Thinking about booking a stay at the Royal Sea Cliff Resort in Kailua-Kona? For the right price, it might be the perfect vacation rental for you, but we were left feeling underwhelmed about the property. Here’s what our experience staying at the Royal Sea Cliff was like:
You’ve got quite a few options for booking a condo at the Royal Sea Cliff. In addition to units owned and rented out by hotel chains Wyndham and Outrigger, you’ll also find units listed on VRBO and Airbnb.
We originally booked an owner-rented condo on Airbnb, but got a call from the owner the week before our reservation. She said she’d unexpectedly had to come back to Kona from California, and wanted to know if she could book us another unit at the Royal Sea Cliff so that she wouldn’t have to move out for our 10 day reservation.
After asking for photos to make sure we were getting a comparable unit, I agreed to let her rent a unit through Outrigger for us. Normally, I prefer to rent through owners for longer stays, as those condos are often better stocked and less cheap about providing amenities. So it’s worth noting that we might have liked our stay a bit more if we’d stayed in the original apartment we booked.
The Royal Sea Cliff Resort is located on Ali’i Drive, the main road along the coast in Kailu-Kona where you’ll find many of the condos in the area. It’s about an 8 minute drive into the small downtown area of Kailua-Kona, or a 35 minute walk.
There’s not too much that’s walkable from the condo, but there’s a multi-purpose walking/ bike lane along Ali’i Drive, and the speed limit in the area is low, so it’s safe and commonly used by pedestrians and joggers.
You’ll likely find that you drive most places. Still, nothing in Kailua-Kona is too far away, you’re within 10-15 minutes of grocery stores, gas stations, shopping, and we loved being only a 10ish minute drive from the magical Maka’eo Walking Path.
The Outrigger Condo
Our unit was a 2 bed, two bath with a full kitchen and washer/dryer, and central AC. It was spacious and while not recently updated, had clearly been updated in the last decade. It was on the top floor at the front of the complex, so there was a bit of an ocean view due to the height, but it was still one of the less desirable units overall, as it was furthest from the ocean.
The door to the smaller bedroom was on the left at the entry, so that the bedroom faced Ali’i Drive and did get some street noise.
The entryway opened up into a large living and dining area, with the kitchen around the corner and the main balcony straight ahead.
The kitchen had full size stainless steel appliances and basic cooking tools, but didn’t really compare to the other Hawaii vacation rentals we stayed at. Outrigger clearly skimped on amenities here. We had to ask at the front desk to get them to dole out individual dishwasher detergent tabs, and there were no reusable food storage containers, saran wrap, or even ziploc bags (despite written instructions in the condo to seal food in ziplocs to prevent attracting pests). While the kitchen was clean, there was clearly something rattling around in the garbage disposal when I turned it on. I pulled out a worn down bone shard that had clearly been in there for awhile.
We cooked quite a bit during our almost two-month stay on the Big Island, so a well stocked kitchen and some basic pantry items were much appreciated in the other vacation rentals we stayed at. While it makes sense that Outrigger might feel it’s unprofessional to keep half-used bottle of cooking oil left over from previous guests, it was disappointing to have nothing. After some digging, we found some tiny paper packets of salt and pepper….and that was pretty much it.
It was also disappointing to find no water filter, when it was clearly desperately needed. My sister is less picky than I am about water, and even she agreed that the water from the tap was undrinkable. It’s clearly an issue here, as the condo we’d originally booked specifically mentioned having a filter.
The controls for the central AC were in the living room. Outrigger hadn’t opened the balcony door or turned on the AC before we arrived, so it was pretty warm in the condo. The good news is that the AC cooled it down pretty fast. The bad news is that the temperature settings don’t seem to mean anything. 90 is the same as 60, and we had to periodically turn off the AC when it got too cold.
You can often do without AC in Hawaii by opening your doors to let the breeze flow through, but with no screen door on the front door, this would just let in pests. We did see multiple other units leaving their front doors open in the evening, so clearly we weren’t the only ones craving that ocean breeze.
