Flawed diamond: A stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki
The Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu is one of the most famous hotels in the country -- if not the world -- but it was frankly a mess when I was there in March. The hotel was definitely not ready for the crowds that showed up for spring break when it reopened after a long eight-month closure due to COVID-19.
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I booked this hotel during a Hilton Honors sale at $216 per night — which sounds great until you start adding up the taxes and fees.
Related: Hawaii making it easier to visit
I paid a state room tax of $22.14 per night, a general excise tax of $10.18 and a $50-per-night resort fee -- but don't forget the taxes of $7.49 on top of the resort fee. When all was said and done, I paid $306 per night.
At $216, I would have thought I was getting a decent deal, but with all the additional fees my room became fairly expensive.
Related: Why Hilton's top card has me switching my loyalty
I did earn a total of 14,702 Hilton Honors points for my stay, which TPG values at about $88. That included 5,851 bonus points for having Hilton Diamond status. I got that status just for holding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which offers automatic Diamond elite status to cardholders.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Because I used that Aspire card to pay for my stay at the Waikiki property and for another stay at the Hilton Waikoloa Village property, I ended up getting another 18,700 Honors points, which TPG values at $112.
Related: Points and miles guide to visiting Hawaii
Rates have jumped considerably since I was there. A night in June will cost you $312 per night plus that $50 resort fee and additional taxes on top of that. But if you want to use points, standard nights can be had from 60,000 Honors points, which is a much better value.
As I mentioned above, this Hawaii property, like many of the hotels and resorts on the islands, charges a resort fee. Here’s what you get for your $50 (plus tax):
- Cultural classes
- Daily fitness classes
- Outdoor movies
- DVD/game use
- 20% discount on Adventure Sail on the Spirit of Aloha catamaran
- 20% discount on elite beach package (1 umbrella, 2 cushioned chaise lounge chairs, and other amenities)
- Waikiki Aquarium offer
- Local/toll-free calls
- Discount on two-day rental car or upgrade
- 10% off beach activities/services
To me, this is a ripoff. I'm afraid, however, that resort fees are here to stay.
Let's start with the great things about Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki.
The property is in a fabulous oceanfront location right in the heart of Waikiki, with access to all the shopping and restaurants your heart could desire. Hilton describes it as set on 22 oceanfront acres on "Waikiki’s longest stretch of beach, just 20 minutes from Honolulu International Airport (HNL)."
There are views of the iconic Diamond Head volcanic cone and acres of beaches.
It's a massive property with eight (yes, eight) towers of rooms. Some of these, though, are part of Hilton Grand Vacations.
Hawaiian Village is actually the largest hotel property in the state. When it's fully operational, there are more than 2,800 rooms available!
When I was there just a few months after a cautious reopening, only two towers were available. And, trust me when I tell you they were fully booked: There was a mob of people waiting for elevators every time I left my room.
Simply put, check-in was a complete and total disaster.
It was pandemonium when we arrived. The wait for elite Hilton Diamond and Gold members was more than 40 minutes. It was at least double that for non-elites. It's not how you want to start a vacation.
The valets were clearly overwhelmed, only handing out baggage tags to arriving guests who then had to figure out which line to get in, and then wait ... and wait ... and wait.
You do need to show negative coronavirus test results from the Safe Travels website upon check-in, which contributed to the bottleneck at check-in.
Related: Fair warning: Hawaii is crowded again
When I finally got to the overwhelmed front desk staff, the woman who checked me in was lovely, and I felt terrible for her. I could tell the crowds were taking a toll. She also couldn't upgrade me without an upcharge, despite my Diamond status. I kept my original room rather than pay $150 a night for an upgraded room that I wasn't sure was worth it.
My Diamond status with Hilton was recognized, but I just got $20 a day to spend on hotel meals as a benefit of my status, which doesn't get you very far at Hawaiian resorts. As you will read below, trying to use that credit was not a fun experience.
She did manage to waive the parking charge for my two night stay which was greatly appreciated.
The rooms were not great, to put it kindly. Mine was small, dated and dirty. The furniture was badly beaten up, the towels were stained and the outlets were so overused the plugs didn't stay in them.
It's worth noting that while we stayed in the Rainbow Tower, it looks like other towers have had more recent renovations, so be sure to ask when your room is assigned at check-in.
