All you need is love (and a scratch Mai Tai): The Royal Hawaiian, Waikiki Beach, O’ahu
Our last night at Mai Tai bar at The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort was a cracker. It all started in our room with the complimentary bubbly and then moved down to the bar for ‘one drink before dinner’. I ordered a scratch Mai Tai, a delectable concoction of white and dark rum, pineapple juice, Orgeat syrup, Orange Curacao and lime juice and Stevie ordered a local Hawaiian beer called Longboard. We got chatting to the bartender, a handsome giant named Kui, and before we knew it, he was introducing us to his regulars, Shannon and Bill.
Shannon, a 63 year old Californian lady had tattoos of flowers all over her back and shoulders. It was love at first sight. Bill, a former jockey agent, lamented the state of horse racing in the States, claiming that casinos had killed the industry. We talked about their 41 years of marriage, their twin sons and their lifelong love of Hawaii.
When they eventually slid off their barstools along came Maryanne, the Grand Dame of The Royal Hawaiian. She came to the hotel as a ‘babe in arms’ back in the ’40’s as the daughter of a wealthy melon importing family (yes, you read that right) and has been coming to the ‘pink palace’ ever since.
This elegant, sharp witted and entirely down-to-earth lady told us some great stories about the hotel’s past, most notably about some unusual ‘orbs’ that showed up in some photos that were taken in the garden at a recent re-opening party (the hotel has just undergone a full refurb). Apparently the new manager of the hotel hadn’t yet completed the traditional blessing of the land and the spirits of the Hawaiian elders that reside in Waikiki were agitated. Maryanne said that in one shot the biggest tree looked like it was covered in lights.
As a first timer, I have no point of reference for the recent changes. To me, the hotel is a bewitching blend of modern luxury, quirky design (the wallpaper in the rooms is pink and silver with an art nouveau pineapple motif) and old world glamour. There are brass US mailboxes on each floor, old photographs from the 1920’s line the hallways and an old fashioned telephone on each level.
When you walk into the foyer, there is a gunbarrel view to the ocean, complete with tropical breeze and the curvaceous stylings of a bathing pavilion. This view hasn’t changed since the hotel was opened in 1927 by shipping magnate Captain William Matson. Matson, who recognised the potential for a luxury cruise line and hotel, set up an end-to-end business, importing wealthy families, their staff and their cars to The Royal Hawaiian for months at a time. The sea voyage took up to six weeks which explains why most of the rooms have a garden view; the guests were fed up with the ocean.
The hotel has seen some big names cross it’s threshold – The Beatles, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, Amelia Earhart, Clint Eastwood and Elizabeth Taylor, just to name a few. Allegedly, the Shirley Temple cocktail was invented here for its pint-sized namesake.
As for the future, the Royal Hawaiian will continue to be the most iconic hotel on Waikiki beach (the fact that it’s still flamingo pink certainly helps with visibility).
Tell me, hoaloha (beloved friends), have you ever stayed at The Royal Hawaiian? If so, did you get a bit pissed on scratch Mai Tais?