We traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii November 6 through 11 of 2012, staying at the Mauna Lani Bay Resort. My husband and I brought my 90 year old mother (Gam), and it was a great experience for all of us. I decided to write a trip report for those who might be interested.
Day 1 - Tuesday
Flying on Alaska from Portland, Oregon direct to Kona went quite well, although we found the crying babies seated directly behind us to be a bit nerve-wracking. Gam decided to teach me Sudoku, and the time literally flew by. After landing in Kona things progressed smoothly – I hustled ahead of the crowd at Alamo to get near the front of the line, which saved time. Husband was stuck with the bags and he managed to throw out his back in the process which plagued him for the rest of the trip.
We found the Mauna Lani easily, and the check-in process was quick and painless. We ended up with two rooms on the 6th floor overlooking the Canoehouse and turtle pond, with the ocean still visible. Our rooms were quite different, which explains why so many people have varying opinions on the size and comfort.
Our room was bigger, with an oblong layout and long balcony. Gam’s room was more of the traditional variety, with the smaller end facing outward. Both rooms were fine, and the only glitch was that our room had no electrical outlet near the head of the bed for Husband’s CPAP machine. Now I can assure you that he wouldn’t have minded foregoing CPAP, but I knew there would be little rest for me so I called the front desk.
They sent housekeeping with an extension cord, which wasn’t long enough. We checked Gam’s room and found that it had an outlet near the head of the bed, so we just asked the front desk to switch our rooms which they did with no problem. Gam was fascinated by the oscillating/pulsating heated toilet in her new room, which we had fun joking about the entire time.
I would have loved to explore the grounds that afternoon/evening, but it was election night and Gam had planned to host our in-room election party in her room as she is quite passionate about politics and had followed all of the CNN talk shows for many months. So we ordered hamburgers from room service and set up camp in front of the television. Fortunately the results (of both the food and the election itself) were agreeable to all and we went to bed happy and excited to be in Hawaii.
Day 2 - Wednesday
I finally made it outside onto the grounds. The resort is beautiful and very natural with the fish ponds and clean-cut lawns. The pool is also quite nice – nothing fancy and in general the feeling of the hotel and grounds is one of quality, cleanliness and simplicity. There was a path that stretched along the ocean front, past the Mauna Lani Beach Club and up around the south golf course.
I am a runner and Husband walks, so every morning we worked out a compromise in which we did a combination of running and walking along this path. It is not a high traffic area, although this might have been because we are early risers. But the boardwalk from the Sheraton in Maui that we experienced last year was a much different experience! We both loved this part of the day possibly the most, and I was fascinated by the odd mixture of different fruit and nut trees along the fish ponds.
We had all agreed ahead of time that we would stick with a minimal breakfast, light lunch, and go a little more crazy on dinners each night. So we stopped in at the coffee shop after our run/walk and picked up a couple of croissants with our coffees. The coffee was $4.50 for the smallest size – wow. After showering, Husband, Gam and I went on our first adventure.
We took suggestions from the Tripadvisor forum and drove south along highway 19. Husband wanted to see Kailua-Kona, so we took a detour to drive along the downtown waterfront – what a crazy place packed full of tourists! There was a large cruise ship parked there, which may account for the crowds, but even though Husband was getting thirsty and Gam was thinking about rest stops, it made us feel anxious so we decided to keep going.
Finally after going through Captain Cook, we found Upcountry Café. I had read about this great little place, so we pulled over and headed in. Unfortunately it didn’t appear that alcoholic beverages were on the menu, and since Husband was still thirsty, we detoured next door to Paparoni’s Pizza. We were seated outside on a little patio with wildflowers climbing over the fence overlooking the ocean in the distance. It was really wonderful – great pizza, shared wine, and a breath of fresh air. We stopped back into UpCountry Café to buy some macadamia banana bread that would become our breakfast for the next few days.
Back on the road, we drove to the Place of Refuge. I hadn’t realized how large this park is, and we were able to get Gam down into the amphitheater area where she sat on a bench to read the brochure while Husband and I quickly toured the grounds. Gam had firmly rejected the idea of a wheelchair when I floated the idea early on, so she was very limited on her mobility with just her cane.
