as far as maya hair, i dont know what exact problems you are having, but in general the problems i have had are that its impossible to style precisely, and the render quality is not always great, the workarounds i have found to these issues are:
if you put control curves of similar amount, shape, and size to how you would use opacity mapped planes, i find that much easier than attempting to style the maya hair via letting it automatically make the control curves that stick straight out and attempting to run a simulation untill it is coaxed into the shape you have in mind. that is definitely an exercise in frustration… but if you model the curves to what you want the hair start position to be, and make them dynamic via the hair convert to hair curve option, you are in business pretty fast, or if its just for a still, screw it, dont make them dynamic at all, then you really have no excuses if its not right
also dont be afraid to use 2,3,4 different hair brushes in different areas of the head, for example hair around the edges of the forehead is usually finer than right on top and so on… i mean the hair system isnt that sophisticated that it will do much automatically to get very realistic results, regardless of the marketing…
but the other thing of maya hair is it renders (at least its an option) using paintfx, which i think can give a more realistic hair than is possible with mapped planes, as each individual strand is shadowing geometry etc. so you could just use regular paintFX with hand modelled and positioned control curves to style it, as some people used to make hair before the maya hair feature… and you can convert the pfx to poly before render time to do any shading you would do on any other polys, so you can put on any kind of crazy realistic shaders and shadowing and whatnot if you really feel its needed.
also i hope this isnt an insultingly basic tip, but rendering paintFX you should alway always always render it separately and composite, especially for anything thats supposed to halfway match realistic 3d, the lighting just never seems to quite work out the same on the pfx and the geometry but its tweakable in post.
i guess i would say, maya hair, despite the name, is just one tool in a workflow to make decent “realistic” (i.e. simulating every strand) hair, the fact that they call it “hair” is a bit optimistic… but it does save a number of steps vs. previous workflows in maya and have a new dynamics that works pretty good. but regardless of how you do it, i think computers are fast enough now that hair on realistic characters, should have every strand, one way or another… its noticeable, especially compared to how realistic say the lace is, or the detail of the mummy.