Military’s Hawaiian Playground Undergoes Major Facelift
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
HONOLULU, April 11, 2008 Army Pfc. Shane Stuard couldn’t think of a better place to spend the last day of his rest-and-recuperation leave before rejoining his unit in Iraq than at the Hale Koa Hotel here.
Guests at the Hale Koa Hotel walk through tropical foliage leading to one of the roomiest stretches of world-famous Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. Photo by Donna Miles, Department of Defense
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Stuard, an infantryman assigned to 2nd Brigade, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Brigade, sent the kids off to the nanny and headed with his wife, Hazel, to the resort hotel that’s considered a crown jewel among the Defense Department’s four armed forces recreation centers.
Relishing their first private time since Stuard’s arrival at Schofield Barracks two weeks ago, the two frolicked along Waikiki Beach, flew above the sparkling coastline on a parasail, and popped into the hotel’s own Post Exchange to stock up on goodies for Stuard’s return flight.
As they enjoyed the surf and each other, Camp Taji, Iraq, seemed a million miles away.
The Hale Koa has offered servicemembers, military retirees and Defense Department civilian employees a piece of paradise on Hawaii’s most famous beach since it opened its doors in 1975.
“We love it here,” Hazel Stuard said. “The customer service is excellent, and the rooms are beautiful. It’s right on the beach!”
“Plus, it’s a whole lot cheaper than anywhere else around!” her husband added.
Prices for the hotel’s 817 guestrooms are based on military rank, with Stuard and other E-1s through E-5s paying as little as $83 a night for a standard room. The price goes up for more senior noncommissioned officers and officers or guests wanting garden or ocean views. At the high end of the scale, junior servicemembers pay $154 a night for a deluxe oceanfront room; senior officers, warrant officers and Defense Department civilians pay up to $202 for the same room.
Troops returned from Iraq and Afghanistan get additional discounts of 20 to 35 percent off all services, from lodging to dining to entertainment. “A couple thousand” servicemembers a month take advantage of that offering, Mike Naka’ahiki, the hotel’s marketing manager, said.
While price may draw guests to the Hale Koa, there’s nothing low-budget about its accommodations or vast offerings. The hotel offers everything troops might expect to find in a luxury paradise resort: a vast beachfront, multiple pools, lush tropical gardens, and top-notch Polynesian entertainment.
Servicemembers staying at the resort, as well as troops stationed in Hawaii or transiting through the area, qualify for the Hale Koa’s amenities. They can sign up for an authentic Hawaiian-style luau, dine in eateries offering anything from fast food to haute cuisine, or grab a picnic table and fire up one of the many barbecue grills dotting the grounds.
“We try to offer our military families the same experience they would have if they went to another top resort on Waikiki Beach,” Naka’ahiki said. “But we like to think that what they’re offering is a little better, with so much open green space.”
To maintain that standard, the Ilima Tower, the original of the hotel’s two towers, is undergoing a $60 million to $70 million renovation that will give its 420 guest rooms a whole new face. “We’re giving them a full-on makeover and a fresh look, with new carpeting and wallpaper and updated bath fixtures,” Naka’ahiki said.
Although several floors of the tower are closed during construction, the rest of the tower remains open and accepting guests, Naka’ahiki said. The hotel’s Maile Tower, opened in 1995, also continues to run at near-full capacity.
When there’s no room at the Hale Koa, would-be guests are offered rooms at other local hotels at Hale Koa prices, Naka’ahiki noted. If they take advantage of this offer, they’re still welcome to use the Hale Koa’s restaurants, pools and other facilities, he said.
And to make up for any inconvenience the renovation may cause, the hotel has brought in special, top-level entertainment. “We’re being as unobtrusive as possible with the construction, but it’s a little extra to make sure our guests have the best experience possible,” Naka’ahiki said. Guests playing badminton on the beach, stretched out on lounge chairs or sipping tropical drinks were doing just that.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Josh Rabb, an operations specialist assigned to U.S. Pacific Fleet at nearby Pearl Harbor, enjoyed the afternoon poolside with his wife, Lauren, and 2-month-old son, Kailer.
“We love it here,” Rabb said. “It’s a nice environment, right next to the beach. They keep this place very clean, and they treat us really well here.”
Army Staff Sgt. Miguel Ross, from 325th Aviation at Schofield Barracks, said he frequents the Hale Koa’s beach and pools and enjoys ordering up some of the best mai tais on Oahu.
“The prices here are a big advantage,” he said. “But it goes beyond that. It’s the way they treat you here -- with respect. They cater to you, no matter who you are.”
Some visitors, like Air Force Staff Sgt. David Camacho, feel like they’ve discovered paradise on Earth when they first see the Hale Koa grounds. “I like it here a lot,” said Camacho, who said he heard about the hotel from American Forces Network commercials back at his home base, Misawa Air Base, Japan.
A vehicle dispatcher with 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron who’s in Hawaii for a U.S. Pacific Command exercise, Camacho said he already assigned his girlfriend back in Japan the task of booking a vacation at the Hale Koa. “I’m looking at doing a week here, going on some cruises, taking advantage of the activities and trips and doing the Hawaiian things here,” he said.
“This is the kind of place where you can really enjoy yourself,” he added.
The Hale Koa is one of four armed forces recreation centers the U.S. military operates for servicemembers and their families, retirees, and Defense Department civilians. The other facilities are the Edelweis in Germany, Dragon Hill in Korea, and Shades of Green at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. All the facilities operate at no cost to taxpayers.