One of the island's best hotels, with 456 large, luxury-packed rooms, top restaurants with gorgeous views, a notable spa, fastidious service, and a former Miss Hawaii dancing the hula nightly. Too bad the property's formal, understated elegance can sometimes feel cold.
Understated elegance, top-notch service and stellar dining come together at this classy, if formal, beachfront oasis in the middle of Waikiki.
Leave the bright colors and the historic trappings to the Royal Hawaiian. Leave the colonial details and the grand old dame title to the Moana Surfrider. Leave the Dolphin Quest and the suburban serenity to the Kahala. If the brand of luxury you're seeking is whitewashed Zen with clean lines and fastidious service, in the center of Waikiki, the Halekulani delivers.
This hotel feels like no other in Waikiki. What started as a two-story house on five acres in 1883 grew to a 115-room inn during Hawaii's postwar years, hosting such luminaries as Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell. In 1981, a Japanese corporation purchased it, and today, 456 rooms are spread across five white, oceanfront buildings, none taller than 17 stories.
There's an open, airy, quietly serene setting -- grassy courtyard, teak-lined reception area, elegant architectural lines, moonflowers hanging from a sunlit trestle in the lobby next to seven-foot-tall Indian marble sculptures. There's no outrigger canoe hanging here, as there is next door at the Outrigger Reef; nor is there a shopping mall attached, as there is at the Royal Hawaiian. While the Polynesian warmth is toned down -- no flower lei greetings -- guests are personally escorted to rooms for check-in and lavished with welcome fruits and chocolates. At best, it all feels Zen-like, but to some it might seem too austere for a Hawaiian vacation. There are dress codes not just for restaurants but for the general resort grounds; guests always look the part.
In 2012, the hotel underwent a renovation to all guestrooms and suites. Each room received new furniture, linens, decor, and amenities, as well as new bathrooms. The results aren't drastic changes, though -- rooms are still kept in mostly neutral and off-white shades, with light wood furniture. The beach chic look is maintained, but now it's new. And new is always better, no?
All pretentions quickly disperse, however, when you step out the front door, and find yourself across from a Denny's and a Roy's restaurant, a popular Hawaiian fusion chain. Just across the street is the start of Lewers Street, a recently redeveloped stretch with swanky shopping and dining; on either side of the hotel are more Waikiki hotels. You may be paying big bucks to stay at the exclusive Halekulani, but you're packed in tightly with everyone else once outside.
From the moment guests arrive and a receptionist escorts them to their room for check-in, service at the Halekulani is nothing if not formal, discreet, and thorough. From the servers in the restaurants to the concierges, the staff is professional and helpful. But it can be lacking in the Polynesian warmth you'd find at other luxury properties in the area, like the Kahala and the Royal Hawaiian. Those looking for more casual, cuddly service might be happier at one of those properties.
Check-in takes place in the guest room
Twice-daily housekeeping is especially thorough: shoes are arranged and sundries packed into drawers.
Turndown includes little gifts -- an elegantly wrapped seashell with a quote or a token with the hotels' signature orchid.
A certain irony looms over the Halekulani's location. There's a feeling of quiet exclusivity, but step outside its doors and you're immediately confronted with that most populist of eateries: Denny's. The hotel is tightly flanked on either side by the Sheraton and the Outrigger Reef. For a luxury hotel that's not cramped in with its neighbors, try the Kahala -- 10 to 15 minutes outside of Waikiki.
Within walking distance is Kalakaua Avenue, a touristy, milelong stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels that runs along Waikiki Beach on Oahu's southeast coast. It 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.
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 by foot.
Cheap and easy to get around Waikiki via "The Bus"
The Halekulani boasts direct beach access, via the pool deck, to an extremely small plot of sand no more than 40 feet across and about as wide depending on the tide. Pool attendants provide towels and folding beach chairs for guests to arrange themselves on the sand.
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. For a larger stretch of sand than the Halekulani offers on-site, guests can take a short stroll on an oceanfront walkway to Fort DeRussy, a far less crowded section of Waikiki Beach 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.
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 the Star Beach Boys stands
With an understated color scheme, plenty of square footage, upscale bedding, and up-to-date electronics, rooms are luxurious, if a tad less bright and modern-looking than those at the Kahala, just outside of Waikiki. The standard rooms are a generous 420 square feet, plus a 100-square-foot balcony with a table, two chairs and a lounger; bigger than the standard rooms at the Royal Hawaiian, but smaller than those at the Kahala. The upside here is a closet that opens from both sides, so that one can peer through its open doors from the bathtub to the balcony, and out to gorgeous views. All rooms and bathrooms received a facelift in 2012, with new linens and towels, as well as more updated beach chic-style furnishings.
