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Hawaii Trip. Paradise Lost (Or At Least Misplaced)

Hawaii Trip. Paradise Lost (Or At Least Misplaced)

May 21st, 2012, 05:25 AM
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Hawaii Trip. Paradise Lost (Or At Least Misplaced)

Part 1

My wife and I arrived at our hotel, the Westin Maui, just before sunset. After dropping our bags in our room, we went out to their bar by the beach and had a few tropical drinks, some of which might actually have contained some alcohol, and watched the sunset. We walked along the beach and looked at the stars. Now this was the Hawaii of your imagination! Your basic tropical paradise!

We did the same on the second night. Gee it was nice.

Same on the third night. OK, the sun's setting.

Same on the fourth ninth. What's on TV.

We flew to Waikiki. On the fifth night, we did the same beachwalk but returned along Kalakaua past the tourist and overprice glitz shops. Ditto nights six-nine. It began to get tedious, but there's nothing else to do. Even drinking began to get boring.

In Maui, we stayed at the Westin Maui proved to be a poor hotel choice. First, the location is not good. You are isolated in West Maui, and it is a 45 minute or more drive to get almost anywhere on the island you might want to go, Lahaina excepted. Knowing what I know now, I'd say more centrally in Kihei or someplace like that. You are also stuck in a row of "luxury" hotels with few stores and crappy hotel and chain restaurants. There is more choice 10 minutes away in Lahaina, but then you can't drink with dinner, unless you are willing to drink and drive, which is a bad idea. As for the hotel itself, it was only so-so. The room was smallish and several notches below your standard Courtyard and the rugs were a bit dirty. Not exactly what you expect from a "luxury resort." On the other hand, everyone was extremely friendly and helpful both there and everywhere else in Hawaii. They make a big effort to treat visitors well in Hawaii.

In Oahu, we had originally booked our hotel at the Outrigger Reef, but were unable to add a needed extra day, so we spent the first night at the Sheraton Waikiki. The lobby was large, chaotic and noisy and our room was small and several levels below your average Holiday Inn. It's redeeming value was a great view directly across to Diamond Head. Amazingly, the Sheraton is on the water but has no beach! There are stretches of sand at the neighboring hotels, but the front of the Sheraton ends at a concrete walkway where the waves break. Since there is no beach, they just have a large swimming pool. I hadn't seen serious sun bathers on Maui, but here on Waikiki there were hordes of brown, glistening bodies alternately baking and strutting their stuff. Maui is mainly populated by Orlando types, families and young marrieds. In contrast, Waikiki and especially the Sheraton is more like Fort Lauderdale with some kind of overage Spring Break leavened by hordes of Japanese tourists.

We checked out of the Sheraton and into the Outrigger Reef which proved to be a very nice hotel. The overall decor was a pleasant, understated tropical theme, which had local ambience but which wasn't tacky or in your face. It was much quieter and more subdued than the Sheraton and the contrast was a real relief. We liked our room a lot. We may have lucked out because we got a very large, nicely appointed corner room. I had booked a partial ocean view room and that's what we got. There was no view from the windows, but there was decent view from the balcony. The forced valet parking at $30 a night (plus tax) was a bit of bummer, though.

1hughes is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 05:35 AM
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Part 2

Impressions and Observations

* Lahaina is one tacky tourist trap of a town consisting primarily of junk souvenir stores, kitchy "art" shops, tour hucksters and some restaurants. The main sight is the extraordinary weird banyan tree that justifies the visit alone.

In Lahaina, we also learned a new word: "preview." There were a lot of storefronts advertising various tours. I noticed that the prices were much lower than you see on websites and brochures. We had been thinking about a helicopter ride, so we decided to check one guy out. I asked what he had in helicopter tours. He started talking very fast and somewhere in the rush I heard the word "preview." No idea what he was talking about. He asked our combined weights and called Air Maui, a well known helicopter tour company. He finished the call and offered us a couple of tours at a price that was about half the normal rate that I had seen on the Air Maui website. Great. Oh wait, there was this "preview" thing. It turned about that a "preview" is a euphemism for a two hour timeshare sales pitch. There is apparently an incestuous relationship between the timeshare hucksters and the tour operators. The tour operators fill seats available at a discount price and the timeshare hucksters rope you in with discount tours.

