I don’t often dedicate full posts to a single hotel—namely because this is my personal collection of stories and anecdotes, and not an online travel guide—but I’d be doing all future Hawaii goers a serious disservice if I didn’t pause to pay homage to the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island.
We arrived in Kona a week ago from yesterday, and it was one of the most seamless travel experiences I’ve ever had. (Coming from me, that’s a novelty in itself.) Within five minutes of boarding, we were off the plane. Within 10, we had our checked bags. Within 25, we’d gotten our rental car from Dollar, had filled out the paperwork, inspected the vehicle and were speeding up Queen Kaahumanu Highway toward the Kohala Coast. An hour after landing, a bit of this was going on:
We were starving after a nine-hour trip from San Francisco (we stopped over at LAX) and were wondering where we’d get food at such an hour, but the Fairmont had already taken such things into consideration. Which is why there was a full plate of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever tasted awaiting us in the room. When we went to sleep shortly after our feast, we hadn’t even seen a bit of the grounds given that we arrived under darkness. So imagine our delight to wake up—at 5am, no less; thanks time zone change!—to this view from our balcony (excuse me, our lanai):
Makes you wish you played golf, doesn’t it? My only other trip to Hawaii was also to the Big Island, in January 2007 for SVV’s cousin’s wedding. We stayed for nearly two weeks and rented a vacation home for $180 a night on VRBO, along with his sister and her husband and his best friend and his wife. Six people in a self-catering, two-bedroom condo wasn’t bad—especially the $30 per person per night bit—but I’m only glad I did my Hawaii trips in that order: modest condo first, full-blown Hawaiian luxury resort experience second.
When we checked in, one of the employees asked if we’d been guests of the Fairmont before. I answered that yes, we stayed in a suite at the San Francisco property in Nob Hill for my birthday two years ago, but that was it. I lied (not on purpose). It didn’t even hit me until a couple days later that I actually did the Fairmont tour of northwestern Canada three summers ago when up that way for assignment, having stayed in the Fairmont Vancouver, dined and drank at the Fairmont Banff Springs and slept in pure luxury at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. And funny enough, the latter along with the Orchid have got to be my top two favorite resorts of all-time. There’s just something so classy and tasteful about the Fairmont properties—not to mention, they think of every little thing (like finger sandwiches after a late-ish flight).
The big problem with our stay is that we were fully booked with activities and tours elsewhere along the Kohala Coast and, thus, didn’t actually get to do a whole lot of lounging in front of the pool. Speaking of, can we just stop for a minute and take a look at this pool?
Blissful. You better believe anytime we could sneak an hour or two free, we pitched a tent of towels and camped right beside the water, as I sped my way through both Delta Girls and Room: A Novel on my Kindle. (Currently, I’m finishing up Swamplandia! on the North Shore of Oahu and then on to, oh I don’t know, Ape House of The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore in Honolulu…either way, I’ll be reading about primates.)
In an amazing twist that just made my day, the resort’s lovely public relations director, Jaisy, had read my site for awhile (hi, Jaisy!) and planned a dinner with us at the oceanfront restaurant, Brown’s Beach House, the first night. The food was fantastic—mahi mahi, seared ahi, lobster bisque, some sort of crab salad; we tried it all—and our server, Christian, was a riot. The view wasn’t shabby either.
As if that weren’t enough, Jaisy had read that I’m a huge fan of s’mores—really, anything with chocolate and/or marshmallows and/or graham crackers (my dessert habits show little bias)—and had a special dessert waiting for us! Talk about the royal treatment.
On the last day we were there, we finally had a chance to mosey around the grounds a bit—and they were even bigger than either of us expected. It’s funny how you can be secluded in your little corner of such a big resort and not even see half of it.
Aside from all the little restaurants and lounge areas, there’s a beautiful beach and protected cove from where all the surfers and kayakers depart. (We took a standup paddleboarding lesson at this spot, but more on that to come.)
