Thanks to everyone who replied to my questions over the last couple of months all the info helped me to feel like a ROCKSTAR in planning this trip! Hope I can repay with info that I've gathered! This isn't my first Trip Report and I will forewarn you now...I tend to get a little long winded so get comfortable ;) Also, I try my best to group info together and I will attach several facebook picture links after each section.
A little background... This was our first trip to any of the Hawaiian Islands (10 nights) for my husband and myself. We are in our mid 30’s and love to travel and our vacations generally include lots of exploring, tours & scuba diving. Fine dinning does not make or break a vacation for us, and we rarely spend more that a couple hours a day laying by the pool or beach.
We flew United Airlines out of Chicago, connecting in L.A. We only had a 40 minute connection time and I can't lie I was a little nervous, we ended up getting lucky and the plane we took to L.A. was continuing on to HNL, but I don't know if I would suggest that short of a connection time to anyone. Arrived HNL at 12:30PM and had a better part of the day (....bad news we were exhausted by 7PM that night). HNL is a pleasant first peek of Hawaii...the open air design gives you the first ALOHA of your trip!
RENTAL CAR & ARRIVAL AT HNL:
We booked our rental car through discounthawaiicarrental.com. We booked an economy car aprox $160 for the entire trip. Our reservation was confirmed through ALAMO. When we arrived at baggage claim I scouted out the pickup area for rental car shuttles, while my hubby waited on luggage. I saw a sign for several other rental companies but ALAMO wasn't listed so I made a quick phone call and they said just go to where all the other companies pickup (out the doors from baggage claim and across the street) and you can't miss the bus. Easy as that. The bus was larger than most of the other companies so there was no need to wait for the next bus. Short ride to the office and we hoped in the pickup line. We saw some families using the kiosk to check in, but if the line isn't that long I'd speak to an agent and here is why... When we got there they never mentioned anything about not having the economy car we reserved, but instead talked us into a FULL SIZE car upgrade for only $10 more per day. We thought that was reasonable so we did it. Took us about 10 mins with the agent and then we got out to the lot and there were NO FULL SIZE cars available so the agent said pick any of the SUV's or trucks (a higher upgrade) so we took the Ford Edge. It was great! We put 800 miles on the car in those 11 days we were getting 26 mpg which we thought was great for all the starting and stopping we did.
My advice here is peek at the lot as soon as you arrive and scan to see if they have your reserved car and with that knowledge play the "no charge upgrade" game. If they say you'll have to wait for hours to get your car then I would ask what the best price per day they will give you for an upgrade. Dig in a little deeper tell them you want the car you reserved and they can get the correct car to you at your resort and you'll only pay the upgrade for the 1 day until you get the right car! My guess is they will not want that hassle and give you the upgrade for the whole time. :) Enough about rental cars lets start digging into to VACATION!! :)
MARRIOTT KO OLINA, VACATION CLUB:
Simply....WE LOVED IT!!!! If you are booked here or thinking of booking here and you like a relaxing place I wouldn't hesitate for a second! Yes, a rental car is something I would budget for, but I can't imagine staying on Waikiki with out a rental car or plans to hop a tour bus to see everything.
We exchanged a vacation week through Interval International. We were in the Kona Tower (main) on the 5th floor # 10526- studio unit. Small refridg, microwave, bar sink, pullout sofa sleeper with oversized ottoman that when put with the corner couch piece and ottoman would make enough room to easily sleep 3 small kids- not sure if they "allow" 5 person occupancy in those rooms but that was my observation. The kitchenette only has full service flatware for 2 people, but you could make it work with kids. The balcony is pretty small with 2 chairs and small table its a tight fit, but again it's your room and their is plenty of places to sprawl out in Oahu :) View from our room wasn't the best, but we did see the marina. The floor we were on had the ice machine on it and we never ran into a problem getting ice each day for our cooler. The 4th & 10th floor had FREE laundry! Call me over-excited about this, but it is so nice to have the option to do laundry. They only had 1 wash/dryer, but it was top of the line front loader. They start you out with a few packets of powder laundry detergent in your unit, but we bought some TIDE pods at Target before we checked in just in case. You can buy the small boxes for $1 in the laundry room beyond that. Think that covers the unit.
