I seemed to confuse the agent working at the front desk when I checked in at the Aqua Aloha Surf & Spa this past week. It seems that presenting myself and telling them that they won’t see me in their systems yet is a sure-fire way to evoke such a reaction. Perhaps I should start making my reservations more than 5 minutes before I walk in to the lobby. Or not.
The good news, as I settled in to the lobby area to wait while hotels.com got the information over to the property, was that it was a Tuesday and it was around 5pm. That meant free drinks in the lobby. I certainly won’t say no to that plan. It turns out that every Tuesday they run a Manager’s Reception in the lobby, with some concoction involving vodka, blue curacao, pineapple juice and coconut milk, free for guests. It was a sort of bright blue-green libation and it took the edge off after the 10ish hour flight to the islands. Lots of promo photos online don’t accurately reflect the reality of the product offered. The drinks did look an awful lot like these from the hotel site.
Unlike many similarly named events, in this case it was actually the GM of the property playing bartender. I was impressed. We chatted a bit – him noting that I should book directly rather than through the OTA and me countering that for the same price the benefits of booking with the OTA were better. He agreed that for the second night they’d beat the OTA price to convince me to book direct. That was actually also rather impressive, and smart business. I booked the second night and saved some money while he got more revenue than he would have otherwise.
The hotel is located on the inland-edge of Waikiki beach, just behind the Hyatt Regency. I generally prefer to be towards that end of Waikiki when I’m in town so that was appealing to me. And the 5 minute walk to the beach didn’t bother me at all, especially considering how low the rate was.
The Aqua brand is a collection of mostly 2-3 star hotels in Oahu; they have 15 under management. And while they also have a couple nicer properties in their roster I’ve found over the years that their mid-range options are quite reasonable for my needs and the prices are hard to beat. I’ve stayed at their Park Shore Waikiki property a few times in the past but it was ~$40/night more than the Aloha Surf so I decided to try the new one. I read a few reviews that warned of noise issues and small rooms. I’ve dealt with worse in the past so figured it was worth the try. I was not disappointed.
The lobby area of the hotel is nice enough, with plenty of room to spread out and take advantage of the free wifi (internet in the rooms is also free, but only via a wired connection). There’s also a small pool area and a few exercise machines for those so inclined.
There are three levels of rooms available. I chose the smallest and cheapest. It was most definitely small. Barely 300 square feet, including the bathroom. That made it all the more awkward when I lost my shoes one night but that’s a different story. The room had the basic necessities – bed, dresser, TV – and also a few other nice bits, including a microwave and fridge. Were I staying longer I would have definitely taken advantage of the fridge for my beer supply. Instead I just bought singles at the ABC down the block when I wanted one.
Much like the room, the bathroom was small but functional. No tub, just a shower with mediocre water pressure, but good enough to get me clean after a day lounging on the beach.
As to the concerns about the noise that I read in other reviews, I can definitely understand where those come from. My room was on the second floor and the glass slat windows don’t really close with any useful seal. So when an ambulance rolled by during the night I was roused from my slumber. For a bout 10 seconds. I was quickly back asleep without much issue. I also had the fan running on the a/c unit in the room to provide white noise so that may have helped in my case. Then again, if you like the a/c to be quiet then these window units were definitely not the right choice for you.
The hotel seemed to cater more towards groups and package tours. While those aren’t my thing when it comes to overall travel patterns, apparently the hotels they choose seem to mesh pretty well, so long as the groups don’t completely overwhelm the property; for this stay they didn’t. I’m also not so sure where the "spa" portion of the name comes from. Or the suggestions on the website that they have "boutique" features. I didn’t see any evidence of either, but I also wasn’t looking incredibly hard.
This isn’t going to be your luxury beach hotel with grand views and a decadent lobby bar. But that’s not what you’re paying for. Besides, it is just a couple minutes to walk to the Surfrider or one of the other luxe hotels, and their bars are open to the public anyways.