Alexis's (corrected) Hawaii Trip Report

Sep 19th, 2003, 01:40 PM
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Alexis's (corrected) Hawaii Trip Report

We just returned from 2 glorious weeks in Hawaii on Sunday. What a blast. I'd like to start off by thanking everyone who posts here. I've read this board almost every day since I discovered it almost 3 years ago and it's been invaluable in planning all 4 trips we've taken since. Every trip has been fun and gone smooth as silk. I do all the vacation planning and my husband thinks I'm a genius or something but I really just have you all to thank for your great advice.

Just a little info on who we are: I'm Alexis, 33 and my DH is Rich, 32 and we live in NYC. This was our first trip to Hawaii, a vacation/celebration of Rich finishing his MBA & our 9th anniversary.

Anyway, we spent 3 nights on Oahu, 4 nights on the Big Island and 7 nights on Kauai. On beginning this trip report, I started to describe every single thing we did and saw but realized that a better and shorter approach is just to go over the major points about which I feel I have some particular information or personal observations to offer. I also give prices if I remember since I also find that useful in planning.

DEPARTURE: We had enough American Express points to get 2 first class tickets on Continental from Newark to Honolulu . I've read some posts where people have felt that redeeming frequent flier miles through Continental was a pain but I found it to be exactly the opposite. When I was looking into redeeming our points I had a choice between Delta, USAir and Continental. I prefer to do my research and booking online and I found that Continental was hands-down the easiest. I found the Delta and USAir websites to be not very helpful. Continental has a really easy search feature under their frequent flyer section where you just plug in your dates and destination and poof, it tells you what's available. I couldn't believe how easy it was. In fact they even had Standard Rewards tickets available that were half the points of the EasyPass tickets, so we ended up getting 2 First Class Round-Trips for 60,000 points apiece. What a steal! I realize that it may have just been good luck that the dates we were interested in were available but still it made a convert out of me. Do look into it.

Continentals First Class service was great. The seats were spacious and comfortable. I could actually stick my legs straight out and not touch the seat in front of me. (And I'm 5?7?). With a stopover in Houston the trip took 13 1/2 hours and being comfortable and well fed made all the difference. We actually arrived relaxed instead of exhausted and achy. And they really do serve Hot Fudge Sundaes! (See Seinfeld episode "The Airport")

After we landed, we went directly to the baggage claim and were pleasantly surprised to see that the bags were already starting to come down the carrousel. I'd never seen baggage handlers work that fast. Of course our bags were among the last to come out but no big deal.

We caught a taxi to the Sheraton Waikiki outside the terminal. The cost was $27 plus tip and took about 30 minutes.

SHERATON WAIKIKI: I booked this hotel through Hotwire for $109 per night and I couldn't be happier about it. The location is excellent, right on Waikiki beach and very convenient to lots of shops and restaurants. The hotel is very large (1700 rooms) and so it's quite bustling but still very pretty and pleasant. It's very popular with Japanese tourists, it seemed about 75% of the guests were from Japan. It must also be very popular for getting married because in 3 days we saw at least 6 or 7 Japanese girls walking through the lobby in full bride regalia. They looked so pretty and excited and nervous. It was very cute and brought back memories.

The section of Waikiki Beach that fronts the hotel is kind of narrow but it's literally a 2-minute walk to the big section of Waikiki that you see on the postcards. They have a beach activities hut that rents surfboards, boogie boards, inflatable floats, beach chairs and umbrellas, etc. One afternoon we rented 2 chairs and an umbrella, for $30.
Alexis823 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2003, 01:42 PM
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The room (22nd floor) was quite large with a king bed, dresser, desk, table and chairs and still had a lot of room to walk around in. The bathroom was also nice. It had a full tub with shower, good water pressure and best of all, a nice long countertop on which to place all your stuff. It also had a large balcony, at least 6' x 12'. Our room didn't over look the ocean but we did have a nice view of the city lights and a partial view of the harbor. All in all, the location, hotel, room and service were great and for $109, you can't beat it with a stick. One complaint: the room had one of those little coffee makers but they charged $2.50 for the coffee packet, which is kind of cheesy.

PEARL HARBOR and ARIZONA MEMORIAL: We took a taxi to the USS Arizona Memorial on Sunday Morning. The cost was $31 plus tip and took about 25 minutes. We got there at 8:30 and got tickets to the 9:30 tour. What we liked about this is that after you get your ticket, you don't have to stand around in line. You can go in and walk around. There's a little museum that has models of the ships and details of the bombing, displays of photographs, artifacts and mementos from the ship and crew. There's also a gift shop that is actually a lot more interesting than most gift shops. It has some very good books on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy and WWII. They also sell American Flags that have been flown over the USS Arizona. You fill out a form at the checkout and they send you a certificate of that fact. I'd been planning to buy a new flag anyway and this one is extra special.

