|You can spend a small fortune visiting
Waikiki, but you don't really have
to. Many of the best activities are free, starting with the beach itself
and extending to much of the music, dance shows, even hula and ukelele
lessons. Meals can also be surprisingly reasonable. And so can hotels.
My wife and I have usually stayed at high end (four and five
star) hotels, but recently we tried three much more modestly priced ones,
looked closely at several others, and compared the experience to our high
end sojourns. We were quite happy with those hotels. For many people, we
concluded, it makes no sense to pay two or three times as much for the top
We focused on the two big middle-range hotel chains, Ohana
and Aston, where the rates start at under $ 100 per night. Each company has
over a dozen hotels in Waikiki. Most are situated either across the street
from the beach (as are quite a few four or five star hotels, including the
Hyatt, Marriott and Sheraton) or else one to three blocks from the ocean.
They have rather small swimming pools (if they have pools
at all) but so do many of the top hotels in Waikiki. This should not matter
much, though, since most people prefer to lounge on the beach itself and
splash in the waves. And even if you like calm-water swimming, rather than
playing in the surf, Waikiki has wonderful, warm and sheltered public
saltwater swimming areas right on the main beachfront. These are cut off by
breakwaters from wave action. They are perfect for families with children,
since, unlike most hotel pools, they have full-time lifeguards. Moreover,
guests at all the Ohana hotels are entitled to use the large and elegant
pool, hot tubs and other facilities at the Outrigger Reef, a deluxe
waterfront hotel owned by Ohana’s parent company.
The rooms are just about as large and nicely appointed as
the high-end ones. Nearly all have lanais (balconies), quality beds and
bedding, bar fridges and room safes. The main difference we found was in
little things like the quality and variety of the free toiletries, or
whether or not bathrobes and hair dryers were provided. Or there may not be
a coffee maker in the room or free ice provided on every floor. But how
important is this if there’s a 24-hour Starbucks just down the street? And
do you really want to pay a bundle for turndown service with chocolates on
your pillow? Or for a jacuzzi in your bathroom?
For us, the important thing was that these hotels were
uniformly clean and friendly, with competent staff and high standards of
service. And there were extra features as well. At the Ohana hotels, if
you stay five nights or longer you get a free (and very worthwhile) outing
on the Outrigger Catamaran, or an outrigger canoe ride or surfing lesson.
The Aston Waikiki Beach hotel includes in its price serve-yourself
breakfasts that you can take down to the beach in special insulated bags.
The Aston Waikiki Sunset has spacious suites, tennis courts and a sauna.
In choosing any Waikiki hotel, there are other things to
take into account. For example, regardless of the hotel’s rating, you will
have to pay quite a bit extra for a south-facing room with an ocean view.
If you pay less, your room may face north toward the mountains and get
little if any direct sunshine during the course of a day. Or it may face
east or west (and be designated as partial ocean view) and get sun only in
the morning or late afternoon. But location is everything. You can pay a
lot for an ocean view room at the Hyatt or Marriott, for example, but you
will look out over a very busy avenue as well. By contrast, our room at the
Ohana Waikiki Tower (on the western end of Waikiki) faced west toward the
palm trees and lawns of large Fort De Russy Park. So do many rooms in
several of the other very reasonably priced Ohana hotels that are clustered
along Lewers Avenue. On the eastern end of Waikiki (where we stayed at the
Aston Waikiki Sunset and Aston Waikiki Beach), east-facing rooms may have
very pleasant views overlooking the Honolulu Zoo, sprawling Kapiolani Park
and spectacular Diamond Head.
Another consideration is noise. Waikiki is smack in the
middle of a big and exciting city with traffic and night life. That’s one
of its attractions, but compared to some other resort destinations the
decibel level can be high. But an expensive hotel may be no advantage. We
have had oceanfront rooms at deluxe hotels where it was hard to sleep at
night without putting in earplugs. Why? Because our rooms were right above
the hotel’s popular beachfront restaurants and bars, which kept hopping
until 2 AM. If we kept the doors open on our oceanfront lanai, to get fresh
air and hear the surf, we also had to listen to loud drinkers and amplified
music. Even after closing time, the cleanup crews moved tables and banged
chairs for another hour.
By contrast, some of the moderate hotels are a few blocks
back from the beach and do not have busy, open-air bars and restaurants.
There is less traffic on these back streets than along the beachfront,
especially late at night. (Rooms on higher floors are quieter and generally
have better views, so that may be worth paying a little extra for.) And
just as the views over the parks (Fort De Russy and Kapiolani) on the
western and eastern ends of Waikiki can be an asset for their clusters of
moderately priced hotels, those parks are also oases of relative quiet in
the midst of the city.
Booking a hotel room can be a bit of a crap shoot,
especially if you do it over the Internet to get the best discounts. (Using
toll-free numbers and speaking to a real, live person about the exact
location and features of the room you are getting may be worth the extra
cost.) But in Waikiki, going with Ohana or Aston practically guarantees
good value and a positive experience.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (TOM KOPPEL)
is Canadian freelance writer and author with more than 15 years of travel writing experience, including features in Travel Holiday,
Financial Post Magazine, Canadian Living, Historic Traveler, Beautiful B.C.,
Western Living, Country Inns, Reader's Digest, Georgia Straight, Porthole, Islands etc.
Tom is now working on his third book as well.
about this writer.)