ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 33

December 15, 2018 – Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

Our last port of call on this incredible 82 day journey we have been on.  Lahaina is a location that is experienced by two million people, or approximately 80% percent of all of Maui tourism per year. Lahaina has over a thousand years of rich history and was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845. From beaches to restaurants, Lahaina has some of the best attractions Maui has to offer.

Lahaina’s Front Street has been ranked one of the “Top Ten Greatest Streets” by the American Planning Association. Enjoy a relaxing stroll, and if rest is needed, please take a break under the massive Banyan tree located in the town square.

Maui, known also as “The Valley Isle,” is the second largest Hawaiian island. The island beloved for its world-famous beaches, the sacred Iao Valley, views of migrating humpback whales (during winter months), farm-to-table cuisine and the magnificent sunrise and sunset from Haleakala. It’s not surprising Maui has been voted “Best Island in the U.S.” by Condé Nast Traveler readers for more than 20 years.

Maui is also where a recreational investment group we belong to, called Tropica Properties, has a condo!  We typically come to Maui every year, so we have seen most of the worthwhile sights on the island.  Instead, we went to our condo to do an inspection and to measure up our lanai space (patio) as we are going to replace our outdoor furniture soon.

As mentioned before, I lost my driver’s license somewhere in Australia and so Karen had to drive.  Our condo is not far from the car rental station and so it wasn’t too bad for her.

Our condo is unit G106 at Papakea Resort.  If you would like to see pictures of the condo or if you are ever interested in renting it, you can see it at https://www.vrbo.com/279543.

All is good at the condo and ready for our winter bookings.  We are back to Maui at the end of January, so looking forward to spending more than a day there.

Well, that’s it for our ports of call on the Holland America 82 Day Grand Asia and Pacific Cruise aboard the ms Amsterdam!

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It seemed like such a long voyage and now we are just a few sea days from ending back in Los Angeles where we will fly home immediately and give our kids and grandchildren hugs and kisses. While we have had a blast, as Dorothy said…”there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”!  No magic red slippers, just a reliable WestJet flight home.

Thank you so very much for reading our blog!  We hope you have enjoyed it.  Until our next travel blog, in the words of Hans Christian Anderson – “To TRAVEL is to live”.

If a cruise like this sounds like your dream trip, reach out to the team at UNIGLOBE Carefree Travel.  They would love to help get you on your way!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 32

December 14, 2018 – Honolulu, Hawaii

We’ve been at sea for a few days and welcome our next port.  Many of you have visited Honolulu before, but for those who haven’t or those that are thinking about it, here’s some background information.

Sometimes called “The Gathering Place,” Oahu certainly lives up to its name. The third largest Hawaiian island is home to the majority of Hawaii’s diverse population, a fusion of East and West cultures rooted in the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiian people. It’s this fundamental contrast between the ancient and the modern that makes discovering Oahu — from bustling city life to laid back surf towns — so enjoyable. You’ll find plenty of different options for exploring Oahu.

Spam, surfing, hula, ukulele – these are some of the touchstones of everyday life on O’ahu, an island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  People are easygoing, low key and casual, with genuine aloha and fun.  O’ahu proudly maintains its own identity apart from the US mainland.

If you like outdoor adventures, Oʻahu has so much going on, especially if you like sun, sand and adventure. Playing in or on the water could keep you happy for months. Learn to surf, and if you’re already good, hit the big waves on the North Shore; dive into Hanauma Bay’s giant fishbowl, or windsurf or kayak in Kailua Bay. On the land, hike up Diamond Head or atop knife-edged pali (cliffs). Circle the island in a helicopter. It’s all there waiting.

Oʻahu, like the rest of the Hawaiian islands, is a melting pot and proud of its multicultural heritage. Mix in the descendants of European explorers, American missionaries and Asian plantation-worker immigrants with the Polynesian ancestors, plus recent arrivals from all over the Pacific, and you have one of the most multicultural communities on the globe.

