Christmas in Hawaii - FS Hualalai, Halekulani - AA F, HA F and CO J - Plus More!

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  1. NYBanker
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    We had been kicking around for a Christmas holiday for several months. After a few mediocre Christmas trips, it was time to change things up a bit from prior years - and to make sure we got a perfect trip. We nailed it this year.

    Last year's Christmastime visit to the St. Regis in Puerto Rico was a disaster (so bad that I got my points refunded and a gift certificate for a complementary future four night visit!). The two prior years' trips to the Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach were OK, but the weather there is unpredictable at Christmas (could be 50 degrees or could be 80 degrees) and we had grown a bit tired of the hotel after 8+ visits in the last 10 years.

    We ended up making preliminary bookings at the Westin Beaver Creek, Four Seasons Costa Rica, Four Seasons Jackson Hole and Four Seasons Hualalai (Kona). We decided skiing was not what we wanted, so that eliminated Beaver Creek and Jackson Hole. We decided that Costa Rica would be better when our kids were a bit older (they're 8 and 5-1/2 as of this writing)...so Kona it was.

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    Around the same time as we were deciding, my daughter (5-1/2 years old) declared that she wanted to go to Hawaii - so we made this trip her "special trip," which she quite appreciated. My son has claimed destination picking rights for 2012. I am cautiously optimistic as to where that will take us!

    As Four Seasons doesn't have a points scheme, this was going to be a paid holiday - at least for lodging. While the lack of club floor and points program puts Four Seasons a little behind a number of their competitors, Four Seasons has always more than made up for these factors through the quality of their offering.

    Due to our late planning (July), we could only get the rooms we wanted in Kona until December 24. Not wanting to fly home on a red eye on Christmas Eve (though maybe we could have seen Santa?), we booked a few nights on Waikiki afterwards. There were enough interesting things that we wanted to see there - plus we could ultimately take the non-stop flight home to EWR from HNL and avoid a connection.

    Our travel details ended up being as follows:
    • AA #3 JFK-LAX Flagship First, AA #247 LAX-KOA First
    • Four Seasons Hualalai (FS-Kona)
    • HA #207 KOA-HNL First
    • Halekulani
    • CO #14 HNL-EWR BusinessFirst
    With the exception of my seat on CO #14 and three of our seats on KOA-HNL, all of our seats were award seats (or otherwise no-cost add-ons) in the forward cabin. Even though I had to use double miles awards for all seats, the valuation/cost avoidance on the redemption was about 3.5cpm. I intentionally paid for my CO flight to finally hit Star Alliance Gold on Aegean.

    As I write my first draft of this from seat 3A on CO #14, while I leave a fair but poorer (thanks to the hotel bills), much more importantly, my entire family leaves with some absolutely wonderful memories which will last a lifetime. Frankly, the only person who might object to us returning next year is my accountant!

    Through this report, I'll share the highlights of this trip, and the few low-lights, and my booking strategies so hopefully you can make your family Hawaiian holiday even better! While it is roughly 5,000 miles from New York (roughly equidistant to Istanbul), Hawaii is well worth the journey. The quality of the destination is that good – far superior to any of the dozen Caribbean destinations I’ve been to.

    This is my first multi-part trip report. I hope you enjoy it and please forgive me for any errors. I welcome any comments or suggestions that you might have and would be pleased to answer any questions.
     
  2. Jimgotkp
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    Looking forward to it NYB :)
     
  3. cennas
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    Looking foward to the full report!
     
  4. NYBanker
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    Christmas in Hawaii
    Part 2 – AA Five Star Service (JFK), JFK Flagship Lounge, AA #3 JFK-LAX Flagship First Class
    Our driver met us at our house at 9am on Saturday morning to take us to JFK for our 12 noon departure. Because we were returning to a different airport, we needed used a car service to go to and from the airports. As we had four passengers and a lot of luggage, including two sets of golf clubs, we needed a really big vehicle! They sent their largest SUV. We fit – just barely.

