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The cheapest and worst, by far, of Starwood's four Waikiki hotels, the Kaiulani boasts a central location but little else.
Poor Princess Kaiulani. Formerly the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Victoria Kaʻiulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu i Lunalilo Cleghorn, Crown Princess of Hawaii -- simplified, mercifully, to Princess Kaiulani -- was legendary at the turn of the last century for her beauty, perseverance, and political acuity. Yet her pleas and negotiations with the U.S. government to save her kingdom ultimately failed to prevent Hawaii from being annexed. In 1898, she came down with a fever and died at the age of 23. Then, 60 years later, the final indignity: she had this place named after her. And now it's a subpar Sheraton. Oy vey (as they'd say in Hawaii).
Actually, my favorite thing about the Kaiulani -- granted, that's not saying much, but still -- was the attention and respect it pays to its namesake, known as the "Last Princess of Hawaii." Paintings of the princess adorn the walls of the lobbies and hallways. A small shrine graces the main lobby, near the entryway, and another, all-out tribute -- a museum exhibit, really -- is in the back of the main lobby, behind the koi pond. Other artwork, much of it related to Hawaii and its royal lineage, dots the campus.
The main problem with the Kaiulani is that much of it dates from the last century, if not the era of Hawaiian royalty. The carpets are stained, the walls are cracking, the cheap plastic lounge chairs by the pool are caked with grime from who knows how far back. The potentially romantic alfresco dining at the two main restaurants is tainted by the constant battles with the pigeons who share the hotel (without, presumably, paying a dime, the freeloaders). Meanwhile, the space they have that's still holding up OK isn't being used well. Thousands of square feet at the back of the main lobby, for instance, presumably used for event space, were essentially abandoned during my stay -- no one hung out there. Nor did I see anyone use the game room or lounge in the 2nd-floor lobby.
Fortunately, help is on the way. In 2011, Starwood will embark on a massive $550 million (yes, you read that right) renovation project at the Kaiulani. Besides a brand-new 33-story tower, the additions will include two public plazas and a retail promenade. (Presumably the project also involves much-needed improvements on the current infrastructure.) Unfortunately, the renovation won't be completed until 2014 at the earliest. Until then, you're better off at any of a half-dozen comparably priced places, several of which are even cheaper: the Park Shore, the Aston Waikiki Beach, Hotel Renew, the Aqua Palms, the Aqua Waikiki Pearl, the Waikiki Parc, the Ohana East, or the Ilima.
Slow check-in and checkout, but service is otherwise excellent for the price
I didn't have any problems at the front desk myself, but half the time I passed by during my stay, I saw a line -- a jumble, more like it -- eating space in the lobby. Check out this crowd. They were about as happy as they look.
Overall, though, the Kaiualani offers a range of services more akin to an upper-middle-range hotel. There's a concierge on staff -- rare for a lower-middle-range place in Waikiki -- as well as an activities desk and a bell staff to help with your bags.
- Room service available for breakfast and dinner
- No poolside drink service
In the heart of the Waikiki action, across the street from the beach
The Kaiulani is ideally situated for those who want to stay at the epicenter of Waikiki's famed shopping, dining, and drinking scene. It sits right on the busiest part of the main drag, Kalakaua Avenue, a touristy milelong stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels that runs along Oahu's southeast coast. Sprawling shopping centers -- King's Village on one side, the International Market Place on the other -- flank the hotel.
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 Obama bobbleheads. Seemingly every midmarket 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 like the Hyatt Regency and Marriott Waikiki Beach, dotting the landscape like pins in a cushion.
- Cheap and easy to get around Waikiki via The Bus (appropriately nicknamed "The Bus") -- $2.25 per person to go any distance
- Honolulu International Airport is a 20- to 25-minute, $35 cab ride.
- Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay, and Diamond Head Crater -- three of the most popular tourist sites outside Waikiki -- are all within 30 minutes by car.
Across the street from one of the most famous, and most crowded, beaches in the world
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 Princess Kaiulani is right across the street -- a one-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 standup 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.
- Public beach; no alcohol allowed
- Warm, shallow water -- a decent place to swim, especially for kids
- Sandy, not rocky, ocean bottom -- unlike neighboring Fort DeRussy to the northwest and Kuhio (aka "the wall") to the southeast
- Lifeguards monitor the beach throughout the day.
- Free towels provided by the hotel
- Lounge chairs or an umbrella with two 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
These rooms have seen better days. With the exception of the recent upgrade to flat-screen TVs and solid-white duvets on the beds, almost everything in the rooms looks like it dates back to the '80s. The dented, cream-colored furniture, the faded floral art, the pigeon-bombed balcony, the cardboard-thin walls. ... It all screams, "Renovate me!" Or at least, you know, "Clean me." (Incidentally, Starwood plans to answer the first plea, if not the latter, shortly -- a renovation is slated for 2011.)
