Recent Trip to Hawai`i Jan/Feb '06, Places/Excursions & things to recommend & Avoid:
Be advised that I get no remuneration from any of these entities listed below, although some obviously wouln't pay me anything. I just want anyone visiting Hawai`i to learn from my experiences & have a better vacation there. I hope you find these comments useful.
Avoid: Sugar Cane Train on Maui at Lahaina. A real
waste of time and money unless you're a real train nut & even then,
it's of minimal value. The excursion is several miles long paralleling
the principal highway along the coast & passes by some resorts,
lots of trash, crappy homes & is nothing more than a lousy tourist
trap type of operation. If it's crowded with tourists from busses,
you'll only be able to sit/view from one side too & you're a bit
exposed if it rains as it did on us.
Avoid: Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours - Of course, this type of excursion is expensive. Such an operation has lots of overhead & while there in Jan. of '06, I saw articles of a number of flying mishaps with BH & other companies. The problem was the weather was poor. I rescheduled once & after that they were adamant that I had to take the next trip out, even though the weather had not improved at all. I knew it wasn't improving and asked for a further delay as I wished to do HD videography. They repeatedly used the phrase that they wanted their customers to have a "quality experience," which was not born out by their insistence on requiring I take the next excursion despite bad weather, which I have plenty of pictures to prove how poor it was. Flew over Volcanoes NP area & some poorly viewed waterfalls near downtown Hilo. Big waste of time and money & it was certainly no "quality experience." As a former pilot, fixed wing, their pilot was good, although perfunctory in his banter & memorized talk during the ride. Their staff was very nice, up to a point. Caveat emptor. (Keep in mind before reserving, that Hilo is the rainiest city in the U.S., almost twice as much as Seattle. I didn't know that then & RHHT apparently didn't care that I didn't know either.)
For now, 5/09 - avoid the Napili Kai Resort. While attending a slack-key guitar concert there after dinner at their restaurant that night in mid-Feb. '09, I noticed that their American flag was flying incorrectly on a masthead flagstaff, where the American flag was lower & subordinate to the Napili Kai's resort flag. I brought this to the attention of management who advised me of a previous comment & that a Naval sailor had advised them flying the American flag on top was wrong. No, he was wrong. I advised the management of the U.S. Flag Code & they promised to look into the matter & change it back if warranted. It's several months later now & they still haven't made that change. Unfortunately, until they do, they do not deserve to be recommended for their resort, their restaurant, or the concert venue. I hope they change because it's the correct thing to do, but they're not recommended until they do. If you'd like to encourage them to fly the flag properly, contact Gregg Nelson, their General Manager, at email@example.com A copy of the Flag Code is located elsewhere on my website.
Highly Recommend: Wednesday nights at the Ritz-Carlton at Ka`anapali on Maui, for Hawaiian Music such as slack-key guitar or steel guitar performances as hosted each week my George Kahumoku. Not cheap, not too expensive, and a real treat. However, if they tell you it's outdoors, pursue that because it wasn't. The indoor venue was intimate and very nice however. Open seating, reservation highly suggested although seats were available the night we attended. This performance has been moved for a while to the Napili Kai Resort, mentioned above for how they are flying the American flag incorrectly. It's unfortunate some great music is performed here. I hope they fix the flag situation so I can recommend their venue for these performances.
Marriott Hotel on Waikiki - for their bar & music venue on the third floor. It's outdoors, next to the pool, & several nights a week, they have local traditional music performers play for the guests & anyone off the street below. It's just across Kalakaua from the ocean, so you get the ocean breezes in the evening & wonderful traditional Hawaiian music in a very casual atmosphere, with no cover charge. It's a wonderful was to spend an evening with a hint of the "old" Hawai`i in the midst of bustling Waikiki.
Haleakala Bike Company, for their bicycle excursions down the mountain to their shop in Haiku on Maui. They have several from sunrise excursions to park/observatory excursions. If you're an astronomy type like me, you don't get to spend too much time at the top of Haleakala, but enough and a little more at the visitor center. This is the jumping off point for some tours, while others start lower just outside the park. You can do a tour with them like other companies, or upon leaving the park, return to Haiku on your own. It is a fantastic fun ride w/almost no uphill pedaling & Jim & Tim, the tourguides are a hoot. Price is very reasonable. Mount a camcorder to the handlebars. 808..575.9575. 5/09 - I went back and did it again this Feb. & while I got a little wet this time, it's still a great run. Don't miss it.
Whale watching expeditions in the winter. North Shore on Oah`u isn't the greatest, but OK. Humpbacks are more lethargic there. Better off the NW coast of Maui between McGregor Point & Lahaina. Lots of blowing, calving, fins, breaching, etc. While I didn't get to use them, most recommend tours with the Pacific Whale Foundation for their educational work with the public about whales. Take a camcorder.
