Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finding Paradise on Waikiki

September seems to be the month to go to Hawaii! I was lucky enough to spend a week in Hawaii this September for a girls-get-away with my sister. This was my second trip to Oahu. In 2004, Jeff and I visited over the Christmas holidays and the island was packed and crazy. This visit was very relaxed. A week before my visit, Bethany, my fellow blogger, and her husband spent a week in Hawaii - so you’ll be getting lots of Hawaii travel advice this month.

September is part of the Hawaii off-season, which occurs mid-April to mid-June and again from September to mid-December.) I was able to find tickets for under $300 round trip and there were lots of deals to be had on the islands (including some great cruise deals!)

The visit started with a small hiccup. We were scheduled with Aloha VIP tours for a transfer from the airport to the hotel. I booked months in advance and when we showed up at the airport they didn’t have our names on the list. They called the office but never got a response. I had the confirmation number as well as an e-mail from the company – but because we didn’t have a paper copy they wouldn’t take us on the bus. We brushed it off and took a cab to the hotel. Aloha VIP did refund our money, but with no apology for leaving us stranded. This is not the customer service I have come to expect from Hawaii. I would skip the transfer and just hop a cab. The cab will cost you $35 for two people plus baggage - there is a cab stand at the airport and we never had to wait.

Like most military families that visit Hawaii, we stayed at the Hale Koa, which means Warriors’ Home, in case you were wondering. Bethany covered the details of the Hale Koa in her post. I will add that what the rooms lack is made up for in waterfront property, services and location. My sister and I spent our first two days on the island hanging out by the Hale Koa pool sipping frozen drinks. On Bethany’s recommendation we booked poolside massages, which relived any stress we may have had from the missed transfer. For great deals at the Hale Koa like them on facebook.

If you go to Hawaii you must go to a Luau. The Hale Koa does offer a luau right on the property and we heard nothing but good things about it. However, the Hale Koa luau is only offered two nights a week. If you are not at the Hale Koa when the luau is going on book with Paradise Cove Luau. Paradise Cove runs a bus that picks up at the Hilton bus station, which is literally right next door to the Hale Koa. Our ‘hostess’ Lelani was very entertaining and made the drive go by quickly. (It’s an hour drive, in traffic, to Paradise Cove.) There are three package levels – we booked the middle level and it was perfect. The luau starts with a lea greeting and activity time. You can get a “grease paint tattoo” by one of many shirtless guys, make a palm leaf creation or learn to hula. There are also several small shows you can go to – like tree climbing, pulling in the fishing nets, how to make luau drinks and the final pig out of the roasting pit show. Then everyone sits down for dinner – it’s a buffet for everyone except the top package. The main show starts while your sitting down for dinner. The show is intimate and full of explanation and optional audience participation. It was a much better experience then our last luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. I would recommend booking your tickets straight through Paradise Cove for the best deal.

There are many activities in Wikiki to enjoy. My sister and I walked the Wikiki beach (wear sandals because the path abruptly stops and starts) all the way down to the park. The walk takes under 30 min and provides great views of Diamond Head. The park is also home to the Aquarium and the Zoo, both are small but are a nice diversion. As a note, the Waikiki Aquarium has one of the only Commerson's Frogfish on exhibit in the word(pictured above) - these fish sometimes don't move for weeks on end - they also have the worlds oldest known living clam shell! (For military members both offer ½ price admission so for $12 you can visit both the Aquarium and the Zoo.) You can hike Diamond Head for stunning views of Wikiki – Jeff and I did this on our last visit. Its a steep, but short, hike so make sure you have plenty of water.

No visit to Oahu is complete without a trip to Pearl Harbor. We took the bus – you probably shouldn’t do that. The Bus took forever, and while it was only $2.50/person, lets just say you get what you pay for! You can rent a car from the Hale Koa just for the day, or save this trip till you have a car. (Read Bethany’s post for more information on visiting Pearl Harbor.)

One block, towards Diamond Head, from the Hale Koa is all the shopping and restaurants you could ever want. If you have some free time, or want to eat not on the Hale Koa property, just walk out the door and explore for a bit. Most of all, though, make sure you enjoy being in paradise by doing something you love weather that is sitting by the pool with a good book or taking surf lesions. Waikiki has it all – just make sure you enjoy it!

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