#TBT Travel: Hawaii (August 2014) Part I

Travel is a big big part of our lives and I definitely regret not blogging about a lot of our trips this year. I’m starting #TBT posts because I find a lot of best travel advice from other blogs and I like sharing what we did and did not like. Plus it is a nice escape from the dreary, cold wasteland that the Midwest is currently acting like 😀

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View from Diamond Head

This trip was special to us, not only because it was for our one-year anniversary, but also because snagging our Hawaii flights for so cheap was what really inspired us to start traveling more and to get into collecting airline/hotel points and travel hacking in the first place.

As you may have heard about in the news, around this time last year Delta Airlines goofed and posted a ton of mistake fares on their website. Paul heard about it and during the [very small] window of time when the fares were posted, we managed snag our Hawaii flight and a couple others.

We definitely lucked out. First class to Honolulu is something I’ll never pony up for, but I’d be lying if I thought you should travel any other way 😛

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The seats turned in to lay flat beds and despite having 3 4 5 Mai Tais on the flight over (and watching 3 movies), I almost didn’t want to get off the plane when we arrived. It was definitely an awesome treat.

We used A8 Airport Shuttle to give us a lift from the airport to our hotel and I can’t recommend them enough. The driver was waiting for us when we arrived (we did have a reservation) and we didn’t have to wait until he had a full van in order to take us into the city. Parking is so expensive in Honolulu (almost $30/night to park at both of the hotels), so we decided to pay A8 the flat fee for transportation from the airport and then wait to pick up a rental car on our 3rd day to save a bit of money. We simply spent the first couple days exploring the area close to the hotel (no cabs needed!).

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We stayed at 2 different hotels during our 5 nights and the first hotel was the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort. I loved it. The location is perfect for Waikiki Beach, restaurants, and shopping. It is also crazy close to the zoo and only about 2 miles from Diamond Head’s entrance.

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Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort

We had an ocean-view room and the scenery did NOT disappoint. The other perks I really liked from the hotel were the concierge lounge (for Hyatt members they have complimentary breakfast, light snacks throughout the day, happy hour for drinks, and dessert at night), and the bar at the pool, Swim. Swim was fairly pricey during the day, but their Happy Hour pricing (starting at 4pm) was seriously cheap and one can NEVER have enough fruity drinks.

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View from our room

Day 1:

We arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday in the early afternoon. We didn’t have the rental car yet, so we just immediately hit the beach. We walked along Waikiki Beach and spent time soaking in the sand and sun. We even saw some wild sea turtles! I have always heard that a lot of people say they don’t like Waikiki because of the crowds, but I honestly felt like they weren’t bad. I definitely felt far more claustrophobic in Fort Lauderdale.

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A whole group of sea turtles

After the beach, we went to dinner and experienced the best food we had all trip: Marukame Udon. After eating Marukame Udon, I feel an intense sadness for whoever named Angel Hair Pasta… I mean, seriously. If you think angel hair pasta is the makings of a holy celestial heavenly spirit, then your small pea-sized head will literally explode when you eat this udon. Marukame Udon was absolutely #1 on my bucket list when it came to Honolulu, thanks to my research on Yelp. Sun, sand and palm trees be damned, I wanted noodles. I was NOT disappointed.
We meandered on over to the restaurant close to 8pm, but the line was still packed (granted everyone eats pretty late in Hawaii). However, the line moves pretty quickly which is good because my attention span is basically non-existent.

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I ended up with the Ontama Bukkake udon and Paul ordered the Niku udon. We still argue over whose was better (mine obviously was). We also stocked up on a ton of the chicken and shrimp tempura.. but to be honest, the tempura isn’t needed. Just the udon is all you need. The noodles were incredible. Fresh and delicious. The perfect consistency. And the broth. The broth with the egg. Ugh. So good. This was hands down the best noodle meal I’ve ever had. We never made it back for a second meal during our vacation, but everywhere else we ate just didn’t hold a candle. This is definitely my #1 recommendation if you are coming to Honolulu regardless of if you are a fan of Japanese food or not. The experience of the line, seeing the cooks in action, and the dining is part of the fun too.

