Wednesday, September 9, 2009

oahu,Hawaii --- a compilation of my 4 trips there

My first trip to Hawaii was to Oahu in 1999. I happened upon a TWA Getaway vacations package for something like $699@ for a week in the Maile Sky Court including airfare from St. Louis (the good 'ole days when St. Louis was a hub for a major airlines!). I mentioned it to Ken and, to my surprise, he said ok. So I booked it before he could change his mind. I had visions of an island paradise with blue water, lots of palm trees and beautiful weather and I wasn't disappointed! It was Nov., so we did have off and on rain, but also lots of rainbows and sunshine, too. My sister and her husband even joined us for 5 nights. We all fell in love with Hawaii then and knew we would be back!

Any trip to Oahu has got to include a trip to Waikiki. Originally Waikiki was a vacation place for Hawaiian royalty. Waikiki only covers about 1.5 sq. miles, but it is packed with hotels, restaurants, shops and even a few parks. But the main attraction to me is Waikiki beach. It has had problems with erosion which even led to importing sand from California back in the 1920's and 30's. Now they don't import sand anymore, but they work at sustaining the existing sand. Waikiki Beach sits at the base of Diamond Head and is on the south (drier) side of the island.

All the times we were there the surf was pretty calm. About half of the beach has a long rolling surf great for surfing. Although I haven't tried surfing, it's fun to watch. I have tried snorkeling at Waikiki beach and although I have found pockets of juvenile fish along some of the rocky areas, I wouldn't consider the snorkeling very good here. It is great for catching the sunset, though.

On the west end of Waikiki Beach is Fort Derussy Park. It was built in 1904 and was known as the Kalia Military Reservation. Later it was renamed Fort DeRussy and several batteries were built on the grounds of Fort DeRussy. In 1949, the fort was closed, and the property became the Fort DeRussy Armed Forces Recreation Center. Within the park there is a large grassy park with picnic tables and barbeques, the U.S. military's Hale Koa Hotel, and the United States Army Museum of Hawaii.
Anyone can enjoy the grassy grounds or the museum, but you must be active or retired military (or with one) to get into the Hale Koa hotel grounds.  Here is their impressive lobby.
In 2003, I spent a week on Oahu with my Dad.  We wandered around the Hale Koa and had a couple great dinners there thanks to his 21 years of service in the Air Force.  Loved that the restaurant was covered but open to the outdoors.

I always love walking around this beautiful grassy park---not too many grassy areas in Waikiki. The tall hotel past the far end of the park is the Maile Sky Court where Ken and I stayed the first trip.

On one of our trips around the island, we stopped at the Byodo-In Temple. It is a non-denominational Buddhist temple replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist place of worship at Uji in Kyoto prefecture of Japan. Inside the Temple is a nine-foot gold and lacquer covered Lotus Buddha, the largest wooden Buddha carved in over 900 years. Outside is a three-ton, brass peace bell. Surrounding the temple are large koi ponds that cover two acres. It is a fascinating place to wander around.

Another place not to be missed in the winter is the North Shore. This area is known for its massive waves and surfers from all around the globe. Although we were here at a time of 6'-10' waves, I was a bit disappointed in how small they looked.

Located along the southeast coast of Oahu is Hanauma Bay. It is a huge bay within a volcanic cone. Hanauma is both a Nature Preserve and a Marine Life Conservation District (the first of several established in the State of Hawaiʻi). It is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Oahu and has unfortunately suffered from overuse. The first time we went there we were able to walk right down to the beach and jump in the water. The snorkeling there was phenomenal! But with the millions of visitors a year, a lot of the reef has gotten trampled and killed. They now limit the number of people allowed in at a time and even require everyone to see a video on preserving the reef. I think we paid $3 to get into the park in 1999, in 2003 it had gone up to $5. Still a bargain in my opinion.

Be prepared for a pretty steep walk down to the beach from the parking lot, though.  Or you may be able to pay and ride down on one of their carts.

The USS Arizona Memorial, located at Pearl Harbor in the City and County of Honolulu, marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed on the USS Arizona during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by Japanese imperial forces and commemorates the events of that day. The memorial was dedicated in 1962 and is visited by more than one million people annually. It spans the sunken hull of the battleship without touching it. In 1980, the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center associated with the memorial was opened. Historical information about the attack, boat access to the memorial, and general visitor services are available at the center. The sunken remains of the battleship were declared a National Historic Landmark on 5 May 1989. Although I wasn't really looking forward to going here initially, I was really glad I went. There's a solumness about the area. I've been back there 3 times now and get that same feeling every time.

This is my Dad and nephew, Sean, inside the monument. My Dad and I took the trip in 2003 so that he could do the swearing in of my nephew as he reinlisted in the Navy. Another career military man in the family.

