I recently checked into one of the most popular hotels in Hawaii: Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.
Located on the widest stretch of sand in Honolulu on world-famous Waikiki Beach, the 22-acre Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is considered to be one of the best hotels in Honolulu.
In late August, I spent three nights on vacation here with my husband and 2-year-old daughter and had high expectations given the hotel’s expansive size and amenities. The Hilton has 2,860 guest rooms and suites spread over five towers, five pools, 18 restaurants and bars, a 5-acre manmade lagoon, a spa, and 80 on-site stores.
It was my first time in Honolulu, and I was excited to stay at the resort, but several things surprised me about our visit. Here’s a closer look — and whether or not I’d return.
Given that the hotel’s name is Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, I was surprised to find that the location of the hotel isn’t actually on the main part of Waikiki Beach.
Before I arrived in Honolulu, I didn’t realize that the city’s prominent beach, Waikiki Beach, is only two miles long and actually comprised of seven different beaches, including Kahanamoku/Hilton Hawaiian Village, Fort DeRussy, Gray’s Beach, and several others, such as Royal Hawaiian Beach, which is the main area known as Waikiki Beach.
Given that the hotel has Waikiki Beach in the name, I was surprised that it did not front the same stretch of sand bearing that name.
While technically part of the area that makes up Waikiki Beach, the Hilton directly faces Kahanamoku Beach and Fort DeRussy Beach, which is about a 20-minute walk away from the main section of Waikiki Beach in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
For me, this turned out to be an unexpected boon. I thought the area in front of the Hilton was calm and cove-like with gentle waves, and while I did notice people filling in on the sand throughout the day, it never felt overcrowded.
Later on in my trip, I stayed at the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach proper and did not have the same experience. There, I found the waves to be larger and the beach more densely packed with people at all times. The Hilton’s location, by contrast, felt like a secret I stumbled onto, seemingly by accident.
When I arrived at the hotel, I didn’t anticipate that checking into paradise would be so chaotic.
My family took an early flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu and were eager to check into the hotel and start relaxing right away.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. We pulled up our rental car to a traffic jam of cars trying to unload or depart next to the lobby and decided to divide and conquer. We gave our luggage to the valet after which my husband navigated his way through gridlock to the parking garage, while I took our daughter to check in.
I walked into a sea of people standing in lines that didn’t move at all over the course of an hour. I tried to simultaneously hold my spot in line, watch my belongings, and chase after my on-the-go toddler.
It was a humid 80 degrees Fahrenheit and I was sweaty in my airplane clothes, tired, and didn’t think I’d start our trip so stressed. I wondered if the chaos was a result of arriving on a Saturday, but nearly every time I walked through the lobby in the afternoon during our stay, I saw the same type of crowds.
Cynthia Rankin, the Director of Communications for Hilton Hawaii, told Insider: “We encourage people to sign up for Hilton Honors, and then before they arrive, do mobile check-in and get a digital key on their phones. They can totally bypass the lines.”
I didn’t know that, and instead only saw separate lines for Hilton Honors members with elite status, which I don’t have. Next time, I’ll do mobile check-in for sure.
Before we arrived, I was excited by how much the hotel had on-site and thought we’d be spoiled for choice. But I was more overwhelmed than I expected by the resort’s size.
I knew the resort was expansive, but with so many amenities, I felt like I had no clue where to start.
I scanned our resort map trying to come up with a game plan and itinerary for how we’d be able to see and do everything over four days. But I quickly felt overwhelmed. I didn’t even know how to decide for day one.
Initially, I thought I’d love to bring my family to a mega resort so that we’d never tire of things to do, but the variety of choice made it feel like we’d barely scratch the surface with a three-night stay. I started to feel FOMO for all I wouldn’t be able to do before the trip even fully began.
Fortunately, as our stay went on, I was able to get a better sense of my bearings and the pools or restaurants I liked, but I did not expect that it would take me a full day or two to really feel situated.
I was shocked that at such a big hotel with so many pools, we couldn’t find one chair at the main pool on our first day. We had to perch our stuff on a ledge instead.
