Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Hotel Review – A Hula Dancer in Every Room

Sometimes who you travel with will define your choice of a hotel. This past May our family traveled to Honolulu to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. Since this would be our first time in Hawaii, we all wanted to stay someplace that evoked a real “sense of place” and evoked a “tropical island vibe.”  In addition, since my Dad is known for being well … uh cheap … we required a hotel that offered some good value for money for our six night stay. The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk fulfilled both of these criteria and made for a very pleasant stay for our family.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Pool View

We arrived at the Embassy Suites around 8:00 pm and checked in at the registration desk, which was located in the hotel’s open-air lobby and driveway.  Our room was ready and as we completed our check-in arrangements, the efficient and professional staff served our group some fresh, cold guava juice as we waited.  The feeling of warm tropical breezes helped set the tone for our upcoming Hawaiian holiday.

This property is the only all-suite resort hotel in Oahu. Since we were going to be in Honolulu for six nights, having the extra space of a suite to “spread out” made our stay comfortable.  Although hotel prices in Waikiki are generally not cheap, I found that the Embassy Suites offered excellent value for money.  As I comparison-shopped for hotels, I found that for roughly the same rate as a standard room in other nearby mid-range / upscale hotels, I was able to book a suite with a full buffet breakfast included at the Embassy Suites.

The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk consists of two high-rise towers with an open air Grand Lanai on the fourth floor separating the buildings.  The Grand Lanai is the location of the hotel’s pool, breakfast area, bar and meeting rooms. Our room in the Hula Tower overlooked the hotel’s pool area and consisted of a living room with a sofa bed …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Living Room

… and a flat screen TV.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Living Room 2

The Suite also included a small dining area that featured a mini-fridge and microwave.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Dining Area

This feature was really convenient since it provided us a place to store cold drinks and snacks over the course of our stay.  We were able to stock up on provisions at the ABC Store located across the street from the hotel.  This branch of the ubiquitous Hawaiian convenience & souvenir store chain (another one was located just down the street about a block away) also featured sandwiches, fresh refrigerated ready meals and hot takeaway options.

The bathroom was spacious and well kept.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bathroom

The separate bedroom had a king-sized bed (rooms with two queen-sized beds are also available) …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bedroom

… with another flat screen TV. The room also featured a dresser and armoire.  It was great having the ample storage space for our clothes since a six-night vacation pretty much dictated the need for multiple costume changes over the course of our stay.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bedroom Storage

Although we were only located on the 7th floor of the hotel, we did manage to get a peak at the ocean in between the buildings (the Trump Hotel Waikiki is right next door) which made for some great sunset views from the room’s balcony.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Ocean Sunset View

The balcony also featured a small table and two chairs so you could use it as a great vantage point for your morning coffee or a nightcap.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Balcony ViewAm I looking “wistful enough” in this photo?

A full buffet breakfast (6:30 am to 10:00 am) is included in the price of the hotel.  The buffet offered a wide variety of traditional morning options including fresh fruit, cereal and bread / bagels.  Hot options such as French toast, bacon, sausage, potatoes and steamed rice were rotated regularly. In addition, a cooked-to-order egg / omelet station was also available.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Buffet Breakfast

The hotel also features a nightly Manager’s Reception (5:30 pm to 7:30 pm) with complimentary drinks and snacks on the Grand Lanai with Hawaiian entertainment on select evenings.  Outdoor morning Yoga Classes are also offered on weekly basis.  In addition, free Wi-Fi, a Business Center and a Fitness Center round out the amenities that are available.

The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk is very conveniently located.  Although it’s not located right on the water, the beach is only about a 5 minute walk away and we were able to incorporate a morning oceanfront stroll into our daily ritual.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Near Beach

The adjacent Waikiki Beach Walk area features a wide variety of shops (including the two ABC Stores I mentioned earlier) and restaurants within easy walking distance.  Just down the street is Kalakaua Avenue which is one of Waikiki’s main thoroughfares and home to most of Honolulu’s luxury hotels and designer flagship stores.  Also not far away is the Royal Hawaiian where my Partner F and I had our evening nightcaps (see my earlier post Starwood Starpoints Starstruck – The Mai Tai Made Me Do It for more details) and where we attended our first luau (see my earlier post Royal Hawaiian Luau – Book It Danno! for more information).

Service at the hotel was consistently friendly and welcoming. In particular, the service staff at the breakfast buffet always were cheery and ready to assist.  Their positive attitude really got our days off to a great start.  I was also very impressed that when we were looking for the Business Center (which turned out to be located in the adjacent Aloha Tower), one of the office personnel stopped what she was doing in order to personally escort us to where we needed to go. That type of proactive action went above and beyond the call of duty.

