19 years. That’s how long my husband and I talked about a trip to Hawaii before we finally were able to make it a reality. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the islands several times, but this would be his first visit. In all of the excitement of planning, we soon had a couple of friends that wanted to join us. Since Hawaii would be a new destination for the three of them, and Pearl Harbor was on everyone’s “must do” list, we decided to focus the full week on Oahu. I planned a busy week for us.
We flew nonstop on United from Chicago O’Hare to Honolulu. By booking early, I was able to secure our seats in the two seat section of economy class, which made the 8 hour and 45 minute flight much more bearable. Meals, snacks, and alcoholic beverages were available for purchase. Wi-fi was not available on our outbound aircraft, but was available and complimentary on our return aircraft. The United app must be downloaded on your device prior to boarding in order to take advantage of their wi-fi.
Our first three nights were spent at the Waikiki Parc which is located off the beach, right across the street from the Halekulani hotel. A sidewalk near the front entrance takes you directly to Waikiki Beach, so it is very convenient and an affordable option for someone who wants close proximity to the water.
We confirmed an Ocean View room category and were given a room on the 18th floor. This gave us a great view! Our friends were also confirmed in an Ocean View room category, but were assigned the 8th floor which limited their view but gave them a very large balcony. A nice pool and a small fitness center are also located on the 8th floor of this property. Wi-Fi, beach mats and towels were all complimentary.
For cocktails and dinner this evening we opted for Duke’s Waikiki, a hallmark of Waikiki Beach. The place was packed with diners at 10pm, but service was excellent, and the food was phenomenal. They feature four “fresh catch” recipes every day, but I opted for the Pulehu Style Filet of Beef Tenderloin. It was grilled with Hawaiian sea salt, brown sugar, cracked pepper, ginger and garlic, and topped with roasted garlic butter. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best steak I have ever eaten! For dessert they brought us their Hula Pie, macadamia nut ice cream piled high on a chocolate cookie crust and topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and more macadamia nuts. Is your mouth watering yet?
May 24th was a planned Waikiki Beach day. If you haven’t been there yet, this is the best place to spend an afternoon watching the surfers, enjoying the warm tradewinds, and playing in the waves. Dinner tonight was spent at Nobu Waikiki, an Asian Fusion restaurant. Our waiter was excellent at making recommendations, and thanks to him we shared eight courses of Japanese cuisine intertwined with Peruvian influence.
May 25th – Memorial Day
As a military family, we were very excited at the idea of spending Memorial Day at the Arizona Memorial. I took it one step further by planning a full day WWII Battlefield Tour for us with Home of the Brave Tours.
We were picked up at our hotel at 5:40am in order to avoid the long lines and also to be able to be at the Arizona Memorial at approximately the same time it was attacked on December 7, 1941. Our historian / tour guide was fantastic. He shared historical facts and stories about the events leading up to, during, and after the war. On this tour we also visited Fort Shafter, Schofield Army Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, and Punchbowl National Memorial where every gravestone was decorated with hand sewn leis by the Boy Scouts of America and American flags in honor of Memorial Day. It was a breathtaking sight. We boarded the Arizona Memorial, and saw Battleship Row and Ford Island. The highlight of the day for me was meeting and visiting with two Pearl Harbor survivors, it was something that I will never forget. The tour wrapped up with a stop at the Home of the Brave Brewseum, which is like taking a step back in time to the 1940’s. This building houses an enormous collection of WWII memorabilia donated by our Veterans and their families, and they have replicated a 1940’s era bar and lounge where you can enjoy craft beers or $1 glass bottles of coke. It was an amazing day and I would highly recommend this tour to anyone interested in the military or history.
That evening we walked to Ala Moana Beach to watch the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony which is held annually on Memorial Day. Thousands of people gather on the beach to remember their loved one by floating a paper lantern inscribed with messages. There is music, prayer, and reflection, followed by the release of the lanterns. This year over 42,000 people were in attendance and 6,000 lanterns floated in the water. It was a beautiful evening and a great way to finish our day.
