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Affordable Waikiki Hotels
by
Tom Koppel - Click to Enlarge
Tom Koppel

You can spend a small fortune visiting Waikiki, but you don't really have
to.  Many of the best activities are free, starting with the beach itself and extending to much of the music, dance shows, even hula and ukelele lessons.  Meals can also be surprisingly reasonable.  And so can hotels.

My wife and I have usually stayed at high end (four and five star) hotels, but recently we tried three much more modestly priced ones, looked closely at several others, and compared the experience to our high end sojourns.  We were quite happy with those hotels.  For many people, we concluded, it makes no sense to pay two or three times as much for the top hotels.  

We focused on the two big middle-range hotel chains, Ohana and Aston, where the rates start at under $ 100 per night.  Each company has over a dozen hotels in Waikiki.  Most are situated either across the street from the beach (as are quite a few four or five star hotels, including the Hyatt, Marriott and Sheraton) or else one to three blocks from the ocean. 

They have rather small swimming pools (if they have pools at all) but so do many of the top hotels in Waikiki.  This should not matter much, though, since most people prefer to lounge on the beach itself and splash in the waves.  And even if you like calm-water swimming, rather than playing in the surf, Waikiki has wonderful, warm and sheltered public saltwater swimming areas right on the main beachfront.  These are cut off by breakwaters from wave action.  They are perfect for families with children, since, unlike most hotel pools, they have full-time lifeguards.  Moreover, guests at all the Ohana hotels are entitled to use the large and elegant pool, hot tubs and other facilities at the Outrigger Reef, a deluxe waterfront hotel owned by Ohana’s parent company. 

The rooms are just about as large and nicely appointed as the high-end ones.  Nearly all have lanais (balconies), quality beds and bedding, bar fridges and room safes.  The main difference we found was in little things like the quality and variety of the free toiletries, or whether or not bathrobes and hair dryers were provided.  Or there may not be a coffee maker in the room or free ice provided on every floor.  But how important is this if there’s a 24-hour Starbucks just down the street?  And do you really want to pay a bundle for turndown service with chocolates on your pillow?  Or for a jacuzzi in your bathroom? 

For us, the important thing was that these hotels were uniformly clean and friendly, with competent staff and high standards of service.  And there were extra features as well.  At the Ohana hotels, if you stay five nights or longer you get a free (and very worthwhile) outing on the Outrigger Catamaran, or an outrigger canoe ride or surfing lesson.  The Aston Waikiki Beach hotel includes in its price serve-yourself breakfasts that you can take down to the beach in special insulated bags.  The Aston Waikiki Sunset has spacious suites, tennis courts and a sauna. 

In choosing any Waikiki hotel, there are other things to take into account.  For example, regardless of the hotel’s rating, you will have to pay quite a bit extra for a south-facing room with an ocean view.  If you pay less, your room may face north toward the mountains and get little if any direct sunshine during the course of a day.  Or it may face east or west (and be designated as partial ocean view) and get sun only in the morning or late afternoon.  But location is everything.  You can pay a lot for an ocean view room at the Hyatt or Marriott, for example, but you will look out over a very busy avenue as well.  By contrast, our room at the Ohana Waikiki Tower (on the western end of Waikiki) faced west toward the palm trees and lawns of large Fort De Russy Park.  So do many rooms in several of the other very reasonably priced Ohana hotels that are clustered along Lewers Avenue.  On the eastern end of Waikiki (where we stayed at the Aston Waikiki Sunset and Aston Waikiki Beach), east-facing rooms may have very pleasant views overlooking the Honolulu Zoo, sprawling Kapiolani Park and spectacular Diamond Head. 

Another consideration is noise.  Waikiki is smack in the middle of a big and exciting city with traffic and night life.  That’s one of its attractions, but compared to some other resort destinations the decibel level can be high.  But an expensive hotel may be no advantage.  We have had oceanfront rooms at deluxe hotels where it was hard to sleep at night without putting in earplugs.  Why?  Because our rooms were right above the hotel’s popular beachfront restaurants and bars, which kept hopping until 2 AM.  If we kept the doors open on our oceanfront lanai, to get fresh air and hear the surf, we also had to listen to loud drinkers and amplified music.  Even after closing time, the cleanup crews moved tables and banged chairs for another hour. 

By contrast, some of the moderate hotels are a few blocks back from the beach and do not have busy, open-air bars and restaurants.  There is less traffic on these back streets than along the beachfront, especially late at night.  (Rooms on higher floors are quieter and generally have better views, so that may be worth paying a little extra for.)  And just as the views over the parks (Fort De Russy and Kapiolani) on the western and eastern ends of Waikiki can be an asset for their clusters of moderately priced hotels, those parks are also oases of relative quiet in the midst of the city.  

Booking a hotel room can be a bit of a crap shoot, especially if you do it over the Internet to get the best discounts.  (Using toll-free numbers and speaking to a real, live person about the exact location and features of the room you are getting may be worth the extra cost.)  But in Waikiki, going with Ohana or Aston practically guarantees good value and a positive experience.

 

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Email:  koppel@saltspring.com (TOM KOPPEL) 

Tom Koppel is Canadian freelance writer and author with more than 15 years of travel writing experience, including features in Travel Holiday, Financial Post Magazine, Canadian Living, Historic Traveler, Beautiful B.C., Western Living, Country Inns, Reader's Digest, Georgia Straight, Porthole, Islands etc. Tom is now working on his third book as well. (More about this writer.)

 

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