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TPG Contributor Candice Abraham may be from Toronto, but she’s a veritable Hawaii expert having covered the islands for years in her career as a travel writer, so we asked her to write today’s Destination of the Week on this perennially popular winter destination as we check out the island of Oahu.
It’s that time of year again when most of us are fantasizing about sun and sand, umbrella drinks and nights that don’t include multiple layers, scarves and mittens. If what you’re also after on a beach vacation is a slice of the action — shopping, a variety of restaurant options and some nightlife to go along with your R&R — then a trip to Oahu is your dream come true.
There’s no doubt Oahu is Hawaii’s most popular island. After all, it’s the home of famed Waikiki, the Vegas of the Pacific if you will, with luaus instead of Cirque shows (and minus the gambling of course). The calm, gentle waters of Waikiki also make it a place not just great for sunbathing but for surf and stand-up paddleboard lessons too, as well as catamaran rides, snorkeling and a number of other water activities. It’s true, many people avoid Honolulu and Waikiki because they tend to be rather touristy, but for ease of air travel access, choice of hotels and tons of non-beach activities, it can be a great destination for a Hawaiian getaway.
Oahu is also the island where you’ll find Pearl Harbor and the Pearl Harbor Memorial as well as great cultural attractions like the Polynesian Cultural Center and the only royal residence on US soil, the Iolani Palace, where you can learn about Hawaii’s storied (and sometimes tragic) past. It’s not impossible to get away from Oahu’s hustle and bustle either. Taking a road trip to the North Shore will provide you with stellar views and a more tranquil setting, with a number of stops to make along the way. There’s the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of the United Nations World Heritage Site in Japan, and Kualoa Ranch, where you can partake in an ATV adventure or go horseback riding.
When you get to the North Shore don’t forget to stop at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck for a plate of fresh shrimp scampi. If you’re looking for something a little more upscale when you get back to town, go to Town Restaurant, where chef Ed Kenney dishes up some of the island’s best seasonal, artisanal fare; or visit the city’s best-known restaurant Alan Wong’s. Of course, if you just want some sushi, Nobu Waikiki is the place to go.
Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is Hawaii’s busiest airport, where the majority of international and U.S. flights arrive. This means HNL is also the point of entry where most of Hawaii’s visitors catch connecting flights to the other islands. The airport serves over 20 million visitors each year and is larger than Waikiki, which is only ten miles away. There are many direct flight options for flying into HNL, and even a greater number of connecting flights that will get you there. You’ll find these flights with the major U.S. carriers such as Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta, American Airlines and U.S Airways – so you can use your miles to get here no matter which alliance you’ve been stockpiling them in. Even better, January and February count as off-peak for American awards to Hawaii while March is considered off-peak on US Airways, so you can get here for fewer miles than you normally would. Another great option would be to get in on the current bonus of 100,000 Avios for the British Airways Visa, which would be enough for four roundtrip economy tickets to Hawaii because Avios awards are calculated based on distance.
Virgin America just partnered with Hawaiian Airlines creating a potentially lucrative way for Virgin America flyers to use their Elevate points to get to the islands. No matter where you’re flying from in the U.S. though, Oahu is still a remote location so if you’re paying for your flights, the trip will help you rack up frequent flyer miles as well.
Whether it’s a big chain hotel where you can earn or burn points, or a boutique option where your credit card gets you special perks, Oahu is one of the United States’ great vacation destinations with accommodations for every budget and taste.
