Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chilling at the Kahala

HONOLULU - We had been working too hard, my wife and I, especially her. So, she suggested we chill out at the Kahala Hotel and Resort, at the ocean's edge on the far side of Diamondhead from busy, busy Waikiki Beach. It's the perfect place to chill out, she said. Who am I to argue? We went. All I can say is mahalo to that. She was right.

Opened in 1964 by Conrad Hilton, himself, this favored reboubt of celebrities was the Kahala Hilton for years. Then it became a Mandarin Oriental. A few years back, it became just the Kahala, managed by Landmark Hotels Inc. and financed by Hawaii investors who poured $52 million into a renovation that is just now receiving the finishing touches. ( All 306 guest rooms were freshened during the re-do, the number of spa rooms were doubled to 10 and colors in hallways, guest rooms and the hotel's gorgeous carpets were lightened up. One thing that didn't change is the Kahala's signature chandeliers, which have adorned the main lobby and expansive adjoining spaces since the 1964 opening. Another is the hotel's popularity with guests who are excitedly tying the knot; we glimpsed half a dozen on-site weddings in the eight days we were at the hotel.

Beautiful it is, with serene, soft colors and a minimum of Island kitsch. Restful it is, with the sound of the trade winds and the sight of tall, thin palm trees bending in the wind, big breakers rolling offshore beyond the reef, and waves gently lapping at the wide, white-sand beach. And educational it is, with a newish 'dolphin encounter' for children and adults that allows you to slip into the hotel's private, enclosed dolphin lagoon, swim right up to one of a half dozen playful bottlenose dolphins, touch them a little and reward them with a fish snack.

Even the resort's more touristy touches are fun; it has a wall of fame in an otherwise workaday hallway near the business center (open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with two PCs for guests to use), featuring framed, wall-mounted photos of famous people who have stayed in the hotel. They include, among many others, Richard Nixon, lei-bedecked and in a business suit, Elton John, Snoop Dog and former Hawaii guy Barack Obama when he was still a U.S. Senator.

Even the food is good - very good. It ranges from a plentiful and high-quality breakfast buffet in the ground-floor restaurant Plumeria, to a casual, on-the-beach lunch place called Seaside Grill for the flip-flops and Aloha shirt set, to Tokyo Tokyo for fresh Japanese fare, to the more formal, fine-dining restaurant Hoku's, one of the best dining destinations on Oahu. We took a number of meals around the hotel and were not disappointed. As with most any hotel, you can eat in your room, too, though we spent most of our wakeful time sitting on our lanai (balcony), reading or gazing out at the clear, aquamarine Pacific waters. You can sink right into the big beds and not want to get up, but then you don't want to miss Hawaii, after all.

As you might guess, this luxury does not come cheap. Even at the Kahala, though, you can save money by taking advantage of special deals. The Kahala still won't be a steal but it will slide into range for more travelers. The hotel is offering a fourth night free with a minimum four-night stay with partial ocean views from $395 through October (rates climb after that), including complimentary breakfast for two, as part of its 'ocean promotion' package. It also offers a fifth night free with a minimum five-night stay as part of its 'Kahala family values' promotion; this deal, from $515 a night per room, allows families to occupy connecting rooms and includes two kids' activities. My wife found slightly cheaper rates at than on the hotel's own site. But be advised if you're thinking about going, that such sale rooms go fast and not all rooms in the hotel are on sale.

In sum, it's pricey but special, and if you can meet the tariffs, the Kahala is a wonderful, restful, romantic place to calm down, chill out and rest up.

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