Friday, May 29, 2009

2006 Magical Maui

Oct. 30-Nov. 6, 2006:
Another wonderful father/daughter trip. This one was to use his companion flight coupon on Hawaiian Airlines for getting a Hawaiian Airlines credit card. We were only there a week, which wasn't nearly enough time!
Here's Dad getting right into the Hawaiian spirit with a new tiki friend.

We stayed in our Worldmark resort in Kihei and loved it. Even managed to get the week on bonus time so only paid about $450 for the whole week there in a 2 bedroom condo. 

A few pictures of the Worldmark Kihei 2 bedroom condo we were in:

Monday, May 18, 2009

2009 May--vacation to the Sunshine State

Day 1 in Orlando, May 17:

We were up bright and early for our 8:40 non-stop flight for Orlando. Our take off was delayed when the tow bar wouldn't come loose. Finally they got it off and we didn't have to be towed all the way to Orlando.

We arrived in Orlando about 1pm eastern time and picked up our Budget rental car (a Chevy Impala---pretty nice car!). It was pretty nice weatherwise at that time---blue skies and lots of puffy clouds, but soon a cold front moved in and the deluge started.

We got to Orange Lake Country Club too early to check in, but we were able to pick our unit---3rd one was the charm (1st was unrenovated, the 2nd was in a highrise, 3rd was a beautiful renovated golf villa in the West Village). We killed time until we could check in by running over to the brand new Target.

By then the rains had started and has pretty much looked like this since!

About 6 we headed to the OLCC reception "party" where they had some raffle drawings and free snacks (nachos and veggies and dips) and drinks. It was a fast "party" since they wanted to get out of the rain.

For dinner we headed to Giordano's---home of the world famous Chicago stuffed pizza:
The place was busy, service was slow for 8pm at night, but the pizza was great. We didn't actually get the stuffed pizza, though, we got the "thin", which is still thicker then most thick pizzas in St. Louis.

That pretty much took care of day 1.

May 18, Day 2:

Awoke to more rain and temps in the 60s. Since there were no golfers to watch, we watched tractors running around the golf course in the rain.

Also marveled at all the agapanthus growing all over the resort.

Since it kept raining, we decided to go shopping and headed to the Prime Outlet Mall. I offered to let Ken stay at the villa, but he chose to go. Guess he wanted to make sure I didn't go too wild.
After that we decided we might as well go swimming in the rain. I was very disappointed to find that they've closed the West village jacuzzi and stage pool for renovations, so we decided to check out the North Village pool and jacuzzi ---only to find they don't have a jacuzzi there. So we headed to the East Village and hung out there for a couple hours.

On the way back to the villa, we saw this guy in one of the resort ponds. I don't recall ever seeing a flamingo outside of a zoo!

Here are a few of the resident birds in that pond.

For dinner we decided on a bar b q place named Westgate Smokehouse Grill. Wish I had my camera with me then! Ken ordered the combo dinner which came on a platter larger then any serving platter I have at home! It had a 1/2 slab of ribs, 1/4 white chicken, about 1/2 lb of pulled pork, a large piece of skirt steak(sort of like round steak), ear of corn on the cob, bowl of baked beans, mashed potatoes, bowl of slaw---not to mention the salad and rolls and corn bread that came before that. I got the baked potato and skirt steak and brought half of it back to the villa. Needless to say, Ken brought half of his dinner home, too. It was excellent and a great deal at about $32 (including 25% off for a coupon we found).

Day 3, May 19: Iron Chef of OLCC!

The deluge continued today. The news said about 5 inches of rain has fallen here in Orlando so far. Even had pretty hard spells today. So, what do you do when it rains all day on vacation? We started by doing the 1 hours "owners" presentation for the new Holiday Inn points system they're trying to convert all the owners to. Of course, their hour really equals 3 hours, but we didn't have anything else to do so let them talk to us and cart us around the resort for awhile. Then we got our $40 in OLCC gift certificates . With cookies and doughnuts from the tour being our breakfast, we were ready to head off to another pool. Today we went to the River Island complex. It was only about 68 degrees for the high today, so we didn't have to share the pool complex with many others. We hung out there for about 2 hours, then came back to the villa to get ready for the Iron Chef competition.

