Hanging loose at Disney Aulani Resort, Ko Olina, Hawaii 


Opposites attract. That old adage can’t be farther from the truth when describing me and my husband. Early on in our relationship, I have noticed we were interested in different things. His idea of vacation usually involved the beach and was especially fascinated with Asia. On the other hand, I liked shopping and museums or sitting for endless hours in a cafe. And I was in love with Europe. Although he’s Caucasian, it was rather peculiar that he knew a lot about Asian food (way more than me) but knew nothing about European food. He introduced me to sushi and Vietnamese food and I, in turn, introduced him to olives,  prosciutto, and French macarons. When I first brought him to the Philippines, he ventured out of Manila and went to Palawan and Cebu (where you’d find some of the most beautiful beaches in the country). I stayed behind in Manila because I preferred the hustle and bustle of the city.

Now that we are married and older, his dauntless spirit is gone, choosing safe over adventure. I, too, can feel the changes in me lately. The places that once captivated me were no longer fascinating. I now prefer solitude and nature over bustling, overcrowded cities and skyscrapers.

 

Paris Disneyland

 

But if there is one thing that we both have in common, that is our love for Disney. We have been to all the Disney properties in the United States and its international parks in Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Our endearment for Disney has been passed on to our boys. When my son was getting his chemo treatments, he mentioned that once he’s better, he wants to go back to Epcot Center at Walt Disney World (he loved the food at Les Chefs de France). My older son’s childhood crush was Mulan and had an awesome picture with her last time we were there.

 

at the Les Chefs de France, Epcot Center in Florida

 

 
When we first heard about the opening of Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii, we were very excited about it. We vowed that if we were ever to go back to Hawaii, we would definitely visit the property. Last spring break, that became a reality and lucky for us, my cousin’s friend works for Disney and gave us a discount for an overnight stay.

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We were greeted with pukka shell necklaces (for the boys) and an orchid lei (for me) once we pulled our car up to the valet. They also had refreshing water infused with fruits waiting for the guests before entering the hotel. Each of us were given a key with our names on it after checking in. The boys loved this idea and felt important.


The rooms were impeccable. The decor includes Hawaiian quilts, Mickey Mouse lamps, and a towel in the shape of Mickey ears (neatly folded on the bed).

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The whole resort’s theme is Polynesian, with only subtle hints of Disney.

There were no cast members walking around the property, except for the meet and greet breakfast with Mickey. The grounds include an 8,200 square feet (760 m2) pool complex that includes two slides, a lazy river, and an artificial snorkeling lagoon.


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They also had their own private beach and with the free wifi, I was able to write some of my blogs on our Hawaiian vacation while laying on one of the lounge chairs and watching the boys swim in the beach.

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We were also excited to see a shaved ice stand and even better, pineapple Dole whip  was served inside the gift shop by the pool.

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My husband and my younger son rented gears to snorkel at the artificial snorkeling lagoon. There was a window from the side of the lagoon where we can watch them snorkel and take their photos.
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The next morning we had breakfast at a restaurant facing the beach. The hostess was awful and wouldn’t allow us to sit ourselves without the whole party present even when we insisted the rest were coming in a few minutes. It really didn’t make sense and of course there were arguments between us initially but I’m not even going to waste my time writing about it.

The view from our table

 The food wasn’t very special and it was quite pricey. But what do you expect? You’re not only at a Disney property, but also in Hawaii, one of the most expensive states in America.

My overall impression of Disney Aulani Resort was good but it was not overly impressive. With the discount, we still paid $400 for a night. I honestly didn’t think it was worth the price but we’re still glad we got to experience Disney in Hawaii. In fact, I’m glad it was only for a night because the property was a 40 minute drive (or more depending on the traffic) from Waikiki and there’s not much to do or see in Ko Olina other than the resorts. Will I come back again? Probably not. But at least I can say “I’ve been there!”

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Hiking through the Rainforest Jungle at Mānoa Falls

the beginning of the hike
Before  we left for Hawaii, there was a short period of time when I was going through emotional fatigue. My days involved many unproductive hours just laying in bed. Thankfully, I snapped out of it and soon found solace in walking. After everyone had gone off to school or work in the morning,  I looked forward to my walks.

Walking, somehow, provided a sense of relief– a relief from my often humdrum days. I know it sounds a bit crazy but during my walks, I imagined being in places I haven’t been, picturing myself on a trek to Machu Picchu or in the foot of a mountain somewhere in the Himalayas. My imagination transported me to another world and because of this I was able to overcome some of my torment and get through my day. 

