Heading to Hawaii for a family vacation at a resort property doesn’t leave many options if using Hilton points. We had two choices. The Hilton Grand Wailea Resort on Maui or the Hilton Waikoloa Resort on Hawaii (the Big Island). Hilton also has a resort at Waikiki, but a resort at Waikiki was not something we entertained. Your points balance and the cash you are willing to spend may narrow your choice. The Waikoloa Village, is the most cost efficient.
Avoid Resort Fees When Using Points for the Entire Stay
Hilton has an added benefit for their Silver, Gold and Diamond members using points at their hotels. A 5th night is free when using points for the first four nights. That’s a great benefit for those who like to stretch their points. For this trip, I had enough points to cover the entire balance of a five-night stay at the Waikoloa Village Resort, but not enough for a five-night stay at the Grand Wailea.
This was important because in addition to getting the fifth night free, the resort fee is waived when using points for your entire stay. However, when using a combination of points and cash, the taxes and resort fee are still required. If I redeemed 250,000 points for Grand Wailea the remaining cash portion would have been $1,600. Not bad for a nightly price at that resort, until the resort fee and taxes were added, which then totaled over $2,400.
Ultimately I redeemed 240,000 points for a room at the Waikoloa Resort and avoided taxes and resort fees entirely. Booking the same room would normally cost about $1,900, so I got almost .8 cents per point. I consider that a good value.
Getting from Kona Airport (KOA) to Waikoloa Village
The Big Island has two commercial airports for flights from the mainland: Hilo (ITO) or Kona (KOA). These airports are on opposite sides of the island. There is approximately an hour and a half drive between them. The Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort is located about a half an hour from the Kona airport.
Arriving at the Hilo airport would require the hour and a half drive. While enjoyable for sightseeing in the daytime, it may be tiresome if you have a late-night arrival or a long flight. However, depending on the costs of flights into these airports, Hilo may be the better option for you.
For this trip, we decided to fly in and out of the Kona airport. We had a late evening arrival, so the location to the resort and the cost of flights made this the best choice. Arriving at the Kona airport is a very unique experience. Open air terminals provide a welcome of warm Hawaiian air as soon as you walk off the jetway and into the gate. Depending on the time of the year, you may want to have some summer clothes in your carryon to quickly change into at the airport, especially if coming from a colder location!
Rather than renting a car for our stay, and paying the $30 daily parking fee or $37 daily valet parking fee, we optioned to take an Uber to the resort and a Lyft back to the airport. Rides booked through both apps were similarly priced, around $40 each way before tip.
Getting around the Resort
When arriving at the hotel, you will need to determine if self-parking or valet is most suitable for your stay. Both are provided, and you are guided to the most suitable option with signs as you arrive at the resort. You’ll find the main lobby to be oversized and grand with a circular drop-off and pick-up area and valets waiting to take your car. The lobby has the concierge, check-in and check-out desks along with plenty of room for your family, friends and luggage to wait while your complete your check-in.
The hotel staff will provide a map of the property at check-in. The resort is massive, covering 62 acres. There are 3 guest room towers. The Makai Tower at the South end of the property, the Ocean Tower at the North end, and the Palace Tower in the center. The lobby is between the Makai Tower and the Grand Promenade, where the convention center is located.
There are three transportation options for navigating the hotel property: walking paths, an air-conditioned tram, and a boat.
The walking paths are flat, paved, covered walking path with lots of interesting artwork and sculptures along the route. This was typically our choice. Wait times for the trams can vary, so we found it just as easy to walk, rather than wait.
Second, there is a fully enclosed and air-conditioned tram with five stops. The tram stops are at each of the guest towers, the main lobby, and the convention center. The tram navigates slowly, and the length of time at each stop makes it just slightly faster than walking. Using the tram is a nice option when arriving and departing from the resort with your luggage. For those with accessibility issues, the tram is set up to accommodate those needs. Additionally, for those that are not looking to get more steps in, there are great views of the resort and landscaping as you ride.
Finally, you can explore the resort by boat. Adjacent to the tram tracks is a channeled waterway for the resorts boats to get from one end of the resort to the other. The boats have docks at each of the towers and some additional stops near walking paths. The boats are a fun option. However, the hours are much more limited, and the boats move very slowly through the resort.
