My wife and I went to Kauai for our babymoon and just returned.  The island, the food, and the secluded beaches created the perfect atmosphere to relax and I can’t wait to return.  I particularly enjoyed the beaches, which often had no one on them but us.

Donkey Beach
Donkey Beach, East Kauai

Such beaches weren’t hard to find in Kauai, the island seems to genuinely value public spaces. Nearly every beach is open to the public with public parking and swimming. We’re not here to discuss public vs. Private space–so I’ll get right to the review.

Grand Hyatt, Large and [Not So] In Charge

Officially listed at 602 rooms, the Grand Hyatt Kauai feels every bit that large.  Because the hotel is laid out in a zig-zag pattern I would estimate it is at least a 1/4 mile walk from one end to the other.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing–being so spread out means the west side of the hotel is much quieter as activities are on the Easternmost side of the hotel:

Grand Hyatt copy

The three pools, saltwater lagoon, and the beach are all located on one side of the hotel. This concentrates the activities to this side of the hotel, and makes the western side extremely quiet.  I greatly enjoyed the peace and quiet in our wing of the hotel (nearly the farthest west you can go).

We were located in a club room, which had a good view, and was on the ground floor, which meant we could walk out of our room and down to the beach or the walking trail.  Indeed this is what we did each morning, to watch the sunrise.  A higher floor room would have a better view of the ocean, but the patios are super small. Consider which you’d prefer; open air and walking out to the beach or a better view of the ocean when you ask for a high/low floor room.

The “Grand Club” is located on the left side in the above picture. I’ll cover a brief review of the club later in this post.

First Impressions

The Grand Hyatt bills itself as a lot of things:  “a remarkable hotel,” “An extraordinary experience,” and one where “You’ll discover the true spirit of grand Hawaiian hospitality at every turn.”  It is none of those.  I’ve stayed at high end properties around the world–and the GH is not a fine hotel.  It is a large hotel masquerading as a fine hotel.

A beautiful flower Lei is a nice welcome gesture for guests, but what I would really have loved was a cold towel.  Weather was hot, unseasonably hot,  and one check in line, with 3 desk agents also meant a long wait for a hotel which should pride itself on individual attention.

It is this lack of individual attention which sorely tarnishes the GH’s overall luster.  As a good example, your first interaction is at the front of the hotel, where you’re greeted and a Lei is given to you.  You’re then told to go ahead and walk inside to check in.  To your left is a row of chairs with what looks like check in agents:

To the Left

On this same side is an Avis car rental desk, which again could be mistaken for a front desk as well.  To the right of you is the bell desk.  Beyond that is the actual front desk.

To the Right

No signs anywhere explain where check in actually is. I actually prefer the look of a hotel with few or no signs, I think they can make a hotel look tacky.  But to not direct guests where to go is just poor service. Ideally I prefer a personalized check in.  I enjoy sitting with a cool glass of water, or the aforementioned cold  towel, and someone checking me in at my leisure, while seated. Don’t expect anything but a line at check in here, and no way to skip it.

Tragically Understaffed

The second you arrive at the Hyatt you’re instantly recognizable as a new guest. By placing a Lei on you the employees have the opportunity to instantly notice who new guests are. Not many hotels get this type of opportunity to so clearly mark new guests. I think that is an opportunity the GH squanders horribly.

You check in and a bellhop is your sole employee you’ll have a personal interaction with.  If your room is on the quiet side of the hotel you have no idea where anything is–no idea how to get from your room anywhere except to the Lobby. It would have been great instead to take our bags to the room while having someone show us a brief 5 minute overview of where everything is.  Again, signage is at a minimum, which is to be expected, however employees also seem to be at a minimum.

When your bellhop drops  your bags you’re then confronted with what to do next.  I think it only natural to want to hit the pool on a hot day.  How to get to the pool? We were on the 3rd floor which is actually the ground floor on our side of the hotel.  So we should be able to walk there, right? Walking outside there’s no clear way to get to the pool, and you easily end up in a dead end. Taking the hallways instead lead from one corridor with no employees anywhere to be found to another, and finally to a dead end, and a bank of elevators. At that point you might decided to go back up to the 4th floor and get to the lobby.  Once in the lobby the only employees to be found are:

  • Check in staff, who are helping a now 10 person+ line of people
  • Car rental staff
  • The Bell captain, working to handle the baggage of new arrivals.
  • Tour Package booking agents, also helping guests.

