As I mentioned during my Royal Weekend Staycation introduction post, I mentioned my stay at the Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort. It’s someplace I didn’t think I would stay at. But, thanks to my lack of travel due to the pandemic and great kama’aina rates, I finally pulled the trigger.
There’s no talking about the Royal Hawaiian without at least mentioning its history. After all, the hotel is one of the first built in Hawaii and is the second oldest in Waikiki that’s still operating. First opening on February 1, 1927, the Royal, also known affectionately as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, has an illustrious history. Notable guests over the years included Duke Kahanamoku, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Douglas McArthur, Shirley Temple, and Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, among others.
Also, did you know that the Shirley Temple was created for the child star of the same name at the Royal? The hotel’s original recipe calls for ginger ale, a dollop of grenadine, and a couple of maraschino cherries.
Booking the Royal Hawaiian
As I mentioned, I booked my stay at the Royal Hawaiian under a kama’aina rate. The rate, unfortunately, still required a mandatory resort fee of $42 per night. But, it did include 10 am early check-in, 4 pm late check-out, and complimentary self-parking. It’s worth noting that I did book the base room at the time of my reservation. I then applied a Marriott Bonvoy Suite Night Award certificate to my reservation, requesting an upgrade to the highest- available room – the Historic Garden Suite.
My request was confirmed a full four days before my check-in date. Then, the day before check-in, I got a further upgrade to a Historic Ocean View Suite. Nice!
I checked in via mobile requesting early 11 am check-in and extra foam pillows. On the day of check-in, I got a notification from the Marriott app that my room was ready at 10:53 am. Because of my kama’aina rate, though, I did need to complete the check-in process at the front desk.
When we arrived, I parked the car at the self-parking structure, which is shared with the Sheraton Waikiki. While this is what I’d usually do, I likely would’ve done valet here since the structure is a couple of minutes’ walk away. But, thanks to COVID, self-parking is your only option right now.
To get from the Sheraton lot, you’ll need to walk through the Sheraton’s porte-cochere and follow the palm-lined pathway down the driveway. From there, you’ll cross over the driveway and head straight towards the Royal Hawaiian’s porte-cochere.
Once you walk up the stairs, you’ll see the historic wing’s main elevator bank immediately in front of you. The front desk is to the left of this area, tucked a little bit further back.
When we approached the front desk, a single associate was working. Unlike the warm, friendly associates at Waikiki Beach Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Waikiki, the one here was quite stoic and borderline cold. It almost felt as if we were bothering her. What’s more, we could barely hear her speaking through the acrylic partition. And it didn’t help that the check-in process ended up being quite long, thanks to a faulty credit card machine. The machine reset the moment I inserted my card in (which in itself is strange for a luxury hotel) and went through a never-ending reboot process. Eventually, the associate ended up manually entering in my card information when it became apparent the machine wasn’t going to work.
Once those formalities were complete, and my wife was registered to the room, we were given our card keys and informed that we were in room 376 in the Historic Wing. We were then presented with a bag of the hotel’s signature banana bread, a bag of pink palace pancake mix, a sheet detailing the hotel’s current restrictions and resort fee inclusions, and a voucher for free continental breakfast. It’s worth noting that I was not given the option of points or breakfast for my welcome gift.
We were then instructed to access our room from the elevator bank opposite the lobby.
The Royal Hawaiian Historic Wing
As its name suggests, the Royal Hawaiian’s Historic Wing is located in the main building. This portion of the hotel dates back to its opening in 1927. Corridors radiate out from the central elevator bank to the left and right, and the splits off further on each side. So, if you’re in a room closer to the ocean, expect to walk a bit more to access your room.
Our specific room was closer to the ocean on the third floor, so it was a bit of a walk – perhaps about the same as our room at the Waikiki Beach Marriott. Not too bad, though. Certainly not as far as our room at, say, the Seattle Marriott Waterfront or the Renaissance London Heathrow.
Room 376 – The King Kalakaua Suite
As I mentioned earlier in this review, we were upgraded to a Historic Ocean View Suite prior to check-in. I found it interesting that our suite is a named one since it isn’t part of the signature collection, but it seems like most suites here do have names. Our suite, of course, is named after Hawaii’s last King – King David Kalakaua.
Upon entering, you find yourself in the cavernous living area of the room. Here you’ll find two large sofas, two chairs, a large table, a huge flat TV, a work desk, and a wet bar.