While on O’ahu, there are plenty of things to see and do.  We have been here several times before and done many of the sightseeing attractions.  We would have liked to rent a car and drive up to the North Shore but as I lost my driver’s license somewhere in Australia, I can’t legally drive without the card and Karen would rather not drive, so this time we opted to walk from the pier to Waikiki Beach.

Located on the south shore of Honolulu, the world-famous neighborhood of Waikiki was once a playground for Hawaiian royalty. Known in Hawaiian as “spouting waters”, Waikiki was introduced to the world when its first hotel, the Moana Surfrider, was built on its shores in 1901. Today, Waikiki is Oahu’s main hotel and resort area and a vibrant gathering place for visitors from around the world. Along the main strip of Kalalaua Avenue you’ll find world-class shopping, dining, entertainment and resorts.

Waikiki is most famous for its beaches. With Leahi (Diamond Head) as your backdrop, the calm waters of Waikiki are perfect for a surfing lesson. In fact, legendary Hawaiian waterman Duke Kahanamoku grew up surfing the waves of Waikiki. This Olympic gold medalist in swimming taught visitors how to surf at the turn of the century and was later known as “the father of modern surfing.”

Walking along Ala Moana Beach, this beach is mostly made up of locals wanting to get away from the crowds and bustle of Waikiki Beach.  The sand is not as nice, but you certainly can enjoy the surf and soak up some sun.  It seems like it is a popular place for wedding photos as we saw 3 separate wedding couples having pictures taken.

Across the way is the Ala Moana Shopping Mall, once the largest shopping mall in the world and while it lost that title several years ago, it is a well-known shoppers paradise with all the main high-end stores catering to O’ahu’s many tourists and residents.

As we continue our walk to Waikiki, we finally arrive at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a property that we have stayed at for a convention.  It has a beautiful, sheltered lagoon as well as all the amenities you would expect a Hilton Hotel to have, including a great little outdoor, poolside, ocean view restaurant.

Time for lunch!  Fish tacos and a massive plate of nachos complete with Kalua pork fit the bill.

We continued (dare I say waddled) down Waikiki beach stopping for some beach time to soak up the sun, surf and sand.  It truly is a spectacular beach albeit it very busy but you can rent chairs and an umbrella, water sports such as kayaks, surfboards, boogieboards, snorkel gear and the like so there is something for everyone.  There were lots of kids of all ages building sandcastles or splashing around in the water.  It was a fun atmosphere and everyone was enjoying their time.  I think that’s why it is so popular, everyone is relaxed with so much to do, with so many restaurants and bars, catering to every budget.

To finally get out of the sun and the heat, we walked up to the “Westin Moana Surfrider”.  As mentioned above, this was one of the first hotels on Waikiki.  It also happened to be the very first hotel we stayed at in Hawaii and the hotel we brought our kids to on their first trip here.  The beach side bar/restaurant had some live music and we could overlook not only the ocean but also Diamond Head, so it was a natural place to sit and have a cocktail.  I can highly recommend their 1944 MaiTai as being one of the best MaiTai’s I’ve had.

Unfortunately, it is time to make our way back to the ship.  We walked all the way back to the Ala Moana Shopping Mall but by that time we were very hot and weary, so after a stroll through the mall, we opted for a taxi back to the ship.

There are many, many sights and activities to do while on O’ahu, so if you are interested in going, don’t hesitate to let us know and we can steer you in the right direction! 

So, Aloha from Hawaii and Mahalo for reading along.  Next stop…Maui!

