Sunday, September 22, 2013

Time flies

Holy smokes!  It's been 9 months since I last posted and I have a long queue of posts that were ready to be posted.  Ready. Set. Go!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Anniversary weekend getaway to Chicago

We love living in the greater Chicago region.  A trip into downtown Chicago is easy, well, unless we're in road construction season, then it's a bit more challenging.

For our 17th wedding anniversary, I know, gasp 17 years, you must have been babies when you were married, blah, blah, blah, blah...we decided to go to Chicago for the weekend.  Because our anniversary is in April, the weather is always hit or miss, and this time it was a bit overcast with a mix of flurries/cold rain!

We stayed at the gorgeous Palmer hotel.  As always, Hilton took care of us and we had a spectacular room. Our tour of Chicago included shopping on Michigan Avenue aka the Magnificent Mile, seeing the Bean in Millennium Park and taking the typical reflection photos, a few museums, lunch at Bub City and walking around.

A few pictures...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hollywood Beach

Before I embark on my next adventure, I should probably post the "drafts" that have been sitting here for quite some time.

During our trip to Miami and the Florida Keys, we decided to head up the coast a bit and check out Hollywood Beach.  After a few days on South Beach, the" barely there" clothes (do I sound like a prude), we decided that maybe heading north would be a better match for us.  Ahhhh, our khaki shorts and polo shirts are a much better fit up here :-)

Hollywood Beach has an amazing boardwalk next to the ocean that runs just over 2 miles.  It's not the traditional wooden boardwalk that you would see in Atlantic City, but it's a nice wide concrete sidewalk that has the beach/ocean on one side and restaurants/shops on the other.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review - Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea, Maui, Hawaii

Five glorious days on the island of Maui.  After 9 days of enjoying the Big Island and Oahu, we spent our remaining 5 days on the island of Maui at the Grand Wailea.

I had a difficult time decided where to stay in Maui.  Should we rent a villa, stay at a hotel, timeshare..should we stay in Wailea, Lahaina, or somewhere in between????  I decided on the Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea, primarily because our of Hhonors status and the additional perks we would/could be offered.

The property is lovely, but at times appears to be in need of a little facelift.  Our room (in the Napua tower) was 600+ square feet of pure luxury.  We had an extra long balcony with a lounge chair/chaise, two oversized cushioned chairs and a table.  The lounge chaise was a nice addition to the balcony and I managed to 'lounge' quite a bit!!

The walkways and some of the buildings needed a fresh coat of paint and a good scrub.

Upon arrival we were met with a lei greeting, quickly checked in, and out items delivered to our room.  The large marble bathroom had a separate water closet, large soaking tub, separate glass shower and large two sink vanity with oversized shampoo, conditioner and soap.  I'd go back just for the shampoo and conditioner :-)

The Napua tower does have several perks over the other rooms.  There's a wonderful daily continental breakfast that includes cereals, fresh fruit, a few hot items, pastries, toast, and a variety of beverages.  In the afternoon there is tea and cake service.  In the evening, there is an open bar with heavy appetizers in the lounge area.  I had a little love affair with the Wailea sunset with malibu rum instead of spiced rum.  Yum!

There were a few things that left a bad taste in my mouth...and they are primarily related to the use of the swimming pools.

  1. If you want a guaranteed shade location for the full day, you have to reserve a 'cabana' for $300 a day. Yes, $300 a day.  For $300 you get a cabana, two (maybe 4) lounge chairs in the shade and 2 (maybe 4) reserved lounge chairs in the sun.  
  2. Each day, you have to go down to the pool, obtain a new bracelet (each day is color-coded), then take your towels (assigned to you and you can be charged if not returned) and find a place around the pool to claim as your own.  
  3. Now, you cannot leave your items unattended for more than one hour; otherwise, they will (threaten to) take your belongings and your chairs can be given to someone else. 
Really?  REALLY?  If I'm paying upwards of $500 a night to a Waldorf Astoria property, I do not want to be bothered with a plastic bracelet to 'permit' me to use the pools.  And, if I want to set my towel down along with a magazine at 8 a.m., walk the beach and come back at 9:30, I expect my chair to still be there.  Sigh.

A few pictures.  Although, I sure didn't do a very good job of capturing the moment digitally.  I did, however, did an amazing job of experiencing the moment and making memories :-)

 The view from the lobby.

Nightly turn down service.

The resort entrance was already decorated and lit up for the holidays.

You can get married at the chapel on the property.

The leis from our greeting at the Grand Wailea.  

