Archive for April, 2010

See Hawaii Part 1 and Hawaii Part 2

At the end of our first full day, we found one of those activity kiosks that has pictures of ziplines, helicopters, boats, snorkeling, luaus, ATVs…just about everything you could possibly want to do, provided you have the money. And just like everything else in Hawaii, those types of activities aren’t cheap. For an hour helicopter tour, you’re looking at around $200 per person. But, if you’re going to do a helicopter tour once in your life, better to do it in Hawaii. Especially on the island of Kauai where the only ways to see the Na Pali Coast are by boat or by air.

So anyway, we talked to the guy at the kiosk, Will*, who happened to be affiliated with some timeshare company. He could sell us the activities for regular price, just like any other activities kiosk vendor, or we could get a bunch of two-for-one deals if we were willing to give up 2 hours of our vacation to sit through a timeshare presentation. Hubby and I did this once before during a trip to Miami, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into, but we just couldn’t walk away from more than $400 in savings, so we agreed to the timeshare presentation. Had we not wanted to do so many expensive activities, or had we not had the time in our schedule to spend 2 hours of it at a timeshare, we would’ve just paid the regular price. But we did have the time and it did save us a lot of money, and even though I hate sitting through such aggressive sales pitches, it was still worth it. The only time I wouldn’t recommend taking advantage of those deals is:

1. If you’re vacation is less than 4 days

2. If the incentive isn’t something you were already planning to do. For example, don’t accept tickets to an event you wouldn’t have paid for in the first place. Or certificates to a restaurant you don’t care to visit. The dollar value will always vary, but if it isn’t something you truly want, then it doesn’t matter what the dollar value of the item is.

As for the activities themselves, we couldn’t have had a better time. The views from the heli were just jaw-dropping. My husband was practically speechless the entire time, but part of that could’ve been because it was his first heli ride.

I took more video than photos, but here are a couple of photos to give you an idea:

But the boat tour just might have been my favorite. We were able to snag a seat up top in the very back and on the right side – probably the best seat on the ship because nothing and no one would obstruct our view. We took off from the south short and sailed northwest toward the Na Pali. The ride up was beautiful and sunny and we had a blast just sitting back, listening to the music playing through the speakers, and looking off in the distance for whales (we saw a few). The waters were rough, but I made sure to take Dramamine before we boarded so it wasn’t that bad. I tend to get motion sickness quite easily.

And then we saw the rainbow.

And then we took pictures with the rainbow.

Of course, there can’t be a rainbow without any rain so it started sprinkling a little (hence the jacket and wet t-shirt) so the captain turned around and headed back. That’s when the real party got started and our nice, quiet ship turned into a booze cruise. The bar opened up and dinner was served on the lower deck – an assortment of smoked pulled-pork, some sort of chicken with sauce, salad, bread, and cookies. And the mai tais….oh the mai tais were delicious…

The only part I didn’t really enjoy was the fact that it’s a barefoot boat, meaning everyone had to leave their shoes back at the dock. So walking around on a wet boat, looking at everyone else’s nasty-looking feet (seriously, what happens to people’s feet once they turn 40? It’s disgusting!), I kept thinking about how I’m going to catch some sort of foot fungus or athlete’s foot from these people. It grossed me out.

Just as we finished eating, the captain made an announcement that we had just come up on a pod of dolphins, so we all ran out to the front of the boat and watched little spinner dolphins come right up to the boat, riding right in front so that the boat was essentially pushing them through the water. There had to have been maybe 25 or 30 of them. Spinner dolphins are smaller than bottlenose dolphins and apparently they’re more commonly seen on the morning cruises (the morning cruises are snorkeling excursions), so it was nice to get the chance to see them so late in the afternoon. I only wish I wouldn’t have left my camera back at my seat in the back of the boat.

Then we watched the sun set over the Forbidden Island.

