Monday, February 20, 2023

Pearl Harbor Wednesday February 1, 2023

The USS Arizona Memorial
When visiting the island of Oahu, a visit to Pearl Harbor is necessary. Pearl Harbor is somewhat of a misnomer because 'Pearl Harbor' is an expansive working harbor north and east of Honolulu.  The historical area is actually the Pearl Harbor National Monument, which includes of the USS Arizona Memorial and its accompanying visitor center.  This is usually what people are talking about when they say they saw Pearl Harbor.

In the same area is the USS Bowfin, a fleet attack submarine that fought in the Pacific during WWII.  The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and the USS Missouri Memorial, the battleship on which the terms of surrender of Japan were signed, are on nearby Ford Island and are accessible by free shuttle.  These three require separate admission.  The Bowfin is $22, the Aviation Museum is $26, and the USS Missouri is $35.  They all have their own websites through which you can purchase tickets  You really can't do them all plus the USS Arizona Memorial in one day.  You can, but you would be pretty tired, and you would be hurried.  Anyway, we were on the 8:45am boat to the USS Arizona.  After we completed this and the visitor center we saw only the USS Missouri which took about two additional hours. After that we were beat..and hungry.


The actual USS Arizona Memorial requires a ticketed boat ride.  Every 30 minutes a boat takes 75 visitors to the memorial which is built directly over the sunken battleship.  Tickets are free, with a $1 reservation fee (you really can't beat that deal) and include the visitor center. Tickets must be purchased through the National Park service's website, Tickets are released at 3pm HST 8 weeks in advance.  A second release occurs 24 hours in advance.  Now I was warned that this ticket was a hot commodity and that I needed to get right on it to ensure my date and time.  I bought the tickets 8 weeks in advance, though not precisely at 3 pm HST, and had no trouble.  Today I looked at what was available in 8 weeks and there is quite a bit left.  It's only sold out for about the next four weeks, so it does seem you have some flexibility-it's not like Hanauma Bay. Through the same website you can get an audio tour narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis for $8.  We did get this as I heard it was worthwhile.  It's good, though in hindsight, not essential.  What I will say is that if you do purchase the audio tour, you should pick it up immediately.  We thought it was just for the visitor center itself, but there are stations on the outdoor grounds and also at the USS Arizona Memorial.

The parking at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center site is free.  They are also extremely strict about what you can take onto the premises.  No purses. No backpacks.  I had my phone in my pocket and that was it.

Ok.  Back to the USS Arizona Memorial.  The experience is very moving from the very start.  First, the tour group sits in a small auditorium where a gentleman seriously shares what is about to be experienced.  He sadly reported that every day people come to this sight with no idea about what happened here.

This might be a good place to mention how little I knew and how much I learned about what went down in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941.  Twenty four hundred Americans lost their lives that day, including 68 civilians.  The attack was a complete surprise.  Most of the men were below deck or still in their beds.  The Japanese sunk 12 ships, including 8 battleships, and damaged another 7 vessels, most of which were repaired and later sent back into service.  The American government was in active talks with the Japanese government up to the day before the attack, an effort to avoid war.  They knew that a Japanese attack was imminent, but were not able to discern from where it might come.  The battleships were parked in the harbor in pairs, and the aircraft were parked wing to wing, making them both particularly susceptible during the attack. The entire attack took one hour and 15 minutes.  The Japanese lost 129 soldiers.

Many were rescued in the valiant efforts of the survivors over the next several hours.  Two aircraft carriers usually stationed at Pearl Harbor were out on exercises in the Pacific.  Also somehow spared were fuel tanks. It is said that if these had been blown up, the impact of Pearl Harbor might have been far more dismal.

1177 men died on the USS Arizona alone after the ship was hit with an armor piercing bomb shortly after 8 in the morning. Of these men, 1102 remain with the sunken ship and are considered to be buried at sea. 

