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  • Writer's picturethetravelingartemis

We Got Ourselves a Hawaiian Newbie!

Trip Occurred: February 2019 Blog Written: August 2020

Before I start this entry, I have to share that my husband is from South Carolina. He moved to California in the summer of 2012 and had never been to Hawaii before this trip. To say he was excited to go is an understatement.

And with that, let's get started...

We get up at 4 in the morning to make our 7:05AM flight out of Sacramento International. Parking, checking luggage, and security goes by without a problem. We stopped at Esquire for breakfast and then head towards the plane. We found they started boarding people a little early but as we First Class we were still able to board before most of the flight.

For some reason, out of Sacramento, Hawaiian sometimes has the newer plane with pods and sometimes it does not. This was one of the times they did!

They're not as nice as some international Business Class (I'm looking at you British Airways) BUT it's half the flight time. Also, I hate when people recline into my space, which is why I don't recline on planes. By creating pods, I don't have worry about this. It allows me to stretch out and get some sleep and is completely worth it to me.

We sat in the first row (1A & 1B). There was "free" alcohol, a meal, macadamia nuts, chips (introducing us to the Maui Onion chips), and an iPad to watch movies. It was all very nice, comfortable, and relaxing. Jim and I both ended up watching Ocean’s 8, which was a fun movie. The end went on too long but whatever, it made for a good plane movie.

We landed safely in Honolulu, seeing Pearl Harbor along the way (from the plane). My husband kept marveling at the fact that half the airport is outside. We found the Hawaiian Lounge while we waited for our next flight but learned it didn’t have alcohol or really anything but prepackaged snacks. So, we went and found the Plumeria Lounge, which we were able to freely access because of Priority Pass. The Plumeria Lounge was busy and they had to seat you (originally, we were sharing a table with another couple) but they had sandwiches, fruit, chips, and alcohol.

We leave the lounge and go to our gate and board. The flight to the big island takes a little under an hour and we had an uneventful flight. One interesting thing to note regarding Kona Airport, it’s so small that there’s no gates. It’s all done on the tarmac. And everything’s outside (except their small Hawaiian Airline Lounge).

We get our bags fairly quickly and get on the Hertz van (advantage of small airports), get our car, and we’re off to the Fairmont Orchid. Drive is nice. You can see lots of former lava flows and random goats with very tiny babies. Also, there’s a donkey sign warning about donkey crossings. Unfortunately, I never saw a donkey.

We arrive at the Fairmont and it’s absolutely beautiful. We get nut leis (as we’re told later the flower leis die quickly and people want a souvenir that they can take home, which you can’t with the flower ones). The front desk lady is really nice and kept giving us free stuff (coupons for free Mai Tais, smoothies, discount on equipment). She actually sent champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, and a coupon for a free dessert to the room the following night). She just loved my husband's enthusiasm.

Actually, one of the most interesting things about the entire trip is how into my husband is. He was very emotional about finally going to Hawaii. It was very much a bucket list destination for him, which I honestly never realized until we went. Even his enthusiasm leading up to the trip seemed par the course. It wasn’t until we were going that I saw how much more this all meant to him.

We’re taken to our room and it’s absolutely amazing. The view is to die for. They weren’t lying when they said ocean front. The room itself is a pretty standard Fairmont room, though it does have a separate shower, which I deeply appreciate.

The property is very nice. Nice beach location, nice pool, good bar with an accompanying restaurant. The breakfast place was fine (the buffet was part of our rate). Overall, it was a very nice hotel, great location, good staff, medium food. I would go back to this property, and I’d stay in that room again, BUT it could definitely use some refurbishment and little bit of a redo on their food.

Anyway, my husband was so excited to finally be in Hawaii, he put on his trunks and ran down to the pool and the lagoon for an hour and half before we had to get ready for dinner.

We had dinner at Brown’s, the nicest restaurant at the Fairmont and got to watch the sunset. It was nice but the pork belly starter was large enough to the main. It made it so that neither of us really had room for our actual entrees and were trying to force it down. Not bad but not great.

Day 2 - POOL DAY!!!

