A girl sitting next to me on my flight to Hawaii was returning home to Oahu. She was, I learned, originally from Jersey, but had taken a vacation to Waikiki four years ago and elected not to get on the return flight home. It was love at first sight, and she’s been living on the islands ever since. As soon as I deplaned, I understood why. Though I’ve only been here for a few hours, there’s something very special about Hawaii. Every inch of the island looks like it was carefully surveyed by someone with a keen eye for detail. My hotel, The Royal Hawaiian — known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific — was one of the very first hotels established in Waikiki, and seems to embody this spirit of hospitality and respect for tradition. And then some.
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel is one of the flagship hotels for Hawaiian tourism, opening in 1927 after the government’s “Waikiki Reclamation Commission” began widening streets, building bridges, and draining the island’s duck ponds, rice paddies, and taro patches in 1907. Development accelerated after World War I, and $4 million dollars went into the hotel, a looming, pink, Moorish-style destination situated on 15 acres of beach. Legend has it the opening ceremony on February 1st, 1927, was lifted straight out of a Frank Sinatra flick, with supper-club style dinner and dancing, concerts, and a beauty pageant. During World War II, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel became home to sailors returning from war patrols.
1. Tradition There’s so much detail in and around The Royal Hawaiian. All guests receive a piece of banana bread on their bed as part of their traditional welcome roll-out, which also includes a flowery, pun-filled lei. There’s also the weekly “Aha Aina” celebration, which pays homage to Helumoa, the legendary playground of Hawaiian royalty. It kicks off with the sound of a pu (conch shell) to announce the feast as storytellers explain the significance of lei-giving and taro, followed by a dramatic performance of hula and song.
2. Swim with Dolphins Feed and touch dolphins up close. Enough said.
3. Water Sports Both the Royal Pool and Helumoa Playground, which features two freshwater swimming pools, are steps away from the beach — and both are visible from my balcony. Fun Fact: the Helumoa name came from a giant rooster named Ka’auhelemoa, said to have scratched the ground at the feet of King Kakuhiewa in the 16th century. Kakuhiewa, taking this to be a sign from the gods, planted 10,000 coconut trees in honor of the occurrence—and many of these trees’ descendants still survive in the area. A guest tipped me off to the The Royal Hawaiian Beach Boy Program, in which the “Beach Boys” teach surfing, paddleboard, and canoe.
4. Eating and Drinking Open-air dining, snacking in a beach front cabana, putting on the ritz for a fancy/casual evening: anything goes when it comes to food and drink in the hotel. The pretty and traditional Mai Tai Bar boasts major mixology masters and emphasizes organic ingredients. Fresh seafood caught just around the corner (at Pier 38) is offered at Azure Restaurant, and the Surf Lanai Restaurant is a causal, beachy eatery.
Since I’m here to get a sense of the 20th-century Polynesian style fads that influenced Sailor Jerry and his trendy tattoos (or the other way around), I’ve been watching a lot of vintage Hawaiian video footage from the 40’s and the 50’s. Check out this vintage documentary called Over The Sea To Honolulu, made around 1950 during Hawaii’s travel boom and heightened Tiki-culture interest. Think: the ultra popular Trader Vic’s, a Mad Men-era Hurricane Club.