The docent at Iolani Palace stands near the 23-karat gold-leaf thrones and asks visitors to "hear" the Royal Hawaiian Band playing on the lanai and "see" the ladies in their ball...

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HONOLULU — The docent at Iolani Palace stands near the 23-karat gold-leaf thrones and asks visitors to “hear” the Royal Hawaiian Band playing on the lanai and “see” the ladies in their ball gowns as they are twirled around the room by their men.

The Throne Room — with its imaginary ball hosted by Hawaii’s monarch from more than a century ago, King David Kalakaua — is the last stop on the tour of the only royal palace on American soil.

“The king loved to dance and danced with every woman at the ball,” the docent, Hokulani, says.

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He also loved roses, she said, painting a vivid picture of a room decorated with roses and fragrant maile leaves, a vine that grows in Hawaii’s mountain areas.

The drapes and the carpet are dark red, and the seats of the thrones also are red, although the fabric has faded over the years. “The fabric won’t ever be changed because Hawaiians believe that mana (spiritual power) lives in the fabric,” Hokulani says.


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Tours of the palace: Guided tours of the palace in downtown Honolulu (at the corner of King and Richards streets) are held Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets: $20 adults, $5 children ages 5 to 17. Children under 5 are not permitted in the palace. Reservations recommended; call 808-522-0832.

Tours of the galleries: Self-guided tours of the Palace Galleries, which showcase jewels, regalia and photographs, are $6 for adults, $3 for children 5 to 17; children under 5 are admitted to the galleries free. Reservations are not required. Admission to the galleries is included in admission to the palace.


The palace, described as “American Florentine” style, was completed in 1882 at a cost of $360,000. Much of the furniture, in the American Gothic style, was part of a 225-piece order from the company that made furniture for the White House, the guide says.

Electricity replaced the original gas lights after Kalakaua, who reigned from 1874-1891, visited Thomas Edison in New York City, she says. “Iolani Palace had electricity before the White House.”

After watching a 15-minute video in Iolani Barracks on the palace grounds, visitors place cloth “booties” over their shoes for the 45-minute tours conducted by volunteers from the Friends of Iolani Palace, the nonprofit organization that operates the state-owned building.

The highly polished floors are made of fir, a soft wood that is easily damaged, the docent explains. The visitors also are told to not sit on the furniture, not to bring candy or gum into the palace or take any photographs.

Entering the main floor of the palace, visitors first see the grand staircase, made of koa, a prized native hardwood.

Place settings of the original china and crystal adorn the table in the adjoining dining room, where author Robert Louis Stevenson was a guest several times.

Hokulani urges visitors to use their imagination in the Gold Room, where the king and family members or guests would enjoy music. The room is sparsely furnished and the gold carpet and drapes that once adorned the room have never been retrieved.

Much of the furnishings were sold by the provisional government following the 1893 overthrow of the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, who succeeded her brother Kalakaua following his death in 1891. A worldwide search has brought many of the furnishings and artifacts back to the palace.

On the palace’s second floor, visitors see the sparsely furnished room where Liliuokalani was imprisoned for eight months after being convicted of treason for having knowledge of a plot to restore her to the throne.

In the palace basement are re-creations of the chamberlain’s office and kitchen, along with galleries displaying jewel-encrusted crowns of Kalakaua and his queen and other royal artifacts. A mini-museum of royal artifacts is on loan from Bishop Museum, named for Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter and last royal descendant of King Kamehameha the Great, who united the Hawaiian islands in 1810 and ruled until his death in 1819.