How Suite It Is: Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on the Big Island in Hawaii2nd October 2018
My wife, Katie, and I travel a lot. In fact, we’ve been traveling the world full-time as digital nomads since June 2017. But in all of our travels, we have yet to stay at a resort, much less a Hawaiian beach resort.
For our anniversary celebration this August, we decided to break that tradition and booked a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii — getting a free upgrade to lie-flat business class on the way. We reserved rooms at two resorts in the area just north of Kona with the help of resort expert Nick Ellis. Our first stay: The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort.
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Originally built in 1996, this Hapuna resort was officially renamed a Westin property in June 2018 after undergoing a lengthy $46 million renovation and conversion. Even after this transition, the property is still owned and managed by the former namesake, Prince Resorts.
As this stay was before the Marriott-Starwood integration, we booked our stay directly through the Starwood website without having to go through Marriott first. Hoping for an upgrade, we booked the cheapest available room, a partial-ocean-view room. Starwood immediately tried to get us to upgrade to an ocean-view room for an additional $63 per night.
Although the rate was initially listed in the results as $269 per night, this quickly increased once taxes and fees were added in. All together, we ended up paying $339 per night for the two-night stay.
I’d just signed up for the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card and needed to hit the minimum spending requirement. Plus, as part of the SPG/Marriott merger, the Ritz-Carlton card should’ve earned 5x Ritz-Carlton points on purchases at Starwood properties. However, the purchase still coded as a purchase from Prince Hotels, so I only earned 1x Marriott point on these charges. A quick secure message to Chase fixed this situation, and a Chase representative added 3,220 points as a manual adjustment to my account.
One of the two transactions charged to my card for the stay.
After the Marriott acquisition of Starwood, this property is a now a Marriott Category 5 property bookable for 35,000 Marriott points per night. At current TPG valuations, an award night costs about $315. Adding in the mandatory $30 nightly resort fee came to $345 a night, virtually break-even with the $339 per night we paid for our stay.
To get to the property, we headed north from Kona Airport (KOA) along Highway 19, counterintuitively turning away from the ocean to enter the resort complex, a trip of about half an hour by car. A guard at a booth confirmed our hotel reservation before letting us in the gate. Then we proceeded under the highway and downhill to reach the understated front entrance of the resort.
The hotel was on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island, perched on white-sand beaches on the dry northwestern side of the island. The resort was north of Hapuna Beach State Park and just south of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, a sister property. Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, which contains the ruins of the last ancient Hawaiian temple, was about 10 minutes north by car. Besides that, there wasn’t anything else nearby of interest to your average tourist.
Although the guard told us to park and check in at reception, the valet shooed us away from the front of the hotel, telling us to pull a parking ticket and park in the garage before checking in. From the garage elevator, it was a long and confusing walk back to the lobby.
The entrance and lobby were on the eighth floor because the hotel was on a slope dropping off toward the water. Rooms were on floors five through nine. Elevators dropped visitors on floors two to four for the various levels of pools, and the first floor provided beach access.
While the renovation of the lobby and rooms was complete during our stay, there was plenty of construction noise, as Westin was building Hapuna Beach Residences units between the resort and the beach.
As Platinum Card from American Express cardholders, we both had Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Elite status. However, this didn’t save us any time at check-in, as there was only one agent working when we arrived.
After confirming our reservation and taking a credit card for incidentals, the agent excused herself. She returned shortly later with a tray containing two frosty glasses of juice and cool towels, both of which we appreciated in the hot, open-air lobby in mid-August.
As a welcome amenity, I was offered a voucher for a $15 cocktail or 250 Starpoints (worth $6.75 per TPG valuations). I took the drink voucher. After mentioning that Katie was also a Gold Elite, we received a second voucher.
On the walk over from the garage, I checked online and saw there was both an upgraded room and suite for sale online. As a SPG Gold elite, I was only entitled to upgrades to “enhanced” rooms, such as a room with a better view. But I figured it never hurts to ask. We ended up getting a two-room suite.
There were two two-room suites on each floor of the north building: one next to the lobby and one most of the way down the hall. If you have the choice, get the lobby-adjacent suite for better views of the beach, pools and sunset. We were assigned Room 710, a handicapped-accessible suite further down the hall, which seemed like it could handle a family of six.
The first room of the suite was a living room complete with a large L-shaped couch with views out the balcony toward the ocean.
