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The Luxury Hotels of Hawaii

The Luxury Hotels of Hawaii

Old Oct 13, 08, 12:58 pm
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The Luxury Hotels of Hawaii

I recently returned from a site inspection visit to three Hawaiian islands — Maui, Lanai, and the Big Island. This is a summary of my impressions.


I spent two nights in the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. The positives: It's a beautiful resort, beautiful rooms, great pool, and the Beach House Restaurant right by the beach was an idyllic place to have lunch, sitting in the shade of the palm trees. The Club Lounge was quite nice. The resort has the award-winning Ambassadors of the Environment kids program. The negatives: It's too big. The walk from the lobby to our room took us down two long hallways. And there was an especially long walk from the rooms and pool area down to the beach. (The reason: an ancient burial ground was found where Ritz-Carlton originally wanted to build the hotel, and so the location was moved further from the beach).

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. The FS was more compact than the Ritz-Carlton, but it's too compact in my view. Too much resort is crammed into too little space. The rooms are newly renovated; they were nice, but I can't say that I absolutely loved them (the color schemes didn't do it for me). The property is currently constructing a Serenity Pool in the southwest corner of the property, an adults-only facility that will allow couples on a romantic weekend to enjoy a pool where kids aren't splashing and making noise. Plusses: a complimentary children's program. DUO is a great restaurant.

Fairmont Kea Lani. This is a large, all-suite property, and the best thing I can say about it is that you get a lot of space for your dollar. Suites are 840 square feet. However, the suites are tired and in need of renovation, and the grounds did not have the lush landscaping that other Hawaiian resorts feature. The architecture (hard to describe -- Moorish?, Mediterranean?) did not create an island feeling for me.

Where to stay in Maui? It's not a five-star luxury property, but I've always liked the Napili Kai -- a low-rise property with condominium units on a very nice beach.


I next spent two nights on Lanai. This is a smaller island I had never before visited -- with just 3000 residents, only 65 miles of roads, and no traffic lights. We took the ferry from Lahaina (45 minutes) and were meet at the dock by representatives from Four Seasons who got our luggage from the ferry and drove us to The Lodge at Koele. This is a truly beautiful resort with gorgeous grounds. It is located about 1000 feet above sea level and enjoys temperatures about 10 degrees cooler. There is a challenging 18-hole putting course (in addition to a regular golf course) that I really enjoyed playing.

Four Seasons bought their two properties on Lanai from Castle & Cooke, and the facilities do not have the "feel" of typical Four Seasons hotel rooms. Our room at The Lodge was beautiful in every way - but there was only a single vanity in the bathroom, and there was not a separate shower stall. No marble either - but some very attractive and colorful tile! This did not detract from our experience, but it's something to be aware of.

A complimentary shuttle runs every thirty minutes between the Lodge and Manele Bay. The ride takes 25 minutes, and guests can charge everything to their room, no matter which property they are staying at. Manele Bay has a beautiful and secluded beach.

I would recommend staying at the Lodge (I preferred the rooms here) and shuttling down to the beach.


Four Seasons Hualalai. This is, without question, my favorite of all the properties I saw. Except for the fact that there is some major construction currently underway.

This is a low-rise property with the units contained in four "crescents" facing the beach. Guest rooms are beautiful, and many of the ground floor rooms have private outdoor showers. Each crescent has its own pool. They say that guests either love or hate King's Pond (at the north end of the beach). This crescent surrounds a completely natural pool formed with lava rock, and I saw guests snorkeling in it. However, the crescent doesn't have the beautiful lawns that the other three crescents have - and I personally wouldn't want to stay here. The Palm Grove crescent (at the south end of the beach) is best for honeymooners and couples on a romantic trip to Hawaii as it has an adults-only pool.

What about the construction? This is heavy construction. There is a special unpublished website that has a map showing the state of construction for any set of dates that you would want to consider. FS is "filling in" the space between some of the detached buildings in order to create additional suites, and there was heavy construction equipment in plain view on the Kings Pond crescent during my visit. The entire Beach Tree crescent was closed as they were enlarging the pool.

Where else to stay on Hawaii while the FS is undergoing construction? There's not a clear-cut answer.

I spent two evenings at the Fairmont Orchid in a Gold Level room. This was originally a Ritz-Carlton property that Fairmont has taken over. The rooms are large, and the bathrooms have dual vanities with separate tub and shower. The grounds are beautiful, and there is a safe swimming beach off to the south side of the property. However, I had the same experience of having to walk down a long hallway to get to my room - which detracts from the feeling I want a beach resort to provide.

