Saturday, February 11, 2017

Hawaii 2017

Hawaii 2017

Day 1 -  A long night of travel

February 10, 2017

Everyone is excited to be on vacation!
Every two years Kyrie has a chiropractic conference in Hawaii.  Since only Kyrie and Jacob went to the Hawaii conference last time, we decided we all wanted to go this time. But since we just recently got back from an expensive, err I mean wonderful, European vacation, we decided that we would stick to a strict budget and only go to Hawaii if we could make it affordable.  In order to do that we booked most of our hotel nights using our Disney and ARI timeshares.  Also, we got very creative with our flights.  We are flying to Las Vegas tonight on Frontier airlines, spending the night at the Hard Rock Hotel and then flying to Honolulu tomorrow on Allegiant airlines.  Even with the extra hotel night, we saved almost $2000 over the cost of flying to Hawaii any other way.

Las Vegas when we arrived
Unfortunately, our flight didn't leave until 8:30 pm, which means we didn't get in to Las Vegas until after 10:30 pm and didn't end up at the hotel until after 11:30 pm.  The hotel was surprisingly busy with check-in's at that hour and we didn't end up getting checked in until after midnight!  Our flight tomorrow leaves at 8:00 am, so we will only be getting a few hours of sleep before we have to head back.  It's probably better than sleeping at the airport, but kind of expensive based on how long we will be here.  At least the hotel refunded the resort/ripoff fee since we weren't there long enough to use any of the resort.

Frontier airlines was okay.  We knew enough about the extra fees to be sure we were getting a good deal, but what I wasn't expecting was the uncomfortable seats.  There is very little cushioning to the seats, they are just this sort of soft plastic.  It's probably fine for a 2 hour flight, but not great for 4 hours! The space between the seats was significantly less than typical (even my knees were touching the seat in front of me). The seat backs were actually hollowed out to allow for an inch of space and the tray tables were little flip up/down things about the size of a paperback novel. We paid $5 extra per seat to have a seat assignment which we though was necessary given our traveling party. There are no complimentary snacks or drinks, but they are available for purchase. They do give cups of water at no additional charge. 
Our kids really are good travelers, but I was surprised we didn't have to carry a sleeping Zach or Zoe off of the plane. The were amazing even as we collected our luggage, walked back and forth three times between the Uber pick up area and taxi station. Finally we got two Uber cars and made it to the hotel.
I was surprised that the line to check in was super long and slow and the Hard Rock Hotel. Who knew this was a popular check-in time? 
The kids may have gotten close to 4 hours of sleep, I got maybe 2, and Marc was somewhere in the middle. Still we insisted on waking early enough to get a shower before the next flight.

Day 2 - Fly to Honolulu, Marriott Waikiki Beach, Bubba Gumps and pierced ears!

Morning came all too quickly, but everyone managed okay.   We scrounged around the airport for breakfast and to find something to bring on the plane for lunch.  We didn't have a lot of luck with that, but did well enough that everyone could at least snack on the plane until we got to Hawaii. Very little was open at the airport. Marc walked over to another terminal to find Starbucks for me. That made my day!

Allegient Airlines was mixed.  Like Frontier they have cheap prices, but a lot of extra fees.  The one thing we weren't expecting was the 40lb weight limit on the checked bags.  Most other airlines have a 50lb limit.  We had to do some rearranging, but we managed to get the bags pretty close to 40 and they were good enough to okay the couple extra pounds.  I was impressed with the seating on the plane though.  We had a lot of leg room and the seats were comfortable!  It was like sitting in the premium economy seats on regular airlines.  I was very happy about that. Again, we had to pay to reserve our seats, $15 each this time, and we were in the front of the plane, so I would guess the seats toward the back didn't have as much space. It was worth it for this 6 1/2 hour flight though for sure!

Zach slept for a couple hours on the flight
The flight was LONG.  The kids really did great.  They asked how much longer quite a bit, but never complained.  Even Zach was fairly chipper most of the time even though he had very little to entertain him.

Rainy arrival to Honolulu

We stopped at Leonard's Bakery for some of their famous hot malasada's.  They were delicious and a great way to start our visit to Hawaii.

Arrival at the Marriott
We couldn't get a room at Disney's Aulani resort until tomorrow, so today we are staying at the Waikiki Beach Marriott.  We chose the cheapest possible rooms, but when we got there, they said that they upgraded us!  So, we got connecting partial ocean view rooms that also have a view of Diamond Head!  That was a great surprise.  The rooms are very nice and we are looking forward to the comfortable beds tonight.

For dinner we ate at Bubba Gump's because we had a $25 discount from their birthday club.  I told you we were sticking to a budget!  Everyone was happy with it and we had a nice dinner.  It is located in Ala Moana shopping center.

Zoe has been asking to get her ears pierced, so since there was a Claire's in the mall we decided that this was as good a time as any.  For some reason they asked if she wanted them to pierce both ears at once or just one at a time and she chose one at a time.  Well, not surprisingly, this was a mistake!  She got the first side done and really didn't want to go through that again on the other side.  Somehow she mustered up the courage though, and now she has a nice set of earrings from Hawaii.

