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Hawaiian Hotel Sampler: O’ahu Edition

Hawaiian Hotel Sampler: O’ahu Edition


On Hawaii’s most populated island of O’ahu, there’s a large selection of hotels and resorts that appeal to a wide range of tastes. Not only a leisure destination, the island also is home to the capital city of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. During my week on the island, I experienced three distinctly different hotels, all of which demonstrated of the aloha spirit of Hawaii.

For the Boutique Hotel Lover

A block from Waikiki Beach lies the super cool Hotel Renew by Aston. The 72-room boutique hotel, with its sleek design, is nothing like the big resorts that dot O’ahu. It’s large enough to give a feeling of privacy, yet small enough for the staff to remember your name. The feel is modern with its dark woods, clean lines, and varied textures. Pops of color from tropical flowers, artwork, and linens draw the eye. Subtle hints of water, earth, and fire elements throughout are a nod to the surrounding nature of the island. Hotel Renew is the perfect place for couples that love the beach {there is no on-site pool} and want to be close to all the Waikiki action, but still desire a bit of seclusion.

129 Paoakalani Avenue

Honolulu, Hawaii 96815

888-HTLRNEW

For the Family

Aulani Resort & Spa isn’t just for the Disney obsessed, but those folks won’t be disappointed either. One of the most family-friendly resorts in the world, Aulani is also an exceptional property for discerning, grown-up tastes. Visitors won’t find a gimmicky, Hawaiian-themed hotel. Instead, Aulani is a sophisticated and beautiful resort that celebrates the history of Hawaii. In designing Aulani, Walt Disney Imagineers worked closely with historians and local artisans to create a property that also honors Hawaiian culture and traditions. This is most apparent in the ceiling mural in the open-air lobby.

Located about thirty minutes from Waikiki Beach in the tranquil Ko Olina Resort Community & Marina, Aulani is situated on the beach and is surrounded by mountains. The lush grounds are filled with numerous pools and water features, while the beach is the ideal place to relax in the loungers, snorkel, kayak, or build sand sculptures. Scavenger hunts, fireside stories, Aunty’s Beach House, movie nights, and breakfast with Disney characters, are just some of the activities available for kids. Though, adults aren’t forgotten at Aulani. Two cocktail lounges provide the perfect spot for relaxing with a mai tai. Laniwai Spa is most impressive and features O’ahu’s only outdoor hydrotherapy garden. The facilities and treatments are purely indulgent, giving visitors the ultimate spa experience.

With 359 hotel rooms, sixteen of which are suites, and 481 Disney Vacation Club Villas, including 21 Grand Villas, Aulani is a large property with options to suit every guest’s needs. The beautifully decorated rooms feature soothing tones and layers of texture. Balconies are standard for all rooms, and even the most discriminating guest will appreciate the very subtle Disney touches.

Although Aulani is geared toward families, it also is a sophisticated option on O’ahu that brings out the kid in everyone.

92-1185 Ali’Inui Drive

Kapolei, Hawaii 96707

{714} 520-7001

For the Socializer

Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach is located in the heart of Waikiki. Upscale shopping, restaurants, and bars are within walking distance, though Outrigger’s stunning oceanfront location makes guests not want to leave. Millions of dollars and meticulous attention to detail have brought Hawaiian refinement to this newly renovated resort. Even with the 497 all-new rooms and thirty suites, the most beautiful feature of the resort might just be the stunning view of Waikiki Beach, the Pacific Ocean, and Diamond Head Crater from the glass-bordered balconies.

Dining options abound, with the oceanfront Hula Grill, Chuck’s Steak House, and legendary Duke’s Canoe Club. With live music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Duke’s is a lively atmosphere that offers a variety of food and cocktails in the dining room and Barefoot Bar.

Given the Outrigger’s various amenities, the resort is perfect for all sorts of travelers–families, solo, couples, and groups of friends. Whether relaxing on a lounger at the oceanfront pool, strolling along the pristine Waikiki Beach, or sipping on a lava flow at Duke’s, Outrigger on the Beach provides not only splendid accommodations, but also some of the best people watching and views in Waikiki.

2335 Kalakaua Avenue

Honolulu, Hawaii 96815

{808} 923-0711
I was a guest of O’ahu Tourism. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review based on the majestic view of Diamond Head, the countless rainbows, or the Aloha spirit. As always, opinions are mine.

The post Hawaiian Hotel Sampler: O’ahu Edition appeared first on Leah Travels.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.


The History of Hawaii Tourism

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. (photo courtesy of Scott Laird)

Although the term is never quite accompanied with a specific period, travelers and Hawai‘i residents alike often wax poetic about “Old Hawai‘i.” To some, “Old Hawai‘i” refers to the time before European contact, or when Hawai‘i was a sovereign kingdom. Other “Old Hawai‘i” references might be the naissance of the tourism industry or the growth years following the Second World War.

