Oahu is the most developed of the Hawaiian Islands, with a real urban vibe. You don't need to go far, however, to enjoy the tropical paradise of sun and beaches. This was our first trip back since 12/05 using the timeshare that we own on Waikiki, as the perfect homebase.
by MilwVon on September 5, 2009
During our week on Oahu we enjoyed many activities, most of which I have written a review in this journal for. In addition to those fun things, I wanted to be sure to point out a couple of other things that you might want to do while visiting Honolulu and/or Waikiki.Of course, you cannot come to Hawaii and not take in at least a beach or two! On this trip we spent three or four afternoons at the beach. There are many different varieties of beaches, however, so you need to know what you want to get out of the experience.To get away from it all and to just relax, I would suggest the beaches around the four lagoons at Ko'Olina. Each of the four lagoons are a bit different with #3 being right on the resort property allowing visitors access to such creature comforts as comfy chaise lounge chairs and a full service snack bar. Lagoon #2 has nice shade and fair snorkeling. Parking is limited, however at #2 and #3 making it best to park at #4 and then walk the connecting sidewalk to the lagoon you want to hang out at.For boogie boarding and surfing, you cannot go wrong at Sandy Beach. Well . . . yes you can if you're not a good swimmer and ready for the rough ocean. This is where David got the snot pounded out of him a couple of times, but he loved it. For me, it was way too rough so I sat and watched (and prayed) from the nice shoreline.If you are looking for snorkeling that is better than "decent" try out Sharks Cove on the north shore. The entry down to the cove requires a bit of sure-footedness, but even with my gimpy knees I could do it. There is no beach to speak of here, but plenty of space to sit and lounge. The big black rocks are smooth enough to sit on if you get tired and want to enjoy the people watching. The snorkeling is very good; many say the best on Oahu. We saw lots of fish of all varieties here and enjoyed our second day here. (The first was a washout due to clouds and later rain.)Turtle Beach is a nice beach for lying out but not so much for snorkeling or swimming due to the rough surf. It is called Turtle Beach because it is here that the Honu (turtles) come to feed. It is close to Sharks Cove, making it a nice stop after a day of snorkeling. We spent about 30 minutes here watching the turtles feed on the green mossy stuff on the rocks along the shore. There were people snorkeling with them, but it didn't look like there would be much visibility.While on the north shore, or on your return back to Honolulu and the other side of the island, you owe it to yourself to stop at Dole Plantation. We were first here in 2003 and returned again in 2005, our last visit. It was surprising how much they've added on to the gift shop building, that now houses a full service snack bar. It is here that you can enjoy a fresh pineapple "whip" cone. The refreshing flavor really hits the spot after a day at the beach!I would caution, however, this is a tourist trap pure and simple! All of the Circle Island tours stop here. While the plantation tour via a choo-choo is educational, and the pineapple maze is fun for the kiddies . . . the place is built to get you to spend more money inside the gift shop! There are several Maui Diver booths to sell you pearls and loads of "Made in Hawaii" items. You would be better served to buy your chocolate covered mac nuts at Wal-Mart or K-Mart. They are the very same brands and roughly half the price.What would Friday be without a fish fry . . . especially if you are from Milwaukee where fish fries are a part of the community and culture? We enjoyed doing the all-you-can-eat fish fry at Moose McGillicuddy's (see separate review for more details on this nice dining place in Waikiki). The whitefish was wonderful and who can beat their happy hour drink prices?Speaking of eating, the Seaside Cafe is a wonderful place to stop in for breakfast. Located right on Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki, it was very convenient to our timeshare. The food portions were outstanding and the daily specials provided real value. Be careful, however, as the reviews for this place for dinner are very mixed with a lot of folks not very happy with the quality of their food. We had breakfast there three mornings, and only had the best of food and service!For more ideas of things to see and do, check out my previous Oahu Journal: http://www.igougo.com/journal-j63295-Oahu-Oahu_-_Hawaiis_Gathering_Place.html.