It cost $15@ to attend the Iron Chef competition, but it was raining so we figured, why not. Turned out to be the best $30 we've spent so far. Along with the competition, between 2 high ranking chefs of Orange Lake, there was a wine tasting (all the wine you want), plus appetisers of cheese, veggies, dip and hot wings. They also chose a helper for each chef and 3 judges. Here is one of the chef helpers flambaying for the audience. Turns out she had just graduated culinary school in Canada. She obviously knew what she was doing---even came up with the winning presentation for the appetisers.

Yep, I was picked as one of the 3 judges. That turned out to be really neat. The announcer was hilarious and made the 45 minutes contest time go by really fast. The plates in front of us in this picture were the Original Iron Chefs concoctions. The surprise ingredient was lobster. His appetiser was chunks of lobster over asparagus and covered with a fantastic butter/wine/garlic sauce. His entre was loster lomaine with a vinegar/honey/soy sauce/garlic/salt/pepper/.... sauce. Also had mushrooms and red and green peppers in it. Loved the noodles!

The other chef (Viet) had this great presentation for his entre---lobster in lobster with a cream sauce and garnish on top over fried ginger infused potatoes. His ginger potatoes were amazing! I wasn't too thrilled with his appetiser---a sweet and sour lobster. The sauce was made with catsup/vinegar/honey/pineapple/???/ .

In the end, the original iron chef won by 4 points. I had him winning by 1 point. AFter we tasted our dishes, a waitress placed the remainder of our dishes on a table behind us. I let Ken eat the rest of my 4 dishes. I came out of there feeling dinner was served! Even Ken liked it.

That's it for today. Now to go watch the pouring rain some more.

WEd. May 20: Blue skies!!!

That was just a tease!!! By the time we had breakfast and headed to the pool, lightening started. So we sat by the pool for a little while in the sun, but with lightening all about. When we decided it wasn't going to blow over, we headed back to the villa.

Didn't take long for the skies to open up again and we had heavy rain and continuous thunderstorms the rest of the day and night. The news here keeps talking about all the flooding now and how the rainfall amounts for the last 4 days are record breakers for those days. Aren't we lucky!?!

We tried to take a casino cruise excursion tonight, but the storm cancelled it.
So we settled for dinner at Logan's which was very good then came back to the villa and watched the Cardinals beat the Cubs on ESPN.

Thursday, May 21:

Rain stats are up to about 8 inches here in Orlando. Only got about an inch today, but it was mostly in the early morning and late night. The day was cloudy, but dry. So we spent about 3 hours in the pools this afternoon. Actually got a bit sunburnt---not sure how, though, since there really wasn't a lot of sunshine today. We tried to do another resort activity---the not so Newlywed Game, but the resort staff never showed up.

We spent the evening in the resort sports bar watching the Cardinals beat the Cubs again.

Friday, May 22:

It looked as though we might have another relatively dry day today, so we decided to play tourist and head to Bok Tower about an hour away from Kissimmee. We hit rain along the way, but it stopped for a short while when we got there. It is set in a really nice gardens. Bok Tower Gardens is 250 acres of botanical gardens with the carillon tower being the feature. The tower was built in 1927-28 to house the carillon (bells) and for the private use of the Bok family. The garden was developed as a bird sanctuary. The tower is now a National Historic Landmark.

At about 300 feet high, the grounds of the garden are the highest measured elevation in Florida. Of course, a thunderstorm rolled in shortly after we got there and unlike these ladies, we were without umbrellas. So we were stuck in rain shelters within the gardens a couple times.
When the rains finally quit, we continued through the gardens. Ken even tried feeding a couple swans.