We were called to line up for our tour at 9:20 outside the theatre. They presented a short film on the world events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the attack itself and the United States entry into the War. IRONY ALERT: Almost half of the visitors at Pearl Harbor were Japanese. In the film, there was historical news footage and headlines referring to the Japanese in some non-politically correct terms. That felt very strange. We've come a long way and that's a good thing.

After the film, we took the ferryboat out to the memorial. The memorial is very pretty and moving in its simplicity. I was struck by how close the ship is to the surface. You can almost reach out and touch it. There's a memorial wall inscribed will all the names of the dead and interestingly, a section with the names of the survivors who've since died and chosen to be buried with their shipmates. I found that very touching.

The one thing that irked me was that in spite of being requested to maintain a respectful silence or speak in quiet tones beforehand, half the people were chattering it up like nobody's business. It sounded like a cocktail party. Then the ranger asked people to please quiet down, which they did, for about a minute. Then the yakkers were right back at. I've heard more respectful quiet from the crowds at the Louvre. You'd think they didn?t know they were standing over the grave of some 1100 human beings. It's 3 weeks later and I'm still annoyed by that, but even still, it was a very important and touching experience. You can stay as long as you like and boats come every 15 minutes or so to take you back.

FOR YOU BOOKWORMS OUT THERE: If you like to read books that put you in the mood of places you're going or have been, I recommend Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War" and its sequel, "War and Remembrance". I picked them up before the trip for my plane and beach reading without even knowing what they're about, but they turned out to be fantastic! They're historical fiction set in WWII, particularly the War in the Pacific. Wouk has an incredible talent for bringing history to life. I absolutely loved them!

After, we left the Arizona Memorial, we went to the parking lot where we were told we could catch a shuttle van back to the hotel. There were people waiting there who'd reserved a ride in advance, but the driver will take you if he has room and will radio for another van if he doesn't. The cost was $5 per person. If I had it to do again I would have reserved a shuttle ride for that morning instead of the taxi but it was our first day and we were jet-lagged and not thinking straight. The concierge desk at the hotel can call for you. Very easy.

Alexis823 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2003, 01:44 PM
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We spent some time walking/shopping/eating around the Waikiki area, which I liked more than I expected to. We had dinner at Antonio's Steakhouse. They had some pretty good ribs. We also had ice cream and Coldstone Creamery, which was pricey but good. When planning this trip, I didn't really have any plans in mind for the island of Oahu but to see the Arizona. I really just thought that it would give us a breather after the long flight before we went on to the other islands. Some people have described Honolulu as New York with palm trees but I don't agree. It has a whole different vibe to it. When we go to Hawaii again, I definitely plan to spend more time on Oahu.

The day before we left for the Big Island, we stopped by the hotel's concierge desk and she arranged for a shuttle to take us to the airport the next day. The cost was $8 per person and took about 50 minutes because they had to pick up other passengers but we all had a nice chat on the way.

ALOHA AIRLINE: The check in at the Aloha Airlines desk was very quick. There were a lot of people but they had a lot of agents working the counters. A note on baggage: The weight limit per bag is 50 lbs and one of our suitcases was over and one was under, so she advised us to move stuff from one to the other to save the overweight charge. If you feel you might be over, pack your shoes, books and heavy stuff on top to use as ballast that you can quickly shift from one bag to another. The limit for carry-ons is 20 lbs.

The flight was so short (35 mins) that there isn't much to say about it. They passed out sodas and guava juice and by the time we finished drinking them, it was time to land.

When we landed in Kona and disembarked, the bags were already coming around the carrousel so we were out of there in 5 minutes.

We caught the shuttle van to the Alamo rental office. I had reserved a 'regular' SUV at $45/day, which was the lowest price I found. When we got to Alamo, we found out why the price was so good. Apparently, they classify those little Jeep Wranglers as SUV?s (I don't and neither does Rich). Anyhoo, since Rich had kind of wanted to get a jeep anyway, we decided to go with it. Then when we saw and sat in it, it was far smaller and more cramped than even he had expected, so we went back and upgraded to the Cherokee for $15 more and we were both happy.