We weren't really sure that we wanted the ride, so we hemmed and hawed. He kept telling us how much he wanted to make us happy and kept lowering the price until we could have gotten the helicopter rides for 75% off. Then he offered to add a $25 dollar credit on my credit card. We wavered, but we would have had to kill a day to come back to Lahaina for the pitch so turned him down. We got offered numerous such deals, but none nearly as good as the helicopter ride. But the constant nagging about previews during our trip made the Istanbul rug salesmen seem almost tame by comparison.

* The Westin Maui is next to Whaler's Village. There, we first encountered one of Hawaii's great institutions and the tourist's best friend: the ABC Store. It's about the only place in Hawaiian tourism areas that you can save some money by buying room food and your own liquor. They also have an ample supply of tacky souvenirs and the cheapest aloha shirts around. On Waikiki there is literally one on every block, but this was the only one we saw on Maui.

...more later
1hughes is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 05:45 AM
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I've never been a fan of Maui probably because, for me, it's not authentic Hawaii.

I love Oahu because there is so much to do and see - Pearl Harbor Memorial, Chinatown, Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum, Diamond Head hiking, Byodo Temple (in the Valley of the Temples), the famous surfing places in the North Shore (Sunset, Pipeline, Waimea Beach), Hanauma Bay,.......
nanabee is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 06:33 AM
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Remind me not to travel with you (everyone's entitled to their opinion, but I certainly don't share your view!)
sf7307 is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 06:59 AM
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Thanks 1hughs for the heads up on "preview" and the ABC store. And to nanbee for the suggestion of the Byodo Temple and Iolani Palace.
parrothead1225 is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 07:11 AM
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We prefer the Big Island and Kauai. A shame you didn't get more enjoyment from your trip.
jetset1 is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 07:33 AM
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<<...but there's nothing else to do.>>

I've been to the BI, Kauai, Oahu and Maui and never had a problem finding something to do on any of the islands. Our days have always been full as we enjoy exploring the islands, but if I never left my hotel I guess I would be bored too.
wtm003 is online now  
May 21st, 2012, 07:59 AM
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Wow. It's hard to dislike being in Hawaii IMHO. "Nothing to do" never crosses my lips when in Hawaii. You are a tough customer!
PeaceOut is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 08:35 AM
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If you are not a fan of water sports (swimming, snorkeling, diving, boating, etc) I'm not sure why someone would go to Maui in the first place.

Again, if you can't find something exciting to do on Oahu then you are not looking very hard.
nanabee is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 08:55 AM
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Reading this post with trepidation.
spirobulldog is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 09:45 AM
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1hughes: from your only other post here on Fodor's, you expected to have a lousy trip, and congrats - you found enough to justify your trepidations. You obviously didn't take any of the advice you were given on your other thread about lovely things to do and see, though I don't think you ever had any intention of doing so anyway.

For being a self-proclaimed world traveler, you obviously didn't do your homework about Hawaii. Really? Timeshare sales on an island surprised you? Valet parking charges were also a surprise? And, oh my goodness, sun bathers and Japanese tourists? Get out! Really?! Next time you're forced to go to Hawaii, send me your tickets and I'll be happy to take your place.
iowagirl is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 10:04 AM
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Part 3: The Good Stuff

*Highlight 1 We took a catamaran ride that went way out to sea off Waikiki at high speed (so we were told). I was a quite an adventure, marred only by the incessant loud rock music and the scream of the teenage Japanese tourist girls every time we hit even a modest sized swell.

*Highlight 2. The Haleakala depression (no, it's not actually a crater, the park ranger informs you) was spectacular. I was unprepared for the its immensity, which immediately makes you contemplate the magnitude of the forces that created it. I instantly regretted that we were not going to the Big Island to see an active volcano. It was bitter cold and windy, and even though we were properly dressed in lined parkas, we canned any thought of a short hike. (Note to people thinking of bicycling down. We were told that the accident rate for bikers is *very* high.) Unfortunately, clouds partially obscured our view, so didn't get the full effect.