It was a great place to see some flora and fauna of Florida.
Here is one of the colorful ducks in the "window on the pond" area.
On the way out, I got a kick out of seeing trailers full of oranges.
Now we're heading to the Sports Bar again.
Foiled again, they say they can't get the Cardinal game tonight.
Saturday, May 23:
Last day---we're throwing in the umbrella! If only we had one to throw! We actually did see a little sun today, even though it was mostly cloudy. We spent about 3 hours at the pool. When we were out for dinner, we got caught in the rain again. Probably got an inch of rain just going from the restuarant to our car. I wouldn't actually call it rain----it was more like a waterfall! So ends our vacation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

2002 Hawaii---The BIG Island, 2002

January 2002:

This was our first (and only so far) trip to the Big Island. We had been to Oahu and Kauai, so wanted to check out the volcanoe and whatever else the Big Island had to offer.

For most of the trip, we stayed at the Kona Coast Resort II at the far end of Alii drive in Kona. I picked it up as a rental property for $700/week for a 1 bedroom condo and were very pleased with the resort.

We felt right at home here---especially with our red Ranger truck rental (same vehicle my husband drives at home). Odd thing about red cars on the Big Island, though, they look grey at night with the strange lighting from the street lights! Took us awhile to find it the first night we were looking for it. Our condo unit was in one of these 3 story high buildings. The resort is quite large and has many buildings.

They even have single story villas with garages in this resort.

The pool area looked really nice, too, but we never even made it there. With Kahaluu beach being just a few minutes from the resort, we usually went there when we wanted to jump in the water.

The resort is on a golf course and is beautifully landscaped.

The rooms were nicely decorated and comfortable.
We did a lot of exploring around the island. I had read a lot about how clear the water is at Kealakekua Bay and how great the snorkeling is, so that was high on my priorities to get to. Along the way there, we came upon this really cute church---"the Painted Church". This small Catholic church became "the painted church" after Fr. John Velge decorated its interior between 1899-1904 to communicate Bible stories to non-English-speaking Hawaiians.
The pictures don't do it justice.
On to Kealakekua Bay---a Marine Life Conservation District perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking. It is only accessible by water, so we elected to rent a kayak for the day instead of taking one of the tour boats there. To get to the bay, we headed south out of Kona for about 15 miles. At the signs for Kealakekua Bay we turned right and headed down the road to the wharf and Napoopoo beach.
Some local kids were hanging around the wharf helping tourists get their kayaks in the water. We greatfully accepted their help and tipped them, then were on our way across the bay. The trip wasn't too far, maybe a mile. Ken still thinks I was trying to kill him---he kept telling me to slow down. But i was anxious to there and start snorkeling.
There were tons of fish there, as well as lots of coral. The water was warm (maybe 76) and smooth. It was also crystal clear. The Big Island does have my vote for the clearest waters of Hawaii.
Even saw an eel swimming around.

And another one.
There's even a monument erected here in memory of Captain Cook who was killed there in 1779.
We spent most of the day there snorkeling or sitting around on the rocks near the monument.
Another day we headed north up the Kohala coastline. Being winter, we had to pick a day when the surf was down. We ended up with beautiful weather the day we went. My favorite beach was by the Mauna Kea resort.

The beach is enormous and shallow for quite a ways out.

I had read that to the far left of the beach was a rocky area with good snorkeling. They were right! We even saw turtles here.

Heading back towards Kona was Hapuna Beach. This is another wonderful sandy beach, 1/2 mile long and almost 200 feet wide. It's frequently been voted as the best beach in the US.

Not too far from there is Anaeho'omalu Beach (or commonly called A-bay). It is located on the ocean side of the Outrigger Waikoloa Resort. There is also a large ancient Hawaiian fishpond here. The pond was used for raising mullet for the royalty and ali'i of the times. There are also educational plaques along the trail surrounding the pond area. We didn't have much success snorkeling here. There were several boats that came in and out of the beach keeping the sand pretty churned up.

