April 2018 TR: Maui, The Big Island & Oahu (Aulani)

Pete W.

DIS Veteran
Joined
Aug 20, 1999
INTRO

My name is Pete and my wife and I just returned from a 13-night vacation in Hawaii during which we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We live in NJ, have two grown children, and we’ve been DVC members for 20 years with BWV as our home resort. In addition to many family trips to WDW, we’ve also been to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort once, Disneyland once, and we’ve done two Disney cruises. This was our first trip to Hawaii, and our first time using DVC points without our kids!

While I’m afraid I won’t have the time to post a trip report that is nearly as comprehensive as some that I’ve seen, I do want to ‘pay it forward’ since these boards have been very helpful in planning our Disney trips, and I will definitely answer any questions folks may have.

Since this was our anniversary trip and we’re not sure when/if we’ll return to Hawaii, we did ‘splurge’ on a number of things including first class flights on United from Newark to Honolulu round-trip, plus intra-island flights on Hawaiian Airlines. We rented SUVs through Alamo (Costco rate) on all 3 islands we visited since we knew we would do lots of exploring on our own. We enjoyed a couple premium ‘excursions’ which I’ll mention below, spa treatments and the Luau at Aulani, and several nice dinners at some very good restaurants.

Our anniversary is April 24th which is why we chose the last 2 weeks of April, but this also worked well because it was after Easter/spring break and before Japan Golden Week (first week of May) which is a peak week at Aulani. As a result, we had no trouble booking a one bedroom standard view unit at 7-months, which we later upgraded to Island Gardens view. I noticed that pool and ocean view units were available until only a few weeks prior to our trip, however we kept our Island Gardens view because we wanted to conserve points for a BWV stay we’re planning for New Year’s Eve.


MAUI – arrival

We landed at Kahului Airport at ~5pm after a layover in Honolulu following our flight from Newark. Flying first class means your baggage is prioritized so our bags appeared quickly and we found the rental car shuttle quickly and were on our way to the Alamo facility which offers ‘skip the counter’ service so we went straight to our car. We drove ~25 minutes to the StarWind Cottage at Maui Tradewinds which is located in Haiku near Maui’s north shore just off the road to Hana. Since we were staying ‘on the beach’ at Aulani we wanted a different experience on Maui plus we wanted to be centrally-located so we could explore all parts of the island. This location was absolutely ideal and the Cottage was also one of the best places we’ve ever stayed in. I couldn’t recommend this ‘B&B’ any higher for couples or for families.

The Maui Tradewinds property consists of the main house where the owners (Bev and David) live, with a 'suite' on the bottom floor which is available for rent, and then a separate cottage just in front of the main house (but very secluded with thick vegetation) which has a full kitchen, nice dining/living room, 2 bedrooms (each with a queen bed, but inflatable mattresses available so that the cottage accommodates up to 6 people). A full bathroom adjoins the master bedroom but the 2nd bedroom has a half-bath plus a door leading outside to an outdoor shower so the cottage really functions as a full 2-bathroom unit. A beautiful deck (with immaculate hot tub!) spans the entire front of the cottage, with views of Haleakala in one direction and the not-too-distant ocean in another direction. Both bedrooms have AC but the main living area does not (we used the AC when sleeping but the breezes during the day did not make us miss AC in the main living area). There is a washer/dryer on the bottom floor of the main house which is open 24/7 and is accessible for both the suite and the cottage. It's literally 50 paces up the steep driveway. There is also a fridge outside the main house with extra beverages which you're welcome to take back to the cottage.

Being on east coast time, we were tired so went to bed knowing we’d be up early to start our exploration of the island.


MAUI – Day 1

Left our cottage before 7am and drove one hour to west Maui through Lahaina to Kaanapali and parked at the Sheraton Resort. All beaches in Hawaii are public and each hotel is required to set aside a small number of parking spaces for day visitors so we parked for free and walked to the beach, took pictures of Black Rock (famous for cliff diving) and spent some time on the beach, then drove north to Kahekili Beach (aka Airport Beach) which had ample parking, restrooms, etc. and a very nice beach with a view of Black Rock.

