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.