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The cast of The White Lotus, including Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge and Lukas Gage, were lucky — the fortunate few who spent much of the pandemic in the otherwise off-limits Polynesian archipelago of Hawaii, filming Mike White’s devilish satire at a top resort. Following a months-long voluntary closure after government officials asked tourists to stay away — a period that locals admittedly enjoyed wholeheartedly — the islands are open again (as of this fall) and more attractive than ever thanks to renovated resorts, new cultural experiences and meaningful opportunities to mālama āina — take care of the land. Hawaii’s pina colada-buzzed tourist scene got a reset during COVID-19 and, silver lining, has emerged better than ever.
But these days, anyone traveling to the middle of the Pacific had better come away with more vocabulary than just “aloha.” If White Lotus taught us anything, it’s that respect and kuleana (responsibility) go a long way. “A word that we grew up with that we never wanted to be is kapulu, which is to be very messy. The elders would always say, ‘Don’t be kapulu,’ ” says Danny Akaka, cultural director at Mauna Lani Resort on the island of Hawai’i. “Pick up your rubbish, leave the place better than when you came.”
Here, a guide to the islands and their new must-stays, must-eats and must-dos.
Turtle Bay Resort (rooms from $679 a night; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) has been the setting for films from Forgetting Sarah Marshall to Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but guests might find it unrecognizable after a major transformation. With 5 miles of North Shore coastline, respect for the land was what inspired the thoughtful redo, which showcases the landscape and puts greater emphasis on Hawaiian culture and island-grown ingredients at its restaurants.
In Waikiki, the White Sands Hotel (from $179; more options at Booking.com and Expedia), a circa ’57 motel, has reopened with a charming and cool new design. Inspiration for its bamboo bar and locally sourced restaurant Heyday came from Waikiki’s ’70s lounge culture. A forthcoming speakeasy, The Green Lady, named for a painting that marked the end of the tiki era, will be open until 4 a.m.
The aesthetically pleasing redesign of the Kaimana Beach Hotel (from $249; more options at Booking.com and Expedia), too, feels truly Hawaiian. Surfboards, vintage photos and local art combine for eye candy that however appealing doesn’t steal focus from the calm turquoise water in front, gloriously free of Waikiki’s tourist crowds up the beach. Its open-air restaurant Hau Tree has become one of the city’s hottest reservations. The resort also is opening a Laurent-Perrier lanai lounge for bubbly, pupus and sunsets. The resort will also pack a picnic for guests booking the new Surf, Land, Sky package ($19,500 for two) that starts with a morning surf with celebrated local Kai Sallas before a helicopter tour, lunch at Kualoa Ranch and dinner on the Penthouse Ocean View Suite balcony.
Epicures should make time for the new Immersive Kualoa Ranch Culinary Experience (from $20,000 for four) from The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach, which incorporates a private tour of the 800-year-old sustainable and sacred Hawaiian fish pond Moli’i, a hands-on ancient taro farming lesson and personalized menu featuring bounty from the ranch.
Iconic luxury resort Halekulani (from $635; more options at Booking.com and Expedia), which debuted in 1917, reopened in October after a restoration over 18 months that included architectural preservation and revitalized accommodations in an elegant “seven shades of white” palette.
Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa (from $415; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) has also just completed a multimillion-dollar metamorphosis comprising refreshed guest rooms and the new Queensbreak oasis, a 1-acre space with two pools, water features, private cabanas, yoga and cultural programming, live music and an outdoor restaurant, all with optimal views of Waikiki’s famous aquamarine waves.
The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa (from $281; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) is a destination for cultural immersion, thanks to its Hoʻokela Hawaiian Culture & Heritage Center run by Hawaiian musician Aunty Ku’uipo Kumukahi, director of Hawaiian culture and community relations. Guests can learn to play ukulele or make authentic leis while learning the meaning behind them. “Each place name has this meaning that is so deep — why it was given, by whom it was given,” says Kumikahi. “It’s mana, the thing has spiritual power behind it, and the more you speak it, the stronger it gets. Say their names, [because] dismissing the names of places is just another colonial way to diminish them.”
