A Grand Experience at the Hilton Waikoloa Village’s Ocean Tower
When the sprawling, 1,240-room Hilton Waikoloa Village opened in September 1988 (it was called Hyatt Regency Waikoloa at that time), it was the largest and — built at a cost of $360 million — the most expensive hotel ever built in the islands. And it was, as it is today, absolutely grand.
A resort, said developer Chris Hemmeter in 1990, “must create a sense of experience. People want more than a room and a bed. The impact must be greater than the sum of the many parts.” At Waikoloa, the “experience” Hemmeter sought to impart was created with a combination of art, elegance, and downright fun. Originally sketched on a cocktail napkin, plans included a lagoon where visitors could swim with dolphins, Swiss-made trams and mahogany boats that travel on a snaking waterway past giant bronze animal sculptures to transport awe-struck guests to their rooms, multiple swimming pools, and pub- lic spaces filled with Polynesian and Asian art. Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick performed for the Grand Opening in 1988; Liza Minnelli performed on New Year’s Eve.
Nowadays, the experience has become even grander for guests staying in or buying time shares in the just-reimagined Ocean Tower, which is now part of Hilton Grand Vacations (HGV).
“Chris Hemmeter would be smiling to see what has been done,” says Area Vice President, Hilton Grand Vacations, Rob Gunthner. “He was a visionary, and we honored his vision with the work that we did transforming the Ocean Tower.” What were standard hotel rooms have been remade into nicely appointed studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom suites, each one complete with a kitchen (full-size refrigerator, cooking facilities, dishes, and silverware), washer and dryer (except in the studios), comfortable living room, and technology that includes the Innspire system accessed via at screens in every room. With Innspire, guests can watch traditional television, connect to their personal social media or Netflix accounts, view a comprehensive resort guide, and much more. Of course Playstation is a standard feature too.
Bathrooms in the larger suites include standalone showers and 70-gallon soak- ing tubs, and several penthouse units have been fitted with additional upgrades. All units feature exterior lanai offering wonderful ocean, golf course and mountain views. The first phase, which was completed in October 2018, transformed 120 guest rooms into 72 suites.
The former Palm Terrace restaurant is now an elegant, expansive Arrival Center, that includes a check-in area, concierge services, and a smart, “why-didn’t-someone-do-this-before-now” lounge to accommodate early or late travel schedules. Complete with a keiki area, locker rooms, steam showers, a sports viewing area, and more, Gunthner says, “We wanted to provide amenities that pamper our customers as soon as they arrive.”
Other Ocean Tower-only offerings include a fitness center with the latest Precor equipment and weights, movies, and yoga classes. And all Ocean Tower guests have access to the full array of resort amenities throughout Hilton Waikoloa Village, including restaurants, dolphin lagoon, and retail shopping.
INTO THE FUTURE
It’s only fitting that Gunthner would be the person overseeing the evolution of the Ocean Tower into Hilton Grand Vacations. After all, he was there when the property first opened in 1988 and has witnessed it’s growth ever since.
“Hilton is marking its 100th anniversary this year,” he says. “That’s huge. They have a great reputation. And Hilton Grand Vacations has a great reputation too, with nine different resort properties in Hawai`i, including three right here at Waikoloa: the Bay Club, Kohala Suites, and Kings’ Land. On the books is a new project in Maui slated for mid-2021, and a new tower planned for Waikīkī.”
Gunthner ascribes the strong demand for the HGV product to a dedicated Hawai`i traveler: “We enjoy a very loyal customer base that loves the Big Island, and who also seek a wide variety of experience. That’s the beauty of our model. You can use your ownership wherever you wish: New York, Las Vegas, or Hawai`i ... or at the more than 5,500 hotels worldwide.”
Resort Director Wilbert Lee Jr. adds, “I show these new suites to guests who have been coming here with their families since the hotel rst opened, even some who have bought time share at Kingsland, and they get so excited about the idea of this upgraded experience as part of the original hotel.”
Gunthner points out that while HGV is very popular with the kama‘aina market, a growing percentage of members come from Japan. “Our Japanese guests are very comfortable here,” he says. “Mark Wang, the visionary president of HGV, is very excited about creating an exclusive experience for Japanese owners and expanding the Japanese market. That’s why the at screens in the rooms have a Japanese language option, and features such as the soaking tubs were installed.”
While the timetable is still being finalized for transformation of the remaining Ocean Tower guestrooms into HGV suites — Gunthner says it’ll be in the next couple of years — one thing is clear now: What started out in 1988 as a promising vision for the future has nowadays become reality at Hilton Grand Vacations. HiltonGrandVacations.com