The Laylow, Autograph Collection, Waikiki, Hawaii
We realise not long after we arrive that we have hit the jackpot as far as this is concerned. We are a block from Waikiki beach and in the centre of the restaurant-shopping-transport hub. Plus, The Laylow – the first Oahu hotel to join Marriott's Autograph Collection – houses an excellent restaurant which seems to be one of the few eateries in Waikiki where you can enjoy good food outdoors.
The 251-room Laylow (formerly the Aqua Wave Waikiki) was billed as a boutique hotel when it opened after a $60-million renovation early last year. But this is more a nod to its aesthetic than its size. Yes it's high-rise, but an airy lobby, lush gardens and mid-century furniture and decor give it a relaxed, modern Hawaiian vibe that never verges too far into tiki territory. There's a large saltwater pool, comfortable deck chairs and covered lounges and we have it to ourselves more than once. There's also a well-equipped gym and retail store. The Hideout restaurant and bar is a beautiful space – with a mix of indoor and outdoor eating areas, fire pits with lounges, blazing torches and live music.
The modern Hawaii theme continues in the light and airy rooms. What ours lacks in views – it faces a car park – it makes up for with space. There's a king-size bed, balcony, huge smart TV with Netflix and lounge, a fridge, and a large bathroom with rainshower. There are a few hiccups: there are few places to hang towels – odd with the modern-day hotel emphasis on environmental issues. A welcome basket with snacks and hotel thongs, which all guests receive, is a nice touch but it fails to arrive until the next day. And there is only one bathrobe.
The Laylow's outdoor Hideout restaurant offers beautiful food by torchlight and we find ourselves the envy of others looking for a speccy place for dinner. It's a good choice. The Hawaiian poke, fish tacos and ahi tuna tataki are standouts and the Hideout also boasts barista coffee. From the moment we arrive at the hotel until the moment we leave, a long queue can be seen directly across the road at the Japanese Marukame Udon restaurant. By lunchtime on our second day, curiosity gets the better of us and we, too, join the queue. Twenty minutes later we are seated and have a steaming bowl of udon noodles and chicken in a broth with tempura vegetables. Yes, it was worth the wait. Waikiki is home to many high-end Japanese restaurants and the International Market Place is next door to the hotel. Our tip? Try the poke wherever you can.
Guests at the Laylow are given a $50 voucher to use towards tours and we are keen to head to North Shore where the jaw-dropping Masters Pipeline surf classic is due to start. The Surf Bus tour run by "just call me Uncle Kevin" is a reasonably priced "tour for people who hate tours" and is a bit of an institution. Kevin, a local, is hilarious and knowledgeable. He points out various sites linked to the famed Pearl Harbour attacks and where Barack Obama studied. By day's end we have dropped in at the Masters, swum in a waterfall, gone kayaking with turtles and sampled the shaved ice at old Hale'iwa town.
Speaking of turtles, the growing numbers of Hawaii's sea turtles are a good news story and we spend almost an hour snorkelling with them on a Makani Catamaran snorkel sail. The turtles gather in a trench on the island's southern side to have their shells serviced by obliging cleaner fish, while we hang above gawping at them: it's a win-win all round. This tour is also reasonably priced and includes lunch, a cocktail and a good chance of spotting humpbacks and dolphins.
If you have shopping on your radar, then Waikiki has no shortage of high-end retailers but we prefer the fresh food markets that pop up in the afternoon. For some cheap fun there are the ubiquitous ABC shops for Obama and Trump memorabilia, sarongs, T-shirts and foodstuffs such as peanut butter, raspberry and white chocolate in a jar.
What better tick of approval can a hotel have than to overhear people – more than once – express the wish that they were staying there. The Laylow offers style with substance, island ambience and great food.
The Laylow, 2299 Kuhio Avenue, Honolulu. Phone +1 808-922-6600. See marriott.com.au/hotels/travel/hnlak-the-laylow-autograph-collection/ Rooms from $US299 a night. Wi-Fi and Netflix included.
The location and the hotel's Hideout Restaurant and Bar.
Towel racks. Or lack thereof.
Jane Richards was a guest of The Laylow and Sail Makani. She travelled at her own expense.