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As clearly evidenced by her dynamic Instagram feed, TPG Family editor Summer Hull is having the time of her life in Hawaii, and on Monday, as I worked through some pictures of my own incredible trip from our office in rainy New York City, I took a break to read all about her good fortune at our 50th state’s Marriott hotels.

As it turns out, despite a number of issues following the SPG integration and subsequent Bonvoy launch, the Westin Moana Surfrider and Sheraton Kona Resort both provided a top-notch Platinum experience, complete with a free full breakfast — not the hit-and-miss continental spread many of us have encountered over the past few months.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

I, on the other hand, had an entirely different top-tier elite experience just a few blocks away from Summer’s hotel. I needed a place to stay after reviewing ANA’s A380 business class, so following my own Marriott frustrations, I decided to give one of Hilton’s Waikiki properties a try, since I have top-tier Diamond status courtesy of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.

I ended up booking the Hilton Waikiki Beach for a seemingly reasonable $209 per night, but after taxes and a $30 resort charge, the total nightly charge came to $272. Still, that was about $100 cheaper than Marriott’s Moana Surfrider, and far less than the Royal Hawaiian, so — even though it was set a few blocks from the beach — the Hilton seemed like a good pick to me, especially considering I’d be getting free breakfast in the Executive Lounge.

On the first morning of my stay, I ventured downstairs to check out the spread, only to find a long queue of guests waiting just to get inside. Tourists tend to get up a bit earlier so they can make the most of a day in Hawaii, it seems, but the Hilton doesn’t open breakfast until 7:00am on the weekends (6:00am Monday-Friday) — it remains open for three hours each day. Simply maintaining that 6:00am start time every day of the week would go a long way to reduce the wait to get up to the buffet, which I’m sure easily exceeds 30 minutes during peak times.

“Evening Pupus” are available from 5:00pm until 7:00pm as well, though the scene was chaotic when I visited, and options were limited to some generally unappealing cheese, veggie sticks and chicken wings — which one family piled sky-high at the center of their table. There’s an extra charge for evening drinks as well, ranging from $6.50 for Bud Light to $10 for a glass of Murphy Goode Merlot (not much less than the cost of a full bottle at retail).

The venue is what really makes the experience especially depressing here — forget a view of the beach; even a glimpse of natural light is a no-go in parts of the lounge. Think more “inside cabin” of a dated cruise ship than “at the heart of paradise in Hawaii.”

And then there’s the line inside — can you imagine starting a day in Hawaii like this?

The buffet spread itself was fine — hardly “restaurant quality,” but I’ll take what I can get, I suppose.

Given the crazy queues and lackluster spread, I asked the front desk if I could have breakfast in the restaurant instead. The agent firmly (and in a condescending tone) pointed out how fortunate I was to have breakfast included at all — Diamond members don’t get any food and beverage perks at any of Hilton’s other Waikiki hotels, she firmly insisted, although that contradicts Hilton’s published policy:

I also contacted all of the other Hiltons in Waikiki — while Grand Vacations properties don’t offer breakfast, as outlined above, the other hotels and resorts do:

  • Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach – Full breakfast buffet included for Gold and Diamond guests
  • DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Alana – Gold elites can choose continental breakfast or points and Diamonds get both
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Waikiki Beach Walk – Breakfast included for all guests
  • Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort – $10 per person per day (up to $20) valid at any dining venue
  • The Grand Islander by Hilton Grand Vacations – No breakfast benefit
  • Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations – No breakfast benefit
  • Hilton Grand Vacations at Hilton Hawaiian Village – No breakfast benefit
  • Hokulani Waikiki by Hilton Grand Vacations – No breakfast benefit

As for the Hilton Waikiki Beach, the manager was similarly unwilling to budge on a restaurant meal, but he did hand over a written comment card, giving me an opportunity to pass along feedback about the dungeon-like Executive Lounge if I wished.

So, as beneficial as Hilton Diamond status can be in some locations, you’ll want to do your research before booking Hilton’s Hawaii properties in the future — Summer’s experience makes it clear that, at least when it comes to some Hawaiian hotels, Marriott’s the place to be.

Know before you go.

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