Aqua Palms Waikiki Rating: 3.0 Pearls
Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu

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Pros

Cons

Bottom Line

Though the noisy Ala Moana Boulevard location and lack on-site amenities leave something to be desired, a friendly staff, close proximity to the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and up-to-date, affordable rooms that are some of the nicest in the Aqua chain, elevate this bright hotel.

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Oyster Hotel Review

 Scene

Despite its nondescript exterior and less-than-ideal location along busy Ala Moana, Aqua Palms is a colorful, friendly respite that's a solid value.

The colorful lobby is a pleasant surprise after a gray exterior.
The colorful lobby is a pleasant surprise after a gray exterior.

If it weren't for the intentionally kitschy neon "vacancy" sign in the front window (a chain-wide trademark), you wouldn't know this 12-story building on busy Ala Moana Boulevard is a hotel. The beach is about a five-minute walk away, but feels further given the surrounding gray sidewalks and constant din from buses and trolleys. It could easily be mistaken for an apartment block or office building like the ones on the block surrounding it.

But beyond the small green awning, a certain liveliness unveils. Sure, there aren't many services or features -- no valet parking or restaurant -- but the staff is cheerful and guests congregate at a 24-hour coffee station in the small, bright lobby that shares the building's ground floor with an IHOP. On a recent visit, guests included a little league baseball team from the Big Island, other Hawaiian residents, young couples, and a few families from the mainland.

And while it's small, the lobby has a tour desk, a "business center", and two separate seating areas with couches, wicker and wooden chairs, and a few glass tables. A sunset mural painted on the ceiling above the front desk and a basket of apples are a calming influence that help offset the noisy scene outside. Another mural leads the way to the elevator bank, hinting at the palm tree motif present in all rooms and hallways (the latter recently redone in palm tree wallpaper, with carpets reminiscent of pink brain coral).

Overall, the prevailing upbeat attitude and local Hawaii flavor beat out the somewhat sterile Doubletree Waikiki a block down the street. And the room rates here are a lot cheaper.

 Location

On busy Ala Moana Boulevard, a 20-minute walk from the center of Waikiki and five to 10 minutes from the beach

The Aqua Palms' location isn't ideal for a relaxing vacation, but it's not bad. Set on busy Ala Moana Boulevard next to a taller condo building, it's a five- to 10-minute walk to the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and a 10-minute walk to the Hawaii Convention Center for business folks. Proximity to the Hilton means more than just a lovely beach -- there's a plethora of shops, restaurants, and entertainment as well. There's an IHOP next door, an ABC convenience store around the corner, and a 24-hour diner a block away.

About 20 minutes away lies the heart of Waikiki's main drag, Kalakaua Avenue, a touristy milelong stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels. Waikiki 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, even an Apple store -- are interspersed with indoor malls and streetside vendors hawking cheap seashell jewelry and aloha 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.

 Beach

A five- to 10-minute walk to the lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village; Fort DeRussy beach is the closest subsection of Waikiki Beach.

Aqua Palms is a five- to 10-minute walk from the public Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village. The Hilton's beach has lovely white sand and is wider than farther down near the Sheraton Waikiki or Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, and it feels pleasantly uncrowded compared to those hotels' beaches. Plus there are lots of water sports available, including aqua bikes, kayaks, snorkels, standup paddle surfing, or plain old inner tubes.

Loosely speaking, the entire 1.5-mile stretch of sand alongside Kalakaua Avenue is known as http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/learn/waikiki Waikiki Beach. In reality, it's more like three separate beaches, the borders of which vary depending on whom you ask. Just beyond the Hilton's lagoon lies the Fort DeRussy section of Waikiki Beach, which is far less crowded than its more famous neighbor to the southeast, Queen's Beach. The water is shallow, warm, and calm, making Fort DeRussy a decent place to swim, especially for kids.

  • Public beach
  • Ocean bottom is rocky, unlike neighboring Queen's Beach
  • 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 Star Beach Boys stands

 Rooms

Large, stylish, and up-to-date

Rooms are fun and colorful
Rooms are fun and colorful

The Aqua Palms' standard rooms are a good value for the price given their condition and amenities, and they're some of the nicest in the Aqua chain. Larger-than-average standards (or "Partial City View Rooms") are 325 square feet and have uninspiring views of the island's interior, but they're far quieter than rooms overlooking Ala Moana Boulevard.

Bathrooms are the weak spot -- small and dark in spite of cute palm-print wallpaper and shower curtains; the door in my bath blocked the shower, requiring me to close it to get to the tub.

