Category Archives: Hawaii

Aloha to Oahu – Review of Private Driver Services with Oahu Spot Tours

A rented car, a family filled with nervous drivers and the majesty of the Hawaiian Islands … Which of these three things do not belong?  It was the first two of those items that led us to sign up with Ron at Oahu Spot Tours for our family’s trip to Hawaii this past May.

I booked the services of Ron’s company after reading the overwhelmingly positive reviews of Oahu Spot Tours on TripAdvisor.  Ron was quick to respond to my emails and offered up some very helpful suggestions for structuring our trip. Since this was our first time in Hawaii, we opted for a full day private tour of Oahu.

Ron picked us up at our hotel (see my earlier review of the Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk for more details on our accommodations) at 7:30 am to begin our excursion. Our mode of transportation for the day was Ron’s comfortable nine-passenger Mercedes-Benz minibus. In addition to a friendly smile, Ron greeted us with box of warm malasadas – Portuguese doughnuts which are a popular breakfast treat in Hawaii.

Our first stop of the day was a scenic overlook that gave us some wonderful panoramic views of Honolulu with Diamond Head off in the distance.

Oahu Spot Tours Scenic View of Waikiki

Ron then drove us around the Island to take in several other scenic spots.

Oahu Spot Tours Scenic View 2

Oahu Spot Tours Scenic View 1

For lunch, we made a stop at a traditional shrimp stand.

Oahu Spot Tours Fumis Shrimp Truck

Despite the fact that we were purchasing seafood, off the back of a truck, on a warm Spring day, even my usually overly-cautious, food-squeamish Partner F enjoyed the delicious garlic shrimp scampi.

Oahu Spot Tours Shrimp Truck Lunch

Right next door was a shop, run by a friend of Ron’s where we purchased a hand carved tiki statue …

Oahu Spot Tours Carved Tiki Shop

… that we had personalized with our names.

Oahu Spot Tours Handcarved Tiki Shop

Don’t worry, we made sure we bought an “un-cursed” one.

Over the course of the day, we also made stops at the Tropical Farms Macadamia Nut Farm (free samples galore!) and the Dole Plantation.

We then headed up to the North Shore of Oahu where we took in a little sea turtle viewing from a respectable distance …

Oahu Spot Tours Sea Turtle

…. before Ron drove us back to our hotel and bid our little group farewell with a nice gift of kukui nut leis.

Oahu Spot Tours Ron

In addition to our day-long tour of Oahu, Ron handled our transfers to and from the airport and drove us out to Pearl Harbor where we visited the USS Arizona Memorial and other naval exhibits.

Our Oahu itinerary included many of the same stops that are featured on the numerous “circle island” group tours.  That said, Ron was great at keeping “one step ahead” of the big tour buses. The advantage of working with Oahu Spot Tours was that Ron was able to tailor the excursion to our preferences and allow us to enjoy the day at our own speed. However, what really made the day special was that during our 7+ hours on the road with him, Ron made us all feel like members of his extended family.  Ron and his company Oahu Spot Tours truly embody the “Aloha Spirit” of Hawaii.

Have you ever visited Oahu? What were your impressions of the island?


Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Hotel Review – A Hula Dancer in Every Room

Sometimes who you travel with will define your choice of a hotel. This past May our family traveled to Honolulu to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. Since this would be our first time in Hawaii, we all wanted to stay someplace that evoked a real “sense of place” and evoked a “tropical island vibe.”  In addition, since my Dad is known for being well … uh cheap … we required a hotel that offered some good value for money for our six night stay. The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk fulfilled both of these criteria and made for a very pleasant stay for our family.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Pool View

We arrived at the Embassy Suites around 8:00 pm and checked in at the registration desk, which was located in the hotel’s open-air lobby and driveway.  Our room was ready and as we completed our check-in arrangements, the efficient and professional staff served our group some fresh, cold guava juice as we waited.  The feeling of warm tropical breezes helped set the tone for our upcoming Hawaiian holiday.

This property is the only all-suite resort hotel in Oahu. Since we were going to be in Honolulu for six nights, having the extra space of a suite to “spread out” made our stay comfortable.  Although hotel prices in Waikiki are generally not cheap, I found that the Embassy Suites offered excellent value for money.  As I comparison-shopped for hotels, I found that for roughly the same rate as a standard room in other nearby mid-range / upscale hotels, I was able to book a suite with a full buffet breakfast included at the Embassy Suites.