While the area, like elsewhere on the Big Island, is rife with turtles, you needn’t even go in the water to find them—they climb right up on the rocky shore to sunbathe!
And need I stress the fact that this resort is pretty big, with a total of 540 rooms, and we still had large portions of it to ourselves (as these photos might suggest)? We even found our own little courtyard area with no one was around except for a few little red-headed birds splashing each other in the fountain.
Not to mention there were plenty of tucked-away spots to stop for a bit of a breather. You know, since life on an island is so hard and stressful and trying. Where’s my mai tai?!
Not surprisingly, the Orchid is a popular spot for weddings and vow renewals. I really wanted to get married on Hawaii; that was the original plan until we set down and did the guest list and realized how many people we just had to invite—not to mention the expense of everyone getting there, the expense of hiring a resort to plan it for you, etc. However, now that I have found out it’s actually much more affordable to throw a wedding on the Big Island than it is in California—who would have thought?—I’m seriously regretting that decision. I’ve always thought renewing vows was a bit of a silly concept—at least early on in your marriage—but I’ll tell you this: After stepping foot on this property, SVV and I have made a pact to come back here on our five-year anniversary and do just that. (If for nothing else, an excuse to return.)
See you in another four years, Fairmont Orchid! Or, if I have my way, much sooner than that.
I visited the Big Island in 2009 and stayed at the Four Seasons (also amazing) but got to take a tour of the Fairmont. It blew my mind how intimate it felt for such a large resort, especially compared to some of the other mega-properties. I’ve always shied away from big resorts but the Fairmont is one that just does such a great job of feeling smaller than it really is. And that sunset – amazing.
Also, that’s funny that you are planning on a 5 year vow renewal. My husband and I are doing the same thing in June next year. We don’t care if it’s silly to renew our vows after only 5 years, it just feels right to us, and we figure it’s a nice excuse to go for all out luxury, which we rarely do. We had been planning on going back to the same place we went for our honeymoon in Italy, but the B&B we stayed at has closed, the owner of the spice farm we toured got a divorce and moved, and the family that owns the vineyard where we had a private dinner is feuding and no longer accepts visitors. It’s like a crazy Italian soap opera! So now, we’re trying to figure out where to go instead.
I think vow renewals are a great excuse for a vacation! You should go to Hawaii instead if Italy isn’t an option =) Or about a dozen places I can think of in Europe (like Scotland, Switzerland, etc.)!
How lovely! Even without leaving the resort, it sounds like one could easily spend a solid week exploring. Adding it to the bucket list!
It has been cold and rainy and dreary here in Upstate New York and this post added a touch of sun to the day. Thanks!!
I will now spend the rest of my lunch break plotting on how to get there.
Book a ticket, sister! That’s a good first step =)
Looks like a blast. Hope you come home rested and refreshed!
It looks absolutely gorgeous. You’re not helping my current desire to quit my job and go back to Hawaii forever!
My one regret after visiting Hawaii (Big Island and Oahu) this February? I didn’t see a single turtle. Lame. Looks like you’re having a wonderful time, though! I can’t wait to go back myself.
Wow, really?? Funny, we didn’t see any while snorkeling either–only in turtle rescue ponds or up on the shore at the Fairmont!
Sarah, I knew of all people, you would be impressed! =)
This particular jumping shot makes me crack up (or at least smirk so much it hurts) every time I look closely. Aren’t you about to hit the ground really hard?
Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous! And I’m so happy that they prepared that delicious dessert in your honor. You deserved it! 🙂
I have a crush on Hawaii, have for years!!!
Ditto! It’s one of those places that’s not even a smidge overrated because it’s just so amazing from every which way.
I need some of this in my life NOW!
It looks fabulous.
Hawaii is amazing and I am so jealous that you are still there! I stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa and it too was beautiful. Hawaii does an amazing job with her upscale resorts and they are soooo wonderful and luxurious. Sounds like you’re having a great time reading and lounging and sightseeing your way through the islands. Aloha!