Still I very much enjoyed the Place of Refuge, so much history. I wasn’t able to soak in the spiritual aspects as I was very much aware of Gam parked in the amphitheater and felt stressed out with leaving her on her own. Soon we hustled back to the amphitheater and found her in the middle of a tourist group that had converged on the small area for a guided tour. We were able to extract her and began our slow trek back up to the car.
After a brief stop at the painted St Benedictine church, we started back up the Kohala Coast. I was able to get Husband to stop in at the Greenwell Coffee Farm but no one was up for the tour, so I just purchased some Peaberry Coffee beans for an outrageous price. Gam enjoyed seeing a coffee bush, and also seemed to recognize many of the flowers along the drive. We saw huge poinsettia bushes, birds of paradise, and bougainvillea. I think she would have enjoyed the botanical gardens by the painted church more than the Place of Refuge, but that’s hindsight.
Back at the hotel, we had cocktail hour (Gam observes cocktail hour every day, and one needs to attempt to be current on political and world events) and then we headed off to Lava Lava Beach Club for dinner. This place was really fun – very lively, lots of people, beautiful sunset, good food. I agree with others that the music is really cheesy; the musician started out with some Hawaiian music and a hula dancer, but then soon transitioned to Santana and early 70’s tunes.
We had reservations for 5:30 but the people at the table they had reserved for us were dawdling over leaving with the sun setting. I wasn’t overly worried and the hostess had us sit at a temporary table in the bar, but Husband was a bit irritated over it. After a longish wait, he finally pointed out another empty table to the hostess and we were seated and able to also enjoy the sunset.
We had steaks and they were quite good, I particularly loved the pumpkin risotto. Here’s the funny part – evidently the restaurant makes a practice of slipping the bills into used paperback books for a unique presentation. A cool idea, except ours happened to be in the Blue Hawaii Revealed book which I’ve understood to be not so cool according to Tripadvisor forum locals. The bill was also for the wrong table, but we got it all straightened out and it was no problem.
So we went back to the hotel and crashed for the night. Even though there’s only a 2 hour time difference from the West Coast, it felt like 3 as daylight savings time had changed the Sunday before we left in Oregon (Hawaii doesn’t observe daylight savings time).
Day 3 - Thursday
After our morning run/walk, we decided to bend our breakfast rule and enjoy a late breakfast that would also serve as lunch from the Mauna Lani’s Bay Terrace restaurant. It was decent food and excellent lilikoi mimosas. It was served at a very leisurely pace, and flocks of birds kept watch on unprotected food bits.
Husband and I decided to take some beach time. We loved the canopied chairs and immediately got into the ocean. The temperature was perfect, and we were enjoying it very much until Husband stepped on a shell particle that managed to puncture his heel. We tried to lay on the beach chairs with our lava flow drinks for a while, but his foot was bleeding all over the towel so we went back to our room.
Gam had been wanting to see the Mauna Kea because some of her friends had raved about it many years ago, so we went on a short drive up the coast to have an afternoon drink at the beach bar. Unfortunately we didn’t realize this involved a lengthy stairway descent down to the beach, but Gam decided she could do it.
This wasn’t one of the highlights of the trip – although the beach itself was large and beautiful, it was very apparent that there were major differences between the Mauna Lani and the Mauna Kea. Mostly in terms of quality – cheap beach furniture and not-so-great service. Plus it seemed very crowded and chaotic. The drinks were more expensive and in general we were very glad we were staying at the Mauna Lani! We managed to get Gam back up the steps and gratefully headed back to the Mauna Lani.
I had promised our five children (teenagers and young adults) souvenir t-shirts and/or sweatshirt so we drove to the Shops at Mauna Lani to check it out. Now the Foodland grocery store is terrific – we found a case of small Hawaii brand water bottles for $3.99. Also sprite zero and macadamia nuts for cocktail hour. The shops however did not yield any promising souvenirs, although this may have been in part because Husband and Gam were sitting on a bench in the middle of the shops while I scurried from store to store attempting the impossible. I’d been given 5-10 minutes to accomplish my mission and it just wasn’t going to happen. Back at the resort I inquired about the best place to find t-shirts, and was told the Golf Store was just the place.