Road to Hana

Let's back up to Hawaii in November/December 2012.  Why not, right?

One of the things that everyone told us to do while on the island of Maui was to drive the Road to Hana.  I did my research before hand about where to purchase a picnic lunch, when to get gas, the best banana bread, etc.  I even purchased the R2H audio tour on CD so we wouldn't miss out on any of the sites along the way.

We started our morning early and stopped at Anthony's Coffee in Paia for breakfast and to pick up a picnic lunch.  Breakfast was good, but nothing to write home about.  Our lunch was made to order and ready once we finished breakfast.  The staff were very friendly and efficient.

My visions of the Road to Hana included winding roads flanked by the forest on one side and crashing waves on the other side.  My visions were inaccurate.  While the ride is nice and filled with over 620 curves, 50+ bridges and countless waterfalls in various stages of brilliance (depending upon the amount of rainfall), there are very few moments when you are driving along side the ocean.

In general, we followed the R2H audio tour and stopped at just about every stop suggested.  Many of the stops took you from the main road down side streets to the ocean, which didn't disappoint with some amazing views.  Chances are you will encounter some rain and the skies will be overcast, so don't expect beautiful blue skies...but if you are graced with blue skies, enjoy it!

Once we hit Hana, we continued on our trek and kept right on driving to the Seven Pools and then all the way around the island.  I believe it is frowned upon to take rental cars around the island to the south and around the island to the north, it's not that bad.  Yes, there is gravel and yes, you must go about 35 miles per hour, but it is definitely do-able and there are some beautiful sights to see.  We had a Ford mustang convertible and did not encounter any problems; although, we were quite cautious as it was not a race to the next destination.

A few pictures from the Road to Hana and beyond.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tooling around Oahu

During our two week travels in Hawaii, I only allotted two days on the island of Oahu.  However, I will say that they were two FULL days.  We arrived before 7 a.m. and departed on an 8:30 p.m. flight the next day. In two days, I think we were able to get a little taste of what Oahu had to offer.  

Chuck learned to surf, we visited Pearl Harbor, and toured the island.  

I cashed in some hotel points and we stayed at the Hilton Waikiki Village compound in the Rainbow tower.  Our room was nicely appointed and had a great view of Diamond Head, the beach, the ocean, and the Friday night fireworks!

 Fireworks just off our balcony

View of Diamond head from the room

We drove around the island and found this lighthouse at Makapuu point on the southeast side of the island.

Lucky for us, the Van's surfing contest was in full swing while we were there.   

There are far too many beautiful beaches to mention in and around the North Shore area.  We stopped at almost all of them just to enjoy the scenery and walk a bit.  As you're tooling around the North Shore, stop at Ted's bakery for lunch.  Yum!  It's definitely a hot spot for locals and tourists near Sunset Beach, so be prepared for to wait a bit to place your order.  Counter staff are helpful and can quickly spot a newby!

Pearl Harbor

After spending a week on the Big Island, we jetted off to Oahu for two days.  Chuck learned to surf, we toured the island, stayed in Waikiki, and spent some time at Pearl Harbor and the Arizona memorial.

Prior to heading to Hawaii, I did the required research.  I'm a tad impatient, so waiting in lines is not my thing.  And I'm also not a big fan of tourists....especially tourists that forget there is a world passing them, on any trip, I figure out how to avoid tourists and likewise, how to avoid looking like and acting like a tourist.

Tickets into Pearl Harbor are free; however it's a first come first served system where you receive a 'time' to board the ferry and motor over to the Arizona memorial.  Alternatively, you can go online and book a time in advance, but you have to pay a $1.50 service fee per ticket.  It's well worth it to pay the nominal fee to reserve your time....and it's ABSOLUTELY worth it if you book the very first timeslot out at 8am.

Pictures are inadequate and will never serve the memorial justice.

 The memorial at 7:30am, just as the morning sun was rising.

The Arizona memorial 

 Hubs (not enjoying the paparazzi...i.e. me)

 The benefit of being the first one off the very first ferry of the morning... quiet, serene memorial.

Weeeeee! Sunrise and Biking down Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii

I spent a considerable amount of time searching for fun things to do on the island of Maui.  I typically use Tripadvisor to get an idea about things to do in just about any destination.  It's a good source for feedback from other travelers.

One of the top rated things to do was the morning sunrise on Haleakala and then bike down the mountain. There are several companies that run the tour and you can find one that will suit your needs.  Some companies are guided, which means a guide rides with you and the van follows behind protecting you (kind of) from traffic, some provide pastries and coffee in the morning, and some provide windbreakers and backpacks to borrow.

