Tuesday, September 02, 2014

High school band trip to Honolulu, Hawaii

** This is WAY past overdue from when I started but I have many thoughts and distractions on top of being a busy man. Just enjoy the post...or not.

So, my kids are privileged. Okay, not really. But they do go to a public high school that is 97.5% full of the privileged. We are able to benefit from this because we rent in the area versus buying. We are in what the "real" residents call a "multi-family dwelling." We'd NEVER be able to buy...not necessarily because I won't ever make that much money...okay, I won't ever make that much money...but not because I can't. It's because I won't waste my life working to afford something that isn't a necessity in my life. I'd much rather make enough to live and enjoy not working all the time.

Anyway, the marching band at this high school announced during summer 2013 band camp that they were going to Hawaii for this year's band trip. More specifically they would be marching in the Honolulu St. Patrick's Day Parade in Waikiki Beach on March 17, 2014 at 12 p.m. Most all of the kids were pretty stoked. Many of the kids probably have already been to ritzy vacation areas——maybe places like Vail, Cancun, Bahamas, and any popular destinations for the rich in North America, South America, Europe, Asia...okay basically anywhere the rich take their kids.

The student price was $1,970 since they will be in a quad occupancy room. The adult price was $2,030 as they'd be in double occupancy rooms unless they decided to be in quad occupancy. I prefer double as the wife and I were planning on going. She's still fighting her illness or the side effects from the illness but we were going to use this as a celebration of her making leaps and strides to betterness.

The wife didn't get as better as we had hoped so I invited my long-time friend who's basically be demoted to a well-known acquaintance to take her place. He'd have to pay of course but I had already reserved an extra space and I didn't feel like paying double or rooming with someone I really don't know. I thought about asking the one brother I still talk to but I ended up asking the lesser of two evils. I knew my friend and I would have fun. We just don't hang out as much these days as we used to and we live 15-20 minutes away from each other and also work basically across the street from one another. Anyway, so he was the lucky one to benefit from my wife still not feeling up to traveling. I could have just not gone with my kids but this is freaking Hawaii!! And, it's one thing if they were going to one of the 48 contiguous states...well, most anyway, some I'd still want to go...but this is a flight over an ocean with my two kids. I was not going to be worried about them sitting in good ol' Texas!

The band used a travel agent which was beneficial in including a few interesting excursions that I probably would not book to do myself or even as a family. Going just as a family, everything is costly so I have to pick and choose what's best, most fun and at a fairly decent price. Sometimes though, I do things that I REALLY want to do and I will pay whatever the cost is. Luckily, the total amount we paid included these extra activities so I'd be an idiot to not take advantage of them.


First of all, we stayed in the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. Here the hotel rooms were nice enough but they weren't all that. I didn't know what to expect but it really wasn't much different inside the room than when we stayed at Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel as a family back in 2010. I don't know what the cost difference is but they obviously are owned by the same parent company. I think the Circle Hotel had a much better balcony view (beach front for us versus beach view at Beach Hotel). The Beach Hotel room was a little larger maybe a couple of feet wider and longer, had a few extra room amenities like a flat screen TV with a PS3 which one could rent movies or games for 'free' as part of the room cost. Who's going to spend their time in their room playing video games or watching TV when the entire island of Oahu and the ocean are there to play in is beyond me but to each his own. I'm sure the Circle Hotel rooms have been updated somewhat since 2010——maybe not larger but amenities-wise.

There was a weird thing with the "all-you-can-eat" breakfast. It was sold to us as an international buffet breakfast. In reality, it was the same shit you get at Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn or some other hotel that has "Inn" or "Suites" in the name. I'm not saying that it's bad. I'm just saying it's never what they promote and advertise. The main difference between the Inn/Suites' continental breakfast and AWBH is they didn't have the pastries prepackaged in cellophane. Inside each room there was what I'd call an "insulated" lunch tote. It was about 10" long by 6" wide by 6" deep. You took this down to the breakfast "buffet" by the pool between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. You waited in line because some hotel employee is checking your key card to make sure you room at the hotel and belong in the line to get their breakfast "buffet." Once past the gatekeeper, you had a line of like six tables and stations that had various items on them from individual serving boxed cereals, milk, muffins, donuts, various other pastries, Japanese-type breakfast items like cold noodles and then just-OK coffee. You could opt for hot breakfast items like eggs, bacon and/or waffles but they would bill your room for those items. You put whatever you could inside the tote to carry and eat in a poolside chair or back in your room. That's what the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel calls an international buffet breakfast. The best parts of the breakfast was the poi roll/muffin with sweet poi filling. Everything else one could get at ANY hotel/inn/suite on the mainland or anywhere else I'm sure. Although the coffee wasn't memorable and the only cup they had was like the kind you'd use to rinse your mouth out at the dentist, I had to drink it because I NEED my caffeine in the morning to make it through the day especially getting up at 6:30-7:00 a.m. The urn of Kona coffee with pouches of powdered creamer we had available when we stayed at the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel was much better than the coffee on the buffet line. Truthfully, I wouldn't have minded just hitting the corner McDonald's and paying for some spam and eggs or a sausage, egg McMuffin. But adding additional extraneous costs to my travel when the buffet is "free" was not in my game plan.

