Family Trip to Hawai’i

We’ve just returned from our spring break trip this year. Sppprrinnnng breaaaaakkkk. We joined another of the same families from our fateful spring break trip last year, so Ruby our 5-year-old was joined by her buddies Monroe (5) and Zoey (4).

Any other day, I would have felt extremely self-conscious and a bit silly pronouncing our lovely mid-Pacific Ocean state with the paused consonant that is the ‘okina, but here at the end of our trip, it slides right off the tongue.

Our main destination was Disney’s Aulani resort on O’ahu. If you’ve been to Waikiki in Honolulu, it’s about 45 minutes west by car, or 25 minutes from the airport. Driving down that major highway, there is a good reminder that Hawai’i (Honolulu, at least), despite being a little green dot in the middle of the world’s largest ocean, is a large, populated, normal American place. You got your CostCo, Uber, Burger Kings, rush hour traffic, big green highways signs… ya know, all the stuff. Fun fact: Hawaii is home to approximately twice as many people as Alaska (1.5m vs 750k) despite being 89× smaller in area.

Why Aulani? We just wanted to try it. Miranda’s family has big Disney work history, and we like Disney as much as, say, a normal family with a young kid does. To me, Disney-anything represents a decent bar of quality. Spendy but not mega bougie (unlike the Four Seasons next door, which was ultra nice and had us all ).

Here’s a photo looking down at the waterpark space between the two towers of Aulani and out onto the ocean:

Two pools, three hot tubs, a lazy river, kid’s splash park, and that mountain in the middle is home to two pretty fun waterslides. The darker pool is a fish-filled “reef” with daily feedings you can watch or participate in.

SATURDAY — We Delta’d our way there. A leisurely noon flight out was nice, a rarity at the Redmond, Oregon airport. That put us there at about 8pm Hawai’i time. No lei was placed upon our necks. Not a thing (anymore?). It was only 11pm Pacific time, but I felt absolutely zombified by the time we were checking in. There might have been knives coming out of my eyes while the perfectly lovely Aulani desk clerk was pointing things out on the little paper map when all I wanted was the room key.

Screenshot saved on my phone of me texting my friend how to get to the coffee stand.

SUNDAY — Coffee. 辰

There are little coffee pods in the rooms, which we ended up never using as we got into the habit of going downstairs and buying a cup in the morning. Disney isn’t exactly a “free coffee in the lobby” kinda institution. There is a coffee stand that mercifully opens at 6am. There was quite a line, which is a combination, I think, of a lot of families being mentally in a mainland USA timezone where that’s 9am-or-later in their heads, and the fact that everything Disney means lines. $6 for a cup you pour yourself from a brown plastic jug. $9 for Kona, which I wanted to try, but reports in our group is that the regular was better anyway.

We learned, like so many resorts and cruises, you have to fight for chairs. Come down to the waterpark at a sluggish 9am, and you’ll be keeping your towels and flip-flops in a little pile next to the garbage cans. You aren’t allowed to plop your stuff on chairs early and come back hours later. Well, you can try, but not only is it against the rules, the one time we tried it once and our stuff was shoved aside and the chairs taken. The only surefire way to get chairs is to send an ambassador in the wee hours of morning to reserve your set in person. (Result: there were a lot of dads down there reading the newspaper in the early hours.)

Technology-wise, a couple of things to know:

  1. Magic Bands do work at Aulani. We bought Magic Band+’s online before we went. We made the mistake of trying to set them up before we got there. Don’t do that. They had to call some internal customer service line and UN-set ours up to get them to work. What they do is basically open your door (which is nice because you’re friggin always carrying something on vacation) and allow you pay for stuff. The latter is nice as it means you don’t have to schlep a wallet around at all.
  2. The App is… fine. It’s probably worth having on your phone, if nothing else for checking the schedule for stuff. We found reservations hard to make on it. I was never able to connect our reservation to my app (Chris Coyier, you cannot attach this reservation as it is owned by Chris Coyier, have Chris Coyier add you to the account, lkajd;kfajd;kfj). It’s not total garbage, but it needs work.

