Oyster reporters spent weeks exploring the top resort hotels all over the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. We dozed in the beds, basked on the beaches, feasted in the restaurants, and even danced a little hula, all to discover the most distinguished properties. Here are our favorite luxury hotels.
The 251-room St. Regis Princeville is considered by many to be the premier luxury option in Hawaii, and given the stunning setting overlooking Hanalei Bay, it's hard to disagree. Guests can expect warm, sophisticated decor, suites with personal butler service, world-class golf, and a memorable breakfast buffet on a terrace with gorgeous ocean views. The discerning clientele this resort attracts will find little to fault, though if one had to nitpick, the formal dress code might not appeal to everyone, and food prices -- as one might expect at this caliber of property -- are steep. The location on Kauai's lush, ruggedly beautiful northern coast makes for natural beauty that's unparalleled, but rain is more frequent here and the beach, though lovely, doesn't have the finest sand.
The pristine Four Seasons, the only five-pearl property on the Big Island, is unlike any other resort on the Kohala Coast. Lush and beautifully landscaped grounds surround private bungalow-style rooms and suites tucked along winding paths throughout the large property. The thoughtfully designed architecture, pools (all seven of them), and public spaces are indulgent without seeming excessive. Dining options on-site are few in number but high in quality, and include what is arguably the best restaurant on the Big Island. The service is excellent and the experience is first-rate down to the last detail.
The Four Seasons is quieter and more subdued than Maui's more grandiose resorts, but a two-to-one staff-to-guest ratio means over-the-top pampering like nowhere else in Hawaii -- poolside Evian spritzes, beachside yoga classes, and they even have someone to unpack your bags for you. The best part? It's all free -- gym and spa access, beachside cabanas, outrigger canoe outings, and even the kids' club. No ugly "resort fee" surprises either, unlike at most Maui resorts.
The Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay is a luxury resort secluded on the small island of Lanai, offering top-rateddining, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, and a pristine pool and spa. Known for its exceptional service (easily some of the best in Hawaii, it includes a 24-hour concierge, numerous beach and pool attendants, and twice-daily housekeeping), the resort is a favorite among honeymooners and has an impressive number of return clients considering its remote location -- getting there requires either a small plane or a ferry ride, and the hotel is 20 minutes from Lanai City. The on-site restaurants are pricey, and the fee for Wi-Fi seems a bit much, but a long list of freebies (everything from yoga classes to snorkel gear) help compensate.
A secluded location in the lush (though rainy) northwestern coast of Maui; proximity to two prestigious, oceanfront golf courses; culture and ecology programs for families led by Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ambassadors of the Environment; and a top-rated restaurant make the Ritz-Carlton feel more serene than many of Maui's other luxury resorts -- like an eco-reserve off the back nine. Plus, a $180 million renovation in 2008 revitalized the rooms, the spa, the gym, and the three-tiered pool overlooking the coast.
Kahala's location in a ritzy Honolulu neighborhood -- away from the chaos of Waikiki -- makes it the most serene luxury option on Oahu. It's also the best. Its phenomenal service truly separates it from its competitors: At check-in guests are greeted with leis and cool washcloths; staff members address you by name throughout your stay (impressive for a 338-room property); and additional thoughtful touches include daily newspapers delivered in blue cotton bags and ice buckets that get refilled at turndown. The elegant rooms feature enormous flat-screen TVs, balconies, and some of the best bathrooms we've ever seen.
The 102-room Four Seasons Lodge at Koele is a serene, upscale resort with a Greg Norman-designed golf course. The resort is just a short walk from town, and features top-rated (but expensive) dining, casually elegant rooms, horseback riding facilities, and three tennis courts. The tranquil English-style grounds dotted by Asian accents -- a pagoda sits across the pond from a gazebo -- have a peaceful air and attract honeymooners and couples.
The Grand Wailea vies with the Four Seasons for the title of the most luxurious resort in Wailea, the manicured planned resort on Maui's southwestern shore. But its style of luxury is flashier. Cascading waterfalls at the entrance, the world's only "water elevator" spewing from a volcano in the pool, and one of the most elaborate hydrotherapy spas in the nation deliver a wow factor, but also contribute to a theme park-esque vibe that isn't right for everyone. Still, opulence marks every feature, from the huge guest rooms to the $30 million in-house art collection.
Built in 1927, the iconic "Pink Palace of the Pacific" is easily the most recognizable hotel on Oahu -- and, decades later, still one of the most luxurious. Guests receive the hotel's signature drink, a pink hibiscus elixir, upon check-in, and our reporter found banana bread waiting for him when he arrived in his room. Free limo service delivers guests anywhere in the local area in the afternoons and early evenings, and nightly turndown service is accompanied by chocolates or mints, a bottle of water, and a postcard with historical facts about the hotel. Be sure to book in the historical wing for classier renovated rooms (renovated in 2011).
The Koa Kea's first-rate, personalized service is the best on Kauai -- even better than what you'll find at the pricier Grand Hyatt. Rooms at this slickly designed boutique hotel all have espresso machines, 42-inch plasma TVs, sleek, dark-wood furnishings, Egyptian cotton sheets, and Italian marble bathrooms.
The 353-room Modern Honolulu is a chic hotel catering to youthful guests with its gorgeous outdoor pools with live music, bars, and lounging areas. This is a luxury property with lots of amenities, including a spa, exercise room, and lobby bar along with some extra notable features including a trendy nightclub and Iron Chef-endorsed sushi restaurant. Rooms are fresh, white, and beachy; some have balconies with water views. The beach is an eight-minute walk away. Guests looking for something closer to the water may want to consider The Royal Hawaiian which is right on the beach.
This 32-acre luxury resort in Waimea delivers all the high-end Big Island essentials: A beautiful spa, comprised mostly of outdoor huts; a white-sand beach on a calm lagoon; beautifully landscaped grounds, and a huge pool with ocean views. But rooms, though tasteful, aren't quite as luxurious as you'd expect at this price point, and numerous extra fees can leave guests feeling nickel-and-dimed.
One of the best luxury resorts on Kauai, the 602-room Grand Hyatt Kauai draws guests with spacious, Hawaiian-inspired rooms, three incredible pools, a behemoth saltwater lagoon, 10 dining options, including a host of high-end restaurants, a renowned spa, a twice-weekly luau, and immaculately kept tropical grounds. Its large range of features allows it to have broad appeal, and a non-stop cycle of families, honeymooners, business travelers, and wedding parties filter through the property week after week. Travelers looking for an equally luxurious property without all the fanfare should check out nearby Koa Kea Resort, which is smaller, cheaper, and offers half of the amenities of the Hya
The Montage Kapalua Bay is a lush 24-acre luxury property that features 56 one- to four-bedroom villas and a world-class spa. The spa itself is on five acres with an infinity pool and hydrotherapy treatment rooms. This beautiful oceanfront location in Kapalua is situated on a point with dramatic ocean cliffs on one side and a lovely crescent-shaped beach on the other. Threerestaurants, two bars, and an excellent, multi-level pool complex are spread across the expansive property, which can take some time to walk across. The excellent villas have gourmet kitchens and spacious lanais, many with great ocean views. It's far more intimate than the nearby Ritz-Carlton, which lacks the kitchens found here