Sizing up the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa, on the southwest coast of Oahu (25 miles west of Honolulu)
For some visitors to Oahu, a slight gripe is the relatively intense degree of development in Honolulu and its beach-front resort area, Waikiki. That's where Hawaii's most discernible gay scene is anchored, but if you're planning a laid-back, romantic getaway, and you aim to be far from the crowds but still close enough to the action to venture in from time to time, the swank Ihilani Resort & Spa might just be what you're looking for.
The gay-friendly, high-rise resort, which is part of the posh JW Marriott brand, has an enviable 640-acre private perch directly facing the ocean, on Oahu's peaceful southwestern coast - about 25 miles from Honolulu (20 miles from Honolulu Airport, which is en route). Celebrities visiting Oahu often choose this top-notch hideaway, thanks to the first-rate service and somewhat secluded location (plus, among the more than 400 rooms, the Ihilani has some enormous suites, including a 4,000-square-foot Presidential pad). With other plush amenities that include one of Oahu's best spas, a handful of bars and restaurants, 6 tennis courts, a world-class golf course, and a beautiful beach (and adjacent marina), the Ihilani (which opened in 1993) provides guests with the cushy resort vibe typically found on Maui and the Kohala Coast of the Big Island, yet within easy driving distance of Waikiki's bustle.
- Even standard rooms are quite huge, at 640 square feet and up; the suites are ginormous, and 85% of all units face ocean or lagoon.
- The location is secluded and relaxed, far from the madding crowds of Waikiki, and with gorgeous sunset views (only luxury resort on the island with direct western views over the water).
- The restaurants on-site are very good.
- There are sharks (not the man-eating variety) and marine life (sea urchins, stingrays, sea cucumbers) in the little pools by the resort's restaurant - at certain times during the day, by arrangement (there's a fee) guests can assist in feeding the marine life in the ponds.
- Private beach and pool never super-crowded, even when hotel is full.
- It's a 40-minute drive from the action (and gay scene) of Waikiki.
- Although the restaurants on-site are quite good, they're you're only decent nearby options - you'll have to venture to Honolulu for a great variety.
Address, phone, and web: 92-1001 Olani St., Ko Olina, HI, 808-679-0079; book online at the hotel's web reservations page. The hotel is on Oahu's southwestern coast, about a 45-minute drive from Waikiki.
Rates: Rates begin around $250 per night during quieter times, but generally you can expect average rates of about $450 to $700 during the busier times, such as summer and during winter holidays. Compare these rates with many of Waikiki's most upscale accommodations (and with the upscale resorts on Maui and the Big Island), and Ihilani is highly competitive.
Rooms and notable in-amenities: About 420 rooms and suites. In each room you'll find bright, contemporary furnishings with tasteful hues, and large windows (about 85% of all units face ocean of lagoon); all have large private lanais with teak furnishings. In-room amenities include individual climate control, high-speed Internet, large-screen TVs, 3 phones, CD player/radios, in-room safes, and marble baths with deep soaking tubs, separate glass showers, vanities with lighted mirrors, and top-of-the-line toiletries.
Noteworthy hotel amenities: Dining options include Azul, a top-notch restaurant (and wine bar) known for Hawaiian Regional Cuisine and emphasizing fresh seafood - this is the only restaurant on-site that's actually worth a visit even if you're not staying at the resort. The Naupaka Terrace serves a very good daily breakfast (buffet or a la carte) and is well-regarded for its lavish weekend Sunday champagne brunch spread. You can also dine on authentic Japanese fare Ushio-Tei. There's are also a few more casual bar and dining options around the property.
The Ihilani Spa is one of the most impressive in Hawaii. At 35,000 square feet, the facility contains a top-notch fitness center, lap pool and water-exercise pool, and a variety of treatment rooms where you can opt for Hawaiian- and Polynesian-inspired massages, body wraps, facials, scrubs, and hydro treatments (the spa has Swiss showers, grand jets, Vichy showers, and Roman-style pools).
The JW Marriott Ihilani has six lighted championship tennis courts, a first-rate 18-hole golf course, four protected coves with gold-sand beaches, peaceful pools, a yacht marina, a gorgeous stretch of Pacific oceanfront, and a variety of entertainment and cultural programs (for both kids and adults), from luaus to lei-weaving.