We woke up this morning in beautiful Hawaii and made our way to the breakfast buffet. I got too much this time but learned portion control on subsequent mornings. Mainly stuff you’d find in an American breakfast buffet but with a small Asian twist, which means most mornings I had miso soup. The staff here wasn’t very good. The hotel staff overall was great but something about this restaurant. They would ask what you wanted to drink when you sat and because we didn’t say coffee, they never wrote it down or brought it to us. One morning we had 3 different people ask us what we wanted to drink before someone finally brought us what we asked for.

Anyway, the food was fine.

After breakfast we got dressed and headed down to the pool. Not much to say on this day as we really did hang by the pool. We both left our phones upstairs and just swam and lounged about. While we lounged, we ordered drinks. My husband Chardonnay and me Strawberry Daiquiris. We ended up ordered lunch and ate in our lounge chairs (Jim pot stickers, me nachos) and of course the 5 minutes it decided to rain was while we were eating. We just sat it out because by the time you even bothered to get out of the rain it would have passed. A little after lunch we decided to call it a day because I was worried we were getting too much sun.

Oh! I almost forgot! This is the day that introduced us to the awesomeness that is Zachery. I was swimming the pool when a dad came over and told his son, Zachery, to get out so they could all eat lunch. I didn’t think much of it and went on with my day. An hour or so later the same dad and the same kid had the same interaction. I swear that was the end of it but like an hour after that, same thing happened AGAIN!!! After that, Zachery became our hero. We saw a kid later that week get out of the pool after only a little complaining and we were both like, “he’s no Zachery. Zachery would still be in the pool.”

Day 3

Today we went whale watching. February is during Humpback season in Hawaii and they are everywhere. We probably saw 10-15 whales off our balcony/hotel property alone.

We got up, had our buffet breakfast, then had some extra time so we stopped by the bar and then headed out for our 1PM tour.

The boat was actually pretty nice in that it was 2 stories and so we had cover for most of the trip (I began to hide a little from sun after our pool day). We headed north because I guess most of the whales are nearer to Maui. It’s the first island the whales hit when they get to Hawaii and a lot of them just stay there.

It was a good trip by Hang Loose Tours. We had a humpback take an interest in our boat and swim really close to it. It was seriously the best whale trip I’ve ever experienced. It was better than the orcas in Seattle and better than being surrounded by dolphins in Monterey. Something about this large creature so close to us, capable of violence and tipping us over but so gentle. He/she was a real treat.

I have a video of some of this experience but WARNING the audio is mainly wind so you may want to mute when you watch it.

We also saw Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. I was unaware that there was a specific Hawaiian Spinner dolphin so I was surprised to learn that they 1. Existed 2. Were so small. One youngin wouldn’t stop jumping around. He was a kick.

Afterwards we went back to the hotel and ate their casual outdoor restaurant. Jim got fish and chips and I got fish tacos. We both liked our meals and we went down and looked at the sea turtles on the beach afterwards. There were 6 tucking in for the night. Good animal day.

Day 4

Today is waterfall day. It seemed wrong to go to a Hawaiian island and not go find a waterfall.

After eating breakfast, we got in our rental car and headed towards Akaka Falls.

We took the north route on the island through Waimea and Honokaa. It was a beautiful drive and it was nice to see non-resort, non-tourist areas of Hawaii. Most of this drive was nice and green. This island has a lot of old lava flows, which are beautiful and foreign BUT very black and barren. And of course, there is the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

Akaka Falls is a 442-foot-tall waterfall. It is situated in Akaka Falls State Park and can be seen by walking a .4-mile-long loop footpath. There are a number of stairs but they’re spaced out and not very steep. On this loop you can also see Kahuna Falls, which is 300 feet tall and a little hard to see. It’s still worth it to do the whole loop, as it’s a very pleasant walk through tropical vegetation, but if you don’t want to you can just go left at the trail head and see Akaka Falls.

After we finish our hike we decide to head back to the hotel by the “south” route, which is really just the middle of the island (kind of – Hawaii is a decently sized island). This took us through Hilo, which I’m glad I saw it as it is the largest town on the big island. We didn’t stop but still nice to see.