My only complaint with the hotel is that I heard quite a bit of elevator noise (e.g. the mechanicals of the cab going up and down) in my bedroom.  Although a minor annoyance, I didn’t find the sound distracting enough to merit a room change.  That said, on any future visits I’ll be sure to request a room as far away as possible from the elevator to avoid this problem. While I’m at it, I’d probably also request for a room much higher up in order to improve my (partial) views of the ocean.  In addition, the quality of the wine, drinks and snacks (consisting of primarily of potato chips and pretzels) could also stand to be upgraded.  However, free booze is free booze so I guess I can’t complain TOO much!

Although the Embassy Suites is part of the international Hilton chain, the hotel didn’t feel cookie cutter.  Hilton made a real effort to infuse local Hawaiian flavor into the décor and atmosphere of the hotel.  Each night, little cards that recounted bits of Hawaiian history (e.g., the origins of the Luau, Surfboards, Lei-Making, etc.) were left in our room.  Hawaiian-themed artwork and furnishings decorated the rooms and public areas.

Of course, what really made our visit complete was the private hula dancer we had in our room …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Hula Dancer Lamp

Hey, what’s wrong with a little John Waters style kitsch from time to time?

How about you? Do you like a little “local flavor” infused into the style and atmosphere of your hotel?

Amalfi Coast Private Tour – Driving Mr. Daisy

The Amalfi Coast is known for it’s spectacular scenery.  When we made plans to visit this region of Italy over the summer I had visions of us tooling around in an Alfa Romeo convertible, sporting dark glasses and taking each hairpin turn with my hands up in the air yelling at the top of my lungs “I’ve never felt so alive!”

Of course, once I snapped out of this daydream, I realized that the reality of a drive up the Amalfi Coast would be quite different.  You see, I haven’t driven a car for ten years (yes, I am a creature of my urban environment).  Therefore, chauffeuring responsibilities would have had to fall to my Partner F who himself is a bit of a nervous driver.

Instead of a glamorous Grace Kelly / Cary Grant cliffside, coastal jaunt á la To Catch A Thief

To Catch A Thief

Our journey would most likely end up resembling a white-knuckle ride with Woody Allen driving in … well, any movie in which Woody Allen has to get behind the wheel of a car …

Woody Allen Driving

Therefore, I decided to hire a private driver for our tour of the Amalfi Coast.  I did quite a bit of research and decided on Simply Amalfi tours.  I was impressed by the company’s excellent recommendations on TripAdvisor.  In addition, I was able to use Simply Amalfi for our car transfers during our stay in addition to a full day tour of the Amalfi Coast.

I was impressed by the responsiveness and thoroughness of the company’s American co-owner Katharine Johnson.  Our interaction began with a series of email exchanges to outline our options. Katharine was great in providing some very detailed sample itineraries that could be customized to our personal interests.  She was extremely helpful and patient throughout the entire planning process and responded to my email inquiries very quickly.  I ended up hiring Simply Amalfi for the following elements of our trip:

  • Private Car Transfer from Naples Airport to Sorrento (See my earlier post on our stay at the Hilton Sorrento Palace for my review of the hotel)
  • Day Long Private Car Tour of the Amalfi Coast
  • Private Car Transfer from Sorrento to Positano
  • Private Car Transfer from Positano to Naples Train Station

After landing in Naples (see my earlier post on Flying Lufthansa Intra-Europe for more details on our flight to Italy), Salvatore “Junior,” the nephew of Katharine and Simply Amalfi’s other co-owner Salvatore Mocerino, was waiting for us at the airport.  Salvatore helped us with our luggage and we boarded a comfortable and spacious mini-van for our private car transfer to Sorrento.  I had indicated in my earlier communication to Katharine that I was very interested in seeing some “great views” on our trip. Therefore, it was nice that Salvatore picked up on this and volunteered to stop off for a couple of “photo ops” on the way to our hotel.

Sorrento Private Driver Salvatore

Our Private Amalfi Coast Driver – Salvatore “Junior”

Sorrento Private Tours

Our First View of Sorrento

The next morning, Salvatore was right on time to pick us up for our private car tour of the Amalfi Coast.  Our first stop was a pretty overlook where we were able to catch some great views of the island of Capri …

Capri View Private Tours … and the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius.

Vesuvius View Private Tour

We were feeling a bit peckish so we stopped under a few olive trees for a snack.

Amalfi Coast Tours Olives

We were a bit early in the olive picking season so we came up empty-handed.

The drive continued and we were treated to some spectacular coastal views. Salvatore was great at pointing out the key sights along the way such as a rock formation that looked like the head of the Italian general and politician Giuseppe Garibaldi and the private island that once belonged to ballet great Rudolph Nureyev. After passing a sign spray-painted onto to the cliffs that encouragingly said that “You Will Never Walk Alone” we soon came up on Positano.