No one is floating, offering to help anyone who looks lost.  Again, with Leis on you obviously are a new guest, so you stick out pretty easily. You’ll end up seeing people wearing their welcome leis walking into all sorts of odd places, and then turning around and laughing with you (or at you?) as you do the same.  Find the pool? Good luck, you’ll end up walking in circles.  Looking for a restroom? Nope that’s a closet. Need a towel? Of course! They’re hidden under a staircase. Oh, and you’ll need a room number and wristband for that.

The policy of having to wear a pool wristband and check out towels (while waiting in line to do so) is everything that is wrong with the Hyatt.  Because Kauai prides itself on keeping beach access public, the beach directly in front of the hotel is not limited to use for hotel guests. I can imagine the pool/towel policy could be in place for this reason.  Treating everyone like they don’t belong there until they prove that they do is a great way  to feel un-welcoming to your guests.  Again, a roaming employee or two would do wonders for policing anyone who might sneak into the pool area–but with 600+ rooms I guess such a policy would be expensive to implement.

Get used to asking bar and waitstaff basic questions like “where is the nearest restroom?” or “where’s the towel drop?” And then be prepared for the employee to walk away after giving answers which aren’t helpful, like “Next to the Dock.”  (If you don’t know that the Dock is a restaurant, too bad).

Missing Must Haves…Missing

The evidence that the hotel is understaffed continued to build when I realized I had no shaving cream.  Fortunately the Grand Hyatt, like nearly every hotel, has a program called “Missing Must Haves” where you can order items you may have forgotten at home.  The list is quite extensive:

Missing Must Haves
Click for full image. Apologies for the blurry image.

I decided to call in an order for shaving cream and some make up remover for my wife.  In addition I asked for slippers for my wife and I.  We got a kick out of what was delivered:

Delivered
Three Lotion tubes, one body gel, a shampoo, a toothpaste, corkscrew, nail polish remover (x3), toothbrush (x2), hand soap, body soap and emery board kit (x2). Not Pictured and also delivered: Scope. Missing? The three items I ordered.

I think they might have taken the “missing” in ‘missing must haves’ a bit too literally. A call back fixed the issue, as 20 minutes later a very hurried staff member came with the right items.  Who’s order did I receive? No idea, and I doubt the GH cared to know either.

No Attention to Detail

My review of the hotel revolves around  the central idea that the hotel is far too understaffed.  With the exception of F&B and Housekeeping which were consistently excellent, there seems to be lack of attention to detail. And as a guest I can tell you, the details are what set hotels apart.   A hotel in the worst location, with small rooms, and no pool can make up for all of that with service that is personalized.

Personalized service only occurs when staff interact with guests.  That doesn’t occur at the Grand Hyatt, and as such, personalized service is non-existant.  My wife and I still remember the staff at a certain hotel who found out about my wife’s love of tropical fruit, and somehow communicated it to other staff members who made it a point to leave her favorites every afternoon during turn-down service instead of chocolates.  This is the difference from hotel employees knowing my name and calling me Mr. Simon, or even Sam, and a hotel’s employees calling me “Mr. Ummm…Simon,” as if they’re reading it from a scrip.

The Grand Hyatt is a “Mr. Ummm” hotel, where, at 1:30am I awoke to find my room pitch black and hot:

black
Photo, 1:30am Grand Hyatt Kauai. Grand Club room.

Power was out.  Not a huge problem, I’ve stayed on islands where power went out from time to time.  By 3am however, I was worried, and my wife was too.  The temperature kept us from sleeping, and we were fumbling around in the dark with our phones as flashlights.

I called the front desk to ask what was going on, a conversation which went something like this:

Me: “Hi, Our power has been out for at least an hour and a half.”

