Unresolved Insurance Claim Keeps Coco Palms Closed

By Tony Bartlett

Reed Travel Features

WAILUA, Hawaii -- What's happening with Coco Palms? This is one of the most frequently asked questions by callers to the Kauai Hotline at the Kauai Visitors Bureau offices -- (800) 262-1400.

Kauai's oldest hotel has been closed since suffering damage from September 1992's Hurricane Iniki. An insurance claim made by the owners, San Francisco-based Park Lane Hotels, has been the stumbling block, and the dispute continues in arbitration. "There are unresolved issues, but we are a lot closer," Tom King, the hotel's controller, said.

King is based at the property along with a small maintenance staff that tends the 45-acre coconut grove. "We're always getting calls from people who honeymooned here and want to come back 10 or 15 years later, or the children want to come here," he said.

However, King did have some good news. A claim for the hotel's Sea Shell beachfront restaurant across the highway has been settled. Plans are under way to repair the facility and lease it to a restaurant operator later this year.

The wooden buildings of the 390-room Coco Palms Resort, fronting the east coast highway and seemingly intact, provide a constant reminder of Hurricane Iniki. But behind this sad facade, weddings, for which the hotel is well-known, continue. Couples still ride in an outrigger canoe to the Chapel in the Palms for the big event (as seen in Elvis Presley's 1961 movie "Blue Hawaii," filmed mostly on the property). The hotel's chapel, built for the 1954 movie "Sadie Thompson," starring Rita Hayworth, sustained little hurricane damage, needing only a new thatched roof.

Weddings were resumed three years ago exclusively by a firm called Chapel in the Palms, headed by the hotel's longtime Hawaiian entertainer, Larry Rivera. Rivera joined the hotel when it opened in 1951 with about 20 rooms and was celebrating his 41st year with his Polynesian show when Iniki hit. He's coordinated 150 weddings. Later this year, he will have six weddings back-to-back, including the canoe ceremony, when more than 400 members of the U.K.'s Elvis Presley Fan Club are on Kauai.

Weddings can be customized, starting with the chapel and the minister. His Blue Hawaii Wedding costs $1,570 and includes use of the chapel, a minister, a decorated canoe, paddlers and a conch-shell blower, flowers and a photographer. For further information on weddings, call Rivera at (808) 822-3868.

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