We went to Haleakala (and Iao Needle) on a day tour so that I would not have to drive to long distances every day. Taking a tour had its pros and cons. It was very nice to let someone else drive and sit relaxing and watching the view. The drive back and forth from West Maui to the rest of the island gets to be a real drag. The winding road up the mountain isn't scary because there are no steep drop offs, but it would be stressful, requiring close attention. Riding was much better. The cons were many, however. There was a lot of wasted time picking up passengers and stopping for lunch. There seemed like there must have been 100 bathroom stops. Worst of all, the tour driver treated the passengers to an 8 hour uninterrupted monolog that was 25% description of passing plants and 70% inane banter that made you wish she had an off button. Worse, much of it was on a loop that she repeated 5 and 6 times during the day. The other 5% was a pimping the menu at the restaurant where we stopped for lunch . All in all, the avoiding driving pro outweighed all the cons, but I'd be in no rush to do it again.

BTW, the Iao Needle wasn't that impressive, but the steep surrounding hills were scenic. There are also some nice cultural exhibits, ranging from Portuguese to Korean, just off the approaching road. I've never seen this mentioned anywhere.

*Highlight 3. The Bishop Museum is a real gem. We started at the main building. I wasn't that interested in the individual cultural exhibits, but they blended together with the rich wood paneling (and the huge whale sculpture) to make one of the most beautiful museum galleries I've ever seen. The docents were also very helpful, and like everyone else we met in Hawaii, very friendly. Another room displays artifacts and tells the story of Hawaii's comic opera monarchy.

The place should probably called Bishop Museum And Science Center to give you a better idea of what it's about. Volcano exhibit at the science building is also great fun and extremely cool (metaphorically speaking). They also have many hands on exhibits for creating your own tsunamis, volcano eruptions, etc. and there is a show where they created some lava. The Bishop also has a small planetarium. We saw the show that gave a brief course on navigation using the stars, presumably as the original inhabitants had done. It also was very interesting and great fun. The Bishop reflects Hawaii at its best - its very elemental nature of sky, ocean and volcano.

*Highlight 4. Since there isn't much to do, especially on Maui, the hotels offer some recreational events. Most are highly avoidable, but one night the Westin had a local astronomy expert with a telescope on the beach to give a talk and shows some stars. It was the best night we spent, although rain sometimes forced a halt. Unfortunately, star watching during the trip was severely limited by clouds and some rain. This leads to...
1hughes is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 10:07 AM
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Part 4 The Bad

*Major Bummer 1. Every picture in every guide book shows Hawaii with clear, sun drenched skies. In fact, it gets cloudy a lot and rains in varying degrees upon location. (The Hana road was very cloudy and we were told it rains virtually every day in Hana.) This both limited star watching and marred our visit to Haleakala. We couldn't see much at all from the peak near Science City above the crater. Don't go expecting clear blue skies every day. Hawaii doesn't always look like guidebook pictures.

*Major Bummer 2. Lolani Palace. We sat in sun for 1/2 waiting for the bus that crawled through town and left us off a good walk from the place. They don't mark where the entrance is, so we walked around quite a bit before discovering it. We finally arrived hot an exhausted, only to be told that you have to take a tour (audio or guided), which only starts periodically so we had to wait. There is a satellite building that loops a film talking about the history of the palace and showing some of the inside. We watch it for 10 minutes, that was enough, so we returned to Waikiki. Catching a cab was impossible so we had to bus back. A long, long trip. Traffic in Honolulu is very slow.

*Major Bummer 3. We wanted to climb Diamond Head, but it was closed for repairs. No, I'm not making this up.

