Archive for the Category »Hawaii «

Apr
02nd
  Something You Should Know if You Are Flying to Hawaii
Oahu's Kahala Resort

Oahu’s Kahala Resort

Aaaah… the warm breeze… Hawaiian music in the background… and palm trees swaying. All good, but if you plan on flying to Hawaii for spring break, or any other peak travel season, beware. Specifically, if your departing flight is on Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu International Airport. It is not that relaxing.

Self serve check in counters

Self serve check in counters

Something look different here?  In 2011 Hawaiian Airlines renovated the check-in lobby of the Interisland Terminal, replacing traditional check-in counters with six circular self-serve check-in islands in the middle of the lobbies. (Terminal also serves mainland and international flights)

After checking in at the self serve kiosks, the traveler then needs to bring bags himself to be inspected at another station… then get in line for security.

Self Serve Bag Check In

Self Serve Bag Check In

photo 3Very modern , yes… but efficient? Not so much according to departing travelers with which I was surrounded  on a recent trip there. Many people were standing around, confused about what to do next, which overall slows down the process. On a crowded travel day,  it is hard to find an agent to help, and the new system is not very well explained, despite large signs saying “Step 1, 2, 3.”

Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu

Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu

On this particular day,  over some people’s spring break, once I checked in, bags and all, there was an enormous line that extended out the door and down the sidewalk   to go through security. An airline employee did try to help out, and steered passengers on certain flights to the next terminal over – about a 10 minute walk.

Bottom line: Don’t be fooled into thinking the airport is on “island time,” and it will be simple. Allow plenty of time if you are departing Oahu during a peak travel time: spring break, summer, Fridays or Sundays, and Christmas. Although the new system was implemented in 2011, it is still new to many travelers.

 

 

 

 
Jan
21st
  Travel Tip Tuesday: Don’t Be Fooled by the Travel Brochures

How many of us fantasize about visiting a destination, or booking a hotel based on the travel pamphlet or website?

Buyer beware. All of the digital tools available to even amateurs these days makes it very easy to exaggerate the positive qualities of any place or feature. Some hotels or sights don’t even resemble what the brochure is selling.

For instance, in past few months, I have experienced a few examples I’d like to share with you.

On the island of Hawaii recently, I was given brochures to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The pamphlet photos looked like this:

firework volcano

Pubs_Photo_Layout_3

In reality, most visitors don’t see lava this active, if at all. Most of the time it is just captivating black rock. Sometimes if the lava is flowing, visitors aren’t allowed closer because of potential danger. I have heard mixed reviews that a helicopter tour allows you see too more lava, but I can’t confirm as I haven’t done it.

The point is, this is an all day trip,  a good 2.5 hour drive from resorts near Kona airport. There are fantastic hikes, and ethereal scenery to see, but if your heart is set on seeing lava, you’d better weigh if it is worth it to you to give up a day on a beautiful beach, and pay for a rental car.

Another example occurred when I went whale watching.. There are many places in the world you can watch the migration of these beautiful creatures from cold to warm waters. This form of eco-tourism can be absolutely thrilling… when you get up close to a whale.

A misleading card I received recently after a whale watching journey looked like this:

photo

But in reality, one would be EXTREMELY lucky to see something that close up, or that bold. The boats are forbidden from getting closer than 200 yards to a whale that is seen… the whale has to come to the boat. And not every whale shows it’s tail – they each have their own style of swimming. The photos from the journey more often than not look like mine:

Whale Watching in the Marina del Rey, Ca

Whale Watching in the Marina del Rey, Ca

(Cue the music: Wa wa waaaa)  Yep – that little beige spec is a whale.

Moreover, it requires a lot of patience  to spot a whale. They come up for breath typically every five minutes, and you don’t know exactly where they are if you are even near one. Five minutes is a rather long time looking at nothing. This is good to think about when you are bringing young children.

