Depending on traffic it takes between 30-45 minutes to reach the resort from the Honolulu International Airport. The drive is not at all attractive. If you arrive in late afternoon, you'll likely get caught in bumper to bumper traffic as you join thousands of workers heading home to Oahu's Leeward Coast.
Eventually signs point you to the exit for Ko Olina and immediately you see a change in scenery. It is very much like entering an oasis in the middle of a desert much like you feel when entering one of the resort properties on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii.
Brief History of the Ko Olina AreaIn fact, the Ko Olina was almost entirely man-made in the 1970's in one of the largest development projects in Hawaii's history. The first stage of development consisted of Paradise Cove, a l2-acre park that hosts one of the state's most popular luau attractions; the award-winning, Ted Robinson-designed, 18-hole championship golf course; and the award-winning Fairways condominiums, man-made lagoons and the Ihilani Resort Spa, a AAA Four-Diamond hotel.
This area is actually quite historic. The area's name - Ko Olina, "Place of Joy," - is quite old. Located at where Oahu's 'Ewa and Wai'anae areas meet, it was once a favorite vacation spot for Hawaii's chiefs. It is said that Queen Ka'ahumanu, the favorite wife of Kamehameha I, was supposed to have bathed and performed certain religious rites here. In 1939 Alice Kamokila Campbell leased 37 beachfront acres here from her late father's huge estate and built Lanikuhonua ("Where heaven meets the earth"), her own home.
During World War II, During World War II, Campbell invited the USO to use Lanikuhonua as an army and navy recreation area. The area was nicknamed "Camp Bell" by the soldiers. Alice Kamokila Campbell used her home at Lanikuhonua to preserve, display, and promote the cultural traditions of Hawaii.
Today the Lanikuhonua Cultural Institute oversees the area and is dedicated to improving, maintaining, and preserving Lanikuhonua's beauty and using it to nurture the practice of Hawaiian culture. On one side of Lanikuhonua sits the Paradise Cove Luau Grounds and on the other the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa.
This brief history of Ko Olina will, hopefully, give you a good overview of the area you're visiting if you decide to stay at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa or any of the other resorts in Ko Olina. (The Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Club timeshare resort is also located nearby.)
Overview of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & SpaThe JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa is a beautiful resort at a lovely location with superb views of the Waianae Coast. The hotel is first class all the way with oversized rooms, wonderful lanais, amazing bathrooms, a great pool, protected lagoon, excellent food and drink and what, in my opinion, is the best spa I've visited in Hawaii. It is within easy walking distance of the Paradise Cove Luau. (Read our review). It is also adjacent to one of Hawaii's top rated golf courses which is home to the LPGA's Field's Open each February.
All that being said, the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa is not for everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of my stay at the resort, but, in all honesty, the resort is probably not for me. That's OK, however, because people come to Oahu for many different reasons.
For me it's more important that I stay "closer to the action" where I can readily access Honolulu, Waikiki and the other areas of the island. After all, it's my job. If you're like me and enjoy the hustle and bustle of Waikiki for whatever reason, and if you're a Marriott regular, the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa may be a better choice for you. (Read my review).
If, however, you want a much more relaxing experience whether you're a honeymoon couple, an older married couple or a family looking to get away from it all, the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa will most likely please you quite a bit. The resort's long term success and the ever-expanding Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club properties are clear evidence that there is a high demand for this type of vacation experience. Just realize that a stay at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa is unlike any other vacation experience you can have on Oahu.
Nearby and Onsite ActivitiesOne thing you won't need to worry about are activities. There is plenty to do at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa not only on the property itself, but elsewhere in Ko Olina.
If you want a wonderful snorkel sail on one of Oahu's nicest catamarans, Hawaii Nauticals Ko Olina Cat offers both a morning and afternoon snorkel sail which stops off of "Electric Beach" which is one of Hawaii's best snorkel spots. They also offer a sunset cocktail cruise.
If golf is your passion, you won't find a better gold course anywhere on Oahu than at the Ko Olina Golf Club where you'll find a challenging 18-hole championship course with exceptional water features, multi-tiered greens, and no parallel fairways. Designed by Ted Robinson, the course has been listed in Golf Digest's "Top 75 Resort Courses in the U.S."
If you're looking for an evening out with superb Hawaiian entertainment, the Paradise Cove Luau is just a short walk down the road. Having now experienced the Paradise Cove Luau, I can say that not only is it the best luau on Oahu, but one of the best I've attended anywhere in Hawaii.
The Reef and Ray Adventure is a unique interactive and interpretive guest activity program utilizing the ocean water ponds at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa at Ko Olina.
This program offers an opportunity for guests and visitors to participate in a very unique and enjoyable experience utilizing the resorts' beautifully landscaped water features. The adventure includes reef shark feeding, Hawaiian fish feed, and the Hawaiian Ray Experience in which participants get into the water with several sting rays and experience feeding these powerful beautiful creatures.
I participated in the Reef and Ray Adventure just a week after the untimely death of Steve Irwin and being so close to these stings rays, you can really appreciate how freak an accident resulted in the death of this amazing wildlife conservationist.