Ahh Hawaii! The trip that was supposed to occur in April 2020 (covid), then October 2020 (Hawaii still closed for out of state travel), and then January 2021 (covid vaccine clinics started). After getting the vaccine clinic in a good spot, I was able to wiggle out a much needed mental and physical break – an entire week off after almost 70 days straight. I knew exactly the rough draft itinerary to resurrect and escape the rough winter.
Hawaii is a great covid safe destination due to all the travel requirements to enter the state and practically everything being outside due to the perfect weather. Read all about our planning and logistics here – remember that COVID travel requirements are constantly changing so please check frequently for any updates.
Originally, our Hawaii vacation was only going to include Maui but as the different iterations came to be – in planning it four separate times – we realized this could be a great opportunity to experience Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa – somewhere we did not think we would be visiting for awhile. It was a fun thing to discuss and when finalizing this itinerary, it made sense to split our time and experience both Maui and Oahu. Since Oahu did not require COVID testing when traveling between islands, we arranged our itinerary to visit Maui firs then midweek fly to Oahu, which worked our perfectly.
Our fly to Oahu was such a joke – I think we were in the air for a total of 25 minutes! I wonder if Hawaiians frequently travel between islands because to me it is like having a series of weekend getaway at your fingertips. The rental car facility at Oahu airport is via a shuttle bus that is a quick drive from the baggage claim area – cross the street when leaving the airport and follow the signs. The shuttle has the car rental names on it so you know which one to board. We picked up our rental car and we were off. I will be honest – I was really excited for this part of the trip because we were staying at Aulani!
For those that do not know, Aulani is a Disney Resort that is a part of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) series of resorts. Anyone can stay there but it is really expensive so we were able to use our DVC points (those that are not members can also rent points from members – way more affordable!). This is a resort I always wanted to visit but it never felt it like was going to happen in the near future.
Full review of Aulani – coming soon!
Our room was not ready so we took time to explore the resort. We walked around the property, getting glimpses of the pool, beach, shopping, dining, and more. After a great conversation with a DVC Cast Member about the resort, we settled at Off the Hook pool bar for drinks. Usually I am not a cocktail drinker, mostly because I do not drink them often and have no idea what to order. But here, the name of the game is fruit and I can totally get on board! I ordered a Lava Flow – coconut base with strawberry puree and Kevin ordered a Mango Mojito. Is this was a relaxing vacation is like? We never do this! I think we like it…
At 4PM, our room was ready so we dropped our stuff and got ready for dinner at the only site down reservation available as of this post – Makahiki.
Read the full dining review here!
We were done with dinner much earlier than we had planned so we decided to take another stroll around the resort and watch a beautiful sunset from the beach – I could not believe that Aulani’s beach stares at a sunset every day – pretty darn magical.
Today was unlike our other days of the trip. While we work up early to fit in a morning workout by way of a hike, our plans were to relax at the resort – all day.
Read about our time at the Ma’ili (Pink) Pillbox trail here!
We spent the rest of the day relaxing and it was pretty spectacular. After getting our wristbands and towels, we found a spot by the beach and settled in. We snorkeled in the ocean, got drinks delivered to our chairs, had poke and coconut shrimp for lunch, and explored all the pool areas.
Read this entire post dedicated to all thing Aulani to read more details if interested!
After rinsing off, we made our way to the edge of the beach to watch the sunset. Even though it was cloudy, it was still a wonder feature of this resort to be able to see this every day.
While we were not starving, we knew we would need a snack before we settled in for the night. We decided to try to ‘Olelo Room Bar and Lounge which was a bar space open to the outside and musical performers each evening.
Read the review of the ‘Olelo Room here!
We had an early morning ahead… a 3AM wake up call.
What had us up at 3AM? Wandvision! We had to leave the resort at 5AM, we needed an hour to watch Wandavision so that took us to 4AM, which mean we need to be up well before then to get ready for the day. It was worth it to watch it this early so we avoided any and all spoilers – it was the season finale after all.
Just to document for our memory… Kevin’s contacts went missing this morning! After tracking back and reaching out to Airbnbs and TSA, we were lucky they were found in our Airbnb from Hana. They were able to overnight ship them to Aulani so he only had to go a day without them – pretty amazing for how remote Hana is and it was only $26. Poses the question though – what happens if you lose your glasses or contacts on vacation?!
Today we were going to travel east of Aulani towards Honolulu and explore there for the day. Our first stop was Diamond Head State Monument which I read can get very crowded. I figured if we got there at 6AM open we would even have the chance to see a good sunrise!