HAPUNA PRINCE HOTEL: We stayed at the Hapuna Prince Beach Hotel on the Kohala Coast which is about 30 minutes north of Kona. We booked online through the hotel's website $190/night for a partial ocean front room. We really love this hotel. It's open on one side so the lobby, restaurant and lounge all overlook the water. It's very light and airy and peaceful. The room was really nice but the real kicker was the bathroom. It was almost the size of our guest bedroom at home! It had a long counter with double sink, separate bathtub and stall shower and a separate toilet with door. Another thing we liked that they have mini refrigerator with complimentary bottled water and some fruit but otherwise empty so you can put your own drinks and snacks in it. They have other nice touches like bathrobes and coffee makers (free this time). The rooms also all have very large lanais.

The hotel has a really beautiful (and big) infinity pool that overlooks the beach, but the best part of this hotel is the beach that it's on. Hapuna beach was voted one of the best in Hawaii and it truly deserves it. The sand is very soft and the water beautifully clear and rock free. All in all, the best beach that we went to on our trip. I don't snorkel but my husband says that the snorkeling there was excellent too. Lots of interesting fish and even some sea turtles.
Alexis823 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2003, 01:46 PM
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One downside is the price of food. There aren't a lot of dining choices in the area so we ate at the hotel restaurants often, which are good but expensive. The have a lovely breakfast buffet on the Oceanfront Terrace, which is $22/pp. It was very good and the views of the beach can't be beat. I would definitely recommend this hotel but if you don't want to choose between $50 breakfasts or having to go out for every meal, you may not like it.

We also drove around the island a bit. I had left my sneakers at home (duh) and so I had no suitable shoes to wear when we went to go see the volcano. So we drove to the Walmart in Kona to buy sneakers and some flashlights.

SOME OBSERVATIONS: Reggae music is really popular in Hawaii. We only got about 8 radio stations and at least 3 of them were reggae. Go figure. Even NY doesn?t have that many reggae stations. It was the same way on Kauai. I've never heard so much Peter Tosh and Bob Marley in my life. Fortunately, I like reggae. The other thing we noticed is how sloooow people tend to drive. Now we realized that we would have to get rid of the New York driver mindset but these people seemed reluctant to even approach the speed limit much less exceed it. Seriously, I'm talking about 42 mph in a 55 mph zone. It wasn't just once or twice either, but over and over. We could also tell that they were locals because the cars obviously weren?t rentals. I'm not bashing anyone, we just couldn't figure out what was going on. The highway patrol must either be frightful there or else those people really don't care if they ever get where they're going.

HAWAII VOLCANOS NATIONAL PARK: The main reason we came to the Big Island is to see the volcano. Just one tip: The Big Island Revealed book (which I usually love) says that the drive from Kohala to Volcano takes about the same amount of time whether you take the Kona or Hilo route. The Hilo route is way faster. The book says that rough distance is 2 hrs 40 minutes. Going by the Kona side took almost 3 1/2 hours and we drove it 3 times! (Long story.) Going by the Hilo side took about 2 hour but the Kona drive is very scenic. You pass by Punalu'u Black Sand Beach. Stop and take a look. There were several large sea turtles up on the beach. At first they looked dead just sprawled on the sand but they were asleep. It was pretty cute. They don't seem to mind the people either.

Anyway, on to the park. The fee for the park is $10 and the pass is good for 7 days. When you enter the park, there's a visitors center where you can pick up a map and find out if/where the lava is flowing. You can drive around the caldera and see the crater, then continue on down the Chain of Craters road, which is about 20 miles long. As you go down the road, you descend from about 4000 feet to sea level, so bring some gum.

When we got to the end, we parked and then started the walk to the lava flow. BTW, there were porta-potties at the end of the road, in case you needed to know. They closed the road at least a 1/2 mile before the lava starts (the older, hardened lava not the hot stuff) so we had to walk to the end of the road, then it was about a 45-minute hike to the lava flow. The walk over the lava fields is extremely rough and uneven so make sure you wear closed shoes with good traction. I saw women and girls come walking back in sandals and flip-flops. It was a tough walk in my new Wal-mart sneakers so I don't know how they managed it in flip-flops. Sunset was around 6:30 so we timed our visit to arrive at the lava around 5:30 so we could see it in the daylight and at night.

Alexis823 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2003, 01:48 PM
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The lava flow was truly amazing. It was still daylight so we couldn't always see tell the difference from the old and new lava. It all looks kind of silvery black in the sun except for certain spots where its glowing red. It was actually a little scary because I couldn't always see the difference between the hard rock and the molten rock and if I was standing upwind of it, I couldn't feel the heat either. There were a few times when I was within two feet of it didn'?t realize that it was right there, so be careful! There were some people there who must have a death wish or something. They were posing for pictures balancing on these uneven rocks a foot away from molten lava like one little slip couldn't kill them. They were kind of scary to watch. I was surprised that there weren't any rangers there, at least none that I could see.

