Big Island Break


The living and dining areas of the Duke Kahanamoku Presidential Suite at Hilton Waikoloa Village

In late May, Travel Agent was invited to be part of the Big Island Break, a four-day tour of Hawaii’s Big Island that took us from lush rainforests to desolate lava fields. Our hosts for this trip were two Hilton properties at the Waikoloa Beach Resort, Hilton Waikoloa Village and Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations Club.

Hilton Waikoloa Village is a 62-acre resort with 1,240 guest rooms (including 58 suites) spread among three low-rise towers advertised as “no taller than the tallest palm tree.” The oceanfront Lagoon Tower offers views of the Dolphin Quest Village and Lagoon, the Kohala Tennis Garden, the Kohala Spa and the enormous Kona Pool. The Ocean Tower overlooks the Waikoloa Golf Beach Course, Seaside Putting Course, the Buddha Point for meditation and the Kohala River Pool. The Ocean Tower’s atrium is home to the Boat Landing Pavilion, the hotel’s adults-only pool and a wildlife pond, and houses most of the resort’s rooms. The Palace Tower is the most centrally located of the three buildings, with easy access to the resort’s amenities and activities. Free trains and ferries shuttle guests from one end of the property to the other, making every section of the resort easily accessible.

While even basic rooms at the property are spacious, elegant and serenely comfortable, families and larger groups may want to book suites. Signature Palace Suites offer about 1,500 square feet and an extra half bath. Royal Suites, which also feature an extra half bath, have 2,120 square feet of living space.

Art and culture fans will like the mile-long Museum Walkway—the largest art museum on Big Island. Valued at more than $7 million, the collection features artwork from Asian, Western and Oceanic cultures, from paintings by contemporary Hawaiian artists to ancient Samoan war clubs to Han dynasty pottery. There are about 5,000 works of art displayed at the resort, including 1,800 pieces along the Museum Walkway.

The hotel features nine dining outlets and poolside bars. Of these, we tried the Kamuela Provision Company, which has an outdoor dining terrace that offers views of Waiulua Bay and 180-second-long sunsets. The cuisine could be called Hawaiian Regional, with fresh, locally grown ingredients and an award-winning wine bar with vintages from around the world. Donatoni’s Antipasti Bar serves Italian and island-style small plates for guests to taste and share (try the calamari and the risotto cake). The Malolo Lounge offers a casual setting that, we are told, is reminiscent of steamship lounges that sailed to Hawaii in the 1920s (try the signature 180-second cocktail—named after the sunset—or the Lava Flow for a sweet tropical treat).

The hotel’s 25,000-square-foot Kohala Spa is an experience in itself. The spa’s most popular treatment is the Lomi Lomi massage, a Hawaiian tradition taught by elders, and treatments for mothers and daughters that encourage bonding. The enormous facility has 23 treatment rooms (three are for couples) and employs between 50 and 55 people at the spa, the cardio room, weight room, yoga room and other areas. Michele Wilkin, director of Kohala Spa, says no single therapist is more in demand than the others. (From my own experience, I highly recommend Tonia Thomas, who worked out the knots in my back while deftly avoiding my sunburn.)

Just off the Lagoon Tower is the Dolphin Quest attraction, which has been part of the property since 1988. The program is as much about learning from and about the dolphins as it is about letting people pet and swim with the playful mammals. Talking about the program, Adrea Gibbs, general manager of Dolphin Quest, notes that human beings can’t swim 25 miles per hour, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say that we’d be swimming with dolphins. “It’s more like they’re swimming with us,” she says. Riding dolphins is not allowed (Gibbs compares holding a dolphin by its dorsal fin to a human carrying another person by their nose), and, she emphasizes, the dolphins are never forced to do anything they don’t want to. Gibbs also points out that the dolphins have had ample opportunity to escape, but prefer to stay where they are—they don’t even like moving to the larger lagoon adjacent to their own.

Rates at Hilton Waikoloa Village start at $199 per night, based on double occupancy. For room reservations, agents should call 1-808-886-1234 or visit

For the second leg of our trip, we stayed in two-bedroom suites at Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations Club, a still-growing quasi time-share development designed for longer-term guests. (Guests purchase points that they can exchange for days at Hilton properties around the world.) The low-rise buildings offer full apartments of one or two bedrooms to let families enjoy the home-away-from-home experience, while saving them money. (Agents can get a standard 10 percent commission on these apartments, and guests can use their Hilton HHonors points to buy days.)

We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, washer/dryer, lanai and an en-suite master bathroom that’s bigger than my first apartment in New York. The kitchen is fully stocked with plates, flatware and utensils (no need to bring spatulas!), and coffee and laundry detergent are complimentary. (A Costco is nearby for major food runs, and a shopping center on the property can provide any groceries guests need.)

The master bathroom, with its open design, Kohler fixtures, Crabtree & Evelyn bath products and deep soaking tub, is nothing less than heaven for weary travelers. Flat-screen TVs in the living room and bedrooms provide entertainment for those who need more than hiking, snorkeling, swimming, shopping, tennis, golf, sight-seeing and sunbathing to amuse themselves. Shuttles can take guests to the main resort for activities, and the layout of the buildings allows cars to be parked close to each apartment, making outings easy. Cleaning services can be arranged depending on the guests’ preferences and needs.


A comfortable double bedroom at Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations Club


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