last minute Hawaiian vacation

When life gives you a lemon... turn it into a Mai Tai! Along with thousands of other travelers this Christmas, inclement weather forced us to make some last minute Christmas vacation plans. We had been planning to visit family who live near Portland, OR. Severe winter weather made that visit impossible. Horizon Air cancelled our flight, and even if we could have made it, Hertz could not have provided the (required) chains. Every car rental agency in Portland was sold out of 4x4s.

So I found myself on the morning of Dec. 22 with my long-planned Christmas vacation snowed out. My mission was simple, to find...
  • a desirable location (i.e., with better weather than Northern California)
  • reachable via non-stop flight from Oakland or San Francisco
  • flight availability the next day
  • last-minute availability at a Virtuoso hotel during Festive Season
Phoenix was out — too cold (60º) and rainy. Maui, Kona, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta had no non-stop availability. That left Honolulu with its 80º temperatures and sunny skies at the top of my list.

I got extremely lucky and booked a room at The Kahala Resort. I had stayed here several years ago and really love this property! In fact, the banner at the top of every Travel Horizons page is a photograph I took during my former visit to the Kahala — a sunrise seen from their beach. The lead picture for this article — three fishermen at dawn — was photographed on the same beach. And check out my website for another sunrise shot from The Kahala. Clearly, this is a photogenic place to stay!

What do I like so much about the Kahala? It's a mid-size resort with a few more than 300 rooms. The Kahala offers a casually elegant and relaxing ambiance. The rooms are spacious (550 square feet) and have been newly renovated with a beautiful color scheme and carpeting replacing the old parquet wood floors (although I actually preferred the funky old parquet!). The bathrooms are large with two separate vanities, a soaking tub, a glass-enclosed shower, and two closets. We were upgraded to a lanai room with a large balcony overlooking the mountains; we kept the lanai doors opened and the air conditioning off and enjoyed the tropical breezes.

Best of all, service at the Kahala is genuine and personable. On Christmas morning, every guest room had a Christmas stocking hung outside its door with a few surprises within. This is typical of the warmth and friendliness of this very Hawaiian resort. Be sure to book through a Virtuoso luxury travel consultant to receive a complimentary buffet breakfast for two daily ($60 value) and free parking.

While in Honolulu, I had a site inspection of the other Virtuoso property, the Halekulani (seen at the far left of the row of hotels in this picture). An urban beach resort, the Halekulani has created a secluded and quiet oasis within the excitement and bustle of Waikiki. The rooms are not as large as those at the Kahala, although every room has its own balcony. Virtuoso clients receive an upgrade at the time of booking from Partial Ocean View to Ocean View — or from Ocean View to Ocean Front. This amounts to a very nice discount, and Virtuoso clients receive free parking and a free breakfast buffet in addition!

Waikiki or not? Oahu has a lot to offer vacationers — the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, world class waves on the north coast, great snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Park, and beautiful, sunny weather most of the year. If you like the excitement of a vibrant urban shopping mecca with upscale stores, a vast variety of restaurants, and lively nightlife, you'll enjoy Waikiki Beach. (Keep walking east on the beach till you're beyond the crescent of hotels and you'll find a park-like setting where the beach is much less crowded.) If, on the other hand, you want quiet and seclusion, you'll love the Kahala — a great family destination resort where your kids can swim with the dolphins!

The Kahala Resort (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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