A Royal Return for Waikiki’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel

The storied “Pink Palace” is back with a multimillion-dollar renovation

By: By Kenneth Shapiro

Waikiki’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel // (c) 2009

 Royal Hawaiian Hotel

There’s a good chance that even newcomers to Waikiki are familiar with The Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It has been open since 1927, making it one of the oldest hotels in the islands and it is also historically significant, having been built in an area that was once a playground for King Kamehameha himself and where Queen Kaahumanu’s Summer Palace was located. But in case you missed all of that, it also happens to be painted pink. Well, now a new generation of vacationers has a reason to visit the “Pink Palace of the Pacific,” following the hotel’s multimillion-dollar renovation and its addition to Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Luxury Collection.

“The Luxury Collection is a portal to the world’s most exciting and desirable destinations, offering guests unique, authentic and enriching experiences at spectacular destinations around the world,” Paul James, global brand leader, The Luxury Collection and St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, said in a statement. “Celebrated for its rich heritage, stunning design and spectacular location, The Royal Hawaiian Hotel adds another jewel to The Luxury Collection brand’s glittering portfolio.”

During a recent on-site visit, I saw firsthand some of the updates made at the Pink Palace.

Perhaps the most striking change was that the lobby was opened up and now takes full advantage of the hotel’s amazing location between the Coconut Grove gardens and the ocean. New koa-wood desks, classic Hawaiian artwork by Eugene Savage and tropical plants made the lobby and reception areas feel more airy and exotic, while still maintaining the historic and romantic ambience of the classic hotel. In fact, throughout the hotel, the changes in the public spaces felt like natural additions, enhancing the hotel’s inherent charm instead of feeling forced.

Guestrooms were updated as well. Boasting ocean or Diamond Head views, guestrooms and suites were adorned with traditional Hawaiian furnishings and design elements and woven wicker with bamboo and rattan accents. The rooms felt at once modern and classic Hawaiian. The numerous suites were very unique, and would probably be most appreciated by clients that want to avoid a cookie-cutter experience.

In terms of dining, the newly opened Azure Restaurant — an oceanfront, dinner-only space, illuminated by candlelight and mother-of-pearl mosaics — offers fresh seafood, including locally caught fish selected each morning at the famed Hawaii Fish Auction. Longtime fans of the Pink Palace will be happy to know that the Royal Hawaiian’s world-famous Mai Tai Bar has been completely restored to evoke memories of the iconic celebrities, jetsetters and diplomats who have enjoyed the bar’s views of the ocean and Diamond Head. Word has it that this is still the spot for celebrity sightings, including occasional visits by cast members of the television show, “Lost.”

Also still open is the famed Monarch Room. Once known as the “Carnegie Hall of the Pacific,” the room is now the venue for “Curators of Hawaiian Music,” a weekly cocktail-style event with two performances each Thursday evening by award-winning local musicians. The series was created in an effort to bring the rich musical legacy of The Royal Hawaiian back to life, and to pay tribute to Hawaiian culture.

One change that agents should be aware of is that the oceanfront luau has been replaced by a new dinner event called “Aha Aina, a Royal Celebration.” The oceanfront dinner and show was described by the resort as “a culinary and sensory celebration, commemorating Hawaiian culture and transforming the traditional island experience in grand Royal Hawaiian style.” It is held every Monday night from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on The Royal Hawaiian’s Ocean Lawn with Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head serving as a backdrop.

Renovating a historic hotel such as The Royal Hawaiian is undoubtedly a daunting task. Starwood, however, did a remarkable job updating the resort while still keeping the flavor of a bygone era in Hawaii. It is this ambience that has kept the Pink Palace a visitor favorite for decades and will serve it well for decades to come.

The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel


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