A few ways to ferret out the truth in a misleading photo is to use trusted websites and social media:

Websites like Oyster.com offer true photos of various hotels taken by objective scouts for Oyster. Also Gogobot.com is a community that offers reviews on places. Trip Advisor and Yelp also offer reviews, but you can’t always trust them to be objective. Some hotels are offering upgrades in exchange for positive reviews. Finally – Ask around to your own trusted friends on social media. Be a savvy traveler!

 

 
Aug
09th
  Hotel of the Week: It May Have Hawaii’s Best Beach, But It’s Losing Some Aloha Spirit…

I have always loved the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Resort in Hawaii. It has been a traveler favorite for decades. While some today call it “outdated,” I actually prefer the mid-century modern design, open-air ambiance, and the laid back vibe to the overly done, nouveau Hawaii hotels.

So I was really looking forward to my work/pleasure trip to the Mauna Kea earlier this summer to spend quality time with my family after a very busy year.

The location of this resort never disappoints – the white sand, crescent beach is wonderful…

…with perfect sized waves for boogie boarding kids up to age 12. Older kids might find the gentle waves terribly boring,but it was perfect for us.

The Mauna Kea also has a large, lovely grass area adjacent to the beach where, having a sporty family, we played soccer, and Wiffle ball for hours. There is also a volleyball court nearby. (We brought all our sporting equipment – the resort doesn’t provide that.)

The breakfast area is probably one of my favorite of all hotels… on a hill overlooking the beach, with a soft breeze -eliciting the inner peace for which Hawaii is famously associated.

All the accoutrements for a good time, right? One would think. But the Grand Dame, despite the recent face-lift, isn’t aging so gracefully. Though tending to the superficial, I’m afraid she’s losing it’s some of her soul.

For five of the eight days we were there, it was breezy. But the hotel won’t open any umbrellas on the sand for the guests if there is any chance of them blowing down and hurting someone, even in the slightest breeze. Understood. Totally legitimate.

Guests had to search for any bit of shade they could find.

The problem, aside from  families baking in the hot sun all day, is the beach staff’s indifferent and rude attitude toward guests inquiring about the umbrellas. It was shocking.

One lifeguard, wouldn’t answer questions about when he thought the wind may die down, and instead chose to talk over guests defensively, as if he’s had other guests complain about the policy many times before. I realize the beach staff is contracted out, and the workers there are powerless to do anything, but attitude is something one can control.

Does he not know that there are hotels just up the road that would have taken a guest’s room number, and done everything short of networking with the weather gods to make that guest happy? Did he forget there is a hotel with the perpetual response – “Certainly, my pleasure?”

Just sayin’.

There ARE actually chaise lounges with pull down cabana-like shades on the beach… but there are only about 20 for hundreds of guests. So… guests have to wake up at 6 AM, sleep walk down to the sand, and reserve one of the 20 chaises with towels.  That didn’t feel like a high-end resort to me.

Note to management: Those same cabana chairs cost about $300 online… a small investment to keep guests comfortable and coming back. Oh – and while you are shopping? Please pick up some more stand up paddle boards. We tried to rent them for four days, and the 6 or so the hotel had were always already rented. Might want to get a few boogie boards too – but please bring down the rental price for families already paying hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars for rooms. $30 an hour to rent a boogie board for each child, that costs $20 at Costco to own forever, is crazy.

You could send your kids to the game room for a break from the sun… but it was so outdated, it was depressing. It smelled musty, and the empty bookshelves were screaming for some board games. There is a ping pong table and Fuzbol, but you have to walk to the front desk to get the paddles and balls, and even then they only had three paddles and ONE ball in the entire resort.

The service, while friendly, was inconsistent… We had the “Kids Eat Free” program, and didn’t know the hotel took care of the gratuity until one of the servers stamped our bill to notify us.  We asked why no one had told us before, and she answered, “Because I’M honest.”

As one guest there who has been going for years told me, the Mauna Kea is sadly losing it’s Aloha Spirit.

It pains me to to say  that because I love so many things about the Mauna Kea -

Rockefeller’s art collection…

Adjoining decks at Mauna Kea

the adjoining rooms for families…

the gorgeous snorkeling…

But with so many other luxury hotel options in Hawaii now, the Mauna Kea would be smart to not rest on its laurels, but work to restore the luster.

