Category Archives: travel

Frozen at Hollywood Studios- “All good things” on a 110-degree day

20140728_135909 20140728_132255 20140728_132355We traveled a lot this Summer, and the highlight for the kiddos was probably the limited engagement Frozen Summer Fun LIVE! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida.  This limited engagement is going on until September 28, 2014, and it’s super  cool to visit on a typical Florida Summer day.

We had one day left on our MILITARY SALUTE 4-day hopper, so we chose to go see this extravaganza since the kids can’t get enough of Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and the gang. It was different, and I think since we just visited Hollywood Studios in January, this was a real treat to see some different things, and experience Disney in a different way.  The park was not very crowded when we went, probably because the heat index was 110, and the rides were not crowded either.  Parking is the same at Disney no matter what you do – über 20140728_122408pricey.  Take the tram to the front, and the kick off parade at Hollywood Studios for Anna, and Elsa, and their whole crew is 1045 am.  You do not want to miss this.  It ends at the Sorcerer’s Hat for a dance spectacular.  After this, you can go visit a few special exhibits, but before you do so, get your Fast Passes for the rides/shows you want, and then go get tickets at Stage One for the FROZEN Sing-A-Long – this is fun for younger audiences, and it is a sing a long with Anna, and Elsa, and Kristoff.   Here is a list of all the special things as part of FROZEN Summer Fun LIVE!

The kids favorite part was the Sing-A-Long but they loved playing in the snow in Florida in the blazing heat of Summer- granted, we live in Colorado, and get the real stuff, but there was something magical about it.  All the cast memb20140728_122011ers had the Oaken’s outpost accent too which transformed us to Norway for a bit.  There is an ice rink inside this exhibit and you can rent ice skates too!  But since we live in Colorado and can skate at Keystone or Vail, we skipped it.  The parade was magical in the morning, and kicked off the day nicely, 20140728_111034and we did not stay for the fireworks they are only for certain days, so check the website or listings before planning for this.  All in all, it was nice to cool 20140728_122737off indoors and with Anna, Elsa, and the gang on an extremely hot day in Central Florida.

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From Philly to Washington, D.C. – Independence Day in our Nation’s Capitol

20140629_143544Get Clued In and family went on an adventure this summer to Philadelphia and then D.C.  What a great trip, but we are back and exhausted.  Not too exhausted to share some tips from our trip though.

Hotel Monaco Philadelpia right across from Independence Hall
Hotel Monaco

Philadelphi20140629_172124a– we stayed at the Hotel Monaco, Philadelphia for a night after a family wedding.  It was right across Independence Hall – you know where signed a couple of important documents in our nation’s history, and the liberty bell.  All of the sites are free, and operated by National Park Service.  Get your tickets at the Visitor’s Center which is at the end of the Independence Historic Park.  The visitor’s center is quite amazing in and of itself and not to be missed.  The best thing for kids in this area if you are walking around is Franklin Square- rides, refreshments, a giant fountain and a playground.  It makes for a IMG_4512fun trip and everything is shaded here.  We never made it to the Please Touch museum, but that is on the top 10 things to with kids in Philly.  Another one is the Art Museum, and if you have time in the morning like hubby did, do a jog from Independence Hall to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  These steps are the historic ones filmed in the movie ROCKY where Rocky Balboa ran up the stairs and did his big victory arms in the air shot (pictured to the left).  What a fun time!  A great place to eat breakfast, lunch and/or

Franklin Square Park
Franklin Square Park

dinner and reasonably priced is Reading Terminal Market which is also in downtown.  What a great market, and the Amish are there to sell their goods Wednesday through Saturday.

Our view of the Delaware River from the 10th floor of Hotel Monaco
Our view of the Delaware River from the 10th floor of Hotel Monaco
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Historic ice cream at Reading Terminal Market

No matter where we ate in Philly except at the NPS concessions, it was pricey so be aware of that.  The Reading Terminal Market at least offers you some wider selections at competitive prices.  But, this was a hike for us from our hotel especially with little ones.  We also visited the Mint here – the largest in the nation, and the original was burned down, so this is the 2nd one.  The Federal Reserve boasts a money in motion exhibit too.  With lots to do and see in Philly, if you can eke out 2 days, that would be perfect.

