Two different types of trips to Honolulu, Oahu
Honolulu, the Capital city of the island of Oahu, (the gathering place in Hawaiian) is one of my favourite places to visit. Several daily non-stop flights operate from Vancouver, and in less than six hours, you land in a bustling beach city with all the amenities of the modern world, set in a tropical paradise.
My Air Canada flight left with an hour delay, but thanks for strong tailwinds, we landed 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The new aircraft 737MAX cabin is airy and feels spacious partly due to the high ceiling and the soft coloring of the interior. All seats have an individual touch screen entertainment unit, and I enjoyed watching a film and mostly listened to music while trying to ignore the heavy turbulence during most of the trip. On the other hand, the washrooms in both cabins are very small even for a person of my size. For my comfort, I purchased a seat with extra legroom at row 13, and unlucky me, my seat did not recline. (Editor’s note, Air Canada’s 737MAX equipment is currently grounded, and not expected to fly before 2020. The airline is currently operating Boeing 767-300 equipment on this route)
Airport transfers from Honolulu Airport to Waikiki.
Whether private or shared, options are available for any budget. I always use Speedi Shuttle with great confidence because they are reliable, always on time and very affordable. A one-way transfer will cost $16USD per person, and for a solo traveller such as myself, it is a real bargain. Booking can be done online, changeable and refundable, within 24 hours of the planned service. The drive from the airport takes between 30 and 45 minutes depending on traffic and the number of stops to drop off guests, but due to the Honolulu Marathon taking place on the day I arrived, it took a little longer because of the closure of some of the main avenues.
The moment you step in the Queen Kapiolani lobby, you know you have stepped into the spirit of the Waikiki of the past. Large pictures in vibrant colours, depicting the carefree Waikiki lifestyle of surf, sand and beach with the spirit of Aloha are everywhere around the hotel. Located across from Kapiolani Park and the zoo it is the perfect location for exploring the west side of Waikiki. This hotel was built in 1969 and completely redone into a modern and vibrant hotel.
All rooms in the hotel are very similar with the exception of the two suites that offer kitchen facilities and large lanais. The colour scheme is the same throughout in tones of greys and blues, with punches of bright colours on sofas and chairs. The overall feeling is that of a fun, young and modern hotel.
My king-bedded room on the 10th floor, overlooking Queen Kapiolani Park offered me a stunning view of Diamond Head Crater. The furniture is simple, with a king-size bed, a sofa and a small settee from which to watch a large screen TV. While there are no in-room coffee or tea making facilities, however, there is a small fridge and a safe. QK believes in water conservation and provides purified water and ice stations on every second even-numbered floor. You are encouraged to bring your own water bottle to refill as often as you want. WiFi is available throughout the property.
For those who prefer to exercise indoors, there is a fully-equipped fitness centre offering yoga and hula dance classes offered on specific days. The concierge in the lobby can help with excursions around the island and dinner reservations.
On level 3, there is a pool and a pool bar – the Deck - serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Happy Hour is served at the Deck from 4 pm to 7 pm. Evening entertainment is provided there, by amazing local talents and a good place to meet new people.
Activities abound around Waikiki and the Island of Oahu and it’s always a good idea to plan ahead as some of them are quite popular: North Shore Dole Plantation, North Shore Beaches to see the world-class surfers do their thing. The Hawaiian Cultural Centre to immerse yourself in the spirit of Aloha, or Doris Duke House also known as Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, closed for cleaning during my last visit.
For me, one the highlight of my trip was the hike to Diamond Crater. A few bus stops from my hotel, or 25 minutes on foot, this hike is recommended to anyone visiting Waikiki. The trail was built in 1908 as part of the U.S Army artillery defence system. The entrance to the trail is through the windy Kahala Tunnel which was built in 1948. It takes about 45 minutes to climb 1.3 kilometres to the top with an easy rise as you ascend. You know that you are at the top when you’ve climbed 173 steps and passed through two very narrow and dark tunnels. If you are claustrophobic, bring a friend and a flashlight. Many hikers like to be there at 6 am and witness the sunrise, while others prefer the late afternoon for the sunset. Either way, it is a fairly easy hike, and you will be rewarded with the breathtaking view of Waikiki and of the Pacific Ocean. Proper footwear is highly recommended due to the rocky unpaved trails.
My second highlight is Magic Island Lagoon, just across from Ala Moana Shopping Centre and part of Ala Moana Beach Park. A man-made peninsula, great for swimming, picnics and relaxing, it is popular with locals and tourists alike, for the stunning, unobstructed views of the sunset. I enjoyed a couple of hours of relaxation there away from the hustle and bustle of the shopping Centre but did not stay for the sunset.
Another point of interest is the Kaka’ako neighbourhood. Once an industrial area, it is fast becoming an urban-island lifestyle, with hip cafes and trendy open air retail shops, much to the chagrin of local residents. Kaka’ako is located between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, and a few bus stops from the Ala Moana Shopping Centre. The warehouse murals are a big attraction as well. The Salt Building is one of the new projects developed recently, serving as a market place for chic restaurants and shops.
