In 2017, Hawaii had a record number of visitors, more than 9.3 million.
No doubt, many of those tourists have been here before.
But there’s a good chance few, if any other guests, return as often one particular woman who has been coming back to the islands for nearly 90 years.
She’s Maryann Fleck.
And for her every night in Hawaii always end at the Mai Tai bar.
A place she, and many other regulars call the heart of the Royal Hawaiian hotel.
But in many ways, Maryann is both the heart of this iconic property.
“There’s something special about the Royal,” said Fleck. “There’s something about Hawaii in general which I’m sure you hear from a lot of people. But it’s a second home to me. I wish it was my first home. I would live here if I could”.
Her real first home is Seattle.
Her first trip to Hawaii was in 1929 when she was just 8 months old.
Her parents brought her here on the Matson Lurline.
They stayed at the Royal Hawaiian, which was built by Matson just two years earlier.
She eventually took a job with United Airlines and says her first real vacation here was in 1949 at the of 20.
“Yes, they’re very kind to me, always have the same room,” said Fleck.
She can thank Avis Nakachi for that. A 37-year employee of the hotel, Avis is her hand picked front desk agent.
She schedules her own vacations around Maryann’s so that she’s always there to check her in.
“She’s just a genuine kind person who’s always interested in people or us and our families and we’ve known her and her family,” said Nakachi. “Because she’s been bringing her own family and grandchildren. She’s just a very special person.”
And then there’s Annie Cheung, her favorite housekeeper.
She’s been there for Maryann for nearly 40 years running.
“Before she comes, she texts me to make sure I clean her room,” said Cheung.
More than just a guest of the hotel, or even a good friend, Maryann has become family.
“Yeah she’s like my best friend, like my mom, you know,” said Cheung.
Maryann says she remembers very well the days when the Royal was one of only two hotels in Waikiki.
“I do. There were thatched huts where the Halekulani is. There were little thatched huts. It was wonderful.”
“I can’t even imagine what it was like back then being like so beautiful and peaceful and not so crowded like it is today” said Nakachi. “But she thrives on people”.
That’s what keeps her coming back to her home away from home.
She comes back to attend weddings, graduations and birthdays of the hotel employees.
They come to visit her in Seattle.
But much as she loves to host her second family there, her heart is always here.
“There’s a thread and that’s never been broken for me here” says Fleck. There’s a lot of love that you don’t expect”.
Clearly she can travel anywhere in the world she wants to, and she has. But now she says, this is the only place she’ll travel to as long as she possibly can.
“There’s no better guest. There’s nobody else that represents us better than Maryann” said bartender Kui Wright.”She is what the Royal Hawaiian is all about. She is the history what we want but she’s been through it all”.
Maryann ends every night at the bar, there’s even a plaque on a chair with her name.
“And if you’re the lucky one to sit down next to her and have conversation, you’ll literally hear about the history that is happened from the beginning to the end” says Wright. “And the whole bar the whole bar the attention goes to Maryann.”
Maryann says she humbled by how everybody goes out of there way to accommodate her and look after her.
She says she’s happy to know that she will forever be part of the iconic hotel’s history.
“I’m starting to believe in spirits because of the Hawaiian beliefs” said Fleck. “And I think I probably want to be a spirit wandering around. I don’t ever want to leave the Royal. I always want to be a part of it.”