The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk consists of two high-rise towers with an open air Grand Lanai on the fourth floor separating the buildings.  The Grand Lanai is the location of the hotel’s pool, breakfast area, bar and meeting rooms. Our room in the Hula Tower overlooked the hotel’s pool area and consisted of a living room with a sofa bed …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Living Room

… and a flat screen TV.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Living Room 2

The Suite also included a small dining area that featured a mini-fridge and microwave.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Dining Area

This feature was really convenient since it provided us a place to store cold drinks and snacks over the course of our stay.  We were able to stock up on provisions at the ABC Store located across the street from the hotel.  This branch of the ubiquitous Hawaiian convenience & souvenir store chain (another one was located just down the street about a block away) also featured sandwiches, fresh refrigerated ready meals and hot takeaway options.

The bathroom was spacious and well kept.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bathroom

The separate bedroom had a king-sized bed (rooms with two queen-sized beds are also available) …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bedroom

… with another flat screen TV. The room also featured a dresser and armoire.  It was great having the ample storage space for our clothes since a six-night vacation pretty much dictated the need for multiple costume changes over the course of our stay.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bedroom Storage

Although we were only located on the 7th floor of the hotel, we did manage to get a peak at the ocean in between the buildings (the Trump Hotel Waikiki is right next door) which made for some great sunset views from the room’s balcony.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Ocean Sunset View

The balcony also featured a small table and two chairs so you could use it as a great vantage point for your morning coffee or a nightcap.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Balcony ViewAm I looking “wistful enough” in this photo?

A full buffet breakfast (6:30 am to 10:00 am) is included in the price of the hotel.  The buffet offered a wide variety of traditional morning options including fresh fruit, cereal and bread / bagels.  Hot options such as French toast, bacon, sausage, potatoes and steamed rice were rotated regularly. In addition, a cooked-to-order egg / omelet station was also available.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Buffet Breakfast

The hotel also features a nightly Manager’s Reception (5:30 pm to 7:30 pm) with complimentary drinks and snacks on the Grand Lanai with Hawaiian entertainment on select evenings.  Outdoor morning Yoga Classes are also offered on weekly basis.  In addition, free Wi-Fi, a Business Center and a Fitness Center round out the amenities that are available.

The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk is very conveniently located.  Although it’s not located right on the water, the beach is only about a 5 minute walk away and we were able to incorporate a morning oceanfront stroll into our daily ritual.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Near Beach

The adjacent Waikiki Beach Walk area features a wide variety of shops (including the two ABC Stores I mentioned earlier) and restaurants within easy walking distance.  Just down the street is Kalakaua Avenue which is one of Waikiki’s main thoroughfares and home to most of Honolulu’s luxury hotels and designer flagship stores.  Also not far away is the Royal Hawaiian where my Partner F and I had our evening nightcaps (see my earlier post Starwood Starpoints Starstruck – The Mai Tai Made Me Do It for more details) and where we attended our first luau (see my earlier post Royal Hawaiian Luau – Book It Danno! for more information).

Service at the hotel was consistently friendly and welcoming. In particular, the service staff at the breakfast buffet always were cheery and ready to assist.  Their positive attitude really got our days off to a great start.  I was also very impressed that when we were looking for the Business Center (which turned out to be located in the adjacent Aloha Tower), one of the office personnel stopped what she was doing in order to personally escort us to where we needed to go. That type of proactive action went above and beyond the call of duty.

My only complaint with the hotel is that I heard quite a bit of elevator noise (e.g. the mechanicals of the cab going up and down) in my bedroom.  Although a minor annoyance, I didn’t find the sound distracting enough to merit a room change.  That said, on any future visits I’ll be sure to request a room as far away as possible from the elevator to avoid this problem. While I’m at it, I’d probably also request for a room much higher up in order to improve my (partial) views of the ocean.  In addition, the quality of the wine, drinks and snacks (consisting of primarily of potato chips and pretzels) could also stand to be upgraded.  However, free booze is free booze so I guess I can’t complain TOO much!

Although the Embassy Suites is part of the international Hilton chain, the hotel didn’t feel cookie cutter.  Hilton made a real effort to infuse local Hawaiian flavor into the décor and atmosphere of the hotel.  Each night, little cards that recounted bits of Hawaiian history (e.g., the origins of the Luau, Surfboards, Lei-Making, etc.) were left in our room.  Hawaiian-themed artwork and furnishings decorated the rooms and public areas.

