My family and I vacationed in Hawaii in July 2014. It was an amazing family trip. Hawaii is a spectacular state everyone should visit at least once! This review is of Oahu and Maui as those are the two islands we visited during this trip. But there are 6 islands one can visit and they are all very different which makes Hawaii such an incredible destination.
We first visited Oahu then moved onto Maui and had rental cars in both islands.
Oahu… In Oahu we stayed at Disney’s Aulani Resort, approximately a 30 minute drive from the Honolulu airport, in Ko Olina. See separate review of the resort http://www.distinctvacations.com/blog/disneys-aulani-not-a-5-star-resort.
The Ko Olina resort area is absolutely stunning with calm lagoons and great restaurants within walking distance. We had excellent meals at Monkeypod Ko Olina and at Roy’s Ko Olina.
Now, onto the wonderful activities and sightseeing in Oahu. Visiting Pearl Harbor… one can spend a whole day at Pearl Harbor if time permits, we only spent a half day and were able to visit the Arizona Memorial and tour a submarine, the USS Bowfin.
In order to visit the Arizona Memorial you will need tickets. These can be purchased online but only available many, many months prior to your visit. We did not have pre-purchased tickets so we arrived around 8:00am, at this time they were handing out tickets for 1:30pm. We obtained our tickets and went to hike Diamond Head, had lunch and returned to Pearl Harbor by 1:00pm.
Diamond Head was well worth the round-trip hour long hike. The amazing views of Waikiki Beach are breathtaking. I recommend you arrive early as the parking lot fills up and a line forms to wait for parking spaces to become available. Plus, it will be very hot if you are visiting in the summer. The earlier you go the better.
The visit to Pearl Harbor was quite an experience. We toured the USS Bowfin submarine then rode the boat to visit the Arizona Memorial where you will be standing over a grave site where 1177 men lost their lives. It was bone chilling and sad at times.
A drive to Oahu’s North Shore is a must when visiting the island. There are wonderful beaches and stunning views all along the way. Driving on the east side of the island, on HI-72, your first stop should be Hanauma Bay, one of the top snorkeling spots on Oahu. There is not much parking here so you want to go early. Continuing north is Kailua Beach Park, another wonderful beach, there is more parking here and facilities.
Continuing north you will pass Kualoa Ranch, which is the site for many movies and shows including Godzilla and Lost. Many tours are available at the ranch, including horseback riding, ATV tours, and a catamaran ocean voyage. We took the catamaran tour on Kaneʻohe Bay. The views of Kualoa and the Koʻolau mountains were spectacular.
As you continue the drive north you will reach the “Shrimp Trucks”. These are famous in Oahu, as they cook entire meals in the trucks. Everything from garlic shrimp to mussels and filet mignon, delicious!! Try the Shrimp Shack or Giovanni’s.
Continue north around the island, you will see many beautiful beaches such as Sunset Beach. These beaches are very calm and peaceful for swimming in the summer but they are a surfer’s paradise in the winter. You will reach Waimea Falls Park on your left. It is a botanical garden with about a mile hike to Waimea Falls. You can enjoy a swim here before a visit to Waimea Bay Beach Park. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Oahu. There is a large black rock on one side where many line up to jump off into the ocean.
The drive back south on HI-99 through central Oahu is quite beautiful. Enjoy driving through pineapple fields between the Waianae and Koolau mountain ranges.
A visit to Oahu is not complete without visiting Waikiki Beach. This area is like New York City with a beach. You will see high-end shops like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and then a block over is the beach. For a casual dinner visit Duke’s Waikiki, for a more upscale experience the restaurants at the Halekulani Hotel are a good choice with spectacular views of the sunset.
Maui… I have visited 3 of the six islands and Maui remains my favorite. Here we stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani on the Wailea side of the island. This was an incredible resort. See separate review http://www.distinctvacations.com/blog/fairmont-kea-lani-absolutely-perfect
A snorkeling trip in Wailea is a must. We took a boat ride out to snorkel at a small crater, Molokini. It was early in the morning, there were beautiful fish and even a small shark. From there the tour continued to another spot where we swam with large sea turtles. That was quite an experience. The turtles need to surface to breathe every couple of hours, and when they do, you will be swimming right next to them!
Visiting Haleakala National Park and volcano was another incredible journey. We arrived early in the afternoon and enjoyed a Zipline tour. This was our first time ziplining and the whole family loved it! After this two hour adventure we had an early dinner and proceeded to the summit of Haleakala where we enjoyed viewing the sunset. It will be cold up there so take some layers. The temperature dropped to 42 degrees! The colors of the sunset were spectacular. You can also experience the sunrise at Haleakala. Both experiences were breathtaking but for the sunrise you need to be ready to go around 4am. I’m glad we chose to go for sunset this time with the kids.
The Road to Hana is not to be missed. Plan for an all day adventure for this trip of incredible seaside views and waterfalls. Your first stop should be the town of Paia where you can purchase sandwiches and drinks for the day. Along the Road to Hana there are many stops for wonderful photo opportunities, gardens, swimming in waterfalls and black sand beaches. But you can’t stop at every one or you will never make it back! I have a list of the ‘not to be missed spots’ which will take you approximately 12 hours roundtrip. It is well worth it to see parts of the island that are incredibly breathtaking.
Lahaina is another wonderful area in Maui where you can walk around to do some shopping and enjoy a meal with beautiful water views. The Old Lahaina Luau was wonderful for authentic Hawaiian food, music, and dance. The food and service were fantastic as was the show and the incredible sunset views.
Hawaii is part of the US but here you feel like you are in another world. It is far from the mainland with a six hour time difference. The views, the fragrant fruit trees and flowers, the amazing people, who are friendlier than anywhere else in the world, and the spectacular sunset… it truly is paradise in Hawaii!!
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