Escape the winter chill in this stunning, recently renovated luxury resort on Waikiki Beach.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
Last August, my family vacationed on Oahu and Maui and visited my brother who relocated to Hawaii a few years ago. While there, we stayed an evening at the recently renovated Halekulani Resort on Waikiki Beach. The luxury resort originally began in 1907 as Hau Tree, a beachfront home and five bungalows for rent, and underwent a refresh last year. Anytime the temperature dips below 40 degrees, which has been all too often in these recent frigid days, my thoughts return to the island oasis whose name means “house befitting heaven.”
Halekulani’s renovation, dubbed “Renewal,” is based upon the resort’s four core values: legacy, culture, quality and service. The hotel’s signature seven shades of white have been updated to emphasize its seaside setting and tropical elements. Each room was refreshed to better capture the natural light and visual expanses to the sea, new contemporary furnishings were selected to make the room feel more spacious, and other amenities and accessories like sophisticated lighting, revitalized bedding and linens, enhanced in-room technology and updated bathrooms and new lanai furniture were all chosen to make for a luxurious sojourn.
Today, Halekulani consists of 453 rooms situated on five prime oceanfront acres on Waikiki Beach. The property is owned by the Japanese company Mitsui Fudosan, and management told me the resort attracts about the same number of Japanese guests as American ones. One of the highlights was seeing the beautiful Japanese wedding ceremonies held on the lawn during my stay, and peeking into the receptions as I walked past the open air banquet rooms. Five low-density buildings range in height from two to 17 stories, and are surrounded by open courtyards and lush gardens. Guest facilities include three restaurants, three cocktail lounges, a pool, spa, fitness room, business center and hospitality suite, five meeting and banquet rooms, as well as in-house laundry, dry cleaning, print shop, bakery and florist. Enhanced culinary programs and new menus were also unveiled throughout the resort, including L’Apéritif, a bar and tasting experience that also offers an afternoon tea, located inside the restaurant La Mer.
The resort offers the little touches that give a property a luxury feel. Instead of registering in the lobby, we were escorted up to our room while the hotel rep described the available amenities, and then filled out the necessary paperwork at our desk in the room. Staff greeted us, often by name, in the hallways and restaurants, and pool attendants were on hand to cover the comfy lounge chairs with several layers of towels. The concierge checked our room for missing items after we checked out, and then arranged a cab to bring them to us.
Dining options range from casual to formal (“formal,” that is, by more casual Hawaiian standards), and melds local ingredients and dishes with Pacific Fusion and European cuisines. House Without a Key, named for the 1920s Charlie Chan mystery novel set in Hawaii, also describes the laid back vibe and lack of doors at Halekulani’s most casual spot. We snagged an outdoor table for lunch while waiting for our room to be ready. Don’t miss the salad ($12) made with local tomatoes, Thai basil, tobacco onions and Big Island Goat Cheese, topped with aged balsamic; or Joy’s Special Sandwich ($22), with Alaskan King Crab, avocado and bacon. Their riff on a spicy tuna roll ($16) morphs the popular sushi favorite with a Vietnamese summer roll; it’s brought to the table wrapped in rice paper with mint and lettuce, with a lemon soy dipping sauce. You can wash it all down with a selection of spirited (and non-spirited) tropical refreshers, like the Ginger Lychee Caipirissima ($12), with rum, muddled lychee and ginger or the Rangpur Guava Fizz ($12), with Tanqueray Rangpur Gin and guava.
Each evening from 5:30 to 8:30, House Without A Key features live music, along with hula dancing from former Miss Hawaii contestants. You need to be there early to snag a table, but we happened to have a room that faced the oceanfront stage (most rooms have a generous ocean view), and enjoyed the music from our lanai with a glass of wine.
Halekulani’s most formal dining option is La Mer, offering neoclassic French cuisine; jackets are required and children under eight are not permitted. Diners can select three ($110), four ($145) or six ($175) courses, and the latter Dégustation menu has the option of wine-pairings for an additional $86. Since we tried to enjoy as much local cuisine as possible during our time in Hawaii, we opted just to have a drink at L’Apéritif at La Mer. Halekulani’s newest bar offering is an ode to the classic cocktail, with a drink menu crafted by Colin Field of the Hemingway Bar in the Ritz Hotel Paris. Each libation is $20, and is served with an accompaniment designed to match the sip’s flavor profile. The Serendipity Cocktail mixes Calvados, fresh mint and apple juice, topped with Champagne and served with Big Island goat cheese, a cinnamon tuile and pickled beetroot; the Martini au Concombre stirs vodka and cucumber, paired with an oyster and lychee ginger sorbet.
Casual by day, but casually elegant by evening, we found Orchids to be the perfect setting for a romantic dinner after sunset; the Pacific breezes and sound of the surf didn’t hurt either. Executive Chef Vikram Garg focuses his cuisine on contemporary seafood, including lots of local seafood. The Ahi Crudo starter ($22) is unbelievably fresh, sliced uber thin, and gets a bit of bite from horseradish and daikon; Chef Garg eschews the ubiquitous soy vinaigrette, which would overwhelm the fish’s delicate freshness, in favor of a bright sake-lemon dressing. Sea scallops ($19) are served atop creamed local Kahuku corn, crisp bacon and an avocado relish. For entrées, our favorite was Onaga “Orchids Style” ($38); steamed long tail snapper was served with shiitake mushrooms and green onions, sizzled in sesame oil and soy sauce. A well-thought out wine list partners nicely with the meld of local and Asian ingredients, herbs and seasonings. Orchids is also a great spot for breakfast ,a la carte during the week, with prix fixe, healthy American and Japanese options, and a Sunday brunch that’s been voted the best on Oahu by Honolulu Magazine.
Visitors to Halekulani should know that the beach access at the resort is small. Since we had already enjoyed almost two full weeks of idyllic beaches on Maui and Oahu, it wasn’t a concern for us, and I have heard that beaches in Hawaii are all open to the public anyway. The bigger draw for guests seemed to be the 46-by-82 foot heated fresh water pool overlooking the beach, decorated with 1.2 million pieces of imported South African glass tiles in a mosaic of a Cattleya orchid—simply stunning. Ample lounge chairs are covered in large terry towels, and ice cream bars are available to keep you cool.
Adjacent to the pool is SpaHalekulani, which offers Polynesian-treatments in a posh setting, all with private in-room changing areas. I opted for the Polynesian Nonu Massage ($180), a Samoan-inspired massage using stones and noni. My 75-minute total experience began with the spa’s signature, foot pounding ritual; done with a light brush, it was toe-tingling and invigorating. Following my 55-minute massage, I was escorted to the serene spa terrace for hibiscus iced tea and green tea mochi. All spa treatments can be enhanced with a personal steam shower for an additional charge.
On our pillow the evening before we checked out, we found boxed conch shells, and a note that read, “In ancient times in Hawaii, shells were used as instruments to call people together. We hope this Hawaiian shell will call you back to Halekulani.” Indeed…
Rates at Halekulani begin at $490 for a garden courtyard view, all the way up to $7,000 for a one-bedroom Orchid suite. For more information on booking your own winter escape, visit www.halekulani.com.