We did the luau the next night, Friday night. I’m not a big fan of being seated at a large table with other people and there’s a reason for that. We were seated at a table for 10, right with a family of 8. It sucked. But at least it was open bar so other than the actual dinner, we didn’t spend much time at our table.

The pig is cooked on-site, in a pit in the ground.

After the dinner, the entertainment starts. My favorite part is the fire dancers. I can never get a great photo, but I like how this one turned out.

Yeah, that’s just one guy.

We didn’t have to sit through the timeshare presentation until Sunday morning, Easter morning. We were hoping to be finished by about 10:30 so we could try to find a church, but the sales pitch was intriguing and we ended up spending close to 4 hours there. We didn’t buy, but we learned more about timeshare than we ever wanted to. So, if you’re thinking about timeshare, let me give you some advice: buy in Hawaii because you’re trading power is MUCH higher than say, a time share in Orlando. Also, don’t take the first offer. If they know you’re interested, they’ll negotiate down. By the end of the session, we were offered the premium package at the basic price and given a 7 week cruise, airfare included. We didn’t take it, because timeshare just doesn’t make sense for us right now, but I will say that it was tempting. If we lived in California where flights to Hawaii aren’t as expensive or exhausting, we probably would’ve done it.

And now that my recap posts have become a novella, I think I’ll end here. I’ve posted more photos on Facebook, if we’re friends and you’re interested!

(side note: he’s also semi-famous. He was the sole survivor of a plane crash in Costa Rica a few years ago. We watched his story on Animal Planet on a show called, “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” See Will and his story here.)

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Hawaii Part 2

See Part 1 here.

Alright, so picking back up where we left off…we had booked our flight and hotel. The next thing to plan: activities.

When traveling to a new place, it’s always a good idea to plan the sites and activities you want to do ahead of time. When heading to a beach destination, I typically do an Internet search for the best beaches in that area. Or the best restaurants. I ask myself, “hat are the must-see places and when is the best time visit them?” For example, on our trip to Oahu last year, we were informed by our trusty travel partner that Hanauma Bay is one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. Because he did his research, we also knew that it was closed on Tuesdays for cleaning, therefore making Wednesday mornings the best days to snorkel because the sediments have settled making the water clearer than on days when hundreds of people are swimming around, stirring up sediments, making the water murky. It’s this type of detailed research that can really make a difference in a vacation. Would we have still had a blast on Thursday or Friday? Of course! But what if we got up early and drove all the way there on Tuesday, only to find out the bay was closed? Total bummer and waste of a few precious hours of vacation time.

So, you would think that knowing this would mean that we did our due diligence by planning and researching all of our activities before we arrived.

Well you would be wrong.

Sometimes our home life can get a little overwhelming (hence the need for a vacation) so we didn’t have time to research everything as we would have liked. Plus, my husband prides himself on being “spontaneous” and a  go-with-the-flow kind of guy. He is, but I think that’s more or less due to laziness than anything else. It’s okay though; I’m the same way. When it came to planning our activities for this trip, we didn’t buy one guide-book, not one map, I didn’t even spend one hour doing an Internet search. We just went.

So what did we do? Well first, we arrived around 5pm local time so we picked up our rental car (a Chrysler Sebring convertible) and drove about 2 miles to our hotel to check in. Then we showered, because 16 hours on three different planes has a way of making you feel a little grody. We ended Day 1 with dinner at the famous Duke’s restaurant, which was practically on hotel property. If you go, may I highly suggest the crab and macadamia nut wonton appetizer followed by the macadamia nut encrusted Mahi Mahi or opa. Soooo good. Day 2, we woke up early and attempted to watch the sunrise from our resort. Unfortunately, a giant hill was in the way, so we took pictures instead.

Then we did something  you’ll probably never guess: we went to Walmart. Laugh if you want, but this was one of the few stops I had pre-planned. Why? Because Hawaii is freakin’ expensive. I refuse to pay $20 for coffee and a pastry every morning for breakfast when I can spend $5 on a box of granola bars that will get me through the week. We also bought a case of bottled water, a cooler, ice, and a few snacks, all to keep in the car for the week while we hopped from beach to beach. After the Walmart stop, we went on a hunt for waterfalls, and find them we did.

