Aulani Trip Report - The Exhaustive Edition :-)
Hi All or should I say ALOOOOOOOOHA!
March 17 to 24th was a magical week for us in a truly magical place. My hubby and I were invited to join our dear friendmly on their first visit to their DVC home Aulani.
Not only was this our first opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of a DVC resort it was also our very first time in Hawaii. Getting to experience both of these wonderful things with these wonderful people just made it even more special.
Our last Disney trip was last July when we did the Alaska cruise on the Wonder with the same cast. And without further ado they are... My DH Mel, my childhood DBFF B (Disney4BB), her DH K, their kids (her DS C. 14, and her DD S. turning 17), and her in-laws (and my surrogate parents and the DVC benefactors for the entire group :-), DMIL S. and her hubby DFIL L., oh, and me, Tisza aka Meskamooska here on DISBoards.
When I found out we were going to be going to Hawaii (Oh my gosh HAWAII!) and we would be staying at the Aulani (pinch me I’m dreaming ... me... ME! Living large at the newest jewel in the DVC crown. How cool is that?) I put in some serious quality time here on the DIS reading everything I could find on Aulani. I read every trip report, every discussion thread and pretty much every mention I could find. I also decided that I would contribute to the conversation for folks like me, who were looking for help preparing and planning for their stay.
Be forewarned, this will be an exhaustive report. I am going to try to share not only what I learned and where I learned it but also what we did and where we did it.
So, properly warned ye be and here goes...
First I went looking on the good old internet for info on the resort and on Oahu in general. Along with the usual sources, Trip Advisor, MouseSavers and of course the best of all resources DISBoards, I also went shopping on the Apple App store (I admit it I am an App addict I have over 600 on my iPad) and I found some that I think are gems.
Now if you are not an Apple aficionado this is your chance to get a drink of water, use the facilities or talk amongst yourselves for a bit :-) The Apps I found most useful were:
Oahu Gold which is a digital version of the shopping guide available at the airport and pretty much everywhere else. Why is this useful you ask? Because it gave me a chance to actually read the thing well before I set foot on the island. I found great coupons for discounts at the Dole Plantation (a buy one get one free admission for the maze), three different freebies with purchase at the Pearl Harbor gift shops and a coupon for a free ride in the flight simulator at the Pacific Aviation Museum, a free gift from Germaine’s Luau (the Luau that is offered through the resort) and many more.
Hawaii Drive Guides. This gives you some great info about things to do, interesting articles about Hawaiian culture, customs and lore and driving maps on how to get around the area. Pretty cool.
City Guides by Trip Advisor. This one will give you real people reviews about everything from restaurants to tourist attractions. The best part is that it is location specific so the information is not just about the general area but about the specific place you are at the time. When we used this app it gave us info about a specific restaurant that was in the parking lot we were standing in at the time. The restaurant was called Grylt 2764 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, Oahu, HI and it was awesome! More about Grylt later...
MapQuest. This one is not a Hawaii specific app and that is a really good thing. You will want to have some sort of GPS if you choose to drive yourself about and this one works really well, has turn-by-turn audio directions, reroutes on the fly, is easy to use, and will automatically create the most efficient route if you are planning to go more than one place during your drive. Oh, and did I mention that it was free? Incidentally, all the above apps are free, which is a good thing because there isn’t much else in Hawaii that is free :-)
Now, enough about apps, a search on the App store (or in the Android Marketplace) will turn up more than you can shake a stick (or swivel a grass skirt) at.
OK for those of you who took a little break... we’re back!
We (the DH and me) were going to be flying out of LAX at the crack of dawn and I was going to be parking our car at LAX Parking Center (info@LAXParkingCenter.com) which was the cheapest, closest covered lot near LAX. My weeks parking was $56 and that includes a shuttle to and from the airport which operates 24/7.
I was also dropping part of our party off at the Ontario airport before the crack of the crack of dawn and since I was extremely excited about our trip I didn’t get much sleep the night before (Read that one whopping hour!) But we were going to AULANI and, hey, I can sleep on the plane, right? Incidentally, it would have been a good idea if I had slept on the plane but I was too excited to even try. Ahh, well... cest la vie!
One of the first rather unexpected (and not really awesome) things was about to happen as I dropped off S & L (the DMIL & DFIL) at the airport. It turned out that they weren’t both heading straight to the Aloha State. His 90+ year old father had suddenly been hospitalized and at that point wasn’t doing well. So, he was going to Oregon, hoping to join her later in the week, and she was going on to Aulani as planned.
Oh and did I mention that the day dawned cold, grey and wet, wet, wet. It was a perfect day to be leaving for Hawaii but I wasn’t enjoying driving in the downpour. Anyhoo, we got to the airport with time to spare, got on our flight right on schedule, wound up sitting on the tarmac for almost an hour but still managed to land in Honolulu right on time. Gotta love a good pilot!
When we arrived in Honolulu the weather was perfect but being a Native Southern California girl the humidity was a bit of a surprise. Fortunately, the only two times I was really aware of the humidity were when we arrived at the airport, and when we departed from the airport. Otherwise the weather was great. Not too hot, not too cold (80’s day/70’s night) and with lovely tropical breezes just where and when you’ed want them.
My DBFF and her hubby had rented an 8 passenger SUV (a Toyota Sienna which was perfect and relatively fuel efficient) so we could all ride together. Since the resort doesn’t have its own transportation... yet... because I am sure they will sometime soon, renting the SUV was the best and cheapest way to go.
Upon arriving at the resort we were greeted with our lei’s and our refreshing fruited water (I loved the hidden Mickeys floating in the dispenser, pretty ding dang cool if you ask me :-). We were given a brief tour and overview of the amenities of the resort and then they asked if we would like to be called or texted when our rooms were ready.
We had arrived at around 12:30 and were told that our rooms wouldn’t be ready until four so we had some time to kill. We elected to be texted and then headed down to One Paddle Two Paddle to get a bit of lunch. A word about the food, pretty much every review/trip report or anything else I have seen about the resort mentioned the food and most were not complimentary. So, with that in mind I was not really excited about sinking my teeth into a rather pricey offering. However, I decided to keep an open mind and give it the benefit of the doubt.
I chose the fish tacos and my DH went with the burger. The tacos were pretty good, and as a SoCal girl I think I know from tacos. The burger was nothing special but the sweet potato fries were amazing! Some of the best I’ve ever had. By the way, they aren’t on the menu as a stand alone side but they are available that way and I highly recommend them! They make a great aprés pool snack and the serving is large enough to share.
Oh, and the first things I bought were two refillable mugs from the store (which by the way is the only refill station of the three where you can get hot drinks, but they are open from 7 AM to 11 PM and are very centrally located so that works just fine) which were truly a bargain. My hubby raved about the fresh ground Kona coffee and I was very pleased with the readily available assortment of teas and cocoa along with soda. I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mug. It rivals those that I have from Starbucks and it looks good too!
After lunch some of our group decided to stay at the resort and my DH, my BFF’s DH K. and I set off to Target and Costco to get some supplies. Since my DH and I were staying in a studio and the rest of group was in a two bedroom suite we were planning to make liberal use of the full kitchen.
We found that Target had some of the things we were looking for (including a boxed Target branded Malbec which was very well reviewed and according to my DH and the rest of the group tasted great) but the fresh fruit and veggies section left a lot to be desired.
The Safeway which is just a little ways up the road, is a better stocked choice and if you can get to one you can get to the other. Also, you can use your Safeway or Von's Club card to help shop more economically there as well.
Costco (which truly does have the best prices, according to the locals, on the island for gasoline and milk which you can buy 1-gallon at a time) was a great place to get most of the items we could buy in bulk and cost wise it wasn’t that much different from what I am used to paying here on the mainland.
Costco is also the best and cheapest place to buy chocolate covered macadamia nuts (they even have some that are Disney themed 20 boxes for $40 and they are neatly packaged in a nice carrying case) and, at the time of this writing, Cooke Street Hawaiian shirts ($19.99 and a steal compared to what you will find elsewhere).
Oh and while you are at good old Costco, be sure to get yourself a gallon of POG (Passion Fruit, Orange and Guava juice that you will pine for when you leave), a fresh pineapple (intoxicatingly tasty and again a really good deal $2.39 at Costco $6.99 at the Dole Plantation) and then mosey over to the fresh Poke (pronounced Po-kay) bar and get yourself some of this Hawaiian specialty.
If you are a sushi person this stuff is food for the gods and if you aren’t a sushi person do yourself a favor and give this a try (they will give you a sample) anyway as it may convert you. It is not “fishy” at all, just flavorful and good. This is another item that I really miss already and I am currently petitioning my local Costco to see if I can get these items here.
And... Speaking of sushi... They have some beautiful sushi and sashimi platters (around $20 for a party sized platter) which look good and taste even better. This is also a good place to get beach and swimming supplies from swimsuits and good quality adult and child sized swim fin and snorkel sets to goggles, sunscreen and boogie boards. But enough about their inventory, back to the story...
After grabbing our some of groceries for the week (we would head to Safeway the next day to finish stocking our larder) we headed back to Aulani. By this time I was getting a little punchy from the excitement and severe lack of sleep. The DH and I dutifully refilled our mugs with something caffeinated (his Kona coffee, and mine Barqs Root beer the only caffeinated root beer on the market) although in my case that didn’t help much, and headed up to the rooms.
Based upon the smell that was wafting down the hall we are pretty sure that our group was the first one using the oven. Which reminds me, the kitchen was nicely equipped (and this is coming from someone with a neigh on professionally equipped kitchen at home) there were even some Tupperware like containers to store leftovers in. The things we didn’t find were: Aluminum Foil, Ziploc Baggies, a vegetable peeler, ice cream scoop or plastic wrap. So you might want to grab those items at the grocery or 99 Cent store if you need them.
I brought an ice cream scoop from home. I also brought a travel spice rack, the idea for which I got from someone’s thread here on the DIS I think but the directions for making your own bear repeating:
Get yourself one of those large multi-compartment pill boxes. (I cleaned off the printing on the top with nail polish remover.) Fill each section with the spice of your choosing (mine held Kosher salt, Fresh Cracked Pepper, Seasoned Salt, Garlic Powder, Lemon Pepper, Blackening Spices and Dried Onion) then label the lids to match their contents and pop the whole thing in a ziploc bag for travel and you are all set for nummy meals to come! I can tell you that I won’t be traveling without this handy item anywhere in the future.
My BFF’s DH got the text that their room was ready while we were still shopping but we didn’t get a text to tell us our room was ready at all. When we got to the resort I called down to the front desk and they told me our room assignment. A call to the bell desk had our luggage delivered in relatively short order (about 15 minutes from the time we called).
After a dinner of amazing New York Steaks everyone settled in to watch a dvd from the teen club. I made it about 15 minutes into Finding Nemo when the day finally caught up to me (they found him, right?) and I staggered down the hall and collapsed in a heap on the bed.