Day 3 -  Disney's Aulani Resort

We haven't completely adapted to the time change yet, so we were up pretty early this morning.  We went ahead and got everything packed back up and then headed to Wialana Coffee Shop for breakfast.  They have tropical pancakes there, which are Kyrie's favorite.  We found the restaurant to be okay, but a bit pricey.
They don't look very tropical, but the Macadamia nuts are cooked in and the coconut syrup completes the package.
When Marc and I made our first trip to Waikiki, 13 years ago, one of my patients told us about a little coffee shop with great tropical pancakes and they were THE best! There was one pineapple, one macadamia nut, and one banana all topped with coconut syrup. During my research for this trip, I was hoping this was the same place...but it wasn't. Even though they had each of those pancakes available, they wouldn't make a variety plate. It was still good. And really the prices were pretty good but Marc is not used to Hawaiian prices yet. The kids meals were only $3 for a pancake, egg, and bacon. Jacob and Max ordered the biggest breakfasts though,,, Max had a $12 omelet that was literally bigger than his head and Jacob had all you can eat pancakes with 2 eggs and bacon for $9. I don't know where any cheaper prices could be found!

The sun was out today.  Very nice weather overall.  Low 80's, light breeze.

After breakfast, we started driving to the Aulani Resort in Ko Olina.  We stopped at Target to get some supplies for the next few days.  We mostly bought breakfast and lunch stuff, and a few snacks and drinks.  We arrived at Aulani by about 10am.  We got checked in and they gave us a key to a lounge to get changed into swimsuits since our room wouldn't be ready until 4pm.  We had a nice time swimming and going around the lazy river.  Jacob and Max spent some time on the water slides.

We saw our first whale today!

 After eating lunch by the pool, Ella, Zoe and Zach were ready to check out the kids club.  The kid's club is called Aunty's Beach House and it is divided up into different rooms with different activities.  Some of the room themes are arts and crafts, video games, movies, costumes, etc... Also there is a backyard area with some playground equipment and a bunch of room to run around.  When I picked them up later, the kids all agreed that they liked this kids club, but not as much as the one on the Disney cruise ship.  We'll see what they think after they spend some more time there.  I'm guessing it will grow on them.

Master bedroom
Our room was ready at about 3:30pm.  It's a 2-bedroom pool/garden view.  Kyrie checked ahead of time to see what we should ask for to get the best possible view from this category, so we're on the 5th floor (highest possible in this category) facing the pool in the Ewa tower.  Because we're so high up we still have a pretty good view of the ocean and can see all of the resort area as well - very nice.

Master bath (large tub and separate toilet room not shown

Second bedroom AKA kids' room

The view from our room: lazy river with the ocean in the distance

We walked over to the Marriott Beach Club for dinner at Longboards.  We ate there the last time we were at Aulani, so we decided to try it again.  We didn't like it as much this time.  Maybe it was because it was more expensive than we remembered or because last time it had a Hawaiian band and this time it just had one lady singing along to a synthesizer.  She was still pretty good considering, but just not what we were looking for.

I think we liked Longboards better last time because we ate there after eating at Aulani exclusively for several days. We were tired of Aulani's limited food choices and the prices in comparison are much less. It would cost the 7 of us close to $300 with tip to eat dinner at the buffet at Aulani. Plus the view is really perfect here. Yes, the music was better last time but overall it was a nice experience. 

The end of another perfect day (View from Longboards at the Marriott)
Day 4 -  Swimming and more swimming

After breakfast in our room, we headed down to the beach.  A dead puffer fish was washed up on the beach - yuck, but still kind of cool,  We chose some seats well away from the dead fish and the kids had fun playing in the sand.  After awhile we headed up to the pool and spent the rest of the day there.

Menehune Adventure
The pool area is inhabited by these little stone statues called Menehune's.  It has been fun to try to find them all since many are tucked away in the bushes or hiding under bridges, etc.  They have an activity called the Menehune Adventure where you use an iPad that gives you clues to find certain things which get activated and light up, make a noise, or some other thing.  The kids and I had fun doing that for a while. Meanwhile, I got to relax in the adult only infinity edge hot tub overlooking the ocean. Ahhhhhhhh.

All the kids are enjoying the pools a lot and the younger kids went back to the kids club and made slime.

For dinner we walked over to a shopping center across the street and ate at Monkeypod.  The food was decent and it was a nice atmosphere.  Ella, Zoe and Zach wanted to go back to the kids club after dinner, so I guess they are enjoying it.

Aulani Lobby at Night

Day 5 - Valentine's Day
Random Stitch sighting
We started the day at the Disney Junior party at the kid's club.  They had a lot of dancing to Disney Junior songs, but the little kids didn't know any of them because they were all from shows that haven't been on for years.  They still had a good time though, and Stitch was there.  Zach loves seeing the characters.

I wish we would have gotten some ics of Zach and characters. He does LOVE them!

We spent all day at the pool.  Kyrie and a couple kids got there early enough to get chairs overlooking the ocean for us which was really  nice. I was able to see several whales throughout the day. Jacob and Max went snorkeling in Rainbow Reef, a sort of aquarium built into the pool area. It was a good place for Max to try out snorkeling for the first time and Jacob has only been once before, so it was helpful for him to get a little practice in before we do some "real" snorkeling on the Big Island next week.

