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.

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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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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

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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.

A Holiday at the Elegant Sheraton Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay

The location of the luxurious Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay is steeped in Hawaiian history and legend, and is home to the sociable denizens of the deep – the ever entertaining Manta Rays of Keauhou Bay. 

We touched down at the Kona airport on Hawaii, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, frequently referred to simply as the “Big Island.”

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The first thing we noticed from the aircraft window was the vast expanse of black volcanic rock that is visible throughout the island landscape. This is the “newest” Hawaiian island, and the volcanic action is evident everywhere.

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We enjoyed the scenes of local village life and the stories told by our shuttle driver during our brief ride to the Sheraton Kona Resort. Our driver Tomas was native born, and like most Hawaiians is justly proud of his state and heritage.

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The entrance to the Sheraton Kona is dramatic with its signature lava rock formation. Stunning views invite your gaze to shimmering water on two sides of the resort.

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The topography is quite different from any other resorts we have written about. The deep blue-ocean and azure-bay are a perfect contrast for the lush green gardens of this exquisite Sheraton property.

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Check-in was a brief formality and we were off to the Deluxe Executive Suite number 2325, our elegant home during our stay on the island. In our opinion, this is the best suite in the resort. Enjoy it if it’s available.

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A view with rooms

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Our first observation upon entering our collection of rooms was the huge outdoor patio we found behind the suite’s floor to ceiling glass doors. Huge is not an exaggeration, this was undoubtedly the largest patio we have had anywhere, and what a view…

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– with Keauhou Bay to the front, and the vast blue Pacific on the left.

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We would have been content to spend our entire visit lounging on the patio, but there is so much more to see in the fusion of energy and elegance at this beautiful resort.

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The rich botanic ensemble on the 22-acre site offers photo opportunities at every turn. We strolled the entire campus and it was all impeccably maintained.

Wedding plans

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The resort’s quaint bayside chapel is a favorite wedding venue on the Big Island, and for good reason – quiet, private, and perfectly situated near both ocean and bay. Looking for a memorable wedding venue? This is it.

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Very near the chapel are the remnants of an ancient Hawaiian village, which was once home to kings and queens. Here there is reverence for the land and culture. Lily Dudoit, the resorts Cultural Director provides a complimentary tour where she talks about the property’s ancient past – don’t miss it.

Captain Cook landed nearby

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Lunch at Kealakekua Bay

We took a boat ride to neighboring Kealakekua Bay, a sacred site to the ancients of Hawaii. The very name means, “Pathway of the Gods.”  In 1779 Captain James Cook sailing on the HMS Resolution arrived on this site to the welcome of what was estimated at 10,000 natives visiting Kealakekua Bay to celebrate a festival to the gods.

By sheer coincidence, Cook sailed into the bay during the festivities, so it was perhaps not so unusual that the Hawaiian celebrants thought him a god and lavished gifts on Cook and his crew. However, within a month, the natives realized that the captain and his men were all too human, and in a dispute over gifts, Cook and four of his men were killed in a skirmish on February 14, 1779.

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Today, a monument stands at the site where Captain James Cook died. The nearby bay is a vibrant marine park well known for its water clarity and abundant sea life.

Eating at the Sheraton Kona

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There are several worthy restaurants at the resort, but our favorite is Rays on the Bay.

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Bite into an appetizer as you begin to relax in congenial company. Rays blends an al fresco ambiance with a world-class dining experience that excites and delights the palate.

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It is a celebration of the region’s produce in a striking setting with panoramic views. Wait for sunset, the open ocean grandly defines the horizon of Rays on the Bay.

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The famous restaurant overlooks Keauhou Bay and features a unique Manta Ray viewing area. To our knowledge, this is the only restaurant in the world that can boast evening viewing of the graceful acrobatics of the gentle giant rays.

The Manta Rays

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After seeing these beautiful creatures – whose wingspan can sometimes exceed 15-feet, we were eager to get in the water to watch their nightly ballet close up. The hotel arranged for us to join Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides aboard their 55’ catamaran, the Hula Kai. We will write about our up close adventure with the manta rays in a future article.

Don’t forget the Luau

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You don’t want to visit Hawaii without partaking in this true Hawaiian feast rich in culture and traditional songs, dances, and chants. The Sheraton offers a weekly Luau Dinner and Show – a bountiful buffet of Kalua Pork, Lomi Salmon, traditional Poi and much more. Take it in, it’s the ticket to the best of all things Hawaiian on the Big Island.

Ho’ola Spa

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Featuring a full line of therapeutic massages, specialty massages, facials, body treatments, the Sheraton Kona Spa is an important part of relaxing and rejuvenating at the resort.

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We chose the Lomi Lomi Hawaiian Massage because we wanted to experience the promise of utter relaxation for the body and spirit conveyed in the traditional Hawaiian massage technique of long, rhythmic, and deep kneading strokes that ease muscle tensions. We found the therapy to be just as advertised and most invigorating.

Something for everyone 

Within the resort confines, time and space are often given over to quieter activities like learning the art of Lei making.

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Not everyone has the grace of the locals, but that should not stop the lady guests from trying their aptitude for the hula at the free classes.

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There is also regular Yoga, and aqua Yoga in the resort’s inner pool, and a twice-weekly 2-mile hike to the Lekeleke Hawaiian burial grounds where a famous Hawaiian battle took place many centuries ago.

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Teens are kept gainfully occupied with their own private club called the Club Le‘ale‘a, and there is a 14,000 square-foot wandering pool with one of the largest water slides in Hawaii – special fun for kids of all ages.

Calling all conventioneers

The Sheraton Kona Resort rates a big “Wow,” when it comes to meeting space and conference accommodations. The resort has bragging rights to the largest meeting facility on the Kona Coast – 10,000 square feet. When you add up the available meeting rooms on the property, you have a total of 20,236 square feet of awesome indoor space to hold a memorable event.

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Like an out-of-doors meeting environment? How about 89,000 square feet of rolling landscape overlooking Keauhou Bay and the beautiful Pacific?

We toured all the meeting facilities and were greatly impressed. The hotel even has an event planner’s rewards program.

For the golfers

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The Kona Country Club bordering the resort has two 18-hole courses that are being renovated. They expect to open to the public in late summer of 2014. In the meantime there are many other available links throughout the island.

Venturing outside the resort

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If you decide you would like to reach out beyond the resort via auto, there is a rental car office adjacent to the well-stocked sports outfitter called the Flying Fishlocated on the second floor. However, before you buckle up, inquire about when the next presentation of “Journey around Hawai’i Island” will be held. If you can wait, a resort specialist will save you some time and cover the best places to visit and most popular things to do on Hawaii.

If you go

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The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is one of our recommended “destination” resorts.

With over 500 guest rooms you can choose from a range of bedroom types to suit your dreams and vacation budget.

Because there is so much to enjoy at this property, be sure to thoroughly peruse the resort’s website *here*. additionally, check out this great little video tour provided by the resort.

Luxury in Hawaii

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is a Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide property. We favor and have written about other elegant Starwood properties in the islands. Click on the hotel name to read our story: Royal Hawaiian – Moana Surfrider – Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa.

Beyond the resort, the Big Island has many spectacular attractions and natural wonders. High on the list is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, the black sand beaches, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. To learn more about the island of Hawaii look at this informative website.

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Aloha, and happy travels!

We flew to the Big Island on Hawaiian Airlines.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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