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort: In many ways the Hilton Hawaiian Village feels like its own destination, with 22 oceanfront acres on magnificent Duke Kahanamoku Beach. It is virtually impossible to run out of things to do at this resort, with its swimming pools and water slides, a whopping 18 restaurants, a plethora of shopping options from high-end boutiques to souvenir stops, nightly entertainment, the resort’s very own Waikiki luau, a variety of cultural activities and a Friday night fireworks show. Don’t forget the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, either, which is a great spot for teaching keiki (kids) how to swim and snorkel. And if you think the amenities at Hilton Hawaiian Village seem endless, then you can imagine the great variety of accommodation options available at this resort. First are the choices offered at the newly renovated, iconic Rainbow Tower. Hawaii Five-O fans will recognize this tower. Its famous rainbow mosaic panels, stretching over 286 feet high, are featured regularly in the series. Ocean Front rooms here offer some of the best views of Waikiki beach and Diamond Head. The recent $45-million renovation of the Rainbow Tower, which also just celebrated its 50th anniversary, has revamped the tower’s interior, including its 800 guestrooms. Room amenities include Hilton Serenity Collection Beds and Bedding, in-room balconies, 37” flatscreen TV’s and in-room refrigerators. The second of Hilton Hawaiian Village’s two oceanfront towers is the Aliʻi Tower. Hilton calls the Aliʻi Tower a resort within a resort, featuring luxury accommodations and its own set of high-end amenities. This tower’s 300 rooms and suites are currently undergoing a renovation, set for completion in January 2013. All guestrooms will receive new bathrooms and furnishings, giving each room a contemporary look and feel. Amenities offered at the Aliʻi Tower include a private guest reception area, exclusive concierge services, a private pool, sun terrace and whirlpool and a private Fitness Center with massage treatment rooms and a sauna. The Aliʻi Tower is also an American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts property. Located not far from the oceanfront, are the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s three village towers: Tapa Tower, Kaila Tower and Diamond Head Tower. There are a great number of room categories featured throughout these three towers, including ocean view rooms, suites and specialty rooms. Rates at the Hilton Hawaiian Village start at $215 per night or 50,000 HHonors points for one room night.
Other Hilton options on Oahu include the DoubleTree by Hilton Alana Waikiki Hotel with rates for December starting at $179 per night or 40,000 HHonors points and Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk, with rates starting from $299 per night or 50,000 HHonors points.
Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa: Located just steps from Waikiki Beach, this Hyatt Regency is a resort with all the fixings. Hyatt Regency Waikiki features a variety of different room categories perfect for a private getaway for two, a Hawaiian family vacation and everything in between, with the resort’s ocean view rooms offering unparalleled views of the Pacific. In-room amenities include private balconies, 32” flatscreen TV’s, iHome stereos with iPod docking stations, video check-out, work stations, and WiFi Internet access is available with the resort fee of $18. Guests of the resort will enjoy the freshwater pool overlooking Waikiki, meeting and business facilities, a health club and for shifting into ultimate relaxation mode there’s the 10,000 square foot spa. When it’s time to satisfy those hunger pangs, your mouth will be drooling all the way to Hyatt Regency Waikiki’s sushi restaurant, Japengo. For a western twist on Hawaii’s sustainable seafood options, visit Shor, the resort’s American seafood and grill, while SWIM is Hyatt Regency Waikiki’s dining option for lighter fare and cocktails. Feel like taking some time away from the resort? This property is within walking distance to all of Waikiki’s main attractions, including Diamond Head (a volcanic tuff cone), the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium. Rates for December start at $211 per night or 18,000 Gold Passport points as this a Category 5 property.
Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach: This is a Hyatt value property, located just a block away from Waikiki Beach. It’s also a decent option if you want to be closer to the Hawaii Convention Center, which is two miles away. Rooms here feature in-room balconies, one king or two queen Hyatt Grand Beds, bathroom vanities with granite countertops, complimentary WiFi and 42” flatscreen TV’s. You’ll find various room categories here, from City to Ocean View. For poolside loungers, this property boasts an outdoor pool and sun deck and at night guests can enjoy the deck’s fire pit with seating for up to 100. There’s also a 24-hour Stay Fit fitness center with Life Fitness cardio equipment. The Hyatt Place Waikiki also serves guests a daily complimentary Kitchen Skillet breakfast as well as other specially prepared dishes at the Guest Kitchen, like signature flatbreads and appetizers. The Bakery Café serves Starbucks coffee and gourmet baked goods for those times when an apple and a bottle of water just won’t do it. Rates for December start at $189 per night or 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points since this is a Category 3 property.
Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa: This resort is also in a great location near Diamond Head on Waikiki Beach.The resort consists of two towers with 1,310 guestrooms, which have been recently refurbished with tropical island décor and offer views of Diamond Head and the Pacific. There are five dining options on the resort, including the well-known Italian restaurant, Arancino di Mare, as well as Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar, d.k Steak house, Moana Terrace and the Kuhio Beach Grill. For water activities, guests will find two heated outdoor pools and a whirlpool as well as Pro Surf School Hawaii, for lessons right on Waikiki Beach. There’s also a fitness center at the resort with cardio equipment and a stretching area for yoga and pilates. The resort’s Spa Olakino Salon offers a slew of treatment options, from facials to body wraps and overlooks Waikiki Beach. This is a Category 6 property, which means a room night here is 30,000 points. The average daily rate for December is $199.
JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa: For a resort option away from the business of Waikiki, the JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort and Spa is a family-friendly property that will give you the privacy you’re looking for. Ko Olina is located about a 35-40 minute drive from downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, but that doesn’t mean you’re too far away from some of Oahu’s greatest attractions, like Pearl Harbor and the Waikele Premium Outlets. The resort is situated on four white sand lagoons and also features an outdoor pool and outdoor lap pool, whirlpool, jogging trail, tennis courts and a championship golf course. There’s also a Marine Life Program for guests interested in hands-on experiences with local marine life, like feeding reef sharks. The Ihilani Spa will provide everything you need to feel truly pampered, including a range of spa services and private spa lounges for one or two people that include a steam, sauna and roman pool area. Guestrooms at this resort feature grand marble bathrooms with lovely duel vanities and deep-soak European tubs, while all bedding includes custom-duvets, and fresh cotton linens. Also located within the Ko Olina Resort is the Marriott Ko Olina Beach club with its 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom beach villas, that come with fully equipped kitchens. Rates for December start at $299 per night or 35,000 points for a one-night stay because this is a Category 7 property.
The Courtyard Marriott Waikiki Beach can also be found within walking distance to Waikiki Beach. This is a Category 5 property, where a one-night stay is 25,000 points, or the average daily rate for December starts at $139.
Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber: This Priority Club property is in the bustling heart of Waikiki and actually has a Macy’s on the ground floor and is adjacent to the International Market Place and Duke’s Lane. It’s decorated with an eye to vintage Hawaiian style, though modern-day guests can appreciate amenities like free WiFi (even poolside), granite bathrooms, 32″ LCD TV’s and both business and fitness facilities as well as casual cuisines at Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber and signature beach cocktails at The Surfing Museum Bar. Rates in December start at $175 or 25,000 points.
The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort: One of the oldest, and most famous resorts on Oahu, if you don’t already know The Royal Hawaiian for its iconic past, you will it know it as the pink gem shining brightly in Waikiki. Called the Pink Palace of the Pacific, this hotel was built in 1927 on ten acres of Waikiki beach in a Spanish-Moorish style, but the resort has undergone a complete renovation since then, which ended in 2010 with the completion of The Royal Beach Tower: 17 floors of luxury category rooms and suites on the oceanfront. All renovations have kept the resort’s classic allure while adding modern comforts and an updated charm, with upgrades made to the guestrooms and suites in the Historic Building, the lobby and public spaces and also to the the multi-level resort pool and poolside cabanas. The property now features 528 rooms and 34 suites, 18 of which are oceanfront. The Historic Building features furnishings of custom dark wood, as well as soft white bedding and boudoir pillows. The Royal Beach Tower rooms come with private balconies for extra-special views of the Pacific. Abhasa Spa is the only spa on Oahu that offers treatments in a tropical garden setting and during the recent upgrade the spa also added new Spa Suites. The Royal Hawaiian’s upscale dining option is Azure, Chef Jon Matsubara’s specialty island seafood restaurant. For organic cocktails there’s Mai Tai Bar and for more casual dining is the laidback Surf Lanai Restaurant. And of course, one of the most sought after spots on Waikiki Beach is the Royal Hawaiian Resort’s Coconut Lanai, filled with private, beachfront cabanas and offering majestic panorama’s of Diamond Head and the Pacific. The Royal Hawaiian is also an American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts property. Rates for December start at $350 per night. This is a SPG Category 6 property where you will need between 20,000 and 25,000 Starpoints for an award night.
Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa: Even before there was the Pink the Palace of the Pacific, there was the Moana Surfrider, another iconic Hawaiian property built in 1901. Known as the First Lady of Waikiki, this property was once under the Sheraton brand before undergoing a total transformation to become the first Westin property on Oahu. All of the Moana’s guestrooms now feature the Westin’s Heavenly Beds, with either one king or two double beds in each room, as well as flatscreen TV’s, traditional Hawaiian décor and an array of modern amenities. At the heart of the resort is Banyan Court, situated on an expanse of Waikiki Beach, where guests will also find the resort pool, Beach Bar, Snack Bar, and access to a variety of water activities such as catamaran sails, canoe rides and surfing lessons. There’s also a fitness center on property as well the Moana Lani Spa, which features private men’s and women’s relaxations lounges, couples treatment suites with private oceanfront balconies and a Vichy shower hydrotherapy room. The resort offers a fine dining experience at Beachhouse at the Moana, for modern classic cuisine. There’s also the wine bar bin1901 and for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea is the Veranda at the Beachhouse. Rates for December start at $275 per night. This is a Category 5 property, which means you will need between 12,000 to 16,000 Starpoints for a free room night.
Other Starwood properties you’ll find on Oahu are the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, where rates for December start at $165 or a free room night is between 12,000 and 16,000 points as this is Category 5 property; and the Sheraton Waikiki with rates for December starting at $320 per night. This is also another Category 5 property with rooms for 12,000 points per night.
Fine Hotels & Resorts
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
Halekulani: Yet another property on Waikiki Beach with a big history, and roots dating back over one hundred years, the Halekulani more than lives up to the meaning of its name, which translates to “house befitting heaven.” With its neutral-palette Hawaiian inspired décor, this 453-room luxury resort is comprised of five buildings ranging in height from two to 17 stories. Room categories include suites and Halekulani’s Premiere Suites, and all are furnished in white and grey with blue accents. Other amenities include 42” flatscreen TV’s, separate sitting areas with love seats, coffee tables and ottomans, Kohler deep-soak tubs with separate glassed-in showers, marble vanities and large balconies. La Mer is the Halekulani’s award winning Neoclassical French restaurant with stellar ocean views, Hawaii’s longest-running AAA Five Diamond restaurant. Also offering fantastic views of Waikiki and the Pacific is Orchids, with indoor and outdoor seating options, open for lunch and dinner and a fantastic breakfast (as well as a Sunday Brunch). For more casual dining there’s House Without a Key, cocktails can be enjoyed at L’Aperitif and the Lewers Lounge, and for afternoon tea service is the Veranda. The heated pool at Halekulani is a defining feature, made up of 1.2 million individual glass mosaic tiles imported from South Africa. And Spa Halekulani focuses on the healing traditions of the Pacific Islands, with services inspired by Somoa, Tonga and Tahiti. Rates for December start at $535 per night.
Other Fine Hotels and Resorts mentioned previously are The Royal Hawaiian and the Ali’i Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, as well as The Kahala Hotel & Resort, which is also a Visa Signature Hotel (featured below).
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards,Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
The Kahala Hotel & Resort: The Kahala is famously known as the Oahu luxury resort with an off-the-beaten-path island feel. Why’s that? Because it’s not more than fifteen minutes from busy Waikiki, but once you’ve arrived at The Kahala the ambiance is serene and the oceanfront location private. It’s one of the reasons so many celebrities choose this resort, from Drew Barryomore, to Jay Z, to the Dalai Lama. Conrad Hilton opened The Kahala in 1964 and though the resort has kept some of its original features, in 2009 the property finished a $52 million renovation. The 338 guestrooms and suites are designed in luxurious residential style with ivory and coffee color tones, handwoven dhurrie rugs, double vanities and ocean and mountain views. One very special feature at The Kahala is the Dolphin Lagoon, an expansive and very deep pool that spreads throughout the back of the resort where resident dolphins play and guests can participate in dolphin encounters with Dolphin Quest. Hoku’s is the resort’s signature upscale restaurant, while casual dining can be found at Plumeria Beach House and the Seaside Grill, while afternoon tea and cocktails can be enjoyed at The Veranda. In early 2013 Arancino at The Kahala will open its doors, offering Napoli style cuisine with Japanese flair. Rates for December start at $425.