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February 20, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?               The JW Marriott Ihilani

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Aloha from Honolulu! Join me for a bit of island hopping. When we left off last week, we were on the Big Island of Hawaii. This week, we're on the island of Oahu. As luck would have it, a fluke storm system made its way through the area the week I was in town so I was forced to cancel most of my scheduled activities ... gliding over the coast, horseback riding in the rainforest, snorkeling the clear blue waters, outrigger canoeing, surfing the warm waters ... you get the picture. But I'm not really complaining. I love a good storm (as long as no one gets hurt, of course) because it leaves me with no choice but to just kick back and relax. But when the storm passed and the sky cleared, I ventured out to explore some of the island's must-see sites: Pearl Harbor to pay my respects, the North Shore for the 40-foot waves and Diamond Head for an unexpected, impromptu proposal. If you're up for chill-axing and checking into two plush hotels (one of which is home for NFL players during Pro Bowl), then grab your bathing suit and an umbrella, just in case ... we're in Hawaii ready to soak up some island sun! Or, how about some fun in the sun at a different destination? Our newest writer, Abby Luby, tours us around St. Maarten this week. And,if you can't stand the heat you can get the heck out of the kitchen by joining my sister Georgie Jet on a completely opposite adventure. This week, she's hitting the slopes in Utah.

When we left off last week, we were at the Four Seasons Hualalai. From there, I stopped to get gas at the convenient but expensive on-site Country Store. Would you believe that a lone banana set me back $1.50? Ouch! To get to the small, open-air Kona airport is just a 10-minute drive from the hotel. It took no time to drop off the rental car and a mere three minutes for the shuttle ride. Using Hawaiian Airlines' self-service kiosk was quick and easy but checking a bag is what takes time. There was a slow moving line at the baggage drop-off so you can add this to the growing list of reasons I despise checking luggage. On top of that, it took over 30 minutes for the luggage to come out at baggage claim in Honolulu. The good news is that the Boeing 717-200 (Psst! The best seats are rows 4 and 17) took off on time and the 169-mile flight took just 30 minutes.

Honolulu is on the island of Oahu. Unless you're just going to Waikiki to veg out on the beach, it's best to rent a car. Car rentals are inexpensive and getting around is simple. I rented my wheels from Budget, which can be found directly across from the United Airlines terminal. Getting the car was quick and I was really looking forward to hitting the road and making my way to the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort. First of all, NFL rents out this hotel for the week of the Pro Bowl and secondly, my buddy Kevin O'Connor, a frequent visitor to Oahu, boasts that this is his favorite hotel of all time. The nice part about the Ihilani is that it's in Ko Olina, which means ‘place of joy' in Hawaiian. Getting there from the airport is a 30-minute, 17-mile drive. No wonder the NFL players stay here ... it's far from the madding crowd where they can't be disturbed or get into trouble. DIRECTIONS: From the airport, just take H1 West until it turns into the 93 and follow the signs. It's easy as can be.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Hawaii's total state population is 1,285,498 and 909,863 of the island's residents live in Honolulu County.

The Ko Olina Resort & Marina was created to be a family gated resort community on the western shores of Oahu. It's 642 acres with 1.5 miles of white sandy beaches and four perfectly formed lagoons for safe swimming and snorkeling. There's a mix of single-family homes, townhouses and villas, as well as an 18-hole Ted Robinson-designed golf course, placing in the top 100 by Conde Nast Magazine in 2007. The Marriott has two resorts here: The Ihilani and The Beach Club. Guests love Ko Olina because it's the best chance for them to experience old Hawaii without having to go to the other islands. However, things might change in 2011 when Disney opens an 800-unit resort. My advice? You better come quick!

Natalie and I pulled into the 387-guestroom, five star JW Marriott Ihilani Resort. Being so far from the concrete jungle of Honolulu, I was surprised to see that the hotel was a 17-story skyscraper itself. The entrance was packed with guests and an army of valets. Our bags and car were quickly tagged and we were off to the front desk. The friendly receptionist apologized for the fact that our room wasn't ready. Check-in wasn't until 3pm. Bummer. It was just 11:25am but what can you do when the hotel is jam-packed? Most of the guests were either tourists or members of the Washington Huskies football team, who had gotten their butts kicked by the University of Hawaii the previous night.

The $1.50 banana didn't do the trick and I was starving. I wasn't going to lug my 15lb computer bag around for three and half hours either. FYI: This bag basically contains my life so I usually carry it myself, reluctant to hand it over to strangers under any circumstances. But I tentatively gave it to the bellman and asked him to put it in a safe place with my other bags. When I double-checked on it 15 minutes later, my bag was still sitting right out in the open. I almost went Bruce Lee on the young surfer dude, who's only defense was, "I'm sorry, Brah. I forgot." This is not just a problem with the Ihilani but most hotels in general. If you're going to check your valuables, you'd better make sure yourself they are safe.

To kill time (and Natalie's hunger pangs), we went to one of the resort's five restaurants. The Naupaka Terrace offers all-day dining and a $26 breakfast buffet until noon. The patio overlooks the main pool and the best tables are alongside the huge fishpond that's filled with giant manta rays, hammerhead sharks and other cool, well cared for fish. I'm not a fan of spending $26 per person for breakfast but if you're a big eater like me, this breakfast buffet is well worth it. It has everything: eggs and omelets made to order, waffles, pancakes, pastries, fresh fruit, granola, oatmeal, potatoes, bacon, sausage you name it! I even chowed down on some local creations like Kalua Pork Benedict. But without a doubt, the best thing they offer is a self-service, high-quality electric juicer with mounds of fresh fruit just waiting to be torn apart for their delicious juices. I created the tastiest concoctions ever and my favorite was grape, apple and watermelon.