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Beaches in Delaware- We stopped at the beaches on the Delaware coast because we were heading south this trip to D.C.  We stopped at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  While we thought we were escaping the Jersey shore, it may have followed us here, and it was crowded.  It was apparently the first week of summer break in NJ/PA when we went because schools let out so late this year (due to a billion snow and rain days), so, everyone and their mother, literally were on this beach.  But it is a nice beach.  It was a windy cooler day which is good for us but the waves were high.  The best restaurant on this beach is Nicola’s Pizzeria.  It’s a small, family-owned operation but extremely popular and filled up quickly.  The kids get these super cool crayon looking cups, and the pizza is amaze-a-balls!  I kid you not.  Check it out, and they treat you like family.

IMG_4580Washington, D.C.- If you haven’t been to D.C. for the 4th of July, you should try it sometime.  It is busy and packed but the city comes alive.  And if you are lucky enough to get the weather on the 4th like we did, wow!  Due to Hurricane Arthur, we had amazing weather.  Independence Day in D.C. includes a parade in the morning and a concert with fireworks in the evening, and all the Smithsonian museums and the zoo are open late. Government buildings are closed so make sure to get those tours done earlier in the week- like Treasury, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, etc.  Since all the monuments are open air, you can visit those on holidays too.  But, the crowds are overwhelming.  IMG_4558The best time to see everything was when everyone was at the parade or eating lunch.  The same goes for the National Zoo.  It’s a unique zoo.  There are so many trees and shaded areas, and it literally has hiking paths because of its winding uphill and downhill design near Rock Creek Parkway.  I really loved seeing pandas at the national zoo and so did the girls.  We do not get to see pandas at the Denver zoo or very many zoos.  And, how many zoos do you just walk or hike onto for free?  Right- none.  Your tax dollars subsidize all of the Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo, so it’s all free!  Now, if you want a map, brochure, or some food,

cooling off at National zoo
cooling off at National zoo

 

you will pay for it, but admission is free to all the Smithsonian exhibits.  This website is awesome for all the Smithsonian museums and the zoo and is informative.  The summer hours are longer and often not posted at this website though.  The best time to hit the zoo may be early morning or late in the evening (after 6pm) since the zoo is open late in the summer months. The heat is overwhelming in D.C. for July 4th.  Bring along your coolers and food and drink because there are plenty of picnic areas to sit and eat.  For cooling off, there are misters throughout the zoo and most people treat these like swimming pools but hey, whatever helps!

20140701_092337Other than visiting the National Zoo which is a must in my book, my recommendations for the museums are: Air & Space Museum knocks it out of the park!  You will need a full day here so plan accordingly.  Best and cheapest place to eat is the McDonalds inside this museum unless you can get to the L’Enfant plaza metro stop – wow!  Food trucks galore.  You have to see and smell to believe the various food trucks that 20140702_105520await you.  It is less pricey than inside the museums to.   Do not plan on eating at the Natural History Museum – it is disorganized and pricey!  But a visit to the Natural History is a must!  I loved their temporary Beyond Bollywood exhibit too, and the diamonds too- wow!  The dinosaurs are cool too, but the kids enjoyed the interactive parts the most.  We also did the American History museum and that was extensive and quite well done.  I have heard the Postal Museum is great for kids but we never made it out there – it is not in the same location as all the other Smithsonian Museums on the Mall area.  We ate one day at the national mall on P street near the White House and the selection was fabulous – it is right off the Metro Center stop – get off and walk through Macy’s.  We visited the White House gift shop and i would recommend skipping this tourist trap – while they have neat gifts, it was a rip off.  If you do go in, definitely skip taking 20140704_140209the random picture at an imitation Oval Office because the people are just weird about the number of photos, and then finally when you get to the front, the lady takes a blurry shot of you and your family.  Lost time: 30 minutes.

We were fortunate enough to get an insider’s tour of the Pentagon this visit.  One of my friends at DoD personally gave us a tour of the giant building and it was incredible.  How many food courts, banks, chocolate shops, and fun things can one building contain?  We had a good time, and if you haven’t been to the Pentagon in a few years, you can also just walk the memorial outside – the 9/11 Memorial outside the Pentagon is incredible and moving.  20140701_13362820140701_112611There is a 9/11 indoor memorial for the victims too and it is near the chapel.  We drove by Arlington Cemetery and Iwo Jima but it was a super hot day and humid in D.C., considering all that we had packed in.

