Monday, November 20, 2006

Trip Report: We're Going To Hawaii And We're / Gonna Get Ma-a-a-ui'ed

(note: long)

With winter closing in, I felt it might be nice to dust off my trip report from Hawaii and give it a new, more permanent home.
Woe, whom we didn't know when we went, tells me that I have several errors in here. S'okay; now we just have to go back so we can meet her and get corrected in person!

For those of you who already read this, some extra links and photos are included; click to enlarge the photos. And furthermore, we've had to make this trip last a while; we haven't really had a vacation since!

From April 2005:

With much excitement, we set off across the country via America Weird on Sunday, April 3 from Baltimore to Lost Wages. For my IL's 45th anniversary, we took them to Lawry's that night, a rather opulent prime rib joint. This trip to Hawaii, with brief stops in Vegas, was my father-in-law's (FIL's) anniversary present to my MIL, and they brought us along. You can see what sort of a fight we put up.

Maybe Las Vegas ought to be renamed Cirque du Las Vegas. Everyplace has a Cirque du Soleil show of some sort: KA, O, and the racy Zumanity, for three. I guess Nez du Chirac and Sur la Merde were on the road.

On Monday, we took in the newly opened Atomic Testing Museum. Pretty fascinating. It even has a theater that simulates the sound and feel of a nuclear test. Testing still goes on, but no underground critical explosions have taken place since 1992. Some mention is made of the protests that took place at the site, and a lot of attention is paid to what life was like for those who worked there. Glaring omission: the effects on folks downwind, such as in Idaho.

For the first couple nights, we stayed at the Rio. At the Rio, they also have an impressive (albeit semi-campy) free show every hour or so, during which the dancers and singers toss out beads Mardi Gras-style. Now, there are also solo dancers from time to time in the casino, accompanied by the unsurprisingly very loud music. At least they're a little more pleasant distraction than the hucksters trying to lure you with free show tickets if you just sit and listen to them grill you with timeshare info.

Okay, enough Vegas. On Tuesday the 5th, we headed to the airport for the 6-hour flight on Bankrupt Hawaiian Airlines to Honolulu. (Six hours? You mean this isn't just past Catalina? That's where Hawaii is on the maps!) In the terminal with us was a guy who reeked of B.O., somehow had a ticket, and was having a wonderful conversation with himself. The airline gave him money and a case of Right Guard, and he didn't get on the flight; I feared for whoever would have had to suffer on this 767 with him.

We take off, and then for the first time since age 7, and for Sandy's first time ever, we're over the ocean. Seeing the islands for the first time, I expect to be greeted by Tattoo and Mr. Roarke. That doesn't happen, but it's still spectacular seeing the cloud-shrouded islands. On approach, we pick out Pearl Harbor. Upon landing, we exit the plane, accompanied by a woman who had WAY too many and had no inhibitions about telling everyone how she needed a tiki bar for about five more before she got home to see her kids. She also told every other flight attendant, "You're so cute!" The female ones. Ma-freaking-halo! We head up the ramp and down the pier to what we think will be baggage claim. Then we see the sign:

"Make your way four miles on foot to Honolulu International's baggage claim area. The last team to arrive may be defibrillated." (If you watch The Amazing Race, you know exactly what we're talking about.)

We pass in and out of 17 different buildings until we finally go downstairs to baggage claim and begin the arduous task of cramming our luggage in our rental car and getting in without bumping various parts of our bodies on said rental car. (Well, that was more my problem than anyone else's.)

Then it's time to play Find the Nonexistent Road Signs. I thought DC was bad in this regard, but it doesn't hold a candle to Honolulu. Thanks so much for telling me this lane is going to end/become exit only! This is on the H1, one of Hawaii's three interstates (so named when someone realized the state could get federal money if that's what they would be called, even though they didn't go to any other state). And even in the middle of the day, the H1 was quite slow.

We then weave our way through Honolulu to East Tokyo Waikiki, or as some have called it, the "Manhattan of Hawaii." Actually, I like East Tokyo better; it seems like we are an English-speaking minority here. The state, and Honolulu in particular, is a HUGE tourist destination for the Japanese, although we would also meet two Aussie families and a New Zealand couple. It's a pretty cramped area, with highrise condos everywhere. And you can't walk three steps without encountering an ABC store (which stands for Always Buy Crap, among other expansions). I mean, they're nice, useful stores, but sometimes you have two on a corner!

