Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The “Perfect Vacation”

The airline tickets to Hawaii were booked using frequent flier miles on United Airlines. We made the reservation, picked out seats and enjoyed priority boarding with ease. No hassle. I wish the hotel industry would sit up and take note.
Our hotel in Honolulu on Waikiki Beach was also booked using points earned in the Starwood Preferred program. I spent way too many nights in Asian hotels, but at least this was one benefit from all of the business travel. You might think that hotels would provide special attention when their frequent guests return, but that was not our experience at Waikiki. The Royal Hawaiian hotel is a beachfront property on Oahu. Ocean views are always a premium, so when we booked a “garden view” room we expected to be on the back side of the hotel with a view of beautiful landscape (after all, we were visiting an Hawaiian island!). We checked in and walked to our room, which happened to look out onto a busy entrance into a neighboring shopping mall and Sheraton Hotel. I was not impressed with their idea of a “garden”. Upon informing the front desk of our displeasure, we were provided with a much more suitable room with a garden view.

View of Waikiki beach from the Royal Hawaiian 

Garden view at the Royal Hawaiian

I wish that had been the end of this story. Jack spent way too many nights in Hilton hotels as a single man working for Deloitte. A portion of his Hilton Honors program points were gifted to us for our stay at the Hilton Waikola Village on the Big Island. It was a great gift at a beautiful hotel. Again you might think that the hotel chain would take notice when a room is paid for using points from their frequent guest program, but you would be wrong again. The Hilton is a huge property, providing over 1,200 guest rooms in 3 different buildings spread out over a 62 acre property. The hotel utilized both a tram and boat taxis to move the guests between hotel rooms, convention center, shopping, restaurants, pools, beach, and the single hotel lobby where everyone arrives & departs.

The reviews on TripAdvisor accurately described trams that moved more slowly than you could walk. The reviews did not mention the 3-5 minute delay encountered at some stops prior to departure to the next station. The proverbial “slow boat to China” would run laps around the water taxis if they entered into a race. We value our time when on vacation, preferring to spend it on enjoyment as opposed to waiting in line. Missing a tram could mean a 17 minute wait for the next one to arrive (someone timed it while sitting on the balcony drinking a beer!). Hawaii gets less than 12-hours of sunlight in mid-February so lengthly waits for a tram ride is important to us. The TripAdvisor reports were enough for us to specify a room in the Lagoon Tower building due to it’s proximity to the lobby, pools and the only guest parking lot on the property. The reservation was submitted 11 months ago and confirmed for a “partial ocean view room with a lanai”. (Footnote: a lanai is defined as a veranda or roofed patio often furnished and used as a living room). Julie called the hotel twice prior to our trip to insure we would be provided a room in the Lagoon Tower.

Our arrival at the hotel was met with a long line waiting to check-in. One of the outgoing flights from the Kona airport encountered mechanical problems and passengers were being provided with overnight accommodations at the Hilton. When our turn finally arrived we were informed that the only a few rooms remained in the Lagoon Tower, all on the back side with no ocean views. Our options were a room on the top floor in an area where rood repairs commenced each day at 7:30 AM or a room on the 4th floor room. We picked the 4th floor and departed the lobby for our first ride on the tram. The TripAdvisor reports were accurate; we needed no further proof that a turtle could make better time.
Upon our arrival at the room, we opened the drapes to check out our view. We stepped  out onto a small porch; it was just enough space for two chairs and one small table  (note: re-read the definition of a “lanai” above if you have a problem with short-term memory loss). The view from our lanai was a roof-top! We could have easily jumped over the railing to the roof 6 inches below us and played tennis on the flat expanse before us. With no tennis rackets in hand, we opted to return to the lobby to request a different room. We waited in line at reception for the 2nd time before our turn in the queue arrived. Upon explaining that our room was unacceptable we were informed that no other rooms were available in the Lagoon Tower. We reluctantly agreed to an ocean view room on the 7th floor of the Ocean Tower building - - - the farthest point possible from the lobby requiring heavy reliance on the trams. (Footnote #2: “reluctant” in this case means the lady upgraded our room to a beautiful ocean view, provided us with $20/day in hotel food/drink coupons, provided us with a dozen free coupons for bottled water, free valet parking and free internet service). 

Lagoon view from 7th floor room in the Ocean Tower

Ocean view from 7th floor room in the Ocean Tower

The story does not end here as you might have expected. We took the painfully slow tram ride to our new room. The view from our lanai (ok, call it a small balcony) was indeed gorgeous. The tranquility was interrupted every half hour by a warning sound intended to alert any nearby geriatrics that the approaching tram might hit them if their walker became stuck on the tracks. The remote location and reliance on trams conjured up images of checking into the “Hawaii Hilton” with Johnny Cash singing the Folsom Prison Blues in the background. (Note: elderly readers will know who Johnny Cash was and can understand a satirical reference to the “Hanoi Hilton”). When I tried the internet connection I discovered a free wireless signal was only available in limited areas on the ground floor. 

The icing on the cake was in the envelope provided at check-in containing a message from the General Manager hoping we had the “perfect vacation”. Our phone contained a similar voice message, with an invitation to merely lift the receiver and hit the “Perfect Vacation” button if ever the staff could be of any assistance. I took the bait. My first call went unanswered. That did not help my mood. My second call went unanswered. Now my dander was up. I switched tactics and dialed the hotel operator - - - again to no avail. I than proceeded to push any button that might yield a staff member on the other end. I ended up speaking with a young man from customer relations who heard a description of our Hilton “vacation from hell”. A follow-up call from the Night Manager yielded a promise to find a suitable room in the Lagoon Tower. The next day we moved into an upgraded room on 2nd floor of the Lagoon Tower directly above the dolphin lagoon. We were able to enjoy watching the dolphins from our balcony at any hour of the day - far away from the sound of a tram. It was wonderful!

Time for breakfast!

View of dolphins from Lagoon Tower room (Ocean Tower is in the distance)

It was disappointing that we were not provided an acceptable room from the onset, but the situation finally rectified itself and the remainder of our stay was truly wonderful. A lack of good management usually implies I can expect to see a final bill with errors. I was not disappointed. A $90 charge for internet and parking fees was quickly remedied with a quick call to the cashier. I was left with a good impression.

The most favorable impression occurred a day earlier when the local police pulled me over for speeding through Waikola Village. The speed limit had dropped to 35 just before I headed downhill through town, but excuses aside, I was at fault for not watching my speed. The policeman looked at my license, asked me to slow down and told me to have a good night as he sent me on my way. That is the kind of customer service I really love!

View from Lagoon Tower of swimming lagoon & beach

Lagoon Tower pool

Lagoon Tower pool

Ocean shoreline near Lagoon Tower (Ocean Tower in the distance)

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