I went to Lanai for 4 days for relaxation and Oahu for 7 days for a business trip. This was the first time I have been to Hawaii. I booked the Lanai part of the trip, which included interisland flights, hotel stay, and transfers as part of a package. I booked everything on my own for Oahu through my company travel agency. While I had high expectations of Hawaii, and they were not entirely let down, I must say that it is NOTHING like I imagined! I know I chose an island that is off the beaten path, but this just makes me want to visit ALL of the islands now!
Flights: I somehow got extremely lucky and flew American Airlines first class from Washington-Dulles to Honolulu and back. I had previously flown a long flight like this one (to French Polynesia) and knew that first class was the way to do it to make the flights more enjoyable and more comfortable. I must admit the upgraded flight to French Polynesia spoiled me! Anyway, I had a connection in Los Angeles both ways and everything ran on time and smoothly, except for the overabundance of children on the red eye from LAX on my return flight. They were loud the entire time, which made me thankful for first class once again. Most of the coach passengers complained after the flight. While first class on the Dulles to LAX flight may be a waste of money to some, the upgrade on the flight from LAX to Honolulu was welcomed with open arms. There was a TON of extra leg room and a wonderfully soft pillow and blanket waiting for me on my seat. I extended my leg rest, reclined my seat, and took a nice, long nap!
I got into Honolulu airport and had around 2 hours before my interisland flight was to take off. I knew I had to make my way over to another terminal, so I got my bag from the baggage claim and made my way to the Wiki Wiki Shuttle stop. I waited, and waited, and finally decided to walk. It took me 15 minutes or so (maybe more) to walk to the Island Air terminal. Just as I walked up to the main entrance to the terminal, I saw the shuttle for the first time. As for the flight on Island Air, it was a short 20 minute flight on a small commuter plane that holds around 30 people tops. I had no complaints with them at all. Following my return flight to Honolulu, I waited for the Wiki Wiki shuttle and it was an easy ride to the United baggage claim to meet my co-worker. I will NOT be walking on my next trip!
Lanai:I purposely did little research on Lanai to come in with a fresh, unbiased mind. I arrived in Lanai after sunset, so I didn’t get a good glimpse of the island or the resort until the next day. From what I could tell, though, the island was different from anything I imagined. I was really surprised to see so many pine trees around, and the shuttle driver explained that the needles suck in moisture, which in turn, helped the soil remain moist for the pineapple plantations. When I woke up the next morning, I began to explore the resort a little. The resort looked a little more like a tropical paradise- hibiscus plants and other tropical flora, and of course, palm trees that studded the walkways and the beach area. However, when I made my way up the Lanai City and the Lodge at Koele, I was shocked to see tons of open fields, large rolling hills, and NO palm trees!! It was gorgeous scenery, albeit far from lush and tropical, and there were dramatic cliffs looking down to the ocean. I know I chose an island that is not the norm for Hawaiian vacationers, but I was honestly expecting lush lands, full of greenery, palm trees to the max, and miles of beach. The only beach I saw was at Manale Bay and it was far from sprawling. I admit, I was intially disappointed, because I had heard so much about Hawaii and it’s beaches, gorgeous blue water, and exotic flare. I expected it to be on par with French Polynesia land and water-wise, and it was not even close. The only thing Lanai had in common with French Polynesia was its seclusion. With that being said, though, Lanai quickly grew on me and I loved it for what it is rather than what it is not. I enjoyed watching the ocean’s waves break onto the cliffs, staring out over the open fields on the shuttle bus, and seeing miles and miles of Cook pines line the tops of the hills. Lanai is very different and an unspoiled, hidden gem among the Hawaiian Islands.
