A February 2005 trip
to Honolulu by ideagirl
Quote: What better way to wind down a chilly northern California winter than with a long weekend in Hawaii? Even football widows will get a kick out of this crowd—there is enough happening both in and out of the stadium to entertain even the most apathetic road warrior.
If you only have 2 or 3 days here, you'll have a lot more fun if you pick one or two things you want to see over the weekend and save the rest for next year. My favorite way to spend Pro Bowl weekend is just hanging around Waikiki beach. There are tons of activities, from movies on the beach to surfing, concerts, and an awesome zoo all within the Waikiki district and easily walkable. Although the beach here is more crowded than anywhere else on the island, the closer you get to Diamond Head, the more the crowd thins. You only need to walk a few blocks to find that perfect piece of sand with your name on it.
I don't care how well you tan, where you are from, or what you do when you go to Florida—you need sunscreen and you need it repeatedly. The sun here is brutal even on good tanners. Save yourself some luggage space and buy it at the ABC. It is cheaper than on the mainland, and you don't have to worry about luggage leakage en route.
Although there is no shortage of restaurants, you'll spend a fortune in the hotel dining rooms. Get off the main drag for a block or two and you'll start to see little hole-in-the-wall burger places, Chinese restaurants, and sushi bars where the food is better and the prices lower by half or more.
Having stayed here several times, I can only assume that the people who rate this hotel poorly are expecting a full-service resort for the price of a budget inn. Folks, that ain't gonna happen. The staff is friendly, the property is neatly kept, and the pool is beautiful. Yes, the rooms are smaller than other hotels on the beach. If a small room is going to bother you, then hike your fanny one block over to the Marriott and pay $400, because you won't be happy here.
Standard rooms feature a small lanai that faces the Aston Waikiki next door, and has a great view of the beach if you turn to the left. To give you an idea of the room size, when we had a king bed, there was just enough to room to walk between the foot of the bed and the TV armoire. Going the other way, there was a small table with two chairs on the far side of the bed. Two adults can be comfortable here, but if your kids are older than five, it may be a tight squeeze. Each room has a small fridge and a coffeemaker. The complimentary toiletries are a cut above your average hotel stock; I always look forward to hoarding them to keep the scent of Hawaii in my nose until I return.
At one time there was a Denny's on the property that we enjoyed, not for the food, but for the great open-air dining room that looked out over the beach and Kalakaua Ave. Pigeons flew right in and scooped up crumbs dropped by the diners. Last year, though, they closed Denny's and opened a Lulu's burger joint. The original Lulu's opened in Kona. If you ask me, they should have stayed there. The burgers are mediocre and overpriced. Two of us spent $35 for two cold burgers and two warm beers.
There is also a (choke) Starbucks off the lobby. Please, for the love of God, if you are in Hawaii, drink the Hawaiian coffee! Just this once, pass up the beast and try the Kona. Trust me, you will never look back!
The fact is, there is not a thing wrong with this place except that it isn't the Marriott. If you want the Marriott, then fork up the bucks and go there so the rest of us don't have to listen to you complain. If you want a nice little budget hotel in a great premium location, then you will probably enjoy the Park Shore as much as we do.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 29, 2005
Park Shore Waikiki
2586 Kalakaua Ave.
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
Restaurant | "Buffet at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel"
You could see light through the prime rib, it was sliced so thin. The chef placed one sheer, sad slice on my plate. I smiled and waited. He smiled back, tense, his mouth twitching. It was clear they hadn't covered this in buffet school. I continued to smile, my cheeks becoming as hard and sore as a marathon runner's legs. Finally, hands shaking from frustration, he placed another wafer-thin slice on my plate.
They advertised shrimp but it was hidden at a small table, probably so that once you'd gorged yourself on the creepy potatoes and wilted lettuce, you wouldn't bother. I'm too clever for such ploys and decided to extract my meal by eating only shrimp. I took the remaining six and found a table within view of the pot, the better to pile my plate high when it was refilled. But other diners had the same idea: As soon as a staff member left his post at the wall and filled the pot, everyone pounced and emptied it.
Amused, I watched six frat-boy types confused by the odd selection of food. It took them only a minute to reach the end of the line--the meat slicing station--with hopes pinned on prime rib. The first arriver saw that Mr. Meatslicer wasn't at his station, so he waited patiently for his return. Soon his hungry companions were also gathered around the meat, but still no Mr. Slicer. I silently rooted for them, wanting one to yell, "What the hell kind of buffet is this?" but they were too polite--and probably weak from hunger. Finally one began slicing his own juicy slab, the kind you expect when you order something like, well, prime rib. That triggered Mr. Meatslicer to come flying out of the kitchen, pants afire, shouting, flailing, panic in his eyes at the thought of these hungry youth helping themselves to meat. He grabbed the knife and said, "Thank you, I get it." The light of hope that had briefly flickered was doused.