View of Waikiki Beach from our balcony

Sunset view of Waikiki Beach from our balcony

Pool and breakfast area as seen from our balcony


Germaine's Luau — This luau was a new experience. I didn't know what to expect but if it was anything close to the luau we attended on our last visit, then it couldn't be too bad. We took a luau bus from our hotel to the location. I guess it'd be considered located on the southwest corner of the island. We had an older lady guide that was kind of annoying and funny at the same time. She was very good at sharing all her cultural knowledge of Hawaii as she's a local...born and bred. The drive to Germaine's was kind of interesting. We took a lot of highway and went through an industrial park to get to the place. I'm sure there was a time when it was mostly trees, sand and rock around the Germaine's but not so much now. Luckily for them, they are located pretty close to the beach and ocean so they are able to keep the allure of a traditional luau. The entertainment was fairly good and the food wasn't too bad. The offerings were plentiful although I would have expected a few more options. Our last visit we did the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Overall, I believe the entertainment, atmosphere and dining was much better at the Cultural Center. I don't know the actual cost difference between the two different places but even if it's double or less, I'd go with the Cultural Center. Now don't get me wrong. Germaine's was a nice establishment with decent food and entertainment but it just doesn't compare to everything we got with a ticket to the Cultural Center luau.

Imu where the kalua pig is being cooked

Dining area and stage

Maita'i Catamaran — This isn't something that I would have planned to do myself. I'm not even sure that it's something to even consider. It was package in the deal so I wasn't going to miss it. It was a fairly enjoyable time to just be out on the water. The catamaran had a huge sail and at times we were really booking it. It was occasionally entertaining when some of the band kids got splashed and soaked from the bow dipping under the water a bit causing a big, splashing wave. We did get to see some dolphins swim along the boat. The ride started just off the beach in front of the Outrigger Waikiki went out towards the ocean then to slightly past Diamond Head and then back to the beach. It was probably an hour ride and the captain and deck hand were nice if not mostly silent. While it was somewhat nice and enjoyable, it's not something I think is really worth around $30. Can I mark it off my bucket list? Sure, if I had it on there but other than that I'd much rather spend $30 on some souvenirs I can take/send home. However, if it's something other people want to do, then you can't go wrong with the Maita'i Catamaran.

Waikiki Beach from the catamaran

Diamond Head from the catamaran

Pearl Harbor/Arizona Memorial — We did this when we vacationed as family a few years ago. It's the same except they finished the construction of part of the visiting center that was blocked off last time we were here. The new building is essentially a movie theater that shows photos and film clips to show the progression of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the aftermath and the subsequent USA's joining WWII. It's about a 20-30 minute movie and then you get to move to where the barge taxis will be boarded for the trip to The Memorial. One thing I did notice this time is that the visiting families with children did much better in controlling those children and having them respect the time and reverence of being on The Memorial. The landscape of the Harbor was much different too as there were not as many naval ships docked as our previous visit because the "naval war games" were not going on at this time.

Just inside Pearl Harbor Visiting Center

USS Missouri from inside the Memorial

American Flag thru top of USS Arizona Memorial

Name wall inside the USS Arizona Memorial

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout — This was also done on our previous trip. It seems to be a part of almost every available island tour and it was worth it just as much as before. The overlooked land was more lush than before as this visit was during Hawaii's winter time. This is still a "shouldn't miss" stop for any vacationers as it's a fairly peaceful and beautiful place to visit and it's free.


