A February 2005 trip
to Kona by ideagirl
Quote: The slower pace of Kona was exactly what we needed when, on the recommendation of a relative who also loves to travel, we blindly booked a week on the Big Island. Our needs were simple: quiet time, good sushi, and a deserted beach. We weren't disappointed.
There are many artifacts in this area of historical import - this was the home of Kamehameha the Great. Many sites have been lost to looters and nature. Don't pass up the chance to see what remains of the sacred lands, ancient tikis, and historical artifacts.
Keep in mind that even though shops and the waterfront are within walking distance, once you get off Ali'I, the sidewalks are rutted or often nonexistent, so take care walking at night or during peak traffic times.
Hotel | "Kona Islander Inn"
The Kona Islander is of the new breed of condotels that are sweeping the state of Hawaii. (Please see my experiences article on the condotel phenomenon). One of the best features of this property is the location. Although I looked at many maps while planning, all of them really skirted the issue of where things are located. For example, everything is just "minutes from the beach." It turns out that most of the properties I researched were a good 5 miles out of town near rocky beaches unsuitable for swimming, with no markets or restaurants in the area. The Islander, on the other hand, is smack dab in the middle of town, with bars, restaurants, gift shops, supermarkets, a beach, and pretty much anything you might want all within walking distance.
Each studio is equipped with a fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, dishes, phone, and cable TV. Any more than that depends on the unit. Our room was nicely appointed in rattan and island prints, and our view of the garden couldn't have been better. The "kitchenette" was added by tearing out what used to be the dressing area, where you would normally find a bathroom sink and a closet. Instead they installed a kitchen sink on one side, with a refrigerator and microwave where the closet was. I found it a bit disturbing to brush my hair and watch my husband shave in the same room where we prepared our food. It was not so disturbing that we left, but it was a weird set up that you may not care for.
The garden area sports a very nice pool, hot tub, tropical garden, and two large gas grills for community use. The grills were popular since all anyone had to cook with in their room was a microwave and maybe a toaster oven if they were lucky. From our lanai, I watched the nightly procession of cooks from 4:30pm to well after sunset wait their turn, fish in hand. We ate between 7:30 and 8pm, after everyone else was done cooking, to avoid the rush. The grills were cleaned every morning by the grounds staff, as was the pool.
The Islander is a homey, comfortable place to stay at a budget price. It isn't the Marriott, but it isn't priced like the Marriott, either. The room quality can vary greatly; make sure you insist on a "four-star" room.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 15, 2005
75-5841 Alii Drive
Their motto, "We cheat tourists, drunks and attorneys," was an immediate cause of concern for us, being two drunken tourists who work for an attorney. We looked at each other, swallowed hard, and ventured inside, being careful not to casually throw around terms like "discovery" and "in limine motions." The nice girls behind the counter didn't seem at all threatening, and once we had determined we wouldn't be served any spit burgers, we proceeded to order at the counter.
The decor is a hodgepodge of steel, wood, and vinyl, something of an industrial malt shop theme, as if Arnold's was catering to the Mad Max crowd. It was clean, with table and counter seating and big windows to let in the sunlight. We were disappointed that they didn't serve beer, but the girls told us we were welcome to buy some across the street and bring it on over. We passed, being too tired from a day of wave wrestling to walk across the street and back, but you might keep that in mind should you venture in with the idea of downing a cold one with your meal.
The food was good. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give the burgers a 7. One of the best burger joints in the country is in my hometown, so I'm jaded when it comes to burgers. What I enjoyed the most were the onion rings, with the fries following as a close second. They are so hard to choose between that Bubba offers a side of "Frings," fries and onion rings, for those of us who just can't make up our minds. Take him up on the offer; it's a good combo.
The prices are moderate to low. Two of us had burgers, frings, and drinks for under $14, and Chasmo's burger was a double. On a side note, there is funny story behind Bubba's slogan. Take a peek at the menu, read Bubba's take on the world and how the slogan came to be, and find other Hawaii locations at their website, www.bubbaburger.com.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 17, 2005
75-5705 Kuakini Highway
Kona, Hawaii 96740
Restaurant | "Hula's"
The atmosphere was nice--a funky kind of Hawaiian, with colorful murals on the walls and a view of the pier. We sat at a table facing the ocean; it was a pleasant spot for lunch, overlooking the lapping waves.
The menu consists of American and seafood/local items, mostly of the sandwich variety. The menu touted, "Try our soon-to-be-famous shrimp cocktail!" How could anyone pass up a challenge like that? We split a shrimp cocktail and ordered grilled fish sandwiches with onion rings, as well. Once again, we were in the unenviable position of wanting some afternoon beer and being unable to purchase it with our lunch. Either it is really hard to get a liquor license on this island, or we just plain drink too much. We're still trying to work that one out.
We were the only patrons present. The waitress was a little Hawaiian bundle of energy, all smiles in her short, yellow sarong, who really did work hard and gave us great service. She brought our shrimp promptly, and it looked great--six huge shrimp draped around a parfait dish of sauce. The fish were cold and crisp. I am sorry to report, though, that their house specialty probably won't be famous until they perfect the cocktail sauce.
