Review: The Royal Hawaiian Waikiki

Filed Under: Starwood Preferred Guest

We had only one night in Waikiki on the return portion of our trip, so we considered a few different options. I’ve reviewed the Hyatt Regency before, which I quite like. This time around I wanted to try one of the SPG options. Starwood has three hotels more or less next to one another on Waikiki beach — the Moana Surfrider (a Westin), the Sheraton, and the Royal Hawaiian.

All three hotels are Category 6 SPG properties, meaning a free night costs 20,000 Starpoints. Since I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, they’d have to cost more than $440 per night for redeeming points to be a good deal. So instead I looked at the best options on a paid stay. We decided on the Royal Hawaiian, which was ~$350 for our one night stay (though I was able to use an Amex Offer and get $60 off). Ford booked us through Starwood Luxury Privileges, which came with a $100 food & beverage credit, free breakfast, a room upgrade, etc., in addition to my standard SPG Platinum perks.

The Royal Hawaiian shares property with the Sheraton, so we were driven in through the Sheraton entrance. However, the Royal Hawaiian, which is also known as the “pink palace,” has a much cuter exterior.

Royal Hawaiian exterior

Before I get too deep into this review, I think it’s worth noting that Waikiki across the board is charmingly past its prime. Everything is sort of shabby chic, and feels like it’s just a couple of years beyond when it should have been renovated… and this hotel is no exception.

The Royal Hawaiian has a huge lobby with many different areas. There’s a long hallway which comprises the “interior” part of the lobby.

Royal Hawaiian lobby

Royal Hawaiian lobby

Then there are several beautiful exterior pathways.

Royal Hawaiian exterior hallway

There’s also a bakery shop in the outdoor portion of the lobby.

Royal Hawaiian Bakery

Then there’s a large garden, with a path leading to the main road in Waikiki.

Royal Hawaiian garden

Reception was located inside the entrance and to the left, and once there we were promptly helped. I instantly felt like I was in Japan, as a majority of the guests were Japanese tourists, and as you’d expect, a large percentage of the hotel staff were Japanese. The fact that Waikiki feels like Japan is one of my favorite things about it.

The lady checking us in was friendly, and handled the check-in process as efficiently as possible.

Royal Hawaiian reception

However, I don’t think I’ve ever received as many informational papers when checking into a hotel as I did here.

There was a letter outlining what the $35 per day resort fee includes.

There was a letter explaining all the benefits we’d receive on account of my SPG Platinum status.

There was a letter explaining that we’d receive access to the Mailani Tower lounge. In addition to the main pink building, the hotel has a tower which is considered to be more premium, and while our room wasn’t in that tower, we did receive access to the lounge on the ground floor.

Then there was a letter explaining how we could use our $100 property credit that was included with our Luxury Privileges rate.

We also received a voucher for a “personalized amenity” from the Royal Hawaiian Bakery, which I think they offer all Platinum guests.

Lastly we received breakfast vouchers.

We took the elevator up to our room, located on the third floor.

Royal Hawaiian elevators

Upon exiting the elevator we turned left and followed the signage in the direction of our room.

Royal Hawaiian hallway

We were assigned room 376 — as it turns out, this was a named suite. Sweet!

Royal Hawaiian room exterior

Royal Hawaiian floorplan

The suite was large and charming, but definitely past its prime and in need of a renovation. But like I said, that didn’t bother me too much, since an outdated room just feels sort of right in Waikiki.

The suite had a large living room with two couches and two chairs in the center of it.

Royal Hawaiian suite living room

Royal Hawaiian suite living room

Royal Hawaiian suite living room

Further into the suite was a circular dining table that could seat four.

Royal Hawaiian suite living room

Nearby was a desk with an iPad and phone.

Royal Hawaiian suite desk

Next to that was the in-room coffee machine, mini-fridge (which had a fruit amenity in it), and bottled water.

Royal Hawaiian in-room coffee machine

Royal Hawaiian in-room mini fridge

The bedroom was separated from the living room by a door, and featured a comfortable king size bed, and a chair in the corner.

Royal Hawaiian suite bedroom

Royal Hawaiian suite bedroom

Royal Hawaiian suite bedroom

The bathroom was reasonably basic. There was no tub, though it had double sinks, and then had a separate room with the toilet and walk-in shower.