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Disneyland Tips & Tricks – Jamie’s Magical Birthday Getaway

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Disneyland tips and tricks:

  1. If you stay onsite at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, you get an extra magic morning every day.  This alternates between parks.  There are some exclusive benefits – if the magic morning is at California adventure, you can go on the Radiator Springs Racers ride in that first hour.  This is only for hotel guests.  If you have a hopper pass that includes one magic morning, you can get into the park early, but you can’t go on the Radiator Springs Racers until the park opens to the public.  There are also random meet and greets with Disney Characters in the hotel lobby – and no lineups.  The Grand Californian hotel has direct entry into California Adventure park – again no lineups to get into the park in the morning and very easy to go back to the hotel if you need a change of clothes, a nap, a swim or a break from the crowds.  The Grand Californian hotel is currently undergoing some renovations and the Whitewater Raft casual dining/takeaway restaurant is closed.  They serve pastries, fruit, yogurt and coffee in the Hearthstone lounge as an alternative in the mornings.  Coffee is complimentary to hotel guests and breakfast of pastries, fruit and yogurt for 5 of us was usually $25 – a pretty good deal.
  2. Even if you are not a morning person – it’s worth the early wake up call to get to the parks early.  The morning is the best time at the parks – it’s not busy, there are no lineups and you can go on a lot of rides or meet a lot of characters in a short amount of time.  The afternoons and evenings get a lot busier.  As an example, we went right to the Fantasy Fair to meet the princesses at 8am and we only waited 10 minutes.  Later in the day, it was over an hour.  You can get on Big Thunder Mountain, the Haunted Mansion or Splash Mountain with only a few minutes wait for the first hour…maybe two.  After that it would often be an hour or longer for a wait.
  3. If there are popular rides that do not offer a FastPass option, do those first.  You can always get a FastPass for popular rides, so you can experience them without waiting later in the day.  Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, Incredicoaster, etc….all offer Fast Passes and we found the Fast Passes via the MaxPass to be plentiful.  Rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan’s Flight do not offer a Fast Pass option.  We could ride Pirates twice with no wait at all first thing in the morning.  By lunch time it was an hour wait and by dinner time it was almost a two hour wait….with no possibility of a FastPass.
  4. Have a plan.  I’ve mentioned it before, but it really is important to make the most of your time.  Know which area of the park you want to do first and which ride you want to get a FastPass for and which one you want to go on before it lines up.  Know where and when you are going for lunch so you don’t waste time looking for a restaurant that you like and waiting in long lineups to order food…either use the mobile food order or make a dining reservation in advance.
  5. If you want special dining options, character dining, large group dining, etc…book well in advance as popular ones fill up fast.  Even if you want a regular dining reservation, don’t expect to make a reservation on short notice or to walk up and get in.  Restaurants are often full and there was usually a 30-60 minute wait for a table without a reservation.  Finding ways to avoid lineups is key to making the most of your time.
  6. If you are up for a later night, rides are often quieter during parades/Fantasmic show times and for the last hour or two that the parks are open.  We were able to walk right on rides at the end of the night – same as we could first thing in the morning.
  7. Spending the extra few dollars on the “park hopper” option for the parks is well worth it.  If you only have a few days and want to make the most of your time, it’s great to be able to go between the parks.  The parks are right next to each other, so hopping is very quick and easy. Our last day was a prime example of why you would want to do this.  We made a list of all of our favorite attractions that we wanted to do “one last time” on our last day.  We started our day at 7am in California Adventure Park for our Magic Hour.  We were able to go on the Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree , Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters and get some family Photo Pass photos taken with the Cars Characters all by 8am.  At that point, we headed across to Disneyland Park for opening and were able to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and the Jungle Cruise all by 10am.  We headed back to California adventure for a 1040am fast pass at Guardians of the Galaxy…a full day’s worth of fun that we managed to fit in before lunch time.  That meant during the busy afternoon hours, we could head back to the hotel for a swim and a nap and return with fresh kids for Toy Story Midway Mania and Radiator Springs Racers FastPasses, dinner at Wine Country and ended the night with a few more rides when the lineups died down during the parade.

 

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If you have questions about Disneyland or would like to start planning your own magical getaway please reach out to our team!  They would love to help get you on your way.

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 2

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October 6, 2018

On the map, Unalaska is a tiny dot far off in the middle of strong seas. But somehow, a diverse group of people make this remote island home, and share it willingly with visitors.

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Unalaska is affixed geographically on the Aleutian chain, and historically in the midst of 10,000-year-old Unangan culture, and in the eras of Russian fur traders, Captain Cook, World War II, and of a commercial fishing industry that ranks above all others in the United States.