  

big rocks can become slippery during rainy days
When we arrived in Hawaii, I was set to do a lot of walking despite the occasional objections from my kids. I planned to do some hiking, an unusual itinerary for the whole family. I’m not sure if my husband and the boys noticed the changes within me but they never did inquire. They knew the type of vacations I’ve always enjoyed–mostly traveling to big cities, shopping, hunting for the latest and hottest spots or eating at trendy or highly acclaimed restaurants. But this vacation was different. I did not seek the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle but instead I sought out for the real jungle!

  
 

The scenic stroll through the tropical lush greenery transported me into an isolated island off Costa Rica, imagining myself in a thrilling scene in Jurassic Park. But wait, this is where it actually happened! Most of the movie’s wild jungle scenes were filmed here at Mānoa Falls. Also true for the TV series Lost, some of the episodes were filmed in this same location.  

The first thing I noticed when we started our hike was the smell of the rainforest. Breathing in the clean air, surrounded by the fresh smell of trees, hearing the birds chirping, and the sound of the water running all brought an inexplicable feeling of excitement. 

    
 The trail is very well maintained but it can get muddy and those large boulders can become very slippery during the rainy days. A good footwear is highly recommended but as an inexperienced hiker such as myself, I found this hike quite easy. It took us about 1 1/2–2 hours of total walking. It was definitely the most fascinating couple of hours I spent in Oahu. 

When we reached the waterfall, we were a bit disappointed that it hardly had any water (above photo). Apparently this is the result from the lack of rain in the island lately. 

I found an image of the waterfall in the Internet just to get an idea of what it would look like had there been an abundance of rain. Photo  

Another tidbit of information: They have now deemed it dangerous for anyone to swim in the base of the waterfall since the rockslide in 2002.

My husband asked what I thought was the most memorable part of our trip. For me, the hike at Mānoa Falls was certainly one of my top two most unforgettable moments. The other was trekking Diamond Head. 

Mahalo, Mānoa Falls, for an experience of a lifetime!

North Shore, Part 2: The historic town of Hale’iwa

Waikiki Beach is the more cosmopolitan side of Oahu where most tourists stay. But if you are looking for something less action packed (in terms of crowd) and more laid back beaches but with monster waves, then North Shore is definitely the place to go.

The Part 1 of my North Shore post comprised of activities on the  Kamehameha Hwy along the Windward coast. On another occasion, we explored the central side of North Shore, taking the H2 freeway that eventually turned into Kamehameha Hwy towards the town of Hale’iwa.

Dole Plantation

Dole Plantation is a “tourist trap” according to many reviews I read from guidebooks and  blogs. I agree it’s touristy but my whole family had a great time there. Actually my main motivation was to get another taste of that  famous Dole whip. I’ve had a taste of this heavenly pineapple flavored soft serve ice cream in Disneyland once and fell in love with it. Unfortunately you won’t find this anywhere in the mainland (other than the Disney parks). Unless of course you fly to Hawaii.

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Jude had been looking forward to the Pineapple Garden Maze, the largest maze in the world. He read the Maze Runner and he imagined he was a character in the book.

There are eight secret stations, each one named after each island in Hawaii. Once he spots a station, he has to trace the stencil on the ticket he was given.

all smiles after finding one of the stations

Keith and I gave up and left Jude with Joshua in the maze. With their goal of searching for all eight stations, we suspected it wasn’t going to be an easy task and it will surely be time consuming. Meanwhile, we went to browse at all the interesting Hawaiian products at the gift shop.

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The Pineapple Express is a twenty minute narrated train ride, touring the plantation. We saw many varieties of crops and I was excited to spot mango trees (it reminded me of our home growing up in northern Philippines where we had seven mango trees in the backyard!). I don’t remember ever seeing mango trees in the States until now. DSC_0068

If you notice the color of the soil is red. This is a mixture of volcanic ash and iron and apparently pineapples love them, growing to be big and sweet.

After touring the Dole Plantation, we drove farther north, noticing the town of Hale’iwa as nostalgically attractive, a reminiscent of the old Hawaii. In fact many residents in the North Shore were against a bill that proposed more future expansions, hence further urbanization of the area. “Keep the country country” were some signs we saw. I strongly agree with its residents.

Our next stop was sampling one of the shrimp trucks. North Shore is well known for its shrimp trucks. Giovanni’s is probably the most popular of the lot but I read some reviews where others preferred Macky’s. I would’ve tried both but Macky’s was more convenient and it was along the route we were on.