In 2003 we also took the hike up Diamond Head. The views from the top were amazing!
Diamond Head is a crater that has been extinct for 150,000 years. The crater is 3,520 feet in diameter with a 760-foot summit. One of the major defense forts, Fort Ruger, occupied the Diamond Head Crater. An observation deck was constructed at the summit in 1910 to provide target sighting and a four level underground complex was built within the walls of the crater as a command post. A 580-foot tunnel was dug through the crater wall to provide easier access to the Fort. The observation deck and underground complex is now abandoned by the military.
The 1.75 miles hike to the deck is classified as easy to moderate and has two sets of stairs, one with 99 steps and the other, 76 steps. There is also a 225-foot unlit tunnel. It was a fun hike, but did get pretty warm by the time we were done. Good thing we brought water with us.

After a day of hiking, a meal here at Dixie Kitchens in Honolulu was in order.

We also rode around in the elite housing area of Oahu, Kohala Estates. Many celebrity houses were pointed out on our 1999 Grand Island bus tour. This was just one of the many beautiful homes there.

Dad and I took a limo tour in 2003. One of the interesting places it took us to was Kualoa Ranch on the west side of the island. Kualoa Ranch is open for tourist activities such as horseback riding and hiking, but is best known as a film location for productions such as Jurassic Park, Mighty Joe Young, Pearl Harbor, Windtalkers, Godzilla, and Lost. We were treated to a tour around the ranch, a Hawaiian fire dancer show, a short boat ride, and tastes of some of the produce grown there.

Back at Fort Derussy Park, we toured the U.S. Army Museum. The biggest artifact is the building itself. The museum is housed in Battery Randolph a massive reinforced concrete implacement with roofs as much as 12 feet thick. The battery was built around 1911 for two 14 inch guns that could fire projectiles as far as 14 miles. It was part of a coastal defense system that was to protect Honolulu Harbor from invasion. The museum's collection contains some WW II armor pieces, an AH-1 Cobra helicopter, and small arms and admission is free.

Another interesting activity to try in Oahu is a submarine ride. Even the shuttle out to the sub is really scenic. I was surprised at how light it was 100 feet underwater where we rode around some sunken shipwrecks, airplane and other artificial reefs.

I actually did this tour twice---once in 1999 with Ken, another time in 2003 with Dad.
Inside the subs there was plenty of room and everyone had their own porthole.

Back on the north side of the island is the 1,800 acre historical nature park, Waimea Falls Park.
Ancient Hawaiian lifestye with cliff diving, hula performances, music demonstrations and archeological sites are some of the atractions here. We missed the performances, but did do the self-guided walking tours through the tropical botanical gardens, recreated ancient Hawaiian living sites and exotic flower collections.

Not sure if this is a regular thing or not, but we happened upon a mass at Ft. Derussy Park in Waikiki one night. What a great place for mass!

On my 4th trip to Oahu, I went and toured the Waikiki Aquarium. It was opened in 1904 and is the 3rd oldest aquarium in the USA. The Aquarium opened with 35 tanks and 400 marine organisms. Now there are over 3,000 marine animals and many sections to the aquarium. I happened to be there when it was time to feed the Monk seals. They did an interesting talk about them during their feeding session. I've seen many monk seals around Kauai, but it was neat seeing them close up and not just sleeping.

Another place I went to on my 4th trip (Feb. 2009) was Foster Gardens. Upon Mrs. Foster's death in 1930, the 5.5 acre site was bequeathed to the City and County of Honolulu as a public garden and opened to the public in 1931. From 1957-89, Foster Garden expanded to over 13.5 acres. In addition to being a pleasant place to walk around in, Foster Botanical Garden is a living museum of tropical plants, some rare and endangered, which have been collected from throughout the world's tropics over a period of 150 years. Admission was only $5 and transportation by The Bus was only $2.25.

A free event played out nightly are the incredible sunsets off Waikiki Beach.

For something a little different, I walked to the marina by the Hilton side of Waikiki Beach for some incredible reflection pictures one night.

Of course you can't go to Hawaii without going to a luau.  So on our first trip there, we went to Germaine's Luau.  It was advertised as being on the beach, so I thought that meant we would be able to sit on the beach.  But the beach was actually roped off.  We still enjoyed the entertainment and food.
A trip to the middle of the island to the Dole Pineapple plantation should be on the agenda, too.  Originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950, Dole Plantation opened to the public as Hawaii’s "Pineapple Experience" in 1989.  Here you can find out everything you ever wanted to know about pineapples and even become one!
Back in WAikiki, a stroll around the lobby and gardens of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel is like taking a walk back in time.  It is one of the first hotels established in Waikiki.  It is considered one of the flagship hotels in Hawaii tourism. It opened its doors to guests on 1 February 1927 with a black tie gala attended by over 1,200 guests. The hotel quickly became an icon of Hawaii's glory days.  During World War II, the Royal was closed to tourists and instead served as a place of rest and relaxation for U.S. submariners.  During the 1960s, the Pink Palace was home to "Concert by the Sea" which broadcast daily through Armed Forces Radio Network.  The Royal Hawaiian closed on 1 June 2008 for a complete renovation. The property reopened on 20 January 2009 as a member of The Luxury Collection Resort division of Starwood Hotels and is still going very strong.

