Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Whale of a Tale...

When we were talking about our trip there were so many things I thought we'd want to do - go see the active volcano, take a helicopter ride (ok, I didn't really want to do that, in fact it scares me just thinking about it, but it seemed like something you were supposed to say you wanted to do), play golf, hike through the rain forest to a waterfall, and of course go on a whale watching cruise. I mentioned earlier that before we could check in to our resort we had lunch at Tommy Bahama and met a very nice couple who upon hearing our "to-do" list, chuckled a bit and then promptly told us to not be so ambitious and to just relax and enjoy our vacation - maybe pick one of those things to do and leave the rest for future visits. Ok...but what one thing would we do? Well, upon hearing that the trip to the Volcano National Park was basically an entire day of driving, we crossed that off the list. We thought about doing the hike on our last day once we had to check-out of the resort, but then worried we'd be all sweaty for our flights. Golf we snuck in early morning, so that was easy and after spending the afternoon at the beach and watching the sail boats out on the ocean I knew we just had to get in a boat ride and a chance to see some whales up close and personal. 

Unfortunately, the weather the morning of our excursion was not what we were hoping for. Cloudy, rainy and bit breezy (they said morning was the best time to take the boat to ensure calmer seas - uh, not today, ha!). Though that didn't stop the crew from wanting to go out and since we'd already paid, it was all aboard! 

The rain actually held out for a bit during our excursion - though the clouds did get in the way of the beautiful views we expected to see. Alas, the fresh sea air on our faces and the thrill of seeing the whales pop up from time to time paired with the challenge of snapping pics without dropping my phone overboard led to a pretty exciting 20 minutes or so. 

That's when the skies opened up and we all quickly found ourselves crammed together below deck. My claustrophobia quickly outweighed my desire to stay somewhat dry, so it was back outside into the rain for us where we heard the captain say that we would turn back and cut our two hour (better than a three hour tour, am I right?) trip short by 90 minutes and that we'd get refunds. Bummed, but happy about getting our money back, we sat back and tried to enjoy the last few moments on the water - when all of a sudden the whale Gods smiled on us and we found ourselves surrounded by whales that were keen on giving us a show to make the rain all worth it! 

The captain and crew couldn't believe how many breaches we saw - they agreed we were definitely being rewarded for facing a rare rainy and windy Hawaiian morning on the sea. It really was an unbelievable site to see and one we won't soon forget. 

They say rain will make the flowers grow - well in our case, rain will make the whales put on a show! :) 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The beach...

Hawaii is the only island that has a restriction on having beach front access for hotels and resorts - this is due to tsunami threats - which they did have to evacuate where we were staying back in 2011 due to Fukushima. That's why the resorts have such nice pools and why the big Hilton property (more on that later) built a lagoon and mini-beach area that guests could enjoy. Of course that doesn't mean you can't go lay on the beach and swim in the ocean - you simply have to go to public beach access areas to do so. Fortunately there was one not too far from us (and right next door to Lava Lava Beach Club) so one afternoon we decided to catch some rays on the beach. It was also a good chance to actually take a dip in the Pacific. My toes had been in before during visits to San Diego & Huntington Beach, but I'd never swam in in before. It really was gorgeous and clear and refreshing on a sunny day. 

Afterwards we mosied on over to Lava Lava Beach Club for a pre-happy hour cocktail :) 

Golfing on the Big Island...

It had been nearly 14 months since we'd played golf, but we knew we'd regret it if we didn't take our clubs along. We made ourselves early morning tee times to play the Waikoloa Beach Course (yes, waking up early was never an issue) and after a little warm up at the range the day before we felt ready to embarrass ourselves at least a little. Happily, the fresh island air and perhaps the significant amount of time away from the game, had a positive impact on us and we both played pretty great! Sure we had our moments - I remember one hole thinking, "gee, I hope those lava rocks don't get in my way." So of course I proceeded to hit my ball which hit the rocks and thus my ball ricocheted across the hole to the other side. Ha! But heck, it's lava rocks - how cool a hazard is that!? :) The course was gorgeous and the signature hole along the ocean was something else. I think I had my worst hole on that one - but who can blame me? My concentration was on snapping pictures and taking in the view. 

Needless to say we had a great time out on the course and best part was we were done in time for a quick lunch then out to the pool! 

Happy Hour at Lava Lava Beach Club...

Our concierge told us about this great spot, the Lava Lava Beach Club, that was right on the beach with killer views of the sunset - we figured it would be a great way to end our first full day at Waikoloa. Turns out, we weren't the only ones with that idea - ha! We quickly learned that reservations are a must if you want good sunset viewing seats, so we decided to make reservations there for later in the week. However, since we were already there, we figured we'd find a decent spot to sit and enjoy a little appetizer and some cocktails. 

It really is a charming little place with a decent menu and of course the views, even before sunset, are unbelievable. We even met a nice couple who turns out used to live down the street (back in the 70's, ha) but we still enjoyed chatting with them and got a few more tips on places to visit and eat - gotta love how friendly everyone is while relaxed and on vacation! 

Meanwhile, we were looking forward to returning to the Lava Lava Beach Club later in the week - and we did - twice! :) 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Morning drive...

