Fabulous property but dated rooms; The Kauai Marriott that will soon be a Sonesta
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The massive Kauai Marriott is part of the new Hawaii resort bubble programme on the island of Kauai. I got to visit for our coverage of the unique concept, though the majority of my stay was at the gorgeous Timbers Kauai. The two properties have just been given permission by the state of Hawaii to combine their properties into one giant resort bubble. That’s a great reason to choose one of the two resorts, but read on for the reasons I would not pick the Marriott.
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This property is gorgeous and it’s in a beautiful corner of Kauai, but the rooms and the buildings are in desperate need of a refresh. That’s probably on the way. The hotel is about to lose its Marriott flag and it will soon become part of Sonesta Hotels and Resorts.
It will transform from the Kaua’i Marriott Resort to the Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort Lihue.
Sonesta has been on a growth spree and has more than 260 properties in the U.S. and 300 globally. According to the company, it’s taking over the Kauai property this spring: “Reservations are now available for stays beginning 24 March 2021. We are confident you’ll enjoy the same guest-focused Sonesta experience when you visit our new location.”
Kauai reportedly wants to join the state’s Safe Travels programme, which would make the resort bubble unnecessary, but until then you’ll need to know all the information below.
When I priced upcoming rates in March for Marriott, I found some as low as $225 (£162) per night (plus an egregious $35/night or about £25/night resort fee). That’s a bargain compared to the rates at the same hotel under new management in May, where rooms start at £237/night (plus £40 in taxes and fees per night). Since the rooms won’t have been updated since I stayed in January, I wouldn’t be willing to pay as much as Sonesta is asking.
My stay cost £162 a night plus a £18 per night resort fee. (Elites only pay £18 instead of £25/night for non-elites.) Various other taxes and fees left the room costing $298.50 (about £215) per night. That’s not terrible for Hawaii, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a bargain.
In all, I did earn 6,750 Marriott Bonvoy points worth about £47 at current TPG values. I got another 7,500 bonus points as part of Marriott’s “Better Two-Gether” promotion.
You can use this promotion to earn double Marriott Bonvoy points and elite qualifying nights on all stays of two nights or more through 27 Aprril 2021.
Egregious resort fees
As I mentioned above, this Kauai property, like many of the hotels and resorts in Hawaii, charges a resort fee. Here’s what you get for your £18 or £25 per day (the daily cost depends on your elite status):
- Cultural classes
- Silicone wristband
- Daily yoga fitness classes
- Daily Aqua Fit fitness classes
- Wi-Fi access (enhanced only)
- 1 snorkel or Boogie board rental for a week
- 2 mai tais at Kakui’s Restaurant per room, per stay
- 10% off any rental at the Pool hut
- 1 appetizer or dessert at Kakui’s Restaurant per room, per stay
- 1 Malie gift bag
You tell me if that’s worth as much as £25 (plus taxes) a day. To me, the answer is no. I did enjoy two virgin mai tais, but that’s the only real use I got out of that list of “benefits.” With coronavirus shutting down many activities, the resort fee makes even less sense. I can’t imagine paying an even larger resort fee when the property becomes a Sonesta.
Marriott’s Kaua’i Beach Club and Timbers are combining forces to create an 800-acre, waterfront “Resort Bubble” for owners and guests participating in Kaua’i’s “Enhanced Movement Quarantine” (EMQ).
Kauai had among the toughest entry requirements of any spot in the United States. In fact, until just a few months ago, it required a full 14-day quarantine since, at the time, it decided not to participate in the state’s COVID-19 “test-out programme.”
But now, Kauai is allowing guests to book trips to one of several resorts on the island and stay in a “resort bubble” for three days before taking another COVID-19 test and then being released from quarantine. Kauai has also asked to rejoin the state’s “test out programme.” Stay tuned for news on that in the coming months.
Check-in was slow despite the late hour. There were two employees at the front desk, which was protected by plexiglass screens. There was a lot of signage about the quarantine requirement and the resort bubble. Two pilots were checking in ahead of me and were told that they couldn’t dine in any of the restaurants except for takeout since they were under a three-day quarantine. (This is very different at Timbers where you can dine at Haualani’s even while in the resort bubble quarantine.)
I was asked for proof that I had already completed the three-day bubble, and then I was pretty unceremoniously handed by wristband key and a regular key card as well. I didn’t really get a warm welcome as an elite member or any explanation of elite benefits. Not friendly, but fine.
Related: I tested Marriott’s new day pass
What really bugged me is that after I had trekked all the way to my room, the keys didn’t work. I walked all the way back to the front desk, where they “activated” the key again but told me the keypad might be broken. They told me if that was the case I should call the main number, and they would get someone from maintenance. Of course, that’s exactly what happened. When I called the front desk, I was placed on hold for about 10 minutes. I finally got an answer as I was headed back to the front desk for the third time. I decided to stroll around the property instead of waiting in the hall for the maintenance guy to show up. Eventually, after about 15 minutes, I went back to the room and he was there fixing the door. It didn’t endear me to the property or to the front desk folks who could have immediately sent maintenance up instead of making me go back and forth.