Since I was still on California time I woke the next day before dawn which happened at 6:37 AM (9:37 AM to me :-) and enjoyed watching the sun rise over our veranda. We were in Ewa tower, rooms 1055 (us) and 1051 (the rest of the group). A word about the location of the rooms... I really liked where we were, not too far down the hall from the elevators (which move at lightening speed) and well positioned to enjoy the balmy tropical breezes. In fact, our sliding glass door was left open from the day we arrived until the day we left. This was another advantage of being on the tenth floor. The way I figure it, if you can get to my tenth floor balcony from the outside, you can have whatever you find in my room, ‘cause I am not doing battle with someone who can fly (No, not even for my beloved iPad).
Sunday would be our first full day on the island and full it would be. On our agenda were the Dole Plantation, lunch at the shrimp trucks, shave ice at Masumotos, doing a little sightseeing and then back to the resort to get ready for our Luau at Germaine’s (arranged through the resort).
After breakfast the whole group of us set out on our adventures. The first stop was the Dole Plantation. We experienced our first tropical rain as we were driving to the Plantation. It didn’t last long and truly wasn’t like rain here in California. For one thing, it wasn’t cold so it really didn’t do much more than make the greens seem greener. For another, it just served to drive the point home (as if that needed to be done) that we weren’t in Kansas or California for that matter, any more.
The Dole Plantation was fun. I don’t think I have ever seen so many pineapple themed items in my life. We all indulged in large pineapple whips and then headed out to ride the train. My DH and I decided to get the ticket that gave us entry into the garden as well as the train ride and the rest of the group continued shopping after the train ride.
The garden is lovely and a great place to get those tropical flower closeup pictures that Hawaii postcards have featured for generations. We didn’t do the maze but we all really enjoyed the train ride. By the way, you can pick up some additional shopping guides right outside the entrance to the store which had some coupons that weren’t in Oahu Gold (101 Things to do in Oahu was one with some great info) including a coupon that gave you a free gift at Germaine’s Luau.
After the Plantation we did somewhat aimless driving and realized that we were all getting pretty noshy so it was time to think about lunch. Well, as luck would have it, we happened to make a random turn and drove practically straight to Mackey’s Shrimp Truck (which we had a coupon for huzzah! $2.00 off of each plate - pretty cool). We ordered just about one of everything, but the consensus was that the hot was tasty (by those who liked spicy foods) and the garlic butter was the universal favorite.
My DH and I each had our own plates and the rest of the group shared four plates between the five of them. After our lunch we headed off to find Shave Ice. We arrived at Masumotos to find it as crowded as we were led to believe it would be, but it really is true that these folks have it down and the line that was out the door when we arrived took hardly any time at all to end in all of us eagerly slurping our yummy frozen treats. I highly recommend getting the version that has the ice cream and Azuki beans in the bottom for the true island experience.
Oh, and be prepared, if you want the snazzy plastic holder you will need to pop loose with an extra quarter per treat. My advice would be spend the quarter, grab tons of napkins before you leave the store because it isn’t easy to get back in after you get out, and bring plastic spoons from the resort because the wooden ones the give you with the shave ice make eating it a bit of a challenge.
Also, for those interested in such things (like the DH and I are) there is a very interesting old cemetery right across the street that is quite picturesque and well worth a visit. We did a bit more driving about then headed back to the resort to get ready for our Luau.
At about this time DMIL S. started not feeling well but she decided to tough it out and hope for the best. After a relatively short ride (about 15 minutes or so) we arrived at the Luau site which was located amongst some very industrial looking businesses, definitely NOT the pretty part of Oahu.
The first thing you do as you arrive is have your picture taken on the sand by the sea. They will offer to sell you the picture at the end of your stay for $20 and it makes a very nice souvenir of the event. Oh, and you will be dining at picnic tables in the sand so wearing shoes that you can easily remove to empty them will be helpful. And you are right by the water so bringing a light sweater if you chill easily would be a good idea. I had no problem with the temperature but my DBFF wore a sweater and she was comfy too.
As to the Luau itself, watching them uncover the whole pig which had been cooking for 24+ hours on hot stones beneath a covering of banana leaves was neat. Watching the bushes catch fire when they did the ceremonial lighting of the torches and something malfunctioned was neat in a different kind of way. It turned out to be a demonstration of the difference between the Island and the Mainland way of doing things.
In the Mainland way, when something unexpectedly catches fire, you usher everyone away and hurriedly grab a fire extinguisher to smother the blaze. In the Island way, you gather in a small group observing the flames, calmly discuss what, if anything needs to be done, watch the flames get a bit bigger and more enthusiastic, casually saunter over to grab a garden hose, douse the fire and go on with the show.
The food was ok and there was plenty of it and the entertainment though cheesy in that “we do this every day for the tourists so it really is just a job for us” kind of way was still fun. My advice is to volunteer when the ask for helpers and dance when they teach you to hula and you will have a good time. I am not sure if you will have a $72/pp good time, and I wouldn’t feel the need to go to this show again, but I enjoyed it while we were there.
The best part of the entire experience for our group was when my DBFF B’s DS C. was announced as the winner of the second prize in the door prize drawing (Be sure to enter. The ticket will be attached to your dinner ticket and the box you put them in is on a table in front of the gift shop.) And he was ecstatic! He must have jumped a good four feet and his grin was a mile wide. I love to see people win things it makes me happy :-). I had fun.
The same can’t be said for the rest of our party however. Remember that shrimp truck lunch we all enjoyed earlier in the day? Remember DMIL S. the only person who actually ate something from almost everyone else’s plate? Remember how she wasn’t feeling well when we left for the Luau but she came anyway? Well, she wasn’t feeling any better and would soon feel much worse. It seems that while lunch agreed with all the rest of us just fine it decidedly did not agree with her and as they say...what goes up must come down and vice versa... and come up it did.
Fortunately, she made it to a restroom and Germaine’s was really sweet about it. They gave her a T-shirt to wear if she needed it, a quiet place to lie down and even drove her back to the resort (a taxi wanted to charge $90 can you believe it?).
This was proving to be a much more star-crossed trip than we ever expected for her. First her hubby wasn’t going to arrive until Monday or Tuesday and now she was reliving lunch and not in a good way.
We got back to the resort and prepared to collapse in yet another heap in bed. At this point, I still hadn’t caught up on my missed sleep and what I really wanted was a nice long bath. When we were at Target I bought some bubble bath that doubled as body wash. Best spent $2.99 of that entire shopping trip! Not only did it provide several lovely and relaxing soaks during our stay, it also protected my precious amenities (I admit that I have a “strange addiction” to the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion you get when you travel and I tend to guard them with a ferocity usually reserved for a mother lion protecting her cubs. My poor DH has finally learned to check with me before breaking the seal on one of these little gems LOL.
If you ask one of the kind folks working in housekeeping they will happily provide you with extras should you want/need them. Oh, and by the way, I may not be entirely insane here as I noted that down in the gift shop, along with some of the full sized bottles and jars of the various lotions and potions one can experience at the spa, you can purchase a small plastic case packed with a full set of the amenities you will find in your room when you arrive... for $22 a set! So, whose laughing now? Huh? Huh? Well, ok, actually it is still me cackling like a hyena over here but I do that all the time so there’s nothing new there :-)
Now a word about the beds... They are elevated a bit higher than normal to allow for extra luggage storage in a cubby beneath the foot of the bed. This is quite handy as it really makes it much easier to navigate the room if you can stow the bags out of the way. It was a bit disconcerting the first evening as it seemed to be a long way down to the floor and I found that I suddenly was experiencing that “little girl lost” feeling I hadn’t had in years and I did briefly worry about falling out of bed. I didn’t have anything to worry about and the only thing I wished they would have done differently in designing the room was to have put a bedside table on both sides of the bed. The DH staked his claim to the side by the table and as a consequence I didn’t have a place to put my glasses or iPad without doing a boarding house reach across his prostrate form or putting them on the floor. Not a biggee, but it was a concern.
The bed was super comfortable and once my DBFF B. discovered that they had feather pillows available just for the asking, and ordered a set for the DH and me along with those for her family I slept quite comfortably. My suggestion is order the pillows upon arrival. Especially if you have a touchy neck or don’t like your pillow somewhat firm. Believe me, it will make all the difference.
Monday again quite out of character for me, I awoke before the sun (still enjoying the benefit of being on California time) and waited anxiously for the rest of the group to stir. We were slated to go hiking through the rain forest up to see a waterfall and would then be cruising around the island looking for picturesque spots to gaze upon and enjoy.
Fortunately our plan was to start with our “easy walk” about 1.5 miles to view the 400+ foot waterfall, and then the rest of the day was earmarked for riding in the car seeing the sights. Unfortunately the “easy” part was pretty much a total crock especially for me. It seems that whenever I have a trip planned that involves any walking my feet betray me big time and this trip was no exception. By this point I was already working on some major blisters and I was still swollen from the flight so the only shoes that I could wear for the bulk of the trip were flip flops and these are decidedly not hiking shoes.
We had been warned about the mud but I think it needs to be really stressed that when they say the path may be muddy, what they should really be saying is that this hike will more closely resemble trying to tap-dance on a spinning potters wheel than it will a pleasant walk in the park. The mud is of the slippery, sticky, slick wet clay variety and it will tenaciously cling to any surface it encounters.
Oh, and when they say “path” what I pictured was a nice, safe pathway with a smooth surface and railings when it gets steep and dangerous. However, what they meant was narrow walkway that at times would give a mountain goat pause, and makes you look at anyone heading toward you who is larger than a size two with a level of suspicion and “it is them or me” attitude that doesn’t cast you in your best light.
You would do well to either bring, buy (they sell them in the gift shop/snack bar where you go to pay for your parking for $19.95) or grab a walking stick (there is a pile tree branches for that purpose near the start of the walkway if you keep your eyes peeled) to help you negotiate some of the more treacherous sections. I had a monopod with me for my camera and I used that to great effect.
The other thing you would do well to pack and bring with you or buy on arrival, along with a bottle of water for the walk, is bug spray. They sell Off towelettes for a $1.75 for a packet of two at their gift shop. They also have a spray bottle of bug spray that has no Deet in it for sale for $8.95. There are mosquitos and Noseeums which will eat you alive without some sort of protection. Be sure to get the backs of your hands as well as any other exposed skin or you may end up an itchy polka doted mess.
I wound up buying a pair of water shoes there at the gift shop to wear in place of my flip flops and those worked really, really well. Despite the challenge of the climb and the discomfort I started out with, I am extremely glad that I did it. The experience was one of a kind, the view was amazing, it is very easy to imagine yourself pitched back in time to what this island must have been like before all the hotels and all the strangers came, and the waterfall is unbelievable.
So, as long as you are prepared for the challenge, dress appropriately, and take the time to enjoy the scenery on the way, visiting Manoa Falls will be one of those “Wow! We really are in Hawaii aren’t we?” experiences you will never forget.
