The Royal Hawaiian: Luxury on Waikiki Beach

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Rainbow from the beach at the Royal Hawaiian Resort by Judy Bayliff

If you have ever marveled at the iconic “Pink Palace” on Waikiki beach, and wondered about its colorful origin, so did we. Here is what we found out about its interesting history.

In the early 20th century, a group of capitalists with substantial interests in Hawaii had the foresight to envision a burgeoning tourism future for the Hawaiian Islands – Oahu in particular.

The first luxury hotel, the Moana, had been successfully catering to the carriage trade for over 25 years, and it was evident that with the right combination of transportation and accommodations the Hawaiian luxury travel market could be profitably expanded.

Regal location

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Touring the artwork at the Royal Hawaiian Resort

King Kamehameha I conquered Oahu in 1795 and built a residence on the pristine oceanfront that was destined to become Waikiki Beach. During the prosperous 1920s, that same prime land was acquired by the Matson Navigation Company from the Royal Family of Hawaii and was to become the future site of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

The development of tourism in the area was arrested until 1920 when the Ala Wai Canal was built to drain the wetlands and swamps that were just inland from the unspoiled beach. The construction of the canal, which runs parallel to the ocean and the main street of Waikiki Beach, opened the door to rapid expansion.

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The early Royal Hawaiian Hotel from the Royal Hawaiian Gallery

Construction on the Royal Hawaiian started in 1925. She was built of sandstone block covered in stucco. Her contemporary Spanish-Moorish architecture was fashionable in California at the time, and fit quite nicely into the coconut palm groves at Waikiki. Pink was a popular color on the mainland, and again, it too was well suited for Hawaii.

One thousand and two hundred celebrants greeted the opening of the Royal Hawaiian to island high society on February 1, 1927. She quickly attained the nickname, “The Pink Palace of the Pacific.”

How they came

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Rich tourists from North America first came by ordinary steamship. Then in the mid-20s, the Matson Navigation Company built the Malolo – a luxury cruise ship with 650 1st class cabins. She could do 21 knots and made the crossing from San Francisco to Honolulu in 4.5 days. The Malolo was built specifically to cater to the affluent guests that would occupy the new Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

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None of the other luxury hotels in Oahu was considered opulent enough for the passengers of the elegant Malolo.

The Great Depression

Business was brisk at the Pink Palace until the advent of the Great Depression, then like the mainland, hard times hit the islands.

The silver lining

Counterbalancing the ill effects of the Depression, air travel in the mid-30s was making access to the Hawaiian Islands faster. No longer tethered to lengthy steam ship journeys, the working rich began taking the weekly flight to Hawaii – that led to more flights and cheaper fares for everyone.

It soon became possible for tourists of limited means to reach Oahu for short vacations. A boom of ‘everyday’ hotel construction on Waikiki was followed by more services for all.

The luxury hotels, especially the Royal Hawaiian and Moana ultimately did very well during the travel renaissance.

World War II

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In January 1942, the US Navy leased the Royal Hawaiian and transformed it into a Rest and Recuperation Center for sailors. The famous Coconut Grove Cocktail Bar was made over into a soda fountain, the tennis court became a basketball court, and a new baseball diamond was built on the property.

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The hotel was turned back to its owners almost four years later in November of 1945, at which time a major renovation ensued. Twenty years to the day the Royal opened, she re-opened with a gala celebration on February 1, 1947. It was the end of war, and the beginning of great times for Hawaii and the Pink Palace of the Pacific.

Matson takes a bow

With less demand for steamship travel, Matson officials decided to concentrate on their core competency of shipping goods and materials, and subsequently sold their hotel interests in Hawaii. It was an end of an era, and Matson can be credited with a commendable job of developing the tourist industry on Oahu.

The Royal Hawaiian today

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The Royal Hawaiian regularly undergoes changes to keep her competitive with other luxury hotels in Hawaii, but she will never lose her main advantages of location and historic charm. The Royal Hawaiian is a truly extraordinary hotel in every sense of the word ‘hospitality.’

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If you go

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The Royal Hawaiian is located just off fashionable Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki Beach and nine miles from Honolulu International Airport. For more information check out their website at www.royal-hawaiian.com .

If you have an opportunity to stay at the historic Royal Hawaiian, take it. You will find that the experience cannot be duplicated. There is no other luxury hotel quite like it anywhere in the world.

Happy travels!

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The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016  Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff – vintage photos courtesy of Royal Hawaiian Gallery.

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