The Islands of Hawaii, Part 1: Falling in love with O’ahu and why I now aspire to buy a house in Waikiki!
Mai tais, leis, birds chirping, flowers blooming and waves crashing on the beach.. ah, sounds like the sprit of Aloha! Last November, I visited one of the most magical places on earth – the gorgeous island of O’ahu, Hawaii.
I split my time between the Moana Surfrider Hotel and the Waikiki Beach Marriott because I wanted to try both resorts out to see which one to stay when I come back to Honolulu.
The Moana Surfrider is a Westin Resort & Spa as part of the Starwood brand. The hotel is right on Waikiki beach and is a SPG Category 6 hotel (Starwood hotels go up to Category 7). Staying at the hotel will run you around $300/night for a standard room, though you can get some non-peak time sales for about $240/night. If you participate in the Starwood Preferred Guest program and have points, the hotel will run you 25,000 Starpoints/night or 10,000 Starpoints + $180 with the Cash and points option.
The hotel has many wonderful features and an amazing spa, but my favorite attribute is the fact that it is right on the beach! Waikiki beach is prime real estate and beach hotels are hard to come by so this was a strong positive. Service was also wonderful at the hotel as could be expected. I was able to use my suite night awards to upgrade to a beachview suite with a view of beautiful Waikiki beach.
The Waikiki Beach Marriott is a Marriott Category 7 property (Marriott categories go up to 9) on Kalakaua Avenue steps from Waikiki Beach. Room rates start from $249/night for a standard guest room, though you may be able to get in at a rate of $199/night during non-peak times. If you are part of the Marriott Rewards Program, the hotel will run you 35,000 points/night.
The hotel has many services and amenities for vacationers of all ages. Though it is not right on the beach, it is merely a short walk away from the most exciting parts of Waikiki beach!
In comparing the two hotels, the Moana Surfrider came out ahead for me. Being right on the beach is a huge positive, especially in a place like Hawaii. Also, probably just the luck of the draw, but for some reason, even as a Marriott Platinum member, the service I received at the Marriott was not what I am used to with Marriott. For example, I was surprised by the hotel’s refusal to offer me a late checkout (past 12 noon), something I have rarely had a problem with at other hotels – though I do understand they had quite a packed house.
Nonetheless, both properties are wonderful properties and would be fine choices for anyone considering a visit to Honolulu/Waikiki!
My time in beautiful O’ahu…
To be honest, my trip to O’ahu started off on a sad note. At the time, Hurricane Sandy had just finished wreaking havoc and causing massive destruction to the East Coast. I tried to re-arrange my flight plans so I could be back in NY/NJ, but was unable to. Because my return leg from Honolulu was to work in California, United was not going to reroute me without major change and rebooking fees (over $1,000). If I didn’t go, I would have lost the entire value of the ticket and had to book myself a trip out of pocket to work in California. So I reluctantly went to Honolulu, though initially, my heart was not there. I spent my first night sulking and closely monitoring the state of affairs. I couldn’t peel myself off the news – images of destruction everywhere.. it was depressing. I was checking on family and friends by the minute. I was so moved by everyone who was volunteering their time to help complete strangers who had been displaced by the storm.
And here I was on vacation in Hawaii. To put it simply, I felt, guilty….
At some point on my second day there, I realized there was nothing I could do other than make contributions to the clean up effort back home and try to help as much as I could from where I was.
I also realized I was wasting away my time in Hawaii by sulking and feeling guilty in my room, which was accomplishing a big bag of… nothing! I reminded myself I am not a bad person just because I am here in Hawaii. After all, I had no way of knowing there was a Hurricane brewing when I made my vacation plans months prior. So I went downstairs to the ABC store and purchased a flower for my hair to put me in the Hawaiian spirit and decided to cheer up.
Then took a walk on Waikiki beach to clear my mind…
The gorgeousness of Waikiki beach is enough to cheer anyone up! How could you continue having a long face when there’s so much beauty around you. No sooner I decided to change my mood and make the absolute most of my time in Hawaii, I started to feel much better :)…
Later that evening, it was time to head to the Paradise Cove luau! Luaus are one of my favorite things about being in Hawaii! Whenever I am in Hawaii, going to a luau is a must. I have never not had a good time at a luau, so I was very excited to be visiting one which is regarded as one of the best in Hawaii!
By the way, the Paradise Cove luau takes place in at the Ko Olina Resort on the leeward coast of O’ahu, so if you are staying on Waikiki beach, you have about a 45 minute ride away. I quite enjoyed the scenic drive and getting to see other parts of the island on the way to the luau.
At the luau..
The luau did not disappoint. I had an absolutely amazing time and there was so much going on! There’s something for all at the luau before the main show starts – shopping, tree climbing show, Hawaiian traditional lessons, polynesian tattoo station, the imu ceremony and so on and so forth. It’s hard not to have a great time and feel like you are in paradise :).
