As a couple, my husband and I travel often and as a family (one child away in college, the other in grade school) we take one large/grand vacation a year. Our family vacations are highly important to us as it’s our chance to unwind as a family and not worry about work or school or any other of life’s chores. We’re out to relax and have fun. So, when we select a yearly destination, whether stateside or overseas, a lot of thought and planning goes into the process. Further, it’s generally a big ticket item. My husband, having returned from an extended deployment, was ready for some R&R, and we were ready to have him home and to be a whole family again. Hawaii seemed a lovely destination and after some planning, decided upon the Hale Koa as it was available to us. With that, I will write this addressing each area that we experienced in the spirit of thoroughness. Our stay occurred the last week of February 2014.
CHECK-IN, PARKING & ROOM:
Our check-in at the Hale Koa occurred at approximately 20:30 local time (though we were quite tired as we were still on PST time). The staff were accommodating though not excessively friendly. Make a note that if you have a rental vehicle, you will be expected to park it across the street from the hotel in their designated parking area. You will not be given the ability to take your bags to your room first, after checking in; they want the area clear of vehicles. Further, valet parking is not available to assist in this matter (something we use on a regular basis as we travel).
While my husband parked our rental car, my seven year old and I hauled our bags up to our room without assistance from the bellhops (though I later learned that my husband had told them we did not need assistance ... we had a little chat about that). Upon entering our room, I was very discouraged but frankly, too tired to complain. We were in the Maile Tower in a Deluxe Oceanfront room with balcony/lanai for $222.00 per night (the maximum allowable amount based upon rank on leave/pass for that particular type of room), for seven nights. The room contained one king size bed, two nightstands, one pull-out sleeper sofa, one desk, two chairs, one dresser, one dresser/TV cupboard combination, coffee maker, refrigerator and safe (exactly the same type of furniture layout we select when staying at hotels such as the Hilton, Sheraton, Westin, Four Seasons, etceteras).
The television, which would normally be in the cupboard, was not, they had upgraded to a larger flat screen television which was atop the dresser as it would not fit in the cupboard/dresser. The linens in the room were drab, old and a little creepy. The furniture was quite outdated and the curtains and pull-out sleeper sofa were severely stained with who knows what. The carpet in the room however, appeared to have been upgraded somewhat recently and did not appear stained or worn.
Essentially, the room was functional, but not at all what I/we expected for $222.00 per night (particularly having traveled quite literally the globe and having stayed at many hotels and resorts, to include two other Armed Forces Recreation Centers (AFRC) - Shades of Green in Lake Buena Vista, Florida and Edelweiss in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany). For $67.00 more per night (added weekly cost of $469.00 for lodging) we could have stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village with an absolutely comparable room with regard to view, balcony/lanai and amenities, though it would’ve been cleaner and more current.
Linens for the pull-out sleeper sofa were not available in the room and we had to call for them to be provided so that we could make the bed up for our child; we waited thirty minutes for this. We simply had the gentleman leave the linens and we made the bed ourselves. Interestingly, these sheets were white while the ones on the main bed were pink. Our long travel day/night ended and we went to sleep knowing that we were waking up in ‘paradise’ the next morning.
The restaurants of the Hale Koa have decent food, though again, service is average. I’ll touch on this in a moment. We ate breakfast at the Koko Café daily and my commentary here would be that if you can’t find something to eat, there’s a problem; there is a variety of options and/or combinations thereof. The Koko Café’s daily layout consists of pastries, cereals, a variety of juices, and a fruit bar that generally provided strawberries, pineapple, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, peaches, pears, and a multitude of other items. They also provide a variety of hot meal options such as sausage, bacon, rice, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, waffles, pancakes, etceteras. Finally, one has the option of made to order eggs or omelet. Outdoor seating is available, but I would advise arriving early or you may be waiting a bit. The wait time to eat indoors is generally short and if you encounter a line, it moves rather quickly. The services here however, were hit and miss. One day we would encounter a cordial friendly waitperson that checked back often and the next day we would encounter one who was seemingly going through the motions and would rather be elsewhere. There wasn’t any consistency in this; it just depended upon where we were seated and who happened to have been assigned to that particular booth or table.
We had dinner at Bibas Restaurant twice and again, the food was good. The menu provides an acceptable variety of options and those with varying tastes should find something to meet his/her expectations and desires. We ate outdoors both times and only waited for a short amount of time to be seated. Here again though, the service was average - folks doing their jobs but are not excessively friendly or chatty. Happy’s Snack Bar has deli item options (salads, fruit, burgers, pizza, etceteras) and if one is on the go or simply hanging out by the pool, the snack bar is sufficient enough to provide sustenance and dissolve one’s pangs of hunger.