There was another crowd of people further off in the distance looking at something so Rich and I decided to walk in that direction. We got close enough to see more red lava but we could feel a lot of heat coming from that direction and there were folks coming back saying how hot it was over there, so we decided to watch from a distance. When we decided to turn back, my husband looked down into this fissure in the rock that we had both just been standing over, and it was glowing red down there! And we had been walking back and forth over it like a couple of dummies! That was really freaky, like something out of a movie. It was exciting and fascinating but it also gave me this incredible sense of how vulnerable we all are to nature. Nothing quite like it. Back at the first lava flow, it was starting to flow faster. We could see these masses start to bulge out and glow redder and redder and then they would just break open and just starting oozing out. It was an incredible sight.

By this time the sun was beginning to set and then we really got a show. Without the sunlight, we really got a sense of how vast the flow really was. We could see the red glow far in the distance and all the way up the mountain. It was truly spectacular. When we were in Honolulu and later in Kauai, we talked to other tourists and they didn't have any plans to visit the Big Island at all. I can't imagine coming so far and skipping out on such a once in a lifetime sight. The volcano has been erupting for a decade but it could just up and go back to sleep anytime. I may never see anything like it again in my life. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. In short, if you're going to be in Hawaii, do go see this amazing sight.

By the way, they advise bringing water and a flashlight for each person if you're going to hike to the lava flow at night and they are so right! Don't count on following someone else with a flashlight. The rocks are so uneven and rough, you will need to shine a light at your feet before every step or you will probably break your ankle.

KONA AIRPORT: We returned the rental car and took the shuttle back to the airport and checked in. After we got our boarding passes, they sent us to another line were they run your checked bags through the x-ray machines. The unusual part was that after they put your bags on the conveyor belt, they ask you to form a line to the side until they call your name and then you can go to the gate. There were windows to the room on the other side so I could see there were about 5 or 6 inspectors inside searching EVERY bag by hand. That was by far the most vigorous inspection I've ever seen. Waited about 10 minutes until they said we could go. Went to the gate and boarded our next very short flight to Lihue, Kauai. More guava juice, which I am growing quite fond of.

Alexis823 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2003, 01:50 PM
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KAUAI: Arrived in Kauai around 11:30 AM. After we got our bags (again, the jet-propelled baggage handlers), we went to the Hertz rental car counter right across from the terminal. However, that counter is just for the members of their Gold Club. We waited in line for a few minutes until we found out that we had to take a shuttle van to the rental office. I don't know if this is true for all the other rental companies or not. We booked a car at Hertz through Hotwire. We got an SUV (Mercury Mountaineer) for $230/week. It was about a 1/2 hr. drive to Poipu where were staying at the Kiahuna Plantation. Kauai is an incredibly beautiful island. Everywhere else the mountains are the usual brown, these are all a lush green. Gorgeous!

KIAHUNA PLANTATION: We rented a 1 bedroom beachfront condo, which we absolutely loved. We booked direct from the owner at $280/night, which was a steal considering how much we got. It had a good-sized living room with dining area, fully equipped kitchen, bedroom, bath and lanai. The best part was that when they say beachfront, they mean beachfront! We were about 15 yards from the water's edge. The sound of the waves was delightful. The units don't have air-conditioning so before I left I was a little concerned about the heat because I can't sleep if I'm even a little too hot but it was no problem at all. All of the windows have screens and plantation style blinds that let in a wonderful cross breeze. We were absolutely comfortable the whole time. The grounds are very pretty and the beach is small but very nice.

The Plantation Gardens restaurant is on the grounds of the resort and was very good. The setting is beautiful and the service was well paced, not too fast or slow. The menu isn't very extensive but we both liked our choices. They do have a good wine list. The total for appetizer, 2 salads, 2 dinners, 5 drinks and coffee was $100 plus tip.

FOOD: Since we rented a condo, we went to the grocery store to stock up. I knew things would be expensive even by New York standards, but damn! For example, a ? gal. Tropicana o.j. was almost $5. A loaf of store brand bread was $2.30. Meat was actually the same or less than back home but most other things were considerably more. At the time we were there, gas was $2.15 - $2.30/gal. for regular unleaded.

I must disagree with the Kauai Revealed book once more. They say a restaurant called Pomodoro on the south shore has the best Italian food on Kauai. If that's true, then I shudder to think what the worst Italian food must be like. Mind you, it wasn't awful but it wasn't good either. Bland and really salty.