At A-list favorite ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki (from $359; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) — a filming location for Hawaii Five-O and Magnum P.I. — the new Earth to Cup happy hour menu spotlights sustainable elements grown, caught or made across the archipelago — think venison meatballs from Moloka’i (where deer are invasive) and goat cheese samosas from Maui Surfing Goat Dairy. ‘Alohilani’s partnership with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative means guests can visit Gunstock Ranch — for a horseback or ATV eco-tour — and ceremoniously plant an endemic tree, geotagged so they always have its coordinates.
More good can be done while staying at Prince Waikiki ($259; more options at Booking.com and Expedia), overlooking the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, where travelers can request a Sustainable Coastlines kit for their own DIY beach cleanup.
On the Western coast, Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina (from $1,095) is the place for immersion in the storytelling practice of hula via a high-intensity three-hour workshop ($700) with renowned kumu (teacher) La’akea Perry. He puts guests through their paces in underwater rock running, coconut tree-climbing and muscle-shaking drills in pursuit of not only the graceful dance skill but deeper understanding of the art form.
With a 38-year presence on the Kohala coast of Hawai’i island, Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection (from $999; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) is iconic but one that’s now truly bucket-list worthy thanks to an extraordinary $200 million overhaul. (Guests have included Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves, who this year purchased a $7.8 million home down the road.) With resident historian and cultural director Uncle Danny Akaka, who’s been there since the beginning, there’s a pervasive emphasis on sharing with guests — little to big — authentic Hawaiian traditions and stories through meaningful ocean and land activities, design and cuisine. Under chef Matt Raso, the resort’s CanoeHouse is an unforgettable dining adventure (and a tough reservation) that innovates on flavors and techniques from old Hawaii and around Asia. And in December, Goop’s first-ever spa treatment, The Goop Glow Facial ($265), launched at Mauna Lani’s spa.
In the fall, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai (from $995; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) revealed the grand finale of its $100 million renovation: the redesign and expansion of its three largest villas, in time for its 25th anniversary. Guests at the property now are also able to book a $12,000 experience at third-generation Hawaiian blacksmith Neil Kamimura‘s shop on Hualalai Mountain, where he’ll guide them to forge their own custom chef’s knife using recycled materials, petrified wood and bone. A knife skills and cooking class follows at the resort.
At progressive Hawai’i chef Allen Hess’ new restaurant FORC (Farmer Ocean Rancher Cook) in Waimea, everything is sourced from on-island, from the ono (a signature local fish) to the goat cheese.
To see the isle’s incredible array of strikingly divergent landscapes, check out Paradise Helicopters‘ newest tour: Kohala Coast Waterfalls & Remote Hike ($485), which carries guests over 2,500-foot waterfalls and undulating lava fields to a remote climb through a waiwi (guava) forest.
And Uluhao o Hualalai‘s private five-hour Hualalai Crater Experience ($200) is led by guide Kimo Duarte, a passionate third-generation steward of this wahi pana (sacred place) above the clouds. Guests say mahalo (thank you) by planting a baby koa tree. “By volunteering, you’re giving something back to Hawaii,” says Duarte. “You plant a tree, like a koa tree, and that one tree actually grows more plants for years to come. When you go back to the mainland and talk about Hawaii, you can say, ‘I helped reforest this place,’ and you’re going to feel good about it.”
Visitors also can get their hands in the soil on twice-monthly volunteer days with the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, an organization dedicated to saving threatened species.
On the real estate front, a $22.5 million five-bedroom estate is on the market in the Kona Coast’s tony private club Kohanaiki, a getaway for top athletes and tech CEOs.
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea (from $1,500; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) is not only where The White Lotus filmed, but it’s where the cast slept and ate for some eight months. The Pineapple Suite isn’t real (production designer Laura Fox temporarily restyled the resort), but the paradisiacal setting most definitely is, with five-star service and new white-glove wellness programming with Next|Health. Coolidge’s Tanya McQuoid (who is confirmed to appear in season two) would be all about the fountain-of-youth NAD+ IV drips, vitamin shots and biomarker testing now on offer alongside reiki, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, cryo facials and traditional Hawaiian massage (from $205).
