Royal Hawaiian offers its version of 'tea time'

HONOLULU -- An eight string guitar and a shakuhachi, a Japanese flute made from bamboo, set a melodic mood as the rich scent of sandlewood fans filled the room.

Together, they created the perfect scene for high tea at the 527-room Royal Hawaiian here, which resurrected the service last month in honor of the hotel's 75th anniversary.

High tea was part of the Royal Hawaiian's fabric from its opening in 1927 through the glory days as the "Pink Palace," when the property hosted movie stars and dignitaries arriving on Matson steamships to stay for months at a time.

It ended with World War II, when the Navy took over the hotel, according to a Royal Hawaiian spokesman.

Now, visitors looking to slow down -- or simply catch a glimpse of a bygone era -- should make it a point to indulge in what the property calls Royal Tea.

The high tea's theme, "East meets West," gives the ceremony, served in the hotel's Coconut Grove Lanai, a fresh feel and differentiates the experience from the European high tea offered at its sister property, the Sheraton Moana.

With torch ginger brightening the surrounding gardens and well-paced service by women dressed in traditional kimonos, Royal Tea is more conducive to conversation -- and comfortable silence -- than a traditional meal. Bustling Honolulu feels miles away.

Service begins with a cold towel for the hands, followed by the presentation of teas for guests to sniff before making their selection.

The food is light but adequate for a meal (male guests might disagree). Because it's served from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., it can substitute for lunch.

A curry chicken puff and miniature, open-faced finger sandwiches of smoked salmon and vegetables decorate an exquisite ceramic tile that serves as a plate.

Guava curd scones come next. Toppings include honey, fruit preserves or lemon curd and Devonshire creams.

A tower of treats -- including fruit tarts, pastries and truffles- completes the tea.

Royal Tea
Price: $21.95 plus tax
When: 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily
Phone: (808) 923-7311

Royal set for $10M refit

HONOLULU -- Next up for the Royal Hawaiian will be something far less relaxing than tea time: a $10 million renovation of the tower's interior and corridors to begin in March and scheduled for completion at the end of 2003, according to a property spokesman.

Room rates for 2003 range from $380 to $475 for garden views, from $605 to $655 for ocean views and from $850 to $4,000 for suites.

Commission is 10%.

The property offers a Royal Wedding package, priced at $1,800, including a minister, musician, a bottle of champagne, wedding cake and photographs, and a Deluxe Wedding Package, which includes the above and a candlelight dinner for two for $2,125.

Sit-down dinner receptions can be added to both packages for $95 per person. -- K.N.

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