RESORT & KO OLINA AREA :
The grounds are beautiful and the staff very friendly. The bell staff was on top of it and always there to answer general questions. FYI- they have a luggage scale if you need to check your baggage on departure day. As for parking- I updated this thread with my experience if you need that info here it is.... tripadvisor.com/…49526542
We didn't spend a ton of time at the resort durning the afternoon, but the time we did spend there it was so peaceful... I didn't feel like I had to camp out for 24 hrs to find a good place to sit- beach or poolside. There are 4 resorts in the Ko Olina Lagoons. The walk between them is a great workout or a leisurely stroll- you chose. We walked down to the JW Marriott end and caught a beautiful sunset. The sunsets IMO from the Ko Olina area are by far better than those we viewed from Waikiki...and I didn't have to share them with 500 other people in one spot :)
We didn't do any snorkeling (but did swim) in the lagoons, the water temp was what we expected island wide about 77-78. They have 3 pools for guests, you will have to wear a wrist band to confine you to your resort pool, but you are free to use all 4 of the resorts lagoons. The adult reflection pool was the only pool we sat by as this trip was adults only. I didn't think they did a very good job policing this adults only quiet pool as I saw parents with little kids in this pool for long periods at a time. The other 2 pools - one was more geared towards teenagers/adults - deeper and had a volleyball net which seemed to almost always have a game going on...and the family pool- very shallow (max 3-4 feet deep) except for where the water slide dropped in. There wasn't much seating around that family pool, we only know because we attempted to sit there because of some unpleasant jackhammering near the adult pool side... we made it 90 mins before I had enough "family time" at that pool area, but the kids that were there loved it. **** Our only hic-up at the Ko Olina: The last few days we ran into "unexpected" MAJOR construction that closed a main pool, 2 hot tubs & outdoor massage area. I did have a chat with management about the lack of notice and wasn't thrilled with the response, but these are things I can't control and didn't ruin my experience or my enjoyment of the overall experience at the resort. I was assured that under normal circumstances the Marriott advises guests 1 year in advance of major construction... smh...but I will leave it at that. ;)
One last thing about the beach- you can rent Cabanas - we did this a couple of days but only for 1/2 day (equal to 4 hours) it was $15 for Owners or $20 for Non-Owners. Both days we arrived about 1PM-ish and we stayed until 5:45 ish....as they close at 6PM and no one said anything about our overage- there is no shade other than a few palm trees up higher in the lagoon near the grass or the cabanas so if you need some shade like we do invest in the cabana. Plus they are mattress cushions (ask them to double them up) so they are very comfortable!
We did make a few trips to Target to pick up groceries ect. It's only a couple of miles down the road. If it takes you more than 10 mins to get there you drive SLOW...just kidding! Very nice store with full grocery and I would recommend using your TARGET Red Card as you'll save 5%. There is a small, but nice marketplace at the resort, but if you have a car I would make the trip to Target/Costco to save a little more and have more choices. In the same shopping center there is a place called ALOHA Salads that we grabbed lunch one afternoon and it was very tasty and for $20+ it fed the 2 of us. We wanted to visit the Organic Store in that same shopping center, but just never got around to it. An employee at the resort said it was a good place to get a quick bite to eat.
Another place to grab a quick breakfast or lunch was at the ABC Store Island Deli! The breakfast was IMO more than enough from myself- had it twice and couldn't finish it either time. Around $15 for the 2 of us. We grabbed deli sandwiches several days from the Island Deli- their Rueben was our favorite. We split it and again it was more than enough. BTW- you will feel your self on ABC Store overload very quickly. They are EVERYWHERE. Pretty much they all have the same stuff, but they do have nice things. This is where we bought most of our souvenirs. Remember to save your receipts - For every $100 you'll get a free gift or $300 you'll get to pick from more gifts. I hit $206 by the time our trip was over. * The MonkeyPod, 2 Scoops & aTaco place are also in with the ABC Store Shopping center but we didn't make it too any of those. Another place is "coming soon" so there are food options in the Ko Olina area.
