About four years ago Blackstone group, a private equity firm which focuses on real estate acquisitions, purchased Hilton hotels. At that time the purchase sent shock waves through the local community because the Hilton Hawaiian Village was one of the hotels that was owned and not just managed by Hilton. It didn’t take very long to see that Blackstone was going to make some major changes. They closed a few of the most popular restaurants and started to run the property more like a spreadsheet then a hotel. In other words, they became focused on the bottom line and creating more profit for their shareholders rather than considering the unique Hawaii customer. Since then there’s been lots of controversy surrounding the property including a week long strike last year.

Fast-forward to this weekend when we decided to review the hotel. I have to admit that I’ve never been fond of the management at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. In the 10 years we’ve been in business they’ve never called on us to offer a site inspection or to reach out to us in any way about how we might be able to increase our sales or for any assistance to our customers. In general the Hilton is not very friendly to travel agents. They’re the one hotel that offers no incentive to agents and when we offer discount prices they seek to eliminate any honors points and undercut us any way they can by holding back inventory and making it not available to agents. That being said we went in with an open mind, hoping to give an honest objective review.

Upon arrival at the property I immediately saw how staff was overwhelmed. Behind the bell desk was a woman on the phone with a stern face looking annoyed. I saw staff running across the lobby frantically. There was a long line to check-in with only five people behind the counter to help. With the exception of the valet who took our car there were no smiles or Aloha. Part of the check-in process was a lot of rules. For example; The woman behind the counter handed us four cards and explained this complicated processes for trading the cards for towels if we go to the pool. She also circled and reminded us that if we lose the card or don’t return it we’ll be charged $10. Obviously this is an attempt to control the bottom line and it can cost a lot of money if people steal towels however, it didn’t feel very five-star. She then handed us an additional two cards we could trade for two little bottles of water. Again, another attempt to control costs hoping that folks won’t turn in those cards and they can keep their water and make more profit.

No one asked us if we needed any help with our luggage but we didn’t need assistance so we headed up to our room. We booked a corner oceanfront room in the Rainbow Tower. We knew that some of them were renovated and some were non-renovated, our bad luck, we got a non-renovated room on the fourth floor. We were able to get a kamaiana rate of $314 including tax, if your not from Hawaii you’ll pay the full price of $385. When we got to the elevator we noticed a line to get the rooms. Apparently there are only two elevators servicing 29 floors because of the construction. People were visibly impatient, again not a very good way to start your vacation. We ended up using the stairs after we checked in because the elevator situation – good exercise anyway.

When we opened our door to the room we noticed a pungent odor and cigarette smoke which probably just came from the old age of the room. This corner room was old and tired. The furniture was worn and scratched. They had a ugly credenza in the room with a old television that only received a few stations. The room has asbestos ceilings which was peeling off right next to the air conditioning vent which really concerned me!! I have stayed in 2 star properties that were in better condition than this room. The saving grace was the view. There is no other view like this on the island and it was truly spectacular. We could see the ocean and the beautiful lagoon below from the double balconies.

We decided to head down to the pool for some relaxation and noticed wall-to-wall bodies. At a five star property you expect a certain level of service. For example; simple pool service. A true five-star hotel will have staff to assist you in getting set up at the pool and offer you towels. Additionally, there is an expectation that you’d be able to get drinks or food service. None of that happened and we were there for almost 3 hours. In a way you feel like cattle at this hotel rather than a customer. Honestly, I can’t really say much about the service because we just didn’t get any!!!

The following morning we went for breakfast at the Rainbow Lanai. We opted out of the brunch and decided to eat off the menu. Yaling and I often share so we ordered a scrambled egg breakfast, a fruit bowl and some coffee. We ordered our eggs lightly scrambled and made sure the waiter understood that we do not want them well done. The atmosphere was nice and we felt the beautiful trade-winds from the ocean while we were waiting for our meal. In the interim I went to the restroom and found that the toilet was overflowing, extremely gross. I reported that to the staff and they didn’t even blink or say thank you or show empathy, she just picked up the phone and started calling someone. The meal was disappointing. The eggs came not only well done but they look like they had been put in the microwave; very spongy and overcooked. The coffee they gave us was from the bottom of the pot and was burnt. We had to send back the meal and the new eggs and coffee were delicious and perfectly prepared. But in the five-star property should we have had to do that?

After breakfast it was time to check out. We packed up our belongings and called the valet to bring up our car however, there was no answer. We got the operator and she transfers us but again no answer. We did this a couple of more times and then gave up and headed down to pick up the car ourselves. While this isn’t a huge deal it’s not what you expect from a five-star hotel. I wanted to bring this attention to guest services and found David (guest services manager) briskly walking from the bell desk. I confronted him about what happened and he gave me the most amazing answer I have ever heard; he said “we never bring up cars when you call” I asked him why there is an icon on the phone for valet? He said “there are too many people at the hotel to be able to do that” I then explained that it probably would be a good idea to tell people this when they check-in because it’s expected that you call for your car when you valet park. He became very defensive dismissed my comment and said “we just don’t do that here.”

The Hilton Hawaiian Village is simply not a five-star property. While the renovated rooms are probably a lot nicer, unless the service improves this hotel cannot be considered a five-star experience. Combine the tired accommodations in the non-renovated rooms with the poor customer service and you have a recipe for a disappointing Hawaii vacation if your expectations were that you would be at a five-star property.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. My sister stayed there and had a good experience but she got extremely bargain-rate rooms and didn’t expect much. I certainly would have been upset at the prices you quoted, and I did not think it was billed as a 5 star property.