We attended the Luau, which is offered both on Monday and Thursday nights and is worth the expense. We selected Thursday night as it allotted us the ability to be seated up front next to the stage. The festivities before the luau started were fun and educational with a variety of activities to choose from (lei making, palm leaf headband making, learning how to twirl poi balls, etceteras). Right before the luau, the crowd is called to view and learn about the imu and preview the feast (again educational). With this, upon commencement, the food served was average, but consider the notion that hundreds are being fed in a very short amount of time. The entertainment was fantastic as well as educational and again, well worth it. The show outweighs the dining experience and with that, this is an activity that shouldn’t be ignored, so try to fit it into your schedule if possible.
MAINTENANCE OF GROUNDS:
The Hale Koa possesses one of the few “green” spots within the Waikiki area that is seemingly devoid of the local homeless population. The grounds and gardens are very well maintained (almost pristine) and are beautiful containing a variety of trees, plants and flowers. Walking the pathways through the garden areas is a treat. The well maintained grounds are really the highlight/strongest selling point of the Hale Koa.
One of our biggest complaints about the Hale Koe is the pool situation. The Hale Koa possesses three pools: the kiddie pool (for wee ones under six), the Ilima Pool (for children six on up - as well as adults) and the Maile Pool and Jacuzzi area (for those eighteen and over). As a family on vacation post extended deployment, we were looking forward to lounging by the pool and swimming until our hearts were content. What we found quite quickly at the Ilima pool (the only pool our seven year old was allowed to swim in) was that at the top of the hour, every hour, from open to close, children ages six through seventeen are required to depart the pool area for fifteen minutes (whether they want to or not and whether or not accompanied in pool by a parent).
When we inquired about this we were given a plethora of explanations/excuses: the water had to be tested (never once did we observe samples taken), the water had to be cleaned (only once did we see a lifeguard with a skimmer net retrieve debris from the pool), that the locals - presumably MILITARY/DoD locals - had requested an adult swim period (mind you the Maile Pool is for adults only), that children needed to have their sunscreen reapplied during this period (this is NOT the hotel staff’s business or place to decide), that children needed a rest period (again NOT the hotel staff’s business or place to decide), that children needed the opportunity to use the bathroom facilities (again, NOT the hotel staff’s business or place to decide, enforce, etceteras ... you should be noticing a trend by now), and finally the requirement of break periods for lifeguards (there appeared to be three on duty plus the desk staff ... easily remedied with a roving rotation).
We were not the only parents irritated or upset by this absurd policy, nor were we the only parents that questioned this policy. We first inquired about the policy with the head lifeguard, Mr. Clifton Yoza, who we found quite quickly was very abrasive, rude and highly unprofessional; his nasty attitude remained consistent throughout our stay (had he worked for me, he would’ve been fired for talking with customers in the fashion that he spoke with my husband and I as well as other guests). We visited the hotel management that evening, voiced our concerns and were directed to discuss concerns with the Recreation Director (which my husband did and she was aware of the situation when we did locate her the following day). The following day, my husband spoke with the Recreation Director, Ms. Kelley Hupp, and initially received the same aforementioned explanations for the pool policy. She did explain that the lifeguards were supposed to have leeway to reduce or eliminate the 15 minute period if none of the above reasons were needed. We however, never saw them exercise this. In fact many times, especially in the evening, when the children left the pool it was completely empty. My husband explained to her that after being deployed for an extended time that our goal was family time. By interrupting our swim time and with no other activities for the children to do during that period, they were in fact inhibiting that family time. She stated that they would review their policies and after discussions with Mr. Yoza, follow up with us. This follow up never occurred and this was quite disconcerting.
It should be pointed out that the Ilima pool essentially has three sections, one of which consists of a 3 ½’ to 4’ section cordoned off with a buoyed swim rope under the walkway bridge. Beyond the buoyed swim rope the pool descends into 5’ in the other two sections. While we occasionally observed children in the deeper sections of the pool, most stayed within the 3 ½’ to 4’ section and the younger children were accompanied by adults (parents, grandparents). An easy remedy to the silly policy is to allow children to continue their swim activities in this portion of the pool only, indicating that this is an area for children and their parents. This alleviates conflict, allows families to continue their family activities and allows the other two portions of the pool to be used by those who stand over four feet tall and can tread, swim, walk/wade through the water. This would also allow the lifeguards in the other two sections to have a break and rotate.