 

20140704_211048The fireworks were fabulous and we got to see them from a rooftop where my relatives live, and that rocked.  The girls loved seeing the skyline lit up with various fireworks happening from the District, Va, to Maryland – gorgeous 4th of July in our Nation’s20140702_123125 Capitol.  We had a great time and feel lucky we got to experience so much in such a short period of time and especially on Independence Day week.  So much history, and so much more yet to learn.  Hope you had a 4th of July this year, and enjoy the rest of summer!

 

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Frontier Airlines Changes effective April 28, 2014

Thanks for the notice, Frontier… or not!  Here we go again.  The discount airline is now skimping and turning European on us.  But, I am not so sure the European airline model works in a country like ours that is so widespread from coast to coast.

I wrote about FRONTIER a couple of years back when Frontier first sent out some mass changes including charging for sodas, and bags.  Now, take it a step further.  All seats are either $3 or $5, but the last row is free.  Oh, thanks!  I also wrote another FRONTIER post a long time ago when they were previously owned by another company and were not assigning seats to us lowly Economy travelers.  Well, all that is out the airplane window now.  Now, you have to join some club and still pay $20 per carry on bag.  This would be for bags that go into the overhead compartment.  Otherwise, it is $25.  Even if you book on frontier.com, it is still $25!  You are still allowed one personal item.  Gee, thanks, Frontier.  No judgment on how big that “personal item” should be, right?  Wait for it… wait for it… there is.  The guidelines are on their website.  Make sure you measure before you go!  Also, you still pay for checked bags.  Annoyed yet?  It gets better.

Their entire program is overhauled and now, you do not even get a calendar when you try to book to use up those pesky miles/points you have built up over the years.  Yep!  You just get an error message that there is nothing available.  Try again and again, but their website is more frustrating than ever.  If flying the “friendly” skies wasn’t bad enough, another airline bites the dust.  The sad part for me is that they are still Denver-based and I live in Denver, so my choices are down to SOUTHWEST, SOUTHWEST, and SOUTHWEST.  That about sums it up for me.

Some more information for you to consider is in-flight meal/beverages.  They charge for everything and the TV isn’t free either.  Southwest has teamed up with Direct TV to give you some limited free TV  – super nice when you have kids in tow.  Buckle up folks, and enjoy the wild ride as you turn over your money with all the hidden charges and fees.  Sure, you may able to get a cheap flight to Omaha or a destination you can drive to, but be prepared to pay for everything – every single thing including choosing a seat.  Since normal seats are $3 per seat and some up front are $5, calculate that per person and then double it for a round trip.  And remember, deregulation of the Airline industry in the 70s permitted you, the consumer, one very important thing- CHOICE!  It’s time to exercise that choice.  In a free economy, all we have is our voice.  Exercise it and take your business elsewhere if you do not like this.  You are not tied to travel with them. Of course, I can’t say that I like very many airlines anyway.  Don’t even get me started on United – they are the worst airline I have ever flown and hope to never fly again.

In tough economy times, it is equally tough to find good deals on travel, and traveling shouldn’t have to be this hard or miserable.  While the discount model may work overseas where flights cross-country are 2 hours long, and cost 20 Euros round trip, it is tougher here in a country where we are so spread out we have no choice but to fly from city to city (often in the same state).   Good luck finding what works for you, and just say no to airlines that mistreat you, or that do not fit that mold.

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Florida-ahh

Can’t believe it’s been almost a month since we returned from Florida, and this is the first I get a chance to post about it?  Yes, life is busy.  We had a blast in Florida, but the weather couldn’t have been more bipolar than it was this trip.  Tired of hearing and talking about the weather, eh?  I’ll try not to harp on it.  Did I mention how much I miss Hawaii?  Oh, but they had 55-65 F temps too this year.  Here are some highlights of our New Year’s trip.

IMG_4129Cocoa Beach & Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center

NASA was fun; expensive, but fun, and unlike the Disney parks, very focused on one theme- Space!  The best part of visiting the Kennedy Space Center was seeing the Atlantis exhibit, and the actual Atlantis shuttle.  What a great new center and so many hands-on activities and modules for the kids and the adult kids too!  The other great part of the Center is the IMAX IMG_89463-D movie.  The one that was playing when we were there was Hubble, and it was very well done, and engaging.  The stars and planets fly out at you, and it is a great experience for all.  You can meet astronauts, and characters, and just have a great time around the Center.  If the weather is nice, bonus!