Back at the hotel we got lunch at Brown’s Deli. The food was decent. We hung out for a few hours and then got ready for our luau at the Hilton. To say this hotel is a compound is to insult compounds. IT’S FREAKING HUGE! I had decided on this luau partially for location reasons (I didn’t want to drive 30 minutes or longer to go to a luau) but also it showed up on some lists as a decent luau. We purchased the Ali’i seating with VIP benefits over general seating. This gives you premier (closer) seating as well as fast-tracked seating (no long line), you're among first few groups to go to the buffet and you get appetizers, drinks, and desserts brought to you, plus valet parking. Everyone gets a beautiful orchid lei (actually the men get kukui nut lei) a pretty decent meal and a show. The show was fine. I honestly can’t remember the last luau I attended so I can’t really judge it BUT I remember not being really that impressed by luaus in general. They’re not really my thing but my husband had never been to one and it seemed wrong to bring him to Hawaii for the first time and not go. Despite what I just said, I do think this is a good luau and I do recommend attending; however, I probably won’t go to another luau in my lifetime.

Day 5

Today was a nice, casual cabana day. My favorite experience of this entire trip was our curious whale friend but…cabana day is a close second. The Fairmont Orchid has 3 cabanas that are right next to the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean. You can see Maui in the distance and, since it was whale season, humpbacks surfacing, and sometimes breaching, in the distance. Since we rented the cabana, they gave us a cooler with 4 waters, 4 fruit snacks, 4 packs of macadamia nuts, 4 packs of Maui onion kettle chips, and 1 mixed fruit pack PLUS people bringing you drinks all day (for a price). We were also able to order lunch so I just sat there reading my book, staring and listening to the Pacific Ocean, drinking strawberry daiquiris and eating nachos. We never ended up going to the pool that day but we did go down to the (I believe man made) lagoon and swam for a bit. This was good practice for me because the ocean scares me and we were scheduled to go snorkeling the next day. It was actually pretty fun (as I didn’t fear strong currents/undertow) but I did still struggle with my fear of the unknown. I mean, what (hopefully little) fish is swimming under me and going to touch me?!?!

Like I said, it was a good day.

Day 6

The day is here! The whole reason we chose to go to the big island over all other Hawaiian Islands is because it is the sight of Captain Cook’s death. He was killed in Kealakekua Bay, which is where the Captain Cook Monument is located. To reach this monument you can either choose to snorkel in the bay or you can hike a trail that is 1.8 miles each way, that has a 1,300-foot change in elevation, and is almost completely in the sun. There’s also a chance you might encounter a wild pig, which just doesn’t seem safe (though it’s not like in my research I read about them attacking people so I’m sure those of who have a stronger sense of adventure than I do will be fine).

Anyway, I decided this wasn’t for my husband and myself (considering he’d had a hip surgery 6 months earlier I’m glad I ruled this option out early). Instead we signed up with a snorkel company. Our original snorkel company ended up canceling on us the day before we were set to go out. Apparently, we were the only two people signed up for that particular tour. They offered an alternative tour but it did not go to Kealakekua Bay so we declined and asked for a refund, which they kindly gave us. They also suggested another company that goes out to the bay daily, Sea Quest. We weren’t able to go out on Wednesday but they could get us in on Thursday, which we gladly signed up for.

Sea Quest has a tour called Captain Cook Express that takes you directly to the bay via a Zodiac like boat. I was a little worried about my husband's new hip and the impact of the choppy water and the boat but he was more than fine. On the way we saw some humpbacks and spinner dolphins. After 30-40 minutes (maybe less – I wasn’t staring at a clock and we kept stopping to look at cool marine mammals) we reached the bay. One of the reasons I was OK with this snorkeling trip, despite being scared of the ocean, is that Kealakekua Bay is very nicely sheltered so even though it was choppy getting there, the bay itself was very smooth. When we entered the bay, our guides saw an interesting fin moving about on the top of the water. One of them jumped into the water and confirmed it was a Marlin, a fish they don’t normally see. That was kind of cool.