  • Redecorated in 2008 with bright, tropical-kitsch décor -- muted pinks, yellows and greens, with beige carpets, cream walls, and a plastic turquoise headboard atop plush pillow-top beds
  • Valances, throw pillows, and bed runners have pink or yellow palm tree prints; even soap dishes and room numbers get the palm tree treatment.
  • A desk, a colorful table with two stylish wicker chairs, a mini-fridge, and a tiled entryway with a microwave and coffeemaker; free coffee packets replenished daily
  • Some standards include sleeper sofas (guests can request one of these ahead of time); 77 of the 120 standards have balconies, which guests will soon be able to request through the hotel's website.
  • Every room has a 42-inch LG flat-screen TV with about 100 channels of digital cable (more than other hotels, though there's no HBO or pay-per-view offered)
  • Free in-room high-speed wired Internet

 Features

Few features beyond a small pool

The small fitness room
The small fitness room

The hotel's features aren't exciting -- a small pool, a couple of treadmills, a Weber grill, some rooms for massages -- but everything is in good condition, and there's close proximity to a lot of features at the nearby Hilton Hawaiian Village. If extra resort amenities are important, this is not the choice for you.

  • The second floor, V-shaped pool, open until 10 p.m., offers little more than a chance to cool off; noise from Ala Moana Boulevard definitely mars the experience.
  • A grill is free for guest use, along with a couple of tables set up for impromptu barbecues.
  • A useful, if unexciting, small fitness room off the pool deck has a few treadmills -- (one new, one ancient) -- and a multifunction weight machine.
  • The "spa" amounts to nothing more than a treatment room off the pool deck that's only open by appointment. Treatments include body scrubs, facials, and massages.
  • A laundry room, with five washers and four dryers, is located in the parking garage.
  • Garage parking with unlimited in/out privileges is charged per day.

 Family

A decent choice for families

Families can do worse than staying at the affordable Aqua Palms. The proximity of the higher-end Hilton Hawaiian Village across the street means that tons of amenities -- including its beach, restaurants, shops, and grounds -- are accessible to guests.

  • On-site pool has no special features, but it's fine for younger kids.
  • Large, affordable rooms -- many with sleeper sofas and all with mini-fridges and microwaves -- as well as an on-site guest laundry
  • Family-friendly eating options include an IHOP on the ground floor, a 24-hour diner down the block, and chain restaurants like Outback Steakhouse, McDonald's, and Red Lobster five minutes further down Ala Moana.

 Cleanliness

Mostly clean and well maintained

Housekeeping carts seem to fill the hallways at all hours
Housekeeping carts seem to fill the hallways at all hours

Cleanliness and housekeeping are no better or worse here than at others hotels in this category. There are a few minor issues, but nothing more.

  • Minor rips and stains
  • Lobby furniture seems a little worn, but well-kept.
  • Housekeeping carts are ever present in the hallways -- perhaps a good sign, but it's not easy getting past them with a suitcase.
  • Stains on the bed's turquoise headboard and rips in the chiffon window sheers.

 Food

No on-site restaurant; lots of surrounding options

Guests get a 10-percent discount at the IHOP on the ground floor
Guests get a 10-percent discount at the IHOP on the ground floor

The hotel does not have its own restaurant, but it offers discounts to a couple of nearby spots.

  • Guests get 10-percent discount at the ground-floor IHOP and at the 24-hour Wailana Coffee House down the block; Diamond Head View (and higher) guests get a free American breakfast at IHOP.
  • Coffee available 24/7 in the lobby.
  • Dozens of restaurants within two blocks of the hotel, including about 20 options at Hilton Hawaiian Village and chains such Outback Steakhouse, McDonald's, and Red Lobster about five minutes down Ala Moana Boulevard.

 Bottom Line

Though the noisy Ala Moana Boulevard location and lack on-site amenities leave something to be desired, a friendly staff, close proximity to the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and up-to-date, affordable rooms that are some of the nicest in the Aqua chain, elevate this bright hotel.

Things You Should Know About Aqua Palms Waikiki

Address

  • 1850 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96815

Hotel Is Also Known As...

  • Aqua Palms
  • Aqua Palms Honolulu
  • Aqua Palms Hotel
  • Aqua Palms Spa
  • Aqua Palms Spa Honolulu

Room Types

  • City View Room
  • Deluxe Junior Suite
  • Diamond Head View Room
  • Luxury One Bedroom Suite With Kitchen
  • Partial City View Room

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Nearby Hotels to Consider

Ramada Plaza Waikiki
Ilikai Hotel & Suites, an Aqua Boutique
The Modern Honolulu
Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations Club

Hotel Features

Number of Rooms: 262
Pool: N/A
Fitness Center: Yes
Spa: Yes
Cribs: Yes
Jacuzzi (in room): N/A
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Hotel Information

Location: Waikiki, Honolulu
Address: 1850 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96815
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