Hawaii: America’s own paradise. An Instagrammed hub of luxury resorts and dreamy beaches, with no language barriers or passport required.
Heck, is there a TV sitcom anywhere that hasn’t had a Hawaii episode?
Even “Friends” made the almost 5,000 mile trek from Central Perk to the Aloha isles.
Resorts are open and ready, but in the spirit of making lemon drop martinis from lemons, during the COVID lockdowns and travel bust, these two top resorts in Oahu both upped the ante with jaw-dropping renovations and refinements for the nuptials and honeymoons of your dreams or the post-pandemic vacation you’ve been patiently waiting for.
You can add a royal Hawaiian theme to your wedding at Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, since its 5.2 acres rest on the footprint of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s summer palace, across from famous surf-break Queens beach.
We were quick to learn that the Hawaiians are extremely proud and fond of their royal family heritage, particularly the grace and charm of Queen Lili‘uokalani, who was the last of the revered Hawaiian royal family to govern before the monarchy was overthrown and the US stepped in, back in 1898.
As part of the $80 million renovation completed last year, her fascinating history and that of the islands is reflected with displays of artefacts and photos in the lobby, as well as a tangibly genuine, welcoming hospitality from the staff.
A central part of the renovation is the new Queensbreak pool and deck, with cabanas and giant hot tub overlooking the beach.
This is where you’ll find the lively yet laid back Queensbreak open air restaurant, complete with stage for live music, creating the perfect spot for private affairs and weddings.
For a smaller entourage, stage a stunning ceremony in the Paoakalani Tower Queens penthouse, which has sweeping views of the beach on one side and the skyline on the other, all of which you can take in from the huge wraparound balcony. As a bonus, this luxurious apartment can double as your honeymoon suite.
Queensbreak’s cuisine, expertly curated by chef Nuno, is deliciously crafted from fresh local seafood and produce — don’t miss the poke, with line caught ahi, kukui nut (from Hawaii’s official state tree), ogo seaweed, Maui onion, shoyu vinaigrette and taro chips. Chef Nuno also creates bespoke wedding menus, fully customizable for your affair.
Just like the resort’s other 1,310 newly renovated rooms (135 of them suites), the furnishings are a beachy mid-century modern, all grays and blues, light woods and pops of coral.
We were very content just reclining on one of our three balconies, cocktail in hand, watching the sunset over the surf as the twinkling lights of downtown flickered on.
You’re in the heart of the action at this resort, since you step right out of the property onto Kalakaua Avenue, where just a short stroll brings you to world class shopping, lively restaurants and iconic waterfront cocktail bars, running the gamut from iconic (Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider) to barefoot (Duke’s.)
Across the street from the resort, you’ll find the beach boys of Waikiki, who can teach you to surf (or attempt to.)
Alternatively, work off the wedding cake with a hike up Diamond Head, which looms over the town. The extinct volcano crater has 175 steps to climb, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views.
For those who prefer things a little more laid back, immerse into the rich Hawaiian culture by learning how to make a lei, or take a hula dancing class. Our teacher took us through the E Huli Mākou dance, created for a Hawaiian hula show in 1949. She patiently taught us the graceful movements while explaining their meanings and storylines: Kou maka, kou lima, me kou kino ē, e aloha mai (“your eyes, your hands, with your body, express love.”)
Could that be any more perfect for a first dance?
Rooms start at $415, suites from $700; Marriott.com
Over on the north shore, world famous for its sensational surfing, Turtle Bay Resort has a storied history of its own. Since its opening in 1973, the 1,300 oceanfront acres, of which 650 are preserved as conservation space, have played backdrop to myriad TV shows like “Lost,” movies like “Hunger Games” and provided the entire set for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” (The resort even features a cocktail of the same name.)
With its peninsula location and dramatic bluffs, the resort is a magnet for weddings and honeymoons, but the multi-million dollar renovation has totally refreshed the inside of the building, adding walls of windows that bring in the light and maximize the amazing views. Hawaiian art and surf-themed shops add to the tropical immersion.
The Off the Lip lobby bar is simply stunning, featuring sunken sofas stretched around an infinity water feature, overlooking the pool below and on towards the crashing surf. It’s the perfect place for your celebratory champagne.
Outside, the new pool area has three tiered swimming areas (adults only at the top) with wooden decks and cabanas that beckon you to chill out. These are served by the lively Sunset Bar — appropriately named, since it’s here that the nightly ritual takes place, with live music, good vibes and plenty of mai tais.
All 410 rooms in the main resort have sea views, but the 42 renovated ocean bungalows are where honeymooners will want to stay. Step out from the spacious, airy rooms, all neutral woods with linen and leather, into the large patio with relaxing outdoor sofas and oversized pillows.
From there, you stroll directly onto the gardens and sand, and wander to the bungalows’ private pool, or explore the beach and forest footpaths. These rooms come with a dedicated concierge too, for anything you need from reservations to room service.
Speaking of which, food at the resort is sustainable, local and deliciously fresh.
We dined by tiki torch at the resort’s signature restaurant Alaia, and when we asked our server for recommendations, he confessed that he’d caught the seafood himself that very morning. The tasty and diverse Hawaiian menu uses ingredients that come from nearby Mauka Farms as well as the resort’s own Kuilima Farm, using native produce grown by generations-old farming families.
Since Turtle Bay’s property is so huge and varied, even featuring two golf courses (one designed by Arnold Palmer), there’s no shortage of wedding sites. You can pretty much go anywhere on property, choose your favorite view and stage your wedding there – the resort is happy to make it happen.
As we whizzed around on a golf cart tour, we’d find a picture perfect spot for vow exchanges around every turn, whether you want an intimate barefoot beach ceremony for two, a group of 50 in the Sunset Pavilion overlooking the reef, or a Kuilima Ballroom affair for 500 with tiki torches and dancing.
Guests can dine under romantic tents with floor cushions, or seated on the beach surrounded by tropical foliage.
You can even get married in front of the slightly spooky but impressive giant banyan tree nestled in the forest (as seen in “Pirates of the Caribbean”) or outside the rustic horse stables, complete with an arrival on horseback, or by carriage.
Plans are afoot for an all-inclusive, exclusively catered glamping site in one corner of the property, which will bring even more wedding (and honeymoon) options.
After the after party, the resort has enough for you and all your guests without ever leaving the property — golf, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, tennis, nature watching on land or sea, and (of course) surfing. If you want to live out your “Jurassic Park” fantasies, take a helicopter tour from the private helipad on site.
Venturing off-site, you’re close to the legendary Banzai Pipeline in Pupukea for world class surfing (if you have the nerve and the know-how) or, for more adrenaline rushes, head over to the Climb Works zipline at Keana Farms.
One thing’s for certain: You’ll be planning your anniversary return visit before you even get home.
Rooms from $679, Ocean Bungalows from $1,599; TurtleBayResort.com