Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
No frills and a bit of a hike to the beach, but one of the best deals in Waikiki if all you need is a clean, spacious room.
After nearly a year of renovations, the Aqua Waikiki Pearl emerged from its $5.5 million overhaul during summer 2009. The result: The 127 rooms, which were gutted right down to the carpet, the bedding, and the plumbing, are spacious and clean, making the Pearl one of the best deals going in Waikiki.
The trade-off, of course, is that guests get little more than a great room for a good price. Amenities and service are slim: no pool, no gym, no bellmen, and usually only one person at the front desk in the lobby. The location is lacking too. The hotel is just off Kuhio Avenue, a less prestigious address than the parallel, oceanfront Kalakaua Avenue. The 10-minute two-long-block walk to the beach requires passing through the International Marketplace, where hawkers sell puka-shell necklaces, Obama bobbleheads, and Hawaii T-shirts, or taking a longer, slightly less chaotic path around it. Either way, you have to get to the beach through another hotel, like the Outrigger Waikiki, or find a public access point.
Guests from Japan, Australia, and the mainland occasionally congregate in the lobby, which has a modern-on-a-budget vibe, but most use the hotel as an inexpensive base for nearby shopping (the swanky Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is a few minutes away) and the beach. Also, as there's no in-house dining, guests head elsewhere, but there's plenty of grub on Kuhio, including cheap chains like McDonald's and Denny's, plus one of Oyster's favorites, Puka Dog.
The Aqua Waikiki Wave, the Pearl's sister property less than a block away, offers more in the way of service, but the rooms aren't as fresh and clean -- and the street noise is extremely loud. Hotel Renew, with its charming rooms and great service, is another great budget option in the neighborhood. But it's generally more expensive than the Pearl.
Located on the slightly scruffy Kuhio Avenue, but near oceanfront Kalakaua Avenue and Queen's Beach.
The hotel is just off Kuhio Avenue, a less prestigious address than Kalakaua Avenue, the buzzing oceanfront artery running through Waikiki that's one long block to the south. Packed with budget hotels and cheap chain restaurants like McDonald's, IHOP, and Denny's, Kuhio can get a bit seedy after dark (a male colleague was propositioned there by a few women of the night). Still, violent crime isn't a problem in Waikiki, and plenty of families and unaccompanied women walk around Kuhio at night.
From the Aqua Waikiki Pearl, it's less than five minutes to Kalakaua Avenue, a touristy, milelong stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels that runs along Waikiki Beach on Oahu's southeast coast. 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.
Less than a 10-minute walk to the heart of the action on one of the world's most famous beaches
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 Waikiki Pearl is a 5- to 10-minute walk 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 stand-up 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.
The large and reasonably priced rooms are the sole reason to stay here. The hotel emerged from a yearlong, $5.5 million renovation in 2009, and it shows. Everything about the rooms is clean and fresh, and it's impossible to pack in much more for the dollar. A 450-square-foot city view room is the best value. The difference between a city view and a standard room is huge, but the upgrade is rather cheap. Standards are half the size, lack a balcony, and feel darker and more cramped because they get less light.
The rub with staying in central Waikiki is the noise. Guests on lower floors will likely to hear traffic in the evenings, though these rooms are quieter than those at the Aqua Waikiki Wave, where they provide earplugs for the guests.
Other than free Wi-Fi and an iMac in the lobby with free access, and free Internet in the rooms (via an Ethernet cord), you'll find no extras here, folks: no gym, no pool, no spa, no restaurant. Just clean, spacious, and bright rooms about 10 minutes from the beach.
Dogs under 40 pounds are welcome for $35 per day, per pooch.
This is one of the only pet-friendly hotels in Waikiki, and dogs are well cared for.
No kid-friendly amenities, but spacious rooms are an especially good value for families.
While the Aqua Waikiki Pearl provides nothing of note for kids to do (no pool, no restaurant), the spacious low-priced rooms make the hotel a good family value. (Just keep in mind that Kuhio Avenue isn't the kid-friendliest area since it's off the beach and can feel shady at night.) Families will want to upgrade from a standard room to a 450-square-foot city view room, which has a king, or more likely a queen and a full bed, a small kitchenette, a large bathroom, and a balcony. Standards are half the size, lack a balcony, and feel darker and more cramped. Upgrades are cheap.
Renovated in summer 2009
The hotel emerged from a $5.5 million renovation in 2009, and it shows. Rooms are immaculate, right down to the grout in between the tiles in the shower. All of the public areas are well maintained, and the floors in the lobby gleam.
The hotel doesn't have a restaurant, though there's a small sports bar right outside the front door where a beer is only a couple bucks.
What the Aqua Waikiki Pearl lacks in amenities -- no pool, no gym, minimal service -- it makes up for with clean, spacious rooms. The location just off the scruffy Kuhio Avenue means the beach is a 10-minute walk. Nonetheless, it's a great value if all you want is a comfortable, inexpensive room.