Royal Hawaiian suite bathroom

Royal Hawaiian suite shower & toilet

Toiletries were from Malie, which is the same brand they had at the Andaz Maui.

Royal Hawaiian toiletries

Then behind the bathroom was a closet.

Royal Hawaiian suite closet

The room primarily overlooked the roof, though had a view of the beach in the distance. Given that the Royal Hawaiian is only a few stories high, you’re not going to get the same views as some of the high rise hotels, so there are pros and cons to that.

Royal Hawaiian suite view

We also received a very nice welcome amenity. My SPG Ambassador, Mike, is awesome. I had told him we were celebrating Ford’s birthday on this trip, and he really hooked us up.

Royal Hawaiian welcome amenity

Royal Hawaiian welcome amenity

In terms of the hotel’s other features, as I mentioned above, we had access to the Mailani Lounge, located on the ground floor of the hotel’s tower. From 5PM until 7:30PM guests staying in the tower (plus Platinum guests) receive complimentary cocktails and light snacks here. As you’d expect, this gets extremely crowded, given how many people have access.

The room itself is beautiful, with a variety of seating options.

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club

There are soft drinks and water available all day.

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club coffee machine

Then in the evenings there’s an attendant who serves alcoholic drinks (it’s not self serve), and then there’s also some pretty basic food. This isn’t a dinner substitute, but it’s a nice offering nonetheless.

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club evening drinks

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club evening snacks

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club evening snacks

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club evening snacks

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club evening snacks

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club evening snacks

Royal Hawaiian Mailani Tower club evening snacks

For booking through Luxury Privileges we had breakfast included, which was served at Surf Lanai from 6:30AM until 11AM. There was both indoor and outdoor seating, and of course we chose to sit outside, with a beautiful view of the ocean.

Royal Hawaiian Surf Lanai Restaurant

Royal Hawaiian Surf Lanai Restaurant

Royal Hawaiian Surf Lanai Restaurant

Generally I expect hotels like this to have watered down breakfast benefits, but we received the full $42 per person buffet, which also included being able to order something off the menu.

The breakfast menu read as follows:

The buffet was good, though not as extensive as at the Four Seasons or Andaz that we had stayed at prior.

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

Royal Hawaiian breakfast buffet

From the menu I ordered the crab omelet, which was tasty. The server taking care of us was nice, and checked on us constantly.

Royal Hawaiian breakfast

Right after breakfast we took a walk on Waikiki Beach, which I love to do before it gets too crowded during the day. The Royal Hawaiian has direct beach access. In the below picture, you’ll see the Sheraton immediately to the left.

Royal Hawaiian & Sheraton Waikiki

And in the below picture you’ll see the Mailani Tower to the right.

Royal Hawaiian Waikiki

We had a lovely walk along Waikiki Beach, which lasted about an hour.

Waikiki beach

The hotel also has lounge chairs by the beach, though we didn’t use them.

Waikiki beach

The hotel’s pool is tiny. Unfortunately this is often the case in Waikiki, given that space comes at a premium, and the main draw is the ocean.

Royal Hawaiian pool

The hotel has a very basic gym on the basement level, which is sort of depressing, given that it’s lacking natural light.

Royal Hawaiian gym

Royal Hawaiian gym

Before leaving the hotel we headed to the Royal Hawaiian Bakery to see what the Platinum “treat” was. As it turns out, you can just pick out several things from their pastry display. We didn’t want to eat all the carbs but rather I just wanted a picture, so we ended up giving the pastries away.

Royal Hawaiian Bakery treats

Royal Hawaiian Bakery treats

I had some work to do before leaving for the airport, and we still had the property credit to spend, so we ordered room service lunch before heading to the airport.

Royal Hawaiian room service lunch

The Royal Hawaiian Waikiki bottom line

Overall we had a fantastic stay at the Royal Hawaiian. On the plus side, I thought the public spaces, hotel exterior, etc., were gorgeous, and very appropriate for the area. The breakfast was great, and the staff we interacted with were all friendly (in fairness, we were only here for a night, though).

