Sunday, January 9, 2022

Operation Hawaii Surprise

I just got back from a vacation I have been planning for months - a trip to Hawaii with my husband and kids. And by kids I mean an almost college graduate and a college freshman. I know that I'll still get to do fun stuff with my kids when they are fully independent adults, but it felt like the right time to steal 2 weeks of their Christmas breaks to have them all to myself and surprise them with an adventure. The idea really started with a potential work conference in Kauai for my husband, which of course got cancelled, but by then the family trip idea had enough "legs" that we were going anyway.

How does one get to Hawaii during a pandemic? Very carefully. And the requirements change (they literally did while we were mid-trip) so be sure to start with Safe Travels Hawaii. At the time of our trip a quarantine is required for all inbound travelers, but you can get excused if you are vaccinated or tested. We are all vaccinated, so registered our trip and uploaded our vaccine information per their process. What I learned from a great FB group was an important 3rd step - pre-clearance by your airline before getting on your flight to Hawaii. In our case, Southwest had a desk set up at LAX where we showed all the things and verified all the details, and they gave us red wrist bands. This allowed us to bee bop past the long line of arriving passengers at the Kona airport, and get our vacation started. Everyone over 18 had to do their own registration - no mom-fill-it-out-for-everyone option. I put all the trip details into an Apple note shared with the entire family, which significantly reduced the "Hey Mom, what's the address/confirmation number/time we are leaving..." questions.

Hawaii required (again, as of this moment) masks indoors at all places we went to. Hotels also verified our Safe Travels clearance when checking in, even if we were arriving from within Hawaii. We had one restaurant on our last night verify our vaccine cards and took all our temperatures before allowing us to enter. But the great thing about this paradise that somehow is a state in our country? All the cool stuff is outdoors, and most indoor places use natural air conditioning (aka, lots of open windows).

We also made a lot of choices based on refund-ability. If we had to completely cancel the trip I wanted to be able to limit the damage. That's why we flew the family airline, even though it meant some extra stops. But it also made choices easier - when you dial in 3 bedrooms, certain dates, and a liberal refund policy in VRBO and AirBnB I ended up with only a handful to choose from, and that's fine. We ended up with really cool places (left Big Island, right Kauai):

As for what to do once we got there, three great resources helped: My brother who had vacationed with his family in 2019 (or so?) and two FaceBook groups (Hale Koa Tips & Tricks and Island Hopping for Military). There are many companies that offer many excursions, so this helped me sift through all the reviews. Also, and very old school, I bought the Lonely Planet guides for the Big Island and Kauai.

Below is a brief rundown on what we did, but mostly we enjoyed the sun, sea and each other, lots of great food, many mai tais and malasadas (yummmm), many laughs, and sang through the Hamilton and Moana soundtracks several times driving around the islands. 

Big Island:

- Fair Wind Morning Kealakekua Snorkel Tour – this was GREAT. Kealakekua is a marine preserve you can’t really get to by car. The morning snorkel included a light breakfast, a great lunch, and a couple hours of snorkeling. 

- Night manta ray snorkel with Manta Adventures. It was AMAZING. Manta Adventures provided wet suits which was great because it got cold. It ended up being a little rough the night we went but Capt Bill and the crew (they were in the water with us) were great!

- Hike to Green Sand Beach. It’s about a 3 mile hike (or you can pay locals $20 to drive you) but the hike was beautiful and not too challenging. It would probably be a lot more comfortable going in the morning (we of course hiked in the hotter afternoon). There isn’t a bathroom/changing area at the beach so if you want to swim, wear your suit (or duck behind some rocks like we did). 

- Akaka Falls near Hilo - beautiful!  

- Drive up Mauna Kea – the tallest volcano. Paved as far as the visitor center  (9,200 feet). If the road is open and your have  a legit 4x4, you can drive to the summit (14,000 feet). Drive up in the afternoon to catch the sunset. There are picnic tables at the visitor center so we had our dinner and waited for the stars to come out. Beautiful!

- Visit Volcanos National Park - you could spend days here actually. We stayed a night at Volcano House within the park and it was lovely.


- Take a helicopter ride! We used Safari Helicopters and they were a class act. The helicopters can take up to 6, but I paid the extra for a private tour – just the 4 of us. Excellent pilot, took us around the entire island for about an hour. Well worth the price!

- North Shore - Haena Beach Park and then walk down to Tunnels Beach. The surf in the winter is pretty rough so the life guard said no swimming. It was pretty dang beautiful though even if we couldn’t swim. 

-  Also in the North Shore area, the Wednesday luau at Tahiti Nui. It was small – maybe 50 guests? It was definitely like you were at a family party. Great food and mai tais :-) 

- Backcountry Mountain Tubing Adventure  They take you out into old plantation land and you ride tubes down the old irrigation canals. You go through a lot of tunnels which makes it adventurous. Lunch (make your own sandwiches) was part of our tour. 

- South Kauai - Lawa’i Beach - It’s small but calm enough for us to snorkel and we saw two turtles, just swimming by us – yay! The Beach House restaurant next to the beach was on pricy side but worth it. Great food and lovely sunset view.

- Ke Ala Hele Makalae bike path - rent bikes at Hele Bikes Very reasonable and the 5 mile bike path up the coast leads to some amazing beaches. 

To make our logistics work we spent a very short night in Honolulu on the way  home, and I wanted our last night to be special, so we ate at  53 By the Sea  – very swank and a wonderful last meal in paradise. We just needed a place to crash near the airport so stayed at the Honolulu Airport Hotel – it looks like it sounds :-) but we only spent about 6 hours there.

NOTE:  these are all personal recommendations and are not sponsored. 

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