The wet bar has a single-cup coffee maker, an electric water kettle, coffee, tea, two complimentary bottles of water, an ice bucket, cups, and a wine key. There’s also an old mini fridge under the wet bar, which is missing its temperature control knob. What’s more, the work desk has power outlets and data ports on the left-hand side as well as a corded phone up on top. And that door around the corner from the desk? That connects to the room next door. That’s right. You can make this 780 sqft suite even larger!
Beyond the living area fronting the windows is a small dining area with the bedroom off to its right. On the wall leading to the bedroom is a photo of the room’s namesake monarch, King Kalakaua.
Through the double doors and into the bedroom, you’ll find a king bed framed by a headboard and two nightstands. To the right of the bed (facing it) is a locked door along with a chair and a small table. Across from the bed are a sizeable dresser, another large TV blocking a mirror, and double doors leading to the bathroom.
You’ll notice there’s a bit of a step to get into the bedroom – don’t forget about this! I did the next morning and nearly face-planted. But that’s not the strangest part of this room. Do you see something else odd? That’s right; there’s another door leading out of the room and into the corridor. This door is unmarked on the outside, which is even more strange!
If you’re wondering how many power outlets the bedroom has, it has an ample amount. On the left nightstand is a tabletop hub with two standard ac outlets and two USB-A outlets. On the right nightstand is a clock/radio with two USB-A outlets, as well as a corded phone. Two packs of alcohol wipes were also provided here as part of Marriott’s commitment to cleanliness.
The standard bathrooms at the Royal Hawaiian are notoriously tiny. Fortunately, the Historic Ocean View Suites have large bathrooms featuring a dual vanity, a walk-in closet, and a separate water closet and shower combo. It is here, in the closet, where you’ll find a safe, iron, ironing board, a couple of robes, and an umbrella. I’m actually kind of disappointed that the Royal Hawaiian doesn’t have branded pink umbrellas. I think people would actually buy these things much like they do with the Halekulani’s branded umbrellas. But it is what it is.
As is the case with many of Hawaii’s higher-end hotels, the Royal Hawaiian offers Malie’s signature Koke’e bath products.
Our room was a Historic Ocean View Suite. Want to take a guess how much of an ocean view this room has?
That’s right. Not much. You can see the ocean, and while other buildings do not obstruct it, the coconut trees fronting the room block most of the view out. It’s also worth noting that all Historic Wing rooms DO NOT have a balcony. You can open some of the windows all the way, but that’s about it.
Royal Hawaiian Room Comfort
Unlike many hotels in central Waikiki, the Royal Hawaiian is tucked far away from the hustle and bustle of Kalakaua Avenue. In fact, the resort is like a serene oasis – a uniquely peaceful space amongst the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. As a result, rooms at the Royal tend to be on the quieter side. In fact, our room had zero exterior noise when we kept the windows closed. And when we opened the windows, the only noises we heard were those of the gently crashing waves and children at play on the beach.
That said, while effective, the HVAC in our room was very loud. The ceiling fans help with this, though, as they let you keep the HVAC fan speed on low while keeping the room cool, which helps to cut down the noise a little.
Water pressure and temperature at the Royall Hawaiian are both, thankfully, good. So is the bed comfort, which I found to be firm but comfortable. I will say that the living room furniture is a bit stiff and uncomfortable, though.
The Royal Hawaiian has impressive connectivity. I tested their internet speeds twice. And, while there was a lot of variation, the Royal’s worst speed was still better than the Waikiki Beach Marriott’s best speed.
Even before I decided to stay at the Royal Hawaiian, I’ve read many complaints about the upkeep of the property. After all, the last renovation here took place between 2008 and 2009. That’s 12 years since any work has been done and, naturally, things are showing their age. In fact, aside from the old, slightly broken fridge in our room, a number of fixtures were rusting. The toilet seat was also quite yellow – though the fact that it isn’t a washlet given the room category and price point is a bit disappointing too. What’s more, our bathroom had a bit of a musty smell to it. So, yeah, the Royal does need a bit of TLC. At least, the Historic Wing does.
The Royal Hawaiian’s rooms are split between two different buildings – the main, historic building and the Mailani Tower. Tower rooms at the Royal are considered premium rooms. All of these rooms have balconies with ocean views and access to the private Mailani Lounge. The lounge typically offers continental breakfast in the morning and drinks and snacks at night, but it’s closed right now thanks to the pandemic. Instead, Mailani Tower guests receive vouchers for continental breakfast, two drinks per night, and snacks at the Mai Tai Bar.