LONGBOARDS @ Marriott: We ate here 2 nights and I was very pleased with the menu and the prices not bad for the fact they have little competition! One night we had dinner entrees and drinks- the bill was $79 (before tip). The next night we had sandwiches/burgers & drinks and it was about $60 (before tip). Service was good, just remind yourself you are on island time, but I thought they were much quicker than the normal Caribbean service. Kitchen closes at 9PM I believe so don't plan to have a late meal, and they don't take reservations.
18 pictures- Ko Olina Resort : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/…
My itinerary looked more like a mission than a vacation by the time I was finished, but that's the way we like to do vacation! :)
I really don't have the words to describe this experience, I will just say that I think it's a place that if given the chance to visit don't pass the opportunity. We reserved 8AM tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial- we arrived at 7AM and picked up our tickets and audio tour headsets. The only think I might have done differently is maybe booking the 9AM tour and see if you can pick up your audio sets earlier and start the tour. We got going on some of the exhibits and had to stop so we could catch the 8AM ferry over to the Memorial. This site really makes you appreciate the risk and sacrifice military personnel make for our freedoms. When our ferry returned us to the exhibit area we continued our audio tour. We also did the Bowfin Sub & Museum and The USS Missouri (in that order). If you are planning to do all 3 buy the Combo tickets. We bought each ticket separately and could've saved a few $. We were exhausted after 8 hours there and wished we could've made our bodies continue to see the Aviation museum, but no amount of pep talking could convince us to do one more tour. There is a place to eat at the USS Missouri - just a lunch truck but they gave you a lot of food so you can fill up even if it seems pricey. Drinks are self serve and we had a bottle of water that we refilled from their water cooler- saved us a couple bucks.
41 pictures- PEARL HARBOR- https://www.facebook.com/media/set/…
As you may have guessed from my screen name...we love to scuba dive! We generally like to add diving to 3/4 or more of the days we are on vacation. This trip was different simply b/c of the cost to dive and the fact that fellow divers have mentioned the disappointment we might find in comparison to other dive destinations we have been to. Our itinerary had 2 days of diving in it with the option of 2 more possible days if we chose too. We did not. The diving wasn't a disappointment, but in 4 dives total we saw what we needed to and got a feel for what diving was like in Hawaii and thought we would spend more time exploring "top side" (aka land) activities on Oahu.
We booked both days with Hawaiian Nautical and brought our own gear it saved us about $15 per person and gave us more bottom time since we were diving off of computers vs tables. (2 tank reg $150 w/gear) Our divemaster, Mel was such a sweet gal! I was 100% pleased with her knowledge both days as with our boat captain Mike the day we dove West Coast. Sites: Airplanes & Keau Corners . The day we dove Waikiki we again had Mel for divemaster, and another divemaster who's name I forgot but we had lots of laughs with her on the boat. I will just keep my comments to myself about the captain for that day.... Dive sites: SeaTiger (ship wreck) & Nautilus. *Some of my favorite sunset pictures ended up in this album.
19 pictures -West Dive Day & SUNSET pictures : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/…
32 pictures -Waikiki Dive Day (and a few misc pictures) : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/…
GyPSy DRIVING TOUR APP-
We loved this! If you have an iPhone/ iPad and a rental car...get it! For $6.99 it will make your day! I HIGHLY recommend getting this app and tour the island with it! It was amazing. We seemed to be follow most of the tour buses around so we knew we were hitting the good stuff. The narrator is easy to listen to and gives you not just the tour stop info but little island tid-bits along your route! Also it is SUPER acurate, better than the normal GPS that says : "in 500 feet turn right" ... it's like he's in your back seat saying: "Ok we are almost to our next turn, turn right on Nui Rd, stay to left side as you'll have to walk less to get to the attraction". We loved the extra insider info that the GySPy guide gave us. We had the FREE Pearl Harbor tour also, but we forgot to use it. One last thing about this app- I would suggest that you bring a AUX cord to plug into the car stereo so everyone can hear it. For just the 2 of us it was fine - I held it up in between us, but if you have several people it would be a little tough to hear- and if the windows are down it makes it a little tougher. *Our rental car had bluetooth capabilities and we got it to work, but I know not all rentals will have that but I would think most models will have the AUX connection for the stereo. One more app that you might consider is the WASE app -it was free, but not sure as it's getting a lot of press right now, great navigation and worked like a charm for every place we put in! Even tells you live events like car on the side of the road in 1/4 mile or police spotted ahead.