We were becoming well-known with the valet service at the entrance of the Mauna Lani. Our parking and internet fees had been waived due to the conference Husband was attending, so Husband would usually park the car. However each time we pulled up in front of the hotel, the valets would spring into action and attempt to help Gam out of the car. She would brusquely wave them away and tell them she was just fine on her own (as she struggled to get out of the car with her cane).
I half-heartedly suggested that I take the shuttle to the golf shop to check out the t-shirts, but Gam and Husband insisted on driving me so I raced into the golf shop while they waited in the car. Fortunately this time I was able to locate great t-shirts, a sweatshirt, and even a Mauna Lani golf hat for myself. I was vastly relieved.
We enjoyed a leisurely cocktail hour and then drove over to Napua at the Mauna Lani Beach Club. We were one of the first ones there, and it was very quiet compared to Lava Lava. The service was spot on, and we had a nice dinner – steak and their panko chicken. I thought the panko chicken wasn’t as great, but it was fun and the beautiful surroundings more than made up for the food. We headed back to the hotel and were able to enjoy some live music with hula dancer in the atrium lobby of the hotel before going to bed early.
Day 4 - Friday
This was the official “work day.” Husband had to attend his one day legal conference at the Mauna Lani conference room, so after our morning walk/run I talked Gam into having coffee with me in the lower level coffee shop. On other days this was a beautiful and refreshing area with walls that opened up to the outdoors. On this day however, it was crowded and Gam and I had to perch in uncomfortable chairs balancing our coffee on the arms of our chairs while sitting in what seemed to be a huge wind tunnel. It was a “breezy day” which meant 20 mph winds blowing around us. The wind started knocking over items for sale in the shop, so the glass walls were closed up and we ended up going back upstairs to our room.
I had volunteered to be a “mock juror” for an afternoon session at Husband’s conference, so I attempted to look the part and joined the conference group for lunch prior to the session. The hotel catered food was fantastic; probably the best “conference” food I’ve ever had. I particularly loved the fruit salad, mini lemon tarts and homemade cookies. (I have a major sweet tooth.) The actual conference session was rather boring, and I eventually took a small plate of dessert goodies up to Gam (also has major sweet tooth). She had spent the afternoon at the beauty salon getting a “shampoo and style.” She thought the $56 charge was a bit steep but worth it. She very much enjoyed her stylist and was able to get excellent historical information on all of the resorts in the area.
I managed to snag some pool time between my mock jury session and dinner time and enjoyed people watching and a cocojito. The staff came around with free melon popsicles which was very much appreciated by all around the pool. I finally drug myself back to the room to change for dinner – tonight was the Beach House at Four Seasons.
We found the Beach House to be absolutely as wonderful as many on the Tripadvisor forum have stated. One has to experience it to really understand how great it is. We were seated at a very nice table right in front next to the beach, and the “beach tree” was all lit up with tiny lights. Combined with the sunset I was mesmerized. The tiki torches were lit and I think it was possibly the most beautiful dining experience I’ve ever had.
The service was fantastic – our young and energetic waitress was attentive and accommodated substitutions for Gam and Husband when we all ordered the Tuscan Night menu. We all thought the food was the best here compared to all of our dinners. The steaks were perfect, my sides were great although for some reason there was an overly heavy hand with the goat cheese. There was music with a hula dancer who was very patient and gracious with children who were attempting to climb up on the stage with her. It almost felt like a warm, homey comfortable backyard barbeque, except at a very beautiful home on the beach! The staff arranged for a shuttle to take us back up to our car – Gam insisted she could have walked, but since the paths were fairly dark she agreed to make a concession this time and accept assistance.
We sat on the balcony and watched the turtles in the pond below us. There is also a shark pond next to the Canoehouse with smallish sharks swimming around with their pointy fins sticking up out of the water. Definitely a unique feature of the resort, and we really enjoyed walking around the resort grounds. We had another early night after catching up with the latest on the Petraeus scandal on CNN.
