By Lena Katz
When the rest of the world decides it’s time to go back to work, Hawaii throws a month-long party. Truth. The annual Aloha Festivals brings live performances, arts and crafts, traditional costumes and cultural pride to the islands. Not to mention, the biggest block party of the year (Saturday, September 19 at 7 p.m. on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki). The theme of Aloha Festivals 2009 is “Hula, Let the Story be Told.” And in keeping, the theme of this blog is “Hotels, Let the Story Be Told,” in honor of Hawaii’s hotel brands — their Aloha spirit, their hardworking staff, and the hospitality they show millions of visitors on Hawaii vacations each year.
First shoutout goes to Outrigger, the family-owned hotelier that was the driving force behind the Waikiki Beachwalk renovation. After many years of effort and expenditures well over the triple-digit-millions mark, Waikiki is nearing the end of its transformation. Outrigger Reef is gleaming and bustling after a $110 million renovation. A new shopping center on Lewers opened recently, with 40+ stores where a few dusty kiosks used to be. The 18-month-old Embassy Suites hotel is the “star” of the Beachwalk, to quote one local businesswoman. It may not be a super-luxe property, but it’s a trusted brand that offers excellent value and permanent perks like the American breakfast buffet included with every overnight stay.
Big news for Waikiki Beachwalk this fall is the opening of Trump International in November. It remains to be seen whether spendy travelers will gravitate toward this glittery New York name for their Hawaii vacations, or opt for the traditional elegance of the Royal Hawaiian down the street. No matter what brand dominates, I look forward seeing some great deals on luxury Waikiki travel in the near future.
A few years ago I was pleased to see the first boutique “design” hotel arrive in Honolulu. Named the Hotel Renew, it was a unique offering that combined eco-conscious design/construction with ultra-modern high-tech amenities at a very reasonable price point.
These days, it’s not so unique — newcomer Aqua Hotels has adapted the eco-conscious/high-tech design style for an even lower price bracket, with hotels like the Equus (formerly the Hawaii Polo Inn) and Aqua Bamboo and Spa redefining the under-$100 category. Aqua also has two neighbor island properties, the Hotel Wailea on Maui and the Aqua Hotel Molokai.
One of Hawaii’s most ubiquitous brands in the 1990s, Aston Hotels & Resorts threw travelers for a loop when it briefly turned into ResortQuest Hawaii. Now it’s back to being Aston, with a presence on four islands and a comfortable niche in condo-hotel lodgings. The flagship Aston Waikiki is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary; the Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages just opened the Grove Café in time for summer, and the Whaler on Ka’anapali Beach in Maui completed an extensive 18-month revamp in June.
Of course, that’s not the end of the story of Hawaii hotels. It’s really just a jumping-off point. The point of a Hawaii vacation is to find the good stories — and experience the Aloha — for yourself.
Lena Katz is the author of SUN: California and SIP: California, part of the Travel Temptations series published by Globe Pequot Press.