The Manale Bay Hotel: The Manale Bay Hotel and Spa is part of the Starwood Luxury Collection, but I’ve heard that the Four Seasons was trying to purchase both resorts in Lanai to add to their collection. So, based on that tidbit of info, I expected a certain level of luxury (Update- it was true! The Four Seasons did acquire both properties and they are better than ever.) Although it was slightly different than I had imagined, the hotel did not let me down. I arrived in Lanai at their quaint little airport and was directed to check in at a stand for the resorts. The man had a list of the guests needing to be transported to the hotel and as soon as I walked up, he said “Hello Janelle” I was pleasantly surprised and was handed some luggage tags and directed to the shuttle bus driver, Ronald. Ronald grabbed my luggage for me and he took myself and four others straight to the resort via shuttle bus (they have shuttles running to and from the airport and to and from the Lodge at Koele for a one time, $25 fee for unlimited rides). When I arrived at the resort, there was a staff member waiting there to greet me with a flower lei and my room information. She walked me through the hotel, pointing out the different areas (restaurants, concierge desk, etc). So, I got to see a lot of the hotel right away, and I was slightly surprised. It has a very old-world luxury charm to it. I was expecting something a bit more modern, but in fact, there were a lot of antiques throughout the lobby area. It also has a strong Japanese influence, which lends to beautiful Japanese garden areas throughout the resort. The resort has several buildings, and in the elevator lobby of each building, there is a nice sitting area that overlooks these gardens. Also, when I walked out of my room, there was a beautiful pond and garden area and I could walk right through it to get to the pool and beach areas.
As for my room, I was in the Dolphin building, room number 15 (which equated to room 2915 when charging things to the room- something I did not figure out on my own). It is a garden view, ground floor room, just out of the way from an ocean/bayview. The room itself was fairly spacious, and there was a huge bathroom with a marble shower and separate soaking tub. The marble brought back fond memories since it was the same pattern as the marble used at the Bora Bora Nui Resort (both are Luxury Collection Hotels). The bathroom had a Japanese decor and the pattern of the marble and decor didn’t mesh very well, but it was still a gorgeous room. I had a set of white wood paneled doors and sliding glass doors opening up to a small lanai behind my room. The lanai had a set of table and chairs and a lounge chair. There was also a beautiful hibiscus plant on either side of the lanai. I ordered room service every morning and ate out on the lanai so I could enjoy the sound of the ocean and the warm sun. It was very relaxing! I could also peek my head around the corner of the room to view the beautiful beach area and the dolphins playing around in Hulopo’e Bay. The room also features a mini-bar, daily ice service, a turn down service, and high speed internet for a fee. I tried not to spend a whole lot of time in my room, but the time I did spend in there was comfortable and I have ZERO complaints.
I spent most of my days at the pool or on the beach. The pool area was not terribly large, but it was never really crowded. The pool was a little chilly, but there were two hot tubs set within the pool and the pool area was open 24 hours a day. The pool is set up significantly higher than the beach area (the resort is set up on a hill), so you can sit facing the beach and bay and enjoy both places at the same time. The beach area is quite a walk from the pool, but the path was well kept and there were gorgeous plants and flowers lining it. I’m sure the walk really wasn’t too bad, but I’m lazy, so it seemed long! The staff at both the beach and the pool were very attentive, setting up towels on the chairs, opening umbrellas, offering cool towels and Evian spritzes, and cool beverages. For the most part, the trade winds kept the beach cooler and there was always a nice breeze blowing. Without the winds, it was HOT! The winds did kick up the bay a bit, so the current was a little strong and the snorkeling wasn’t at its best, at least from what I could tell. I kept away from the most popular snorkeling spots near the cliffs because I was by myself and didn’t feel comfortable being out there alone. Maybe next time, I’ll feel differently! Almost everyone went to the beach for the chance to swim freely among the spinner dolphins, who frequent the bay. While the resort cautions against swimming close to them, the dolphins seemed to playfully swim with the guests and put on a great show. The one day I attempted to swim with them, they didn’t show up until late afternoon as I was heading up to the pool for some lunch.