by MilwVon on September 1, 2009
The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is often on the "must do" lists when you come to Hawaii, and especially for Honolulu and/or Oahu. Having been to this island a couple of times in the past and having never done it, we felt we owed it to ourselves to plan a day around exploring the PCC.Without wanting to sound like a Hawaiian tourist snob, I must say that having been to Hawaii some six or eight times over the past decade, we felt this "top attraction" fell short of our expectations given all the hype it gets. It took me a while to figure out why, but once I did, it seemed more rationale than writing them off as just another tourist trap.They will tell you that first and foremost, the PCC is here to further the studies and education on the cultures of the Polynesian Islands . . . six to be exact: Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii and Aotearoa (I had never heard of that last one). The park is set up as islands divided by several water channels. The effect is quite nice and the grounds lush. Each island features cultural displays and demonstrations. Some are hands on, encouraging audience participation. Learn to shuck a coconut in Samoa or do the hula in Hawaii . . . you can also learn about more uses and cooking with coconuts in Tahiti.In addition to the six islands, there are other cultural exhibits including several hand carved canoes. The most impressive is the Iosepa which was built here recently (2000) as part of their discovery and learning program. A large 56' double hulled canoe, the craftsmanship is exquisite. As you enter the exhibit area, there is a DVD on continuous play to show the building and first sail of this beautiful vessel.The theme of six islands is also the backdrop to the "Rainbow of Paradise" canoe pageant. Each canoe tours through a viewing area, highlighting the music and dance of the various island people. Not unlike much of the show that you would see at a traditional luau, it was interesting and entertaining . . . providing a nice 30 minute break from the walk around the grounds.Speaking of canoes, if you would like to take a ride from one end of the park to the other, they do this via 25 person canoes. It is a nice way to see the various islands and get a good lay of the land. We rode to the far end and then enjoyed our leisurely stroll back to the main entrance area. Unfortunately, at least on our boat trip, the guides were full of cheesy lame jokes making it difficult to really enjoy the ride.We also enjoyed the 50 minute IMAX feature movie "Coral Reef Adventure" which chronicles the studies of the reef in the South Pacific. The photography is wonderful and the film educational. While global warming is one of the contributing factors to the death of reefs around the world, it was nice to not have to hear that it is the sole cause for the problems in the ocean.After a full afternoon of visiting the islands and seeing the shows of interest, we headed for our 5:00pm dinner at The Gateway. The buffet dinner was included in the admission package we purchased and wasn't much to write home about. There was a vast assortment of items to choose from, and it all had decent flavor. It just seemed that everything being served here was a notch below what diners would have enjoyed at the additional (optional) fee luau. An example is the fried chicken. Plenty of it and if you like thighs, you'd be very happy . . . but there were no other pieces offered . . . not even a drumstick or wing.After dinner we decided to take the Laie Tram Tour, which was also included in our admission package. Billed as a 35 minute tour to the Brigham Young University - Hawaii campus and the Hawaiian temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), we felt that it was little more than an effort to proselytize to visitors. A big turn-off in my book, especially on vacation! The "tour" was given by two "sisters" of the church; young women who were providing service for an 18 month period as volunteers at the PCC.It was on this tour that we learned that the number one reason that the PCC was created was to provide jobs for the students coming to Hawaii to study at BYU-Hawaii. I suppose creating an attraction that also serves the student body is a benevolent cause.Our admission package also include the evening show "HA - The Breath of Life" which was scheduled for 7:30pm. By this time, however, we were tired and not really interested in a 90 minute story that furthered their agenda or possibly religious beliefs . . . so we opted out. Part of what played into our decision was the fact that while the marketing literature promotes the PCC as just 35 minutes from Honolulu, we found it to be just over an hour to where we were staying. I know Honolulu is a big place, so I suppose it depends on where you are coming from, but we were both too tired to stay for a show until 9:00pm and then have the hour plus drive back to Waikiki.The PCC is really feeling the pinch of the US economy. While there seemed to be a lot of Japanese visitors, it seemed Americans were outnumbered 10:1. I had read somewhere that the attendance at the PCC was down some 30-50% and based on what we saw, I would believe it. The place really seemed empty when you think about it in the context of being the number one attraction on Oahu.There are a number of tour companies that feature the Polynesian Cultural Center including Roberts Hawaii. You can also pick up tickets online, which is what we did. Our package including admissions to all activities, dinner at the Gateway Buffet and the show, was $60 per person. The package that excludes dinner is $45 and the first basic package that includes the luau is $88. More information on ticket package options may be found on their web site: http://www.polynesia.com/.Here's my bottom line on this attraction . . .If you have never been to Hawaii and may never come again, this is probably a "must do" attraction for you. It will provide you with the best overall cultural experience and education on the people of the islands. At $60 including the basic dinner buffet, the price provides good value.If however, you have been to Hawaii before and taken in a luau or two in the past, you will probably find this attraction a bit remedial and not a very good value for your precious vacation time and money.
