We are an empty-nest couple in our mid-50’s from Houston Texas. This trip (May 10 – 19) was to celebrate our 32nd anniversary. Our third and youngest son will be graduating from college this coming December. Yea, no more tuition! While we took a few vacations when the boys were growing up, they were closer to home and more child/teen oriented. It has been fun to travel a little further and indulge in what we want to do. Since we live in a suburb of Houston we like to get away from crowds on vacation. Also, fine dining and shopping are not high on our list of things-to-do, there is plenty of both available in Houston. We do like to be outside as much as possible and doing something physical. I have discovered I love trip planning and sites like Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic make it so much easier. Thanks to all, and especially the “regulars” on the Oahu forum. I read the forums for months before we left for Oahu and felt like I had a good feel for the island, where to go and what to do – and not do. It was a wonderful vacation and your help was much appreciated.
Travel Aids other than TA
Fodor’s Oahu – not much help. Read it, but didn’t use the info.
Oahu Revealed – after TA, my second best travel aid – and the most used once we were actually on the island. Buy the paperback because you will want to take it with you in the car. Has wonderful maps and driving directions in addition to all the other info. Even DH started saying, “what does Oahu Revealed say about the directions, the restaurants, the beaches, the whatever”. Read it before you go!
Oahu Revealed App for Nook – don’t bother. You won’t (or shouldn’t) be taking your
Nook in the car with you. Buy the paperback.
Oahu Revealed App for iphone – liked and used it since my phone was with us most of the time. Saved several favorites and used the “Directions” feature to gps us to where we were headed. However, there also were a couple of times when the gps wouldn’t load on the phone – then I pulled out the paperback! :)
GyPSy Guide App for iphone– I think this would be great if you are touring around the island. Great commentary the couple of times we used it, but we ended up not driving around as much as we expected.
United has a direct flight from IAH to HNL once a day. Leaves at 9:50 am and is a 8 ½ hour flight. We flew on a 777 and had upgraded to Economy Plus. So, glad we made that little upgrade! It enabled us to sit in the two seats by ourselves and as DH is tall gave him a little more leg room. The only thing free on this flight are the soft drinks/water/juices. Except for the flight being delayed at IAH for an hour due to thunderstorms in the area, it was uneventful. Great!
The United direct flight home from HNL to IAH is an overnight one. You leave HNL at 7:36 PM and arrive in Houston at 8:30 AM the next day. Very nice as everyone on the plane sleeps.
I had booked a lei greeting (www.leigreeting.com) since it was our first time to visit Hawaii. As we departed the plane our greeter was standing at our gate with our names on a sign and a big smile on her face. She put the leis around our necks, wished us welcome and took photos with our phones. We had arrived!!! I was so glad I had ordered the greeting.
I kept them fresh by putting them in a lg. ziplock I had brought and keeping them in the refrigerator. On our last morning, DH & I walked down to the beach early in the morning. We had already cut the strings on the leis so it was easy to pull the flowers off and throw them into the ocean. We hope custom will prevail and the lei offering will bring us back to this lovely island in the future.
DH is a Gold member at Hertz, so we rented a vehicle for the duration from them. Not the cheapest, but also no hassles. The Hertz Car Rental is located right across the road from the terminal where you pick up your luggage. No waiting for a shuttle to take you to the rental lot. We just walked across to the lot. They originally gave us a white Camero which we kept for 2 days. DH had fun driving it, but it was hard to see out of the windows, little room for luggage, and he is tall so it was a pain getting in & out. We took it back to Hertz and they gave us a 4 door Impala with lots of luggage space and big windows. We were happy with the car.
While I’m glad we stayed 2 nights in Waikiki to experience it - fun, loud and crowded - I’m equally glad we didn’t spend our entire vacation there for all the same reasons. A favorite memory is exploring the lobbies of the Royal Hawaiian (what an oasis), and the Westin Moana Surfrider. We enjoyed walking the beach and just watching all the people. Shopping at the International Market Place was a fun experience. The tiki shot glasses we bought for our sons were a big hit as were the plumeria necklaces for the girls. And, I fell in love with the Honolulu Cookie Co. and those delicious shortbread pineapple cookies – another great souvenir that were well received. In fact, for those who want to restock before they leave Oahu – there is a Honolulu Cookie Co. store at Gate 25 in the airport.
