Wednesday, April 27, 2016

This Summer at Disney World

Buckle you seat belts, so many exciting things are coming to Disney World this summer!

Magic Kingdom
Mickey's Royal Friendship Faire will debut on the main stage this summer. It marks the first appearances by Tiana and Rapuznel in a center stage show. I got a sneak peek of Mickey's new outfit:

Dory and other characters from Finding Dory will join Crush at Epcot's Turtle Talk with Crush beginning in early May.

The Frozen Ever After attraction in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot is sent to open in June. Norway will also open Royal Sommerhaus - site of the new Anna and Elsa character greeting location.

Soarin' will reopen on June 17th with a brand new flight around the world!  Take a sneak peek:

Animal Kingdom
A new table service restaurant will open at Disney's Animal Kingdom for lunch and dinner Memorial Day Weekend. Tiffins will be in the Discovery Island area and will feature global cuisine highlighting Africa, Asia, and South America. The great news is that restaurant will also have a lounge - Nomad Lounge. This lounge will not require reservations and offer small bites with a waterfront view.

To celebrate the new live action Jungle Book movie, Animal Kingdom will have a limited engagement “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic” Show”.

Starting May 27th, Animal Kingdom will start to offer nighttime experiences. The Tree of Life will illuminate with a 3 minute light show. In the late afternoon,  a dance party featuring music and costumed dancers will kick off. In the evening, Harambe Wildlife Parti brings a great street festival to the Harambe area of the Park.

Hollywood Studios
The new Star Wars experiences will continue through the summer: Launch Bay,  the Fireworks Show “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular.” , the live stage show  “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” including a Storm Trooper procession from Launch Bay, and, for the kiddos, Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple.

Blizzard Beach
Kristoff and Olaf will host Frozen Games at Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park. You can join “Team Kristoff” or “Team Olaf” and participate in a variety of activities, including Ice Pail Relays, a Snowball Toss to Ski Pole Limbo and Slide Races.
Olaf and Kristoff will join the Winter Games Committee members in the games’ Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and will give updates throughout the games to report on their team’s achievements.

Disney is still offering on up to 30% room this summer if you book by June 10th. Please email me if you have any question or click here to set up a free 20 minute chat.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What's the big deal with the Free Disney Dining promotion?

If you are signed up for my Disney e-mail newsletter, you know that Disney launched its Fall Free Dining Promotion on Monday. If you aren't on the list, click here to get my free guide and I'll add you.

So what's the big deal?

If you haven't been to Disney World in a while, you may not know that Disney World now offers Dining Plan. The plans basically work as opportunities to pre-buy credits you can use for quick service or table service meals at Disney World resorts or inside the Disney World Theme Parks.

Only guests of a Disney World resort have the option to add on a Dining Plan. Disney World offers four main dining plans, but this promotion only includes the Quick Service Dining Plan and the Disney Dining Plan.  

The dining plans work as credits. You'll get a set number of credits based on how many nights you are staying. Some of the signature restaurants, dining events, and character meals require more than one table service credits.

Quick Service Dining Plan:  Two quick-service meals per person, per night and one snack per person, per night. A Quick Service meal is a meal where you order at the counter and get your food at the counter like a typical fast food restaurant.  A snack can be a wide range of items from apples to ice cream to pretzels. One Resort refillable mug per person is included.  The Quick Service dining plan is approximately $43 per night for ages 10 and up*, and $17.50 per night for kids 9 and under*.

Disney Dining Plan: One table-service meal per person per night. One quick-service meal per person per night. One snack per person per night. A table service meal is a typical restaurant meal with waiter service, a buffet or a special dining experience with the characters. One Resort refillable mug per person is included. The Disney Dining Plan is approximately $62 per night for ages and 10 and up*, and $21 per night for kids 9 and under*. 

