December 2012 marked my first adventure with AS. Before this trip, I’ve always thought that Honolulu is the island name, not Oahu. Actually, before this trip, I had no idea that Hawaii is made up of 8 different islands… How embarrassing.
After scoring round trip flights for $198 per person from Bellingham to Honolulu, we packed our bags and flew off to Hawaii two weeks before Christmas. This was such a steal with the CAD to USD exchange rate floating around 1:1 at the time. Those were the days! We picked up our rental car (they gave us a complimentary upgrade to a Mustang, sweet!) and made our home base in Waikiki.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is fairly expensive in Waikiki. Areas outside of Waikiki are a lot cheaper, but we wanted to be within walking distance to the strip. We thought about staying at an airbnb near Lanikai where it’s cheaper, but there’s nothing to do in that area at night.
There are a lot of vacation rentals in Honolulu. If you’re staying for more than 3 nights (the usual minimum requirement) it usually works out to be cheaper than hotels. On top of the lower nightly price, you also save on food bills and valet. The good thing about rentals is that it comes with a kitchen and parking space! With this in mind, we split our week into 3 nights at a condo, and 2 nights at a hotel.
Hotel loyalties are great but when you don’t have membership with any chains, Priceline bidding is your friend! I swear by this when I want to stay at an hotel in North America. betterbidding.com has a detailed list of hotels sorted by stars and areas. You can narrow your options down using this guide if you have a specific hotel in mind. I wanted a hotel at least 4* along the strip, so I started with a low price and kept rebidding until I got something. We ended up with Hilton Waikiki Beach at 35% off the original price!
What to Eat
Eating out is expensive, and we didn’t have the budget to eat out every meal, every day on this trip. We went to Walmart and stocked up on groceries, snacks, and drinks right after we landed. This is where the kitchen came in handy for the first few nights!
Marukame Udon is a must-eat when you’re in Oahu. Their prices are reasonable and their noodles are so fresh! Unfortunately there’s usually a huge line out the door. The place was packed even at 9:30PM! The udon itself isn’t expensive, but all toppings including onsen eggs and tempura sides are add-ons. This is probably where they make money because these add up. Nonetheless, it’s worth a visit because nothing else wow’d us in Honolulu.
We also ate at a place called “Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar” based on Tripadvisor reviews and man, that was a huge mistake. Apart from it being overpriced, the food was not even close to being authentic. Good Japanese food should be simple yet flavorful; the dishes here were from far that. The rolls were loaded with sauces, almost if they were trying to cover up how not fresh their seafood was. I actually barfed after this meal and went to Marukame to fill my belly.
What to Do
A lot of people come here to shop- Ala Moana Center and Waikiki Beach Walk are great but who cares about shopping when there are much more fun things to do! Vancouver lakes and oceans are gross to swim in so we were stoked for water activities in Hawaii. These were our highlights:
snorkeling – swimming with dolphins!
Even though it wasn’t ridiculously hot in December, we were still able to get a good tan after just a few hours in the sun. Voted one of the best beaches in the world, Lanikai Beach was indeed gorgeous. We started the 40min drive to the east side of Oahu early morning because we had heard how difficult it is to find parking in the Kailua neighbourhood (apparently fine for parking violations has more than quadrupled over the years). This was my first beachy destination so I had no other beach to compare Lanikai to. According to AS, who had previously been to Cancun, the sand here was not as white nor powdery but the coral life right off the beach and scenic view of the Mokolua Islands definitely put Lanikai on top!
The downside of visiting Oahu in December was the water clarity, or lack of. I tried scuba diving for the first time and, boy, I have never been so scared in my life. The weight of the gear kept me on my back and I could not for the life of me go underwater, head first. On top of physically struggling to dive down from the choppy waters at the surface, I was mentally battling the paranoia of breathing underwater. When our dive master and AS finally dragged me a few feet down, I was overwhelmed by the endless blue and nothingness. Other than a few eels and fish, we didn’t see much marine life.
Disappointed at no sights of turtles during our dive, we drove up to Laniakea Beach in North Oahu. Surely enough, there were gigantic honu (green sea turtles) sprawled in the sand. They were massive!! We had to hold back our temptations to touch them – it’s illegal.
We tried surfing for the first time. Well, it was more like 90% paddling out and 10% actually riding a wave because we kept falling. Noobs! It was a workout but we had a blast nonetheless.
The most memorable activity we did on this trip was the snorkeling excursion. Our boat took us out to sea one early morning to 3-4 snorkeling locations, with a professional guide educating us about marine life in Oahu, particularly spinner vs. bottlenose dolphins. After being dropped in the ocean at one of the stops, we were suddenly surrounded by a pod of over 100 spinner dolphins! We saw these creatures in their natural habitat, up close and personal. It was SO AWESOME.
When to Go
Any month is a good time to visit Oahu since the island is sunny and warm all year round. We were worried that the weather would be iffy in December but there was not a single drop of rain during our stay. What made our first trip together extra special was that the Waikiki strip was decked out with gorgeous Christmas trees and lights. So festive!