I had the Butter Garlic shrimp, combined with white rice and salad. The rice was topped with fried garlic and the shrimp tasted fresh–buttery and garlicky– and oh so delicious. I wish my husband and the boys liked shrimp. I would’ve enjoyed this experience a lot more if they joined me in devouring it.

the long line at Matsumoto’s

The next stop was more eventful as everyone liked shaved ice. Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice was definitely the place to go. No one seemed to mind the long line. I ordered the Tropical flavors– a combination of papaya, guava, and lilikoi. It was really good but Joshua and I thought that the colors turned out bland and uninteresting in photographs.

tropical shave ice-toppings of guava, papaya, and lilikoi

It took more than an hour to get  back to our hotel in Waikiki. The traffic can be a pain, depending on the day and time. But experiencing North Shore was worth all the inconveniences, making it as one of our most memorable moments in Hawaii. Skipping North Shore is  a mistake, missing out on a big part of your Oahu experience. It’s simply a must place to visit!

North Shore, Part 1: The Scenic Drive along the Kamehameha Hwy

If you ask a surfer in Oahu where the best waves are, they will surely point you to go north. North Shore beaches are best known for its waves, a mecca for surfers. When I was a flight attendant, I used to go to Hawaii almost every month. Some of my fellow flight attendants, who were Hawaii residents (but based in LA) would always tell me to check out North Shore. While it is accessible by public transportation, it is more convenient if you had a car, enabling you to circle the island. However, North Shore isn’t only famous for its waves. There are numerous tourist attractions located there. On our second day in Oahu, we drove along the Kamehameha Hwy with stunning views of both the Ko’olau mountain and the Pacific Ocean. We took our time and stopped to several places before our day’s final destination, the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Our first stop was at the Byodo-in Temple.  Located in the Valley of the Temples, at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains, it is a replica of the Byodo-in Temple of Uji in Kyoto prefecture, Japan.

 

When we arrived at 9:30am, there was only one family there besides us which made our visit very peaceful. As you enter to your left, you will find a sacred bell and visitors are invited to ring the bell signifying a lifetime of peace, happiness, blessings and long life.

Jude had the best time feeding the koi fish. According to him the $1 he spent for the food gave him the utmost satisfaction.

The peacocks are wild and live up in the mountain. According to the groundskeeper, they come to the temple only if they want to. That day we didn’t find any of them but we saw a black swan.

We found a short trail with bamboo trees behind the temple. There’s also a Meditation Pavilion. We stopped by the Tea House gift shop and Josh bought a lucky charm for academic success. We stayed there for more than an hour, taking our time to explore the whole grounds.

Although the temple is considered to be Hawaii’s best kept secret, it has been used to film several TV shows, including my favorite, Lost. We left the temple and drove further along the Kamehameha Highway. 

We were starting to get hungry and we passed by Keneke’s Grill. At first we weren’t sure if we should eat there. We didn’t know anything about the restaurant so we sat in the car for a few minutes trying to find a review on Yelp. It got mixed reviews, some were really good and some were mediocre. I was hungry and so I decided to go in and crossed my fingers.

Glad we did because it was actually quite good. I had the combination of Kalua pork and grilled shrimp with rice and macaroni salad, a very typical Hawaiian lunch plate. The serving was huge and one order can be shared by two people.  

Polynesian Cultural Center. 

The Polynesian Cultural Center is perhaps one of the most visited tourist spots in Oahu. If it is your first time in Hawaii, I highly recommend that you visit this place. This is my 3rd time here and I still had a great time on each visit. I think of this place as the “Epcot Center of Polynesia” with six different islands to explore. As touristy as it sounds, the activities and the presentations in each island were actually quite informative and entertaining. Activities in the Samoa island include fire making where one can learn to build fire from scratch. They also have  the best presentation (in my opinion) with climbing the coconut tree as part of the show. 



Learning how to make a fire


Aotearoa’s games of sticks (New Zealand)
They had a Canoe Pageant representing each island at 2:30 pm, definitely a must see!


We also did canoe paddling, which I thought was pretty cool!


We did the Luao here as it was probably the most cost efficient when combined with the entrance tickets.

Roasted Kalua Pig during the Lū’au
The boys really enjoyed their time at the Polynesian Cultural Center. My only advice is not to see every show presentations as it could get overwhelming. It is a lot more fun to join in some of the hands-on activities (kids will enjoy them more than the shows). Also, their Lū’au was huge and the food wasn’t the best but do it at least once. It’s a good way to sample each of the Hawaiian foods you normally won’t eat on your own such as poi, Kalua pig, poke, lomilomi salmon, and many more. 

This concludes my Part 1 of my North Shore blog post. I’ll post the things we did driving on the central side of the island. For now, hang loose!

Trekking Diamond Head in Oahu

The number one thing in my must-do list while in Honolulu was to climb Lē’ahi, more commonly known as the Diamond Head State Monument. Once an active volcano, it is now the most famous landmark in Hawaii and a popular hiking destination to many tourists.