The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. It got worse when I saw the room.
Lobby and grounds
Like the rooms, the lobby is pretty dated. It’s like going back in time to the era of “The Golden Girls.” Still, it’s kind of fun and there are some cool displays. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lobby is pretty walled off from guests. There are plastic screens covering the check-in desks, and a rope line to keep folks socially distanced.
The property was pretty deserted during my stay. A front-desk clerk admitted to me they were only checking in about 10 guests for the hotel, and 10 guests for the vacation club each day. The property has more than 350 rooms, so the place was a bit of a ghost town. That actually recommends it, in my opinion. The chance to stay at a nearly empty resort on a relatively empty island almost makes the tired rooms worth it.
This property is massive. It has six towers and is said to be home to the largest single-level swimming pool in all of Hawaii. There are also five hot tubs (or whirlpools), though they are closed due to COVID-19 apparently.
The property faces the protected Nawiliwili Harbor (Port of Lihue) that is good for amateur swimmers and surfers but be aware that the water here can be full of pollutants depending on rain runoff.
From the Sonesta website:
“Nestled amidst the lush greenery of Kaua’i, our Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort Lihue is a Garden Island oasis. Our Kaua’i resort enjoys a glorious setting on golden sands, with opportunities to indulge in beachside spa treatments, five restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, a weekly luau, and the largest one-level pool in Hawaii.”
I do agree the location is great being close to Lihue Airport (LIH), with access to many of the island’s many natural wonders. I do not love that it’s not oceanfront. It’s also a very busy part of the island normally, so keep that in mind when considering a trip.
Oh boy, where do I start? The rooms are in really bad shape, at least the rooms in the hotel portion of the property. All the furniture is scuffed and out of date. The rugs are bad. There were stains on the couch and in spots in the room. The walls were beaten up. The in-room drip coffee was fine, but not up to par in this day and age.
Fortunately, the bed was comfortable, though the bedding itself was pretty paltry. The pull-out bed was uncomfortable too. I took a few pictures of the front door to the “presidential suite” in my tower. It didn’t look appealing. I will say the rooms are spacious, and the views are top-notch. With a little TLC, this property could shine again. One other thing to mention for those considering working from the hotel, the Wi-Fi was spotty and the speeds weren’t great. I tested and I was getting 9.64 Mbps for downloads and 9.28 Mbps for uploads.
I did sneak a look at one of the renovated Marriott Vacation Club rooms, and they are definitely an improvement. Let’s hope Sonesta keeps the renovations going.
This sprawling resort has a ton of amenities though many of them are not available during the coronavirus pandemic. There is the largest pool I’ve ever gone swimming in. I absolutely loved the pool, which included a separate section for those in the Enhanced Movement Quarantine (EMQ) bubble. As I mentioned, the five whirlpools are closed for now.
I did love the many gardens and courtyards sprinkled throughout the resort grounds. The six towers are all built around courtyards filled with tropical plants and statues. There’s lots of cool artwork too. There is a 24-hour fitness room and daily aerobics classes though most of that is off-limits for now. There are five restaurants though some of them were closed during my visit. Many of the shops were closed too though one gift shop was open with limited capacity.
There’s also a free on-demand airport shuttle and a full-service salon (closed during my visit).
Because it’s near the busy port, there are a lot of shops and restaurants outside the resort, but you won’t be able to visit them until you are out of quarantine.
Food and beverage
There are five restaurants on the property though not all are open to all guests at the moment. Breakfast is very limited. There is a walk-up coffee bar with basic breakfast items for sale on the Aupaka Terrace. You can also order poolside at Kakui’s though it’s expensive. I had breakfast there one morning and it was fine. The best part is you can take your food to a seating area with views of the pool. There is no table service.
Duke’s Kauai and Cafe Portofino are also available just off the beach.
Service was just OK at this resort. My interactions with staff were fine. Everyone was pleasant if not especially friendly. As I mentioned above, the check-in folks were curt and not especially helpful when I had issues with my digital room key.
I had good service at the poolside bar, but I think I was one of the only customers around at the time so I’m not handing out a lot of bonus points for that. The friendliest employee I met was actually not a resort employee, but the woman running the gift shop.
This Kauai property is a pretty impressive resort no matter what hotel flag it’s flying. The giant pool and access to its own beach helps sell the property. That said, the rooms are dated and in desperate need of a refresh (at least most towers). The location is convenient to Lihue Airport but really isn’t oceanfront in my opinion. The addition of Timbers Kauai and its 450 acres to the resort bubble helps me recommend it for a stay during the resort bubble, but I wouldn’t go back unless I got a super deal and the resort’s rooms got remodeled.
If you want to visit, here’s what you need to know prior to visiting Hawaii.
Featured image by Clint Hendeson/The Points Guy
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