A really gorgeous man made snorkeling lagoon in the heart of Aulani Resort

View from our pool chairs facing the beach

Sister talk in the hot tub

 After lunch some of the kids went to the kids club and Kyrie took the others around the lazy river.  I took advantage of my free time by checking out some tide pools down the shore past the Four Seasons resort next door.  They were really hard to get to, but it was fun seeing the crabs and these little fish that live in the rocks and hide in the holes.  In some areas, the pools get deeper and it would be good for snorkeling if I had brought a mask with me.

Max liked finding hidden sculptures in the rocks around the pool

Jacob, a true Disney fanatic!

This evening we cooked dinner for the kids and then dropped them off at the kids club before going out for a Valentine's Dinner at 'Ama 'Ama restaurant here at Aulani.

Spaghitti, bread, and cupcakes!

Aunty's Beach House

 Our dinner was very nice.  We overlooked the lagoon and Kyrie timed our reservation to coincide with sunset.  The only bad part about dinner, was a little mouse.  This mouse kept running back and forth on the ground from some bushes to the table next to us - getting very close to the people's feet!  Luckily, Kyrie didn't notice it until dessert time or it would have ruined her whole dinner.  I tried to convince her that it was just one of Mickey's cousins, but she wasn't amused.

We had the best table in the restaurant, with a straight on ocean front view. Live music started right before sunset. The service was excellent and the food was too. It's nice to have an adult dinner occasionally. It was nice knowing the kids were close by, safe, and having fun too. 
The sun was seting during our nice Valentines dinner

Zoe made Valentines for us at Aunty's Bech House
We picked up the kids after dinner.  The young ones said they had a great time at the kids club.  Jacob said it was his worst experience ever.  A bit of an exaggeration, but the club is definitely designed with younger kids in mind.
Poor Jacob had to make due playing Plants Vs. Zombies because they don't have Minecraft. Must have been a tough 90 minutes!

Day 6 - Pearl Harbor, Hyatt Waikiki Beach

After checking out of Aulani today, we went to Pearl Harbor.  The little ones were a little bored, but the older kids got a lot out of it.  The museum and the movie were very interesting and informative.
I definitely learned a lot even though I've been to Pearl Harbor before.
A model of the USS Arizona

Explanation of what was happening prior to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor

We checked into the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach this afternoon.  Kyrie's conference is here over the next few days.  The rooms are pretty nice with a partial view of the ocean.  The location is excellent - right across from the "Duke" statue with plenty of shops and restaurants nearby and an easy walk across the street to the beach.  I would say the rooms aren't quite as nice as they should be.  The furniture and walls are a little beat up and our shower is broken (waiting for maintenance to come and fix it), but overall it's fine and nothing to really complain about as long as they get our shower fixed.

Marc's description is accurate, but I quite like the rooms. It's great that they connect, they feel pretty big, and I LOVE the view. One extra pleasant surprise is that they have the coco-mango shampoo and conditioner that I fell in love with at the Hyatt Regency in Maui years ago. I've even ordered them from the spa there and have had them shipped to me several times over the years. Even though we don't have any space/weight allowance in our luggage, I hoarded these to bring home.

Not a bad "partial" ocean view

We had dinner at a little Mexican restaurant called La Cucaracha.  The food was really good and it was a close walk from the hotel.

We could still see Waikiki beach a block away as we ate dinner on the patio.

We walked along Waikiki Beach at sunset.  We planned to just kind of check out the shops and stuff, but the kids couldn't resist the ocean.  They had a lot of fun splashing their feet in the water and chasing the waves.  Of course they ended up soaking wet now that we don't have a dryer to use!  Anyway it's always good to see them enjoying some spontaneous fun.  We ended the night by sharing a shave ice which they devoured.

Day 7 - Waikiki Beach, Tantalas Drive, Petroglyphs

I guess we've been busy because it took me 3 days to get around to writing about this day!  We had a lot of fun today, starting at Waikiki Beach and then a beautiful scenic drive up a mountain and the seeing some petroglyphs along a stream with some waterfalls!

This is sunrise, I assume.  Thankfully, I wasn't awake when this picture was taken.

It is however, my favorite thing, to watch the sunrise. Add a good cup of coffee to it and it's heaven.

The early birds' breakfast on our balcony

Today, I had a group call with one of the student groups that I mentor. I kicked the others off of the balcony and really enjoyed having the call overlooking Waikiki beach. I'm sure I was much more inspired and inspiring than I would have otherwise been. (I had a call with the other group yesterday morning from our balcony at Aulani. That wasn't too bad either!)

Shopping at the Hyatt. Somehow there were 3 ABC Stores within this hotel!

Pineapple Iced Tea in the lobby- the kids couldn't resist!

It was fnu talking to the parrots! This one says, "Hi" and "Aloha."

PB&J lunch also enjoyed from our balcony
We swam at Waikiki Beach this morning and then took a drive up into the mountains after lunch.  We started at Punchbowl National Cemetery (in a volcanic crater) and then drove along Tantalus Road and Round Top to get some spectacular views of Honolulu and the surrounding area...