Then we headed south and drove around the until we were on the west shore.

If you’ve never been to Kauai, I should probably explain a couple of things:

1.) The climate is crazy. One half of the island (the south and west half) has a desert-like climate. The other half (north and east) is rainforest. In fact, Kauai boasts one of the wettest spots on earth.  

2.) Unlike Oahu, you cannot drive all the way around the island because of the Na Pali coast. You can go only so far west, and only so far north, until you run into the Na Pali, where no roads have ever dared been built.

3.) Chickens. They are everywhere. Wild chickens roam the island – in the Walmart parking lot, on the hotel grounds, on the side of the road…imagine the sound of a rooster cock-a-doodle-do-ing while you’re trying to enjoy the relaxing sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. It was bizarre.

So anyway, we were on the west side of the island and decided to take the long and winding road to Waimea Canyon, otherwise known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Breathtaking views. I could’ve spent hours there, just looking. On the way back toward our hotel, we found a brewery. Waimea Brewery at The Grove Cafe, which has THE most delicious pale ale I’ve ever tasted and also prides itself on being “The Westernmost Brewery.” We bought a shirt. After our drinks, we wandered around the grounds and found a hammock under a shade tree.

I love hammocks. In fact, we have one in our backyard. But this was by far my most favorite hammock ever. It’s my new happy place.

With bellies full of beer and after a relaxing half hour in the hammock, we were feeling pretty tired, so we stopped by the Kauai Coffee Company for some free coffee samples. They have so many varieties of freshly brewed coffee; and you can have as much as you want!

That was a good decision. After that, I think we returned to our hotel, showered, and went to dinner. It was after dinner that we got serious about our activities for the rest of the vacation. More on that later.

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Hawaii Part 1

Before I begin, let me just acknowledge the fact that vacation recap posts of other people’s vacations aren’t really fun to read. I know this. The only time I like reading about other people’s trips is when their post can help me plan my own trip in some way. So I’m going to try to do that in my post (or posts) and hope that maybe you might find something helpful for your own future vacation.

So now I’ll begin…

Planning: We booked our trip in January. Personally, I feel there are a lot of good deals to be had by booking spring trips around that time. Usually we take a May vacation to celebrate my birthday and our anniversary, but due to some conflicting work schedules, late March/early April was our only option until some time this fall.

Because I’m a bit of a travel junkie, I get email alerts from many of the online travel sites and dealers – TravelZoo has a great weekly deals email. I’m a frequent customer of Expedia so I get a lot of emails from them too. I set up alerts on Kayak.com to receive any special airline deals I might be interested in. Kayak also has a really cool airfare cost comparison that shows you what the prices have been for a particular flight in the past so you know right away whether or not you’re getting a good deal. I highly recommend you do things like this, especially if your dates are flexible, so you can get the best deals out there.

At the time we were planning our trip, we were looking at various locales: Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, US Virgin Islands, and of course, Hawaii – specifically Maui or Kauai.

I looked at the cost of flights of all of those places. I set up alerts for some of them through Kayak. And one day, United Airlines had a super sale with big discounts on flights to Kauai, so I jumped on it.

Hotel: Usually, it’s a good idea to book your hotel and flight through the same OTA (online travel agent) if you can. You can get bigger discounts on sites like Expedia and Orbitz that way. But since I had to book my stellar airline flight through United directly, I had book my hotel separately. And I didn’t have a clue where to stay!

It’s no secret that I spend a lot of time on Twitter and blogs (for work purposes folks, I swear) and one of the travel experts I follow on Twitter – @JohnnyJet – had just returned from Kauai and blogged about his stay at the fabulous Kauai Marriott. I did a little research on Trip Advisor and read the comments left on Orbitz and Expedia before I made the decision to book it. We knew there were some major renovations and construction happening (about $50 million worth), which may have been the reason the rooms were discounted, but I had read that the majority of the renovations had been completed already so we decided to stay anyway.

