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Poipu to Princeville: Lodgings With Aloha

March 01, 1998|JERRY HULSE

LIHUE, Hawaii — Shortly after 12 p.m. on Sept. 11, 1992, the most destructive hurricane ever to strike Hawaii tore into Kauai with nightmarish force, leveling buildings, peeling off rooftops, shredding palm trees and sending tourism into a tragic tailspin from which it is only recently recovering.

Damage was appalling, with the scene following the blow resembling a war zone. But, unlike the mainland where looting often follows tragedy, Kauai residents turned out in force to assist neighbors and the police and joined civil defense workers to bring comfort to hundreds of victims of the disaster.

Now, five years after the terrifying episode, Kauai is back in business as a tourist

destination--with the added advantage of United Airlines beginning nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Lihue on June 10. Meanwhile, the island has regained its stunning garden-like beauty and most resorts are reopened, the latest to do so being the Sheraton Kauai at Poipu Beach, following a $40-million reconstruction project during which guest rooms were redone, restaurants restored and grounds replanted once more with ginger, bougainvillea, hibiscus and truckloads of palm trees.

Spread across 20 acres of oceanfront property, the Sheraton opened originally in 1968 and almost immediately became a gathering place for sunset viewers--particularly at its storied bar, The Point, with its head-on view of flaming skies.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 8, 1998 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 6 Travel Desk 2 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Hawaii--Due to an editing error, two pictures of Kauai island hotels were misidentified and inaccurately credited ("Poipu to Princeville: Lodgings With Aloha," March 1). On page L15, the photograph at the top left shows the Princeville Hotel, not Waimea Plantation Cottages; the photographer was Michele Burgess. The photo to the right is of Waimea Plantation, not Princeville, and was taken by Peter French.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 15, 1998 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 7 Travel Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Kauai hotels--Due to an editing error, the caption on a picture of the Kauai Marriott Resort ("Poipu to Princeville: Lodgings With Aloha," March 1) incorrectly located the resort at Poipu. The Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club is at Lihue.

Guests sunbathe beside a couple of swimming pools, stroll among koi-filled ponds and take their meals at four dining facilities, including the resort's signature restaurant, Shells, named for the shell-shaped chandeliers (bolted to heavy inner beams) that miraculously survived when the restaurant's roof took flight during the '92 hurricane.

After recently revisiting hotels from Poipu to Princeville, my personal award for elegance and sophistication goes to the Hyatt Regency Resort at Poipu. With 602 rooms, this isn't exactly your little grass shack. But what the heck, no one need worry about the tile roof leaking.

Two pools meander through the resort, one with a water slide that resembles an Olympic ski jump. Both pools are fed by waterfalls and beyond them guests paddle in kayaks through a five-acre man-made saltwater lagoon. The lagoon attracts snorkelers and divers as well as sunbathers who collapse in hammocks strung between palm trees on an island in the lagoon.

At the hotel's Stevenson Library, a bookish bar that opens at 6 p.m., guests check out mai tais rather than volumes while jazz artists get in their licks.

Others dine inside thatched huts at Tidepools, a restaurant rising from a lagoon where the chef turns out ahi and mahi-mahi along with charbroiled chops and steaks. Romantics are served at secret places in the garden while a violinist grinds out dreamy melodies and the couple is attended by a private butler. The whole package figures out to $145 per person. Candlelight and tiki torches set the mood.

Hyatt's 25,000-square-foot health and fitness spa provides luffa wraps and Hawaiian-style lomi-lomi massages along with sessions in the hotel's whirlpools. Others warm up in a Finnish sauna or Turkish steam room and wind up the afternoon doing laps in a pool not quite the length of the Mississippi River. An all-day deluxe spa session comes to a tidy $325, not including the tip.

Down the road, Embassy Vacation Resort provides--indeed guarantees--"100% aloha spirit" at the 211-room hotel that's set in the wide open spaces of a 22-acre plot. Guests occupying one- and two-bedroom suites are provided complimentary continental breakfasts and free drinks at a nightly cocktail bash. This plus free hula, kayak and scuba lessons and the use of an upscale fitness center. While parents sunbathe poolside at a man-made beach, youngsters are enlisted for free arts and crafts lessons.

Eighteen miles west of Poipu (at the 23-mile marker from Lihue Airport), vacationers shed frustrations at Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai's sunny western shore, where a scattering of 48 refurbished bungalows faces a black sand beach and the private island of Niihau. Cottages occupied by employees of Kauai's sugar plantations during the 1800s and early 1900s have been refurbished as tourist facilities. This is "old" Hawaii with a face lift, designed for the weary traveler wishing to climb off the merry-go-round in a laid-back setting presided over by Lopaka Mansfield, a Big Island-born member of the Aston Hotels & Resort management team.

The cottages, which attract families, are equipped with kitchens, TVs and roomy bedrooms--everything from a one-bedroom unit to a rambling five-bedroom, four-bath dwelling moved here from one of Kauai's oldest sugar plantations. Rather than air-conditioning, the cottages feature ceiling fans and ocean breezes.

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