When you love and visit Hawaii as much as we do, you get very discriminating about luxurious accommodations. The fact that we wanted to return to one of our favorite hotels, the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island, speaks highly of its service, beauty, amenities, and of course, effortless charm. As we drove onto the property we wondered, would it live up to our memories of our last visit almost 4 years ago?
The Fairmont Orchid resort is nestled in 32 lush acres on the Kohala coast at the very northern tip of the island of Hawaii. The immaculate grounds feature waterfalls spilling over black lava rock, koi ponds, and natural island flora including orchids everywhere. But that’s to be expected from a resort that just last year appeared on Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List of The World’s Best Places to Stay, won a place on the Condé Nast Traveler Platinum Circle, and was featured in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Hotels. Not bad, but we were intent on forming our own opinions.
Upon our arrival, we were met with a welcoming aloha and a kukui lei. In ancient times, only Hawaiian royalty were allowed to wear kukui nut leis, so we already felt regal. A smiling and friendly bellhop brought us to the special reception area of the Fairmont Orchid’s renowned Gold Floor—which had a magnificent view of the ocean, Pauou Bay, and the beautifully landscaped hotel grounds. We chose the Fairmont Gold experience because of the privileges and perks - there are only 45 recently renovated guest rooms and suites on the floor, has its own private reception area, a dedicated Fairmont Gold Manager to assist guests, as well as its own exclusive lounge. One of our favorite things to do on vacay is to, well, lounge. So any time we weren’t taking advantage of the resort’s other features, we could be found there with our feet up and complementary mineral water, espresso drink, or tea in hand. We also somehow managed to show up to grab something from the healthy continental breakfast (served 6:30 to 10:00) at the reception area every morning, and then visit again for the afternoon tea with canapés between 3:00 and 4:00. After that, there are also pupus served between 5:00 Pm to 7:00 pm daily. It was like having our very own hide-away club in Hawaiian heaven with all the snacks you want. All that, and the staff are the most attentive, helpful, and pleasant people you’ll find on the Big Island. The Gold room is really ideal for family vacations.
Travel is hard so we felt rewards were in order. We hit the AAA Four-Diamond award winning restaurant Brown’s Beach House for open-air dining by the shore. The Brown Derby features Hawaii Island inspired cuisine drawn from simple, local, fresh flavors. We started with some Ahi sashimi and the Kobacha prawns. For the main course, I had the tenderloin steak and my partner enjoyed the grilled Hawaiian ahi—both done to perfection—while we shared truffled bacon Mac n’ Cheese and some brocolini to be healthy. Our server provided excellent service, even taking photos of us at sundown, one of which is now framed and on our dresser at home. Does that sound cheesy? Well, get over it, because it’s truly hard to overstate how utterly romantic and memorable dinner at sunset is here. The ocean was lapping at the shore just a few feet away, the tiki torches were flaming, and we were being serenaded by a charming man on guitar. How could we not want to linger? “Bring us that decadent dessert menu!” Yes, we overate like mad, but we had plans to work those totally-worth-it calories off the next morning.
We woke early to hit the fitness center furnished with gleaming treadmills, lifestep machines and free weights. The gym was great but the “problem” was it looked out over the spectacular 10,000 square foot pool with the blue Pacific beyond. After about twenty minutes, staying indoors with such a paradise beckoning seemed crazy. We abandoned all good intentions for fitness. We grabbed quick showers and bellied up to the gourmet breakfast buffet at the open-air Orchid Court. So much for our workout plans. But, hey, if your pancakes have pineapple and papaya, that’s healthy, right?