We had a "your day" where there wasn't anything to do as part of the package. They did have "deals" that the band kids could've signed up for which included snorkeling in Hanauma Bay or hiking Diamond Head or parasailing somewhere. I told my kids that we already did the first two and we could parasail on the mainland but it was up to them. We/they decided upon my idea of renting a vehicle for the day to drive around to at least hit the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet as it's only open until 3 p.m. and Saturday, our free day, was Saturday. This was our only cheaper priced shopping option because The International Market Place was closed down for remodeling or something. It seems their link is currently down or wrong but you can view some online articles here, here and here while they last. Besides, last time we were here, the Swap Meet was $2-$5 lower than the Int'l Market probably due to convenience. Anyway, we hit the Swap Meet and I purchased more shirts this time around than last because I knew I'd wear the hell out of my shirts I bought. Besides, I decided this time around that if I bought too much that wouldn't fit in my carry-on, I was just going to check a bag or FedEx/UPS it to my home. My buddy also was prepared and had a checked bag that was 90% empty because he didn't know what he would come back with either. And it turns out that checking a bag is much cheaper than shipping it even via FedEx or UPS. Good call friend!

Blue Hawaii Helicopter tours — However, before the Swap Meet, we decided the day before to try something really different and definitely something my wife would not approve of. A helicopter tour with Blue Hawaii Helicopter tours. They do a tour of about half the island that starts at Honolulu Airport around and down to the southeast point then up north along the short to the northeast point and then back down the "middle" of the island to the airport. So we saw places like Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Oprah's house, Bird Island (I think), Schoefield Barracks, North Shore, Dillingham Airfield where some fighter jets were taking off and landing during flight exercises, some place in the lush mountainside where they were building sets for the new Jurassic Park movie and the same trail/dirt road along which 50 First Dates was filmed, Dole Plantation and few other places along the route that escape my memory at this time. It was WAY WAY cool! I'd have to say well worth the $200 each plus my buddy purchased the video for $25 (it comes on a flash drive) which includes video of inside and outside of the helicopter as well as mic/headset audio during the ride——it was cool except for one camera that was a little foggy/blurry which as part of the service and sales you'd think they'd make sure all lenses were free and clear...all in all the video was good enough for memorabilia sake. We also used two GoPros (hand-held by me and my friend however so a little bumpy). The helicopter held the pilot and six other people. Seating is based on weight distribution so my kids got the two front seats next to the pilot, I was on the outer right, my friend next to me and then a couple celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary on the left side. Our pilot was not only the pilot but a well-informed tour guide. He was good at what he did even though he looked to be the ripe old age of 18-20 years old. He may have been a little older but certainly did not look it. As stated, it was a good time!

Keneke's — My friend and I didn't visit the original location that I did in 2010. Instead, we ran into the location listed on the website. I asked the lady inside if the other location was still open (it was really just a hole-in-the-wall place) and she said yes. However, the website only lists one location so I'm not sure about the other. I would say that I felt like the food seemed a little tastier at the 2010 location but I'm not going to complain too much because it's ALL good going down!

Keneke's Grill at Punaluu

View from the back seating area at Keneke's

Kalua Pork and Pork Adobo

Pork Adobo and Pork Guisantes (aka. Peas & Pork)

Oceanarium Restaurant in the Pacific Beach Hotel — My friend and I ate dinner at this place. I ate here with the family the last visit so I recommended to my buddy to eat here again. It still looked the same as before but I think the food offerings were a little more. It's probably the difference between lunch and dinner but I don't know for sure as I didn't ask. The food was pretty good like before but there was no female diver feeding the fish in the giant tank.

Me's Bar-B-Que here or here — There was one day where the band kids had a lunch-is-on-you in between required activities. My friend and I wanted something more local like Keneke's but we couldn't travel too far due to the kids' responsibilities. Our last visit we walked by this place, Me's, on our way to L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. We thought about stopping but stuck with our original goal of trying L&L. This time with the kids, L&L was a possibility but it is a good walk from our hotel. Again, the time constraints were considered and we decided to stop at Me's Bar-B-Que. It wasn't too busy (see pic below). Me's had plenty of options familiar and not-so-familiar to choose from on their menu...way more options than the L&L Hawaiian BBQ in Plano, TX. Anyway, we ordered and everything was pretty damn good! Very good like Keneke's on our last visit although a few more items we were able to try/eat than offered at Keneke's. All in all, it was pretty good food for a decent price. I wish I had room in my belly to try everything on the menu. If you want something more of a local cuisine, definitely try this place. It looks a little scary (especially seeing the "Rent scooters here" sign and scooters right next to the seating area) but it's really good!

Order line at Me's Bar-B-Que

Me's Bar-B-Que (photo by Google Maps)


Blow hole albeit not 'blowing'

Hanauma Bay

Secret Island Pavillion

Donkey Balls

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