For our family trip to Hawaii in December, we wanted to experience another island after our experience on the Big Island. Oahu felt like the right choice with plenty of outdoor activities, beaches, and Pearl Harbor. Choosing to stay at the 371-room Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina, Four Season’s fifth Hawaiian resort which just opened this past summer, was not a difficult choice.
Of course, I was eager to check out any new hotel opening anyway, especially a Four Seasons property. But frankly there were also very few other luxury properties on the island (most are located on the Waikiki strip) that appealed. Many seemed tired (confirmed by friends and colleagues who have stayed there) and in need of a major face-lift.
Our experience with the Four Seasons Oahu had a bit of a rocky start before we even arrived. Anyone going away during festive season knows how essential it is to book your restaurant reservations, treatments and activities beforehand or you risk missing out when you arrive. My experience dealing with the concierge staff over e-mail to secure appointments was surprisingly an endless source of frustration. Too many different people at the Concierge got involved in seemingly easy reservations, providing inconsistent information and sometimes not responding at all.
It would be unfair for any place to be compared immediately after the Four Seasons Hualalai, where we stayed before arriving at the Four Seasons Oahu. But as a Four Seasons resort, and new one at that, we still had high expectations. Visually, it was a shock to our senses coming from a serene oasis to this more urban style beach resort. The resort is more condensed than the sprawling Hualalai compound and felt very crowded in comparison (although granted it was the height of the Festive Season), especially as it shares a small man-made lagoon beach with the Disney Aulani resort. The hotel is housed in a former JW Marriott property and not a new edifice. While everything felt new and looked shiny as it should be after an 18 month renovation, the shell of the former 17 floor hotel is the same (see more below on location).
During our week-long stay, we were very pleased with the overall service and dining options at the hotel as well as the comfort and spaciousness of our rooms. Unfortunately, as we planned to spend most of our week in Oahu exploring the island and its beautiful beaches, the location of the hotel was not ideal.
While we wanted a location away from the Waikiki hotel ‘strip’, we found the location of the Four Seasons Oahu too simply too far (everything is about a 40-60 minute drive) to spend the week as we spent much of our time in the car driving to and from the places we wanted to explore. The remote location also discouraged us from checking out other restaurants we wanted to try on the island for dinner.
The biggest negative for me about the location is the actual property. The main beach is a man-made lagoon inlet offering a very small sand beach. The fact that it is shared (the inlet is actually roped off and divided in half between properties) by the Disney Aulani property next to it was a huge damper in my opinion. I knew the hotel was next door, but was not prepared for how close it was (it is conveniently not mentioned or photographed on the website or materials). The massive Aulani (819 rooms – more than twice the size of the FS Oahu) and its crowded beach is just such an eyesore, that it ruins any chance of having a typical ‘Four Seasons’ experience here.
Although the Four Seasons does the best it can do with a less than ideal situation and it is a beautiful resort otherwise, the small beach was just overwhelmed during this holiday time between Four Seasons guests, Disney Aulani guests and public visitors for us to bother lounging on it. The best location for anything resembling an exotic island setting here is on the West side of resort.
Like Hualalai, there was an abundant number of on-property amenities and activities but in a much more condensed setting. I was told that the Jim Courier Tennis Centre, offering 5 tennis courts on the 6th floor rooftop of an adjoining building, is by far the best facility on the island. It certainly made my husband very happy and should be enough to attract anyone looking to play while they are on the island They were still refining the center during our stay as it could get windy.
Paddle-boarding, snorkeling and other activities are also offered on the property which you can do on the lagoon, although it appeared very crowded most times. There are other lagoons and a marina (by shuttle) on the property but we did not get to visit them.
You will find four pools on the property: a lap pool at the Spa, a small family pool near the beach and an adult pool tucked away on the West side of the hotel. The adult pool was by far the prettiest and most serene option – a disappointment that we could not use it.
There are four restaurants at the Four Seasons all were remarkably excellent with menus serving delicious, inventive as well as popular choices. I was very impressed given the hotel was open only a few months and this was their first festive season with full occupancy.
La Hiki serves a wonderful breakfast buffet as well as Pan-Asian menu for dinner, serving an array of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai dishes – this is where you can get your sushi fix. Noe, their Italian restaurant, offers the most serene experience with beautiful indoor/outdoor seating areas and fresh pasta dishes. Fish House, located off the beach, was our favorite for fresh and inventive seafood dishes (get the Hawaiian Poke sampler). Waterman Bar Grill is a casual outdoor bar that is great for light bites and sunset cocktails (booze soaked popsicles!). All the restaurants had children menus. A taco truck serves up fresh fish tacos on the West lawn during the afternoon.
Overall the staff, particularly at the restaurants, was very welcoming and hospitable with tons of enthusiasm and energy. A few areas were in need of polishing, such as pre-arrival assistance through the concierge (a frustrating experience with inconsistent information provided from time to time), housekeeping (inconsistent) and at poolside service.
There were exceptional stand-outs: Joe Witherell with the Concierge staff expertly sorted out all our previous difficulties and Philip Clough, the Resort Manager, who flawlessly oversaw the opening of resort and was ever-present during the Festive Season.
For our family, we chose connecting Ocean Front King to King rooms, shared by a common vestibule. Our hotel rooms were new, modern and very spacious. Oddly, while there was plenty of closet space in both rooms, the rooms lacked adequate drawer storage (one of the porters told us they were still waiting for storage).
As the Disney Aulani property, a massive eyesore of resort in my opinion, is on the East Side of the property, I would ask for an ocean-facing room on the West side of the resort.
The new Four Seasons Oahu is the newest and most luxurious property by far on island of Oahu right now and has raised the bar for some other properties that are a bit tired and in need of a renovation to catch up.