Agent: “Yes Mr. Umm…Simon,” (not the first nor the last employee to drop the “Umm” over the phone), “we are having an outage. The power company is doing maintenance on a transformer and power is out to the whole hotel. It was scheduled from 1am-4am, and hopefully they’ll be done on time”

Me:“No one thought to inform the guests about this?”

Agent: “Didn’t you receive a phone call about it? or a note?”

Me:“No. I didn’t, and I actually cleared my voice mail before bed so I know there wasn’t a message either.”

Agent: “I have gotten quite a few calls tonight from guests who said they weren’t notified either. I don’t know what happened. I’m sorry about that Sir.”

About an hour later power came back on, just as scheduled at 4am.

Knowing the Agent’s admission that other guests complained about not being informed of the power outage, I happen to believe whole sections of the hotel were not informed about the outage.

I was expecting someone to approach me about it at some time during my stay. My call into the front desk surely would be acted upon.  Clearly my room number was taken down, my upset at not being told of the power outage was noted, and action would be taken. Right?

Wrong.  Not until check out–when I brought the issue back up was I able to talk to anyone about the inconvenience.  The hotel and I came to a quick understanding–they should have notified guests, and they did not. A gesture was made, which was generous, and I accepted. In less than 5 minutes the whole thing was taken care of–but not until I brought it back up. That’s the thing about good service–the 5 minutes it took to talk to me about this issue could have been done at any point, and the problem could have been handled quickly, but was only done upon my (now second) complaint about the issue.

To be clear; My wife and I had a wonderful trip, and none of the issues at the GH had any bearing on my relaxation or my enjoyment of Kauai or the hotel.  The pools are great, the food was good, it just needs to be said that the hotel isn’t anything special.

Who should book this hotel:

I’ve decided the hotel is perfect for two groups of people:

Families with Kids.  You could spend the day at the beach, the pools, and when the little ones get tired and want to go back to the room a 5 minute walk puts them to bed easily. You MAY be able to skip a meal by using the Grand Club, but I would count on it for snacks, or desserts only, and plan for breakfast somewhere else.  There is a child care program which I’m sure plenty of parents take advantage of as well. But none of those (save maybe the child care) are unique to the GH.

The second group I think would enjoy this hotel: Someone who doesn’t ever want to be bothered to talk to another human being. If you’re the kind of person who likes to dispense with small talk–and doesn’t enjoy talking about your day, or hearing about anyone else’s this could be the perfect hotel for you.

If you’re interested in the island of Kauai you won’t find much of it here at the Grand Hyatt.  For that you’ll need to walk 1/4 mile to your car, then drive anywhere else on the island.  Sure the beach is nice, but like almost every other beach in Kauai it is a public beach–and you can park your car closer to the beach at the public lot than in the Hyatt’s lot:

Public Vs
Comparison between using the Beach as a Hotel Guest and using the beach as a non-guest.

Food and Beverages, a Bright Spot.

I wanted to take a moment to review the Food & Beverages as they were quite good, the exception being the Club.

Schedule of the "Grand" Club
Schedule of the “Grand” Club

Grand Club: C+; there really isn’t a good spread at any time of the day–but there is food.  On our first day there we sampled everything. The food for afternoon snacks consists of nuts and chips, Dinner hours were one hot item (potstickers or similar), and then cheeses and breads.

Breakfast was what I would consider very sparse–by day 2 we decided to skip the lounge entirely and have breakfast elsewhere.  I believe the lounge is the Diamond Breakfast benefit. If that is true, I feel bad for Hyatt Diamonds staying here.  A single hot item (eggs), Hard boiled eggs, bagels, toast, nuts, and assorted cheeses make up the Breakfast here. Continental in the loosest sense of the word. (No croissant and no nutella)

I’ve been to my fair share of hotel lounges, and if you’ve spent any time in even a Sheraton club lounge you will be disappointed at this lounge.  Non-alcoholic drink options were poor–I would have loved to see Aloha Maid juices in cans, there was Pass-O-Guava but only from the dispenser. While I didn’t drink on this trip I believe all alcohol options are paid.