Anyway, we pulled into the bay and proceeded to jump into the water. At first, I was horrified. Absolute fear and panic hit. I was in the ocean and I had no idea what was near me. So, I made myself calm down, put my mask on and look. There was nothing around me, which helped me calm down. I then felt awkward and a little panicked trying to breath with the snorkel on but I quickly figured out how to do that too, which calmed me more. I, with my husband, then swam over to where our guides said Black Tipped Reef Sharks were located. I won’t lie, when I first saw the shark, I panicked again. IT’S A FREAKING SHARK!!! But I again calmed myself. This is a highly trafficked bay, this shark is used to people, I’m not physically threatening him, and he’s not that big (3 feet maybe). Even then, somewhere in my head I thought “but if he wanted to, he could hurt me.” Fortunately, he did not.

After hanging out with shark for a little bit, I continued to swim along the reef looking at Yellow Tangs, Parrotfish, Wrasses, some huge Sea Urchins, Sailfin Tangs, Raccoon Butterflyfish, and my absolute favorite the Hawaiian Black Trigger. These fish were just the best. They would come somewhat close and then turn on their sides so they could look up at you. I don’t know how many times I said, “Hi fish” and was very happy no one was around to hear me.

After swimming around for a bit, we got back on the boat and they took us to a few lava tube caves. It was a very nice trip and I highly recommend this tour and Sea Quest as a company. They helped us have an amazing day (my husband’s favorite day of the trip) instead of kind of having a bummer of a trip that the reason we chose the Big Island didn’t happen. It still would have been an amazing trip but I’m really happy that this all worked out.

We went back to the hotel and ate at the Luana Lounge at the Fairmont Orchid, the last resort on the property we hadn’t eaten at yet. I was pretty decent. I enjoyed our meal here.

Day 8

We got up, packed, had our final breakfast buffet at the Fairmont Orchid, checked out and headed to the Four Seasons Hualalai. Now this was a special treat for my husband's birthday that was also a treat for myself. I follow a lot of different Best Of travel magazines and blogs and the Four Seasons Hualalai often ranks high on the list of best properties in Hawaii. I just had to see it given how close we were and when I say it's the nicest hotel I've ever stayed at...I'm not exaggerating.

As we were only staying one night and then flying back home in the morning, we got to the hotel early so we could spend the day enjoying the pools. We followed the long drive to the hotel and were greeted by friendly hotel staff. Also, they don't make you stand at a desk to register. They have you sit on a couch in their HUGE lobby and then bring your registration (via a piece of paper) over to you. They also serve you a fruity drink, a piece of pineapple, a hot towel and give you a flower lei. It's a very nice greeting.

We then changed into our swimsuits in their ENORMOUS clubhouse with changing rooms and showers. It was impressive and we were now ready for the Beach Tree Pool!

Funnily enough, this is not their adult pool but their quiet pool. It was very serene.

Another interesting thing about Four Seasons pools is that they have staff that seat you and then staff that come around once and hour and give you things like a shot-sized smoothie or a frozen grape or an offer to clean your glasses.

We ended up eating lunch here and it was really good. I got fish tacos and as I think I mentioned earlier, I'm not a big fish person but these were good.

After lounging here for a few hours, we headed over to King's Pond. This pool is carved out of the natural lava rock and filled with fish and an Eagle Ray. They have snorkels available for you to check out and swim around and look at the fish. This was a very cool experience.

Finally, around 2 or 3 we head up to the lobby to get our room key. They had upgraded us since we were only there for a night and it was my husband's birthday. Now, I feel like upgrade is not a large enough word here. We were supposed to have a very nice room with a golf course view. The room we got was not that. IT HAD TWO BATHROOMS! ONE WITH A STEAM SHOWER!!!

It was a gorgeous, gorgeous room. It would make a very apartment quite honestly. I don't believe we will ever be able to afford it ourselves so we'll probably never stay in it again but I will forever have fond memories of that beautiful, comfortable, luxurious room.

We ended the night, and really our trip with dinner at the Ulu Ocean Grill. Perfect views with great food. Best meal of the trip and really just a great caper to a fantastic, unforgettable visit to Hawaii.

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