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Hawaiian Resorts with Water Parks

Jim Franco

Photo: Jim Franco

HYATT REGENCY KAUAI
The massive lobby highlights one of the Hyatt's best assets—it provides an outsized frame for a stunning view of the Pacific. Even though I was here on water-slide duty, the public beach in front of the hotel called to me. Instead of gentle waves, Kauai's shoreline has booming breakers that draw an endless stream of surfers. Watching surfers is addictive: like them, you're waiting for the perfect wave. Soon the cackling opener to the song "Wipeout" was reverberating in my head, over the strains of a guy who sat quietly plucking a ukulele (no kidding!) under a palm tree.

The resort's beautifully landscaped grounds are laced with pools and artificial streams. There's a two-acre swimming lagoon and the requisite water slide (a little slow—maybe it was low on water). All this attracts plenty of families, but the overall mood is sedate. Because of Kauai's building code—no structure can be higher than a coconut palm—the 602-room building is so sprawling that guests strategize about shortcuts and concoct plans that won't require returning to their rooms during the day. Not that the handsome, plantation-style rooms aren't comfortable. Their high ceilings are trimmed with mahogany molding; botanical prints decorate the walls. My room's upholstery could have used a refresher—especially the faded ottoman, to which a previous guest had lightly applied ketchup.

Tidepools, a Polynesian-style dining room, serves its own version of Pacific fusion cuisine (yes, macadamia). The rapacious koi trolling the surrounding lagoon look capable of leaping up onto the floor if you dropped a large enough crumb. After dark, a quartet plays jazz in Stevenson's Library, which helps set the elegant tone of the 11-year-old resort. The shelves in the lounge are lined with leather-bound books (the sort whose spines you admire) in apparent tribute to Robert Louis Stevenson, after whom it is named.

Since every male tourist on the islands appears to feel compelled to wear a Hawaiian shirt, it can be hard to distinguish them from the hotel staff, who are compelled to wear Hawaiian shirts. Staff members perform as entertainment directors, and every day brings different events. One night I watched a group of very serious girls dance the hula; toward the end, their accompanist plugged her own CD (available for sale) and finished up with a rendition of "My Heart Will Go On." Almost every morning brings a parrot talk, during which the resort's six birds are sprung from their perches.

A tanned attendant answered a few of my nosy questions about the lagoon. "They had to build it to keep guests from being pounded to hamburger on the reefs," he explained cheerfully. How do they keep a large artificial body of water so clean?The two million gallons are a constantly recirculating mix of fresh and salt water, with a dose of chlorine. The sand is imported from California because you can't borrow from the beaches here. Its coarse grains brush off easily, and it's gone from guests' feet by the time they reach their rooms. As with most of Hawaii's high-end hotels these days, there isn't much left to chance. Nature's fine—as long as you keep it firmly under control. 1571 Poipu Rd., Koloa, Kauai; 800/554-9288 or 808/742-1234, fax 808/742-6248; www.kauai-hyatt.com; doubles from $350.

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