  2. Thanks for the review. Because of the relationship between Hilton & Hawaii 50, I had actually planned on staying there on my next trip to Hawaii. Not any more!

  3. My 7 yr. old grand daughter spent the weekend there with her father and family. The first words out of her mouth to me upon her return to the Big Island were… “Grandma! .. the rooms smelled stink!!” Horrible for HHV .. supposedly a 5 Star? .. a 5 Star ghetto!

  4. Sounds like you had a bad experience. I stay there at least twice a month on business. HHV is an excellent hotel and we have had nothing but excellent service. I think you are being very rough and unfair trying to claim that the hotel claims to be a 5 star hotel and then comparing it to a 5 star hotel. It is not even listed as a 5 star hotel. If you want 5 star hotels in Waikiki you have one choice, Halekulani. If you paid what you said you paid, why didn’t you stay at Halekulani?

  5. I agree with Annie. You sound like you had a bad experience and HHV was never publicized as a 5-star property. I’ve been there 5x this year alone, and each time has been fantastic. As far as the Rainbow Tower elevators, it is mentioned on their website regarding the renovation. Why not confirm a different tower? I think your review was very unfair, and it seems that you intended to give HHV a bad review right from the start (at least that’s how your review came across). My friend who is a highly respected travel agent in Texas read this and thought your review was over the line.

  6. You are really attacking this hotel with words like “asbestos ceiling” when the hotel does not have asbestos. None of the major hotels in Hawaii would be able to have asbestos in any way shape or form. What century do you think this is? I am going to send this to the Hilton’s legal department.

  7. Wow, for that price, you can pay a few extra dollars and get a room at Halekulani. That’s incredible! Thanks for the review. Working in the hospitality industry but not having an opportunity to stay in the majority of the offerings (Just too many) it’s good to have these reviews.

  8. Yep. He said he paid $314 for a Kama’aina (local) rate at HHV. He might not be too bright since you can search and see that HHV’s Kama’aina rate is $149. I’m sure Halekulani would let Kama’aina’s book $300++ Kama’aina rates. This guy is not telling the truth and seems to be out to get HHV. Must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bad rainbow tower unrenovated room bed.

  9. There are 5 towers and 2 time share towers in HHV. Each tower is different price. $149.00 is for Diamond head tower or Tapa tower.
    ==============================
    HAWN AIR KAMAAINA SP MUST PRESENT VALID HAWAII STATE ID
    281.00 USD: RAINBOW TOWER OCEAN VIEW CORNER 1 KING BED
    =====================================
    Check it out yourself. I believe after renovation, rooms will be nice. Bruce’s job is stay in the room as regular customer and check out everything he can. some will be good, some will be bad. He just wish everyone has good experience when they stay in the hotels. Hotels are another way to show visitor about Aloha.

  10. While I have never stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village myself I was very disappointed in their customer service several years back. Booked certain rooms for a client and were not given what we had booked. Front desk staff was pretty rude and not very helpful. You might remember this one Bruce; you actually went down there to get things sorted for my client. Now I like the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island, beautiful rooms and the staff was friendly and helpful.

  11. Mahalo Bruce for your honesty. I’ve stayed at this property a few times and I was never impressed with their customer service except for a few employees. The rooms are ok but you can’t beat the beachfront location, resort amenities which is ideal for families and the weekly fireworks show. I hope this propety will focus on their overall guest services so we (travel agent) will feel confident selling this property to potential clients.

  12. I TOTALLY support Bruce in his BLOG =) I’d rather have honesty then being “sweet talked”… Just my opinion…

  13. It’s a great hotel and the people who work there are just like you and me. They do their best and not all are perfect. I have found some great customer service everytime I have stayed there. They remember your name and greet you wtih smiles. You could have gone at a time when it was busy, which is in the summer when everyone wants to stay there because of the location, the really nice beach, the lagoon, the pools and the spa at Kalia tower. There are so many people there that I could name as providing excellent service. No one can say so many bad things with just one visit. And why make issues with the towel program. They give out huge amounts of towels, why make that an issue. Most hotels have towel programs to get their towels back. It’s not the guests that steal them. It’s the guest that leave them on the beach and others come by and steal them. I’ve seen it myself.

  14. Whenever I do a review and it’s negative, I know some people will get upset. I am sorry about that but I am not going to apologize for anything in the review, everything I posted is true. This was our experience. I understand people love the HHV and that’s fine, I just want to make sure our customers get as much information as they can. If you want a puff piece about the hotel we have that too here https://www.hawaii-aloha.com/html/hotels/id_hotel/27/Name/Hilton%20Hawaiian%20Village%20Beach%20Resort%20&%20Spa ironically our own website lists it as a 5 star !!

  15. Annie it’s just been brought to my attention that your “comments” are very similar to the same Annie that was kicked off of trip adviser for writing phoney reviews for HHV

  16. WOW, instead of being a 5 Star, you got something like a Six Motel experience. Thank you for your review and the pictures.

  17. It is so frustrating to spend all of that money to go on a vacation to Hawaii and have a poor experience. A vacation to Hawaii should be much more memorable. A 5 star experience should be exactly that. Nothing less.

  18. I surprised my parents with a trip to HHV Dec 2009. We had a wonderful experience. If I were to be extra “picky,” I would of wanted a friendlier staff.

    My only complaint was upon arrival, we did not receive clear directions on getting around from ANY employee!!. It was obvious my elderly parents were with me; we were walking in circles. They were tired, and hungry, and already dark. Frustrating. People did not seem to care.

    Other than that incident, I would most definitely return. My parents loved the grounds!! We were also fortunate that there were no crowds. Very Peaceful. We stayed for 8 days.

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