There aren’t many activities offered on the island, and those that are, tend to be a little pricey. The golf courses are world class and offer spectaular views. You can also charter a jeep tour, snorkeling and kayaking tour, or a helicopter tour, but it wasn’t something I was going to do without my husband. That just would have been mean! I did, however, enjoy a quiet afternoon tea at the Lodge. I took the 1:30pm shuttle and got to see Lanai City and the surrounding areas during the ride. It was interesting to see the island way of life. I got to the Lodge a little early, so I walked the grounds. VERY well manicured, but totally non-tropical and non-beachy. It was actually a very similar feeling as when I visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, although not quite as extensive. Once tea was served, I sat on the wrap-around porch and watched a few people play croquet. It was something I never thought I’d ever be doing, but it was very nice to just sit there and unwind. I also visited the spa and had one of the BEST facials EVER! My aesthetician was Rita and she gave a wonderful scalp, neck, shoulder, and foot massage along with the facial treatments. The Manale Bay deluxe facial was 80 minutes and a tad expensive, but WELL worth it! I was sad I didn’t schedule another treatment, but I’ll just have to go back to get another one.
Restaurant-wise, both resorts offer excellent choices, but since I am NOT a foodie, I did not do much exploring with this. I had simple room service breakfasts consisting of an english muffin, croissants, and cranberry juice. For lunch, I ate at the pool grille. I ate the same meal both days- a cheeseburger and french fries. VERY tasty, but VERY expensive. Also, the sodas were not free refills, so I tried to drink a lot of water (I wasn’t trying to spend hundreds of dollars on food for just myself, so this was far from a splurge trip). I only actually made it to dinner one night because I fell asleep early by accident and missed out on my second night there. I decided to eat at the pool grille again since it was outside and had a great view of the lit tiki torches stretching down the path toward the beach. I ordered grilled teryaki chicken and it was by far the best grilled chicken I have ever had. Plus, the portion size was huge and they served the sauce on the side, so I could put as little or as much on as I wanted. The chicken was delicious on its own, but the sauce added a great flavor. They also served several types of breads, and the pizza dough sticks were great! I imagine the other restaurants offered a wider selection and excellent food as well.
All in all, the Manale Bay was an interesting place, that offered just the right amount of seclusion and intimacy, but managed to keep me occupied the entire time. I’m dying to go back now and am making an attempt for a return within the year. My stunning disappointment in the beginning turned into an eye-opening experience of a new type of exotic island travel. I admit it was nice to still be in the United States and still be able to communicate fully in English, but I still felt far removed from the mainland. However, as you’ll read below, I didn’t quite feel the same way about Oahu…
Oahu: After seeing Oahu from above in the plane, and noticing all of the tall buildings, I knew that I would be disappointed because I’m not a city girl AT ALL. So, when I met up with my co-worker at the airport and headed downtown for the first time, I was less than pleased with the scenery. It, to me, is just too built up, but of course, even Papeete in French Polynesia is built up, and that’s why most people don’t stay there. So, I guess that’s why I was a bit perplexed at why Waikiki is such a tourist hot spot. When I think tropical vacation, I think of relaxation, seclusion, and long stretches of beaches and palm trees- NOT Gucci, Prada, busy streets and large hotel towers. I was actually scared to walk around out on the street because there was just too much going on and it was WAY too busy! But, to each their own…I will say I was more in tune with the North Shore and if I ever do return to Oahu, that would be the best place for someone like me to stay. Of course, to me, it was still not completely desirable, and I would much rather spend my time on the other islands. I also had the opportunity to stay at two hotels- the Hyatt Waikiki and the Hilton Hawaiian Village and you’ll see I notced some differences between the two.