    As always, we used Quest International for our New York-area transportation. Run by a small group of Korean drivers, Quest has never, ever let me down across well over 100 trips. This trip was no exception and our driver, one of my regulars, handled everything perfectly.

    For this trip, I arranged AA’s Five Star Service for us at both JFK and LAX. I find Five Star very valuable at the holidays, especially when traveling with the family. This service is even better when it is free. For the past several years, HSBC has offered complimentary Five Star Service at the holidays for their certain of their banking customers. This year was no exception, and HSBC was kind enough to pick up the tab for service at both our origin and intermediate stop (a $400 value). I've covered the details of Five Star in a prior report.

    About half an hour from our scheduled arrival time at JFK, we received a call on my driver's phone from Pat, who would be our initial Five Star hostess at JFK. They had my car service details, which I provided when I booked Five Star. She told us where to meet her (always the far end of T8). When we arrived at JFK at 10am, Pat was there with our 8 bag tags were already printed, and boarding cards were in hand and she had a skycap waiting with her for us as we requested.

    Once the skycap took the bags from our driver the bags (curbside), he gave us our claim checks and Pat escorted us directly to the employee queue for security. We were able to completely bypass the queue for security.

    Whereas I have nearly always found Five Star staff to be great, Pat was a bit of a disappointment.

    Pat got into a disagreement with me over the need for my kids to remove their shoes at security. Kids under 12 now don't need to remove their shoes through security. The TSA made this policy change several months ago and has publicized it. There are signs up at many airports (including JFK T8) reminding passengers of this change. Pat insisted the kids’ shoes did need to come off, and began to tell the kids to take their shoes off - after I told them they didn’t need to. I let it slide, and when the kids asked me again what I do, I let the kids take their shoes off.

    Then Pat asked my son if he had a computer, iPod or iPad in his backpack. Indeed, he had an iPad. She said he needed to take it out. Again, I corrected her to say iPads were specifically allowed to remain in bags at security. She disputed it, but didn't direct my kids thankfully.

    Once through security, Pat started walking us to the underground tunnel which leads to the satellite portion of T8. I told her that we wanted to use the Flagship Lounge, which is located just past security, before the tunnel. She said "it's not really for kids; there is no kids area." I pointed out that use of the Flagship Lounge was included with our tickets, and that since we had a while to wait, we wanted to use that lounge.

    Not ready to give in on this point, Pat said her colleague who would walk us to the plane was going to meet us at the satellite Admirals Club, and that is where we needed to go. At this point, I flatly refused, and said we are going to the Flagship Lounge. If we only had 20 minutes to kill, the satellite Admirals Club would have been fine. In this case, we had over an hour to kill (we arrived early with the kids and checked bags), so the Flagship Lounge was what the plan was to be for us. (Plus, I had my heart set on a mimosa at this point and the Flagship Lounge has a complimentary open bar. There is a charge for adult drinks in the Admirals Club. :( )

    The Flagship Lounge has a modest (by international lounge standards) buffet, but does include fresh fruit and other cooked and cold foods. It was good to get some fruit in the kids.
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    The lounge was only modestly crowded (as is nearly always the case), though housekeeping hadn't been through in some time.

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    Part 2 is continued below.​
     
  5. NYBanker
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    Part 2 (continuation)

    At the Lounge bar, I opened a fresh bottle of sparkling wine and enjoyed my first Mimosa. And my second. And third.

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    They have probably a dozen workstations.

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    Pat returned with our "hand off" hostess, and introduced us. The second hostess asked if we wanted to pre-board, or board last. We choose pre-boarding, and she told us when to expect her. While I know how to get around T8 with my eyes closed, notwithstanding any issues with Pat, it is very nice to have someone look after you the entire time you’re at the airport. There’s no watching the clock or worrying about queues.

    Our flight, AA #3, was operated by a 767-200, in AA’s “Flagship” three-class configuration. JFK to LAX (and SFO) remain the principal domestic markets where carriers really compete on premium product, so this First Class is significantly enhanced when compared to traditional domestic First Class. While AA's Business Class product isn't my favorite on the route (compared to other carriers’ Business offerings on the route), their three-cabin First product is. We used a few extra miles (20k one way extra per seat) to confirm seats in the First Class cabin on this flight (versus Business).