Interestingly, the Royal Hawaiian doesn’t allow Marriott Bonvoy members to request Mailani Tower rooms when using Sunite Night Award certificates. Nor do they seem to upgrade elite members into these rooms. It’s also worth noting that the Mailani Tower is significantly more modern than the Historic Wing. In fact, the Mailani Tower last received an update in 2015.
The Royal Hawaiian occupies a fairly large piece of land given its central Waikiki location. However, the historic main building does have a rather large footprint. As a result, outdoor spaces are fairly limited. In fact, the hotel has one small dedicated pool nestled between the main building and the Mailani Tower. The other pool available to guests, which features two whirlpool spas and a water slide, is shared with the Sheraton Waikiki.
It’s also worth noting that the Royal is one of the few hotels in Waikiki that sits directly on the beach. Sure, you can get great oceanfront views at places like the Waikiki Beach Marriott and Alohilani Resort. But, at those two places, you have to cross the street to get to the beach. What’s more, the pricier Halekulani Hotel doesn’t really have a beach either, despite being two hotels over from the Royal.
The Royal Hawaiian also has a spa – the Abhasa Spa on the hotel’s lower level below the lobby. And, as many hotels in Waikiki, the Royal has a shopping arcade within the lobby level. If you’re in the shopping mood, I do recommend checking out Tori Richard for excellent aloha ware and Malie for their wonderful bath products and fragrances.
Aside from the above amenities, the Royal Hawaiian does have two large lawns – the Royal Lawn and the Coconut Grove. The Coconut Grove is right next to the (temporarily closed) Royal Hawaiian Bakery and is the most important one to know about since it has a short pathway leading to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Convenient, right?
At the moment, the Royal Hawaiian only has one restaurant open – the Mai Tai Bar. You can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner here, but that’s your sole option for on-property dining for now. During normal times, dining options at the Royal Hawaiian also include the Surf Lanai, the Aha’aina Luau, the aforementioned Royal Hawaiian Bakery, and the upscale restaurant Azure. We’ve been to Azure once back in 2013 when Jon Matsubara still headed the kitchen but have been wanting to return to sample Chef Colin Hazama’s fantastic cuisine. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do so again in the not-too-distant future.
I will say that, while the service was excellent, the quality of the food at breakfast was a total let down. But, I’ll cover that in-depth in a future post.
Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort – Final Thoughts
Given the hardships faced by the travel industry brought on by the pandemic, I’m willing to overlook a lot of things right now. But, the Royal Hawaiian was worn and dated years before the pandemic. Heck, this 2017 review from Ben at One Mile at a Time that was, ironically, for the exact same room, shows nearly identical conditions. The only differences I’ve noticed are that the fridge still has its control knob, the carpet is different, the TVs are now newer and bigger, and they’ve removed some things like the iPad.
In fairness to the property, the front desk manager reached out to me after completing Marriott’s randomized online stay survey. He wrote a very sincere apology for the experience and informed me that he has addressed all issues with hotel management and the specific employee that handled our check-in. And, while most of these tend to be canned responses, I do feel that this particular response was genuine, which I am grateful for.
That said, while I love the regal and historic exterior and public space of the hotel and think that the service is great overall, the Royal Hawaiian simply isn’t quite a hotel for me. Especially not at the rates this property charges. For my stay, the base room kama’aina rate came in at $369 with all applicable taxes and fees. That’s a heck of a lot of money for what would’ve been a tiny, tired room. Upgrade to a room a slightly larger room or one with a better view and you’re already looking at Ritz-Carlton money.
At the end of the day, though, your preferences will dictate whether this property is worth it or not. If you love historic properties or are looking for a true urban oasis, stay at the Royal. Want a hotel on the beach in Waikiki? The Royal is one of your better options as well. However, if you’re looking for modern luxury, then maybe look at the Ritz-Carlton Waikiki instead.
Royal Weekend Staycation
- Hotel Review: Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort
- Takeout Review: Tsurutontan Waikiki
- Restaurant Review: Hau Tree
- Restaurant Review: Mai Tai Bar (Royal Hawaiian)
- Royal Hawaiian Center Finds