How to enjoy historic Waikiki hotels even if you can’t afford to stay there

waikiki-beach-surf-lesson-in-front-of-royal-hawaiianWhile in Oahu on the So Much More Hawaii blogger’s tour sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA,) we were hosted at the most historic hotels on Waikiki Beach – the “pink palace” Royal Hawaiian and the Victorian Moana Surfrider.

With rack rates of roughly $300 and up (way up!) I could normally never afford a room there myself,  so although I’m glad the HTA arranged for the bloggers to stay at the properties, I kept looking around and thinking, “What can I possibly say about all of this luxury when I’m known as a budget-minded blogger?”

Here are my suggestions for enjoying the Royal Hawaiian and the Moana Surfrider even if you don’t stay there:

  • Eat in the hotel beach bars – the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian (here’s a Twitpic photo of my meal there, just steps from the surf) and The Beach Bar at the Moana, under the famous banyan tree.  The food is pricey but good, and there’s often free live music in the evening. The view of Diamond Head and Waikiki doesn’t cost anything, either.
  • Enjoy special aspects of the hotel restaurantsThe Veranda at the Moana has featured afternoon tea for decades (and I thought their breakfast buffet was pretty good, too.) The Azure restaurant at the Royal Hawaiian is all about local seafood, including a Catch of the Day dinner menu item from that morning’s Honolulu fish auction.  Again, not cheap, but still less than a room.
  • Get a Hawaiian history lesson – the Moana has a whole artifact section about the history of the hotel and tourism on Waikiki Beach; go up the wooden staircase inside the lobby to the second floor atrium and you’ll see the display cases. Free.
  • Try the hotel spa.  You do not have to be a hotel guest to  experience a “Lihau Body Cocoon” treatment at the Royal Hawaiian abhasa spa, or hear the surf through the windows during a lomi lomi ola massage at the Surfrider’s moana lani spa.
  • Enjoy the beach behind the hotel. All beaches in Hawaii, including every inch of Waikiki Beach, are required by law to be open to the public. There are no “private beaches,” so sign up for surfing lessons or an outrigger canoe ride with the guys at Waikiki Beach Services behind the Royal Hawaiian, and have a blast in the warm, clear waters.
  • Walk through the properties and soak up some ambiance. It costs nothing to walk through the beautifully-appointed lobbies and admire the furnishings and artwork (and maybe sit for awhile in one of the Moana’s rockers under the porte-cochere entry, perhaps with a coffee from nearby Honolulu Coffee.)  You don’t have to be super dressed-up, but I wouldn’t just wander through in a bathing suit.  I saw one guy show up shirtless in the Moana lobby to pick up a pizza delivery….gaak.  Have some class, buddy.

Moana Surfrider banyan tree and Beach Bar (photo by Sheila Scarborough)When I was on Navy active duty with an actual salary, I still didn’t spend much time in swanky hotels (OK, I did spring for the Algonquin in New York) so it felt odd to live the high life for a few days.

I will say that the Moana’s beds, the famous Westin Heavenly Beds, were DIVINELY comfortable and plush, and I do own a pink terry bathrobe from the Royal Hawaiian.  I bought it years ago because I liked the hotel’s history and personality, but I never thought I’d actually stay there.

Mahalo to both places for their hospitality.

Just So You Know Disclaimer:  The state Hawaii Tourism Authority through Cilantro Media paid my way to Hawaii for the So Much More Hawaii bloggers tour, and also paid most of my expenses while I was there, including lodging.


  1. Tony June 17, 2009
    • Sheila June 18, 2009
  2. marina k. villatoro June 17, 2009
    • Sheila June 18, 2009
  3. Amy @ The Q Family June 18, 2009
  4. Venice Beach House December 15, 2009
  5. Steve E October 10, 2010
  6. David Thomas April 13, 2011

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