*Major Bummer 4. You can barely walk down the street around Waikiki without some huckster trying to a hawk a "preview." They hang out around these little booths and carts spaced like 20 feet apart (or so it seems anyway) and try to get your attention like prostitutes on the Reeperbahn. At least they don't follow you down the street like in some places. One trick I learned: if possible, walk on the side of the street with Japanese people in the little booths. They were targeting Japanese tourists and generally left Euros alone.
1hughes is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 10:09 AM
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Part 5: The Meh

*Highlight 5. Happy hour was the high point of almost every day in Hawaii. It starts early on Maui, 2-3 o'clock. We soon learned that everything in Maui is early, including the dinner times at 5 and many restaurants closing by 9. The reasons soon become obvious. First, everyone comes from the mainland and is on an earlier clock. Second, there is nothing to do in the evenings, so you might was well go to bed early. It would have been even better if the some of the tropical drinks actual had some alcohol in them. At least they were cheap. Anyway, sitting near the water with the later afternoon breeze and an almost-drink in your hand was a nice daily experience.

If you want to drink and watch the water in West Maui, the two choices near the hotel were the Hula Grill and Leilani. We alternated at the two, going to Hula Grill on the first night. We ordered tropical drinks, some of which might actually have contained some alcohol, and enjoyed the breeze. (Lesson 1 for tourists to Hawaii - have your one umbrella drink and then immediately switch to beer. Some of the local stuff, like Firerock, was good. We ordered some pu pu, which tasted more like ka ka. On the plus side, the Hawaiian music was a surprise and very good. During our stay, we learned to appreciate the Hawaiian music, at least the stuff played by younger guys. Older musicians seemed to lean more toward the whiney stuff.

*We started off for Hana with trepidation after reading the comments about the horrible winding road. In fact, the road was twisting, but I found it rather fun to drive in relatively light traffic. I can see where it might create a bit of motion sickness, but we had none. It was also not all that interesting or scenic. We stopped about halfway and decided to turn around. Since this was the only day we had to drive around the island on our own, we wanted to try some other places. Like the lavender farm.

* The experience of going to the lavender farm is why I don't put too much stock in boards like this. I've read many comments about the wonderful lavender farm, but not one that mentioned how difficult it is to get there. From the main road, you have to take a one lane road in a series of long switchbacks up the side of a hill. The edges of the single lane have crumbled into a very deep, axel braking, ruts. If you start up the road and another vehicle is coming down, you have to slowly and carefully back off the road onto these deep ruts without damaging your suspension. After we had to do this 3 times in the first 100 yards, we gave up.

*All in all, food was a undistinguished and overpriced. Waikiki is overrun with hotel places, chains and celebrity chef restaurants, all with their tarted up, expensive food that's more sizzle than steak (metaphorically speaking). Welcome to the Las Vegas-ization of food. There is nothing real, nothing local and nothing where the actual food is the only focus. We found that there was no place around Waikiki, for example, where we could get plain, simply cooked, fresh, seafood. Given the lack of alternatives, we went to Roy's for dinner due to its proximity to the hotel and all the rave comments. My wife's steamed fish was OK but mine was a plate with three varieties over overly fancy fish with way too much fuss and bother. It was OK, but no more. I'd give Roy's a C/C+ for food and a D for value.

The next night we started at Nobu, which we knew would be expensive, but at least the sushi would be simple seafood. The plan was try the sushi and see how much we liked it. If was as good as I'd had at Matushista in LA (Nobu Matsuhista's original restaurant), we'd stay for a full dinner. Otherwise, we'd adjourn to someplace else for our main course. Verdict: good but not worth spending $300 for a full dinner. Grade B. We moved to the closest Asian place, another chain called PF Chang. The food was fairly crappy, tarted up, Chinese. Grade C-/D+.

The other nights, I let friends choose the restaurants, and they chose buffets, which I normally avoid. One was Kai Market (ironically at the Sheraton). Another night we to Prince Court (A Japanese Hotel slightly off Waikiki), where I ordered from the menu and got some overcooked steamed fish. When the cheerful waiter asked how I liked my dinner, I discreetly told him "fine" for fear he'd have to commit seppuku on the spot. I also tried some of the buffet, sticking to seafood at both places since I didn't come to Hawaii for roast beef and potato salad. Being a buffet, neither had anything especially good, although the Prince Court was certainly better. Grades C- and C.