    We were picked up about 50 minutes prior to departure and escorted out to the satellite terminal for pre-boarding. The big advantages of pre-boarding are that you get everything settled onboard before anyone else is on and there is never a backup in the jet-way. The drawback is you are on the plane for longer than you need to be. Being in three-class First, the extra time on board is not an issue.

    Unfortunately, sometime between booking and one day prior to departure, AA took the liberty of changing our seat assignments within the F cabin, such that we were no longer seated together. There was no change in equipment, so I was surprised by this. I thought the change in seats might have been due to an Air Marshall, but none of the passengers fit the profile.

    With the flight showing “F0,” there wasn’t a way to get them changed back to what we had originally reserved prior to boarding. While I didn’t expect the Flagship Lounge dragon or our Five Star hostess to be able to change seats, it frustrates me when they say, “We can’t change others' confirmed seat assignments,” when that is exactly what happened to us! Our Five Star hostess said she would speak to the Purser on board and get our seats sorted out, which she did.

    Marilyn was the Purser on our flight. Our hostess spoke with her as we boarded, and Marilyn told us to take whatever seats we wanted, and she would “work it out.” We took what we had originally booked – 2HJ and 3HJ. As other passengers in First Class boarded, Marilyn directed them to other seats and handled the situation with aplomb.

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    Part 2 is continued below.
     
  6. NYBanker
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    Part 2 (continuation)

    Shortly after we were seated, Marilyn came by to offer a pre-departure beverage. The bar is fully open in First Class on the ground, so I lead off with another Mimosa. You could hear the cork pop in the galley. My wife had a Bloody Mary, and the kids had cranberry and clubs.

    My kids have been in this cabin before and love to “test” the power seat adjustments. Their tests are extensive – though I usually cut them off in a minute or two. My daughter was lying down with the blankets on before general boarding began.

    Skies were clear that day. Our departure was on time and there was no boarding drama.

    Marilyn paid special attention to us throughout the flight, and interacted with my kids very nicely. They know to say “please” and “thank you” when interacting with service professionals, and I think this got Marilyn a bit smitten with them. Being on the Purser’s good side makes a world of difference on a flight. No request was too small for her.

    Our flight had AA’s new tablets available for First and Business passengers, or “iPads” as Marilyn (erroneously) called them. I didn’t use one, but my wife did, and said she quite enjoyed it. My wife said it had a lot of content and was easy to navigate.

    This fall, AA made some changes to their meal service in the forward cabins on the Flagship flights. While still squarely in the category of “airline food,” they’ve improved the food offerings significantly this fall. Obligatory ice cream sundaes were enjoyed by my son and me.

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    I was able to get an hour or two of sleep after the meal. My son, who I was sitting with, enjoyed a movie on his iPad. My wife and daughter, seated in front of us, both enjoyed movies, too.

    I had a few Mimosas during the course of the flight. Marilyn assured me there was a “reserve” bottle of “champagne” on board if the first one ran low.

    Thankfully, the balance of our flight was uneventful – and we didn’t even need to dip into the reserve of bubbly! Prior to landing, Marilyn came around to shake the passengers’ hands and thanked us for flying American. Our arrival into LAX was on a westbound runway, so there was no circling over the Pacific. We arrived at the gate on time.

    The passenger in 2D was very kind and paid a very generous compliment to my kids, saying he’d never seen better on the plane. I attribute that to a combination of good parenting (a little bit) and the use of good technology (the principal factor)! We often get a woeful look from at least one passenger when we sit down with the kids in First Class. Having the kids receive some praise from others more than offsets that.

    Our LAX Five Star hostess was waiting for us on the jetway as we got off the plane. So far, so good!

