You’ll cry when you leave: A review of the Four Seasons Hualalai resort in Hawaii
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Editor’s note: This review covers a stay that took place before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of Hawaii remains closed to tourists. It recently pushed back the targeted reopening date to 15 October at the earliest.
Despite the state’s closure to tourism, Hawaii remains an immensely popular destination for travellers from all over the world, and we hope this review helps you make decisions on any travel you may be planning for once it’s safe to do so once again.
The review below reflects a pre-pandemic stay, and future experiences will likely look and feel different.
On a trip to Hawaii before the coronavirus spread throughout the U.S., I spent three fantastic days at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island. It was magical.
My trip to the islands began in Maui and from there we flew to Hilo. After spending the previous two nights in a quirky Airbnb in the town of Volcano while visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai was a luxurious upgrade beyond my expectations.
Depending on the time of year and room type, a night’s stay can cost anywhere from $750 (about £588) to more than $4,000 (about £3,137). Four Seasons Resorts don’t participate in any loyalty programmes, so there aren’t many ways to avoid paying the property’s expensive nightly rates. At least there’s the option to book through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) programme.
By booking through the FHR portal I received the following benefits:
- Daily breakfast for two people
- Room upgrade at check-in, subject to availability
- Noon check-in, when available
- Guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Credit of $100 for food and beverages
Related: Best times to visit Hawaii
The resort sits at the northwestern end of the Big Island, on the southern end of the Kohala Coast. It’s an easy 15-minute drive from Kona International Airport (KOA) and just 30 minutes to the city of Kailua-Kona. You probably won’t want to leave the hotel grounds though.
When we arrived at the resort we spoke first with the guard at the security gate. I informed him I was checking in and he confirmed my name with the hotel. From there, we drove another five minutes or so to get to the property.
The view as we pulled up was breathtaking.
We were greeted by the valet who unloaded our luggage and asked if we’d like to valet or self-park. Valet service runs $25 per night, so I opted to self-park in the area that is conveniently located just across from the resort’s entrance. It’s the same parking lot used by the valets — and there is no charge for self-parking.
When we were presented with traditional leis, my daughter exclaimed, “This is the prettiest jewellery I’ve ever seen in my life”. She was impressed, to say the least.
We were led inside and directed to sit in the beautiful open-air check-in area.
One of the associates brought us fruity drinks, cold oshibori (chilled and scented towels) and chunks of pineapple.
Check-in isn’t officially until 3 p.m. and because we’d arrived about two hours early, our room wasn’t ready. After a quick rundown of the hotel, its amenities and what was included with our FHR booking, we spent the next hour exploring the beautiful and expansive hotel property.
We walked down a path that runs along the ocean and ended up winding our way through the golf course.
In various spots on the property, you’ll find mounds of black volcanic rock which provides a stark contrast to the green grass, white sand and blue sky.
When our room was ready shortly before 3 p.m., the hotel called and arranged to pick us up in a golf cart.
By the time we arrived in the room, it was abundantly clear that we were in for an incredible few days. Our luggage had been delivered and they’d left a special welcome bag for my daughter, complete with a stuffed octopus and mermaid doll. There were also chocolate-covered caramel macadamia nut turtles, a colouring book and a birthday cupcake with her name on it.
Our room, Room 1001, had a king-size bed and a full-size foldout couch.
I had booked an Ocean Golf View Room — the least expensive option — but was upgraded to a Partial Ocean View Room because I had booked through the Amex FHR programme.
The gorgeous 635-square-foot space was simple and elegant with slate floors, dark wood trim and local art hanging on the wall.
Even the headboard is a work of art — made with large pieces of bamboo and woven rattan.
The bed in this room is located in front of the large flat-screen TV that sits atop the room’s only dresser and the bedding is plush and cosy.
We may have only had a partial ocean-view room, but you could hear the sound of the waves crashing along the shore at most times of the day. And the covered lanai felt peaceful and private.
The attendant who brought our bags to the room was also nice enough to fill up our water pitcher and ice bucket. And there was a small packet of cookies on the table, too.
The minibar was stocked with the usual snacks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
There was just enough extra space in the fridge for us to store a few leftovers during our stay.
Near the room’s entrance, a closet provided us with plenty of room to store luggage and hang clothes. Inside, we found kimono-like robes — even a kid-size robe for my daughter, which I found to be an extra cute touch.
I liked the robes so much I asked the concierge if they were available for purchase. As it turned out, this robe pattern had recently been discontinued so they were discounted to $80 for the adult robe and $60 for the kid’s robe. In the end, I decided it was too much to spend for something I’d only lounge in.