Since we struck out on a snack during our “olive stop” we were treated to our first taste of a lemon granita. This treat featured real bits of lemon and was so sweet and cold and refreshing on the very hot day that we were touring.  Of course, while we were there, we managed to make a new friend at a roadside fruit stand …

Positano Fruit Stand Lemons

Since Salvatore was friends with the owner of the stand, we were able to get this great shot despite the large and clearly labeled sign that said “NO PHOTOs!”

While here, we were treated to some great views of Positano …

Amalfi Coast Private Driver Positano

… Both coming …

Positano Private Tours

… and going.

Positano Private Driver

The beauty of Positano was simply surreal and this preview made me feel really happy that we’d be making the town our base of operations for the rest of our stay on the Amalfi Coast.  Stay tuned for more details in a future blog post!

After leaving Positano, we passed a grotto that featured a model of the town in miniature …

Positano Miniature

…  and a quick view of the site of the Emerald Grotto.

Private Tours Emerald Grotto

We continued on to the town of Amalfi where Salvatore helped us get our bearings and pointed out the Cathedral of San Andrea situated in the town center …

Private Tours Amalfi

… and brought us to a local restaurant, La Taverna di Masaniello, for lunch. The restaurant is highly rated by TripAdvisor and we treated ourselves to a great meal of pasta with olives (alla puttanesca) and eggplant (alla siciliana). We then had some free time in Amalfi to explore the town on our own and get in a bit of shopping as well as a stop for some gelato!

Gelato in AmalfiWe reconnected with Salvatore at our designated meeting point in the town square …

Private Driver Amalfi

And bid farewell to Amalfi as we continued our drive.

Simply Amalfi Private Tour

Although, we enjoyed our stop in Amalfi, it was a pleasure to get back out on the road to enjoy the countryside. Salvatore drove us through the scenic Valley of the Dragon up to a secluded hill town called Scala.

Scala Private Tours

What was distinctive about this stop was the noticeable LACK of tourists.  We had had this scenic overlook all to ourselves … except for a solitary municipal worker who was on his smoke break as we took in the views.

Scala Private Driver

The last stop on our private tour was Ravello which is known as the “City of Music.”

Ravello Private Tours

Ravello Private Driver

The town is quiet and elegant and I could see spending a few days here on a future trip in order attend its famous Summer Music Festival. Some of the concerts take place at this beautiful venue overlooking the ocean on the grounds of the Villa Rufulo

Villa Rufolo Private Tours

The magnificence of the setting got my creative juices flowing and inspired me to take the stage …

Ravello Festival

Don’t worry, I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon!

What’s great about hiring a private driver is that throughout the day we were on “our time.”  Salvatore made sure to communicate that we could personalize our experience to our own preferences.  We had the freedom to stop and linger whenever and wherever we wanted. Having Salvatore with us was like having a good friend take us out for the day.

Throughout our trip, Salvatore was enthusiastic and professional.  Even after the “formal” part of tour was completed, Salvatore remained engaged and personable.  For example, once we ran out of “touristy” subjects to cover, we launched into a great discussion of Italian pop music (e.g., Did you know that there is a famous Italian cover version of Crowded House’s song Don’t Dream It’s Over?).  Even stuck in rush hour traffic on the way back to Sorrento the time seemed to fly by.

On our last day, Salvatore was also our driver for our private car transfer from Positano to the Naples train station.  Professional to the very end, Salvatore helped us with our luggage and guided us to the train platform.

Naples Positano Private Car Transfers

I was extremely pleased by the service we received from Simply Amalfi.  Working with this company took the worry out of the travel logistics involved in touring the Amalfi Coast. I wouldn’t hesitate to call on Simply Amalfi to manage my transportation needs on any future trips to the Amalfi Coast.  For example, I could see using the company to organize a trip revolving around the Ravello Music Festival or perhaps for a day outing to go swimming at the Emerald Grotto.  In addition, Katharine would also be able to organize transportation and a private guide for an outing that would include a visit to the Pompeii archeological site followed by a tour of the local wine country.  In order to make the most of your experience, my advice would be to opt for a full day tour (or perhaps a series of full day tours).  It’s best not to try to cram too much into a few hours since being too “rushed” will likely detract from your experience.

Hiring a private driver wasn’t too much of a stretch for me.  Back home, when F isn’t driving me around, I’m hailing a cab or ordering an Uber or one of its variations.  Yes, in many ways I’m the Jessica Tandy character in the film Driving Miss Daisy.  That said, the biggest benefit of having a private driver on the Amalfi Coast is that it allowed us to enjoy the spectacular scenery without having to worry about driving our rental car off a cliff. Isn’t NOT careening off a steep precipice worth the extra money?

What about you? On vacation have you ever hired a private tour guide or driver for your trip? What was your experience?