Depending on the meals or restaurants you select, both of these meals can be a savings.
For full details on how the 2016 Dining plans work, click here.
Here are the details of the promotion:
Book Through: July 8, 2016

Valid For Arrivals Most Nights

  • August 23 through October 1, 2016
  • November 15 through November 21, 2016
  • November 26 through November 28, 2016
  • December 10 through December 21, 2016

Package Includes

  • Room
  • Theme park ticket(s) with Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More Option
  • Dining Plan (Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan with Value Resort hotel packages; Disney Dining Plan with Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resort hotel packages)

Important Details

  • The number of rooms allocated for this offer is limited.
  • Advance reservations required.
  • Tickets and options must be used within 14 days of first use.
  • Children ages 3 to 9 must choose from the children's menu, if available.
  • Some table-service restaurants may have limited or no availability at time of package purchase.

Offer Restrictions

  • Cannot be combined with any other discount or promotion.
  • Excludes alcoholic beverages and gratuities.
  • Everyone in the same room must be on the same package.
  • Offer excludes the following room types: 3-bedroom villas, campsites, Disney's Art of Animation Resort - Little Mermaid Standard Rooms and Bungalows at Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Anchorage to Vancouver - A 7 night Alaskan Cruise Adventure

In the summer of 2015, my husband and I and a group of friends took a Princess cruise from Anchorage to Vancouver.

It was an incredible experience. I'd love to book you on this type of Alaska adventure. You can email me at or click here to sign up for a free 20 minute chat.

Here's our full review.

On Saturday, we boarded the Alaska railroad in Anchorage for a ride to Whittier. 

We were in the back car on the second level so we had great views of the mountains. We saw two moose on the way. We  passed through a couple tunnels chiseled in the mountains. Boarding the ship was really easy. 

We had a great first lunch in the dining room. Dinner Saturday night was not as successful. We weren't at our assigned table and the service and food was not very good. Don't worry - it got A LOT better.  After dinner, we went up to the nightclub and enjoyed the great DJ. It was incredible to be sitting in the night club at 11 o'clock at night with a full daylight view. We even saw some otters.

On Sunday, the ship headed to Hubbard Glacier. In the morning, we attended a lecture from the naturalist on board. She had a lot of great info about glaciers and what our best opportunities for wildlife sightings would be. We played morning trivia and had a great pub lunch in the Crown Grill. We heard a pioneer filmmaker talk about living in Alaska and his National Geographic show - Dead End Express. We took a penny whistle class that comically serious. Imagine Glenn and I playing a recorder. Then we saw Hubbard Glacier.  

The glacier is six miles wide. Entering the bay we saw icebergs with seals laying on top. We took turns going back and forth between our balcony and  our friend's balcony on the other side of the ship. The balconies on the Caribe deck are HUGE!

It was incredible. Dinner Sunday night was very good. It was formal night so Princess had their signature Champagne toast. 

On Monday, the ship entered Glacier Bay National Park. We got up early and met the naturalist on the front of the ship. We saw otters and a pod of humpback whales. As we cruised through the bay, we enjoyed all the glaciers and commentary by the park rangers. At Margerie glacier we saw a huge area of the glacier calve off into the ocean. 

The sounds of the glacier were incredible. It sounds like gun shots and thunder as pieces of ice break off. We had another great dinner. I had a great Thai halibut and the king crab legs were so delicious. This was the best menu we have ever seen on a cruise ship.

After two days of cruising and viewing glaciers, we were excited to hit a port in Alaska. Skagway is a small isolated town in Southeastern Alaska. When we visited, they hadn't had eggs in two weeks. A barge comes every Tuesday to bring supplies and they just didn't have any.

For Skagway, we signed up for two excursions. The first one was breakfast at the Red Onion Saloon and a Suspension Bridge in the Yukon of Canada. The excursion was well done. The Red Onion Saloon's history as a brothel was really interesting and a good glimpse into what the town must have been like during the Gold Rush.

The scenery on the bus ride was great. The Suspension Bridge was cool and we got to try some Canadian beers.

After the tour, we headed back to the ship for lunch. Princess highlights local food as part of the lunch offerings. Today, they were highlighting crab cakes. They were really good. 

After lunch, we tried some beers at the Skagway Brewing Company and did some window shopping. We bought a bottle of Alaska Rhubarb vodka as a souvenir. Our second excursion was on the White Pass Railway train. It went the same way as the bus ride from the morning - just on the other side of the river.  The train had the best scenery. 

We arrived late back to the ship and headed straight to dinner. We had a scheduled dinner time that we really liked. We had a great team of waiters and a table by the window. After dinner, we would visit one of the several lounges that had live music. Princess also puts on shows in their theater.

