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HGVC Ocean Tower is Now Open, but it shouldn't be.

HGVC Ocean Tower is Now Open, but it shouldn't be.

Old Oct 30, 18, 7:09 pm
  #1  
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Thumbs down HGVC Ocean Tower is Now Open, but it shouldn't be.

A while ago, the owners of the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort sold-off the Ocean Tower to Hilton Grand Vacations Club, (HGVC) a spin-off from Hilton itself. They had their grand opening on Saturday and I think they were about 1-2 years too early to do so. They said I was one of the first of 27 guests to book the resort on its opening night.

This dangerous location is not ready for guests and should not be open. And if it were ready to be open, there are likely better options available nearby. I simply cannot recommend this resort. Have kids? Stay away! Considering buying time/points at HGVC Ocean Tower? Consider other options.

While Hilton literature and websites are clear that construction on the Ocean Tower would be wrapped up by October 27 in time for the opening of the renovated tower for new guests, I was disappointed by arriving as one of the first guests to see not only construction not complete, but almost just getting started.

The Ocean Tower, originally open as part of the Hyatt Waikoloa Resort in 1988, and taken over by Hilton in 1993, is a multi-story complex consisting of 3 rings looking out to the resort, the ocean, or the property adjacent to the resort, far from the central lobby and porte-cochère for the resort. The first ring’s ground floor was home to the Palm Terrace restaurant; the second ring was home to the Boat Landing Cantina. The third ring, closest the ocean, was home to a pool inside the tower, while another series of pools and water slides lines the outside of the tower between it and the ocean. This tower was also home to the Seaside Putting Green. When the Hyatt opened the resort, it was one of the most expensive resorts built in the United States with a pricetag of about $360million; Hilton bought the whole place for $56million. Hilton Grand Vacations purchased the Ocean Tower and real estate near it for roughly $177million in 2017. Park Hotels, which owns and runs the Hilton Waikoloa Resort, has rights to operate and rent rooms in the Ocean Tower through a lease that runs through December 2019, with options for extensions. As with most other HGVC properties, you can rent rooms from HGVC as an owner or you can rent through Hilton as you would a hotel room.

For whatever reason, HGVC has opted to build out Ocean Tower gradually over time, creating a long-term construction nightmare for guests of the tower…whether they’re using the Hilton-operated regular rooms in the tower, or the HGVC updated rooms in the tower. Right now, HGVC has completed renovating what appears to be 2 or 3 floors of half of the rear ring, which overlooks into the area that was once the Palm Terrace Café. The café area was gutted and is now a large scale construction project where the eventual main lobby is for this resort. For now, the “lobby” consists of 2 small desks inside a small office area that was a tour desk/HGVC info area.

According to documents shared by Park Hotels, HGVC will take on additional inventory in the Ocean Tower for renovation in 2019. Considering it took them a year to get where they’re at now, I can’t imagine a 2019 or even 2020 completion date is realistic. It may not be until late 2020 or 2021 or beyond that the HGVC Ocean Tower is completely the HGVC property.

Down the road from the HGVC Ocean Tower / Hilton Waikoloa Resort is the Mauna Lani resort. They closed their doors earlier this fall and will remain closed until no sooner than November 2019. Their owner, DiamondHead Land, told reporters at the time that they “considered closing down only parts of the hotel during the renovation process but ultimately decided construction and the irritants that accompany it would have had too adverse an impact on the guest experience.”

Sadly, the HGVC Ocean Tower did not share this wisdom. Instead of a grand opening of a new resort, they’re giving guests the chance to splurge on expensive vacations in the literal middle of a construction project, with construction hazards everywhere compounded by shuttered resort grounds.

Check-in and check-out weren’t efficient at all. However, I can’t fault the new resort for that; it’ll take some time for agents to become familiar with the computers and know their way in/out of the check in/out process. It took about 20 minutes to check-in and about 10 minutes to check-out, although I walked away as they were still trying to figure out the computer. My folio was emailed about 10 minutes after. I’m sure things on this front will improve over time.

