Royal Hawaiian Luau – Book It Danno!

My perception of Hawaii has been defined by television. The image of Don and Megan Draper sipping drinks on the beach in front of The Royal Hawaiian this past season on Mad Men is still very fresh in my mind.  Then, of course, there was that “very special multi-part episode” when the Brady Bunch took off for the Islands.  Finally, as I continue this past-TV-life regression, how can we ever forget the classic opening credits sequence of the original Hawaii Five-0?

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar

We were in Hawaii this past May to celebrate my Dad’s 80th Birthday.  Since this was our first visit to the Islands we wanted the quintessential Hawaii experience. In my mind, there’s nothing that represents “TV Hawaii” at its finest than Waikiki Beach with those stunning views of Diamond Head in the distance. In the middle of all the action and positioned to capitalize on this iconic scenery is The Royal Hawaiian.  Given the location, we felt that the hotel would be the perfect place for our first experience with another Hawaii classic – the Luau.

The Royal Hawaiian’s Luau “Aha Aina” (which according to the hotel translates to gathering for a meal) takes place only on Monday evenings on the property’s Ocean Lawn.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Front Lawn View

Aha Aina is Waikiki’s only oceanfront sit-down dinner.  Guests are seated at comfortably-spaced tables of ten and are served dinner and drinks at their seats.  Unlike other some of the other luau dinner show options, there’s not a need to line up at buffet for your meal.  The views of Waikiki beach and Diamond Head are spectacular.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Lawn View Rear

The evening started with welcome drinks inside the hotel’s vestibule as our party was checked in.  A brief announcement and ceremonial procession kicked off the festivities as we were guided outdoors.  We paid an additional supplement for Premium Seating which gave us a table in the front row and a Kukui Nut Lei.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Group Photo

As the beverages flowed (Mai Tais and Pina Coladas were our drinks of choice and were included in the price of the meal) we wandered the grounds as the performers demonstrated traditional Hawaiian crafts such as cloth making, poi-pounding and the tending of tools.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Traditional Craft Demonstration

Next, we were all draped with fresh flower leis …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Family Photo

… and, following the sound of a pu (conch) shell being blown to signify the start of the feast, we were seated at our tables for dinner.  As we started our meal, the performance began with a storyteller sharing the significance of various Hawaiian traditions.  Later the emcee made the rounds of the tables to call out various guests who were celebrating special occasions including my Dad  …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Emcee

Of course, I think she got a little nervous when my Dad took hold of the microphone and started to tell his life story.  That said, she was very gracious and let my Dad “run with it.”

The meal was very well-prepared and centered on a “surf and turf” Sake Braised Short Rib and Kona Lobster Tail (the full menu can be found at this link). However, my personal favorite was the dessert …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dessert

… The Royal Hawaiian Signature Pink Haupia Cake.

As the sun began to set, the show started in earnest with an appearance by King Kamehameha

Royal Hawaiian Luau King Kamehame

… and traditional dances …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 1

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 2

Over the rest of the evening song and dance commemorated Hawaii’s culture and traditions with homages to the Royal Hawaiian’s Beach Boys

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 3

A whole lot of hula …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 4

Royal Hawaiian Dancers 5

Royal Hawaiian Luau Hula Dancer

… and of course a classic Fire Dance!

Royal Hawaiian Luau Fire Dance

I used my Starwood Preferred American Express Card to reserve and pay for the luau and received double Starpoints for my purchase.  Check out my earlier post, Starwood Starpoints Starstruck, for more details on the value of the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

The manicured grounds of this beautiful vintage hotel and its perfect location on the beach provide the ideal setting for the evening’s festivities.  The table service (e.g. “non-buffet”) format provides for an upscale, relaxed and more gracious dining environment.  In addition, the performances are family friendly and offer broad appeal to a variety of audiences. The Royal Hawaiian Aha Aina Luau may seem a bit “old school” to some people.  However, that’s precisely why I chose it.  And now, let’s continue with a very special episode of From Point A To in Hawaii …

Have you ever attended a luau in Hawaii?  What was your experience?


Hilton Sorrento Palace Hotel Review – A “Staging” Hotel for our Italy Vacation

I have to admit that I knew I would not be a very fun person after our transatlantic flight. We were on the way to Italy for our vacation this past summer. Even after I stuffed myself with hardboiled eggs and consumed large quantities of Diet Coke in the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge during our layover (see my Lufthansa Lounge Lizard post for more details), I was still not “all there” once I hit the ground.

In addition, I had booked us on an all day tour the following day.  Since I knew we would feel like zombies on our first day in Italy and would be out and about on the second, I didn’t want to book a hotel that was  “too nice” since we wouldn’t be spending all that much time on the property to enjoy it.  We just needed a good place to sleep off our jet lag. It’s at this phase of the trip where a “staging hotel” comes in handy.

