Hawaii-focused experiences at the heart of Four Seasons Hualalai updates

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The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is completing a propertywide remodel that includes the introduction of the new Kumu Kai Marine Center.
The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is completing a propertywide remodel that includes the introduction of the new Kumu Kai Marine Center.

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is in the final phases of a propertywide update that includes a handful of new amenities and features.

The $100 million redesign led by San Francisco-based firm BAMO encompassing all accommodations and common spaces includes an expansion of the resort's villas. It marks the most significant renovation to the property on Hawaii Island's western coast since its debut in 1996.

"The property is spread out across the waterfront and feels like a village. Everything we did during the renovation was geared toward elevating the product rather than radically changing it," said Mark Ley, director of marketing. "After 25 years it was in need of an update, and it gave us the opportunity to do some changes that were very impactful."

All rooms and suites have received a full renovation, including new furniture, decor and bathroom finishes.

"We changed out the lighting systems, and they are more energy efficient and guest-friendly," Ley said. "The rooms are brighter, more contemporary and have a little more of a residential feel now."

The resort has also remodeled its three most luxurious villas, adding a second story to each. The three- and four-bedroom units also feature private plunge pools and indoor-outdoor living spaces.

"The villas are designed to feel like a private home," Ley said. "We are seeing more and more multigenerational travel, and it's continuing to grow. People are looking for more space, and it seemed like a natural opportunity to meet that demand. Larger and larger families were coming to stay, and they were booking a villa plus additional rooms. We saw the space to create something extra special with a unique product with resort amenities."

The area around King's Pond, Hulalai's 1.8 million-gallon swimmable aquarium, has also been renovated and updated. There is a new, elevated infinity pool, and the pool deck space was expanded to offer more seating.

"King's Pond is a natural aquarium where you can get up close and personal with sea life in a nonthreatening way that's open and inviting," Ley said.

The brackish ponds on Hualalai's property are home to an endangered species of shrimp, and from the very beginning the resort has employed marine biologists to help the property manage the land and resources. The scientists have gradually become more and more integrated into the resort's programming, and as part of renovations there is now the on-site Kumu Kai Marine Center, a dedicated home for the five staff marine biologists to facilitate programming and interactions with guests.

"The marine center takes our programs a couple of steps further," Ley said. "It's an amazing space with touch tanks with sea urchins, mollusks, and other sea creatures. There's also an eagle ray, and guests can get up close to experience the ecosystem and interactive elements."

The resort is also offering a Junior Marine Biologist Experience for children, and there is also an opportunity to hire a marine biologist for a day who will accompany guests on hikes, snorkeling and swimming excursions. Other programming through the marine center is also available.

The resort is also focused on enhancing its culinary experiences and in March introduced a Chef in Residence series that brings in celebrated chefs from around the country for a few days of special events. James Beard Award-winner Charles Phan of San Francisco's Slanted Door is booked for July 9 to 11, and Gabrielle Hamilton, author of "Blood, Bones and Butter" and the chef behind Prune in New York, is slated for Aug. 6 to 8.

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"The whole idea behind the Chef in Residence program is to bring in heralded chefs and have them dive into local Hawaiian ingredients," Ley said. "We put a lot of thought into how we can better support the hospitality community during the pandemic, and this seemed like a good opportunity while many restaurants are closed or [operating at reduced capacity]."

The guest chefs will creat special menus at the resort's signature restaurant, Ulu Ocean Grill and Sushi Lounge, while also participating in special presentations and events for guests.

The Hualalai Golf Course also received upgrades in the past year, including new grass and a reshaping of greens and bunkers. The course also debuted a new center for golf instruction and activities, the Hualalai Golf Hale, which features multiple bays for practice and swing analysis.

In general, the resort is working to incorporate more experiences that introduce guests to different aspects of Hawaiian culture and the islands. For example, the Iliahi Spa and Farm Experience includes a tour of a local farm where participants learn about the therapeutic effects of the native iliahi (sandalwood) plant, a picnic lunch and a specially crafted spa treatment using the plant and its extracts.

"We want to make sure guests have the opportunity to truly experience the people, place, and culture," Ley said. "A lot of our programming at the resort leads to activities and experiences around Hawaii Island. We have some of the best diving in the world here, and the marine biologist team is a great way to get started learning about those things. We want people to get out and see all the Big Island has to offer."

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