Didn’t want to get too much sun on our first day so drove back to the north shore and stopped in Paia for an early lunch at Café des Amis, a great place for Mediterranean food and people watching. After lunch, did some shopping in Paia, then visited the Ali’i Lavender Farm in Kula before returning to the Maui TradeWinds to rest. We had dinner reservations at Mama’s Fish House (very famous place) and the food was excellent, the location on the beach is perfect, and the bill was substantial (hey, it’s Hawaii).


MAUI – Day 2

Departed for Haleakala at 7am and arrived at park HQ at 8am. Chose not to make reservations for sunrise viewing which everyone says is not to be missed, but we wanted to pace ourselves and take a more leisurely approach and so glad we did. Even though it was overcast near the coast, the weather in the park was sunny and mid 50s which is about as good as it gets, and the sunrise crowd had mostly departed so we felt like we almost had the park to ourselves and enjoyed lots of scenic views, short hikes, and many photo opportunities.

Had lunch in Makawao at Polli’s Mexican which was very tasty, then shopped for a while before returning to our cottage to rest. Later that afternoon, we drove one hour to South Maui through Kihei to Wailea which is an upscale resort area on a beautiful beach. We parked at the Four Seasons since we had dinner reservations at Ferraro’s Italian restaurant at the resort. We enjoyed the ‘beach walk’ connecting the resorts along the shore, then had an excellent dinner at Ferraro’s outside overlooking the ocean. Almost as expensive as Mama’s, but probably a better overall meal.


MAUI – Day 3

Road to Hana! Although we had rented an SUV and I’m not shy about driving, I wanted to enjoy this trip without having to watch the traffic, and also wanted to make sure we saw all the best places including those less known to tourists, so we booked a private tour with Holo Holo Maui Tours. Not to be confused with other tour companies with Holo Holo in the name, this is a small, family-owned business on Maui and I only discovered them because they were linked on the Maui Tradewinds website. This turned out to be a great choice and worth the $500 total cost. It was just the two of us in a minivan driven by our guide Sammy, a 32-yr old native who brought us to all the best sites including water falls, black sand beaches, sea arches and blow holes, as well as great places for lunch, ice cream, fresh coconut, and shopping. Unlike taking a group tour, we were able to customize the tour to our liking, and we were never rushed to leave a certain spot or to stop somewhere we weren’t interested in. Sammy was an excellent driver, a great story teller with a wonderful laugh and personality. She treated us like family and we absolutely adored our time with her. The tour was also super convenient because their default pick-up point is the Park & Ride near the airport, but because we were already staying in Haiku at the start of the Road to Hana, Sammy picked us up right at our cottage so we truly had door-to-door service. Highly recommended!


MAUI – Day 4

Our last full day on Maui with an early scheduled departure to the Big Island the following morning, so we planned this as a relaxing day. We spent the morning on Baldwin Beach which is only ~20 minutes from the Maui TradeWinds. A beautiful, uncrowded beach with lifeguard, bathrooms/showers, etc. Note that if you stray a bit to the right from the guarded area you will come to a section which is ‘clothing optional’ and we did see a couple nude sun bathers although they did cover up once more people began to arrive later in the morning. On our way back to our cottage we stopped briefly at Ho’okipa Beach which is famous for wind surfing and there were quite a few surfers there every afternoon as the breeze picked up. After cleaning up and changing, we headed ‘upcountry’ to Kula and arrived at Maui Winery to enjoy some wine tasting (including pineapple wine!) Our plan was to buy a bottle and go across the street to Ulupalakua Ranch Store for a late BYOB lunch since I had seen reports on TripAdvisor that folks have done this. However the winery was very specific that you could NOT drink their wine at the Ranch Store and the store itself had signs saying that you couldn’t consume alcohol on their property. Oh well, the food was great and the view of the south Maui coast was awesome, and after the wine tasting I was better off not drinking any more since I was driving back to our cottage to begin packing (and one more night in the hot tub!)


MAUI – departure

We were truly sad to leave the StarWind Cottage, but excited to embark on the next leg of our trip. We filled-up the SUV at the Costco just outside the Kahului airport (best gas price but membership card required at the pump) and the return process was quick and easy so we had plenty of time prior to our 9:18am flight to the Big Island.


I will continue with The Big Island later today.....
 
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Pete W.

