Aloha! This post is a long time coming, and I am so excited to finally share my trip to Hawaii with you. One of my best friends, Emma, and I took this trip back at the end of February and into the first week of March, and while I recapped our trip over on Instagram, I wanted to make sure it was fully documented here, too, where it’s a bit easier to reference in the future as you’re (hopefully!) planning your own trip to Hawaii.
We were in Hawaii for seven days and six nights, and spent the entire time on Oahu in Waikiki Beach. Because we were there for a week, I have a ton of recommendations, so I am going to break my Hawaii recap up into a three-part series: where to stay (this post!), where to eat, and what to do. I took about 1,500 photos on our trip, so by breaking up my Hawaii content in this way, it also allows me to share more of those gorgeous snaps with you. (And don’t worry, there are nowhere near 1,500 photos coming your way—each of the posts in this series has about 30 photos. It was tough narrowing it down, but let’s be real, I don’t even want to look at that many photos of my own trip.)
Emma and I have been to many places together—New Orleans, Key West, San Francisco, Charleston (more than once), Natchez, Oxford (also more than once), Birmingham, Atlanta, Memphis—with lots of visits to DC and NYC in between. We try to go on one big trip together every year, but in 2021, we were both slammed at work and just weren’t able to make it happen. So last November, we decided we wanted to go big for 2022. We’d talked about going to Hawaii before. Who hasn’t? But we decided that it was the perfect way to go big and it sounded like the perfect late winter escape from the East Coast. Plus, there were a few factors at play that made Hawaii even more realistic for us than before.
For one, last year, we both got the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and earned the 100,000 point sign-up bonus. Neither of us had used our bonus yet, and we knew that by combining our points, we could make them go even further. When we started looking around at hotels in Waikiki Beach, we realized we could stay at a hotel right on the beach for 270,000 points for the week. Between our sign-up bonuses, and the points we had in our accounts from other Marriotts stays and other credit card earn, we had more than enough to cover a week in Waikiki. We just had to pay the taxes on the stay, which were $290 total. So essentially, we were able to stay a week at the Royal Hawaiian for $145 each—talk about a steal. For another, Emma had a Delta companion pass that she was generous enough to share with me and use for this trip—so we were able to get two airline tickets for the price of one, making our airfare super reasonable as well.
When we booked our trip, we went back-and-forth on whether or not we wanted to go to more than one island on this trip. Ultimately, we decided to spend our entire trip on Oahu in Waikiki Beach at the same hotel for a few reasons. For one, when we booked our trip, it was the height of the Delta wave of Covid, and as a result, most Marriott hotels in Hawaii had a five-night minimum. We both agreed to take a week off work, but wanted to make sure we had enough days off for other fun things throughout the year, so we didn’t want to commit to ten total nights in Hawaii. For another, we were both really craving a relaxing beach trip—the kind where you don’t really have much of an agenda besides going to the beach every day and eating some great dinners at night. We knew that if we island hopped, we’d spend more time traveling and dealing with logistics, and less time on the beach. And lastly, there was so much we wanted to do in Waikiki and on Oahu, we figured on this trip, we could do this part of the island really well—and on subsequent trips, visit other islands.
I have no regrets about the decision we made to stay on Oahu the whole time and post up for the week in Waikiki Beach, and it truly is one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on. It took me 31 years to get to Hawaii, and it certainly won’t take me 31 years to get back!
HOW TO GET TO WAIKIKI BEACH —
There are direct flights from the East Coast to Hawaii, but they are expensive and so we took the trip in two legs. Because we were using the Delta companion pass, we had to fly out of the same airport. So the day before we left for Hawaii, I went up to NYC so that Emma and I could fly out of JFK together. I booked the quick flight from DCA to LGA with American Airlines miles, so it was free for me. We had a great night in New York, checking out Spaghetti Tavern for dinner, and enjoying a night cap at Prohibition before calling it an early night.
We took an early morning flight from JFK to LAX, and then had about a three hour layover at LAX before flying to Honolulu (HNL). While on the layover, we ate “lunch”—even though it was only 10am in Los Angeles—and walked around before the six hour flight ahead of us. We specifically ensured we had a longer layover in case there were any delays with our first flight; we wanted to ensure we had some buffer time.
When we flew into HNL in late February, there were still some entry requirements—we either had to show proof of a negative Covid test within 72 hours or a vaccine card proving we were fully vaccinated (at this time, fully vaccinated was two doses). To expedite our entry upon arrival to Hawaii, we could upload our vaccine cards to a website the Hawaii government set up so they could pre-approve our records. We verified our records with the airline upon check-in to that leg of the trip, and they gave us a wristband that allowed us to walk right out of the airport without having to stop and show our Covid documentation. As of publishing this post in July 2022, they’ve since dropped such requirements, but I’d advise you to check before your own travels to Hawai.