Upon arriving at the Pacific Monarch, we find that some of our reservations are screwed up. My FIL said there were some communication problems with this place. No wonder, because this (left) was the guy who greeted us (Manuel from Fawlty Towers), or his Hawaiian cousin, anyway. Apparently he didn't think we'd made two reservations. The negotiations seemed to go on about as long as Trump's next pre-nup, until we finally got into our room. Actually, it wasn't a bad place, just noisy . . . but then again, that's true of just about anywhere in Waikiki.

Around sunset, Sandy and I walk the couple blocks down to Waikiki Beach. We had ideas of going in the water, but we didn't trust the folks congregating on the beach at the time with the stuff we were going to leave there. Still, it was nice to sit and watch the sunset and the men running and lighting the torches down the way. Oh, we got told that Waikiki is not a natural beach; it has to be replenished twice a year with sand from the Australian outback.

An indication of the cost of living in HI: food for the four of us for the next four days cost $87. That could feed Sandy and me for perhaps three weeks here.

At dinner at a Chili's, we found that our hostess had come out to the islands to visit her brother who was in the military, but opted to stay and stop moving around so much. She just hadn't told her parents yet.

To get the heck out of Waikiki, we took a bus tour of Oahu the next day. Our driver told us he goes by the name "Cousin Good-Looking" (CGL). Our first stop was the D'oh! Plantation on the north side of the island. I named it such for the reaction when we realized how much of a tourist trap this place is, including the (lame) Pineapple Express train tour accompanied by music from a couple ladies trying to shill their CDs. There's still a decent amount of pineapple harvesting being done there, but not nearly as much sugar cane. I, however, was more interested in photographing the (now-closed) Naval Security Group Department Wahiawa that was just beyond the property, hearkening back to my Defense Department days. Sandy enjoyed a pineapple-flavored ice cream.

After passing through CGL's hometown of Hale`iwa (Hawaiian for "it ain't much, but it's home"), we made for Sunset Beach, home of some of the world's best surfing waves. (It's also the hometown of pro wrassler The Magnificent Muraco; you really ought to know that.) CGL emphasized again and again that we ought not get too close to the waves, lest we get swept out. I didn't feel like unintended bodysurfing that day, so I heeded his advice.

Following lunch at the Polynesian Cultural Center (part of Brigham Young University), we headed to a macadamia nut wholesaler. One of the employees recognized my Ravens shirt; didn't think I'd find any Ravens fans on the islands, especially among the natives! Then as we went along, CGL pointed out a muumuu factory. It turned out to be a herd of cows (d'oh!). Nearby were some valleys where Jurassic Park was filmed.

Next, we ascended the mountains into Nu' uanu Pali State Park and looked out over the North Shore . . . in what seemed to be a monsoon. The winds must have reached 60 miles an hour easily, and the rains were coming down in pallets carrying the buckets. And only a few minutes earlier we had been in bright sunlight eating lunch. Welcome to Hawaii.

Our tour finished off with the much more placid Halona blowhole along the southeast shore; followed by the sheltered Hanauma Bay State Underwater Park, where in spite of some rain, many snorkelers were having a blast; and Diamond Head.

As we walked to dinner that night at the Cheesecake Factory near Waikiki, my MIL walked too close to a street performer posing as a statue, who shot her with air. A couple well-dressed young ladies came into the condos as we returned. We wondered whether they were call girls.

On Thursday, April 7, we headed to Pearl Harbor. Tickets to the Arizona Memorial are difficult to get, but we wound up being rather close as we opted instead for the USS Missouri. The last U.S. battleship ever built, and the one on which the surrender papers ending World War II were signed, the Missouri now resides in Pearl not far from the Arizona. We wondered what went through the minds of Japanese tourists as they visited this ship. Quite a juxtaposition of the ship which brought the U.S. into World War II, and the ship on which the war ended.

I tried out the Missouri's bunks for size, but I think I'd be toast if the call for general quarters ever came up. Sandy and I had lunch from the Truman Line, so named after Truman and his family rode with the Missouri back from Rio in 1947, and they ate with the enlisted personnel instead of the officers. We also toured a nearby submarine, which was docked by a memorial to all the subs and crew that perished in World War II.

