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Stepping into the Hilton Cairns I can almost hear the song “I’ve Had The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing. Just like this much-loved movie which came out in 1987 – the same year the hotel was built – the Hilton Cairns remains a classic. The spacious lobby looks bright and fresh with soaring ceilings and modern furnishings and there is a happy buzz with guests coming and going. A sign near reception highlights the latest room upgrades which include things like new carpet, televisions, and decor. Just like many a 1980s Hollywood starlet, the Hilton Cairns has had plenty of ‘nips and tucks’ over the years to keep it looking good. With its prime location right on the waterfront and boardwalk and well-priced rooms, we wonder aloud why we have never stayed here before.

Hilton Cairns Lobby
Hilton Cairns lobby

I have paid to upgrade to a one-bedroom suite as a surprise for my wife to celebrate our wedding anniversary and have my fingers crossed for a great room. The Hilton Cairns has 263 rooms and suites over nine floors with the option of city or water views and also the option of Executive Club access. As we make our way to our room, we take in the flowing outdoor walkways and lush tropical atrium filled with towering palm trees, massive ferns and creepers that flourish in the heart of the hotel. In some ways, it’s a testimony to the hotel’s design that this area has stood the test of time and still looks terrific – perhaps even more so than when it was built due to the size of the trees. We arrive at our room on the ninth floor and enter our (very) large room which has a spacious lounge area and a large king-size bed. But what really impresses is the huge balcony and view of the lush Trinity Forest Reserve and the estuary leading to the Coral Sea. 

One Bedroom Suite at Hilton Cairns
One-Bedroom Suite at the Hilton Cairns

Our room also has a lounge area, large flat screen tv, tea and coffee machine, fridge and a business desk with a comfortable chair and lots of power points. The location of the Hilton Cairns is right on the water and adjacent to the Cairns Marina, making it ideal if you’re planning on heading out to the reef or on another day tour as all of the tour boats leave from here. It is also close to the CBD with only a short walk to Cairn’s best dining and entertainment options including the swimming lagoon and garden area on the esplanade. One feature in our room that we love and want to take home is the waterfall shower which is like standing under one of Tropical North Queensland’s famous waterfalls. Combined with the Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries, it is the ultimate in bathing pleasure. There are no dual sinks and not much bench space in the bathroom which is surprising given the vast size of the room but we are fans of the bathroom window which overlooks the room and offers views outside as well.

Riew from One Bedroom Suite at Hilton Cairns
View from a One-Bedroom Suite at the Hilton Cairns

As part of our suite, we have access to the Executive Club lounge that offers guests a continental breakfast with a small hot selection and the highly popular cocktail hour between the hours of 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm when there is a light supper option with beer, wine and made to order cocktails. It was raining during our visit but the sunset view from the lounge would be stunning on a clear day, especially from the outdoor balcony seats. The club is open to all guests of the Hilton Cairns at an extra cost and offers very good value and some of the nicest staff we’ve encountered anywhere. We would definitely book a room with club access again.

Club Lounge outdoor seating
Club Lounge outdoor seating
Hilton Cairns Club Lounge
Hilton Cairns Club Lounge

Other dining options at the Hilton Cairns include Cafe Sunrise located in the foyer area for breakfast (if you have Club access, you can pay an extra $10 to eat breakfast here) and for a casual lunch or dinner there is Mondo on the Waterfront offering dining with a view. For some fine dining, there is the new Signature Restaurant that offers intimate fine dining with a South American touch. As part of our anniversary celebration, we ate here and would have returned if we had time. To say the food and service were extraordinary is an understatement with dishes that were both innovative and full of flavour. This is a date night venue with crisp white tablecloths and charming, experienced staff who know their food and wine. Three courses are a set price at $68 (or $98 with wine matching); there are 2 and 1 course options available as well.

Signature Restaurant at Hilton Cairns
Signature Restaurant at Hilton Cairns

On the ground floor, you’ll find a large resort pool with bar area and poolside menu plus garden lounges and a spa. On this level there is also a gym area, giant chess and a ping pong table which was popular during our wet weekend visit. One other feature located in the lobby area is the general store which sells a variety of food and beverages including wine and beer at pub prices. The Hilton Cairns may not be the newest hotel in town but it delivers on quality and style with superb water views and a location that lends itself to fun in the sun.  

Disclosure: The writers stayed as guests of the Hilton Cairns and paid to upgrade to a one bedroom suite. They would not hesitate to stay at this hotel again.

Looking for things to do while you’re in Cairns? Go white water rafting on the Barron River, take a day trip to Paronella Park and the Mamu Tropical Skywalk, ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail, check out Cairns’ thriving coffee scene, or head out of town and spend a few nights at the luxurious all inclusive Mt Mulligan Lodge . If the weather is good, a day trip to Fitzroy Island is a top choice if you don’t mind venturing slightly further afield.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.