KEAUHOU, Big Island “Ladies and gentlemen, we are open for
business.” With those words, Charldon Thomas, Sheraton Keauhou Bay
Resort & Spa general manager, welcomed guests into the lobby of
his freshly blessed hotel.
It was Oct. 1, and I was one of the 80 or so people who decided
to spend opening night at the former Kona Surf, eight months after
Sheraton began its reconstruction of the Big Island landmark. They
called this the hotel’s soft opening, since the rest of its
facilities won’t open until January, but I couldn’t wait. I wanted
to see what makes this place worth all the fuss.
Like many Hawaii aficionados, I remember the Kona Surf in its
heyday. When it opened in 1971 it was considered four-star, and
locals still wax nostalgic about special occasions they spent here.
Sheraton officials are hoping the new hotel will continue that
tradition, and from what I can tell, they’re on the right track.
Sheraton Keauhou Bay has all the expected niceties, from the
genuine smiles of its employees to the stunning ocean views, but it
also features unusual touches likely to surprise and delight the
most seasoned Hawaii travelers.
Location plays a huge role in Sheraton Keauhou Bay’s appeal.
Perched on a wild, rocky shoreline, it’s surrounded by lava,
legends and ancient Hawaiian landmarks. At the same time, the area
is loaded with contemporary pastimes like golf, snorkeling,
fishing, sailing, hiking, biking and shopping.
“We hope we can encourage travelers who have bypassed the Big
Island before to take another look,” Revell Newton, Sheraton
Keauhou Bay sales and marketing director, told me. “And, we’d like
people who have been to the island before to consider our hotel as
an exciting new place from which to explore it.”
After checking in, I got acquainted with my accommodations.
Sheraton has chosen natural colors and textures for its guestroom
furnishings, resulting in a relaxed plantation-style decor. I liked
the oval shower curtain rod, which provides more room in the bath.
As for the Suite Sleeper, Sheraton’s signature bed, it really is as
comfy as they say.
“We’re focusing on families, fitness and fun. Even though we’re
an upscale hotel, we’re not staid and formal,” Newton said.
Taking his philosophy to heart, I dedicated a major portion of
my visit to exploring the property’s vast, multilevel swimming
pool. I eased into the waters of the indoor atrium, floated under a
bridge, wound through a grotto and paddled out to the larger pool
by the sea. In the name of research, I climbed the stairs to the
top of the waterslide, screamed 200 feet down, splashed into the
water and did it all over again.
At the far end of the outer pool, I saw kids digging their toes
in the sand of the man-made beach cove, while others stomped and
squealed around interactive fountains. Sunny staffers chatted with
guests, inviting them to dive into water volleyball, noodle races
and introductory scuba classes.
Then it was off to the fitness center, where ocean views provide
a picturesque distraction from the workout at hand. In this spiffy
facility, each piece of high-tech equipment has its own TV screen
and headphones. Better yet, guests can use the room at no charge
around the clock.
For lunch, I munched on a kalua pork quesadilla at the open-air
poolside Manta Ray Bar and Grill. I saw one guest swim up, climb
out of the water, take a few steps to the bar and sit down to an
afternoon mai tai. Clearly he was embracing the Sheraton Keauhou
Of the hotel’s food and beverage options, I’m partial to
Restaurant Kai because of its split personality. At breakfast, the
dining room goes the casual route, reflected in place settings,
staff uniforms and menu. At night, things turn more formal. At
candlelit tables, clients try regional entrees like charbroiled
mahimahi with marinated island fiddlehead ferns and mango relish.
One thing, however, stays the same at all hours: Kai serves
delicious vistas of Keauhou Bay and the Kona coastline.
While I didn’t get to experience the hotel’s luau, which begins
in December, I’m encouraged by Newton’s description of it. Instead
of the usual buffet found at most hotel luaus, this has been
designed as a sit-down family-style feast, he said, with the food
themed to match the entertainment. So as not to compete, the
twice-weekly luau runs on nights when others in the area aren’t
Clearly, leisure travelers have much to appreciate in this new
old hotel. Groups, meanwhile, won’t be disappointed either. Unlike
many hotels, Sheraton Keauhou Bay’s meeting rooms are blessed with
windows, allowing the great outdoors to inspire great ideas
indoors. The soon-to-open convention center, touted as the largest
in Kona, is a low-rise unobtrusive building, but its interiors
boast 21-foot ceilings. For 2005, the hotel has already booked
20,000 group room nights, the most of any new Sheraton hotel in
Hawaii and the Pacific. Sheraton sales officials are projecting a
70-30 ratio of leisure to group business.
I’m eager to return to Sheraton Keauhou Bay next year to see the
finished product. I want to experience its Hoola Spa, as close to
the ocean as any resort spa I’ve seen in Hawaii. While it won’t
open until early next year, clients can request spa services in
their room until then. I want to sip cocktails in the open-air
Crystal Blue Lounge, as an orange sun sets before me. I want my
daughter to try the Keiki (Children’s) Club Keauhou, whose colorful
headquarters and daily schedule look like such fun I almost wish I
were nine again. I want to learn about the area’s many manta rays
from James Wing, an expert who presents nightly, free half-hour
sunset manta programs at the water’s edge, while adventurous
clients snorkel and scuba dive with the haunting creatures right
If my impressions of the soft opening are a reliable indicator,
then Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa holds great potential as
a distinctive new alternative for Big Island-bound clients not to
mention a profitable product for the travel agents who sell it.
Sheraton Keauhou Bay
Resort & Spa
78-128 Ehukai St.
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Rates: Nightly rack rates run $320-$500, with
suites from $800.
Packages: Big Experience, a choice of one
activity per person per night, is from $390 a room, with a
Honeymoon/Anniversary includes welcome champagne and
chocolate-dipped strawberries, daily breakfast, couple’s massage or
two rounds of golf, and private dinner for two. Cost is from $390
per room, with a four-night minimum.
Familymoon includes 50 percent discounts on second and third
rooms, guaranteed connecting or adjacent rooms, daily breakfast,
two hours supervised childcare each day, one night of babysitting,
in-room movie, and choice of two adult activities per stay. Runs
from $500 for the first room, with a four-night minimum.
Commission: All rates are commissionable at 10
Background: Located just east of Kailua-Kona,
Kona Surf opened with a flourish in 1971 and closed in disrepair in
2000. Koa Hotel LLC, which purchased the hotel in 2001, is
investing $70 million to renovate it.
Renamed Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa, the 22-acre
oceanfront property had its soft opening Oct. 1, with 228 of its
521 guestrooms currently available for booking.
At this time, the following facilities and services are up and
running: an elaborate swimming pool with 200-foot-long waterslide,
main restaurant, poolside bar and grill, room service, fitness and
business centers, wedding chapel, children’s club, meeting rooms
and tennis and basketball courts.
The hotel’s luau, set on a 1.5-acre oceanfront lawn, will debut
In January, the remaining guestrooms will open, as will the
10,000-square-foot convention center, full-service spa and open-air
adult bar. Nightly manta programs will begin early next year as