We have stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, on Hawaii’s Big Island, three times now, and it is always a great experience overall, though not a cheap one. And where else can you stay in a hotel/resort large enough to justify both a train and a boat for getting between buildings?
There are three “towers” (none are that high) providing the rooms: the Ocean Tower, the Palace Tower and the Lagoon Tower. We have stayed in both the Ocean and Palace towers, and the rooms are very similar. Our most recent stay was in the Ocean Tower, and we had a room with two double beds, on the ground floor with a partial ocean view. The rooms are large even by US hotel standards, and all have a lanai (balcony / patio).
In the room there is a decent size safe, a refrigerator and a coffee machine. No microwave oven, which would have been useful. Also, no wireless internet in our room, though there was ethernet (and I have a travel router which allowed us to use iPads easily in the room). We also had a PS3 game system, primarily for the DVD rental system the hotel provides for free (see fees later though).
The room, and in fact the whole property, was clean and well maintained.
There are three swimming pools on the property; two located at the Ocean Tower and one near the Lagoon Tower. Inside the Ocean Tower’s third ring is the adult only pool; a slightly deeper pool with a no-children policy for those who want to swim more than play in the water, or sunbathe in peace.
Just outside the Ocean Tower is a set of pools known as the Kohala pool. Three small pools, three water slides and a “river” pool make up the set, complete with a waterfall and an island. This pool is better for smaller kids; older ones will find the slides a little tame. During our most recent stay the biggest of the three slides was also out of action. The Kohala pool also has a bar with a selection of drinks and snacks.
The largest of the pools is the Kona pool, located near the Lagoon Tower. This large pool includes a shallow sand-bottomed “beach” pool at one end, and a long, faster water slide at the other. A large swim-under waterfall with cave, a rope bridge, “fish pipe” ride, a bar and a casual cafeteria-style restaurant complete the picture.
This is the pool your kids will be asking to return to, and it is easy to spend the entire day there and not get bored.
You might think that three swimming pools, especially when two are large pools with water slides, would be sufficient, but this is Hawaii, with its amazingly beautiful range of sea life. Swimming off beaches in Hawaii can be challenging, especially with the strong riptide currents that are common. The Hilton has this solved though with its large salt water lagoon. A sandy beach on one side provides easy swimming, with no currents, as well as access to a host of other water activities. Open to the ocean at one end, the lagoon is teeming with the tropical fish you want to see when on the islands. Bring a mask & snorkel (or rent one from the beach activity center), and swim right off the beach into the lagoon. As the sand gives way to rocks, more and more fish will be right there beneath you.
Not just the fish though. The lagoon is popular with Hawaii’s famous (and protected) green sea turtles. Walk along the rocky shoreline opposite the beach, or swim near the waterfall, and you will be sure to find these peaceful creatures right there alongside you.
If snorkeling is not your thing, rent a transparent kayak, or a paddle board and see the sea life that way. You won’t want to miss it.
There were less choices inside the hotel on our most recent trip than there had been on our earlier visits (Imari, the Japanese restaurant, is closed for renovation, and the Chinese restaurant has closed). There are still a number of options though.
At the Ocean Tower, there is the Boat Landing Cantina, serving Mexican style food. A short walk from there towards the lobby, Dona & Toni’s serves pizza & pasta. Next to the lagoon, the Lagoon Grill serves burgers, salads and sandwiches (they also have two free meal options for under 5s). At the Kona pool. The Orchid Marketplace has cafeteria style meal options, soba noodles and sandwiches too. They also serve shave ice (though it was the worst one we had on the island).
We did not visit the new tap room next to the lobby, but they also have some bar food options.
The restaurants are all expensive. The pizza place especially so, but the sunset view from their patio is fantastic & the pizza and pasta were excellent (skip the risotto, which was reported to be too salty & a little under cooked by one of our party).
For lunches, since we had one under 5, the grill seemed to be the best value. Without that discount, the Orchid Marketplace would probably be the best option for the budget.
The nearby King’s shops and Queen’s Marketplace also have some more budget friendly dining options. There is a shuttle service there if you don’t have a car, but it is not free.
For those wanting a coffee that is better than the free in-room one, there are coffee shops in both the Ocean and Lagoon towers. When you wake up at 5:30am with jet lag on your first day, they will be open for coffee (and in my case, milk for the 3 year old); you won’t be the only person there that early either.
We had free continental breakfast for two while there this time (thanks to a FoundersCard benefit), but the breakfast experience was perhaps the only thing that was not great. For a start, it included myself and my wife and our three year old, but not our 6 year old. In other Hilton locations, the breakfast benefit included the kids.
Even more confusingly, there are two buffet options the room, and picking the wrong item can increase your bill dramatically. I referred to this as a land mine pricing model. The bagels & oatmeal were in the continental section, but the waffles were not; the fried rice & hard boiled eggs were in the continental section, but the scrambled egg was not.
A single buffet price, which is how it has been at other Hilton locations we have been to, would be much easier for guests, and also for the wait staff who have to continually monitor their guests’ plates to see whether they’ve taken a land mine item. My wife’s fried egg incurred a $15 “upgrade” fee one day, but had not been seen the previous day (adding to our confusion when it was noticed). A hard boiled egg would have been included.
Aside from being expensive to eat or drink, there are also some fees that will be charged on top of your room rate. This seems to be something the hotel industry has learned from the airline business, prompted I’m sure by price comparison sites like Expedia and a desire to look cheaper up front.
The resort fee cannot be avoided, and provides the DVD rental service, internet access (wireless at restaurant hotspots, wired in rooms), a discount on beach toys and lagoon rentals and some activities. Of course, that could be included in the room rate, but this way it doesn’t impact those search results.
There is also a parking fee if you are parking a car at the hotel. That was $27 per day for self-parking, and $37 per day if you prefer the valet. Their website says this:
Self-parking is available for $27 per day. However, we recommend using our Valet Parking service for $37 per day to avoid the long uphill walk from the parking lot.
The walk is not that far, even from the back of the lot, and while there is a hill to the lobby you can choose the steps or the long ramp (handy for those of us with strollers!). We were able to park in the first row of self parking every day except one during our stay, and the walk was never that much of an issue. When returning late with the kids, I dropped them and my wife at the lobby first, then parked the car.