WAIKIKI: The Outrigger Reef on the Beach

Editor's note: At the time of our visit, Outrigger Hotels were owned by the Kelley family, Hawaii locals.  However, the chain was sold to a Colorado-based resort operator in 2017. I have not visited any of the properties since that change and cannot attest to their current state or the quality of their service.

Needing a respite from the cool and damp of a delayed Pacific Northwest spring, my wife and I booked a last-minute trip to Hawaii and a stay at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach.
Outrigger Hotels provided us with two nights' accommodations so we could experience this newly-refurbished hotel for ourselves.

The last time I visited the Outrigger Reef on the Beach was easily six or seven years ago -- well before the facility's three-year "extreme makeover" that started in 2006. That project, completed in late 2009, has given the hotel the title of "newest and best" of Outrigger's properties, according to Nancy Daniels, Outrigger’s director of public relations.

It’s easy to see why.

The $110 million Reef project touched virtually every part of the property and actually resulted in a 28 percent reduction in the number of guest rooms – from 883 to 639 rooms. The old rooms were gutted, walls were torn down and bathrooms were overhauled to create brand new spacious guestrooms and suites like ours (at right). But unlike The Savoy hotel in London which has been closed for two years while undergoing its refurbishment, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach remained open for the entire time of the project.

“It was definitely a challenge,” acknowledges Daniels, “but the final result is spectacular!” The rebuilt rooms (one can hardly say “refurbished”) are characterized by elegant island-themed interiors and modern, high-end amenities.

The Outrigger Reef on the Beach brings the modern amenities we all want without sacrificing the islands’ cultural heritage. Amenities include complimentary high-speed Internet access and free long-distance phone calls, an upgraded fitness center, a renovated pool, an on-site rental car desk, and other “creature comforts.”

Of course the views are unchanged and continue to be as awe-inspiring as ever. Waikiki Beach (at left) is legendary, as is Diamond Head in the distance. If you go to Honolulu, spend a morning or afternoon climbing Diamond Head…and bring your camera. The view from the top is spectacular!

Honoring Hawaii’s Heritage

True to its native Hawaiian roots, Outrigger wanted the property to reflect the islands, their people, Hawaii’s voyaging history and its cultural heritage. Visitors see the first evidence of that as they approach. The hotel’s new entry was inspired by a traditional canoe longhouse and is now home to the Ho`aloha, a koa wood canoe originally crafted more than a century ago and painstakingly restored.

Thanks to partnerships with Bishop Museum, Mission Houses Museum, and private collectors, a number of cultural treasures are on-site, including handcrafted lobby showcases displaying museum-quality artifacts. There are some 80 wooden canoe paddles and other examples of island craftsmanship displayed throughout the property. Images of Pacific Basin canoes, landscaping of native Hawaiian plants, and a new sitting room area with a library of Hawaii literature round out the experience.

Among the facets that haven’t changed are the Reef’s cultural activities and programs such as hula dancing, ukulele lessons, lei-making, demonstrations by cultural teachers and master artisans, walking tours, and other experiences centering on Hawaii’s rich heritage. Twice weekly, a Hawaiian Vow Renewal is held on the beach. This culturally rich ceremony draws upon an ancient Hawaiian custom, Hoao Paa, in which a man and woman were bound in lasting union.

Dining and Dancing

While there are plenty of restaurants of all types within easy walking distance of the hotel (it is Waikiki after all), the Outrigger Reef on the Beach also offers the Kani Ka Pila Grille. During the day, it’s a casual poolside restaurant. In the evening, it offers free island entertainment featuring some of Hawaii’s greatest island musicians, new local talent, and world-renowned island artists. One night during our visit, the musicians played a version of "Wonderful World" that would have made Iz Kamakawiwo’ole proud.

The Service

Notably, although the Outrigger Reef on the Beach is economical, it is not an "economy" property. As you can tell from the photos, the property is physically appealing. And I can attest to the quality of the service: from the bell stand, valet, front desk, and activities desk to the food and beverage service, it was always excellent.

Thanks to its economical rates, its ready access to Waikiki beach and neighboring hot spots, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach is a hopping hotel indeed, popular with a wide range of guests -- from young singles and young families to Boomers and retirees -- who want to visit Hawaii without breaking the bank.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photos to view larger images