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Making Dreams Come True, In Blue Hawaii

October 11, 2014 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59THE news that US$100-million-plus is to be spent on renovating and re-opening a resort that’s been closed since a trashing by a hurricane 22 years ago, is hardly, one would think, likely to have many folk wanting to leap.

After all, by the time it re-opens in 2017 it will have been a quarter century since that cyclone, and some 60 years since the resort opened in the first place. Wouldn’t it be more logical to simply bulldoze it, and build a brand-spanking new resort, rather than a strapping-up of the old?

Hawaii Kauai Coco Palms Elvis and Joan on barge.(paramount pics).rsz

ONE of the most-watched movie weddings ever, Elvis Presley and Joan Blackman in Blue Hawaii made at Kauai’s Coco Palms Resort in 1961. (Paramount Pictures)

Normal logic would say Yes. But this is no normal resort. And soon as word got out a few weeks back about its revamp, packagers of weddings, honeymoons and marriage-vow renewals were in literal grid-iron frenzy to be first to get to the resort’s new owners…

Because we’re talking about the grand old Coco Palms Resort on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, made oh-so famous when Elvis Presley “married” Joan Blackman there a whole 53 years ago in one of the most-watched movies of all time, Blue Hawaii.

Hawaii Kauai Coco Palms Elvis bungalow.cpr

ELVIS stayed here: his bungalow #56 (second from right) was trashed by 1992’s Hurricane Iniki. It will be rebuilt as part of redevelopment plans. (Coco Palms Resort)

That 1961 20-minute “wedding” had such an impact on audiences – the film’s soundtrack album topped American charts for 20 consecutive weeks – that the Coco Palms Resort was instantly flooded with enough bookings for weddings, to have it scheduling multiple events almost daily for months on end.

And even 31 years later when Hurricane Iniki swept-over Coco Palms and much of the rest of Kauai, look-alike Blue Hawaii weddings were still a major part of its business.

Coco Palms exterior.cpr

FORLORN sight now after 20-odd years neglect. (Coco Palms Resort)

Coco Palms had been built in the early 1950s with just 24 rooms on a beachside playground of Kauai’s one-time royal family, opening with all of two guests who were nonetheless treated equally royally during their stay by a General Manager and all of four staff.

It grew over the years to a sprawling 400 condominium units and traditional-style rooms amid a plantation of 2000 coconut palms planted by the Kauai royals, and hectares of latter-day garden’s tropical orchids, ferns and shrubs.

Hawaii Kauai Coco Palms Elvis checks in.paramount pictures

ELVIS arrives to check-in into the Coco Palms in 1961. (Paramount Pictures)

Then in September 1992 Hurricane Iniki rampaged across Kauai with winds of 300kmh (170mph,) with one gust registering an incredible 365kmh. Almost every one of Coco Palms’ windows and doors were blown in (or out,) rain flooded every corner of every room and public space, furnishings were trashed, and the gardens resembled more a mulching depot than a once-lush tropical showpiece.

Furniture items were strewn hundreds of metres into the plantation – some as far as a kilometre away. The owners decided they had no other option than to close the resort, and look to a developer to buy and renovate the whole site.

Hawaii Kauai Coco-palms-before-iniki.hawaiianlife.rsz

COCO PALMS before the disastrous Hurricane Iniki in 1992. (HawaiianLife)

But it’s taken 22 years for a concrete plan to be finally put forward, with a group of Honolulu-based investors forming a company this year to commit $100m-plus to the renovation project.

And importantly they’ve quickly achieved two hard-earned goals: first is permission to rebuild Coco Palms under the unique Iniki Ordinance, which allows for restoration of pre-Hurricane Iniki structures to original appearance and standards even though standards may not necessarily conform to today’s strictest requirements (although safety issues must.)

And second is for the renovated resort to be managed by prestigious Hyatt Hotels  when it re-opens in 2017. The new Coco Palms will have 363 rooms, several restaurants, and the original condominiums once occupied by Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman and major co-star Angela Lansbury in 1961, fully-restored. (If you’re already thinking about booking one in 2017, Elvis shared the 2-bedroom Condominium  #56 with his body-guard.)

Hawaii Kauai Coco Palms original lobby.cpr.rsz

ORIGINAL magnificent lobby. (Coco Palms Resort)

Blue Hawaii’s Wedding Chapel will also be renovated and returned to use – although interestingly it wasn’t built for the film, but for the earlier Miss Sadie Thompson starring Rita Hayworth, that was also made in-part there.

And of course the highlight Blue Hawaii wedding barge will be fully-refurbished and put back into business too.

But  2017’s chefs won’t have to contend with Elvis’s bizarre dietary requests: every morning he had toasted bacon and egg sandwiches delivered to his bungalow, hamburgers and fries for both lunch and dinner… and ’tween film shoots, snacks of peanut butter and banana sandwiches – at his request, deep fried.

So let’s see if indeed in 2017, dreams do come true in Blue Hawaii…

Written by David Ellis

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