Social Media Tip: If you’re an active blogger and/or active on Twitter, be sure to contact the brand and let them know you’re staying. I contacted Johnny Jet on Twitter to let him know that his blog post was the reason I had booked a 7-night stay at the resort. I also tweeted about my upcoming trip, using the Hawaii Marriott’s Twitter handle (@HawaiiMarriott) in my messages. It was both of those actions that I believe led to me being upgraded to a higher, newly-renovated room, above the construction zone and of course, with a gorgeous view:

And the pool….oh my goodness the pool…

And that’s only half of it. The best part, which you can’t see because it’s below me, are the FIVE hot tubs. I spent a good part of our vacation there, especially at night or on days when it was overcast.

Another great thing about this hotel was the location. The famous Duke’s restaurant is practically on the hotel property, as are a few other fine restaurants. The beach, Kalapaki Bay, is one of the best on the island. And, it’s less than 10 minutes from the airport.

And seeing as how this much of a post took me nearly a week to write, I’ll stop now and just say “to be continued…”

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I haven’t transferred the vacay photos to the ‘puter yet but a recap post will be coming soon, promise! But I couldn’t let April 7 go by without acknowledging two very special moments in our life.

The first is the day we closed on our first house exactly four years ago today – April 7, 2006. Ever since my relationship with the hubs got serious, we dreamed of buying a house. We lived in two different apartments before we just went for it. When we closed, it was just about 6 weeks before our wedding. We spent all of April cleaning, painting, moving, and buying things – like new appliances, furniture, lawn care equipment…it was an expensive month to be sure but one of the best. The day we closed, I remember getting the key from our agent and walking into our house. Then we walked back out so the hubs could carry me over the threshold. I was determined to sleep there the first night, so we brought an air mattress and our little TV over there and talked in great detail about our grand plans for decorating and furniture layout. That weekend we painted. And painted. And painted some more. I remember getting up on Sunday and my whole body ached from all the painting. I remember hubby’s allergies were completely out of control, worse than I’d ever seen them, because he’s allergic to pollen – specifically oak pollen – and we have a GIANT oak tree in our yard that had just started blooming its leaves. I remember ordering a lot of fast food or takeout too. And I remember frequent – maybe 5 times a day – trips to Home Depot.  Good thing we have one about 5 minutes from our house. We were such newbies at this whole home ownership thing but it was one of the most exciting moments of my life. I still love our house. This is a photo of the house from the listing site, taken in winter. The tree and landscaping has changed quite a bit since then, but this is basically what it looked like when we moved in.

The same day of the same year, we also celebrate our furbaby’s birthday. We didn’t adopt him until June, shortly after our honeymoon, but the rescue organization we adopted him from estimated his birthday to be around April 6. We decided they were probably a day off and made his birthday April 7.

How cute was this little guy?

The quality sucks because these were taken on my little crappy camera phone. Some of you have probably heard this story but our camera was stolen on our honeymoon. On the way BACK too, so all 80-something photos we took of our honeymoon? Gone. I was so upset and depressed over it that I refused to buy another camera for a long time, because just the idea of shopping for new camera made me even more depressed. This overlapped with “new puppy time” so I have only a couple of photos of our furbaby as a puppy. We didn’t buy a new camera until almost Labor Day and by that time, our puppy wasn’t much of a puppy anymore.

And here’s our baby now:

Happy 4th birthday buddy!

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Beach Bumming

I know I’ve been a little absent lately, but I think you’ll forgive me when you see my excuse(s).

3rd photo – view from our room at the Kauai Marriott.
2nd photo – Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
1st photo – the NaPali Coast, as seen from our sunset boat cruise, complete with rainbow.

Life is good.

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