Of course, I still wanted to be comfortable and didn’t want any “surprises.” Staying at one of the major international hotel chains fits these parameters since you have a reasonable assurance of consistency associated with a “brand name” hotel.  I chose the Hilton Sorrento Palace for this reason.  In addition, I was able to cash in 100,000 HHonors points that paid for our two-night stay.


Source: Hilton Sorrento Palace

The Hilton Sorrento Palace is a large conference hotel situated in the hills above Sorrento. It’s about a 12-15 minute easy walk to the center of town. However, bear in mind that your return journey will involve a modest uphill climb.

The hotel’s public spaces have a funky “late 60s Mad Men vibe” …

Hilton Sorrento Palace Lobby 1

Including this fire pit area (anyone spot Hugh Hefner or Sean Connery here?)

Hilton Sorrento Palace Firepit

Source: Hilton Sorrento Palace

We arrived at the hotel around 3:00 pm and were pleased that our room was ready for us.  Although the check in procedure was efficient I found that our the Front Desk Clerk seemed to be in a mood that bordered on “surly.”  Although he wasn’t rude, we didn’t experience a “warm Italian welcome.”  On the other hand, his colleague next to him who was checking in some other guests seemed animated and friendly.  Maybe our guy was just having a bad day.

I currently have Hilton HHonors Gold Status that I received from holding the Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express card (see my earlier Hot for Hilton post for more details on why I applied for the card and my Burn Points Baby Burn and Starwood Starpoints Starstruck posts for how my Pointing strategy has changed since then).   As a Gold Member I received the following Welcome Amenity in our room:

Hilton Sorrento Palace Welcome Amenity

Receiving a full bottle of Limoncello was a nice touch and I was able to enjoy this Amalfi Coast specialty as a nightcap on every evening of our Italian vacation.  We also received two bottles of water in the room.  However, the hotel neglected to include bottle openers (sigh … details).

As a Gold Member I was also upgraded to a Sea View room …

Hilton Sorrento Palace Sea View King Guest Room

Source: Hilton Sorrento Palace

… which featured a balcony with two chairs, a small table and this great view of Vesuvius:

Hilton Sorrento Palace Sea View Room of Vesuvius

The room was clean and fresh and featured a refrigerator / mini bar which had enough spare space to include a few of your own things (e.g., my bottle of Limoncello!).  The housekeeping service seemed pretty efficient and our room was made up relatively early in the day.  The bathroom was spacious and the shower provided good water pressure.

The signal for the in room Wi-Fi was a bit spotty and it required you to register each device for 24 hours of access.  This is important to know since if you try to access your iPhone, iPad and laptop in the room you’ll be charged 7.50 Euros for each device per day.  Fortunately, the free Wi-Fi in the lobby was pretty speedy and I was able to get my internet access charges waived because of my HHonors Gold Status.

Another nice benefit of my Gold Status was access to the hotel’s Pompeii Executive Lounge …

Hilton Sorrento Palace Pompeii Executive Lounge

… which provided a Full American and Continental Breakfast daily from 7:00 am to 10:00 am and Evening Snacks from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  Breakfast offerings included bacon, sausage, eggs, cold cuts and assorted breads and fruit.  Coffee and prosecco (mimosas anyone?) were readily available. The lounge also featured a well-stocked cooler filled with beer, assorted juices and soft drinks.  I was so relieved to have a source for my much needed afternoon … and morning … Diet Coke fix!  The Lounge also had access to a large outdoor terrace with great views where you could enjoy your breakfast or drinks.

You also benefited from a sweeping panoramic view of the Bay of Naples from the expansive terrace bar and restaurant that opens up just beyond the hotel lobby.

Hilton Sorrento Palace Lobby 2

The meal was perfectly fine, though nothing special.  However, unfortunately it seemed as if the waitstaff had taken “surly lessons” from the guy handling our check-in earlier in the day.  That said, we were seated at a table just at the edge of the terrace where we were able to enjoy watching dusk transform into night and the lights of Naples start to flicker on.


Source: Hilton Sorrento Palace

As we were wrapping up our meal we saw a series of sky lanterns rise up from the waters’ edge and drift up into the twilight.  The effect was magical and served as a pleasant way to wrap up our first day in Italy.