My room, a large one bedroom unit, is complete on the inside with most things working as they should. But outside, it’s a completely different story. Two of the three fire exits outside my room are blocked by construction barricades or debris. Work men in hard hats bustle by with tool boxes constantly. Inside my room, it’s hard to keep construction noise out. Because they’re not done with the rooms around me, I hear loud banging and drilling noises above and below me. Because the main lobby aka the Palm Terrace area is still in the middle of construction, all the noise and fumes from it rises up the tower. I don’t think things are going to well with the construction; I frequently heard a “fu#%” shouted by workers nearby. Outside, my view is of construction vehicles, dust, mud, and dead landscaping. If I turn my neck just right, I can make out the Pacific. But with dust and exhaust lifting up from construction vehicles outside (not to mention their annoying reverse beeping alarms that start chirping in the morning and run through to the night), the outside is no place to be. There was a modest amount of construction activity over the weekend, but the pace picked up furiously on the first Monday of my stay.

It also isn’t reassuring to see workers work right outside your room with hardhats, and in some cases, face masks.

While fire exits were blocked, construction materials line the halls. A box labeled “dangerous” epoxy is just outside my room, as are large buckets of assorted compounds, each with hazmat-like labels and icons on them. While there are areas boarded up and hiding behind construction barriers, there are just as many places open. There’s no signage and no rhyme or reason to what’s open, closed, or what should be closed. When I noticed one of my fire exits blocked today, I decided to look for an alternate route out. I went down a staircase only to find workers spreading some kind of substance onto the floor / stairs, making them impassible.

There’s plenty of other hazards abound: exposed wires, sharp metal, and all kinds of debris everywhere from nails to what I’m sure was not-so-healthy piles of construction dust.

I’m surprised OSHA allows workers to work in such an environment. I’m more shocked that the County of Hawaii gave the green light to the resort to welcome paying guests. In its current state, the resort is unsafe for adult guests. I’d even go so far to say it’s completely dangerous for kids. Parents, please, do not let your children out of your hand at this resort!

Beyond the massive construction, there appears to be a need for massive renovation elsewhere. Hilton closed the Boat Landing Cantina for my stay; the pools also have “closed” signs on them; the canal boats that used to float from tower to tower are also shut down indefinitely. I asked the Hilton about these closures: they couldn’t elaborate what happened to the Boat Landing Cantina other than say it’ll remain closed “for now”. For the boats, they said, “as part of the ongoing renovations on property, the boats are being completely redone with new engines and a new interior. It is a lengthy process that has to be done off-property, so unfortunately I don’t have an exact timeline on when they’ll be back in service.” Only one tram was working during my stay, which means at any given point, you’ll need to wait at least 15-20 minutes for a ride around the resort. (And with boats out of service and temperatures high, the single working tram was always full.) For the pools, HGVC says they consider pools closed when they have no lifeguard on duty. They didn’t give any indication of when a lifeguard would be put on duty.

The former bar/snack shop that was near the Ocean Tower pools is closed, replaced by a towel vending machine. The seaside putting green is gone. The only service in the area is provided by a guy who drives up/down the coastal sidewalk in a buggy, selling assorted drinks/snacks much like you’d find on a golfcourse.

The nearby restaurant building which hosted Kirin Chinese Food upstairs (which has been closed for years) and Donna and Toni’s Italian eatery on the downstairs, is permanently closed. HGVC says they’ll use the structure, which is now gutted and behind a construction barrier, as a future sales center. The adjacent elevator/walkway to the Palace Lawn is also shuttered. Loud construction noise and dust rise from this site.

With everything closed by the Ocean Tower, your best bet is to use the pools and eateries closest to the Lagoon Tower. This is a long walk or an equally long tram ride away. I timed my trip from my Ocean Tower HGVC room to KPC, the upscale eatery on the far side of the Hilton nearest to the Lagoon Tower. Even though a tram had pulled up as I reached the ground level of the tower from my room, it still took 30 minutes from door to door to get to the restaurant. Walking to the main lobby from my room, around the construction debris, takes about 15 minutes, making the tram service not much faster than simply walking.

