Updated: December 2017

REVIEW: Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on Big Island Hawaii

Nestled among ancient Hawaiian fish ponds and palm trees, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel is a special place (see photo at right from their website). The resort offers 343 rooms and ranks among the top 5 or 6 resorts found on the Big Island of Hawaii (also see our pages on Mauna Kea, Hapuna Beach Prince, Fairmont Orchid, Four Seasons, Hilton Waikoloa, and Kona Village -- map of all here). In this guide, we will take a look at the Mauna Lani Bay resort in detail, with plenty of pictures outlining our stay. We've stayed at more than a dozen of the nicest hotels and resorts in Hawaii, so we hope our experience can benefit you as you plan your Hawaiian vacation.
mauna lani bay hotel review

Mauna Lani Resort Hotel - Getting There

Leaving Kona Airport, you'll head north on Hwy 19 for about 15 miles until you get to the Mauna Lani. You'll turn left onto Mauna Lani Drive from the highway -- follow it down, around one traffic circle and out the other side (The Shops at Mauna Lani are here at the circle, on your right as you exit..), the road will lead you right to the hotel. As you enter the lobby, the registration area is to your right. In an interesting layout, they actually have a number of desks and chairs set up to receive guests instead of standing at the counter. A staff member walks you out to the desk, lets you sit down, gives you a cold towel and juice, and then gets you checked in and tells you about the ins and outs of the property. There is free self parking out in front in uncovered lots (no parking passes or anything required), valet parking also available. You'll probably also see bikes parked in front by the valet booth - you can sign these out (no charge) and use them to explore the property. The lobby itself looks out into a massive open-air atrium that houses ponds (look for the small manta ray and shark swimming around!), trees, and lots of lush vegetation (see photo below).

mauna lani lobby photo The aerial photo above (also from their website, MaunaLani.com) shows how the hotel is layed out. It is shaped like a spaceship or something, it's nose sticking out towards the ocean. The rooms with the best view are there by the beach, aptly called the oceanfront rooms. Rooms along the sides also have decent ocean views if you are up high enough. The smaller buildings to the left are the "bungalows", simple $4000 per night homes for the rich and famous, with private pools and 2500 sq feet of living space. You can see the hotel fronts 2 beaches, which we will cover below. The pool area is barely visible just along the right edge of the hotel. The Canoe House restaurant is just to the left of the hotel near the beach -- you can see the yellow-colored outdoor area in front of it.

Mauna Lani Hotel Big Island Hawaii Rooms

The rooms at the Mauna Lani compared nicely to rooms we saw at other resorts around Kohala -- overall, very nice. The rooms are kind of tight (nothing compares with those Fairmont suites), but the lanais offer a little extra space to stretch out and enjoy the island air. We had an oceanfront room on the 3rd floor. There was a flat screen TV, dresser, small desk with chair, additional sitting chair, and 2 queen beds. There was a small refrigerator for storing food and beverages -- a good way to save some money when visiting expensive Hawaii. Bedding and pillows were comfortable and clean. mauna lani hotel room Crisp decor. The bathroom was all tile and marble, with 2 separate sink and counter areas, a tub/shower combo with adjustable handheld showerhead, and a separate room for the toilet. Slatted sliding doors lead to the bathroom, meaning there isn't a ton of privacy there, might be a little challenging (if you're the type that likes to lock the bathroom door) for families or if you are traveling with someone you are not that intimate with. Rooms were very clean, air conditioning worked well and was quiet. The lanai (balcony) that looked over the beach was spacious, with a table and 2 chairs and lounge chair. Oceanfront rooms have plenty of afternoon sun and direct sunset views. More pictures of room and bathroom can be seen below.

Rack rates for 2009 are $455 for a standard room, $705 for an oceanview room, $845 for an oceanfront room. We paid approx. $500 per night for an oceanfront room in July, a significant discount.

Mauna Lani Bay Hotel Pool and Beach

mauna lani resort pool Let's start with the pool. Located on the south side of the hotel, the pool is kind of average -- not huge, but not too small, no kiddie pool, no waterslide or extravagances. There is also a hot tub and a kids hot tub (a little cooler). We visited in 2009 when tourism was way down, so there was no problem getting a lounge chair next to the pool, but my feeling is that it could get crowded during a busier season. The lounge chairs are of high quality wood and feature comfortable blue cushions to spread out on. There is also a number of cool love-seat style cushion-covered lounges for two, with an adjustable canopy cover. The Ocean Grill poolside/beachside bar and restaurant is right nearby - we had a nice lunch brought out to our beach cabana one afternoon. Wait staff will take drink and food orders from you around the pool or by the beach - very good service, there when you need them but not constantly in your face. Towels and cold water are available at a little kiosk next to the pool. They were even handing out free popsicles one day - who can resist that?