Of course, what really made our visit complete was the private hula dancer we had in our room …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Hula Dancer Lamp

Hey, what’s wrong with a little John Waters style kitsch from time to time?

How about you? Do you like a little “local flavor” infused into the style and atmosphere of your hotel?

Royal Hawaiian Luau – Book It Danno!

My perception of Hawaii has been defined by television. The image of Don and Megan Draper sipping drinks on the beach in front of The Royal Hawaiian this past season on Mad Men is still very fresh in my mind.  Then, of course, there was that “very special multi-part episode” when the Brady Bunch took off for the Islands.  Finally, as I continue this past-TV-life regression, how can we ever forget the classic opening credits sequence of the original Hawaii Five-0?

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar

We were in Hawaii this past May to celebrate my Dad’s 80th Birthday.  Since this was our first visit to the Islands we wanted the quintessential Hawaii experience. In my mind, there’s nothing that represents “TV Hawaii” at its finest than Waikiki Beach with those stunning views of Diamond Head in the distance. In the middle of all the action and positioned to capitalize on this iconic scenery is The Royal Hawaiian.  Given the location, we felt that the hotel would be the perfect place for our first experience with another Hawaii classic – the Luau.

The Royal Hawaiian’s Luau “Aha Aina” (which according to the hotel translates to gathering for a meal) takes place only on Monday evenings on the property’s Ocean Lawn.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Front Lawn View

Aha Aina is Waikiki’s only oceanfront sit-down dinner.  Guests are seated at comfortably-spaced tables of ten and are served dinner and drinks at their seats.  Unlike other some of the other luau dinner show options, there’s not a need to line up at buffet for your meal.  The views of Waikiki beach and Diamond Head are spectacular.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Lawn View Rear

The evening started with welcome drinks inside the hotel’s vestibule as our party was checked in.  A brief announcement and ceremonial procession kicked off the festivities as we were guided outdoors.  We paid an additional supplement for Premium Seating which gave us a table in the front row and a Kukui Nut Lei.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Group Photo

As the beverages flowed (Mai Tais and Pina Coladas were our drinks of choice and were included in the price of the meal) we wandered the grounds as the performers demonstrated traditional Hawaiian crafts such as cloth making, poi-pounding and the tending of tools.

Royal Hawaiian Luau Traditional Craft Demonstration

Next, we were all draped with fresh flower leis …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Family Photo

… and, following the sound of a pu (conch) shell being blown to signify the start of the feast, we were seated at our tables for dinner.  As we started our meal, the performance began with a storyteller sharing the significance of various Hawaiian traditions.  Later the emcee made the rounds of the tables to call out various guests who were celebrating special occasions including my Dad  …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Emcee

Of course, I think she got a little nervous when my Dad took hold of the microphone and started to tell his life story.  That said, she was very gracious and let my Dad “run with it.”

The meal was very well-prepared and centered on a “surf and turf” Sake Braised Short Rib and Kona Lobster Tail (the full menu can be found at this link). However, my personal favorite was the dessert …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dessert

… The Royal Hawaiian Signature Pink Haupia Cake.

As the sun began to set, the show started in earnest with an appearance by King Kamehameha

Royal Hawaiian Luau King Kamehame

… and traditional dances …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 1

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 2

Over the rest of the evening song and dance commemorated Hawaii’s culture and traditions with homages to the Royal Hawaiian’s Beach Boys

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 3

A whole lot of hula …

Royal Hawaiian Luau Dancers 4

Royal Hawaiian Dancers 5

Royal Hawaiian Luau Hula Dancer

… and of course a classic Fire Dance!

Royal Hawaiian Luau Fire Dance

I used my Starwood Preferred American Express Card to reserve and pay for the luau and received double Starpoints for my purchase.  Check out my earlier post, Starwood Starpoints Starstruck, for more details on the value of the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

The manicured grounds of this beautiful vintage hotel and its perfect location on the beach provide the ideal setting for the evening’s festivities.  The table service (e.g. “non-buffet”) format provides for an upscale, relaxed and more gracious dining environment.  In addition, the performances are family friendly and offer broad appeal to a variety of audiences. The Royal Hawaiian Aha Aina Luau may seem a bit “old school” to some people.  However, that’s precisely why I chose it.  And now, let’s continue with a very special episode of From Point A To in Hawaii …

Have you ever attended a luau in Hawaii?  What was your experience?