The Moana Surfrider will always be a special hotel to me since I used to stay there back in the late 1990s when I first started to travel to Hawaii. Back then, it was a Sheraton but in 2007, Starwood re-branded it into a swanky Westin Resort & Spa. What’s even better is that it recently underwent a $21 million renovation, which means new guest rooms, snack shop and a new beach club.
When my wife Natalie (@NatalieDiScala) and I got the invite to check out the “new hotel,” we jumped at the chance. The hotel has 552 guest rooms and 36 suites and is comprised of three distinct buildings: the Diamond Wing, the Banyan Wing (the historic section) and the Tower Wing, which is where we stayed and is the wing where all guest rooms have a balcony.
The whole hotel is inspired by contemporary Hawaiian design with modern touches. All the rooms have unique Hawaiian artwork, 32″ new flat-screen televisions and of course, Heavenly Beds, like all Westin Hotels. Heavenly Beds are super comfortable and I believe Westin was the first hotel chain to start the top-of-the-line beds and bedding trend—so much so that they sell them…and a lot at that matter!
Heading to Hawaii? Here are 12 reasons to stay at the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa:
Without a doubt, the number one reason to stay at the Moana Surfrider is that it’s in the heart of Waikiki. There are countless restaurants, shops within a 300-yard radius and of course, the beach as well. It’s where all the action takes place and right next door is Hawaii’s most famous restaurant, Duke’s. Here are 7 great places to eat in Honolulu, including Duke’s.
The Moana Surfrider is often referred to as the “First Lady of Waikiki” and the reason is simple: it’s the oldest hotel in Waikiki and just turned 113 years old while I was there on March 11th. The Moana Surfrider is a legendary landmark and introduced the world to Hawaiian hospitality in 1901. The revitalized lobby features hardwood floors, new furniture and lighting fixtures. Even if you don’t stay here, just walk in and take a look around. You’ll be impressed. They also have a historical exhibit of the hotel on the second floor.
Just check out that view above—I took that from my balcony on the twelfth floor of our Tower Wing room. Just that view alone of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach is reason enough to stay here. Imagine waking up to that every morning.
4. Rocking chairs on front deck
If you’ve stayed at the Moana Surfrider before or even stayed nearby, chances are you’ve sat in one of the hotel’s perfectly lined up wooden rocking chairs on the front deck. And if you haven’t, you should…they’re available to the public! Just sitting there, hearing the live music from the hotel’s Banyan Courtyard and people-watching, makes you realize how fortunate you are to be able to travel to Hawaii.
5. Banyan Courtyard & banyan tree
If you walk through the hotel lobby towards the ocean, you’ll come across the spacious Banyan Courtyard, which has arguably one of the world’s most famous and historic banyan trees. The tree was planted in 1904 and is now the heart of the hotel. During the day, guests relax under the shade at the outdoor tables and chairs eating, drinking and listening to live music.
6. Live music
The Moana Surfrider takes advantage of its location and the amazing tree by having live music at the Beach Bar from 12:20 pm to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 10 pm daily. The musicians are so good—usually singing Hawaiian songs or contemporary tunes with an island twist—that I would leave my balcony door open to hear them more clearly.
7. Beachhouse restaurant
The Moana Surfrider’s Beachhouse is a fine-dining restaurant, located on the ground level of the historic wing, overlooking the Banyan Courtyard and the ocean. On a clear day, book a table along the beach railing for one of the most scenic tables around and do it in time to witness the sunset. The food is top-notch and according to the chef, he only uses the freshest Hawaiian ingredients available. And it’s not prohibitively expensive. The petite filet mignon (6 oz) is $39. I had the Maui Onion Soup for $11, while Natalie started with the Beachouse Poke for $14. I knew the place had to be good when I saw Sean Penn and Charlize Theron having brunch there back in December when I was touring Natalie around the lobby.
I’m not talking about Ninja Turtles, I’m talking about sea turtles…and huge ones that probably weigh as much as me: 200 lbs! I first spotted them from our balcony (you can see them better with polarized glasses) hanging out in front of the hotel. We spent five days there and we saw the turtles every day. They were just hanging out, swimming around all the bathers and surfers, not bothering anyone and coming up every few minutes or so for a gulp of air.
9. Sounds of the waves at night
One thing about being so close to the ocean is that you can hear the waves so they lull you to sleep. Unfortunately, there are no screen doors so I didn’t leave the doors open because of the mosquitos (not too many but one is enough of a deterrence.) However, even when the balcony doors were shut and the air conditioning wasn’t on full blast, I could hear them…as well as the hotel musicians and the drunk girls who decided it was a great idea to go for a swim in the middle of the night and then scream when they jumped in.
10. Workout clothes
One thing I love about Westin hotels is that they provide New Balance workout clothes and shoes for just $5 a day. The only thing I hate about this is that it really gives me no excuse not to work out! And the Moana Surfrider has a new, 1,400-square foot fitness facility, a state of the art gym.
I’m not joking—all the rooms in the Moana Surfrider have Toto Washlet Toilets. Their heated seats and bidet functionality make you want to spend a couple extra minutes sitting on the can no matter if you have to go number one, two or…zero. No lie.
The Moana Lani Spa opened in October 2008 and it’s Waikiki’s first and only beachfront spa. It features 14 treatment rooms, including two couple’s massage rooms. They are open late (until 10 pm) so services can be booked from 9 am to 8 pm and guests have complimentary facility access from 8 am to 8 pm or may purchase a day pass to use the facilities for $45 plus tax.
Good to know:
-Moana’s beach is the only beach in Waikiki where you can legally drink alcohol.
-President Obama’s press corps stays here so they came up with a secret drink called the Obama Mama. It’s not on the menu but it’s a rum-based cocktail, mixed to the colors of the sunset.
-They have an airport shuttle service that’s worth it if you’re traveling alone as it only costs $15 per person one-way or $28 per person roundtrip. But, they leave super early. For example, for my 11:30 am flight they wanted me to leave at 8 am so instead I took a taxi for $45 (including tip) and left at 9:30 (note: I was flying First Class, have TSA PreCheck and wasn’t checking a bag). FYI: If you reserve the Starwood Airport Shuttle for your arrival in advance, you’ll be greeted with a lei and guided to baggage claim where porters will transport your luggage to the exclusive Starwood Shuttle. It’s an air-conditioned, shared ride and the ride takes about 20 to 25 minutes to the hotel (without traffic).
-You can take a picture of yourself in the lobby using their machine and share it to your social media outlets or email it to a friend (I emailed it to myself).
-Resort fee: My biggest beef with the Moana Surfrider and most other Waikiki hotels is that they charge a daily resort fee of $31.41, per room, per day. The good news is that it includes: free wireless internet, self parking for one vehicle, unlimited local and 1-800 telephone calls, up to 60 minutes of long distance and international telephone calls per day, welcome beverage of two glasses of wine per room, per stay (sommelier’s selection), Moana Historical Tour (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), free 4×8 professional keepsake photo, mini surfing lesson (15 minutes, on the beach, on the basic fundamentals of surfing by Beach Services Surf instructors), Ki Kilo Yoga Class (daily), daily cultural activities including lei -making, historical tours, hula lessons, ukulele lessons…and more.
-Afternoon tea is offered on a shaded beachfront veranda daily from 12 pm to 3 pm. The Veranda Tea Service is $34 (plus tax) per person, Moana Classic Tea Service is $40 (plus tax) and the First Lady Tea Service is $48 (plus tax) per person.
-Rack room rates start at $565 at Moana Surfrider but I know you can get them a lot cheaper (psst, package deal)!