How have I not yet blogged about my favorite two vacation destinations? Both of them I have been to twice, and merely mentioned in my writings to date. The one I write about now is O’ahu, the third major link in the island chain that is known as Hawai’i.
It sounds like a strange destination for us, since neither of us are the greatest swimmers, one of us is allergic to the entire outdoors, and the other one of us melts in the sun. But nevertheless, Jen and I took ourselves to paradise for our honeymoon and for our 10-year wedding anniversary. Hawaii truly has something for everyone.
We did do our share of beach-sitting and ocean-playing, and very likely would have even taken surfing lessons the second time we were there, if I hadn’t been having ankle problems at the time. We snorkeled in Hanauma Bay the first time, where I lost my wedding ring–not once, but twice. So we can say we did or almost did everything a person is supposed to do in Hawaii: Sun, beach, swim, surf, and snorkel (or scuba). But we did a lot more.
Both times we stayed in Touristville, a.k.a. Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. We considered going to a different island for our anniversary, as each one has its own character, and I felt we were somehow cheating the state to see only one small part of it two times. But there were essentially two determining factors for us: The aforementioned problems we have with being outside, and the USS Arizona, at which I desperately wanted to pay my respects a second time, not knowing if I’ll ever get another chance to do so.
Our next likely choice of island may have been Kauai or Maui, the most naturally beautiful of all the islands. Also possible was the Big Island–the one actually named Hawai’i–a still-active and oozing volcano. I really wanted to go to Moloka’i, and hike the side of Kalaupapa, but ultimately my sore ankle ruled that out, too. Finally, we looked into island-hopping by helicopter, but even if it was not prohibitively expensive, we only had five days to do it, and that did not sound relaxing at all. My fantasy destination–when I win the big lottery that I never play–is Ni’ihau, the westernmost inhabited island, populated only by Hawaiian-speaking people and not open to the public, save for a few isolated locations.
So, it was Oahu again the second time, and we did a few things we missed earlier. Here is some of what we did between the two times, in the order I would recommend them:
- USS Arizona Memorial
- Polynesian Cultural Center with a show and luau
- Submarine ride
- Battleship Missouri Memorial
- Germaine’s Luau
- Waikiki Beach and torch lighting
- Sea Life Park
- Rock Island Cafe
- Waikiki Aquairium
- Island tour & Dole plantation
- Hula performances at Kuhio Beach Park
- Traditional Hawaiian fare at Tikis
- Gazed at Diamond Head
- Photo op at Duke Kahanamoku statue
- Flea market at Aloha Stadium
- Walked Kalakaua Avanue and International Marketplace
- Movie on the beach
- Honolulu Zoo
- Hard Rock Cafe
- (And, of course) ABC Stores
Here’s a little more about each one:
Hawaii is so far away from most of us that I cannot fathom anyone making the long journey to get there and not taking the time to recognize the sacrifice of those who served and died at Pearl Harbor. The visitor’s center has an excellent museum and short, educational film before you take the ferry ride to the site. The only thing more recognizable than the Arizona Memorial in pictures of Hawaii is someone riding a wave.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is a wonderful theme park, with participatory demonstrations and activities rather than rides (although there is one of those, too). There are interesting and valuable lessons, not just about Hawaii, but its Polynesian cousins, including Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, and New Zealand (Aotearoa). A day-long adventure topped off with a traditional luau dinner and optional nighttime show.
The submarine ride was a lot of fun, but you have to be OK with sharing a small space with a lot of people, and Jen got a little seasick on the boat ride out to the sub. However, that boat ride gave us a great view of Honolulu, and the views under water were spectacular. We did not see any dolphins, but a few giant tortoises swam nearby. The sub tour took us around a few planes and boats that had been intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs for the sealife. The best way to see life at the bottom if you’re not a scuba diver.
The USS Missouri was in Pearl Harbor the first time we visited, but we did not really give it a thought. Ten years later, we figured we had to do it, if for no other reason than we are from Missouri. This was our state’s President’s (Truman) Air Force One before there was such a thing. There are ships to tour in various other places around the country and globe,
but it was quite a feeling to stand in one of the spots that WWII began for the US (the Arizona) and the very literal spot where the war ended, marked by a medallion in the deck of the Missouri. The summer before our visit, we had seen the original medallion (that had been polished so much it was no longer legible) inside the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Germaine’s is one of the most popular of the luau experiences, and it was recommended to me by a co-worker. We did this on our first full day in Hawaii, and it exceeded expectations. It featured a beachside meal, and a show after dark, in which Jen got to do a little hula herself. It was on the bus ride there that we first heard the song that began, “Just hang loose, just have fun…” and the variation of a Don Ho tune called, “Tiny Bladder.”
