Over the winter holiday season, my family and I went to Hawaii for a week. We planned our trip carefully to maximize the experience in Oahu. If you are interested in going to Hawaii, I hope this post helps you organize your itinerary!
As a disclaimer, vacationing in Hawaii is very expensive! We had to save a lot of money to afford all these activities, but we decided it was worth it. What’s the purpose of making money if you don’t spend it to enjoy life, right?
Day 1: Arrival in Honolulu
We arrived in the evening at Honolulu airport and checked in at the Waikiki Gateway Hotel. The hotel was about a 25 minute taxi ride from the airport. We had not booked a rental car before our arrival. When we discovered that the cheapest rentals for cars were $100/day because it was peak season, we opted out of a rental car. Make sure to book a car ahead of time! The taxi ride was about $35 + tip.
We chose to spend our time in Waikiki Beach in Oahu. Waikiki is an area in Honolulu. Our hotel was situated right by the shopping area that lines the streets of Waikiki. We took a walk in the area and chose to eat dinner at Ezogiku, a ramen house. I recommend the seafood ramen or ramen with wonton.
We took it easy on the first night we got there because of the tiring 9-hour flight from Colorado.
Day 2: Expedia Activity Booking, Waikiki Beach Chilling, Surfing, Paddle Boarding
In the morning, we attended a workshop hosted by Expedia Activities. We booked our hotel and flight package with Expedia so they sent us an invitation to their activity center. There are activity/vacation specialists there that give you a list of activities available in Hawaii ranging from day trips to see the volcanoes on the Big Island to whale watching to swimming with dolphins. We chose to use this service because it is very convenient. We had our entire week planned during this two-hour long session. They booked our activity ticket and transportation for each activity so we didn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week. The activity prices were the same (and some at a discount) as if you were to book it individually with the company hosting the activity.
For lunch, we went to Shore Bird. The restaurant is right on the beach so the view was a perfect compliment to our Maui Maui Burgers. The price per entree is about $15-$20. The restaurant has no windows so don’t be surprised when a seagull hops around next to your feet.
In the afternoon, I signed up for a group surfing lesson ($50 for 1.5 hours) at the activity tent on Waikiki beach. They provide the surf board and wetsuit. I highly encourage taking a surf lesson for first-timers. The instructor was excellent so I was able to surf on the first wave I caught.
Picture my dad took on the beach of me paddling out to the waves
Afterwards, I went paddle boarding with my sister and dad. Paddle boarding is where you stand on a surf-board like platform and have a paddle to move yourself around! The paddle board rental was $30/hour.
A picture my dad took of me paddle boarding
For dinner, we went to Keo’s, a Thai restaurant near our hotel. The entrees are from $15-$45. Their desserts are a must-have. I recommend their Mud Pie ($9), a chocolate lover’s favorite. The main dishes was pretty good, but the ambiance of the restaurant is what makes it a worthwhile dining experience.
Day 3: Polynesian Cultural Center
If you ever go to Honolulu, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is a destination you should certainly make time for. I encourage the full-day activity package, which includes the entrance fee into the park, buffet dinner, and post-dinner theatrical show. We purchased the “ambassador package”, which is one of the upgrades, because it includes a tour guide, upgraded buffet menu, and front-row seats during the performances. The package is about $145/person. Our transportation came to pick us up at 10am to take us to the PCC, which is on the north side of the island (Waikiki is on the south side). It was about an 1.5 hour drive. The PCC is like a theme park featuring six different areas, each representing a different Polynesian island. There are hands on activities such as basket weaving (in the Samoa area), hula dance workshop (in the Hawaii area), and dance performances in each. There is a mini-river that snakes around the park and you will get to row in a canoe in it.
A unique element of the PCC is that it is run by Brigham Young University. Many of the tour guides and performers are students at the BYU Hawaii campus. They work at PCC in return for tuition payments. Thus, the ticket costs all proceed to providing for the university.