By then, we knew: this place sucked. The food was bad, the service worse, and heaven forbid someone should want to leave satisfied. Boo. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on October 29, 2005
Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
Attraction | "The Pro Bowl 2005"
If you drive, and want to participate, plan on bringing plenty of food and cold beer. Nobody is going to stop you from drinking it. Chairs are a good idea, too, unless you want to stand in the sun for two hours. Don't be surprised if your parking lot neighbor offers you a plate of grilled shrimp or a cold one - there is no angle here except the aloha spririt. Take a few minutes and wander around to see how everyone else is partying, you'll get a kick out of it. It's the best celebration in the world.
Be prepared - no bottles, even water bottles, are allowed in the stadium. They prefer you to bring either see-through bags or only a fanny pack, but last year they allowed in backpacks. Everyone gets searched, including the kids, so don't try to put anything past the gate guys. The security is very tight. Make sure to bring plenty of high-octane sunscreen, and use it liberally. Sunscreen seperates the pros from the amateurs at this game.
Truthfully, I don't give a squat about this particular game - I've seen Pop Warner teams play harder. The players are all trying not to get hurt, and are only going through the motions so they can get back to the beach. But the fun is not in watching the game, the fun is in what is going on all around you. Pre-game, there are bands playing on the causeway between concession stands, and fans from all over the country turn out in their team colors to cheer on their heroes one more time. Raiders fans in full regalia, including masks, raise a ruckus to anyone who cares, and everyone sports a lei.
I have yet to ever pay attention to who won a Pro Bowl, and can barely tell you the difference between the NFC and the AFC, but I always jump at the chance to spend an afternoon at a real Hawaiian fun fest. If you get the opportunity, don't pass it up.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 29, 2005
NFL Pro Bowl
99-500 Salt Lake Blvd
Aiea, Hawaii 96701
+1 808 486 9555
We rented a car the first time we stayed in Waikiki. It was a nice convenience, but when we started budgeting for our next trip to the area we realized there were very few things we really used the car for. The fact is, we used it more than we would have in another location because we had so much of our precious travel budget invested in it. In addition, rental agency insurance is an absolute must if you will be driving in Honolulu, which adds ten dollars a day to your bill. After you factor in parking fees of $10 - $20 a night, you have an investment of $400 or more for a seven day vacation. A friend of mine tried to cut the costs by omitting the insurance. She was hit by a driver who ran a red light. The rental car company charged her $3000 for loss of use on the car. She is still paying off that bit of penny pinching wisdom.
This trip we took a different approach: we chose to rely solely on public transportation.
The fact is, if you are staying in Waikiki or Downtown Honolulu, a car really isn't necessary. And if you want to spend a day exploring North Shore or Kailua and don't want the constrictions of bus schedules, several agencies have desks right in Waikiki for daily rentals. Visit the Budget desk at the Royal Hawaiian, or the Dollar desk at the Marriott, to name two. Cars can also be reserved online for pick up at these locations.
One of the reasons we had rented in the past was simply the cost of taking a cab from the airport to Waikiki. Our internet research turned up a service that is a frugal traveler's dream - Robert's Airport Waikiki Express. For a modest fee of $14 per person round trip (children under three are free), these air conditioned busses will pick you up at the airport and drop you off right at your hotel. The first two pieces of luggage are free, but extra fees of $3 and up apply for transporting surfboards, golf clubs, or other bulky items. These aren't retired school busses or vans, but full-sized tour busses. They leave every thirty minutes from the airport. Walk out of baggage claim and cross to the first median. The signs will point you to the nearest stop. Simply tell the guide where you are staying and pay your fee. Call them to arrange pick up at your hotel 24 hours prior to departure. Our hotel was the last stop on the route, and the trip took about 45 minutes.
Oahu Transit Services runs TheBus, a comprehensive public transportation system that covers nearly the entire island. At a cost of $2 per adult, we found it just as convenient to get downtown as taking a cab, and a lot more fun. The drivers we had were happy to answer our questions about the area, and even threw in some good old-school Hawaiiana stories for us tourists. Route info is available at their website, TheBus.org.
TheBus also runs express services for special occasions. For $6 each round trip, we bused it from Waikiki to Aloha Stadium for the Pro Bowl. We didn't have to pay for parking, fight the traffic, or even worse, park in some residential area and hike a mile to the stadium. The downside was that we did have to wait in line over an hour to get on a bus for the return trip, but only because we spent so much time gawking at the crowds in the parking lot that the line was already two blocks long by the time we got there.
We also took two cabs on this trip, once each way to and from the Royal Hawaiian from the Park Shore Hotel. Cost was just under $4 each way before the tip. And if you have a mai tai at their Mai Tai bar on the beach (highly recommended), you will want to cab it home, too. Trust me on this.
