big island of hawaii and oahu

Looking for a fun place to start our summer over Memorial Day weekend and have a memorable vacation we chose Hawaii. Our first stop was Oahu. After our typical extensive research we chose the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach.  As is usually the case with the Hilton properties, this one was well appointed, extremely clean and very busy. We had a confortable ocean view room in the Rainbow Tower right on the beach (the one you can see even when sailing) with a balcony overlooking the beach. We also had a great view of the dormant Diamondhead volcano, one of the most dramatic and identifiable images of the island. The property contains over 90 shops and specialty boutiques and the Hilton Hawaiian Village offers plenty of diverse dining options with over 20 restaurants and lounges.

 

One of the most spectacular highlights of the property is the wildlife and botanical gardens. Penguins have their own special showcase while turtles wander around the grounds where tropical birds and a variety of exotic plants dot the scenery at every turn. The wildlife and gardens make for a beautiful environment and one that is terrific for exploring at whatever pace you choose.

 

Although Hawaii is well-known as a vacation destination, it is also home to one of the most important events in U.S. history. During our stay in Oahu, we also had the special opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor on Memorial Day. We arrived at the harbor very early (7:15am), having been warned by the hotel's front desk that line, which are typically long in the morning, would be even longer because of the holiday. Since we only had that day to make the visit, we woke up early and got under way. The museum opens at 9:00am and while we were waiting in line several older gentlemen were escorted toward the building. Before they entered, they stopped and talked to the folks in line. It turns out that they were Navy men who were stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack. If that doesn’t give you goose bumps... it did us, and still does. If we put aside our opinions and understand that everyone has their own feelings about war and the military, it’s hard not to be impacted by the patriotism that is alive and well at Pearl Harbor. With over 2,400 military personnel killed and 1,200 wounded, December 7, 1942 is certainly a day that will live on in infamy. Nevertheless, it is also one that is considered, commemorated, and ceremonialized to this day at PearlHarbor.

 

In honor of the holiday a lot of special events were scheduled for that day. We watched the 15-minute video that quickly tells the story of the day’s somber events. After that there’s a ferry boat that takes visitors across to the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial continues to have its own special eeriness as evidenced by the oil from beneath the sunken ship that rises to the water’s surface even to this day.

Upon our return from the water to land, we listened to a Naval band playing music and entertaining the crowds. One of the returning veterans from Pearl Harbor took over as the band leader for several tunes and brought the crowd to tears.

We also had the opportunity to see the U.S.S. Nimitz come into Pearl Harbor during our visit. We had never seen an aircraft carrier in person and were awestruck by its size and command. The Nimitz is still one of the largest aircraft carriers ever built, with an overall length of 1,092 feet and full-load weight of over 100,000 tons. It can operate for over 20 years over a virtually unlimited distance, with thousands of ship and air crew aboard. The crew was dressed in their uniforms around the perimeter of the ship as they pulled into the harbor. It was quite an astonishing sight to behold for those of us who have never seen such a military ship up close. The crowd was appreciative, and we even met families of service men and women who were serving on the carrier. They shared their stories of excitement at seeing their loved ones who have been so far away from them for so long, and we felt honored to be there on Memorial Day, sharing their joy, remembering the tragedy,  being part of the day's memorable experience. 

While we visited Oahu, we had to go to the Hard Rock Café in Honolulu for drinks and our t-shirts (did we tell you our goal is to collect one from every HRC in the world?) Another evening we attempted to go to the famous Duke’s on the beach for dinner but were scared away by the huge crowds. We remember from a trip to the island long, long ago, when Duke's was practically a little stand on the beach. Far from it now, Duke's is a large venue, inside and out, with a lot of hungry and thirsty tourists hanging around to give it a try. So, we sauntered off, in search of less challenging turf. We ended up at Chuck’s Cellar, a cousin of Chuck’s Steakhouse, which has restaurants in Hawaii and elsewhere, known for great food in a casual atmosphere. And yes, there really is a Chuck behind it all. Chuck’s Cellar has been in Waikiki since 1959, and it’s owner Chuck Rolles is credited with the original steakhouse and salad bar combination (Thanks, Chuck!).  Great quality steaks, large selection on the salad bar, unpretentious staff make this restaurant the perfect place to unwind and kick back. We had their slow-roasted prime rib and it made our mouth water. After that fine meal, we finished off with a walk back to the hotel down Kalahaua Avenue the home of zillions of shopping and restaurants. Don't miss it if you like to shop - it's a real shopper’s paradise!

Hawaii The Big Island

The next stop on our Hawaiian getaway was the "Big Island" of Hawaii. Once again we stayed at a Hilton resort – the Waikoloa Village. Another magnificent property – we stayed in the Ocean Tower with gorgeous ocean views and spectacular sunsets. The resort features 3 fresh water pools, 4 acres of swimming in a salt water lagoon, a $7 million museum walkway art collection, 8 restaurants and 9 lounges, all connected with a tram system and lush tropical outdoor walkways. For those who love to golf in paradise, there are also 2 championship golf courses and a Seaside Putting Course. The Dolphin Quest Learning Center is great for families.

 

  

The view from our room was exceptional. We really enjoyed the sunsets on our balcony with a nice cocktail or glass of wine. It was especially entertaining to watch a young Hawaiian man run around the property lighting all the tiki torches every night. It was an event, spurred on by the sound of a conch shell horn like a starting pistol, the fellow literally ran around lighting all of torches in a lava lava (a Hawaiian man skirt - sorry we didn’t get a shot of that).