- Rooms start at about 300 square feet, typical of a Waikiki hotel in this price range.
- Sheraton's website lists no fewer than nine different room types, but with the exception of the suites, they are all basically identical -- only the presence of balconies (some have them, some don't) and the various views differentiate them. For room layouts, click here.
- Beds feature comfy Serta Perfect Sleeper mattresses (yay), cotton/polyester-blend sheets (boo), and exceptionally soft pillows (yay). All told, very good for the price.
- All rooms in the Ainahau Tower have balconies; in the Princess Wing, balconies are limited to pool-side only; in the Kaiulani Wing, balconies are limited to street-side only. Request an Ocean View Room in the Princess Wing or Tower if you want a glimpse of the beach. Here's the view from the balcony in my Partial Ocean View Room in the Tower. As you can see, "partial" is the operative word.
- Street noise is an issue no matter how high up you stay -- like many other hotels in this part of Waikiki.
- 32-inch LG flat-screens show about 35 channels, including Showtime.
- Wired Internet only; charged depending on the speed of the connection you want
- Recycling bins in the rooms -- rare for Waikiki
- Coffeemaker with complimentary Kona coffee & Tazo tea
- Small bathrooms with hotel-brand bath products and some of the best shower water pressure of any non-luxe-hotel
Rooms and Rates
Because of its size, the Kaiulani sports far more amenities than similarly priced boutiques like Hotel Renew and the Park Shore. It has the usual Waikiki array -- pool, gym, business center -- plus some fun extras, including organized activities and a luau-like show, "Creation: A Polynesian Journey".
- Small, crowded pool with cheap, dirty lounge chairs and little atmosphere
- Spacious, well-equipped fitness center sectioned off from the 2nd-floor lobby by temporary walls -- making it, perhaps, the only gym in the country lit by chandeliers
- Business center off main lobby includes paid Internet access, a printing station, newspapers, and a lending library
- Game room includes a pool table and half a dozen arcade games
- Daily activities include hula lessons, lei-making, Hawaiian quilting, and arts and crafts -- similar to those offered at the Hyatt Regency, Marriott Waikiki Beach, and other large resorts in the area
- Evening entertainment: "Creation: A Polynesian Journey", which relives the history of the Hawaiian islands through music, dance, pyrotechnics, fire-eater/juggler, and impressive costumery, including the requisite loincloths and coconut bras; $39 per adult (for Kaiulani guests), which includes two drinks; $30 per child
Not recommended for adults or children, but at least there's plenty for kids to do
The Kaiulani offers a lot in the way of family-friendliness, but you'll find even more at the Hilton Hawaiian Village or Marriott Waikiki Beach. For budget family-friendliness, the Aston Waikiki Beach might be your best bet.
- No kids' club, but there are organized kids' activities like arts and crafts
- Nightly "Creation" show features plenty of sensory stimulation, including a fire-eater and juggler
- On-site hot dog cart
- Active, kid-packed pool (see Features, above)
- Adjoining rooms (but beware -- the doors are thin)
- Rollaway beds and cribs (free) are both available, though rollaways only fit in Ainahau Wing rooms and in Princess Wing rooms that face the pool.
Nothing disgusting or downright unhygienic, but maintenance is a problem, especially in the rooms
That said, here's a (frighteningly) partial inventory of offenses:
The Kaiulani claims to have two restaurants, Pikake Terrace and Splash Bar & Bento, but it's often difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Both are alfresco, and as you can see here, they sort of blend into one another. Far as I could tell, Pikake serves breakfast and dinner, and Splash serves lunch, dinner, and drinks. But the menus seemed interchangeable at times, and the food might as well have been. Splash's (or maybe Pikake's) lunch special: the "Loco Moco", which is a hamburger pattie over rice, topped with grilled onions, gravy, and a fried egg. All told, you're better off heading elsewhere. The Kaiulani is located right at the epicenter of Waikiki, so you can find pretty much anything within walking distance to match your budget and preferences.
- Two on-site restaurants: Pikake Terrace and Splash Bar & Bento
- The breakfast buffet features an omelet chef, and has good variety, but neither the food nor the coffee tasted fresh.
- The Pikake Hot Dog Cart, right by the pool, serves up standard dogs, but Puka Dog's famous wieners are only 100 yards away.
Transport to / from Hotel
Rental Car Service Desk Onsite
|Things to Do||
Gameroom / Arcade
Separate Bedroom / Living Room Space
Smoking Rooms Available
|Address||120 Kaiulani Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii 96815, United States|
|Also Known As||