We had a wonderful first full-fledged vacation without kids! I feel like I've done a pretty good job of sharing what we did via facebook and instagram, but I want to write down a few more details and tips so I can remember them for next time. Sometimes I have the worst memory! Mommy brain? Plus I have two friends visiting Hawaii soon (and our tickets were so affordable I'm betting more will find themselves there) that were wanting some feedback of our trip.
General Hawaii Tips:
First off, being from the southeast I forget how cold the ocean can be. It's cold but clear blue and inviting. Totally worth going in, especially for snorkeling, but it wasn't very hot out so we didn't do a whole lot of just plain swimming. The weather was an absolutely perfect 70-80 degrees but it does rain every day (especially on Kauai) so a jacket is a must. I was freezing sometimes in my light sweater, especially if we got caught in rain at night. Don't worry, the rain doesn't last long and you're very comfortable the rest of the time. Also I've probably been a little spoiled by vacationing in Siesta Key most summers, but the sand on all the beaches we went to wasn't like walking on a cloud. The views are breathtaking and the atmosphere is wonderful, just the sand wasn't as great as I would have wished.
We really wanted to mail Millie a coconut, something I had done for Buck's sister back in college. They've changed the regulations a little bit, and we couldn't get it all worked out. With enough planning, you can though! You can find a dry coconut still in the husk anywhere (it's yard debris) or possibly one that is already painted at a store. You want to find a light one (so it's less expensive) without any bugs. After you find one you have to take it to the airport to have it inspected by the Department of Agriculture. They will check it and stamp it okay to mail. Then you can decorate it, take it to the post office, and mail it like you would any other package.
If you're planning on flying in to Honolulu then on to another island (like we did), you should know that the terminal for those little between-island flights is quite the haul from where we landed on Delta. I think it's out there compared to any carrier. You might want to consider that if you've got a tight connection. We had carry on bags only and ran, but just something to consider if you're checking bags, changing carriers and not into running.
This is known as the "Garden Island", and it lives up to its name. It is so lush and beautiful. I forgot just how many wild chickens run around here. You'll see them everywhere, and hear them all day and night. I think it adds to the charm.
We stayed with my Aunt and Uncle there but my grandparents have had a timeshare at the Marriott for years and it would definitely be my first choice of hotels. It's a beautiful property.
We borrowed kayaks from a friend and went up the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto (only accessible by boat). That took a few hours but was well worth it. It was so beautiful and reminded me of the Appalachian Mountains meets the Caribbean. We could have (and should have) kayaked and hiked over to Wailua Falls. Next time.
We also did one hike where we saw the most unique trees. We didn't end up doing the hike right (never said we were expert hikers), but still had a wonderful time. I'm not sure what the hike was even called, but there are tons to go on and I don't think you can go wrong. First on my list for next time is Waimea Canyon the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." I seriously went from a very casual (or very rare) hiker to interested in hiking just from this trip. The views were completely what I was looking for.
Possibly one of my favorite things we did was visit Hanalei Bay. We hung out by the pier and in the little town for a few hours, then ventured up the coast for an incredible scenic drive. I do love the movie South Pacific, so finding Lumahai Beach was our original plan. Of course we passed it without noticing but stumbled instead across some really cool beaches and even Manini-holo Dry Cave. We backtracked and found it, no problem. Thank goodness for smartphones. I though Hanalei was cool, but found I got stir crazy sitting on the beach for too long so driving and trying new beaches every so often was perfect for me.
For food we relied on the generosity of my Aunt and Uncle, tried a few taco places, and fell in love with Duke's Hula Pie.
Next time we visit I will make a point to try and do some whale watching if possible. I feel like we got a great taste of Kauai and can't wait to go back for more.
Since we didn't have any family to take advantage of here, I think we got clever with a few money saving techniques to maximize our trip. The easiest place to stay at is Waikiki. It's not the most beautiful (still beautiful) but is very popular and offers lots of shopping, and has the largest clumping of hotels and the best prices. Plus it's close to the airport, so if you have to catch a taxi is not super expensive.