DIS Veteran
Joined
Aug 20, 1999
THE BIG ISLAND – Day 1

Our flight from Maui landed in Hilo at ~10am and we quickly retrieved our rental SUV from Alamo (on-site since it’s a small airport) and took the ~40 minute drive to the town of Volcano and arrived at Café Ono for lunch. OMG what a find this place is! It is near the dead end on Old Volcano Road (traveling away from the National Park) so you’re unlikely to stumble upon it by accident ( I had researched it prior). It’s a ‘farmhouse-turned art gallery’ featuring art by the current owner Ira Ono, plus an attached restaurant and an adjacent cottage available to rent. We had lunch at the café and it was great, including the porcini mushroom and seaweed soup which was not only the best soup I’ve ever tasted, but it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

After lunch we entered Volcano National Park and stopped at the Visitor Center to see the two movies they show – one is an introduction to the Hawaiian volcanoes, and the other (only shown twice per day) is an old film documenting the 1959-1960 Kilauea Iki eruption. This second film was informative since we were planning to hike the 4-mile Kilauea Iki trail the following day. We then visited some of the nearby stops along the Crater Rim Drive including Steam Vents, Sulphur Banks, and the Jagger Museum where you can see smoke from the Halema’uma’u Crater during the day, and glow or even lava flows/spattering at night. By this time it was ~3pm and time for us to check-in to the Volcano Mist Cottage.

The Volcano Mist Cottage is in the Mauna Loa Estates just outside VNP and is in a very secluded, rain forest ‘sanctuary.’ It’s basically a 2-person cottage although they can supply additional bedding for a 3rd person but the place would be awfully cramped. We lived out of our suitcases for the 2 nights we were there and it was perfect for such a short stay near VNP, but it would have been too tiny for a longer stay. The cottage does have a nice outdoor lanai with gas fireplace, an outdoor shower, and a hot tub a short distance from the cottage. All very secluded and quite nice. We had originally thought about staying at Volcano House (the only lodging within VNP) but wanted something a little nicer. We also considered the Kilauea Lodge which is lovely but it was for sale at the time we were making our plans and I was concerned about making reservations at a time of new management. We had dinner at the Kilauea Lodge that evening (which we enjoyed very much) and learned that a buyer has been found for the lodge and the transition will occur later this year.

After dinner we attempted to return to the Jagger Museum to see the lava glow from Halema’uma’u Crater but evidently everyone else (including tour busses) had the same idea so we had to park at the lookout 0.5 miles away and walk. We went shortly after sunset so the crowds were heavy but were dissipating by the time we were done. I was surprised we saw more than glow – you could see actual lava splattering and flowing inside the crater and I got some good pictures with my 16X zoom camera.


THE BIG ISLAND – Day 2


We originally hoped to take a sunrise boat cruise to see lava flowing into the ocean, but it has stopped entering the ocean since last November so most cruises have suspended operations. Lava doesn’t flow on a schedule like everything does at WDW! So we began the day with the 4-mile Kilauea Iki hike which was awesome -- moderately strenuous but not terrible. You get to cross the entire crater which is mostly flat, but the hike down and back up (switchbacks and steps) is a bit of a workout. Definitely worth doing if you are able!

After the hike we had lunch at The Rim which is the restaurant at Volcano House which was fine. We then drove Chain of Craters Road to where it ends near the ocean and the Holei Sea Arch, and then we backtracked up the road making a few stops at lookouts/points of interest until we ended at Devastation Trail which also shows you the effects of the Kilauea Iki eruption.

We had originally planned to have dinner at the Olelo Café but they had to close for a few days for maintenance so we ate at nearby Thai Thai Bistro which was good. They let you specify how spicy you want your main dish on a scale of 1-10. I like some spice so I said 4 and it was pretty spicy so I’m glad I didn’t say 5 or higher.

After dinner we returned to our cottage to relax and use the hot tub. Our flight to Oahu wasn’t until 1:10pm the next day so we could enjoy the seclusion of the cottage at night. My wife was a little spooked by how remote it felt, but it was really nice.

We originally thought about doing only 2 islands, Maui and Oahu, and doing a long day trip to the Big Island to experience VNP but I’m so glad we decided to stay 2 nights because we would’ve run ourselves ragged trying to do it all in one day, especially with the 4-mile hike.


Rest of TR with Oahu/Aulani next
 
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Pete W.

