Royal Hawaiian Honolulu : a safe bet without any asperity

After the catastrophic experience at the Westin Moana Surfrider, I decided to spend the last two nights of my Hawaiian stay a few dozen meters away at the Royal Hawaiian.

Room booked at the last minute on the hotel website and to my surprise the price difference with the Westin was negligible, being moreover a superior class hotel.

Like the Westin, the Royal Hawaiian is a century-old hotel that has expanded over the years, adding buildings to the historic one. Made prudent by my previous experience I take a room in the tower called Mailani, a corner room with ocean view by the way. The occupants of the tower also benefit from a lounge where breakfast is offered in the morning and aperitifs and snacks in the late afternoon.

Better room, better view, more services and almost the same price as the Westin. I wonder why I didn’t opt for the Royal Hawaiian from the start.

The Royal Hawaiian, an iconic Honolulu hotel

Like the Westin, the Royal Hawaiian is one of the city’s historic hotels. He has his own style and reputation. But more than the Westin, the Royal Hawaiian is part of the local and even national architectural and cultural heritage.

Royal Hawaiian

Impossible to miss it with its pink buildings and its architecture of another century.

Royal Hawaiian

No more corridors that look like a station hall full of squatters. Even if the hotel is full, you feel at ease and the clientele is dressed differently than at the Westin.

Royal Hawaiian

Royal Hawaiian

Royal Hawaiian

The hotel has a beach and two swimming pools (we’ll come back to that later) but also many green spaces that totally forget the oppression felt at the neighboring Westin.

Royal Hawaiian

Royal Hawaiian

Royal Hawaiian

Mailani Tower, Corner Room, Ocean View

Time to discover my room. So I did not choose the historical building but the recent Mailani tower. I don’t want to end up a second time with a cubbyhole with a view on nothing, so with a corner room with an ocean view I limit the risk (the historical building only offers rooms with a garden view and considering its low height…).

Anyway here is the tower in question, nothing to do with the original style of the hotel except its color.

Royal Hawaiian

My room is significantly larger than at the Westin (though smaller would have been impossible), soberly decorated (better than faux antique kitsch) and the bathroom is at least double the size. In short, I breathe better there. I’m not going to say it’s beautiful or sophisticated, but at least it’s not repulsive. That’s a start.

Mailani Tower Ocean Corner Room

Mailani Tower Ocean Corner Room

Mailani Tower Ocean Corner Room

The interest of this corner room compared to the other rooms in the tower is its…corner balcony.

Mailani Tower Ocean Corner Room

Mailani Tower Ocean Corner Room

Balcony that can be usefully recycled as a workspace when the need arises.

Mailani Tower Ocean Corner Room

Let’s finish with a video visit…

Nice detail….a banana cake, speciality of the hotel, was waiting for me when I arrived.

Banana Bread

Finally, the impact of the large Japanese clientele on the equipment of the toilets should be noted.

Mailani Tower Ocean Corner Room

And before moving on, one last look at the view from the room because it counts a lot in this kind of place.

Vue chambre

Royal Hawaiian

Swimming pool and beach: the problem of expanding hotels

So let’s move on to the hotel’s amenities, starting with the pool and beach, key elements of the guest experience in a destination like Hawaii.

As the Westin next door, the Royal Hawaiian has grown over the years (the famous Tower) and when you suddenly add hundreds of rooms without adding infrastructure … there is no more room either around the pool or inside.

So I offer you an aerial view of the pool of the Royal Hawaiian.

Piscine

As you can see, the pool is small and there is not a single free deckchair around. At most, it is less crowded than at the Westin, but the fact remains that there will never be enough room for everyone.

Piscine

Fortunately, as the Royal Hawaiian expanded, it built a second pool, which can be seen on this aerial shot of the hotel.

Piscine

So much for the model apartment because the reality is :

Piscine

Piscine

Not a single seat available. I eventually found one in the “third row”, far from the water and (but this was convenient for me) poorly exposed (look at the arrangement of the deckchairs on the grass in front of the sea on the aerial view).

