The best Hawaii visit ever

For years, we have searched for the right formula for a trip to Hawaii.  Hawaii is a tough destination to sell to folks living on the west coast.  By the time they reach retirement, generally they have visited the islands once or twice or 27 times.  Which means standard attractions like Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Fern Grotto and Volcanoes Nat’l Park aren’t quite as attractive to them.  Been there, done that, is the vibe I got from our travelers.  But now we have something better in Hawaii, and will for future years.

So when we planned our tour to Hawaii this season, I set out to find something truly unusual and different to share.  I wanted to make the islands, their people and their culture, come to life.  I wanted the people who traveled to our 50th state with Sports Leisure to feel like they had seen and done things others had not.

Our itinerary featured three islands (in order) – Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii.  On Kauai, we stayed at the Marriott, a beautiful hotel on the beach next to the airport, just completing a multi-million dollar renovation.  There are still a few construction barriers scattered about, as the finishing touches are applied.  It served our needs well and will be a magnificent retreat when it’s finished (in time for next year’s visit).  We let “the garden isle” live up to its name, by visiting a botanical garden where we were allowed to touch, taste and smell the plants and foliage.  Lunch at the beautiful new St. Regis (formerly the Sheraton) at Princeville was featured, along with a tour of a new island agricultural attraction, a chocolate farm.  We tasted ten gourmet chocolates (like you’d taste and rate fine wine) and decided which best fit our palates.

On Oahu, we made the Hilton Hawaiian Village our home.  While the resort offers just about everything you could possibly desire, their attention to service and detail has been lacking the last couple of visits.  We will likely choose a different home in Waikiki in the future.  A highlight of our stay on the island was a visit to the newly reopened Hawaiian Hall at the Bishop Museum.  This is truly one of the most beautiful buildings in the United States, with a magnificent interior.  A private docent-led led took us on a path of Hawaiian kings and their history for an hour.  Fascinating.

A bus ride to the west side of Oahu brought is to the Star Cruises dock, where we embarked on an amazing dolphin cruise.  No, not in the water with the animals, but having them swim within 10-15 feet of the boat, spinning and dancing in the water.  What an amazing sight.  A tour of historic Iolani Palace was also on the agenda and well worth the $20 admission price.  This is a sacred yet controversial place to the Hawaiian people and the story of how it fits into island history is worth hearing.

Our final destination was the Big Island, beginning with a stop for a burger at Drysdale’s Restaurant near Kailua.  Named after the former Dodger baseball star, the establishment serves hamburgers that are unbelievable, with onion rings to match.   The Marriott Waikoloa was our home for two nights, a beautiful resort on the edge of the ocean.

Our days were filled with two cultural and historical lifeseeing trips.  We learned of sacred religious spots dating to the days of King Kamehameha and stopped in the tiny town of Hawi, waaaayyyy off the beaten track.

Jim Reddecopp and his lovely wife Tracy, the owners of Hawaiian Vanilla Company, were our hosts on the last full day of our stay.  Lunch at the farm and a tour of the growing greenhouses (Did you know every single vanilla blossom has to be pollinated by hand?) was tasty and educational.  Jim’s kids are home-schooled and assist with the lunch service.  It’s a nice touch and a wonderful meal.  Visits to a mushroom and a tea farm rounded out the last day.  After an overnight in Hilo, we were on our way home.

I left Hawaii knowing that after 28 years of taking people to the islands, we had finally found an itinerary that took people away from the main tourist attractions and helped them understand the islands better.  This itinerary will return in November of both 2010 and 2011, because it truly is the best way to experience paradise.  And so it goes…

P.S. – Some will wonder why Maui wasn’t on our list.  No special reason, except for our feelings that there are more “undiscovered” things to see and do on the other three islands.  In addition, Maui tends to be more expensive for accommodations and suffer from more traffic issues, which weighed in our decision.

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