The next day was Juneau. Juneau was one of the ports I was most excited to visit because the excursions are fantastic. We signed up for the Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari. I chose the excursion because it meant a small boat with windows that could open to take better pictures. Our guide was terrific, but he took the photo safari part pretty seriously. Let's just say he was not impressed with my hot pink Canon point and shoot. He would make comments like "For those of you who have cameras you can actually change the setting on...." It was pretty funny. 

We board a boat to headed out. We were so lucky we immediately got reports of a group of Humpback whales in the area. We came across a group of 7 - 9 humpback whales playing. Three of them breeched. It was an incredible moment. I even got a little teary-eyed. But - I didn't get any pictures. I'll just have to remember it always. 
Pro tip- once your guide says whales are reported - just turn on your camera's video and point it in the direction you are headed. You can always pull stills from the video later.

Sleeping sea lions are must easier to take picture of. 
Not Pregnant - Those are my hat and gloves. 
Important to note is the small size of the boat.

After the boat ride, we headed over to the Mendenhall Glacier. Gastineau Guides are the only tour company allowed to offer a guided a hike on a trail that leads the back way to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center. It was really nice to hike in with just us and see the glacier from what felt like a private view area. 

After the Glacier, we head back to town. We got dropped off in town and explored a couple local bars and had a great lunch at a local cafe. We had a great dinner and enjoyed listening to Mosaic - the party band.

Ketchikan turned out to be my favorite port. It's the port I am most excited to return to. We headed out in the morning on an Eagles, Totems, and Lighthouse excursion. This was the perfect excursion after so many intense excursions. The Captain was a little odd. He reminded us of a Jim Carey character in a movie making fun of people who go on these type of tours. Here's the Captain:

We saw several bald eagles, got a glimpse of the famous Totem poles and did see a lighthouse.

After the tour, we headed into town. The Maitre'D had recommended the Burger Barn for a good burger. We hustled over there, ordered a burger and headed next door to the Aslym for a beer. It took about 30 minutes for the burger. It was good.. really good. We headed over the Great Lumberjack Show.

I loved it!! It was so much fun! It was about an hour show going through some key challenges. I liked the corny jokes. It was worth the price of admission. 

We headed back to the boat to prepare for the 2nd formal night. This was lobster night. 

We were pleasantly surprised it was Maine Lobster. We are used to Caribbean lobster on other Caribbean sailings. 

That night, there was a balloon drop in the lobby to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Mosaic played and it was SO MUCH FUN! 

Our last day on the ship was a Sea Day. We decided to do a pub crawl heading to all the bars on the ship with our friends Tom and Margaret. In retrospect, it was a little weird to take the most beautiful, warm day we had with amazing scenery to hop from bar to bar, but it was a blast! Everyone on the ship was enjoying the fantastic weather.

We pulled in Vancouver in the early morning. We decided to head straight home because we figured we would be ready after 16 days in Alaska. We were right. 

Our cab ride through Vancouver  left us wanting more. I can definitely see us heading back there for a 3 - 4 nights. 

We had a quick and easy experience leaving Vancouver - especially because we have Global Entry. It's great you clear US Customs and Immigration before you even board the plane. 

We had an easy flight home connecting through Houston. 

Re-entry was a bit rough. This was one of the toughest jet lags I've experienced. The only other one as bad was Japan. I think it was the combination of having trouble adjusting to the 4 hour time change on the front end because it never go dark and just enough of a time change to make things a bit difficult. 

I'd love to book you on an Alaskan cruise. I have so many more tips and insights to share. It's really an incredible experience. Send me an email at or  click here to sign up for a free 20 minutes chat.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Family of Four visits Oahu, Maui and Kauai for Spring Break

I just got this amazing trip report from the Miller family of four! You have to read it if you have ever had a tiny thought of visiting Hawaii - Angie

Hawaii 2016

Honolou, Oahu

Arrived in Hawaii and made our way to baggage claim where we were greeted by our representative from Aloha Tours and presented with Dendrobium flower leis. They smell beautiful! We were taken to the Ohana Waikiki East Hotel. The hotel staff were helpful and friendly, the rooms were neat and comfortable. We enjoyed the pool and were within walking distance of Waikiki beach. The city is being developed and built up extensively and there are many one way streets and the streets curve and do not run straight--very glad we were not trying to drive here. Locals and visitors alike walk around in swimwear and even barefoot. This was probably the best place for shopping and we picked up long sleeve swim shirts for the family at Billabong for reasonable prices. We needed the shirts for both the surfing and kayaking tours. Would highly recommend purchasing shirts rather than borrowing them--plus, I sunburn easily and will get much use out of this!

