Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

I got my first look at the 623-room Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach last week and was impressed by the property's transformation, following more than two years and $115 million worth of work.

"They took everything out," general manager John Taffin told me. "They took the glass out, they took the walls out, every utility, every piece of mechanical equipment, every plumbing line, every electrical conduit came out. And they ended up with this concrete shell."

Taffin said the demolition work started in March 2014 and lasted a little over a month, but the rest of the of the past couple of years were spent dramatically overhauling what was previously the Ohana Waikiki West. Apparently, the new ownership group and design team did at least consider preserving a bit more of the old hotel early on, but in the end, gutting the former property made the most sense.  

"The hotel hadn't received a significant renovation in a number of years, so it was very tired," Taffin said of the Ohana West. "And they realized it would be easier with the amount of renovations to start completely over with a new canvas."

Today the place is very fresh and contemporary, featuring comfortable rooms that are highly tech-friendly. Complimentary WiFi throughout the property is a good example, along with several USB ports and electrical outlets right by the bed and elsewhere in the room, and a 48-inch high-def TV. There's also a microwave and ample fridge in every room for travelers who want to save a little a money by picking up some items at the Food Pantry grocery store right across the street.

Plus a great deal of the renovation expense and effort went into creating rooms that are far more quiet than those of the previous hotel.

"In the planning, we took a look at some of the chronic issues with the property that was here before," said Stacy Manzo, the property's director of sales and marketing, who noted that noise was a common complaint among guests at the former Ohana West.

"We wanted to make sure that we remedied that," she said. "Because Waikiki is in the heart of a city, and there is city noise everywhere, we insulated all of the walls while rebuilding them, and we used noise-reduction sliding glass doors and double-paned windows."

The blackout curtains are also designed to dampen exterior noise, but there are other touches, like soft-close doors both to the hallway and on the bathrooms, to hamper the noise within the hotel. And my favorite redesign component is the exterior and connecting-room doors that now feature no massive gaps at the base, keeping out noise from the hallway and from the room next door.

"The doors are fitted so snugly into the doorframe you can't even slip a piece of paper underneath," Manzo said.

Other amenities include both cardio and free-weight fitness rooms, a rooftop pool area complete with its own bar area, the Holoholo Cafe and Market for takeout food items and sundries as well as the all-day restaurant TR Fire Grill slated to open later this fall. And one shouldn't forget a key neighbor set to come online late this August: the comprehensively re-envisioned International Market Place.

"I think our location is just terrific. We are really just a block away from the beach, but you're not paying a beach price," Taffin said. "And after the International Market Place opens, you're going to have 10 restaurants, 75 shops right across the street, and it's a pass through to the beach, so I think that's going to be a really key feature for us once it opens."

Perhaps most importantly, however, the new Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach, with room rates starting around $219 a night, provides Oahu with some sorely needed new midlevel price product. The island has seen room occupancies soar in recent years, but much of the new product coming on line of late has been luxury accommodations, such as the new Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina and the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach.

"Waikiki was lacking for midscale product," Manzo said. "A number of two- and three-star properties have either been on the decline for a little while or turned into some other type of project, [and] we're entering into the market at a very good time when there is more demand for midscale."
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