The packed beaches and mega-resorts of Waikiki tend to be most popular with budget travelers and families. But luxury travelers who like Oahu for its familiarity and convenience will still find a handful of posh havens amid the hubbub.
Kahala's location in a ritzy Honolulu neighborhood -- away from the chaos of Waikiki -- makes it the most serene luxury option on the island. 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.
"Halekulani" translates to "house befitting heaven," and the hotel's clean lines, meticulous service, and serene, whitewashed ambience all live up to the property's name. Service is formal, thorough, and discreet; guests are personally escorted to rooms for check-in, lavished with welcome fruits and chocolates, and left little gifts each night on their pillows. The large, well-equipped rooms (renovated in 2012) reflect the understated luxury of the rest of the hotel.
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 complimentary banana bread waiting for him when he arrived in his room. Free limo service delivers guests anywhere in the local area between 2 and 8 p.m., 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, recently renovated rooms.
Built in the late 19th century and opened in 1901, the "First Lady of Waikiki" is characterized by its plantation-style grandeur and impressive public spaces, including a gorgeous outdoor courtyard shaded by a historic banyan tree and an enormous new spa and fitness center. As the area's first hotel, the Moana long ago staked its claim on one of the most picturesque stretches of Queens Beach, which today enables it to offer guests a private, cordoned-off piece of sand. Rooms are on the small side, but Westin's signature "Heavenly Beds" are super luxurious and service is warm.
Situated on the largest of Ko Olina's man-made lagoons, this elegant, self-contained resort far from the bustle of Waikiki features a top-rated golf course; a highly acclaimed signature restaurant, Azul; perfect turquoise water; and impeccably groomed grounds. Clean, spacious and comfortable rooms all come with balconies and 50-gallon soaking tubs, and service is welcoming and thorough. The resort is even more pleasant now that construction of the Disney Vacation Club next door is complete; rooms are also improved after undergoing a full face-lift in 2010.
The all-suite Grand Waikikian is the newest, and most luxurious, tower at the 3,000-room Hilton Hawaiian Village, and feels a world away from the rest of the frenetic resort. Its time-share condo units are chock full of new luxury amenities, including high-end kitchens, soaking tubs, Bosch washers and dryers, and flat-screen TVs with surround sound. The staff is a little hands-off, but generally friendly and helpful.