But it is a beautiful beach to be at when the sun goes down.

A sunset picture at A-Bay.

Another of our favorite places to go to snorkel was Honaunau Bay. Honaunau Bay is overlooked by Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park. This 182 acre Federal park preserves the historic site where ancient defeated warriors, non-combatants, and sacred law breakers found sanctuary. I'm sure it would have been well worth the admittance price to tour Puuhonua, but we couldn't seem to stay out of the water long enough to do that.

Honaunau Bay doesn't really have a beach. It's fronted by flat rocks. The water near the shelf is about 10 ft. deep, but there are plenty of good spots for climbing in our out of the water.
Even though it is rather deep there, there is a lot of coral growing on the rocks and bottom so there were lots of fish. So far this is the only place I've seen these needle nose butterfly fish while snorkeling the Hawaiian islands.

We also got a glimps of the refuge from the water. It was said that if you had just broken a law and the punishment was death your only chance of survival was to reach this place of refuge.
Just another sunset as we were heading back to our condo one evening.

We decided to also head around the island and spend the night in Hilo one night. Our first stop along that journey was Punaluu Beach. It is the most famous black sand beach on the island. The black sand is made of basalt and created by lava flowing into the ocean and exploding as it reaches the ocean and cools. Snorkeling is suppose to be pretty good here, too, but we were pinched for time so just walked the beach a bit.

It is often is frequented by endangered Hawksbill Turtles and Green Sea Turtles. Turtles apparently like cooler water and the Big Island has lots of underground fresh water that flows into the ocean. The cold fresh water mixing with the salty sea water looks really odd while you're snorkeling. I was constantly trying to wipe my googles off when I ran into those areas while snorkeling because it would create a wavy like disturbance. After I realized what was going on, I would just move out of the cold fresh water.

Continuing on south, we headed to South Point. It is the southernmost point of the 50 United States. The fields of waving grass are a stark change from the black lava fields of much of the island.

The water here was deep and very blue. But still so clear that we could see the fish in it from up on top of the cliff we were on.

A confluence of ocean currents just offshore makes this spot one of Hawaii's most popular fishing spots. The currents here also make it a bad place to swim. They say if you go in here the currents will carry you to the south pole. Didn't get to see the boat lifts in action, but still enjoyed the views.

There's even a road here that was covered by lava and know goes to nowhere.

The area is also known for its strong winds and is the home of a wind farm. Some trees are almost horizontal with their branches all growing in the same direction near the ground.

The Kamaoa Wind Farm had lots of cows roaming around in it. It was interesting seeing cows amongst the windmills. I understand the wind mills fell into disrepair in 2006 and this farm was closed. But a new project, the Pakini Nui windmill farm, was built about a mile from there in 2007.

From South Point we headed up to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. It has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and Hawai'i's only World Heritage Site in 1987. There is a fee to enter the park, but it's only about $10/car. The Kilauea Visitor Center is located just beyond the park's entrance station and is where you can get the latest news on conditions in the park and can even see a 25 minute film.

One of the stops along the road inside the park is at some sulfer banks and steaming bluffs, complete with their wonderful smells.
The Kilauea Overlook is located on the left side of the road, approximately .7 miles from Steaming Bluffs. The overlook is of the Kilauea Caldera and Halema'uma'u Crater. The caldera is about 2 miles wide and more than 3 miles long.

The 40 mile round-trip down Chain of Craters Road descends 3,700' to the coast and dead-ends where a 1995 lava flow crossed the road. It took us about 3 hours for this drive. Along the way were signs with notations of past lava flows.

The scenery along Chain of Craters road is awesome.

And we got more rainbows.
There are 2 types of lava-- A`a and Pahoehoe. A'a lava is rough, while the Pahoehoe lava is smooth and ropey. Here's a spot where both are visible.