At the end of the trip we tallied up our transportation costs for four days and compared it to what we would have spent had we rented a $19.99 tuna can special:
Rental fee: $79.96 Insurance: $40.00 Parking: $40.00 Total: $159.96 pre-tax
Airport Shuttle for 2: $28.00 TheBus to Hard Rock Cafe for 1: $ 4.00 Pro Bowl Express: $12.00 Mai Tai Cab: $10.00 Total: $54.00
We saved just over one hundred dollars on a four day trip, and suffered no inconvenience. Of course, if you are traveling with kids this may not be the most cost effective solution, but for singles or couples staying in the heart of Honolulu, it can be a painless way to lower your travel bill.
She has mentioned the Mai Tai Bar to me before, and I always smiled politely and ignored her advice because I'm just not a mai tai kind of girl. In the soft air of the tropics, I prefer to imbibe Kona lager, or at worst, a cold Coors heavy.
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel is easy to miss if you never get off of Kalakaua Avenue. Now owned by Sheraton, the glorious pink landmark has been swallowed by construction that has completely hidden it from the street. New buildings have grown around it to the point that it literally cannot be seen unless you follow the maze of roads that go under, around, and through a conglomerate of parking garages, taxi stands, and designer storefronts. But from the water, or even the water line if you walk far enough down the beach, you can't miss it in all of its pink glory.
Our first morning in Waikiki, I was up early, and set out for the beach with a book so that Chasmo could catch up on his sleep. I read, and wandered, and found myself walking down the beach, past the surf instructors, the giggling cheerleaders tanning themselves for their Pro Bowl appearance on Sunday, and the Waikiki police station. As I rounded the bend of the public snack bar, I saw it. The Pepto-colored hotel was nestled in the sand like an embarrassed relation.
I made my way to the beachfront bar, and despite the fact that is was still morning, I was greeted by a white-jacketed waiter who seemed to think ordering a mai tai at 10am was a perfectly reasonable request. I made it clear to him that I was starting my day, and not ending my evening, and he suggested one of their lighter drinks so that I could keep my head about me for the rest of the day. The draw of the place is undeniable - it is a throwback to Elvis movies, steamer travel, and white gloves. Martin Denny got his start as the house band for the Mai Tai Bar. I would have liked to see him perform here amid the tiki torches and clinking glasses. The beach-facing tables, the palm-covered bar, and the tiki torches all came together in a way that was distinctly not cheesy. I wanted to come back and watch the sun set over a fruity beverage. I spent a pleasant hour sipping and reading before heading back to rouse Chasmo.
The rest of the day was spent catching up with friends, family, and co-workers who were in town for the game, a hectic whirl of bus rides, meet-us-heres, and dips in the ocean. At 5:45, I found myself at the Hard Rock downing Kona lager with a rowdy group of legal secretaries, and realized I was going to miss sunset at the Mai Tai Bar with my honey if I didn't get a move on. I called our hotel and left a frantic message: "SUNSET! MAI TAI BAR ROYAL HAWAIIAN HOTEL! BE THERE!" Click.
I ran out and hopped on the first bus back to Kalakaua. As we bounced down the avenue, me in a semi-panic, I realized he may not check the messages - we have had many misses because neither of us are enamored with modern messaging. I decided to go to the hotel first just in case he didn't notice the blinking light on the phone. I practically flew up to the room and found it empty. Glancing off the lanai, the sun was directly opposite me. I had to hurry.
I hopped into a cab for the half-mile ride to the Royal Hawaiian, then raced to the concierge desk in the lobby for directions. After a frantic race around the hotel lobby reminiscent of a Monkees romp, I finally managed to slip onto a bar stool next to Chasmo as the last bit of sun was slipping below the ocean. "You made it!" he smiled. I panted and pointed to his glass. "Mai tai!" He gestured to the barkeep.
As I was catching my breath, I saw a cocktail unlike any seen outside of Hollywood. It was served in a cored pineapple, bigger than life, huge and frosty, garnished with flowers and an umbrella. "I want what he is having..." I pointed. Now, I don't think that, technically, this was a mai tai. But as I watched the bartender create this wonderful beverage, I didn't care. The pineapple was cored and went into a blender. Other things, including rum, followed. The whole beautiful shake was then poured back into the fruit shell and presented to me with a white-jacketed flourish, as traditional island music wafted from the small stage. Here was a bit of mouthwatering Hawaiiana not seen outside of the movies.
You have to understand, this is not so much about the liquor as it is about the experience - drinking from a giant pineapple in a pink, palm-fronded bar tended by white-jacketed waiters, while the sound of island music kisses the breeze and waves tickle the shore. Are you seeing it? Throw in your favorite person, a mind-numbing sunset, stir and serve. I had tears in my eyes. It was beyond beautiful.
And the drink was sooooo good. My aunt was right. Only have one - or you will be experiencing the magical atmosphere of the Mai Tai Bar from under the table. I don't know how many we had, but suffice it to say that the next morning, we regretted not heeding her advice. So heed mine now: While in Waikiki, you must have a mai tai at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. But only have one. And don't drive!