The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel has smaller rooms than the Orchid, and I thought the bathrooms could use some updating. However, this property has the better beach ... and has an "open-air" design that I found very appealing. There are no closed hallways; everything opens up to a central courtyard (click on the link for a picture).

Finally, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is under renovation but is scheduled to open next spring. Located on a beautiful, wide beach, this was originally a Rockresort. I couldn't see any of the renovated guestrooms. I did see a photograph, but it's hard to judge the quality of the furnishings from a photograph. We did see some rooms at the adjoining sister property, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, which claims to be 4*. The rooms smelled musty and not up to the standards of your typical ... Marriott.

So where to stay for your visit to Hawaii? I have no clear-cut answers. Once FS Hualalai has finished its renovations, this is the obvious first choice. Until then ... you might consider the Kahala Resort on Oahu. I stayed there several years ago and loved the setting ... and their rooms have since been completely renovated.

Last edited by DavidO; Oct 13, 08 at 4:39 pm
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Old Oct 13, 08, 1:55 pm
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Appreciate the report. We will be in Maui in Feb and agonized over where to stay.

I guess we didn't really consider the Ritz Carlton. You obviously stayed in a club level room. Sounds like a nice experience.

We actually came very close to staying at the FS, even though people said the swimming pool is tiny and crowded...and they had trouble finding a lounger. The service, rooms and restaurants are supposed to be excellent, as is the staff. But in the end, we decided against it as they will be constructing a new adults only pool and I was worried about the noise.

We did decide on the Fairmont. Just to sum it up, we were told the food, room and service were all great and that the pool and beach were lovely. People said they would definitely stay at the property again. I guess we'll see.
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Old Oct 13, 08, 4:03 pm
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Thanks for the really comprehensive report. Much appreciated.
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Old Oct 14, 08, 5:36 am
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Thanks David for the great report.

The only thing stopping us from returning to the 4S Hualalai is the distance,it is sooooooooooooooooo far away!!
I was there back in july pre construction and it was just heaven.

That said,it's on the list for next year (As is the much more do able Sandy Lane distance wise) time willing!
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Old Oct 15, 08, 8:07 am
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DavidO - Thank you for your trip report. I could not agree with you more regarding FS Hualalai and appreciate your insights on the construction as I do comparison to others on the islands. I would add the following observations of the five crescents (from north to south), of which we have had the pleasure to stay on two thanks to you.

King's Pond - Quite, good ocean views, not as much greenery. They will be building a mega 5 bedroom suite at the northern most tip of the cresent.
Sea Shell - Best for families that like the sea shell pool. Very green with thatched huts making it feel the most Hawaiian.
Beach Tree - Most central to the all parts of the resort, including Main House, Beach Tree Grill and of course . Tends to be adult couples who come regularly to Hualalai (and there are many who do).
Palm Grove - I agree entirely with your call on this and feel it is the most private for honeymooners and they like. The area is very green which while beautiful can reduce the uninterupted vistas of the ocean that one might get on the King's Pond.
Golf-Ocean - Set further back from the ocean behind the 18th hole, but still with an ocean view. Nearest the golf pro shop and Alan Wong's Hualalai Grill. Relatively private, particularly in the evenings.

FS Hualalai is one of the few resorts where every room is truly nice and you need not worry about overlooking a parking lot, etc. Mrs. mktozd would love to become one of the resort regulars and over time I suspect we will try to stay in each of the crescents. Aloha!
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Old Oct 21, 08, 4:31 pm
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I took my husband to Hawaii for 3 weeks for his 50th birthday (which was 13 years ago). We did 3 weeks because I was quite sure it was a very long once in a lifetime trip - and we wanted to see as much as possible. We stayed at luxury hotels - which I am sure are all different now.

I think the most important choice with regard to Hawaii isn't the specific property - but the island. We stayed at 4 of the 6 - all except Lanai and Molokai - and liked the Big Island the best of the 4. Because it was "laid back" - not all that crowded - and there was plenty to do - in many different micro-climates. But the mileage of any individual tourist will vary - depending on whether he/she wants to play golf - or look at orchids - or go horseback riding - etc.

Note that Kauai had not recovered from Hurricane Iniki back then - so our impressions of it today might be different than those we had 13 years ago. Robyn
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Old Oct 22, 08, 8:23 pm
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Did you find The Lodge at Koele to be very busy? I've always wanted to go there.
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Old Oct 22, 08, 10:02 pm
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Did you have a chance to visit Kona Village Resort? If so, I would like to hear your impression or impressions from others who have stayed there recently. FS and Kona Village are nearly side by side, yet could not be more different. Rates are similar.
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Old Oct 22, 08, 10:13 pm
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The Lodge at Koele had a feeling of spaciousness. The property is large (with essentially no neighbors), the lodge itself is spread out and only two stories tall, and there was no sense of being in a crowd at all.

