Elegant old hotel in Waikiki retains its atmosphere of ultimate luxury ROYAL HAWAIIAN HOLIDAY

September 10, 1995|By Kathy Frazier | Kathy Frazier,Sun Staff Writer

Honolulu, Hawaii -- In the photos of Waikiki in my father's World War II Navy scrapbook, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel stands alone -- surrounded on three sides by coconut groves and parkland, with the beach and the Pacific Ocean at its doorstep.

Today, the Royal Hawaiian, also known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, is a distinctive oasis of style and glamour in this beachfront resort area of Honolulu, amid a sea of concrete and steel high-rises that wouldn't look out of place in the New York City skyline.

The 31-story Sheraton Waikiki complex, with its nearly 2,000 rooms and an enormous transportation center, dwarfs the Royal on one side, while the Royal's own 16-story tower (built in 1969) looks down on its historic sibling on the other.

The Royal's coconut grove and once-elegant entrance that reached out to Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki's main street, have been superseded by the multi-story Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center that takes up three city blocks and hides any sign of the hotel from the street.

But the 68-year-old Royal Hawaiian, one of the grand dames of Waikiki Beach (the 94-year-old Sheraton Moana Surfrider being the other), has survived development and threats to its existence with panache.

The Pink Palace, so named because it is painted the color of Pepto-Bismol and features towers and turrets of Spanish-Moorish design, is only six stories at its tallest point. Its New York architect is said to have been influenced by Rudolph Valentino's "Sheik" movies, which were the rage during the Royal's conception.

Before the hotel opened, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published an 80-page special edition devoted to the Royal, and 1,200 of society's finest paid $10 to attend a black-tie gala with dinner and dancing to mark the grand opening.

The Royal Hawaiian, which opened Feb. 1, 1927, was built for $4 million on the former site of the royal coconut grove planted by Chief Kakuhihewa and the summer home of Queen Kaahumanu by Matson Navigation Co. to provide luxury accommodations for the passengers arriving in Hawaii on Matson's steamships.

Wealthy guests, who included royalty, world leaders, tycoons and movie stars, brought their servants, dozens of steamer trunks and even their cars to the Royal Hawaiian.

Fords and Rockefellers honeymooned there. Shirley Temple, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford vacationed there. President Franklin Roosevelt stayed there in 1934.

During World War II, the hotel was turned over to the Navy for use as a relaxation center for servicemen returning from the Pacific theater. The Navy returned the hotel to Matson late in 1945, and after a year's worth of renovations to the tune of $2 million, the Royal Hawaiian returned to serving tourists.

The Beatles invaded the Royal for a stay in the '60s, and more recently actor Kevin Costner has been among the celebrities who have spent a few nights at the Royal Hawaiian.

And now so have I.

From the minute I arrived at the Royal Hawaiian I knew I was in for a stay beyond anything I had experienced in my previous visits to Hawaii.

After checking in at the desk in the elegant lobby, I was met by a hotel staffer who offered a greeting of aloha by placing an orchid lei on top of the plumeria lei that I had received at the airport.

Bigger than a condo

When told my room number, he said I had one of their nicest rooms. But I think he understated the case. The brass sign outside the door said "Suite Leilani," which turned out to be larger than my condo at home.

It was so large that it had two doors and a doorbell. The carpet was so thick I left footprints with every step I took. The living room was lighted by a silver and crystal chandelier, and had two sofas, a chair, several tables and a television. The dining area had a wet bar, table and four chairs. Off to the side was a desk and chair. The bedroom featured a king-sized four-poster bed with canopy, a bureau, two night stands, two chairs, a table and another television.

The bathroom was divided into two separate rooms -- one containing a large bathtub, wicker hamper, scale, toilet and some of the plushest towels I have ever encountered in a hotel; the other featuring two walk-in closets (with ironing board, iron, safe, and both wooden and fabric-covered hangers), a double sink, a massive mirror, a hair dryer and a fresh flower on the counter.

A glass tray filled with bottles of lotion, shampoo, bath gel, conditioner, after-sun gel and fabric wash, and pink boxes with mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shower caps, sewing needs and other items was on the counter along with a bottle of Hawaiian water (replaced daily) and several large bars of soap.

Thick, pink robes were in the closet. Terry-cloth slippers were at the end of the bed, and beach towels were on the bed along with a plastic beach bag containing full-sized tubes of suntan lotion and after-sun lotion and a jar of aloe.

If I had known about all that in advance, I wouldn't have bothered to pack at home.

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