During our visit we went to several of the restaurants and lounges and all were top notch. The Kamuela Provision Company, was especially inviting, great for watching the sunset and eating right on the water’s edge. Enjoying fresh seafood with pleasant service, delicious cocktails, and hearing the sound of the waves - it just doesn’t get much better than this.

We also had several breakfasts at the Big Island Breakfast at Waters Edge on the lagoon. This get-it-yourself breakfast and brunch spot is an open-air restaurant that has lavish buffets as well as yogurts, cereals, bagels and pastries. You can go for a quick breakfast on the way out or easily sit and relax over a long-lasting list of plentiful and fresh options.

So as not to leave the impression that we were lounge lizards incapable of taking more than a few steps away from our lavish resort surroundings, please know that we left the property every day for sightseeing and eating as well. Of course, in our continuing quest, we went to the Hard Rock Café on Kona Beach which had a spectacular ocean view. We were glad we made it there because the Café was closed in July of 2008 and has not reopened on the Big Island since. RIP HRC, Kona Hawaii.

We also dined at Roy’s, home to James Beard Award-winning Hawaiian fusion chef Roy Yamaguchi. Roy's stunning delicacies combine fresh local ingredients, European techniques and Asian cuisine in an atmosphere of casual elegance. It's no wonder Roy's has expanded beyond the bounds of 6 Hawaiian restaurants to include 24 more around the U.S. We heartily enjoyed Roy's signature short ribs - sweet and tangy, with a hint of the grill, as well as fresh local seafood and, of course, fresh, fruity cocktails. What a feast! You can look here to see if there's a Roy's near you or where you plan to visit in the future. http://www.roysrestaurant.com.

 

We also visited the volcano national park and saw the Kilauea volcano erupting stream and lava. This volcano has been erupting lava from its eastern rift zone almost continuously since 1983. It’s an amazing sight and a little scary.  Although you’re not really very close the thought that it could erupt in a big way at any time is more than a little daunting. Insider tip for a fun souvenir: Take a business card or other card with you inside the volcano park education center. There is a stamp there tha t you can use to put an ink stamp on your card with the date. It's very cool and a great reminder of your brush with one of the world's most breathtaking natural marvels.

Of course no trip to Hawaii would be complete without a visit to Hilo Hattie’s, the Hawaiian store that specializes in Hawaiian shirts and taunting tourists with chants of "A-L-O-H-A!" We found ourselves irresistably drawn to the tourist magnet, and found two fine specimens for ourselves, as well as the most adorable "mumu" for one of our little nieces. However, we were also on the hunt for a special Hawaiian shirt for Uncle Ed. Uncle Ed and Aunt Virginia journeyed to Hawaii every year for their vacations for over 15 years. Hawaii always held wonderful memories for Uncle Ed so we wanted to bring him back a really special souvenir. Being fully aware that his favorite color is purple, we remembered with cheer that when we were growing up Uncle Ed adorned himself with purple shirts, purple pants, even purple socks with his white buck shoes. So, knowing that nothing less than a purple Hawaiian shirt would do, we were on a mission to find the perfect purple shirt for Uncle Ed. Let us tell you that, after failing to find one at Hilo Hattie's, we traipsed near and far looking at every retail store that looked like it might even think about selling Hawaiian shirts. We went to fancy stores, discount stores, warehouse stores, tiny stores, all in hopes of finding one. At first it was to be the perfect purple Hawaiian shirt, but by late in the afternoon, it would do to have any purple Hawaiian shirt. Our falling standards and tireless traveling were fruitless. One high-end retailer specializing in Hawaiian clothing sadly informed us that purple was in last year. Of course, it was. So just when we were about to give up hope, after traveling all over the island and glad we had unlimited mileage on our rental car, we went to the last shop on the island, at least as far as we could tell, that might sell Hawaiian shirts - the gift shop back at the Hilton. Lo and behold, there was a darn good-looking purple Hawaiian shirt. Of course, there was. Ah, there's no place like home away from home. Long story even longer…when we brought the shirt back with us and presented the hard-won prize to Uncle Ed he said, “I’ve got too many of these already, you didn’t have to buy me another.” Of course, he did. Another, less stalwart soul might have been hurt by his response. But we knew better. We saw the twinkle in his eye, however slight, as he took the shirt and hung it in his closet.

 

 

On our last day in paradise we golfed at the Hilton property on the Beach Course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. This course is known throughout Hawaii for having a spectacular 5 par 12th hole featuring the most breathtaking views in Hawaii. Although the course and this particular hole are challenging, they offer views of the other Hawaiian Islands, hump back whales and dolphins. It was a slow day on the golf course and since we were not in any rush, we enjoyed ourselves, took our time and really enjoyed the entire course.

Beautiful but tough Beach course. Even a round of golf gives you a chance at some "beach" time.

 

The lava mounts all around were certainly a challenge, but enjoying a couple of Kona Brewing Longboard Island Lagers, and a birdie on the 13th hole made the round just perfect. If you want to enjoy a little "Island Style" from the Kona Brewing Company, started by a father and son who love their Hawaii as well as delicious handcrafted beer, visit one of their pubs when you're on Oahu or the Big Island, or you can visit their online store at http://www.konabrewingco.com when you're on the mainland - or anywhere. Aloha!