Oh, and before I forget, one more thing to bring along would be a towel or two. You will get muddy and although there is a hose and scrub brush at the base of the climb, having a towel with you to dry off after you rinse off will help to keep you and your rental car feeling fresher. You can get towels from the pool shack and then drop them in the towel bin when you return.
After we finished our climb we were all pretty neigh on surly hungry and decided that before we went looking for more sights to see, we had better find some foods to eat or it wasn’t going to be festive. We cruised down the hill and since we couldn’t come to any kind of an agreement as to what kind of food we wanted, and not being from the area, we certainly didn’t have any ideas about where to go. So DBFF B. and I both pulled out our trusty iPhones and started doing some serious dining reconnaissance.
Since we were both using different apps, we decided that the best way to most effectively use the info we were acquiring was to see what names came up on both of our sources and were equally highly rated.
We wound up at a small shopping center which housed, among other things, a Safeway, a CVS, a Subway, a Coffee Bean and several other fast food and mom and pop type restaurants. There was one place that came up highly rated on both of our radars and that was a place called Grylt. It turned out to be a healthy (and environmentally responsible, the paper products are all recycled, the plates are made of sugar cane and even the seating was recycled from another restaurant, pretty cool, huh?) sandwich shop which my DBFF’s DH and DD both said had the best sandwiches they had ever had. It wasn’t the cheapest but they were raving (in a good way :-) so I would highly recommend it for anyone in the area.
She and I choose to eat at a Korean BBQ place which was also really good, and the servings were HUGE! The DH and I shared a delicious BBQ beef meal and after eating our fill it still looked like we hadn’t touched it. The seaweed salad was awesome but the kimchee was too spicy for me, but I am a food wimp where hot & spicy is concerned.
After we all finished eating (and were now no longer homicidal), we hopped back into the car and headed for the hills... literally. First stop (sort of because, in truth we didn’t actually stop, we just drove slowly by) was Diamond Head. Originally, we had planned to hike up Diamond head after our “easy walk” to the falls. However... now that we had all experienced said “easy walk” the idea of hoofing it up umpteen jillion stairs, no matter how amazing the view at its apex would be had none of us was really that enthused.
We then headed off to see the view from above Hanauma Bay, which was pretty neat. We got out here and I spent most of my time being amazed that you could actually see through the water and that the water was such an unbelievable blue. After gazing down at the bay, we all piled back into the car and headed off to Makapu’u Point Lookout the easternmost part of the Hawaiian Islands. When you are there be sure to scan the rocks to find the little lookout hidden in the hill. Again, the view was pretty amazing and very much reminded me that we were indeed on an island.
It was a little disconcerting for me to realize that no matter what direction we went in, on Oahu all roads lead to the ocean. It really does mess with my little head to realize that the sun rises over the ocean in the East and sets over the ocean in the West and that in 56 miles the long way or 26 miles the short way, you can go from one coast to the other.
After Makapu’u Point we continued cruising along the windward side of the island, in search of sea turtles (we had heard that they can be viewed off the North Shore (3 tents, off Hwy 83, past Papailoa Road where highway runs next to beaches.) Alas, by the time we arrived to the area where the sea turtles are reputed to be it would be too dark to see them and we didn’t make it back to the area again. We also wanted to see the famous Sunset beach.
We saw a whole lot of local color on our drive, cute little roadside stands selling everything from carved wooden tikis to woven purses and many surf related items. We also happened upon a group of fruit stands all sharing space under the same lean to and we decided to stop and grab some of the sweet corn that they were selling. While I was doing some shopping with my DBFF’s DS C., the rest of the group headed across the street to the PGA golf course to take a look at it and buy a golf shirt.
While they were gone, we perused the various stalls offerings and bought not only the sweet corn (which truly was delicious), but also some tiny fresh bananas they called “ice cream bananas” (so named because they are super sweet and have a very smooth, creamy texture), some deep fried bananas (which are fresh bananas wrapped in something like a wonton skin and fried to a golden brown and are yummy) some sliced pineapple, fresh sliced guava and some peeled sugar cane which was as disappointing for C. as it had been for me the first time I ever tried it when I was a kid. We also decided to try a jelly coconut which they pulled straight out of ice water, lopped the top off of and handed to us with a straw inserted in the hole so we could drink the fresh coconut water straight from the source. After you have finished drinking the coconut water they will then chop up the husk to let you get to the meat of the matter. Jelly coconuts are immature coconuts which have an extremely mild coconut flavor and the texture of firm jello.
I also found bread fruit for sale there. A word about bread fruit, this is one of those foods that makes you wonder why the first folks who ever saw it ate it and how they learned how to cook it. These things aren’t pretty. It is similar in shape to a watermelon and about the size of a cantaloupe. It is covered in rough, greenish skin with brownish patches that has the texture of elephant hide. Soooo not pretty. I had read about bread fruit in books when I was a kid and had always been curious about it so upon encountering it, in the flesh, as it were, I decided to buy one and try my luck at cooking it.
They also had two other fruits, one that I had seen before and one that I had not. Rambutan has a purplish red leathery shell with soft spikes (and looks for all the world like it arrived here via spaceship) that encases a pale, translucent white fruit similar to a lychee (or for those of us not familiar with lychee’s, honeydew). Flavor wise it bears more resemblance to a melon than anything else.
The other was a brown berry that looks like a teeny tiny round kiwi fruit. It has a dry, slightly rough husk that you split with a fingernail to reveal a fruit that looks very much like a peeled grape (or an eyeball since you can see the dark brown seed through the flesh. The flavor on this one is reminiscent of cantaloupe... sort of. I made everyone in the group try them but ultimately only two of us liked them (I loved them, I just wish I could remember what they were called, if anyone out there knows please enlighten me I would love to find them here :-).
Once the rest of the group returned to pick us up, we all continued on our journey and arrived at Sunset Beach just as the sun was setting. While the setting sun was a lovely sight, the really nifty thing we saw as a pod of humpback whales off in the distance. We watched them for a good 10 or 15 minutes until the light was too far gone for us to see.
As the light continued to fade we began heading for home. We were starting to think that dinner would be a good idea but weren’t having much luck finding somewhere to eat where we were. We ultimately wound up eating at Chili’s not far from the resort.
Dinner was followed by a quick stop in Safeway (which is in the same shopping center along with Chili’s) to pick up the things we were lacking in the food department and then home again home again do-ba-di-do.
We had all resolved to get to bed early so that we could get up early to head out to Pearl Harbor the following day. So, with that in mind, we wearily trudged back to our respective den’s to hibernate for a few hours. So far, this vacation was exhausting!
On Tuesday morning I again rose with the birds and was the among the first to greet the dawn. I puttered around for a bit and then at 7 headed down to the gift shop to fill our mugs with morning goodness. That early thing turned out to be figurative as only the DH and I were raring to go so I suggested that we go take a walk down to the beach while the rest of the group roused themselves. We grabbed our cameras and headed out.
The resort looks even more magical in the quiet, early morning hours when everything is crisp, clean and still. Even the beach sand looks fresh and new and the only foot prints breaking it’s smoothed surface belong to birds or the occasional ferret. We saw a few of them over the course of our stay. They always seemed to be perturbed by, and unafraid of our presence, and after giving us little more than a dismissive sidelong glance, continued on their merry way doing their important ferret business.
We only saw a couple of other folks (other than cast members who unfailingly greeted us with either a good morning, an aloha or both) out and about initially, including one brave soul who had been out snorkeling in the cove. As he waded to shore his wife asked him how it was and he excitedly gave the thumbs up and said that he had seen sea turtles down by the rocks. More about the rocks later...
We continued down the path away from the resort and its hotel neighbor and saw a little waterfront church which looked lovely with the sun streaming through its stained glass windows and then followed the curve around the far edge of the cove to look back at the Aulani from yet another direction. It sure is a distinctive and pretty sight. So unlike everything else we had seen thus far by being so seemingly “right” looking there on the shore. It looks like it had been there since the beginning and all the other blocky buildings were the interlopers. Those Imagineers really got that big “h” thing right.
Amusingly, at the time of this writing, if you search Google earth for the Aulani you will still see the location as it looked before the resort was built. Just a large, smooth hunk of dirt bordering the sea. We took to joking that perhaps that was because there was even more Disney Magic at play than they advertised and maybe we really had found our way into a dream.
Finally, I got the mornings text telling us that the rest of the group was starting to stir and to come on over for breakfast so off we trudged to gulp down some food and then set out for our visit to Pearl Harbor.
When we found out we were going to be going to Hawaii and specifically to Oahu, my DH was thrilled on multiple counts. He was excited and honored to be included (as was and am I), and was looking forward to relaxing with a book by the beach, but most of all, he was excited about seeing Pearl Harbor. He had wanted to visit this historic place since childhood so as far as he was concerned, this was going to be the true highlight of the trip.
We finally got underway somewhat later than I would have liked ideally since there was a lot to see there and precious little time to see it in. Not only is there the U.S.S. Arizona monument and grave site, where the first true and literal “shot across the bow” caused the United States official entry into what I truly hope to be, the last of this planets world wide conflicts. There is also the Battleship Missouri - “The Mighty Mo”, upon whose decks WWII officially came to a close. Also part of the complex are the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin submarine.
We had purchased the Passport to the Pacific ticket via the online registration on their website so we were arriving at the location with our passage to the memorial already secured. They tell you that you can’t bring anything into the complex in a bag of any sort, including camera bags and purses. (Pockets are ok and my DBFF B. had no trouble with her travel vest.) With that in mind, I had tried to plan accordingly and since I knew that they had storage available (for $3 per bag) I elected to bring my naked camera, which I would carry, and also my big lens (this is the one we call my paparazzi special since it is a foot and a half long when it is fully extended and tends to scare folks when it is pointed at them :-) which I would check. I figured that if I wanted to use the big lens then it would be worth the $3 and if I didn’t then it would still be money well spent to have the option and to not have to worry about it being stolen out of the car.
The museum and the Battleship Missouri are both over the bridge on the military base and you need to ride a bus to get to them. The bus ride is included in the cost of the tickets to see these attractions but you do need to allow for the time it takes to get from place to place. It is especially important to ensure that you allow enough time to get back to the entrance of the complex in order to make your ferry boarding time to visit the Arizona. If you are late, you are S.O.L..
We started with the Mighty Mo, (since she is the furthest away from the action and worked our way back toward the main entrance) a truly impressive battleship who last saw action during Desert Storm. I was struck by not only the magnitude of the act that occurred on her decks but also by the awesome power she wielded and by what a frightening presence she would have been if her big guns were trained on you.
After looking over some of the ship, mainly the deck where the signing took place, (although my DH did make the climb to view the bridge, I did not as I was having significant difficulty walking and the extra climb just wasn’t going to happen) we headed back to the shuttle stop to ride over to the Pacific Aviation Museum.
We were going to have less than 45 minutes to see the museums two hangers and get back in time to not miss our ferry ride. So while most of the group headed to the museum cafe to eat lunch (which they reported was very tasty) the DH and I headed for the exhibits. The main hanger is reputed to be haunted so we were on the lookout, but we didn’t see anything :-).