Indeed, what you will only learn later is that this second pool is shared with the ….Sheraton next door. Which brings us back to our problems of overcrowding.

I don’t usually get very concerned about this topic, but the destination makes it quite important for anyone planning to go there for a vacation. Not to find a place at the swimming pool and, when one has one, to be on an alignment of deckchairs stuck the ones with the others of fact that one must almost walk on his neighbor to join his seat, the whole in a 5 stars. No !.

I will add for the sake of argument that any seat not used for 30 minutes (understand if you spend 30 minutes in the water) is put back into circulation and your stuff removed.

So the only option left is the beach. Provided that you find a place on the few available and paying deckchairs.

Plage

Spa Ok, Fitness KO

I also tested the gym and the Spa.

The spa has won numerous awards and is ranked among the best in the country. I enjoyed it very much even though I didn’t have much time to dwell on it.

The gym is to be avoided. Not much bigger than a two-room apartment in Paris, it is packed like the subway at rush hour.

A catering service that keeps its promises

The hotel has two restaurants. Three to be precise but one of them changes identity and style between lunch and dinner.

Having tried everything from the daily special to the tasting menu, I can confirm that the Royal Hawaiian’s food is very good.

Déjeuner Surf Lanai

Diner Azure

Diner Azure

This is still expensive but in any case in line with the price of the hotel in general. Don’t expect to find a $20 menu in a 5 star restaurant. However, the promise is kept, which is worth noting. Generally speaking, in Hawaii one pays (hotel or restaurant) so much for such a random quality that one is satisfied with the fact of finding a quality in relation to the amount of the bill.

The staff is helpful and pleasant. You don’t feel the “factory” side of the Westin at all.

As for the bars, connoisseurs and cocktail lovers will find their happiness at the “Maï Taï Bar”, where the eponymous cocktail was created and where they can taste many variations of this great classic.

When everyone goes to the lounge, there is no more lounge

I will not dwell on the club lounge of the Mailani Tower. The aperitif service is nice without being great either. The bare minimum to have a glass of wine and a snack before going to dinner. As for the breakfast service, it is reduced to its simplest expression.

In hotels, lounges are usually exclusive, reserved for a certain category of room and loyalty program members. When the same principle is applied to a complete tower, especially in a leisure hotel, it necessarily degrades the quality of the product and devalues it. A pity.

Conclusion: a hotel that keeps its promise, nothing more

What about the Royal Hawaiian?

Certainly, after the disappointing experience at the Westin, it could only get better and it did.

Everything is a level above: standing, buildings, atmosphere, customers’ manners, staff’s friendliness… Undeniably I felt much better, with a vastly superior experience, all for a relatively similar price.

Promise kept then? Hardly but yes.

For a hotel of the “Luxury Collection” brand and according to my experience, one should expect much more for this price. And there you have the same punishment as at the Westin: at this price and in a destination like Hawaii, it is inconceivable not to offer a bathing infrastructure (swimming pool and beach) up to par. Everything is sized for 20 or 30% of the hotel’s guests, and still, with an unacceptable promiscuity in this range of property.

The Royal Hawaiian is a very good property in terms of service, but like the Westin, it lacks the infrastructure to provide a satisfying experience in high season. When a customer aims at such a property it is not to exile himself on a more distant beach because he can’t put his towel anywhere in the hotel.

So if Royal Hawaiian keeps most of its promise, it lacks that little something that makes you say “I will return”. Everything goes well but nothing sticks and you leave without having lived something that makes this stay a real experience.

Would I return: maybe willy-nilly if I return to Hawaii…with less apprehension in the off season.

Do I recommend it: same answer.

In fact, the real question is whether the destination itself is not totally overrated and that tourists are happily taken for suckers. I won’t say for the other islands and sites of the archipelago but for Honolulu the answer is obviously yes. It’s no longer a problem of hotel but of destination. You will get much better for less in Asia.

The whole photo album is available here.

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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