Hawaii's Classics are Calling
The stories behind of some of the legendary resorts that have made the island such a beloved destination.
For many families, their connection with Hawaii started with parents or grandparents going to one of half dozen spots on the islands. The famous Kona Village (rumored to be returning soon), Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, and Kauai as well as Napili Kai and the Kahala are amongst the most popular. Here’s how they earned their current status as Hawaiian classics:
For those who loved the Kona Village, they say The Napili Kai Resort is the next best thing. Although it is on an entirely separate island, the casual, easy breezy vibe is much like the beloved and currently shuttered village. It was also founded by Canadians, which seems to be reflected in the amiable and gracious staff.
It all started back in 1957, when Jack Millar was looking for an escape from cold Vancouver winters and stumbled upon Napili Bay. It was love at first sight, so he started his planning and built a 16-room plantation style resort. He then got some friends to invest, so he could continue his dreams of a larger resort.
The resort finally opened in 1962, when a double room cost $15, and a suite, $20. The resort has grown throughout the decades and still boasts one of the highest in return rates on the island. The protected bay is great for families, the long crescent beach is great for walking, and the onsite Sea House restaurant is popular for locals and guests alike. An added bonus is the location, which is just south of the Montage Kapalua Bay and the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, where a walking path joins the resorts, opening up eating and activity options. For packages, click here.
Situated in the best spot on Maui’s Kaanapali Beach, the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa has been welcoming guests since 1963. And, drum roll, it has just undergone a complete renovation of rooms and public spaces. Situated just above the famous Pu’u Keka’a, or Black Rock, the property celebrates its rich history every night as the sun sets with a ceremonial torch lighting and cliff diving.
The plans for the resort started a few years before Hawaii became a state. And by 1956, the Pioneer Mill’s board of directors got together for a luau on the beach near Pu’u Keka’a and sketched out the whole Ka’anapali Beach Resort master planning venture. Seven years later, the grand opening for the Sheraton put Ka’anapali on the map as a resort area and featured celebrities like Bing Crosby, golfer Sam Snead and then-California Governor Pat Brown. The property had many firsts; the first planned vacation resort in the island; the first visitor-oriented golf course built on any Hawaiian island; location of the islands’ first Celebrity Pro-Tournament, and it was the first Hawaii hotel to receive an award for architectural enhancement of the natural locale. Today, families, groups and honeymooners can be found throughout the property taking advantage of the location, location, location. For information on packages click here.
It all started in January 1964 when the Kahala opened its doors on the prime beachfront next to the Waialae Country Club private golf course. Inspired by the great homes of the Hawaiian monarchy, the hotel was originally designed by architects Edward Killingsworth, Jules Brady and Waugh Smith of Long Beach, California. Known then as the Kahala Hilton, the resort cost $12 million to build, and was the first major resort to have air-conditioning in all rooms. Within a few months the resort capitalized on its relatively removed location and advertised to film and television stars who were seeking refuge from the Hollywood spotlight. Word quickly spread of this elegant and exclusive resort, and the Kahala was soon placed on the map for discriminating world travelers.
By 1967, the resort achieved a remarkable 90 percent occupancy rate and cemented its reputation as a watering hole for the extremely wealthy and very famous. Weekend afternoons around the pool became a who’s who of show business, with the likes of Frank Sinatra lounging around with sunglasses and sipping on drinks. The Kahala also became the hotel for royalty, heads of state — every U.S. president from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush has stayed at the resort — and legends of the sporting, musical and literary worlds. Despite its reputation for attracting the rich and famous, the resort also became a legendary gathering place for Honolulu’s local society. In the last decade, the resort has become a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and continues the privileged position among celebrities and islanders. For current deals and packages, click here.
Nothing says “classic" like owning the title of the Hawaiian Island’s first resort. The origin story of the hotel goes something like this: American conservationist and venture capitalist Laurance S. Rockefeller was swimming in Kauna‘oa Bay. Taken by the beauty of the lava rock, ranchland and clear views of the Mauna Kea summit, Rockefeller was inspired to capture the spirit of this place and to ensure the hotel conformed to, rather than intruded upon, the natural surroundings.