All rooms have the same layout, just differing views (increasing by about $50 with each better view); "Garden Courtyard" is least expensive; "Ocean Front" with views of Diamond Head is most costly.
Super-comfortable beds have 100% Egyptian cotton sheets, down duvets, over-size down pillows, featherbeds, and Serta Fiberblock mattresses.
The best family-friendly feature at this formal property is the size of standard rooms, which easily accommodate rollaway beds (fee per night) and cribs (free). The convenient beachfront location and nice pool do draw lots of kids, but the on-site children's activity program has been discontinued (it may start up again). While the atmosphere and restaurants here are a bit formal, the resort is filled with families, many from Japan. But if upscale and kid-friendly is what you're after and you don't mind being a bit outside of Waikiki, you're better off at the Kahala, since it offers more children's features. In town, the Royal Hawaiian also offers more for kids.
Spacious, 420-square-foot standard rooms; adjoining rooms available
The crown jewel in the Halekulani's restaurant collection is La Mer, a formal, expensive fine-dining restaurant offering fabulous New French fare from a Michelin-star chef amid stunning views of the ocean and grounds from a second-floor dining room. It's open only for dinner, offering set menus, and it's probably one of the few places you'll seen men dining in jackets on the islands. You'll have less formal options for dining at Orchids and House Without a Key, as well as the plethora of restaurants within walking distance. In 2012, the hotel opened L'Apertif at La Mer, a swanky new French bar.
Expect expensive set menus and formal service at the dinner-only New French La Mer.
L'Apertif at La Mer opened in 2012, serving cocktails in a swanky French setting.
Orchids serves Pacific Rim fare in a more casual atmosphere.
Excellent food, alcohol (though no open bar options), and reception space -- a great choice for a classier, yet less Hawaiian-feeling, wedding
Wedding Size: Up to 650 people
Extra Fees and Requirements: If you don't opt for a package, you'll have to pay for a minister and the ceremony location. Any weddings held on certain holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Christmas, New Year's, and Thanksgiving are subject to an additional labor fee. You must pay for 90 percent of the entire wedding -- food, drinks, fees, and everything -- 10 days in advance (no refunds).
Wedding Packages: The basic wedding package includes an arrangement of exotic flowers on the gazebo, a white lattice, a bridal bouquet, a boutonniere, a basket of petals, a soloist for the ceremony, a two-tier wedding cake with fresh flowers, bottle of champagne, a photographer or videographer for one hour (24 prints and one DVD), a minister, and a wedding certificate.
Ceremony Location: The garden courtyard, in view of other guests at the hotel (the most popular option)
Reception Locations: The ballroom, the Hau Terrace, and the garden terrace
Photographers and Videographers: Photo packages start at one hour and cost an additional fee for each additional hour (includes 24 prints); video packages start at one hour, and cost an additional fee for each additional hour.
Music: Options for the ceremony include a harpist, a harpist and a flutist, a Hawaiian duo, a Hawaiian trio, a string quartet, and a pianist.
Food: For smaller parties, you'll have to go with a plated dinner, but if your party is 75 people or more you can also opt for a buffet. You can also set up carving stations, an oyster bar, and a sushi bar charged per person or per number of pieces, plus an extra sushi chef fee. Kids' and vegetarian menus also available.
Cocktail Hour: Hors d'oeuvres range in prices and can be bought by the dozen or 100s.
Drinks: The hotel doesn't offer an open bar option, so you'll have to either order wine by the glass or by the bottle, and champagne by the bottle. You can also order rum punch and champagne punch per gallon. Also, note that there's an additional bar set-up and bartender fee.
Cakes: A two and three-tiered cakes available.
Flowers: As usual at Hawaii hotels, flowers can hike up the price. Bridesmaid's bouquets, maile leis, and table centerpieces are expensive.
Spa Treatments: Full menu of services available, including hair styling, makeup, and couples massages (such as the "Romance Remembered" massage)
Honeymoon Suite: The special "Vera Wang Suite" features an enormous 2,135 square feet of space styled with Vera Wang's collection -- her furnishings, her china, and even her fragrances, but, naturally, not her gowns -- as well as a large tub and a separate shower, a bottle of champagne, breakfast in bed, and a private limousine transfer from the airport.
Airport Transportation: The hotel does not offer a shuttle to and from the airport; a 20-minute taxi.