Review: Hyatt Regency Waikiki (Pre-/Post-Renovations)

Last month I took a long-ish trip between Honolulu and San Juan, in part to try out the new service on American Airlines’ A321T between Los Angeles and New York-JFK and also to help me satisfy a trial for my new AAdvantage Executive Platinum status. Rather than make an immediate turn I chose to spend two nights in Honolulu at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki and soak up the sun.

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There were many opportunities for side-by-side comparison so I will eschew the traditional chronological trip report. Today I’ll compare the existing and renovated rooms at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, followed later by a review of the business class service on American Airlines and United Airlines both between Honolulu and the West Coast and between the West Coast and New York-JFK.

Most of my travel to Hawaii has been to the island of Maui, where I am a big fan of the Hyatt Regency. It is a very large hotel that opened in 1980, but they are nearing the end of renovations and doing a good job of it in my opinion. However, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki was one of the first mega hotels to open in Hawaii in 1976. It will begin renovations this year that should take 18 months to complete.

Unfortunately, those renovations are necessary, but the soft product (service, amenities, etc.) are all top-notch — especially for Diamond members. I will give up a lot in exchange for good service.

Like the Hyatt Regency Maui, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki has a large atrium, which provides shops, restaurants, and services on the first three floors flanked by two massive hotel towers on either end. Kuhio Beach Park is directly across the street (near the Moana Surfrider).

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The taxi turnout seemed to be busy all the time, but when my driver finally found room to drop me off I took the escalator up to the second floor to the reception desk. My biggest complaint about navigating the property is that it seemed all the elevators only reached the second floor and escalators or stairs were necessary to reach the ground level.

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But reception was pretty efficient. They did a good job of dedicating separate agents to the Diamond priority queue, where there was never more than one person in line. (My impression of most Hyatt properties is that the Diamond queue is either not staffed or rarely enforced, but I’m too polite to make a scene.)

I was greeted by a very friendly agent who explained the generous Diamond amenities, including a waived resort fee, complimentary beverages, discounts at restaurants and an extended happy hour, etc. I was also invited to use the Regency Club on the third floor, which has large indoor and outdoor seating areas.

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The agent offered a welcome lei and then asked me to wait while she called the VIP manager, who had asked to meet me. For the record, I don’t tell anyone in advance when I’m visiting their hotel, but they had arranged earlier that day to put me in one of three demo rooms to get my feedback before the renovations began in earnest. If you’re a Diamond member planning to stay at this property, my guess is you could probably ask to try one out, too.

The walls of my demo room were painted robin egg blue with a lot of white and neutral tones in the furniture. Even the Hawaiian-style art had a much more modern feel. In fact, it would be difficult to distinguish it from any other urban Hyatt Regency if it weren’t for things like the lei paintings in the bathroom or the vibrant print on the chaise.

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Is this good or bad? Personally, I love what I call “Hawaiian kitsch,” which you can still find at the Hyatt Regency Maui in abundance. The contemporary style emphasized here and at the Andaz Maui (which I’ve only seen in a hard hat tour) are reminiscent of Southern California or Florida. The new design wasn’t bad, but it felt out of place. I don’t want Hawaii to look like the rest of the U.S. Still, my opinion may differ from that of the Hawaiians who actually live there and are awfully proud of their status as a major city.

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In a follow up email I made a few suggestions for improvement, staying consistent with the look they were going for. I think they could add more color to the room by throwing a blanket on the end of the bed (besides, I love sleeping with the window open in Hawaii). Maybe the chaise could be made a little bigger. And the custom bath amenities (above) are great but need a different packaging because the current hard plastic bottles are almost impossible to squeeze …at least they were already after a fix for that one.

But they really need to reconsider the arrangement of outlets and electronics. The alarm clock has been integrated into the landline phone with a mobile phone charger (it has multiple attachments for those with an iPhone 5 or non-iOS device). Except it’s located by the television instead of next to the bed. And while there were several outlets on the desk, they were on the opposite end from the chair, making it impossible for the charging cable to reach my laptop. (Moving a chair is not a problem, but the outlets are surrounded by a coffee maker and ice bucket, so I can’t put my computer there.)

