Hawaii 2013: A Family Vacation

photo-11Our annual family vacation
is my Dad, a couple of my cousins, and myself. In the quest to find
the cheapest and most accommodating flight, we’ve tried everything.
See, I’m in MD, my Dad’s in NJ, and my cousins are in VA. We’ve
tried flying out of our respective airports—Richmond, Baltimore,
and Newark. We’ve tried taking the train to NJ and then flying out
on separate flights. But this year is different. We decided to fly
together. Everyone, out of Newark—because really, who can pass up a
round-trip flight to Hawaii for $637??? No, that is not a typo.
The Plan: The cousins arrive at my house on
Saturday at 5pm. We depart for NJ at 6pm. It’s a 3 hour drive. We
arrive at 9pm. Have a late dinner and go to bed to rise no later
than 2am, because the car service was picking us up at 3am for our
5:15am flight. What Really Happened: The cousins
arrived at almost 7pm. They needed to check-in, pay for their bags,
and print their boarding passes. We loaded up the car. Made a stop
at Dunkin Donuts and then headed over to Bank of America to get
spending money (I don’t bank there so this
2nd stop wasn’t for me). We hit the road at
just about 8pm—the time my 1 cousin said was too late to leave when
I originally suggested it. We endured torrential downpours,
darkness, and fog—all contributors to poor visibility. We arrived
at shortly past 11pm. My father had gone to bed. I managed to
escape an asthma attack by repeatedly sticking my head out the
front door (no central AC in the house, window unit wasn’t in, the
screen wasn’t in the window in the living room where I was
sleeping, and my Dad is a smoker). Needless to say, I got about 30
minutes of sleep before our 6,000-mile journey began. I’ve had
requests in the past to blog about our adventures in Hawaii and
this is the year I’ll make that happen. I mean after all, if this
is how the trip begins it can only get more

Hawaii: An Oahu Travel Guide

photo-8For those that either know me or have read the ‘About Me’ tab, you’ll know that I go to Hawaii every year with my family. I’ve been incredibly blessed and fortunate to have started traveling there when I was in middle school and as such, will be going again this summer. We have visited several islands over the years: Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the big island of Hawaii. So, quite often, family, friends, friends of friends, etc., will ask me for recommendations on what to see and do. This occurred last week when a former co-worker reached out to me because she’ll be visiting Maui and Oahu in a few months with her family. Since the list is fresh and the question is often asked, I decided to share more broadly. Here you go!

Maui: It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to Maui, but it is my most favorite island. There is just the right mix of things to do and relaxation. The last time we were there we took ‘The Road to Hana’. To say it was bumpy would be an understatement–my father stopped speaking to me after the tour. Personally, I thought it was super fun and very pretty. I suggest a tour so you don’t have to worry about damaging a rental and if you do get a rental, tell them where you’re planning to go so you can get an appropriate vehicle because the terrain really is that bad.

Kauai: Without a doubt, this is the prettiest island (and considering we’re talking about Hawaii, that’s saying something). It’s incredibly lush due to the crazy amount of rainfall it gets in the mountains. This is the ideal island for honeymooners and/or couples that want to get away and relax because there is not much to do. I’ve heard of people taking helicopter rides to see the Nepali Coast, but I don’t do helicopters so…

Hawaii: If you like doing things outside, this is your island! There’s hiking. There’s horseback riding. And there’s the Volcano House, you simply must go. It sits at the top of Kilauea, which yes, is still erupting. You can see actual craters, historic lava flows, and steam coming from the vents in the ground. A few years back we took a tour (my father is big on tours) that went to see live lava flow at night. We, the tourists, stood several yards away and watched the lava flow into the ocean, the Hawaiian bus driver/tour guide stayed with the bus. It was a very cool experience but it was dark, we had 1 small flashlight between 3 of us, it was raining, and we had to hike through slippery, uneven lava terrain. But clearly I lived to tell the tale.

Oahu: Now this island is my home away from home. My father–who has been retired for over 20 years–likes to be in the midst of the ‘action’ in Hawaii, so we spend the majority of our time on this island. I often say that Waikiki is like New York City in paradise. NYC is my fave city in the world, so take that statement with the grain of salt. And because of my father and his aforementioned proclivity to want to do all things entertaining, we’ve explored.