 

 

 

 

 
Jun
27th
  A Few Entertaining Things Parents Should Pack This Summer #summertravel

Now that airlines are charging extra for checking bags, we need to be smart about how we pack – and especially how much we pack.

Parents particularly have to put more thought into this – not only do we have to pack the necessities, but we have anticipate just the right things to keep the kids entertained whether it be on a plane, in a car, or during downtime in a hotel room.

Here are some items that have worked for me -

1) Sports equipment – but small sports equipment!

A soft football, a blow up beach ball, and even a skinny plastic bat that all fit into one bag we checked turned into hours of wiffle ball and volleyball on a patch of grass at our hotel. (Take out the bat and it can all fit in a carry on.)

We had kids from around our resort join our games. You may be surprised how kids can turn one ball into hours of fun.

2) A portable audio amplifier headphone bundle -

Portable amplifier and headphone bundler

This is key for a plane where you have mnore than one child and can’t turn up the volume on a lap top. With this gadget, up to three kids can all watch a movie from the same laptop with headsets.

The main device plugs into a laptop, and  headphones plug into device  to deliver audio to whomever wants to watch and listen. It costs around $20, the one I have  is by Bustaroo.

3) An electronic reader – if your kids are old enough to have their own reading device, make sure they download the books they want BEFORE the trip. Remind them, because they don’t always think of those things. If you don’t you’ll have to pay the WiFi fee at your hotel when they realize they don’t have the books downloaded.. Sometimes Starbucks and McDonalds, where you can get free WiFi, don’t work either – trust me, I’ve tried.

4) If you are staying at a beach resort, find out if they have boogie boards, or snorkeling gear on hand… and if so ask if it costs anything to rent them during your stay. I try to avoid surprises. One resort I just visited charged $30 a day for a boogie board – that’s about as much as one costs at Costco.  Not exactly family friendly pricing but they know they have you once you are there.

If you have more than one child, and plan on being on the beach, it pays to pack your own boogie boards and snorkel gear. For three kids it would have cost $450 for five days – and only $50 round trip to check in the boards either in a big bag or duct taping them together depending on which airline you fly.

Hope you are all off to a great summer!!! Please let me know about your travels.

 
Apr
12th
  Hotel of the Week: Sister Hotels in #Hawaii Get Makeovers

From concierge.com

One small Hawaiian  island – two completely different resorts. That is Lanai. Although there are other smaller B and B type accommodations on the island, these are the main places to stay… The Lodge at Koele, and Four Seasons Manele Bay. (Both are Four Seasons properties by the way.)

Lodge at Koele, Lanai

The good news: Both have been renovated in time for summer! The Lodge feels like a hunting lodge with a slight Hawaiian twist, not a typical Hawaiian beach resort – it is not right on the beach, but you can access one.

Horseback riding at the Lodge, from Pleasantholidays.com

The Lodge at Koele is a unique property for Hawaii, offering activities like horseback riding, archery, and air rifle.

Renovated lobby, Four Seasons at Manele Bay, Lanai

Four Seasons at Manele Bay is now open and airy, right on a family friendly beach. I was there about three years ago, and it needed an update. It certainly didn’t feel like a typical Four Seasons to me. See old lobby below.

Old lobby at Manele Bay

 

Resort at Manele Bay pool

These aren’t your water slide hotels you’ll find on other Hawaiian islands if that’s your thing, but there is still plenty for families to do -stand up paddling lessons, body surfing, golf,  etc.

Certain public areas like the sports bar at Manele Bay has been upgraded as well… and Nobu restaurant has been added… and offers poolside sushi :)

The Lodge has around 100 rooms, and Manele Bay – around 200 rooms. Hopefully each room and suite will be updated soon – I heard a rumor and am trying to confirm.