by MilwVon on September 4, 2009
Roberts Hawaii is the largest provider of tours and activities on the Hawaiian Islands. On Oahu they offer several including day trips to the Polynesian Cultural Center (see http://www.igougo.com/review-r1364787-Mixed_Feelings_on_This_Top_Hawaiian_Attraction.html), Circle Island (road) trips and this "booze cruise" dining cruise aboard the Ali'i Kai Catamaran. While they like to promote this as the party boat and a "booze cruise" I will forewarn you that for your admission price ($74 adults/ $44 children ages 4 to 11), you will only receive one coupon and that is only good for draught beer, house wine, rail brand cocktails, soft drinks and/or juice. If you want to upgrade to a more traditional island beverage, plan on ponying up another $4. Additional drinks may be purchased at their full price, typically $6-$8 although the foo-foo drink in a hollowed out pineapple is $11.Your evening starts with pick-up at a pre-designated location near your hotel in Waikiki (or wherever you are staying) approximately an hour before the 5:30pm sail time. Once all guests are picked up, you arrive at the dock with enough time for them to snap a photo for the $20 8x10 they will offer you at the end of the evening. Seating on board is at the middle of the boat, with premium seating available around the parameter, at the windows. An additional $10 gets you those tables, along with an extra drink coupon. The standard seating is 8-10 per table, so you will get to know some people if you're not in a large group already.Before we headed out, the dining began with the premium seating folks being offered the first chance to go through the dinner buffet. Called the "Makahiki" or Island Festival Buffet, it wasn't anything really all that special. Meats included beef, chicken and fish, all with island preparations. Accompaniments included rice, red potatoes, steamed veggies (carrots and broccoli) and salad. There was also a dessert table at the back of the boat but it was not well located if you went through the buffet line at the front. If you weren't directed to the buffet at the rear, you wouldn't even know the desserts were back there.By the time we finished our dinner and started wondering about the desserts, we learned about the tables. They were well picked over, with mostly fruit (watermelon and pineapple) left. We were told that they had coconut rice pudding and cream puffs earlier, but as I said, they were pretty much gone for us.All and all, the meal was adequate; again nothing special. David was disappointed that they served the meats and did portion control at a very tight level. One chicken chunk or a fish piece or two strips of beef. While you could tell them which you were interested in having, the portions were set and there was no getting extra, even if you were not having any of the other meat selections.After dinner, they broke down the serving tables to make room for the Polynesian Show featuring four dancers in full costume. They featured dance from Tahiti, Samoa and Hawaii. After their performance, they invited someone from the audience to learn and become part of the show. This launched into full audience participation for all they could coax up onto the floor.The last 45 minutes of the cruise was more like a wedding reception, complete with drunk "cousins" . . . as everyone on the cruise were called cousins.We enjoyed the dinner music performed by the three piece band that included island songs. The views along the shores of Waikiki between Honolulu and Diamond Head were pretty, as was the sunset. Unfortunately, no green flash on this night.Back at the harbor at 7:30pm folks were escorted to their motor coach for the return trip to their hotels. We were back by 8;15pm, which made it a nice evening out.A word about this attraction and most others offered by tour operators in Hawaii . . . and especially Roberts Hawaii. You can get discounted and even free tickets to these activities. Often you will be offered freebies if you do a timeshare tour. Most folks, however, will not want to give up three to four hours of their Hawaiian vacation to do so. We've done it in the past, but not on this trip.Instead for us, I found discounted tickets via www.Hawaii.com. They are the marketing company for the local tour magazines you find throughout Oahu. Because they advertise these activities, they sometimes have gift certificates for sale, that I believe helps to pay for the advertising. I was able to pick-up a certificate for two dinner cruises for $99 which included s/h. At $99 for two, we felt this was an OK value. Had we paid the full price of $148 . . . not so much.More information may be found at www.AliiKaiCatamaran.com.
