Family-Friendly Fun Island-Style

04041Each year in Hawaii as the winter temperatures drop to a lovely 81 degrees, the groundswell charges the shores of Oahu with monstrous waves, sometimes reaching 60 feet tall. For many, the spectacle is overwhelming – the only chance most of us have to see the terrifying immensity of nature up close. 

For others, it brings the chance to enter into the annals of history by riding down the face of one of those monsters on a three inch thick piece of fiberglassed extruded polystyrene (for those of you who don’t surf, glassed EPS equals one intense wave-riding surfboard.)

Some picture Oahu, and think only of Waikiki Beach and Waimea Bay. Some imagine the bustling metropolis of the Honolulu – all traffic and big business; island style, of course. A quick TripAdvisor search produces pages of information on museums, snorkeling excursions, beaches to stroll: helicopter and hot air balloon tours, aquariums, nightclubs and for the courageous, even a submarine adventure. Undeniably, any way you look at it, the waves and sunshine combine into one big beautiful postcard, airmailed straight from the tropics. But 45 minutes away from Waikiki, through the heart of the island via Interstate 2, past the Dole Plantation and Aloha Stadium, lies an entirely different picture postcard. The black and white kind – with a December 1941 stamp.

Beneath the Waves: Uncovering History on the Shore of Oahu

04047Since 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I thought I’d begin our family’s exploration of Oahu with quiet reflection and a reminder of where World War II began in America. Part of the Pacific National Monument, spanning 9 distinct sites in California, Hawaii, and Alaska, the USS Arizona, USS Bowfin, USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum draw over 1.8 million guests to their doors each year. Operated by the National Park Service, the Monument has grown steadily – now covering a total of 17 acres. From start to finish, guests can immerse themselves in relics of American history: from the people and politics that brought the war to American shores, to the mighty battleship Missouri, where the Japanese finally surrendered.

The most popular visitor destination in Oahu, the USS Arizona memorial sees millions of guests from all over the world. Built atop the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, the memorial looks over the final resting place for a great many of the 1,177 crewmen killed when their ship was bombed by the Japanese Naval Forces. Daily tours include a 23 minute film, and an unforgettable boat ride to the memorial itself.

10427Launched one year to the day after the events of December 7, 1941, the submarine USS Bowfin, dubbed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” completed nine successful patrols before peacefully arriving home at its berth in Pearl Harbor. Like her namesake, the Bowfin was a scrapper with a voracious appetite. Sinking 44 enemy ships during the course of the war, the Submarine Museum boasts a 10,000 square foot interior featuring over 4,000 submarine-related artifacts. Not to be overlooked, the Pacific Aviation Museum offers a stroll through two hangars among authentic World War II-era planes, including a Japanese Zero, a Stearman N2S-3, and a flight simulator which leads visitors through an exhilarating dogfight in the skies over Guadalcanal.

If you haven’t purchased your tickets ahead of time, don’t worry: over 1,300 free walk-up tickets are available for the tours on a first come, first served basis. The National Park Services advises guests to set aside plenty of time – allowing you to immerse yourself in the visitor experience, and feel your way back to one of the most influential moments in American history. For more info, visit www.pearlharborhistoricsites.org.

Polished elegance and a prime location: Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort

Location, location, location. The Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort (www.outriggerreef-onthebeach.com) proved to be the perfect place for our family to call home base. Located right on the beach in the heart of Waikiki, every destination on our traveler’s checklist – with the exception of the Polynesian Cultural Center, which was definitely worth the drive – was within easy driving distance (including Diamond Head, Sea Life Park and Pearl Harbor Historic Sites).

outrigger-waikiki-beach-resort-exterior-ocean2The entrance to this full-service resort incorporates a Hawaiian voyaging design theme that carries through the entire property and immediately encourages visitors to reset to “island time.” Our spacious guest room was wonderfully appointed and showcased a private balcony with breathtaking views of the panoramic Pacific Ocean and iconic Diamond Head Crater. The hotel offers an unrivaled array of indoor and outdoor amenity – from the sparkling pool and daily Hawaiian cultural activities,  in-lobby shops and a trio of dining destinations. But arguably the property’s best feature is the fact that guests can walk out of the elevator and onto the sand. Hotel guests can rent chaise lounges and umbrellas, boogie boards and other water toys or just spread out a towel under a tall palm and while away the afternoon watching the kids frolic in the surf. Looking for a more active vacay? Go canoe surfing with certified instructors, arrange a sunset catamaran or Oahu circle island excursion at the Outrigger Activities Center. Prefer a more relaxing stay? Rejuvenate with a soothing lava-rock massage at LaaKea Spa Hawaii on property.

