Our Trip to Oahu, Hawaii During The Pandemic (And Disney's Aulani)
Earlier this month my family traveled all the way to the Hawaiian island of Oahu. I have had this trip in the back of my mind for years and I was just waiting until Lincoln was old enough to make it through an eight hour plane ride. He is definitely old enough now (four) to play on an Ipad or watch a movie happily on a long plane ride so the time had come! Kris and I have been a few times over the years, but our kids had never been so this was a big trip for us! We were all so excited!
I got asked several questions about our trip so I wanted to do a big breakdown of what we did each day and share some tips for you if you're planning a trip to Hawaii (or Aulani) this year, there are definitely some things to consider when traveling right now while Covid is still very much a thing.
Before leaving on your trip:
Book a Luau! I have one major regret from this trip and it's that we didn't get to take the boys to an authentic Hawaiian luau, Kris and I have been to the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center and it's absolutely amazing! I just assumed we would take the boys to that, but what I didn't realize is that seating is very limited right now due to covid and because of that- everything is booked up! We started looking into booking a luau about two months before our trip and there was nothing! Our first choice was the aforementioned PCC, but after that we tried booking the luau at Disney's Aulani (which I'm sure would have also been amazing), Ka Moana, Waikiki Starlight, and several others... they were all booked up. So if you have a luau on your to-do list I would try to get it booked at least 3-4 months before your trip!
Get Your Travel Documents Uploaded. The airlines are pretty good about communicating the requirements for this, but due to covid there are quite a few extra steps that must be taken to travel to Hawaii right now. Once you have booked. your flight you can go to www.travel.hawaii.gov to make sure you get all of the proper documentation uploaded before your trip. Adults are required to upload their vaccination card or a negative covid test result. Kids 5 and under are good, but kids ages 5 and up who don't have the vaccine will need a negative covid test from one of their approved test sites. Our nine year old Phoenix did have to go get a Covid test a few days before our trip (you currently have to be at least 12 to get the Covid vaccine) and his negative result had to be uploaded. They also require all of this to be verified when you arrive to Hawaii. If you have a layover at another airport you can be verified there and they will give you a wristband to bypass the line at the Hawaii airport which we heard can get long sometimes. We missed the boat on being verified early during our layover in San Francisco so we had to do it in Hawaii, but we lucked out and there was no line!
Plan ahead. Check online to see what is open and what is not before you plan out your days. A lot of things are open right now, but some main tourist attractions may be closed, or have bizarre hours. So just double check online to get as much information on what you're planning to do as possible. Then there is the case of some things that are open, but only on weekends, or you may need a special reservation, etc.
Consider renting a car from Turo. I was shocked at how expensive the rental car prices were when I went to go book one. I was expecting to pay anywhere from $500-$800 for a decent midsize based on previous experience, so when I saw quotes for $1300-$1400 I was floored. Apparently the islands are a very popular place to be right now and prices have been going up. My aunt (who is an Oahu resident) told us to check out Turo, which is basically airbnb for rental cars. Kris was able to secure us a Toyota Highlander (the same car we drive here at home) within 15 minutes for under $500. Huzzah! And after a week in our rental car I can tell you it was an awesome service! The only clunky part was needing an Uber to get us to and from the airport to the rental car parking location. But aside from having to pay about $80 total in Uber fees to get there and back it wasn't much different than taking a shuttle to one of the chain rental car locations, which is pretty much standard in larger airports. I would 1000% use Turo again, great service and saved us a ton!
Now let's get into the meat of this post- the very fun trip we had!
(Psst. If you're here for some Aulani tips those are the bottom of this post!)
Day One- Travel and Pounders
Our first day consisted of travel. We had a three hour flight out of Houston to San Francisco and then a five hour flight into Honolulu.
The kids both did amazingly well on the plane and I think Kris and I even managed a short nap during the five hour flight! My mom and brother also came with us on this trip, my mom flew in with us from Houston and then we met my brother in Honolulu. We picked up our separate rental cars (my mom and brother shared one and then the Turo for our family) and were on our way. My aunt is an Oahu resident and has always given us an open invitation to come visit us whenever we can. She has a beautiful home on the point in Laie that she rents out as an airbnb and this is where we stayed for the first part of our trip.