They have some beautiful planes there in amazing shape. But the one that is probably the most important is in rusted pieces lying on the floor. It is the remnants of the very first Zero the U.S. got their hands on in the early stages of the war. Studying that plane helped shape how our military air fleet was designed and constructed. They also have a Steerman that was the training plane used by a young man named Bush who came to some acclaim during his political career in later years. Oh, and this is another place where coupons come in handy. They have WWII flight simulators that you can dogfight in and there is a coupon that will give you a free 10 minute dogfight in the shopping magazines. You can also access the coupon by scanning the “q” tag with your smart phone.
After we looked over the planes in the main hanger, I took a minute to do some really quick shopping in their gift shop but I think I missed the deal of the day there. They have some really cool fighter themed Hawaiian shirts which were on sale for around $15 but I missed them completely. Fortunately my DBFF B. did not, and she got one for her DH K. which looked really great on him.
My DH choose a Flying Tigers t-shirt and a coffee mug which he was pretty pleased with. We also bought a Christmas ornament for our airplane themed tree.
After we had selected our keepsakes we headed to the larger of the two hangers, which still bears evidence of that terrible day in 1941. The blue windows in the hanger are original and are still bullet riddled and the clear ones are the replacements of those that were shot out completely.
For me, the highlight of the visit was about to happen and that was meeting a Pearl Harbor survivor who had actually been there working in the hanger next door when the attack occurred. He told me about his experience that day and it really brought the terror of the event home to me in a way that no amount of film footage ever has.
Our time was quickly drawing to a close at the museum so we hurried out to the shuttle stop to wait for our transportation back to the Pearl Harbor complex. By now we were really watching the clock since we knew that if we were late for our ferry appointment we ran the risk of not being able to visit the memorial site at all. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The shuttle was late, so by the time it arrived and got us back to where we started we had barely minutes to spare. So we missed picking up our audio tour which had been included in our ticket or our free reprint copy of the Honolulu newspaper dated December 7th 1941 which we had a coupon for.
We, or should I say they (the rest of the group) were pretty much running to get to the ferry. I was walking as quickly as my poor embattled feet would allow and was well and truly bringing up the rear.
Before you embark on the ferry ride there is an extremely moving film that you watch which explains not only what happened on December 7, 1941 but why it happened. Sitting mere feet from the scene of this tragedy and then watching actual footage of the attack as it happened is surreal and deeply moving. They remind you during the presentation that you are visiting a mass grave and ask for respectful behavior and silence. When the lights came on and the group filed out of the auditorium there was not a sound to be heard from anyone.
We boarded the ferry for the short ride to the Arizona, passing the cement pylons demarcating the location of the other ships in the harbor on that fateful day. Upon disembarking the fact that what you are visiting is not just the memorial to fallen heroes but also their tomb weighs heavy on the moment. And seeing the wall of names of all those young men who had just been going about their normal day and would never know that they would be the first American casualties in that bloody war just further underscores the horror of what occurred there.
We walked around the memorial, saw a manta ray swimming silently over the sunken hull and watched the oil still steadily bubbling up from the wreck after almost 71 years and staining the water with rainbows.
The ferry runs on 15 minute cycles. You don’t have to get on as soon as your fifteen minutes are up but most do, and when everyone else is lining up to get back on the ferry it is a good time to grab pictures without having to deal with lots of random heads, arms, etc. in the way.
The ride back from the memorial was almost a quiet as the ride out. We chose to sit at the very back of the ferry in order to get unobstructed photos as we departed.
When we landed, we walked around the memorial garden and read the plaques and quotes. Eleanor Roosevelt’s is quite touching and unfortunately as apt today as when she carried it with her in her wallet in 1941. It reads: “Dear Lord, Lest I continue my complacent way, Help me to remember that somewhere, somehow out there a man died for me today. As long as there be war, I then must ask and answer am I worth dying for?”
After walking through the garden our group split up a bit. K. & C. went back to the air museum to ride the flight simulator and try to shoot each other down while the rest of us headed toward the USS Bowfin. By this time the DH and I were getting pretty hungry since we had forgone lunch in favor of looking at the airplanes and we were both quite pleased to find that there was a hotdog stand mere steps from the entrance to the submarine. We had arrived mere moments before they were going to close down for the day (they close at 4 PM).
Once we both had finished eating my DH, DBFF B. & her DD S. headed off to explore the sub. I elected to forego this tour as I am not a huge submarine fan. Way too close quarters for my liking and my feet wouldn’t have allowed it anyway. Instead, I had a lovely and relaxing time chatting with DMIL S. and enjoying the lovely ocean breezes.
Everyone who did choose to visit the submarine really enjoyed the experience. DBFF B. especially enjoyed the audio tour which came with our ticket purchase, as it had some of the former crew members stories, told by them, which helped to bring the sub’s glorious past truly to life.
The tour of the submarine (and the father/son dogfight in the WWII flight simulator :-) brought our visit to the Pearl Harbor complex to a close and gave all of us a lot to think about and talk about all the way back to the resort.
When we got back to Aulani we made dinner and then after dinner my DH and I decided to head down to the pool. Originally we had planned to go down the water slides but we didn’t realize that they closed at 8 PM and it was now after nine. So we headed to the main pool instead. C. decided to go with us and I brought our little waterproof camcorder to capture the action.
When we got down to the pool we discovered that we pretty much had the pool to ourselves and since the pools are “climate regulated”, the water was wonderful. My DH and C. were having a great time horsing around and I was enjoying taping the hijinks. Then, at some point, I guess I took leave of my senses and I handed the camera to my DH. I am pretty sure you can all see where this is going, and you don’t even know him. Unfortunately, I do, and I didn’t, but I certainly should have.
As the guys wrestled in the water at some point they managed to accidentally open the latch and thus my watertight camera was transformed into a waterlogged one in one fell swoop.
I was pretty bummed about the drowning death of my little camera on a couple of counts. I had barely used it so that was a bummer, we hadn’t gone snorkeling yet, and this tragedy could have been totally avoided. A bit of electrical tape placed over the latches when the camera was dry would have helped ensure that they stayed closed (as would not giving the camera to my DH when he was in a pitched battle for pool supremacy but that would have been too easy :-).
So, if you have an underwater camera, especially if it is a Kodak Playful camera, bringing a roll of electrical tape with you to make sure your camera stays closed under water would be a good idea. Not letting my DH play with it would be an even better one.
Still, we had a blast and really enjoyed splashing about to our hearts content without having to worry about either crashing into someone else’s kids or for that matter setting a bad example for them.
On Wednesday I again rose before the sun and before most of the rest of the group. On our agenda was some shopping for my DBFF and me and relaxing and pool time for everyone else. So after breakfast we headed off in search of splendid things. Our first stop however was going to be Best Buy to replace my now defunct camera.
After picking up my new camera (a Kodak Playsport which I have been very happy with and which was also on sale, you’ve got to love that :-) we headed over to the “World’s Largest Hawaiian Store” Hilo Hattie’s. They greet you with a cute free shell lei and complementary ice cold POG juice. I was in pursuit of one of those bobbling hula dancers and this was totally the place to find one and find one I did. They also sell hula skirts, Hawaiian shirts and dresses (including some patterns which they have in all sizes for all ages and genders) and a whole host of cheesy gifts for the folks back home.
This is another of those coupon opportunities, a couple of the shopping guides have a coupon that gives you either a free coffee mug or a free sarong with a $15 purchase. Since the sarongs retail for $9.99 minimum there, that was a pretty good deal. We bought our souvenirs and then headed for our next scheduled stop.
The DBFF and I are both fans of thrift stores and we decided that it would a good idea to check out the ones in the area to look for interesting and much more economical keepsakes. We found the local Salvation Army located nearby first and we scored some great Hawaiian shirts (some that still had the tags on them) for about $5 each and we also found some great Hawaiian sundresses as well. But the deals of the day there turned out to be a boogie board and swim fins for literally a couple of bucks each, two really awesome beach bags and best of all some beautiful jewelry.
I got a sterling silver and mother of pearl and diamond flip flop charm on a beautiful sterling chain for $15 and I found the perfect birthday gift for S.. We had come to Hawaii to celebrate her 17th birthday and I had a lovely gift for her which I had conveniently left in my lovely kitchen, on my lovely table at my lovely house, so I was very much in search of the perfect thing and here it was. There sitting in the case was a really cool amethyst crystal pendant wrapped in sterling silver on a heavy silver rope chain. The piece is hand made and truly looks like it was made for her and it was a steal! Now all I needed was to find a box to put it in and I was all set!
Next we headed to the Kmart across the street to buy snorkels and masks for Thursday’s planned excursion to Hanauma Bay. They have them in a variety of styles and price ranges (I was told at a SCUBA store to look for a “dry top” snorkel with a purge to make my first serious snorkeling foray a success). They also had swim shirts for adults and kids, and electrical tape, all of which we also decided to buy.
Our final shopping stop was to the Savers thrift store where we found some more great clothes, and where I found some really nice swim fins for the DH which came in a nifty carry bag for $4. This was also where I found a darling trinket box featuring a Klibben Cat doing the hula, a big bucket of sand toys which were destined to join the boogie board we purchased at the other store to become part of the start of the Aulani Gear swap, and best of all, a miniature treasure chest which was perfect to hold the necklace for S.
The tip I have to offer here is, hit the thrift stores in the area where you are vacationing. Your odds of finding something really cool as a memento of your trip are pretty good, and for large items (like the boogie board, swim fins, umbrellas, chairs, coolers and such) that you might want to use but won’t want to bring home, you can save yourself some cash by buying used and then just pass it on to the next family either through a formal gear swap here on the DIS or by finding some nice folks who are just arriving for the start of their fun when you are wrapping up your stay.
When we got back to the resort C. & I headed off to try out the water slides. It was going to be my first time but C. was a pro. Let me tell you, the Volcano is a blast! You body-slide on your back in total blackness from start till splash down. I truly lost count of the number of times I went down it. Of course you could always tell when I was in the tunnel because you could hear me cackling like a fiend all the way down. It wasn’t scary (I saw little bitty kids and grandpas hitting the water and all looking like they had the time of their lives) but it sure was a rush!
They have some failsafes in place. There is a light at the top of the slide which is red as long as the previous slider is still in the drop zone and the cast member at the top of the slide won’t let you get in until the light turns green. There is another cast member at the bottom of the slide watching to make sure that everything and everyone comes out alright. They also have life vests available for all ages and sizes to use free of charge. Oh and none of the pools are deeper than 3’6”.
I also went down the inner tube slide which empties you into the lazy river. This one is also a blast to ride. They have single and double inner tubes available (you grab your tube by the entrance at the bottom and then carry it up the stairs to the top). I wanted to try out the double tube but couldn’t get anyone to ride with me so I was a single rider each time.
