Many service personnel do not realize that the U.S. military operates Armed Forces Recreation Centers located in Florida, Hawaii, Korea and Germany.
I’ve been to all four and each of them offers a unique experience for service members, but I’d like to focus on the Hale Koa Hotel in this post.
The Hale Koa opened in 1975 and each year roughly 1 million military members and dependents enjoy the Hale Koa’s offerings. The hotel was built on 72 acres acquired by the U.S. War Department in 1906. It was named Fort DeRussy in honor of Brigadier General R. E. DeRussy of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Battery Randolph along with Battery Dudley (since demolished) were completed in 1911 as part of the Army’s defenses for Honolulu Harbor. Battery Randolph’s 20 feet thick walls proved too difficult to demolish and it was made into an Army Museum.
Fort DeRussy played an important role from World War I through the Vietnam War. It was used by many service personnel as an area for recreation, lodging, and leisure. In 1950, it was designated an Armed Forces Recreation Area.
In 1995, the Hale Koa Hotel increased its guest capacity by adding another hotel tower, nearly doubling its size. The hotel has seen extensive renovations and guest improvements over the years, most recently in 2019 more than $100 million was pumped into the hotel for a modern oceanside pool and other upgrades.
All ranks and services are welcome at the Hale Koa, including Department of Defense civilians, military retirees and disabled veterans. Room prices vary from $139 to $339 per night. Most of the rooms sleep up to four guests. When I took my family of six, we reserved two adjoining rooms and there was plenty of space. We paid a little more for an ocean view, but if you’re on a budget you can request a standard room. In addition, the higher in rank you are, the more you will pay. For more information on rates and eligibility, visit this page.
Prices at the Hale Koa are about at market value at the moment. A survey of hotels on Waikiki where the Hale Koa is located shows that there are plenty of hotels similarly priced, but you won’t get crushed by all of the taxes tourists usually pay as hotel guests. Not to mention, there is no nickel and diming at the Hale Koa and the hotel offers pretty good dining and activities compared to the surrounding hotels.
The Hale Koa has entertaining shows and a great luau, but those have been temporarily suspended because of COVID-19. And that brings me to a point; before you reserve your hotel, and buy airline tickets, make sure you read travel policies for Hawaii and that you comply with travel restrictions. And check to ensure you are eligible to stay at the Hale Koa.
The hotel is situated on world famous Waikiki Beach. You can enjoy the beach right outside the hotel or lounge around the pool (and have drinks delivered). Within walking distance of the Hale Koa are many great restaurants and plenty to do. My kids and I surfed under the shadow of Diamond Head and for hours we caught smooth waves that carried our longboards almost all the way to shore.
The Hale Koa Hotel is operated by the Department of the Army under the U.S. Army Installation Management Command. As an Armed Forces Recreation Center, the facility is self-supported with no use of taxpayer funds. All expenses, including salaries, operating expenses and even capital improvement projects are paid with revenue generated by the hotel’s operations.
Lastly, be warned. Right now, there are no rooms available until March 2022, so if you’d like to plan a visit, start planning now for a spring or summer visit in 2022. The hotel recommends guests visit between September and December. You can make a reservation up to 365 days in advance. And government officials on Oahu are taking steps to limit the amount of tourists to the island, so plan accordingly and do your research.
Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books. Photos courtesy Hale Koa website.