This room contained the suite’s kitchen, a 65-inch TV and a small table with two seats. The kitchen area contained a microwave, Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, a sink with a boiling-water tap, and an ice bucket, which was filled with ice when we arrived. The kitchen came with a kettle, six full sets of plates, knives, forks, spoons, wine glasses, mugs and more.
Individual pods of Starbucks coffee and tea bags were provided. Upon arrival, a large bottle of Hawaiian water (provided as part of the resort fee) and a small bottle of Dasani were on the counter. The Hawaiian water was refreshed daily with a new bottle.
The bedroom was dominated by a king bed and a day bed, which could double as a child’s bed for a large family. The far corner of the room contained a small table with a chair, while another corner of the room was dedicated to a cabinet of drawers with a 55-inch TV screen on top. While much of the suite seemed ready to handle a crowd, drawer space was quite lacking. We practically filled up the cabinets with just our two sets of clothing.
One annoyance was the lighting. There were no overhead lights or light switches on the wall as you entered the room. Instead, each of the three lamps had its own switch, which weren’t easy to find when the room was dark.
The room’s balcony contained a table with two seats. The table’s design allowed views over the railing rather than through the bars. The balcony also had power outlets, allowing us to work while enjoying the view.
Alas, the elevated table couldn’t help us see through the obstructed view of the beach, thanks to the construction. It’s important to note that our room was on the third of five floors: You should expect to have an obstructed view from your room, particularly on lower floors.
Off to the side, the balcony also contained a large day bed.
The room’s bathroom seemed oversized. In an otherwise standard hotel bathroom, there was one noteworthy feature: a Japanese-style toilet with a bidet function.
The bathroom amenities were Westin’s signature Heavenly brand, with bottles of body lotion and mouthwash and a bar of soap.
Small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash with another bar of soap were provided in the roll-in shower:
The room’s wheelchair-accessible setup was also evident in the closet, which was noticeably low to the ground.
Food and Beverage
At the time we stayed, we were SPG Gold elites, which didn’t entitle us to free breakfast. Now that Starwood and Marriott programs have merged, you’ll need to be a Marriott Rewards Platinum elite to get a chance at breakfast. Platinum elites get 1,000 Points per stay, an amenity per stay or daily breakfast for two.
This resort only had a few breakfast options: a breakfast buffet, a la cart menu or grab-and-go station. The grab-and-go station was at Piko Coffee Bar one level below the front desk. This area doubled as a bar at night.
In addition to snacks available all day, theres were boxes of turnovers ($4), cinnamon buns ($4), muffins ($3.50) and assorted single pastries ($1.25 each). The hot bar offered bento ($15), breakfast bento ($9) and egg croissants ($7). Everything was a bit pricey, but not awful considering the captive market (there was nowhere nearby to go for breakfast outside the hotel).
We tried a breakfast bento one morning and found it contained hash browns, three slices of bacon, three slices of sausage and scrambled eggs. While not a generous portion, it was enough to get one person started for the day.
Ikena Landing had full breakfasts: an extensive, all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet ($33 for all options or $24 for a continental breakfast) or a wide selection of a la carte menu options.
The full Moku Nui breakfast bar had a mixture of Hawaiian (e.g., loco moco), Western and Japanese foods.
Everything from the buffet was tasty. But perhaps Ikena’s best feature was its great view of the pools and beach.
There were two choices for lunch at the hotel: grab-and-go at Piko or sandwiches, salads and poke bowls at the Naupaka Beach Grill by the pool. Naupaka Beach Grill also served as a casual dinner option.
The resort’s primary restaurant was just above Naupaka at a restaurant called Meridia. There was also a complimentary nightly dining shuttle that ran seven times each direction to and from Hapuna’s sister property, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
Both the poolside Naupaka and upper-floor Meridia restaurants had good views facing the sunset.
On our second night, we redeemed our free drink coupons at Naupaka Beach Grill and then stuck around to order a meal as we watched the sunset.
The bar’s mixed drinks packed a punch. The Backscratcher was the only drink I needed for the night. And, yes, it came with an actual backscratcher as a stirrer.
My poke bowl with kimchi was both delicious and a decent value. Katie’s shrimp dish was good but small.
Overall, the food at the Westin Hapuna Resort was good albeit pricey. If you’re looking to save a bit of money on your stay, you’ll want to stop by a grocery store in Waikoloa Village on the way up from the airport.
The first of the pools was only designed for fish to swim in, surrounded by chairs (both of the rocking and nonrocking varieties) for guests to enjoy.