We went back and forth on a few different hotels and nearly went with Hawaii Prince Hotel based off a friend's recommendation (it's clean, updated and affordable). We caught ourselves drooling over the Moana-Surfrider Westin resort that was more pricey but grand and historic so we came up with a plan to stay there for one night (check in early in the morning, check out late, maximize resort time) since we were going to explore Waikiki anyway and stay at the Courtyard Mariott the other two nights since we'd be busy all around Oahu anyway. I think our plan worked out perfect and pretty affordable.
We were only planning on renting a car for 24 hours, so we needed to work out some transportation from the airport and to a few other places the other days. We ended up catching a taxi to our hotel ($30ish) versus paying the hotel shuttle (some might be included but ours wasn't). Originally we wanted to take the bus but they don't allow luggage. We did take the bus a few other places ($2.50/person each way) though. When we finally ended up grabbing a car and sorting through parking fees we figured out we would have probably spent the same just having a car the whole time. Learn from us. Rent a car at the airport, it's much cheaper per day than renting in Waikiki. Look around for cheaper overnight parking than what your hotel has if you don't mind walking. Our two hotels charged around $30/night for parking, so we saved a little money by parking at the Aston Banyan for $12 instead.
No matter where you stay, you have to go walk through all the other hotels. That's totally normal, I promise. We loved the Moana. We missed the official tour offered every other day, but the front desk provides information for a walking tour. It's one of Waikiki's oldest (if not the oldest) hotels. The tour provides a lot of history of the city as well as Duke Kahanamoku. Its open to anyone, not just guests.
The entire Waikiki area caters majorly to Japanese tourists, which I loved. We even had a fancy Japanese toilet in our hotel room. Everything is written in both English and Japanese and finding non-Japanese affordable food in walking distance can be a little tricky. I say embrace it and try some new things.
We took the bus to Pearl Harbor one day. A friend tipped us off on needing to request tickets ahead of time if we wanted to actually go to the monument, but we didn't log on soon enough. They are booked several weeks in advance. They do give out 1,000 walk-in tickets a day, so it's still worth trying. We went late morning and got tickets for the 2:15 ferry. We ended up spending hours reading every single thing waiting on our ferry time only to find out there is a ferry every 15 minutes and they offer open seats to anyone standing there, so we could have tried stand-by much sooner. Live and learn. It's a great experience, but I had already been there so spending an entire day (when you're only on Oahu for 3) was a bit much for me.
We spent another whole day in Laie visiting the temple, BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center. We passed some beautiful beaches (the whole drive was breathtaking) and I wished we could have explored the area around Laie a little more. The PCC is the best. Such a great way to learn lots of culture. We had a great time and even stayed for the night show. I was disappointed they didn't really do much with fire until the very end, but it was still a great show. They pack a lot of entertainment into a short day, so go when they first open and plan on spending the whole day. And if you need an idea for lunch or dinner Seven Brothers was a big hit with us.
On the day we flew out we squeezed in the last of our list (since we had a car). We woke up early and got in to Hanauma Bay right after they opened. Everyone needs to go here sometime in their life. The snorkeling here is what you'll compare all other snorkeling to for the rest of your life. They have limited space so going early is recommended. We were a little timid (and very cold) so we didn't venture out too much in the water but we still managed to see incredible coral, lots of fish, sea urchins, crabs, and about five sea turtles. I wish we could have stayed there for a full day. Just that morning the volunteers saw a momma whale and her calf!
The very last, but highly recommended stop was to Leonard's Bakery for fresh malasadas. It's like the Krispy Kreme of Hawaii to me. Stop by on your way out though, so you can still fit into your swimsuit for the rest of your trip.
After looking around we realized we were barely skimming the surface. There are so many more natural wonders I want to see on Oahu. The hiking looks incredible. The only food place we missed that was on our list was Matsumoto Shave Ice, and stop was to see the beach where the plane crashed in LOST. We're pretty big LOST fans so I'm really bummed we didn't get to that one.
Like I said, this is mostly for our records as we fully anticipate returning someday. Maybe two weeks instead of one next time?