  • Pearl HarborI recommend a tour, that way you don’t have to deal with getting tickets and then you can lump in seeing the Mighty Mo and possibly Punchbowl Cemetery. I believe Roberts Stars and Stripes tour is the only one that goes to Punchbowl.
  • Polynesian Cultural CenterI think this is consistently named the #1 tourist attraction on Oahu. It is a neat set up, seeing the different villages representing the Polynesian Islands. The canoe parade is beautiful so get a good spot ahead of time to take pictures.
  • Paradise Cove LuauThe location is gorgeous, food yummy, and drinks delicious. It is somewhat similar to the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, but I would recommend Paradise Cove—after all, Kimora Lee Simmons enjoyed it.
  • Navatek Dinner CruiseGreat views of Diamond Head at night and if you go on a Friday, they stay out an extra hour so you can see fireworks on the island from the ship. And the buffet is good.
  • Snorkeling at Hanauma BayPersonally, I hate snorkeling because I can’t breathe through my mouth and I hate stuff on my face, but even I did it. It’s very pretty and was definitely worth it. I think it’s closed on Tuesday’s, but double-check me on that one.
  • Climb Diamond HeadThe views are gorgeous, but the climb is no joke. A lot of switchbacks, 100 steep steps at one point, an iron spiral staircase, and then an opening in a rock wall to climb through. But your pictures will be awesome.
  • Iolani PalaceVery pretty and truly a place to go if you like history. The tours are given by volunteer docent’s and it’s downtown. If you take the trolley, you can hop off at the Aloha Tower and Marketplace and get some good pics at the top of the tower.
  • Red or Blue Line Trolley ToursIf you have a down time kind of day.
  • North Shore–Rent a car, see the surfers at Sunset Beach, eat at a shrimp truck, stop by Ted’s Bakery, and spend the day wandering.

Eat at:

  • The Hula Grille is my favorite restaurant. The purple (taro) mashed potatoes and the oil for the bread are yummy.
  • Duke’s is touristy, but you kind of have to go. The live music is pretty good and it’s on the beach. Plus, their breakfast buffet is AWESOME, so is their salad bar at dinner.
  • Keoni’s for breakfast is a bit of a hidden gem. I love their pancakes and corned beef hash.
  • Eggs n’ ThingsBut if you go to the original one on Saratoga Rd., you have to go when they open or at an off-peak time of day because it is just that crowded.
  • Pai’s DeliIt’s in the Outrigger Waikiki. A literal cut out in the wall on the bottom level of the hotel, they have the freshest sandwiches and veggies ever and the iced tea keeps you going back for more.
  • Any shaved ice stand will do, just have make sure you have one (or more).

You could also visit the Byodo-In Temple, the Dole Plantation (ride the little train), the Aviation Museum, take a submarine ride (pretty cool), and see the Society of Seven show. Oahu will not leave you wanting for things to do, trust me. So when you get back from your visit, drop me a line and let me know what you thought!

The Deauville Beach Resort: Just Say No…

deauvilleSo much can be said of the hotel I just stayed in for a conference…sadly, none of it is good. I mean, what does one call a hotel where the AC in the conference room has two settings–on and off? You call it, The Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach, FL (that I will never again go to in life).

Honestly, I don’t know where to begin. When one of the conference speakers tells you that the hotel you’re staying in is crap, and he’s flown in for the day and hasn’t even been on the elevator, let alone a room–that’s saying something. Yes, he really said the hotel, and it’s website, were crap. Of course, if he had gotten on the elevator and stayed in a room, here are some if the things he would’ve experienced. (No names have been changed because there is no innocence to be protected here.)

The ‘executive room’–and I use that term loosely, as in looser than Jennifer Hudson trying to wear her Dream Girl’s movie pants post Weight Watchers–was deemed such because it had one of the first Vizio flat screen tv’s ever made and a blue frosted bathroom wall. The bathroom by the way had no soap dishes and no towel rack. But then who really needs a towel rack when the hotel has run out of wash cloths the last two days you’re there. Guess not enough people were drinking the 16 oz., $6.00 bottle of water left in the room and they couldn’t afford more small towels. Or comforters for that matter, because all you were supplied with for bedding were sheets. If you really needed warmth there was always that thin fleece blanket in the non-closet to wrap up in.

But really, you weren’t going to get much sleep anyway because the Latin dance party in the room next to you started at 4am and 5:23am each morning–complete with DJ. The walls were so thin it was like they were in the room with you. Of course, in the case of one of my fellow conference attendees, the people in the room next to her tried to come into her room by jiggling the doorknob on the adjoining room door. Since this ‘luxury’ hotel was sold out, she proceeded to put a chair under the knob just to be safe. Speaking of safe, when your firm offers to move you to a hotel that costs 2x the allowable company budget to make sure you’re safe, take them up on it. (But then the fodder for your blog post would be limited.)

I’m sure the attendees whose rooms the Deauville accidentally gave away in the middle of the day, which was only discovered because their room keys didn’t work when they tried them on a break, would’ve appreciated my company’s room relocation offer. Seriously, they had to spend 45 minutes convincing the staff to let them stay. I’m still shaking my head at that one. Which is not to imply that I’m not shaking my head at the ladies who only had one light source in their room in the form of a floor lamp, or the woman who tried to check in early and was told no, with no further explanation, no offer to hold luggage, and no direction on how to find a bellman to ask herself. And certainly I’m still in awe at the woman who went to happy hour with the group and was asked to prove that she had only had 1 of her 2 for 1 drinks and could still get the special price.

