With no passport required for U.S. citizens, the hardest thing about getting to Hawaii is the long flight. But it’s that very distance that helps make the Aloha State a real escape from everyday life, one that’s marked by stunning natural beauty and a vibrant historic culture. If a trip to the Hawaiian Islands is on your family vacation ideas wish list this year, here’s what’s new, including the impact of 2023’s wildfires and the status of the ongoing recovery efforts in Maui’s historic town of Lahaina.
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Sheraton Waikiki Beach Resort recently completed a multiyear $200-million renovation that included both aesthetic and functional updates to its 1,636 guest rooms and suites, almost 80 percent of which have ocean and Diamond Head views. New features include improved closets, work tables, and daybeds on the lanais for true vacation relaxation. There’s an adults-only infinity pool for grownup getaways and all kinds of kid-friendly amenities for family trips, including a pool with a waterslide and other water features, koi fish feeding, and on-site surf lessons and Hawaiian cultural experiences.
A multimillion-dollar reimaging of the former Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, The Twin Fin Hotel entered the Honolulu scene in 2022. Named for the area’s surfing legacy and lifestyle, it offers rooms and suites that blend midcentury modern and tropical style. In December 2023, it launched a new partnership with the Jamie O’Brien Surf Experience to create the Jamie O’Brien School of Surf Waikiki within the hotel, which will offer private and group surf lessons for all levels.
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Surfing’s also a major attraction at Wai Kai, a new year-round entertainment destination in West Oahu. The nine-acre venue features the world’s largest deep-water standing surf wave, along with the 52-acre Wai Kai Lagoon for water sports, three restaurants, retail shops, and an event lawn with a waterfront fire pit.
Opened in summer 2023, Wayfinder Waikīkī is a boutique hotel that draws inspiration from its locale. That means guest rooms and poolside studios feature local art and lots of Hawaiian style, and the hotel’s restaurant and bar serve up tropical cocktails and dishes like poke. You can lounge by the saltwater pool, grab a beach chair and boogie board for riding the waves, and keep up with your fitness routine at the on-site gym.
Romer Waikiki at The Ambassador made its debut in October 2023, offering a neighborhood-focused travel experience for guests. The 368-room hotel has an array of lodging options (including family suites with bunk beds) and a third-floor pool dubbed the Waikiki Swim and Social Club. You can rent bikes to explore the neighborhood and browse items from local brands, artists, and makers at the hotel’s Corner Store. A new courtyard restaurant will open in 2024 and spotlight locally sourced fare.
When it opens in early 2024, Renaissance Honolulu Hotel and Spa will be the brand’s first location on the island of Oahu. The 39-story hotel in a prime Honolulu setting will feature 299 guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the vibrant capital city. Amenities will include a heated saltwater swimming pool and an on-site spa with Himalayan salt saunas, cold plunge baths, and traditional Japanese ofuro soaking tubs.
The Big Island of Hawaii
Opened in July 2023, Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort is a complete transformation of the 1960s-era Kona Village Resort that had been shuttered for a decade after storm damage. Completely powered by solar energy, the new property honors its locale and the islands’ culture throughout the site, from the Hawaiian-inspired dishes at its restaurants and bars to the on-site cultural center that helps guests delve into the natural and historic sides of Hawaii. The resort sits on 81 acres on Kahuwai Bay on Hawaii’s Kona Coast, where 150 guest hale offer an upscale version of the traditional Hawaiian structure and amenities include two pools, tennis and pickleball courts, and a spa with open-air treatment rooms.
Boutique hotel Pacific 19 opened in Kailua Kona in the spring of 2023. Design-focused rooms feature luxe linens and local photography on the walls. There are no TVs here, but there are in-room “macro bars” stocked with sunscreen, snorkels, and other items you might need or want during your stay. Daily poolside yoga, beach chairs and umbrellas, and access to loaner bikes are covered by the amenity fee, and an on-site coffee shop helps start off the day on the right foot.
A longtime lodging option on the Big Island, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel will kick off a $180-million renovation in spring 2024. The phased project is expected to wrap up in early 2025 and will honor the hotel’s 1960s-era roots while elevating the property to meet the expectations of 21st-century travelers. Plans include a redesign of the resort’s 252 guest rooms and suites and four dining spots, plus a destination spa with 11 indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, an infinity pool, and an enlarged, state-of-the art fitness center.
Opened in early 2023, 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay puts a new spin on the former St. Regis Princeville on Kauai’s North Shore. The luxury hotel offers a nature- and wellness-focused escape, with lush landscaping and an oceanfront setting ideal for snorkeling, standup paddleboarding, or just taking in the amazing views.
Book a treatment incorporating Hawaiian traditions and ingredients at Bamford Wellness Spa, join a group class at Anatomy fitness studio, or claim a lounge chair by the adults-only infinity pool. There are also amenities and activities for “seedlings” if you’re traveling with the family.
The historic town of Lahaina still has a long road ahead following the devastating wildfires of the summer of 2023, but most of West Maui has reopened to visitors, and other areas of the island not impacted by the fires are fully vacation-ready. There are a handful of exceptions, like the Royal Lahaina Resort, which has committed all of its rooms to the Red Cross to support fire evacuees through January 2024 and possibly longer. The hotel’s Royal Ocean Terrace restaurant and Royal Scoop ice cream shop are open to the public while the hotel is housing evacuees. The Myths of Maui luau will reopen December 17.
Respectful travel is vital at this time, and the Hawai’i Tourism Authority suggests patronizing local businesses and volunteering during a trip to Maui as ways to visit responsibly and help support Maui’s recovery. One local business I recommend is the snorkel tour company Sail Trilogy, which was a highlight of my recent trip to the islands; the 50-year-old family business sprang in to action to help out in the aftermath of the Lahaina fires, even though it lost a boat and a family home in the fires.
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A major revamp of Fairmont Kea Lani is expected to be completed in early 2024. The resort’s 413 one-bedroom suites and 37 two-story villas have already been transformed with soothing island-inspired color schemes and decor. The next phase will create a new lobby arrival experience for guests and add a new Hawaiian cultural center and oceanfront lounge to the resort’s long list of amenities.
This past summer, longtime favorite Kā‘anapali Beach Hotel became part Outrigger Resorts and Hotels. Now called Outrigger Kāʻanapali Beach Resort, the hotel continues to provide its beloved cultural programming as well as easy access to a scenic stretch of beach and all of the activity of the Kā‘anapali Beach area. The hotel’s on-site restaurant is now an outpost of Maui Brewing Company, offering a beachfront spot for burgers, fries, and local craft beers. I stayed here right before the transition and the open-air spot now occupied by Maui Brewing Company is an ideal place to watch the sun set and wind down the day with a cold beverage.
The new Hawaiian Culture and Plant Tour at the Maui Ocean Center explores the connection between land and ocean in Hawaiian culture. During the 90-minute naturalist-led tour, you’ll tap into all of your senses, using poi pounding stones, smelling pōhinahina leaves, and tasting crops introduced by Polynesian settlers. It’s just one way the aquarium helps visitors “see beyond the surface” and discover the ways plants, water, and sea life are all connected.
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