After spending four great days on Maui we were off to the Big Island for ten days. This was our 3rd trip to the BI and it is a special place for us as we got married there a few years ago. The first 7 nights were at the Hilton Waikoloa, hence forth referred to as “The Zoo”.
Here’s my two cents on our experience. Most days we just had cereal/fruit or the like in the room for breakfast and picked up sandwiches to have at the beach for lunch. The Island gourmet in the Queen’s shop made excellent sandwiches for about $7. So unless mentioned otherwise, that’s what we did.
Day 1: Flew on Hawaiian from Maui with no problem. Headed to Alamo to pick up our convertible (booked on Priceline for $18/day). Turns out the big Hawaiian dude working the desk used to live about 2 miles from me in Vermont. Small world. Got the last Mustang on the lot!
Check in at The Zoo. I wrote a long review which has now been posted so I won’t rehash all of it here but basically this place was not for us. Too big, too busy, no beach and the incidentals were expensive relative to the quality. After finally checking in and changing rooms we decided to grab a quick lunch at one of the restaurants there. I believe it was called the Boat Landing or something like that. Horrid. My wife’s bread was stale (I mean hard as a rock) and my chicken salad seemed to be missing the chicken. Waiter disappeared so finally we just paid the bartender and left. Spent the afternoon checking out the resort and then over to the Kings/Queens shops. Ended up a Macaroni Grill for dinner. Typical chain but it was quite tasty and pretty cheap.
Day 2: Headed to Mauna Kea beach. The best on the island in my opinion. Arrived at about 9:45 and got a parking spot no problem and no attitude from the security people. Soft white sand and nice clear water. Also found some decent snorkeling at the north end of the beach. By mid afternoon we were fried so headed back to the hotel to use the gym and take a break before dinner. Ended up at Ruth Chris (Mauna Lani Shops) for dinner. Nothing Hawaiian about it of course but food was great. Even with a free appetizer (coupon) and free dessert (anniversary) the check came to $170 plus tip.
Day 3: Decided we couldn’t spend 14 straight days at the beach so headed down to Kealekekua Bay and Place of Refuge. This was the first we really noticed how bad the VOG was. It was very heavy the whole time we were on the Island. You never would have even known the Island had mountains and at times you could not even see the coastline from HWY 19. It didn’t bother us any as it just seems a bit hazy at the beach but it hadn’t been present at all on our previous visits. Ate at the Angel Café (right on the main road south of Kona) on the way back to the hotel. This was a great little spot. Wife had an omelet and I had plate lunch. Both were excellent and we saw some huge, yummy looking salads go by while we were there.
As we neared the hotel it was about 2:00. Our first thought was to grab our stuff and head for the beach but since the walk to the room is about 8 miles from the parking lot we decided to just hit the pools. For dinner we went to Tres Hombres in Kawanehae (sp). The Margaritas were excellent, the food was good and the service was almost overly friendly – almost like they were aware of some bad reviews. So overall it was good but the place just feels like it needs a good powerwashing.
Day 4: Mauna Kea beach again. This was Saturday and we arrived at 9:15 and got spot number 39 so I would recommend getting there early if you go on the weekend. That evening we headed into Kona to wander around and eat. Hit Don’s for happy hour drinks the back to Kona Brew Pub for dinner. My wife is a Pizza freak and love’s this place. Food and service were good.
Day 5: We were booked for Sunday brunch at the Mauna Kea hotel so I decided I better hit the gym in the morning. The brunch was awesome! It had the usual breakfast items as well as a litany of lunch/dinner type foods: Roast beef, mahi-mahi, sushi, dim sum, tempura, ceasar salad station, on and on… If a brunch can be worth $50 then this was it. The only annoyance was that we weren’t aware that soft drinks & juices weren’t included in the buffet price and they were constantly asking if we wanted refills. This added significantly to the check.
Spent the afternoon hanging by the pool at The Zoo. Now to get towels you have to sign over the deed to your house which you don’t get back if they aren’t returned by the designated time. You also have to wear a bracelet. The last time I had to wear a bracelet at a pool was in Cancun and I think it entitled me to unlimited drinks for like $20. Not the case here. Anyway no big deal but just seemed funny. Dinner was at Kirin, the Chinese restaurant at the Hotel. It was very good.
Day 6: Spent the morning at Beach 69 and the afternoon at A-Bay. B69 was a cool beach. Very different from Mauna Kea and Hapuna in that it’s not wide open but still has good soft sand. The trees and rocks make it easy to find a somewhat private spot which was nice. Seemed to be populated mostly with locals. A-Bay was okay but the sand is a lot more course and the water was quite murky.
Today was the wife’s birthday and she picked Brown’s for dinner. Headed to the Fairmont early for a few cocktails and then had a great dinner. We were both struck by how quiet the place was. We probably saw only about 12 parties seated for dinner the entire time and the hotel was nearly pitch black when the sun went down. The waiter said occupancy was at only 22%. This was pretty representative of what we saw everywhere. Wife wasn’t happy with desert menu so we stopped at Roy’s on the way back to The Zoo for the Molten Chocolate Cake which was delicious.
Day 7: Drove up to Waimea for breakfast at the Hawaiian Style Café. I had been waiting 2 years to have the Loco Moco here and it did not disappoint. You can’t beat breakfast here for taste and value. Not so great for the waist line or blood pressure. Waddled out to the car and drove the mountain road over to the Pololu Valley. A spectacular spot! We hiked down the black sand beach to chill out and soak in the sites. Definitely worth the trip for anyone considering it. Dinner was at Donatoni’s back at the Zoo. Apparently this used to be a full service Italian restaurant but they have now reopened in a tapas format. It turned about to be quite good and pretty reasonably priced for the Hilton.
Now off to the Hapuna Prince for our last three days of vacation…