Travelling around Waikiki is easy, and inexpensive. Walking is still my best recommendation to get around and to get some exercise. If planning a stay in Waikiki only, there is no point in renting a car. All the attractions are easily accessible by bus or by booking tours to pick you up at your hotel.
The bus is the most efficient and easy way to travel all over the island. Day and weekly passes are sold on board with exact change only. A day pass will cost you $5.50 for unlimited travel, instead of $ 2.75 each time you board the Shopping in Waikiki.
Food and entertainment
Happy Hour is the best way to enjoy food and Hawaiian drinks at a reasonable price. The best lunch I had was at Pioneer Salon on Monsarrat Avenue. A rustic eatery known to locals and tourists alike where plate lunches are served non-stop all day in recyclable containers. A delicious Ahi Steak served on a combination of rice and black quinoa ball and a green salad cost me $14.00. But my best meal deal was had at the Marakuma Udon noodle place on Kuhio Avenue. The line ups are quite long, and that’s a good sign, but they move fast. For $6 or $ 7, you have a delicious bowl of homemade rice noodle served in a broth to which you had any tempura you like.
Other Accommodation in Waikiki - from budget to luxury, there is a hotel option for most
Breakers on Beach Walk
Still standing since 1949 is the Breakers on Beach Walk. A two-story wooden structure built motel style around a lovely swimming pool is still offering decent accommodation for family and singles on a lower budget.
A member of the Leading Hotel of the World chain, with its 453 rooms and suites, is one of my favourite hotels in Waikiki. With its understated elegance, and manicured gardens and lawns, two swimming pools, and tucked away on Kalia Road, it is the perfect oasis for a sophisticated and relaxing stay in Waikiki. All rooms have been designed with the same neutral colour palettes and most comfortable furnishings. Everything speaks of luxury from flower arrangements to Christmas decorations. Guests are met in the lobby upon their arrival but the actual registration takes place in their room. A great selection of dining venues, such as la Mer for fine dining, or Orchids, and House Without a Key for more casual fair. The table service at the Orchids was outstanding during my lunch with the Sales Manager Nelson Arlos. Nelson has been working there for over 30 years in a different capacity. Our Ensemble amenities include full buffet breakfast at the Orchid restaurant and $100USD resort credit.
Ritz Carlton Residences
Upscale, elegant, impeccable service and amenities. A brand new resort in the heart of Waikiki, it boasts two towers, with luxury studios, one, two and 3 bedroom suites and adds an extra touch of class in the hope to the revitalized Kuhio Avenue. I was lucky to spend two nights in a studio suite with an ocean view. The amenities are second to none in the room. My room was furnished with an oversized king bed with the most luxurious bedding, a sleeper sofa in the living room, a lanai with lounge chair and table, a fully equipped kitchenette with washer and dryer. Being at the end of my short stay in Honolulu I did all my laundry before coming home. But la crème de la crème was the very large bathroom designed to please the mostly Japanese clientele: a soaking tub that could fit easily two persons, a shower to rinse after the bath, and the ultimate heated toilet seat, that washes and dries you after each use! Pure Luxury. There are two infinity swimming pools, one designated quiet area, allowing children but no shouting or rough play. When ready for the beach you are provided with a beach bag containing towels, water bottle, and sunscreen. The only meal I had during my stay at the Market where the food was just adequate and not worth the high price for it.
Trump Hotel International, Waikiki Beach
Luxurious, upscale, this is a 5-star beautiful property with 462 exquisite rooms and suites on Saratoga, a very short walk to the beach and overlooking Fort De Russy. All rooms have floor to ceiling windows to take advantage of the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Fifty percent of the room capacity is owned privately, and they all have the same furnishing, paint colors, full kitchen with washer and dryers - absolutely essential for family travel. The clientele is mostly from Japan, with a few from other Asian countries. The North American clientele is not very present. Due to a very high occupancy rate, I was unable to view more than two deluxe rooms, but I was very much impressed. Clean lines, muted colours of paint and linen, heated toilet seats! Pure luxury throughout. Guests are welcomed on the ground floor porte-cochere and escorted to the reception desk on the 6th floor. Being it's Christmas time, the decorations were just outstanding. For your dining pleasure, there are several restaurants on the premises: BLT, steak house on the main floor and accessible from the street level as well and from the hotel. For casual fare and buffet breakfast, the In-YO café is the place to be. And of course, 24-hour room service is available.
Trump Hotel is in the process of applying to the Ensemble Travel Group and hoping to be approved for 2020. At the moment, they belong to Virtuoso.
Honolulu is no longer the hippy seaside town of the past. With the additions of luxury hotels and designer shops on Kalakaua Avenue, it has become a high-end playground for a select clientele. Even the International Market place that used to house stands of Hawaiian mementos and clothing is gone. All that remains is the banyan tree and possibly the modernized treehouse that used to be there.
