the luxury hotels of Hawai'i

First, a word about the Big Island of Hawai'i. When I left the Kona airport and drove north along the coast, the view was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. On either side of the highway are lava fields — once-molten lava that hardened when it cooled — an other-worldly sight! I wasn't quite sure what the resorts along the Kohala Coast would be like, but not to fear. The Big Island's beach resorts are among the finest in the world.

The Fairmont Orchid is a large resort (pictured above) with 540 guest rooms in two 6-story wings. Each room is generously sized at 522 square feet. The property was originally developed by Ritz-Carlton, later became a member of Starwood's Luxury Collection, and finally came into the Fairmont family of hotels. The resort is small enough that you can walk easily from your room to the restaurants, spa, swimming pool, tennis courts, and beach. At the same time, it is large enough that one is impressed by the spaciousness of the grounds. There is no sense here of being cramped. The grounds are lushly landscaped with beautiful lawns and plantings.

Four Seasons Hualalai is the perfect intimate beach resort. The 243 guest rooms and suites are arrayed in four "crescents," each crescent facing the beach with its own pool in the center. Pictured above is the Palm Grove crescent, especially popular for guests celebrating their honeymoons or anniversaries. The Palm Grove pool is adult only, adding to the sense of privacy and seclusion in this section of the property. What I like best about Hualalai is that buildings are low-rise, nothing on the property higher than two stories. Many ground floor rooms even have an outdoor shower. The resort is family-friendly with a complimentary kids program. Free washers and dryers are available for guests.

Mauna Lani Bay Hotel has 343 rooms and suites, a smaller property than the Fairmont but larger than the Four Seasons. Set on a beautiful beach, the resort offers two 18-hole championship golf courses, 10 tennis courts, a pool, and a children's program. I especially liked the open-air design of the hotel. You will never have the experience of walking down a long, closed hallway that might as well be in any high-rise city hotel in the world. The interior of the hotel is an open courtyard with beautiful plantings, with all guestrooms facing to the outside, and the feeling of being in an idyllic tropical destination is enhanced by the hotel's architecture.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was originally developed in 1965 by Rockresorts. At the time, it was considered the most expensive hotel ever built and named by Esquire magazine as one of the three best hotels in the world. It has been closed for two years for a $150 million renovation with its re-opening is scheduled for December 2008. It is set on Hapuna Beach (pictured immediately above) and in the midst of a challenging championship golf course.

Big Island Beach Resorts (search here on Google)

copyright (c) 2008 by David J. Ourisman. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

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