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Despite these issues it really was a great room. There are some excellent views of the ocean and city thanks to the octagonal shape of the hotel towers. I don’t think Diamond (and most Platinum) members should have a problem getting some kind of view. Although there is noise from the street below, I think that’s just something you have to tolerate if you’re going to stay in Waikiki.

How does this compare to the current (old) rooms? I got a look at one of those, too, when I returned later in the week. They’re about what you would expect from an older property.

I can see why they didn’t try to pursue a more eclectic “Hawaiian” style because there isn’t much of one to begin with. Yeah, we’ve got some pineapples on the bed frame and old Hawaiian vacation advertisements, but otherwise it could be anywhere. At least the new look makes me think of the beach. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.

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Also notice the older, smaller tiles in the bathroom. I really don’t care for this look and am glad for the clean look provided by the marble walls in the renovated bathroom.

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During my two stays I had breakfast and afternoon snacks at the Regency Club, located on the third floor near the SHOR restaurant. If you want a bigger breakfast, go to the buffet or sit down at one of SHOR’s outdoor tables, but the Regency Club had a reasonable selection with at least one hot item, oatmeal, cereal, pastries, fruit, coffee, juice and some Japanese options. Just beware of the birds if you go outside to sit as they are very aggressive.

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No newspapers are provided at this hotel, which makes sense because it’s (1) huge and (2) probably wasteful. Instead you can borrow an iPad at the Regency Club or use your own and download a free app that grants you access to thousands of different newspapers and magazines when using the local Hyatt network.

I didn’t have much opportunity to eat at the hotel outside breakfast because I was visiting with friends. But I did have lunch at the pool for a couple hours my first day. The pool is quite small and more appropriate for supervising small children. I would recommend most people walk across the street to the beach. Both the restaurant and bar were pretty good, as is usually the case with Hyatt. I had a couple Mai Tais and some fish tacos and checked out happy to have had a few days away from Seattle’s grey skies — even if I did find myself sunburned by the time I got home.

I’ll end with some commentary on the quality of the employees at this hotel, which was among the best I’ve had at any full service property. This is revealed in the way the Hyatt Regency Waikiki treats their Diamond guests, including all the discounts and the waived resort fee. But I found the employees to be especially friendly and helpful in all my interactions with them. The agent who checked me out on my first stay greeted me by name when I checked in for the second. The pool guy waived me off because he remembered my room number. Extra welcome amenities, including a plate of fruit and some chocolate-covered macadamias, were waiting for me in my room even though I requested points.

For such a large hotel, I was surprised by how personal the service was. It wasn’t on the order of a Park Hyatt or St. Regis, but every employee made me feel welcome and special. That is — sadly — not something I can say about every hotel I visit, but it’s exactly what I look forward to when I visit the Hawaiian Islands.

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Darrin Earl

    My wife & I stayed here for 2 nights in October before heading over to Maui. Agree 100% on your assessment – older rooms, but fantastic service and excellent Diamond recognition.

    Quite enjoyed the club breakfast as well – having an outdoor beach view is a big positive!

    Nearly as big was avoiding the totally ridiculous queue for the main breakfast buffet, populated by what seemed to be the entire rest of the hotel guests utilizing their package tour complimentary hotel breakfast vouchers. Yikes!

  • http://www.cannycalgarian.com/ Canny Calgarian

    Me and my wife are looking at Maui for our next summer holiday so will take a look at this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Aptraveler

    It been a some time that I stayed at this property, but I remember that the rooms looked the same as you showed us, mine also had a great ocean view of Diamond Head mountain. It is nice to see that they are renovating them to a more contemporary look. You’re right on your remark about the good friendly service they provide for it really was friendly, and somehow, I thought I could expect from my visit to the the island, glad that It was so!

  • aapl

    free parking? thx.

    • Scottrick

      Not to my knowledge. The free parking lot was demolished for the new Hyatt Residence Club next door.