There is something about the warm moist air scented with a combination of jet fuel and plumeria at the Honolulu airport that brings back childhood memories. For me, as a child growing up in Hawaii, this musty aroma meant picking up visitors with my grandmother, her arms filled with leis. Now, to me as a tourist with my family in tow, it means our vacation has begun.
Ever since I was a child, I wanted to stay in Waikiki, but like most locals back then, my family avoided this beehive of activity just as San Franciscans avoid Fisherman’s Wharf. When making our travel plans this year, I decided to satisfy my curiosity and planned a stopover at the landmark Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki en route to the Big Island of Hawaii.
“We’re in Hawaii! Let’s go swimming!” my four-year-old squealed as we arrived in the open-air lobby. With three hours to kill before check-in, we stored our bags and heeded the call of the crystal-clear warm Pacific. Gray’s Beach, known as a healing center for native Hawaiians, fronts the hotel and is just big enough for a select few to enjoy the white sand and gentle waves. I recognized several languages while frolicking in the water—Chinese, Japanese, German, French, and Russian—and enjoyed being out of our comfort zone of Quicksilver-clad Californians. Since languages were varied, smiles, nods, and an occasional “watch out!” sufficed for communication as the gentle waves tossed us about.
With a prime location in Waikiki, excellent restaurants, and a newly renovated spa, the Halekulani has stood the test of time. It’s been there for over a hundred years, well before time shares or thong bikinis. The classic Hawaiian architecture and understated elegance make this hotel a first choice for visitors from around the globe, and Conde Nast Traveler named it one of the “World’s Best 700 Places to Stay” in 2005.
Best yet, it’s an easy walk to such local attractions as the International Marketplace, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Honolulu Zoo. We toured the latter, and after a full morning of admiring colorful fish, spindly sea stars, and long-limbed giraffes, we still had plenty of time for shopping and the beach. Shopping is as much of an attraction here as surfing and sightseeing, with stores like Cartier, Chanel, Prada, and Versace packed with international tourists bolstering the local economy. For our daughters (ages 4 and 7), the prolific ABC stores’ array of toys, T-shirts, and beach-themed snow globes were retail heaven enough.
With everyone else happily into vacation mode, it was my turn. To jump-start my acclimatization to the tropics, I chose the traditional lomi lomi massage at the hotel spa. A recent renovation earned the Spahalekulani a four-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide. The heavenly treatment starts off with an exclusive method of foot pounding, to relax and prepare you for a therapeutic massage using Hawaiian oils, including the signature scent of maile, historically used by royalty.
After three full days of beach time, shopping, and exploring, we stood waiting for our ride to the airport. “Can’t we stay longer?” my seven-year-old asked. She had made some friends on the beach and was sad to say good-bye. “Next time,” we promised. All in all, I’d made just one mistake in planning our Waikiki stay: it wasn’t long enough.