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I woke up my husband and the two boys at 5:30 in the morning. The sunrise that day was going to be at 6:45 am. We had to leave immediately if we wanted to catch the sunrise. But everyone took longer than I had anticipated and by the time we left the hotel it was already 6:05 am. From our hotel, it took about 10 minutes to get to Diamond Head and by the time we were ready to climb it, the sun was starting to rise.

Depending on how fit you are, you can trek all the way to the summit in an hour. From the trailhead to the summit is about 0.8 mile (1.3 km) one way and it is a 560 feet (171 m) climb from the crater floor. The trail starts on a concrete walkway then it follows an uneven and steep terrain of dirt trail with numerous switchbacks. This was originally designed for mules and foot traffic. 

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At the first lookout, we joked to each other about turning back and to forget about climbing the whole thing. Deep inside, I was tempted not to finish it knowing there are tunnels and steep stairs to climb before we reach the top. Fortunately I am not a quitter and neither are the boys. 

A short walk from the first lookout are steep stairways, about 74 concrete steps, leading into the first narrow tunnel. The tunnel is 225 feet long and it is lighted. Initially, I felt claustrophobic because it is quite low (anyone over 6 feet tall will have to duck while walking) but I had to brush off that thought to calm my nerves. Actually, I was more afraid for my husband knowing he has had trouble with enclosed spaces before. I didn’t say anything to anyone to indicate that fear to avoid panic. I told the boys the tunnel was not very long and it was going to end soon.

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When the tunnel ended, we were immediately faced with the second stairway—more steep stairs! The phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” usually indicates some sort of relief but in this case, when we reached the end of the tunnel, none of us were relieved. We had to catch our breath and had to sit for a few minutes to restore any energy left before we could climb again–all 99 steps.

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At the top of the stairs is another tunnel (not as enclosed as the first one and it’s actually shorter walk) leading to spiral staircases. Finally you get to the observation station, which is the summit.What we didn’t realize was that if we had taken the pathway to our left (the right side were the stairs), it would still lead us to the summit and didn’t have to succumb into climbing those steep stairs (although of course taking the other path would feel like cheating).

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Actually we felt more accomplished (and glad) doing the harder path.

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 And seriously, who wouldn’t feel that way when the prize was this amazing gorgeous view?

We may regret having missed the sunrise but we were proud that we climbed Lē’ahi and witnessed the beauty of the amazing island of Oahu. 

 

Aloha with Love

It’s a blessing that our flight to Hawaii wasn’t cancelled. On the night before our departure, there was a forecast of snow in the Dallas metroplex. The next morning, I looked out at the window and saw we were surrounded by 3-6 inches of snow. Fortunately, it was going to be sunny all day and the snow eventually melted by early afternoon. 


Imagine my relief when our plane took off from Dallas. I knew there was nothing that can stop us now. We were headed to Hawaii, where the air breeze is much warmer. We spent the night in Los Angeles and took an early flight the next day to Honolulu. 


“I’m going to die in Dallas”, I told my husband as we landed in Honolulu Int’l Airport. “Oh no, not me!”, he replied. No, I don’t mean I’m going to die in Dallas literally. Not if I can help it. I have to be honest, I don’t like living in Dallas. Perhaps it’s a different story if I live in Austin. But I don’t. Dallas bores me. It lacks the cultural diversity I longed for. It is also very flat. No ocean. No mountains. No coconut trees. It also doesn’t help that I have no family in Dallas. And despite having found good friends, I often find myself lonely in this city.

Whenever my husband suggests Hawaii as our vacation destination, there’s always that initial disagreement between us. I want to go somewhere different, somewhere we’ve never been to before. I have been to Hawaii countless of times when I worked for the airlines. And we have gone there four times with the whole family already. But this trip is his gift to himself to celebrate a milestone birthday, although eight months too late. I couldn’t argue with him. For some reason I could never understand, he’s always had a profound love affair with Hawaii. 

But I must admit, he made the right decision this time. Honolulu has everything I need for my inner peace —the ocean and the mountains, combined with the skyscrapers, it is paradise. 

the hotel lobby


Our home for the week was at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It is a 22 acre oceanfront property with beautiful tropical landscapes. The resort has many restaurants and shops (including a Louis Vuitton store). They have five pools and a lagoon. It also has 60 species of exotic birds, turtles, waterfowls and fish throughout the property. We were given a room with a breathtaking view of the ocean and Diamond Head. 

took this photo early morning
our room’s view with the Diamond Head in the background

Hawaii is five hours behind Texas. The time difference definitely worked in our favor. We woke up early the first morning, walked by the beach before it got crowded. The moon was still visible and the water was calm. The only noise we could hear was the sound of the waves. The tranquility was an indication of what lies ahead- an unforgettable vacation in paradise. 

Aloha!