Space Available Room Upgrades
Hilton provides an elite benefit for their Gold and Diamond members of a space available room upgrade. Gold members can be upgraded to an executive room and diamond members can be upgraded to a 1-bedroom suite. The Ocean Tower had 8 room types available for our stay when the trip was booked. We booked the lowest point room, which was the Resort View Room in Ocean Tower for 60,000 points per night.
We were pleasantly surprised at check-in to be offered an upgraded room. Thinking I might have hit the jackpot as a diamond member, I got my hopes up for a 1-bedroom suite! However, we were upgraded from the Resort View to a Partial Ocean View room, which normally rents for 94,000 points per night. Check out the room and the partial ocean view from the lanai. You can see that the bed is placed at an angle. The bed is directed toward the ocean.
The Beach, the Pools, and the Slide!
The Hilton resort has beaches, but they are not what you would normally expect for an ocean front resort. The resort maps indicate beaches along the ocean, and while there is limited ocean access, the sandy beach is actually on the lagoon at the interior of the resort. The ocean front beach consists of coral and lava. Not exactly comfortable for catching rays on a beach towel!
The water in the lagoon is ocean fed salt water, based on the tides and wave action. There were so many turtles and fish in the lagoon, it was great for snorkeling with young kids. The turtles seemed to congregate near the man-made water fall in the lagoon. It’s quite a site to see a turtle swim past you while swimming!
At the lagoon, the resort rents different toys to use in the water. We rented an oversized water trike, and our older teen girls had a blast navigating the lagoon. There are stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, snorkeling equipment, and more that can all be rented by the hour. Lawn chairs are set up along the shore, so supervising kids in the water is convenient. You can hang out and talk, lie out and work on your tan while watching everyone playing in the water. There are a few hammocks set up between palm trees as well.
The Ocean Tower has two pools – one is adults only. The pool is small and at the center of the tower. This doesn’t provide the same ambiance you would expect in an adults only area. The Kohala pool is nearby and includes the Kohala slides. These slides are smaller and great for younger kids (although our older girls had fun with them too). The slides go from one pool level down to a lower pool with ease. The Kohala pool overlooks the ocean and provides beautiful views. Lounge chairs surround the pool.
The only other pool area is on the other side of the resort on the south side of the Makai Tower. The Kona pool is great for older kids, families and adults. Once you arrive at the pool, head straight to the activity desk to get a temporary pool bracelet. You will need to show your pool key to be issued one, and anyone who would like to take advantage of the pool amenities will need to wear it while at the pool.
At one end of the pool area is a children’s sand pool. The sandy bottom is great fun for kids. The main pool area has seating on both sides with a snack shop on one side and a pool side bar on the other. There is a large section of reserved seating with cabana’s for guests of the Makai tower. A volleyball net, a large waterfall, to walk or swim through, and several hot tubs (one is under the waterfall!), are sprinkled throughout the pool complex. The highlight of the pool is a large water slide.
This slide is 175 feet long and is complete with a nice drop near the end. A lifeguard is stationed at the top of the slide, checking for the required bracelets and adherence to the minimum height requirements. Kids and adults will line up, go down the slide and run back to the top of the steps to do it again, and again. The slide isn’t water park quality, but for hotel resort, it’s great.
Swimming with Dolphins
Of all the features that this resort provides, one of the main attractions is the opportunity to swim with dolphins. The Dolphin Quest experience allows for kids and adults to have hands on interaction with the dolphins. Prices are discounted if you purchase in advance, and will give you the flexibility to book the experience that works best for your family. Also, time slots fill up, so I recommend reserving prior to arriving at the resort. In “The Encounter” experience, you have 45 minutes with a trainer, and a small group, to interact with the dolphins. You watch as they perform tricks, feed them, touch them and even kiss a dolphin! This was the highlight of the trip for our kids.
The resort has dining at KPC – Kamuela Provision Company, Boat Landing Cantina at the Oceans Tower, Nui Italian restaurant near the Palace Tower, Big Island Breakfast near the Convention Center, The Kona Tap Room next to the main lobby, Lagoon Grill near the Dolphin Encounter, Orchid Marketplace for casual, poolside dining and a luau near the Makai Tower. Additionally, there is a coffee shop at each end of the resort at the Oceans and Makai Towers, a snack bar and bar at the Kona pool, and an ice cream shop near the Dolphin Encounter.