On the stairwell that leads from the Banyan Courtyard to the Koko Café, there is a placard that reads, “HALE KOA, HOUSE OF THE WARRIOR. This hotel is a tribute to every American serviceman and woman. It was constructed with funds generated by profits from military clubs, messes and exchanges world wide. In short, this hotel was built for servicemen and women from their own funds.” As a veteran of the Cold and Persian Gulf Wars who is presently married to an active duty service member who has flown combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, I feel it’s ‘our’ hotel as well as our brother’s and sister’s in arms and it’s highly discouraging to pay top dollar (literally the highest echelon for the scale the Hale Koa has established) and receive the amenities and service that we did. From all visual observations, the Hale Koa isn’t lacking for clientele; meaning there is a rather large amount of revenue being pulled in. The staff of the Hale Koa is providing leisure services to those who have served and to those who presently serve and sometimes are coming off of extended and undesirable deployments. When individuals spend literally thousands of dollars to fly over, stay and enjoy the island of O’ahu, they should be met with customer service and amenities that reflect such.
It is really for this reason, along with the substandard condition of the hotel room, overall average service and attitude of the hotel staff, the pool nonsense and unfriendly family atmosphere that we will not stay at the Hale Koa again. The additional $500.00 it would’ve cost to stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village would’ve been worth it ($2000.00 versus $2500.00).
If one is merely looking for a place to throw their bags and then depart the area to scuba dive, snorkel, etceteras, it may be worth it (you have a place to shower, brush your teeth and sleep). However, if you’re looking for a family/kid friendly place that allots the ability to be pampered, relax and play as a family without the hindrance of illogical policies, look elsewhere.
OTHER ITEMS OF INTEREST:
Should you forget and/or need a particular item, the Hale Koa possesses a small Exchange on site that sells a variety of items such as swim gear, snorkel gear, towels, snacks, toiletries, clothing, etceteras. Also within the Hale Koa is a Spa, large gym, several shops (beauty, flower, jewelry) and a tour and travel office (this tour/travel office however is NOT affiliated with ITT/MWR, so plan to travel to one of the local bases for military discounted tickets).
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Hale Koa hosts a variety of local artisans in their lobby area. The items offered range from functional, to artsy-craftsy to decorative. The artisans are not affiliated with the hotel at all; therefore do not expect any type of DoD or military discount. Also note that if you intend to make a purchase, most of the artisans prefer cash only. I would recommend a visit during one of those days, it’s a great way to purchase local items to bring home as gifts or to purchase that one ‘big ticket’ item for yourself.
Not part of the Hale Koe, but visible from the Ilima pool area, are the Hilton’s Friday night fireworks. It’s about a five to eight minute show, but fun for the little ones to watch and see. The U.S. Army Museum at Fort DeRussy (right next to the Hale Koa) is worth a visit as well. It contains several historical artifacts and information regarding the local area, the people, the attack on Pearl Harbor, etceteras and in essence, it’s a piece of history that shouldn’t be missed.
Along with the museum, if you have time, I would highly recommend visiting the USS Arizona memorial, the USS Bowfin, the USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor (pay for one of the tour guides, some of which are former military aviators and combat veterans, they are highly knowledgeable and deserve our utmost respect). As young children, we learn about the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II in our history classes, but so many Americans lack a true understanding of how volatile these were and the true toll that they took. It’s a sobering, educational and reflective experience.
The Dole Plantation is a great ‘family fun’ opportunity with a train ride, garden tour and maze. Get ‘lost’ in the maze and watch your little one become Indiana Jones on his latest adventure. This was a fabulous choice for us and there’s plenty of pineapple ice cream to be had before or after the adventure. If your children are younger, plan for an hour (give or take) within the maze to get trapped in the dead ends, find the secret passageways and discover the stencil treasure locations; you may even be lucky (or unlucky) enough to see a real live cockfight (truly, we saw two roosters vying for the attention of a female ... we backed away quietly and quickly).
The turtles on the North Shore were a splendid site to see as well. These slow moving, gentle giants are quite simply beautiful and it was lovely to sit a distance away and watch them. Please remember if you do go to observe them that they are a federally protected species and should not be interfered with or touched in any fashion.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Hale Koa Hotel offers an impeccable blend of service and travel value for the active and retired military traveler searching for the perfect Hawaiian vacation. Located in the heart of Waikiki, it offers great prices and unmatched value found in any major travel destination. The Hale Koa offers leisure dining, great Polynesian entertainment, and relaxation in a tropical garden, ocean-front oasis. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Hale Koa Hotel Oahu
- Hale Hotel Koa
- Hale Koa Hotel Hawaii/Honolulu