Afterward, we split up, one of us going stand-up paddle-boarding in Pauou Bay, and the other went off to experience outrigger canoe paddling in the open ocean. Believe me, we each ended up getting our workouts after all! Both kinds of paddling overworked muscle groups we never knew we had, so we were glad we’d had appointments for a couple’s massage at the hotel’s Spa Without Walls. Imagine a deep, lingering massage next to your partner in an open cabana by the ocean or, for more privacy, in the midst of a garden to the sound of waterfalls. Over and above the excellent massages we received, it felt exotic, glamorous, and dreamy to be taken care of so expertly amid such natural beauty. When you’re done, you can head indoors where there are treatment rooms, a meditation area, two natural lava saunas, plus a boutique featuring spa products. As we left, we passed another male couple emerging from the cabana next to ours. The Fairmont Orchid, like so much of Hawaii, is definitely gay-friendly.
Now feeling like well-pampered putty, we moseyed down to the fine white sand around Pauou Bay to do absolutely nothing but bask in the tropical sun by the lagoon. Well, that and enjoy a cocktail or two. Special thanks to Eilee at the delightful little oceanfront Kahakai Bar who kept the Mai Tais coming, and to the other hotel guests for the eye candy.
Time to get some food to soak up that rum! Not that we can’t handle a drink or five, but we giggled our way over to the outdoor Hale Kai Restaurant for some toes-in-the-sand lunch. We ordered seared ahi poke burger and their famous lobster fried rice. We learned that a short while ago, Hale Kai retired that dish and replaced it on the menu. The uproar from customers was so intense that the restaurant quickly replaced it. One delicious bite and we understood why. As for the poke burger, the combination of seared ahi, wasabi aioli, and pickled ginger was genius. We doubt that’ll be “retired” any time soon, either! While dining there we ran into the couple we had seen earlier and chatted briefly. Chuck and Michael, from Seattle, had spent their morning at the on-site tennis center, regarded as one of the best facilities in the U.S., wearing themselves out playing tennis. They were so athletic we felt like lazy slobs and were glad to hear they were just checking out. If they inspired us to do anything it was to go back to our room and nap.
Ah, our spacious yet cozy room! The enormous seven-foot high windows double as doors to let in the island’s beauty. The generous lanais are large enough to accommodate a chaise lounge, table, and two chairs. The room itself is done in relaxing wood and sand tones with plush carpeting and marble bathroom with separate shower and bathtub. As I lounged on the lanai after a refreshing nap, snuggled in the Fairmont spa robe and sipping my Keurig brewed Hawaiian Paradise Kona Blend, I wondered if there was anything better than the luxury of an afternoon snooze on vacation. Then I thought, “Yes, there is! Shirtless men dancing for me!” I’d forgotten we had reservations for the Gathering of the Kings luau that evening.
The luau is held at the Plantation Estate, which is a short walk from the lobby through towering palm trees. As often as we come to Hawaii, we’ve seen our share of lame luaus. The reason we were excited about the Gathering of the Kings was that we knew this one was terrific. We saw it the last time we were here and loved it so much that we made it a priority to go again on this trip. First off, the traditional feast of Hawaiian food is prepared by the Fairmont Orchid’s chefs, so you can depend on it being of surpassing quality. Secondly, it has a cultural depth in depicting the settlement of Samoa, Tahiti, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Hawaii. Thirdly, the production values are professional, from the authentic Polynesian music to the artful blending of modern and traditional choreography. And lastly, um, did I mention shirtless men dancing for me?
Afterward, we had a nightcap at the relaxing Luana Lounge off the main lobby. We had to leave the next morning but we each were scribbling things that we wanted to do on our next visit on cocktail napkins: Golf on one of the two seaside courses, dinner at award-winning Norio’s Japanese Steak House and Sushi Bar, the petroglyph hike, snorkeling in the bay, floating yoga, the sunrise canoe voyage….
We realized the Fairmont Orchid not only lived up to our memories, but that we’d need to come back again just to sample the rest of the things the hotel had to offer. We also decided that of all the amenities, the one that made the biggest impression on us was the friendliness of the ever-attentive staff. Good job, guys and gals, you made us feel special, spoiled, and wanting more. With the Fairmont Orchid, once—make that twice!—is never enough.