Montage Kapalua Bay (from $925; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) — where guests have included Britney Spears — has just introduced a Chef’s Table in Your Residence experience, which comes with live music and wine pairings or open bar and is designed for large groups. Guests also can book private luaus or interactive cooking demonstrations to learn how to make heritage dishes such as poi, or mashed taro root, and lomi lomi salmon.
Hollywood producer and studio types, plus Silicon Valley execs, love to holiday at the adults-only Hotel Wailea (from $899; more options at Booking.com and Expedia), the islands’ only Relais & Chateaux. To celebrate Hawaii’s reopening, the 72-suite resort offers a weeklong $118,000 “Return to Paradise” package for two, which includes, among other treats, private evoJets transfers, seven-course dinner in a tree house suspended over the coast, a yacht excursion and an afternoon with the Bubble Bus, which dispenses champagne and caviar on demand.
At the Hana-Maui Resort ($409; more options at Booking.com and Expedia), booking the resort’s private 10-seat Cessna is one solution to the rental car shortage plaguing Hawaii (apparently some visitors this year have simply purchased a new vehicle for use during their stay). The plane takes visitors on a short but drama-filled flight to secluded Hana to see its breathtaking waterfalls, arches and rainforests. The Plane to Paradise package typically starts at $999 per night with a four-night, two-person minimum.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the Fairmont Kea Lani (from $999) launched a reforestation initiative in October where guests plant native seedlings on Haleakala’s slopes.
Mike White may have island-hopped to Maui to film The White Lotus, but he calls the North Shore of Kauai home. Mark Zuckerberg recently doubled his investment on the island with a $53 million deal that brought the size of his estate up to 2 square miles. Ben Stiller, Pierce Brosnan and Carlos Santana also own homes on this island of quiet and sublime landscapes.
While the North Shore is a luxury hotel and real estate hotspot, the oceanfront farm-to-fork restaurant Hualani’s, at Timbers Kaua’i Ocean Club & Residences (from $1,895), has such a delicious reputation that it compels many to make the 45-minute drive south. Altruistic foodies can book time to help the 450-acre property’s resident farmer harvest seasonal crops (such as coconuts, papayas, kale and Napa cabbage) or package them for donation to the Kauai food bank. In January, volunteers also can hike to a remote shoreline to clean up marine debris accumulated on the beach with Sustainable Coastlines.
Meanwhile, on the eastern shore, the freshly renovated Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort (from $304; more options at Booking.com and Expedia) celebrates Pride year-round, with a new monthly five-course drag brunch, with entertainment by the Brunch Babes.
And in summer 2022, the bygone St. Regis Princeville, then Princeville Resort, reopens $250 million later as the LEEDv4-certified wellness sanctuary 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, gazing out to the lush Na Pali Coast.
The smallest inhabited and publicly accessible Hawaiian island — almost entirely owned by billionaire Larry Ellison — has had an outsized share of high-profile visitors, especially in the past few years since a pair of Four Seasons properties became beloved getaways for the likes of Jessica Alba, Rachel Zoe and Katharine McPhee and David Foster. Exclusivity and personalization rule at Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort (from $800, includes Lanai Air transfers if booked by March 31, 2022; other options at Hotels.com). It opened just months before the pandemic began and offers guests immersive and incredibly tailored health and well-being programming in a lush, fine art-studded setting. A new weekly lecture series and tech-augmented wellness experience add to the vast opportunities for life-bettering takeaways, but none so much as the 30-day extended stay Sensei Sabbatical ($25,020), which includes $6,000 in wellness credits and a dedicated guide.
At the beachfront Four Seasons Resort Lanai (from $1,200, includes air transfer if booked by the end of March; more options at Booking.com and Expedia), stars are coming into focus this winter with a newly built observatory, complete with state-of-the-art $500,000 PlaneWave 1 meter telescope. Several nights a week, intimate groups will be privy to stories of traditional wayfinding, Pacific voyaging and astronomy in the context of Hawaiian culture.
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A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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