Hyatt Waikiki Resort and Spa: Well, this is a classic case of don’t judge the book by it’s cover, and that’s NOT a good thing. This is one of the only bad points of my trip. After sitting in tons of traffic on the way downtown, we arrived at the Hyatt, to what appeared to be a very pleasant surprise. The hotel was quite bustling, with all open air shops, and a clean, fancy interior. I was definitely interested at what this place had to offer, even though big hotels really aren’t my thing. We checked in and the reception desk staff was very friendly. My co-worker asked that we be placed in the same tower (there are two- Diamond Head and Ewa)and they said no problem- but there was a slight caveat. Apparently, they market heavily to the Japanese and an attractive feature over there is all-female floors in hotels for the single women. My first reaction was bewilderment, but then I figured it was safe if nothing else, so I took that room with no issue. It was a giant pain, though because I had to insert my key into the elevator in order to select my floor number. Plus, my co-worker could never stop by my room on his way down to the shops or restaurants. Not a big deal, but a slight inconvenience. So, I make my way to my room and come to find it’s DIRECTLY behind the elevator. I open the door and inside is one noisy room and two TWIN beds!!! No, I know I’m by myself and I’m not a very large person, but twin beds??? I booked a room with a queen bed! After the initial shock of the beds wore off, I took notice to the constant roaring of the elevators. I was on he 23rd floor of a 40-floor tower, so it continuously raced past my room. I called the reception desk and very tactfully and kindly explained my situation and they found me a new room. The bellman brought the key to me and I made my way down to the 20th floor. I then come to find my room is not directly behind the elevator, but rather two behind, and you could still hear the elevators! I did get an upgrade to two double beds, though. Now that I was somewhat satisfied with my room (I wanted to move again, but knew that was rude), I took a look around. The decor in the room was in need of a major overhaul. The bedspreads were faded and thin, the bathroom tiles were cracked in several places, and the carpet was tremendously worn. Plus, a huge disappointment to me was that there was NO internet access! As a person on a business trip, this was pretty much a mandatory thing for me. Luckily, we were only there for a two night stay, so I could get away with not having that access. While looking around, I noticed a little sign stating that the rooms at the Hyatt were undergoing a major renovation. I found this to be a very good thing, because otherwise, they could not continue to compete with the other surrounding hotels. Too bad they hadn’t renovated our tower by the time we got there, otherwise, I’d have more positive things to say. Although I was staying in a busy downtown area, I also have to complain about the road noise as well. It woke me up several times throughout the night. That is obviously at no fault of the hotel.
Foodwise, we ate at both the Colony Restaurant and the Terrace Grill (we ate at Jameson’s By the Sea on the North Shore the one night- decent food and awesome sunset view). The Colony Restaurant is modern American cuisine with Japanese fusion. I really thought it was trying to be too modern (tiramisu with pistachios??) and I was less than impressed. We went to the Terrace Grill for breakfast and they had standard choices. I ordered the cinnamon swirl bread (aka french toast) with coconut syrup. It was good and I definitely would eat there again (although I doubt that would happen).
Since we weren’t there very long (our only full day there was spent mostly driving around the island), we did manage to visit the pool. For such an incredibly large hotel, the pool was SO tiny. With five people in it, it was packed. The pool area, however, did kind of overlook the beach, and the water was comfortably heated. The beach area was just directly across the street and it was PACKED. You probably could not find a place to sit and there was just too much going on to be able to enjoy it.
Overall, the two nights we spent at the Hyatt was two nights too long, but I’d be curious to see the room renovations. Still, it was way too crowded and not recommended for any type of romantic vacation. The Japanese guests seemed to love it, and it’s in a wonderful location for upscale shopping. Personally, if I wanted to be in a shopping area, I’d stay at the beachfront Sheraton Moana Surfrider across the street.
