Luxury, Hawaiian Style

Coffee plant in a field in Kona Hawaii
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Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’S Hawaii Loa Presidential Villa has three bedrooms and is popular with families.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’S Hawaii Loa Presidential Villa has three bedrooms and is popular with families.

Iconic luxury hotels in Hawaii are enhancing their game. From Honolulu to Hualālai, plan your next Aloha State getaway with these updates in mind.

The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, is an Old World standard. The “Pink Palace of the Pacific” opened in 1927 and has never gone out of style. A little renovation now and then has kept it in tune with the times, though.

The hotel’s latest upgrade debuted April 1, and we were there for a preview.

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The Royal Beach Tower has been spiffed up and renamed The Mailani Beach Tower. The idea is to provide an enhanced experience for tower guests. It’s not quite a hotel-within-a-hotel, but close.

Upon arrival, guests are whisked off to a dedicated Mailani Beach Tower reception desk. It’s next to a new open-air “lounge” that transforms the tower rooms into a club level of sorts.

In the morning, it was nice to wander down to the lounge for unlimited espresso drinks from the barista coffee station. Hint: Sparkling wine Mimosas are available as well. A selection of pastries, Greek yogurts, tropical fruit, nuts and oatmeal constituted a hearty enough breakfast (though big eaters or teens might disagree). 

In the evening, signature cocktails, along with beer and wine, flow in abundance. Flatbreads, olives and assorted spreads serve as quick appetizers before heading off to dinner.

During the day, there’s a staffed concierge desk in the lounge. They can arrange for surfing, catamaran rides and off-site excursions. Contact Wendy Nagaishi ([email protected]; 808-923-7311), head concierge, or Cori Hara ([email protected]; 808-923-7311), director of guest experience, for more information.

Mailani Beach Tower rooms have been refreshed with a more beach-inspired feel. We especially like the Pink Frette bathrobes and amenities by Malie Organics. (Reed diffusers in island-inspired scents are best-sellers in the resort’s Malie Organics shop.)

Top-level accommodations at The Royal Hawaiian are its four Prestige Suites. Only one, the 17th-floor Ali’i Suite, is in the Mailani Tower. It can be connected to an adjoining room to create a second bedroom. The other three Prestige Suites: The King Kamehameha and the two-bedroom Royal Hawaiian and Queen Ka‘ahumanu Suites, are in the Historic Wing. For questions about room selection, contact Charlene Nakamura ([email protected]; 808-931-7144), director of sales and marketing.

The resort’s signature restaurant, Azure, is garnering rave reviews with some new dining concepts. They’re the brainchild of Chef de Cuisine ShaymusAlwin, an alum of The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. He’s introduced the Royal Papa’aina Menu that is served (with 48-hours’ notice) in a beachfront cabana.

Alwin’s also come up with a new spin on the traditional wedding dinner. Azure 210 offers a private ocean front “enhanced buffet” for groups of 30-65. Contact Reina Yoshihara ([email protected]; 808-923-7311), or Kyoko Stockwell ([email protected]; 808-923-7311), Azure staff members, to discuss private dining options.

After dinner, a taste of the resort’s famous pink haupia cake is a must. It’s a coconut cake filled with haupia, the coconut pudding that’s an island staple. And no trip to The Royal Hawaiian is complete without a stop at the Mai Tai Bar. The Royal Mai Tai and Scratch Mai Tai are age-old standards, perfect for toasting the iconic Hawaiian setting.

The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort opened in 1927 but got its latest upgrade in April.
The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort opened in 1927 but got its latest upgrade in April.

In contrast to The Royal Hawaiian, the Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk is a modern marvel. The 38-story tower across from Waikiki Beach is a favorite of celebrities such as Rihanna. It’s big with the baby-stroller set as well.

That’s probably due to its residential-style design. Rooms and suites range in size from 355 to 2,050 square feet. Configurations include studios, one, two and three bedrooms. All feature gourmet kitchens with Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances; marble-accented baths; and washer/dryer units.

