Retro vibe intact at refurbed Queen Kapiolani

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Diamond Head looms over the third-floor pool deck at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel.
Diamond Head looms over the third-floor pool deck at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel.

The newly refurbished Queen Kapiolani Hotel in Waikiki exudes a cool, casual vibe. Open, airy and light-filled, the lobby of this recently renovated property welcomes guests with a fresh ambience enhanced with ocean breezes and bright Hawaiian artwork.

On my visit in October, during the hotel's grand reopening following a $35 million renovation, I was immediately enveloped by the fun, friendly surf culture. The expansive, vibrant space features a comfortable seating area surrounded by wall displays that include a variety of island-inspired murals, vintage travel posters and classic surfboards.

The hotel exhibits contemporary and vintage artwork throughout, with guestrooms and hallways that showcase 1960s advertisements, whimsical surf images and Hawaiiana prints. The hotel is also home to the Royal Art Gallery, which displays a collection of works that include vintage portraits of Hawaiian royalty and paintings that celebrate Oahu's history. 

Vintage posters line a hallway at the Waikiki hotel.
Vintage posters line a hallway at the Waikiki hotel.

Built in 1967, the 19-story hotel features 315 refurbished guestrooms, including 36 suites, offering city and ocean views from large, double-paned windows. Since the hotel is located at the southeastern end of Waikki, some rooms also feature unobstructed, jaw-dropping vistas of the majestic Diamond Head crater. 

With nine room and six suite categories (including two penthouses), the Queen Kapiolani offers a variety of accommodations to meet travelers' needs. Featuring a neutral color palette with a splash of sea foam green, the guestrooms include modern amenities and diverse layouts, with some rooms offering private lanais and kitchenettes. Rooms also have 49-inch flat-screen TVs, WiFi, air conditioning and convenient outlets and USB ports. 

My spacious, bright corner room on an upper floor included a kitchenette and a lanai (with chairs and a table) facing Diamond Head. It had a retro, homey feel and featured ample closet space, blackout curtains and an incredibly comfortable Serta Dream king bed. In the mornings, when stepping outside to watch the sunrise and soak in the stunning view, I could hear birds and other animals at the Honolulu Zoo across the street.

Guestrooms at the Queen Kapiolani feature large windows, letting in expansive Waikiki views.
Guestrooms at the Queen Kapiolani feature large windows, letting in expansive Waikiki views.

Capturing the laid-back feel throughout the building, the hotel's new restaurant, the Deck Bar and Grill, is adjacent to the swimming pool on the third floor. Against the backdrop of Diamond Head and views of the nearby surf break, it accommodates 125 guests and serves modern American cuisine. Signature dishes include Hokkaido scallops, chicken wings and Kalua pork flatbread. This alfresco eatery offers Sunday brunch with live music and provides "Knock and Drop" room service. 

Another new dining concept is Knot's Coffee Roasters and Cafe. Located in the lobby, it's an inviting space with ample seating. It serves beverages and casual fare. For me, it was a great option for a quick breakfast, such as an egg sandwich or yogurt parfait, as well as salads and wraps at lunch. In the evening, the cafe is transformed into a bar serving draft beer, cocktails and late-night snacks. 

Refurbishments include an upgrade to the hotel's 5,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meetings space, a small business center and a 2,100-square-foot gym with state-of-the-art equipment.

The hotel's location slightly away from the main drag is ideal for those seeking a lively Waikiki experience with a residential feel. In addition to the nearby zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium and Kapiolani Park are across the street. Although the property is not beachfront, it's an easy, two-block walk. Towels and beach chairs are available at the valet, and free sunscreen is offered at the front desk. There are many restaurants, bars and retail shops steps away from the entrance. 

Embracing the Hawaiian lifestyle is encouraged here, and guests can try the hotel's curated activities that are part of the property's reimaging. The array of new experiences include yoga classes, running tours, surf lessons, coffee tastings, hula dancing and fitness lessons, lei-making classes and cocktail-making classes. All of these are offered at different price points for guests and nonguests. 

In addition to the coffee shop in the lobby, the hotel showcases other retailers, including Aloha Whip, which sells pineapple ice cream and other treats; Hans Hedemann surf shop; and the Greenroom Gallery, which displays original, surf-inspired artwork by local and notable artists.

Nightly rates start at $139 for standard rooms, $259 for suites. See www.queenkapiolani.com.

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