by MilwVon on August 31, 2009
I don't know if they are "the finest" but they are certainly outstanding! Located right at the Ala Moana Marina, the open-air ambience is pleasant and inviting. We arrived just as the sun was setting and enjoyed our table that was in the middle of the restaurant, the second row from the large open windows. We were close enough to enjoy the tropical breeze without having our dining experience adversely affected.Their menu is a nice assortment of prime cuts of beef including prime rib and filet mignon. They also offer pork chops and chicken. But when you're in Hawaii, I think most would expect you look to the seafood that is available fresh on a daily basis. For us, coming to Hawaii is all about the outstanding fresh fish! Guests who have a difficult time chosing, can opt for the do-it-yourself surf & turf combo ordering your meat selection and adding shrimp, fish or a lobster tail to your entree.David ordered the Ahi Mignon ($31.95) which was served with a jasmine rice and asparagus. The preparation was a pan seared, medium rare which was perfect. He said the flavor was hearty and very tasteful. The cut was large and filling.I had the lobster and crab stuffed jumbo shrimp ($34.95) that had a hollandaise sauce over them that seemed to detract a bit from the taste of the featured seafood. It tasted fine; it was just a bit much for my personal preferences. The shrimp were in deed jumbo . . . HUGE in fact. For my starch option, I chose the steak fries. (The other starch option available was garlic mashed potatoes.)Dinners also came with your choice of caesar’s salad or clam chowder. We both opted for the salad, which was outstanding.Service here is outstanding, with no fewer than four people attending to your needs include a cocktail waitress who made sure that you didn't run out of your favorite tropical delight. David enjoyed his mai tai as did I my pina colada. I don't know that the $9.00 on the pina colada was justified, however, as it was served in a rather small glass (probably 7-8 oz.) and was light on the rum. David thought his mai tai was perfect and was a better value at $9.00 for a tall (12-14 oz) glass.Our $100 dining experience was discounted $15 thanks to the Entertainment Book's "printable" coupons available at their web site.Reservations are suggested and their web site (www.charthousehonolulu.com) is currently down, so you will need to phone them for additional information to include making reservations. Regarding parking, there are some metered spaces along the marina road as well as a parking deck adjacent to the restaurant. (They will offer to validate your parking.)A note about their location, while they have an Ala Moana Blvd. address, they are actually located on the water-side of this building. Fronting Ala Moana Blvd. are Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster. You will need to turn down the side road along side the Red Lobster to get to Chart House on the opposite end of the building.
by MilwVon on September 2, 2009
Located near the tourist district of Waikiki, Kobe Steak House is a good dining choice for those looking for a nice meal with a wonderful atmosphere. We have done the tappanyaki style Japanese dining before, Benihana's being perhaps the most well known in the United States. Kobe's is true to the tradition and frankly, of all of them that we've enjoyed, it is difficult to really tell one from another. (Fujiyama's back home in Milwaukee is a local fave!)Patrons are seated in groups of eight around a flat grill "stage" where the chef will perform his magic as he prepares your meal. Wielding sharp knives as he slices and dices, the quality of the experience is largely dependent on how engaging your chef is. On this visit to Kobe's, while ours was friendly and nice, he was not the most flamboyant we've experienced at other tappanyaki restaurants.Menu choices include meats (steaks and chicken) and seafood (shrimp, scallops, lobster and a fresh fish selection). All meals are accompanied by a flavorful soup, shrimp appetizer, grilled veggies, steamed rice and hot tea. You can upgrade your rice to fried rice for an additional fee. If you choose a base meal of steak or chicken, you can add ala carte additional shrimp or scallops. Special bonus: arrive before 6:30pm and enjoy a $3-$4 discount on several select dinner options.David and I both had the steak & chicken combo which was $21.95, normally $25.95 after 6:30pm. The other diners at our table had a pretty eclectic assortment of dinners including the filet mignon steak and a vegetarian's special (consisting of an assortment of grilled veggies). The regular prices for the full meals range from $14.95 (vegetarian meal) to $46.95 for the lobster. Of course at $10.95 for either the shrimp or