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Tips on Choosing a Hotel in Kauai
Accommodations on the Garden Isle include a fairly even mix of larger mainstream properties operated by international (Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott) and regional (Aqua, Aston, Outrigger) brands, intimate and often quite peaceful and secluded B&Bs and inns, and vacation rentals well-suited to longer stays. On this easygoing island, you can be assured that virtually every property on the island warmly welcomes gay and lesbian guests, and - at least by Hawaii standards - on Kauai you'll find quite a few reasonably priced lodging choices. It's a less fancy, more relaxed island than the others, although fans of cushy crash pads will be quite pleased by the luxe rooms at top-of-the-line resorts including the St. Regis Princeville, Grand Hyatt, Koa Kea Hotel, and Westin Princeville.
Kauai's Lay of the Land - Where to Stay on the Garden Isle
Based on a quick glance at a map of Kauai, you might mistakenly assume that this roughly circular, compact island is easy to navigate, and any hotel location is about is handy and desirable as any other. In fact, because of the rugged terrain, driving from one part of this 562-square-mile island can take some time. No single road circumnavigates the entire island, and driving from the northern to the southern tip via Hwy. 56 and 50 - about a 75-mile drive - takes a solid two hours.
The spectacular western Napali Coast is undeveloped - you won't be spending the night on this part of the island unless it's in a tent (and you're up for a truly adventurous, challenging wilderness hike). Most Kauai hotel development is in three areas: the relatively densely populated eastern shore towns of Lihue and Kapaa, which are a short drive from the island's international airport and contain a mix of budget, mid-range, and upscale (but not ultra-posh) hotels; the spectacularly picturesque and somewhat remote north shore Hanalei and Princeville resort area, which are home to a generally upscale and in some cases quite luxurious selection of resorts and vacation rentals; and the south shore resort community of Poipu, where you'll find mostly upscale condo rentals and resorts plus a wealth of fine shopping, dining, and recreation options. There are also a number of smaller inns, B&Bs and independently operated vacation rentals elsewhere around the island.
Each of the three main hotel and resort clusters have their adherents and advantages. If you're on Kauai for a week or more, it's worth thinking about dividing your time between two areas, ideally the North and South shores - this strategy will provide you easy access to the key attractions on Kauai and give you a nice sampling of what the island has to offer. It can sometimes be rainier and windier, although arguably even more beautiful on the North Shore - especially in winter.
If you have to choose one or the other end of the island to spend your entire vacation, there's simply no easy choice. Poipu and the south tend to be sunnier and have calmer waters for snorkeling and swimming, but it's hard to beat the classic South Pacific vibe and mountainous scenery of the North Shore. If you're all about peace and quiet, and truly getting the sense that you're escaping from civilization for a while, the North Shore is probably your best bet. If you're trying to get a sense of where you plan to spend the most time and what sorts of activities you might be into, have a look at our guide to Kauai's Top 5 Must-See Attractions and Activities.
Alternatively, if you're only on the island for a short period or prefer staying in a more central location with a good variety of dining and shopping options, and especially if you're traveling on a bit more of a budget, consider parking yourself at a property on the eastern shore. This way you're a relatively easy drive from both south shore and north shore attractions.
Gay-Friendly Kauai Vacation Rentals
There are a number of first-rate rental agencies in Kauai, among them gay-owned Parrish Collection Kauai (800-325-5701), which represents a slew of individual rental homes as well as condo units in a number of resorts on both the south shore and the north shore. Options range from fairly affordable mid-range units starting around $200 nightly for a two-bedroom to ultra-opulent three-bedroom (or more) homes with stunning ocean views and top-of-the-line amenities that run for well over $1,000 nightly.
