By- Barb Strait
As an avid traveler to the Caribbean, I figured it was time to see the beauty of US soil that so many people rave about, Hawaii. When I started planning our family’s perfect Hawaiin adventure, I was told, “you won’t be that impressed since you have been to every Caribbean island”, and “it’s really far, the Caribbean is easier (I live on the east coast)”. Well, I ignored those comments and kept digging. As Disney lovers, we knew part of our stay was going to be at Aulani, the Disney resort and spa in Oahu. I read about the Pineapple Plantations and Pearl Harbor and honestly those didn’t excite me. Don’t get me wrong, Pearl Harbor would be very heartfelt to see, but I am not a huge history buff so I skipped that when making my list.
Aulani is on the side of the island called, Ko’Olina. It is the very best place to stay on the island. The resort is set in a cove next to the Four Seasons and a Marriot Ko’ Olina Beach club. There are no waves which makes it amazing to enjoy the beautiful and VERY salty water. It is so salty, I could float, it is wonderful for a beach atmosphere, which is very different from the popular Waikiki Beach in Honolulu nearby. Ko O’lini is about a 20 minute drive from the airport. I knew we would want a car, so we rented one. When we got to the airport, we went to our car. There are lots of people with flower lays that you can order ahead of time for the airport and I would make sure that took place for all of our Hawaiin clients, I was a bit jealous! We then headed to Ko “Olini with a stop at Costco to get some essentials for our villa. There is also a Target right there if you aren’t a Costco member. This was a fun treat as I am so used to the Caribbean Islands, it was nice to just go into an American store to stock up for the week. When we arrived to Aulani, we were warmly greeted like any other Deluxe Disney resort, we were welcomed, “home”. Exploring the resort was a dream, the infinity edge pools, glowing lazy river, the tiki torches, we were, “home”. The first night was amazing to just explore the resort, listen to the sounds of the nighttime in Hawaii and go to bed early, since we were 4 hours behind!
Staying at a Disney resort calls for a character breakfast for sure, we had to have an Hawaiian breakfast with Mickey and the gang. I booked our Makahiki breakfast 60 days in advanced at 7am, something your Straight Away Travel agent does for you! The breakfast is a three course meal starting with fresh fruit and baked goods. Eat as much pineapple as you can while in Hawaii. If you like a hearty meal for breakfast, you must try the Hawaiian- Style Moco Loco. Or have your crew get a variety of things to share. I loved my Punaluu Sweet Bread French Toast.
After breakfast, we walked the beach for a few and headed to pack the car for our first adventure. The first on our list was to head to the North Shore. My daughter was so excited to have an original Acai Bowl at Haleiwa Bowls and I wanted to watch some authentic surfing. We decided not to take surfing lessons, but if you wanted to, the North Shore is where you should go. The North Shore is the hipster part of Hawaii, where the surfers spend their days, where the trendy shopping is and where you get the island’s best shaved ice at Matsumoto. It is also the location of some superb hikes with waterfalls like the Waimea Valley Trail. The are lots of hiking options in the North Shore.
After you surf, hike, shop, and eat, plan to head back to the gorgeous resort. We were back by 4pm and enjoyed the pools, slides, and poolside entertainment. We decided to go to The O’lelo Room for sushi for dinner. This was our favorite meal at the resort. The wasabi was even in the shape of a Mickey Head.
After an adventurous day, and a delicious dinner, we called it a night with a movie in the villa. The next day we saved money and had breakfast in the villa, a walk on the beach and headed out again. We knew we wanted to go to the tallest waterfall on Oahu, stop by diamond Head for lunch and be back to the resort around the same time as the day before. We managed to do this perfectly. The day was amazing. I would not miss going to Manoa Falls. It is a trail hike that is a mile to the waterfall and a mile back. The greenery and lushness along the entire trail was breathtaking and when you reached the waterfall, it is one amazing sight! You do not need to purchase tickets here but you do have to pay to park. We paid $5.00. You will want a lightweight backpack mostly to carry a couple bottles of water and perhaps a cooling towel, the hike does get pretty hot. Packing a pair of flip-flops is a must for after the hike. You need to wear hiking shoes or sneakers and they may get muddy. After our workout, we went to the Deck Restaurant to see the gorgeous view of Diamond Head. Of course, we had to try their Acai Bowl which was awesome. They have valet parking so this was very easy to get to. It is located on the roof of the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel. They had great burgers and the restaurant wasn’t overly expensive for the view!
We were back to our villa by 4pm again and of course enjoyed our amazing resort. We played in the sand, floated in the ocean, and even watched the sunset while playing some soccer. The area of Ko’Olini has amazing restaurants within walking distance too. We walked over to get some take out at Monkeypod Kitchen. We dined at the restaurant later in the trip because we loved it so much! There is also some shopping that you can walk to as well!