The beds themselves were comfortable, but full-sized beds are just not up to modern-day standards for high-end hotels. We had to request extra pillows and blankets since the comforters were fairly flimsy.
The hotel is made for family visits, but the rooms are really not large enough for a family to be comfortable.
Related: I spent 3 days quarantining in Kauai’s resort bubble
Another note: The air conditioning was loud and probably overdue for replacement. It wouldn't allow me to adjust it below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a deal-breaker for me in a hotel. It was far too warm for me to sleep comfortably.
My traveling companion loved it, though. We fight over the thermostat every time we travel together.
There was a small closet with a safe but no extra bedding or laundry bags.
Unfortunately, the room wasn't cleaned properly before our arrival.
There were lots of hairs left behind in the bathroom and the towels appeared stained and somewhat tattered. And there was plenty of shampoo and conditioner, but no lotion.
The in-room coffee situation was disappointing for what's supposed to be an upscale hotel.
The shower was fine, but water tended to back up here and in the sink -- too many people rinsing off sand from the beach, no doubt. The bathroom sink got so backed up that we needed to call housekeeping to clear the drain. The plumber who came arrived quickly and was friendly at least.
My favorite part of the room was the small balcony with beat-up chairs and a little table.
The views of the ocean and Diamond Head in the distance were literally priceless!
My traveling companion summed up the room best when she said, "The rooms are like a mule that’s been carrying a heavy load for too long."
It was as basic as it gets, but the views almost made it worth it. Based on the caliber of the room I stayed in and the resort's prime location, I think $200 per night is a reasonable rate, but thanks to the exorbitant fees discussed above, you'll have a hard time actually paying that amount.
Related: Fabulous property but dated rooms at Sonesta Kauai
Being such a massive resort, Hawaiian Village offers tons of fun activities for guests -- and especially for families.
There are several pools, including what's described as one of the largest swimming pools on Waikiki: the "Super Pool" -- a 10,000 square-foot beachfront behemoth. The pools got pretty crowded, especially because some sections of the pools and the hot tubs were shut down due to COVID-19.
If you love swimming, though, you can't really do better than the ocean that's literally at the hotel's front doors.
There's also an incredible lagoon called "Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon," where you can rent paddle boats or kayaks or even surfboards.
Food and beverage
One of the perks of holding Diamond status with Hilton is supposed to be free breakfast. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, most of the Hiltons I've stayed at have done away with actual breakfasts in favor of "go bags," but the Hiltons in Hawaii have taken it a step further. You get $20 a day to spend at restaurants on property for "to-go" food.
Unfortunately, the only location to use the breakfast benefit at the entire property was a Starbucks. I waited more than 40 minutes in line to get my "free" breakfast. The next day, I skipped it. That $20 is not worth standing in line for that long, even if it's the only place around to get a decent cup of coffee. This was the most aggravating part of staying at the Waikiki Hilton.
There's not too much else to say about the food and beverage options at the hotels, as most venues were closed when I was there.
Related: 7 things I loved about the reopened Mauna Lani
The website lists 10 options, but admits "Not all restaurants are open at this time." Some of those options are fast-food joints. The few spots that were open in and around the hotel were also very crowded (and expensive). Most restaurants in the area were doing takeout. There were long lines for restaurants with seated dining. My advice is to be sure to have reservations. You are not likely to be able to get reservations same-day at many popular restaurants in Honolulu.
While the hotel was clearly understaffed, most interactions with workers at the hotel were friendly.
The hotel was definitely not ready for spring break crowds. In my opinion, they shouldn't have sold to capacity when they clearly didn't have enough employees or venues to handle the crowds. This made the experience below average at best and downright frustrating at worst.
My stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort was a bit of a disaster. The hotel was absolutely not ready to reopen. I really didn't feel at all valued as a top-tier Hilton elite. There's no excuse for waits of 40 minutes or more for check-in or coffee.
Related: Hawaii making it easier to visit
Hopefully, now that the spring break crowds have gone, the hotel can catch its breath and get it together. I wouldn't go back until I had assurances everything was back to normal at the hotel. I'd also ask to stay in a tower that had been more recently renovated and thoroughly cleaned.