There are a lot of chickens roaming around Hawaii.

We were in awe to see the whole view of Diamond Head crater
A friend of Kyrie's who used to live in Hawaii, told us about this hike with petroglyphs.  It was surprisingly close to downtown Honolulu and we were the only people on this short but very scenic trail.

Unfortunately, we could only find one set.  There are apparently over 40 of them in this area.  It was a really nice walk though.

After this nice road trip, we were short on time to get dinner and clean up for the Galaxy reception. (Galaxy is the name of the chiropractic group... "a collection of stars". This is a mastermind group for  a select group of high achieving chiropractors.) Marc ordered and went to pick up pizza. They prepare it when you call and bake it WHEN you get there. Yikes! Hurry. 

Meanwhile I was trying to get myself and the girls showered, hair done, and dressed. Should we dress before or after the pizza? What were we thinking?!

Kyrie's conference started with a reception in the penthouse of one of the hotel towers where we got to see a nice sunset and the kids got to reunite with a couple of friends they saw at the last year at Punta Cana's conference...

over a glass of wine?

View of Waikiki Beach from the penthouse
After the reception with everyone's family, the doctors stayed and discussed the assigned book for this occasion. Marc and the kids retired to the hotel room for some downtime and finally bedtime. Marc was the only one awake when I got back.

Day 8 - Blowholes, Tidepools, and lots and lots of Pineapples

The closest we got to seeing a spitting cave.
Kyrie was busy with her conference all day today, so the kids and I went exploring.  We headed east past Diamond Head and tried to find the spitting caves and didn't have much luck with that.

Then we drove on to the Hanole Blowhole, but the tide was too low for that.  I was starting to wonder if this was going to be another one of those days when I drive the kids around for hours and we end up seeing nothing.  It wouldn't be the first time!

But then we traveled on to the tidepools at Makapu'u and they didn't disappoint.  The kids liked seeing the huge waves crashing against the rocks and seeing the crabs and little fish darting around in the tidepools.  I'm still hoping for better tidepools on the Big Island next week, but this was a good start.

We continued our drive along the coast and stopped at Valley of the Temples.  This is a very large cemetery with a bunch of temples at different sections.  The main attraction here is a large replica of a 1000 year old Japanese temple.  The kids got to ring the huge bell and they liked seeing the statue of Buddha.  It prompted questions about who Buddha was and what that religion is like.  I didn't know the answers, but another traveler gave them a brief summary which was helpful.  

From there we drove on H-3, which was a very scenic drive.  We saw the "Stairway to Heaven" which are some very steep looking stairs going straight up the mountain.  Often there are clouds shrouding the top of the stairs, but it was clear when we drove by it.  Definitely want to make that climb sometime.  I think coming back down might be the scary part though.

We traveled across the island to the Dole Plantation.  This is mainly a tourist attraction, although they do grow quite a few pineapples as well as a bunch of other tropical plants.  We did the "World's Largest Maze" and also the train ride into the pineapple fields.  It was a nice visit, but we were all pretty tired from our long day.  

Cocoa Pods


Dole Whip and a Pineapple Float

Pineapple Express

Pineapple Field

After driving through a long traffic jam on the way back, we met up with Kyrie for dinner.  

My seminar was great as usual. It's tough to want to work while in paradise, but I honestly look forward to being around these great people who openly share what they do well and are truly supportive and encouraging of everyone in our group. We bring each other and our chiropractic practices to higher levels. 

We ate at the Kona Grill inside the recently updated International Marketplace.  Thankfully, the giant banyan tree is still there, but the rest of this modern shopping center is nothing like the old tiki huts that used to be there.  Dinner was excellent though and the kids meals even came in bento boxes.

Dinner was really good, but this trip has had a shortage of ocean view sunset dinners. Really hope there's more of those on the Big Island. 

Our flight to the Bog Island is early tomorrow. Somehow we got confused when we booked it. My conference has one last session from 8 am to noon tomorrow, but I will miss it.

Day 9 - Fly to the Big Island and Paniolo Greens Resort

Landing on the Bog Island of Hawaii
Time to fly over to the Big Island for the rest of our trip.  It will be nice to be in one place for the whole week!  I'm really excited about seeing the Big Island for the first time!  I really want to see the volcano and the different beaches and I expect the snorkeling to be great.

We got up quite early to make our 9:40am flight.  We had a lot of leftover time at the airport, but I guess it's better than missing our flight!  We had some breakfast at the airport while we waited.  The flight to Kona takes less than an hour and we got a nice view of the other islands along the way (except that the kids got the good side of the plane).

The "bad side" of the plane's view just before landing

I had to pick up the rental car from nearby Kona so Kyrie had to entertain the kids while they waited.

I had no idea what to expect, but I'm amazed at what the Kona area (actually a little north of Kona) looks like.  Kohala area. It's practically all lava fields!  These are from the last eruptions on this side of the island which occurred during the late 1800's.  It's mostly jagged lava rocks from the mountains almost all the way to the coast.  There are some places where the lava is smooth and you can really picture what it must have looked like.  There is some grass and minor vegetation scattered around.  Near the ocean there are some bigger trees and a lot more vegetation, although I imagine a lot of it was planted by the resorts.