Coffee and tea are plentiful in the lounge–but selections lacked any local flair.  Starbucks tea selections, and K-Cups for coffee were nearly criminal to be on offer when so much good coffee and tea can be found at even the smallest cafe on the island.   Instead of the K-Cups opt for the espresso machine, which was what you could expect from an automated espresso machine, but was much better than the K-Cup “green mountain coffee” and other such options.  In room coffee is Starbucks Cafe Verona, which I actually enjoy, but again, a local option would have been much more appreciated.

Desserts were offered from 7:30-8:30 and were passable, but again lacking in any local flavor.  Plain cheesecake, chocolate covered strawberries, cookies and brownies were standard options offered.  The club is also extremely far from any rooms on the east side of the resort, something to again consider when you ask for a room near the pools.

Room Service: A+;  I’m basing this on dinner, but I have full confidence that Breakfast or Lunch would be equally good.  My wife and I almost always have at least one meal in room wherever we go. Room service is tough to execute properly, and when it goes wrong it can mean excruciating wait times for things to be corrected.   Even at the finest hotels we’ve stayed at room service errors occur, and so I was skeptical to say the least that my order would be ready in the 25-30 minutes I was quoted on the phone. Given the lack of employees in other areas I was not expecting room service to be handled so well.

Sure enough just before 8pm the knock on the door came. Food was very hot, tough to do in a hotel so spread out.  The food was also excellent, with my rib-eye cooked to a perfect medium, and very nice portion sizes.  Prices were reasonable by room service standards.

Restaurants: A-; I’m basing this on the Tidepools restaurant, the hotel has a few other options for dinner and lunch. Again, we had dinner around 7:30, and reservations were suggested.  The restaurant was busy, but empty tables were easy to spot; I’m unsure if the reservation would be necessary, or if we were just there during a slow period, but the restaurant is on opentable.com so a quick reservation is easy to make.

Service was very good–from order to plates down in under 20 minutes.  Food was again excellent, and I have zero complaints about the restaurant, the service or the food. Our table had a beautiful view of the stars and the Koi pond.  You may be asking why the A- then.  Really, with room service so good I would rather have eaten in.  The menus are very similar, and so there’s not really a strong reason to favor the restaurant over room service.

I cannot reconcile why service is so outstanding in both room service and full service restaurants, but so awful everywhere else in the hotel. Housekeeping was also incredibly good–with turn-down always timed to coincide when when we were out of the room.

Alternatives Abound

The real issue is that there’s nothing special about the Grand Hyatt–nothing memorable.  Yes the pools are nice, but Every pool is nice when it is 88 degrees outside and the sun is beating down on you.  The food is great–but that’s not enough to warrant a stay.

The Grand Hyatt is a victim of the island of Kauai itself.  Kauai has so much to do, and everything is just so close, that there’s no need to spend time in your hotel. In fact spending time in your hotel means you’re surely missing something more interesting. It isn’t just the size of the hotel that’s an issue, it is the fact that the hotel itself isn’t a destination of any sort–it is merely a hotel.

All told I thought it was an acceptable place, but surely nothing special.  Save your points, rent a condo/timeshare and spend your days at any of the amazing locations on Kauai instead. And if you want to experience 99% of what it is like to stay at the GH, drive down to Shipwreck beach, have dinner at Tidepools, and consider yourself lucky to see the two best parts of the hotel.

– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.

17 thoughts on “Grand Hyatt Kauai Review: A “Mr. Ummm…” Hotel

  1. Great review! I learned so much more about this property than I would have from the typical reviews that say “The club was OK but not great” with a few bad photos of a buffet tossed in. Your approach should be a model for hotel reviews!

    I have been to Kauai twice – once with the kids for a week when we stayed in a condo, which worked great, and the second time at a resort that was much smaller than the GH – it was half time shares and half hotel. But it was at least ten years ago so I don’t remember which one. I do, however, well remember the wonderful tropical fruit on the breakfast buffet everyday!

    Glad you enjoyed!

    • Thanks Elaine! We don’t usually stay at large resorts, so I’m unsure there’d be much interest in where we usually stay, but I’ll keep it in mind as the blog moves forward.
      As for Kauai: The fruit they have isn’t even fair! Upon Milenomic TJ’s advice my wife and I went to the Farmer’s markets and bought all the white guava, Passion fruit and Papaya we could handle. I just wish we could have taken it home!

