Oahu’s tourism center, Honolulu — specifically, Waikiki Beach — is filled to the gills with touristy shops, chain restaurants, fast food spots, malls, traffic, high-rise hotels, and vendors hawking cheap seashell jewelry and T-shirts. It may be decades removed from the unspoiled tropical paradise that many mainlanders associate with Hawaii, but there are a few posh retreats that serve as elegant oases amid all the beachy hubbub.
Of the top luxury hotels in Honolulu's Waikiki, the iconic pink, 528-room Royal Hawaiian provides the most stunning design and the warmest service, plus a solid collection of free little extras, turndown treats, and welcome leis. More so than at its Waikiki competitors, the services at the Royal Hawaiian is first-rate from the moment you arrive, including a full tour of the property -- which can also included a very detailed history of it -- and a full tour of the room. Rooms in Royal Hawaiian's historic wing feature that pervasive pink motif, while those in the Royal Beach Tower were more recently renovated, and include private lanais and a modern, zen-like feel. However, Royal Hawaiian's standard rooms (about 350 square feet) are smaller than the ones at Halekulani. As you'd expect for a large luxury hotel, the Royal Hawaiian features a nice collection of amenities, from the standard (pool, business center, parking) to the unique (local musician performances, "hula therapy") and deluxe (Abhasa Spa).
Leave the bright colors and the historic trappings to the Royal Hawaiian. If the brand of luxury you're seeking is understated elegance and doting, fastidious service, in the center of Waikiki, the Halekulani Hotel delivers. Halekulani feels like no other hotel 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. Today, the hotel's 453 rooms are spread across five white oceanfront buildings. The standard rooms are a generous 420 square feet, plus a 100-square-foot balcony with a table; bigger than the standard rooms at the Royal Hawaiian. The hotel has all the typical hotel amenities one would expect at a full-service resort -- pool, business and fitness facilities, upscale restaurants -- but, this being the Halekulani, they're all truly top-notch. As for which hotel is better -- the Halekulani or Royal Hawaiian -- it's largely a matter of taste: whitewashed Zen elegance at Halekulani versus bright, tropical fun at the Royal Hawaiian.
Though the Moana Surfrider doesn't quite match the elegance of the nearby Royal Hawaiian, it's the oldest hotel on Waikiki Beach and its 1901 plantation-style design gives it a unique historic feel. With a stately porte-cochere, wooden rocking chairs on the front porch, a brass elevator and ornately carved wooden columns in the lobby, the Moana (pronounced mo-awna) Surfrider exudes the kind of grandeur and elegance you might expect on a Virginia plantation. The glass vases of orchids, birds of paradise, and torch ginger throughout the lobby are the only details giving away its tropical setting -- oh, and its location in the dead center of Waikiki. Small rooms are offset by impressive public spaces, including an outdoor courtyard with live nightly music beneath a sweeping banyan tree, and an enormous spa and fitness center.
For travelers, especially families, looking for a self-contained resort on Oahu, the Hilton Hawaiian Village is a top choice. With 22 acres housing five guest towers, five pools, 20 bars and restaurants, nearly 100 shops, direct beach access, and a lagoon, it's the largest resort in Hawaii, and really in a class by itself. The hotel is a veritable village, with everything a guest could hope for: a full-service salon and spa, fitness and business centers -- even a health clinic, post office, and wedding chapel.
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, however; guests looking for waterfront luxury will prefer Royal Hawaiian, Halekulani, Moana, or Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Every one of the 563 rooms and suites at the upscale Prince Waikiki has an ocean view, overlooking the picturesque Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, and each room's large bay windows open wide to let in Pacific breezes. The hotel is next door to the 76-acre Ala Moana Beach Park (and its half-mile beach), two minutes from the convention center, and a 15-minute walk from the heart of Waikiki. It's an excellent choice for business travelers as well as golfers, who will likely enjoy the hotel's golf course and academy. Like the Modern, though, Prince Waikiki is not directly on the beach.