Aqua Adds Gem Off Kuhio: The Waikiki Wave Re-Opens

Let's face it: Chain hotels can lend to the demise of the personality of a destination. Not always, but more often than not. Andre Tatibouet, owner of the aging Coral Reef Hotel in Waikiki for the last 33 years, couldn't agree more. So when he was ready to join forces with a rapidly growing hotel group in order to breathe new life in to his 247-room hotel, he chose carefully.

Tatibouet is now the proud owner of Aqua's Waikiki Wave, and he couldn't be happier about it. Aqua CEO and founder Mike Paulin worked for Tatibouet 25 years ago. "It's a yin-yang kind of thing," said Tatibouet. "I taught him some things, and he has taught me in return."

A six month, multi-million dollar face-lift has left behind a shiny new gem among the throngs of fast food vendors and t-shirt hawkers on Kuhio Street. Duke Kahanamoku paintings by Charles Bartlett flank the hotel's marble-tiled entrance, where two short flights of stairs bring you in to the lobby. To insure that you are no longer at some roadside lodge, dual waterfalls flank either side of the breezeway, where guests are presented with a cozy spa, fitness and business centers. The lobby is also home to the hotel's daily complimentary breakfast.

"People want a certain level of mediocrity when they travel these days," asserts Tatibouet. "They don't want surprises--certainly not negative ones. Here, we're trying to maintain an individual personality, yet make people feel like they're at a second home."

The Wave is now a part of Aqua's "Boutique" collection, and following suit with all its properties, has free wireless Web access throughout the hotel (high-powered routers are hidden behind modern wall sconces on each of the 15 floors).

But the Wave isn't all about "new".

Tatibouet bought the Coral Reef in January of 1973. He claims that of his 48 employees, more than two-thirds of them have been with the hotel for more than 15 years.

"Besides the location, people's number two feedback is that the staff makes them feel like they are a part of a family. Guests frequently return and ask for housekeepers that they have known for 20 years. And they're still here."

The hotel boasts a new color scheme for an Aqua branded hotel--one that makes use of earth tones like deep rust, orange and sienna.

Side-by-side mirrors in the spacious rooms add functionality while making the room contemporary--yet in a different light than we have seen at other Aqua hotels prior. Black-out drapes for the night owls, and ultra suede panels behind the headboard soften the edge of staying in Hawaii's only metropolitan locale. Art deco style chairs clad in 1950's pattern fabric and reprints of more Bartlett images from Waikiki add a nice retro touch.

"We want to give people all the creature comforts, but still let them know that they are in Hawaii--that's a fine line," said Tatibouet. A marble-topped desk sits between two queen beds (Tatibouet adds that the mattresses are the same bed specs as Westin's signature bed, although he isn't allowed to market as so) in a standard room. Sliding shoji doors block off a cozy sleeping nook in the one-bedroom suite, perfect for those traveling with child.

"This hotel was built well before the concept of maximizing space--which works out well for our guests," said Tatibouet, mentioning the rooms range from 350 to 560 sq. ft.

"We will benefit from the infrastructure that Mike [Paulin] has in place at Aqua," said Tatibouet, "while we maintain the aspirations I have for this hotel."

The Waikiki Wave offer's free parking to guests.

Visit www.aquaresorts.com/aqua-waikiki-wave.