As far as the rooms go, I appreciate the mid-century classic look in Waikiki, though I think the rooms could definitely use a refresh. The public areas feel chic, while I think the rooms feel a bit shabby chic.

Overall I would recommend the Royal Hawaiian. It’s a charming hotel, and really stands out in the Waikiki “skyline.” Just don’t expect modern rooms.

  1. I like this hotel too but the exec lounge is packed tight constantly and you often can’t even get a seat.

  2. I’m amazed you’re this kind to the rooms here.

    I’ve stayed in the main building and the tower. Old, stained carpets that all sort of smell. Furniture that is scuffed and cracked. Ancient bathrooms. I was once upgraded to a suite in the main building where the second room didn’t have a window or air conditioning. Not very pleasant given the weather.

    Yes, it’s a classic and yes, it’s lovely outside, but amazing that you can be so harsh to the Andaz and then dismiss these rooms are charmingly shabby chic. I’ve started staying next door at the Sheraton. Nicer rooms, same great beach.

  3. It’s a Luxury Collection hotel, which (with a few exceptions) means an over-the-hill historic property that the owner is unwilling to renovate to the standard of a modern, five-star luxury hotel. The Royal Hawaiian has a few grand public spaces, but much of the hotel has all the charm of a suburban hospital. Actually, it’s bigger than a hospital, as it has 528 rooms. The rooms are generic and unstylish. The food is mediocre and the mai tais terrible. The hideous high-rise Sheraton Waikiki casts a shadow over much of the Royal Hawaiian in the afternoon.

    If only you had decided to stay at and review the Trump Waikiki….

  4. I love the Royal Hawaiian; it’s my favorite hotel. I’ve stayed in some wonderful suites over the years (on a complimentary upgrade during short stays), in classic rooms in the historic building, and I’ve been upgraded twice to the Mailani Tower. It is true that the rooms could be refreshed. I love the liberal use of pink throughout the property — it is memorable and makes me smile every day I’m there! But it is the staff that make the place special. Everyone from check-in to the turn-down maids is gracious and warm. The ladies who greet and seat you in the Surf Lanai at breakfast are especially welcoming. Every morning, my spouse and I take long walks on Waikiki Beach just like you and Ford did. I’m booked for next April and can’t wait.

  5. I will agree slightly that our author seems a bit more kind to the Royal Hawaiian and its obviously dated decor and furnishings compared with the more harsh review of the Andaz Maui and its modern but bleak decor and furnishings. Perhaps the price point is a factor, as the Andaz is a much more expensive property. But fair is fair. The Royal Hawaiian is a huge property in desperate need for a total refurbishment and room refresh.

    To me, a hotel this large is hardly luxury…but it would help if it had nicer room designs and furnishings and much nicer and refreshed/refurbished public spaces. They may be Hawaiian. But they remind me of Hawaii from the 1990s. Itā€™s time to update.

    The Platinum Lounge will always be too crowded in a huge hotel like this. But at least it looked more modern and refreshed. The rest of the public spaces and rooms need to have similar ambience.

    Perhaps after or while the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani starts its delayed tear down/rebuild/renovation in 2019, the Royal Hawaiian can start its own desperately needed renovation. Rumor has it that a new tower at the Sheraton may be turned into a W or St Regis, which will put pressure on the Royal Hawaiian to update to keep up. Honolulu could use it.

  6. @Jack – maybe you are thinking of Tributes, but of the ~20 LCs I’ve been to, only a few would fit your description of “an over-the-hill historic property that the owner is unwilling to renovate to the standard of a modern, five-star luxury hotel”.

    Maybe it would help if you named the others that make up the bulk of the LC brand.

  7. @Neil couldn’t agree more. I stayed here in August 2016 and the property was just an utter mess. Overcrowded public areas, poor service from hotel rooms, and badly dated and tattered rooms. Some seem to write this off because of the “historic” nature of the hotel but I found it gross. Although, in fairness, there just aren’t many great properties in Waikiki.

  8. Mid-century classic look? I call it bad, dated look. And bad taste. Mid-century is classy, stylish, beautiful. Google for mid-century and look at photos, Ben. šŸ™‚

    I think this, with other reviews, proves that your tastes are a bit too “classic” if not dated in my opinion. šŸ˜‰

    For anyone who’s looking for something more contemporary in Waikiki, checkout the Halekulani and The Modern.