When you're in Hawaii, sun and water are probably high on your list of must-haves. When it comes to the beach here at the Mauna Lani, it's kind of a mixed bag. Once you leave the northern Kohala Coast (where the Mauna Kea and Hapuna Prince are) and head south, the beaches on this big island of lava just are not those picture postcard perfect beaches you dream about. Right in front of the hotel, there are kind of 2 sides to the beach as you face the ocean -- the left and right side. The right side is very rocky - you can't wade or swim there, we never saw anyone in the water on that side. On the left side you'll find most of the lounge chairs and cabanas. The beach is fairly small here, not much in the way of waves. We didn't have much luck with the snorkeling here -- BUT -- the secret is to walk south (to the left while facing the ocean) about 5 minutes to what's called the Beach Club. There is a terrific cove here, great little beach, and the snorkeling here is among the best I have seen in the Islands. There are spectacular coral gardens and formations, tons of fish -- it is absolutely beautiful. So the beach right in front of the Mauna Lani Resort is OK for lounging around, but if you want to swim and snorkel, take the 5 minute walk, you'll be glad you did. We'd suggest you take a drive up to Mauna Kea Beach and Hapuna Beach if you want to enjoy world-famous Hawaiian beaches.

Mauna Lani Resort Amenities

One thing we really liked about the Mauna Lani was that almost everything was included -- many resorts like to charge for things like cabanas on the beach, snorkel gear, internet access, parking, blah, blah, blah.. the list never stops. At the Mauna Lani we didn't have to pay extra for anything. We enjoyed a covered cabana on the beach - no charge. Rode bikes around the property, used the gym, did laundry, all no charge. They did want you to pay to use their business computers to print out plane boarding passes -- at least that service should be free, since all guests need to print out boarding passes (I think it was $1 per page or something). Anyways, additional amenities include:
  • free wireless internet access
  • free self-parking
  • free laundry room (several machines, detergent provided) - as you head towards the front door through the lobby, veer down the passage to the right, past the shops, and go down the stairs one level -- the laundry room is on the right
  • bottled water in your room, plus small refrigerator for your own snacks and drinks
  • coffee maker with tea and coffee
  • safe
  • access to fitness club (just give them your room number and sign-in) -- weights, machines, lap pool, tennis courts, steam room
  • beach cabanas and loung chairs
  • bicycles (very slow cruisers -- tough to pedal on grass or sand, beware!)
  • snorkel equipment
  • 6 tennis courts, 1 hour free play, then $15 per person (3 lit at night)
  • 2 golf courses (South and North Courses), $160 for hotel guests, $260 visitors (club rental $50)
  • Restaurants: Canoe House for ocean front dinners, very nice; Ocean Grill for leisure food and drinks by the pool; Bay Terrace serves breakfast buffet
  • Shops at Mauna Lani is just 1 minute away, nice new mall with Tommy Bahama store and restaurant, Ruth's Chris Steak House, plus a nice grocery market

The Mauna Lani Spa is a popular spot, impressively designed around black lava rocks and thatch roofs. Try the lava sauna treatment for about $80. Massages run $160 for an hour, 80 minute mud wrap goes for $220. All the usual stuff as well, pedicures, facials, waxing, etc.

Mauna Lani Resort Summary

To sum things up, our stay at the Mauna Lani was excellent. We received prompt and friendly service at check-in and check-out, around the pool and beach, and at the valet desk. Access to free laundry machines was a real plus -- any traveling family knows that. I liked the hammocks and cabanas on the beach -- great place to take a drink and watch the sunset over the ocean. The snorkeling down by the Beach Club was outstanding, but the beach area in front of the hotel was not as inviting (fine for sitting and sunning, not so great for swimming and snorkeling). Room amenities were excellent, great turn-down and cleaning service. Gym was well equipped (it's just up the road from the hotel, about a 4 minute walk). Free everything (internet, cabanas, bikes, snorkel gear, parking) was a real change compared to so many other resorts that want you to pay esoteric fees for everything -- thanks Mauna Lani! Rooms are not cheap, but you get a lot more for your money here than you do at some other properties. So yes, we'd go back in a heartbeat, and the Mauna Lani earns an 8.5 out of 10 -- give me a better swimming and snorkeling beach right in front of the hotel and I move it up to a 9.5 out of 10.

Just to give you an idea of what other people are saying about the Mauna Lani, we checked some other travel websites. With more than 275 traveler reviews on TripAdvisor, the Mauna Lani rates 4.5 out of 5 stars, with 95% of visitors giving it a thumbs up, making it the #1 most popular resort on the big island of Hawaii. Not too bad!

Below are more pictures showing you what the resort looks like. Enjoy. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

A shot of the room showing TV, dresser, and desk..

Picture of one of the two sink areas in the bathroom, with door to toilet..

mauna lani resort and bungalows bathroom
The shower/tub, adjustable handheld showerhead..

View out towards the lanai, we are on the 3rd floor..

Aerial view looking out over pool area...

View of the "better" beach area in front of the hotel -- decent, but not the greatest..

Another shot of the open-air lobby..

View of the "starship" from the beach.. 6 floors of oceanfront rooms.