A last resort: Reviewing Maui’s brand-new AC Hotel by Marriott Wailea
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I love that new hotel smell. Factory-fresh furniture, flawless finishes, a mattress that only dozens of other people have slept on. There are certainly advantages to staying at a brand-new property, but, as quickly became evident on my recent trip to Maui, a handful of downsides, too.
After an excellent stay at Hyatt’s Hana-Maui Resort, I drove across the island to check out the AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea, the very first entry on TPG’s list of the most anticipated hotel openings of 2021.
As it turns out, just because a hotel is “most anticipated” doesn’t mean you should actually stay there. While it’d be just fine for an overnight airport stay, the AC Hotel ended up being the antithesis of what I expect from an expensive Hawaiian beach resort.
The first thing you’ll probably notice are the obnoxiously high cash rates. Rates under $600 might be available on some dates, but many guests end up paying nearly $1,000 per night. That’s what I’d expect to pay for a peak-season stay at the famed Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris, not a cookie-cutter hotel blocks from the beach.
AAA and other special categories won’t save you much, either — if you’re planning a peak-period visit, prepare to pay up, or redeem points for your stay.
The AC Hotel is a Category 6 property, with award rates priced at 40,000, 50,000 or 60,000 points, depending on the night. You’ll always get the fifth night free on redemptions, making a five-night stay an especially appealing redemption.
Note that Marriott does add capacity controls — even if a base room is available with cash, you might not be able to reserve it with points, so be sure to book your stay as far in advance as you can.
On this trip, I ended up in something the hotel calls a “suite.” As a Bonvoy Titanium member, I opted to receive 10 Suite Night Awards as my Choice Benefit — I applied five to cover our five-night stay, and got an email to confirm that our request had cleared a few days before arrival.
I was thrilled to have scored a suite during peak season in Maui — until I opened the door. A “suite” at the AC is effectively a regular room with a better view, much of which is still obstructed by the wraparound parking lot. It felt a bit disingenuous for the hotel to call this a suite — marketing it as a “corner room” would have been more appropriate.
Marriott’s latest Hawaiian hotel is located in the Maui hotel zone of Wailea. The area was largely designed to cater to tourists, with a mix of luxury resorts, high-end restaurants, golf courses and shopping malls.
Unfortunately for the AC Hotel, Wailea’s oceanfront area is already occupied by resorts ranging from Hyatt’s Andaz Maui at the north end to the Four Seasons in the south. The AC’s position is far less ideal.
Guests hoping to spend some time on the beach will first have to navigate the large wraparound parking lot, followed by a golf course, then a shopping mall, another parking lot and finally a walk through one of the beachfront resorts. You can see the ocean, but it’ll take some effort to actually get there.
Wailea as a whole is well positioned, a roughly 30-minute drive from Kahului Airport (OGG). There are beaches nearby, and much of the island of Maui is accessible with a daytrip.
If you’re hoping for a prime oceanfront location, however, you won’t find it at the AC. Bonvoy members looking to redeem their points for a stay in this part of the island will be better served by the Wailea Beach Resort instead.
Check-in and lobby
Despite being open for several months, the AC Hotel still displays design renderings on its website, so I was eager to get a look the finished product.
On that note, plenty of other details are missing from the hotel’s website as well, including restaurant information and menus — aside from a note that the casual AC Wailea Restaurant offers “European inspired food and curated beverage offerings,” and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The front desk was quiet when we arrived, but that wasn’t always the case. This hotel seems to be a designated lodging option for airline crews, and several large groups of flight attendants were gathered around the front desk at various points during our stay.
As my girlfriend and I approached the desk to check in, we were immediately asked to log in to the Hawaii Safe Travels website to confirm that we were approved for a quarantine-free stay. From there, the agent noted that we were booked in a suite, and offered a Bonvoy Titanium welcome gift of 500 points or a $10 food and beverage credit per person per day.
This was my first AC Hotels stay in the U.S., so I requested complimentary breakfast, which Marriott offers with many of its higher-end brands. A second front desk agent firmly explained that the hotel doesn’t offer breakfast for elite members, but that the Residence Inn up the road provides breakfast to all guests, and that he’d happily refund my booking if I’d prefer to move there. “There’s a brand for everyone,” he said.
We were very surprised by his aggressive tone, and the implication that we were unworthy of a stay at the AC. In response to his condescending comment, I asked who the AC Hotel is for. The response: business travelers on a one-night stay who spend most of their time outside the hotel.
It seems Marriott’s made a peculiar choice in dropping one here.
After that unnecessarily obnoxious “welcome,” we ventured down a long, generic hallway to our suite. I quickly realized that Room 246 was located on a lower floor, and wouldn’t have much of a view, so I went back to the front desk to ask if we could be assigned to 346 instead. “It’s the least we can do,” the agent responded — with more than a hint of sarcasm.
While you’d never be able to tell at first glance, 346 ended up being the hotel’s very best suite. On peak dates, this is what you get for $1,344 — and that’s the exclusive Bonvoy member rate.
