While we were still at the airport my husband purchased a fresh flower lei because he knows this is the first necessity on my list of must have/do when traveling to the Hawaiian Islands. I had visited the Hilton Waikoloa Village on a few previous occasions in the past. It is one of our favorite places in the world and a wonderful destination for anyone who visits the Big Island. Hilton Waikoloa Village has always seemed to me to be the crown jewel in a land of treasured destinations.
The minute we arrive at the lobby of the Hilton Waikoloa, we experience a sense of relaxation, as though we are slipping into a fairyland or entering some magical kingdom where the normal pressures of life are forbidden. The hotel was built in 1988 at a cost of $360 million, which was an incredible sum of money in those days. During the past 25 years the area has assumed a timeless quality; as though the lagoons, vegetation, and flowers have always been there, however there have been over $100 million in renovations since 2005. The Hilton entrance is opulent and when you enter the sensation is like stepping into an open outdoor tropical living space because the architecture is grand and open to the world, with gentle breezes that smell of fresh air and flowers. Guests can wander through the 1,800 piece mile long Museum Walkway filled with art treasures from Asian, Western and Oceanic cultures.
The hotel grounds are appropriately designed to create an air of tropical paradise and are so extensive that two separate people-moving systems are available, without cost, to move guests from place-to-place. One system employs a picturesque tram. The sprawling grounds incorporate an elaborate interconnected system of lagoons, so a fleet of boats are also available for a picturesque view as you make your way throughout the resort. No matter where you are, you are only a short walk from a boat landing or tram stop.
We stayed in the recently renovated Makai Tower, which faces the ocean on one side and the lagoons on the other. The room was beautifully remodeled with a gorgeous bathroom and shower area. “Makai” is the Hawaiian word for “towards the sea,” which is appropriate to its location. We were on the sixth floor and when we walked out onto the lanai (balcony), the view over the grounds and the ocean was a vision of paradise — a view that I wished I could enjoy for the rest of my life. The scene below was dominated by the lagoons that spread out like an inland sea. You could hear and see the rolling waves of the vast ocean and the combination with the lagoon views were breathtaking.
Booking our room at the Makai turned out to be the crème de la crème of the Waikoloa society. Its coveted lagoon tower features upgraded furnishings, linens, and bathrooms. A friendly staff member escorted us directly to our room and took time to explain the amenities including free Internet and a Play Station 3. Throughout our stay our VIP status was made plain to the staff by special bracelets that were assigned at check in. The bracelets were good for free day passes to the spa so we could make use of their private hot tub, steam room, and sauna. Furthermore, we were informed that the bracelets would ensure personalized service and exclusive amenities including access to all restaurants, three pools, the spa, two championship golf courses, eight tennis courts, and the dolphin lagoon. The bracelets also gave us access to a special reserve section at the pools with upgraded lounge chairs for our personal use.
Whenever I go to Hawaii, I love the adventure of seeing new things, but I also love relaxation time. While at Waikoloa I made sure to schedule downtimes for relaxing by the pools and lagoons. I indulged in a Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage. One reason this is so smart is because it strengthens us for fully enjoying the activities. And I did them all — for example, squealing like a little girl coming down the water slides at one of the pools.
We rented kayaks and had a great time exploring the little inlets and bays off of the lagoon system. We could see brightly colored fish swimming beneath us. Sea turtles were present in abundance. We found a number of them gathered around the large majestic waterfall. This was my second time kayaking but the first time I actually had fun doing so. Probably because of the beauty of our surroundings and calm waters, but also perhaps because I had my personal watercraft and was captain of my own vessel. Dino and I once shared a two-person kayak out in the ocean waves that didn’t go well. This time I had no divorce inclinations whatsoever.
We especially loved swimming with the dolphins, which was one of the most magical parts of the experience. The dolphins at Waikoloa are treated as guests rather than as show animals. They are normally happy to interact with the visitors, but if they are not feeling it for some reason, and reluctant to participate, they are not forced to participate. The dolphins live in family groups and we could watch the babies and mammas interact with each other. After watching them from our rooms and from the lagoons we decided we had to have an up close and personal experience!
We booked a Dolphin Encounter, which is a 30-minute shallow and deep-water dolphin swim experience. We were guided through the encounter by a woman named Kara, who was a trainer. She led us in on an unimaginably wonderful experience of cross-species connection. Kara gave us inside information about the dolphins and was willing to answer any questions.
The dolphins did more than simply perform tricks. They played with us. We held them, kissed them, danced with them, and engaged them in water fights. All of this was done under the watchful eye of the trainer who was careful to ensure that dolphins and humans enjoyed the experience to the maximum. It was one of the most magical experiences of my whole life. They made us laugh and in their own way were laughing along with us. It was so clear that these creatures were persons. They obviously weren’t human beings, but they had personalities and charm. Those dolphins were some of the nicest “people” I met on the trip. From the moment I laid eyes on them I wanted to learn more about dolphins and to understand what I could about them. I learned that Dolphin Quest has donated millions of dollars towards dolphin protection and that part of our fees had gone to the fund. I was glad to hear that.
