Perfect sunsets. Amazing sights. Mai-Tais and friendly locals at every turn.
Just returned from our first trip to Oahu (July 22-29) and we couldn’t have a had a better time, albeit with a few slight issues.
First of all, I want to give a shout out to everyone on this forum who offered advice and valuable research tools. I took advantage of them and it made things much easier for first-time Hawaii visitors.
We flew Delta out of St. Louis and had to go through Detroit. A little over an hour to Detroit, then nine hours to Honolulu. No way to make it shorter, so watched a lot of movies and did a lot of reading to kill time. Use Aloha VIP Travel for the transfers to and from the hotel, they worked out fine for us.
HOTEL: We stayed at the Aston Waikiki Beach. The location helped and hurt since it was at the end of the strip closest to Diamond Head. Hotel staff was very helpful and the free breakfast by the pool was just as advertised with people arriving daily at 6:30 a.m. like so many pigeons picking through the donuts, bagels, pastries, cereal, fresh fruit, etc. Whatever saves you money on food in Hawaii is a good thing and we weren’t expecting gourmet breakfast food for free. They also did omelettes for $5. Hotel could use a décor upgrade, but its location and access to the beach were perfect since it was abit removed from the crowded downtown area. You walk right across the street and you’re on the best beach in the world. Tiki’s bar was best experienced at Happy Hour, before the drink prices went up, but also a great place to watch the typically amazing Hawaiian sunsets.
BEACH: Loved the fact that all beach property is public on Oahu. The parks along the beach were great and we had free towel and beach chair rental at the Aston Waikiki Beach. One thing they don’t always tell you about beaches in Hawaii is the sand stops a little way out and after that there’s plenty of coral on the sea floor. No big deal to me, but heard some complaining about it. Hell, I was in Hawaii so I could have been walking on hot lava and it would have been better than the humid Midwestern summers.
SIGHTSEEING: Agree with all of you that hiking to the top of Diamond Head is a must-do event. It was a relatively easy walk up (we are both 48 and in decent shape, but saw all ages and heights and weights represented). Just do it and appreciate the amazing view at the top.
Used Roberts Tours for a Pearl Harbor Tour (Stars and Stripes Tour) and it included a tour of the USS Missouri, where they signed the treaty that ended WW II. Do the Pearl Harbor Tour however you want, but please make sure to visit. Amazing history and it gave me so much of a better idea of what happened than what you see in movies or TV shows or have read in books.
Used Ewa Tours for a Circle Island Tour and this was probably the highlight of our sightseeing missions. Whatever you do, call the company or check with your tour rep at your hotel and ask for Shannon O’Brien’s bus on the Circle Island Tour. Don’t be fooled by the name, he is a native Hawaiian whose tours are so good there should be a waiting list (and probably is). He’s funny, insightful, witty, thoughtful and added so much about the Hawaiian people, history and culture that is was overwhelmingly a position experience. He knows everything about the island, especially in regards to scenic spots and where every TV and movie was ever shot in Hawaii. We had lunch at Don Ho’s mom’s restaurant at a country club, bonus treat, and also stopped at every worthwhile scenic/historic/must-see site on the island. I can’t recommend this guy enough, he was amazing.
Took everyone’s advice on the forum and we did the Outrigger Catamaran Sunset Cruise. A great time on a smaller ship with great time, great drinks and great crew. If you do a sunset cruise (no food, just a wild time), do this one.
If you want to see a combination of the rest of the islands without leaving Oahu, please do a tour like this or just rent a car and drive around. You have to see the North Shore area and its famous beaches, plus the rain forest and the mountains, the Macadamia Nut afarms and Dole Pineapple farm, etc.
LUAU: We were torn between Paradise Cove and Germaine’s and after checking with many locals decided to try Paradise Cove. I’d give it about a 5 on a 10 scale. Too many people (about 790 on our tour)…not enough people working the crafts activity stands (long lines for everything, keeping you from seeing or doing other things). Also long lines at the bars, which seemed strange since you had free drink tickets and then could buy more drinks. Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the lines moving. Very good ceremony explaining the luau food-related rituals and the Hula dancing and the dinner show was excellent. Food was served buffet style to all but the high rollers who purchased the most expensive package.
I realize their goal is to make money., but it would be nice to find a smaller-sized luau that provides better food and entertainment while staying true to the Hawaiian roots.
FOOD: We typically ate breakfast at the hotel and bought lunchmeat, bread and soda at a Food Pantry grocery store just up the street for stuff to take to the beach every day. There also was a Subway and Wolfgang Puck’s right at our hotel. There are ABC stores on every corner which also had decent prices on most things, practically anything you forgot at home or needed while there was available. We got good food and good service at Duke’s, the Hale Koa Hotel (supposed to be military, but be nice and they will let you eat there) and what turned out to be one of or favorite places since we ate there twice, Moose Magillicuddy’s. Moose’s is about a block off the main drag, but well worth the slight detour. Great drinks, great food and a great atmosphere. Try the Locao Moco, a local Hawaiian dish featuring a fried egg on top of a hamburger on tiop of a bed of white rice, all covered in brown gravy. Amazing dish, one I hadn’t tried before but became a big fan of. We wanted to eat at Roy’s, but never made it there. Best local places were Leonard’s Bakery (malasadas) and the Rainbow Drive In (plate lunches).
OVERVIEW: Every sunrise and sunset were amazing. We walked on the beach practically every night and never got tired of listening to the waves hitting the shore and seeing so many others enjoying their all-too-brief time in paradise. Don’t just lock yourselves into the beach, be sure to see the rest of the island and you will be amazed. We caught some really nice free Hawaiian music concerts at some of the hotels ad everyone was so helpful it was great.
NEGATIVES: I won’t complain too much since we had such a great time, but there were a few. Traffic is crazy in downtown Honolulu and on the Waikiki Beach strip, so take advantage of the shuttles, cabs, etc. We lucked out and got cheap cab rides to and from Diamond Head for $3 bucks each way. Also took the free tour bus to shopping at Hilo Hatties and the Ala Moana Mall.
There are tourists there from all over the world, but some from a certain country in the Far East cam be very rude and obnoxious at times (as were those from a few other countries as well).
Wish we had found a better luau and wish the waves were a little higher, although they were still amazing for someone who sees the Mississippi River on a daily basis. Wish we had time to get to another island (Maui, especially), but time or budget did not allow it this time. Next time - and there will be a next time - we will get ‘er done.
ADVICE: Use this site to do as much research as possible. Call several travel agents and have them search for deals or packages - and they are out there. If you only do it once, you will not be disappointed. Aloha and mahalo to all of you who helped make our first Hawaiian vacation so memorable and enjoyable.