You can watch a video tour of the inside of her house on my instagram stories! Once we arrived we quickly settled in and all took a walk down the point, which consists of these beautiful rocky cliffs above the ocean.
We happened to be there right at sunset and there were at least 3 or 4 people having a photoshoot there. Movies have also been filmed on this point. It's just an absolutely gorgeous place to get a look at the ocean.
My grandmother also lived on the point before she passed away a few years ago so it was neat to walk by her old house and say hi. We had dinner at Pounders, which is the restaurant at the Polynesian Cultural Center- we asked to sit on the patio and had a cute view of the PCC shops, we could also hear the luau which I decided was charming (instead of salt in the wound that they didn't have availability for me to book tickets). I ordered the pineapple fried rice.
It came in a pineapple and was adorable, plus it was delicious. Kris ordered the poke nachos and we both shared the Hawaiian Mango pizza- which actually ended up being both of our favorite item from this meal. After dinner we all crashed as it was 9pm (2am Houston time).
Day Two- Sailboat and Buho
We're still on Houston time so we woke up at 5:30am... or rather I woke up when the rooster crowed (yes, there are wild chickens and roosters everywhere in Hawaii and they are loud). We decided to explore the beach closest to my aunt's house- ie. a 3 minute walk. There is a little secret set of stairs a few houses down that takes you there!
Please excuse the blurry photo, I did a screengrab from a video I took (you can watch the whole thing in my instagram stories)! After this Kris and I ran to the local grocery store to pick up a few essentials for the week.
We knew we would be eating most dinners out, but thought it would be nice to have some things to make big breakfasts, and sandwiches. When we got back Kris and I made breakfast, spent some time with my mom, brother, and my aunt came over to visit. Our trip happened to line up perfectly with my aunt's birthday and while today wasn't her actual birthday it was the day my aunt's husband had planned to take her out on a sailboat.
They graciously invited us so we all drove up to Honolulu and boarded the most beautiful sailboat! We sailed out a bit and then were able to go snorkeling.
This was so fun and ended up being one of the hi-lights of our entire trip! Once we were back on the boat we sailed out all along the south side of the island- we had such a cool view of Diamond Head from the boat and the night ended with the most beautiful sunset views.
After that since we were already in Honolulu we decided to grab dinner at Buho Cantina, which is a newer rooftop restaurant right in the middle of Waikiki. The food (while not our favorite meal from the trip, I'll get to that later), was really good! We ordered the chips and salsa and street corn to start (yes, the chips and salsa were not included, which in Texas would have been a felony.
For dinner I ordered the Mexican Loco Moco and Kris had the fish tacos. I had never tried Loco Mocos before (my palette is a lot more adventurous than the last time I was in Hawaii in my early twenties) and I was determined to try lots of fun Hawaiian cuisine. More to come on this later because this was my first Loco Moco of many, but this may have been my favorite one- it at least lands itself in the top two!
Day Three- Scuba Diving at Three Tables
Time to scuba dive! My mom, brother, Kris and myself are all licensed divers so we headed to the North Shore to pick up some rental gear.
My brother and I had researched a handful of places to potentially dive and then with my aunt's advice sprinkled in at the last minute we decided to go to a beach called Three Tables. It was great! None of us dive very often so we were definitely a bit clunky in lugging our gear, setting it up, and getting into the water. Setting up scuba gear on the beach as well as lugging large oxygen tanks from the car to the beach is a task I had never done and proved to be a bit more cumbersome than we all expected, but once we were in the water it all paid off!
Kris and I took a short dive around the "three tables" which are three large rocks right off the beach. We saw the coolest sea turtle and so many beautiful fish! The neat part about diving here is that while we were diving the kids could have a beach day and we took turns going out. One dive was enough for my mom and when she got back Kris and I decided to go back out with my brother. This dive was a bit more adventurous and we ventured way past the tables and along the cliffs on the right side. The water got quite a bit deeper here and we saw so many cool fish, coral, and rock formations. I have some cool underwater videos from this dive in my instagram story hilights, but wasn't able to grab any photos. Our diving day pretty much wiped us all out and while we thought we might have a nice dinner out after this, we decided to just grab takeout from a local Laie shop and call it an early night.