DIS Veteran
Joined
Aug 20, 1999
OAHU – Day 1

We landed in Honolulu at 2pm on a Saturday, took the brief shuttle to the Alamo rental center and utilized ‘bypass the counter’ and were on our way to Aulani. I was assuming we’d have no problems with traffic because it was the weekend but 2 lanes were closed on H1 due to construction so it took us an hour to get to the Target in Kapolei where we picked up a few groceries and a $10 beach chair for our beach excursions. We arrived at Aulani a little before 4:30pm and our 1BR Island Gardens View room was ready. Based on all the helpful tips/reviews I had read, I had requested “High floor with an odd number in the Ewa Long Wing Building (Phase 3)" and we were assigned # 1477 which was absolutely ideal. Although our balconies didn’t face the ocean, when looking to the right we had a really good view of lagoon #3 and the ocean beyond plus the the wedding chapel (closed for renovation but no noise/activity during our stay), below us was the Halawai Lawn (where the luau is performed) and just beyond is the vacant property where (eventually) the Atlantis resort will be built. We were very pleased with this lsland Gardens unit but believe the view will dramatically change once the Atlantis is there, and I certainly would avoid this side of the resort once construction begins.

We had made 6pm reservations for Monkepod Kitchen but found ourselves sitting outside at the Olelo Room at 5:30pm and opted to cancel our reservation and simply enjoy drinks/snacks while listening to the live music which began at 6pm.


OAHU – Day 2

We decided to use our first full day at Aulani to explore eastern and northern Oahu since it was Sunday and we wanted to avoid rush hour traffic, so we left the resort at 8:30am and headed to Nu’uanu Pali Overlook for an excellent view of the eastern shore. We then visited Byodo-In Temple which was very nice, then stopped at Kualoa Beach Park for pictures of ‘Chinaman’s Hat’ just off shore. Next was an early lunch at Aloha Shrimp food truck which is about a mile north of the much larger Shrimp Shack and we thought this was a really good choice. A pleasant young man worked the truck while his father cleaned the covered outdoor tables and shooed the wild chickens away. Next door was Coconut Joe’s which sells fresh coconut but was closed probably because it was Sunday, and there is a small grocery store there called Kaya’s, so all in all this is a good place to stop if you find yourself on the eastern shore. Next we headed to Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline and spent some time enjoying the beaches and watching the surfers, even though it was late April and the huge winter waves were gone. We then bypassed Waimea Valley because it looked really crowded on a Sunday afternoon and King Kamehameha Hwy was getting really busy so we proceeded to Haleiwa Town and shopped at the North Shore Marketplace where we bought shaved ice at the Aloha General Store. They suggested ice cream on the bottom of the ice and that turned out to be a great idea because I had had enough of the ice by the time I got to the ice cream. We then headed to the Dole Plantation just to visit the store and it was absolutely mobbed so we didn’t stay too long. Definitely a ‘tourist trap’ with lots of busses so we’re glad we saw it but were happy to leave. We returned to Aulani around 5pm and got cleaned up for our 7:30pm dinner reservation at Ama Ama. The food was good and the location is awesome overlooking the lagoon, but it was yet another expensive dinner in Hawaii.


OAHU – Day 3

This was one of our ‘resort days’ and we alternated between the adult pool and lagoon. It was a very relaxing day and the adult pool is definitely an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the family pool areas. There were plenty of lounge chairs both in the sun and under umbrellas. There are 3 cabanas at the back of the pool area but I never saw any being used during our stay. We had booked one for our last full day but suspected we might cancel and that’s what we ended up doing because it would have been a complete waste of money IMO after seeing how uncrowded and shady the pool area was.

We had scheduled a sunset cruise at 5pm with Mana Cruises which operates out of Ko Olina Marina just a ½ mile from Aulani. I found this on my own because boat excursions with Aulani do not operate out of this marina but instead use one further north (not sure why) and they don’t offer anything this ‘upscale.’ This was another absolute highlight of our trip and well-worth the $450 splurge. The cruise was 5-8:30pm in a luxury catamaran and they serve drinks and an excellent “pupu tasting menu” which was definitely a full meal. They only allow a maximum of 6 people on the cruise and on our night it was just us and one other couple (they still sail if they don’t meet the 6 passenger maximum) so it was really a wonderful, private experience. The weather was perfect and we got lots of great pictures of the sunset.