As for the lazy river, I didn’t find it to be too lazy for my liking, but if you do you can always use the inner tube to go down the slide and then ditch the tube and swim the river where the current will aid your efforts. You can ride the river without having to go down the slide if you choose to as there are a few places to get into and out of the river easily. There are lifeguards every few feet strategically positioned so that just when you leave the eye-line of one you are entering the field of vision for the next.
We happily slipped, slid and swam for an hour or so and then it was time to go upstairs and get ready for our 7:15 reservation at Ama Ama.
After cleaning up a bit and actually slapping a bit of makeup on to look pretty (just me not the DH, he has what you would call natural beauty and doesn’t need artificial aids :-) he and I headed down to join the group, watch the last rays of light fade from the sky and wait to be seated at our table.
Ama Ama is a covered but open air restaurant that overlooks the beach. We were seated right close to the outer edge with an almost unobstructed view of the water. A lot has been said about the food at Aulani and about the prices of things as well. Ama Ama is pricy and since it is a la carte service it does add up quickly.
I had the Big Eye Tuna and Sea Asparagus Poké as a first course and my DH chose the Field Greens Salad. Both were winners! I got a taste of the Heirloom Tomato, Burratta Cheese and White Corn Vinagrette and that was amazing! Others at the table ordered the Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Hearts of Palm and the Kalua Pig Rillettes with Manchego Cheese Croquettes, Serrano Ham, and Romesco Sauce and that got raves too. The dinner entrées ordered were: the Island Seafood Stew, Grilled New York Steak, Seared Ahi and Shrimp and the Paniolo Rack of Lamb.
The Seared Ahi was sublime and the Rack of Lamb was delicious. One thing here, this was a true “fine dining” experience a la Palo on the Wonder or the Magic, so our meal was served at an appropriately unhurried pace which allowed us to relax and truly enjoy each course. Oh, and if you ask for rare, they will really serve you “rare”.
The server was attentive but not intrusive and she even went to double check with the chef when she was told of a food allergy one member of our group had. Our meal from start to finish took about two hours and we enjoyed every minute of it. We even had a table side serenade by the musicians which made the evening even nicer.
If I am fortunate enough to be at Aulani again, I wouldn’t get a meal at One Paddle, Two Paddle (but I would get the sweet potato fries in a heartbeat) however, I would go back to Ama Ama for a special meal in a hot minute.
After dinner we headed back to our rooms satiated, satisfied and sleepy.
A side story here... I had talked to one of the concierge’s shortly after we arrived to see if there was anything extra special that could be done for DMIL S.. Not only was she the reason we were all enjoying this amazing fantasy vacation, things just hadn’t turned out quite the way she had planned (having her hubby not being able to join her as he was attending to his sick father and then getting food poisoning and missing the Luau) yet she had remained in good spirits throughout.
He said he would think on it and let me know if he had any ideas. Now here it is early Thursday morning and I was on my way down to the gift shop to fill up our refillable cups with delicious fresh ground Kona coffee for my DH and tasty hot chocolate for me. I saw my concierge friend and he waved me over. He had brought me a bag of Plumeria blossoms and all the tools necessary for me to string a lovely lei for DMIL S.. He also explained the meaning behind the lei...
The Hawaiian lei represents more than just a pretty string of flowers and traditionally is more than just a gift of welcome. The ring of flowers represent the arms of a child encircling the neck of their parent in a loving embrace. When you are making a lei you are supposed to think about the person you are making the lei for and what they mean to you so that all your good wishes and affection for them is absorbed by the flowers in the lei.
The flowers also absorb your energy which is why you will notice that when you are given a lei they don’t take it off their neck but off of their wrist so that they don’t give you their energy. Interesting, huh?
Anyway, after explaining the symbolism of the lei and explaining how to go about making one, he sent me on my way with my craft project in hand. He also said he was still trying to work on something else but wasn’t sure if it would work out. I thanked him for his efforts and headed up to my room to start the project.
One thing that was on my personal “must do” list for our trip was snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. Now, I am no where near an expert at water sports of any kind and the last time I had a snorkel and mask on my face was when I was around 13 and I was at Marineland preparing to swim through their “Baja Reef”. So, I decided that I wanted to get a bit of a brain dump before we left for our trip and I hit the open ocean.
I went to a local SCUBA store to learn about snorkeling gear. In a nutshell here is what I found out... You want to get a mask that makes a good seal so silicone is a better choice. You want to get a “dry top” snorkel with a purge valve. You will want fins but a better mask and snorkel without the fins is preferred over a crappy set with them. If you get your gear before you leave for your trip or before you are actually at your snorkeling destination take a little time to practice using it in the water (Yes, you will feel silly swimming in the bath tub and you might look a little odd using your gear in the pool at the gym but knowing how to use and how to clear your gear should you get water down the tube - and you WILL get water down the tube - adds immeasurably to the comfort and enjoyment of the experience.).
Aulani rents snorkeling gear and it can be purchased across the street at the ABC store as well. You can also purchase nicer kids and adult sized sets including mask, snorkel, fins and carry bag at the Costco four miles away. Oh, and for those of us blessed with “creative eyes” that see the world in their own “special” way there is Snorkel Bob’s which rents and sells vision corrected masks.
A full snorkeling gear setup including dry top snorkel, fins and vision corrected mask rents for $44/week. They will need a copy of your vision prescription and will only be able to correct for nearsightedness but if you need it, this is a HUGE thing. They offer sets for kids and adults. A coupon can be found in the Oahu Gold magazine which gives you info on their shop and free stuff when you make your reservation.
Originally, I was planning to rent vision corrected gear for the DH and myself but I never made it over to their shop and my vision issue is more about being astigmatic (I pretty much top out the scale on that, its nice to know that I am tops in something :-) than anything else and they don’t correct for that.
On our drive around the island on Monday we went to Hanauma Bay to get a look at the view and I was pretty impressed by how clear the water was. Boy, you don’t see that at the beaches I am familiar with.
The guide books will all tell you to get to the bay early in the morning and this is good advice for a couple of reasons. 1) The water is less churned up and thus even clearer earlier in the day when there are fewer people splashing around in it. 2) The parking lot is fairly small and when it is full they close it and close entry to the bay until spaces open up or the day ends, whichever comes first.
I was pretty worried about our chances of getting to swim in the bay as we were getting a rather later start than I had hoped for and as we neared the entrance to the parking lot they had the lot closed sign up. I blued the air slightly with a couple of well chosen words and was pretty disappointed, but just as we got within one car length of the turn into the lot, the man sitting by the sign flipped it over from “closed” to “open” and in we went!
The bay is open every day except Tuesdays and it will cost you $1 to park your car and $7.50/PP for adults to go down to the water. The walk down to the water is a fairly steep slope and they do have a shuttle that runs continuously and costs around $2 to use both ways. If you are carrying lots of gear, or have difficulty walking, it is a godsend.
When I had talked about wanting to go snorkeling in the bay it was met with some passing interest from most of the rest of the group but I think I was the only one who was really hot on the idea. Still, the DH, my DBFF B., her DH K. and her DS C. all decided to go. The other two members of our group decided to stay behind and enjoy time together at the resort.
I had been warned that we should pack a lunch to bring with us. There is food available for purchase there at the bay but the only snack bar is at the very top of that formidable hill and it is a bit pricey. I did buy a couple bottles of water when we arrived but we brought PB&J sandwiches with us.
I also saw someone doing something I thought was pretty clever. They had a large lockable cooler which they padlocked closed and then used a bike lock to secure it by the handle to a tree. Presto! Instant locker! Now the whole group could go enjoy the water without having to leave someone behind to watch the gear. Great idea I think.
When you arrive at the bay, the first thing everyone has to do before they are allowed to go down to the water is to watch a short film educating you about the habitat and giving you the “do’s” and “don’ts” about swimming in a nature preserve.
They teach you about what lifeforms you can hurt (like the coral which is a living thing and is severely damaged if you step on it) and what lifeforms can hurt you (like the coral which will cut you to shreds and severely damage you if you step on it). (The video also shows a Moray Eel as one of the more dangerous residents of the bay. My DH had barely stuck his face in the water for the very first time when he came face to face with one. Both the Eel and my DH eyed each other for a second and then both decided to retreat to the safety of their separate corners.) They also tell you not to interfere with, touch or feed the fish.
If you think you will be visiting the bay again anytime within the next 365 days of your first visit you can sign a book they have which will exempt you from having to see the film again on your subsequent visits.
When we got down to the beach we put on our swim fins and headed toward the water. I didn’t know that you are supposed to walk backward into the water when you have fins on. That bit of knowledge would have deprived the other beach visitors of my elegant entry (read that hobbling like weeble crossed with a drunken duck) into Poseidon’s lair.
The water isn’t cold like it is here in California, but you do have a bit of a “whoosh, now I’m awake” moment when you first hit the surf. That goes away after a few seconds and by the time your face breaks the surface and you start tentatively exploring the undersea world it is gone completely.
Make sure to slather on the sunscreen, especially on your back and the backs of your legs as you can easily lose track of time and fry yourself crispy on one side before you even realize it has happened.
I saw fish that ranged in size from a couple of inches to a couple of feet long and everything in between. I even saw a Humuhumunukunukuapua’a! My new underwater video camera performed admirably (as did my DBFF’s Kodak Playful which we taped up securely before her’s hit the surf) and I took tons of video and stills as well.
Oh, one of the things that they tell you during your introductory video is to swim with a buddy and to know where your buddy is at all times. As I mentioned, my vision is not the best (although underwater it is better than above) and I tried wearing my glasses under my mask but that was a dismal failure so I was without my “eyes” in the water and wasn’t able to see far enough to recognize anyone or anything. Fortunately, I was swimming with my hat on (It is a bright red floppy hat that has a drape at the back to protect your neck, is made by Adams and it is great!) so while I couldn’t spot anyone else they were all able to keep an eye on me. Not optimal, but better than nothing.
Swimming with a brightly colored hat on does make it easier for folks to see you from the shore and I found that the brim helped a lot with dealing with the glare off the water whenever I brought my face up out of the water to scan the surface.
They do rent snorkeling gear right there at the beach and they also rent blow up life vests which help if you are not a strong swimmer and/or don’t float well. It is very easy to get so caught up with what you are looking at beneath you that you lose track of where you are and of what direction you are swimming in, or even which way the shoreline is when you are staring beneath the waves, so force yourself to raise your head every few minutes to get your bearings and make sure that you haven’t gotten too far from your swim buddy or gotten yourself out into water deeper than you can handle. I don’t know if you would be able to borrow the lifejackets they provide at the resort to use at the bay but I do know that you can use the pool towels and then just return them to the towel return when you get back to the resort.
The DH, my DBFF’s DH K. her DS C. and I all went into the water as soon as we arrived but my DBFF wasn’t super enthused and was enjoying reading on the shore. Still, when her DH and DS both insisted that she had to try snorkeling she decided to give it a go and boy was she glad she did. She and her DS went out to the rocks and saw a sea turtle swimming and eating beneath them! They got it on video and were both fairly giddy with excitement when they came back to shore to share their tale. They were the only ones of us who saw any turtles during our stay and I was doubly thrilled for them because they had such an amazing experience and because they got it on film and were able to share it with us all.