The Trump’s top digs are located on its top three floors. Trump Executive Suites feature upgraded furnishings and decor, along with impressive Waikiki views. Even more over-the-top (this is Trump after all) is the Diamond Head Penthouse Suite. Its eclectic, modern look includes a glass-walled bedroom, sleek Italian cabinetry plus a hot tub on the terrace. Its best feature, however, is the panoramic view of Waikiki, the Honolulu cityscape, and Ko‘olau Mountains.

To ensure the best beach views in the house, request Ocean View or Ocean Front accommodations. Catherine Orlans ([email protected]; 808-683-7402), sales administration and conference services manager, can help with room selection.

Though it’s not directly on the beach, the Trump Waikiki doesn’t skip a beat. They provide beach bags filled with water, towels and snacks for guests to pick up on their way out.

It’s part of the service that really does set the hotel apart.

Another feature is the Trump Attaché, a cross between a concierge and a personal shopper. The attaché will stock your fridge; arrange for an in-room personal trainer or use of a house car. They can also arrange for a private chef to cook dinner in the room. 

The King Kamehameha Suiteis one of the four Prestige Suites at The Royal Hawaiian.
The King Kamehameha Suiteis one of the four Prestige Suites at The Royal Hawaiian.

For more elaborate outings, the Trump Experiences program is a collection of customized activities. They include surf safaris, food tours and private helicopter golf excursions. For more information, contact Kawai Yamashiro ([email protected]; 808-683-7423), chief concierge.

Note: There’s also a sixth-floor infinity pool and The Spa at Trump. The latter uses gemstone-infused oils in treatments. Contact Bridgette Devore ([email protected]; 808-683-7466), director of spa, for more information.

The health club is infinitely accessible; that’s because the hotel will lend you everything you need to work out. Simply call the front desk and you’ll soon have workout clothes, shoes and even an iPad loaded with music to pass the time away on the treadmill.

In our case, it assuaged the guilt of a Mai Tai sampling at the Wai’olu Ocean View Lounge. Their Ilikea Mai Tai is a decadent concoction of Bacardi 8-year-old rum, amaretto, Canton ginger liqueur, kaffir lime sour, caramelized pineapple puree, Bacardi Select and a scoop of the homemade pineapple-Bacardi Gold Rum sorbet.

The Mai Tais (and sushi platters) are big with the locals, as we discovered during a recent Friday stay. Clearly, they know a good thing. The street side of the Wai’olu Ocean View Lounge provides excellent views of the nearby Friday night fireworks show.

Most Fridays sell out, so make reservations before you arrive. Book the hotel itself at least six months in advance, especially during holiday and summer periods. Waikiki’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel has remained something of a best-kept secret with the North American market. But it won’t stay that way for long.

On Hawaii Island, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at historic Ka‘ūpūlehu holds a perennial spot on global “best of” lists. It’s easy to understand why. The expansive property on the south Kona-Kohala Coast is surrounded by white sands, lava rock and the mesmerizing surf. Always popular with high-profile guests, it’s introduced new features for top suites. 

 The new Suite Experience Managers program provides an around-the-clock concierge team for the top 10 of the resort’s 51 suites and villas. Those top suites are the most in-demand, especially for extended family groups. They include the Hawaii Loa Presidential Villa and Makaloa Villa. Both feature three bedrooms.

If you don’t book a suite, make sure to secure an Oceanview Deluxe Room. Our favorites are the downstairs versions, featuring outdoor lava rock garden showers.

General Manager Robert Whitfield ([email protected]; 808-325-8004) and Resort Manager Cindy Racco ([email protected]; 808-325-8004) can help with questions about the property.

The two head concierges, Chenin Mathews ([email protected]; 808-325-8122) and Laura Flores ([email protected]; 808-325-8122) can help with activities.