Despite the service hiccups we encountered during our stay, I would probably stay at the Hilton Sorrento Palace again.  The hotel is a clean and comfortable place to sleep off your jet lag after a long transatlantic flight.  In addition, the Hilton Sorrento Palace features a large pool area that we didn’t use on this visit but seemed like a nice amenity.  The hotel is also conveniently located near the Pompeii archeological sites and Sorrento would be a great jumping off point for a day trip to Capri.  The “stage is set.”  Now we’re ready to explore the Amalfi Coast … stay tuned!


Starwood Starpoints Starstruck – The Mai Tai Made Me Do It

There are some things that drive a man to drink. Then there are those drinks that drive a man to collect points.

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar Drinks

I’ve been a Starwood Preferred Guest member for several years and carry the hotel loyalty program’s branded American Express Card.  Although I’ve collected Starpoints in the past and have used them to redeem a number awards, this is one program that I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to lately.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about my Workhouse Cards, much of my Pointing activity has focused on the accumulation of United MileagePlus Miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.  United is my “home” airline and the MileagePlus program has enabled me to redeem great awards such as a couple of First Class seats on the carrier’s Star Alliance partner Lufthansa (check out my earlier posts on my experience at Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal and my flight experience in Lufthansa First Class for more details).

Then, late last year I wrote about how I became Hot for Hilton and how its HHonors program became one of the cornerstones for my Pointing efforts.  However, as I mentioned in my last post (Burn Points Baby Burn), only a few months later the HHonors program implemented a massive devaluation.  At this point, I was a free agent again and ready to look elsewhere for Pointing opportunities.

Ironically, we were staying at the Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk during our Hawaii vacation this past May.  We were scheduled to attend a Luau at the Royal Hawaiian and popped by the hotel to scope out the venue.  We decided to take a break and have a drink so we ducked into the hotel’s Mai Tai Bar where they gave us a beach side table with this view …

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar

I immediately fell in love with the place and knew I HAD to stay here one day … the hotel not just the bar.  I had my Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card on me and was able to earn double points for all of my drinks since the Royal Hawaiian is a Starwood property.  After I made the switch from Mai Tais to Pina Coladas, I was feeling relaxed, enjoying the view of sun and surf and was reminded of the value of the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

Starwood Preferred Guest Logo

The great thing about the Starwood network is that you can redeem Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels & resorts in nearly 100 countries worldwide. Starwood has a broad geographic footprint and brand diversity. The major Starwood Brands include Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, Le Meridien, St. Regis, Four Points and several others. This program is a great complement to the Hilton HHonors network for your hotel Pointing activities. If there’s not a Hilton where you traveling then there will likely be Starwood Hotel.

You can also transfer your Starpoints (in the majority of cases on a 1:1 basis) into the frequent flyer programs of the following airlines:

Starwood Airline Transfer Partners

Source: Starwood Preferred Guest

Plus, for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer you receive a Bonus of an additional 5,000 points!  This ability to transfer points makes the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card a great complement to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa and its Ultimate Rewards program which also allows you transfer your points into a variety of airline and hotel programs.  More details on the Sapphire card can be found in my earlier blog entry on My Workhorse Cards.

Finally, the Starwood Preferred Guest program offers a Member-to-Member Transfer feature.  This allows a member of the same household to move Starpoints between accounts.  The terms for such a transfer state “Both accounts must have been active with the same address on each for at least 30 days.” With such a feature, your household can pool your points to achieve awards faster as I outlined in my blog post Feeding the Points Kitty.

So how will Starpoints get me back to the Royal Hawaiian for those Mai Tais?  The hotel is charging $450 or 20,000 Starpoints per night for a Standard Garden View Room in early May. Therefore, we will need a total of 40,000 points for a weekend stay. The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card is a great way to get us the Starpoints that we need.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card

I already have the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express but my Partner F does not.  Fortunately, American Express is running a special sign up bonus of 30,000 Starpoints through September 3, 2013 (note: If you’re not ready to pull the trigger on this application yet, the “regular” sign up bonus will be 25,000 Starpoints after the deadline expires).  You receive 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase and an additional 20,000 Starpoints after you spend $5,000 on the card within six months. Once F has met his spending requirements on the card he will have received a total of 35,000 Starpoints (e.g. the bonus points as well as points earned from meeting the minimum spending requirement).  I currently have 7,400 points in my SPG account so I can then transfer 5,000 points to F so that we will have a total of 40,000 Starpoints for us to redeem for that weekend in Honolulu.

Aah, I love the smell of a great new credit card application in the morning … especially one that will get me back to that beach in Waikiki!

Note: I am neither an employee of Starwood or American Express nor do I receive any compensation from recommending this card.  I just think the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card would be a great addition to your arsenal of Pointing tools.  Also, I am not a financial advisor so be sure to consult a registered financial professional if you have questions regarding your personal financial situation or the use of credit cards. You can learn more about the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card at this link.

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