Our flight from LAX to HNL boarded on time, but then we got the dreaded announcement—there were technical difficulties on our plane. 20 minutes turned into two hours, and we still had a six hour flight in front of us. Then, we were delayed even further when they had to kick a passenger off the plane for refusing to wear his mask. We finally got off the ground, and landed in Honolulu on the island of Oahu in Hawaii around 8pm local time, 2am Eastern time. At this point, we had been in transit for 19 hours, and awake for almost 22 hours. Given how much time it takes to get to Hawaii from the East Coast, if you’re planning a trip, I would recommend staying for at least a week like we did to make it worth your while.
On the way home, we took a flight from HNL to LAX, had a similarly long layover where we ate a meal, and then took a red eye flight from LAX to DTW. From there, we both took early morning flights back to our own cities—me to DCA and Emma to LGA. I arrived back home around 9am Eastern, 23 hours after we left our hotel. Needless to say, I slept most of the day.
In the future, I would definitely consider splurging on a direct flight, but truthfully, having some time to break up two long flights in an airport was also really nice—we were able to stretch our legs, eat a proper meal, and replenish our snack supplies.
HOW WE PICKED THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN —
Because we wanted to book our hotel with our Marriott points, we focused our hotel search to Marriott hotels in Waikiki Beach. At first, we looked at three hotels: The Laylow, The Sheraton Waikiki Beach, and the Moana Surfrider. We ruled out The Laylow pretty quickly because it was not an oceanfront property, and we weren’t going to fly all the way to Hawaii and not have direct access to the beach. While the Sheraton had a beautiful adults-only (16 years+) infinity pool, we ultimately decided that it likely catered more to families as there’s a large pool area with water slides. Since the Sheraton was right next to the Royal Hawaiian, we went over there a few times and confirmed that our perception was right—it would be an awesome place to stay if you are traveling with children, but we were really happy with our decision as two single gals looking for rest + relaxation. The other thing I noticed about the Sheraton is that while it is right on the ocean, the hotel did not offer much by way of beach to enjoy—both the Moana Surfrider and the Royal Hawaiian had sandy beaches right out front with umbrellas for guests to reserve. If you’re planning on staying at The Sheraton, you’ll have to use the beach in front of the Royal Hawaiian.
When we initially booked our hotel, we decided on the Moana Surfrider, which is now a Westin Hotel. It’s the oldest hotel in Waikiki Beach, opened at the turn of the 20th century. The hotel has a stunning antebellum front porch with rocking chairs overlooking Kalakaua Avenue, the main road in Waikiki Beach, and out back, there’s a huge, gorgeous banyan tree that sits in the middle of their beachfront bar and restaurant.
We booked our room at the Moana Surfrider in November, and then when I sat down to start planning our trip in January, I realized there was a hotel in the Marriott network we overlooked: the Royal Hawaiian, a five-star resort to the Moana’s four-stars. Through reviews, I learned that the Moana Surfrider puts award-redemption guests in an older tower on the property that backs directly up to Kalakaua Avenue, meaning they suffer from noise pollution at night. What made me even more nervous about this situation was that these rooms were not even available on the website if you wanted to pay cash for them. Since we were going all the way to Hawaii and spending so many Marriott points on this stay, I wanted to make sure we had the best experience possible.
Luckily, Emma was on board and we re-booked at the Royal Hawaiian. I am so glad we made the switch! For one, even with our award rate redemption, we were able to get a historic room in the main part of the hotel that had a partial ocean view. For another, the Royal Hawaiian sits back off Kalakaua Avenue and has a luscious, jungle feel on the grounds—it’s very secluded and private, and we never dealt with noise throughout our stay. And lastly, another thing I appreciated as a guest was that the Royal Hawaiian let you book beach umbrellas online before your stay—at the Moana Surfrider, they only sold umbrellas for the day-of, and I read online that guests would start lining up at 6:30am to book one. I didn’t want to have to get up early on my vacation just to get an umbrella! It was just the cherry on top that the hotel was pink—it fit my Instagram aesthetic very well.
Especially when walking via the beach, the Royal Hawaiian and the Moana Surfrider are really close to each other, so we did go over to the Moana Surfrider several times for lunch and to enjoy their bar under their world-famous banyan tree. That being said, I have no regrets about our decision to switch which hotel we stayed at, and I would stay at the Royal Hawaiian again in a heartbeat!
OUR ROOM AT THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN —
We stayed in a historic double room with a garden view at the Royal Hawaiian and absolutely loved it. Located in the main historic building, the decor was stunning and our room and bathroom were very spacious, which was great since we were there for a week. We had a large window that overlooked part of the hotel grounds and the ocean—we weren’t guaranteed a view, we just got lucky!
In addition to the historic building, the hotel also had a newer tower, called the Mailani Tower, which is also pink, and built overlooking the pool. The photos you see of the property on Instagram with the resort’s pink umbrellas open around the pool and on the beach are taken from this tower—the views look incredible.