scallops add-ons, it is possible to get to $50+ pretty easily.The chef's cooking skills were outstanding as all meals were prepared perfectly. Sometimes the fun of such a dining experience comes from the interaction with your tablemates. We enjoyed the company of a newlywed couple and three young army recruits.The chicken and steak tasted good, with just the right blend of teriyaki sauce adding the flavor we enjoy. I must also admit that I thoroughly enjoy the shrimp and fried veggies that are prepared and served in advance of the meat. Outstanding!!If you have room for dessert, they do have a limited offering. I should also comment to their beverage selection as they have soft drinks and a vast selection of adult beverages including beer, wine and exotic tropical drinks.If you have the Hawaii Entertainment Book, they are featured in the fine dining section with a 2:1 discount but this cannot be combined with the early bird sunset special.Regarding parking, there is no on-site parking only valet parking at $5. The service is quick especially considering that they take the cars to a parking deck across Ala Moana Blvd.More information including menus may be found at www.honolulukobe.com.
by MilwVon on September 3, 2009
While in Waikiki, you cannot do better than Moose McGillycuddy's!!! (NOTE the correct spelling of the restaurant's name. I couldn't fix/change the auto fill on the template once I realized it was wrong.)After a long day at the beach, neither of us felt much like going out to dinner. After combing the discounts we brought with us, and all of the local tourist guides, we decided a burger and cocktail would be perfect . . . if only we could find something close to our timeshare. Moose's fit the bill perfectly.We had previously seen their coupons for buy one, get one free breakfast but didn't realize just how much promoting they did for dinner and happy hour. Happy hour here is 4-7p and features $3-$4 adult beverages. David enjoyed his mai tais (three of them!) while I did the same with the pina coladas. They were decent sized (probably 12-14oz) and tasted wonderful, and not chincy on the booze.We did an order of nachos with our first round of cocktails. They were outstanding and really hit the spot to take the edge off our hungry tummies. Served piping hot with chili, jalapeños, tomatoes, and ample gobs of melted cheese, they were perfect.With the nachos gone, it was time to order another round of drinks and dinner. On Wednesdays, it is double burger night . . . two burgers (mostly $8.45-$9.00 regular price) for $10.95. Served fully loaded with lettuce, tomato, sweet onion and thousand island sauce, along with french fries, this was a great value. I had a hankering for a burger most of the day, so it was particularly good for me! They did not disappoint either. We both had the "university" burger which had bacon and melted cheddar cheese. They had a number of other choices, including some with mushrooms and other yummy toppings.With two cheesecakes to go for later in the evening, our dining experience was complete. At $61 total (including tip for our fantastic server), this was a great meal and a wonderful value price.As I mentioned, they have dining specials throughout the week . . . seven days a week. Reading their promo literature on "Taco Tuesdays" it would seem that is the party night here. In addition to cheap tacos, rail drinks are $1.00 and premiums are $2.00 until 7:00pm. They also have a pub upstairs where they have late night specials as well. I suppose if you come early and outstay the drinking specials downstairs, you can continue your party upstairs. of course, you need to be able to navigate the stairs so don't over do it too early. If the stairs concern you, you can just stay downstairs and enjoy drinking at the open air bar on the main level.Throughout the lower level were televisions with a wide assortment of sports for those who need a sports bar in paradise. I don't think there was a bad seat in the house, one that would not have access to a TV somewhere.As for the location, they are three blocks from the oceanfront at Waikiki Beach, and two blocks from Kuhio Avenue. For us, it was a short three block walk.Here is the link to their web site for additional information: http://www.mooserestaurantgroup.com/Waikiki-Hawaii.html.p.s. We stopped in at Moose's for breakfast on our last morning in Waikiki using the "buy 1 get 1 free" coupon that is available in most of the local tourist booklets. WOWZER was it good. We both had the steak & eggs, which was very good. I thoroughly enjoyed a banana muffin with mine (photo attached) while David opted for the toast. The entire meal, including OJ (both of us) and coffee (David only) was $20 including tip on the pre-discounted price of the check.
