by Ann Shepphird | November 09, 2016

Odds are when I say the word “Maui,” the first image that comes to mind is of a beach. That’s understandable, as the island is continually listed as having some of the top beaches (and beach resorts) in the world. But after a recent visit to Maui County (which also encompasses the islands of Lanai and Molokai), I found that I was adding images of penguins, flamingos, horses, cats—and new and renovated hotels with meeting space—to that list.

The penguins can be found at the LEED-certified Hyatt Regency Maui, located in the Kaanapali Resort area. The warm-weather African Black Footed Penguins (members of an endangered species that have successfully hatched offspring at the resort) are part of the hotel’s wildlife tour, which also includes cranes, swans, flamingos and parrots. The resort has been undergoing an extensive renovation of its meeting space to be unveiled in late November. Included is an expansion of its Monarchy Ballroom, the transformation of a former garden into the Halona Kai event space and a new Regency Club Lounge. The resort offers 806 guest rooms and a total of more than 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space.

Also on Ka’anapali Beach, the Westin Maui Resort & Spa has spent more than $70 million on a redesign of its 553 Ocean Tower suites. Its Botanical & Wildlife Tour takes guests through the resort’s 87,000-square-foot “aquatic playground,” which offers indigenous cultural plants and wildlife that includes flamingos from Chile. The Westin offers 759 guest rooms and 67,391 square feet of meeting space.

The newest hotel on the island of Maui can be found in the Wailea resort area. The Residence Inn Marriott Maui Wailea opened just a few months ago with 200 suites and 1,800 square feet of meeting space that can seat groups of up to 130 people theater style. Nearby, the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort recently relaunched its Luana lobby lounge, which offers spectacular sunset views.

But perhaps the biggest news (a whole island’s worth) happened on the neighboring island of Lanai, where the Four Seasons Resort Lanai reopened earlier this year following an extensive renovation that touched just about every part of the resort. The 213-room Four Seasons Resort Lanai overlooks the island’s Hulopoe Bay and offers a conference center for groups of up to 600 people plus unique venues at the golf club, the Luau Gardens and at long tables and chairs found throughout the resort that can be used for private meetings or dining. The resort also offers a number of adventures that include horseback rides through undeveloped parts of the island and unique amenities for groups such as visits from local artist Mike Carroll, who has a gallery in Lanai City and can customize artwork or teach a class.

Outside of Lanai City is where you’ll find the cats—at one of the most unique places you’ll find in Hawaii: the Lanai Cat Sanctuary. Originally founded by Kathy Carroll (Mike’s wife), the sanctuary is now home to more than 500 cats rescued from protected areas on the island where native and endangered birds nest. The sanctuary has become a popular stop for visitors to Lanai and is just one of the sights that might, just might, make you forget about all those spectacular beaches.