Pearl Harbor
We arranged a ride to Pearl Harbor using the same service that brought us to the hotel for $15/person. Please note, this service will be picking up other customers and dropping them off at other locations so allow a little extra time. There was already a line forming when we arrived at Pearl Harbor around 6:40 am. No bags (including purses) are allowed into the memorial and there is a place to check your bag for a small cost. You can take in cameras. The line moves quickly and we arrived before the tour buses began rolling in at 7am. We were able to be in the first group, which meant it was very quiet at the USS Arizona and this was very fitting and helped to reinforce the gravity of the experience.

There are small museum style exhibits and memorial walkways around the park while waiting for the short film. From the film, you exit for the boat ride over to the USS Arizona, where it is submerged. The oil is still visible on the surface of the water almost 75 years later. It is a very moving experience--heavy. I was proud of my children for behaving in a manner that reflected respect for the massive loss of life that occurred here.

The information is well-presented and the park is laid out well to allow for good traffic flow, very accessible and easy to walk while also allowing for quiet areas to reflect. I'm thankful we had the opportunity to visit this memorial and take in such a significant part of our history as a family.

Surfing Waikiki

We found several places on the beach to sign up for surfing lessons. We chose a 1- hour lesson with the 4 of us and an instructor. Long sleeved swim shirts were required. They did have some available for borrowing. We received an orientation and instruction on the beach before entering the water. As beginners, we did not go out very far (we could still touch). All of us got up on the boards (at least to our knees) and had several good runs. My 10 year old is not a super strong swimmer and does not like going underwater--she went out on her own board and was able to do fine. She and I got tired out pretty quick; paddling back out to take another run is hard work. My husband and 14 year old son continued and they both did really well. We opted to buy the photos they offered. While a little expensive, this allowed us to get some great close up shots and we did not have to worry about it. We got to enjoy the experience--and I have pictures of my 14 year old smiling and having a good time :) 

Chief's Lua with Sea Life Park (Paradise Combo)
We took a taxi out to the park and spent a couple hours exploring it. The entrance takes you around a giant aquarium with sharks and manta rays. There are dolphin shows, sea lion shows, penguins, seal monks and green sea turtles. The park is fairly small and 2-3 hours should be perfect to explore it. Part of "50 First Dates" was filmed here. Having the wristbands from the park, allowed us to re-enter after it closed but before the luau. This was a plus as there were several activities offered before the program--fire making, spear throwing, shopping, temporary tattoos, braiding headbands. The lines were short and we all got to try several things with very little wait while the other guests were still making their way in.

The Chief was fantastic! There was much attention to detail and everyone was made to feel like they were part of the family. Children were invited onto the stage to learn dances, all of the guest were invited to learn the hula and others (including my husband!) were hand-picked to be on stage for different demonstrations. They were also hosting 3 children from the Make a Wish Foundation. They were brougt onto stage and give special gifts. Couples celebrating anniversaries and those married for 30 years or more were also brought up onto the stage. It was a very nice way to make the evening personal and to celebrate life. Explanations of the different Polynesian Islands were given along with demonstrations of their traditional dress and dance. This group includes some of the world's top fire dancers--and it was AMAZING. I would highly recommend this! (The food was good, too!)

This was probably the best place for shopping as there were so many different types of stores and shops from upscale to basic souvenir stands

Kahului, Maui (The Valley Isle)

Arrived in Maui early in the morning and proceeded to the car rental, Dollar. The agent was pushy and kept trying to get us to upgrade. Convertibles and Jeeps are very popular on the island with tourists, however, due to the frequent rain showers a convertible is not practical. Also, things like coconuts, papayas and other hard shelled things fall from the trees frequently. A soft-top car would be at risk. The Jeeps, while fun, are not necessary. We drove the Hana road in our mid-size Nissan Elantra and did fine. We saw other sedans, mini-vans and even tour buses on that road and it is the most difficult road there to navigate.