These days, high-end properties don’t offer activities so much as “experiences.” At the Four Seasons, those experiences can follow any number of paths, such as romance, wellness, culture, family and ocean life.

Our favorite new addition here is a couple’s treatment hale (building) at The Hualalai Spa, with dual outdoor shows, a Japanese cedar soaking tub and a private garden area. Crystal Poe-Cabatbat ([email protected]; 808-325-8193), sports club & spa director, can provide additional information.

The mantra for the resort’s cuisine now is “RSA,” which stands for Regional, Seasonal and Artisanal. Sustainability and local sourcing provide quite the island bounty. Puna goat cheese, poha berries from the slopes of Mauna Kea, Kona coffee and local microgreens are everywhere.

New dining experiences include Chef’s Counter, in which a couple enjoys a custom-designed dinner cooked right in front of them. Advance reservations are a must.

The best things at Four Seasons Hualalai don’t require reservations, though.

Our room overlooked the King’s Pond, a 1.8-million gallon “aquarium” carved out of natural lava rock. Each morning and evening, we relaxed with a cup of Kona coffee or a glass of wine and looked for a visitor. Endangered green sea turtles emerged to rest on the shore, and then turned back to the sea.

Twenty miles up the KohalaCoast, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is marking a milestone. It’s been 50 years since Laurance S. Rockefeller built the region’s first resort on the edge of Kauna‘oa Bay.

The classic of mid-century architectural design is now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Its 252 guest rooms are newly refreshed in time for the half-centennial. Festivities began in December 2014 and will continue throughout 2015. A gala week celebration took place from July 21-26.

If you plan to catch any 50th festivities, book as soon as possible. The most-requested room categories are on the eighth floor and include the Premium Ocean View Deluxe category and the 1,610-square-foot Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa Suites.

The Mauna Kea’s Beachfront Wing is popular with guests who want direct beach access. Renovations in 2013 created rooms with huge walk-in closets and a new bathroom floor plan. The resulting tub and shower room is big enough to live in.

Interestingly, many guests prefer the golf view rooms to the ocean views. They provide a tree-house vista of trees and green that has a soothing quality to it. For questions about room selection, contact Libby Child ([email protected]; 808-880-3442), leisure sales executive.

Golf is a huge draw at the Mauna Kea, whose famous Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed course is one of the top-ranked in the country. Jones’ son Rees modernized the course in 2008. But its hallmarks remain unchanged: views of the ocean, the Kohala coastline and Hawaii’s most famous volcanoes. Josh Silliman ([email protected]; 808-882-5409), director of golf, can help with golf-related questions.

The 11-court Seaside Tennis Club serves up the game with views of the coast. Resident pros oversee daily clinics, lessons and round-robin tournaments. The highly rated facility even has an international following. A Russian billionaire recently anchored his mega-yacht off the coast and sent his son ashore for lessons.

In its 50 years of existence, the Mauna Kea has developed some culinary traditions. Some are venerable, such as weekly clambake and luau. Others are newer, such as the wine series dinners that run from January to July at Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar.

The resort’s watering holes attract different crowds during the day. The Number 3 restaurant and lounge is a great place to enjoy a hearty burger after a round of golf. The Gazebo Bar beckons beachgoers with ice-cold tropical drinks and local micro-brews. And the Copper Bar is a gathering spot for couples at sunset, with its soft Hawaiian music and hula. Make sure to try the resort’s signature drink, the Fredrico and its new counterpart, the Fredrica.

For special experiences during your stay, get in touch with the lead concierge, Nikki Reeves ([email protected]; 808-882-5707). She can arrange private torch-lit dinners, and private or customized island excursions that include stargazing atop Mauna Kea, nighttime viewing at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, some helicopter flight-seeing, or deep-sea fishing, whale watching or snorkeling charters.

Though why anyone would want to leave Kauna‘oa Bay, voted the best beach in the country, is beyond us.

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