Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kamaaina Iolani Palace Tour

Hawaii has one of the most unique structures anywhere in the United States.  It resides at 364 South King Street in Downtown Honolulu.  It is Iolani Palace, the residence of the last ruling Kings and Queens of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  Thanks to The Friends of Iolani Palace, today you and me, a common person, can walk where royalty used to live. As a service to the community, usually the first Sunday of the month is considered Kamaaina Sunday when local residents and active military are offered tours of the residence at no charge.

I've taken advantage of Kamaaina Sunday on numerous occasions over the years that I have lived here.  People say to me, "You going on that thing again?"  I respond "Yeah!"  Each time I have taken the tour, it's a new experience.  I never come away from the tour empty handed.  I learn something, I notice something that I hadn't noticed before, I get to appreciate what gets passed by every day by thousands of people driving down King Street.

The first tours of the day start at 9am and I head down to arrive on the grounds about 8:30ish.  This usually gets me on one of, if not the first tour of the day.  I show my drivers license and am given a ticket that has a detailed and intricate design on it.  This is done at the Iolani Barracks which are to the left of the palace as you look at it from King Street.  As part of the barracks structure there is a room with a short film explaining some of the history of the palace, a restroom and locker location and the main gift shop.

The tour starts at the mauka or mountain side of the palace where we are greeted by the docents.  We are given special booties to place over our footwear which is necessary to help protect the floors which on the tour we find out is made of soft woods.  Most of the docents are women who are adorned in long flowing muu muus, the gentlemen in aloha shirts.  We are given the ground rules which include no cell phones, no gum, no candy, no liquids and no video or still photography.

To set the mood for the tour we're asked to step back in time to the late 1800's, 1882 to be exact, when the palace first opened and we've been invited to the palace for a royal dinner.  We're brought into the Grand Hall and shown the portraits of the Kings of Hawaii from Kamehameha the Great to Kamehameha V who reigned through blood lineage and then to Lunalilo who was elected.

We are then welcomed into the Blue Room which is where guests were received upon arriving at the palace.  Inside this room is the portrait of King Kalakaua who is responsible for ordering the construction of the building.  As the name implies, the room is done in a deep blue color contained in the curtains, furniture and the rug.  There are chairs and a couch for us to observe as well as a piano in the corner.

From the Blue Room we cross a threshold and are now in the State Dining Room.  Laid out in front of us is a table set up for a formal dinner.  This room takes up two thirds of the ewa wing of the palace.  The docent tells us of how they may have had forty five different items to choose from over the multiple courses of the meal.  The King's chair wasn't at the end of the table, but in the middle as he loved to talk with his visitors to invite conversation and hear news both locally and internationally.  Today the room is set up to seat eight guests joining with the King.

From there we are put on an elevator installed during the refurbishment of the palace in the 1960's to go up to the second floor where under normal circumstances, a guest of the King or Queen would not go.  There are dumb waiters to bring items from the kitchen on the ground floor to the State Dining Room and up to the private residences on the second floor.  We tour the rooms above where we were on the first floor.  This would include the King's bedroom, his office and the music room.

On the other side of the building we are bought into a room that has special significance with its darkened windows.  It was the room where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.  On display is the quilt that the Queen made during that time.  The docents give a brief overview of what happened.  I've been on tours where some of the people in the group want to go into more detail but the docents that I've had have managed to keep it to the high level overview and not get caught up in the passion that surrounds those events.

After being shown the other two large rooms we once again head back down the elevator to be brought into the final room of the formal tour, the Throne Room.  In here the docents give a descriptive story of what it would have been like to attend a party at the palace.  Outside on the lanai the Royal Hawaiian Band would be playing songs that would be on our dance card of which our ticket is a partial replica of what that dance card would have looked like.  The docent describes what the ladies and gentlemen attending would have been wearing.  A special note to the ladies: the King made an effort to dance with all the ladies in attendance.  As the tale of the evening is brought to a close, so is the tour as we are lead back the the doors we entered.  We take off the booties, but the tour isn't quite over.  We, as a group, are lead to the ground floor of the building and the galleries there.

For me, these galleries are amazing.  In this area are the main functional areas that were used for the day to day running of the palace.  If didn't get to the main gift shop, there is a small, and I do mean small gift shop located here.  Today, the crown jewels for the Kingdom of Hawaii are on display in a secured area.  To see the crown and royal orders that were both given and received put a new light on the monarchy for me.  Kalakaua was very progressive from his circumnavigating the globe to the installation and use of a telephone system to having hot and cold running water and having electricity installed in the palace.  Many firsts can be attributed to him personally.

After exploring the galleries, you can explore the grounds around the palace.  Take in the detail of the architecture from the outside or even imagine what it would have been like in the late 19th century when the ocean came up to approximately a block away where Queen Street currently is located.  On one side is located the sacred mound where past Hawaiian chiefs may be buried and on the other is the Coronation Pavilion.  Around a number of the trees near the pavilion are benches where if you brought or bought something to snack on you can sit here and enjoy the view and the sounds.

Iolani Palace is a place that should be visited by both tourist and residents alike.  For residents, there is no reason not to go especially since you can visit for free.  Click here to see the Kamaaina Sunday schedule. To find out more information about Iolani Palace, visit the Iolani Palace web site.  Don't be afraid to have repeat visits.  Changes do occur.  This last trip the crown was in the Throne Room instead of the gallery, a display of the past and present restoration was installed and we were told that in the next year, the Music Room up on the second floor will take on a new look as many items have been found, are being restored and will be put out on display.  I know I'll be making a trip back to see the additions.