Day Four- Waimea Valley and Haleiwa
Our next day we headed to Waimea Valley which is a beautiful historical garden and hiking spot.
We hiked up to the waterfall where we were able to swim. See that tiny waterfall behind us...
It wasn't so tiny once we got a bit closer!
We took a dip and played in the waterfall a bit. Lincoln was cold in the water here so we didn't stay long, but there was a wonderful woman named Auntie near the waterfall too that made us some beautiful woven items.
She made Phoenix and I a headband and then two fishing rods for the boys.
Lincoln wasn't interested in being in a photo at this point- he was having a four year old type moment. After this we went to Haleiwa, which is the cutest little beach town on the North Shore. My goal was to shop for my aunt Joanie's birthday present since she was having a birthday party later that evening. We also grabbed lunch at Beach House while we were there. This restaurant had huge garage doors that opened up the entire front wall of the and made for some really pretty ocean views. We ordered the spicy wontons and Kalua pork grilled cheese to start, the grilled cheese was awesome, but the wontons were meh. My entree totally made up for it though- I ordered Uncle Andy's Hawaiian Teriyaki Beef and it was to die for!! We also snagged some world famous Matsumoto snow cones while we were in Haleiwa.
Seriously, I have seen this snow cone place on Food Network, multiple times! Their snow cones are different than any you've ever tried- they are creamy and the ice is so soft... it doesn't taste like a typical shaved ice at all! And while we were here we saw another rooster, I'm telling you these guys are everywhere.
That night we attended my aunt's birthday party back at her house and were so charmed with all of the homemade food (are you picking up on the fact that we ate so good on this trip?!) and wonderful people she has surrounded herself with here in Hawaii.
Day Five - Turtle Bay and Haleiwa Joes
This happened to be our last day in Laie so we wanted to soak it up! We grabbed breakfast at the Hukilau Cafe (as seen in the. movie 50 First Dates) and took it to Turtle Bay Resort for a beach day. Here we rented some beach lounge chairs and an umbrella and had the most relaxing beach day.
This had to be one of my favorite days! We snorkeled with the kids, played in the sand, laid around watching Tik Toks, and just relaxed. It was so nice.
We had also loaded up a few surfboards my aunt let us borrow and I took the boys out to attempt to catch a few waves. The waves were a bit advanced for us who obviously are not experienced surfers, but Phoenix did somewhat ride a wave or two on his knees, and Lincoln loved just sitting on the surfboard and riding the tops of the waves. After surfing my aunt invited us to her friend's pool, she teaches swim lessons there and thought it would be fun to give Phoenix and Lincoln a little lesson. It turned into more playing, racing, and jumping off the diving board, but it had to be one of the most beautiful pools I had ever seen... I mean it was in the middle of paradise.
After that we headed to Haleiwa Joes in Kaneohe for dinner. We had heard that the views here were beautiful and they did not disappoint. The restaurant has a garden at the base of a mountain you can walk through while you wait for a table and it was all just incredibly stunning!
If you want to come here, come early! We did have to wait awhile for a table and you don't want to miss the view from your table before the sun sets- it's absolutely incredible!
Based on what we had heard we knew the food would be good, but we had no idea just how good. It was far and away the best meal of our entire trip- plus the service was stellar as well. We ordered so much food here it was insane, but you have to! Just plan to come starving and you will be good! To start we ordered the ceviche and the ahi spring rolls, we quickly ended up ordering another round of the spring rolls because they were that good. We also ordered a few cocktails- and the mango margarita was so good. For dinner I had the sticky ribs and Kris had the grilled fish. We both couldn't stop raving about it. Kris also ordered the fried cauliflower as a side and I probably ate most of it. They were covered in a Korean sauce and so good. For dessert we ordered two- I can't find them on the menu and can't remember what they were, but one was basically a molten chocolate lava cake (it came with raspberry sauce that we omitted) and it was incredible. I know I keep using the word incredible, but this meal really was above and beyond our expectations! Kris and I have had two other unforgettable dining experiences in our lives and Haleiwa Joes has been added to that list.