Hilton Hawaiian Village: Although I spent the majority of my stay here, I worked all day, so I didn’t get the full experience of the resort. From what I did experience, everything exceeded my expectations since I had a somewhat sour outlook on Oahu. We arrived at the Hilton on a Monday morning to pick up a co-worker already staying there. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to pre-register for check-in, so we could just pick our room keys when we returned from work. To my surprise, they had a room available for me, if I wanted it. Not really thinking about it, I took it. Well, that was somewhat of a mistake because my co-worker waited and got into the Ali’i Tower, which is very private and exclusive. I ended up in the Tapa Tower (the largest tower), and although it was fine and I was pleased, it just wasn’t the Ali’i Tower. My room was nice, with two double beds and plenty of room. I had a street view that left much to be desired, but no big deal because at least it was very quiet! After feeling somewhat disappointed with the tower choice, I realized later in the trip that it made no difference because I was almost never in my room, except to sleep, and we spent our two free afternoons at the Ali’i pool anyway. The Tapa Tower was very convenient for restaurants and the awesome outdoor Tapa Bar, and we spent EVERY evening there! I did not visit the Rainbow Tower and I only briefly meandered around the Kalia Tower when I went to the spa.
I honestly have no idea what activities are offered, but there were activities desks everywhere! Plus, there was always a ton of people waiting around for bus tours. If I had one complaint about the Hilton, it was the amount of people there. The place was huge and the pools were always packed. The Ali’i pool, which is only available to those staying in that tower, was the best choice and was always calmer. Plus, they had free hors d’oeurves at 5pm and the waitresses were always bringing out drinks. I give two thumbs up to the pina coladas! They also offer tons of shopping opportunities, from authentic Hawaiian gifts to Louis Vuitton. I behaved and kept out of Louis Vuitton (okay, so I went in, but my co-worker took my wallet), but I did purchase some shirts from Honolua Surf Shop and coconut soap from a small Hawaiian gift store. The one activity I did actually make time for, and was dead set on doing, was visiting the Mandara Spa.
I had visited the Mandara Spa at the Bora Bora Nui Resort, so I was familiar with some of their treatments and wanted to experience more of it! I also was curious to see how similar they were in size, decor, and ambience. I scheduled a facial appointment a little last minute, so I was unable to do the facial I really wanted to do. So, I just went with the 50 minute Traditional Mandara Facial. My aesthetician was Grace and she was great. She went into depth with me about what she was going to do, and she made sure she knew what type of skin I have and what problems I was having to create a totally unique and custom treatment for me. While the total facial experience was not as wonderful as Manale Bay, it was still among the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had quite a few! The spa itself also exceeded my expectations. The Mandara at the Nui was more intimate, exotic, and simple, while this was grand, luxurious, and more focused on the total pampering experience. I enjoyed the view more in Bora Bora, but I enjoyed the experience as a whole more at the Hilton. My only regret is that I did not get to spend a full day there.
Of course, one other aspect of the Hilton that I can speak to is the food. The Hilton has 19 restaurants to choose from, which is plenty in my book! We checked out only a few- Benihana, Round Table Pizza, and the Village Steak and Seafood Restaurant. Benihana was good, but the least impressive. I was expecting a fun show, and instead, they just cooked the food without any tricks. I had a pretty decent pizza at Round Table and an out-of-this-world filet mignon at the Village Restaurant. I highly recommend the Village Restaurant, which is located in the Tapa Tower. There are obviously a lot of other restaurants to choose from, but with limited time, we couldn’t visit them all.
All in all, my experience at the Hilton was a good one. I thought the staff was very kind, the resort was well-maintained, and the room decor looked new and fresh. The resort, however, is just too big for a romantic vacation. In my opinion, there are just too many people at that resort and you are never really going to get any true quiet, private time outside of your room. For business, it’s a great resort with tons to offer. Also, they have a wireless internet connection at the Tapa Bar, so you can check your e-mail and drink at the same time!! So, if I ever end up in Oahu ever again (which is highly unlikely for leisure), the Hilton would be at the top of my list. I can only see myself being in Oahu for leisure if we went with other couples, and I do think the Hilton is a good place for that as well.
Hope this helps!