In the evening, we headed to a little shopping center across the street. There is a restaurant there called Monkeypod Kitchen which I will award a solid 10/10. Just a beautiful large open-air space, lovely staff, and wonderful food and drinks.

We had a table on the edge of the grass on the right there, which gave the kids a lovely place to play and dance before and after dinner. And honestly, in the middle of dinner too.

We were just in time to catch the evening musician: Lava. He played guitar and sang by himself and was extraordinarily talented. He had one of those repeater petals, so he would beatbox the beat, then play a bass line, then play and sing the song over those two tracks. Sometimes that feels a little cheezy or played out to me, but he was very understated about it and it worked. Ten times better than playing to a pre-recorded beat track or something anyway.

Monkeypod told us they were known for Mai Tai’s (everywhere in Hawai’i had Mai Tai’s, naturally), so we went for a round of those. They were quite good, finished with a tangy honey-lilikoi foam topper that gave them a special feel. On the subject of Mai Tai’s, I was very excited to drink Mai Tai’s in Hawai’i, but somehow lost my enthusiasm for them right away on the trip. I think I built them up too much in my mind or something and it turns out I’m just not a massive fan. I have been on a Rum Old Fashioned kick though. Zacapa FTW. I was also surprised to see a Bend beer on the menu of just 29 beers: Deschutes Brewing Mirror Pond.

For dinner, I ordered mahi-mahi tacos, which is wildly unlike me as I don’t eat much seafood aside from fairly basic sushi rolls and the occasional oyster. But sometimes in water-heavy locations I get the urge and I’m glad I did as they were excellent.

MONDAY — We did a little pool action on Monday and took the kids to Aunties Beach House for some activity. That’s nice as you literally drop the kids off and come back later, generally 90 or 120 minutes. Just gives everyone a little break from each other and doing something fresh.

I was able to sneak away to the gym a few times during the week. The gym was on the first floor of Aulani and was… fine. It has Peleton bikes which is a nice touch, but it was pretty small and windowless, which felt sad for such a lovely place otherwise.

Somehow, conversation revealed that none of the kids had ever been to a Japanese Steakhouse. The spectacle of all that sounded fun, so we chose Sakura, a decent drive into the middle of the island. We got to drive through some super normal neighborhoods, which is always interesting to see while travelling. It had me thinking: do Hawaiian people actually say “Aloha” to each other? Like if you’re getting your newspaper at the end of your driveway and see your neighbor on their porch, do you say “Aloha”? Even if you don’t otherwise speak the actual language? Unknown. Anyway, if you’re a conessiour of Japanese Steakhouses, I’m sure you could find five in Cleaveland nicer than Sakura, but we still had a great time. Our chef was lively and fun, shooting Sake from a squirt bottle across the tables into our (adult) mouths. The kids were enthralled and satiated, and that’s a win. In retrospect, I’m extra glad we did this as it delayed how long it took to be entirely sick of the resort dining options.

TUESDAY — My wife hired a photographer to do professional photos for all of us, so we kept the kids out of the water until after that. She scheduled it early in the week so we’d have pictures before one of us inevitably got sunburned.

Eating snowflakes with plastic forks,
and a paper plate of course,
you think of everything.

Modest Mouse – Trailer Trash

We’ve seen some previews from the photographer, and they look great. I can’t wait to get the full set. It even started pouring rain in the middle of it, and it didn’t ruin anything.

The shoot went long enough that our options were running thin by the time we were trying to figure out dinner. We couldn’t get into any restaurant at Aulani (the nicer one is closed Tuesdays), and neither of the restaurants across the street would do takeout (WTF?). The dads ended up scouting out the grocery store, which was a real saving throw. We ended up getting takeout burgers and whatnot from the deli counter, and it worked out fine. That grocery store, Island Country Markets, is worth checking out — we ended up going back there several more times for snacks, little necessities, and gifts. There is plenty of Spam there, don’t worry. The only Aulani gift shop with snacks is super limited and super expensive.