Our first morning in Waikoloa, Andy was up early (well, we both were) and out the door to get us Starbucks (there was one about 4 minutes away - score!) while I snuck in a few more episodes of "House of Cards." Upon his return he exclaimed "We've got to go for a drive! I just took the top off the jeep and it's beautiful out!" This was music to my ears after a sort of cloudy and drizzly first day. 

He wasn't joking - it was beautiful out. We had no idea how awesome the island was since it really had been foggy and cloudy on drive from the airport to our resort the day before. Wow! My head felt like it was on a swivel looking to the right and seeing the volcanoes and to the left and seeing the ocean - and then looking up at the absolutely clear blue sky. Our island is known for having 11 of the 13 ecosystems, so as you'd drive you'd go from nothing but lava rocks, to gorgeous foliage, and so on. 

We didn't really have a destination, just enjoyed the drive and the view. We pulled over a few times, once to check out a public beach. It was awesome, even though the sun hadn't quite hit it yet. The sign as we entered the beach area sure caught my attention though - yikes!

We also found a great place to pull over where we had a wide view of the ocean (and the whales for that matter) and we had good cell service so we did Face Time with Adam. He loved getting to see the views and see the Jeep. A memorable first morning for sure - and we knew at the time that this would be one of the things we'd remember most about our trip. 

After that it was back to our condo for some homemade eggs before hitting the pool and enjoying our first poolside cocktails - oh yeah, vacation mode had officially sunk in! 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Our Hawaiian Home Away from Home...

We were so excited to get to "our" island on Saturday and for our vacation to really start. After landing at the Kona Airport we headed over to get our rental car - which Andy upgraded to a soft top white Jeep Wrangler - more on that later - and we were off! First on our list was a stop at the local Walmart (yes, they are literally everywhere) to get supplies for the week and then we headed towards our resort. We couldn't check in until 3, so we killed time by grabbing lunch at Tommy Bahamas down the street - we love that place! We met a very nice couple while we were there that live part-time on the island (lucky ducks) and they gave us some tips for the week - and eased our worry about the weather - it was cloudy and a bit drizzly that day - which they swore was super rare - phew! 

Finally it was time to head to Waikoloa and to the Kings Land by Hilton Grand Vacations. We couldn't wait to see where we'd be staying and we were not disappointed. What a gorgeous resort - filled with the most vibrant flowers, a pool that went on and on for days with water slides hidden in the rocks & lounge chairs right in the water, a cool outdoor bar which we learned had a great happy hour with live music everyday from 4-6, and a handful of hammocks that we knew we'd find ourselves in quite a bit during our stay. 

Of course that was the resort - now it was time to check out our condo. It was unbelievable - on the ground floor with a great patio, a full kitchen, living room, a huge bathroom (full service I might add) and they even folded our towels into a swan - I've always wanted to stay somewhere where that happened (it's the little things folks!) 

They even had a gathering area outside our building with tables and Adirondack chairs surrounding four gas grills that we could use at our leisure. Needless to say Andy was pretty excited about that. 

This was going to be the perfect home away from home on our island. :) 

Hawaii Bound...

This trip had been in the works for over six months and honestly I think I was in a bit of denial about it - we couldn't really be going to Hawaii could we? Then I was in a bit of a nervous tizzy about it - a total of six airplane rides!? Should we take separate flights!? - then all the snow and cold we experienced this winter knocked some sense into me - woohoo - Hawaii here we come!!

We thought about bringing Adam for a total of 20 seconds - he'd love it but an extra $1000 for his flight? No thanks - plus - this year we'll celebrate our 10th anniversary - so why not make it a second honeymoon? Plus he was really looking forward to nine days at Grandma & Grandpa's. Though while we were packing Adam and Liddy did try to sneak their way into our luggage. :) 

The trip to Hawaii is no joke - I mean, it's not like we thought it was close, but boy did we put in some good airplane time. We flew from Dulles to San Francisco then literally ran to our connection and boarded at last call - yikes! Then San Fran to Honolulu. Both flights were pretty smooth and we had personal tv's on both, so plenty of entertainment options - oh and did I mention we flew First Class? :) 

Our actual vacation was on the big island - Hawaii - but we decided to spend our first night in Waikiki Beach since we got in around 8 that night. We got hooked up with a hotel room from my boss who racks up a gazillion Marriott points each year so that was nice. And even though all we wanted to do when we got to our room was fall face first onto the bed, Andy insisted we rally and head out for a walk and a late dinner to try and acclimate ourselves to the 5 hour time difference. I'll admit it was fun to slip on some shorts and flip flops - did I mention how cold and snowy this winter was? Downtown Waikiki is very "posh" with stores like Chanel, Gucci, Tori Burch, Prada, etc. Needless to say, we didn't buy anything just enjoyed the evening stroll a midst the palm trees and tiki-torches. 

The next morning I was up by 4 (ha - hello two episodes of "House of Cards") and ready to head back to the airport for the vacation to really start. Can I mention what a cool airport it is - palm trees and outdoor lounge areas galore. Then of course the flight itself was pretty awesome flying over that gorgeous water. The excitement for our week was definitely building...