It’s not often that you check into a hotel on the day that it’s celebrating its birthday. But as my husband and I arrived at the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa in Waikiki earlier this month, we learned that the historic hotel was celebrating its 113th birthday. Not a bad day to arrive! We got to partake in some of the festivities, eat cupcakes, learn about this history of the hotel and raise a glass to toast the First Lady of Waikiki.
The First Lady of Waikiki
The Moana Surfrider is lovingly known as The First Lady of Waikiki because it was the first hotel to open on Oahu’s shores, back in 1901. Since then, The Moana Surfrider has undergone numerous renovations and rebrandings (it is now a Westin Resort & Spa) and has witnessed over a century’s worth of history. But while the world changes at dizzying speeds around her, she remains an imposing and unwavering presence on Waikiki’s most famous avenue.
The Moana Surfrider’s turn-of-the-century architecture is the first thing guests will notice upon arrival. You’ll be transported back in time as you pull up to the grand entrance. The architecture, influenced by the European design sensibility du jour, boasts ionic columns and a porte cochère that’s simply marvelous and rife with historic appeal. Just close your eyes and you can hear the swish of silk as the ladies are helped down from their carriages.
Inside the hotel is a wonderful juxtaposition of old and new. While the hotel has been through numerous renovations and refurbishments, some details remain, echoing the hotel’s connection to a century long gone. The extra-wide hallways were originally designed to accommodate large steam trunks and the high ceilings and cross-ventilation windows were designed to cool the rooms down before the advent of modern-day air conditioning systems.
Fast-forward to today, of course, and the Moana Surfrider provides guests with every luxury (flat screen TVs, exclusive bath amenities and five plush pillows to choose from, for instance). Simply decorated in a palette of muted colours with subtle nods to Oahu’s tropical locale, as seen in the various weaves and textures throughout, the rooms are soothing and relaxing. In the ocean-view rooms, the showstopper is the view of Diamond Head, the beach and the turquoise waters of the vast Pacific Ocean, stretching lazily out to meet the horizon.
Just last year, the Moana Surfrider underwent a $20 million renovation, which means new carpet, furniture and artwork in all the guestrooms, new standing showers in the bathrooms, and upgrades to various other accents throughout. It’s all clean, new and lovely – but I did miss having a large, deep-soaking bathtub, one of the best parts (for me, anyway!) of staying at a luxury hotel. But the Westin’s signature robe, a chamois shawl collar robe, made up for it. At the end of a long day out in the hot sun, taking a shower and relaxing in the hotel’s beautiful (and amazingly comfortable!) robe was the perfect way to unwind before bedtime. And speaking of bedtime … all guestrooms feature Westin’s signature Heavenly Bed, which is, well, heavenly. Great Amenity: For just $5 a day, guests can have New Balance workout wear and running shoes delivered to their room to work out in the 1,400-square-foot Westin Workout fitness facility. I’m a big fan of this service. We all know it can be hard to stay in shape on the road and when you travel with carry-on only, like I do, it’s hard to squeeze those extras into your suitcase. Now you don’t have to. (For the record, I didn’t actually rent the workout gear and go to the gym, but I was thrilled to know that I could have if I wanted to.)
Food & Drink
Featuring both indoor and outdoor seating, dining at the hotel’s main restaurant, The Beachhouse is an experience you’ll want to savour from start to finish. My husband and I dined outside with a front row seat for the evening’s sunset, which was truly unforgettable. In the warm Hawaiian air, we listened to the soft strains of live music coming from the adjacent bar area and dined on an impeccably prepared and presented meal. The atmosphere is simultaneously high-end and laid back and situated on the shores of the Pacific, there’s a tranquility in the air, making it a relaxing place to enjoy a meal. Dinner is served nightly from 5:30pm to 9:30pm and the menu offers up a variety of choices from steaks and seafood to dishes with an island-inspired flavour and of course, an extensive wine list. It was seafood all the way for me – oysters, ahi tuna and lobster. You won’t have room for dessert but you’ll make room.
The Beach Bar is the more casual dining option, and is the perfect place to relax and seek some shade from the sun. With beautiful beach views and a lively atmosphere, this is the spot to sit back and enjoy some pupus (appetizers). It’s also the place to order an ‘Obama Mama’. Since the President’s press corps stays at the hotel when they visit Oahu, the hotel staff created a drink in the Commander in Chief’s honour. The secret drink is off-menu and most people only know about it through word of mouth. The recipe is also top secret but it’s a rum-based mixed cocktail in the colours of the Hawaiian sunset.
In the shade of the hotel’s historic banyan tree (like the hotel, it’s also 100+ years old), you’ll find The Veranda where you should indulge in the century-old tradition of afternoon tea. Started when the hotel first opened, the Moana Surfrider upholds the tradition of an elegant tea service that features a variety of fine teas, finger sandwiches, scones and pastries.
The Moana Lani Spa is an 18,000-square foot spa and fitness space. Before their treatments, guests are invited to relax in lounges with lanais that overlook the ocean or spend time in the spa’s steam room and sauna. Our couple’s treatment was in an oceanview suite and the sound of the waves crashing outside added a calming effect to the overall treatment and the light breeze coming in from the lanai was delicious. The spa menu features a variety of treatments, many with a traditional Hawaiian twist, like the Kona Coffee and Vanilla Facial and the Lomi Lomi Ola Massage. But beyond the treatments, the most interesting part of the spa is the way each treatment begins. Each room has a wooden bowl filled with Alaea Hawaiian salt. This salt is known for its healing and restorative abilities and before beginning your treatment, you’ll be invited to hold the bowl and place your troubles inside. A few moments of silent contemplation is meant to clear your heart and mind and after you’ve poured your worries into the salt, you’ll start your treatment. At the end of the day, the salt is thrown into the ocean and with it, your worries are carried out to sea.