On the next level down was the adult infinity pool.
The pool closest to the beach was the family pool and almost always the most crowded.
In hallway corners and near the lobby elevators, the resort was tastefully set up with a variety of chairs, tables and swings from which guests could enjoy the view.
One of our favorite features of the resort wasn’t on land. Just inside the ocean from the resort’s beach was wonderful reef snorkeling. Our first time snorkeling, though, the rough currents stirred up a lot of sediment, reducing visibility and making it tough to swim around. Thankfully, we tried the next morning and ended up staying out for more than an hour, seeing easily thousands of reef fish and one sea turtle. To access the best snorkeling, start as far to the right of the beach as you can before entering the water.
Snorkel gear, paddleboards, kayaks, surfboards and boogie boards were available for rent from the Beachery on the resort’s beach. Though we couldn’t pack larger equipment, you might want to bring your own snorkel gear if you want to avoid the $10-an-hour, $25-a-day rental fees.
At check-in, we received a card explaining the amenities that the $31.25 daily resort charge (that’s right, $1.25 tax got tacked onto the advertised $30 resort fee) included:
Daily self-parking for one vehicle ($6 surcharge for valet)
Eco shopping bag
Unlimited internet connections
One bottle Hawaiian water daily
Beach chair service
Nightly dining shuttle service to Manua Kea Beach Hotel
Local and long distance calls (United States only)
This list sure seemed padded to try to justify the fee. The Hawaiian water was available at local grocery stores for less than $1, and the “eco shopping bag” wasn’t even worth $1. Free Wi-Fi was an advertised benefit for all Marriott Rewards members. The nightly dining shuttle was convenient for those who didn’t want to eat on site, but it only went to the resort’s sister property. We didn’t have any need for free US calls, since we could use our cellphones for free. In all, more than half of the listed amenities had no value to us.
The property’s garage charged $3 per hour or $19 per day, a fee that was waived as part of the resort charge. Most spaces in the garage were covered, which was certainly appreciated in the summer heat.
Beach chair service wasn’t as formal as the amenity list made it seem. Each morning, the lifeguard would set up dozens of chairs and umbrellas on the beach. Each night, they would put them away. Even though the resort didn’t feel crowded at any point during our stay, a surprising number of the beach chairs were claimed by people’s stuff by 8am.
Also, there was a shelter that was usually staffed with an employee to hand out towels, provide water or sell you sunscreen or bug spray.
Of all of the amenities included in the resort fee, we appreciated the cultural activities the most. At check-in, we were directed toward a table to get a list of the activities, but no printouts were ever available there. Instead, we got a list of activities from the front desk after our first night.
There were two or three 30-minute activities scheduled each day from Monday to Thursday, led by the hotel’s Aloha Ambassador. And yes, we also chuckled at the name of this position too, until we met Healani. As an absolutely delightful native Hawaiian, Healani embodied the best possibility of what an Aloha Ambassador could be.
Each of her activities was interesting, meaningful and informative about the local culture. At one, we learned a detailed interpretation of the word “aloha” and how to chant in Hawaiian, going into depth about the culture and the land. Healani also chanted a song written to honor the land where the resort is located. She noted that she sang the song at the ceremony for the resort’s conversion to the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort just a couple of months before our visit.
Later we learned how to make a lei from local ti leaves. Healani balanced the crowd well, providing guidance as needed to all.
We got up at the crack of dawn the next day to meet Healani at the beach at 6:30am for a wonderfully rich and cleansing sunrise chant at the edge of the ocean. We were the only attendees, but it was certainly worth getting up early.
On Fridays, the calendar listed a weekly run with the hotel manager! from 7:15am to 8am Friday mornings.
Local newspapers (West Hawaii Today and Honolulu Star-Advertiser) and a New York Times digest printout were available in the lobby each morning.
At the bottom of the southern wing of the resort was a surprisingly well-equipped gym.
Near the gym, we stumbled across a family room. We didn’t see any schedule of activities, but there was a pretty large room with game, books and more.
Of hundreds of stays we’ve done at all kinds of hotels, this was Katie’s and my first resort. But, even as resort newbs, this stay made us understand why one might want to go to a resort. It was a peaceful property (besides the construction noise) with wonderful views and great reef snorkeling just off of the beach.
That said, this property was much better set up for peace and relaxation for couples rather than families. The few on-site restaurants and lack of diverse activities might leave those visiting for more than a few days wanting more.