The island is separated by a short "neck" with the Kahului Airport at the north of the neck. West Maui is where we stayed at Kaanapali Ocean Inn in Lahaina.  Due to roof damage, we were upgraded from our original room to the main hotel, the Royal Lahaina Resort. I think this offered a better view-- we could see the ocean and part of the golf course. The beds were super comfortable, very nice room. The beach was easily accessible. It drops off quickly and bigger waves in the afternoon made it harder to float and for younger swimmers this was not the best place. The pool or swimming in the ocean in the morning would be recommended. While eating lunch, we saw whales breaching and playing in the water--truly exciting and awesome. When in the water, be sure to put your head under several inches and listen for whale song--we heard it! 

We signed up for a kayak/snorkeling tour with Kelli's Kayaks. From our hotel, it was about an hours drive to Makenna Landing (South East part of island, Western shore) where we parked and walked along the road to find our guide, Jeremiah. We took mostly double kayaks out to our snorkeling sites. The gear was provided--but not much instruction beyond the basics. This was my first time snorkeling and my 10 year old daughter had been practicing in the local pool. Our guide was great at helping her get into the water and trying to help her get past her fear of being in the open water instead of a pool. It took some coaxing, but we got her in and she did great! It was amazing (I know I'm using that adjective a lot). We saw turtles and quite a few different kinds of fish, lava tubes. Getting into and out of a kayak on the open water is not something that can be done gracefully--at least not by me. It did provide for entertaining pictures of my efforts. We again opted to purchase pictures so we could enjoy the excursion, and it allowed for me to be in them. Our guide also included some of his best shots over the years so we got pictures of other sea life, coral and lava formations that we did not see.

This was more of a snorkeling experience than kayaking; if you want something more like a tour while kayaking, I'd suggest the river kayaking tour on Kaui Island. It's a private access river and looked very quiet beautiful scenery and several protected areas for swimming. 

The Hana Road
From our hotel, we drove back up the neck of the island and past the airport to the North East part of the island. This takes you to the start of the Hana Road drive, which lasts 3.5 hours. There are over 65 hair pin turns and over 20 one-way bridges. It reminded me of driving mountain roads in PA or WV. It was rainy and wet which added to the difficulty of the drive. There are several lookouts and places to get great pictures--problem is, they are not announced until you come around a sharp curve and see cars pulled over. Signage, in general, is poor--there is a local ordinance about the height of things (no taller than a coconut tree) so getting around can be tricky. It's a small island, really, so adjust to "island time" and you will find where you want to go eventually.

There are 7 waterfalls along the drive (you may want to google images of this from the air--makes it easier to see and understand where you are driving) and most of them have ok views from the road. The views of the ocean and forest are breathtaking. You end up at the far Eastern tip of the island, in Hana. There is a great bay here for swimming or snorkeling (We did not do this). Be sure to stop at Wai'anapanapa State park to see the caves, black sand beach and blow hole.  Going past Hana a few more miles will take you to the base of the 7th waterfall in Ohe'o Gulch (seven pools). This is as far as you can go on the road with a rental car.

The hike to the base of this fall is challenging. 4 miles round trip, it takes you through a bamboo forest. This was amazing! It looked really cool and was even more so when the wind would blow and the bamboo waving sounded like applause. Once you get to the waterfall, it really is worth it. Even with over 7 hours of driving that day, we logged over 16,000 steps according to my son's phone. We were really worn out from this and took it easy the next day. If you plan to do this drive/hike, it is an all day deal. You want to leave no later than 2 hours before sunset to head back--this road after dark would be very challenging. And according to my map--Charles A Lindbergh's grave is past Ohe'o Gulch and Kukui Bay at Palapala Ho'omau Church. This drive also takes you along the Eastern most edge of the Haleakala National Park. We did not make it to any other parts of it this trip. There is a crater within this that sounds like it would be worth a trip--locals recommended it would take 2-4 hours and you would want a jacket as it becomes much cooler at the higher elevations. You would access this drive from the "neck" of the island, south of the airport on Hwy 37.

