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Larry Ellison wants to prolong your life—via a luxury hotel on Lanai.
It was 2017 when I first saw Larry Ellison in person. I was at Lanai’s Manele Bay Hotel on assignment, and Ellison had famously purchased not just that property but 98 percent of the entire island a few years prior. I was there to cover the hotel’s grand reopening.
One morning, while I was having breakfast, a large group of tennis-clad guests sat beside me. At the locus of the group was the distinctive, impeccable, Downey Jr-esque groomed beard and mustache combo that was attached to the then-eighth richest person on the planet. I did my best not to stare or eavesdrop, and after breakfast I was trying to square the idea that the dude who created Oracle in 1977 appeared to be only in his mid-50s, which was impossible. I immediately returned to my very well-appointed room, flipped open my laptop and typed “How old is Larry Ellison?”
I am terrible about diarizing things. My calendar still has recurring notices for the soccer practices of a team my daughter was on five years go. But for a while, every six months a notice would pop up that said: “Email re: Koele.” It was a reference to the other hotel on Lanai that came with Ellison’s purchase. If Manele was the classic luxe beach resort, Koele was the quirky, smaller property tucked away near the island’s centre—and, at almost 2,000 feet above sea level, it felt a world unto itself. I’d call it scrappy, but given that it was a Four Seasons, that seems a bit of a stretch. Like Manele, it closed down after Ellison’s purchase… but unlike its swank sibling, it never re-opened. I’d driven by twice, and it was a fenced-off construction site with prominent NO TRESPASSING signs plastered everywhere. My requests for a hardhat tour (“I’m such a big fan of the property”) were gently rebuffed. I engaged the locals to see if they had heard any scuttlebutt about what Uncle Larry was doing up there and the broad consensus seemed to be “fancy spa,” but years ticked by with no opening. So every six months I’d dutifully send my email to the Four Seasons team to check for updates, and they’d politely thank me for my inquiry and tell me they’d let me know when they had news to share.
It was December 2019 and they had news to share. The former Lodge at Koele was now “Sensei Lanai: A Four Seasons Resort.” It was open in something of a beta phase, and if I agreed to stop sending emails they’d see about letting me come and check it out.
The internet wasn’t giving me much to bone up on before my trip. From what I could glean, Sensei was designed to be an entirely new type of wellness resort, less focused on facials and mimosas and more on helping its guests learn the diet, movement and goal-setting skills that would change their lifestyles permanently. This admirable goal came about through Ellison and Dr. Larry Agus (who I later learned is a bit of a legend in the longevity game), who had been commiserating over the premature death of a mutual friend. Ellison—the original tech bro—was wondering why no one had yet solved the public’s general refusal to embrace behaviours that could enrich and prolong their lives. It sounded vaguely like a cross between The Road to Wellville and Ex Machina and, I’ll admit, my initial interest waned slightly—I hadn’t waited for years only to presumably be served plates of lettuce and refused a glass of albariño on my vacation. But when the email from the Sensei team assured me that there was an onsite Nobu with a full wine list, my enthusiasm rebounded nicely.
The approach to the hotel remained familiar. The property is a short drive from charming Lanai City, and its huge wraparound veranda and gabled roofs evoke a vibe that’s more Kennedy compound than glitzy resort. And while the layout was familiar to me, there were some new touches—like millions of dollars’ worth of massive Fernando Botero sculptures (oddly, of his trademark rotund people) dotted throughout the resort. On checking in, my wife and I were separated and led to airy, high-tech rooms upstairs where we were onboarded: our vitals were recorded, our flexibility was tested and even our body fat was measured through some machine that required me to hold two metal rods and not cry when the result was announced. Then it was time to sit down with Marcus, my guide, and chat about why I was there. I mentioned my writing assignment, and he was warm but firm in not wanting a surface answer. We had a free-flowing discussion about sleep patterns, physical activity, diet, life stresses and family medical history that lasted for close to an hour. At the end, he put down the iPad that he had been working with, said, “Great, I think we can work with this,” and led me back to re-join my wife in an idyllic spot overlooking the resort’s lagoon, where we relaxed while our guides completed itineraries for us that were based on our interviews.
The next morning, we started with yoga in a stunning open-air pavilion with only one other participant in a class that was easily one of the top three I’ve ever done. Then we had breakfast in an empty Nobu followed by a walking meditation through the garden. (Surprisingly, my skepticism was replaced with what seemed like actual zen about 48 steps in.) Even an afternoon massage started with a thermal infrared scan on my body to see where inflammation and tightness were lurking. The more I interacted with the team, the more I realized that the place was all experts, like a wellness version of The Avengers. Marcus’s last job was training Navy Seals on goal-setting before missions. Prior to chatting with me about snacking habits, Quentin had been doing nutrition for a pro hockey team. My walking meditation guru had cashed out of Microsoft a few years before to devote his life to a higher calling. Everyone spoke about Sensei more like a tech start-up than a resort. This was the beta version of a program they believed would one day be rolling out across the globe, bringing people information and tools to advance and improve their lives.
And then there was Liron. The entry on my itinerary simply said “Aquatic Bodywork: 120 mins,” so as I ducked into one of the resort’s freestanding hales (their luxe version of treatment rooms) I had no idea what to expect other than water. For the next hour, Liron directed me as I floated in a small warm pool with my ears underwater and my eyes looking skyward, while he tried to understand how my body should move and what was holding me back from achieving more integrated control of my muscles. It not only sounds airy fairy to the nth degree, but also, to someone who can’t watch a YouTube video without simultaneously checking my iPhone, torture. But it was not—I entered some sort of dreamlike reverie for I don’t know how long and, after Liron had completed his in-depth assessment, we went to the treatment table where we worked on the muscles he decided were most in need of some fine tuning. Revelatory.
I went back. Throughout the pandemic I continued to follow the resort’s progress as it closed for several spells during the heart of Hawaii’s lockdown and then opened on a more limited basis, allowing guests to opt out of the all-inclusive nature of the original concept in favour of just booking a room and adding the sessions à la carte. (Ed.’s note: Sensei Lana’i is back to offering a number of packages that can be found here). They were still offering this model when I was feeling ready to travel—and were throwing in a free flight from Honolulu to boot—and I uncharacteristically said to my wife, “I want to go back.” So we did. Not much had changed—I was again onboarded by Marcus, who greeted me like an old friend, and found out that, despite a pandemic’s worth of near-daily Peloton rides, my body fat had only decreased by 1.2 percent. There was a massive new Jeff Koons sculpture placed in the lobby (“We had to reinforce the floor, it’s so heavy,” personnel confided) that Ellison had reportedly gifted to himself for Christmas. I spent seven nights there, and at the end it was the single largest hotel bill I’ve ever been handed (there was a brief moment of respite when it seemed lower than expected, until my wife reminded me ofthe 20-percent deposit we had already paid). So I hope that tells you how I feel about this place. I mean, how do you put a price on endless life?
Are you over 18 years of age?