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Unalaska, the small, wind-swept volcanic rock, draws researchers, tourists, adventurers, birders, World War II buffs, fishermen, and seasonal workers – so many that the population swells from about 4,000 in winter to nearly 10,000 in summer.

Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch fans often meet their favorite captains and crew, whether by chance in town or at the Carl E. Moses Boat Harbor where most of them are docked when not at sea.

For us, it just felt good to get back on land after a week of being at sea.  Frankly there is not much to see in Dutch Alaska (Unalaska).  We walked into town from the ship (about 2 miles) before it started raining (it rains a lot here) to the Safeway store which is a destination onto itself as it stocks many of the ships for their time at sea.  Big store with lots of canned goods and supplies.  There is another store nearby that also stocks the ships but had more hardware and such.  While there is an old Russian Orthodox church to visit, it was about 3 miles up the road and it was pouring rain, so instead we opted for the Norwegian Rat Saloon for a pint of a local brew.

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Aside from a small museum and some great hiking (did I mention it was pouring rain?), that’s about it for Dutch Harbour.  However, the scenery is spectacular and we were treated to some sunshine once we were back on board the ship.

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During supper, as we cruised out the bay, we saw several pods of humpback whales, always exciting to see their magnificence.  After supper, we were treated to a BBC Film called The Earth.  This segment featured Alaska and was accompanied by the ship’s musicians’.  It was a wonderful performance.

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Dining at Disneyland – Jamie’s Magical Birthday Getaway

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It has been 4 years since I was last at Disneyland.  This time I wanted to make sure that we weren’t always waiting in line to get into a restaurant or to order food.  That was one thing I remember from last time as being a frustrating experience.

Disneyland dining reservations open 60 days beforehand.  You can make dining reservations either via the My Disney Experience app, their website or by phone.  I used the app to make dining reservations the full 60 days prior.  It’s very quick and easy and it allows you to select restaurants in your budget, with menus that you know your family will enjoy.  I made at least one reservation per day, sometimes two.  It helped us to have a plan and to make sure that when our kids (and their mom) were hungry and cranky, that we had a place to sit down, eat and rest without waiting in line.

Some of the places we picked – all were in a reasonable price point:

  • La Brea Bakery in downtown Disney – my daughter says this was the best grilled cheese she has ever had, lots of kid friendly items and good burgers (chicken and beef) as well as homemade soup in bread bowls.   Casual and friendly.
  • Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen for my birthday dinner – New Orleans inspired in Downtown Disney.  Service was great as was the food….the appetizer platter was our favourite.
  • Lamplight Lounge – a must try.  It is new and is located where Ariel’s Grotto used to be in California Adventure.  It is Toy Story themed to go with the new Pixar Pier and again the food, setting and service was great.  The Lobster Nachos and Piggy Wings are a must.  Food is pub-style and they serve alcohol as well….for those tired and cranky parents.
  • Tortilla Joes in downtown Disney – gives a discount for those staying at a Disney hotel.  Mexican food, really good nachos, quesadillas and tacos.
  • Carnation Cafe…a hidden Gem on Mainstreet in Disneyland park.  Awesome burgers – huge and homemade.  Lunch for 5 of us was about $60 US, which is a steal in Disneyland and I thought it was one of the better lunches we had.  The fried chicken is also supposed to be good here, but we didn’t try it this time.
  • Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure was a great spot for a nicer dinner. Italian, nice wine list, good options for kids with spaghetti and pizza.  They accommodated a group of 9 no problem and the food was very good.  The bruschetta, caprese salad and linguine vongole were my favorite.  It is pretty reasonable as well for a slightly upgraded dining experience.

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We also had two special dining experiences.  We chose to keep to more budget restaurants for most meals so that we could splurge on a couple of unique experiences.  Our first morning found us at Storeytellers Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian hotel.  We had a buffet breakfast with Mickey and Friends.  The looks on the kids faces when they got to meet the characters was priceless….and having the characters come to your table saved us hours of waiting in line at the parks.  The food was good with plenty of options and good service.  They didn’t rush you and you got lots of time with Mickey and friends.  It was roughly $38 US for adults and $25 US for kids.