DIAMOND HEAD (GyPSy Tour cont)
The day that we did the GyPSy driving tour was also Lei Day! Our resort had activities planned so we decided to stay at the resort that morning to take in those and they did a good job and probably saved us from lots of congestion downtown to see the "real deal" there. After a couple of hours there we drove to Diamond Head. It was a workout, no doubt about it. DO NOT wear sandals! We knew better, but couldn't believe the people in sandals! Great view of Honolulu & Waikiki from the top....and this is where my hubby ran into some guys who gave him the bright idea that he also wanted to climb KoKo Head Crater...more on that later! :) When we finished we indulged in a shave ice and it was just the reward I needed after the climb!
This is where we started the GyPSy Driving Tour App (Diamond Head)...I think ideally it starts from Waikiki, but you can pick it up anywhere along the way, but it only goes one way and the narrator explains this and makes sense. We made the following stops or saw these vistas on this day:
KoKo Head Crater Lookout Area
Hanauma Bay (15 min look around snorkeling another day)
Makapuu Point Lookout
SeaLife Park (drove by)
Manana Island /Rabbit Island
Kaupo Beach, Kailua & Laniki Beaches....BEAUTIFUL!!!
Kualoa Ranch (drove by)
Ulupa Heiau (15 min stop)
Pali Lookout (15 min stop) $ parking fee
Part of North Shore
Sunset at Sharks Cove - awesome!
70 Pictures- Diamond Head & Driving Tour : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/…
KUALOA RANCH & WAIKIKI:
We booked the Jungle Expedition (10am) & 2 HR ATV Tour (11:45am). My husband and I both agreed that the Jungle Expedition was not something we would do again- maybe for little kids the somewhat bumpy ride would be a fun adventure but adults only- pass on that.
The ATV ride however was a lot of fun. My husband and I were falling behind the line ( you are told to stay about a car length from the ATV in front of you) we were not trying to fall behind, but because we were busy looking around and not wanting to run into the people in front of us we did- we got yelled at (oops) and asked to stay closer (several times). I was a little irritated at first with the guides constant demands of staying so close that at one of our stops I finally said- "I'm not purposely falling behind, I'm just trying to NOT run into the nice lady in front of me and ruin our trip...it's not every day that I get to see towering cliffs, ocean views and landscape like this".... to which he explained he had a bad experience with people falling behind and a ATV accident...after this explanation, we understood where he was coming from and he understood where we were coming from ...that said our guide was great and we tipped him accordingly! He answered all of my questions with such pride for his Hawaiian culture and I was pleased with this tour. If you are taking this ATV tour to go "balls to the wall" fast -this is NOT the tour for you - nor would I understand the desire to see this beautiful place at 50 mph...as I said earlier I had a hard time keeping up b/c of my gawking around and max speed for these ATV's was 15mph!
We did grab lunch at the cafeteria at Kualoa Ranch and it was ok... nothing fabulous. The gift shop is nice there. Restrooms are clean, but no showers or changing areas at the main building of the ranch so if you do the ATV tours with other tours at the ranch I would do it last or you will be filthy as I was!
We finished up at the Ranch at about 2PM and made a stop at the Tropical Farms Market just down the road. Lots of samples and bought some goodies and NONI Muscle Lotion... go there with a sore muscle and you'll get a massage you didn't plan on getting... from a great salesman! We also made a stop at the Byodo-In Temple. Interesting place to see, but once again you pay admission for something you'll be at for 15 mins...but...when in Rome.