Bike Maui/Halealaka Bike Co- Cory, the owner, is a bit of a drill sergeant, but at 3am, it's essential when you're trying to get 20+ people organized, fitted with bikes and helmets, loaded on a bus and moving so they get to see the sunrise.  

Once loaded on the bus, the guide drives about an hour up to the sunrise location on Haleakala.  There are many, many, many buses and cars located at the summit.  Some people stay in the warmth of the vans/buses and then venture out just before sunrise while others run up to the railing and stake their claim to get the best sunrise pictures.  We waited in the warm vehicle and then climbed the little hill to the right and hunkered down behind a rock to provide some protection from the wind.  The view was SPECTACULAR, but the wind was a force to be reckoned with!

After the run has risen, you load back up on the bus and get a little tour of the summit.  Around 9am you are brought to the visitor center just outside the park entrance.  Now is where the real fun starts!

We grab our helmets and hop on the bikes for the most amazing (and fast paced) ride down the mountain.  

Don't forget to dress in layers!  It is extremely cold and windy at the summit for the sunrise.  We wore a tshirt, cardigan sweater/sweatshirt, windbreakers, headband to cover our ears, gloves and jeans.  By the time we reached Kula Lodge for breakfast, we were able to shed the sweatshirts and windbreakers.  We probably could have changed into shorts for the remainder of the ride down, but it wasn't too hot in jeans.  Hubs had a backpack, so as we removed layers, they were packed away quickly.

Breakfast at Kula Lodge was wonderful.  I 'asked' hubs to order the macadamia nut pancakes to I could sample a bite and they were spectacular, covered in toasted mac nuts and a coconut syrup.  Yum!  The fresh pineapple is always a treat!

A few pictures.

 My brother and his girlfriend Anna

 The morning sun starting to peak out from behind the clouds

 Silversword plant that is rare and only grows at certain elevations

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Volcano National Park

We decided to make the 3 hour drive from the Kailua-Kona area to Volcano National Park.  It was a very long ride, which we broke up with a stop at South point for some cliff jumping and Punaluu Beach to see the sea turtles and black sand.

I should have realized that Volcano National Park was not a 3-4 hour excursion, but rather a whole day experience.  That being said, we didn't budget enough time here.  By the time we arrived and found out it was a 7 mile hike over dried black lava (in the hot sun) to see the lava flow, plus the 7 mile hike back, we just didn't have enough time.  Lesson learned for next time!

We did view the crater, Thurston Lava Tube and took the road to the 'end of line' where it meets the sea and the lava covered road.

A few pix.

 My brother and his girlfriend with the smoking crater behind them.

The entrance into the lava tube

The crater

The 'end of the trail'
Lava covered road

Not sure what this is...petrified something, maybe?  My brother's girlfriend snapped this pic.

Hubs entering Thurston Lava Tube

Miles and miles of cold, dried (?) lava

On Top of the World...Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Elevation - 13,803 +/- (depending upon the source) feet above sea level or 33,500 feet from the base of the ocean floor

Translation - the air is very thin!

Further translation - nausea and lightheaded-ness

A four wheel drive vehicle is required to head beyond the visitor's center.  Again, rent a Jeep!

The weather on the island of Hawaii (aka the Big Island) can vary from 80 degrees on the beach to 30 degrees at the Mauna Kea summit; raining in Hilo to sunshine at Southpoint.  We found that the temperatures and weather conditions were unpredictable (I'm sure they are predictable to a local, but we weren't there long enough to figure it out), so we had a bag in the back of the Jeep that had jackets, mittens, swimwear, snorkels, tennis shoes and flip flops.

In one day we went from driving down to Waipio Valley (sea level) to walking around the summit of Mauna Kea at 13,803 feet above sea level.  Talk about nausea and lightheaded-ness!   

Getting to Mauna Kea is relatively easy.  It's located off of Saddle Road, which traverses the island (east/west).  Drive up the paved road to the visitor's center.  Spend a little time getting accustomed to the altitude before heading up toward the summit.  You can take a four wheel drive vehicle up and do a self guided tour; however you are not able to enter any of the telescopes.  If you wish to participate in a guided caravan tour, check out the information on their website.  While four wheel drive vehicles are required, we did see several tourists taking compact rentals up...revving engines and all!

Photo Credit:  The above photo was taken by my brother using a pre-programmed setting on his Nikon Coolpix.