We went on a snorkeling tour from the Hilton–that place is insane! I love how it’s referred to as “the Disneyland of Hawaii.” I was blown away by the canal boats and the monorail. So cool–I’ve never seen such offerings at a resort (other than the gondolas at the Venetian in Las Vegas, I suppose).
Those views are INCREDIBLE. So are those marshmallow things. Eating sugar in the tropics is a new goal.
Renewing your vows does seem like a silly concept… until you’ve been through it much longer!!
The Big Island looks gorgeous! Can’t wait to hear about your stand-up paddling. It’s so much fun! I always think people are saying what’s up when they say SUP.
We’re actually on Oahu now! Was just reading on your site that that’s one of your favorite places =)
(Love the SUP reference. Hysterical.)
10 smores! (yes of course I counted them) oh my goodness, I wish I had been there because it is clear you needed a hand with that platter
Seeing as there were four leftover–SVV, after all, doesn’t like sweet as you know–we definitely needed the help!
I was watching your tweets, and then looking at these pictures I realized I HAVE TOTALLY STAYED HERE. Back in 2000, on my first trip to Hawaii, where I was on Oahu for a few days, and then in Hilo and Kona for the rest of the trip. It’s such! a lovely hotel and now I want to go back.
(Their pool and beach area? HOLY AMAZING.)
That’s amazing! I stay in so many hotels in a regular basis that it takes a lot to impress me, but hot damn, the Orchid is a special property!
This place looks phenomenal! The sandwiches alone would have sold me on that property. How relaxing!
I have only been to Hawaii once, to Maui (I actually was on the Big Island in 2000 but it was one of those biz mtgs where it is airport-hotel-airport, did not get to see anything) and have thought about exploring there a bit more since it is such a “shot” flight form SF. Was looking at Xmas time but it is crazy outrageous so I am doing the Caribbean instead, need to find a good time to explore Hawaii more but still somehow miss all the family vacation and premium holiday times – when is that 😉
I totally understand that. it’s been more than four years since we’ve last been here–not for lack of trying. When I first moved out to San Francisco at the beginning of 2008, I started researching fares. In the beginning, they would advertise “$99 each way from San Francisco!” But I never found such a deal for days I was flying. What we did this time was use miles on Alaska Airlines through my debit card that were expiring soon and booked a ticket on American. Definitely much cheaper than paying the full airfare, as it was a $900 ticket and we only paid a $50 processing fee!
Where in the Caribbean are you going?
We are trying one of those all-inclusive cruise from Regent Seven Seas, so we will be island hopping in luxury.
Love the post! And those smores looked nothing like what I remember making as a kid on camping trips, lol.
I’m thinking of going to Banff for a few days in June and wanted to endulge and treat myself a little, thus I am considering a night or two at the Fairmont Banff Springs. Would you say that it’s worth it to stay there or should I just visit it?
My old ad agency did the work for Fairmont and I always wanted to work on the account, especially when they traveled around the world to do photoshoots. I would always hear amazing stories about how all the hotels were so wonderful.
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice. The pool and building area remind me of a lot of Hayman Island, where my husband and I had a glorious four-day break in late Feb (it was a wedding present from his sister and her husband…I KNOW!).
We honeymooned at the Orchid in February 2002, after getting married at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui. We had planned a big Berkeley wedding but as the costs mounted and the guest list became unbearable we said, “screw it!” and decided to have the destination wedding of our dreams. We visited the Orchid back in March for dinner, returning to Kona for our 9th anniversary (stayed in a condo as we’ve grown to love cooking our own meals).
My good friend was just at the Maui property on his annual Hawaiian vacation last week! He was Anthony Hopkins there. I’ve never been to Maui and now I’m dying to check out the Kea Lani, too!
Wow ! It is simply awesome and perfect. I have included it in my bucket list.
Beautiful photos you got here! Having a very good hotel in Hawaii will make your vacation even more enjoyable!