I first went to Hawaii in March 2004 for ten days or so and I really didn’t have that great a time. I spent my time on Oahu, Maui and Kauai and wasn’t too upset to leave the islands and head back home. Six years later was a much different story. I had a blast and spent my entire 5 days on Oahu, less the day I flew to Midway. More importantly I think I accepted Hawaii for what it was, Honolulu in particular. It is a bit of Vegas meets Disneyworld with all the cheesiness and tourists but at the same time, it’s beautiful and has a lot of interesting history and once you escape Waikiki, Oahu is a pretty awesome place to be. The North Shore and the east of the island are pretty cool and have lots of hidden little places and amazing restaurants, shrimp trucks and shave ice places. In fact, the shave ice places are so good that when Obama returns to Hawaii he makes sure to visit his favorite ice place-I saw the pictures and had my ice served by the same guy who served the President with his fat lip ring and all-that was pretty cool!
I was based out of Waikiki Beach which is a pretty cool place to stay. Again, it is overcrowded, full of Japanese tourists and super overpriced but it is fun and there is a ton of stuff to do. They have every upscale chain restaurant imaginable and if you like shopping, they have every store you have ever heard of as well.
I stayed at the Sheraton Princess and also the Sheraton Waikiki in order to get the best deals and also to re-qualify for Starwood platinum and get extra free nights with the stay 3 nights and get a free night promotion they are running through July. However, the service at the Sheraton Princess was dreadful and I will not be staying there ever again but the Sheraton Waikiki which is right next to the pink hotel is awesome and a great place to base yourself in Waikiki Beach. It also has a killer sunset happy hour at Rum Fire which has great banana mojitos and other Hawaiian style drinks at reasonable prices. It also didn’t hurt that I got hooked up with a killer suite with an incredible view of Waikiki (below and top picture).
Some of the highlights of Oahu were definitely just experiencing the strip in Waikiki and the beach itself. The beach is small and very attractive. It can be packed for sure but for the most famous beach in the world, it’s really not that bad I guess. The only problem is the water is full of rocks and coral and of course I did scrape my foot up pretty good. However, that was from surfing or let’s just say trying to surf.
Surfing on Waikiki is good to learn and practice on because it has good surf and manageable waves. However, it also has hundreds of surfers all trying to catch the same waves and hanging out on the same breaks. As I was paddling out a kid who was clueless almost killed me and I had to duck under his board hurling at me and that was a sign of things to come.
Next wave I try to get I don’t get up and fall into the water and scrape my foot. Then I get the next wave and go in a while then when I get off I get nailed by some jackass’s board nose right in the side of the head. Let’s just say it hurt like hell and put the kibosh on the rest of my time surfing. Luckily there was no concussion or anything but it hurt like hell and I had to get out.
The Luau was probably my favorite thing we did in and around Honolulu. I was told Germaine’s was the best Luau and I thought it was great (above and below). It cost about $70 per person which included transportation, dinner (all you can eat), three drinks and the shows…not a bad deal and way cheaper than the only one on Honolulu at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The sunset Luau was about 4 hours or so of drinking, eating suckling pig (cooked and brought out of the ground oven) and watching Polynesian style shows where they highlighted native dances of all the islands. Cousin Lea and I enjoyed it greatly!
No visit to Oahu is complete without stopping at Pearl Harbor. In 2004 I got there super early and was on the first boat to the Arizona Memorial. This time we got there at 11ish and didn’t take the boat out but you can easily still view it from a distance and see all the things around the harbor freely which was touching as you’d imagine. It was nicer than I remembered it being and fit right into the theme of this trip which is essentially following the major battles of World War II.
After Pearl we headed up to the North Shore and it was awesome. Much better than I remembered and easily the best part of Oahu. The little towns were so cool and the awesome little beaches that dotted the shore were very inviting. The big waves don’t come until the Winter but you still had good views of the beaches like Pipeline.
However, to me the best part of the North Shore was the food. Jameson’s for some of the freshest and most delicious fish I have ever tasted. They had this Hawaiian fish called Ulua which was served with macadamia nuts and some type of great sauce was to die for. Only equaled by Aoki’s (below) for shave ice where the line is long but they put a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the bottom of your favorite ice flavor. It was fantastic.
Aoki’s was only surpassed the next day by Island Snow on the east coast in Kailua which was the place Obama likes. It was a religious experience have the shave ice there. I told the kid who served the President to give me whatever flavor he thinks is the best and I have no idea what it was but was a mix of three or four. One I know was coconut and the rest I don’t know but he topped it with this creamy stuff and it was unreal. I love ice cream, gelato and ice type desserts but this was the best I’d ever had. The President has my vote for re-election simply based on the shave ice place which was originally the only reason we went in!
Aside from those places, we also stopped at the famous Giovanni’s shrimp truck up on the North Shore and indulged in some succulent shrimp scampi with tons of garlic smothered all over the shrimp for an awesome yet extremely messy culinary experience. Ironically, I ran into one of the guys from the Midway trip there doing the exact same thing.
More awesome food options include Leonard’s Bakery which was an awesome recommendation from my friend Devon. They serve these delectable little malasadas in four different flavors which are basically dough balls served piping hot and dipped in flavored sugar. However, they are fantastic. Cinnamon was my favorite. Another right down the street and recommended by the Luau host was Zippy’s for some local fast food and chili. Normally I wouldn’t eat that stuff (especially in the morning) but when in Rome…it was OK, not great but worth a try if you’re up for it-they have an extensive menu. Oh yeah, we had breakfast at Duke’s on the beach on Waikiki in honor of my sister who used to work at the Duke’s in Malibu, California…needless to say it had a killer breakfast buffet.
So a big thumbs up on Hawaii from me and if you realize what you’re getting into, it can be super fun. You cannot dispute the beauty of the place and Waikiki can be a lot of fun. In a day or so you can do it all; see peacocks, waterfalls, sea turtles, go to exotic beaches and eat heavenly food. Just don’t stay at the Sheraton Princess and save your pennies, Hawaii ain’t cheap.
I am sitting here in Tonga after spending a wonderful night in Auckland, New Zealand. It’s a shame because New Zealand may well be my favorite all time country or at least in the top five for sure but I will be back there soon for some stopovers to other Pacific Islands and some quality time in New Zealand as well. I will definitely need another Queenstown run on the South Island which may be my favorite place on Earth because of all the amazing adrenaline activities they have, the awesome little town atmosphere and scenic beauty. Anyway, check back soon for more from the Kingdom of Tonga.