In many imaginations, the golden years of Hawai‘i tourism are considered to be the 1920s and 1930s, when there were but two hotels in Waikiki and the majority of visitors arrived by sea. Hawaiian music and culture had, by then, begun to capture mainland imaginations, and the song Aloha ‘Oe, written by Queen Lili‘uokalani was a smash hit the world over.

From 1935, the popular radio show Hawai‘i Calls, recorded underneath the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel, beamed Hawaiian music directly into living rooms across the United States. Radio listeners could spend their Sunday afternoons listening to noted local singers like Alfred Apaka and Haunani Kahalewai while host Webley Edwards exalted about the “surf and sand at the beach at Waikiki”.

After such entertainment, it’s not difficult to understand how Americans with means decided to take a trip. A fun thing to do when visiting Waikiki, particularly the Royal Hawaiian or what is today the Moana Surfrider, is to imagine what it must have been like to be a tourist in those very buildings in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Tourism at the time was worlds away from what travelers are accustomed to today. Aviation was in its infancy. A nonstop flight between Hawai‘i and the West Coast wouldn’t be accomplished until 1927 scheduled airline service took nearly another decade.

In those days, passengers arrived by sea—many of them onboard a Matson Line passenger ship, purposely built for the growing Hawai‘i tourism trade. Journeys to Hawai‘i were also much longer—the one-way voyage alone took four days. With that kind of time investment, hotel stays tended to be longer, too.

At minimum, a vacation to Hawai‘i would be at least two weeks, and average closer to a month—a significant chunk of time in an era when paid vacations were not yet a standard employment benefit. Money was another consideration. In the 1920’s Matson advertised tours “from $270”, around $3700 in today’s dollars.

Still, visitors undertook the voyage, and the welcoming committee would start setting up at the Honolulu Harbor underneath the landmark Aloha Tower as soon as the ship was spotted rounding Le‘ahi (Diamond Head).

Fresh flower lei would be delivered to the ship on the pilot boat and distributed among the passengers, who would all be wearing lei as the ship was warped into the harbor to the welcome of musicians and hula dancers. Shoreside, there were more lei for arriving guests, and of course a hearty “Aloha!”

Shoreside logistics were easier for travelers in those days. Waikiki hotels would arrange transportation to and from the pier for passengers and luggage, but it’s far from the crush one experiences today. In the early 1920s visitor numbers ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 arrivals annually—compare that with the 18,000 daily passenger arrivals at Honolulu International Airport in 2018.

Car rentals weren’t commonplace until after the War, but public transport on the island of O‘ahu was already well established. Streetcars ran from Waikiki to Honolulu, and the network of railways supporting sugarcane and pineapple shipments to the port was also used for tourist trains to the lodge at Hale‘iwa.

Many visitors, particularly those planning longer stays, brought their automobiles with them on the Matson liner, allowing them to explore the then-undeveloped neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, as well as the windward suburbs of Kailua and Waimanalo.

Hotels like the Royal Hawaiian look much as they do today on the exterior, although interiors have changed significantly to accommodate modern travelers. When the building was completed in 1927, en suite baths were not yet standard, although the hotel had a higher percentage of rooms with private baths than many contemporary hotels. The Royal Hawaiian even had a separate “bathers’ elevator” for guests who did not want to brave the regular hotel passageways in their beach attire.

The hotel’s 400 rooms were furnished with imported rugs and featured louvered interior doors to allow cross breezes to cool the guest rooms in those pre-air-conditioned times. Unlike today, the best rooms featured garden views, for crashing surf and ocean vistas were the last thing travelers wanted after disembarking from a long ocean voyage.

Hungry guests could partake in afternoon tea at either the Moana or the Royal Hawaiian (served by kimono-clad ladies at the latter, a practice that ended overnight on December 7, 1941). Menus of the day were decidedly un-Hawaiian, featuring imported foods and recipes such as ham and chicken pressed in aspic, Ukrainian Borsch, boiled ox tongue, spring lamb, or liver and onions.

Still, there were some local nods: in addition to decidedly temperate weather fruits like apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries, there was fresh pineapple and “papaia” (papaya) and ice cream made with coconuts from the hotel’s own grove. Other local treasures like poi and guava jelly also crept onto early menus.

The advent of reliable jet transportation after the war changed Hawai‘i tourism forever. Waikiki experienced a building boom after affordable jet flights drew tourists from around the globe, but both the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian endure in their original footprints, albeit flanked by massive high rise hotel towers (both properties also expanded and built contemporary towers of their own during the 1960s).

Today, car rentals are abundant and menus are chock full of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Guests fly in for stays often as short as long weekends and both the lodge at Hale’iwa and the railway to get there have long since been torn down.

But guests can still have afternoon tea at the Moana, and still take respite in the bathers’ elevator at the Royal Hawaiian, passing through lobbies that look much as they did when the hotels opened.

With a momentary lull in the crowd and a vintage Instagram filter, it can almost feel like that golden age again.