We found the breakfast buffet to be a nice option to get the day started. As a benefit for Hilton Diamond members, two complimentary continental breakfasts are included for the duration of your stay. Upgrading to the hot foods wasn’t necessary, but it can be done for an upcharge. The buffet and continental selections available are fairly static and do not vary much each day. A traditional menu is available for those not interested in the buffet.
Food options were the biggest drawback to the Hilton Waikoloa Resort. During a five-night stay, the food options seem repetitive, primarily due to limited hours at many restaurants. Hours of operation vary, but we were disappointed in the availability for late night dining. Most of the restaurants close before ten.
We enjoyed being by the pool and lagoon until dark, so after getting back to the room and showering, Nui, and the Kona Tap Room were the only options available. The menu at Kona Tap Room is limited, and they were unable to accommodate an anaphylaxis milk and peanut allergy. Nui went above and beyond to work with the food allergies, which made this our go to spot for nightly dinner. However, another option is a mile walk off the property to Kings’ Marketplace, and across the street, the Queens’ Marketplace. Here you’ll find shopping areas with additional restaurants and a theater.
Day Trips on the Big Island
Near the main lobby, on the other side of the Kona Tap Room, is the National/Alamo Car Rental office. Rates during our stay were $127 a day for the cheapest car available. This felt reasonable for a day trip to see other parts of the island. The rental office opens at 8 am and rentals are 24 hours for the daily rate. Keep in mind you will need to pay the parking fee if you choose to keep the car overnight.
Our first stop was Costco to fuel up the rental car. The rental is given to you with whatever amount of fuel the previous renter left in it. They ask that you return it at the same level or higher. While filling up, we ran into Costco to grab a cheap lunch and bottled water, from the vending machine, to bring along for the day.
We continued heading south on the highway to “South Point” formally known as Ka Lae. This is the southernmost point of the Big Island. Follow the signs or maps to the ‘South Point Cliff Dive’. There is an off-road parking area across from the stunning cliffs. Here you will see locals fishing off the cliff edge and brave adventure seekers cliff jumping at the dive ledge. There are signs prominently mounted in the area notifying people that diving is not allowed, but it did look like a lot of fun!
From here we made a stop at the Punalu’u Bake Shop in Naalehu, the next town down the highway. The bake shop has been at this location since the early 1990s, when they relocated from a resort adjacent to the black sand beach. Here, they have a full menu of sandwiches and Hawaiian style foods to choose from. Additionally, they have Hawaiian sweet bread and pastries for sale. Don’t pass by without stopping for a Hawaiian pastry!
After getting back on the highway, we stopped at the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. Like many other popular beaches, the black sand beach has restrooms and outdoor showers for visitors to use near the parking lot. Bring shoes or sandals to walk on the beach because the ‘sand’ is really rough on the bottom of your feet, and we found it painful to walk on.
If you have water shoes, bring them. The broken-down lava rocks made wearing flip flops painful. Water shoes are almost a necessity to wear in the water (and on the beach) so you are able to navigate the rocky approach to the ocean. It was difficult getting far enough out into the water with the strong wave action and lots of rocks and coral to really enjoy our time here.
Volcanoes National Park
After showering off and getting back on the road, we went straight to the Kilauea Visitor Center at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. After watching some videos of the 2018 volcano eruption and reading about the changes to the island and the crater, we took off to go on some hikes in the area. We arrived close to park closing, and we all wished we had allowed more time here. The ranger recommended we visit the steam vents and Sulphur Banks Trail with our limited daylight. We hiked a portion of the Crater Rim Trail to the steam vents. With no active lava flows, the steam vents give you the feeling of being on a volcano. The Sulphur Bank trail is across the road from the steam vents, and a short walk leads you to the colorful hillside, and the strong odor of the Sulphur Banks.
The Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort provides a great escape for a fun Hawaiian vacation. There are plenty of unique activities for families. From swimming in the pools and lagoon, swimming with dolphins, and making flower and Kukui nut leis in the Hawaiian Cultural Center, there was always something to do.
At 60,000 points a night, the resort provided a solid value compared to using those points at other hotels with limited amenities. This is not the type of resort vacation that I’d return to, but it was a good fit for a family. The biggest drawback was the lack of a traditional “beach” that I think of when heading to a tropical vacation spot, and the lack of ocean access.
Have you stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort? Add your comments of what you thought of the resort below!