Old School Uncool: A Review of the Kauai Marriott Resort
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During my tenure at TPG, I have heard a lot of buzz around our office about the delicious (and potent) mai tais at the Kauai Marriott Resort. So on a recent trip to the Garden Island, I was not only looking forward to bellying up to the property's tiki bar during a three-day stay there, but I was also excited at the prospect of luxuriating by the hotel's enormous pool and catching a tan on the resort's adjacent beach. I found that the mai tais and pool didn't disappoint, though some of the outdated fixtures in the hotel were a bit of a letdown.
The Kauai Marriott Resort is a Category 6 property in the Marriott Rewards program, meaning you'll need anywhere from 40,000 points to book an award night in the off-peak season to 60,000 for a night in the peak season. However, on the dates that I needed to stay at the property, the rates on Hotels.com were cheaper than booking direct, so we booked the $822 stay with a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which earns 10x miles per dollar spent on hotel reservations when booked through the special link at Hotels.com.
You can also stack this with Hotels.com Rewards, which awards one free night per every 10 paid nights. Since the free night is based on the average price of the 10 nights, when stacked with the 10x miles from the Venture Rewards, it effectively gives us a 20% return on this reservation — one of the very best credit card returns you can get when spending cash on hotels.
The Kauai Marriott Resort is located in Lihue, the main city on the island. As one local put it, Lihue is more or less the dividing line between the north shore of Kauai and the island’s southern half. My boyfriend and I saw authentic Hawaiian mom-and-pop restaurants dotting Lihue around the hotel, like Fish Express, one of the best poke options, according to locals. But the city — and the island itself — was largely untouched and remained rugged with a lot of uns\poiled nature.
The Marriott was about a 10-minute drive from Lihue Airport (LIH). The hotel’s shuttle service was quick and probably the best option, since Ubers could be scarce and Lyft hadn’t made it to the island yet. Renting a car would also have been smart, which you could do either at the airport or the Enterprise outpost at the Marriott.
We arrived from the airport at about noon, but rooms weren’t ready until 4pm. Reception took our bags and said they would text us when the room was good to go.
They suggested we wait and grab lunch at the hotel’s poolside tiki bar, Kukui’s, and offered us two complimentary drink tickets for mai tais (twist my arm!)
The room was sizable, and the accommodations were comfortable, but some of the fixtures appeared a little dated. On the positive side, we had an extremely comfortable king bed, a roomy sitting area with a couch, coffee table, a desk and a television that allowed guests to log onto streaming accounts like Netflix or Hulu.
The bathroom was also spacious, and was equipped with a coffeemaker (yes, it was weird) and toiletries that had a pleasant, musky smell to them. I'm not sure if the shower would've passed the TPG height test, though.
The highlight of the room was the balcony overlooking the (gigantic) pool and beach.
A few things in the room had the veneer of luxury but in reality were subpar. The bathroom, for example, was adequate but no-frills. I was excited to see something resembling a rainfall shower head but was disappointed with less-than-ideal water pressure.
The light switches and outlets in the room also seemed yellowed and worse for wear. The ceilings had a popcorn texture, another clue revealing the building’s age.
There were also no USB charging ports — only a minor annoyance but irksome nonetheless for a hotel in 2018.
The most notable downside for the room was that the walls seemed quite thin — thin enough that we heard a woman in the next room have a sneezing attack. I felt I could have offered her a tissue without opening my door.
None of the negative aspects of the room stopped us from enjoying the space or relaxing, but if you're expecting sleek and contemporary, this room is not it.
Food and Beverage
The resort had four bars and restaurants: Kukui’s at Kalapaki Beach, a poolside tiki bar and restaurant; Toro-Tei Sushi Bar; Cafe Portofino, an Italian dinner restaurant; and Duke’s Canoe Club and Barefoot Bar, a casual seafood spot off the beach. There was also an option for a continental breakfast on the terrace overlooking the pool.
We tried the breakfast buffet at Kukui’s and were happy with wide array of options. There was a bevy of fresh tropical fruit and tons of delicious hot buffet foods like pancakes, hash browns, bacon, French toast, eggs and sausage. My favorite item was the Kauai Benedict, a Hawaiian spin on eggs Benedict with pulled pork.
We also grabbed a late-night dinner at Duke’s, and while the tuna poke was outstanding, nothing else was too memorable about the cuisine or atmosphere.
The resort sat directly on Kalapaki Beach, which was on a tranquil bay and had a view of verdant hills. However, the water was browner and murkier than the island’s more southern beaches because freshwater from the island’s rivers fed into the bay and barges used it to pass through to the ocean.
You wouldn’t find clear, blue water there, but it wasn’t bad for a dip after sunbathing. Servers from the tiki bar came over to check on us while we were lying on the beach, so we didn’t have to lift a finger. The chairs on the beach were old and could have used a refresh, though.
The resort’s pool was massive and had plenty of nicer lounge chairs. There were also walkways leading to an island in the middle of the pool, where guests could sit and relax, and multiple hot tubs around the perimeter of the pool. It wasn’t too crowded, and chairs were readily available.
But again, the surrounding structures seemed a little dated: There were tall columns and terraces with a white and faded-pink color scheme that looked like they had been installed for an '80s McMansion. The tile work surrounding the pool was maroon and had a less-than-modern vibe about it.
One of my favorite features at the Marriott was the luau. Kauai was the first island in the Hawaiian archipelago to be settled by Polynesian explorers, so it is the original birthplace of hula. Every Monday night, the Marriott Kauai hosts the Hawaii Alive Luau, which features every era of hula, fire dancing and live Hawaiian music. It was a great way to kick off our trip to the island.
If you come to the Kauai Marriott Resort expecting crystal-clear waters and a contemporary atmosphere, you'll be disappointed. The building feels on the older side, and nothing about the amenities completely wowed me.
That being said, it’s a comfortable resort with a grand, sweeping pool, direct access to the beach on the bay and a festive luau every week. If you’re looking to have one (or several) mai tais by the pool, take a dip in the beach and sprinkle in a few activities, the Marriott is your place. If you want a contemporary, sleek or boutique experience on Kauai, though, keep looking.