The park closes at 5pm, but that only concludes the first half of the PCC experience. The dinner is hosted at PCC and it is in a high ceiling, island-themed dining hall. The hosts and waiters are all in costume. We chose the Prime Buffet diner menu, which includes a sushi bar, unlimited crab legs, salad bar, and dozens of other options.
Following dinner, we explored the mini-shopping area, which featured island souvenirs. Then, we entered the amphitheater for the nightly, award-winning, theatrical performance called “Ha: Breath of Life.” The show has extraordinary visuals, exciting performances, and a touching story. During the intermission, they served us dessert, which came with our tickets. My sister’s favorite part of the show was at the end with the fire dancers.
This picture was taken in the Polynesian Cultural Center. Notice the temporary tattoo on my left arm? That was one of the fun activities we did at one of the tribes.
Day 3: Pearl Harbor
Our tour bus came to pick us up at an inglorious time: 6am. We arrived at Pearl Harbor around 7am because the bus makes multiple pickup locations. We bought the multi-tour package ($70/person, kids are free). This includes visiting the Battleship Missouri and the famous Arizona Memorial. The entire activity lasted until at 2pm. In between the tours, we also visited the Pearl Harbor museum on-site, which features a gallery of video interviews of Pearl Harbor survivors.
My dad and I on the USS Missouri
Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial: Picture is one I took from the room with the names of those who lost their lives on the USS Arizona
For dinner, we went to Roy’s, an Asian-fusion restaurant. This is one of the highest rated restaurants on Yelp in Honolulu. The atmosphere is fantastic, service is great, and food is delicious. We ordered the 3-course prix fixe menu ($50/person), which included your choice of appetizer, main course, and dessert. I chose the salmon with rice for my main entree.
I ordered the salmon with rice at Roy's Restaurant in Waikiki
Day 4: Chilling on the beach and swimming with dolphins
We spent the morning relaxing on Waikiki Beach. The water is cold, but because of the sunny weather, you will quickly get adjusted to the ocean temperature.
My sister and I building a sandcastle. It has a tunnel through it too!
Around noon, our transportation came to take us to Sealife Park, a marine-life activity park that was on the North side of the island so it took about an hour to get there. The general entrance of the park is $30/person, which gives you access to the sea animal petting area, sea lion show, and dolphin show. The dolphin show is spectacular and demonstrates the extraordinary intelligence of the animal. However, we went there specifically to swim with the dolphins.The swimming with dolphins costs about $100/person. You are in the water with the dolphin for about 30 minutes, but the actual individual interaction with the dolphin is only a few minutes since you are in a big group with people taking turns playing with the dolphin.
Here I am dancing with a dolphin!
For dinner tonight, we went to Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin, a highly-rated Japanese tempura restaurant on Yelp. Each entree is about $20-$25. The entrees come with miso soup and salad. I enjoyed the lively environment of the restaurant. The food was good, but I haven’t eaten a lot of katsu before so it’s hard for me to judge.
Day 6: Submarine Underwater Tour and Catamaran Dinner Cruise
We took a two hour submarine tour with Atlantis Submarines. There is a catamaran that takes us to the submarine that is floating near the surface about half a mile from the beach. The submarine has individual seats and large windows for each passenger so we all get a clear view of the underwater scenery. We saw turtles, a plethora of exotic fishes, a sunken ship, and a sunken airplane. One of the interesting things I learned is that the company, Atlantis Submarines, purchases old planes to sink into the ocean for the specific purpose of allowing people to see a sunken airplane during their tour. The tour was about $100 per person and children have about a 50% discount.
50 feet underwater next to a sunken ship
After the submarine ride, we headed for our Ali’i Kai Catamaran dinner cruise. It was about $75/person. The catamaran sails around the Waikiki beach area from 5-8pm. The dinner is an Asian fusion buffet featuring dishes such tofu chicken, mashed potatoes, salads, and curry. Shortly after dinner, performers showcased dances from various Polynesian countries. The performers then invited audience members to join them in the jovial dances. At 8pm, we headed for the top of the catamaran to admire the weekly Friday fireworks show on the Waikiki beach.
Picture of the fireworks show taken from the catamaran
Day 7: Return home!