We wanted to get preferred seating to Fantasmic and the most economical way to do that was to have the dinner/show combo at the Hungry Bear restaurant in Disneyland.  We picked our time for dinner and when we arrived, we had a separate line up (no waiting) and we could pick off a special menu or the regular menu.  The kids all picked the chicken fingers off the regular menu and Mark and I had the Blackberry BBQ Ribs with rice and salad.  The food was good, the setting was nice (lots of tables available) and the best part – front row seating (on the ground, not chairs) for the Fantasmic 9pm performance.  This meal/dinner combo was about $130 USD total for 5 of us and well worth the bit extra.

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Something else that is new via the My Disney Experience app is mobile food ordering.  We didn’t try it, but I wish we had.  We waited in line for lunch for about 20 minutes at the Pacific Wharf Cafe (all restaurants were lined up at lunch), but as we waited, there was a steady stream of people coming in and picking up orders with no wait.  It would definitely be worthwhile trying and it is free to order through the app.  You pick your restaurant and pick up time and items and I believe you have to pre pay with a credit card.

My final two suggestions for dining at Disney – have a plan and budget accordingly.  Food and drinks are not inexpensive but if you are prepared and know what you want to spend and pick restaurants accordingly, you will be a big step ahead.  Also, my oldest is 10 and with the exception of the Character buffet, she was able to order off the kids menu.  We just asked for three kids menus and no one asked or questioned.  She doesn’t eat enough to order off the adult menu, so that worked well and saved us a few dollars.

Want to start planning your own magical vacation?  Call us to speak with one of our Disney loving agents today!

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Disneyland’s MaxPass – Jamie’s Magical Birthday Getaway

Maxpass 2Disney MaxPass…..where do I begin?  I am in LOVE with the new Disney MaxPass.  It has helped us to make the most of our 5 day Disneyland family vacation.  Disney introduced the MaxPass earlier this year.  It works in conjunction with the Disneyland app and for $10 per person, per day; you get unlimited photo pass photos (from photographers, rides, etc) as well it allows you to add fast passes on your phone.  I’m not sure of the exact rhyme or reason, I haven’t been able to work it out yet, but it allows you to almost always have more than one fast pass at a time – I have had up to three….this wasn’t possible with the old paper fast passes.  If I wasn’t able to add the 2nd or third right away, I was able to add them within a short time frame.  For example I added a Radiator Springs Racers FastPass at 11am for an 830pm ride.  At 1215pm it let me add a FastPass for Toy Story Midway Mania for a 515pm ride and at 3pm it let me add a FastPass for Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! for a 9pm ride.  With the paper FastPasses, I believe I would have only been able to have the first one until 830pm when our time came to get another one.

The weekend was very busy at Disneyland with ride wait times of 75 to 100 minutes on most of the popular rides.  We went on rides almost continually throughout the morning and later afternoon/evening (nap breaks in the middle!) and we never waited more than 10 or 15 minutes for a ride.   The fast passes, combined with the app letting you know current wait times on rides worked amazingly well for time management.

The My Disney Experience app is free – everyone should have this app installed.

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  • access to maps and current wait times
  • access to park hours and show times
  • access to your dining reservations
  • photos from photo passes
  • access to your FastPasses if you have the MaxPass.

 

The MaxPass for the extra $10/person per day gets you unlimited FastPasses and unlimited free photos.  The photos are typically $10 per photo to download.  My family of 5 was $50 US per day but it saved us HOURS of waiting in line and in running around the park trying to see what FastPasses we could get.  With two 3 year olds, this was priceless!  We would get in the FastPass line for a ride, while we were in line, I would add the next FastPass on my phone, when we got off the ride, I would look at the online map to see what had a short line to fill time until our next FastPass ride.  It was “magical”.  To date, we also have 32 photopass photos – for free – a $320 value.  MaxPass gets two thumbs up from me!

