Timbers Kauai adapts to business in bubble

Timbers Kauai Ocean Club and Residences on Hawaii’s Garden Isle takes advantage of an enhanced quarantine rule to remain open

KAUAI, Hawaii — Kauai is known in Hawaii as the Garden Isle, but in these pandemic-influenced times, the small territory itself has become a forbidden sanctuary.

While there is no determining which island in Hawaii is the best (after all are you going to be able to pick the best Disney character?), many believe there is none prettier than Kauai. And yet, thanks to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and the small size of the island itself, there is none harder to access.

While most of Hawaii is now finally open with a visitor providing a negative COVID test, Kauai is requiring a strict 10-day quarantine when you arrive.

Unless, you enter the resort bubble.

Bubble, you might ask? Isn’t that for COVID pandemic units or perhaps NBA playoffs? The answer would be yes, but at the forward-thinking Timbers Kauai Ocean Club and Residences, located on the 450-acre Hokuala resort, there is a much more luxurious version available.

In the fall, the Timbers, one of the newest resorts on the island, took advantage of a county-offered exception to the quarantine that allowed visitors to roam the Timbers property, provided they never left the 450-acre resort itself. Effective Jan. 5, travelers staying in an Enhanced Movement Quarantine [EMQ] property can take a post-travel test three days after arrival. If they receive a negative test result, they can then travel about the entire Kauai island.

Timbers Kauai Ocean Club and Residences — Pool and Ocean Club
Visitors to Timbers Kauai Ocean Club and Residences have access to all resort amenities upon arrival, but can also participate in a post-travel testing program that would allow them access to the entire Kauai island with a negative test result after three days.

In addition to Timbers, other resort bubble hotels on Kauai include The Cliffs at Princeville, Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay, Koa Kea Hotel and Resort at Poipu, The Club at Kukuiula and Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club.

Upon arrival at the Timbers, located five minutes from the international airport in the southeast part of the island, until leaving, visitors are secluded on the sumptuous resort premises.

But it’s certainly more high class than hard times.

“I don’t mind it at all,” said Charlie Norton, a retired Las Vegas businessman. “There is plenty to see and do at the resort with a lot of activities. We’re spending three weeks here and we’re rotating kids and their families every week. It’s a lot better than just being quarantined in your room.”

Timbers Kauai offers an abundance of leafy and wooded acres, allowing visitors to roam free without restrictions and enjoy the many recreational options, which include a Jack Nicklaus championship layout aptly named the Ocean Course for its back nine’s stunning views.

Also included inside the EMQ is a 33-acre lagoon that has kayaks, paddle boards and canoes available for use; 16 miles of hiking and biking trails with bikes for all ages provided by the hotel; a 16.5-acre working farm; multiple infinity-edged resort pools and hot tubs; and an oceanside farm-to-table restaurant.

When exhausted by all the activities that the Timbers bubble offers, visitors can retire to any number of multiple-story apartment units or rentable oceanside townhomes that are perched overlooking the course, the ever-churning ocean waters and lighthouse in the distance.

Timbers Kauai Ocean Club and Residences — Ocean Course
Timbers Kauai Ocean Club and Residences offers a Jack Nicklaus design that takes arguably the best 18 holes of what was once a 36-hole design called Kauai Lagoons. The course boasts the longest stretch of continuous oceanfront golf in Hawaii.

The EMQ, enforced by a tracking wrist band that stays on at all times, feels much more like a padded outdoor palace than a drafty confining cell.

Resort managing director Gary Moore was one the driving forces behind the unique bubble at the Timbers and said it’s been helpful for both guests and local workers.

“Looking at it from purely a business sense, the most profitable thing would be to shut the resort down, cut your losses as much as possible and wait for better times,” Moore said. “But that’s not the right thing to do for our local employees or our guests.”

After furloughing the vast number of his employees in the spring when the pandemic hit, Moore and his team spent much of the summer working on the bubble idea. After getting authority from Hawaii state officials and Kauai county government, the Timbers first put the bubble in place on Oct. 1. The Kauai quarantine was briefly lifted in November, but, after a local spike in COVID-19 cases, was put back in place on Dec. 2. Now 85 percent of the employees are back and the guests are returning.

“You give us lemons with the virus and we’ve going to make lemonade with lots of extra sugar in it,” Moore said.

Sweet is the best way to describe the Nicklaus-designed course, which was once a 36-hole layout known as Kauai Lagoons. It was later reduced to arguably the best 18 holes — the most scenic front-nine holes routed throughout the wooded acreage and holes 12-16 along the ocean and nearby bay. It’s the longest continuous stretch of oceanside holes anywhere in the islands.

“The bubble has actually been a boon for our golf course,” said Kellie Hines, one of two female head golf professionals in Hawaii. “The locals can come and play here, and the resort guests inside the bubble have access.”

Moore said he expects to see some kind of bubble or quarantine continuing in Hawaii well into the summer or fall as social distancing and stress-free vacations become the norm for virus-wary travelers.

While activity is abundant inside the Timbers Kauai, Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club is operating at low capacity. Marriott Vacation Club, adjacent to Timbers Kauai, is currently closed and will reopen on Feb. 1, along with the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa. As for golf, Resort Kauai Golf heavyweights Princeville and Poipu Bay are still devoid of transpacific resort guests at this most popular time of year.