Hanauma Bay was one of the absolute highlights of the trip for me and the next time I go to Oahu I will block out at least two days to visit the bay and I would want to get there as soon as they opened and stay for as long as I could.
The other thing I would do the next time I go there would be to bring a set of dry clothes to change into after swimming. They do have indoor changing rooms and outdoor showers to rinse off the salt water, and things do dry pretty quickly there, but not sitting in damp shorts all the way back to the resort would have been a welcome thing.
We stopped at Costco and picked up some souvenirs (chocolate covered macadamia nuts and Hawaiian shirts) and a couple more groceries (more Poké :-) to tide us over until our departure on Saturday and then headed back to the resort.
Tonight would be the Starlight Hui and we were all looking forward to seeing the show. My DBFF B. and I were looking forward to the evening for even more reasons than that.
While we were shopping at Hilo Hattie’s on Wednesday my DBFF B. and I spotted a complete hula costume including grass skirt, coconut shell bra, shell lei and a lovely flower to complete the look. We decided that since DMIL S. had missed the show at the luau we would do one of our own for her to make up for it. We bought the outfits ($13.99 complete, truly a steal for the ultimate cheesy Hawaii souvenir but I digress :-), and smuggled them into my room. Now all we needed was the perfect moment to unleash our hitherto fore hidden talents and tonight was going to be the night! But first dinner was on our agenda.
If you recall, way back on Monday when we were driving around the island seeing the sights, we had stopped at a roadside fruit and vegetable stand where I purchased a few items that had never appeared on our menu before. One of these items was breadfruit and tonight was the night when we were going to give it a try. I peeled the fruit, cut it into a few good sized chunks and then steamed it as the lady at the fruit stand suggested. The raw fruit is smooth, a creamy white, and has a slippery and slightly sticky texture. It feels kind of like a really large baked potato that has been dipped in library paste.
We were all a bit dubious about what this was going to taste like but, once again, I had insisted that everyone had to at least take one bite. The lady at the fruit stand said that they were sweet and taste like bread with butter, sugar and cream. There is a mild sweetness and the cooked texture is reminiscent of steamed bread (the slimy, sticky thing goes away) and the flavor has more in common with a mild squash. It improves with salt, and a bit of butter. You can also roast them and the next time I serve breadfruit (because I would serve it again if I found it here, in place of potatoes or another veggie) I would try roasting it since that would enhance the natural sweetness.
Also, upon returning home, I did a bit of research on how to prepare breadfruit or ulu as the Hawaiians call it, and discovered that it doesn’t need to be peeled prior to cooking, and that almost every recipe that I encountered roasts the fruit. Ahh well, live and learn.
After we finished eating it was time to get ready for the Starlight Hui. I headed back to my room and my DBFF B. made a suitable excuse and followed me over. Once there we hurriedly donned our hula garb over our sundresses (because we were going native, but not that native :-), I cued up my iPod to Hawaiian Roller-coaster Ride from the Lilo and Stitch soundtrack, grabbed the lei I had made from out of the fridge, and we went next door to make our grand entrance. (Fortunately I had enlisted my DH, without letting him in on the surprise, to videotape starting when we entered the room so our performance has been preserved for posterity... or blackmail as the case may be.)
And grand it was! The shocked and surprised looks on the faces of our family and friends was well worth the effort. We danced. what I am quite confident, was one of the most heart felt but worst hulas ever performed on the island, presented the lei and then, still in our finery (at my insistence but the DBFF went along with it and was a trouper), headed down to get seats for the Starlight Hui.
Surprisingly, when we arrived at the Hui, where every cast member who got a look at us smiled and made positive comments. So we actually didn’t feel out of place despite the fact that we were the only people not in the show, and over the age of 8 wearing hula skirts, we selected our seating mats and waited for the show to begin.
We had been advised that you needed to get there early to ensure that you had a place to sit. That advice was sound and arriving as early as you can will give you ample time to select your preferred seating location and to enjoy all the activities offered. I was pleasantly surprised to find that in order to enter the show area they had cast members checking for the current days wristbands (a good reason to make sure you get one every day you are at the resort even if you don’t plan to swim).
The one thing I didn’t think to do (actually there were several things I didn’t think to do :-) was to bring my refillable mug downstairs and fill ‘er up before the show. There is no food or drinks available at the show site although you can bring both to enjoy while sitting under the stars and cocoa would have been yummy. The other things I didn’t think to do were to apply some bug repellant, there were a few mosquitos, it is a tropical island after all, so I got a couple of bites while we were there on the grass.
There are no where near as many mosquitos as there were on our rain forest hike, but if you are a tasty mosquito morsel, then consider yourself warned and plan accordingly. I also didn’t grab my big camera which was a bummer. I had my flip video camera with me as did my DH and DBFF’s DS S. had her new birthday gift point and shoot, but I would have liked to get some really good pictures. What can I say... I ditzed.
For the photographers among you who are reading this, try to make it to the first Starlight Hui scheduled during your stay (the show only happens, at most two times per week, location permitting but it is well worth seeing twice) to scope out the lighting, plan where to sit, and to get a feel for the show so that you can get the photos from the best angles and at the best exposures.
As for the show itself, much has been written about the quality and caliber of the show with folks going so far as to say that you don’t need to go to a paid luau show as the Starlight Hui is every bit as good or better than most.
I would agree and disagree with that statement. First the disagreement. The luau we attended at Germaine’s (which included dinner), while it was not worth $72/pp (but again if you check the coupon books and the internet you can find discounts knocking the price down considerably) was worth the “I’ve been to a luau in Hawaii” experience. And the fire spinner was impressive. (Incidentally, I think I forgot to mention that while we were driving around on the Island on Monday we happened upon a shoreline park where a young boy who didn’t look much older than 10 or 12 was practicing twirling fire while his family watched and coached from the sidelines. Truly an only in Hawaii experience.) And they demonstrated about twice as many dance styles, owing to the increased length of the show as they do in the Hui.
So, if it is your first time to the islands, as it was for most of us, and if you grew up watching the Brady Bunch and pretty much every other 70’s era sitcom that made a visit to Hawaii (which was also most of us in the group) then going to a professional luau complete with dinner service is probably on your agenda. Try to find the best deal with the best reviews and go enjoy the show in all its cheesy splendor.
Now however, I come to the agreement with the aforementioned statement. If there is one thing Disney knows how to do and do extremely well it is put on a show (with the exception of “Steps in Time” which is still one of the worst productions of anything I have ever witnessed on a Disney Stage, or any stage for that matter, but I digress...), and the Starlight Hui is no exception.
The dancers are all great, and pretty to look at too, although DMIL S. did comment that she had never before seen so many clothes on a young man doing any of these dances :-). The music is wonderful. Heart and Soul are amazing! What they can do with just two ukelele’s is amazing and inspiring. It makes you want to buy one and try your hand too!
By the way, if you do decide you want a nice uke, according to the locals the Aloha Stadium market is a good place to go looking. I also found some beautiful instruments for sale at Kmart. These were Hawaiian made koa wood with mother of pear inlay starting at $129 and if I had been able to make it back to Kmart before our stay ended one of them would have come home with me.
The show does give a taste of the different dance styles of the islands and is long enough for suitable relaxation and enjoyment but not so long that the folks with small children had issues with the kids getting antsy. The Hui ends with a Disney dance party with Disney characters in attendance and music and fun for all.
If you have kids with you be sure to get to the Hui plenty early so that they will have a chance to try their hands in the different craft and activities stations that are set up around the perimeter of the seating area. All the activities and crafts are free and the kids we saw participating were having the time of their lives making music, learning to dance or making craft items to take home. Also, since you will be sitting on the ground on a woven mat, you might want to bring a sweater or grab a couple of pool towels to wrap about you to ward off the ocean breeze. We didn’t get cold at all but I could see how someone might. Oh and another word about pool towels, there are two manned (or womanned as the case may be :-) towel distribution areas (one is by the entrance to the swim through Rainbow Reef and the other is near the center of the pool complex close to the entrance for the stairs to go up to the water slides, right next to the Menehune Bridge water play area. These are also the places you go to get your wristband each day (bring your room key as you will need it to get your wristband). These towel/wristband distribution points do have posted hours so make sure you get there in time to get what you need. There is also an unmanned (or womanned :-) towel cabinet next to the Wailana quiet pool where you can get extra towels pretty much anytime you need them.
They don’t limit the number of towels you can request within reason (I routinely asked for two at a time for myself as my hair is really thick and long and I need one beach sized towel just to go around my head). There are places to return the damp towels dotting the pool area so exchanging a wet towel for a dry one is never a problem.
After the Hui we all headed wearily back to our rooms to start thinking about the packing process and to rest up for our last full day at Aulani.
I did a bit of a stupid (or what we call saving money at a loss in my family) where the packing was concerned. The airline ticket level we purchased only included carryon items but any additional checked luggage had be paid for separately. Some members of our group had tickets that allowed them to check two pieces of luggage for no additional cost so they had allowed us to send our checked luggage with them to avoid the extra fees.
I thought I was being clever when I brought our luggage scale with us to weigh the bags. I thought I was being frugal when I declined the opportunity to purchase that nice rolling carryon Aulani bag that they offer you for $35 when you send $50 at the gift shop. And I thought I was being clever when I packed all the clothes in one smaller bag and all the “stuff” in the larger one. I wasn’t.
I forgot to use the scale so I didn’t realize how much over the weight limit we were. Heck, I had even gone so far as to pack the durned thing in the heavy bag to further increase its weight I suppose. I didn’t buy the Aulani bag so I didn’t have the extra packing room, and I completely forgot that I had an empty folded large shopping/overnight bag in the outside pocket of our larger piece of luggage (in case the travel scale wasn’t adding sufficiently to its weight) and could have been used to re distribute the load. We wound up spending $125 to get the larger bag on the plane. Had I purchased the rolling carryon for the $35 and paid the $25 extra bag fee we still would have saved $50 and I would have had another nice souvenir.
So, word to the wise... If you do any shopping on your vacation and are going home with more items than you brought, especially if they are heavy items like tempered glass swim masks and a couple of sets of swim fins, and if you spend enough in the gift shop to be able to buy the purchase with purchase rolling bag, and if your airline charges for extra bags, you will still potentially come out ahead by buying the bag and paying the extra bag fee which will always be significantly lower than the overweight bag cost. Oh, and if you go to the trouble of bringing a luggage scale with you for goodness sakes use the thing!
If you like the idea of picking up an extra bag to carry your treasures home but want to be more frugal about it, check for a piece of luggage while you are shopping at the thrift stores. We saw, but didn’t buy, an beautiful rolling carry on bag made by Dianne Von Furstenburg at the Salvation Army for $2. Live and learn.
On Friday morning we were all a little bit subdued as we all knew that this was to be our last full day in paradise. The only thing we had on our agenda, aside from finishing packing, was to enjoy the resort amenities to their fullest by day and then we were going out for a sushi dinner courtesy of my DH that night.