GOOD TO KNOW: If you're looking for less expensive food, the town next door has plenty of options including chain stores like K-Mart.

It was just after noon and I was so full I could barely walk or talk. Before the rain came, I dropped my Buddha belly down into one of the secluded hammocks on the hotel grounds, so I could rub it in private. When it was finally time to get up, I went to do what I do best ... surf the net. I broke out my laptop and worked in the lobby. FYI: The lobby and conference rooms have wireless Internet but the rooms only have broadband. Both networks cost $13 a day for Internet, which is reasonable ... but free would be better.

At 2:45pm, I got a call on my cell phone from the front desk. Our room was ready. Nice touch that they actually call waiting guests instead of making you come up every 15 minutes to check on your room status. And the room was well worth the wait. Anytime you're on the top floor and your room has a double door ... well, that's just a great sign! And indeed, it was the best room in the hotel. Can you say Presidential Suite? Cha-ching! The benefits of being the keynote speaker at the previous week's tourism conference were still apparent.

ROOM 1712
Room 1712 is a monster; here's the floor plan. It has an enormous master bedroom, a living room with a desk facing the ocean and two bathrooms. When I heard the list of celebrities that had slept in this room, I was relieved to learn that the mattresses are brand new. The master bathroom is also on steroids with a Jacuzzi and walk-in closet. There are two balconies on each side of the room – one facing the ocean, the other offering up a view of lush green mountains. The touchtone phone system is state-of-the-art as guests can control all the lights in the room, plus the room temperature. But the phone isn't the only thing that's state-of-the art. Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that the rooms are all allergy-friendly. Rooms feature an air purification system that's specially designed to keep the air clean. And the mattress covers and pillowcases are made of a hypoallergenic microfibre in order to eliminate dust, dander and other dust mite-related allergens so you can breathe easy.

The JW Marriott took over the Ihilani in 2000 (it used to belong to Nikko Hotels). It's a family-friendly hotel with a year-round children's program, two pools, six tennis courts, boutique shops and an exceptional, full-service European-designed health spa. In fact, the 35,000 square-foot spa was voted one of the top spas in the world by readers of both Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure magazines. The men's and women's lounges come with separate steam, sauna and Roman pools. I test-drove the signature treatment: the deluxe Thalasso water therapy, which is in a tub with 160 jets. After 25 minutes of soaking, a 25-minute coconut lime scrub follows. When Samuel, the therapist, scrubbed my back, I felt like a dog getting his belly scratched. Next, I hit the 16-nozzle needle shower; each wall had four jets. What makes the Thalasso treatment special is that the water is pumped in from the ocean, so it's salt water. BTW: This is the first spa I've ever been to that actually had slippers to fit my size 13 foot.

If you want to stay in shape like the NFL Pro-Bowlers, the Ihilani features a modern gym. Personal training sessions are available including workouts like "Hip On Hula", which works your hips and thighs while you learn native Hawaiian hula. I was going to sign up for this but I was afraid I might get arrested for the sexy sway of my hips.

There's no doubt that the Ihilani is a beautiful, well-run property. It has everything the discerning traveler needs and is still in reach of Honolulu's activities and dining choices. It's perfect if you've got children and/or want to get away from the crowds in Waikiki. Though the view from the 17th floor was spectacular, I'm just not a fan of skyscrapers in remote areas. They seem out of place to me. But from the looks of Trip Advisor's page on the Ihilani, it appears I'm the minority so what do I know? Rack rates begin at $322 but cheaper rates can be found on the hotel search engines (check out the right-hand side of the homepage.)

Inside the Ko Olina compound is the Paradise Cove luau. Natalie had never been to a luau before and since it was a seven-minute walk from the hotel, I arranged for a couple of tickets, which begin at $75 per person and included a lei and mai tai greeting and two standard drink tickets. To make a long story short, it had to be the worst entertainment we'd ever experienced. It actually made the South African cultural village, which I attacked a few weeks back, look appealing. Walking in, you could just feel how unhappy most of the workers were and their fake smiles were the complete opposite of a true Hawaiian's. Everything felt contrived to create a tourist experience and lacked authenticity. On top of that, the food from the buffet was so terrible I couldn't even eat it. Now that's saying something. The best part was arriving early to try some of the games like throwing a spear. After dinner was served, Natalie and I left 20 minutes later because neither of us could take it any longer. Yes, it was that bad.

Alternatively, if you're on the North Shore of Oahu, be sure to check out one of the most popular Hawaii luaus at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Utah Story


St. Maarten Story


Kona Airport


Boeing 717-200


Kona to Honolulu


Landing in Honolulu


Renting a Car


H1 West


Ko Olina


JW Marriott Ihilani


JW Pool


JW Beach


Hotel's Fish Pond


Juice Anyone?




Secluded Hammock


Here Comes The Rain


Room 1712


Nice Bathroom


Smart Phone


View From Room


Fitness Center/Spa


Roman Pool In Spa


Slippers That Actually Fit


Paradise Cove


Lame Luau


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