The Moana Surfrider has always allured me. Every time I’ve driven past the white-columned entrance on Kalakaua Avenue or walked past the towering banyan tree steps away from Waikiki beach, I’m charmed. Almost enchanted by its presence and design. Maybe because of its regal yet plantation-style architecture. Or the enticing wooden rocking chairs in the open-air lobby. Perhaps the hotel’s deep roots in Hawaiian history and hospitality attract me. Whatever it is, I knew I wanted to stay here the first chance I got.
And this chance finally came about this past weekend, July 13th, when my husband and I decided to plan a staycation in Waikiki for our one year wedding anniversary. I was thrilled to stay at the Moana Surfrider and couldn’t wait to experience the room, amenities, pool and everything else that came along with this resort. But before I divulge into my review, I wanted to share a little history about what makes this hotel a unique antique.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Moana Surfrider was built along the shores of Waikiki Beach, and had a large hand in introducing the world to Hawaiian hospitality. Also referred to as the “First Lady of Waikiki” the Moana Surfrider was one of the first resorts along this famous stretch of sand, and in the earlier times had a pier that extended out above the clear waters of Waikiki. It was a highly sought-after destination that embodied the Waikiki vacation and the Aloha spirit of Hawaii. What began as a hotel with 75 rooms in 1901 has now expanded into a resort that accommodates 794 guest rooms, plus its very own historical room and history tours.
The surf break that fronts the Moana Surfrider is known as Canoes, as it is an exclusive place where visitors can take a ride on an outrigger canoe, steered and captained by a Waikiki beach boy. Canoes is also where Duke Kahanamoku made surfing (and canoe surfing) a well-known sport, by taking tourists out in the water to experience this Hawaiian tradition.
The Moana Surfrider remains a historical location that transports guests to a bygone era. Located in the heart of Waikiki, this resort is a 4 star property and a popular destination for travelers and locals alike.
But now I’d like to give an honest review of my one-night stay here. Because this, more than anything, is the best way to get a feel for the overall experience of a place. Local people sharing their local reviews.
Upon Entering. The half-circle entrance off Kalakaua Avenue can definitely get crowded, as there is only enough space for one car to pull up to the hotel entrance, and only space for about five total in the driveway. I was surprised at the cluster frenzies that were created in this small stretch of concrete. Taxis took up a majority of the space, but I also watched as non-English speaking tourists piled in and out of vans, women sat impatiently and complained to valet about needing to catch a flight, people struggling with strollers and suitcases up the entrance staircase (although there is a ramp just about 50-feet away) and more. It seemed like it could get pretty stressful for everyone involved.
Thankfully my husband and I pulled up when there was little crowding, and we were immediately greeted by valet. These guys were awesome. While there were about eight of them standing around, each one was very helpful and professional. We had two longboards with us, which made the checking in process a bit difficult. But thankfully one of the valet guys watched our boards our front while my husband self parked the car and I checked us in.
Parking. You have the option to have your car valet parked, which only costs $15 a day. Or you can self-park for free across the street at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani. This complimentary parking is included in the daily resort fee, which is $30. But there are a few other inclusions that make this resort fee not so bad. I was pleased with their parking options and situation.
Checking In. Once I made it into the hotel, I was welcomed by a man and woman dressed nicely. I was sort of confused as to who they were, but they were quick to ask me what my purpose was first. “Checking in,” I said. They pointed me in the direction of the check-in desk, however I was surprised to find it was located in a somewhat unobvious place.
When you enter the hotel, you look right out to the lanai, banyan tree and ocean, so the check-in desk is located down a long hallway parallel to the beach. What made it confusing was the artists that were set up, the small boutique shops and the concierge desks lining it. I kept walking because I didn’t see an obvious front desk, but thought, how odd to not have it in a more accessible position. When I got to the check-in desk and was bummed to see five other people waiting in line. I thought that for a hotel this nice (and expensive!) they should strive to not make any of their guests wait to check in.
Anyways, when I finally got to the front desk assistant, he was very friendly and accommodating. We chatted for a bit and made a few connections about the North Shore, and then he told me my room was ready for early check-in. When I asked about room upgrades, he presented me with three amazing options, all for under $100. I settled on a city room upgrade for $30, which was also available for early check in, and was very happy I did.
My husband met me at the check-in desk and after we collected our room keys, we were directed to the Tower Wing. We both noticed a jug of refreshing-looking juice and filled up a couple plastic cups with the hotel’s featured ‘mango elixir’. It was so good!