The last night we were tired and waiting to leave for the airport. Since there was nothing very appealing on Waikiki, went with cheap with a farewell view of the water. The Outrigger Reef beach restaurant has a deal where you grill your own stake and get a salad bar for $16. The steak was blah and the salad bar was poor. Grade D. May be best meal on our trip was some fish at lunchtime from a "shrimp truck" on the windward side during our drive around the island.

Maui wasn't any better. Since the restaurants were unpromising, so we adjourned one night for dinner at the ABC store, bought some cheese, crackers and some other room food and rum, which we used to make actual alcoholic drinks. One night in Lahaina stopped at Cilantro and took some of their highly touted chicken back to our room and headed to Leilani for happy hour. Leilani was a bit more raucous despite obviously being less popular than Hula Grill with a noisier crowd and 80's pop music. We returned to the room and had the Cilantro's chicken, which was bland and overcooked.

*We did a lot of the other standard tourist things: Pali lookout (nice view), Chinatown (not nearly worth the bother), drive around the southeast coast (nice views but after you've seen one set of crashing waves, you've seen them all), stop at Makawao (not much there), etc. We hit a lot of botanical places, the best by far being the Koko Crater Botanical Garden. Lyon Arboretum was a disappointment and literally a pain, since the main "trail" is nothing but rocks and stones that kill your feet and lead only to a pathetic waterfall that pees a thin trickle down 60 feet of rock. You see much better versions of the same thing at Iao Park.

I should end by saying that the trip wasn't my or my wife's idea to go. We had looked at Hawaii before and decided it wasn't for us. But fate presented an opportunity to go that we couldn't turn down. Now that I've returned, my opinion is mixed. All in all, it was OK but not a great investment of our travel time or money. The dominant beach culture(s), as we suspected, was not our kind of thing. It would make a nice weekend getaway - if not for the 14 hours plane ride each way. However, I suspect that the Big Island would have been a lot better trip than Maui or Oahu because it is the most elemental island and that's where Hawaii really shines - not on the Las Vegas-by-the-sea tourist beaches of Waikiki or in the Love Boat ashore ambience of Maui. Unfortunately, I'll probably never know.
1hughes is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 10:24 AM
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You will probably get a lot of backlash for your report, but it is your opinion and experience. I give you kudos for having the cajones to post it.
MichelleY is online now  
May 21st, 2012, 10:25 AM
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I really enjoyed your report and personal perspective. Thanks for a great read.
Lookin_Glass is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 10:38 AM
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I agree. I found this report very interesting.
ekscrunchy is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 10:41 AM
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Although we adore the islands, on our first trip we renamed Lahaina - LaHeinous as it may well have been when the sailors from the Whaling Fleet hit town for some impromptu rape and pillaging. Not much has changed since the haole arrived.

On our third or fourth trip to Maui, we finally made it to Iao Needle, site of one of the bloodiest battles in recorded Hawaiian history. Yet every one off the tour bus was oohing and ahhing about how beautiful the place was. I felt the blood of the land.

Again, so nice to read a new perspective.
Lookin_Glass is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 11:53 AM
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Dear tough customer (aka 1hughes)...I do believe you did see some interesting places. I am glad that for our first Hawaii trip we went with Road Scholar (Elderhostel). After a stay in Honolulu we boarded Pride of America with excellent dining and stopped off at four islands. Most travel at night ready for daytime exploring. Well led tours focusing on volcanoes, lava fields, rain forests, history.
Bill in Boston
Ozarksbill is offline  
May 21st, 2012, 05:34 PM
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This is very sad to me. My family had been going to Hawaii since the early 1920s and I first went at age 12 in 1966. Since then, I have returned about a dozen times, mostly to Oahu, Maui and the Big Island but my last trip was for the Pearl Harbor anniversary in 1991. I felt then as if "my" Hawaii was slipping away and I cannot bear to go back.

I love the Hawaiian people, the weather and the water sports but think that it has really gone downhill since my grandmother learned to surf there in 1923!

gualalalisa is offline  

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