Waikiki Hotel – Outrigger Luana - #914
We stayed in the Outrigger Luana (partial oceanview) for the 2 nights we stayed in Waikiki. We chose it because it is more on the fringes of Waikiki and also is located next to Fort DeRussey Park, so there was green space around it. We did not want to be in “the heart of Waikiki”. It was a 5 – 10 minute walk anywhere in Waikiki. It was a good way to burn off those calories we were eating/drinking. Even at night we felt safe walking back to the hotel.
The staff is very efficient and friendly. We were always greeted with a friendly “hello” and a smile. They have delicious fruit flavored water in the lobby that was refreshing after our walks. We were given a small upgrade to a room with a small kitchenette. If we had been staying longer it would have been nice to make breakfast there, but as it was we ate all our meals out in Waikiki. The room was fine, not luxurious, but fine for what we wanted. We were able to watch the Friday night HHV fireworks from our step-out balcony. Great show and a really neat feature from being up high was hearing the firework echoes off all the buildings. It sounded like cannons being fired off. We were happy with our choice.
House Without a Key – We started our first evening off here. It was about a 8 minute walk from our hotel. We were tired from the plane ride and the 5 hour time difference. It was a great way to start the vacation. The meal was good, the drinks were froo, frooey, the music soft and the hula was lovely.
Hula Grill – my favorite of the 3 restaurants in Waikiki. We ate here the evening of our first full day. Due to work/commute schedules we eat late most of the time. So on vacation we prefer to eat early. I had made early reservations for seating on the rail about 5 weeks ahead of time by calling the restaurant. I guess I should have confirmed them before we left, because they were not to be found. But because we were early we were given a lovely seat on the rail overlooking Duke’s patio with a view of Diamondhead in the background. There was live music on the patio and Duke’s down below us was rockin’. We had a wonderful time watching all the people come & go, both on the patio and the beach. Loved being on the second floor above it all, yet still a part of the happy scene. The food & drinks were delicious, our waiter was great and paced our food perfectly. A great evening.
Duke’s Canoe Club – We ate breakfast here and loved their breakfast buffet. I had also made reservations here about 4 weeks before we left. We had a lovely table, great waiter and great food. All the buffets were full and the food was hot. I had my chance to try coconut syrup on French toast here. Yum!! Went back for seconds.
After two nights in Waikiki we headed to the North Shore for seven more wonderful nights of vacation. We still had all kinds of plans that involved driving around the island, hiking Diamondhead and other trails, visiting the beaches on the windward side etc. But, once we reached the North Shore and our studio villa at Turtle Bay Resort our plans changed and we slowed way down. It actually turned out to be the relaxing vacation we had hoped for.
Hotel- Turtle Bay Resort, Ocean Villa #202
We loved Turtle Bay Resort! The sheer beauty is overwhelming and calming at the same time. Instead of staying at the hotel we rented a studio ocean villa with a direct ocean view (http://www.vrbo.com/288899) (You can also find it on TA under Kahuku vacation rentals). It was absolutely beautiful and luxurious. It contained a kitchen, roomy bathroom complete with sunken tub and separate shower, a washer/dryer, wifi , ac, comfy bed and a view to die for. The lovely Kuilima Bay was about 50 yards away. We spent many a morning and evening on our lanai admiring the sunrise and sunset. We were so glad we had found this wonderful place to stay.
We also explored Turtle Bay Hotel. The hotel is beautiful even with the renovations going on. The staff were always very polite and friendly. Answered all our questions, gave us a map of the property and seemed happy we were there.
Activities at Turtle Bay Resort
We never did get around to hiking Diamondhead, instead we hiked the beaches and trails at the resort. One day we hiked along the beaches and lava rock to Protection Point where we took photos of the WWII bunker still there. Another day we hiked in the opposite direction to Kahuku Point, aka Fisherman’s Point. It was another lovely walk along the lava rock and a beautiful beach. A great surprise was coming upon a monk seal on the beach. At first, we weren’t sure if it was alive, but the closer we got the more excited it got. We didn’t go too close as we didn’t want to disturb it anymore than we already had, but did get some memorable photos. A memory to treasure. We loved that the beaches we hiked along were basically deserted. We only saw one or two other people along the way.