From the far corner and with a wide-angle lens, the room does look spacious, but it hardly fits the globally recognized definition of a suite.
There’s a decently large bathroom, but if you’re thinking you might get a Jacuzzi or even just a bathtub with your nearly $1,400 booking, you’ll want to adjust your expectations.
The bathroom had a single sink, and a shower off to the side. They were separated by a partial glass wall — the kind that doesn’t do a very good job of keeping all of the water inside.
All of the toiletries — shampoo, conditioner and shower gel — were offered in refillable bottles attached to the wall.
On the surface, the suite seemed clean and fresh, as you’d expect for a brand-new hotel. That wasn’t the case once I took a closer look, though. For example, there was soap scum in the bathroom that looked like it may have accumulated over several stays.
I was surprised to see that there weren’t any closets or a minibar, considering this is a very expensive Category 6 hotel.
From what I can tell, at this AC, the wet bar area near the bathroom is more or less the defining characteristic of a suite.
In fact, it’s the item the AC chose to represent the category on the hotel’s website — suites measure 350 square feet, compared with 310 for regular rooms, with the wet bar and extra space between the bed and TV likely accounting for much of the difference.
Like the bathroom, the wet bar area didn’t seem to be thoroughly cleaned before our arrival, with the backsplash appearing especially dirty.
I let the front desk know about the condition of the room right away, and they offered to send up a housekeeper. I said we would just clean it ourselves, and the same agent who checked us in said he’d “make a note.” I mentioned it again via the Bonvoy app chat tool after checkout, and the hotel ended up refunding the $20 parking charge as compensation.
Below the sink was a small fridge with just two small bottles of water. Fortunately, we found a filtered water dispenser near the gym, which we used to refill the bottles during our stay. You can drink the water from the tap as well.
There were four coffee pods and tea bags when we arrived. We never saw any housekeepers, and had a “do not disturb” sign up on the door, but the staff ended up being especially responsive via the Marriott Bonvoy app’s messaging tool, so I imagine it wouldn’t have been too difficult to get some refills.
All of the rooms and suites have balconies or terraces, which is great. In my opinion, the only thing that made this suite special was the position of the balcony, which made for better views.
The view itself was a bit of an “Instagram vs. reality” situation. With a fancy camera and a long zoom lens, you could probably capture some pretty spectacular sunset shots. With the naked eye, however, most of our field of vision was filled up by the hotel’s large parking lot — even the best suite doesn’t have a clear view.
I snapped an exterior shot to give you a better sense of the layout — on the left side, our suite, 346, is on top. Below that is 246, and then 146 on the ground floor. We had a partial view of the ocean from the top floor, but I wouldn’t expect to see much of anything from below.
If you do end up booking this corner suite, you’ll want to be certain that you’re getting 346, and not one on a lower floor. Be sure to call the hotel far in advance (and note the agent’s name) to confirm.
I was very pleased to see a Peloton bike in the gym, which was spacious and well equipped with plenty of weights and cardio equipment.
Aside from that, the main hotel amenity is the pool, which occupies much of the outdoor space.
Unfortunately, finding a place to sit is quite the challenge. As is the case at many hotels, guests come early to “reserve” lounge chairs, and there was a grand total of 11 available to begin with.
The hotel also rents out its “cabanas” — the wooden triangle-shaped platforms above — for the absolutely absurd rate of $300 per day. Rentals include two alcoholic beverages (up to $14 each) and three “food options,” but that’s still a ridiculous amount to pay. Fortunately, there are more “free” seating options a bit further back from the pool, including chaise lounges, a hammock and chairs.
At night, there’s a lovely fire pit to enjoy as well. In my opinion, the hotel did a spectacular job of making use of a very limited amount of outdoor space.
The outdoor bar/dining area really comes to life at night. I’d stop short of calling it a restaurant — this isn’t a spot you’d book on OpenTable — but it’s an option in the likely event that every proper restaurant in the area is already full.
I did find available poolside chairs after sunset, too, so that’s an option if you don’t manage to snag one at the crack of dawn.
Finally, we stumbled upon a laundry room on the way to check out, which would have come in handy earlier during the stay. Ultimately, we were left to discover everything on our own — the hotel’s website didn’t have much information, and the staff didn’t explain anything at check-in.
Wi-Fi was technically available throughout the property, but it constantly dropped the connection. The same thing kept happening with the Chromecast on our in-room TV, so it seems like the hotel still has some IT issues to work out.
On the tech front, we also had difficulty with the air conditioning — yes, even at the “AC.” The thermostat seemed to have a motion detector feature, and we had a heck of a time keeping it on. The room was very warm whenever we returned to the hotel, and it got quite toasty overnight as well.
Getting to the beach
As you may have gathered, the AC isn’t directly on the beach, but it’s difficult to visualize just how involved the trek is to get there. While there are a few different routes, they all involve walking along busy roads and waiting for a traffic light.