Read our hike up to Diamond Head Crater here!
Our next stop was snorkeling in Hanauma Bay – we ended up skipping due to rain and cold. For those that have better weather and interested, this is another site that was closed for most of the pandemic and saw healing effects to the reef so they reopened with very limited traffic. The bay is closed Monday and Tuesday and opening hours are 6:45AM to 4PM but the last group allowed in at 2PM. I read that this activity can be very crowded, particularly on the weekends so the recommendation is to go early. Note that there is a $12 per person fee, there is no rental equipment available. There is also a cap on the number of people so they will close to guests when full. When arriving, you are given a ticket with a time for an educational mandatory video prior to accessing the beach. We arrived just before 7:30AM, we were given a 8:20AM video time – with the weather being as it was, it as not worth the wait so we moved on.
We continued on to Halona Blowhole which was an easy stop off the road – but it must not have been the right time of day because nothing exciting was happening. After visiting Wai’anapanapa State Park, I guess we expect massive waves crashing into the coastal rock at all times. We got a great view of the coastline as well as all the rain that was attempting to make its way to shore.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail was only a short drive away so we pressed our luck as we watched the rain in the distance.
Read about the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail here!
I was hopeful that the weather would improve to attempt Hanauma Bay but it was not meant to be. We had some surprisingly great snorkeling at the resort the day before so I was convincing myself that we were not going to miss much. Instead we shifted gears and began the food tour in and around Honolulu. At least we were able to get a rainbow out of this rain deal.
Kevin took a caffeine deficient with our super early morning so a coffee stop was first on the list. There are tons of coffee places to choose from – Kai Coffee, Kona Coffee Purveyors, Brew & Foam – I am sure all are great but we ended up at The Curb which Kevin really enjoyed.
With coffee in hand, our next stop was the famous Leonard’s Bakery for freshly made malasadas (Portuguese donuts). I know it is a popular spot but up until now, crowds have not really been a thing. The parking was jam packed and the line went around the building. I hopped out of the car while Kevin parked the car. The line moved fairly well and we were in the store in twenty minutes. We ended up getting half a dozen malasadas puffs – custard, macadamia, two guava, and two dobash (chocolate). Upon exiting, the rain started up again so we enjoyed them in the car. PRO TIP: there are “Malasadamobiles” scattered throughout Oahu and there is a closer one than driving to downtown Honolulu to Aulnai – you can avoid the crowds there!
We were most excited to try the guava so we each took one and began the messing noms cause once you take the first bit, it has the potential to be a guava explosion. The outside is covered in a sugar powder, then you have the donut like portion, and then the filling. The dough itself is soft and fluffy, but not in an airy way – the dough was still dense. The guava filling was delicious and refreshing, it complemented the donut and sugar so well. And there was tons of filling so dough to filling ratio was on point. I know its a very popular spot and it is probably controversial with locals for the best malasadas but these were pretty amazing. Immediately after, we tackled our chocolate one. The filling here was more like a pudding so it was not overly rich. Oh man these were amazing as well.
Having those two (four between the two of us) in a short few minutes was plenty but I was happy to have two more to insert into our day later. Our next stop on the food tour was Waiola Shaved Ice – famous for being Obama’s favorite. There were no cars when we pulled up so I was looking forward to no wait… but then it was rather dark inside. The posted hours had a hand written change that they did not open for another two hours… ugh. That has certainly been something we have seen along the way – places do not always update their website or google information to reflect changes and it causes issues like this. No wanting to wait two hours, we continued on.
Because we ended up missing Hanauma Bay, we were several hours ahead of schedule and missed out on lunch spots I had marked – Banan Bowls, Honolulu Cookie Company, Marukame Udon, to name a few. Fortunately, the final stop was on our way out of the city and had for online ordering. I submitted our order and made our way back to the highway.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food is a popular location, with tourist and locals, for authentic Hawaiian cuisine. It reminded me of our experience at Arnold’s in Nashville – no frills joint serving up incredible food. Beware that this is not open on the weekends so if you are hoping to grab a meal here, it may take some planning. We ordered a small portion of Kalua pig and Pipikaula short ribs that came with two scoops of rice, Haupia, onions and salt, and additional Kevin ordered a small poi.
As expected, the lot was full but it only took one lap around the block to snag a spot – I can only image the neighborhood where this resides loves the increased traffic. We only had to wait a few minutes for our meal to be ready for pick up. The smell was magic.