Elsewhere at the Hilton, things are going on as usual with KPC, the Kona Tap Room, the Kona Pool Bar, the Lagoon Grill, and the Orchid Marketplace open. Shaka Cones, the ice cream place attached to the Lagoon Grill, was also open. I didn’t see/hear much about the Big Island Breakfast nor the Legends of Hawaii Luau, but I imagine those venues are open regularly too.

Basically, if you want to experience the best of the Hilton Waikoloa Beach property from the property itself, the Lagoon Tower is your best bet followed by the Palace Tower. I don’t know why the Ocean Tower would be desirable because it’s so far away from everything, most venues are closed, and the view from the opened rooms at HGVC is marginal at best.

And while there was talk that HGVC Ocean Tower would get its own entrance and its own parking lot, that is no longer the case. I asked HGVC about this at check-in and they said the plans were scrubbed: for now, and for at least the next few years, guests would need to park at the Hilton.

So while there’s no outrageous resort fee charged for HGVC Ocean Tower guests, there is the absolutely audacious and ridiculous $37/night charge to valet park here. I told the check-in agent that the parking fees were “highway robbery”; she nodded in silent agreement. (No other HGVC property charges for parking on the Big Island.) Parking is terribly inconvenient for guests here; not only is your car as far away as possible from your room, but it makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to haul groceries and other stuff (beach gear, snorkel equipment bikes, etc.) to/from your room and your vehicle. Despite the outrageous fee, service is slow; on my check-out day, there was only a single person fetching cars from the parking lot –unacceptable considering the fee.

Another additional cost: access to the hotel spa where locker rooms, showers, and various services are provided. For Hilton HHonors Gold and Diamond guests, access here is free. For HGVC guests, there’s an upcharge of $25/day for access.

Which brings me to the room itself: on the surface, it’s beautiful. Modern with contemporary décor, although missing much of any Hawaiian flair. There are five pieces of contemporary art in the room, but this generic room could really be at any location in the world and not feel out of place. There’s a mix of colors and finish in the room; it doesn’t feel extremely upscale, but nothing feels remotely downscale either. The floors are finished in faux wood vinyl planks, with the bathroom featuring large tile. There’s a large area rug in the living room. Lighting is OK; the bathroom is well lit and there’s ample lights/outlets throughout the room.

The kitchen table doubles as a kitchen island, a fixed structure with seating for 4 and storage drawers for kitchen supplies. The kitchen itself is compact but functional, featuring a very narrow but very tall Bosch refrigerator, LG dishwasher, LG range, and LG over-range microwave. There’s also a sink, although it’s more narrow than your typical kitchen sink. The sink also features an instant hot spout, which could be nice if you’re preparing instant coffee or a bowl of instant noodles. My only complaint: the island itself, which is the only working desk space in the room, has no outlets. I would charge up my notebook PC on the counter, and unplug it to work on it on the island until the battery ran out. The kitchen came with a rice cooker, pots, pans, coffee maker, blender, and service for four. There’s no toaster. Again, because it’s difficult if not impossible to get groceries to your room efficiently, I question the value of having a kitchen here other than reheating leftovers from on-site eateries.

I asked at the resort entrance about the process of getting groceries to the room: bell services will put your stuff in a queue to get to your room in about 20-40 minutes depending how busy they are. A tub of ice cream, a pack of chicken breasts, and a jug of milk will not last in Hawaii heat for 20-40 minutes. Walking from the self-park lot to the Ocean Tower with groceries? Your items will be thawed by the time you get to your room.

Behind the kitchen area is a laundry room: a small GE stacked washer/dryer is there, along with dustpan, iron, and ironing board. In the open living room there’s 2 chairs and sofa bed. I didn’t open the bed, but found it in sofa mode to be very uncomfortable and hard. A large flat screen TV is mounted on the wall; there’s also a Playstation/DVD player there. In this configuration, you can’t see the TV from the kitchen.

There’s a short hall leading to the master bath and a door to the master bedroom. The master bedroom is tight: just enough room to walk around the bed, and that’s about it. There’s also a TV mounted to the wall in there. There’s a small dresser with an integrated safe in the master bedroom, and a small closet in the hall next to the bathroom. And there’s also storage space available under the bed. The bed features standard HGVC bedding; I found it and the bed to be quite comfortable. There is no alarm clock or radio; while some may think that’s a minus, I find it to be a plus. There are plenty of outlets and USB plugs around the bed to keep things charged.