Waikiki Beach is great for the non-surfers, although you can catch the waves out beyond the wall if you want to do so. We dunked our feet in the water upon arrival both times, although the first time we had to chase down part of my luggage first, and we were pretty jet-lagged because it was remarkably sunny while, to our bodies, it was going on 10pm CST. We took some fun pictures with a disposable, waterproof camera, below the water, above it, and half-submerged. We swam with the fishes, literally, and got a little too close for comfort to a jellyfish. Torches line Kalakaua Avenue along the beach, in front of the hotels, and it is a Waikiki experience to see them hand-lit at sunset.
Sea Life Park is where we got to shake hands and get kisses from dolphins. Jen wanted to swim with dolphins, and we looked into the various boat rides available around Oahu that would let take you to dolphins in the wild, but we opted for this park instead. You can also literally swim with them at this park, for a higher price. Ultimately, we were content with getting our pictures taken with one as they were invited up to greet us.
Rock Island Cafe is perfect when you need to step away from all things Hawaiian for a moment and enjoy some Americana. A diner presenting cultural decor and collectibles from primarily from the fifties and sixties, an Elvis statue greets you near the entrance. You can shop for nostalgia, or devour an excellent burger.
While many cities–even those that are land-locked–boast an aquarium, this experience was new to both of us because it was really the first one we had ever seen together. Plus, it was a short walk from our hotel, and without a rental car as transportation, this was a huge, huge bonus. It helped that the walk was mostly shaded by trees, while strolling the other direction happens mostly in the sun.
We took a bus tour of Oahu on our honeymoon, and while we learned a lot of great history and information, and saw beautiful places, our driver was downright depressing at times. It was from him that we learned the native-born people (kamaaiana) are not particularly fond of visitors (malahini), although they are fine with saying malaho for your money. We did hear first-hand how hard the air-traffic shutdown after 9/11 hit the islands that are so dependent on those visitors. The sites were great but the host was not, and that is why I provided a link to Dole, even though we only had a short stopover and an awkward lunch while we were there.
Kuhio Beach Park has a stage for evening hula shows, and you can’t do Hawaii right without some hula. The shows are free, and within a short walk from all of the beachside hotels. The torch lighting begins nearby, and the famous Duke statue is in the park, as well. Sunset on the beach at its best.
Our visits were filled with traditional Hawaiian food (and a little too much less-traditional mainland fast food), but none was better than the plates we had at Tikis, located at the bottom of the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. We both had a variety plate that included Kalua pig.
Diamond Head Crater is the best-known natural piece of the Waikiki area. If we ever return to Oahu, I will want to hike Diamond Head, a feat I probably should do before trying to tackle Kalaupapa. It is a beautiful sight to behold, and on our honeymoon trip I watched the sun rise over its rim.
The Duke Kahanamoku statue is another attraction that must be seen if you’re in Waikiki. Hawaii’s biggest surfing legend, Duke now stands with arms outstretched to collect leis from passersby. We waved to my parents back in Missouri from in front of his statue, on a lamp-pole webcam across the street.
The market at Aloha Stadium was a great place to go to get shopping out of our systems, and I picked up some souvenirs to take home. The thing is huge, though, and we couldn’t possibly see it all because, again, it is mostly in the sun. It’s also not easy to get to without your own transportation. I enjoyed taking a few pictures inside the stadium, which was for years the only home of the NFL’s Pro Bowl game.
International Marketplace was another shopping location, an easy walk from our hotels. It technically closed two years after our second trip to Hawaii, and is being reborn as a more modern (and expensive) shopping center, with only a few signs of the original.
Outdoor movies in a park are always a fun and easy thing to do. We watched a film on our last night in Hawaii on our honeymoon, with waves gently lapping in the background. The screen frame sits empty now, not having showed a movie in many years.
We went to the zoo on one of the last days of our honeymoon trip, when we were already exhausted from other things, and needing something simple. The zoo was just across the street from our hotel. Zoos are another attraction to be found in most cities, and this one fell short of comparing to the zoo I grew up with in St. Louis–it is not a fare comparison. I imagine those animals, while enjoying the tropical climate, are lonely for visitors.
The Hard Rock Cafe I only visited to add to my collection of Hurricane glasses from the franchise, which currently includes only Honolulu, Phoenix, St. Louis, Orlando, and New York.
It’s hard to be in Waikiki and not find an ABC Store. Impossible, actually, as there are at least three of them at every street intersection. Sometimes more. ABCs are just convenience and souvenir shops, but everyone laughs about how abundant they are in Hawaii, especially when the only other place you will find them is Las Vegas, Nevada. My favorite thing about them, being a wall calendar hoarder, is that if you save your receipts while in town, they will give you a free gift once you’ve spent a certain amount, and I chose a calendar that I still have today.
I guess now we know why I haven’t written about Hawaii yet: There was just too much to say! I claimed I would narrow my posts down to one particular aspect of my trips, but for this location I could not do that. I wanted to share my experiences with anyone considering going to this world-traveling location. Maybe I will share more later about individual places.