Kahekili Highway, the drive between Kahului and Ka`anapali, which goes all the way around now. Gorgeous drive with steep canyons & waterfalls & ranches enroute. The "highway" is a challenge with one-lane curves & some steep dropoffs when you're not sure who's rounding the bend. I thought it was far nicer than the Hana Highway drive which everyone raves about. That one is very nice, through forested areas & a narrow road w/lots of traffic. The Kahekili can be spectacular in spots. 5/09 - However, this Feb. I did the whole circle to Hana instead of just a one way. The stark & somewhat bleak SW shore road, having been repaired from past earthquake damage, was very windy & very wonderful to drive & I think, better overall than the more lush main Hana Rd. Very very few cars along the route as well, as most think the Hana Rd. ends just past Hana & turn around & go back like we did last time. It's a long drive for the day, but very worth it.
Polynesian Cultural Center - for all the varieties of life throughout the south sea islands. Each group has a pavilion area where presentations are made & it nearly takes two days to see it all. Individual programs, crafts, a canoe parade, evening luau, IMAX, gift shop. We wish we'd had a good deal longer to stay there. Only drawback, is the distance to the NW side of Oah'u to get to the Center. Well worth the ride though. Take that camcorder here too.
If you're military and can stay at the Hale Koa Hotel on Oah`u, DO. Rooms are starting to age a bit, but it's a great place to be in the heart of Honolulu. It's a little tricky moving around with a rental car, but not too bad. Traffic can be a mess. Parking garage across the street is $5. extra per day. Great restaurants, clean facilities, best prices around, PX, personnel, security. Coffee/pastry cart is operational by 5am. A good 30 min. to the airport - not counting any bad traffic on Xpressway.
Atlantis Royal Sunset Dinner Cruise on the Navatek off Waikiki & Diamondhead. Take your camcorder. A little pricey, but smooth ride out and back, dolphins in the wake (watch for the spinner dolphins, great little show they do), maybe a whale or two, sunset w/the coast in the background, excellent food, great service, and a very good show w/singer, hula dancers, Waikiki lights on the way back in, audience participation which was all great fun & a bus ride supplied to/from hotel. Nice way to end a stay in Hawai`i.
Mauna Kea Tours to the top of Mauna Kea Observatories on the Big Island. The observatories are wonderful although you can't visit any one specifically due to professional concerns. The tours provide pick-up, although at points at least 50 miles from Hilo, travel to the top, acclimation at the visitor center with a nice box dinner, and an hour or so star party after dark w/a 9.25 in. SCT scope. The visitor center also provides viewing with 14 in. & 4-8 in. scopes under the guidance of volunteers, for no charge until 10pm. While the tour is pricey, it's worth depends on your level of interest. They don't recommend you drive to the top, but you can. AND, Saddle Rd. from Hilo is newly paved & quite good although rather winding to the summit road turnoff & you don't have to drive the extended route along the coast past Waimea & then south again along the very rough road (Saddle Rd.) to the summit road which is about 80 miles altogether. Do it yourself & plan on being there at sunset. Bring very warm clothing, somthing to eat, don't run out of gas, and spend time at the visitor center after dark. They have coffee, soft drinks & a small but excellent gift shop. Also, it's at 13,800 ft. on the top with no amenities. Air is thin, not recommended for those with heart/breathing/other similar issues. For an astronomy type, it's a great place to visit.
Home of the Brave Oah`u tour - Hotel pickup to Pearl Harbor, visits at Wheeler AFB, other historic areas, w/lunch at the officer's club at Schofield Barracks & back to their gift shop & on to the hotel again. Enjoyable & probably better than you could do on your own. Very loquacious & informative tour guide w/a thing for the story of Adm. Kimmel. You'll have to go back on your own to visit the Battleship Missouri which is also a highly desirable excursion if that sort of WWII history interests you.
The Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island. It's small but growing, a short walk from the Missouri & the Arizona memorials, just under the rusting island's control tower although unless you have military ID for the guard gate over the bridge, you'll have to take a special tour to get there. It's a nice couple of hours & from time to time they have guest lectures/book signings from military authors. Check it out.
Maui Ocean Breezes B&B at Haiku, Maui. While the accommodations are very nice, pool, grounds, room, wireless internet, etc. I had some disagreements with the owner about some things regarding our stay there, but she has since remedied those concerns & did so in an amicable fashion. Her website is more comprehensive of what is expected of their guests, although I might disagree with the need for several of them for persons on a vacation, they are of the owner's prerogative & are posted now for the guests' advance knowledge. It is a most relaxing location & in Maui's expensive climate, a good value.
The U`lalena program in Lahaina, Maui, is nice but not that great. It's enjoyable if you have the time. Established by one of the former creators of Cirque du Soleil.
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