My FIL also wants to visit all 50 state capitols before he dies, so we went downtown and ticked off Honolulu's for him. The ILs have been to Hawaii before, but he hadn't gotten to the capitol (which is much more like an office building than a capitol). From street level, you can look right into both the state senate and house chambers! Must be handy for those protests.

That night, we had dinner at the Ginza. Okay, it was really the Ala Moana Shopping Center, but that's where I realized fully the bilingualism of the islands was English and Japanese. Weird to see that at Haagen-Dazs, even. And given the population at the mall, it was quite necessary.

On Friday, we did something that I had been hoping we would do for a long time. Sandy's uncle was killed in Vietnam in 1968, and was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a.k.a. the Punchbowl. With the assistance of the computer screens, we quickly found where his remains were, and paid our respects to Thomas W. Moore.

Interestingly, he was buried amid many Hawaiians and Japanese-Americans who served in World War II. I thought of the exceptional sacrifices they had made, considering that (as I recall) many of them were not allowed to fight until later in the war, and when they did so, many received very high commendations. Thank you all for your service.

Nearby was a large statue that figured prominently in the middle of the opening sequence of Hawaii Five-O. To the left was a beautiful overlook of Honolulu. When we were about to leave, a guy asked me if that was the overlook used in the finale of Season 6 of The Amazing Race. I told him it wasn't. It turns out the one he was looking for, Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Park, wasn't far away.

That afternoon, Sandy and I returned to Waikiki Beach, bringing as little as necessary this time. Part of the water is sheltered by a rock wall, which we climbed atop and waited for the waves to push us back off of. Simple, but fun. Others were jumping off a pier where the waves were breaking. We'll see them later in shock trauma.

This is also a good time for Cygnus' Thoughts on Beachwear:

  • What is up with wearing the bikini top underneath the shirt everywhere besides the water, especially if it's obvious you're going nowhere near it? Is that just the look, or is that in case an emergency beach/pool shows up? Do guys do this with their trunks? (I don't.)
  • Would it kill some of you ladies to have bought the next larger size suit, hm? Just because three sizes smaller may have worked on Baywatch doesn't mean it will work for you. The right suit can make a larger woman look good. The wrong one can make a smaller/thinner woman look like Rosie O'Donnell.
  • Few men look good in Speedos. Someone may want to tell Europe.
  • Is anyone really interested in what is hanging out of your navel?
  • Male or female: if you have ANYTHING written across your backside, do not complain when anyone looks at it, mmmkay?
That night, we strolled up and down the main Waikiki drag, Kalakaua Avenue. Various street performers are out and about, including a 16-year-old girl named Taimane Gardner who can play a ukelele like it's nobody's bidness, and she wasn't hard on the eyes either! Her best tune is her version of "Wipe Out." Don Ho, she ain't! Guess she's disqualified from American Idol because she can actually play an instrument. We saw a couple others, including a group of four guys who were so-so, and a man who berated people for what they did and didn't give him. We gave him nothing.

Now, it's time to get Maui'ed! So on Saturday morning we took a limo ride (way cool) to the airport. That ride took longer than our flight to Maui aboard a Boeing 717 . . . barely 20 minutes. The drive along the northwest coast of Maui is absolutely breathtaking. It can also take the front or rear end of your car away if you're not careful, from all the tourist gawkers looking out toward Lanai or Molokai (let's play "Spot the Rental Car!"). Whales occasionally get spotted, and I don't just mean on the beach. More on that later. But you need to keep your eyes on the road, and not the water, lest you crash.

There's a much slower pace of life in Maui, and while there are plenty of tourists, they're not on top of each other as in Waikiki/Honolulu. So we arrived at a very nice condo complex, The Aston at Papakea (since renamed the "ResortQuest at Papakea Resort" by the Department of Redundancy Department). After unpacking and getting more expensive sustenance, we headed further up the road past Kapalua, site of three championship golf courses (including the Mercedes Championships), all of which are on our Links 2000 game. Then we found ourselves on winding curves that we doubted were leading us toward church. We did spot what the maps said was an awesome snorkeling site, however. Turning around, we realized that MIL was right about turning into Kapalua. The church was right near the Plantation Course clubhouse (Sandy and I are such lousy golfers, I don't think we're worthy to set foot inside!). Interesting hearing "How Great Thou Art" sung in Hawaiian. The priest used a huge palm frond to sprinkle us with holy water.