View of a distant Mauna Loa on our drive

We drove north from the airport to Waikaloa Village.  We stopped for lunch at a nearby strip mall while we waited for our check-in time.  The waitress told us where some parks were, which helped a lot since our room still wasn't ready for quite a while.  We also stopped at the local grocery store to pick up supplies for the week.  

None of us can believe the size of the avocados!
I could! (Jacob)

We exchanged our ARI (American Resorts International) timeshare for a week at Paniolo Greens resort.  We've had mixed results with our exchanges.  Some have been great, (Westin in Maui, a Royal Resort in Cancun and some others), others not so good (a place up in the mountains of Gatlinburg comes to mind).  I would say this one falls in the middle.  Any exchange in Hawaii is a plus - we've tried unsuccessfully in the past - so I definitely am not complaining.  The resort is nice, but pretty basic.  It has a small pool area and is on a golf course.  The unit is quite small for a 2 bedroom, and this one might even be considered a 3 bedroom.  There is a king bed in the master bedroom, 2 single beds in another room, and a single bed in a room that they call a den.  Also, there is a pull out couch.  So, there is plenty of sleeping space, but we're pretty spoiled with our Disney timeshare which always has SO much space.  The furnishings are decent and mostly in good condition.  We were lucky to get in one of the 2 buildings (L and K) that have a view of the ocean.  Most of the buildings do not.  We are 8 miles from the coast, so the view is nice, but it's quite a distance away.  We were able to see a nice sunset from our balcony though!

Living/Dining/Kitchen. Weird but useful storage door under stairs is open and so is front door.

Master bedroom

Seond bedroom upstairs with two single beds with balcony and en suite bathroom

Sunset from our balcony
The unit is outdated and the pool is less than optimal for a "resort", but we knew those things coming into this. We bought this ARI timeshare 20+ years ago for about $7,000 for a week every other year. It has served us well for the price. Adding in maintenance fees and exchange fees we estimate we pay less than $1200 for each week we use. Not bad at all for a week in Hawaii. The service is great at this resort. At check-in the maximum a 2 bedroom is supposed to accommodate is 6 people. Since we have 7, they gave us a unit with a "den" that has an extra bed. Housekeeping is really good too. They've done a full cleaning twice already. Usually in timeshares, you get a towel and trash service half way through the week, but not a full cleaning unless you stay longer than a week.

Day 10 - "A" Bay and Hapuna Beach

We were anxious to get back to swimming today so we headed to two of the closest beaches.  The first one is called "A Bay".  It has a Hawaiian name, but even the locals just call it "A Bay" because the name is too long.  We went here because we heard there were sea turtles near one of the tide pools in the area.  Unfortunately, we didn't know which one and there are a lot of them between this beach and the Hilton Hawaiian Village about 1.5 miles up the (very rocky) coast.  
Well, the tide pools were interesting (even for the kids) and we also got to see some of the royal fish ponds that the Hawaiian royalty used.  They devised these ponds with gates to the ocean, so that small fish could get in and out, but as the fish grew they could no longer get out through the gate.  As we got closer to the Hilton, we saw a bunch of whales playing in the water.  They were leaping out and splashing all over the place.  I've never seen a better whale sighting.  They were quite a ways out, but it was still a good show since they were being so active.  Finally, near one of the last tide pools we saw a couple of turtles.  We didn't get a great look and by then Zach was tired and cranky so we couldn't stick around to see if we could get any better looks, but at least we saw some.

This was the most beautiful hike I've ever taken! It instantly moved the Big Island above Oahu on my favorite island list. (Maui is still on top so far, but we've spent a lot more time there  and we are just beginning our time here.)

"A" Bay -  Before our hike

Royal Fish Ponds

a mix of lava rock and coral

The kids had fun adding to this coral "castle"
sad Joe's castle

After that we walked into the Hilton and checked it out a little. First we walked past the amazing pool area and the kids and I really wanted to jump in! We've been spoiled with luxurious accommodations in most of out traveling, so when we compare this resort with the "resort" we're currently staying in, it made us want to immediately check into this place. I left Kyrie and the kids there while I walked back to the car to pick them up.  We had a PB&J lunch in the car and then headed to Hapuna State Park for some swimming.

Hapuna is a fantastic beach that has a very large shallow area and then an area where the waves are pretty big for boogie boards and body surfing.  This place was super busy, but is big enough that it never felt crowded.  The kids loved playing in the surf and Zach had fun collecting lava rocks.  He even made a theme song for it! As he often does, with whatever activity he is doing. We spent hours there and had a good time. Conde Nast Traveler list this beach as number one in our nation. It's truly an idealistic setting. We'll want to come back here again.

Weird seeing snow on a mountain while you're swimming at the beach!
Even after all that swimming the kids still had to check out the pool!
We made pasta with sauteed veggies in our condo tonight and watched the movie Trolls.

Sunset from our balcony
Day 11 - Western Coast

Today we traveled south along the coast.  We made a lot of stops along the way, but we were all kind of tired still from yesterday so we didn't have as much fun as we might have.  Keep that in mind as you read my reviews of some of the places.  They may be much better than I am giving them credit for.