By the time we checked in, got the key to our room, and changed for the pool, it was late afternoon on a Saturday, around 3 p.m.
We decided to start our adventure at the Super Pool, a big lagoon-style swimming pool near the ocean. It’s the hotel’s largest pool with two separate sections, and I thought it would be our best shot at finding a chair.
We couldn’t find a single one.
We wandered around the perimeter a few times before deciding to just park our stuff on a ledge next to a tree.
Even though it was a weekend, the crowds surprised me. It was later in the day, and also the last weekend in August when I thought most kids would be back in school.
“The Super Pool is very popular; however, we have the Paradise Pool, Tapa Pool, Alii Pool for Alii guests only, and an adult-only pool in the Kalia Tower. We have the most pools in all of Waikiki,” Rankin told Insider.
Ultimately, the lack of chairs didn’t really matter. Any parent who travels with young children knows you’re not really going to sit and sunbathe, anyhow.
But I quickly learned as our trip went on that if we wanted a pool chair — especially in a specific spot — we’d have to wake up very early to claim it, and stay close by to maintain our presence using it.
Because the pools were so busy, I was not expecting the beach to be so crowd free. In the morning, it was empty, and throughout the day, it felt peaceful and quiet.
Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the world, welcoming more than four million visitors every year.
For that reason, I didn’t go into this trip expecting to discover a remote island paradise and also knew that most of Waikiki Beach sat directly across a busy road that separated it from Honolulu’s urban core of skyscrapers.
I even had friends who told me to skip Waikiki Beach entirely in favor of another area or island, telling me that it was crowded, touristy, and overpriced. Even a waiter at a restaurant at the Hilton told me Waikiki was his least favorite beach in Hawaii.
But I loved it. As noted earlier, the hotel’s stretch of sand on Kahanamoku Beach and Fort DeRussy Beach looked to me like one of the widest areas on Waikiki Beach and never felt overly packed with people.
When my family took a morning walk after breakfast, I thought the beach appeared to be totally empty. And later in the day, though people filled in, it never became densely crowded.
While it’s not the kind of beach where you can stroll without seeing another soul in sight, the portion of it in front of the Hilton had more than enough space, and chairs and umbrellas were available to rent to whoever wanted them.
However, I didn’t know that beach chairs and umbrellas weren’t included in my stay.
At most beach resorts I’ve visited, the use of beach chairs and umbrellas comes included, often as a part of a daily resort fee.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village charges a $50 resort fee per night, plus tax, so I was shocked to learn these beach amenities cost extra.
Beach rentals are operated by the third-party vendor, Waikiki Beach Activities. According to a sign I saw, one chair in front of the Hilton cost $25 to rent, which I thought wasn’t bad considering you could use it all day. Though, the addition of an umbrella at nearly $40 seemed pricey. If my husband and I both wanted chairs with a shared umbrella, we’d be looking at an extra $90 per day — on a four-day trip, that quickly adds up.
Towels were, however, provided to hotel guests at no extra charge.
Since my daughter preferred the pool to the beach I ended up saving money on beach chair rentals, but on a return trip to Honolulu, I’ll be sure to budget in extra money for them.
In fact, many things for purchase at the resort were pricey, like food and drink. This surprised me since I thought the hotel’s nightly rates were affordable.
One of the most appealing parts about the Hilton Hawaiian Village to me is how affordably priced the nightly rates seem to be throughout the year.
I also researched a trip to Maui, but ultimately decided against it when a standard room in a four-star beachfront resort cost $750 per night, based on Google search results.
Hilton Hawaiian Village, by contrast, starts at $279 for a standard room, depending on the time of year, Rankin said.
I booked a one-bedroom suite for my stay, and while that was listed at $700 per night, I thought that the cost offered a lot more value for the money compared to smaller standard rooms in Maui for the same price. Insider received a discounted media rate for this room.
So I went into the trip hoping that other aspects of the resort would be well-priced, as well. However, I started to feel a bit of sticker shock as I ordered food and drinks.