Another adventure we enjoyed was the Ocean Sports Snorkel Sail. We were able to book the excursion right from our resort and a small tour bus picked us up and took us to the large catamaran moored near the hotel where we enjoyed a lovely day on the ocean. The spacious boat was large enough for 76 passengers but there were only about 20 of us day, so we had a lot of elbowroom. The crew fed us well beginning with a continental breakfast on the way out of the channel. We spent a lovely hour, or so, cruising along the beach to the snorkeling area. We saw flying fish and at one point encountered a large school of dolphins that encircled the boat and engaged us in a race, obviously showing off. They would have been pleased at how amazed we were at their speed and maneuverability. At one point the motion of the boat made me feel a little queasy. A member of the crew gave me some ice to chew on and I almost immediately felt better. It is a good trick that I had never heard of before and won’t forget. We arrived at the bay and began to snorkel, marveling at the beauty of the coral, sea urchins, turtles, and brightly colored fishy denizens.
We were then treated with a lovely lunch while still parked in the Bay. The seas around Hawaii are beautiful and teaming with sea life. Everyone should experience snorkeling in Hawaii. One person on our trip told me he was 68 before his first try and now he still loved it in his 70’s.
Fine dining, of course, is one of the central activities of any resort experience and we’ve hardly feasted better anywhere. Each morning we ate breakfast at the Water’s Edge. The venue is aptly named because it is a breakfast buffet on the shore of a lagoon. The still waters and an adjoining waterfall offers an unimaginably picture-perfect dining environment. I always begin with a steaming cup of the native Kona coffee, which has a deserved reputation as one of the world’s best. I always get fresh Papaya when I am on the Islands. The fruit grown fresh on the Islands is a must have because it’s amazingly flavorful and sweet.
The buffet served all the typical goodies, however they also had items you can’t find on the mainland. One of those items were the muffins. I usually try to avoid carbs, but it was time to indulge, so I tried two of them, Pineapple and Toasted Coconut. I shared them with my son and husband, but if I were skinny they wouldn’t have gotten a bite. We became friends with a Water’s Edge waiter, named David, who took us under his wing and, after the first morning, became as much tour-guide and docent as table-server. David provided us with helpful insider information about what to order or try, and personally mixed passion orange, and guava juices together into a custom blend that he said would be delicious. (It was!)
For dinner the Kamuela Provision Company offers an elegant dining experience overlooking the ocean and illuminated by flaring Tiki Torches and breathtaking sunset views. Like all fine dining areas in Hawaii, the Kamuela mood is one of casual elegance. My guys were wearing aloha shirts, and I was wearing a tropical looking dress with a fresh flower in my hair that I had picked from one of the plants on the grounds. Dinner began with a piña colada, which is de rigueur for me on any trip I take to the Islands. My first course was a Keala’ola Farm Organic “Caesar” salad with baby romaine, palm hearts, and avocado, served with crunchy Taro chips and fresh Parmesan cheese. It was one of the tastiest Caesar salads I ever ate. Avocado was an amazing addition and one that I might start adding to my own Caesar salads. My tastes run towards fresh fish so I ordered an entrée called Ono, which had a macadamia nut crust and was served over garlic mashed potatoes with Swiss chard plus two dipping sauces, sweet and spicy. “Ono” is a Hawaiian word meaning “delicious” and was the perfect name for that mouth-watering dish. Even though the meal was filling, I had to order dessert, which was a house specialty called Baked Mauna Kea made of toasted house-made marshmallow meringue, chocolate mousse, macadamia nut crunch, with a spiced rum vanilla sauce. It was better than you could imagine reading the description, which I know sounds ridiculously good.
We saved the best for last and concluded our stay at Waikoloa with a luau, which is one of my favorite Island activities. I wore the lei from the airport, which was still fresh. Luaus are particularly enjoyable because of the social environment they create — with dancing and performances. A “spirit of Aloha” seems to permeate these events. You feel that for a few short hours you embrace the history and culture of that amazing part of the world. The Hilton Waikoloa Village pulled out all the stops. It was the best food I ever tasted in a luau with such mouth-watering Pacific Island delicacies as Lomi Lomi Salmon, Poke, Chicken Lau Lau and of course Kalua Pig. The members of the wait staff served us in a spirit of good cheer. We had the impression that we were waited on by people who enjoyed “the privilege” of serving us.
Following the meal we enjoyed a spectacular show hosted by an emcee who performed and sang. A troupe of Hawaiian dancers put on an amazing performance. The energy of some of the male dancers was so extraordinary that it elicited a comment from my 11-year-old son, who is normally blasé about such things. One of the dancers came by and selected me to dance with him on the stage. A number of audience members were with us, and I really got caught up in the spirit of the event. My partner was the best male dancer of the troupe and I tried hard to be the best amateur. I copied his movements and ended up spinning and swirling around as though I actually knew what I was doing. I was having a blast and was glad that my husband Dino had the video camera and could catch my performance. When I got back to my seat, however, I discovered that the battery was dead so the only memories I have of the performance were those that had been etched in my mind. After the show I was at least able to get a picture of me standing with my hunky Hawaiian dance partner.
The show ended with the most impressive performance, by the fire performer. This is a traditional Hawaiian act, but in this case it was performed on an extraordinary level. The dance was so complicated that we could hardly believe or even completely understand what we were watching. It was a fittingly grand ending to a marvelous evening.
We knew when we got out of the car at the beginning of our visit that we didn’t want the experience ever to come to an end. We tried to be “in the moment” the entire time we were there so we could slow time down and extend the days for as long as possible. On the final day of our visit we were eating shaved ice when Jordan said, “Mom, I came up with a new flavor: Vanilla Tears.”
It would have been nice to have extended our visit, but the fact is that no matter how long we stayed we would simply be postponing the poignancy of our departure. I can’t imagine ever leaving that magical place without regrets.
I can’t wait to go back. And I will.