    Re-reading this, I might come across a little bit as a complainer. Beyond a surly New York airport employee (would it be naïve to expect anything else?), really everything went off without a hitch. Other than flying private, I recognize and appreciate that this was the absolute lowest-stress way to get a family of four from Connecticut to Los Angeles on the week before Christmas.
     
  7. Kaanapali
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    Good intro NYB...looking forward to the next installment :)
     
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  8. Chimpy
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    I can't wait to read the rest, great trip report NYB. :)
     
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  9. Thanks NYB, most enjoyable read
     
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  10. savydog
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    Thanks for sharing with us, can't wait for more instalments :)
     
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  11. Scottrick
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    Sorry to hear about your experience at JFK. I think that by the time you started arguing over the lounge issue is the point I would reply, "Thank you for your help so far, but I can handle everything else from here." Really, it seemed more like she was dictating instead of assisting, which is the point of the service. Good that everything else worked out okay.
     
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  12. Mangy
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    Great read NYB. Looking fwd to the rest
     
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  13. NYBanker
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    Christmas in Hawaii
    Part 3 – LAX Flagship Check-in, LAX Flagship Lounge, Encounter Restaurant, AA #247 LAX-KOA First Class

    We were escorted by our Five Star host from the door of our plane directly to the AA lounge complex. Our hostess asked if we wanted to go to the Admirals Club kids' room or the Flagship Lounge. We elected to go into the FL, noting to myself the open bar and that we could go over to the kids' room if we wanted to. Five Star service was complimentary again thanks to the good folks at HSBC Bank. There was no fussing on her part about us taking our kids into the FL.

    With our hostess, we bypassed the check in queue at the main lounge dragon station and were escorted right into the FL and seated. We said we wanted to pre-board, and she told us what time she'd come back for us.

    The LAX Flagship Lounge is my favorite OneWorld lounge in North America. I like the physical facility and its wall of windows, the limited use of the facility and the open bar. The food is good by domestic lounge standards (though not by international standards). I've always found the agents in this FL to be very helpful, too. (They’ve even accommodated me when I’ve gone for off-airport runs during longer layovers at LAX. I’ll post about that soon.) Though I didn't use them this time, a number of showers are available in the FL. (There are also showers in the Admirals Club portion of the club, too.)

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    Our kids were on the verge of being a little stir-crazy, having just come off a 6 hour flight. Knowing this, that we had another 5 hours to go after the 2 hour layover and that my wife feels a good deal of stress traveling (even in our eased circumstances), I thought it would be good to take the kids outside for some fun. After plugging in all the iPads to charge up and downing a quick beer, I took the kids out for a little adventure, leaving my wife to relax solo in the FL. (She did that nicely, though admitted to me later that she was worried as to how long we were gone!)

    There is a nice lawn next to the Encounter restaurant at LAX. For those not familiar, Encounter is the restaurant in the spaceship-like building in the center of LAX. Encounter is about a 7 minute walk from the entrance to AA's terminal, and there are sidewalks the entire way there. My kids and I ran around and played tag for about half an hour on the lawn. (My daughter stopped about half way through to stop and smell some of their flowers instead!) This was a great way to break up the roughly 18 hour journey we were on.

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    Part 3 is continued below...
     
  14. NYBanker
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    Part 3 (continuation)

    The kids asked what is at the top of the "spaceship." I told them there was a restaurant up there, and they asked to go up and see it. We went up to the restaurant, with the goal of having something to drink. We were seated by the hostess, but then for 15 minutes no one came up to serve us. We enjoyed some plane watching while we were up there, but with no service forthcoming, we got up and left. The kids enjoyed seeing the fairly unique restaurant space.

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    We had to re-clear security and were able to use the new Flagship check-in area at LAX, at the eastern-most end of T4. When we approached the Flagship check-in area, the agent stationed at the entrance to the area asked where we were going. When I’m in my business persona, I never get asked for anything when I walk up to the First Class check-in area. A dad apparently traveling alone with two kids I guess is another story. I simply showed our Kona boarding passes and we were let in.

