Aqua Aloha Surf & Spa Rating: 2.5 Pearls
Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu

Oyster Review Summary

Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators

Pros

  • Spacious rooms
  • Free continental breakfast (when booking direct)
  • Upgrade to superior rooms at minimal cost is worth it
  • On-site pool and small spa with two treatment rooms
  • Great running path along the Ala Wai Canal across the street
  • Small Internet cafe serving coffee and light snacks
  • Free daily newspaper

Cons

  • Cramped and sometimes dirty bathrooms
  • Hallway and street noise can be heard inside rooms
  • Two long blocks to the beach, or between five and 10 minutes walking
  • Hard to connect to the free Internet

Bottom Line

The rooms at this 176-room budget hotel, located five minutes from the beach, are fairly spacious -- but also noisy, tired looking, and a bit grimy. The free breakfast is a nice feature, as is the small pool, but the free Internet barely works. A better all-around, comparably priced hotel is the Aston Waikiki Beach.

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Oyster Hotel Review

 Scene

This budget hotel has a fair number of amenities, but keep your expectations reasonable -- the free breakfast is a nice perk, but the pool and spa are small by any standard. The Aston Waikiki Beach is a better all-around value.

Guests gather at breakfast
Guests gather at breakfast

Dead plants on the lobby coffee table, '90s soft rock favorites over the speakers, old coffee and phone card vending machines in the open-air lobby. This hotel looks and feels low end.

The hotel dubs itself a "condotel," which means all of the rooms are privately owned. Of the 202 units, 176 are managed by Aqua and bookable for stays. Rooms in the booking pool were renovated in 2005, but the suede headboards and thin, worn comforters make the rooms feel older than their years.

The Surf in the hotel's name does not refer to a beachfront location -- in fact, this hotel is located on the northernmost edge of Waikiki -- but instead refers to a few surfboards on the walls of the lobby and some flatscreen TVs playing looped surfing videos. Meanwhile, the spa consists of just two small treatment rooms and a tiny waiting area. The hotel also boasts a pool and fitness center, but the pool looks a lot larger on the hotel's website than it does in real life. And the fitness center is nothing more than an old treadmill, an older reclining bike, and a weight machine not-so-tucked-away behind a pane of glass near the check-in desk.

Most people are drawn to the hotel for its affordable rates. But a much better option -- especially for families -- at a similar price is the Aston Waikiki Beach, which is located closer to the beach, has spunkier rooms, a larger pool, as well as free breakfast.

 Location

A relatively quiet area between five to 10 minutes from the beach

The hotel is located off a side street two long blocks (or between five and 10 minutes on foot) from the beach and just south of the manmade Ala Wai Canal. Although this section of Waikiki is significantly quieter than most, guests still occasionally complain of street noise. Kalakaua Avenue, the main beachfront drag running through Waikiki, is two blocks away.

Kalakaua Avenue itself is a touristy, milelong stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels that offers a curious blend of mainland creature comforts and local flavor. On the sidewalks, Japanese tourists intermingle with tanned locals, surfboards under their arms, on their way to the beach to catch a few waves after work. On both sides of the street, high-end retailers -- Tiffany, Cartier, and yes, even an Apple store -- are interspersed with indoor malls and streetside vendors hawking cheap seashell jewelry and T-shirts. Seemingly every mid-market chain restaurant can be found here -- Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, Tony Roma's -- along with more than a handful of Starbucks and fast-food joints. And towering above it all: 40-story, thousand-room hotels dotting the landscape like pins in a cushion.

  • ABC convenience store at the end of the block and Food Pantry, the only full-service grocery store in Waikiki (you can rent DVDs there, too), is around the corner
  • Wide variety of shopping, dining, and drinking -- all within walking distance
  • Kapiolani Park, an oasis of (relative) calm for people-watching and local flavor, is 15 minutes on foot
  • Cheap and easy to get around Waikiki via "The Bus"
  • Honolulu International Airport is a 15-minute cab ride.
  • Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center on Kalakaua Avenue is less than 10 minutes on foot.

 Beach

Two long blocks (or between five and 10 minutes on foot) from the heart of the action on one of the most famous beaches in the world.

Loosely speaking, the entire 1.5-mile stretch of sand alongside Kalakaua Avenue is known as Waikiki Beach. In reality, it's more like three separate beaches, the borders of which vary depending on whom you ask. The Aqua Aloha Surf is located two long blocks from the section called Queen's Beach, which is the part you see on postcards of Waikiki: manicured, palm tree-dotted lawns leading to a sunny white-sand beach. Children splash about in the shallow water near the shore, while surfers and standup paddle-boarders (the rad new thing to do) patrol the outer waters.

To summarize Queen's Beach in one word: packed. Packed with energy, packed with activity, packed -- most significantly -- with people. Towels carpet the sand like blankets at a sold-out concert. Families with small children, honeymooning couples, even locals taking lunch breaks -- they all merge here, sunning, swimming, and sandcastle-building, all the while doing their best not to kick sand in each other's faces.

  • Public beach
  • Warm, shallow water -- a decent place to swim, especially for kids
  • Sandy, not rocky, ocean bottom -- unlike neighboring Fort DeRussy to the west and Kuhio (aka "the wall") to the east
  • Lifeguards monitor the beach throughout the day
  • Free towels, provided by the hotel
  • Umbrellas and lounge chairs must be rented from one of the many Star Beach Boys stands
  • Water sports equipment like surfboards and boogie boards available for rental at the Star Beach Boys stands

 Rooms

With uncomfortable beds, cramped bathrooms, noise issues, and occasional ants, rooms leave much to be desired. The Aston Waikiki Beach has better rooms.