If you are visiting Oahu and want to really emerge in the vibe of Waikiki, Lifetime in Hawaii is a great location. Admittedly not for everyone, especially if you're looking to get out of your normal city life and relax in the peaceful Hawaiian way of life. Here on Oahu, however, there is definitely a big city, urban feel.As you arrive at the Honolulu Airport, you will see the sky scrapers in the distance. You will know that this is a place of millions of people pretty quickly as you exit the airport whether by rental car, taxi or public transportation. Waikiki is probably about 10 miles from the airport but took a good 45 minutes to make the drive along on of Oahu's most fashionable shopping districts.Lifetime in Hawaii is perfect in that you are close to the Oahu's other highly regarded shopping areas in Waikiki. Many may be disappointed to learn that they will not be right on the beachfront, but frankly, for us Waikiki is not the sort of beach we enjoy anyway. It is far to crowded and very commercialized. Given the thousands of people who are staying at the beachfront hotels, often without a rental car, everything they do is right in the Waikiki area. Note: The hotels and timeshare resorts along the beach all charge a premium for parking - a significant deterrent to those who may otherwise be inclined to rent a car. At Lifetime in Hawaii, timeshare unit owners can have one car in the parking deck for free, a savings of around $150-$200 as compared to other options in the area.We purchased our timeshare week at Lifetime in Hawaii back in 2002 in anticipation of a conference I would be attending the following summer. Knowing my employer would not allow me to attend if the expense was too high, I figured owning a timeshare that would be "free" to my association for the time I was attending the conference would help to take the sting out of the $600-$700 airfare. It was one of the best timeshare purchases I have made, paying just $2,500 for the floating week (a week of use per year that can be any week of the year subject to availability). We have been here twice before this trip . . . August 03 and December 05. In the years we have not used it ourselves, we have rented it to friends or family for less than $700 for the week.The units at Lifetime in Hawaii are what you would expect given that the timeshare owners' association owns roughly 20 or 25 units in the high rise Royal Kuhio condominium. There are two other timeshare owners' groups here, with the majority of condos owned by year-round residents and others who purchased specifically as investment rental vacation property.Most of the condos in the Lifetime in Hawaii are studio units although they do have eight that are corner units that are a true one bedroom configuration. Either way, the units are set up for four and provided adequate space for that many guests.In addition to the sleeping area, there is a full kitchen for those who want to keep dining expenses down by cooking in . . . and a nice four person dinette. All units also have a balcony with a small patio table and two chairs. Our unit faces the ocean which means we have a lot of city traffic beneath us. Even on the 16th floor, we could hear the rush of the city below us, even at 3:00am on an active Saturday night.The Royal Kuhio building affords guests a swimming pool on the 7th floor. Unfortunately, the surrounding sky scrapers keep the pool in the shade for a majority of the day. High noon, and the hours around it, is really the only time to get some sun while out at the pool.There are also laundry facilities and a small fitness center on the 7th floor along with an entertainment area with ping pong and pool tables.The building is 100% secured which is nice, as you don't have to worry about the city's homeless wandering in. It also provides adequate protection to cars in the deck. This is important given that everything you read in the honest tourist literature will warn visitors of the petty crime and smash~n~grabs that happen around the islands. Oahu seems to be perhaps worse than the other Hawaiian Islands, given that most beach write-up forewarn tourists of break-ins and to use care in leaving anything in your parked car.Back to our timeshare unit . . . the owners' association for Lifetime in Hawaii made a very significant investment in our units with a complete remodel being completed in 2007. The furniture, appliances and entertainment amenities (TV's and DVD players) were all replaced. We found the remodel to be very nice and liked the new decor.If you do not want to rent a car during your visit, Lifetime in Hawaii is right on the trolley and city bus line. They call it the "city bus" but it does provide transportation throughout the island. I believe it is possible to get just about anywhere on the island from the front door of the Royal Kuhio.
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