Whether you’re opting for the historic building or the Mailani Tower, rooms that are oceanfront (obviously) cost a lot more. If we were to use our Marriott points to book an oceanfront room, we would have needed about double the amount of points. So while I am sure enjoying full ocean views from our room would have been nice, we spent so much of our time in Hawaii outside enjoying the beach, pool, or on an adventure, that we basically were just in our room to sleep. As such, I didn’t feel like we were missing anything or having a lesser experience by not staying oceanfront.
THE STUNNING GROUNDS OF THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN —
When we arrived at the the Royal Hawaiian from the airport, the sun had already set and driving up to the hotel gates made me feel like we were in the scene in Crazy Rich Asians where Rachel goes to the party at Nick’s house and is greeted by the guards in front of the gate. The hotel was lit up in stunning purple lights, and there were gorgeous trees and greenery everywhere. The driver went around the large roundabout, and we were given such a warm welcome by hotel staff.
We spent the next week absolutely loving the hotel grounds. In addition to the gorgeous front of the hotel, around the back is a large green space where there was yoga every morning. A large veranda with rocking chairs overlooked this part of the hotel, which was a great place to sip your morning coffee or enjoy an evening cocktail. We walked through the back grounds of the property every day to get to the pool deck, which then led out to beautiful Waikiki Beach.
The entire ground floor of the Royal Hawaiian felt very open air—I don’t think we ever saw a single door closed at any of their large entrances. There were several different gift shops on-site, including one that was solely dedicated to sharing hotel merchandise. Needless to say, I definitely spent a lot of money in that shop, picking up some gorgeous watercolors of the hotel to bring home for my apartment. Closer to the pool, there was a gift shop that also offered all the conveniences you might need for the beach—snacks, sodas, canned cocktails, sunscreen, pool toys, aloe vera.
Even if you don’t end up staying at the Royal Hawaiian, I highly recommend stopping by on your trip to Waikiki Beach to explore the grounds and enjoy a drink at the hotel’s oceanfront Mai Tai Bar.
THE POOL & BEACH —
I saved the best for last—the Royal Hawaiian’s beautiful pool and Waikiki’s beautiful beach. This is where we spent the majority of our vacation, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
For the days when we knew we were going to be at the hotel all day enjoying the beach, we booked an umbrella right on the beach that came with two chairs and a cocktail table. This part of the beach was roped off to the public, so we had our own space and didn’t have to worry about leaving our stuff while we were off swimming or grabbing lunch. It was the perfect set up, and our umbrella was never more than a few steps away from the hotel’s Mai Tai Bar. (While we were visiting, they were not serving you directly at the umbrella due to staffing shortages, though that would have been nice!) We technically had the umbrella from 9am to 5pm, but they took down the umbrellas that weren’t being used first, so most days, we were able to enjoy it until around 6pm or so if we wanted to. If you want to wait to book an umbrella on the beach until you arrive, you can check in with the activities desk by the pool—if available, you can get a pink umbrella in the private beach area where we did or the hotel sets up a certain number of first come, first serve umbrellas for same day booking on the public part of the beach.
Chairs and umbrellas by the pool are first come, first serve, and there are cabanas available to book if you want a more spacious area. While we were there, they did have waiters at the pool taking orders for drinks and poolside snacks. We spent our last day by the pool, and it was equally as lovely as being on the beach—plus it was only a few steps off the beach, so it was still easy to go for a walk, take a swim, or just enjoy the stunning views of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head, the volcano.
The pool itself at the Royal Hawaiian is relatively small, and while it’s the perfect dipping pool for adults, if you’re traveling with kids and they enjoy swimming, one perk of staying at the Royal Hawaiian is that you also get access to the Sheraton’s pool. Unfortunately, it does not include access to the infinity pool, but it does mean you can enjoy their larger pool with the water slides that’s very family friendly—another great perk of the Royal Hawaiian.
Upon check in, we were each given a towel card, which we could take to the pool deck each morning and redeem for two towels. They would refresh our towels as often as we needed throughout the day, and at the end of the day, we’d turn our towels in to get our towel card back for use the next day. It was super nice that we didn’t have to worry about packing beach towels for this trip, especially since we both only packed a carry-on.
I absolutely loved Waikiki Beach and can see why it’s world-famous. The water was so clear, calm, and warm. Unlike the East Coast beaches I’m used to, Waikiki Beach was shallow for a very long distance, meaning there was lots of space to spread out in the water. And if you’re afraid of sharks, this is the beach for you—there’s never been a confirmed shark attack at Waikiki Beach. Plus, how often in life can you float in the ocean while looking at a volcano rising from the beach skyline? I loved every minute we spent on this beautiful beach.
We loved our stay at The Royal Hawaiian, and I would stay there again in a heartbeat—if you have any questions about our trip, don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This trip to Hawaii was truly a bucket list item for me, and will always hold a special place in my heart—mahalo for everything, Hawaii.