    Though the AA website indicates that the check-in area was just for domestic three-cabin First Class passengers, international First and Business Class passengers and Five Star customers, it seemed like the area was used by other passengers as well. As I wasn’t using Five Star for clearing security here, perhaps I wasn’t even eligible to use this area. Or, maybe there was a further even more exclusive check-in area, but I didn't see it. (Please let me know if I missed the actual "Flagship" check-in, though I don't think I did.)

    As we already had our boarding cards (printed by Pat at JFK), so just went right upstairs to the security area. With the reconfiguration of T4, there are now several new security areas east of the old main checkpoint (which remains open, principally for economy passengers). This reconfiguration probably facilitated a 50% increase in security lanes.

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    This area didn't seem any more notable than the elite check-in area at JFK T8, but it was nice to be able to go directly to an elite-only security queue.

    It took about 15 minutes to clear the queue. While the queue wasn’t super long, it went to a single full-body scanner, which is always slower than the metal detectors. Due to the kids, they opened the regular metal detector for the three of us.

    We stopped at the FL to check in on my wife, who was happily on her second cocktail. I picked up a Corona and took the kids over to the kids' area in the Admirals Club for a bit. This little room was nice enough, and had some fun things for the kids. It is best for kids 1-6 years old, but my son, 8, was able to find things to keep him occupied.

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    We went back over to the FL after about 20 minutes for one final beer and were greeted as scheduled by our Five Star hostess.

    We were escorted down to the gate for Kona about 45 minutes prior to scheduled departure. Unfortunately, boarding had begun a little earlier than we all anticipated, and was underway when we got to the gate. There were a lot of infrequent fliers boarding, with lots of large carry-ons. It didn't seem like there was much order between the elite and regular boarding queues. Our hostess took us to the side and we bypassed both the regular and elite queues, getting to the jetway door by slipping directly behind the agent scanning boarding passes.

    There was already a bit of a queue in the jetway, but it cleared pretty quickly. This flight was operated on an old-style "ghetto bird" 757 and unfortunately they were using door 1L for boarding, so the F cabin was backed up with the economy queue almost till the door was closed.

    We were in rows 4EF and 5EF. We put my daughter in the second row of our "block" of seats as some times her feet wander towards the back of the seat in front of her. While we always have her take them down, invariably they get put up a couple of times in the context of a long flight. If she is going to bump into the seat in front of her, at least it is our party sitting in it. This strategy, coupled with some freshly charged iPads, made the chance of our kids actually bothering anyone essentially nil (except for those upset with their mere presence).

    My wife commented that this plane "wasn't as nice" as the last one. Indeed, it was a definite downgrade. I told her that in frequent flyer circles that the plane is known as the "ghetto bird," which she got a kick out of.

    This flight was overbooked, and onboard they were offering $800 vouchers for passengers to give up their seats. There were no apparent takers. I'm not sure how they handled this, as baring volunteers, there should have been some involuntary removals, which would have been interesting to see. Perhaps confirmed passengers in the gate area ultimately we cajoled into accepting the offer. I was thinking about what it would take for me to voluntarily get off the plane – it probably would have had five-digits.

    The food on the flight was uninspired as is essentially the case with all domestic travel. I made special arrangements with the FA for the kids to have their ice creams as an appetizer course (skipping the meal) - which she gladly obliged. Shortly after their now second ice creams of the day, they each fell asleep for the bulk of the balance of the flight. Once my son was asleep, I pressed the call button and ordered another vodka tonic, which put me to sleep, too.

    About 20 minutes prior to arrival, we could begin to see the lights of Hawaii out of the left side of the plane. KOA has so few aircraft movements that there must be little to no queuing or circling here. Our descent was straight in. A short taxi, and we were at the open air “stand.” Stairs were brought to the side of the plane, and we were outside in the warm, soft air…with big smiles on our face.

    Traveling with kids isn’t always tough. Some extra miles (or a little money) for tickets in front, free hostess service from HSBC and fully charged iPads, coupled with some good planning, made this 5,000 mile journey about as easy as could be. The best parts were still to come…
     
  15. dmel

    dmel Gold Member

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    Awesome report, NYB! Can't wait for the rest!
     
