Hotel Review: Aqua Palms Waikiki

by Gray Cargill on October 17, 2012

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I arrived at the Aqua Palms Waikiki last February at midnight. It’s hard to get a good sense of a hotel at midnight—especially when you’ve been awake, on planes and in airports, for 24 hours. When my shuttle dropped me off, all I could see was the brightly-lit lobby. I couldn’t really assess what I’d gotten myself into until the next day, after I’d gotten some sleep.

Fast-forward to the next morning. Daylight was creeping in around the edges of the drapes. I was awake way too early, still on East Coast time. I pulled back the curtains and–squee! I had a lanai! And a most awesome view of Fort DeRussy Park, the Hilton Hawaiian Village across the street, and in the distance, past the hotel towers of Waikiki, there was Diamond Head towering over the ocean. And the sunrise was beautiful. I instantly fell in love with Hawaii.

Sunrise over Waikiki

Sunrise over Waikiki

As it turns out, the Aqua Palms is a pretty decent budget hotel in Waikiki. After paying nearly $1,000 in airfare to get to Honolulu from Vermont, “budget” was what I needed. Luckily, I’d found a web deal for $119/night for a Diamond Head view room that included free breakfast daily at the IHOP next door. $119/night is a screaming deal for Waikiki.

Aqua Palms room

Aqua Palms room

Now, for that price, you can’t expect the same room quality or amenities as someone staying across the street at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. But think about this: You can enjoy much of what is offered at the Hawaiian Village–the beach, the restaurants, the bars, the shopping, the Friday night fireworks, etc.–while paying the less expensive price of staying at the Aqua Palms.

HHV beach

The best of both worlds: Stay at the Aqua Palms, enjoy the HHV beach across the street.

So what was the room like? It’s in an older building, and the room had seen better days. The furniture was a bit worn around the edges, the walls needed a fresh coat of paint, that sort of thing. But the hotel has gone to pains to spiff the place up with nice bedding, a flat panel TV, cute little touches. It was always clean, and I had everything I needed–including a kitchen.

Kitchenette

The microwave is cleverly hidden in the upper cupboard.

The kitchen was located between the bathroom and the bedroom, and came with a fridge, microwave and coffee maker. Anyone who wanted to save money on meals could do so by storing and preparing their own food in the room. Even though I wound up not using the microwave, I was stoked to be able to go to the ABC store around the corner and pick up yogurts and fruit to store in the fridge.

Bathroom

The bathroom had everything I needed.

There was plenty of storage space for my things in the closet and bureau, and plenty of surfaces in the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom to scatter my stuff around for easy access. The room safe didn’t work and though I reported it, it never got fixed while I was there. I didn’t call to remind them. I just locked my netbook in my suitcase when I went out, and it was fine.

Lanai

My favorite thing about my room - the lanai!

The room included free Internet (wired) and you could get free wifi in the lobby—along with free coffee all day. The lobby also featured a concierge/business desk and computers/printer for use. I was a little surprised that they charged me to print my boarding pass; that’s usually a complimentary service in hotels I stay at. But it was only about $5, so whatever. There is a small, but comfortable sitting area in the lobby, and some tables in front of the windows.

Lobby

The lobby

The hotel has a small plunge pool, but it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing that over the beach across the street at the Hilton Hawaiian Village (unless you have a fear of the ocean). You can get beach chairs and beach towels for free at the front desk. About the only thing this hotel lacks is a restaurant (other than IHOP) and lounge—which I would have appreciated at the end of a long day when I was too pooped to travel far afield for a drink or bite to eat.

What else is there to know about the Aqua Palms?

Plunge pool

View of the pool from my room

How is it for sleeping? Is it noisy there?

The bed and pillows are comfortable. My room was against a bank of elevators, but I heard no noise from that. My room faced the very busy Ala Moana Boulevard, so I was glad I brought and wore earplugs at night. The only thing that filtered through to me and disrupted my sleep was the street construction going on right outside the hotel (including jackhammering) late at night toward the end of my stay. Typical city.

Aqua Palms

Aqua Palms exterior

Is it a good location?

It’s located at the northern end of the Waikiki Beach area. If you’re renting a car, it’s a great location, especially to get outside Waikiki to the rest of the island. You will pay $20/day for parking, but you can expect to pay even more at most Waikiki hotels. Build it into your budget.

For taking the bus, it was perfect. There was a bus stop right next to the hotel where I could pick up the #42 bus to downtown Honolulu (to see Iolani Palace) and to Pearl Harbor. (You can purchase a 4-day bus pass at the ABC Store around the corner.) There are other bus stops a couple of blocks away.

The hotel is a ten-minute walk to the Ala Moana Shopping Center and there are a number of restaurants up and down the boulevard (including the excellent Singa Thai). For walking, it was a bit of a hike to get to the central Waikiki Beach area (around the International Marketplace), but I managed it. You can catch a bus in that direction if you want to save your legs.

Lobby

Solo travelers may enjoy the friendly staff and the Thursday night Manager's Reception.

How is it for solo travelers?

Great. It’s in a safe, well-traveled neighborhood. The staff is super nice and friendly. And every Thursday evening from 5-6pm is a Manager’s Reception in the Lobby (with live music), which gives you an opportunity to socialize. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t there on a Thursday.)

Can you get a room overlooking the ocean?

My lanai faced Ala Moana Boulevard. I had a partial view of the ocean between other high rises. I think that’s as good as it gets here. If a full-on view of the beach and ocean is important to you, you’ll have to fork over the money to stay elsewhere.

ocean view

Yes, you can see the ocean from here--if your camera has a zoom lens.

Would I stay here again?

Absolutely.

Note: While Aqua Resorts has advertised on this blog before, I paid for my stay at the Aqua Palms myself at a rate any member of the public could have booked. My opinions about the hotel are 100% my own.

Christine | Grrrl Traveler October 26, 2012 at 5:32 am

Wow, beautiful photos Gray! I remember dropping you off by the construction area cause I couldn’t drive in. ha ha… But the pics give a nice representation– I was curious of what it looked like inside. That’s some view you’ve got!

Gray October 26, 2012 at 6:19 am

Yeah, it was a good place despite the street mess, Christine. But man, is that the longest red light in the world or what???

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