The most direct route brings you through a huge parking lot and up to Marriott’s Wailea Beach Resort, which immediately felt like a far more sensible Bonvoy booking.
I did feel a bit awkward walking through the lobby of a hotel I wasn’t staying at, but that seemed like the most direct route.
From there, I immediately saw the ocean, and the expansive hotel’s pools and seating areas — you aren’t limited to just 11 lounge chairs here!
There were several pools available — they were empty at sunrise, and if our 2018 review is any indication, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot to hang out later in the day as well.
The Wailea Beach Resort connects directly to a network of sidewalks that span the entire beach area. If you visit, you’re almost certain to encounter some of the local cats as well.
After a roughly 15-minute walk from the AC, you’ll reach Mokapu Beach.
An AC agent confirmed that there are beach chairs available to borrow at the front desk, but you’ll need to haul them down to the beach and back — a roughly 1 1/2-mile round-trip.
Still, it could be worth the effort. It really is such a beautiful area — I immediately wished I had booked one of the beachfront hotels.
In case you’re wondering, Wailea Beach Resort is a Category 7 Marriott Bonvoy property — while redemption rates range from 50,000 to 70,000 points per night, it could certainly be worth pricing out a stay if you’re considering the AC.
That whole area is just so much more pleasant — some of the hotels seemed gigantic, but there’s certainly a big advantage to actually being on the beach. Even the cats knew that this was a far more desirable part of Wailea — there were tons of felines there, while we didn’t spot a single one anywhere near the AC Hotel.
Food and beverage
Part of the hotel lobby functions as the AC Wailea Restaurant. According to the hotel, you’ll find “European inspired food and curated beverage offerings” when you visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In reality, the menu is quite limited, and not especially European.
The menus are accessible via a QR code available at the front desk, but I had some difficulty scanning it, perhaps since it’s printed on wood. If you can’t access it there, you can pull it up at this link instead.
We decided to try the Kai Sliders by placing an order for pickup. The server said they’d be ready to go in 15 minutes, which seemed entirely reasonable, but they weren’t ready when we arrived. It took an extra 15 minutes to get the order together, which makes me think that they had just never put it in.
Priced at $21, the sliders came with a side of fries, but the rolls weren’t toasted and the fries and burger patties tasted like they had been partially reheated after being cooked earlier in the day.
As we learned at check-in, breakfast is not included for Bonvoy elites, but you can use the $10 food and beverage credit toward the cost of breakfast (or another meal), if you’d like.
You’ll pay $22 per person, which includes the limited buffet and your choice of the following hot items:
- Toast with scrambled cage-free egg, manchego cheese, arugula and prosciutto.
- Belgian waffle drizzled with berry sauce and topped with mixed berries and mint.
- Gourmet egg tarts: Leek, spinach and Gruyere; bacon and Swiss; or banana walnut.
The buffet looked fairly expansive at first, but it ended up being a small amount of food with a large amount of single-use packaging.
Everything was wrapped or boxed up, including slices of toast.
There were yogurt parfaits, which I enjoyed, but it felt irresponsible to waste a half-dozen plastic cups just to top my Chobani.
Many of the containers appeared to be recyclable, but the breakfast attendant confirmed that everything just goes into the garbage.
I tried a few of the hot items, which came out very quickly. I liked the egg tart best, even though it had clearly been reheated.
The Belgian waffle was a fine pick as well, and I appreciated that the hotel assembled it in the kitchen rather than presenting guests with individually wrapped toppings, as I encountered at the Residence Inn Big Sky.
There’s also a small “convenience store” to the side of the front desk.
Expect minibar prices — $5 pretzels, $3.50 sodas — but the front desk agent confirmed at checkout that the food and beverage credit is valid there as well.
It’s not unusual for hotels to struggle with service soon after opening. Add the complexities of dealing with a full property during the pandemic, and you’re bound to encounter some challenges here and there.
Overall, most of the staff members we interacted with were friendly, and I was impressed by how quickly the staff responded to messages sent via the Bonvoy app — a challenge with many hotels.
That said, the attitude we encountered at check-in was entirely inappropriate, and really set the tone for the whole stay. We didn’t feel welcome from the get-go, which was especially frustrating given the significant amount of cash or points guests need to fork over for a stay.
Ultimately, we decided to check out after the second night, ending our five-night redemption early. The hotel was able to refund half of my 200,000-point redemption — the fifth night had been free — and removed the $20 parking charge as compensation for the room cleanliness issue.
After multiple follow-ups, Marriott even refunded all five Suite Night Awards, rather than just the three I hadn’t used, which I certainly appreciated.
As the check-in agent explained, “There’s a brand for everyone.” With comparable rates at oceanfront resorts down the road, I’m struggling to understand exactly who would be happy landing at the AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea.
From the volume of flight attendants checking in, it’s clear that this is an approved crew hotel, and it seems like a fine fit for those short overnight stays. Anyone visiting on a longer vacation will be better off booking their stay elsewhere, unless you’ve encountered a truly exceptional deal.
Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
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