      • We’ve stayed at the grand Hyatt twice and will be going a third time. We really enjoy the fresh salmon and miso soup for breakfast at the club lounge. And salmon again for dinner. The staff is very attentive.

  2. I went to Kauai last for spring break 2013. We stayed in a condo in Princeville on the north side of the island. It’s shocking how much more beautiful the north side of the island is from the south side. Princeville and the surrounding area feels like a tropical paradise, while Poipu feels like the Florida panhandle (no offense to Floridians). I can’t understand why so many people take the trouble to go to Kauai and then stay in the least beautiful part of it. If you must stay at a hotel on points, stay at the St Regis in Princeville. But there’s much more value in renting a condo on the north shore of Kauai, in my opinion.

    • I agree with you 100% Mason. North Shore on a clear day is quite beautiful. I think the fact that rain is less common in Poipu is the main draw, but the beaches and the natural beauty on the north side of the island made me wish we were staying there. Next time we go its going to be a condo on the north shore, preferably as close to Ke’e Beach as possible. 😉

    • Meh, the north side can be very wet many times of the year and you won’t see views, can’t go to the beach nor enjoy a “tropical” paradise. Poipu is more developed and hotter, but you will get much better weather year ’round. That said, I agree with you – use points for St Regis and rent in Poipu.

      As for the GH, I agree with the review. Big, impersonal. Beautiful entry/view of the ocean and upper floors are very nice (I prefer upper floors for privacy – hate people traipsing in front of rooms on ground floors).

      For those who pay $$$$ to stay at the GHK, they are being ripped off. For same sort of $, you can rent a beach front home with outstanding views, easy parking and truly relax (hit Costco on the way to your rental and fill the fridge).

      Go take a look at the Parrish Collection website and you’ll find some outstanding properties at similar price points as paid room rates. If you’re a family, you’ll do much better in a rental.

  3. Wow. Your review is stunningly different than the lengthy property review thread on Flyertalk. There are people who go there every single year. I had already planned to Air BnB it if we ever make it to Kaui, though, so thanks for reinforcing that for me.

    • Lisa: I’m not familiar with that thread, so I can’t talk to specifics. I have to think that there’s a bit of a self-serving bias going on with some of the reviews though. Someone who’s deathly loyal to Hyatt and/or building points and status for a year+ towards their stay at the GH can’t not like it–they put too much work into getting there.

      I’m with you; in Kauai Air BnB properties are all over the best parts of the island, and you’ll have peace and quiet, and nearly as much interaction with others as you would at the GH 😉 Best of luck on the trip.

  4. Wow, I love that you shared such an honest review but I’m sorry your experience wasn’t better. I’m not much of a Hyatt girl, so I can’t say this hotel was even on my radar, but I do appreciate you taking the time to let us know there are better options on Kauai. Hopefully you’ll get a better value out of your next trip.

  5. We have not stayed at the GH Kauai, but we’ve been over there several times as there’s a decent shore hike that starts at the edge of the property.

    The bottom line is as you said-the big resorts exclude you from real Hawaians and whatever real Hawaii is left. There are many really good condos and other vacation rentals, especially on the North Shore, where you can get close to that experience.

    • 99.99% of tourists will never experience the “real” Hawaii – the locals don’t want anything to do with Haole, so don’t fool yourself believing a smaller hotel will make any difference.

      • I disagree with this generalization. But if one hangs around the tourist spots in and around Poipu, I understand that is the impression you would takeaway.

        Resorts like the Grand Hyatt, the Marriott and St. Regis in Princeville are designed to shield you from local life, not immerse you in it. Same for the big rentals. Each has their appeal based on what you want.

        • I should add that I agree that the majority of tourists do not interact with local customs or people, but that’s not a function of the attitude of the people on Kauai. It is true everywhere as most tourists are there to see the sites and enjoy the best a place has to offer. Digging in to connect with day to day or traditional life is much tougher, and often not of much interest.