The Chain of Craters road had to be moved when lava decided to cover it.

More views of Pahoehoe lava.

By the time we got to the bottom of the road, it was getting dark. We tried to hike to the viewing area out on the rocks, but it was too hard to see. We even bought a flash light from the Rangers at that end of the road, but didn't venture too far out onto the lava rocks. We could have spent a lot more time exploring the park. There are many trails and even some caves in the park. We probably spent about 7 hours in the park. During that time there were lots of intermitant rain and changes in temperatures. It was pretty cold up by the visitors center, especially when it was raining. They do get snow on Hawaii, in fact the other volcano there (Mauna Kea) did have snow on it when we were on the island, but it was closed off to rental cars.

That night we spent the night in Hilo at the Hilo Hawaiian. It was very nice. We were even given an upgrade to a suite.

The Hilo side of the island was a lot more lush then the Kona side, but also rainier. The water was also rougher, but we were only there for the night. Then we were on our way again. Here is the ocean behind the hotel.

Behind the Hilo Hawaiian was a neat little park in Hilo named after Queen Lydia Lili'uokalani - the greatly beloved and final Monarch of the Hawaiian islands. The 30 acre park grounds were donated by Queen Lili'uokalani for a Japanese park which was built to honor the many Japanese immigrants who came to the Big Island to work the Waiakea Sugar Plantation.
If we had more time, we would have spent a lot more time here.

We did spend some time here in the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden just outside of Hilo. There was an admissions fee, but it was only about $12 in 2002. They even had umbrellas to borrow which came in handy during some of the downpours we encountered while touring the gardens.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a 40-acre valley with over 2000 species of plants in it.

Even plants that look like house plants get enormous here.

It's suppose to be the only tropical garden in the US on an ocean.

It certainly wasn't a structured garden, but it is really pretty.

We continued north from the gardens and headed up to the Waimea ranchlands.

After cutting through the Waimea country, we headed up the north Kohala coast to the Pololu Valley Lookout at the end of the road. And were treated to another rainbow. Actually it was a double rainbow, but the other one didn't show up in this picture.

The rainbow followed us down the Kohala coast.

Eventually we were on the stretch of highway heading back towards Kona.

I found it interesting that people left messages on the landscape by piling white rocks on the black A'a lava fields that were all over by Kona.

Back in Kona, we frequently visited Kahaluu Beach to snorkel.
This is even where I saw a yellow trumpet fish. I understand they're normally brownish, but change their color to yellow when they're ready to eat. Then they mingle within the schools of yellow fish and sneak up on their prey.
The fish are use to having people swimming with them, so they are very friendly.

Another yellow tang.

Even had a turtle swim under us. There seemed to always be turtles here. There were a lot of turtles all over The Big Island.

Also next to Kahaluu beach is this tiny church called "the Little Blue Church". I'm not sure if it's used for mass anymore, but I understand weddings are popular here.

The main street through Kona is Alii Drive. This is a view of the street while we were driving down it.

The downtown area of Kona has a lot of quaint little stores and restaurants. We had a meal at Forrest Gumps. I got a kick out of the sign and paddle on the table. If you turn the sign over to "Stop, Forrest", the waiter stops. The paddle has the menu in it. The food wasn't bad, either.

We also had a really nice dinner in the King Kamehemehe hotel restaurant. It was very good. We also enjoyed wandering around the hotel lobby. It had a lot of Hawaiian heritage memorabilia in it.
On our final evening there, we sat at the Old Airport Park in Kona and watched a cruise ship turn and leave. Hopefully we'll be on that ship someday.
We had a great time on the Big Island. It certainly was a lot different from the other islands, but they all seem to have their own charm to them. This one being the newest of the islands had fewer sandy beaches, but the water was clearer. It also has a pretty active volcano on it. It certainly gives you a different feel for the islands.