I saw the Kona Village Resort from afar (while eating lunch at the FS) but did not visit.
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Old Oct 22, 08, 11:17 pm
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Originally Posted by DavidO
The Lodge at Koele had a feeling of spaciousness. The property is large (with essentially no neighbors), the lodge itself is spread out and only two stories tall, and there was no sense of being in a crowd at all.

I saw the Kona Village Resort from afar (while eating lunch at the FS) but did not visit.
Thanks for your candor.^
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Old Oct 23, 08, 10:33 am
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Originally Posted by obscure2k
Thanks for your candor.^
Interesting question about Kona Village Resort. My wife and I wondered down there one day while staying at Hualalai. The grounds are much more lush compared to Hualalai (which we absolutely love). Somehow Kona Village is the sort of place that you read about in old tour books, and seems to evoke visions of a time and place far away. Certainly not as focused on luxury, but the service seems to be good.
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Old Oct 26, 08, 11:05 pm
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I have always loved the Mauna Lani resort, but it seems that not everyone feels that way, to me it is just so relaxing, in a way that the mega resorts can never be...but I also love the FS Hualalai. Then again, I also love Maui, but none of the resorts there compare, IMHO.
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Old Aug 28, 09, 6:03 pm
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Time for a thread revival. Must stay in HNL for a wedding early next year.

Big question: Halekulani or Kahala?

My wife and I did the Kahala back when it was an MO property and, other than its tired age, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Drinks in the spectacular lobby during sunset, dinner at Hokus, and the spectacular buffet breakfast all contributed to the hotel placing on our "Top 10" list. We relish the peace and quiet, and don't mind the short drive into town.

However, at a recent FS stay, we ran into an employee who said she used to work at the MO Kahala and said it was her favorite hotel in the world until MO divested it. Her opinion was that the "new" Kahala is mismanaged and is no longer a proper luxury resort. That opinion seems to disagree with most of the online reviews I've read, however.

My parents recently stayed at Halekulani and said service was over the top, but the rooms were less than spectacular. They were specifically disappointed that their "ocean view" room was partially obstructed by palm trees, as well as the "fishbowl" effect of the room. The room was booked through Virtuoso and they received a 1-category upgrade as promised. However, I followed up with a personal note to the GM, and asked for an additional upgrade since they were at moderate occupancy. I would have hoped for at least 2-3 categories like I have received at other hotels in this economy, but my request was downright denied. Obviously the Halekulani is more centrally located, but that means more noise and crowds, right?
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Old Aug 28, 09, 7:45 pm
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It'll be interesting to see how the St. Regis Princeville will measure up when it opens in a few weeks.
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Old Aug 28, 09, 7:54 pm
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Originally Posted by Shangri-La
It'll be interesting to see how the St. Regis Princeville will measure up when it opens in a few weeks.
seriously? it was a westin, although it was a $40MM (originally at least?) renovation. kauai resorts have fared very poorly in this forum IIRC. (actually, FS hualalai is probably the only hawaii resort to not get mixed reports. IIRC only one poster has said anything negative.) re starwood, st regis NY is probably one of the few to get mixed reports here instead of poor. and then there are things like this >

...Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., the U.S. owner of luxury brands including St. Regis and W Hotels, will let some of its properties reduce their level of service -- and number of stars -- until the industry begins to recover, spokeswoman K.C. Kavanagh said...

“Given the current economic climate, we may allow an individual property to adjust its services to below the agreed star rating,” said Kavanagh. She declined to name any of the hotels...
inevitable spin >
“Given the current challenging economic environment, we as responsible owners and operators have diligently implemented protocols to control costs, largely behind the scenes. This is particularly crucial in the luxury segment where our guests’ expectations are understandingly high and we believe there has been no discernable impact on the guest experience. Some examples of cost cutting include, consolidating vendors and leveraging the collective buying powers of Starwood’s brands...
total nonsense. even FS has reportedly done short term restaurant closures. marriott was up front about cost cutting. RC bachelor gulch closed for a month, with unpaid leave for all employees. not to mention if youre not FS with super strict contracts, owners can threaten to reflag and force concessions fairly easily id think. seems like lots of starwoods dropping lately, while hilton is picking up a TON.

Last edited by Kagehitokiri; Aug 28, 09 at 8:05 pm
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