While walking around Waikiki, a stroll through the International Marketplace is fun.  The Dagger Bar and Bazaar Buildings within the Marketplace opened in 1956. During the 1960's, other establishments began to open.  Latest word is that it's owner, Queen Emma Land Co., signed an agreement with Taubman Centers.  Taubman is a company that develops, owns and operates high-end malls across the country.   Looks like an icon of Waikiki may have it's days numbered!

 Another interesting view of WAikiki is from the ocean.  Many companies offer sunset sails.  They can be booked through concierges or by just sitting on the beach and having one of their crew members come up to you drumming up business.  That's how I ended up on one in 2009 for $20.  Loved the views!  

Sunset wasn't bad, either!
For the athletic water lover---WAikiki is a great place to learn to surf.  The gentle waves are ideal for beginners and advanced surfers.  If I were a couple decades younger, I think I would have really enjoyed surfing.  Waikiki was the playground of famous surfer and swimmer "Duke" Kahanamoku.

There are many places along WAikiki beach where one can get lessons on surfing.

Public transportation on Oahu is cheap and easy, too.  Although we have rented a car for a day or 2 for touring away from Waikiki and Honolulu, we usually get a pass and hop on and off The Bus.  They even cater to visitors by offering visitor passes and directions to all the major sites.  We've used it to go to the Arizona Memorial, the North Shore, Hanauma Bay, the Aquarium, and many more places.  They even offer a free transfer within 3 hours so it's possible to tour one thing and still get somewhere else on one fare.  They will warn you to have a hand on your belongings, but you should all the time.  The only problem with using The Bus to ride to the North Shore and beyond is there aren't as many busses out that way.  So if it's full, you have to wait an hour or  more for the next bus.  Locals as well as visitors use The Bus alot. 
At the other end of Waikiki from Honolulu is another big park---Kapiolani Park.  It was created by King Kalakaua in the 1870's. This beautiful 500-acre park is listed on the State's Historic Register as many of its exceptional trees date back over 100 years.  It is the site of historic Diamond Head, the famous Kodak Hula Show, the world renown 42-acre Honolulu Zoo, the Aquarium, Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, the Waikiki Shell,  and lots of sport fields and concerts.  Unfortunately I've not spent much time here---yet. 

If you want a place that's always bustling with activity and beauty, Oahu is the place to be.  It's not the laid back peaceful Hawaii most people think of when they've never been to Hawaii.  We don't often come to Oahu anymore since my husband usually wants to go to just one island and he prefers peace and quiet, so we usually go to Kauai.  But I'm definately not opposed to visiting Oahu again!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009 Alaska Cruise --- 7 nt. NCL Pearl; Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Glacier Bay, Victoria B.C.,

August 16-23, 2009----to Alaska on board NCL's Pearl.

I chose this cruise as Ken's first cruise (my 7th)to try and impress him enough that he would want to go on more cruises. With the beauty of Alaska and the ports being mostly American towns (he has an aversion to leaving the states), I figured this might do the trick. It started out as a cruise for just him and myself. As the months went by, my brother and sister-in-law, Aunt and Uncle, and at the last minute my sister also joined us. Although I was looking forward to all my family joining us, I had never cruised with more then 1 other person in my party and was a little apprehensive about how it would all turn out. In the end, I think it went well, although we all did spend lots of time hunting each other out. It also meant wait times at the restaurants and a little more work finding tables for all of us at the buffet restaurant, but it all worked out. It was also nice knowing that we didn't have to do everything together, but that we could probably find someone to do "whatever" with (NCL's motto---You're free to do whatever.) Ken and I usually found Uncle Joe and Aunt Carol in the buffet for breakfast about 8ish. The inside cruisers would usually make their appearance around 10 or later. I even had to call and wake them one day after noon to see if they were joining us in Ketchikan. Ken and I also joined the spa which in hindesite was a waste of money. The spa was nice (love the therapy pool and heated loungers), but we were in port so much and had high waves that caused them to drain the pools the last couple days so we hardly had time to use it. Plus I really enjoyed the outdoor pool and jacuzzis with the gals.

I had read poor reviews of NCL from different travel agencies, but they had the itinerary I was looking for. The poor reviews were for naught, we had no problems with NCL. The Pearl was a beautiful ship. Not any more beautiful then the others I've been on, but just as nice. It's a rather large ship at 93,500 tons and 2,394 passengers, 15 decks, and was only 2 years old.

In the months before the cruise, I participated in and even made it to roll call. Noone had set up a meet & greet for this cruise, so at the last minute (within a week of our trip), I emailed the group administrator and she got us a spot in the Indigo restaurant for Mon. morning at 11. It was a nice meeting with refreshments provided by the ship and the hotel manager even came and spoke to us. I requested a tour of the villa suites which we got at the end of the cruise---for $30,000 a cabin they are quite impressive. The meet & greet did have about 12 of us there. I got a kick out of the location we were put in. I don't know if they purposely put us in the corner by this artwork or if it was coincidence, but it made me feel right at home (St. Louis).