Set-Jetting: Visiting the Real-Life 'The White Lotus' Hotel
Screen tourism isn’t new: The stunning footage of destinations like New Zealand in Lord of the Rings—or, more recently, the City of Light in Emily in Paris and the national park in Yellowstone—have inspired armchair travelers to get off the couch and onto a plane, "set-jetting" to those locations. Now, 2023 has been declared the ‘Year of the Set-Jetter' by Expedia, whose research shows that movies and TV shows are the #1 travel inspiration in the U.S. Expedia reports that 68 percent of travelers thought about visiting a destination from a TV show or movie and a 61 percent actually booked a set-jetting trip.
Although The White Lotus, one of the most notable inspirations for screen tourism, is gearing up for Thailand in season 3, The White Lotus' first two featured destinations are still brimming with set-jetters. While the mini-series is centered around the misery of rich, entitled vacationers, the White Lotus filming destinations (Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea for the first season and San Domenico Palace in Sicily for the second) have fueled demand for the resorts where they were filmed. Season 1 highlighted some of the ugliest parts of tourism (exploitation, white privilege, colonialism) while also showcasing the natural beauty of the Hawaiian islands. So, how does reality stack up to the drama? I visited the Four Seasons Resort Maui, the setting for season one, to find out.
Although The White Lotus showed the guests arriving to the resort by boat, the Four Seasons Resort Maui isn't accessible by sea. Instead, fly into Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) and take a 30-minute shuttle to the hotel.
The first episode of The White Lotus begins with A-list characters waiting to board their Hawaiian Airlines flight to Honolulu, about to drown their sorrows with Mai Tais and macadamia nuts in first class. In real life, you can sample island fare from Hawaii’s first female James Beard award-winner in first class as part of the airline’s rotating featured chef series.
All six episodes of Season 1 of the series were shot at the Four Seasons Resort Maui in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the fictional White Lotus has kitschy design envisioned by production designer Laura Fox, the real resort is more modern and neutral.
The fictional Pineapple Suite is the Lokelani Presidential Suite, which rents for $29,000 a night. While it has 4,500 square feet containing three bedrooms, five bathrooms, and two living rooms, there is no private plunge pool like honeymooner Shane had sought out.
Although the spa at the Four Seasons Resort Maui offers typical treatments like massages and facials, they also offer some alternative appointments that grieving Tanya from The White Lotus may have been interested in, such as Aura Healing and Holistic Medium. Craniosacral therapy, like what Tanya experienced, is not currently on the spa menu, but it may return due to the increasing popularity of the treatment.
The Breakfast Buffet
Quinn tells his mom, “It's a breakfast buffet in Hawaii. It shouldn't be a stressful situation!” He’s right, and it isn’t—the easy breezy poolside breakfast buffet at Four Seasons Resort Maui is a relaxed start to the day. Sample fresh tropical fruit and made-to-order omelets (and maybe a mimosa) in White Lotus style.
The Serenity Pool
The spectacular infinity pool where many of The White Lotus scenes were shot is the resort’s adults-only Serenity Pool, one of the least-changed set locations in the show. With only 86 seats, the pool is often full soon after it opens at 7 a.m.. Instead, reserve a luxury cabana like Shane and Rachel for a guaranteed spot.
You don’t need to sleep on the beach like Quinn did in order to experience an outrigger canoe. The Four Seasons Resort Maui offered their Outrigger Canoe Experience before The White Lotus premiered, and now the activity is more popular than ever. In addition to the workout of canoeing, you’ll also learn some Hawaiian language and potentially spot turtles (or even whales!) on the outing.