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We just returned from a great stay on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. Of course, I try to make every travel experience a little different so that I can learn about new places & experiences to pass along to my clients. Although we visited Oahu last year- we focused that stay to the Disney Aulani Resort. It has been 9 years since my last visit to Waikiki and when I did visit 9 years ago the revitalization project of the Waikiki Beach Walk was just underway. I think the only disappointing part of the Waikiki Beach Walk is that there is quite a bit of homelessness. At night while lots of people are out and about walking up and down Kalakaua Avenue, there are homeless people sleeping up against the flower beds, etc. I heard that the problem used to be quite a bit worse and that the Governor has been helping those who want help. But, it's not what most people want to see while on vacation. I never felt unsafe though. Also, if you like to Designer Shop, this is the place: Coach, Armani, Le Sport Sac, Macy's and lots more that I didn't recognize! I think I counted 4 different Coach stores within a one mile radius! Crazy!
We flew on Alaska Airlines from San Jose this time. I had a companion certificate that I received from joining their Mileage Plan Visa credit card and come to find out you receive a companion certificate each year with card membership. With the companion certificate you pay for one ticket and the other pays $99 plus taxes. We bought 2 roundtrip tickets for just under $600 total - a great deal! Now we do like to be comfortable on a flight, everyone does- but I think the older you get the more important this becomes and once you've flown First Class you get spoiled. Come to find out Alaska Airlines offers very inexpensive upgrades at 24 hours prior to the flight via online check-in. It was only $100 per person to upgrade each way- quite a bargain. When you consider that you would have spent $25 for a checked bag, plus 1-2 cocktails on board and then a meal on the flight. If you don't have your own entertainment and decide to rent one of their digi-players- well you could easily spend $50-60 for in-flight/baggage fees, so the upgrade is a great value! Now having flown First Class on a few other carriers- Alaska's first class experience is up to par- but the seats don't recline really any more than Coach and you don't have leg rests, which many carriers do have. But you do get great service, a more comfortable seat, free digi-player, full meal and of course unlimited cocktails. It made for a very comfortable flight and I was happy to be able to stretch out my legs. Of course, I'm only 5'3", my hubby was even happier since he's over 6' tall!
I had pre-arranged a private transfer from the airport to our hotel and was very happy to have done this. I think we all work way too hard for our time off that your vacation should start as soon as it possibly can and if you take a shared ride you are stopping at potentially 3 or more hotels en route to your hotel- that's not a great start to your vacation. I booked our transfer through Viator- a company that I used often for my clients for excursions and transfers and at least for our ride- their local contractor was Andrew's Limousines. We were met at the gate with a greeter holding a sign with our names and then escorted to baggage claim, once our bags were claimed we were escorted to our vehicle where driver Eric was waiting for us. Our vehicle was a luxury BMW sedan - very impressive. We had a smooth ride into Waikiki and arrived safely at our hotel in approximately 25 minutes.
Suffice to say that our return trip to the airport was very much the same, we had Eric once again in the luxury BMW sedan and he was right on time to pick us up and we enjoyed our conversation with him en route back to Honolulu airport. We were also able to secure the First Class upgrade on the return flight, so I am actually typing this review while flying home. Gotta love the idea of being productive while 30,000 feet in the air. No wi-fi though over the ocean!
A quick note about flying out of San Jose - it has been years for us, in fact the last time we flew from San Jose the airport was still under quite a bit of construction. That seems to be all done now and the upgraded terminal is very nice and overall it was a smooth experience through security. Of course, with the First Class boarding pass you also get a separate line through security, which is very convenient and also part of the value in upgrading. In Waikiki, that Gold Line probably saved us a good 40 minutes in the security line! We parked at a place by the San Jose Airport called I-parkntravel.com and if you pre-reserve online in advance the rate is only $6.95 per day plus tax. That's a very good deal!
WHERE WE STAYED:
We stayed at the Waikiki Beach Marriott located in Waikiki at the Diamond Head end of the main street on Kalakaua, just two blocks away from the zoo and Kapiolani Park and not on the beach but just across the street from the beach. Kuhio Park beach is right across the street and what's nice is that it doesn't get as crowded as does the beach in the heart of Waikiki amidst all of the beach front hotels. From our Deluxe Ocean View room balcony you could see the beach, the ocean and actually never really saw the street below us - although I'm sure from the higher floors you probably could see the street if you looked down. We also had a good view of the pool that sits on the 3rd floor.