WEDNESDAY — Big day! We woke up early and headed to the airport to catch a Hawaiian Airlines flight over to Kauai. My brother-in-law and family were staying at the Grand Hyatt over there for an Edward Jones event, and they had plenty of time to hang with us that day.

It was a chill, easy, fast flight (no luggage!) and we arrived to the wonderfully chicken-filled island in the morning. A 20 minute drive or so over the their resort was pleasant, especially as it went right through The Tunnel of Trees! We did the breakfast buffet, and it was excellent.

The kicker? It just absolutely poured rain all day. But our plan was mostly to swim all day… so we swam all day! I found it extremely fun and weird and memorable to be enjoying all the pools and hot tubs of this incredible Grand Hyatt in terential downpour.

A bit of thunder did make us get out for 30m, but then we were right back at it.

Later in the afternoon, the rain did eventually let up, and we walked down to the beach and up a rocky cliff outcropping. I was terrified to see two different groups of people barrel of the side of it (20-30 ft?) into the ocean below. I tried to ask myself as honestly as I could: would I die if I did that? I put the chances at 50%. Not something I’d risk. But then I was immediately bowled over by horrible feelings about myself. Am I just a wimp? Why can’t I grab life by the cojones like these people can? Am I just a lower-tier human destined for a lower-tier life? Rather than tackle these questions and improve either my life or my own thinking about my life, I just waited for the emotion to fade and moved on.

Ruby really wanted to play on the beach with the waves and we were like nahhhhh girl you’ll get your street clothes wet and we didn’t bring any changes of clothes, but then ultimately let her anyway, and she immediately got 100% drenched. Fortunately the Grand Hyatt has super nice shops, so Miranda went off to buy a new (dry) dress for Ruby. I stayed with her to play, but then there was as mild panic moment where a wave was kinda dragging Ruby deeper out into the water and she was scared, so I had to run in after her, and then my shoes got 100% drenches. Soooooo new shoes for me too, thanks Grand Hyatt.

Takeout dinner and then back to the airport to fly back to O’ahu and Aulani to crash. Definitely the first time I’ve ever hopped a plane, partied, and hopped a plane back to the same place in one day before.

THURSDAY — While there are water slides at Aulani, we wanted to check out Wet ‘n’ Wild up the road a bit, a bigger dedicated water park, so that’s what we did this day. It was alright! Perhaps the biggest bummer was the the shortest kid was only 42″ and pretty much every ride was at least 48″ minimum height, so she got screwed. There was also a short staff, so… half?… the rides were closed. They rotated slides in during the day (close one, open another). I didn’t care enough to track it and make sure we went on the best rides or anything. The kids were too little to care. Ultimately we spent the most time on the splash pad thing and then ultimately the wave pool. Love a good wave pool.

Crazy small world thing: Brandon, my old office mate, Craft CMS CEO, and fellow Bendite was at Aulani the same time we were, and we met up at Wet ‘n’ Wild. We had no idea we’d be there at the same time.

That evening we hired a local babysitter to come watch the kids so we could have one adult’s night out. All we did was go next door to the Four Seasons hotel, which was just absolutely gorgeous. I sweet-talked our way into Noe without reserverations and dinner was outstanding there. Coffee negronis, a couple bottles of incredible wine, a huge ribeye, and this absolute banger Tagliatelle dish left everyone very happy.

Plate of Tagliatelle.

We then moved out to the pool bar for nightcap coffee martinis. Solid evening.

Unscheduled Goofy blaster.

FRIDAY — Character breakfast! If you want photos with characters, this is probably the safest bet. You will find random characters walking around (scheduled and not), but you’re guaranteed a solid Mickey, Minney, and Chip’n’Dale at the breakfast (moar lines). Not to mention Mickey-shaped waffles and all that. It’s fun.