Rockefeller’s original concept was a cluster of individual cottages along the beach, with no televisions or air-conditioning to interfere with the natural environment of the Kohala Coast. Skidmore Owings Merrill Architects produced a dome-shaped model that was almost washed out by a tropical storm, so a single-building design was next refined by lead architect Charles Bassett. Air-conditioning proved to be crucial in the warm, nearly always sunny South Kohala climate but from 1965 to 1995, the hotel operated contentedly without guestroom televisions, as Rockefeller had always intended.
When it opened in July 1965 with 154 guestrooms after a $15 million build-out, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was the most expensive hotel ever built. Praised by travel writers and critics worldwide, it was named one of the “three greatest hotels in the world” by Esquire magazine, one of the “10 best buildings of 1966” by Fortune, and it was presented with an honors award by the American Institute of Architects in 1967. What were viewed as exorbitant room rates started at $43 per night, including breakfast and dinner in the Pavilion, which featured international cuisine. In 2016 the hotel gained another “classic” nod, and was inducted as a member of Historic Hotels of America for being one of the finest historic hotels across the country. For current deals and packages click here.
Known as the “First Lady of Waikiki”, the Moana Surfrider, today a Westin Resort & Spa but originally the Moana Hotel, opened on March 11, 1901. It was the first hotel in Waikiki. Wealthy Honolulu landowner, Walter Chamberlain Peacock, incorporated the Moana Hotel Company in 1896 in an effort to establish a luxury hotel in a deserted area of Waikiki. Designed by architect Oliver G. Traphagen and built by The Lucas Brothers contractors, The Moana Hotel originally had 75 guestrooms and included amenities that were regarded as the ultimate luxury at the time, including telephones, private baths, a billiard room, parlor, library, salon, and the first electric-powered elevator in the Territory.
The opening of the hotel marked the beginning of tourism in Waikiki — by 1927, the region was slowly developing into a vacation destination, making the Moana a natural accommodations choice for visitors. From 1941 to 1945, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Second World War halted the flow of visitors. The Moana became a rest and recreation area for soldiers and sailors, often becoming the last stop for those heading to war or the first stop on American soil on their way back. After the war, the regular airline service to Honolulu revitalized Waikiki's tourism industry and The Moana quickly regained its popularity. In 1952, the Surfrider Hotel was built east of The Moana. When The Moana was sold to the Sheraton hotel chain in 1969, a new tower was built on the west side of the hotel and the Surfrider became a wing of the Moana. Through decades the resort has experienced several renovation, expansion, and restoration projects that has allowed the hotel to maintain its fine reputation. In 1989 the Moana Surfrider became a charter member of Historic Hotels of America and is also a part of the National Register of Historic Places. For current deals and packages click here
The opening of The Royal Hawaiian on February 1, 1927, ushered in a new era of luxurious resort travel to Hawaii. The resort was built with a price tag of $4 million, and was completed in 18 months. The six-story, 400-room structure was fashioned in a pink Spanish-Moorish style, popular during the period and influenced by screen star Rudolph Valentino. It was the second hotel in Waikiki following the Moana. The first general manager of the hotel, Arthur Benaglia, presided over a staff of 300, including ten elevator operators and lobby boys dressed in “Cathayan” costume. At the grand opening black-tie gala celebration, members of the Honolulu Symphony entertained over 1,200 guests at the $10-a-plate event-of-the-year. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin described the newly opened Royal Hawaiian as “the first resort hostelry in America.” The hotel has two weekly historical tours on Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m. that chronicle the past of the Pink Palace of the Pacific. On these, guides share tales including when all 384 rooms were occupied by members of the armed forces during the 1940s and World War II. For current deals and special packages click here.
Built in 1968, the Sheraton Kauai Resort has been a popular spot for families for decades. It is located approximately 20 to 30 minutes from Lihue Airport on the sunny south shore of Kauai and has recently undergone a major remodel of its lobby, Ocean Pool and dining facilities. The 20-acre resort’s 394 rooms are located in four-story buildings, grouped together in two different locations – the garden wing, mauna (toward the mountain) and the ocean wing, makai (toward the ocean). In addition to public gathering places, the Sheraton Kauai’s $16 million renovation included an overhaul of the resort’s dining venues. RumFire Poipu Beach, the resort’s 240-seat restaurant and lounge, offers 180 degrees of spectacular, unobstructed views of the Pacific. For packages, click here.