So we started the day out by going to Kailua.  It's just north of Kona and is a very touristy beach town.  I'm completely fine with touristy, but something was missing in this place.  I was looking for something like Lahaina in Maui, I guess.  I can't say that we did a very thorough job checking the place out, but what we saw was just kind of crowded and not a lot of nice looking restaurants and shops.  Anyway, it was fine.  We had a couple little snacks in town and walked around quite a bit, including some shops. We have no space or weight capacity in our luggage to bring home souvenirs, so that makes shopping a lot less interesting. The town was cute enough and had a lot of shops, but it was probably our mood that made it less enjoyable than Lahaina.

There are a couple of historic places in Kailua Kona.  One is a rebuilt Hawaiian temple, which might have been kind of interesting, but it really needs to be rebuilt again and they don't allow you to get very close to it.  The other thing was Hulihee, the summer palace of Hawaiian royalty.  I don't know who she was, but the palace didn't look very interesting from the outside, so we decided not to pay to check out the inside. 

The temple

The Palace

By the time we left Kailua Kona it was lunchtime so we found a nearby playground to eat lunch at and let the kids run around.  The park we went to was on Hwy 11, a little south of Kailua Kona and it has a really good playground.  One of the play structures is this kind of maze/castle thing that is the best playground thing I've ever seen (and I've seen A LOT of playgrounds!)  It was really cool and the kids really had a blast running around the place.  The only hard part was getting them to leave!

When we finally bribed them back into the car with some animal crackers we continued down the coast, travelling through Kona.  Our first stop in Kona was the Big Island Bee Company where we got to try 4 different kinds of honey that the bees made from different kinds of flowers in the area.  I think everyone liked the macadamia nut type the best. Actually I liked the one in solid form and Jacob liked the cinnamon infused honey. We had some shipped home since shipping was free with a certain amount of honey purchased. 

Next, a little way down the street was a Co-op that had Kona Coffee to sample and some various fruits and vegetables.  Kyrie and the kids tried the coffee and then we split some tropical flavors of ice cream before self touring some run down looking gardens.  Like I said, we were too tired to appreciate things today!  Surprisingly, the coffee sample I liked best was a peaberry Hawaiian dark roast. Not sure where in Hawaii it is grown. The Kona coffee was good too, but I didn't buy any.  The agriculture of Kona seems to take place mostly in a valley between the coast and the mountains.  

We continued down to the coast to a bay that has a monument to Captain Cook.  The monument is about a mile across the bay and is only accessible by boat or by a 2 mile long mountain trail, so we only saw it from a distance.  I don't know much about Captain Cook, but apparently when he arrived in the Hawaiian Islands (in this area) they thought he was the god, Lono.  After a while they realized he was not a god and they eventually killed him (also in this area).  There are also supposed to be dolphins in this bay, but we didn't see any today. The kids had fun adding large lava rocks to a wall others had started. They said they were building Jacob's palace/hut. They found a palm flag for it as well.

A Temple

That white obelisk is the monument to Captain Cook.  Technically on British soil (it's a long story).

The sand was washed away by a hurricane.
Jacob's Palace
This one's just a little too big!

From there we drove to Place of Refuge.  In ancient Hawaiian culture, if you broke a law, but somehow reached this place, you could perform some rituals and would then be forgiven for your crimes and allowed to go free.  There is a state park here that has some historic buildings and walls here.  There wasn't a lot to see, but it was sort of interesting.

At this point, Marc asked if we were up for continuing down 38 miles to the southern most point of the U.S. The kids and I unanimously voted against it. 

Next we went to Painted Church.  This is a little church that has been painted with murals completely on the inside.  It was pretty interesting to see. It was cute and only takes a minute. Since it was very close to Place of Refuge, it was worth the stop.

Nearby was Joe's Nut Shack.  I'm not sure if I got that name completely right or not, but be sure to stop by here if your in the area!  Joe is quite a character.  He took us on kind of a tour of his macadamia farm.  Mostly it involved seeing his dogs, cats, chickens, workers or his adult children (not entirely sure).  It was a lot of fun and we did eventually see the macadamia trees and he picked some off the ground for us to try.   They actually have quite a variety of flavored macadamia nuts which were pretty good, but we ended up just buying some plain ones.  You really have to go here!
Now Marc is over recommending! The only draw here was that it was so off the wall. It was like pulling into Cousin Eddy's macadamia nut farm. We weren't even sure if we were on a "tour" or not. Who wants to buy nuts after several conversations about the "rats" eating them before they even fall off the trees or chit chat about his alcoholic husband beating daughter? He gave us handfuls upon handfuls of flavored nuts (which mostly didn't touch his dirty hands), so I definitely felt obligated to buy something. Even if we were to threw the nuts away, the nutty tour was worth the $10 fee.

Zach loved that dog.  Zach, "I'm sniffing him and he's sniffing me!"