We headed to Waikiki...this was our first day to see this iconic beach destination. I was afraid I would fall in love with this area and wished we would've stayed there, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Nothing against Waikiki Beach and all the beautiful high rises, but this would not be my idea of 11 days of Hawaiian Paradise! It was fine to visit which we did 2 or 3 times, mainly to shop. If you are all about shopping on vacation then I believe you have found your place! Traffic is a bit of a pain, but your on vacation so you really have nowhere to be so just chill.... We found parking at Pacific Monarch Parking, a couple blocks from Hyatt. They have hourly rates 1-4 hrs or full day was $20. You just get a ticket that expires so you can go in and out within that time frame. We immediately headed to the beach as we were still a little dusty from the ATV tour and my hubby headed to the ocean, I found a piece of real estate and spread out my towel on the beach and watched him, I opted for an outside freshwater shower. Hubby said he couldn't believe how shallow it was...he said he thought he was going to have to walk for an hour before it got to chest deep! I wouldn't feel good about just leaving even my beach bag with all the people there. It would be so easy for someone to walk by and grab it, and I'm not usually paranoid about that stuff as outside of my camera I don't carry anything of value with me to the beach.
We watched the sunset from a reef wall near the Moana SurfRider and then headed to Jimmy Buffets for dinner (we were not dressed for anything better than that so....). Good food, drinks and service were what we have experienced in the past at this chain. My hubby said his fish tacos were EXCELLENT! No wait and we had a nice table with a view. Bill was $74 before tip.
58 pictures Kualoa Ranch, Byodo-In Temple & Waikiki Sunset
It wouldn't be a Hawaiian vacation if you didn't see some pineapples right?! We made the trip to the Dole Plantation first thing one morning not knowing how long we wanted to stay there, but just knowing we had to make the trek. The gift shop was very nice and a little different than the rows and rows of souvenir shops downtown. We jumped right in and purchased the combo ticket ($35 for the 2 of us) at the Pineapple Maze. This gave us admission to all 3 areas of DOLE- The Pineapple Maze, Gardens & Train Ride. I was disappointed that the girl at the ticket booth told us NOTHING about out the time clock at the start of the maze or the stencil at each booth in the maze. We must've looked like we'd been here before - lol. We figured it out 10 mins into the maze, but it would've been nice to be forewarned- the maze took us aprox 36 mins to complete!. The Gardens were pretty, but they were doing a lot of construction - digging ditches & the audio tour was not working so it wasn't the serene gardens I expected and even for the $4pp we paid in our combo ticket it was too much IMO. The train ride was like any other train ride- great for the kids or if you need to sit down for a little bit! We had to indulge in a Pineapple Whip- good, but get the smallest one you can b/c by the time you reach the cone (my favorite part) I think you're over the whole novelty of pineapple ice cream. The plantation is probably a big tourist trap, but it's one of those things that I can say I've done, and I'm ok with that!
NORTH SHORE, TURTLE BEACH & MOSSIMOTO'S SHAVE ICE-
We had high hopes for bigger waves, but the 2 days we made it up to North Shore we didn't see any monster waves- I know the seasons wasn't the right for the big waves, but a girl can hope :) North Shore is just a complete 180 from Waikiki and that was something I liked about Oahu in general - such a small island but so diverse! If you can't find something that fits your vacation style on Oahu I'm not sure that place exists!
We had to make a stop at Turtle Beach- one of my favorite subjects to photograph underwater- they are just awesome creatures. There was 3 on the beach that afternoon. Spend some time talking to the volunteers there, they will give you lots of info about these turtles in general and b/c most are all tracked they can tell you where they have been- fascinating!
Mossimoto's shave ice was yummy for sure! I had the rainbow there, after trying a few flavors throughout our trip I settled on Blue Hawaii as my favorite! I had an employee at the Marriott tell me that if the line is too long at Mossimotos's (more than 10 mins) go next door, it's just as good. We maybe waited 5 mins, so not to busy that day- apparently you can wait up to 45 mins! WOW!
35 pictures Dole Plantation, North Shore, Turtle Beach:
KOKO HEAD CRATER CLIMB & HANAUMA BAY:
Remember when I said my hubby talked to some people climbing Diamond Head who said give Koko Head Crater a try .... it was like they challenged him to a duel or something and he was going to complete this mission! 1,048 railroad ties create this massive outdoor stairmaster! I remarked there is a REASON why there are train tracks to the top- you're not supposed to walk up something like this! lol! Most people that head up make it, but we saw a few stop around the halfway point. Wear good tennis/hiking shoes...sandals will get you nothing but frustrated here! Water is a must and a camera/cell phone to prove you made it to the top! This was the only day is rained on our trip, maybe the Angels were crying for me b/c they knew this was not on my top 10 list of things to do, but the view at the top was spectacular. The rain made some spots very slick so be careful if its raining. We stayed at the top for at least 30mins- waiting for the fog to burn off and it did. Would I do it again?! Maybe. We meet several locals who do it multiple times a day, one 62 yr old man 5x on Sat and 4x on Sun! *BTW-I just had major back surgery 18 months ago and I was worried about that most of all, but my back was ok it was my hip and knee that were aching on the way down...