My main goal this time was to look at the new Honolulu hotels, and attractions and observe the changes that occurred over the years. There are still some amazing places off the beaten tracks and just a few steps away from Queen Kapiolani Park. Walk through the park and find bronze statues of legendary Hawaiian kings and queens, and early “pioneers’. Listen to the songs of the multitude of exotic birds in their natural habitat. Walk along Montsarat Avenue and discover this quaint neighbourhood where people live, shop and play. Kailua Beach a few miles away from Waikiki for quiet beaches and kite surfing if you’re into this. If the crowds of Waikiki are overwhelming, you can find a quiet sandy spot all to yourself at Sans Souci Beach (meaning “no worries” in French) where the ocean is so clear and blue you just want to waddle in it. And I did.
And when you come back to your friends and family do bring a box or two of the super yummy Honolulu cookies.
When I decided to take a quick trip away from rainy Vancouver over my daughter’s school break, Honolulu sounded like a perfect getaway for just the two of us. We booked a morning United Airlines flight and I decided we should also book an overnight stay at Fairmont Airport Hotel which allowed us to have a more relaxing morning with a proper in-room breakfast before throwing ourselves into a week of mom and daughter fun.
I booked a Westjet Vacations package that included stay at Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites, transfers between airport and hotel and Lei Greeting (which 4-year-old Michelle thought was just the most beautiful greeting ever).
Ilikai Hotel & Luxury suites
One of Hawaii’s most iconic hotels with mountain, ocean or ocean sunset views.
All suites are equipped with small kitchens and hotel amenities include in-room coffee & tea, use of beach towels & sand chairs, Waikiki shuttle service, WiFi internet access throughout the hotel, access to fitness facilities (24-hours), Oahu Savings Pass (value $300) and more. Great dining convenience is Cinnamon’s Restaurant located at the hotel. It is just strolling away to the popular Ala Moana shopping center.
If you are looking for a quiet hotel, this is not a good option, since Ilikai is located right in the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. On the flip-side, being in the center of the city is a huge advantage if you are looking to use public transit or visit restaurants and shops.
It is a short walk to the Hilton lagoon great for paddleboarding and laying in the sand as well to Waikiki Beach.
You can get around the island by car rental (as well as moped and motorcycle rental), taxi, shuttle or Oahu’s transportation system.
The bus and trolley stops are located directly in front of the hotel, which is very convenient if you just want to get around the city especially with young kids.
Michelle and I took a bus to Honolulu Zoo which is located between Diamond Head and Waikiki beach.
It opens daily and it’s about 20 minutes by bus (10 minutes by car) away from Ilikai.
The Zoo was established in 1877 by King David Kalakaua and is a great choice for young animal lovers.
We visited on a hot day and rented a stroller. I thought this was a bit of a luxury for a 4-year-old but after walking for two hours in heat and humidity, I was happy that we had the stroller with us. My daughter enjoyed not only the animals but also the trees such as banana and coconut trees among other tropical flora.
I planned this submarine adventure tour before we left for vacation and we were not disappointed. The Atlantis submarine dives down 100 feet, is Coast Guard approved, and air-conditioned for safety and comfort.
You board a small ferry from Waikiki Beach that will take you to the submarine dive site. The view of Waikiki and Diamond Head from the ferry was just fabulous.
The dive site is frequented by turtles, sharks, stingrays, eels and other marine life. The cost of a ticket is $99 USD per adult, Michelle’s ticket was free. The ferry ride back and forth and the drive took about one hour and 45 minutes. One thing to keep in mind when visiting with kids - they must be 36’ inches height to ride the submarine and must be able to come up/down the ladder on their own. I was a bit worried about this requirement, but the staff was super helpful and professional, and Michelle didn’t seem scared in any way even though the sub was moving due to the waves while we were coming down the ladder. It was a great experience that both of us will remember for sure.
Oahu, Outside Honolulu
We did end up renting a car for one of the days during our stay, driving along to coast to North Shore visiting a coffee farm and pineapple plantation.
A visit to Green World Coffee Farm wasn’t scheduled, but as we were driving by the farm I thought it was an opportunity too good to pass up. We only stopped for about half an hour to check out the coffee garden and to have a coffee (me) and a delicious snack (Michelle).
Our next stop was the Dole Plantation. The plantation offers activities for the entire family including Pineapple Express Train Tour – two miles of the fully narrated 20-minute train ride, where you learn the history of pineapples in Hawaii and travel through the scenery of the island’s famous North Shore.
Another option offered was Plantation Garden Tour – where you can wander through eight gardens and see plants from coffee to exotic fruit and cacao pods.
The plantation also offers Pineapple Garden Maze – in 2008 declared the world’s largest maze. It stretches over three acres and it includes about 2.5 miles of paths crafted from Hawaiian plants. You can download a Free Dole Plantation app on your phone to automatically track your time and maze stations as you find them (super fun for kids).
The highlight of the visit to the Dole Plantation for my daughter must have been their Pineapple Dole Whip.
Other than that we eat in several different restaurants with delicious foods (having tuna poke almost daily) and spent time on the beach playing in the sand and enjoying the sun.
We both loved Honolulu and Waikiki beach tremendously and would return in heartbeat, perhaps with my husband next time!