Our room was huge- literally huge! I had plans of doing my own workout in the room each morning (we won't discuss my success rate), but I was very thrilled to see that the room was large enough for me to do a Body Combat workout- I had plenty of room to shuffle side to side and forward and back and never run into any furniture! I don't have that much room when I practice in my own living room- so the room was huge. The bathroom- well very small, but it worked. We just really couldn't be getting ready at the same time. Very large safe in the closet, it's always nice when you can fit a large laptop into a safe without having to twist and turn it to make it fit. We had a single cup coffee maker, or you could just brew hot water for tea or chocolate, a mini-fridge and a nice desk space as well. The bed was very comfortable and the room was tastefully decorated.
The hotel has a large variety of stores in the lobby and because there are two towers- it's pretty expansive. In fact, we didn't really get a chance to go through all of the stores. There were two locations of Seattle's Best Coffee House, two ABC stores and then probably at least 10 other specialty stores- some clothing, some jewelry, etc. There are two pools- one for each tower and we had great service by the Moana Terrace pool several days. The hotel also has 4 restaurants on site and we did experience 3 of them- I will go into more details on that when I get into our Dining Experiences on this trip. Overall, a very convenient location, great services and options right there at your hotel. You could in theory, never leave the hotel and you'd have everything you need right there.
As for other amenities that the Resort had to offer: They had daily fitness classes (zumba, yoga, etc.) and daily Hawaiian style activities (lei-making, hula lessons, etc.) we did not partake in any of those because most were early morning and our days never started in the morning. On-site the hotel has a business center, concierge desk, Doctors on Call, Fitness center that is open 24 hours, Hertz Car rental, Laundromat 24 hours, and other varieties of transportation available on site. They have a scuba lesson in the pool that we noticed one morning, there is a Harley Davidson rental in the lobby and nightly music by the Moana Terrace bar following Happy Hour.
The resort does charge a $25 per day resort fee; however, with that fee you receive daily internet service, one mai tai per day, 60 minutes of International or Long Distance calls per day, 800 and Local calls, Faxes up to 20 pages, Fitness Class Daily, Cultural Class daily, Newspaper Daily and $10 off SUP or Surf Lesson from Kai's Surf Shop.
We really didn't eat breakfast in any formal way- truth be told- we slept in most days, so it was pretty much lunch time by the time we got moving. I had also brought my Protein Shake mix with me, so I had that each morning to start off the day and then usually had a mid-afternoon snack by the pool. The exception to this was our excursion day- we ended up getting a muffin breakfast sandwich and donut at the Seattle's Best while waiting to be picked up. The poolside food was good and there were quite a few options: hamburgers, hot dogs, fish tacos, quesadillas, nachos, chicken sandwich, french dips- your basic poolside fare. We made dinner our one big meal of the day and tried different restaurants each day. Our first night we dined at DK Steakhouse and between the bread and appetizers, I had decided to order the Filet Mignon in an effort to have a smaller portion- well I think I am forever ruined and prefer the Rib Eye and the superior taste of a rib-eye. The Filet was not very flavorful to me and was a bit of a disappointment. It was OK, but just not what I'm used to with a Rib eye. Service was excellent and the ambiance very nice. Our second night we dined at Tiki's Beach Grill & Bar located next door at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. Pretty good service and it was hard to read the menu due to lighting conditions and a dark menu, but it really didn't matter because once the waiter described the two specials (A Salmon and A Prime Rib) - we were sold and we were very glad we had picked the specials because they did not disappoint at all! Even Bill ate some of my Prime Rib and thought it was super tasty - it blew the previous night's Filet out of the water! Our next night was at Sansei Sushi restaurant- also in the Marriott. Bill was in heaven with his sushi and I had to made due with one of the three non-fish items on the menu and although I was not really in a beef mood- the options were two beef and one pork- so I did have the Teriyaki Steak and it was pretty good- the portion was huge, so I did not finish! On our fourth night we ate at Arancino di Mare which is the Hotel's Italian restaurant and one of three on Oahu- although this location is supposed to be the best. I really wanted pasta, but the lamb chops sounded good and because I never order lamb chops, I decided to give them a try- they were good. We had excellent service here as well. Bill ordered a spaghetti lobster dish and he said that it was wonderful- it's the "advertised" meal on the billboards in the elevators, so I think he knew before we got there what he was having! Our last night, we walked about ten minutes away to "Top of Waikiki"- a revolving restaurant located just across from the Royal Hawaiian/Sheraton Waikiki hotels. The ambiance was good, the service was very good- I ordered the Rib Eye and it was above and beyond excellent, Bill's seafood was not as fresh as it should have been- so that really was our only complaint and really when in Hawaii- your seafood better be fresh!