The master bath features a large free standing soaking tub, a single sink, a small shower, and an enclosed toilet room. The toilet includes the latest Toto Washlet. A sure hit with Japanese guests, the toilet senses your arrival and raises the lid. When you leave, it closes. It also beeps and sprays itself from time to time, presumably to stay clean. Bath features standard Hilton branded towels. In keeping with the theme of having a generic travel experience, rather than use Kohala Spa tropical amenities that Kings Land uses next door or what the Hilton resort uses itself, the Ocean Tower uses Crabtree & Evelyn Verbena and Lavender De Provence bath products.

The living room and the bedroom each have a balcony through sliding glass doors. The sliding glass doors, the only way for natural light to get into the room, each have a single near-block out shade you can raise and lower. But it’s all or nothing: you can either have your privacy in the dark or have no privacy at all with it raised. I’m surprised there’s no sheer or drape to cover the doors: I’d love to have a sheer closed to let some light in, and I’d love to have a sheer/drape partially open so I could use the slider to get outside. The balconies each feature two small chairs. While the Ocean Tower overhaul meant replacing metal railings with see-through Plexiglas walls, they did nothing to increase the balcony space. Nor did they add any outside light, making the space useless at night. The overhaul also meant the removal of screens: you can now no longer have your door open/screen closed to hear the rustle of the palm trees in the tropical tradewinds while keeping tropical bugs out. Based on these construction choices, I imagine the balcony is purely for looks and not for function.

The room is climate controlled by two loud units, run by wall touchpads in the kitchen and the master bedroom. They do the job, but they’re loud. The noise reminds me of the noise you’d experience of hearing wind rushing around the outside of a plane on your journey here. If you need ambient noise to sleep, this may do the trick. But if you’re like me and prefer absolute silence, you won’t get it here. Even when construction wraps up in the years ahead.

The room had ample cold and hot water with good water pressure. But with so few guests here, I’m not sure how the hot water demand will be met as construction is met. As a Hilton, this tower struggled to get hot water into the bathroom on a timely basis.

Both communications and entertainment were touch and go. While the TV had the usual HGVC Hawaii fare, I found the signal to go on/off often in the evening. Instead of a picture, my TV showed “No Signal” error messages. My T-Mobile cell phone works fine around the resort, including at the remote Buddha Point site outside of Ocean Tower, but was unable to get any signal inside the room. WiFi was decent in the room, but not incredibly fast. A check on SpeedTest shows 9.63Mps down and 9.90Mps up; I’d be concerned if additional guests in this tower means even reduced performance numbers. HGVC has their own WiFi in the rooms; Hilton Wifi is available for a fee or free in public areas and meeting rooms elsewhere on resort grounds.

Unlike the other HGVC rooms, Ocean Tower came with no bottled water or popcorn. I asked HGVC about this and they said they are becoming more environmentally friendly by not offering two bottles of water to guests for their stay. This wasn’t the case at my Kings Land stay just 2 weeks ago.

The overall room is a decent size; basically 1.5 the size of typical Hilton Waikoloa Village room, or roughly the size of one of their bay suites. But it is smaller than what’s available elsewhere on Hawaii by HGVC. As an example, this room is 590 square feet, small compared to King Land’s 924 square feet room in the same category. The size is worse when it comes to 2-bedrooms: A two bedroom unit here is 877 square feet, making it even smaller than a 1 bedroom unit at Kings Land and much smaller than the 1,269 square feet 2 bedroom unit at Kings Land or the 1,150 square feet 2-bedroom unit at Kohala Suites or the 1,484 square feet at The Bay Club. The three bedroom unit here is 1,315 feet versus the 1,600 square feet at Kings Land.