The boat takes you to the memorial where you remain for about 15 minutes, or about the time it takes for the boat to go back and get the next group. The respect shown by those working the site and those visiting is encouraging--no selfies or loud laughing--thank God.   There is a room at the end with a wall carved with the names of those who perished there. Forty three survivors have joined their brothers in the sea following their deaths in the years since the attack, and their names are also added. The area is a somber site without a doubt.  The completely visible sunken ship still bleeds oil today, more than 80 years later.

The names of those lost on the Arizona

The memorial is built right over the sunken boat

Upon returning to the center, it is well worth the time to watch the 23 minute video. "Pearl Harbor: the Death of the USS Arizona," narrated by actress Stockard Channing.  The film really puts everything into perspective.  I really have no idea how some of these films were obtained of recovered, but it is extremely well done and informative.

The visitor center is small but also so informative.  There is excellent documentation of the circumstances leading up to the attack, the details of actual attack, and the immediate aftermath and recovery.  On the grounds closer to the water are the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Circle, which lists the names of all those that lost their lives on that day and on what vessels, including those in lesser known areas also attacked that day, such as Hickam Field and the Naval Air Field at Kaneohe Bay.  There is also a circle dedicated to those who survived, also separated by vessel.


The Mighty Mo

As mentioned above, the USS Missouri, or the 'Mighty Mo' as it is commonly referred to, is it's own sight and is parked on Ford Island, which is about a 10 minute free shuttle ride from the visitor center.  

The USS Missouri was not involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  However, the USS Missouri, stationed in Tokyo Bay at the time, was the sight of the signing of the terms of surrender of Japan to the Allied powers on September 2, 1945.  The Missouri had been active in the Pacific theatre in WWII, and then went on to service in the Korean War before being decommissioned in 1955.  The ship found a new purpose in the 80's and 90's, participating in military operations in the Middle East, before being permanently decommissioned in 1992. 

After some debate, it was decided that it would be fitting for the places that the American participation in WWII began and ended to be in visible proximity to one another and Missouri was returned to Pearl Harbor where she was opened as a                                                                                    museum in 1999 and remains to this day.

The entrance fee includes an approximately 30 minute tour around the main deck of the ship, which includes the exact spot the terms of surrender were signed.  The tour is informative and worthwhile. 

A large portion of the ship is open for self touring, and we also found this to be quite interesting.  Certain parts of the ship are converted to museum like displays, others have been left as they were when the ship was operational, such as the bunks, the showers, the mess hall, the bakery (complete with the smell of doughnuts), and the officers quarters. 

Interesting that the US Military and I have the same rules

Pretty tight for a tall guy!

One very interesting area is dedicated to Kamikaze pilots, Japanese pilots, as most of you know, that gave their lives for Japan simply by crashing into things with their planes.  These young men, some as young as the age of 17, made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and their last letters to their loved ones, some of them unborn children, displayed in the museum hall, reveal a surprising spirit of confidence and joy in their own suicides. I found it difficult to imagine being on the receiving end of one of these letters, and could only force myself to read a few.

Incidentally, a kamikaze attempted to take out the USS Missouri in April of 1945.  The poor kid barely nicked the hull but his plane flipped onto the deck and exploded, killing none but the poor pilot himself.  The sailors, it being a better time with better people, used items around the ship to construct a makeshift Japanese flag and buried the youngster with military honors. A truly human story.

I will add this here as a comment.  In general at both the Missouri and the Visitor Center site I was impressed by the neutrality of the presentation.  The presentation is factual and fair.  Though Japan was our enemy in war at the time, the presentation reminds us that the Japanese who fought were human souls who had families and loved ones.  Though we were at war then, we are not at war now, and all are welcome to mourn the loss of human life, both American and Japanese, that happened in the Pacific during WWII


Anyway, I will repeat.  Every American needs to see and understand this place and what happened here. In my opinion, it is probably best for children/teens to have had at least at least some US History, so I think the age of appreciation may be about 16 (mine were 19 and 23).  Schools now are frightfully deficient in their presentation of the facts of history, and truly there is just too much to teach, so it is important for parents to bring their teens to fill in the gaps and help our future to appreciate the sacrifices that were made so that they can enjoy freedom.  

