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Like the majority of visitors to Oahu, I had spent most of my time on the island amidst the bustle of Waikiki where sunbathers packed the shores and hotel rooms were as plentiful as pineapples. For a more tranquil Hawaiian vacation, Oahu’s neighboring islands came to mind, but I often wondered about a locale where travelers could find the best of both worlds.
On my most recent trip to Oahu, I learned that such a place does exist (for those who can afford it). The Kahala Hotel and Resort is located on the other side of Diamond Head, not 15 minutes from busy Waikiki and, while the resort’s serenity is well known to many repeat guests, the Kahala continues to make improvements in order to — as new director of food and beverage Todd Oldham put it — “gain new fans.”
When I first opened the door to my oceanview lanai room, my surroundings became an afterthought. It was as any room with a spectacular view should be — the expansive sliding-glass doors presented a sweeping blue ocean vista and out on the spacious lanai Diamond Head loomed large to my right. It was this view that helped quell apprehensions about the rack rate — at $950 per night for this category. Not that the 550-square-foot room itself wasn’t lavish, with a king-size bed, a 40-inch, flat-screen LCD television and a bathroom with double vanities, all made over in subtle Hawaiian decor.
The Kahala will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014, but the rooms didn’t give this away, all having gone through a $30 million makeover (part of a $52 million renovation completed in 2009). During a site inspection, I feasted my eyes on one of the 1,100-square-foot, one-bedroom suites — steeped in understated decadence — then walked out to the lanai to find bottlenose dolphins swimming in the lagoon below.
One of the best places to watch the five resident dolphins is in the outdoor sitting area of one of four Dolphin Deluxe rooms on ground level. Each room is 700 square feet, comes with dark hardwood floors and provides a quiet space to observe the dolphins in the early morning when they are most active. Other highlights at Kahala include its Signature Suite Collection and its private beach, almost unheard of on Oahu.
Still, there was no need to leave the property when I could visit the Kahala Spa, where a lomilomi massage took me to the upper heights of relaxation. There are also four dining options at the resort: Hoku’s for fine-dining dinner and Sunday brunch, the Seaside Grill for lunch and drinks, Plumeria Beach House for casual breakfast, lunch and dinner and the Veranda for tea and cocktails.
The food and beverage department at The Kahala is currently undergoing improvements, brought on by Oldham. His first big project will be a makeover of the Veranda, including new hardwood floors, custom furniture made by Tommy Bahama, better use of the lanai overlooking the dolphin lagoon and Koko Head as well as new menu items.
In early 2013, Arancino at the Kahala will open its doors in the former location of Tokyo Tokyo, offering traditional Napoli style cuisine with Japanese flair and bistro seating. Oldham pointed out that Arancino will be “a great people-watching place because [the outdoor seating] will be right outside the grand entrance.”
With Kahala’s list of past guests — including Sir Elton John, Rhianna and most recently the Dalai Lama — when Arancino opens, I think it is fair to say that many a sightseer will be pulling up a chair.