It will also be easier to get there -  Hawaiian Airline’s new turboprop subsidiary, Ohana by Hawaiian Airlines, will begin daily service to Lanai starting July 2013. Island Air also announced plans to double its inter-island turboprop fleet by the end of 2013.

After a lot of traveling, I am in the mood to kick it on a peaceful beach this summer – you? If so – there are some summer specials – book two nights get a third free! www.fourseasons.com/lanai.

Wishing you a weekend full of aloha spirit…

 

 
Jun
15th
  Hotel of the Week: Inspiration for Dads and Grads

In my next life I want to be a motivational speaker. That’s if being a rockstar/singer/musician doesn’t work out :)

It’s no coincidence I realize this during the season of commencement speeches… I get sentimental as I watch my kids or my kids’ friends graduate and move on.

What does this have to do with travel? I can make that segue! One of my favorite muse-like songs has frequent metaphors referring to places to visit… Many of those places are perfect for all you great dads, and hopeful grads. As “mushy” as it is, “I Hope You Dance” inspires…it would make a good commencement speech.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.

THE FOUR SEASONS LANAI LODGE AT KOELE

An anomaly as far as Hawaiian resorts go, this is almost like a hunting lodge on a tropical island.

Masculine and strong design..with a fantastic golf course, this appeals to dads… and the relaxing beautiful setting appeals to grads.

When you stand by the ocean here, it is at the sister Four Seasons on the island at Manele Bay – inviting white sand beaches with great snorkeling and paddleboarding.

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance…

THE POINT IN NEW YORK’S ADIRONDACK MOUNTAINS

This is one place over which I still lust . On my bucket list. A six hour drive from Manhattan, it is opulance in relaxed mountain wilderness, with outstanding food and wine.

.. Creature comforts of the highest caliber mixed with the simplicity and beauty of nature…which keeps it unpretentious. It is a Relais and Chateaux getaway, & kids aren’t allowed.

There are only 11 rooms… and each one has a lake view, with an over-sized chiseled fireplace for cozy nights in the fresh mountain air.

Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they’re worth taking
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth making

Don’t let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance…

CLOSE TO HEAVENS ABOVE: Jungfraujoch, Switzerland.

This spectacular spot in the Swiss Alps is known as the “Top of the World” since it is more than 11,000 feet above sea level.

The Jungfrau Railway, which leads through the heart of the mountains and up to the highest train station in Europe, offers unbelievable views of the mountain giants Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and of the longest river of ice in the Alps.

Inside the train station (the peak is called “Sphinx”), a lift takes visitors to the observation platform, from which one has a magnificent view of the mountains. The Jungfrau-Aletsch region is the first Unesco World Natural Heritage Site in the entire Alpine region.

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along….
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder
Where those years have gone

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance – DANCE.

Do you dance?

2011

 
Sep
23rd
  Hotel of the Week: Disney Comes to Hawaii

I know what you’re thinking. Or at least what I’m thinking. Hawaii personifies everything that Disney is not.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Disney is one of the best companies for customer service. Their theme parks and hotels are unparalleled in terms of cleanliness and catering to families. I just would have wanted to keep the “magic of Disney” away from the pristine shores of Hawaii.

Yes, I know some big hotels with water slides have sort of already tarnished the natural beauty… but Mickey with a lei on a white beach just seems wrong.

Nonetheless, it is my job to tell you that the Aulani is now open on Oahu – a grand Disney resort with 359 hotel rooms, and 460 vacation club villas. It is located on the leeward side of the island, about 17 miles west of Honolulu airport. You would need a taxi or car if you want to go into Waikiki.

The resort is actually located in a beautiful setting near lush green mountains and right on the beach… but in a sort of fabricated Disney way. I’ve never been, just for full disclosure,  and am just saying this according to the research I’ve done.

To Disney’s credit, they have put Hawaiin art all througout the resort, and tried incorporating authentic touches. Even better, it means jobs for the locals, and Disney has contributed back to the community by donating money to local schools.