The Room. Room 1777 was spacious, had a king sized bed, large bathroom with a tub and shower, granite countertops, flat screen TV, mini fridge with bottled water, a large closet with bathrobes, slippers and a safe, a desk with a chair and a balcony. To our surprise, when we walked out on the lanai there was a stunning ocean view of Waikiki, as well as a city view of Kalakaua Avenue. We were thrilled!
I was surprised at the lack of décor in the room. There was only two pictures hanging on the walls, and for such a large room I thought it needed more to fill up the space. The furniture was sparse, but modern, and the bathroom was very clean and well-appointed. The bed was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept on, with a big, white cozy comforter and plush pillows. The AC was also a very nice welcome every time we re entered our room. (Town gets so hot in the summer!)
The bathroom amenities included the usual- shampoo, conditioner, lotion and soap, all in a white tea scent, which was refreshing and lovely. I was also surprised to see a small sticker on the mirror that advertised New Balance shoes and complete workout gear that could be delivered to your room for only $5. Needless to say we didn’t take them up on this offer, or the workout room for that matter.
The Amenities. I’m not sure if what’s included in the $30 resort fee is actually considered ‘amenities’, but I was nonetheless happy about them. Free self-parking, two complimentary glasses of wine at their Bin 1901 lounge, a discount at property eateries and free Wi-Fi in the room and throughout the property. There were a lot of other inclusions (like a 15-minute mini surf lesson, a complimentary Moana history tour, a 4×6” color portrait from a professional photographer and more), but we were happy with just the free parking and wine!
The Property. Even though it seems pointless to swim in a pool when you have Waikiki waters within steps of your room, I was still definitely disappointed with the pool area. First off, the pool is very small and very crowded. With such a huge outdoor space, you would think they would have expanded a little more on the pool area. Secondly, there was no hot tub! I was totally bummed about this, because after two long days of surfing, my husband and I could have definitely utilized one. Lastly, there was not one lounge chair available in the sun. Nada one. But even if there was, I don’t know if I would have even enjoyed lounging on them because they were all within inches of the next one, and thus created a pretty awkward and unrelaxed lounging situation with a bunch of half naked people.
The saving grace of this area was the wonderful staff that helped us at the poolside eatery. We had brought our own adult beverage base and left it upstairs in our room, but wanted to fill cups up with the ‘mango elixir’ to mix with it. We ordered nachos at the bar and then asked for cups, and the woman helping us was totally humorous about the situation. We were trying to beat around the bush as to why we wanted the cups and then she just flat out asked us if we were using them to make drinks- totally making light of the situation.
Because we are not used to high end resorting, my husband and I are never really sure about the ‘rules’ of things. But this woman made us feel like we were totally entitled to whatever service we wanted while staying at the hotel. It was awesome. Oh, when the $18 nachos came out, I was happy to see a considerable portion heaped up on the plate with cheese, guacamole and sour cream. We even got the option to add chicken for no extra charge. Not the best nachos I’ve ever had, but they got the job done.
We were especially stoked when we found out the hotel offered board storage, since our longboards are both over 9 feet in length. They charge $7 a day, which I thought was reasonable, and give you a key to the ‘locker’ which is very conveniently located on the beachside of the hotel, directly in front of Canoes. You have independent access to the locker at any time, which was really cool since we had high hopes of night surfing under the full moon. (Unfortunately this didn’t actually happen).
We did surf both days during our stay though, and had a great time despite the crowded lineups. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the tense atmosphere on the North Shore and just have fun. Canoes and Populars were the perfect spots for this. On the evening of our stay, I enjoyed a free glass of red wine from Bin 1901 and listened to jazz music while rocking in the wooden rocking chair. My husband opted for a second surf sesh.
The evening ambiance they create at Moana Surfrider is very pleasant. You’ll always hear live music, and we just so happened to be staying on the night that The Great American Songbook event was taking place. Jimmy Borges, Melissa Manchester and the Citrus College Blue Note Swing Orchestra took to the outdoor stage and performed live from 7:00pm till 10:00pm. There was a huge audience that took up the entire Banyan Courtyard, but we didn’t mind because we had dinner reservations elsewhere.
Overall, my stay at the Moana Surfrider was great. Whatever shortcomings there were, the great hospitality and customer service made up for it. While I’ve heard that the rooms in the older wing of the hotel are outdated and small, we were very pleased with our upgrade to the Tower.
If you’re looking for a truly Waikiki experience while on Oahu, and a place to be pampered yet independent, I highly recommend this resort. I would definitely say that the Moana Surfrider has maintained its initial charm and allure that I felt in the beginning, and the property will now serve as our own personal historical place for my husband and I.
Posted by: Bruce Fisher on Aug 2, 2014