The safe and coffee maker are in the closet, too. And housekeeping was more than willing to bring extra pods the few times we decided to enjoy an afternoon espresso.
The hotel offers a shoe-cleaning service. You can drop your shoes in a bag (shown below) and they will be returned to your room the next morning.
The bathroom was almost more impressive than the room. It felt especially spacious thanks to the large mirror, window and glass shower enclosure.
The hotel’s toiletries included a few unique items like after-sun cooling gel, along with the shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion.
It was nice that the lavatory was tucked away behind its own door.
The soaking tub was stocked with bath salts, a votive candle and matches. Just what anyone might need to create a relaxing spa-like environment.
The shower was huge and there was an outdoor shower, too.
I especially loved the way the bathroom has an indoor/outdoor feel with a large window that provides a view to the outdoor shower.
Oh, the outdoor shower! This beautiful setup instantly made me want to move to the islands and never step foot inside a shower stall again. There are, quite literally, orchids growing at your feet. It is a truly stunning feature of the room, one that’s (unsurprisingly) only available in ground-floor units.
I found the complimentary internet to be more than sufficient for our needs. I doubt there’d be a need to pay for the premium service as it was plenty fast for typical internet activities like streaming Netflix.
Food and beverage
There are four spots on the property where you can grab a bite to eat including the Hualalai Trading Company, Ulu Grill & Sushi Lounge, Beach Tree Restaurant and the Hualalai Grille. That’s in addition to in-room dining and the food and drinks offered through the poolside service.
The daily breakfast perk I received by booking through the Amex FHR program amounted to a $67 credit per person that could be used at either the Ulu Restaurant or for room service. And keiki (or “child” in Hawaiian) 4 years old and younger eat free at both the Ulu and Beach Tree restaurants as long as they’re accompanied by paying adult.
The breakfast buffet was served every morning at Ulu, where you can sit out on the deck and enjoy your Kona coffee.
During our visit, the buffet included fruits, cereals, oatmeal, baked goods, breakfast potatoes, eggs, fresh-squeezed juices and yoghurt parfaits. There was a made-to-order omelette bar, too.
There were also local dishes served at the buffet, including malasadas (fried dough) and poke (diced raw fish).
And you can order smoothies and espresso drinks from the bar.
I ordered à la carte every morning and had the huevos rancheros two out of three mornings.
The delicious bagel with cream cheese and lox was so big it could have easily have been a meal for two.
Breakfast was by far the best meal of the day, compared to what the resort offered at lunch and dinner. And the daily $67-per-person credit was enough to cover an entrée and coffee. Because my daughter ate from the buffet for free, breakfast was essentially free our entire stay.
I’d say it easily saved us more than $450 for the three of us during our three-night stay.
One night, after spending all day at the beach and enjoying hours of snorkelling, we decided to hunker down and order room service. I ordered the vegetable spring rolls and the grilled mahi-mahi that came with broccolini and cauliflower mash.
The meal was OK. It was fresh, but I admit I expected more from such a high-end resort. Some of the food was really the only so-called “con” during our stay. It wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t anything especially delicious or creative about it.
I found the food and drinks served poolside to be better than what was served for dinner at the resort’s restaurants and in-room dining. One afternoon I ordered the spicy hummus and vegetable wrap, which I found to be very flavorful.
Beach Tree ended up being our favourite restaurant for dinner. I loved the relaxed but vibrant atmosphere. Every night there was musical entertainment on the lawn and it was the perfect spot from which to watch the sunset.
The food at Beach Tree is advertised as “Californian cuisine with an Italian twist,” so the menu offers pasta dishes along with appetizers like fritto misto and fresh mozzarella with marinated tomatoes.
The first night we ate at Beach Tree I ordered the Kampachi Crudo appetizer, served with avocado, jalapeno, corn and cilantro.
I also got the calamari, which was fresh but the batter wasn’t as crispy as I’d prefer. I still finished the entire serving.
My daughter ordered the keiki mahi-mahi with broccoli and mushrooms. It was nice to see a number of healthy options on the kids’ menu, not just the typical corn dogs and fried chicken fingers.
The next night I chose the shrimp scampi served with white beans and fresh tomatoes.
And finished my dinner with the Valrhona dark chocolate semifreddo, which has a texture somewhere between gelato and mousse. It certainly wasn’t terrible!
Although the quality of the food was never lacking, I’d say there was a lack of inventiveness in the offerings. None of the meals really wowed me. However, I loved that my daughter was able to eat for free, and it’s hard to complain when you’ve got incredible views and such a friendly and relaxed vibe.
Probably my favourite amenity at the resort was King’s Pond. In what’s essentially a life-size aquarium, you can enjoy the 4,000+ tropical fish in this incredible natural pool that’s carved right out of lava rock.
