"Welcome to Disneyland" said the middle-aged bellman who brought our luggage to our room in the Ocean Tower of the Hilton Waikoloa Village. While he was obviously kidding, that line seems to be a fairly common joke at the resort located on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, and for good reason.
With 62 acres which include three separate towers of over 1200 guest rooms, three freshwater pools (two with waterfalls & waterslides), a four-acre swimming and snorkeling lagoon, a dolphin lagoon, nine restaurants and eight lounges, a museum walkway featuring an art collection valued at over $7 million, two championship golf courses and eight tennis courts plus a monorail and canal boat transportation system and even a seaside natural grass putting course, it's easy to imagine that you're at one of the famous Disney resorts. I learned that like Disneyland, the resort even has an underground tunnel system to enable staff to move seemlessly between resort venues.
My wife and I were invited to stay at the Hilton Waikoloa Village to cover the 2005 Big Island Festival, a four day celebration of great food, wine featuring some of the top chefs of the world utilizing the special and unique foods of the Big Island. The festival also highlights many of the superb artists, craftspersons, and writers of the Big Island. We'll have more to say about the Big Island Festival in a subsequent feature so that you can consider it for your 2006 Hawaii visit.
Birth of the Resort
The Hilton Waikoloa Village is not big. It is huge. If you're thinking about a one or two day stay, forget it. It will take you that long to get your bearings, figure the best ways to get from one place to another, and just absorb everything that the resort has to offer.
It's hard to imagine that forty years ago this entire area was covered in a lava flow. When the Hyatt Corporation proposed building a resort at the location there was an injunction slapped upon them by naturalists who saw the area as the home of a protected species of birds. One story has it that the injunction expired and before it could be renewed contractors gathered at the site at night and started construction. The Waikoloa Hyatt Hotel was opened in 1988 offering "ways to your room via monorail, grand canal boats, coronation carriages pulled by Clydesdale horses, or a moving sidewalk which offers the visitor a trip through Polynesian history." For various reasons the resort failed in 1993 and was sold to Hilton and the Hilton Waikoloa Village was born.
Today's Hilton Waikoloa Village not only is successful, but is the anchor resort and role model for the development of the entire Waikoloa Resort area.
Room to Relax, Reflect, Stroll and Absorb Hawaii
There are resorts in Hawaii where you can easily tell when there is high occupancy. You're tripping all over people wherever you go. One of the reasons that the Sheraton Maui is my favorite resort on Maui is because you always feel that you have plenty of opportunities for privacy even when every room is occupied. You get the same feeling at the Hilton Waikoloa Village whether you want to take a leisurely stroll along the ocean walk, sit and reflect at Buddha Point, wander the grounds and appreciate the artwork, or just lounge on the resort's own man-made beach along its huge salt water lagoon.
I'd be remiss is I didn't talk about the resort's restaurants. One of the great aspects of the Big Island Festival is that you get to sample the cuisine of the various resort restaurants at the opening night dinner. You also have the opportunity to dine several times at one of the resort's nine restaurants. We were fortunate to eat dinner at three of the resorts four major dining establishments.
Dining Options: Kamuela Provision Company and Donatoni's
The Kamuela Provision Company offers relaxed yet fine dining at sunset or under the stars. They boast about their charbroiled steaks and fresh seafood, but if you go, you must try the MacNut Crusted Pork Chop with Garlic Mashed Potatoes. It's fantastic.
Designed as an Italian villa, Donatoni's offers lanai-front seating along the waterway with beautiful sunset views. The cuisine is Northern Italian and it's easy to imagine that you're actually dining in Venice along one of the canals. Donatoni's menu is complete with antipasta, a variety of veal dishes such as Osso Bucco (braised veal shank) and Agnello alla Piemontese (roasted rack of lamb), and light pasta selections such as Ravioli in Salsa (homemade Leek and Potato Ravioli with Shrimp and Sea Scallops.
NEXT PAGE > More Dining, Dolphin Quest, Cost Overview