Hanauma Bay is a beautiful place and if you love to snorkel I would say your trip might be not be complete if you don't make the stop here! I did bring my wetsuit/ hubby did not- I was fine in the 77 degree water for about 90mins, but he was done after about 45-50. It was over cast and off and on raining so that cut our trip a little shorter than maybe it would've had it been sunny and warmer. They are closed on Tuesdays so plan accordingly. We paid for the all day tram ride up and down....worth it if you're carrying anything!
43 pictures Koko Head Crater & Hanauma Bay:
POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER
We booked this online 10 days in advance to save the 10%. We arrived at PCC at about 2PM...wished we would've got there at noon. We bought the Ambassador Prime Dining tickets. We were given a private tour guide - Jerrel who was a nice kid. We saw a few of the island exhibits- Samoa, Aoteatoa & Tonga & the canoe pageant. As for dinner..... I was so undecided as to what option to book and finally opted for the PRIME dining that included the prime rib as it seemed to get better reviews. It was just ok- but it was just a buffet ....my favorite thing about the dinner was the salad bar (followed closely by dinner being over ) :). I thought that there would be some "luau" things happening during dinner, but it was just a big huge buffet. I honestly don't know if the other dining option had this "ceremonial luau" - or what I thought a luau was all about, but the PRIME dining has NOTHING of the sort. I really wanted to try the emu pork and poi (I hear I'm not missing much, but when in Rome....) - I was not alone in this desire as the couple next to us was also questioning their PRIME dinning option. I even asked the server about getting some poi and she said it was only the other dinning option. If you have PRIME dining you do get to go to both sides of the buffet but they didn't tell us that- we over heard a guy saying he went and they didn't stop him so my husband went for it looking for the pork and poi. No luck!
NOW... the HA' Breathe Of Life Show was well worth the ticket price we paid! I loved every minute of it. If you leave before this show you are missing a great one! Just a fyi- I was chilly so I was glad I had my sweater!
43 pictures Polynesian Cultural Center & Tropical Views:
We really wanted to see the BIshop Museum, as a couple we met at the resort raved about it, but we showed up all raring to go and found and empty parking lot....CLOSED ON TUESDAYS! We opted for the Iolani Palace instead. I won't drag this on, b/c lets face it you've already been reading this trip report for a week ... it was a very interesting tour. We spent about 2 hours there and then went across the street to snap some pictures of the Hawaii5-0 building (I know that's not what it is, but we liked to pretend that Steve and Danno were hard at work in there).
My hubby was excited to try surfing (I was jealous, but due to my recent back surgery I passed on surf lessons). We booked him with Hawaiian Fire- $100 for a 2 Hr Lesson. You save a little bit if you pay cash at the beach. He LOVED it and I loved watching him. We opted for early morning Ko Olina area lesson. No one on the beach, about a 15 min drive from Ko Olina- perfect! The instructors were great- Hubby really had fun with Duke- very nice guy. He was able to ride the first wave the instructor picked for him...he was thrilled! We even saw a Hawaiian Monk Seal cruising up and down the shore line for a few hours. If you're looking for surf lessons call Hawaiian Fire!
49 pictures- Iolani Palace, Surf Lessons & Waikiki :
I think that about covers the BULK of our vacation...Thanks for joining us! We really did try to take in as much as we could while we were there and even though we managed to put 800 miles on our rental car in 11 days it was worth every mile as we saw what we came to see.... the beautiful paradise of Hawaii! Thanks again to everyone for there tips... I will do my best to answer questions if you have them!
12 pictures: Mahalo nui loa Hawaii... A hui hou kakou