We did meet friends for lunch one day at found ourselves at the Outrigger Waikiki dining at Duke's on the beach (the same chain of Duke's that we dined at in Maui earlier this year)- had a yummy burger, Bill had salmon and our friends had tacos and a burger. Then we finished off our meal with a 4 way split of the famous Hula Pie- YUM! Only drawback- our friends Butch & Chat worked out prior to lunch and we did not! Although we did embark on an hour walk around Kalakaua while making our way back to our hotel.
We also met a friend of mine from High School who lives in Honolulu for drinks one night and we met up at the Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider Hotel- beautiful venue sitting right under the huge Banyan Tree. The Banyan Trees are all over the island and very, very beautiful!
I am an avid "Yelper" and tend to review restaurants, so here are the links to my restaurant reviews:
Bill & I had plans of being fixtures at Nashville Waikiki every night and it didn't really work out that way. Our first night, we were beat and went to bed early - after the long travel day, being up early and then the time change- we needed sleep. Second night we got there around 9pm and nobody was dancing so we got things started and we were drawing attention- which we often do in clubs out of town and then it just got weird to us. Seems some of the locals might have been threatened by us dancing and taking away their lime light. We left close to 11pm. We went back the next night and neither of us felt very comfortable. It's a small dance floor, the locals really take it over and there is absolutely no dance etiquette. I totally "get" feeling like you own the place when it's your local hangout- we feel this way about the Saddle Rack, however, we do follow "rules" and still welcome newbies to our club. We decided to not go back after those two nights. I tried to look up other venues to go dancing, but it seemed like anyplace else was closer to downtown Honolulu and we weren't up for that. So much for dancing away each night.
We had prebooked a tour for our last full day to see Pearl Harbor. Since this was Bill's first trip to Waikiki and he had never been to Pearl Harbor, he really wanted to go. I went when I was 6 years old, so needless to say, this visit was really like a first for me as well. I booked the combination tour that included the USS Missouri, USS Arizona Memorial, Visitors Center, Drive by Punch Bowl National Cemetery and through Downtown Honolulu which included drive by visits of Iolani Palace, King Kamehameha Statue, the Governor's "white house" and several other key buildings. They picked us up at 645am and returned us to our hotel at 2pm. It was a full day, but very insightful, educational, thought provoking and also extremely moving. I highly recommend that everyone who visits Oahu take the time to visit this Memorial that honors this piece of tragic American History...we owe this to every man and woman who fights and has fought for our countries liberties!
Once we got back to our hotel, we decided to try one more activity that was conveniently located in our hotel lobby - a Segway Tours. Segway of Hawaii is the only Segway operator on Oahu and they offer a variety of tours- since it was late in the day, the only one we could do was the Kapiolani Park Glide. This was fine- the instruction of using the Segway is about 20 minutes and then the ride is about an hour. I was very nervous, but Katzu (our guide) and Ryan (store owner/manager) were fabulous at training us and making us feel more comfortable with the Segway! I was super proud of myself- I did it and nothing terrible happened to me! I am still scarred from my trip to Waikiki at the age of 18 when we rented mopeds and I no sooner left the rental shop and ran into a parked bus. No injuries- but only because I was smart enough to turn back around and return the moped! I would highly recommend this activity and will most certainly do a Segway excursion again in the future! Here we are in Kapiolani Park with Diamond Head behind us!
I think that Hawaii's biggest claim to fame and it doesn't matter which island you visit, is their amazing sunsets. Each and every night the sun must set and it is truly a sight to see, again and again. I thoroughly enjoyed each evening sitting out on our Lanai, sipping on a glass of wine and watching the sun go down. Each night is different yet very beautiful in its own way. I have always loved sunsets and I've seen some pretty amazing ones over the years- but I do think the Hawaiian Sunsets are the best in the world- at least for the parts of the world that I've seen so far. Too many to post..but this was one of my favorites!