We went immediately for the short rib and wow these were absolutely incredible. They were tender, so flavorful, and the burnt parts were just the best. I don’t think I could capture in words what it was like to eat these – my mouth is watering!
I think we should have tried the Kalua pig first because unfortunately the short ribs were just way too good. The pork was great but after having the short rib with such intense flavor, the pig was bland in comparison. This was the perfect lunch to enjoy!
Our last activity for the day was visiting Pearl Harbor. If you have followed us for any length of time, you know Kevin is a big history buff so as soon as we add Oahu to our trip, a stop at Pearl Harbor was essential.
Read about our trip to Pearl Harbor here!
As we made our way to the car, Kevin turned and asked if I wanted a bowl cause he was in the mood for one – um YES ALWAYS YES. Island Vintage Coffee across the street from Aulani closed in 30 minutes – it was a 20 minute drive away – off we went! We made it in time to grab our bowls, stop by our room to change, and sit on the beach to enjoy them. Not a bad start to the end of the day.
The rain continued to come on and off but we just stayed put relaxing on the beach as the sunset.
This was our first time getting a good view of the resort at night and it was beautiful! I am sure during normal times these areas are all open alter into the night to enjoy the fun lighting but all was calm in the pools waters tonight. We ordered a quick take out from the pool bar Off the Hook, picked up the overnight-ed contacts from the front desk, and watched some Wandavision theory videos. Despite the rain, another great day in paradise.
Our day exploring the North Shore and also our last full day in Hawaii! I was excited for this for a few reasons but everyone seems to love the North Shore and everything it has to offer. The drive was roughly 45 minutes away cutting through the island since there is no way around on the west side.
Read about our day exploring the North Shore here!
As we made our way back to Ko’Olina, we could see ourselves breaking out of the clouds that sat over the north shore – it was good to feel the warmth of the sun again! While I know we must have looked like a hot mess, we stopped into the very popular Monkeypod Kitchen across from the resort for happy hour (3:30-5PM) where they have various food and drink specials. This ended up being such a great hack so thank you to the cast member that hooked us up with this!
We ordered the:
- Pumpkin Patch Ravioli – roasted local squash, chèvre, spinach, toasted walnut sage pesto
- Waipoli Farm Organic Baby Romaine – shaved parmesan, pete’s caesar dressing
- Hamakua Wild Mushroom & Truffle Oil – white sauce, garlic, fresh thyme
Everything was very good and it was at even a better price. Oh, and don’t worry – while we were in the upstairs dining area – all open air – it started to rain – it just will not stop following us!
After a stop in the room, we made our way to the beach as I just wanted to feel the sun for some amount of time – well it lasted about fifteen minutes before more rain came blowing through. At least we got a decent rainbow out of this one.
The sun had gone down too far to be a heat source so we grabbed more towels and sat watching the sun disappear from the sky, painting the horizon with beautiful colors. For once, the cloud coverage at night was reduced so we could get a decent view of the night sky as well.
On our way back to the room, we spotted a cast member (a Hawaiian uncle) with a ukulele telling Hawaiian stories – we sat and listened to one and it was so well done. It is great to see that hey are starting to infuse more activities back into the resort.
It was hard to believe this was our final night in Hawaii! We packed up our room and readied ouresvles for tomorrow’s departure.
We had a very calculated morning to make the most of our couple hours left at Aulani. Island Vintage Coffee opened at 6AM (coffee and acai bowls only until 630A) so we walked across the street and grabbed those items. On the way to the beach, we also stopped by Ulu Cafe – the quick service spot at Aulani – and grabbed a breakfast burrito that actually ended up being pretty darn delicious. We sat on the beach, practically alone to ourselves, and waited for the sun to come up. We enjoyed an hour of just being, relaxing and enjoying the view of the resort and the water. Once 9AM hit, we slowly walked through the resort, grabbed our bags, and make our way to the car.
The return trip was easy – we returned the car, took a virtually empty plane from Oahu to Maui, had a bit of an unexpected hiccup with the COVID guards (see planning and preparation), then our leg from Maui to San Francisco, then the final leg back home. Its a long travel day but well worth it to get to paradise – especially now.
This was by no means a comprehensive trip of Oahu – I know we missed a lot but with only three full days, there had to be some priority to tall the island has to offer. Some things – even hikes – are still closed due to the pandemic so make sure you are checking everything before you book or make plans. There is plenty for us to do on a return trip and I am so looking forward to staying at Aulani again.