Thursday, August 6, 2009

Oahu - The Gathering Place

Oahu is probably the most visited isle with Maui being a close second. Why? Because it's so easy to get a flight there, it's cheaper than flying to the outer islands and most of the specials you see in the newspaper or on TV are priced for Oahu. Not to mention that most Travel Agents don't know the difference from one island to another unless they have been there or done their homework. The Oahu that most people see is as I call it "L. A. with Palm Trees". They land in a huge airport, get their bags and if they have paid for it they get a traditional lei greeting if not they get nothing (leaving most disappointed!). Then they go outside to a maze of cars, buses, taxi's and car rentals. As they leave the airport they see crowded streets, freeways and the occasional traffic jam. This may leave some asking, did I even leave home? Oh yes, how do you know? Because there is no snow and everyone has a tan! But there is more to Oahu than this!

I have a cute story about peoples perception of Hawaii. When I was 19 my parents celebrated their 25th anniversary and my gift to them was a trip to Hawaii. As a poor 19 year old I had saved for a year every dime I made to pay for this week long vacation to Paradise and I had done my homework. I sent them to Kauai (The Garden Isle) because I knew it was what they would enjoy most. It was my mothers dream and Kauai was what she dreamed of. Now my dad never wanted to go, because his idea of Hawaii was what he saw on Hawaii five-O. Which was exactly what I described above!

Well the day arrived and I had a party at the house for them, all their friends were there and some family. They all knew about the surprise and I had even arranged for my dad to have the week off. I then packaged the tickets and hotel arrangements in a huge box, because my mom just knew I was getting her a microwave (we didn't have one). Well, they couldn't believe what the gift was. But my dad was thinking, oh no Hawaii! I bet the theme song to Hawaii Five-O was playing in his head with a picture of Jack Lord in all his glory and perfect hair standing there. What a sight! He played it off though because his little girl had saved so dilligently to send them to Paradise! Well skip to a month later when they are in Hawaii, I get a call from my dad who said "you need to get a 2nd job so we can stay here!" Why, because not all of Hawaii is what you see on Magnum P.I. when he's in Chinatown! Even on Oahu where big business is situated you can find absolutly beautiful areas to destress, have a 2nd honeymoon or have a much needed girls week! So what is the key?

No matter where you book your hotel plan on getting a car for at least a day or two. If you decide to stay on Waikiki Beach, great but get out and explore for a couple of days. You don't need a car for the rest of your stay. Take a taxi or book the shuttle service with your package and get to your hotel. There's lots of nightlife to be had and for that matter daylife too!! They have a pretty famous flea market or swapmeet in Oahu that will afford you an opportunity to pick up some pretty economical keepsakes. Although the beach is pretty covered with hotels, in Oahu the beach itself is open to the public so you don't have to pay top dollar for a beach hotel to enjoy the beach. Don't be fooled by the hotel that says they are 1, 2 or 3 blocks from the beach. Those are VERY LONG BLOCKS! If you are not in some kind of shape or used to walking you will not be happy! But if you don't mind the walk and want to save money go for it. Just remember that the cheapest package advertised is usually cheap! You get what you pay for! You may find yourself wishing for Motel 6! Do your homework before taking that cheap package. Ask what you can get for $50 or $100 more. It's probably worth it.

Now, my favorite hotel in Oahu is the Marriott Ihilani. It is not on Waikiki Beach and is actually about 30 to 45 minutes away. Now you know the 1st reason that it's my favorite. The other attraction is the location. The Ihilani is built on 1 of several man made coves. They were created in order to develop into a tourist area but the investors pulled out and only the Ihilani was left. Over the years there has been talk of several different hotels going in but until now the hotel has stood alone. Marriott recently built timeshares alongside the hotel which allows families the opportunity to relax. Recently Disney announced that they would build timeshares on one of the coves as well and it should be opening in 2011 unless there is a delay. There is also the Paradise Cove Luau located nearby. Why is that significant? Because it's probably the best in Oahu. Lots of people are bussed from their hotels in Waikiki to this popular excursion and from the Ihilani you are steps away!

The Cove offers a safety factor that you don't have on Waikiki Beach. From the early morning on you will find people of all ages snorkeling and Kayaking in the cove's calm warm water. I can just feel the gentle breeze, warm sun with Mai Tai in hand. This is the life! But if you want to be in the middle of the action, I have a few suggestions. The Hilton Hawaiian Hotel is a resort unlike any other in the area. It is comprised of several towers each offering a different price point and value. While other hotels have a concierge floor, they have an entire tower with its own pool! This is a great hotel for families, couples and singles because of the range of activities. It's on the beach, and in the middle of the action. One of my favorite restraunts is nearby, Benihana! If you like to be busy you will enjoy this location! If you are looking for upscale, I really enjoy the Halekulani. This is more than just a beautifully apponted hotel, it also offers unparalled service and amenities. If you want to be on Waikiki Beach but not so overwhelmed with the outside world, this is your hotel. It's sister property the Waikiki Parc is across the street. A very little street. It's a boutique hotel with, small but beautiful rooms. The price is significantly lower than the Halekulani but with the same service, attention to detail and many upgraded amenities. Just because I haven't mentioned a hotel, doesn't mean that it's not good, I just don't have the time, or space to talk about them all.

As for activities, there are so many I couldn't talk about them all but I will mention a couple of my favorites. I've already talked about the Paradise Cove Luau, but there is another wonderful excursion on Oahu that I stumbled upon, called Kualoa Ranch. This is a 4000 acre ranch, that offers horseback riding, ATV tours, movie set tours and also has a gun range. We had so much fun here, it was amazing. But two words of caution to you women out there. Sports Bra! When they say offroad, they mean off road. It's worth the pain though and what an awsome day for the entire family.

My other must-go is to the Dole Plantation. I was surprisingly pleased with our stop here. First of all I finally learned how to cut a pineapple properly. There is a pretty incredible maze for you and your kids to get lost in and after all when you think of Hawaii don't you think of pineapple? Today, Hawaii isn't the super pineapple producing state it once was but, just think of how happy your family and friends at home will be when you ship them their very own ripe pineapple straight from Hawaii!!

Your question is probably, how long can we stay? My answer is at least 3 nights. Many use Oahu has a jumping off spot to the outer islands and some spend the entire week here. The minimum flight time from the continental U.S. is 5 hours so you obviously don't want to stay 3 nights and go home but you could add an additional 4 or more night on another island to complete your stay. Fall is the cheapest time to travel and Summer and holidays are usually the most expensive, but this year I have seen specials in every season. Take advantage of the low prices. Well that is it for this installment. Next time we will travel to Maui. Until then travel safe and travel often.

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