If I am going divert from staying in a chain hotel in which I can earn and redeem points, the alternative has to be very, very compelling. Although Honolulu has a wide assortment of chain hotels including three great beachfront Starwood properties and a comfortable Hyatt Regency, my hotel choice is the Kahala Hotel and Resort.
Nestled in a residential neighborhood about 10 minutes from Waikiki, the Kahala bills itself as a “luxury hideaway, adored by stars, presidents and royalty”. That is not a selling point for me. What is a selling point is its tranquil location and overall quality of the property.
The Kahala used to be a chain hotel. In fact, it was rumored to be the most expensive hotel in the world when Conrad Hilton opened it in 1964. Indeed, the Kahala has hosted the British Monarch, every U.S. President since Lyndon Johnson, and many film stars.
As mentioned above, the hotel truly is in the heart of a quiet residential neighborhood. As you might imagine, that was a huge controversy when building the property but construction eventually began in 1960. The hotel bills itself as the first to offer air conditioning in all rooms.
Why would Hilton sell this crown jewel of a property? Profit, I would imagine…the same reason it sold its Waldorf chain to Chinese investors.
Kahala Lobby and Check-In
John has some family in Hawaii, so he always rents a car in Honolulu. Valet or self-parking is $32/day and we opted for valet. Pulling up to the property, a cadre of hotel staff dressed in white linen opened our doors and retrieved our luggage from the trunk.
The hotel lobby is tastefully grand, not exactly understated yet not gaudy. It is not modern: looking at old pictures of the hotel, the lobby has not changed in decades. I appreciate that, for it seems too often hotels try to reinvent themselves for no good reason.
Past the lobby is the check-in desk and here I just had to step back and let John do his thing. John is the master negotiator and considers it sport to try to negotiate an upgrade each time we stay at the property.
We had booked a $499/night rate (!!!) [yes, it hurts me to even write this…but John] using the American Express Fine Hotels & Resort program, so at least that meant we would already receive an upgraded room, free breakfast, late checkout, a $100 resort credit and the fourth night free (making the effective rate $374/night).
Anyway, John eventually secured an upgraded oceanview room for a modest additional amount per night. No escort up to the room was offered, but we were already familiar with the property.
Kahala Guest Rooms
The Kahala rooms are comfortable and well-laid out. Spacious for a non-suite, the colors are bright and natural light fills the room. With the upgrade secured by John, we had gone from a pre-assigned room with two double beds to one king bed. A balcony provided great ocean views.
The bathroom is divided into two sections — one side with a bathtub, the other side with shower. Both sides have full vanities with sinks and clothing closets. A water closet sits between the two sides.
Starbucks Coffee and tea are available in-room and refilled daily.
Views from the room are incredible:
One of my favorite things about the Kahala and a big factor in bringing me back is the delicious breakfast spread every morning in Plumeria Beach House. Honolulu is full of buffets offering international cuisine and the Kahala certainly does that, but the quality is exceptional here.
A leisurely breakfast is the hallmark of a good vacation for me and I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast each morning. Omelets are delicious and freshly-carved ham is available on weekends. My favorite breakfast item, though, is rolled pancakes in butter sauce. I don’t even want to think how many calories are in those…
Service is always warm and kind and one server even welcomed us by name the second day.
The resort has other dining options. Seaside Grill offers lunch on the beach. The poolside menu is similar and I ordered a berry smoothie while John ordered a strawberry milkshake:
Hoku’s is the resort’s fine dining restaurant offering a fusion of Hawaiian, Mediterranean, and European food. Arancino offers Italian food. Both look good, but we did not try either because John has a favorite Greek restaurant in Honolulu that we ate our evening meals at.
Afternoon tea and a full bar menu is also offered in the lobby. Additionally, complimentary tea and coffee is available outside Plumeria in the mornings:
John stayed a couple more days after I left (I had a wedding to get to…) and ordered room service: his usual filet with French fries.
“It was very good my friend” was his feedback.
The hotel has one main swimming pool that never seems to get too crowded (not when the beach is a few feet away). This is not a an adults-only resort and children do seem to congregate at the pool, but we spent an afternoon lounging poolside and everyone was well-behaved. Paddle boards and swim noodles can be rented on a complimentary basis.
A large hot tub stands adjacent to the pool.
Kahala Beach and Grounds
I like looking at beaches, but I do not like sitting on them. Still, the private, pristine beach at the Kahala must be one of the hotel’s best selling points.
Still on LA time, I arose early both mornings and caught the sunrise from a jetty on the beach. That was the extent of my time on the beach.
But if you are the type that spends all day on a beach, cabana lounges are $65/day (before 3pm, $40 after), cabana tents are $115/day (before 3pm, $65 after), and umbrellas are $30/day.
Personally, I find the rental fees excessive but I guess they are par for the course.
Kayaks and surfboards can also be rented and private lessons are available.
The grounds are beautifully maintained and I understand why John always talks about getting married here one day.
A couple freebies–the hotel offers complimentary bicycle rentals and complimentary professional portrait sittings (though I’d imagine you’ll pay an arm and a leg if you want a copy of any of the photos).
If you are into golfing, the other side of the property features a beautiful gulf course. Naturally, equipment rental is available.
Kahala Fitness and Spa
The 24-hour fitness center is wonderful. Filled with modern equipment and never crowded, you do not have to leave your gym routine at home. Here’s an updated list of the equipment offered. Classes are offered for $25 and personal trainers are available.
Male and female locker rooms contain a sauna and steam room as well as as a private whirlpool.
A full-service spa is available and seemed to be hopping, but after $10/hr massages in Cambodia and Thailand (and even $30/hr in LA) I just cannot bring myself to pay the hundreds of dollars needed here for a nice massage (prices here).
In another page out of the past, a lagoon houses six live-in dolphins. A menu of options for interacting with them are available, but you can always just walk up to them. While I have no problem with this and actually look forward to taking my son to play with the dolphins here one day, I can imagine that animal rights activists must be pretty angry about this continuing captivity.
Kahala Wi-Fi Interent
Internet speeds were poor — both wired and wireless. On two occasions we telephoned the front desk and were told, essentially, that nothing could be done. The good news for this trip was that I was there to relax and internet was thus not essential, but do keep that in mind. We ended up tethering internet from our phones and achieved much higher speeds that way.
The Kahala Hotel & Resort is not the hotel for a budget traveler or someone looking to maximize free upgrades and points. But it is my favorite hotel in Honolulu and I hope you can now better understand why. Once in awhile it is nice to splurge and I will splurge at this hotel, at least for the room. Free breakfast and fourth night free from the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program makes this price tag a bit more bearable. If you have a CITI Prestige Card, the fourth night is also free.
The comfort, location, friendly service, amenities, and great breakfast all add up to a great experience every time.