HONOLULU - When you hear the name Donald Trump, you think New York. Maybe Atlantic City.
But not Hawaii. Yet there was that name sprouting among the urban canyons of Waikiki.
The 38-story Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk is the newest - and perhaps for a time, last - major addition to the famed Oahu skyline. A sparkling addition to Waikiki for those who see the skyscraper-rimmed beachfront as America's answer to Copacabana Beach in Rio.
Rising out of a lot between Saratoga Road and Beach Walk, the building is restrained by Trump standards, but it still drips with the ego-driven desire to stamp his name on everything. The building. The stationery. Even the neat little ribbon tied around a roll of toilet paper.
With its blue glass "tropical deco" exterior, the Trump looks like an architectural refugee from Miami Beach. The hotel opened in mid-November. During my too-quick one-night stay a few weeks ago, I found a lot to like and a few disappointments.
It's a fresh, interesting entry into the tired world of Waikiki hotels. I still love the venerable Moana Surfrider and Royal Hawaiian (despite an ill-advised interior redo). The Halekulani is luxurious, though it lost its soul in a 1980s makeover. Beyond those three, Waikiki is a collection of mostly aging, unimaginative, and oversized skyscrapers or boxy hotels that could be in any sun-and-fun resort in the world. Little indicates the Hawaiian sense of place beyond gift shops stocked with surf industry T-shirts and girls' jogging shorts that spell out HAWAII across their backsides.
The Trump's interior is where the designers have tried to go a little local. The rooms have some nice Hawaiian touches - dark-wood desks, and lamps with brown fabric shades. Dominating the room is the seemingly ubiquitous massive flat-screen television. Design elements include tapa textiles and lots of marble and granite, set off by lovely koa wood elements.
Each room has a balcony, but, unfortunately, the glass screens intended to give the illusion of privacy cut down the trade winds that are one of Hawaii's most wonderful (and natural) free hotel amenities.
The bad news about the location is that while the Trump boasts it is a five-star hotel, it's missing that key ingredient for Hawaii: a beachfront. The hotel is across the road from the Halekulani, and visitors must take a path between buildings to get to the sand. And it's not one of Waikiki's better sand strips.
The good news is that the hotel is not surrounded by hotels. The west side is built across the street from Fort DeRussy Beach Park and the grassy Ainahau Triangle. The sweep of green lawns and treetops stretching to the hotels and office buildings across the way gives a breathing space rare in Waikiki. If you can't get a west-facing room, enjoy the view from the beautiful sixth-floor open-air lounge.
My room was spacious, with a kitchenette area (microwave) and a big bathroom - rare in Waikiki - with a deep Japanese-style soaking tub and a separate tile shower. Water pressure left something to be desired. Other rooms were smaller, and the TV was set oddly atop a bureau. I had opted for a room on the $199 "Grand Opening" special, which was available only for rooms on the lower floors that looked out on the neighboring Embassy Suites hotel across Beach Walk.
Prints of tropical flowers and retro-romantic subjects (pretty girls with raven hair) hinted that the room was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The room came with free WiFi - hoteliers are finally catching on that charging $20 a day for something you can get free in a coffee shop across the street isn't a good selling point.
The hotel features the Spa at Trump, for which I hadn't the time, money, or, on this trip, inclination to check out. But a colleague who used the smallish exercise room said it was nice to have a lot of new equipment at a hotel workout center.
I'm split about the pool. It seems more of a design emblem to be looked at more than used - a long rectangle of blue that looks out over the street with views of other hotels and the park. Still, sitting with the one you love in the corner six floors above the city is a pretty romantic idea. Just don't expect to get a lot of water play with the kids.
My favorite spot was the open-air lounge and bar. I'm used to hotel prices - yes, a hamburger is going to cost you a fraction at Kua Aina or one of the other city stands, but the $22, 10-ounce burger was excellently cooked (well done, as I ordered it) and came on a warm, fresh bun. A California roll was exceedingly fresh and had a nice crack to the seaweed wrap beneath the cover of rice and sesame.
Since I don't like skyscraper hotels in Hawaii, I should dislike the Trump - for its egomaniacal name, its size, and its beautiful but geographically misplaced architecture. A fresh postmodernist design reflecting Polynesian heritage would be a welcome addition to the business-as-usual corporate look of construction that has blighted Waikiki.
But the building at least has a design flourish missing in much of the area. It has a staff that seems to have been chosen for amiability, and a beautiful view of Fort DeRussy Park. It helps that there is little competition. Not much fresh and interesting has sprouted in the last 20 years in Waikiki.
So I grudgingly welcome the Trump. Unlike its namesake, it tries to be classy and restrained.
Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk
223 Saratoga Rd., Honolulu
Rates start at $385 per room per night (double). Valet parking is $28 a day.