Mauna Kea Makes Its Comeback

The iconic Big Island resort reopens after a multimillion-dollar renovation

By: By Marty Wentzel


Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Grand Opening Celebration: March 27-28.
Rack Rates: Nightly from $450-$1,000, with suites from $800-$3,500. Check the Web site for ongoing commissionable deals and packages.
Commission: 10 percent

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Lobby // (c) Prince Resorts Hawaii
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Lobby

In recent months, promotions for the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel promised that when it reopened, "What was, will be once more." Fresh from a visit to the renovated Big Island resort, I am happy to report that it is living up to that promise. The property has upgraded where needed while retaining the services and amenities that have made it a landmark since its 1965 debut.

The 258-room beachfront Mauna Kea — part of Prince Resorts Hawaii — had its soft opening on Dec. 20, two years after closing due to earthquake damage. The grand opening is slated for later this month.

"We are welcoming back many old friends who loved coming here each year," said general manager Jon Gersonde. "Many longtime employees jumped at the opportunity to come back to Mauna Kea, so the reopening has the feel of a family reunion."

During its $150 million overhaul, all aspects of the hotel were rethought, from guestrooms and restaurants to the adjacent golf course. But there were certain aspects that officials didn’t want to change.

"Past guests said they were particularly concerned that the Mauna Kea retains its art collection," said hotel spokesperson Liana Mulleitner. "We made sure to bring back all of our renowned paintings and sculptures. They also said they wanted the hotel to keep its trademark orange plumeria blossom logo, another wish that we have fulfilled."

Interspersed with the tried-and-true are new features that meet the needs of contemporary travelers. Returning guests will notice changes in the check-in process, for instance. Instead of a long, single, front desk, clients sit at one of three desks across from an employee who handles the arrival process, creating a more personal experience than before. Then, hostesses personally escort guests to their rooms.

In the main tower of the hotel, accommodations have been enlarged considerably by turning three units into two. The result is a generous guestroom boasting a large walk-in closet and spacious bathroom with double vanities, a soaking tub and rain shower. In addition, every room has been technologically upgraded with perks like iPod docking stations and media hubs with Internet access. While the old Mauna Kea digs didn’t have televisions, rooms now feature a large flat-screen television; it can hide behind sliding doors in the built-in entertainment center if clients prefer a media-free environment. And, the new turn-down program presents guests with a different Mauna Kea charm each night. Clients who stay seven nights get a bracelet on which to hang the charms.

Meanwhile, the low-rise Plumeria wing of guestrooms — extending southward from the lobby — is assuming a new identity. Renamed the Plumeria Beach Club, it has its own concierge lounge with refreshments, family amenities and a beach theme. Also new is the Mandara Spa, located on the ground level. While it hadn’t yet opened during my visit, the 3,000-square-foot facility will provide signature treatments including massages, facials and other indulgences. For golfers, the world-class Mauna Kea course has been completely renovated from tee-to-green over the past year. The fitness center has relocated and grown in size and scope.

On the food and beverage side, clients have plenty of options while staying at the Mauna Kea. In place of the former Batik restaurant, a new fine-dining establishment called Monette’s specializes in "inventive American French cuisine with island influences." The adjacent Bar M Cafe provides a casual indoor-outdoor setting for food and specialty cocktails.

What was once the Pavilion restaurant is now called the Manta and Pavilion Wine Bar. At breakfast, clients can choose from a buffet or a la carte selections. Come evening, the new exhibition kitchen showcases Kohala regional cuisine. A state-of-the-art enomatic wine system dispenses 48 wines by the glass, and clients can attend monthly winemaker’s dinners. The new golf clubhouse provides another restaurant option called Number Three, and the open-air Copper Terrace — serving pupus and drinks — now features fire pits.

Past guests may want to know that the hotel is continuing two weekly dining traditions: the Tuesday evening luau with entertainment by the local Lim family and the Saturday night clambake by the beach. A third gathering, the Thursday night manager’s reception, has been added.

In all, the Mauna Kea has successfully blended beloved traditions from the past with delightful new touches, including stellar service from its employees.

As Mulleitner put it, "We want to make sure guests are treated special, so they don’t just see the Mauna Kea, but they feel it as well."