.

I make my way downstairs to the treatment waiting area where I’m met by massage therapist Rosy. She takes me to my own personal open-air hale (there are ten total). Rosy tells me spa designer Sylvia Sepielli had a massage in every hale to make sure the ambiance in each was flawless.

My massage with Rosy is a little slice of heaven. Prior to beginning, she offers me a glass of fresh pineapple juice, and I participate in a traditional Hawaiian ‘awa drinking ceremony: kava is served in a coconut shell, followed by the clapping of hands. Kapalua Spa embraces ancient rituals such as this one, and incorporates several into their treatments.

Lomi Lomi is a healing art form from old Hawai`i that utilizes long forearm strokes, stretches, and kneading. “The beauty of Lomi Lomi is it’s so adaptable,” says Rosy. “You can make it light or deep, depending on the client.” Rosy says most people mistakenly schedule their spa day towards the end of their vacation. “I’ve heard so many people say ‘I wish I’d known about this sooner,’” she says. “Personally, I think everyone should do it first thing after arriving on Maui. It’s so relaxing for the human spirit, and puts people in tune with Maui’s energy.”

Back upstairs I meet up with Janet who’s had a massage with Colleen. She says that for the deep tissue massage Colleen began the treatment with a hot pack on the spine, then the sacrum, and used full hand contact, rather than just fingers, for a more penetrating therapy. “I feel like an udon noodle,” Janet says. “I just want to sit and gaze at the ocean and mentally drift.” Indeed, we both sit for awhile sipping water and taking in the amazing mélange of textures imbued within the spa’s overall architecture: bamboo, stacked stone, and rich woods.

While Janet spends the remainder of our spa journey relaxing on a chaise lounge reading a magazine, I alternate between the whirlpool and saline pool. There’s plenty to look at: the deck is nestled among lush gardens, palm trees sway in the breeze, and there are numerous Cook pines acting as sentinels—a signature of Kapalua Resort.

Alas, all good things must eventually come to an end. We run our swimsuits through the water extractor (really cool!) and shower. Kapalua Spa has everything imaginable, so you needn’t worry about bringing toiletries. Combs and brushes, hair products, razors, deodorant, and even mouthwash, toothpaste, and toothbrushes are all provided.

Michelle is back to show us the remainder of the spa: yoga studio overlooking Kapalua Bay, full-service beauty salon, indoor spa suites with separate men’s and women’s relaxation rooms, couples treatment rooms, and a fitness facility with state-of-the-art Technogym kinesis circuit equipment. The spa offers more than 20 fitness classes per week, including boot camp, yoga, Pilates, and Zumba. Private personal training, yoga, and Pilates sessions are available at $80 for 60 minutes.

Kapalua Spa offers monthly specials, as well as packages such as the Ultimate Wedding Day Experience ($760), Girlfriends’ Getaway ($375), and the Tropical Hale package for couples ($280). All include unlimited use of the facilities, and some have complimentary upgrades available.

After browsing the spa’s retail boutique, Janet and I depart for our evening’s activity feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I feel especially pleased that I’m no longer a spa novice. Next time, I can show a spa newbie the ropes. Janet enjoyed Kapalua Spa so much she’s already been back three times!

–heidi pool

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