Finally, we started heading back north to find dinner.  We ate at Ultimate Burger in Kailua Kona, which wasn't what we were expecting, but was quite good anyway.  The garlic aioli sauce they serve with their fries is excellent!  We were looking for "ONO" recommendations from our guide book and narrowed it down to two choices We passed one that was an open air elevated view over the ocean in the downtown. But parking is difficult and it looked very busy. So we went to Ultimate Burger but didn't expect it to be counter service. We were ready to splurge on a relaxing and delicious meal after two days of being very frugal. It was delicious with local grass fed beef and fresh local lettuce and tomatoes and other toppings. The fries were fresh cut too. Two of our kids didn't want burgers, so it was convenient to get them Panda Express right next door.

Day 12 -  Lots and lots of turtles!

Before I talk about our day, I just wanted to mention how windy it is around here!  Every night when I write this I hear the wind howling through the building!  It's a near constant wind in this part of the island.  They joke that if the wind stopped blowing, the cows would fall down.

Today we decided snorkeling was the goal of the day so we headed to Kapaluu Beach, near Kailua.  The beach is sheltered from the ocean waves by a rock wall that goes about a quarter way across the bay - not sure if this was natural or man-made.  There is a lava shelf that sits about 1 to 2 feet below water depending on the tide with some rocks and areas still out above the water.  After the shelf it drops off to about 5 or six feet of water for most of the area.  There are quite a few little fish swimming on the lava shelf and turtles like to sun themselves there too.  We didn't realize this until Max almost stepped on one!  Then we realized how they blend in with the lava rock and we ended up seeing a bunch of them.  It was a great experience that we will never forget.  The snorkeling was good also.  There were a lot of different species of fish and quite a bit or coral as well.  The lava rock made getting into and out of the ocean quite difficult and there was a bit of a current, but not too bad.  Ella did her first snorkeling today and did really well!  I was surprised she was ready for it.  This beach was great for snorkeling, but not so good for swimming because of all of the rocks.  The little ones had fun in the salt and pepper sand (more like little pebbles) though and looking at the fish and turtles in the extensive tide pool/lava shelf area.

We spent so long there that by the time we got back to the Waikaloa area where our resort is, it was already dinner time.  We had a chilly dinner at A Bay's Island Grill.  The food was good, but we had to sit out in the wind on a cool evening (still in our swimsuits/cover-ups), so it wasn't perfect, but it was still enjoyable.

Feral Cats

Day 13 - Volcano!

We had another memorable day on the Big Island. We drove to Volcanoes National Park today. On the way there we drove through Waimea and Hilo. We only stopped briefly in Waimea for some malasadas, and we took a scenic drive on the way to Hilo. We saw several small and medium sized waterfalls and drove through some nice rainforest areas.  It was nothing like the road to Hana in Maui, but it was nice (and a lot quicker!)  We also stopped at a small zoo in Hilo which was kind of fun. The kids really appreciated the zoo with it's many sculptured benches to match the animal attractions. The three little ones really liked having a little playground time here too.

The highlight of the day of course was Volcanoes National Park.  We really could have used more time since we were trying to do so much in one day, but we did get to the main highlights and definitely had a good experience.

We downloaded an audio touring guide that uses the phone GPS to provide stories and information about the areas around the park.  That was very helpful and interesting.  We started at the visitor's center where we watched a 20 minute movie about the volcanoes and about Hawaii.  I would have preferred a more educational movie since it left an awful lot of unanswered questions, but it was okay and there were other places to get more of the science information.

We drove to the Jagger Museum next which definitely provided a lot more scientific information about the various volcanoes, how they work, information about the different types of lava, etc...  This helped us piece together the information we were looking for and gave the kids some more in depth information about how volcanoes work.

A couple of the highlights we learned were:
- Kilauae, the volcano with the current lava flow, is by far the longest erupting volcano in recorded history.  It has been continuously erupting since 1984. In recorded history, volcanoes usually erupt for days or weeks at a time, rarely for a month at a time, so how surprising that this one has been erupting for decades!
- Mauna Loa, is the largest volcano in the world.  It last erupted in 1984 and is the cause of the lava fields we see near the Kona airport.

At the museum is a lookout point where you can see the Kilauae caldera.  In the caldera is a lake of molten lava.  Right now it is about 60 feet below the surface which makes it just barely visible from the lookout point.  This was an amazing sight even though it is hard to get a great view.  We were able to see the lava bubbling and splashing up and even see the orange glow of the lava during the day.  

We continued on to the Thurston Lava Tube.  This was a large lava tube that was created from an eruption in the 1500's.  It was tall enough to easily walk through and it was quite long as well.  

Then we did the hardest part of our trip, a 1.2 mile trip down to a crater formed by an eruption in the 1950's.  This was a huge lake of lava that cooled to be almost flat along the bottom.  The sign said that it took 30 years for this lava to cool and that when rainwater falls between the cracks it turns to steam because of the lava below.  It was an easy hike down and a really interesting in the crater, especially seeing the plants that have managed to grow there, but going back up the cliff was a bit of a challenge.  The path isn't too difficult, just kind of a constant uphill back and forth, but 5 year old Zoe wanted nothing to do with it.  I was already carrying Zachary, so that wasn't an option. We had to coax her up the hill.  Finally, she decided to surprise the others and get up the trail before them and then she had plenty of energy to make the trip.  