Day 3 was our designated resort day. I enjoyed the Lanai Spa, we played games in the ocean, and enjoyed every second of the pool and stunning grounds. When you stay at Aulani, you want to venture and explore the island but you definitely need a day to enjoy all that the resort has to offer. The Lanai spa treatments include time in the Kula Tai Garden. This is the hydrotherapy garden with massaging water jets, a reflexology footpath, and soothing rain showers. I even sat in the cold plunge for a few minutes. When you arrive to the spa, you are asked to select a rock that calls to you. This was actually a really cool touch. The rock I chose was Pono which means balance. This is what the “spa” is telling me to focus on during part of my treatment. The spa focuses on creating an atmosphere that promotes relaxation in a Hawaiian Haven and shouldn’t be missed! I booked my spa package 60 days in advance as well.
Since this was our resort day and we are in Hawaii, we of course had to end the day at the Luai. This can booked one year in advance! It doesn’t sell out quite that fast but we do want to book this for you in advance. The Luai is very expensive but it is a very long show, and includes all you and can eat and drink, including adult beverages. Order your Hawaiian shirts and dresses and go to the Luai hungry! There isn’t much to prepare for this, simply booking it in advance and getting your outfits!
The next day was on our last day in Oahu. We met up with friends and hiked to the most beautiful spot in all of Oahu. The hike was free and paved. It had lots of strollers on the path, but don’t let that fool you, it is a climb! A very well worth the incline climb. We drove towards the side of the island called, Kailua. This is a part of the island that has the most stunning places to snorkel if that is on your must do list. It is also known for superior white sand beaches and beautiful views. Makapu’u Point trail is close by there and that’s where we went first. You want a backpack for waters, maybe even a light snack and definitely binoculars as you could see some whales.
The hike made us hungry so we knew the exact spot to go, the famous, Buzz’s Steakhouse. It’s a Hawaiian original and has been visited by many presidents in the past. The place is small and rustic and they only let you get two of the house special drinks because they are so strong. I had a fish burger which was grouper and it was amazing. It is a place to check out when you are over in that area. Across the street is Kailua Beach which one of many public beaches in the area. The kids had a blast in the water and the adults sat and enjoyed the incredible views. One of our friends even said, “Do you realize how breathtaking this is, mheratost people will never get to see this!”. So is it worth the 30-45 minute drive over there, Yes, do it!
When we returned home that afternoon, yes, we enjoyed the resort. The resort isn’t on the cheap side, so we wanted to enjoy it everyday and we SURE did! The evening was followed by a walk to Monkeypod for dinner and live music and then we star gazed at the resort. This is an add-on activity that we booked 3 weeks before we arrived. We saw gas floating around the moon and the sky spectacular called Beetlejuice. It was hard to wrap my brain around all of the cool facts that the professional was giving us.
When booking our Hawaiian Vacation, I knew we wanted to either go to Maui or Kauai in addition to Oahu. We chose Maui as we really wanted to experience the Road to Hana. It’s a tough choice as they are both stunning. We were very happy with our choice. We booked Hawaiian Air flights for this day that were $49 each. They have island to island flights all day long and it takes about 15 minutes in the air. It’s perfect! We returned our car, boarded the plane and flew over Diamond Head, look at those views!!
We were quickly in Maui, got a new car and headed to our first resort, the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa in the Kaanapali area . This is a place I would recommend to many. You can walk down to Whalers Village to shop, eat, and see some amazing live music. It is also the resort that has the black rock (Puu Kekaha). This is where people come to cliff jump and snorkel with turtles (honus). The beach is great, they have a dive shop, and the resort as a whole is very upscale. It was actually just voted Best Hotel in Hawaii in USATODAY’s 10Best 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards. We chose an oceanfront room and was worth the small extra upgrade hands down!
We choose to spend the day snorkeling, relaxing, enjoying all of the amenities at the resort and of course walked down to Whalers Village for some tasty grub. We then sat on our oceanfront balcony and just took time to enjoy each other. Kaanapali is one of the best areas in Maui to stay for sure! But, the next day, we ventured to a new area not far at a 10 minute car ride, called Kapalua. This is an upscale area of Maui with lots of golf surrounding you. We didn’t golf but we did FINALLY get a flower lay at our check in at the Ritz Carlton. Yay!!
We toured the breathtaking resort, even got checked into our suite and then prepared to hit the Road to Hana!! We downloaded the Shaka App. The app is a must do when experiencing the Road to Hana as it walks you through the whole thing. If you stop on the side of the road, the app stops as it follows along with you using its GPS system. It will tell you all of the must do stops and even which ones you can skip if you are behind on time. You don’t want to be stuck on the Road to Hana in the dark! So what is the Road to Hana if you aren’t sure- The Road to Hana, also known as the Hana Highway or State Highway 36/360, is a 64.4-mile (approximately 103.6 km) long, scenic drive that takes you along the northeastern coast of the island of Maui, Hawaii. The road begins in Kahului and ends in the small, remote town of Hana. The journey offers travelers the opportunity to experience the breathtaking beauty of Maui’s diverse landscapes, lush rainforests, and numerous waterfalls.
Known for its narrow roads, dramatic cliffs, and more than 600 curves and 59 bridges (many of which are one-lane), the Road to Hana is an unforgettable driving experience that requires cautious driving and patience. The drive can take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours one way, depending on how often you stop for sightseeing, although many travelers take a full day or even two to fully explore and enjoy the numerous points of interest along the way.