HGVC’s Kohala Suites, Bay Club, and Kings Land are all a walk or very short drive away. And they all represent much better value than what the Ocean Tower is now or will be. As an example, at Kings Land, in addition to beautiful functioning swimming pools and an on-site outdoor bar/restaurant, guests there have free parking footsteps from their rooms. Doing a grocery run and cooking in your suite or the outdoor grills is perfect. And if they want to use the Hilton resort pools and lagoon beach, they can, via a complimentary shuttle that brings guests back/forth, dropping them off in a much more convenient central location than where Ocean Tower guests are. And Kings Land is priced cheaper than the Ocean Tower, not counting daily parking fees upwards of $37/day. If you have a larger room, free parking, access to more and better pools, -and- access to the same restaurants/pools/beach that Ocean Tower guests have access to, why would anyone want to stay here? Especially in the midst of a multi-year construction nightmare?

Even when the construction is complete, there isn’t enough to make Ocean Tower that much better than other HGVC offerings here. And while ocean-front rooms will be nice when they’re ready in 2021, you’ll be able to get an ocean-facing suite in the Hilton’s Lagoon tower for a lower nightly cost. Maybe if they throw in free parking, drive you by golf cart to your room, and offer a daily food/beverage credit, it would be at parity to the other offerings.

Until that point, though, sadly I have to say “stay away.”


Watch out! Sharp metal here and there.


Construction materials line the halls, open public spaces at this resort.


Construction debris, materials, and workers everywhere.


This is the main lobby; they should have waited to open the resort once construction was complete.


Unfinished wiring on the ground.


Bedroom is tight but workable.


Kitchen is compact but functional.


Non-stop construction equipment outside the room.


Master bath includes walk-in shower and free standing tub. Nice finishes here along with Hilton branded towels.


No more Palm Terrace of years ago: now a new atrium with a faux lawn and coming-soon main lobby.


From the outside at the adjacent Hilton Waikoloa Village resort, the Ocean Tower Resort looks beautiful. Very different view inside though.


Rooms are open for rent, but no restaurant. The Boat Landing Cantina sits empty throughout my stay.
Weatherboy is online now  
Old Oct 30, 18, 7:40 pm
  #2  
 
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Hey man, I didn't read every single word, but the takeaway is "10/10, would recommend", am I right?
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Old Oct 31, 18, 9:27 am
  #3  
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tl;dr

This hotel was part of our honeymoon trip - top floor of Ocean Tower, 6 nights, 100k HH points, excellent lounge in the Ocean Tower for breakfast. This was as a mere Gold....HH used to be a really great program.

I gather the during-construction experience is pretty bad, but converting the Ocean Tower to HGVC makes it more likely that I go back someday. We'd probably bring the kids and would enjoy a larger space with a kitchen. We spent Spring Break at the MVCI that's a short walk away from there. It was a nice stay, although the MVCI units no longer include the full kitchen. This photo shows a full kitchen, which is a big advantage for a lot of people who look for timeshare type units.
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Old Oct 31, 18, 9:36 am
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pinniped's post does bring back some memories of the old 100K ALON award stays at this hotel. That really was a value, especially with the promotions that Hilton was running at the time. There was something in 2003 where you got like 50,000 bonus points for making 4 stays, I think. And the hotel was more impressive back then (at least compared to my last stay there five years ago). Still remember the look on my 3 year old's face when we walked into the lobby and the tram pulled through.

While I too didn't read the OP's post in its entirety, the pictures do give a new meaning to the phrase "soft opening."
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Old Oct 31, 18, 9:48 am
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Originally Posted by zachary View Post
And the hotel was more impressive back then (at least compared to my last stay there five years ago). Still remember the look on my 3 year old's face when we walked into the lobby and the tram pulled through.
Yeah, the place was really spectacular. As a Hilton member, it was a huge blessing that someone else built it sparing no expense at all, went bankrupt, and then Hilton has had this jewel of a property for so many years now. Shall we take a boat or a train to our room? Choices...

