The term “tourist trap” has plagued many famous destinations throughout the world. Often times crammed full of mediocre attractions and sly vendors at every turn looking to convince you to part with as much of your hard-earned cash as possible, a visit can be simultaneously under and overwhelming. Still, they remain tourist traps because tourists keep coming, so there has to be some appeal to the general traveling public at these spots around the globe.
Honolulu, and Waikiki Beach in particular, is often a target of this inflammatory label and it’s not difficult to see why. The sandy shores are stunning but are typically jammed full with sunbathers, swimmers, frolickers, and book readers which makes it almost impossible to enjoy at times. Strolling down the main drag of Kalakaua Avenue means dodging from left to right as swarms of people make their way up and down the street, darting in and out of various overpriced luxury stores like Ed Hardy and Coach. Restaurants in the core of the tourist area are typically too expensive for the quality of product received and in the rare moments that you find a picturesque view you’ve hardly taken your camera out before someone is standing in your way.
And yet despite all of that, I still really enjoy visiting.
Maybe it’s nostalgia of the years of my childhood spent living just outside the city or maybe I’m just a sucker for a chain hotel that’s a 2 minute walk to the beachside, but the shores of Waikiki are always a welcomed sight in my eyes. On my last visit to Honolulu over Memorial Day weekend I decided to indulge in some of the overpriced trappings provided to visitors and booked myself a 90-minute massage at the Moana Surfrider’s Moana Lani Spa.
Booking the massage itself was rather easy. I simply logged on to the spa’s website, www.moanalanispa.com, registered for an account, and selected a time. Despite doing all of this at 10 PM the night before my desired appointment, the spa seemed to have plenty of openings available for interested parties. At first I was worried this was a reflection on the quality of service I was about to receive, but I decided not to let this bother me and kept the booking.
I received a confirmation email telling me that I should plan on arriving for my appointment an hour prior to my booked time. They reminded me that the spa facilities were open for my use at any time during the day of my appointment, and that I should bring a swimsuit to fully enjoy the facilities before and after my massage.
After a relaxing day reading a book a bit further down the strip at Kuhio Beach Park, I packed up my things and meandered down to the Moana Surfrider for my appointment. The Moana just happened to be where I was staying for that portion of my trip and also is my favorite building in Honolulu. There’s just something about the old colonial charm of the building that always makes me smile.
Check-in for my massage was a little bumpy. The receptionist welcomed me to the establishment and asked me to fill out a waiver which is pretty standard procedure prior to receiving a massage. After I finished filling out the form I sat in the waiting area alone for approximately 10 minutes before I had to get up and track down the receptionist and ask her whether she was able to take the forms or if she wanted me to keep waiting in the room. She apologized for the delay and made a phone call to have someone take me back into the men’s section of the spa.
My first impressions of the facilities offered by Moana Lani were good. While the space is not extremely large they make good use of what is available. When you first enter there is a sitting room with a television playing ESPN (which I assume is not the case in the women’s section, but who knows!), several magazines were available to browse, a bowl of fresh fruit for your snacking pleasure, as well as a cucumber-infused water dispenser and various other beverages. There were also small tins offering dried fruit and nut mix.
Further down the hall was a room with small lockers where you could throw your belongings and change into appropriate spa attire. The lockers are electronic and your guide walks you through setting up a personal PIN combination before leaving you to explore on your own.
Bathrooms were a few steps further from the locker room and at the end of the hall was a small room that looked out onto Waikiki Beach, along with a hot tub, sauna, and shower stalls to the right.
Furnishings were classy and polished yet did not seem to be “trying” too hard. I grabbed a glass of water and stepped on to the balcony overlooking the beach. After taking in the view I decided it was time to get scrubbed up and hopped into a shower. I'd spent most of the day sweating on the beach, so a freshly cleaned body was in order for the masseuse. The products provided were attached to the wall in a pump dispenser. The products are branded specifically for the Moana Lani spa. Body soap and hair care products were both grapefruit-scented, which I greatly enjoyed. I’m a sucker for most citrus smells and I debated purchasing them on my way out. I suppose that’s the point of offering them in the spa for your use, but I ultimately decided to not spend any more cash than I already had at this point.
I had initially planned on hopping into the hot tub after my shower but after emerging from the stall I discovered someone was already parked within its marble confines and, to be honest, I find sharing something as intimate as a hot tub with a complete stranger a bit beyond my comfort level. Just two strangers trying not to make eye contact while bubbly hot water boils their respective testicles. No, thank you. I went back out to the balcony instead and before long my name was being called for my massage.
I had selected the deep tissue massage for this visit. While I’d had two other professional massages at that time in my life, this would be my first attempt at what I perceived to be a bit of a “rougher” massage, and wow was I correct. My masseur was very friendly and professional, making sure she explained the process to me completely and got my approval before starting. The pressure she applied was always concurrently painful and pleasurable, which is a sensation I discovered I enjoy when getting a massage. There was only one moment where I had the inevitable “ooooh shit, if you keep doing that I’m going to have to punch you in the face” reaction to one of her techniques, but I managed to suck it up and suffer through it.
I've since learned that I have a particularly sensitive area of my neck that makes me have that reaction, and I steer therapists away from making contact there.
After the massage I was taken back to the men’s spa facility and told that I could stay as long as I liked. Since I had scheduled myself in the last spot open for the day, I had the entire area free to use by myself. I hopped into the shower again to remove the oil used during the massage and then was able to enjoy the hot tub in total solitude. I was a bit disappointed that the jets within the hot tub were not functional, though the temperature was definitely a nice sensation after a massage. The only odd part about the hot tub is that the view looks directly on to one of the Moana Surfrider’s restaurants. While I doubt diners could see me, it’s not exactly the most comforting view when you’re relaxing in a hot tub in your bathing suit across from people eating steak and tiramisu.
For a better view you really have to use the balcony that’s off the back sitting room, which I did after my soak in the hot tub. Sunset is always a wonderful time on a Hawaiian island.
Overall, I’d recommend the Moana Lani spa if you have the extra cash on hand. A lot of extra cash, because it's massively overpriced unless they start giving out yachts with their massages. My deep tissue massage cost me $210 USD plus tip, which is way beyond what I normally would ever consider paying for something like this, but I had saved up a bit of cash and was looking to treat myself.
While not cheap, the massage itself was of an excellent quality and the ability to utilize the spa facilities for the entire day really provides more bang for your buck. It was a splurge expenditure for me, though I didn't regret paying the cash. I'm unlikely to ever pay that much for a massage ever again, even if the experience is guaranteed to be as good as the one I received. Still, if I were one with a large slush fund for expenses while on vacation this is a luxury I would consider.