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.
Now that the weather has turned colder (a few days of Indian summer notwithstanding), I've started thinking about where to go to escape the cold we've come to expect in January or February. One of my favorite warm-weather destinations is Hawaii.
The last time I visited Honolulu, I stayed at the Outrigger Waikiki which, as the name implies, is right on Waikiki Beach, in the heart of the action. My room had a great view of Diamond Head, the beach below, and the ocean beyond. At that time, the Waikiki was Outrigger’s newest and best product.
However, starting in 2006 Outrigger embarked on a three-year "extreme makeover" of the neighboring Outrigger Reef on the Beach. That project was completed just a couple of months ago and "the focus has shifted slightly,” according to Nancy Daniels, Outrigger’s director of public relations. The title of “newest and best” now goes to the Outrigger Reef on the Beach. Given the time, money, and effort put into the planning and refurbishing of the property, it’s not hard to understand why.
The $110 million Reef project touched virtually every part of the property and actually resulted in a 28 % 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. 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 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. When you go, 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.
Speaking of weddings, for the rare couples who want small, intimate weddings, the Outrigger Reef has a spectacular venue such gracious people may wish to consider. Imagine, if you will, a mere 60 people – truly the couple’s nearest and dearest family and friends – joining them on the beachfront Voyager Deck in the moonlight to witness the sacred commitment of two hearts becoming as one. How much better than the ginormous, garish coronations that are so popular today.
But I digress.
Dining and DancingWhile 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. Would that Iz Kamakawiwo’ole and Don Ho were still with us…
When the dead of winter arrives, I’ll be hard-pressed to think of a better place to go to get warm.
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Photos courtesy of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts
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