OAHU – Day 4

This was our actual anniversary date so we celebrated with a couples massage at Laniwai. This was my first massage because when we vacation with our kids, my wife and daughter go to the spa while my son and I do something else so I have nothing to compare it to but the Signature Lomilomi massage was excellent.

That evening we attended the Aulani luau on the VIP package. I had read reviews from others saying it is not the best, most authentic Luau and I can’t really comment on that because my only comparison is the luau at the Polynesian in WDW. We just wanted to relax at the resort vs. traveling anywhere else so it was the right choice for us. Certainly a family experience with lots of kids and brief appearances by Moana + Mickey & Minnie. The brother/sister story woven into the show seemed a bit contrived but all in all it was a good show. I thought the VIP package was worthwhile to get first dibs on the buffet + drinks are included and the bartenders actually mixed pretty good drinks and the lines for the bar were never long (although the servers will also bring drinks to the table).


OAHU – Day 5

We had 12:00 tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial so we headed to Pearl Harbor at 9am and arrived quickly but had a terrible time finding parking. Eventually we parked on the street near the marina which is just passed the visitor center parking lots. When we checked in we were offered 11:30am tickets which we accepted, then we rented the audio tour which I highly recommend because it gives you a good overview prior to the boat to the memorial, and the audio tour continues on the memorial and after as well so it is really well-integrated. However, due to high winds they couldn’t land at the memorial so we just spent 15-20 minutes circling the memorial and touring the harbor including going passed the USS Missouri so we got lots of good pictures. In retrospect, going earlier may have yielded an easier parking experience and less winds which would have allowed us to visit the memorial.

We had decided against climbing Diamond Head but still wanted a good view of the crater + Waikiki so we headed to Tantalus Overlook (Pu’u ‘Ualaka’a State Park) and it was well-worth the stop. Got great pictures of Diamond Head, Honolulu and Waikiki. We then headed to Waikiki and parked at the garage for the Halekulani Hotel since we had dinner reservations at House Without a Key which is at the hotel and overlooks the beach. We shopped first and took a look at the beach. We agreed that it was a good place to visit and see once, but we’re really glad we chose not to stay there because it is very over-built and crowded. Dinner at House Without a Key was great. They feature live music and a hula dancer who just happened to be Brook Lee who was 1997 Miss Hawaii, Miss USA and Miss Universe. Evidently this is a regular thing (Miss Hawaai’s doing hula during dinner). Quite a unique experience, and the hotel validated 4 hours of parking since we ate there, so we only ended up paying $9 instead of $40.


OAHU – Day 6

Our last day so we chose to make it another relaxing resort day and it was all that. Again, we rotated between the quiet oasis of the adult pool and the lagoon which was crowded but not crazy. It rained pretty heavily while we were boogie boarding in the lagoon and I got some great pictures of the resort and the rain bouncing off the lagoon with my waterproof camera. Highly recommend the Apeman Full HD waterproof camera which I bought on Amazon especially for this trip. It was less than $40 and takes both movies and still pictures and is truly waterproof.

For our last splurge dinner, we had made reservations for Mina’s Fish House at the Four Seasons next door and it was quite good. Probably one of the best meals we had on our trip. There were some kids in the restaurant, about the same I saw during dinner at Ama Ama so I didn’t feel that Mina’s was any more ‘adult’ than Ama Ama as other reviews have suggested.


OAHU – departure

An excellent breakfast at Ama Ama with pressed pot coffee, followed by a walk along the lagoons (you can walk along all 4 lagoons all the way to the marina and back, so this is a popular walking/jogging path). Then, time to head to the airport for our flight home. We had a wonderful time on all 3 islands, and we were blessed with overall great weather. In fact I felt a little guilty because people kept asking us if we were impacted by all the flash flooding but that was mostly Kauai and eastern Oahu so it didn’t affect us at all.

Sorry if I’ve been a little short on details. I simply have too much work to catch up on and can’t devote any more time to this TR or to add pictures, but I will absolutely answer any question posted. Aloha!
 
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  • Tigger's ally

    Segway test dummy
    Joined
    Jun 25, 2010
    just bookmarked your report as our 35th annie is coming up in a year and a half and will look back for some of these tips. Thanks.
     
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