This is one of the most prestigious resorts on Oahu, and is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. The name Halekulani means “House Befitting Heaven” and this is a true description of this property. It is located directly on the beach, and has one of the most beautiful pools in Hawaii. The service was outstanding, and our Ocean View room on the 14th floor gave us a gorgeous view of Diamond Head.
The Halekulani and the Waikiki Parc are sister hotels, so Parc guests are invited to attend the nightly complimentary hula show at Halekulani’s House without a key outdoor staged area. This show is a big draw, and guests start arriving by 5pm to get a seat, grab a drink, and order a piece of their famous coconut cake.
This evening we took a sunset catamaran cruise with Hawaii Nautical. They picked us up at our hotel, and we sailed for two hours sipping cocktails, munching on appetizers, and watching the sun sink behind the mountains. One of the crew members even mixed me his original cocktail The Catatonic. Yum! The crew was fantastic, and I’d highly recommend this company for scuba or snorkeling trips, dolphin and whale watching excursions, and dinner cruises. They even offer a catamaran cruise strictly for guests of Disney’s Aulani.
Today we rented a convertible from Hertz at the Hyatt Regency and headed out for a day exploring Oahu. It’s important for people to realize that Oahu is much more than Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor. We decided to skip the hike to Diamond Head and opted instead to hike the lesser known Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail on the eastern tip of the island. It’s a moderate 40 minute hike up, but well worth it as the views are fantastic. We even spotted two dolphins playing alongside a whale.
From here we ventured north to Kualoa Ranch. Kualoa Ranch is a 4000 acre ranch where you can experience horseback riding, ATV riding, zip lining, and much more. Many movies were filmed at this location and there is a one hour movie site tour offered for those interested in seeing the locations firsthand. We decided on the Secret Island experience. We packed a cooler and were taken by ferry to their private island for an afternoon at leisure. Snorkel equipment, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards were available for our use, as well as beach volleyball. The beach was beautiful, and the scenery was stunning. I have always wanted to try stand up paddle boarding, and this was the perfect scenario for me to learn the sport. The water was calm, life jackets were provided, and we had plenty of time to play around and figure it out. I absolutely loved it!
After leaving Kualoa Ranch and all of that activity we were famished. Next up on my “must do” list was a stop at one of the many famous shrimp trucks on the North Shore. After speaking with some locals, the advice was to stop at the Shrimp Shack. The owner, Irene, and her big yellow truck have been featured on the Food Network and the Travel Channel.
Next up was a stop at Turtle Bay Resort to watch the real surfers take on the giant waves, browse the pro shop at the golf course, and walk around this spectacular resort. Before heading back to Waikiki we had one last stop to make for me. A visit to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice in Haleiwa was the last thing to check off on my list for the day. Their shave ice is served in many different ways – with your choice of homemade syrups, azuki beans, ice cream and some even order it with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk across the top. If time allows, it would be great to spend an afternoon browsing the shops and galleries in Haleiwa.
As I’m a beach fanatic, we decided to spend our last day in paradise on Waikiki Beach. I booked the Paradise Cove Luau for that evening, as I think every newbie to Hawaii should experience at least one luau in their lifetime. On a recommendation from a friend (thanks Debbi Haney!) I booked the VIP experience for us. We were seated up front for the show, dinner was served to us instead of having to stand in a buffet line, and cocktails and a souvenir photo were included in our package. If you are planning an evening at Paradise Cove, prepare for a long night. We were picked up at our hotel in Waikiki by 3:30pm and didn’t return until 10:30pm that evening.
Our vacation came to a close with a return transfer from Roberts of Hawaii and a nonstop flight back to Chicago. I’m still trying to recover from the time change. We haven’t eaten dinner before 9pm any night this week, I want to stay up late each night, and sleep in late each morning. In the end, it’s a small price to pay for visiting this beautiful island!
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