  6. Sam, once again, congratulations on the baby and enjoying your trip before the chaos begins.
    A very unique trip report, no question about it. I like it!
    We did pass the Grand Hyatt in Kauai and I thought it looked nice. That said, I just don’t like the area of Poipu, so wouldn’t stay there for that reason. I actually wanted to add a suggestion of staying in Wailua area. It’s nice and authentic, plus very central. Some vacation rentals have views of the mountains. That way you are relatively close to Waimea canyon and the North Shore area, both are a must when visiting Kauai.
    I tried to talk my cousin-in-law out of getting Chase Hyatt card (X 2) with the sole purpose of redeeming the nights at this resort. She did anyway. She looked at the price tag and just couldn’t resist. The problem is, they are going for 7 nights, and will have to pay for 3 nights out-of-pocket. Ouch. Still, this is what she wanted, and what can you say? I will not be passing along your trip report to her, that’s for sure. 🙂

  7. I am in the camp that loves the GH Kauai. While I can understand a few of your points, such as being confused which desk is the check-in desk, I would like to clarify some inaccuracies that I’ve found. We’re actually staying here right now, on points, as Platinum members. We booked a Club room so I have very fresh experience with the Grand Club Lounge offerings and we did the same exactly 1 year ago and I can confidently say that the offerings were the same then. Breakfast consists of 1 hot item (rotating each day – so far we’ve had a quite good frittata and a sweet potato/pulled pork hash), oatmeal with toppings, fresh fruit, cold cereal, homemade granola, croissants, assorted pastries, muffins and 1 type of quick bread, hard boiled eggs, miso soup, meats and cheeses, smoked salmon and toppings, assorted crackers, toast and bagels. During the day for snacks they have assorted nuts and trail mix type things, chips, cookies and brownies along with soft drinks, tea and coffee. The evening spread is 1 hot dish (so far pot stickers and really good pulled pork sandwiches plus tonight is chicken/cheese quesadillas), a fresh salad with toppings, miso soup, cheese, assorted breads, grilled vegetables, fresh vegetables, olives, pickles, smoked salmon, 3 dips/spreads, nuts/dried fruit and drinks. Then at dessert there is usually a cake or other type dessert (we’ve had cupcakes, coconut cream pie, a layered chocolate and cherry dessert) plus fruits mixed with whipped cream, cookies, brownies and beverages. Also, I noticed upon entering today that there are cold towels located right next to the leis and ice cold fruit infused water that are available upon arrival to the hotel. Anyway, I just hope this clears things up for anyone who thinks this hotel is really bad based on your review. I’ve found the staff to be really wonderful here…it’s our 4th visit and we have been given rooms with awesome views each time even though we’ve only booked garden views also. I would especially recommend this hotel for families.

    • Sarah: I really appreciate you taking the time to detail your experience with the hotel. I’m glad to know they’ve enhanced the welcome experience with cold towels and beverages–that will certainly go a long way to start guests off on the right footing. And I’m happy to read that you have enjoyed your stays and continue to go back. Travel is wonderful because it is about finding what you love. 🙂

      I still stand by my assessment: there isnt’ anything particularly *special* about the resort; it is just a large hotel that has some nice features. I could certainly list some very nice parts of the hotel; and I did in my review. The meals were fantastic, some of the best we had on the island, and room service (and housekeeping) was very good, certainly on par with the best hotels I’ve stayed at.

      While you’ve outlined all the options at the club, you’ve also shown what I think it misses. Close your eyes while you’re in the club and you could forget you’re in the island of Kauai–and instead think you’re in any hotel, anywhere in the US. Why not put even a little of the greatness into club food that they’ve put into the rest of the F&B? Better coffee, better hot options for breakfast, and local pastries would be a great first start.

      Maybe with a family I’d appreciate it differently, but maybe not. I’d probably rent a small condo and enjoy coming and going as I please with a shorter walk and more time spent enjoying the island.

      A resort this size being in Kauai probably doesn’t help–there is so much to do outside of the resort that the time it takes to get into and out of the resort (and to a nicer beach) really hurts your ability to enjoy the island.

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