Even while avoiding the hotel’s most upscale restaurants to save money, I still paid prices like $27 for a fish sandwich, $25 for a poke bowl, and $15 for a poolside cocktail. Any modest meal for the three of us typically cost close to $100 each time with taxes and gratuity factored in.
Next time, I’ll just book a standard room here to leave extra budget for food and activities.
I didn’t expect to be so impressed by the hotel’s man-made, 5-acre Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon.
In addition to the hotel’s beachfront location facing the Pacific Ocean and its five pools, the Hilton Hawaiian Village has the 5-acre Duke Kahanamoku lagoon with a system that circulates the same saltwater that’s in the ocean.
The lagoon is part of the Hilton, but open to the public, and initially I didn’t think I would like it. Why would I go to a man-made lagoon when the actual ocean was right there, I wondered.
But I was surprised to find it was even less crowded than the adjacent beach. I also thought it was a great spot for kids since there were no waves at all, and my daughter loved seeing little fish swimming in it.
Like the beach, all chairs and umbrellas cost the same fee, and the lagoon also hosted rentals for stand-up paddleboards and water toys like aqua cycle.
We didn’t need any of that, though. My daughter was happy to wade in the water with zero surf and chase after the schools of fish that passed by, while I loved being able to mix up our activities from the pool and beach.
With five pools and such a family-friendly vibe, I didn’t realize there wasn’t one pool specifically devoted to kids.
Since becoming a parent, I’ve discovered that my new favorite vacations are the easiest ones to take: trips that revolve solely around resorts with lots to do and great pools.
More specifically, pools for kids. If my daughter is with me, I no longer have use for photogenic infinity pools. No, give me all the zero entry-style entrances with splash pads and water features that will keep my daughter entertained, and safely.
Because Hilton Hawaiian Village’s website listed five pools, and the entire resort seemed so family-friendly, I wrongly assumed that one of those would include a splash pad for toddlers.
I was surprised, and initially disappointed that there wasn’t.
“We have kiddie pools at the Super Pool and in the Paradise Pool. These pools are connected to bigger pools, but are shallower,” Rankin told Insider.
The Paradise Pool did have a kiddie slide my daughter loved that I took her through again and again. We really enjoyed it, but the slide still led into water that was waist-deep on me.
The closest we came to a splash pad was at the Tapa Pool, which has a large, shallow entry step with bubbling fountains before it leads into a deeper, swimmable pool.
But none were true zero-entry pools or solely splash play areas with interactive water features like I’ve found, and loved, at other family resorts.
I also didn’t realize that I would barely leave the resort.
Even though my favorite way to vacation with kids is to hunker down at a resort, I typically still venture out for dinner most nights, or to shop or take a day trip.
So, it wasn’t my intention to come to Honolulu for the first time and stay on-site at my hotel. In fact, over four days, aside from beach walks I took, I only ever left for coffee in the morning and one afternoon to take my daughter to the Honolulu Aquarium.
There was just so much to eat, see, and do on the premises, especially once I got my bearings, that I didn’t need or want to leave. Even by the time I checked out, I had only tried a handful of the hotel’s restaurants and browsed many, but not all, of its boutiques.
Plus, with a jet-lagged toddler who resisted sitting in her stroller, it was just way easier to stay put.
As stressed as I felt when I arrived, by the end of our stay, I was surprised that I didn’t want to leave.
When I first arrived at Hilton Hawaiian Village, I had high hopes that were met with a decent amount of chaos through long lines, hard-to-secure pool chairs, and pricey amenities.
But by my last day, I didn’t want to leave. I loved strolling through the large resort and dividing my time between its pools, listening to live music in the restaurants and bars, and thought the beachfront location was beautiful.
In my opinion, travel always comes with challenges of one kind or another, and add a toddler and tantrums into the mix and things only become more difficult.
But ultimately, I loved feeling like everything I needed was at my fingertips, and once I figured out the best times to get pool chairs or the restaurants with the most value, I thought it was one of the best places we’ve stayed as a family.
I’ll definitely be back — those cheap starting room prices will make it hard not to return.