Ten Beloved Hawaii Hotels

Island landmarks that captivate clients and keep them coming back

By: By Marty Wentzel

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Click here to view a photo tour of these beloved Hawaii hotels.

What makes a treasured hotel? It isn’t necessarily the brand name on its door or the buzz it generates in the press. Instead, a favorite getaway exudes a certain unmatched aura. Like natural landmarks, the most prized properties help define a destination, which may explain why they earn consistently high marks on such consumer-review Web sites as Trip-Advisor and TravelMuse.

Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki// © 2010 Hilton Hawaiian Village

Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki// © 2010 Hilton Hawaiian Village

The following Hawaii resorts run the gamut when it comes to facilities, services, amenities and rates, but they have one thing in common — their fans. Clients and travel agents alike go to great lengths to demonstrate their devotion to them.

Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa
Business magnate Henry J. Kaiser couldn’t find a hotel room when he arrived in Waikiki in the 1950s, so he set out to build his own resort where booking accommodations would never be a problem. The result, a 70-room property that opened in 1955, has since blossomed into a mega-resort that currently boasts 3,625 rooms. In this 22-acre world unto itself, penguins and pools enliven the grounds while shops, shows and restaurants keep patrons entertained by day and night. Despite its scale, however, frequent Hilton Hawaiian Village guest Ginnie Myers of Glen Burnie, Md., appreciates its spirit of welcome, making her feel like she and her husband are the only visitors there.

“The beauty of it is that they treat everyone that way,” she said. “I love the fact that we see the same employees year after year and they remember our names. Staying here is a life-long experience.”

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel
Since 1927, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, A Luxury Collection Resort, has been wowing guests like Steve Alexander of Rochester, N.Y., who has stayed there more than 25 times.
“It only takes one trip, and you’re aooked,” he said.

In 1955, English silent-film actress Dorothy MacKail adored it so much that she jumped into the ocean from the steamship carrying her family away from Hawaii and swam back to Waikiki, then lived at the hotel for the rest of her life.

The Pink Palace is a hit with agents, too. Tyler Peak of Peak Travel in San Jose, Calif., dubbed it “the queen of Waikiki,” while Pamela Paterson of Carefree Vacations in Encinitas, Calif., called its service “impeccable.”

After its recent $60 million, six-month renovation, which added 21st-century upgrades while the property retained its distinctive rosy hue, the Royal held a reopening party in March 2009. Attendees included a Japanese gent who dyed his hair bright pink for the occasion.

Kahala Hotel & Resort
Susan Tanzman of Martin’s Travel and Tours in Los Angeles calls herself a Kahala brat.

“I started going to the Kahala in the 1960s, and it became part of my life,” said Tanzman.

Many of her clients feel the same way.

“I’ve had people change their entire schedule if their original dates aren’t available at the Kahala,” she said. “Some won’t even travel to Oahu unless they can stay there.”

Open since 1964, the 338-room gem lures the rich and famous to its secluded oceanfront location, east of Waikiki. It recently wrapped up a multimillion-dollar makeover, but its setting is still stellar, from the crescent-shaped beach overlooking the Diamond Head and Koko Head craters to its lagoons with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Better yet, it adds meaningful little touches that keep repeat guests coming back. Case in point: When a guest wanted his mai tai to taste the way it did 40 years ago, the bartender adjusted his recipe accordingly.

Gene and Judy Thompson of Paradise Valley, Ariz., cherish this one-of-a-kind Waikiki resort to the extent that they have named their home — Hacienda Halekulani — after it. Originally a private beachfront estate, the 453-room head-turner has been impressing discriminating travelers like the Thompsons since 1917. Tucked off a busy side street, the Halekulani invites clients into a peaceful oasis where the sounds of the city disappear, where afternoon tea is served on a gardenview veranda and where a former Miss Hawaii dances al fresco hula as sunsets give way to starry nights. Buildings dating as far back as the 1930s house such modern-day draws as the award-winning La Mer restaurant. Carefree Vacations’ Paterson can’t get enough of its swimming pool, on the bottom of which is a 30-by-30-foot orchid design of South African glass mosaic tiles.

“That alone is reason to visit,” she said.

Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach
A couple staying at this beachfront property loved it so much that they wanted to extend their visit. Since it was sold out during several of the days they requested, they relocated two different times, returning to the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach when a room opened up. Such is the dedication displayed by devotees of this 524-room hot spot, poised by the largest sand-bottom swimming area in Waikiki. It’s a regular on all sorts of consumer lists, such as TripAdvisor’s top 20 Hawaii business hotels and Travel + Leisure’s top 25 Hawaii resorts. It imparts a sense of place with the likes of old photos on the walls, taro designs in the guestrooms and papaya/pineapple-scented bath amenities.

“Many of our guests book their next reservation as they check out even though they have no idea of the rate,” said an Outrigger spokesperson. “They don’t want to take any chances that we might sell out.”

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
“I was conceived at the Mauna Kea,” said a recent guest of this remarkable Big Island resort. “Every year, we go back to honor the tradition of making the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel our home away from home.”

That’s the sort of passion inspired by the Kohala Coast classic, which opened in 1965 at the hands of venture capitalist Laurance S. Rockefeller. A noted conservationist and lover of the outdoors, Rockefeller believed that buildings should conform to — not intrude upon — their natural surroundings and, to this day, the Mauna Kea’s setting remains one of its major drawing cards.

Susan Tanzman claims it has “the best beach in Hawaii.”

Kent Bond of Healdsburg, Calif., first went there with his parents in the early 1970s and has returned some 25 times since.

“The Mauna Kea has yet to be equaled,” he said. “I return because it has heart, and its people share their genuine aloha.”

Kona Village Resort
You might call Kona Village Resort a place to connect by disconnecting. Making its Big Island debut in 1965, this 82-acre legend feels like a separate universe, with 125 thatched-roof bungalows nestled around tropical lagoons and pristine beaches. No wonder people like David Cram of Paradise, Calif., keep going back.

In fact, Cram has created a personal Web site in the resort’s honor. Another guest stays more than three months each year, a record which has earned him the nickname of “Mayor of Kona Village.”

Compared to other Hawaii hotels, Kona Village most resembles an all-inclusive property, including meals and many activities in its rates. Clearly, it’s doing something right, because 66 percent of its clientele have been there before.

Ed Phillips of Ethan Allen Travel in San Mateo, Calif., raved about his recent visit, right down to the hot tub on his lanai.

“What a wonderful way to end an evening,” he said.

Kaanapali Beach Hotel
Doris and Orville Spray of Great Bend, Kan., who bring their family to the Kaanapali Beach Hotel for a few weeks every year, have replicated the resort’s Tiki Bar & Grill back home.

Paul and Kathy McDonnell of Bloomfield, Conn., time their annual visit so they can volunteer at the hotel-sponsored children’s hula festival. That gives you an idea of the impact this 430-room, island-style haunt makes on people who come to call.

Open since 1964 on a prime three-mile stretch of beach, the Maui hotel immerses guests in all things Hawaiian, from its free daily activities and nightly outdoor hula show to its farewell kukui (candlenut) lei ceremony. Known as the state’s “Most Hawaiian Hotel,” it is famed for nurturing and sharing the culture and history of the islands like no other property. And talk about going the extra mile: Kaanapali Beach Hotel even keeps specific holiday decorations on hand for use by its year-end returnees.

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
A guest was quoted as saying, “When I die, I hope heaven is run by the Four Seasons Maui.”

That is the general consensus among aficionados of Maui’s first and only AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star Awards recipient. The 380-room oceanside spread reminds its frequent guests of their importance by welcoming them back with special amenities — a spa gift box, perhaps, or even monogrammed bathrobes.

Two decades old, the Four Seasons completed a $50 million renovation at the end of 2007. In July 2009, it added an eye-popping $9 million adults-only infinity pool where clients can listen to music underwater, swim up to a bar and watch high-definition televisions in their cabanas while using wireless headsets. No wonder it has garnered such a steadfast following, travel agents among them.

Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages
Each holiday season, members of the Drury and White families along with various friends — more than two dozen strong — travel from British Columbia to this singular West Kauai retreat. Once at the Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages, they call on the staff to help them craft a luau celebration replete with entertainment, an imu (underground oven) for the pig and all the festivities. As the sole hotel in Kauai’s Waimea area, the resort provides a perfect second home for clans who come back annually. Part of its charm lies in its accommodations, turn-of-the-century sugar plantation dwellings ranging from cottages with kitchens to the five-bedroom Manager’s House, all restored and updated with modern conveniences. Whether they’re gathered for outdoor barbecues and volleyball games or simply relaxing amidst the stately 27-acre coconut grove, diehard Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages fans find themselves happily drifting between the past and present, creating their rightful place in the hotel’s history.