But all of that aside, you could argue that at least the conference was worth it, right? The conference where the moderator could only stay for most of the first day because he had to fly back to Los Angeles at the last-minute because of a client emergency, leaving us without an MC. The conference that didn’t order enough coffee and ran out both days. Coffee. It’s a hotel with a restaurant in it, how do you run out of coffee? Then again, a shortage of coffee was the least of the organizers concerns considering 3 of the speakers didn’t show up. Gee, I wonder why…

Thankfully, when all was said and done, the speakers that did show were great and provided a wealth of information. The opportunity to network with the speakers and attendees was invaluable and they were all good-natured and wonderful people. The spring breakers literally running through the halls couldn’t detract from the 70+ degree weather, especially since it’s 20 degrees with snow on the way here in MD.

In the end, all you can do is keep a good attitude (including a healthy sense of humor), learn what you can, enjoy the people you’re with, and blog to warn others.

Stay tuned…steps to finding the perfect conference are on the way. (Clearly, I have a vast amount of experience in this area on what NOT to do.)

Poor Plane Etiquette

20130322-063551.jpgAs if the ridiculously high baggage fees, nonsensical charge for disgusting airplane food, and the sometimes flat out stupid and invasive TSA screenings don’t make traveling hard enough; I honestly believe that if Ashton Kutcher still made Punk’d, I’d be on it right now.

On a plane to Miami for a content strategies conference. Now, I have no idea what I’m heading into because the hotel the conference is at had 416 terrible ratings online and only 246 great. We’ll see what happens upon arrival. Which all starts with the plane ride. And yes, I’m typing this ‘incognito’ as the offending passenger sits next to me.

He’s in the middle seat and I’m in the aisle. The flight was overbooked so they asked for people to give up their seats. Why could he not have been one??? Apparently, he lost the battery cover on his cell phone. So, after sitting down he had to get off the plane and go search the airport to no avail. He then decides to take his jacket off and put it in the overhead bin because the plane is too hot. Because THAT often happens–not. No need for me to get up, he’ll just reach over me, twice, open the bin and tuck his jacket in. And don’t worry about anything falling on my head. Next, he’s hunched over doing something…the something, removing his shoes. No, I am NOT making this up. The next thing I know he kicks me with his, thankfully, socked foot. Next, the flight attendants come around to offer the only thing free on planes these days–soda and water; my seat compadre gets a Chardonnay and a glass of water. But see, now he needs something out of his book bag, which is under the seat. What’s a guy to do? But to ask me to open my tray table so he can put the water on my tray while he tends to his personal situation. Sure, no problem. And of course I don’t mind if you shoo your pretzel crumbs all over me now that you’re done eating. Currently, he’s in the bathroom. I can only imagine what the next hour and ten minutes hold…How this will end and what lies before me.

The Fun Way to Prepare for Vacation

Every year since middle school–without giving away my age, we’ll just say for a long time–I have been blessed to go to Hawaii on vacation with my family.

Back story: Long before I was thought of, as my father likes to say–he went to Hawaii when he was in the Navy. After traveling all over the world he concluded it’s the only place that actually looks like the post cards. Hence, the obsession begins. And yes, there are worse things than having to go to Hawaii every year, but it’s a big world, and I wanna see it. Alas, that’s a post for another day…

Fast forward, yearsssss, and we have present day. There are many approaches you can take to preparing for vacation, but the important thing is to find the one that works for you. Personally, I spend the final week’ish prior to departure, preparing. My cousin, on the other hand, has been shopping and organizing since Feb. And then there’s my friend D, who despises packing more than anyone I know and stresses up until the last moments. (No, she’s not going with us on vacation. Just an example.)

Here’s where I’ve landed:
– Do not over pack. No matter where you go, you can but the ‘it’ you think you need. And then you can say you got that ‘it’ from your vacation destination.
The Fun Way: Every year, I am the woman in the check-in line at the airport unzipping her suitcase, sweating profusely as she shifts stuff from one bag to another because her suitcase apparently meets the obesity standards set forth by airlines all over, and I don’t want to pay the additional fee. Don’t be me. And weigh your bag(s) before leaving.

– Always confirm your flight time.
The Fun Way: Or, you can realize after your father has arranged for transportation to pick you up at the airport in Hawaii, that your flight changed and is now coming in later than originally scheduled. (I can call the car service, Daddy doesn’t need to know.) Which brings me to my next point, transportation.

– Find and verify reliable transportation to and from the airport.
The Fun Way: Call the car service you booked online to take you to BWI a few days prior to leaving, because you haven’t received their confirmation call, to find out they don’t do pick ups in the state of MD, only in D.C. Spend the days before leaving finding the cheapest car service you can and hope for the best.

(Note: Yes, friends are an option. One year, mine overslept and I had to drive myself to the airport and then have my other friends retrieve my car so I didn’t incur the $20 a day fee for 2 weeks. And in this year’s case, there aren’t too many volunteers to take me to the airport at 5am on a Sunday.)

That brings us to today. I still need to remind my neighbor to drop my dog off at the kennel on Monday. I haven’t packed. And technically, my suitcase zipper is broken. But to me the number one thing to do to prepare–get excited! And that I have covered…everything else will come together.

Look for frequent posts over the next two weeks from paradise, aka Hawaii.