Maui is the best place for whales. They come in the winter months (December through March mainly) to feed and calve. This island is more protected as its in the middle of the chain. We still saw and heard some while there in early April. It also offers rainbows! Full rainbows (I've never seen one before and we saw several)! This is an active place but much less commercial than Oahu--hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and surfing.

Lihue, Kaua'i (Garden Island)

The smallest, oldest and most Northern of all the Islands, only 10% of the island is accessible by car. The lack of signage was again noticeable but with such a small place, it was not a hindrance, if you can lay back and adjust to "island time," that is. We arrived on the Eastern side of the island and got our rental car to go to the Southern side of the island at Po'ipu. The beach closest to our hotel/condo was not as protected as Po'ipu beach, a short drive just to our East. This little cove had a lifeguard stand, covered pavilions, showers and food available. There are also monk seals that sun here and we saw a sea turtle up on shore. Decent snorkeling, lots of rocks and if you go beyond the cove, the current becomes strong (like near the hotel).

We stayed at Castle Kiahuna Plantation and the Beach Bungalows. There was plenty of room with a small kitchen and living area upstairs and two bedrooms and baths downstairs. Short walk from the water and there were complimentary beach chairs (All of the hotels offered beach towels). This was a neat, pleasant place. We were right across the stress from a plaza that offered restaurants and shops. We preferred swimming in a little bay West of us, heading towards Spouting Horn just past the Beach House Restaurant. Pull off the road and head on down--the water was calmer and the snorkeling was great. Spouting Horn is also worth a visit--the Old Faithful of Hawaii. As waves come in, blow holes become apparent. Easy to access--lots of parking, an open market and very little walking on paved trails.  

Waimea Canyon

This trip took about 2 hours; it was rainy and we were not interested in more hiking after the Hana Road hike. There are several hiking trails if one is interested. The lookout points are beautiful and there can even be a view of the Ni'ihau island--we were unable to see anything here as the fog was so thick. We did attempt one short hike; if you see walking sticks at the head of a trail--take them. It was slick and muddy, making the trail more difficult. We turned back along with several others who had set out looking for a nice stroll/hike and finding this more strenuous (and wet--it was raining) than desired. The canyon itself offers amazing views; on our way down, these same views were completely obscured by the fog. The canyon is also visible from the ocean if you do the Na Pali Sea Cruise. It was really neat seeing it from the top and from the ocean.

Na Pali Sunset Dinner Cruise

"Pali" means cliff and "Na" is plural. Thus--"Many Cliffs" 

Kauai Sea Tours - We booked a catamaran tour rather than try hiking into the coast line (11 miles and rated an 8 out of 10 by the Sierra Club in difficulty). The boat, The Lucky Lady, boasted a crew of 4 including Captain Kauai, who was raised along the Na Pali Coast and was able to give first hand information about it. The water was calm--waves of only 2-3 feet. The days preceding our tour, they had not been able to go out due to larger swells. We had driven the coast line on our way to Waimea the day before, so it was neat seeing it from the ocean. We did not see much sea life-- a few turtles and fish. Some saw whale spouts but we did not. The coast line was--you guessed it--amazing. Seeing Waimea Canyon from the water and the way the shore line was created from volcanic activity and the carved and changed by the wind and waves. There is an archway that makes appearances in several movies, including Pirates of the Carribean. There is a small beach just west of the archway that can be rented out at the small price of $15,000. A day. Our crew told us Pirates rented it for 2 weeks and used about 6 seconds of film. 

The crew were incredibly friendly and helpful. My daughter got to steer the boat. Biggest smiles ever from that! We zig-zagged quite a bit until she got the hang of it; then we just zig-zagged a little less. We got some great pictures with the crew and the captain gave her some shells upon returning that he had collected and uses to make shell necklaces. They are some of her favorite souvenirs. 

The dinner was delicious. This was one of the strangest buffet lines I've ever been in--trying to balance while on a boat (driven by a 10 year old) and make a plate of food was an interesting challenge.

This was definitely a great excursion and a wonderful way to see part of the island that is inaccessible by car. You can only reach this area by hiking or by boat.

