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In the mid-1970s, Simone Rayden sold suntan lotion by the pool and beach at The Royal Hawaiian, Waikiki’s 1927 landmark hotel.
"I met the most wonderful guests from all over the world," said Rayden, now a travel agent with Nelson Travel in Studio City, Calif. "I learned so much about people and their countries, which inspired me to pursue a career in the travel industry when I moved back to California."
Agents are eagerly awaiting the reopening of one of Waikiki’s classic hotels.
Rayden has her own wish list for the soon-to-reopen hotel.
"I hope it offers its guests a true luxury product, with great rooms, comfortable beds, super-soft linens and upscale amenities," she said. "The lobby should have an elegant feeling, yet remain true to the Hawaiian culture. The pool should feature comfortable pads on the chairs, and the entire hotel staff should make guests feel at home. The spa should be state-of-the-art, and its restaurants need to please all palates."
From the sound of things, all of Rayden’s Royal wishes are coming true. Officials are promising a 528-room resort at once true to its roots and up to date. While the distinctive Spanish-Moorish architecture and rosy exterior remain, once inside, clients have access to all the expected modern amenities and technological advances. Refurbished guestrooms combine contemporary conveniences with elements that pay tribute to the hotel’s heritage.
A new feature for agents to sell is the Royal Beach Tower — a hotel within a hotel located adjacent to the hotel’s main building — featuring exclusive high-end suites with ocean views, spacious living rooms and bathrooms, private lanais, access to a private pool and dedicated concierge service.
Clients who revisit the Royal will discover rejuvenated dining options, including the oceanfront dinner-only Azure seafood restaurant; poolside Surf Lanai for breakfast and lunch; and its famed al fresco Mai Tai Bar, which is being completely revamped. Guests can also sip cocktails and sample gourmet pupus at the Royal Beach Tower’s Pool Lounge, a candlelit enclave of pool cabanas.
The Royal’s Abhasa Waikiki Spa is enjoying its own redo, including new garden cabanas, 14 new treatment rooms, a dedicated yoga and Pilates area and an updated menu of treatments. As part of its meeting space improvements, the Royal is restoring its interior boardrooms and ballrooms to their original splendor.
Peter Carideo, of CRC Travel in Chicago, visited the Royal about one year ago, just as the plans for the renovations were announced.
"I thought the hotel was looking a bit tired," he said, "but I was still impressed by the sheer magnitude of the property, and I could feel the sense of history as I walked down the halls. The staff glowed with pride and excitement about the possibilities to come. I hope that when the hotel is refreshed, it offers its guests a sense of history and place. I hope it maintains the warmth that it always had and the feeling of open space. These types of properties are no longer built, and reconditioning the Royal will show guests how history — combined with modern-day amenities — can make a hotel experience stand out."
While only a small number of Carideo’s clients have specifically asked to stay at the Royal in recent years, he’s excited about its reopening.
"I have a new product, but one with incredible history," he said.
As for Rayden’s high-end Oahu clients, most have been asking for the Halekalani or Kahala Hotel instead of the Royal. Still, she expects that trend to change come February.
"Waikiki truly needs another luxury product," she said. "If the Royal maintains its aloha spirit and remains a true five-star experience, it should be an easy sell."
The Royal Hawaiian866-716-8110www.royal-hawaiian.com
Nightly rack rates start at $560.
With the 1927 Package, clients pay $19.27 for the first night, with additional nights from $450 (a four-night minimum). Included are dinner for two at Azure, two mai tais and a hotel memento (good through June 30).
Click here for a photo tour of the Waikiki's beloved Royal Hawaiian Hotel