Afterward I took all the girls down to the beach to hang out there. This is a fantastic feature of Aulani: they carved out this whole little inlet of ocean specifically to make it more pleasant to chill at. No big waves, just nice beach, and warm water.

The little girls all went to the salon at Aulani on Friday and got all done up like Moana with the hair and costumes and whatnot.

That afternoon we mosey’d back over to the grocery story for snacks and ended up stopping at Black Sheep Cream, a little ice cream shop. The logo, chalk board menu, and minimalist decor make it seem like it’s going to be real fancy and nice, but we ordered affagatos and it was like cold gas station coffee poured over a pile of vanilla soft serve in a plastic cup so: no. Random interesting fact, aluminum cans in Hawaii have weird little ridges on the top. I first noticed when I got a can of Lion Coffee Cold Brew (delicious) and then kept noticing it over and over. I did find an article on it:

Hawaii has one can-making facility in Kapolei, located on the island of Oahu. It’s owned by Ball Corporation, based in Colorado. While it’s one of the company’s smallest plants at 140,000 square feet, it manufactures about 1 million cans of soda, juice, and beer each day. This facility is also the reason you’re likely to find unique soda cans with neck ridging when you’re in Hawaii.

Why Are Soda Cans Different in Hawaii?

Friday night was the Lūʻau! This was hard to get into, even months in advance, so take heed there. It’s a 3-hour affair with kids’ activities to start, drinks and live music, buffet-style dinner (LINES), and then a big show the last hour to cap it off. It’s a high-quality production with storytelling, lots of costumes, more live music, and of course, fire-twirling action to cap it off. Gotta have fire. The kids there dressed as Moana made it extra cool.

You know something about Hawaiian music? It’s just slow and chill as hell. There is like zero popping Hawaiian songs. It’s not party music. Do not throw a party and only play Hawaiian songs, you gotta switch it up.

SATURDAY — Our flight out on Saturday wasn’t until 9:40pm, a gnarly red-eye back to Seattle and then Redmond. So we had another full day to kick about. We did some light activities like make our own light-up Mickey ears. But then: pool day! Random interesting fact: at the pool bar, they pin cherries to the wall so that the gecko lizards wandering around eat those rather than jump into the main cherry bowl. Bar Hackz.

We made extra effort to be super active and get everyone extra tired for the flight. Mission accomplished. Our last meal was lunch at Mekiko Cantina which did a damn fine job with everything, really. I’d be happy to eat their birria tacos, fajitas, and margaritas again anytime.

At the airport, on the way out, we killed our extra time at the Delta Skylounge there. While small, I think it had the best food for any Skylounge I’ve ever been in. We landed in Seattle at 6-something AM the next day, weary-eyed. Then a shellshocking 4 hours until our last little jump home. We weren’t feeling right again until Tuesday 辰.




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4 responses to “Family Trip to Hawai’i”

  1. Jose Munoz says:

    Enjoyed the article and the pictures! Aulani seems like a great place to visit! I also liked how the post was structured by travel days.

  2. I’m from the wonderfully chicken-filled island and can tell you that locals say, “Aloha” a little bit, but not at all constantly. Usually in addressing someone that maybe you haven’t seen in a little bit, it carries a slight formal and respectful air over something like, “howzit braddah.”

  3. Thanks for sharing this. Seems like a super cool trip. Enjoyed the read, especially the rain-swim part! Sounds amazing.

  4. Sounds like a fabulous trip! We enjoyed Aulani too, though we found it far from the sightseeing we wanted to do, which was a bit inconvenient. Plus the 10 1/2 hour direct flight from where we live is…phew…a bit much for hanging at the beach (especially since we have a few of those here in Florida).

    Totally agree on Monkeypod. We ate there multiple times. Cheaper than the Aulani food and as good or better.

    The lūʻau was a lot of fun too. Agreed it was very well done.

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