On Sunday, we headed down to the coastal town of Lahaina (Hawaiian for "Damn, it's hot!"; actually, that's just about what it really means). It's also home to the second oldest and second largest banyan tree in the world (right).

MIL and FIL allowed themselves to get roped into one of the oldest tricks in the book. Remember me telling you about the folks at the Rio hitting us up about timeshares at condos? Well, that same outfit has a stand in the parking lot where they'll validate your parking stub. That's where they'll sell you cut-rate tickets to many excursions on Maui . . . BUT, you have to sit through their time-share presentation to get them. I think I'd rather watch reruns of My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance. The guy said that David Bowie had recently come through and gotten tickets to something. I asked whether he signed his name Jones, since that was his real name. The sales Nazi didn't know that was Bowie's real name, so I wonder whether he was fibbing.

We made our way down to the docks of Lahaina and found a Detour (another Amazing Race reference for you). A Detour is a choice between two journeys, each with its own pros and cons. In Land, we could ride around Lahaina while the guide explained some of the history of the town (for example, its courthouse was built three years before Frederick, MD's). In Sea, we could venture offshore and look for sea turtles. Fortunately, the Lahaina Honu amphibious boat allowed us to do both.

But little did we know that once in the water, we would not only find turtles, but The Ultimate Skin Diver! On one of the moored sailboats, we noticed a young lady snorkeler exiting the water. She pulled herself up onto the stern, and then we noticed that, with her back to us . . . she had nothing on but her mask and snorkel. When she saw us, she quickly slid back into the water. We and her boatmates were laughing so hard we couldn't get any photos, and they'd likely have been too far away to be of any use anyway. Wonder whether she'll ever do that again?

So, accompanied by choruses of "There's A Moon Out Tonight", we returned to downtown Lahaina, then headed back to Mama Mia, Papakea . . . only to return in a few hours for a LUAU! We checked out the Old Lahaina Luau and feasted on scrumptious steak, sweet potatoes, pork (of course), and all sorts of good Hawaiian schtuff. The service was great, and ladies (and some guys – you know who you are), I think you would have lapped up these Hawaiian hunks; Sandy sure did! No, we didn't try the poi, although I might use it to help wallpaper our bathroom.

The dancing told the history of Hawaii, from before King Kamehamehamehamehamehamehameha (oops – got stuck) to the present. No fire dancers, though, but it was still impressive. And everyone was involved; your server would likely be in the next dance. A brilliant sunset accompanied the whole thing.

On Monday the 11th (my M&D's 46th anniversary), the ILs sat through their interrogation sales pitch, while Sandy and I we rented some snorkel gear and made for Black Rock, where some fine snorkeling can be had. Wow. Even though plenty of others had taken advantage of this day to do so, we felt at home with the many other creatures about the reefs at the foot of these cliffs. We swam out beyond the point . . . although we later found signs advising us not to do that. Oop. And we became so hypnotized by the fishies and the coral that we didn't realize we'd forgotten to put sunblock on the backs of our legs. Ow. Ow. Ow.

That miscue hindered us a bit when we went to a nice dinner within walking distance of where we'd snorkeled, at Leilani's On the Beach in Whalers Village. Walking had become a bit difficult for us both, who could both be drafted by the 19th century Cincinnati Redlegs. MIL and FIL walked down past some of the more swanky hotels to see their impressive pool layouts, but we couldn't join them. Later, the local paper said that Mark Burnett (yes, the executive producer of Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Contender) had been spotted eating at the Hula Grill next door, but it didn't say when.

That afternoon, we had gone with the ILs on a whale/turtle-watching trip, and although it was tight at the tail end of the season, we saw the tail end of several whales, including a couple calves. One of the guides said that through the winter, the whales come down from the Arctic with only one thing on their mind. I figured it was arena football. I'm no environmentalist, but seeing these creatures is a rare thrill indeed. Another guide said to make barking noises to get the whales to breach. I didn't fall for that one.