Memorials are sad but necessary.  Knowing that you stand over the grave of over 1000 American boys who were probably eating pancakes as they took their last breaths is a sobering reminder of your own mortality.

Pearl Harbor is almost more of a pilgrimage than an activity.

Thank you for reading this post!!  I hope to write another post about some great hikes on Oahu this week!  And now for some more pictures!

The guns of the USS Missouri

The Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri
are only a short distance from each other


Thursday, February 16, 2023

Disney Aulani Resort and Spa, Ko Olina, and a Meh Luau January 28-Feb 4, 2023

If there is any time in your life that you have the opportunity and the means to stay at Aulani Disney Resort and Spa, I recommend that you take advantage.  This resort is a true treat and worth the price, if you can get a discount.  We had a free week at the end of January, during which we decided to visit the island of Oahu.  We had never taken our kids to Oahu (actually the last time I went was when I was about 5) so we decided to see what it was all about.  We booked our trip through Disney Vacation Club members who had more points than they could use.  These members were friends of ours and booked us the one bedroom villa for about 50% of the rack rate.  There is a considerable internet market for resale of "extra" DVC points, and I would recommend this route.  The offerings on other timeshare rental sites such as did not seem to be much better than the rack rates.  We have not attempted to look into buying a DVC membership so I cannot relate how much money this would entail, but your membership would allow you to stay at Aulani for a considerable discount.  We stayed in a one bedroom villa with a garden view (which quite frankly is delightful as your balcony faces the sunrise every morning).  The rack rate on this room is 959$ per night.  Like, are you kidding me??  Who on God's green earth has that kind of money?  Even with our substantial discount through our friends and DVC members, this was the most we had EVER spent on a hotel room, and we have done a lot of travelling.  A studio/standard room, which also sleeps 4 is available (rack rate about $600) but lacks the amenities and the space, and was not going to work for us.  Was it worth it?  You bet.  I would lay out the dough for that room again in a heartbeat should the opportunity ever arise again.

The 1 bedroom villa room itself is over 750 square feet.  It has two televisions, a king size bed and a queen size sleeper sofa, two sliding glass doors to a balcony, a full kitchen, a shower with a bench, a rain head and detachable shower wand, and a washer and dryer.  Now ya have to look at the fine print, because I am fairly sure that the 1 bedroom suite occupied by non DVC members may not have a washer and dryer or a full kitchen.  I gotta say that would be a deal breaker for us.  

The hotel is situated beachfront on the northernmost of the four Ko Olina man made lagoons.  There are no waves at all in the lagoons and they are lifeguarded.  Beverage service comes along occasionally, but can take a while, and the pool bar is just steps away.  The beach is set up with lounge chairs and umbrellas, which are available first come first served, and we never had any trouble getting four together.  Boogie boards, sand toys and life jackets are available free of charge.  Snorkeling equipment, beach chairs and stand up paddle boards are available for a fee, but I can't think of any reason why anyone would use them in a waveless, fishless lagoon.

Hanging out on the Aulani Beach

Apparently there are 6 pools, including an adults only pool, though we never set foot in any of them.  Much appreciated was the adults only infinity hot tub, with its gorgeous view of the beach.  The pool area has two slides which originate from a man made volcano, one a tube slide and one a body slide.  The tube slide connects to the lazy river, which really is quite lazy, so after coming down the slide, which we did every day, the next logical thing was our 15 minute float around the pool grounds.  There is a snorkeling reef there too for an extra charge of 25$.  You can actually look through the glass at the fish and snorkelers with their life vests.  No thank you-I'll stick to the real thing.  The lazy river and slide close at 6pm.  Sunset is at 6:20pm or so.  After that it is mass exodus from the pool.  Honestly, in January, it's just too cold to be out there once the sun goes down.