However, the hotel felt atypical to me than many other Four Seasons properties I have been too – less a resort and more of an urban hotel like those high-rises you might find on South Beach in Miami. The service, restaurants, rooms and in some cases, amenities are all 5- star but in a 4-star location and building. It is still on its own a very attractive resort and as long as you know what to expect, I would recommend it highly for 3-4 nights if you are lucky enough to be in Oahu.
What To Do in Oahu
There is no shortage of things to do in Oahu – beaches, hikes, whale watching, zip lining and more. Here were our favorites:
Waimea Valley on the North Shore in Haleiwa, a 2-000 acre rain forest including botanical gardens, waterfalls, hiking trails and sacred native Hawaiian burial caves, shrines and temples. There are hikes for all abilities. We went here before going to Kualoa Ranch but you can also do on way to North Shore.
Lanikai Pillboxes Trail in Kailua – a easy/moderate 1.6 mile hike that is great for families. It’s a 20-30 minute climb to get to the first military pillbox bunker but you only need to hike up about 10 minutes to get your first selfie or family shot with a stunning backdrop of the shore and islands. It can be steep and muddy in some areas. We liked this hike also because it was so convenient to the gorgeous Lanikai beach and restaurants in Kailua (go for breakfast at Cinnamon’s or Boots and Kimo’s before you hike). Friends have said Diamond Head is also a wonderful hike but that is much farther from the resort.
North Shore. Our favorite time in Oahu was on the North Shore. Pick a beach, you can’t go wrong – Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline or Waimea Bay, the sites of some of the best surfing in the world, sometimes with 40-50 foot waves, and just watch the surfers do their stuff. Than after having worked up appetite watching (or perhaps surfing yourselves), head for the famous North Shore food trucks. The trucks are all in one spot on Kamehameha Highway: Giovanni’s for shrimp, Elephant Truck for Thai were the ones we recommend. Stop in the town of Haleiwa to browse the cool boutiques and the site of Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice. On your way back, get a drink and catch the sunset at Turtle Bay Resort (Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed here) at the Point. Or go to Banzai Sushi in Haleiwa for what is considered the best sushi on the island.
Pearl Harbor – It goes without saying and worth the time at least to see USS Memorial (get tickets in advance for this memorial or you won’t get in due to strict daily quotas). You could easily spend a full day here. It was very moving. See Tips below.
Kualoa Ranch – a 4,000 acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch as well as popular film location for movies and TV shows such as Lost, Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, Godzilla, Pearl Harbor, 50 First Dates, the Brady Sequel and so many more. You can do ATV tours here (as Michelle Obama and the girls did the day before we arrived), zip line, horseback riding or a film location tour. We had a lot of fun on our private tour (even though we were the only family who hadn’t seen most of the movies!).
Restaurants in Oahu
There are seriously a ton of great dining options in Oahu – from Honolulu to Kailua to the North Shore.
Monkey Pod – is across the street from the resort and very popular for residents in the Ko Olina community, Four Seasons and Aulalani guests. Worth going to this family-friendly restaurant with fun, good menu at least once when you are at the resort for a change of scenery. We sat next to Adam Sandler, a guest at the resort, both times we were there.
Cinnamons in Kailua is a popular breakfast spot known for its guava chiffon and red velvet pancakes along with other breakfast fare. Go early or risk a 45-minute wait or more as we did.
Boots and Kimo’s in Kailua, around the corner from Cinnamons, is another popular option for breakfast. They are known for its Banana Mac Nut Pancakes.
While you are waiting in line for either of the above, there are a few cute boutiques worth checking out on Hekili Street in Kailua: Guava Shop (clothes) and Island Bungalow (home furnishings) are both beachy-chic boutiques next to each other. Aloha Beach Club nearby is a cool men’s clothing boutique that conveniently also serves crushed ice.
Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice – A hugely popular family shop serving shaved ice (ask for ice cream on bottom, condensed milk on top for a complete sugar fest) since 1951, is always packed. Tons of exotic flavors and colors to choose from but the Hawaiian (a 3-flavor tropical fruit combo) is the most popular. Have someone stand in line so you can explore boutiques in like North Shore Surf Shop which has great creative tees and sweatshirts
Banzai Sushi – Sushi with a Hawaiian twist is the style at this Japanese fusion restaurant in Haleiwa on the North Shore (and the only sushi restaurant on the North Shore). Get the ahi carpaccio, Kobe beef gyoza. Fish is caught fresh daily.
Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu or Agnes Portugese Bake Shop in Kailua for world-famous Malasadas (a Portuguese, creme-filled doughnut). Call before going to make sure they are open and go early!. We went to Agnes only to find they ran out already for the day!
Pig & The Lady – for lunch or dinner in Honolulu’s Chinatown (ideal after a visit to Pearl Harbor). Communal dining Vietnamese fare. It was closed during Christmas Day when we tried to go but our friends highly recommended. Instead, we found a wonderful restaurant nearby Lucky Belly that served amazing Ramen noodle dishes.
House without a Key at the Halekulani hotel – No reservations but go before sunset and sit outside and eat to live band daily. Very popular.
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Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina
2017 Virtuoso Amenities through our booking partner Classic Travel includes:
• Upgrade at time of arrival, subject to availability
• Complimentary continental breakfast for two daily
• $100 USD Spa credit to be utilized during stay
Why book Virtuoso?
- Personalized travel assistance
- 24/7 online booking
- Special rates & exclusive offers
- Guaranteed Room upgrade*
- Complimentary full American breakfast
- Early check-in, Late check-out*
- Exclusive on-site amenities (varies by hotel)
- * based on availability on time of arrival