Some popular stops and attractions you’ll encounter during this idyllic journey include:
- Ho’okipa Beach Park – A popular spot for surfing and windsurfing.
- Twin Falls – A picturesque waterfall with a swimming hole, accessible via a short hike.
- Garden of Eden Arboretum – A lush botanical garden with walking trails, picnic areas, and scenic viewpoints.
- Honomanu Bay – A serene, black sand beach with stunning views of the rugged coastline.
- Ke’anae Peninsula – A beautiful, historic Hawaiian village and taro-growing area featuring a lava rock coastline.
- Wailua Valley State Wayside – A lookout point offering panoramic views of the Wailua Peninsula, waterfalls, and the famous Haleakalā volcano.
- Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside Park – A park with numerous small waterfalls and swimming holes, surrounded by rainforest.
- Hanawi Falls – A series of cascading waterfalls that can be viewed from the road or after a short hike.
- Wai’anapanapa State Park – A coastal park with a striking black sand beach, sea arch, blowhole, and hiking trails.
- Hana – A small, remote town with an authentic Hawaiian feel and a few stores, eateries, and accommodations for visitors.
Driving the Road to Hana is considered one of the must-do experiences when visiting Maui, as it offers a unique opportunity to explore the island’s spectacular scenery and hidden gems at your own pace. However, it is essential to plan ahead, be prepared for narrow roads and changing weather conditions, and take your time to fully enjoy the picturesque views and various attractions that this remarkable journey offers.
You also need to pack right! You need different shoes, sneakers, hike shoes, water shoes. You need snacks and drinks, the road is long. You need a bathing suit, towels, bug spray, sunblock, and some people need dramamine!! Take a look at some of my favorite stops. Please don’t miss the Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees, they are the coolest tree you will ever see. My family even bought me seeds for Mother’s Day. I am not sure how they will grow, but it was an awesome sentiment. Once you get to Hana Town, be sure to have some pineapple pizza at Hana Farms Roadside Pizza. The place has beautiful walkthrough gardens and great pizza!
We went back to the Ritz to a gorgeous basket of fruit in our room and all relaxed in the plush comfort of our Ritz Carlton’s beds. There are no better! The next day was another early morning for us. We didn’t have a problem getting up super early everyday because of the time difference and we were pretty much in bed by 8pm-9pm. After breakfast, MJ and I went snorkeling at the Molokai Crater. My daughter didn’t want to go, so my husband and her went shopping close by. We used a great tour company for our crater experience. Visiting Molokini Crater typically requires booking a guided tour from Maui, as it is only accessible by boat. Tour operators offer snorkeling, scuba diving, and sailing excursions that usually depart from Ma’alaea Harbor or Kihei Boat Ramp on Maui. Besides exploring the underwater wonders of the crater, visitors can also enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding islands, witness the seabirds nesting on the crater’s rocky edges, and sometimes even spot whales or dolphins on the boat ride to and from Molokini.
Molokini Crater is a small, crescent-shaped volcanic islet located about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) off the south coast of Maui, Hawaii. This partially submerged volcanic crater is the result of a volcanic eruption that occurred over 230,000 years ago.
Molokini Crater is home to more than 250 species of marine life, including various species of fish (like butterflyfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish) and colorful coral. The area is also frequented by green sea turtles and seabirds. Sea life flourishes in this protected area, as fishing and the collection of specimens are strictly prohibited to help preserve its delicate ecosystem. We saw an octopus and lots of gorgeous fish on our tour. As a certified diver, I would recommend this tour to dive. Snorkeling was great for my 10 year though and he was able to fall in love with snorkling from our adventure.
After the Crater excursion, we stopped at some roadside stands, ate some amazing pineapple, bought some banana bread for later, cleaned up at the resort and had lunch at Fleetwoods. As a long time fan of Fleetwood Mac, it is a must visit establishment with very good food and lots of shopping opportunities surrounding it. We missed Mic Fleetwood by a few hours which was a bummer.
When you are in Maui at the Ritz Carlton, you better spend some time there. That is what we did for the rest of our day. The pool, and beach, the service, the food, oh my! It is one of the most beautiful places in Maui for sure. I will conclude my write up of our adventure as the next day, we went to a beach side Easter service and then when back to Whaler’s Village to watch an amazing Ukulele Rock Band at Hula Grill at sunset before we took our red-eye flight home. I highly recommend a red-eye. Pack a blanket, pack some melatonin and some ear plugs and get some rest. We had very little jet lag the week we were home because we planned our flights correctly.
A week in Hawaii on 2 islands isn’t a lot of time, but I feel with all of the preparation (ya know, the stuff a travel professional helps you with), we did it perfectly. I have a long list of other experiences on both of these islands that we share with our clients to fit their personalities, desires, and budget. I wanted to experience Haleakala, but we were a day short for that. It just makes it so we have to return! Let us take you to paradise! Visit our website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email or call your Straight Away Travel Advisor. We travel and we experience things to make your vacation perfect!