There are lots of activities that guests can enjoy while visiting Aulani.  These range from making your own Aloha themed Mickey ears, to Stargazing, to Storytime, to fitness classes, hair braiding, SNUBA,   Hula Lessons, and character greetings.  Some of these are included but you can bet that if you are walking away with something, like a head full of beautiful braids, there is an additional charge.  Disney is very stingy with info letting guests know via the Aulani app how much their "Premium Experiences" cost.  I did figure out that making your own Mickey Ears costs somewhere between 26 and 35 dollars.  We did not participate in any of these activities.  Thank you very much but we were out actually SEEING Oahu.

There are several restaurants on the Aulani Resort grounds. The fanciest is Ama'ama.  We did make a reservation and eat here as our "fancy night".  The service is impeccable.  Every morsel on your plate is painstakingly described by attentive servers as it arrives at your table.  The servers are unrushed and will stop by to make sure all is okay with your meal and inquire as to your day's activities. The setting is beachfront (or at least 'covefront') and is peaceful and calm.  Live music plays at just the right volume. The menu is prix fixe and includes an appetizer, a starter, an entree and a dessert.  The drinks are about 15$ and are excellent, though there is a wine pairing available for about 44 extra dollars per person.  The final amount: don't ask.  The bill was the highest we had ever paid in a restaurant with our family, and that was down one person.  The fixed price is 125$ per person.  You do the math.  It was good though, and kind of our special night.  Dinner only.

My starter salad and my gin drink

My yummy lamb chop entree

Makahiki serves the obligatory character breakfast from 7-11am each morning, and regular dinner in the evening.  I think this used to be a buffet, but now it is a fixed three course menu for both breakfast and dinner.  But once again, good luck trying to get a price online.  We did make a reservation to come here for breakfast, but a severe thunderstorm prevented this from happening, so I can't speak to how it was, but I think it was going to be about $50 per person.

There is a walk in cafe called "Off the Hook" and another cafe/convenience store called the Ulu Cafe.  We saw lots of people coming out of here with pizza.  

There is a luau at Aulani, Ka Wa'a.  Wanting to get out of the resort we chose another luau, but more on that later.  Ka Wa'a is $199 for adults and $104 for children through the age of 9. All beverages are included.  Well that's pretty expensive, so I sure hope it was good.  Oh, and by the way, the prices are going up on May 1, 2023.

Now how about the Disney bit??  One thing is for sure.  Aulani is more Hawaii than Disney.  I found the Disney touches to be subtle.  Now we were here in January, and I imagine July might be different, but this place was no Typhoon Lagoon overrun with small brats.  This was a classy place with classy people, some taking the trip of a lifetime.  There were lots of retired people too, some with kids, some without-most just knowing how to take advantage of a beautiful opportunity.\

Sunset from the beach path

Sunrise from the lobby

Looking back on the resort at almost sunset

Sunset from the cove

KO OLINA in general:

Ko Olina is a master plan community consisting of four man made beach lagoons (all of which are public access, as per Hawaiian law), some residences, four large resort hotels, a golf course, a marina, and a small shopping complex, the Ko Olina Center. The one problem with staying at Aulani, or at Ko Olina in general, is that you are on average 45 minutes from any of the major attractions on the island including Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, Kualoa Ranch, the airport, and Waikiki Beach.  A rental car is an absolute necessity-unless you just want to sit there in the resort--in which case I say, 'why go to Hawaii at all?'  This was not a problem for us, we just expected we were going to need to drive.  

The eating and shopping options are minimal.  There is NO grocery store, unless you count the ABC.  The nearest is about 10 minutes away in Kapolei.  The shopping is also limited and rather high end. There is one restaurant at the Ko Olina center, the overpriced Monkeypod, though a brewpub seems to be under development.