The Superior Partial City View Room
The Superior Partial City View Room

If you're in search of luxury, or even a touch of it, these rooms don't deliver. Noise, both from the street and occasionally from the hallways, is an issue for many guests -- plus the décor is outdated, the beds are uncomfortable, the bathrooms are grimy, and there are occasionally ants crawling around.

  • Standard rooms are about 220 square feet; superiors and deluxes are about 360 square feet.
  • Free upgrades seem common, but the brighter "superior" rooms are well worth the extra cash.
  • Beds are lacking, even for a budget hotel; mine sagged. Sheets are basic cotton and clean, but the comforter was thin, stained, and torn in places.
  • Bathrooms are cramped, with showers only, except for corner rooms, which have tubs in need of cleaning. Toiletries are generic.
  • Tech amenities are cheap and basic: a Sunbeam alarm clock and a small 22" LG flat-screen TV with basic cable (and no movie options) that sits atop a chipped wooden cabinet housing the fridge.
  • Safe in the closet is not big enough for a laptop.
  • Spotty Ethernet cable.
  • All rooms also have a basic kitchenette with a microwave, small coffee pot, and half-size fridge.
  • Most rooms have a balcony. If you do choose to stay here, Oyster recommend the room numbers ending in 02 on high floors, which have decent views.

 Family

Breakfast is free and rooms have small kitchenettes, but cribs and rollaways cost $25 per night. Families should consider the Aston Waikiki Beach instead.

Breakfast is free
Breakfast is free

The middling rooms with small kitchenettes aren't the most welcoming, but the free breakfast and small pool make this a decent value for families. The Aston Waikiki Beach is a better family value -- 85 percent of the recently renovated rooms have ocean views; it has a kidtastic pool; and it's across from Kuhio Beach, aka "the wall," the most kid-friendly section of Waikiki Beach.

  • Four people maximum in even the largest suites, which have king beds and pullout couches; three max in superior and deluxe rooms, the latter of which have pullout couches.
  • Cribs and rollaway beds are $25 per night; no connecting rooms; extra beds will not fit in moderate rooms (the lowest tier) or in some superiors.

 Features

On paper, the perks are abundant and all are free: breakfast, Internet, pool, gym, and grill. In reality, they feel a little dowdy.

The pool
The pool

The highlight is the free breakfast, which includes fresh fruit, hot pancakes, oatmeal, and less healthy stuff like mini chocolate glazed donuts served in a small room off the lobby from 7 to 8:30 a.m. every day. The spread isn't gourmet, but the food is fresh and guests come flocking, piling their Styrofoam bowls high with oranges and fresh pineapple and pancakes hot off the griddle.

  • Free Wi-Fi in the lobby, but I was able to connect only on a few occasions, and then it was slow. In-room Ethernet was also spotty. Two other guests complained they couldn't get on the network either.
  • Tiny but clean pool is smaller than it looks on the hotel website. There's a new gas grill in the pool area that guests may use from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Gym is nothing but a treadmill, a reclining bike, and a small weight machine in an open space off the lobby.
  • All local and toll-free calls are gratis.
  • The spa is just two small treatment rooms. The only services include massage and some body scrubs ($99 for 50 minutes) and facials ($130 for 50 minutes).
  • Manager's weekly reception every Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m.; features "The Wipeout," a concoction of vodka, curacao, coconut syrup, and pineapple.

 Cleanliness

The usual wear and tear, and a few ants crawling around the bathroom and kitchenette areas.

The hotel won't be winning any cleanliness medals. The bathrooms in particular are grimy. My room had ants crawling around the baseboards, as well as around the TV and microwave area. Public areas are clean enough, though some of the upholstery is stained and worn.

 Food

One of the hotel's best perks is the free breakfast, with fresh pancakes, fruit, and donuts; coffee and light snacks are served during the day at the small Internet café.

Continental breakfast
Continental breakfast

The free breakfast is a hit: fresh fruit, hot pancakes, oatmeal, and less healthy stuff like mini chocolate glazed donuts served in a small room off the lobby from 7 to 8:30 a.m. every day. The spread isn't gourmet, but the food is fresh and guests come flocking, piling their Styrofoam bowls high with oranges and fresh pineapple and pancakes hot off the griddle. Guests are also welcome to help themselves to the bowl of free apples at the front desk.

  • On-site restaurant, Aloha Bistro, is a Chinese-American buffet.
  • Across from Aloha Bistro is Edward's Café; this self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Internet Café and Lounge" isn't.
  • No room service but nearby Round Table Pizza delivers.

 Bottom Line

The rooms at this 176-room budget hotel, located five minutes from the beach, are fairly spacious -- but also noisy, tired looking, and a bit grimy. The free breakfast is a nice feature, as is the small pool, but the free Internet barely works. A better all-around, comparably priced hotel is the Aston Waikiki Beach.

Things You Should Know About Aqua Aloha Surf & Spa

Address

  • 444 Kanekapolei Street, Honolulu, HI 96815

Hotel Is Also Known As...

  • Aloha Surf Hotel
  • Aqua Aloha Surf Honolulu
  • Aqua Aloha Surf Hotel

Room Types

  • 2 Bedroom Suite
  • 3 Bedroom Suite
  • City View Double/Queen Room with Lanai
  • City View King Room with Lanai
  • Deluxe Junior Suite
  • Deluxe Partial City View Room With Balcony
  • Moderate Partial City View Room
  • One Bedroom Suite
  • Standard King Room
  • Standard Room
  • Superior Partial City View Room

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Hotel Features

Number of Rooms: 202
Pool: Yes
Fitness Center: Yes
Spa: Yes
Internet Access: Yes
Cribs: Yes
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Hotel Information

Location: Waikiki, Honolulu
Address: 444 Kanekapolei Street, Honolulu, HI 96815
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