The activities are of course, family friendly. There are some awesome pool play areas. But many hotels in Hawaii have similar great programs. Kids club, waterslides, more than one pool, beach activities, but at a price. Renting a beach umbrella and chairs for the day costs $20, and to rent a Stand Up Paddleboard – $30.

One thing that stood out as different to me is that they have a “teen spa.” Catering to girly-girls, it offers  a mixology bar to make perfume, and body polishes. It also has a yogurt and elixir bar, teen activities, and computer stations – which I would have left off. Can’t they go off the grid in a place like Hawaii? But teens will be teens.

It will be interesting how the hotel does – I was just on Oahu, and hotel bookings were down due to the decrease in Japanese visitors affected by the March tsunami. If you want to check it out, just go to www.resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort/

Aloha and have a great weekend.

 
Sep
21st
  Where to Take Your Kids Before They Move Out.

School is back in session.. life is getting back to routine. My oldest started middle school… so last spring’s 5th grade graduation was a milestone for me: He was leaving the nurturing nest of our sweet elementary school.

Actually, it was compounded by the fact that my youngest graduated kindergarten just the day before… the stark contrast between the 5 year olds and 10 year olds made me realize they grow so fast. So me, being sentimental, started to think that – OMG – the empty nest doesn’t seem too far away. A bit dramatic? Maybe.

Have you thought about what you want your life to be when you are an empty-nester? (That is another blog post!) Or…have you thought about what you want to do with your kids while you still have them at home? Where would you like to take family vacations before they are too busy… or have moved away? You only have so many chances to create indelible travel moments together.

I have thought about this. Everyone is different, but there are some general themes that would make for memorable family get aways.

1) I will start with the most obvious, and probably easiest: Hit the beach. Rent a beach house, plant your toes in the sand, BBQ at sunset, play on the beach, and bring board games. With just simple pleasures, there are many opportunities for bonding time. Hawaii will also work here – there is nothing like getting to an island – can’t recreate that vibe as much as I have tried. Hawaii is the easiest for many reasons: With kids you want things simple, and it is an English speaking, American state…. everything is pretty convenient. Cue the sea breeze please.

2) Brave a World-Class Big City or Two. World class museums, taxis zipping by, wonderful parks. I would put New York City, Paris, London, and Rome on that list. San Francisco too – but it is more laid back.

You can also find many free things to do in large cities – take advantage of free days at museums, the many free activities in parks from puppet shows to concerts to playgrounds. When I took my kids to Paris, it was unbelievable how long we could sit in a park and watch our kids play on all the play areas so different than anything we have in America, as well as multi-generational pick-up games of soccer that they joined.

3) Sneak in a History Lesson: Everyone would love their children to have a sense of the world, and historic moments. Seeing is believing over just learning in textbooks. Some locations steeped in history make awesome family vacations. Did I mention Rome? I am again. The birthplace of Western civilization, there are many a history lesson to be found here. There are tours about Julius Caesar… and standing relics of ancient Rome like the Forum and Coliseum. Vatican city is important whether you are a practicing Catholic or not  - what a statement it makes about organized religion, and it’s importance to many people. No to mention, the art history lesson there…the Sistine Chapel and the architecture of Basilica di San Pietro.

Also on my list: Greece, Washington DC – tour the capitol and White House, visit the monuments, and if you have time go to Gettysburg, Boston, or London.

4) Lions and Tigers and Bears and Nature. Expose your kids to the good old outdoors, and all the creatures that call  it home. Kids love animals – even teens find them interesting. In Alaska, I met some teens who said Alaska was their best family vacation – believe me, if you’ve been to Alaska, you know how original it is compared to the rest of America. Bear viewing, kayaking with bald eagles, hiking glaciers are all possible in the Last Frontier.

Easier to get to for most, are our national parks. Yellowstone may be one of the best I’ve visited for animal viewing, along with being an incredible geological lab for all! Your kids will love the spouting geysers, bubbling mudpots, and hissing steam vents… Yellowstone has the greatest concentration of thermal features in the country—nearly 10,000 of them.