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  16. NYBanker
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    Christmas in Hawaii
    Part 4 – Four Seasons Hualalai: The Experience

    Our experience at the Four Seasons Hualalai (or FS-Kona) begins upon arrival at the nearby airport, Kona International Airport (IATA: KOA). Our arrival was around 8:30pm local time, some 16 hours after we left our house in Connecticut that morning. The airport is “open air,” without an enclosed terminal or jetways. This provided immediate exposure to their soft and warm air, a welcome respite after so much time in a metal tube.

    Immediately outside of the airport’s secure area, several uniformed Four Seasons representatives were awaiting us and one other guest. They took our luggage claim tickets, handed us cold waters, introduced us to our driver and then went to retrieve our luggage from the conveyor belt for us. They delivered the bags directly to the SUV we had reserved through the hotel. We did not have to do so much as lift a bag.

    The ride to the hotel is short, less than 15 minutes. Approaching the property from the main road, nothing is visible beyond an illuminated rock sign which simply reads “Hualalai.” Once our driver turned into the property, though dark, it was evident that we were entering a special place. Many (all that I’ve been to) Four Seasons Resorts illuminate their entry-way foliage in a very tasteful and welcoming way in the evenings; FS-Kona was no exception.

    This post has too many photographs to effectively present here, so I invite you to follow the report on my website here...

    (As subsequent posts will have fewer photos, I'll try to move them back here in their entirety.)

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  17. FriendlySkies
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    Great report, NYB :)
     
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  18. Rob
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    Great report :)

    If I might make one tiny observation, I personally find it easier to read when you post it as you do on here (just making a post whenever you've got the next section ready) versus how you did it over on FT (reserving a bunch of posts and then editing the existing post when the next section is ready).
     
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  19. NYBanker
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    Hi Rob. Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful feedback.

    A poster on FT suggested doing the reserved approach. I've never done one of these fairly drawn out multi-part reports...so, based on that chap's feedback, I figured I'd try it both ways (one way here, another way there).

    Indeed, I think I like it better this way. The comments aren't so overwhelming that people can't quickly scroll down to find the next chapter.
     
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  20. NYBanker
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    Thanks for the kind words. More to come soon.

    I probably could have just posted this in the FL Lounge. ;)
     
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  21. rwoman
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    rwoman Gold Member

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    NYBanker,

    Thank you for sharing!!

    :)
     
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  22. ChicagoEric
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    ChicagoEric Silver Member

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    This has brought back great memories of past trips to Hualalai - thanks for putting a smile on my face. Still one of my very favorite FS properties anywhere in the world...
     
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  23. Kaanapali
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    :) Well we know how to get to other places on MP.....we are a rather giving lot :)
     
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  24. Traveller
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    Cute! :p

    Very good report, I can't wait to read the rest!
     
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  25. NYBanker
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    NYBanker Gold Member

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    Christmas in Hawaii
    Part 5 - Four Seasons Hualalai: Details and Strategy
    Overview: A truly best-in-class resort, well designed for both families and adults; the top resort in the US?
    Strengths: Service, climate, pool facilities, multitude of activities
    Drawbacks: Seats at pool during peak times, ocean not swimmable, signage on running courses
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    It is my hope that you took away from Part 4 of this report just what a wonderful experience our extended stay at this property was. It was a struggle to list meaningful drawbacks about property. While there were a few issues during my family’s recent stay, they were truly insignificant in nature. Of the 20+ high-end resorts I’ve been to in the United States/Caribbean, without question, Four Seasons Hualalai was the best of any.

    The purpose of this post is to summarize key strategies and details regarding our trip with the hope that you will be even more prepared for your visit than I was for mine.

    Booking the Stay
    I called the hotel directly on a lark over the summer to see if they had any availability for the holidays. As luck would have it, while no suites were available, they were able to confirm two “guaranteed connecting” Prime Ocean View rooms. This is the second highest regular room category at the property, directly below Oceanfront. I made my booking over the telephone with the agent, confirming the connecting rooms.

