Hawaiian Time-Travel Hideaways
There’s a paradox in Waikiki: Kalakaua Avenue is a showcase of cutting-edge architectural edifices and a litany of stylish shopping options from Jimmy Choo to Louis Vuitton, but right in the heart of the action, two waterfront resorts are vestiges of a long-vanished Hawaiʻi, a time before air travel when vacationers arrived aboard luxury ocean liners.
Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach first opened its doors in 1901, and the Grand Dame of Waikiki remains a seductive vestige of a time when Beaux-Arts architectural motifs were the rage. The hotel’s street-side temptations start with its immense Ionic-columned porte-cochère, counterpointed with an ultra-dreamy seaside lanai/veranda. The Moana Surfrider offers the rare opportunity to savor an elegant resort-hotel experience from a nostalgically laid-back time. When stepping onto Kalakaua Avenue out front, in contrast, you will find block after block of shopping madness, trendy bars, and rocking nightlife.
But if you’re overdue for a total dose of tranquility, take a seat on the oceanside veranda framed by a towering banyan tree. Order a Mai Tai and watch the surfers and outrigger canoes skitter across the bay as the sun sets over the Pacific. Oh, and be sure to book a date in the spa to round out a perfect day-one in paradise. Day two, rent a surfboard and get out on the water, followed by an exhilarating outrigger-canoe ride.
The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort – fondly dubbed the Pink Palace of the Pacific – has defined luxury tourism since 1927; the legendary New York City architecture-firm Warren and Wetmore (designers of The Ritz-Carlton) created a Spanish-Moorish palace that was very popular and respected at the time. Historic postcard scenes of Waikiki show the Pink Palace dominating the Waikiki beach area, surrounded by discrete homes and small-business enterprises to its left and right. Today, the hotel is hemmed in by soaring high-rises and shopping malls. But here’s what’s really cool: The original sprawling gardens remain, and when you are ensconced within the bounds of the resort property, you’re encapsulated in a tranquil tropical paradise – you quickly forget there’s the hubbub of shoppers on Kalakaua Avenue.
Alternately, since the Royal Hawaiian sits front row, center on Waikiki Beach, sunbathing, swimming and surfing are just steps in the other direction. Like the Moana Surfrider, there’s an enchanting porte-cochère, but this one is enshrouded in palms and fragrant plumeria.
During World War II, the hotel was requisitioned by the U.S. Navy for use as a rest and relaxation facility for rotating troops. Like the Moana Surfrider, the Royal Hawaiian was designed to cater to the luxury-ocean-liner crowd transiting between San Francisco, the South Pacific, and the Orient via Hawaii.
A former sugar cane plantation on the Garden Isle of Kauaʻi was masterfully reinvented following the demise of the industry. Rather than selling out to developers, the owners repurposed their plantation estate as a true hideaway-resort destination.
On Kauaʻi’s remote west side, seven miles north of the quaint village of Hanapepe – the home of Lilo & Stitch – you’ll find Waimea Plantation Cottages. Utter unpretentiousness rules here – with 61 restored century-old cane-worker cottages tucked into 43 oceanfront acres of picture-perfect palms, tropical flowers, and lawns.
Daydreaming about strolling along an endless, people-free beach? This is the place. Waimea is not a four-star destination; travelers return because of the absence of frills. Guests can easily stroll to town markets, grab some fresh ahi tuna, and whip up a feast using their bungalow’s kitchen. This former plantation manager’s estate – beachfront Craftsman-style property with five bedrooms, a palatial living room, dining room, and four baths – is an ideal and affordable destination for large family groups and retreats.
For more details, visit Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa: @themoanasurfrider – www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/hnlwi-moana-surfrider-a-westin-resort-and-spa-waikiki-beach & The Royal Hawaiian: @royal_hawaiian – www.royal-hawaiian.com & Waimea Plantation Cottages: @waimeaplantationcottages – www.coasthotels.com/hotels/hawaii/waimea/waimea-plantation-cottages
Writer: Thomas Wilmer