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Sheraton Kauai Resort - Poipu
Set on a dramatic, sweeping crescent of sand and a grassy, palm shaded point that juts into the azure surf in the highly desirable south shore Poipu community, the smartly renovated Sheraton Kauai Resort (2440 Hoonani Rd., Koloa, 808-742-1661) enjoys one of the best beachfront settings on the island. It's an upmarket property with the many amenities and perks that come with Starwood hotels, but the Sheraton offers some surprisingly enticing deals, depending on the time of year you stay here. The 20-acre resort contains nearly 400 rooms in a wide range of configurations and settings, from easier-on-the-wallet garden-view rooms to the much-sought-after oceanfront units. Although it can be fun to book a room on an upper floor with a balcony above the surf, those seeking something special might want to splurge on a ground-floor "Ocean Luxury" room - these have patios that open directly onto the lawn facing the sea, and each evening, guests of these units can walk right outside to enjoy some of the best sunsets on Kauai (not to mention a pretty good chance of spotting whales during the December–April season).
A nice asset at the Sheraton is the outstanding oceanfront pool (consider booking one of the eight private day-use bungalows for the ultimate pampering); there's also a quieter pool in the Garden Wing of the property. Dining options are another plus here, in particular the superb RumFire Poipu Beach, which sits right on the point overlooking the beach and ocean and serves outstanding Hawaiian Regional Cuisine - tempting fare like fried Brussels sprouts with Portuguese sausage and spiced macadamia nuts, Japanese-pear flatbread, and wasabi pea-crusted seared ahi. It's a romantic spot for evening cocktails, too. The casual, open-air Lava's on the Poipu Beach is a pleasing option as well - great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The resort has an extensive fitness center, offers lessons in hula and SCUBA, and it's a pleasant 15- to 20-minute walk (or short drive) to the upscale shops and restaurants of Kukuiula Village Shopping Center and just a 10-minute walk to smaller but handy Poipu Shopping Village. The great range of amenities and activities - plus extensive kids' programs - make this highly gay-friendly resort a favorite with LGBT families.
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St. Regis Princeville Resort - Princeville
After taking a quick stroll around the lobby of the St. Regis Princeville Resort (5520 Ka Haku Rd., Princeville, 808-826-9644), and gazing out across Hanalei Bay and toward the emerald, saw-toothed mountains along the north shore, it's pretty easy to understand how this sterling 251-room resort ranks among the most opulent special-occasion destinations in the state. Part of Starwood's posh St. Regis brand, this contemporary property with first-class amenities is situated on a towering oceanfront promontory, its grand lobby - flanked by huge walls of windows - occupying the ninth floor, and most of its rooms, which start around 540 square feet, set on lower floors which descend gradually to the spacious pool and beach area. As Hawaii goes, this is a pretty special place, and you will detect just a slight air of dressiness, especially in the restaurants and bars each evening. As the Kauai's star has risen as a top gay wedding destination, plenty of same-sex couples of exchanged their vows or honeymooned here. The hotel is the jewel of the 9,000-acre Princeville Resort, a planned community with a pair of acclaimed golf courses that are a big draw among hotel guests; there's also a four-court tennis club.
Rooms have marble bathrooms with transparent-glass shower-tub combos (they electronically transform to opaque with the press of a switch), extraordinarily soft linens, superb bath products, iPod docks, fresh flowers, art by talented local artists, and striking decor; not all rooms have balconies, so if this amenity that's so appreciated in a tropical destination like Hawaii is important to you, consider investing it bit more in a room with one. The 11,000-square-foot Halele Spa is a top draw for every conceivable kind of massage and body treatment (couples massages are a popular option), and there's also an excellent fitness center. The 5,000-square-foot infinity pool is an absolute stunner, and the lovely Nalu Kai bar here is a great spot to enjoy cocktails and light dining throughout the day.
The hotel's restaurants are all quite memorable. Just off the airy lobby, the St. Regis Bar is famous for its nightly "champagne ritual" at sunset - the views of the sun dropping down over the bay and Napali Coast in the distance are mesmerizing. Another dining option of very special note is the hotel's Kauai Grill, the domain of acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. In this elegant space with sweeping ocean views, you might sample the likes of grilled black-pepper octopus with Kula onions and lime, or pan-seared mero fish with a Malaysian chili sauce and Thai basil. As with every other element of the St. Regis, the service and standards at Kauai Grill are unparalleled.