Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
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.
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.
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.
Large, stylish, and up-to-date
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.
Few features beyond a small pool
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.
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.
Mostly clean and well maintained
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.
No on-site restaurant; lots of surrounding options
The hotel does not have its own restaurant, but it offers discounts to a couple of nearby spots.
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.