A TIP ABOUT THE SUN: On the 7th day of the trip, I noticed a patch of what looked like tiny blisters on my wrist and hand. By the next day it had spread to my arms, shoulders and ankles. I couldn't figure out what it was because I knew it wasn't allergies, hives or heat rash. I went on the internet to research and it turned out to be sun poisoning. I thought this was strange since I'm not fair skinned, never burn, always wear sun-block and I've been to tropical/sunny places many times before. On further research, I discovered that certain medications could can photo-sensitivity and photo-toxicity. I've recently started taking Zyrtec for allergies and this is one of the drugs that are known to cause this side effect. If you're on ANY medications check to find out if this is one of the side effects. It didn't hurt or ruin the trip but it is disconcerting to see this unexplained rash spreading over one's body. We did cancel the catamaran tour because 4+ hours of direct sun with no way to find shade would have made it worse.

SIGHTS: We drove up to Waimea Canyon Lookout and the drive up is just as pretty as the Look Out. There are lots over spots to pull over and take a picture or just appreciate the view. We also drove around the island up to the north shore and stopped to see Opeakaa Falls, which was pretty. We stopped at Kealia beach and watched the surfers, then went to the Kilauea Lighthouse and the bird sanctuary there. The views are spectacular. Didn't see a lot of birds up close but it looked like they were sleeping on the cliffs.
Alexis823 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2003, 01:51 PM
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HELICOPTER TOUR: We took a tour with Inter-Island Helicopters that was absolutely fabulous. They fly from Port Allen on the south shore. The tour is $250/pp for 2 hours and includes a stop at a private waterfall and lunch. The helicopters are Hughes 500's, which you can see in the movie "Black Hawk Down", without the guns of course. They take the doors off so that you have unrestricted views. I highly recommend it. I should also mention that there was a torrential downpour when we were heading to the airport. Before takeoff, the pilot said that we may not be able to land at the waterfall and we could rebook if we wanted. However, both we and the other couple on our flight were leaving the day after next so we decided to go ahead.

So we all get on and take off. I normally have no fear of flying but I did get very scared when we were flying over Waimea Canyon. Gripping my DH's hand, I even had to shut my eyes for a minute to calm down. The funny part is that Rich doesn't like flying so his Dr. prescribed him some Xanax and he was loose as a noodle.

By this time, they rain had stopped and after a few minutes I was able to relax and really enjoy the views. Especially the NaPali coast. The helicopter flies in and out of the valleys and the sight of these lush green mountains on every side is truly magnificent. Look for the mountain goats. How they get up there I will NEVER understand! When we flew over the rain forest I was really glad it had rained because there were waterfalls everywhere we looked. Dozens of them! It was amazing. We landed in a small clearing and took a short hike to the waterfall, which was very pretty. We had our bathing suits under our clothes so we decided to go in. If you take this tour, I highly recommend bringing water shoes with you. (We didn't.) The rocks around the waterfall are slippery and I slipped and banged up my foot. Nothing too serious though. We then ate the picnic lunch, which was simple but nice and re-boarded the helicopter. We got to see the giant waterfall that is featured in "Jurassic Park"? but a lot of the waterfalls brought on by the morning?s rain were already gone. I'm so glad we got to see them.

COMING HOME: Rich dropped me off at the terminal with the luggage and returned the rental car. While I was waiting, a man came by to tell me that we could check our bags all the way through to the mainland. I thought we would have to retrieve them in Honolulu from Aloha and then check them in again at Continental, which would have been a pain. At the check in desk we told her we were flying back to the mainland and gave her our Continental info. She was able to check our bags all the way to Newark and print our boarding pass for our other flight too. We boarded the plane and off we went.

Well, if you're still reading after all this, I thank you. I hope it's been of some interest and help to you all.
- A
Alexis823 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2003, 02:20 PM
Join Date: Apr 2003
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Wow!!! Great report! We will be staying at the Kiahuna Plantation in January so it is great to hear some such positive feedback about it! Sounds like it was a fantastic trip! Do you have any restaurant recommendations for Kauai? I really enjoyed reading your report!
kikahead is offline  
Sep 19th, 2003, 02:52 PM
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You did a great report on your vacation I've only been to Oahu, so it's good to know someone else's experience on the other islands; good reference in future when I plan for my next rrip.
mmee is offline  
Sep 22nd, 2003, 08:14 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
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Thanks for the trip report. Aloha.
lady_kit is offline  
Oct 4th, 2003, 06:47 PM
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Thanks Alexis, looking at BI for the first time and your report is a homerun as far as deciding. We're hoping to make this an adventurous and affordable trip to BI and our return to the Napali Coast of Kauai. Thanks for you inspiration! Taking the less is more approach so anyone with recs, thanks

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