Beachcomber Buff-Up Delivers

Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber brings fresh energy to Kalakaua Avenue

By: By Dawna L. Robertson

The Details

Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber
2300 Kalakaua Avenue
Rates: Through Dec. 21, special re-introductory rates run $139 nightly. Fam rates are from $90. All stays include the Ohana Waikiki Connection amenities package that includes high-speed Internet, trolley rides, in-room coffee and tea, daily newspaper, a drawstring beach bag and domestic and long-distance phone calls to the U.S. mainland and Canada.

Commission: 10 percent

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It’s no surprise that Waikiki’s beachfront properties have traditionally proven most magnetic for travelers with plumper vacation budgets. These days, however, several hotels just across Kalakaua Avenue are garnering greater appeal, offsetting the on-beach locations with comparable amenities and milder rates. All of a sudden, the stroll through the crosswalk to the sand seems minor.

A sleeker port cochere was part of the major renovation. // (c) Ohana Hotels & Resorts
A sleeker port cochere was part of the major renovation.

A case in point is the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber hotel. When Outrigger scooped the property under its Ohana umbrella in 2005, the high-rise was known for its affordable rates and central location. What’s grabbing attention most recently is its $21 million overhaul that coincidentally coincides with Waikiki’s wave of renewal.

On a recent visit to this Waikiki landmark — famous, in part, because it hosted Don Ho’s show in his final years — I noticed how its prime position seems ever sweeter in light of Waikiki’s massive revamp. Situated in the heart of the southern Oahu urban resort, the 495-room property lies directly across from the refreshed Royal Hawaiian Center and adjacent to the colorful International Market Place.

The new Waikiki Beach Walk is also nearby, beefing up the roster of retail, shopping and entertainment options clustered in Waikiki’s heart. As for the beach, it measures a mere 300 steps away.

According to Dean Nakasone, the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber’s general manager, the hotel was ripe for a transformation.

"People were familiar with the Waikiki Beachcomber, but it never really stood out," said Nakasone. "So when Outrigger took it over as an Ohana in 2005, we realized this was a hidden jewel that we didn’t want to hide any longer."

The hotel’s previous full renovation was 20 years prior, with partial spruce-ups in the interim. Broader in scope, the recent facelift is part of an initiative to elevate the overall Ohana brand.

"Outrigger had a good 2006, and that validated what we thought we needed to do — upgrade the Beachcomber to a new level," he said.

I found Outrigger’s upgrades to be right on target. Escalators carry your clients from a sleeker Kalakaua Avenue porte cochere up to an airy lobby restyled with natural textures, tropical woods and colors of the ocean. Once boxy, it’s now more open, and soft shades of blue and green replace dated pastels.

Adding to the tone are design elements like walls with wave-like patterns sprinkled with close-up photos of island fish. The lobby also features retail shops, Wi-Fi, Internet kiosks, tour desks and the ticket office for John Hirokawa’s Magic of Polynesia show.

Not to be outdone, guestrooms meet the mark with fresh decor reminiscent of Waikiki Beach in the 1950s and 1960s. Replacing yet another pastel color scheme are neutral hues, sandstone accents and a subtle palette complementing the tropical Hawaiian landscape outside.

Aesthetics aside, the rooms have been rejuvenated with dark alder and cherry hardwood furnishings, plus all new carpeting, lighting, artwork, bed frames, headboards and enhanced custom-made bedding. They feel spacious, comfortable and pleasant, with a refreshed feel and modern touches.

Guest bathrooms have also been completely upgraded with granite countertops, custom-designed mirrors and decorative light fixtures. All air-conditioned rooms are now equipped with a refrigerator, a safe, a phone with voice messaging, a 32-inch, flat-screen television and a lanai. And, connecting doors make the property a natural for families.

The renovation isn’t completed, however. Slated to open next to the pool off the hotel’s lobby will be the Honolulu Surfing Museum and Bar, sure to attract clients with its surfing collectibles and memorabilia.

Generating the most buzz, however, is the highly anticipated Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber restaurant, which is promising "live music, great food and good times." Set to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, this themed eatery will showcase music by well-known and up-and-coming performers.

While I was disappointed that the museum, retail store and restaurant were still under construction at press time — they were scheduled to open during the first quarter of 2009 — it’s clear the hype continues to add energy to the property and Waikiki as well.

For my money, the hotel’s spiffed-up accommodations and attractive rates poise it on the verge of becoming one of the destination’s hottest off-beach options.