    I mentioned to the reservations agent that I was planning to have American Express “capture” my reservations in order to add their Platinum Fine Hotels and Resorts (“FHR”) benefits to my booking. To my surprise, the agent said that the property was not honoring the FHR benefits during the Festive Season. I’d never heard of a hotel opting out of the program at peak season, but a subsequent call to American Express confirmed that this property did indeed opt-out. I asked the agent if the Four Seasons Preferred Partner (“FSPP”) program was honored during the holidays, and was told that indeed it was honored.

    Each of FHR and FSPP offer a number of valuable benefits to travelers, including:
    · Complimentary breakfast for two
    · Room upgrade, if available upon arrival
    · Late checkout (4pm)
    · An additional amenity (often a complimentary lunch for two)

    Since there is no additional charge to participate in FHR or FSPP, travelers are often leaving money on the table if they don’t book with one of these packages.

    I contacted David Ourisman, who is a travel agent in the FSPP program, and a contributor on FlyerTalk, to discuss having him “capture” my booking. David was extremely prompt in responding, and had everything taken care of directly with the hotel within a matter of hours from me sending him my booking details. I subsequently received a re-confirmation from the hotel, which included details of the added benefits to which I was now entitled.

    Though I didn’t need a late checkout, and an upgrade wasn’t available (I knew the property was full), the value of the food and beverage credits was over $1,000. Not a bad savings for sending a few emails.

    A few weeks prior to the date of my arrival, David contacted me to explain to me how bookings were made for on-property affairs, such as dining, spa, etc. He provided helpful information which allowed me to schedule essentially everything I wanted to do, exactly as I wanted to.
    Should you need a high end hotel booking, I’d highly recommend David. His website is http://www.metaphortravel.com and he is known as DavidO on Flyertalk.

    David recently completed an extensive tour of China, and circulated notes on all of the different hotels he visited to his clients. It is valuable to work with an agent who has been personally to the properties that he/she is booking. Though he was paid a commission by the hotel, there was no fee to me for his services.

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    Booking On-property Activities – Do this in advance!
    This was absolutely critical to the success of the stay. The hotel published a detailed PDF which laid out all of the activities you could consider during your stay. It included classes, tours, events and other activities. They also specified when you could book your activities, as well as spa, golf and dining.

    Basically, the hotel would start accepting bookings for on-property activities on November 7, no sooner. At 7am Hawaii time, when their bookings email opened, our “laundry list” style list of booking requests was emailed in, with a fax to supplement shortly thereafter. By the end of the day, we had an acknowledgement of our requests, and by the next day, we had confirmation of all of our requests. With the exception of one massage needing to be 50 minutes instead of 80, all of our requests were honored exactly as we hoped.

    Booking dinner, spa and golf in advance seemed to be absolutely critical. When enjoying a sunset cocktail at the Beach Tree Bar, I heard the restaurant hostess telling guests (families with kids) (at 5:15pm) that the first table she had available was 8:30pm. That was definitely not going to work for those families. In each case, I suspect they had to go off-property, or order room service in. Similarly, when checking in for a spa appointment, I overheard another receptionist say on the phone to a prospective massage recipient that they were completely full for the next three days.

    The downside of all of this is you really need to plan your days in advance. I’d never really planned my days in such scripted detail, so far in advance, previously. What I found is I sort of liked having all the days pre-scripted for us. I obviously only booked things that we liked to do, so each thing on the agenda was a welcome activity. Each morning, I would read the day’s page from the packet of confirmations that we received at check-in and simply say to my wife, “You have a massage at 10am; I’m playing golf at 9am with our son.” There wasn’t a lot of, “I’m not sure what I want to do today,” from us during this trip. I could see this cutting both ways – particularly if you like to wing it each day – but for us, it worked perfectly.

    Kids’ camp did not require advance booking, you could just turn up at any time.
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