Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Like its sister hotel, Aqua Palms, Aqua Bamboo sits along a busy street and is pretty inconspicuous but for the neon vacancy sign in the window and the pretty bamboo fountain at the front of its small driveway. Most of the surrounding buildings along Kuhio Avenue are time-share condos or small budget motels catering to surfers looking for a crash pad a few blocks from the beach.
But the 12-story, 93-room Bamboo's smallish, low-ceilinged lobby (called the "inner sanctuary") is a calm, pleasing space replete with Buddhist statues, bowls of fruit and, quite randomly, a guitar signed by Blues Traveler frontman John Popper, who stayed there in 2001. Guests frequently gather on the plush couches to read, chat, surf the free Wi-Fi, or partake in the free coffee and tea selection.
Though the Bamboo has been a hotel since 1997, each unit has an owner who can stay there at will, so in some ways it's like a condo building that just happens to be run by a hotel company. The owners even store their personal surfboards in the pool area (guests are instructed not to touch). Owners were required to renovate all units in 2008, but had some choice in décor. Though some aspects of the hotel -- the dark, narrow hallways, the low ceilings, the brown trim -- seem reminiscent of a rundown tenement, the renovations were a real improvement. Rooms have new carpets and furniture, as well as iPod docks, flat-screen TVs and free plug-in Internet. The graffiti'd elevator is next up for renovation.
There's nothing particularly glamorous or exciting about the Bamboo, which doesn't even have its own restaurant. But its lovely pool area and tranquil Eastern décor are nice touches for an inexpensive place located along convenient, if slightly scruffy, Kuhio Avenue. In fact, it's the pool that really sets the place apart from other budget properties. Nearby Aqua Waikiki Pearl has nicer, newer rooms at even better prices -- but no pool. Another sister property, the Park Shore has brighter, renovated rooms, and faces the beach -- but the pool area isn't nearly as nice.
Friendly, laid-back, and limited -- like every other Aqua hotel
As at all Aqua hotels, services are limited -- no concierge, no room service, no poolside drinks -- but the staff is friendly and eager to help. One or two bellmen hang out in the lobby, opening the door for guests if they're not busy transporting bags. Friendly front desk clerks make an effort to learn guests' names, and subsequently greet them by name whenever they pass through the small lobby. One of the bellhops felt comfortable enough to mimic the clicking sound of a camera shutter each time I saw him during my two-day stay, a humorous reference to my incessant picture-taking. Such is the friendly, laid-back vibe guests can expect at the Bamboo.
On Waikiki's somewhat scruffy Kuhio Avenue, five minutes from Queen's Beach and convenient to shopping and restaurants
On the eastern end of Kuhio Avenue, three blocks and about five minutes' walk from Queen's Beach. Kuhio can get a bit scruffy after dark -- one male Oyster colleague was propositioned by prostitutes there -- but it's packed with budget hotels and chain eateries like McDonald's, Denny's, Chili's, IHOP, and Subway. One of Waikiki's most popular health food spots, Ruffage, is a block away. The closest ABC convenience store is half a block west at Kuhio and Kaiulani.
Three short blocks away is Waikiki's main drag, Kalakaua Avenue, a touristy, milelong stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels that runs along Waikiki Beach, offering 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 midmarket chain restaurant can be found here -- Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, P.F. Chang'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.
Three blocks 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. Aqua Bamboo is located three short 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.
Aqua Bamboo's 93 rooms were redone in 2008, yet many retain the neighborhood's somewhat shabby aesthetic. Plaster ceilings are low, carpets are black and dark brown, and walls are an unsightly putty color. On the bright side, rooms include chic new dark wood dressers, tables, and lamps, not to mention 32-inch LG flat-screen TVs and iPod docks. But those positives don't outweigh the chipping paint on the closet doors, the ripped off baseboards, and the cinder-block balconies.
The Aqua Bamboo has one of the most beautifully landscaped pool areas of any small, off-beach property in Waikiki. Ringed by bamboo plants, palm trees, wooden lounge chairs, a gurgling artificial waterfall, and a Thai Buddha statue, the saltwater-filled, kidney-shaped pool exudes tranquility. It truly makes you forget you're bounded by traffic-clogged streets and apartment buildings.
A nice pool, but not among the best budget family options in Waikiki
A nice pool sets it apart from other budget options, but there are better overall budget family hotels elsewhere in Waikiki, like Aston Waikiki Beach and Ohana East.
The hotel's housekeepers do their job well -- rooms are cleaned daily and replenished with lovely fresh orchids -- but the infrastructure could use some work. Though rooms were renovated in 2008, I found chipping baseboards, nicks on my closet door, and red smudges all over the shower.
No restaurant on site
Renovated in 2008, this 93-room Waikiki budget boutique delivers "tropical-urban Zen" via Buddha statues, gurgling fountains, and lush bamboo plants within a former apartment building on scruffy Kuhio Avenue. Five minutes from the beach, with touches like flat-screen TVs and iPod docks. It's a good value and convenient, though the building is a bit worn down.