This Isn't Your Grandfather's Royal Lahaina Resort...$330 Million Later It May Be

This Isn't Your Grandfather's Royal Lahaina Resort...$330 Million Later It May Be

I feel like I've looked behind the mirror, and walked through to the other side. Directly behind the gracefully poised Sheraton Kaanapali is Black Rock--a peninsula that juts out to what most who visit here assume is the end of Kaanapali Beach.

As I look out from my villa's hot tub at the Royal Lahaina Resort, passed the waterfall, tiki torch and gate to "our beach" (as it came to be called for the duration of our stay), I can see Black Rock from the other side, facing south. I can feel the tourists lining up at 5:30 p.m., jockeying for the best spot to watch the torch lighter dash up the mound of lava rock where he'll ignite the final tiki before diving in to the sea below. It's photo-op central. It's fun. It's also Maui 101.

Truth be told, I had no idea the Royal Lahaina Resort existed. I thought that somewhere beyond Whaler's Village and the fantastically family-oriented hotels of Kaanapali, was a stretch of timeshares that I would never visit. After all, they are the product of those annoying salesmen who ask all-to-inquisitively, "Care to go for a free helicopter ride"" when you stroll down Front Street.

Yet there is something else over here. Something...wonderful.

The 519-room Royal Lahaina Resort site on 27 acres of beachfront property--by far the longest of any single resort in Kaanapali. It's rather kitchy; but not in that "It's also dusty" kind of way. It's more of a "Now this is living" time capsule sort of experience. Dark wooded villas look more like cabins from "Dirty Dancing" on the outside, yet reveal tasteful and functional furniture inside.

A retail corridor is well hidden between a Trader Vic's--style lounge (called Don the Beachcomber) and the lobby. It's not flaunted as a spot where guests should go to purchase over-priced wears, but it softly mutters "I'm here if you need me." The pools are comfortable and safe in their design, yet temp guest with the serene Pacific water that laps on Maui sugar-colored sand just a few feet away.

As I watch the sunset underneath a low-slung palm frond that is waving in the wind, separating where the beach ends and the manicured grass of our villa's backyard begins, I hear a rustle around the corner of the lanai. An attendant is setting up a table and rattan chairs for my girlfriend and I to enjoy a quiet, oceanfront dinner. I think to myself--much as I did 6 years ago, seated on the other side of Black Rock watching the sunset--does it get any better than this?

Once again, the answer is yes. Only this time it came from the mouth of the Royal Lahaina Resort's managing director, Tom Bell.

When Bell tells me that the resort is about to undergo a complete renovation, he isn't exaggerating. In some nearby bank vault, $330 million is set aside for the hotel to use over the course of the next 5 years.

In short, a floor-by-floor tear down of the 12 floor main tower will leave 330 luxury rooms, where 319 and a lobby now sit. The rooms will be unrecognizable, as proven when I walked through the "you-could-be-anywhere in Polynesia" hallway in to a pair of model rooms--where Bell has been spending a lot of his time, working with WCIT Architects (of Honolulu) and the hotel owners.

This moderate, 2 to 3-star hotel is planning to mature in to a 4 of 5-star resort, says Bell, presenting the news to me like a filet mignon served on a silver platter.

The existing cottages will be completely torn down and turned in to 125 villas. Each will be 2800 to 4000 sq. ft., with seven villas per building unit. They will sell (fee simple) for $1.5 million and up. They will be "unmistakably Maui," said Bell. Lava rock, rich woods, sweeping lanai's, and Plantation design aspects will be incorporated in the villa's decor, which will be completely overseen by WCIT.

"It won't be easy. But what a lot of people don't know is that decades ago, this property was the most high-end luxury place to stay on this side of the island. We are looking to bring it back to that clientele," said Bell.

Bell will take things one step at a time, beginning with the tower renovations, and touching nothing else until it's completed. When I ask him for a timeline, his answer was simple.

"We're currently looking in to what should be a part of Phase 2," said Bell, all too calmly. "But we're not rushing things." He adds that the North Course of the Kaanapali Golf Course--currently a beige swath of rolling fairway--will be completed the same month as the Royal's 330-room tower.

"A nice coincidence, isn't it?" Bell says, rather assuredly.