For an additional fee, guests can upgrade to a Voyager 47 Club room or suite which allows access to a private lounge and large outdoor deck with locally inspired breakfast bites, early evening light pupu (appetizers), cocktails and Kona Brewing Company’s craft beers. There are weekly featured artisan tastings and signature cocktails from local liquor purveyors.

Judging by the crowds that fill the tables in the early evening, it’s easy to see why the resort’s Kani Ka Pila Grille is renowned as a popular gathering place for casual fare inspired by the flavors of the islands, including ahi poké, fresh fish, steaks, sandwiches and salads, craft cocktails and entertainment. Recognized as Honolulu’s top restaurant venue for Hawaiian music, Kani Ka Pila (which means “to make music”) Grille showcases beloved local musicians who perform contemporary and traditional Hawaiian music, including Oahu’s legendary slack-key guitar.

Polynesian Cultural Center 

Why come all the way to Polynesia and then never experience it? Explore the rich heritage of the Pacific Islands by wandering through authentic villages from six Pacific cultures (Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa, Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii) as natives demonstrate their arts, music, history and games. With regard to the latter, guests can learn how to toss a spear to hit a coconut perched atop a tall pole 20 feet away or hop aboard a native-style outrigger canoe like the Islanders used centuries ago and paddle around a tropical lagoon that meanders through 42 acres of lush tropical vegetation.

See, feel and smell the wonders of Hawaii in a stunning, big-screen immersive cinematic experience and at the end of the day … enjoy an award-winning royal feast fit for a king at the Ali’i Luau – renowned as the island’s “most popular” and “most authentic” way to celebrate special occasions with ohana (family) and friends.

Held in a covered outdoor venue against a backdrop of waterfalls and lush gardens, the Ali’i Luau features a Royal Court procession, presentation of the imbue (pork baked in an underground oven), delicious traditional food (steamed tropical fish, shoyu glazed chicken, teriyaki marinated strip loin, lomilomi salmon and poké) and lively Hawaiian entertainment.

The showstopper here is Ha: Breath of Life – a spectacular evening show (think Broadway. Then add flaming knives). The touching storyline follows the symbolic Pacific Isle saga (of birth and death, love and family, triumph and tragedy) of Mana and his beloved Lani. Punctuated by Polynesian dance, music and blazing fire knives, Ha: Breath of Life features a cast of over 100 Polynesian natives, stunning special effects, animation and surround sound. Pardon the pun, but this show will literally take your breath away!

Stairway to Heaven

If you’re looking for a memorable way to work in a bit of exercise on your trip, try hiking the Diamond Head Crater. I have to say, there’s something rather empowering about walking up the inside slop of an extinct volcano. More than 3,500 feet in diameter with a 760-foot summit, Diamond Head is a lasting remnant of a volcanic explosion that occurred about a half a million years ago. Ancient Hawaiians called it Laeahi, which translates to “brow of the tuna.” The name “Diamond Head” has more recent roots in the 1800s, when British sailors mistakenly believed that the glistening calcite crystals embedded in the lava rock were diamonds lodged in the lodged in the crater’s soil.

It takes 45 minutes to an hour to reach the summit, and half that time for the trip back down. The trail is a switchback with the mountain on one side and a railing on the other. After a lookout point that doubles as a rest stop, the trail takes a steep upward ascent through a series of stairs and tunnels carved into the mountain. The last set of stairs is a 99-step climb that my husband and kids clamored up with little effort while I took the slow and steady – and decidedly less “in shape” approach that eventually ends at a World War II bunker. From there, the stairs reach an end and you step out to one of the best panoramic views of the island. We lucked out with the weather during our four-day trip to the islands which meant that once we summited the crater, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of Oahu’s entire leeward side (the side to which the wind is blowing). Entry into the state park is $5 per vehicle or $1 per pedestrian.

Sea Life Park

Situated just 15 minutes from Waikiki along a scenic stretch of coast called Makapuu Point, Sea Life Park (www.sealifeparkhawaii.com) is a family-friendly marine-attraction that focuses on educational and interactive programs. Small enough to enjoy on foot, but diverse enough to spend the better part of a day, the park is home to dolphins, seals, stingrays and (small) sharks and features a 300,000 gallon reef aquarium, a breeding sanctuary for the state’s endangered sea turtles, habitats for Hawaiian monk seals and penguins, touch pools, an aviary and seabird sanctuary.

img_2165The kids loved exploring the various exhibits, but the real highlight of our visit here was the unforgettable interactive Dolphin Encounter, where they could get up close and personal with these magnificent sea creatures (there are also Seal, Stingray and Shark Encounters). Our 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter thrilled at the opportunity to stand in waist-deep water while the dolphins performed high energy behaviors, play, kiss and even “dance” with guests.

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