The one issue we had with MaxPass is one day the app was only showing 1 of the 5 of us in the park.  You have to be in the park to add the MaxPass in the morning.  I asked guest services, they sent me to city hall where there was quite a lineup.  When I got up to the front, they said our tickets were not scanned properly at the gate.  They rescanned them and gave us the MaxPass for free that day….we lost about a half hour, but I was happy with their service in the end – very Disney-like!  Tip – they said if we noticed while we were near the gate that it wasn’t showing all of us in the park, they could have rescanned our tickets at the gate instead of waiting in line at city hall.

The Big Island of Hawaii, with Kids and Grandparents – Part 3

Big Island Activities:

As our time on the Island draws to a close, I reflect on all we have experienced in our two weeks here.  This truly is an island for those seeking adventure and unique experiences in a beautiful, diverse and laid back atmosphere.  You definitely need a car rental to make the most of your time and you often need to drive around the island to seek out the best spots, but it is well worth the effort.  We will be going home with unforgettable memories – here are a few of our favourites:

 

Beaches:  The beaches are as different and diverse as you can possibly imagine.  From black sand to green sand to white sand and from calm waves to rocky snorkeling areas to big surf…if you don’t like the one you are at – drive down the road and find another.  My personal favourite of the four we tried was Spencer Beach Park.  It isn’t the largest or the most beautiful, but it was a really nice combination of a quiet beach, nice sand, safe water for kids, but still had snorkeling areas and nice facilities.  Great for families.

 

Island Breeze Luau:  I have been to many luaus on several islands.  This was probably my number 2.  I thought the food was great – they even had a kids buffet with chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese, etc. which was a hit, the performers were excellent, the cost was reasonable – especially their kids rates.  The only reason I liked the Aulii Luau at the Sheraton Kauai better was the setting was prettier and I thought their MC/host was better.

 

 

Royal Kona Coffee Center:  This was one of 29955270_10155305011165009_1172866991_oour stops enroute from Kona to the Volcano National Park.  It’s free:   FREE walking tour, FREE samples of Coffee and Tea and Rum Cake, they have a great gift shop, a pretty view and a lava tube you can walk through.  All in all it is a great pit stop to break up the long drive.

 

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (City of Refuge):  This is a national park area and normally there is a charge for a vehicle to enter and park.  On the day we were there, the gates were open and there was no charge.  This was another stop enroute to the volcano and was just south of the Kona Coffee Center.  It was an interesting place to learn about the Hawaiian history and a very pretty setting.  I wish we had taken our swimsuits as it was quite hot out and there was a nice little beach spot there as well.  There are no food services, but I asked for advice for a lunch stop nearby and she suggested the South Kona Fruit Stand – at the top of the hill – made to order sandwiches, fresh fruit and smoothies and you could eat in their shady tropical garden.  It was a nice, relaxing lunch spot – smoothies were excellent, sandwiches were ok.  The next stop would have been 40 minutes away and this worked well for us.

29894285_10155305008535009_492015610_oVolcano Winery:  This little gem is located about 5 minutes before you reach the gates to enter the Volcano National Park.  They make about 10 different kinds of wine – whites, reds and fruit blends. For $5 they let you sample 7 different wines – a good deal!  The ladies who were running the winery were friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about their wines.  They have a unique store where they sell some gift-ware and their wines.  We enjoyed our stop here and the wine tasting.

 

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Volcanoes National Park:  Far and away, this was my favorite thing I did on the Big Island, but mainly because we had perfect Volcano viewing weather while we were there and also because we had planned to spend the night at the Volcano House hotel, giving us unparalleled views of the Kilauea Caldera at night.  The Volcano National Park is about a 2 hour drive from Kona or 35 minutes from Hilo over unfamiliar, windy roads.   We really wanted to see the Volcano at night to get the full effect of the glow, but we weren’t keen on driving back in the dark and it would have been a very long day with the kids.  The Volcano House hotel isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth the cost to get the full experience.  I would urge you to consider adding this extra night into your trip budget to maximize your experience.