Hanalei Road/Bay

On our last day, after checking out, we took advice from the locals to drive up to Hanalei Bay. This drive took us up the Eastern side of the island and around the entire North Shore. Between this drive and the Na Pali cruise, we almost circled the whole island (90 miles of coastline). This drive was a smaller version of the Hana road, twisty roads and a couple one-way bridges. The Northshore is known for bigger waves in the winter months (some locals won't even go there during those months) and known for good surfing. It was more commercial than the part of the island where we stayed. The drive took us past Kilauea Point and the lighthouse; there is a nice lookout point here and a short hike took us to other great views. The wild bird refuge is here as well but is closed during the winter. We passed several great beaches and Hanalei Bay (protected from the ocean, it's a great place for swimming) and the drive ended at Ha'ena State Park. I finally found a beach activity I could do without getting sunburned--spelunking! There is a cave right there for exploring along with bathrooms and a lifeguard station (not all of the beaches offer lifeguards and they actually have roaming guards to help cover more of the coast line). 

We stopped near Wailua but did not get to the waterfalls or Fern Grotto here. We did not have the map with us and as noted before, signage is not great.  A friend shared that there is a hike to the bottom of the Wailua Falls and you can swim at the base of it. We did see the river and this was the area where the river kayaking tours were offered-- more of a tour than a snorkeling excursion. This would be a great way to see more of the island as only 10% is accessible by car. We also think they lower the front bumper on all rental cars--we scraped it a lot. And not just while trying to park or pull over for lookouts but on some of the paved roads as well--driving takes a little more attention due to the uneven roads and sloping; that added with a low -to -the -ground car (here we had a Dodge Dart) made it near impossible not to scrape it. 

This was the quietest of the 3 islands we visited and most laid back. It was my favorite (also my husband's), including ocean, rainforest and desert along with valleys for cattle grazing. Climate was cooler in temperature (high 70s/low 80s). The Northern part is a little more commercial (think small town/tourist type area) so if you prefer this, staying in Princeville or nearby would be recommended. Po'ipu on the Southern side was also comfortable with shops and restaurants nearby--just fewer.

Thanks again to Trips with Angie for another fabulous vacation. This is our 4th year booking Spring Break with Angie and she does a superb job of giving us details and helping us to plan. She sent us luggage tags and a folder with all of our information. That made it easier to find what I needed while traveling and checking in places. It was so well organized, all I had to do was pack and show up. I would highly recommend booking with Trips with Angie; we will use her for our next vacation for sure!

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Fun and Romantic Trip to Oahu and Kauai

Recently, Jennifer and her husband returned from a trip to Oahu and Kauai.
When Jennifer first approached me, she initially thought she wanted to take an 8 night vacation to Oahu. After I asked her several questions on her vision for her trip, I realized four nights on Oahu and four nights on Kauai would be a great mix of city, adventure, and enjoying Hawaii's beautiful landscapes.

Jennifer and her husband started their trip in Oahu. When arriving at the Honolulu airport, most people have a vision of being greeted with a flower lei and welcomed to the islands. Most people don’t know this is an extra charge and must arranged in advance. It’s called lei service and most transfer companies offer it. A transfer is a better way to go than taking a taxi. A shared shuttle to your hotel is usually a significant savings over a taxi. A private transfer is not significantly more.

After chatting about all the hotel options in Waikiki, we narrowed down to the
Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach because of the resort's great location. You are beachfront on Waikiki Beach with lots of dining options nearby. The resort usually has good promotions that help lower the rate. Since most flights from Honolulu back to mainland USA are overnight flights, the hotel will hold your bags on your check out day and let you use a room shower – a great perk.

One note about most resorts in Honolulu – they have resort fees. These fees can range from $15 - $50 per day plus tax. I always make sure my clients know what the fees will be when comparing resorts.

One tour I recommend is Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri and City Tour

The Pearl Harbor tours have very early start times. Hotel pick up is between 5:30 am – 6:00 am. The reason for this is that the tour companies want to get to the Pearl Harbor sites right when they open versus later in the afternoon when the crowds will be larger. I recommend taking the early tour on your first or second day in Honolulu because you will still be on your local time. For instance, if you are traveling from the Midwest, 5:30 m Hawaii time is 9:30 am Central time. My personal experience is that it takes me a few days to adjust to the new time zone so it’s nice to know when you wake up at 4:00 am Hawaii time, you only have an hour or so until your tour starts.