Hawaiian tastes and foods tend toward the sweet side, and it has been my experience, for the most part, that strong spices and flavors don't appeal to locals. The cocktail sauce had nary a hint of horseradish, garlic, or even plain, black pepper. In fact, it taste suspiciously like Heinz with a dash of lemon juice.
The thing they should really be touting is the onion rings--I had a lot of good rings on the island, but these were truly award-winning. The batter was light and crispy, the onions weren't soggy, and the smell was heavenly. The grilled fish was good, too, but the onion rings overshadowed everything else.
We lingered too long, reluctant to leave this peaceful little bistro on the shore, but our afternoon naps were calling, and we had to say goodbye to our perky hula girl. When the afternoon clouds roll over the shore and it's time to leave the beach, stop in to Hula's to end your day and linger over a plate of onion rings. Oh, and if you want it, bring some beer with you--they won't mind.
Hula's Bar & Lei Stand
134 Kapahulu Ave./2nd Floor Waikiki Grand Hotel
What is a condotel?
When an aging hotel is losing money, a developer comes along and buys it up, paying for upgrades and room conversions. Usually, an on-site property management company is then hired to run a front desk and handle maintenance and room booking for unit owners. The rooms are sold as "condos," sometimes with a retrofitted kitchen or kitchenette, and sometimes with the same amenities you would find in any mid-range hotel room. But because units are individually owned, room quality can vary from scary to luxurious. Although the original idea was to compete with high-end hotels and offer frequent guests an inexpensive way to own a vacation home, it was quickly latched onto by developers who bought up smaller properties, did a shabby renovation, and turned the units over quickly.
According the 2/12/05 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser, 90% of condotel units are sold to investors, not vacationers.
An unwitting traveler may also be in for a surprise when they rent a "condo" expecting exactly that--a small vacation apartment equipped with the basic amenities of home that will make their stay more comfortable than being in a hotel. Unfortunately, a condotel unit may or may not bear a resemblance to a traditional condo. The condotel unit we stayed in, for example, came with what was described as a kitchenette. I have seen kitchenettes and even lived with a few, and this was no kitchenette. It has a microwave, refrigerator, and coffee maker, just as you would expect to find in any mid-range hotel. Fortunately, I had done my research, so I knew in advance it wasn't really set up for cooking, but I heard other guests complaining to the office staff that the term "kitchenette" was misleading. I agree.
Another pitfall is that room quality can vary between units, because often individual owners are not held to quality standards by the property management firm. When I booked this over the phone, the lady told me she had a 2- star room with an ocean view, or a 4-star room with a garden view, for the same price ($89 per night). The rating system was explained to me this way: Since each unit is individually owned, the property management firm had no control over things like how often a unit is painted, what kind of furnishings it would have, etc. Each room is equipped with a microwave, fridge, coffee maker, cable TV, and phone. Everything else could vary by owner.
In order to give guests options, the units are rated from one to four stars, four being the best. Now, really, how much difference could there be between two and four stars? I figured that perhaps the furnishings would be older, or maybe it would need carpet, but I preferred a room with an ocean view, so I opted for the two-star room. Upon arrival, we were given room 148.
Boy, was I wrong about that rating system. Room 148 was a dump--no doubt about it. The furniture consisted of a beat-up dresser that looked like someone pulled it out of a thrift store dumpster, a 30-year-old rattan couch that smelled like mold and pee, and a bed. The sheets were clean--I checked.
The worst part, though, was the smell. I can only explain it by saying that if you put a wet bath towel in a hamper and sealed it up in front of a sunny window, after a week it wouldn't even come close to smelling as bad as this room did. My husband's eyes literally started watering, and he had to go sit outside.
I went to the office and explained, politely, that although I knew we weren't getting a fancy room, the smell really was horrible, and was there any chance we could move? The staff was very apologetic, and fortunately, there was another room available with a garden view and four-star rating. So we moved to room 205.
What a difference--it was like night and day. This room had lovely furnishings with a homey touch, a couch that didn't reek, fairly new paint and carpet, and a ceiling fan to circulate the air and keep the mold smells at bay. It was a nice place to spend the week at a reasonable price.
We were lucky. If they had had no other rooms available, we would have been stuck in that first dump they put us in.
We weren't the only ones who had this experience. The week before, a friend checked into another condotel unit up the street that had been reserved for a week. It was as bad, if not worse, than Room 148, and the office staff refused to give him another room. He checked out and went across the street to the King Kamehmeha Hotel at twice the price.
What does a traveler need to know?
When booking a condotel unit, try to deal directly with the property management company, or better yet, the owner, and not a third party. Ask which unit you will be in and if pictures are available. Many have pictures of individual units online now. Make sure the room amenities are clearly spelled out: What are the kitchen facilities in that unit? Are dishes provided? How about dishwashing supplies, toilet paper, and maid service? Are there laundry facilities on the property? Pool or other amenities? Make sure everything is clearly defined in advance, and I cannot stress enough that pictures will tell the story.
Don't be discouraged--condotels are a great budget alternative. We paid $89 per night in area where the rooms start at $200. We knew in advance what to expect in the way of a kitchen, and once we moved out of the room from hell, we had a really wonderful stay. But forewarned is forearmed--don't get taken in by a slick sales staff, ask tons of questions, and insist on pictures of everything.