The main balcony was spacious and a nice place to dine or work, even if it didn’t compare to our Kona Bali Kai ocean view. Unfortunately, the barely padded metal chairs weren’t comfortable to sit in for very long–a pattern throughout the condo of Outrigger skimping.
The hall closet had some cheap beach chairs and a cooler. The small (but sufficient for our needs) washer and dryer were in a closet next to the master bedroom. They provided a single-use box of Tide powdered detergent, which also seemed like a cheap move. We’d brought our own unscented detergent to keep my sensitive skin happy, so it wasn’t an issue, but I just don’t see how it makes sense for the average vacationer staying a week to go out and buy detergent. Perhaps they would have provided more if we’d asked?
The master bedroom was a good size, and had its own small balcony that got more sun, so you could lay out in the afternoons. Again, the furniture on the balcony was a little cheap and the cushions smelled funny. Whatever it takes for Outrigger to maximize profits?
The furnishings and decor often felt random, rather than something a hotel chain would supply. That along with a leftover guest book from when the condo was apparently rented out by the prior owners makes me think that Outrigger simply purchased the condo and started renting it out without making changes to align it with their brand or any quality standards.
The spacious bathroom was nice, and they didn’t skimp on towels, which was appreciated. They must share laundry facilities in the resort through, because all of the towels were marked with a black sharpie. Classy!
I’d meant to snap photos of the second bedroom before we left and predictably forgot. But it was similar to many condo units in the area, where the master bedroom is nicer, and the second bedroom is set up for kids. The second bedroom had two single beds and an awkwardly placed dresser crammed into the small space, along with its own smaller bathroom.
Property & Amenities
The condo complex is large, with 154 rooms stretching from Ali’i Drive down to the ocean. As you’d expect from a building constructed in 1982, it’s a little dated, but the whitewashed 80s modern architecture has its charms.
The lush landscaping and fountains in the inner courtyard really contribute to the resort feel of the complex, and make the walk from the front to the back of the building much more enjoyable than it would otherwise be. However, it’s a shame that there’s no places to sit in the midst of the greenery.
There’s two oceanside pools with bathroom/ shower buildings. The smaller pool is the “quiet pool” and also has a small jacuzzi; the kind that just bubbles, sadly no massaging jets here.
The larger pool has grills for use by residents. Like much of the Big Island’s coastline, the beach is very rocky, so there’s no beach access on the property.
Both pools could get busy–unsurprising given the size of the complex. We visited during February 2021, when Hawaii travel was slightly rebounding, but still significantly lower due to to Covid. I do have to wonder how packed they’d be during normal peak tourism times.
We noticed that the larger pool had obvious dirt on the surface both times we visited. I’m not sure if it was due to the palms surrounding the pool, or just gross residents, but it seemed like the single water filtration intake in the pool wasn’t keeping up.
Still, both pools were nice spots to hang out during the day, and to watch the sunset, thanks to their oceanside location.
There’s also a tennis court at the front of the complex, along with a business center, library, and rec room that appeared closed during our stay (likely due to Covid).
Parking for non-fulltime residents is unassigned, but there seem to be plenty of available spots in the parking garage under the building. The parking garage is gated, which helps to limit parking to guests only and keep spots free.
There are 4 elevator banks in the complex, so you shouldn’t have to walk far from your unit to find an elevator, though it’s still a short walk from the front to back of the complex.
Much like the other Kona condos we stayed at on this trip, the Kona Bali Kai, it does matter which specific condo you rent in the complex, and who you rent from. I’d recommend staying away from the profit-maximizing hotel owned rentals and book with an individual owner instead.
However, the value wasn’t quite there for me given the money paid, with most units dated and far from the ocean, and prices often high for such a far-away view. If you have the cash to blow for one of the oceanside units like this gem, by all means, go for it!
But for most units you’re really left with the pools as the major amenity distinguishing the Royal Sea Cliff from smaller condo buildings. There’s so many condos right on the coast in Kona! I’d book the Kona Bali Kai again, or look elsewhere in hopes of finding a unit with a better ocean view.