PARADISE FOR A PRICE The brilliant cyan Hawaiian sky is punctuated by a white puff of cloud. Floating by two angels, look down, fantasizing. One turns to the other and says, “I dreamt I died and went to Lana’i.” But I exaggerate. Clouds aren’t allowed over Lana’i. With eyes shut against the strong Hawaiian sun, all your senses come alive. Feel heat warming your skin, almost sizzling to the point of discomfort, but liberally applied sunscreen assuages your fear and opens you to the primal life forces of the sun. You are having a complete phototropic reaction. Pores open, tensions melt, muscles relax utterly and completely. You pick up the distant ambient sounds of children in pools, ocean waves, discussions of paperback bestsellers and East Coast weather–nothing of consequence to disturb the calm. In this moment of semiconscious serenity, you hear a whisper. “Chilled face cloth sir?” These are words that will resonate in the coming months. When was the last time your teen-agers were so considerate, your wife so altruistic? Yet here was a total stranger offering you his tightly rolled package of iced refreshment, followed by a fruit smoothie or an alcoholic “umbrella drink” to slate your thirst. Does life get better than this? Not likely. There are some high-end resorts in Hawaii, but few offer a higher level of creature comfort than Lana’i. This is the third smallest island of the Hawaiian chain. Formerly known as the “Pineapple Island,” a massive Dole plantation has been transformed– Cinderella to Princess. This is the company town that was converted in 1991 to service two world-class resorts – beachfront Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele. These two hotels, comprising 352 rooms, were built for a reputed $500 million. Yes, that’s half a billion dollars, or the gross national product of several Third World countries. There is at least one direct staff (not administrative) member for each room. Imagine the level of pampering and service these numbers can provide. You are a millionaire for a day, or you better be when the VISA bill arrives. Spend a few days at Manele Bay. Breakfast begins with a photocopied NYTimes Fax, mango jellies, white tablecloths amid a small army of white-jacketed, gold epauletted wait staff. The Kona coffee comes from silver carafes, hot fragrant, competing with the surrounding orchids for your attention. The beans have walked down the hillside of the neighboring island simply to caress your lips this morning. A bagel appears in a sea of cream cheese, which is applied to the plate with a pastry bag, a palette of waves, punctuated by rosettes. Surrounding this is imported smoked salmon, or more realistically phrased, enough lox to feed my family for generations. Here sunscreen is dispensed in industrial-sized pumps around the pool. Stroll to adjacent Hulopote Beach, a beautiful stretch of unblemished white sand. It is yours alone, virtually unpopulated. Snorkel on the Trilogy catamaran or scuba dive after a“resort course” in the pool. Swim among dolphins and green turtles. Have lunch on the boat or dine at one of the resorts, on plates of fresh oni, ahi, mahi-mahi nestled on beds of fresh greens and noodles, garnished of course, with pineapple. Pastries, tarts and sorbets make you weep with the knowledge that all good things must come to an end. In the midst of your day, while you were involved in any number of diversions, your bags can be transferred from one resort to another. The island is seamless in its accounting. Virtually everything on the island can go on your room bill. This is a company town, but what a company. The Lodge at Koele is a rare pine forest resort, isolated, elegant and unique in the islands. Its 102 rooms are encircled by an endless arcade of rattan chaises on colonnaded porches, surrounded by acres of perfectly manicured formal gardens ornamented by a white Victorian orchid arboretum. Here you wake up with nothing to do and by noon you’re not even half way through your day. Depending on your energy/rest ratio you may choose from mountain biking, horseback riding, a formal putting course or 18 holes of golf. Take your pick of the lush and scenic course adjacent to the Lodge or take a hotel van (20 minutes) to the breathtaking, Jack Nicklaus-designed ocean-view course at Manele. You can rent a four-wheel-drive jeep (“bikini top” fold-down model) and drive across the Monro trail for a view of all the islands and a conversation with the gods of Hawaii, or drive westward to see the Garden of the Gods. This is a strange barren, red-clay environment where residents have erected stone cairns and totems that form lonely silhouettes against the sky. If you are covered with red dust from your expedition, hit the spa and cap the day with a massage or a facial. If you prefer the equestrian rather than vehicular mode, try a horseback ride through the morning fog on a mountain-top with a view of Molokai, the Big Island, Maui and Oahu. Try blasting away at the 14-station “sporting clay” course, where you go via golf cart to shoot shotgun rounds at clay targets imitating every bird and small game possible. A shootist pro will drive you around and show you how to maximize your score on a 100-clay target range as your shoulder aches with each attempt. Whatever events you choose, there is a picnic lunch and wet towels to go along. If you are exhausted from your activities take tea at 4 o’clock. The Sumatra blend and perfect teacakes transport you to an era of refined colonialist elegance as you have a brief respite on the verandah. Have a quiet walk to town. Dine at the refurbished old Lana’i hotel downtown n Lana’i City. Dinners at any of the restaurants are not simply meals, they are presentations, culinary plays in several acts in a setting worthy of any Noel Coward performance. This is not the nightlife of Waikiki. There are billiards, backgammon and walk-in fireplaces with overstuffed chairs to help you digest dinner and savor the day in the evening sunset. Rather than the barrage of neon and disco, you are surrounded by fragrances of orchids and colors of the twilight. This is elegance, not fashion–style, not fad. Top suites go for $2,000 a night (butler included) down to a “modest” $250, but the adage applies that “If you have ask the price, don’t bother.” This is not the land of “we’ll leave the light on for you.” What you can expect is a bed turned out with linens meeting the most exacted Martha Stewart standards and several of the world’s best chocolates laid out among tastefully arranged orchids. This is rare luxury and the price is commensurate with the experience. Hawaii is usually a pricey vacation but heaven rarely comes cheap. Lana’i is the best of the best. Bill Gates, software god, was married on the 12th tee of the ocean-side golf course, giving testimony that this is where God would go if he had money. Lana’i is paradise on Earth. This is not the vacation for the feint of wallet. But, if price is no object, there is no other place. It will change the way you dream. Pass the chilled facecloth.