What an amazing show they put on! :). I had so much fun at the luau and didn’t want it to end. It epitomized the spirit of Aloha and the beauty of O’ahu. I fell in love right there and then.
Though I was in paradise, my trip to O’ahu wasn’t all fun and games. While there, it was a must that I visited Punchbowl, Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona memorial, something I had been looking forward to doing for quite sometime and I was delighted to finally be opportuned to do so.
At Pearl Harbor…
The trip started bright and early with a bus pick up at the hotel. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and informative while giving the run down about the significance of Pearl Harbor to the history of Hawaii. Though I have studied WWII and Pearl Harbor in great detail for many years, it was still a great feeling to be there in person. Very weird fact: Though I am not a fan of wars (who is?), I have always personally studied them and love visiting war memorials, though I always find myself in tears when I visit, no matter how strong I promised myself I’d be.
This visit was no different.
One word to sum up my experience: humbling. I will never forget this experience and will always be grateful to the men and women who lost their lives in service and to those who serve today.
I spent much of the rest of my time in Honolulu exploring Waikiki on foot. The weather and atmosphere were amazing. Honolulu is just such a gorgeous, happy place. It’s a great combination of a lot of the things I love – tons to do, city-like atmosphere, yet gorgeous beaches and a laid back vibe. What is there not to love?
Honolulu, and Waikiki in particular, can get a bad rap for being a very touristy destination. Indeed, it is touristy. By default, when most people say they are going to Hawaii, chances are they are going to Honolulu. Also, the island of O’ahu itself has the most inhabitants of any of the Hawaiian islands with just under 1 million of the entire State of Hawaii’s 1.3 million residents residing on the island. Because of this, it’s probably not for everyone – but I LOVED it! Having visited all the 4 main islands of Hawaii, I know they are all quite different and visiting each will serve a unique purpose. If you are like me, a city girl (or guy) who loves having tons to do, but also loves the beach, can’t say no to a nice cool breeze and frozen drink, and doesn’t mind having people around, then Honolulu is for you!
As the economic capital of Hawaii, Honolulu is well developed with all the infrastructure and facilities you would find in any major metropolitan city. Yet, there is no other major metropolitan city that can offer you beaches and a scenery quite as gorgeous.
Honolulu stole my heart, and as I walked along Kalakaua Avenue, I made the decision that I will one day buy property on Waikiki beach – what better place to own a home than in paradise?
Since the average home price on Waikiki beach is through the roof (around $1 million for a 2 bed, 2 bath luxury condo on the beach), and I would like to have this as a vacation home for my family (when I start one), I guess I’d better get started on saving.
Hey, a girl can dream! 😉
Some random facts about O’ahu and Hawaii
– O’ahu is 44 miles long, 30 miles wide, 112 miles around and is the third-largest island in the Hawaiian chain of 132 islets, atolls and reefs stretching from kure atoll in the Northwest to the big island of Hawaii in the Southeast
– Both English and Hawaiian are spoken on the island, though some Hawaiians also speak Pidgin, Samoan, and Tongan
– The Hawaiian alphabet consists of only twelve letters. There are five vowels: A, E, I, O, U. And there are seven consonants: H,K,L,M,N,P,W
– Hawaii’s nickname is the “Aloha State.” The word aloha is derived from the Proto-Polynesian, alofa, and its meanings is “love, compassion and mercy”. Aloha is used both as “hello” and “goodbye”
– The official state flower of Hawaii is the yellow hibiscus and the official flower of the island of O’ahu is the yellow ilima
Want to go?
You will fly into Honolulu International Airport (IATA code is HNL). There are flight options from everywhere in the country with direct flights from major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Most major airlines offer direct or connecting flights including Delta Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, Hawaii’s flagship carrier.
Even though most people fly to Hawaii when it is colder on the mainland United States to escape the cold weather, the flight prices don’t seem to reflect this. Contrarily, the summer months are the most expensive time to visit Honolulu. Expect to pay around $1000 for direct flights from Chicago or New York. If you delay your trip to cooler months such as December or January, you can get in for much lower! For instance, a round trip direct flight I just routed from December 2nd through the 9th from New York is coming up as $669 on United Airlines.
The climate in Hawaii is tropical and the weather is pretty constant year round, ranging from lows in the 60s to highs in the 80s, all year round, so you can plan your visit at any time during the year.
In my opinion, Hawaii earns it’s reputation as paradise on earth. It is simply a magical place. I can’t stop visiting! :).
If you will be visiting, Aloha and enjoy your time in paradise!
(view more pictures of my trip in the gallery below)
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Hawaii series titled “Maui, the quintessential lovers’ paradise”, coming soon!