Hawaii as a vacation destination is on fire. According to a new Smith Travel Research and Hospitality Advisors joint study, the aggregate revenue generated by Hawaiian hotels in the month of April was $276 million which is an incredible 9.4% higher than any previous month since 2006.
For years, Hawaii lamented various reasons the visitor arrival count shrunk. No island felt the recession’s impact more than Oahu and Waikiki. However, Waikiki is now most popular destination in the Pacific. They have new hotels, a whole new beach walk promenade area and that great Waikiki nightlife. When I visit Waikiki here is how I spend my week.
Day 1 – Upon arrival I take a taxi cab from the airport to Waikiki rather than a transfer bus that stops at multiple hotels. If you not traveling alone, the cost is comparable and the ride is direct. Check-in at my hotel, unpack and go for a walk on Kalakaua Avenue. One of the Waikiki must-see’s is the world famous International Marketplace. This is the best place to buy your T-shirts and souvenirs as the vendors are many and price competition is fierce. This is also a good place to buy a boogie board and bamboo beach mat for some solid fun in the ocean and sun. Then I stop by one of the many ABC convenience stores for some sunscreen, munchies and beverages for the room. I make it an early night as Hawaii time is three hours behind in the summer months and two hours behind in the winter months.
Day 2 – This is the perfect day to spend at the beach but the first stop is to Moose McGillicuddys on Lewers Avenue for breakfast. This restaurant and pub opens at 7:30am and offers pub style breakfast for very reasonable. Then back to the room to put on bathing suits and sunscreen.
A Video Along Waikiki Beach Walk
Waikiki beach is world famous for a reason. The beautiful turquoise Pacific Ocean provides the perfect backdrop. The view to the left is of unmistakable Diamond Head Volcano and to the right you will see jet after jet flying out of Honolulu International Airport. Flights back to the mainland US fly parallel to Waikiki, while flights to Asia fly straight out over the Pacific Ocean banking to the right for the long ride home. The water is warm and the surf is gentle. Water-socks come in handy as there is a lot of reef rock. When the afternoon trade winds come up, I head back to the hotel pool to enjoy the fresh water, an afternoon snack and a few beverages.
Day 3 – This is the day to visit Pearl Harbor. There are a couple different ways to make this visit. You can arrange to take one of the prearranged bus trips or do it on your own. You can also cruise into Pearl Harbor by taking one the excursion ferries that depart from Ala Moana Harbor however they don’t drop you to visit the memorial. There are many operators that provide bus excursions Roberts of Hawaii is one of the largest.
I always rent a car and drive out to Pearl Harbor to have some flexibility such as after Pearl Harbor, we can also drive over and board the USS Missouri Battleship BB63. The key is to get to Pearl Harbor early. While the park still opens at 7:00am, closing hours have been impacted by the sequestration. Until further notice, the last USS Arizona Memorial tour will begin at 1:00 pm instead of 3:00 pm each day. The visitor center will close at 4:30 pm instead of 5:00 pm. There is always a very long line to get in. (hint: bus passengers generally receive preferred entry). Upon entrance you will see the Pearl Harbor visitor center you will see the museum with historic pictures, models and genuine artifacts from the Japanese attack. Then you will enter the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater to see a 23 minute documentary film of the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack. Then you will board one the navy shuttle boats to go out to board the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial is built on top of the sunken USS Arizona, a tomb for 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, a warship. There is no way to sugar coat the experience. It is truly a solemn moment. You will see the names of each of the soldiers, sailors and civilians that were killed during the attack. You will also see globs of the heavy engine oil bubble to the surface and dissipate.
Upon completion of the Pearl Harbor tour we head over the famous World War II Battleship Missouri BB63. At 887 feet in length, it dominates the skyline with its distinctive nine 16-inch guns and high con tower. This historic U.S. fighting vessel features a solid brass circle in the deck to mark the exact spot where Emperor Hirohito signed the Japanese surrender to General Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. The Mighty MO fought in the Iwo Jima and Okinawa battles, the Korean conflict and last saw duty in Operation Desert Storm providing fire support to the troops onshore. The museum ship sits much higher in the water than when it was on active duty. I was lucky to see its sister ship, the New Jersey and noticed how low to the water the main deck seemed. While you cannot miss the big 16-inch guns that could fire shells over 20 miles, what you may not notice would be the deck-length row of depth charges along both the port and starboard decks, seven 50-caliber guns, five 38-caliber guns in twin gun turrets. The Mighty Mo also had an array of 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns in addition to multiple underwater torpedo tubes. This was one fierce fighting machine.
After Pearl Harbor, we head over to Paradise Cove Luau where you will enjoy a great evening of entertainment, food and drink. The Paradise Cove Luau is located near Eva Beach and like many areas was in the middle of nowhere and is now sandwiched between the Marriott Kaiulani and Disney Aiulani resorts.
Paradise Cove Luau
The Paradise Cove entertainment staff puts on a great show for tourists beginning with the different traditional Pacific Islander culture including the ceremony of raising the underground BBQ Kahlua Pig to the lavish after-dinner revue. You will eat well and see a great show.
Day 4 – This is the day to visit Hanauma Bay for a day of exploring and some of the best snorkeling in the Hawaiian Islands. I have done this by renting a car and exploring the island and also have rented Mopeds in Waikiki. The main boulevard in Wakiki is Kalakaua Avenue which takes you past Queen Kapiolani Park and toward Diamond Head. The neat thing is that 5-minutes into your journey on Kalakaua Blvd you leave the hustle and bustle of Waikiki into a world of laid back island peace and quiet. You will drive through Hawaii Kai where everyone wants to live! Nice waterfront condos with a dock for your boat.
Diamond Head Park is the first stop on our journey today. You drive right into the Volcano and park your car or moped. There is a trail to the top of the Volcano ridge. This is an invigorating hike but well worth it as you will be treated to a gorgeous view of the Pacific and looking down on top of Waikiki. This same lookout was where U.S. Troops were stationed during WWII.
We get back to the car and continue down the same road about 1.5 miles to a view point to see the Blow Hole. This is where a unique formation of the coastline rock creates a rocket spout of water from the pulsing ocean waves. Great for pictures.
Then onto Hanauma Bay for snorkeling. This fish sanctuary provides an incredible opportunity to swim with the very colorful fish. You can spend hours snorkeling in shallow water with generally very gentle conditions. You can rent snorkel sets at the park or you can buy them in Waikiki and bring them in with you. Hanauma Bay can get crowded so be prepared. There is a $7.50 park entrance fee and a $1 parking fee.
Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay
If you rented a moped in Waikiki, this is where you will probably head back. If you rented a car, you can continue on the main highway to the other side of the island.
The next stop is to Sandy Beach to for some awesome boogie boarding. This is a must stop even if you don’t body surf as the locals put on one heck of a show.
Back into the car to drive by the picturesque Pali Cliffs. These vertical mountain cliffs are covered in green foliage and their peaks are generally in the clouds. There is a Shave Ice stand along the road where you can quench your thirst with a refreshing snow-cone.
By this time it is around 5pm or so and time to head back to Waikiki. You head down the road a couple more miles to Highway 61 which takes you right back to Waikiki in about 15 minutes. It takes longer to get through the Waikiki traffic back to your hotel than to cut across the island.
Day 5 – We depart Waikiki and head to Maui, Kauai or the Big Island for more fun and excitement.