I’d read about it before booking and it was honestly one of the reasons I wanted to visit this property. I love to scuba dive but because that’s a lot harder to do with a toddler in tow, I figured I could get my tropical fish fix at King’s Pond.
Guests can check out snorkel gear or use these clear plastic-bottomed floating contraptions that you lie on top of — if you prefer to keep your face out of the water.
Every day at 11 a.m., the resort’s resident marine biologist facilitated a fish feeding. Around 1p.m., guests had the opportunity to feed the large eagle ray, Kainalu, who calls the pool home.
The Seashell Pool (pictured below) was situated right across from the hotel’s beach and was designed to have that infinity-pool feel as you look out toward the ocean.
We spent lots of our time here switching between the pool and hot tub and taking breaks for poolside snacks. I also saw a number of children participating in the swim lessons offered through the spa ($65 for 25 minutes, or $110 for 50 minutes).
In front of the Seashell Pool were more than a dozen comfy lounge chairs set up on the beach.
The flip-up shades provided a little escape from the hot sun.
This is the perfect spot from which to relax while sipping on a cocktail. But if you decide to indulge, just note, the beverage menu encourages you to upgrade to a pineapple cup but doesn’t mention the $10 upcharge, which is significant considering many of the drinks cost about $20 a pop.
Directly in front of the row of lounge chairs is the Ocean Pool, an area carved out of the oceanfront lava rock where you can swim and snorkel while being protected from the waves.
The sandy-bottom Keiki Pool (pictured below) is right next to the Seashell Pool and is the perfect spot for those with infants and toddlers. There is a large box full of beach toys and an adorable little fountain in the middle of the pool
The Beach Tree Pool (pictured below) isn’t marked as an adult-only pool, but I rarely saw kids in the area. They seemed to gravitate toward Seashell Pool and, of course, the children’s pool.
One of the four whirlpools on the property is located just between the Beach Tree Pool and the ocean.
The adults-only pool (pictured below), the Palm Grove, is located at the southern end of the property. There are plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas, two oversize hammocks, and a swim-up bar with in-pool bench seating.
Near each pool are little cabanas where you can grab towels, magazines, cold water and sunscreen.
Perks like free sunscreen are always a plus in my book. And it was delightful to see that it is a reef-safe biodegradable sunscreen.
For fitness fanatics, there’s an extensive fitness facility with a lap pool, tennis and basketball courts, cardio machines, weight training equipment and even a climbing wall.
There are eight tennis courts, two of which are lighted.
And there is an outdoor activity court with a basketball hoop.
The fitness centre offered daily classes including yoga, Pilates, barre and spinning, and watersports like paddleboarding.
In the early morning, the fitness rooms were busy. But things quieted down most afternoons.
I loved how some of the fitness equipment was installed outside. When it’s 75 degrees and sunny, there’s no reason not to breathe in the fresh air.
I didn’t get a chance for a treatment at the spa, but while I was there taking photos, two guests who were raving about their spa experience, said their massages were the best they’d ever had.
The spa also offers saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools and cold plunge pools.
Connected to the spa is the Seaside Beach Boutique with all sorts of resort wear, shoes and accessories, for men, women and children.
There’s also the Seaside Luxe Boutique, located just below the hotel lobby, where you’ll find super high-end designer clothes and accessories. It was far too expensive for my budget, but I had a lot of fun ogling the beautiful fabrics from which the clothing was made.
The service at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai was warm, friendly and responsive. There was always someone eager to help with whatever you might need: drink refills, food orders or more of the addictive chocolate-covered macadamia nuts staff members hand out to guests throughout the day.
One morning my daughter accidentally hit her beach ball into the pond next to our lanai. I’m normally pretty resourceful but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to extract the ball from the water. After a quick call to the front desk, two guys showed up, scaled the lava-rock wall down to the pond and returned her ball.
That’s just one example of how the staff members went out of their way to accommodate us during our stay. I heard similar sentiments from other guests, too, who felt right at home at Hualalai, thanks to the exceptional service.
I’ll be honest, my daughter cried for a solid 30 minutes when we had to leave the resort. And I kind of wanted to cry, too. This place is pretty darn special and it didn’t surprise me at all when other guests told me that they had returned to this resort multiple times over the years.
The grounds and the room were exquisite. It never felt too crowded and there was always plenty of space at the pools and by the beach.
There’s no doubt that this property is expensive, but it was nice to be able to take advantage of the money-saving perks offered through the Amex FHR program.
If you decide to book a stay at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, whether for a family holiday, relaxing getaway or a romantic vacation, I can almost guarantee you’ll love it.
All photos by the author.
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