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Hawaii: Halekulani resort offers serene spaces and meticulous cleanliness in old-school luxury

Time:2017-02-05 08:49Shoes websites Click:

beach halekulani resort Rooms Hotel

When I was a kid, my parents vacationed a week each summer, and one each winter. We always stayed at “resorts” rather than hotels, and usually historic, one-off places: The Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire, the ­Fountainebleau in Miami Beach. Back then, in the ’50s and ’60s, these places had what can simply be described as class.

Of course, back then was before the age of mass ­tourism. People “dressed” for dinner (I don’t mean they just put some clothes on their backs) and flew in those ­rumbling Lockheed ­Constellations and Douglas DC-7 aircraft as if dressed for Sunday church services.

These resorts weren’t snobby, although they weren’t cheap, either. They expected a certain decorum from guests; no raucous behavior at the pool, no flip-flops at dinner, no parading through the lobby in a bikini. Some of them fell into near-ruin but later were lovingly restored. But in their day, management maintained them meticulously. And in addition to providing a room and meals, they offered entertainment and organized activities and events for both adults and children, the things that distinguish a mere hotel from a resort, which brings me to one of my favorite resorts in the world, Honolulu’s ­Halekulani on Waikiki Beach.

For a long time I tried to figure out why I liked it so much. I’ve stayed there five times over the years in various rooms (ocean view, garden view, “Diamond Head view”), sometimes for one night, ­sometimes longer. I’ve stayed in other Waikiki “Grand Dames” as well (The Royal Hawaiian, for example) but only because the Halekulani was booked solid, as it often is.

The Halekulani is not a chain. Like the places I stayed as a kid, it’s a one-off. There’s no Halekulani Bora Bora, no Halekulani South Beach. There’s no frequent-stay ­program to lure guests, like you’d find at a Westin or Hyatt. They don’t need one apparently.

The minute you walk in the lobby you notice the staff uniforms. They’re custom-designed in neutral colors. Many of the front desk people have been there for decades. It’s the same faces year after year. You notice the expanses of marble, the elaborate flower arrangements, the waterfall and calm at the center of a bustling city.

You’re escorted to your room where you complete ­registration. All the rooms are decorated in the same color palette: seven different shades of white. The walls, the louvered doors, the woodwork, the carpets, the bed linens, all designed to not compete with the ocean views. White and blue, blue and white.

On my most recent visit late last year, another one-nighter, trying to finally grasp why the place has enchanted me so thoroughly, I looked around my room for scratches on the woodwork, furniture, walls. None. The hotel was completely renovated in 1983, and again in 2012, but rooms are monitored and updated. The slightest scratch, stain, sign of wear or other imperfection, the general manager, Ulrich Krater, told me recently, “and the room becomes non-sellable. We take it out of inventory until it’s fixed.”

Back to that sense of decorum that’s missing elsewhere these days: In the room there’s a little brochure ­telling you about the hotel, and what you can expect from the resort but also what’s expected of you. It starts with a ­sensible dress code, provided in the brochure and on signs posted throughout the resort. It’s a throwback to a gentler and more gentile age. “Your courtesy in maintaining an appropriate standard of dress is appreciated,” it reads. During the day, a “hotel bathrobe or coordinating swimsuit cover up is to be worn while going to and from the beach or pool.” In the evening, gentlemen are asked to wear a ­“collared shirt, long pants and covered shoes.” At the Orchids restaurant, beachwear, athletic wear, tank tops, T-shirts and rubber beach sandals are a no-no. And in the elegant La Mer restaurant, a long-sleeved dress shirt and dress shoes will get you served.

“We might offend a few guests now and then with our standards, which we have relaxed a bit over the years,” Krauer admitted. “But we don’t want to see your toes at dinner. We want to preserve the serenity.”

Sound archaic in this age of athleisure wear? So be it. There are other places to stay in Waikiki.

At the pool, a sign in reads “Running, water guns, ball play, diving and excessive noise” are not permitted. Yay, I say. I stayed recently at a resort in Maui, where there once was a pool reserved for adults only (there’s a perfectly nice one for kids on the property as well) but management decided to relax its standards. On my last stay, a herd of ­screaming children jumping in and out of the formerly adults-only pool, splashing me and my book from time to time, made it impossible to relax, forcing me back to my cottage.

The Halekulani’s ­history goes back a long way, even beyond the century mark. In 1883, businessman Robert Lewers built a house on land now ­occupied by the resort’s main building, which itself dates from 1932. In 1907, Lewers leased his house to a journalist who ­converted it to a small hotel. Ten years later, or 100 years ago this year, new entrepreneurs expanded the property to a 21-room guest house and named it Halekulani, or “house befitting heaven.” In the 1930s, it was expanded to 115 rooms and hosted ­celebrities such as Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell (notables still come today: Bette Midler, Nicholas Cage, Yo-Yo Ma, even an Apollo astronaut, Eugene Cernan, who once commented, “I thought I’d already been to ‘heaven,’ until I came to Halekulani.”).

Now there are 453 guest rooms and suites on 5 acres.

Clean, pristine, not busy. Elegant but simple and luxurious. Modern but not trendy.

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