After running up Noxzema stock, we readied ourselves for another snorkeling trip on Tuesday the 12th. We put on our molokinis and headed for Swimsuit. Um, make that, we put on our swimsuits and headed for Molokini. Our guides were from the Pacific Whale Foundation, one of whom I found dancing behind the galley when she thought no one was watching. "Do that again," I asked while she blushed.

Molokini is the horseshoe-shaped remnant of a volcano off the western coast of Maui. Inside what was the cone is lots of reef life with plenty of exotic fish. Nothing like letting the current carry you slowly over a reef. Except maybe 50-yard-seats to a Ravens game, but I digress. One day, I'd love to scuba so I can explore the coral canyons; I can dive fairly deeply, but I have to come up sometime!

From there, we anchored off the Maui coast and found more sea turtles. This area was richer in fish life, but the current was also stronger. One turtle was just relaxing under a coral ledge, when he or she made straight for Sandy! No, you can't touch, much less ride, these turtles; it's illegal. The Reptile Police make sure of that.

Young and old were in the water. Some of the kids were content to just slide off the boat, make their way out, and slide off again. A woman well into her 80s got the courage up to get in the water and snorkel. On the way back, we saw both turtles and whales, and got footage of both. By that evening, the whole condo was swaying back and forth.

As we made our way slowly out of Maui on Wednesday (why?), we stopped in Lahaina one more time to take advantage of what the ILs had sat through for us: tickets to a submarine ride. So for the fourth straight day we ventured out over the waves, and met the Atlantis Submarine. We saw a huge manta ray, among many other fish at 150 feet down which we wouldn't have been able to see by snorkeling or even scuba-ing. As we exited, the sub played – you guessed it – "Yellow Submarine". (But it's white.) The turtles gave us one last sendoff as we headed back to Lahaina.

Having lunch just south of town, we watched surfers get what they could out of the waves. Later, a middle-aged guy wasn't chock-full of compassion as he was apparently teaching a twenty-something girl to surf. She too could have used the next size larger swimsuit.

Another short flight later, we were back in Honolulu Airport. And now, we needed something to eat while in the Mainland/International Terminal. But by 7 PM, Every.Place.Was.Closed. So, having had to wait for a shuttle to get us to that side off the airport, we now needed another shuttle to get us back to the main terminal, where we foraged more for some food. Eeep. We finally found a food court, but this dysfunctional airport makes nothing easy to find. They figure if they couldn't find it easily, why should we?

Five hours and three time zones later via a redeye, we're back in Vegas around 6:30 AM local time. We collect our rental car and head to the Orleans, just off the Strip. My FIL had asked for early check-in, if it were available. Well, there was no way to find out, because, drumroll, please . . . THEIR COMPUTERS WERE DOWN! So we waited for more than three hours, begging for sleep. Finally, they came back up, we emptied our car of luggage, got to our rooms, and collapsed.

That night, we went to the old downtown Vegas to catch the spectacular Fremont Street Experience (forgive the music), a sound and light show projected over five blocks. Had a nice dinner at the Golden Nugget as well. When we returned to the Orleans, Sandy kicked my butt in bowling (they have an impressive 70-lane facility). I look like Fred Flintstone when bowling, but he usually gets better results.

On my last day in Vegas, I hit four aces on a draw poker machine and walked off with over $200! Woo-hoo! Drinks were on me. That money is now sitting in my car as my XM radio.

That night, we saw the Bellagio fountain show to the tune of "Hoedown" from Rodeo (that's the music from those "Beef – It's What's For Dinner" commercials). But truth be told, we can only take so much Strip. I can see why the locals avoid it like the plague. We went inside the Bellagio's conservatory where we saw computer-controlled fountains and lots of flutterbies. In the casino, some professional poker championship was being taped (in Vegas? Ya think?)

Upon leaving on Saturday, I tried to get us a different flight out of Vegas (we had to go by way of Phoenix). I saw a Baltimore flight on the monitor that was 20 minutes after our first flight. Too bad it was ARRIVING and not DEPARTING; in fact, it was the flight we had come to Vegas on! Duhhhhh!

So we came home by way of Phoenix before landing in Baltimore. We waited in the BWI Meditation Room (a.k.a. Baggage Claim), then got dinner and headed home.

That's it. Hope I didn't bore you too much! Aloha and mahalo.