Hotel Reviews: The reinvented Royal Hawaiian Resort is a bonbon by the sea--as pink, glossy and delightful as some Parisian confection, but with the cosmo-tropical flair that always reminds you: yes, you are in the heart of Waikiki. Where else would a tabletop floral arrangement contain three-foot stalks of heliconia and gloriously alien-looking protea? Where else could you find the iconic Mai Tai Bar, and sip the signature drink while watching the tiki torches light up at sunset? Certainly nowhere else could you step off a tourist-crammed sidewalk, breeze through an open-air lobby where greeters ply guests with upmarket POG (pass-o-guava, the ubiquitous island fruit punch), and stumble upon a trio of 300-pound men in Aloha shirts, playing Paniolo hula songs on slack key guitar. The Japanese video the whole performance; the Americans call out requests for "Tiny Bubbles"...yes, it's cliché, but it's what people love. It's what they've always come for--along with the glorious Pacific that glimmers right outside the gates.
Starwood was wise to bring the Royal Hawaiian into its new Luxury Collection. Possessing a distinct sense of place and individual character that can't be duplicated, the Luxury Collection properties are uniform only in their quality standards--which are very high. Travelers who appreciate Starwood's St. Regis brand will be happy to know that the "new" Royal Hawaiian goes toe-to-toe with St. Regis in terms of service, amenities and exclusivity, while losing absolutely nothing of its legendary "Pink Palace of the Pacific" aesthetic. She is, if anything, even pinker than she used to be. Just note the candy-colored interiors, the unmistakable rosy stucco exterior--crowned with a cupola, embracing an expansive central lawn perfect for large-scale fetes.
It's true that a few things resist change: The standard rooms are still matchbox-sized, the beach café still extravagantly expensive for what you're getting, and with 75,000 square feet of event space, this hotel is always going to be a magnet for large groups and all the hubbub they bring. However, most aspects of the hotel are all new. The signature restaurant is now Azure, a coolly elegant indoor-outdoor space serving fresh seafood and fresh juice cocktails. The Pool Lounge at Royal Beach Club Tower transforms into a laid-back yet chic mingling spot after dark, similar to rooftop bars in Bangkok or poolside parties in Cancun. The train station-esque check-in lines are gone, replaced by serene sit-down check-in where business is conducted in civilized, comfortable fashion. And the new entertainment schedule is not just light poolside entertainment, but a return to the Royal Hawaiian's musical roots. From the recently debuted oceanfront dinner show Aha Aina (named after the lavish feasts which pre-dated luau in Hawaiian history) to fledgling music series like the weekly "Curators of Hawaiian Music," which runs through 2009, the resort is committed to offering a broad range of Hawaiian music and cultural events. Expect up-and-coming local musicians, traditional festivities, full-scale theater and--just because you asked for it, "Tiny Bubbles" sometimes at sunset.