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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
We stayed at 14 different hotels, resorts and even a cabin without indoor plumbing on our recent multi-week trip to California and Hawaii, but when we pulled up to the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort on the Big Island and saw the property was so large it had its own tram network, we knew we were in for something different.
The hotel tram was just the beginning. This resort spans 62 acres, with a saltwater lagoon, multiple pools, several towers with more than 1,100 rooms, 14 restaurants, millions of dollars worth of museum-quality relics on display in the halls. The kid-friendly parrot in the lobby didn’t hurt either — or the sea turtle sightings.
I came to review this resort, but with only a short stay and 62 acres of amenities, I would need at least three times the amount of time on the ground we had available. We only scratched the surface during our time there. For example, we only ate at two of the resort’s 14 restaurants — but I can vouch for splitting a (pricey) Roman pizza with the family at the Nui Italian restaurant near the Palace Tower.
Since I can’t do a full review of the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort justice quite yet, instead I’ll share nine things you need to know about the resort if staying there is on your family’s Big Island radar.
1. The Resort is Massive — Pack Walking Shoes
This is probably not the hotel you would pick for a quick overnight stay (unless you’re a touch crazy like me). Staying here is a commitment — just getting from your room to the lobby can easily be a 15-minute walk if you don’t want to wait for the tram.
The upside of staying at this huge resort is the long list of amenities you have at your fingertips. When you just can’t walk anymore, you can take the tram. In the afternoon and evening, boats are also available to cruise you around the resort in style. However you get around, this resort might be the largest you have ever visited. Plan in advance, especially if you need to be close to friends or family who are also vacationing there — you can pick your tower when you book your room.
2. Hilton’s Cobranded Credit Cards Will Save You Money
If you stay at the Hilton Waikoloa Village (and you really should if you’re into big beach resorts), be sure you have Hilton Gold or Diamond elite status before your stay. Even the Hilton Gold status that comes with the $95 per year Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card (see rates & fees), is good enough to score you a free continental buffet breakfast. Normally, the continental breakfast (served here in its own expansive building dedicated just to the first meal of the day) would cost you $28 per adult. With Hilton Gold status, you can spend $12 per person to upgrade to the full buffet (normally $40). Frankly, the free continental breakfast was totally sufficient for us.
On the continental side of things, there were juices, pastries galore, miso soup with fixings, fried rice, fruit, coconut banana bread and lots more.
Kids were allowed to enjoy the full buffet at no extra charge, which was good because I wasn’t going to be able to talk them out of the prominently displayed doughnut wall in the “full buffet” section.
In addition to doughnuts, there were hot offerings like eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and an extensive omelette station, if you went for the full buffet.
If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, remember that Hilton Gold status is also a perk of that card.
3. Plan to Spend Some Days Just at the Resort
I don’t really recommend staying at the Hilton Waikoloa if you aren’t going to have time to enjoy what it has to offer. There are probably easier and cheaper places to stay if you don’t want to swim with “free-range” sea turtles in the lagoon, head down the multiple waterslides, relax at the spa, hit balls at the two golf courses, attend a luau, look at the mile-long museum walkway, etc.
However, if some or all of those things sound fun, then be sure to budget a day or two just to enjoy the resort. It’s easy to be active and busy while staying on the Big Island, but allow time for activities in your own (temporary) resort backyard, too.
4. Avoid the $45 Resort Fee By Using Points
I hate resort fees, but at least this place is a legit resort with a long list of on-site inclusions. However, adding $45 per day for the resort fee (and another $30 for self parking) adds up quickly. Thankfully, you can avoid the $45 per day resort fee by staying on your Hilton Honors points instead of spending cash.
Standard rooms here go for 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night (occasionally less during off-peak times). Suites can be booked for additional points at varying award rates. The Hilton Honors and the World of Hyatt programs are two that reliably waive resort fees on full points award stays.
When you avoid the resort fee by using points, you still get full access to the included amenities such as the lei-making classes, ukulele lessons, free DVD rentals and bird talks in the lobby.
Here are some cards that can help you rack up the points you need:
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 75,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card: Earn 125,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Earn 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 3 months.
5. Book the Room You Want
The hotel website is pretty clear that upgrades are not to be expected, so book what you need. We checked in on a Friday and were told no upgraded rooms were available until Monday — and even then only the view would be upgraded.
6. The Standard Room Was Big and Renovated
That said, our standard room in the Palace Tower was massive by most standards. Lots of the square footage seemed almost wasted, but kids always find ways to turn empty space into play areas, so it worked out well for us.
If you needed to find a space for the crib, the walk-in closet looked big enough to serve as a makeshift nursery.
The room, which was renovated within the last few years, so felt fresh — something that is not the case at all Hawaiian resort properties.
7. Fly to Kona, Not Hilo
Assuming you want to land or depart near the Hilton Waikoloa Village, book your flight to Kona, not Hilo. The Kona airport is about a 20-minute drive from the resort, whereas Hilo airport is about 90 minutes away on the opposite side of the island. You’re probably going to want to rent a car on the Big Island, though there are now some Ubers in operation — expect to pay about $40 one-way from the Kona airport to the resort if you go that route. (But don’t, just rent a car.)
8. There’s Really Not a Beach, But …
This one is important — the views of the water are great from the Hilton Waikoloa Village, but it isn’t a true beach experience. The man-made lagoon stretches to the water and consequently has fish and turtles, but it’s not a beach for swimming.
For a great beach, we drove a few minutes away to the beach at the Mauna Kea. Here we had to check in with the guard near the main road, who told us the beach parking was full, but let us through anyway with directions to some alternate beach. Ultimately, the free beach parking at the hotel was not full, so don’t be afraid to check — even if you are told it won’t work.
If you want to stay on that perfect beach — here’s a review of the Mauna Kea Resort.
9. Don’t Miss the Sunset
The Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort is located on the water on the western side of the Island of Hawaii, so you’re in a prime spot to view the sunset. Head out to the water, the golf course, or all points west to enjoy the fiery colors in the sky as the day transitions to night.
This 20 minutes spent enjoying nature’s artwork with other travelers was a true highlight of our short stay.
If there was one negative to this resort that we encountered, it’d have to be the dolphin attractions on site. Sure, the kids thought it was cool to see dolphins swim and “talk” as you walk around the property, but for us this offering is a negative, not a positive. I’m not a wildlife expert, but the enclosures looked tiny, and personally I am not supportive of keeping animals in captivity for the sole purpose of allowing humans to gawk at them. We were sure to not participate in any of those activities.
Beside the dolphin attractions, I fell in love with this property. I was genuinely sad that we didn’t have more time at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, to the point that I’ve already promised my kids we can return one day. Even though the resort is positively massive, it’s not a negative as long as you plan for it.
Start saving up those Hilton points, because you can cash them in at the Hilton Waikoloa Village for days of Hawaiian resort entertainment — with free breakfast to boot for those with Hilton Gold status and above.
All photos by the author.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Ascend, please click here
Know before you go.
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