The JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa is investing in major upgrades. // © 2010 JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa
The JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa set the benchmark for success when it opened its doors in 1993 as the first hotel on the grounds of west Oahu’s Ko Olina Resort and Marina. The 17-year-old resort certainly hasn’t grown complacent as of late, however. Not only has the JW Marriott Ihilani received the AAA Four Diamond award for 11 consecutive years, it has also recently invested millions of dollars in upgrades and refurbishments.
“We felt this was a good time to upgrade our rooms and spa to elevate the guest experience and continue to meet and even exceed their expectations,” said Dan Banchiu, general manager. “The overall design aesthetic will evoke a resort-residential feeling, and we hope guests feel that they are at home when they stay with us.”
The first phase of the renovation was completed last month, with a full redesign of the 35,000-square-foot Ihilani Spa. Returning spa guests will notice few similarities at first glance as they enter a revamped reception area and retail space before being led to their new respective lounges and locker rooms. With these upgrades, the women’s lounge area has been expanded to accommodate more clients and has relocated to the lower level of the spa, while the men’s lounge has moved to the main level.
Guests can also reserve the new Hoonanea private spa suite for small groups of up to eight guests, which is an ideal option for bridal or birthday parties. Other additions to the spa include a couple’s treatment room, a zen meditation garden, a hair and nail salon and a 24-hour fitness center that overlooks an adults-only lap pool, with top-of-the-line Techno Gym and Life Fitness equipment.
The renovation of the hotel’s 387 guestrooms and suites, scheduled for 2011, will mark the end of the massive overhaul. On a September visit with my mom, we found that the rooms needed the most attention, as standard wear and tear had become noticeable. We were, however, able to tour a model room and preferred its more contemporary design, which managed to incorporate Hawaiian tradition in a subtle, elegant way. Furnishings, for instance, are ornamented with Hawaiian kapa patterns and draw from a palette of sea blue and sand hues. The lanai features oversize cushioned chairs, and new mirrors and fixtures have been added to the bathrooms. An L-shaped wooden desk maximizes space, and a 42-inch flat-screen LCD television comes equipped with a technology jack pack to connect and recharge iPods, iPhones, iPads and other gadgets.
“We are also improving our Internet and Wi-Fi accessibility since we’re finding our guests are so much more connected these days, even when on vacation,” said Banchiu.
My mom and I did well at setting aside our urges to e-mail, text or communicate with the virtual world — it was just too pretty outside to stare at a screen. After we settled into our room, we headed to the Poolside Grill, which overlooks the pool and lagoon, to soak up the sun and treat ourselves to afternoon pupus (appetizers). We ordered a limu poke starter and a round of mai tais that came to us in hallowed-out frozen pineapples.
There wasn’t much time on our schedule for lazing around, but I was able to squeeze in a facial before dinner. During our visit, the Ihilani Spa was still undergoing renovations, so spa treatments took place in temporary spa suites. The relocation was of little inconvenience to me — I was more interested in the quality of the treatment than having the full spa experience, and I was not disappointed. My therapist was friendly and not overly chatty, allowing me to concentrate on relaxing and enjoying the treatment. Of the many available choices, I opted for the 50-minute Hydrating Infusion facial, which incorporated a cooling hyperbaric oxygen system that helps rejuvenate and firm the skin with vitamins and antioxidants.
At breakfast time, my mom and I loved finding an outdoor table at the Naupaka Terrace restaurant where we could watch baby hammerhead sharks and stingrays swim past us in man-made saltwater ponds. The breakfast buffet was expansive, offering omelet and waffle stations, freshly baked pastries, yogurts with tropical fruit toppings, Japanese breakfast foods, steel-cut oatmeal and, our personal favorite, a fresh juice bar with a juicer at our disposal. We concocted mixtures of pineapple, carrot, ginger, apple, lime, grape and watermelon until we felt we had it just right.
While we spent much of our free time by the oceanfront reading under the shade of a palm tree, we also took the opportunity to walk along Ko Olina’s four man-made lagoons. This was a popular pastime for both resort guests and friendly locals who jogged or power-walked past us with their iPods and water bottles in tow.
From the walking and sunning to the healthy, fresh cuisine, it became clear that our time at the JW Marriott Ihilani had rejuvenated us, and we were already looking forward to our next visit to Oahu’s west coast.