For a more unusual activity, Diamond Head Trikke Guided Tour is a fun option. Trikkes are three wheeled scooter like device. Click here for a picture.  Here’s what she thought:

The trikke tour did not really include diamond head (just an fyi) but did a great city lasted about 2 to 2 and a half hours. The tour guide was super easy going and silly.”

One must do activity in Oahu is snorkel Hanauma Bay Snorkeling – I think Jennifer describes it best:

“Snorkeling...was amazing. I recommend not booking this ahead of time. I would tell people that is the day to rent a car. That way you can arrive and leave when you want. It was a 30 minute drive to Hanauma Bay. It cost 1 dollar to park. We got there before they opened which was a great idea. We waited about 30 minutes in line before they opened. It was 7.50 to get in (no matter what). We got our tickets and watched a 10 minutes video about the bay and rules. Everyone must. They have food and rentals of everything right there. It was super cheap. We spent about 2 or 3 hours but you could stay all day if you wanted. You could pack food of your own too. It would have stunk of we ended up using the transportation provided because we would have had to leave earlier.”

One note on Jennifer’s advice not to book Hanauma Bay in advance – this may not work on your trip. Hanauma Bay has a limit on the number of people who can snorkel per day so they can sell out. We can talk about what the best option for you may be depending on the time of year you are visiting.

Depending on how much of Oahu you’d like to see, most people spend 3 – 4 nights in Oahu and then move on to another island. One day is usually a Pearl Harbor tour. The next day is some type of land exploration like the Trikke tour, climbing Diamond Head, or visiting the Dole Plantation. The third day is a water experience like snorkeling Hanauma Bay or surfing the North Shore.

After four nights in Oahu, Jennifer and her husband moved on to Kauai.

Kauai  has many beautiful resorts. The Sheraton Kauai Resort was a good fit for Jennifer's trip because the hotel is in a great location and often offers promotions that include breakfast. It also has a great luau on site. We originally booked Jennifer for the Smith's luau, but that was 45 minutes from the hotel so she worked with the representatives on site to rebook for the Sheraton's luau. It worked out great!

Here’s Jennifer’s review of the luau:

“Our hotel luau started at 530. It ended around 845. The food was great and there was tons. Open bar was awesome and nobody had to drive or leave an hour early. The entertainment was top notch. It had about 275 people so it was a bit crowded but our table mates were fun and we made it work. It was buffet style appetizers, then dinner then dessert. It worked well. We were both able to drink then walk back to our room. That was perfect.”

One must do activity is to see the Napali coast. Since much of the coastline is inaccessible, you can do this by helicopter or boat. Jennifer and her husband took the Napali Sunset Dinner Cruise.

Here’s her review:

“Sunset cruise was perfect. Our crew was great. Friendly, out going, silly, and super easy going. Our caption knew his stuff and made us feel right at home. The weather had been bad for the last week so the surf on the napali coast was having 30 foot swells so we had to go to the other side of the island...unlucky. But we still got to see seals, turtles, dolphins and two whales. We had snacks, drinks and dinner. We ended up not seeing a sunset because it was so cloudy but it was just unlucky again. It was totally worth it. The worst part was it was 11 miles away (24 minutes) so we took a cab and it cost 38.70 without way. So we spent 85 round trip on cab fare. There really was no other way to do it if you want to drink on the cruise.”

Many people try surfing on Oahu, but Kauai also offers the chance to surf without having to compete with the pro surfers. Jennifer and her husband booked a Semi-Private Surf Lesson.

“Surfing was totally worth the semi private price. We ended up having our own it was one to one. But two to one would have been ok. 4 to 1 would have stunk! I was able to stand up for several waves. We spent every minute of our time in the water. Maybe even a few extra. We forgot towels...definitely something to remind people of.”

Have you been to Oahu or Kauai? What tips do you have? Please leave them in the comments below.

If you are thinking about a trip to Hawaii, email me so we can evaluate your options.