The Volcano House hotel is a National Park Hotel and was first built in the 1800’s.  It is rustic and quaint, not luxurious.  The lobby has a big wood burning fire place and seating with a view of the volcano.  There is a lounge and a restaurant that both serve lunch, dinner and drinks. The food in the lounge was very reasonable – most adult dinners around $14/15 USD and kids around $10 USD.  In this kind of a captive setting, I would have expected them to charge more.  The restaurant also serves a buffet breakfast that was quite good, but very busy.  Half of the hotel rooms are Crater View – splurge on the extra charge!  All night long, every time I would wake up, I would look out the window and see a glowing volcano.  This is truly a once in a lifetime experience.  The Volcano National Park has hours and hours of hiking trails through Sulphur Flats, around the Caldera Rim, to the Jagger Museum and through the Thurston Lava Tube.  You could spend days here hiking and enjoying the unique nature of the area.  They also have a Parks Center, an Art Center and the Jagger Museum, which outlines the history of the Volcano and also has the very best views of the Caldera at night.  I was glad we had a full 24 hours in the park – we could have easily spent a few more days.  It costs $25USD for a car to enter the National Park.  This gets you entry for up to 7 days.

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo in Hilo:  On our way Panawa Rainforest Parkhome from the Volcano to Kona, we took the cross-island route down through Hilo, then across the island, instead of going south.  We stopped in at the Rainforest Zoo – FREE (entrance by donation only).  Their main claim to fame is two tigers (one Orange named Sriracha and one White named Tzatiki).  They also had monkeys, ant eaters, alligators, lots of tropical birds and much more.  It was a nice stop and we would have stayed longer, but it was very hot out and my little guy wasn’t feeling well.

30123879_10155311770040009_8396378751184666624_oAtlantis Submarine Kona:  I was excited to take the kids on their first underwater adventure as they are too young for any real snorkeling or scuba.  Check in is located in the Courtyard King Kamehameha hotel and they offer reduced parking rates for the Atlantis customers.  Check in was smooth, all was well.  We took a boat out to the Submarine – roughly 40 people.  I walked down into the Submarine and found myself walking right back off.  I have never gotten claustrophobic in my life, but I had a minor panic attack before the hatch was even closed and knew I had to get off.  The crew was wonderful!  They let me off and back up onto the launch boat. 29791472_10155311769975009_7733040435504873472_o  The rest of my family stayed onboard and went on the adventure as planned.  I waited out the 45 minutes aboveboard on the boat in the very pleasant company of three other crew members. They filled me in on their favourite places to eat, favourite beaches, etc. and told me some of their history with the island – why they came, or where they grew up, the lava flows in recent history and how they went through a town near to one of them.  It was the most entertaining visit I have had in ages.  My family re-emerged from the deep blue sea, excited and bursting with news of the fish and eels and shipwrecks they had seen and I was quite content with my time spent on the boat.  Thank you Atlantis Submarine all around for a lovely outing.  Side note:  please don’t think you will get claustrophobic – every other person on the boat was fine and enjoyed their time undersea!

30074460_10155309712645009_728944244_oSunset MaiTai:  While in Hawaii, you need to take time to enjoy the sunsets; weather permitting, they are spectacular.  The best way to do this is to find an oceanfront spot and enjoy a quintessential Hawaiian cocktail – the Mai Tai.  My favourite place on the Big Island for this is Huggo’s lounge.  Huggo’s is oceanfront in downtown Kona, beside the Royal Kona Resort.  They have a free parking lot (bonus) and $5 Happy Hour sunset specials that include cocktails, beer and house wine.  The Mai Tai’s at Huggo’s are the best I have ever had and the view can’t be topped.  We also had dinner one night at this restaurant.  The food was very good and the service was excellent.

Now it’s time to start packing our bags to get ready for the journey back to Saskatoon.   Aloha!

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