One of our TWIL Advisors,, Bari Rose, recently returned from a fabulous holiday in Hawaii - here’s what she had to say!
About the Big island
The Island of Hawaii is known as the Big Island because it is just that - the biggest island in the US with a total surface area of 4029 square miles. It is bigger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined! The island itself is incredibly diverse, it is home to eight of the worlds thirteen ecosystems. One minute you are driving over lava fields and 20 minutes later you are in a rainforest. Legend has it that Pele, the Goddess of Fire settled in Halema'uma'u crater at the summit of Kilauea Volcano after she was exiled from Polynesia where she lives as a God today. Pele is responsible for the volcanic activity on the island. Any lava on the island is said to be a part of Pele, and visitors are warned against removing lava rocks from the island or else bad luck will befall them. Volcano’s National Park is on the west side of the island, about a one-hour drive from most of the resorts on the East Coast. The drive is beautiful and will take you though many different ecosystems. Rainbow, Akaka and Umauma Falls are all beautiful and worth a stop when driving from the East to West Coasts. Occasionally, lava will flow into the ocean and can be seen by helicopter.
Hotel: Mauna Kea
Built in 1965, by Rockefeller, it was the first hotel on the Kohala Coast and is said to occupy the prime beach front real estate. The beach here was definitely the nicest beach we saw the entire trip. The hotel is open air and brings the outside inside. It is a bit older and tired-ish. That said, the style itself is pretty timeless, so it is not a huge issue. They re-did the rooms a few years back but they still have dark wood and an orange colour scheme in the original building which was not the best look. They did not spend the money to fully update the washrooms, it's still like a combined bath/shower. There is a new wing - the beachfront wing - that has newer rooms in a brighter white and cool blue tone. The washrooms are newer and have stand alone showers. They actually price cheaper than the main building and I thought they were nicer. There are more connecting options there too so families opt for that side. On that note, they will guarantee connecting rooms at the time of booking for direct bookings only, bookings through wholesalers will be requests only. About 60% of their business is repeats guests, primarily from the west coast.
Food is not up to par. We elected to eat outside of the property for basically all of our meals. We did the luau our first night – meaning a traditional Hawaiian feast with entertainment. I think the going rate is 150 per person. It was a buffet, one drink, and a show. Also, the best part of the buffet, as with any luau, is a whole roast suckling pig. There were other things but like really you just go to a luau for the roast pig let’s be real. That being said, I hear this hotel boats the best luau on the Big Island. There are a couple of great options outside of the resorts for dinning but you do need to be willing to drive 30 minutes for dinner. The same was true for exploring the island. There is a lot to do, but nothing is particularly easy. The island is great for people who are a bit more adventurous, who are okay to spend a lot of time in a car. I felt a bit like I was in Muskoka (countryside of Ontario) - not because of the topography in any way, but the feeling of being in a more remote location, and it had that same relaxed country vibe.
Hotel: Hapuna Beach
Next to Mauna Kea and their sister property, the Hapuna Beach Hotel just finished a huge renovation and reopened as the Westin Hapuna Beach. They have Westin beds, showers and it looks pretty cool. The property has even more of an open concept with the lobby having panoramic views of the pacific. From the lobby there are staggered levels down to the beach. The hotel still plans on having a lower price point, around 300-400 USD/night and it could be GREAT value. The two properties are linked by a short 30-minute trail along the water, with private homes and a golf course in between or you can take a golf cart.
Maui, known also as “The Valley Isle,” is the second largest Hawaiian island. The island is beloved for its world-famous beaches, the sacred Iao Valley, views of migrating humpback whales (during winter months), farm-to-table cuisine and the magnificent sunrise and sunset from Haleakala. We were there in the winter and took a kayak out from the beach in Wailea. There was a group of gathered in canoes and kayaks about 400 m offshore and we paddled over. You could hear there was a whale swimming underneath everyone! We stopped and waited quietly and it finally breached less than 10 feet from our canoe.
The hotel is a very large and older hotel. The rooms are all suites so they are spacious, but they are very dark, lots of dark wood, dark colors etc. The first room they put us in which was supposed to be an ocean view was a partial ocean view at best. We had to strain our necks from the balcony to see a sliver of blue and we were facing a condo in front of us. The next room they moved us to was also allegedly an ocean view all we could see was the pool. Someone came by the first day to drop off a welcome amenity for some kids that were clearly slated to go into the room where they moved us. I did not eat one morsel of food the entire time I was there, nothing looked appealing. I honestly was so beyond unimpressed.
We spent basically all of our time over here, we really liked this property. It is very modern and contemporary - not for everyone, but for us, who like more action - it was great. The rooms are definitely minimalist, but you aren’t spending any time in the rooms there. The restaurants were definitely the best in Wailea, and the bars were the only places that were actually busy after 7 PM.
Hotel: Four Seasons
Obviously gorgeous and the most luxurious property in Wailea. A lot quieter than the Andaz. The food was good, just nothing terribly exciting. They have BY FAR the nicest stretch of beach in Wailea. I was actually shocked at how different the beach could look here versus the hotels literally next door.
I had very low expectations for Honolulu. Yes - Waikiki is touristy. The beach is hectic and crowded and FAKE. But get outside of Waikiki and you will find an amazing restaurant, gorgeous scenery, and a vibrant arts scene. For people who like cities, or are into food, I definitely think a night or two at the end of the trip are worthwhile. The direct flight service with AC between YYZ and HNL a few times a week is a great excuse to spend a couple days if you can make it work. Also, this is a great routing for getting clients out of Lanai and back to Toronto in one stop.
This hotel was amazing despite being in the middle of Waikiki. When you are at the property, you feel a million miles away, but are really just steps from the hustle and bustle. I was VERY impressed by the service, it was so tight, and the hotel itself was gorgeous.