Even this past March, we walked over there and walked the grounds. It still looks great, but I was surprised at how few actual people I saw at the pools and outdoor restaurants. Only thing I can think of is that they're trying to price it as a luxury property and it's not really that...it's a giant resort with an upscale, but not luxury, vibe.
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Old Oct 31, 18, 12:22 pm
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Originally Posted by pinniped View Post
Only thing I can think of is that they're trying to price it as a luxury property and it's not really that...it's a giant resort with an upscale, but not luxury, vibe.
That wasn't my experience. When I was looking for places this past summer, this was one of the cheapest resorts on this part of the island.
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Old Oct 31, 18, 1:19 pm
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Originally Posted by Cledaybuck View Post
That wasn't my experience. When I was looking for places this past summer, this was one of the cheapest resorts on this part of the island.
Interesting, I just did some random quotes right now and found a bunch of cheap rates for the different parts of HWV. When I had looked a year ago (for March) the rates were very high, but then we settled on the Marriott Travel Package at the MVCI, getting ourselves a 1-br suite and taking the cash rate out of the mix. HWV was $350-400/nt., just as high as Marriott's Mauna Kea which is a fantastic much more upscale resort.

So maybe I just hit it at an unusual time. Stay there tonight for $144!! (Plus taxes and fees of course...)

Whatever happens, I ultimately hope the property remains a Hilton and their renovations indicate a desire to keep the property up-to-date. It is a very cool destination.
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Old Oct 31, 18, 7:40 pm
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Originally Posted by pinniped View Post
tl;dr
We'd probably bring the kids and would enjoy a larger space with a kitchen. We spent Spring Break at the MVCI that's a short walk away from there. It was a nice stay, although the MVCI units no longer include the full kitchen. This photo shows a full kitchen, which is a big advantage for a lot of people who look for timeshare type units.
Then head to HGVC Kings Land next door. As a guest of Kings Land, you can park for free at the Hilton resort or take the free shuttle. It'll be much cheaper and you'll have a larger room with an even larger kitchen with free parking close to it. It's quicker to get to the big pool at the Hilton or the beach from Kings Land than it is from the Ocean Tower. All for a fraction of the price.
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Old Oct 31, 18, 7:53 pm
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Originally Posted by pinniped View Post

So maybe I just hit it at an unusual time. Stay there tonight for $144!! (Plus taxes and fees of course...)

Whatever happens, I ultimately hope the property remains a Hilton and their renovations indicate a desire to keep the property up-to-date. It is a very cool destination.
My experience is the average nightly rate is around $160 in the Ocean Tower to $220 elsewhere, +/- $20 over holiday or slow periods. Of course this is base rate before tax + parking of $27-37/night + resort fee of $40/night. It's priced around the same per night as the Marriott down the road. And a tad higher than the hotels south of the airport in Kona. But on Hawaii's Gold Coast, it's a relative bargain compared to the more upscale resorts that price just under $1,000 to just over $1,000 / night on average. In the Waikoloa Beach Resort and the Mauna Lani Resort next door, there's been a big loss of hotel rooms due to reconstruction or timeshare development. People are buying into HGVC and Marriott's equivalent...or the ton of vacation rental inventory that exists in the area... rather than pay for a hotel in this market.

There's been talk that if HGVC goes well at Ocean Tower, they'd also acquire the Palace Tower and downsize the Hilton to just the Lagoon Tower. I can't imagine that happening in less than 5-10 years. How people vacation then may be very different from today.
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Old Nov 2, 18, 7:16 am
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Thanks for the very detailed report and warning. ^
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Old Dec 30, 19, 3:13 pm
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Has anyone been recently after the renovations described by the very comprehensive post by Weatherboy at the beginning?
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Old Dec 30, 19, 6:19 pm
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I was there in August on an award 5night stay in the Ocean Tower and got an unrefurbished room with lanai facing the Buddha- I want to say 3rd floor?

I assume by the OP this entire tower was supposed to become HGVC? If so, it wasn’t the case as of 4 months ago.
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Old Dec 31, 19, 8:54 am
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HGVC is renovating in phases with time in between (maybe a year, I don't remember). It didn't start with the oceanview rooms though. I stayed there in September as an HGVC owner, so I was in the new part. No outside construction, but I noticed painters in a couple of the units on my floor. If you're booking through hilton.com, it's unlikely you'll get a renovated room.
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