As usual I started my day by heading down to the gift shop to fill our mugs with our respective morning brews. I also needed to return the lei needles and the wood plate they were loaned to me with to the concierge. I wanted to thank him again personally for his help and to tell him how much the lei had been appreciated. When got to his desk I was told that he would be right back so I waited.
There was a very unique lei in mid construction, sitting on the top of the desk which I greatly admired. He showed up a couple of minutes after I arrived and told me that he was glad I was there because he was in the process of making this lei as a gift for DMIL S. and had planned to call me when he was done. He said that he had been so touched by her story, and felt bad that the other things he had tried to arrange hadn’t worked out, so he decided to do something extra special for her himself.
The lei he made was different than any I had ever seen before. He had brought some of the ingredients from his own garden at home and used the tuber roses they have there at the resort. The main body of the lei was comprised of a something called Pelés hair which is a light green stringy plan that looks a little like a fringed boa. A Twisted rope of dark green Ti leaves joined together by woven Ti leaf roses encircled the Pele’s hair. Around all of the body of the lei there was a rope of Tuber roses to provide a lovely creamy white color and a sweet fragrance.
I was very touched by all the work he had done and all the help he had provided (I enthusiastically gave him a guest compliment at the conclusion of our stay.) and I knew she would be touched as well. He told me that he wasn’t quite finished with the lei and asked me to come back later in the day to pick it up. I thanked him again and headed off, eagerly anticipating the completed piece.
I had decided that I wanted to snorkel in the cove there by the resort since I now had the gear, and I was hoping that I would be as lucky as my DBFF at Hanauma Bay, and the man I saw who had snorkeled there at Aulani earlier in the week, and that I too would see a sea turtle. So after breakfast I packed my beach bag, slathered on the sunscreen, plopped my bright red hat on my head and headed off. My first stop before hitting the beach was to gather C. up as he was going with me. He was planning to christen the sand castle building equipment I had purchased to help start off the gear swap. We happily trotted off looking ahead to our respective tasks.
Little did I know that the day that was intended to be our most relaxing would turn out to be a whole lot more exciting than I could ever have imagined.
I got down to the beach early enough to grab a free beach lounger, suited up and hit the water. The first thing I saw, not more than five feet from shore was a couple of long, brightly colored fish who were happily swimming right around the legs of the folks who were wading into the surf.
This is a man made cove so the bottom is smooth sand for the most part with rocks and coral only around the perimeter. There is a large floating raft that you can swim to and sit on or jump off of into the surf and they have paddle boards, kayaks, wave boards, snorkels and the like available for rental right there by the beach. The $99 length of stay rental deal, sadly is no more and I was a bit bummed about that because I had planned on taking advantage of the deal and trying my hand a paddle boarding and ocean kayaking, but there is always next time :-).
Anyway, I continued doing some fruitless searching for sea creatures and had worked my way back to the shoreline when I saw DMIL S. and C. heading toward me with their snorkeling gear in hand. We all plowed into the surf to get our sea legs. C. was going to be using the normal sized swim fins I had purchased for my DH as the ones we had found for C. are of the ultra long, power stroke variety and while they do a great job of propelling you through the water they are truly impossible to walk in on dry (or semi dry) land under any circumstances.
DS C. flapped about in the surf for a bit but then decided that the fins just weren’t working for him so he ditched them back at the lounge chair and then headed back to join us in our search for fish.
Oh, and a word here about the lounge chairs... They have quite a number of them spread out on the beach free for the using (you can rent the hooded double chairs and also rent beach umbrellas which the cast members will set up for you) and they do monitor them. If your gear is left unattended for over an hour they will gather it up and free up the chair (it winds up at the beach rental shop if you are at the cove or at the largest of the pool towel tents near the Menehune Bridge if you are by the pools), and they also monitor the usage and will politely tell anyone who is not an Aulani guest (i.e. not wearing a wristband) that while the beach is available to all, use of the lounge chairs is restricted to registered guests of the resort.
There are cast members on the beach but there aren’t any true lifeguards and this would become important soon. Anyway, we stayed together somewhat better than I had managed to do when snorkeling at Hanauma Bay with my DH and made our way toward the rocks to look for sea life. The water in the cove was a bit murkier owing to all the folks churning it up but is still crystal clear compared to the waters of the beaches I am familiar with. As we made our way around the outer edge of the cove we saw some convict tangs (small black and white striped fish that are rather abundant there and at Hanauma Bay) and some fleeting glimpses of things as the did their best to get out of our way.
The cove has three inlets. The smallest of the three is probably twenty feet or so across (I am guessing here so please don’t quote me on the distance) and then there is a large section of reef about fifty or so feet in length and then another inlet. There are signs on the rocks telling you not to touch or climb on them. There is also a floating swim buoy line but it is anchored about fifteen feet or so in from the rocks leaving a gap right near the rocks without any barrier.
We had spread out just a bit but I could still see the other two members of my group (remember, I wear glasses and don’t have them on in the ocean) and I could see, and by squinting, read the sign that told me to stay off the rocks but there weren’t any signs warning me about swimming near the inlets. I am not a strong swimmer, I float pretty well and I did have my fins on so that helped. So, I won’t be besting Michael Phelps anytime soon and, truth be told, I am not sure that I would even be able to best Michael Jackson - even in his current state.
The other two in my group are much better swimmers than I am. DS C. and DMIL S. were a ways away from me and were exploring right near the rocks so they never saw the swim buoy line. I was more toward the center so I did see the line but when I was motioned over to see the fish I decided, against my better judgement, to duck under the line to get to where they were and see what they saw. I also figured that if there was any danger there would be signs aplenty and I hadn’t seen any to that effect.
By the time I got to where they had been, they were heading toward the second inlet and preparing to swim across it to get to the rocks on the other side. I followed as quickly as I could and realized that we were all in trouble, pretty big trouble, after just a few strokes. There is a rip tide there at that second inlet, thus the buoys, but there wasn’t a sign that any of us saw warning us about this. Fortunately the tide was coming in not going out or this story would have ended very differently and I might not be the one writing it.
They got just past the center point and I was about a third of the way across when I realized that we were all swimming for all we were worth and instead of heading toward shore we were all being rapidly dragged out to sea. I briefly considered, despite my lack of skill, trying to go the the aid of DMIL S. as she was the one farthest away from shore and seemed to be losing ground fastest, and I was the only one wearing fins. I was in trouble too so I wisely decided that I wouldn’t be able to help and would only make things worse. I did a fair amount of screaming for help and waving my arms to try to attract attention but we were so far away from shore that no one answered or even seemed to see or hear us.
Irrationally, I also had the fleeting thought that if the resort knew that I got in trouble and had to be rescued they would throw me out of Aulani. For a very brief moment I actually considered not screaming for help and flailing about so that I wouldn’t get punished for breaking the rules. Fortunately, survival instinct overcame stupidity and I did my screaming with reckless abandon.
I was hyper aware of the sounds of all the folks laughing and playing in the water, and was really getting scared but trying to stay calm and clear headed. At about the same point we all got the same idea. We all tried desperately to make our way sideways to the rocks on our respective sides of the inlet and fighting the current every step of the way we finally did. I had resolved that if I could get to the rocks and the current was still to strong to swim I was going to plaster myself to a rock and cling to it for dear life. I figured that with my bright red hat, if they spotted me breaking the rules and touching the rocks someone would come out to scold me and would save me in the process.
I have to say that I was never so happy to dash my knee against some coral as I was when I got closer to that reef. A quick glance once I had gotten ahold of a rock, across the water told me that the others in my group looked like they were making their way to the rocks on their side of the inlet but then they disappeared from my view.
The current was still pretty strong here so I needed to focus all my attention on keeping hold of something solid, not getting dashed against the rocks, and crab crawling my way toward the buoy line and the safety of the shore. That slimy, algae covered rope felt wonderful when I finally got ahold of it and I continued pulling myself hand over hand steadily toward land. Now I knew I was safe but I had totally lost sight of the others and having no idea where they were I made my way as fast as I could along the rope line to try to get help.
After what seemed like hours but was probably only ten minutes or so since this ordeal started (I had my video camera on my wrist and had started it when we first swam over to the second set of rocks. I had stopped it when I got ahold of the first group of rocks and dashed my knee against them. The tape runs for about 8 minutes to that point and for the most part looks like it was shot in a blender.) I was reaching the part of the rope line closest to the shore when a Disney cast member glided up on a paddle board to ask if I was ok. At that point I knew I was and I said that I just didn’t know where the other two people I was with were. He described them and told me that they were already on their way to shore. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and headed toward the shoreline as fast as my adrenaline fueled body would take me.
The rest of my group found me (that bright red hat sure has come in handy :-) and waded back toward me as I finally got to the point where I could firmly touch bottom and make my way out of the surf. DMIL S. and I exchanged a look which told me that my fears about our situation were not unfounded. When we discussed it privately later I decided it had indeed been as dangerous and I thought it had been and we were both very, very grateful that it worked out as well as it had.
DS C. was blissfully unaware of just how close a call it truly was and we have not chosen to enlighten him other than to say that we made a big mistake by swimming past those markers and stressing that none of us should ever do that again.
At this point, fish or no fish, we were all pretty much done with the ocean for the day and DMIL S. suggested that we all head over to Rainbow Reef to swim in the safety of the aquarium. That way if anyone asked if we saw fish while we were snorkeling we could tell them indeed we had and would have lovely pictures to prove it, we just wouldn’t tell them where we saw the fish.
Before I go on with the rest of our day, I really want to hit home here about the strength of the current, especially where that buoy rope line is, and how important it is that nobody go past that rope. A couple of days after we got back from Hawaii I was reading a news report about six members of an amateur rugby team in South Africa who, along with their teammates were caught in a riptide and drowned. I am going to bet that rugby players are probably in better shape and are stronger than I am, or than most of us are for that matter, and they still couldn’t save themselves. May they rest in peace.
So, please be mindful. The cove by Aulani is deceptively calm, but the ocean, is the ocean, and it can and does claim lives. Conditions change rapidly and forgetting that although Disney maintains it, they don’t control it could cost you dearly.
Point, hopefully made... moving on...
We headed over to Rainbow Reef to swim in the protected environment of the swim thru aquarium. Your $20 daily rate, or $39 length of stay pass, allows in and out privileges and use of the snorkel equipment (or you may use your own if you wish) including the flotation vest, which you must wear while swimming in the reef.
There are two different vest types and an abundance of sizes, one that you blow up to inflate and the other with is a solid foam. I started with the inflatable vest but found that my snorkel kept deflating the vest so I switched to the other version and had no further issues.
Regarding the Rainbow Reef snorkels, they are of the extremely basic, curved plastic pipe variety, not the dry top style. You can use the snorkel equipment to swim out in the cove at the beach (while your use of Rainbow Reef is in effect) as well, which is a pretty good deal. This is also where you would go if you want to get a life jacket to use while swimming in the other pools, going down the water slides or for swimming at the beach. The life jackets are available free of charge with the presentation of your room key.
