Aston Waikiki refit evokes aloha with attitude

Hawaii bureau chief Katherine Nichols got a firsthand look at the renovated Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel on Oahu. Her report follows:

utside, the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel boasts the biggest and brightest tiki torches on Oahu. Inside, a 30-foot "volcano" erupts in one of the property's restaurants.

Tiki torches and volcanoes are part of Aston's $30 million renovation, which made its official debut Nov. 2.

An open-air front desk, decorated with tattoo art, looks out onto Kuhio Beach, and, inside on ground level, hangs signage in the shape of lime-green surfboards, each one sporting a letter that together spell out the property's name.

These examples of the decor built into the hotel's redo constitute what the property calls "hip Hawaiiana," a style somewhere between garish and whimsical, depending on one's mood at the time.

They also represent Aston's attempt to "reconnect the hotel to the beach in a very bold and dramatic way," said Matt Gilbertson, the project's principal architect. Prior to the renovation, the layout of the hotel had no connection to the beach, he said.

And the over-the-top decor and lighting may be an attempt to make the property a new focal point at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki Beach.

Kelvin Bloom, president and chief operating officer of Aston Hotels & Resorts Hawaii, said the objective was "to do something different and something out of the box."

"It does represent a stylized approach, which we think is more symbolic of Waikiki today," Bloom said. "It's a fun, vibrant, urban vacation experience we're trying to impart."

Opening up the hotel on all levels was the primary goal, he said, and the new beach motif reflects that.

The beach theme extends to the rooms (85% of rooms have an ocean view), which are small but bright ("lava flow red" or "pineapple yellow" turned up a notch).

Some rooms have beds with a partial canopy, abstractly reminiscent of a beach chair. By far, the most amusing addition to the rooms is the bamboo closet curtains with vintage hula dancers on them.

Steve Townsend, general manager of the Aston Waikiki Beach, said the hotel gets at least two requests per week from guests who want to buy them ($195, including shipping.)

Rates begin at $140 and $360 for an oceanview room.

Travel agent commission is 10% plus a $25 bonus for every booking of five consecutive nights or more during spring and fall plus special bonus programs and 50% off rack rates.

Breakfast on the Beach, the property's signature amenity, carries out the beach theme.

Guests receive cooler lunch boxes (with holders for coffee cups) when they arrive and can fill them at the daily breakfast buffet that specializes in fresh foods packaged for carrying.

The hotel also provides beach chairs for guests to use while they enjoy a meal next to the ocean just across the street. An outdoor staircase goes from the street to the new pool deck -- peppered with pune'e lounges and sun shades -- where breakfast is served.

The staircase also provides another means of access from the 717-room hotel to the beach as well as to the nearby Honolulu Zoo, Kapiolani Park, the Waikiki Aquarium and shopping.

Tiki's Grill and Bar, which is part of the pool deck and has an indoor section, as well, is highlighted by a 30-foot dome that during the day evokes images of a volcano and at night looks like a volcano afire.

Townsend said the hotel expects great things from Tiki's, which he describes as "kind of a contemporary Trader Vic's."

Tiki art fills the eatery. Dramatic carvings sit next to wild pictures framed with leopard-print matting. Glass fishing balls hang from the raised ceiling with fish nets that house faux starfish and old floats.

The restaurant flows into the lanai/pool deck area -- an enviable place to watch the sunset and order from the reasonably priced menu.

Pleased with the changes at the Aston Waikiki Beach, the owners of the recently acquired, Aston-managed Waikiki Parkside Hotel plan to repeat the formula.

The name will be changed to Aston Hotel Kai, and the property will "take on a water theme," said Bloom. He expects renovations will be completed by mid-2003.

For additional information on the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, call (800) 922-7866 or visit www.astonwaikiki.com.

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