At TravelSkills, we love new hotels. They smell better, work better, feel better, and are usually bigger, brighter and hipper than others. But new can also have its downside: Construction noise, service issues, and/or locations in sketchy or “upcoming” neighborhoods. Some are so new that TripAdvisor reviews are scant compared to more established hotels. In an ongoing feature, TravelSkills reports on the newest hotels in the world’s most important cities. When we say “newest” we have certain criteria around that: The hotels have to be brand new or deeply renovated within the last few years, 3+ stars and appropriate venues for business travel.
On a recent quick business trip to Honolulu I took a walk through Waikiki to check out the newest hotels fit for business travelers. (Okay, I did get to the beach once between appointments and had a sunset mai-tai at the always fabulous Halekulani pictured above.)
My first impression of Waikiki is that it has really cleaned up its act. It seemed overcrowded and a bit seedy last time I was there in 2012. While the improvement effort is working, the place is still clogged with fanny-packing vacationers, tour buses and hawkers– a good sign for the local economy. But a hassle for business travelers.
There are very few new-from-the-ground-up hotels in Honolulu…except for maybe the towering Trump hotel/condo structure, which opened in 2009 and the hotel seems permanently positioned at the top of Honolulu’s TripAdvisor rankings. Most “new” hotels are massive refurbs of existing buildings that feel brand new and are great choices whether you are in town for work…play…or as is most likely, a little of both…
ON THE EDGE. The best thing about the new 353-room Modern Honolulu is its location on the far western edge of Waikiki. The striking white, mid-century modern, 17-story hotel (opened in 2011) is the one closest to central Honolulu– a huge plus for business travelers with meetings downtown or at the nearby convention center.
The location also means that it is closest to the airport, which reduces transfer time in this notoriously traffic-clogged town. But you pay a price for that location—the hotel is not directly on the beach—instead it overlooks a marina, but the beach is a short, easy five-minute walk away.
The best rooms in the house are the two-room oceanfront suites facing the water—most have a walk-out veranda with big sliding glass doors that offer nice views and allow the trade winds to breeze through.
The other things I really liked about this hotel, which consistently ranks among the top two Honolulu hotels on TripAdvisor: Free, fast and easy wi-fi, desks that face windows instead of a wall, and big bright bathrooms bathed in terrazzo with walk in showers. There’s also a secluded, tranquil an adults-only pool—a rarity in this part of the world.
For entertaining, make a reservation at the hotel’s super-hip Morimoto Waikiki for some of the best sushi (and wagyu beef) in town, plus great views and people watching…it’s where President Obama dines when he’s in town. Room rates start at around $290 per night, based on the season, and thankfully there are no irritating “resort fees” which are common in Hawaii.
IN THE MIDDLE: Hilton’s new 143-room Hokulani Waikiki, which opened in February 2014, is a real find in the thick of things in Waikiki at the corner of busy Kalakaua Boulevard and Lewers Street. The hotel’s main entrance and lobby is on the second floor (up an escalator), which removes guests from the street level hubbub—the lobby’s big water feature adds to the modern, tranquil scene.
All rooms (which start at about $350 per night) in this 16-story building are brand new one-bedroom suites with hardwood floors, free, fast wi-fi, efficiency kitchens with refrigerators and cooktops and a microwave (great for longer stays). Bathrooms include separate walk in showers and big soaker tubs. For fresh air, most have sliding glass door access to shallow balconies.
There’s a big bright pool deck and bar on the roof with views down to the beach across the sprawling Waikiki Beach Walk development, which has redefined and enhanced this once somewhat seedy part of town.
Since it’s so new, the hotel has only garnered just over 100 reviews on TripAdvisor but already ranks #14 out of 82 Honolulu hotels. Best of all, you can earn or burn your HHonors points at the Hokulani—it’s the newest Hilton in town.
Speaking of Hilton, if you are a fan of the kitschy, crowded but supremely popular Hilton Hawaiian Village, you’ll be pleased to know that when I was there, foundations were being laid for at least two more towers. Right now, business travelers should opt to stay in the recently re-furbed Ali’i Tower– this original tower at the massive complex emerged from a major $26 million facelift in 2013 and feels like a brand new hotel. Plus, it offers some of the best water views in the Village. (See above)
Disclosure: I was a guest of Hawaiian Airlines on this trip, which arranged a 2 night stay at the Modern.
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