Our trip to the Big Island was scheduled for the week prior to Christmas. We had a direct flight on American from Dallas to Kona with a flight time of just under 9 hours. Sitting in an economy seat for that long wasn’t going to be easy but we were on our way to Hawai’i. So how could one complain?
From what I had seen, it was raining, gray and overcast in Hawaii. I hoped our stay wouldn’t be a washout. One of things I always forget to do on long haul flights is to order our meals. This is one aspect of travel planning that somehow escapes my attention until check-in time. Unfailingly, the same happened this time as well. So Mr. JJ and Sonny JJ went hunting for food to carry on before boarding.
After a grueling season of school and work schedules, we had no difficulty settling down to some much-needed sleep on the flight. American served us a vegetarian wrap, Asian curry chickpea wrap, to be specific. It was cold but reasonably tasty and I dug into it with gusto. The others were more lukewarm in their reception of the wrap. It was served with chips and a berry and chocolate snack. The kids worked on the food from the airport. Between sleep and some inflight movies, we were soon turning to make our approach into Kona. We could see Kona in the distance, the skies iron-gray and wet and the island itself silhouetted in the mist. On both our prior visits to Hawaiian islands, we had been welcomed with sunny skies and tropical climes. So this was a new side of Hawaiian weather that we experienced.
As I alluded to in the introduction, on this trip we gave up the freedom of a rental car for a full-fledged experience on the resort grounds only. The hotel recommended using Speedishuttle for airport pick up and drop off. A week ahead of the trip, I made online reservations for transportation both ways and included a gratuity as well. The cost for all four of us before gratuity was $63 per trip. This included our one check in and a carry on luggage.
Interestingly, we had to fill out the Plants and Animal declaration form attesting we weren’t carrying any live plants, fruits, vegetables, amongst other things. In all honestly, I don’t remember filling out this form on our previous trips. When we landed in Kona, it had stopped raining and we enjoyed the open air layout of the airport. Coming from cold Dallas, the weather was pleasant despite the rain that had preceded us. The airport had only two conveyor belts in baggage claim, so it was easy to spot our luggage.
A Speedishuttle rep was waiting for us just past baggage claim in red and green Hawaiian shirt and guided us to a waiting Mercedes-Benz van, where she handed us over to the driver. He loaded our luggage as we piled into the van that’s a 12 seater. Two other families were waiting in the van. Once we were settled, the shuttle took off for the 20-25 mins drive to the resort.
The ride was smooth and the driver was knowledgeable about the local area and pointed out all the mountains in the area including the Hualalai, Kohala, Mauna Loa and the Mauna Kea. The peak of the Mauna Kea was covered in snow. He pointed out the mouth of the lava tube, en route, that can be explored. A two lane highway connects the airport with the Kona resorts and the opposite lane was crowded with workers going home at that time of the day. Despite the bleak sky, we gazed in awe at the black lava that covered the valley, some smooth and others crumbling. We saw a lot of grass that’s apparently invasive and rapidly encroaching on native fauna.
In short order, we were at the resort complex. We drove past the marketplace area which is a mile or so from the main resort. As we pulled up to the lobby of the resort, a large decorated Christmas tree greeted us. The lobby itself was a bit underwhelming. To the left were the check-in desks. We headed to the one for Hilton Honors members. After a short wait, we were assisted by a clerk who assigned us a room on the 6th floor in the Ocean Tower. The rooms at the resort are spread across three towers, the Ocean Tower, the Makai tower and the Palace tower.
The resort covers about 63 acres of land. The resort is uniquely networked by trams and canal boats. There is also a covered walkway extending to all the towers. We chose to use the tram and got on with all our luggage. The voice in the car started talking in what sounded like Japanese. For a moment, I felt transported back to Tokyo. Apparently, the resort gets plenty of visitors from Japan, so instructions are played in English and Japanese.
The Ocean tower is the second main building from the lobby after the Palace tower. it took about 8-10 minutes for the tram to get there. We got directions to our tower entrance from the staff at the help desk and made our way upstairs.
Built around a central open space in half arcs, our corridor opened onto a small lagoon/ adult pool on the inside. The door opened onto a short hallway that first led to a powder area with vanity. From there, we could access the shower and a luggage storage/ safe area.
Next, the hallway led to the main room with a king bed placed obliquely on the right side and looking towards the French windows. A sofa sleeper was placed near the foot of the bed. The left side wall was occupied by a chest of drawers, a mini fridge and a working desk with chair. Through the doors, we could see a small balcony with a couple of chairs and a small table overlooking a well manicured lawn. We had an excellent view of the ocean from the room and of the mountains in the distance. The view was a bit hazy due to the weather yet soothing to the soul.
Like the lobby, the room decor felt dated for such a grand location. If I had paid regular rates to get this room, it would have been far more disappointing. But the spectacular views from the balcony took some of the sting out.
After settling in and freshening up, we were famished and decided to find dinner. Being a large resort, there were several dining options, but we didn’t wish to venture too far in the light drizzle that had started. We had seen a pizza place en route to the room and that seemed easily walkable. So we went down and once again got directions from the staff to Dona and Toni’s pizza. The covered walkway at the resort is unique in that it houses several pieces of art, mostly from Asia. It makes walking back and forth more interesting and seems to shorten the walk.
Dona and Toni’s pizza was busy when we checked in and had to wait about 30 mins to be seated. With all of us as hungry as we were, it felt even longer. Plus there were plenty of mosquitoes to keep us unwanted company. Once we were finally seated, it still took the waitress a while to get our orders in and for the food to arrive. So if you plan to eat here, go early or at least not when seriously hungry.
Now the Hilton Waikoloa is not an all-inclusive resort. And the prices at the restaurants are rather hefty. After checking with the waitress, we ordered garlic cheesebread for appetizers, a large Margherita pizza for us girls and a Pasta Primavera for the boys. The food itself tasted good but still did not do justice to the price. The room where we were served was cozy but I think I would have enjoyed eating in their patio that overlooks the canal and the gardens. But the weather that evening was not conducive for such an experience. And I would not have appreciated being the evening meal for a horde of mosquitoes, either.
After dinner, we walked back slowly to the room, stopping to enjoy the artwork along our path. Once in the room, we sat out on the balcony for a while listening to the sounds of the waves lashing against the rocks. We couldn’t appreciate any stars in the sky but the nip in the air and the lulling sounds of the ocean soon had us under their spell. The weather for the following day still promised rain but we hoped to prove the weatherman wrong.