One thing to be aware of, the water in Rainbow Reef is COLD. Not freezing, but significantly colder than any other water, including either of ocean dips I took at either beach. You can get used to it pretty quickly but it is a shock to the system when you first hit the pool.
Before you get into the pool for the first time they will give you a brief rundown of the rules for swimming in this protected environment. They tell you that you can’t dive under water, touch or harass the fish, or kick your feet. If you violate the rules they will remove you from the pool and your right to swim there will be forfeited. Of all the rules, the one that was the hardest for me to obey was not kicking my feet in the pool. I took to keeping my legs crossed at the ankle to remind me not to kick.
I really enjoyed my time in Rainbow reef. The fish are colorful, fearless and very abundant. There are feeding stations around the reef and they also feed the fish a couple times a day on a set schedule which is a great time to be in the water (fish flurry anyone?). There are also some delightful Disney touches under the surface so keep your eyes peeled. This is a really great place to get fabulous fish pictures with your underwater camera.
I had my DH come to the observation window while I was swimming in the tank to take some goofy pictures of me thru the glass. There was a pretty strong breeze the second time I went into the tank and that made it a little too cold for my comfort so I got out, warmed up a bit under the shower they have at the entrance to the reef (you have to shower off every time before you enter the tank) and DMIL S., DS C. and I decided to spend some more time enjoying the water slides.
DS C. and DMIL S. both decided after we had gone down the water slides a few times that they were getting pretty hungry so we headed over to One Paddle Two Paddle where he had an uninspiring burger and she and I both got those yummy sweet potato fries.
After we ate, they both headed up to their room but I wasn’t done enjoying the pools and slides yet and my DH had turned up at this point so we went down the volcano slide a few more times and then went down the Lazy River slide. He and I had a blast playing Pirate Battle with each other which involved floating in our individual inner tubes and whenever we got within range of each other splashing each other for all we were worth and saying “arrgh” and “avast me hardies” every chance we got. (If you were near us in the river, consider this my formal apology for any inconvenience we may have caused. My DH however, would simply like to add Arrgh.) It was silly, stupid and just plain fun!
After we spent about another hour and a half or so playing in the pools we were both getting pretty spent, and we were going to need to dry off before we went to dinner so we reluctantly got out of the pool and headed upstairs.
The DH decided to relax in the room and I joined the rest of the group in doing a Menehune Challenge. We ultimately did two challenges, the one that takes you all over the interior of the lobby areas, and then later, another that took us out around the resort.
The interactive Menehune Challenge was designed as something for the kids to do but all ages will enjoy it. The lobby challenge will introduce you to some of the more magical Disney touches, as well as teaching you about some of the unique features, art and design of the lobby areas.
There are four different outdoor challenges and you don’t know which one you get until you start playing it. The lobby challenge takes about 20 - 30 minutes to complete and the outdoor challenges take between 45 minutes to an hour depending upon how long it takes you decipher the clues and walk to the different locations.
After we finished the first challenge my DBFF B. and I decided that we needed to finish doing our shopping so we agreed to meet downstairs at the gift shop but first I needed to go pick up the special lei for DMIL S. It had turned out even better than I had imagined. I took it quickly up to my room and then headed back down to the gift shop in order to satisfy my shopping urge and lighten my bank account.
They had a sale rack over on the left side of the store with some Aulani branded merchandise that was now steeply discounted. I got a great Aulani custom print ladies Hawaiian shirt and DBFF B. got one for herself and one as a gift for DMIL S. as well. I also got an adorable photo holder and a few other items and spent enough to qualify to purchase the Aulani rolling duffle and throw. I also found out that if you ask really nice they will let you combine the purchases you have made over the course of the day if you bring back the receipts to make the $50 or $100 minimum you need to have spent in order to purchase either the rolling carryon or the woven throw.
After we finished our shopping we took our purchases up to our rooms and then met back up at the DBFF’s suite to give our gifts to DMIL S. By this time we were all ready to head down to do the last Menehune challenge as a group. Unfortunately, by this time I was having a really difficult time walking or standing for that matter, and I was moving painfully slowly. I had been pushing myself to keep up with everyone but I was rapidly reaching the end of my tether and my feet were so swollen that even my flip flops were now almost too tight wear at all. I hate my feet. I mean I am glad I have them but I sure wish they worked better.
After finishing the last challenge we all piled into the car to head out to dinner. Sushi was on the menu and we were all pretty confident that we wouldn’t have any difficulty finding a good sushi restaurant near the resort. We expected to find a traditional sit down sushi bar but what we found instead were more fast food restaurant style options. We first headed to Genki Sushi which super popular with the locals and is located in the same shopping center as the nearby Target. The wait was going to be about 45 minutes for a table and we were all way to hungry to wait that long so we were decided that the thing to do was to ask a local where else they would go for good food. We ended up at Sushi Bay which is in the same shopping center as the Safeway just a few blocks away from Genki Sushi.
Sushi Bay and Genki Sushi both have a conveyor belt that circles around the center of the restaurant and you take what you want from the belt as it passes by. Both price per plate and the plates at Sushi Bay are color coded to tell you not only whether it is spicy but also how much it is. They do serve non-sushi options for the uninitiated.
The sushi was really good and not super expensive. I would recommend them for a quick, casual meal.
After dinner we headed back to the resort to take one last look around, have a final sit down to finish off the last of the open bottles of wine while rehashing the events of the previous week and to do the last of the packing.
I also took the opportunity to go speak with the nice folks down at the front desk in order to set up the beginnings of the DIS boards DVC Gear Swap. They couldn’t have been sweeter or more friendly and were extremely interested in learning about the DIS and the folks who inhabit it.
We decided to leave not only the toys and gear that we had purchased for our use and also, in some cases, with an eye toward kicking the gear swap off with a bang, but also some of the food staples that we had purchased but not come near using up like some flour, sugar, microwave popcorn (Called Hurricane Popcorn which is apparently another “Hawaiian” thing. It is an interesting blend of tastes and textures comprised of popcorn, a buttery sauce, shredded nori and rice crackers. It is worth trying but appears to be an acquired taste and most of us didn’t acquire it. :-) and instant oatmeal.
I don’t know what, if anything, was used but I got an email from the folks who were following us into the resort thanking us for the gear and goodies so it all appeared to be appreciated.
When we booked our airline tickets I was overruled and the decision was made to take the earliest departing flight, at 7 AM, out of Honolulu. This meant that we were going to have to be at the airport by 5 to be on the safe side. This was where still being on California time was going to bite me in the backside big time!
DBFF B’s DH K. had graciously offered to drive us to the airport even though their flight didn’t leave until 1PM - (Now THAT is a good friend, right?) so K., the DH and I were all up and at ‘um and out the door by 4:30 AM.
Originally, we had planned to use Charley’s Taxi Service. The have a special arrangement with Aulani to provide transportation to and from the airport for up to four passengers for $55 each way which, based upon what the cab that was going to take DMIL S. from Germaine’s luau back to the resort was going to charge for a trip of equidistance, ($90 yikes!) is quite a deal. Hopefully, at some point in the near future the resort will start offering something akin to a Magical Express to make getting to and from the resort to the airport easier.
Once we got to the airport, I was quite glad that we erred on the side of caution and got there with time to spare. They have an agricultural inspection station that you must pass through before you are even able to enter the airport, where they X-ray your luggage to ensure that you aren’t trying to smuggle pineapples or plumeria out of the state. I am not clear on what allows or disallows vegetation to leave Hawaii as I saw some other folks on our flight who had been Aulani guests as well, wearing their leis and their woven leaf headbands from one of the resort craft classes.
I still had a baggie of my “eyeballs” left which I tried to eat as fast a possible to avoid having to throw them away. Then we got to enjoy the thrill of having to do an in person check in since we had a bag that needed to be checked. That took forever as there was one person who was manning five different checkin desks and four of the five were having problems.
Fortunately we breezed through TSA. Be sure to really read the signs for the line as there was one that said “The Gold Line is Open to All Persons” which had absolutely no wait while the other line snaked around like the entrance to Star Tours on a busy summer day. We read the sign and as a result, our entire TSA visit amounted to less than five minutes including gathering our gear from the conveyer belt and slipping back into our shoes. Oh, and regarding shoes, this is where comfy slip on shoes like flip flops (the defacto footgear of the Hawaiian Islands) come in really handy to speed you on your way.
We got to our gate with only about 15 minutes to spare, boarded our plane and headed, reluctantly for home.
And with that dear reader, our journey to Aulani comes an end, as does my exhaustive report. All 21,138 words of it.
Take care all, help lots of people and have a “wonder”ful day!
Wow, what a lot of detail. You've given us lots of useful information and insights to consider for our upcoming Aulani trip in September.
I might have missed it in your review, but was your villa (#1055) a one bedroom or a studio?
Wow. I just read your entire report. Thank you so much all the detail and time to share your Aulani vacation with us. We are going in 13 months. I don't know how I will manage to wait. Love your TR!:thumbsup2
Awesome report!!!! :worship::worship:
But......where are the pictures???:goodvibes
Kudos to those of you who have made it thru the entire report in one sitting :thumbsup2.
WRDL - Room #1055 Ewa Tower is a studio wiith a pass thru door to the room next door. The rest of our group was in room #1051 which is a two bedroom suite. Have a great time in September!
LULUBELLE - Thank you for the kind words,, I am glad you enjoyed it. The thirteen months will fly by!
RASCALMOM - What 21,000+ words didn't do it for you :rotfl:. I kind of thought that the report was long enough already without the addition of photos, and my friends and family are all pretty camera shy so they won't let me post any images they appear in which leaves most of the images I could use pretty generic. I am glad you enjoyed the report.
Take care all, help lots of people and have a great day!
What a great and interesting trip report! thanks for sharing your trip and all of the great tips, info and deatails. Shoot....i didnt think I would be interested in Aulani!!!
Please share some photos when you have time. Great report!
Wow!! That was one of the best trip reports I have ever read!! I'm going to Aulani in a few weeks, and you gave me lots of great information and tips. I do have a couple of questions for you:
I love to snorkel and am fairly experienced (even own my own gear) and I was planning on doing some snorkeling at Haunama Bay and at the cove at Aulani. Problem is, I'm going on this trip by myself, so I don't have anyone to "buddy up" with. I've been on lots of cruises where I've ended up snorkeling by myself, and I've never had a problem. After reading your report, though, I'm beginning to rethink my plans. What do you think?
Also, did you happen to notice if there are lockers for rent at Haunama Bay? I'm reluctant to leave anything of value in the trunk of my rental car, and I definitely wouldn't want to leave it on the beach when/if I snorkel there.
I sure wish I had someone that was going with me on this trip. Think your husband would let you go with me? You sound like my kind of people!! :thumbsup2
Absolutely amazing report - and so thorough!! Where are the pictures - I have no doubt they are way better than the ones forming in my imagination. Thank you for taking the time to provide such rich information.
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