We spent a couple of days actually at the beach in front of our villa just kind of hanging out – something we never do. The villa came equipped with nice beach chairs and an umbrella that provided the shade we needed. The villa was close and provided the libations we needed. :) There were lots of multi-generation families visiting there and the Cove is a perfect place for children to swim and explore. We also used the snorkel gear the villa provided to practice snorkeling again in the safe, calm waters of Kuilima Cove. We lived in the Caribbean about 20 years ago for a period of time due to a job project DH was on. We learned to snorkel there and loved it. It didn’t take long to catch on again.
Activities at the North Shore
After getting the hang of snorkeling again, we left in search of good spots to see more fish. My research on TA led us to Shark’s Cove. It was a little difficult getting up & down the first time, but we got better at it each time. Oh my! All I can say is, fish in the Caribbean were never so brightly colored! DH called it “God’s Aquarium” and he’s right. It was just like being inside a big, giant, aquarium. Needless to say, we returned on the following days. We also snorkeled at Waimea Bay, to the left of the jumping rock. Not as many fish, but we did see a huge turtle swimming majestically by. Still a great time and it was fun to play in the surf after we finished snorkeling. My modest suggestion is to get to either of these places early in the morning. We arrived at Shark’s Cove between 7:30 – 8:15 AM so parking wasn’t a problem. However, at Waimea Bay we had to circle the parking lot like sharks to get a spot at 10 AM! Well worth it though.
We also visited Sunset Beach and Ehukai Beach – wow what big, deep beaches. DH was insistent that we find the Banzai Pipeline, so we walked 100 yards to the left of Ehukai Beach as Oahu Revealed suggested and we think we found it.
One afternoon we left the beaches and visited the town of Haleiwa. Parked the car and walked through most of the shops. It was fun exploring. I found some wonderful soap souvenirs at The Soap Cellar. She makes a soap called “Hawaiian Summer Bath Bar” that smells like Hawaii and is divine on your skin. It’s been a big gift hit!
Turtle Bay/North Shore Restaurants
Since we had a kitchen at the villa we ate most of our meals there. It was nice to save some money, but nicer to sit on the lanai and watch the water while eating. Still we tried a couple of restaurants.
Hang Ten Bar at TB – expensive, ok food & drinks, but a great place to watch the surfers. In addition to the outdoor bar area they have a set of stadium bleachers nearby overlooking the water. We came back several times with our own drinks in hand to watch the surfers. Very nice!
Lei Leis – we had breakfast here on our last morning on the island. Food was fine, the young waitstaff was friendly and the breeze was blowing.
Kahuku Grill – as the line was long, the day was hot and the only remaining place to sit was inside a small airless room, we took our food to-go. It was just ok.
Halewai Joe’s at Haiku Gardens – We decided to celebrate our 32nd anniversary at this lovely restaurant. It’s located in Kane’ohe and a 45 minute drive from Turtle Bay. It was a lovely drive down the windward coast. They don’t take reservations so we arrived early before they opened the restaurant part and put our names on the list for the rail, sat in the bar and had a drink. It was a romantic dinner with wonderful food in an absolutely gorgeous setting. The restaurant is open on the garden side and the rail tables overlook the gardens below. We both had fish that had been brought in that morning by the local fishermen. Afterwards we walked down the path and explored those beautiful gardens. Our favorite restaurant and another treasured memory.
Aoki’s Shave Ice – loved it! So refreshing. We each got 3 flavors with ice cream on the bottom. DH picked POG flavors. He fell in love with POG while we were there. Can’t find it here. :(
Kualoa Ranch 2 hr ATV – We really looked forward to this ATV ride and it met all our expectations and hopes. For the 2 hr. ride only 6 guests are allowed, plus 1 guide so it feels very private. We had an excellent guide who had grown up on the island and knew a lot of the local lore. We went deep into the Kualoa valley through (or in my case, around) mudholes and streams getting dirty and having a blast. We had 5 stops at things of interest – Lost sites, Godzilla sites, Jurassic Park sites etc. Our guide patiently explained what we were looking at (besides the breathtaking physical beauty of the valley) and took photos of us with our cameras. It ended all too soon. If you choose to do this activity, book at least 1 month in advance. It fills up and if you wait, it’s gone.