Summary:  if you stay in Ko Olina and don't have a car, be ready to stay in your resort or spend a whole bunch in transportation fees. Also, even with a car, you need a kitchen.


Well, I already mentioned that we wanted to get off the property to experience a luau, which seems to be ubiquitous when coming to Hawaii.  The luau on Oahu that seems to get the most consistent glowing reviews is the Ali'i Luau, followed by the Ha: Breath of Life show at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  We considered this luau but then made another decision for the following reasons: 1)  the PCC is about a one hour drive from Ko Olina, so at the end of the night you still need to drive one hour to get back to your hotel, and 2)  though the PCC Luau includes admission to the PCC and all its exhibits, the price is  more than the local luau ($190), and NO ALCOHOL IS SERVED.  The entire locale is run by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, so alcohol is absent.  Big time deal breaker.  To me nothing says luau like a mai tai in your hand.  

So anyway, we chose the Paradise Cove Luau because of its decent reviews and walking distance from the Aulani. The Paradise Cove has three "luau packages" you can choose from; the Deluxe, which costs $230 and includes front seating (in relation to the stage), a souvenir photo and a 'souvenir gift' (?), and table service which I guess means you don't have to get up to go the bar which has no view of the stage; the Orchid which is $165 an includes 'middle seating' and a fresh orchid lei, or the Hawaiian which includes a shell lei and wing seating for $140.  Each package also comes with a 'cove card,' loaded with either 20, 16, or 12 dollars, which can be spent on drinks or souvenirs.  Only one mai tai is included.  Drinks at the bar were about 8$ so you can do the math and see that our cards with our Orchid level package allowed us to buy about two extra drinks.

What happened to luau and why are they now so expensive?  This was the most we had ever spent on a luau.  The last time we went on Maui was less than two years ago and it was considerably less.  Anyway, I digress..

I do have to give Paradise Cove a few kudos for their included pre-dinner activities.  Few a few dollars of "Aloha" you can get temporary tattoos, take a short canoe ride, compete in spear throwing with other guests, or have you name translated into Hawaiian.  There is a good sized amphitheater for watching the imu ceremony with its short hula show.  I was appreciative of the blessing that was supposed to be said before dinner was served, but this was literally at the same time as the sunset, so whatever they said, I didn't hear it.

Ready for our pre-dinner canoe ride

Sitting in the tattoo parlor!

Showing off our fierce tattoos!

But kiddos, that is it.  Beyond that it was plastic chairs, a dirt floor, plastic utensils, semi-friendly bartenders serving wimpy drinks in plastic cups, and sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers.  The food was good, though without a whole lot of variety.  The desserts, on the other hand, were garbage.  I didn't even have any--you got that?--I didn't have dessert.

The show had a lounge lizard, who was a middle aged female.  Most of the songs were sung in English about "hula silhouettes" and sunset darlings.  I literally was waiting to here Tiny Bubbles or Little Grass Shack any minute.  There was a lot of hype about the fire dancers who got called out on stage for an encore, as if that is the only reason you come to a luau. Then of course there was the obligatory call out to all the 'lovers' in the audience, who are invited to get up and dance to a cheesy love song.  Ugh. 

It was fine.  It just wasn't good.  For $165, it needed to be good.

The best luau on the islands hands down is the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui.  It is possible that I will never attend another luau aside from this one.  This luau is complete class....but I hear it costs $230 per person. Suck it up and spend it--its not worth wasting the money on a substandard affair.  No fooling.

Well, that's that!  Actually, I have a lot more to write about our trip to Oahu.  Hopefully I can crank it out!  No travel for a while, so lots of time to write!  Thank you for reading this post.  Here are some more pictures!

Arrival at the Paradise Cove Luau

Ready to party!

Oh the beautiful sunset!!

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