By the time we were done with all that it was getting late in the afternoon.  We drove around the area some more and then headed back to the Jagger Museum to see the overlook after sunset.  Seeing it at dusk was a whole different experience and probably later at night would be even better.  We could see the glow from the lava pool and also see some cracks of bright orange lava in the pool.  Kind of hard to describe.  It was great to see and something I'll never forget!

We had dinner in Hilo at Ken's House of Pancakes.  That wasn't anything special, but the kids were happy to have pancakes for dinner and it was an easy choice since we were all pretty tired from our long day.

We were all exhausted after this 15 hour+ excursion, but it was well worth it. All the kids except Jacob were sleeping by the time we got back.

Day 14 - Turkeys in Paradise

Today we spent the day at Hapuna Beach again.  We've made it to all the main stuff we wanted to do on the island and needed a relaxing day after yesterday's adventure.  The kids love this beach and this time we rented some boogie boards and an umbrella which made the day even better.  Jacob, Max and Ella spent almost all the time on the boogie boards and before long Ella was talking about catching waves like she was a surfer girl.  Zoe spent most of the day building sand castles and the bigger kids joined in when they weren't in the ocean.  Zach mostly wanted to destroy the castles, but we managed to keep him away from them for the most part.  We also got to see a lot of whales leaping out of the water while we were there which was really cool.

When we returned there was a flock of wild turkeys outside of our building and when we took a picture of them Max said it should be called "Turkeys in Paradise".

We've been trying to have a sunset dinner on the beach pretty much since we arrived and haven't had any luck.  Today we kind of did.  We ate at Hawaii Calls at the Marriott Waikaloa.  It's not exactly on the beach, but you can see the beach from there.  The sunset was nice and I swear I saw a whale breech just as the sun went down.  No one else believes me and I did get a lot of sun today, but I think it really happened.

After dinner, we drove up the road a bit to Mauna Kea resort to see manta rays.  At night, the resort shines a spotlight in the water because manta rays swim in their bay to eat plankton at night.  Well, I guess they weren't hungry tonight because we didn't see any.  Still, the breeze was relatively calm, the sky was clear so we could see a million stars, and it was cool to see snorkelers and a scuba diver with flashlights. Mauna Kea resort was beautiful! The Marriott wasn't so bad either. I feel like we've been on a tour of resorts we wish we were staying at. While our "resort" was fine, we figured out that the thing making us feel like the Big Island isn't as great a place to visit as Maui is that we're not staying at a great resort with awesome pools and a view and access to a nice beach. It's like going to Walt Disney World and not staying on property. It's still fun, but not nearly as magical!

Day 15 - One last day in Hawaii

We decided to spend our last day in Hawaii at Hapuna Beach again.  The kids have so much fun there and it's a nice relaxing way to spend the day.  Today was basically the same as yesterday except that the whales weren't very active.  I also tried snorkeling here, but there was only one good spot and it was hard to get to with the strong waves and some rocks hidden around that area.

We had dinner at Tommy Bahama's which was excellent.  It wasn't quite the view we were hoping for, but it was still outside and nice and the food was good.

We have had a great time here on the Big Island and in Oahu.  The kids all had different things they liked best, but everyone had fun everyday.  It really is a paradise here.  I agree with Kyrie that the main thing keeping us from loving the Big Island is that we are staying far from the beach and from all of the resort amenities that we have enjoyed on the other islands.  Seeing the volcano was amazing and all of the sea turtles - so cool!  So, we'll definitely give the Big Island another chance sometime.  Plus there are a few things that we didn't have time to do, so we have some new experiences to look forward to in the future too.  

Tomorrow we have a very long day of travel ahead of us.  We leave Kona to fly to Honolulu at 10am and then have flights to Las Vegas and finally back to Chicago with 2 hours between each flight.  If all goes well, we will land in Chicago at about 4:30am the following day.  Definitely not looking forward to that, but it will be nice to be home.  Well, I guess that's about it for this post!  Aloha

Day 16 - Oops, bonus day.

Our long day of travel turned into two days.  Our flight from Honolulu to Las Vegas was delayed over an hour so we missed our connecting flight to Chicago.  We were able to rebook our flight to Chicago, but not until the next night since they only fly to Chicago once a day.  We used Hotwire to book a hotel for the night and were lucky to end up with Caeser's Palace for a decent rate.  Since the flights were on two different airlines we couldn't get Allegiant (the late airline) to reimburse us for any of our expenses.  Luckily, our connecting flight (Frontier) didn't charge us to change our flight to Chicago or it would have cost about $700!

Checking in to Caesars Palace at midnight was just as awful as it was 2 weeks ago checking in to Hard Rock.  There was a very long line and it took over half an hour.  The Hotwire booking hadn't made it into their system yet, so that further complicated things, but they did take care of it.

The rooms at Caesars Palace were very nice.  We didn't spend much time at the resort other than sleeping.  We spent the next day walking around the strip for several hours until we were all bored of it.  Then we took the kids to see the Batman Lego movie.  

We arrived back at the airport extra early to ensure that we didn't have any further complications.  Unfortunately, THIS flight was delayed (if only that happened yesterday!), so we spent quite a while at the airport.  Anyway, we did eventually get home and we were very happy to be there.  It was a great trip, but next time we'll be a lot more careful about the flights.