Day 5 - Saturday
Our last full day on the island – we all felt a bit subdued and kind of sad. I had thought I would like to stay at the resort and sunbathe this day, but we all decided to utilize our time to the fullest and take another short day trip. After our morning walk/run (yes, still my favorite part of the day) we had coffee with our banana bread, and then drove north, taking the loop around through the mountains to Hawi. I had been riding in the backseat of the car since Gam fit more comfortably in the front.
I have a problem with car sickness, and coupled with fear of heights I have to say this wasn’t my favorite part of the trip. But Gam loved the scenery and the new sights, so it was worth it. Once we arrived at Hawi, Husband and I toured the farmer’s market while Gam waited in the car, and then had lunch at the Bamboo restaurant. This was a very fun restaurant, historical old converted hotel with colorful fixtures and great personality. I scored some cute bracelets for our girls and a Hawaiian slack guitar CD for my father (who also plays the Hawaiian guitar). We then headed back to Mauna Lani via the coastline, and tried to keep an eye out for the Macadamia factory shown on google maps, but somehow missed that.
We got back in time to have an hour by the pool while Gam napped before dinner.
Dinner tonight was at the Canoehouse at the Mauna Lani. This was very nice – beautiful ambiance once again with a lovely sunset. The food was very good, but we decided it was still second to the Beach Tree. Due to another “breezy” day the tiki torches all blew out, but it was still very picturesque, and we loved the music. The guitarist played more of a Hawaiian style of music and I thought he was the best musician we had experienced so far. The service was also perfect, and when we were leaving, the waitress asked me how old Gam was – she said she also had a 91 year old mother who was just as wonderful and amazing.
We quietly walked back to our rooms for our last night. I really wished we could have had more time for this trip, but it was the perfect amount for Gam and we had children and obligations at home.
Day 6 - Sunday
Husband and I managed to still get in our walk, and it was just a walk today. I didn’t mind as it was our last day, and my knees were feeling a bit funky from running on odd surfaces all week. We got our things together and Gam was knocking on our door ten minutes early, but we had already figured this would happen so we were actually ready.
Checkout went well, and there were no mistakes or discrepancies in anticipated charges. We arrived at the airport early but were faced with an enormous line waiting to go through security. A nice man behind us in line suggested that we could take Gam around the side and go to the head of the line, but I regretfully told him she would likely refuse. And fifteen minutes later when a security guard attempted to ease us out of the line to bump us to the front, Gam sharply refused and insisted she was just fine. She said it would serve as her “daily exercise.”
Gam had warned us that it usually take her quite a while to get through security due to the metal in her knees and hips from replacements. In Portland this did not appear to be that much of an issue due to new x-ray equipment. However in Hawaii this proved to be much more difficult.
She was asked to stand (without her cane) next to the belt for quite some time while a woman was located to perform the search. Gam was taken behind a glass area and had to stand while given a full body pat-down, with shoes again removed and put through x-ray with her cane. It was quite extensive and I was really taken aback. I normally am completely supportive of security protocol as I know it is important for our safety. But here was a 90-year old woman, bent over her cane, who was subjected to a very invasive and at times uncomfortable procedure. It actually brought tears to my eyes, but she just took it in stride. I am not really upset at the airport personnel over this, but find it so sad that terrorists and the state of our world in general has created this necessity.
Eventually we got to the gate just in time to board the plane. Five hours of Sudoku later we arrived home to a very wet and rainy Portland airport and back to reality.
The trip went really well thanks to all who helped on this forum with advice and suggestions. We have told Gam that she is welcome to join us on all annual Hawaiian conference trips as she was such a positive addition for both of us. I have already insisted that future trips must include independent shopping time for me and at least one round of golf. Gam did some semi-pro golfing back in her day, a scratch handicap golfer, and she still golfs at her country club. She had put away her golf clubs at the end of the season however, so she was not inclined to play on this trip.
Again, thank you to everyone here on Tripadvisor who helped me plan this trip. I hope my experience will be helpful for others.