Day Six- Disney's Aulani
Today was the day it was time to leave my aunt's house. It was so bittersweet! We were sad to leave, but excited because it meant it was time to check into Disney's Aulani Resort!
We absolutely loved Aulani- our first day here was spent marveling at the view from our room,
going down water slides, and swimming in the lazy river.
What other lazy river has Mickey Mouse and Pluto??
That night we ate dinner and finally got some sushi, which our nine year old had been begging for since we arrived in Hawaii. Not that Hawaii is known for sushi, but I think he just equates vacation with eating sushi- ha!
Day Seven- Disney's Aulani
The next morning we headed to Aulani's beach to go paddle boarding.
We ended up renting three boards- one for Kris, one for me, and one for Phoenix.
Lincoln started out with me, but ended up having a blast jumping off and visiting everyone on their board. I think he probably spent the most time on Phoenix's board, which was really cute.
After this we had a breakfast reservation at Makahiki, which is Aulani's character meal. We got to see Mickey and Minnie and Pluto and Goofy before we sat down to breakfast.
I ordered another Loco Moco (I think this was my fourth one) and it ended up being my second favorite. Lincoln ordered the waffles and we were so excited to see a Minnie Mouse waffle! We see Mickey waffles at Disney World all the time, but had never seen a Minnie waffle- it was red velvet too!
After breakfast we snorkeled in the resorts Rainbow Reef which was really cool. I definitely appreciated it more because a lot of the fish that we saw were ones we had seen while scuba diving and it was really fun to now be able to show them all to Phoenix. There were so many different hot tub and pool areas that we ended up discovering an entirely different one today that we hadn't even seen before. This one quickly became our favorite because it had a child friendly hot tub right there, which was nice because sometimes the wind did make it a bit chilly! And an infinity edge which is always cool.
We also managed to grab some shaved ice while we were here. They were Mickey shaped so it was a must.
Today was the day we flew home.
We took one last swim in the pool and lazy river, and lucked into running into Moana on our way out!
And then it was time to drop our car off and head to the airport.
Overall, our trip was so fantastic! There were a few bumps in the road which I think are to be expected on any family trip- I mean we have a four year old so of course there were a handful of meltdowns! But if I could blink and go back I would. As beautiful as Aulani was and we so enjoyed adding a little Disney magic to our trip, I actually enjoyed the first half of the trip more- making breakfast at my aunt's house, going down the secret staircase to the beach, the sailboat, dinner at Haleiwa Joe's. Those are all the moments that stand out in my mind that I don't want to forget!
Now before I leave you I have to share a few Aulani tips I wish I had known before our trip too:
- book the Luau in advance! We would have loved to experience the luau here and weren't able to because it was all booked up, they only do it three nights a week, so I would advise to just call the day you make your Aulani reservation to see when you can book the luau.
- Call to book your character dining at Makahiki 60 days in advance, this is another experience that can get booked up if you aren't careful, but thankfully we were able to snag this one!
- If you want to feed fish this must be reserved the morning you want to do it, because of Covid they only allow two families to go at one time and book up quickly. Kris went to get in line at 7:30am (the desk for this opens at 8am) and he snagged one of the last slots for the day.
- Snorkeling at the Rainbow Reef closes at 3pm so plan accordingly, we got there at 2:30 and were wishing we had a bit more time.
- Download the Aulani app, it has all of the daily activities on there which are slightly different every day, like there is a build your own ears experience every Tuesday!
- A waterproof phone case was awesome to have for character photos on the lazy river, I didn't know about this or plan on it, but I lucked out and was so glad I had my phone strapped around my wrist! I bought this waterproof case and while it was problematic while we were scuba diving (the buttons wouldn't press), it worked amazingly well in keeping water out and underwater depths of 5' or less.
- If you really want to see Hawaii, the Aulani resort is not the place to be. It's a beautiful luxurious resort perfect for relaxing and letting the kids play, but not in the best location to get out and see a lot of what Oahu has to offer. It's very much a contained resort and getting in and out would be time consuming if you were planning several outings a day. My aunt's house was really such an amazing spot for that and I'm so grateful we got to experience both.
Let me know if you are planning a trip or have been to Hawaii recently, I would love to hear how your experience was! Mahalo!
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