  9. The Royal Hawaiian does indeed have a tiny pool but as a guest you do have access the shared pool between the Royal and Sheraton Waikiki which is much newer,larger and more in keeping with that of a resort property. Living here in Waikiki, I think of the Starwood properties the Moana Surfrider is the best as long as you take a deluxe ocean view or Suite in the Surfrider tower. Otherwise nothing compares to the Halekulani.

  10. From friends staying at the nearby Trump, got used to the Mai Tai bar at the Royal.
    Never stayed in the hotel, but almost always walk by for an evening drink(s) and appetizer.

  11. My favorite hotel in Waikiki is the Kahala Hotel. I’ve stayed there before when it was the Mandarin Oriental and afterwards – the rooms and lanais are huge, and the most plush carpet. And the beach is as private as you can get for a public beach in Honolulu.

  12. I guess many have forgotten, or don’t realize, that the hotel is over 90 years old. So bathrooms are small and views aren’t optimized etc., but the property has a warmth and serenity that is SO hard to find in Waikiki. And the staff make it even better. As for the Mai Tai bar, best location and drinks you’ll get in Waikiki, period.

  13. I refuse to stay in any of the Waikiki hotels…far too crowded, overpriced and usually the rooms are outdated.

    My goto hotel in Honolulu is The Modern, very contemporary and has a great ambience. The hotel never has the feel of being overcrowded. We enjoy the two pool areas especially the “adults only” one (no children!) and the bar area by the pool is very relaxing.

  14. Oh thanks for that one. We’ll be in Hawaii next Januar, can’t wait. Will make sure to check out the Waikiki.

  15. My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon at the Royal Hawaiian in 1973. While having breakfast one morning, we spoke to a couple celebrating their 50th and had spent their honeymoon there. I always thought it would be neat to do the same. By the way, I wouldn’t stay at a trump property if the rooms were free.

  16. Stayed here a couple of years ago via Amex FHR. Got an upgrade to the Tower – definitely better decor there! Not impressed though that the exclusion of alcoholic drinks from the $100 F&B credit (was same on our stay). Given the main reason we’d opted to stay there was previously enjoying the Mai Tai bar, was annoyed to have them then excluded. Was only a one night stay with early departure therefore no other time to use it. Eventually managed to get credit applied after pointing out they should have made this exclusion clear at time of booking.

  17. @Gigi: I know itā€™s old. I donā€™t need a massive bathroom. I could however use carpet that doesnā€™t smell of mildew and bathtubs that are chipped and furniture that doesnā€™t look like it was purchased at a garage sale.

  18. Stayed at the RH right after it’s last refurb and loved it so much I went back after 3 years, and actually stayed in the same suite Ben had on this trip. The room was so run down, with newspaper at your door changed to pick up at the front desk among other things…Amazing how Luxury Collection means so little. I agree with the statement above that LC can mean a grand old building and nothing else germaine to a hotel stay.

  19. Overall, this is a great hotel to visit, though perhaps not to stay. The decor is a throwback to the days when prop aircraft brought Sinatra and Elvis to the pristine beaches. You almost feel transported back to a day before Pearl Harbor. It’s old, but very purposefully so, and well maintained. Like the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. It stands in stark comparison to the gentrification of Waikiki as a whole. The Mai Tai Bar is a wonderful place to relax and people watch over a drink and appetizer. The location is just first rate, too. You have Waikiki at your fingertips.

  20. Just had a six day stay in Waikiki prior to catching a cruise liner back to Australia,normally have always stayed at the Royal Hawaiian or Moana Surfrider, this time no suitable rooms available so moved over to the Kahala Resort, which was excellent, both room and atmosphere. Ben,s comments about Waikiki are very true the main street Kalakalua Avenue is very run down and most of the hotels both from the outside perspective and inside are in urgent need of repair or refurbishment. This does not seem to stop the operators of these hotels charging exorbitant rates for rooms compared with 5 star quality properties on the mainland USA i.e. Florida, California. A suggestion if you are going to Hawaii unless it is critical go to Maui !! and miss Waikiki altogether.

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