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Ontama Bukkake udon

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Niku udon

Day 2:

Thursday morning we woke up naturally early (thank you time change!) and headed out for a run towards Diamond Head. From the Hyatt Regency, it is only 2 miles to the entrance of Diamond Head, but man, the elevation is a bit deceiving. There was a gentle incline the entire way and I was wiped out by just 2 miles! The rest of the hike was definitely a highlight of the trip! It was a little more intense than I thought it would be (not a smooth paved path to the top), but the views were incredible! Make sure to go early (crowds were small!) before it gets hot and bring some water!

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Afterwards we headed over to Musubi Café Iyasume because musubi was another on my must-have list while in Honolulu (if you are sensing that food is a trend, then you are right). Musubi is actually like Spam sushi. It is a slice of grilled Spam on top of rice, wrapped together with dried seaweed. It is really popular in Hawaii as lunch or snack food, especially among surfers.

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We ordered a ton of the items that seemed to be the most popular knowing we had a fridge back at the hotel to stash stuff in. Spam, Spam and egg, Spam egg bacon and cheese, etc. We also ordered some of the fried chicken and the tuna musubi. All of it was delicious, but the Spam options were the best. I wish I could get these in the states (or even in a 500 mile radius of the Midwest). I keep meaning to try and create them at home, but haven’t tried yet (I’ll keep you posted if how it goes!).

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It was also nice having these stashed in the fridge as a quick snack between hiking or beach time. The restaurant is cute and small, but clean, and they are only a couple of blocks from the beach. I vote for taking your food to go and enjoying it oceanside :)

We spent the rest of the day on the beach, at Swim (the pool bar) and then exploring the shopping and local bars close to the hotel.

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Day 3:

Today is the day we survived Hurricanes Iselle and Julio. Our entire trip (and the days leading up to it), the news had been reporting 24/7 about how the island was going to be pummeled with these 2 hurricanes. We knew about them before we left, but our choice was to cancel our trip completely and miss out on the things we had booked…. Or risk it. Needless to say, I’m VERY happy we didn’t cancel (and no, we never really considered it an option).

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Our hotel had us bring the patio furniture into our room on Thursday night, and fill up the bathtub with water to use with the toilet, but when we woke up on Friday, there was nothing more than a light drizzle. We ate breakfast and I took a nap, but when I woke up at 11am, it was sunny and bright outside. Paul went to go pick up our rental car, and we headed up along the southeast coast to explore.

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We stopped at the Halona Blow Hole and watched the waves crashing on the black rock. This was really neat to watch and the waves have a very hypnotic effect. As per usual, the photos do not capture the beauty of this spot.

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Then we parked at the Makapu’u Tom-Tom Trail Start and then hiked up to Makapu’u Point to see the lighthouse. The views here were very pretty and I thought the hike was more fun than Diamond Head was (more to see, more coastal views, not to mention a lot less crowded).

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For a late lunch, we went to Ono Seafood. This was the best quality poke (salad made of raw cubed tuna) that we had the whole trip.. and trust me, we tried a lot! It also happened to be the cheapest as well. Most places we went had at least a poke appetizer, but it was always $$$ for very little.

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Ono had a whole little box of brown rice and a 2 big scoops of poke for $9! Win. The place was about a mile and a half from hotel, so we drove, but parking is basically non-existent. We ended up getting our food and eating it on our hotel balcony facing the ocean 😀 This is more of a “shop” than a restaurant since the only seating consists of 2 picnic tables, but the food was worth it. They offer a variety of poke flavors and you do have the option to split your $9 box into 2 different flavors. We ordered 2 boxes and tried 4 of the flavors. And we loved all of them (but my favorites were Hawaiian poke and Shoyu Ahi).

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So for a day that was supposed to be ruined with rain and winds, we ended up getting about 2 hours of drizzle. Definitely worthy of the “I survived Hurricanes Iselle and Julio” t-shirts that flooded all the gift shops!

Our trip balanced our nicely with some adventure and hiking in the mornings and quality beach and relaxation time in the afternoon and evenings. Our travel style is to try as many new things as possible and I was pretty surprised how much time we actually spent at the beach this trip. That goes to show just how beautiful the water was!

Don’t forget to check out Part II of my Hawaii Recap!

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