There is also the Galapagos Islands – home of the blue-footed booby, the Great Barrier Reef for some amazing viewing of marine life, and Africa for an organized safari, which is better for older kids.

5) Lastly – it is a rite of passage for a child to visit a theme park. You only capture that thrill for a short time, so indulge them, no matter how crowded and how bad the food.:)

Some of these trips can be done on a budget. Forgive me if I have missed some other potential trips.

But now, you have time, and hopefully inspiration to plan for next summer… these are trips that will last a lifetime.

 
Jun
01st
  What’s Your Best Locals’ Tip? An Insider’s Beach For Kayaking And Paddling…

How many of you bother to ask the locals what you should do on a trip to their home town? On my last trip to Hawaii, I peppered my friend who lives there for suggestions. We had a car the whole time on Oahu and I was ready to use it.

It is rare that a local’s suggestion isn’t a good one. Usually if it is a bad suggestion it is because they tell you what they think you want to see a.k.a. touristy destinations instead of authentic gems.

The tip to go to Kailua Beach on Eastern Oahu was a treasure. It didn’t feel like Hawaii…. fine white sand… warm light blue water… and not a tourist I could spot for miles.

It was quiet and peaceful – get me out of Waikiki – and as a parent I could actually relax. My kids were playing in the water, but the tide broke close to where I was laying on the sand, and the waves were gentle.

The beach is a great beach for swimming….

Or if you arel up for a more active day, it is a big kayaking beach (this photo makes it look crowded, but really it wasn’t.)…and good for stand up paddling. It is also famous for windsurfing, but I didn’t see many the day I went.

You can find rentals for all the equipment right down near the beach, or in the nearby village. Some places even offer lessons. Try www.hawaiianwatersports.com, or www.kailuasailboards.com.

There is a big grass area near the beach to toss a ball too…. surprisingly clean bathrooms for a beach… and plentiful parking.

AND – it is right across the street from Buzz’s Original Steakhouse- another local favorite. Feels like Jimmy Buffet should be right there on the wrap around porch with a margarita. This joint is way casual, but has loads of personality. The food wasn’t outstanding, but the place grew on me after one of their strong drinks. A convenient and fun way to grab lunch… or appetizers. Buzz’s closes between 3 and 4:30 so make sure you go during the open hours…. dinner time no tank tops are allowed.

Got a favorite locals’ tip? Please share!

 
May
27th
  Hotel of the Week: An Unusual Combo of Chic, Elegant, and Family-Friendly

My new favorite hotel of the moment is the Kahala Resort in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. Not far from Waikiki…. but it feels like a different island itself. The Kahala is not only gorgeous, but peaceful since it is away from the hubbub of Honolulu.

The interior of the main lobby is open and airy – and the beach is picturesque…great for swimming as it doesn’t get too deep fast.

The Kahala Resort is in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Hawaii. We stayed in that neighborhood recently and could ride our bikes to the Kahala – the hotel is notorious for its Sunday brunch which attracts locals from nearby.

The kids love the dolphin quest program.. and the rays who live at the hotel. Even though other hotels I’ve seen with dolphin programs seem a little commercial, the Kahala is able to maintain its authenticity, In fact, it is far from being similar to some of the mega ornate hotels that have spouted up in Hawaii.

There are a few great restaurants – the Plumeria is high on my list even if you don’t stay at the hotel. It is what a meal in Hawaii should be – right on the beach… a very relaxed environment -kids were running around on the grass lot right near the tables… and fairly priced for a nice hotel. The Plumeria is not the highest end restaurant at the hotel, and frankly I think it is the prettiest.

Look how cute the menu and centerpieces are.  It has a kids menu too.

The hotel has a great package for families who want joining rooms – and right now is running a last minute spring deal… as well as a “4th night free” special that we’ve been seeing at a lot of other hotels.

Yes, airfare to Hawaii is costly right now – but it is to many other places too….. so if you are thinking about a summer vacation on this weekend to kick off the sunny season, the Kahala won’t disappoint. Aloha and have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend. :)

www.kahalaresort.com