Dole Pineapple Plantation – We saved this for our last day. We had to check out of our villa at 11 AM and had placed all our suitcases and “ I’m leaving for the airport items” in the trunk. We felt they would be reasonably safe at Dole as the parking lot is patrolled by security on segways. We were lucky and got a parking spot right near the entrance, so we felt even better. After the quiet of the North Shore this was loud and crowded, but fun too. We liked the dole whip and strolled through the botantical gardens. We had bought tickets to the maze, but were hot after the gardens and the day was only getting hotter. We decided to donate that money to Dole and moved on. Glad we stopped and now know some amazing pineapple facts that I’ve been able to slip into conversations, but once is enough. :)
USS Arizona Memorial – What can you say about such a moving memorial? These men paid the ultimate price for the freedom we still enjoy today. DH & I both have brothers who are or have been in the military. My niece just graduated from the Naval Academy. We understand the sacrifices the military & their families still make for us today. Go see it and remember! We ordered our tickets on-line 3 months in advance. I understand you need to order them even sooner now. We also ordered the audio tour and are glad we paid the extra money. It really made the exhibits come alive. We also toured the park our first morning there. Everyone on TA is correct, our bodies were still on Houston time (5 hours earlier) and we were up and rarin’ to go at the break of day. It was no big deal to get there early.
USS Missouri – We took the guided tour and then spent another couple of hours climbing all over the ship ourselves. A wonderful ship with great history. From the deck of the Missouri you can get some great photos of the Arizona Memorial in the distance. We did not tour the Bowfin – DH is too tall – or the Aviation Museum – too tired. But a great day!
Cemetery of the Pacific, aka Punchbowl – This was the last thing we saw before we headed to the airport to depart. We started with Pearl Harbor and ended with Punchbowl. We felt that was fitting. This is the final resting place for approx 45,000 fallen soldiers. The names of an additional 28,000 soldiers who remains were never found or could not be retrieved are inscribed on walls. The cemetery is located in an old volcano crater above Honolulu. It is a beautiful scene wherever you look. There are scenes of WWII battles in the Pacific on the walls and a small chapel. It is a serene and quiet place.
Things I’m Glad I Brought with Me
Vera Bradley Smart Phone Wristlet – I bought this primarily for Pearl Harbor knowing you can’t take purses in, but ended up keeping the purse in the safe and just bringing my wristlet everywhere (except the beach – don’t take valuables!). Love it!
Aquapac for iphone – DH was skeptical about this one at first, but it ended up being invaluable. Neither one of us trusted it enough to put our smart phone in it, but we did put the key to the car, dr. license and $20 bill in it when we went snorkeling. It solved the problem of what to do with those items – you can’t leave them on the beach while you’re in the water. It has a lanyard that he slipped around his neck and under his rash guard and they stayed perfectly dry and safe. (www.aquapac.com)
Sun Hat – After looking for years, I finally found the hat for me – nice brim, breathable and good looking. I wore it everywhere except snorkeling. It shielded my eyes and face so well I often didn’t have to wear sunglasses. Even took a swim in the ocean and it dried out perfectly. Love it! (http://www.headnhome.com/cabana.html)
Teva Churn EVO Water Shoes – It was quite a dilemma as to what kind of watershoes to buy. We finally decided to go with the more expensive ones ($85) and so glad we did. Since we had never been to Hawaii it was hard to imagine how sharp lava rock is and how prevalent it is at the beaches. These shoes held up wonderfully walking in the water, on the lava rock, on the ATV ride and just as my walking shoes in Waikiki, Pearl Harbor and everywhere else. Very versatile. DH bought the men’s version in black/gray. We both really like the fact that the toe is closed and they are very comfortable to boot. Now that we are back home they are my everyday tennis shoes and gardening shoes.
Tips from TA that Were Helpful
Styrofoam cooler– bought the cooler on our second day. For the most part it stayed in the car trunk and we kept cold water & fruit in it.
Case of water – since we live in a hot climate I was surprised at how thirsty I got on the island. Glad we took TA advice and had easy to carry water with us.
Individual Wet Wipes – kept these with me at all times – in the purse, or wristlet, in the car. Nice to wipe off hands or face after an activity or some messy eating.
It was a fabulous vacation and we hope to return! Aloha!