Cocoa Beach
Cocoa Beach- Writing reads, “I miss Hawaii”

 

 

 

We had cold and windy weather for Cocoa Beach, and wish it were warmer, but it’s beach, so how can we complain at all?  I do believe Cocoa Beach would be a great place to stay overnight, and with better weather, it is a very nice beach with lots of great restaurants and things to do in the area.  I think Melbourne would be another fun place to visit if there is time.  We did a day trip, but if you get more time, I would definitely recommend this entire area, and if you take a cruise, Port Canaveral looked awesome!

IMG_8981“Orange” you glad you picked your own oranges?

If you love Florida oranges, or citrus in general, and are in the Orlando or any other Florida area, look up local commercial groves where you can pick your own fruit.  The one closest to where my folks live is my favorite, albeit the only one I am aware of.  If the giant confederate flag doesn’t turn you off, then give this place a try.  Otherwise, do a Google(c) search with zip code on commercial orange groves, and you may find the right one for you!  IMG_8984The one we go to is called “Showcase of Citrus” off of Highway 27, in Clermont, Florida.  It is a fun place for kids and adults alike.  Wear your walking shoes, and you can bring your own wagon because when this place gets busy, they may run out.  For $12, you can fill (to your heart’s content) a 5 lb. bag they supply.  You can fill a 10 lb. bag too for more.  There are coupons on-line for their famous slushy and swamp tours.  The swamp tour is about 60 minutes, and resembles the Kilimanjaro ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom without all the wildlife.  It is a great place to walk around the groves and pick various citrus; all types of oranges,grapefruit, and tangerine varieties.  Or, for $13, you can fill a bag inside the market area (they have picked the best ones for you), and you can be on your way!  The IMG_8989bag itself is a souvenir too!  The citrus here is so delicious, and we had fresh juice for a week, and citrus for breakfast.  Sickness, be damned!  Oh another place while in Clermont is a local donut shop called “Donut King.”   They serve all sorts of cajun food too, but my God, their donuts– amazingly delicious!  When in Clermont, definitely give Donut King a try.

The CSI ExperienceIMG_9028– we had an amazing date afternoon on International Drive.  It was a unique date.  My husband loves the show CSI.  The CSI Experience is a fun place to act out the forensics doctor or investigator in you without really getting too “dirty” or close to the real body.  There are three separate scenarios and “crimes,” and you go through several different rooms to narrow the suspect pool, and find the truth.  It’s fun, and each scene takes about 30-45 minutes.   If you are military, be sure to bring your IDs and you get a great discount.  There are coupons in all the local magazines and on-line for about $2.00 per person which is good too.  If you’re into solving crimes and the show, CSI, you will have a good time.

HollywoodStudios2
Hollywood Studios

I’ve said it once, I have said it a few dozen times, Disney stresses me out.  Disneyworld stresses me out way more than LAND.  I found LAND laid back, and since it doesn’t attract a lot of foreign tourists, I found it less crowded and more manageable.  Of course, Disney is Disney- high prices, crazy lines for absolutely nothing all that exciting at the end, and a lot of walking.  Yes, parents can sit in strollers and it’s socially acceptable at Disney.  For a Type-A parent like myself, Disney is very stressful.  For me, Magic Kingdom is the most stressful.  If waiting in line to see Tinkerbell for an hour wasn’t bad enough, I can’t get a fast pass to the Enchanted Belle ride (new in Fantasyland) because I didn’t stay in a Disneyworld resort.  Really?  How has Disney ever survived an FTC investigation or an anti-trust/price-rigging suit? I do not get it all.  I have to stay at your bloody resort so I can save 120 minutes?  #Sigh Ah well, all that aside, this time we visited Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom-Asia; not sure why I look preggers in this one
Animal Kingdom-Asia; not sure why I look preggers in this one

The weather really did not cooperate at all with us this time in Florida, and it rained for most of our time at Animal Kingdom.  But, we enjoyed a few things at the Park.  Animal Kingdom is beta-testing the Fast Pass PLUS program for all people (not just those at Disney resorts) and we were able to get tickets for The Lion King and Finding Nemo and the kids enjoyed these shows.  Our favorite ride was Killamanjaro and the girls loved the animals.

Lion King Show
Lion King Show

They are all right there.  I had no idea how long this ride was, but it was very cool.  I felt transported to Africa.  I love the Asia area, and while we did not ride the fast-paced rides, the girls enjoyed getting their books stamped at each different region.  The rain dampened us physically, but not our spirits.

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Nemo Show at Animal Kingdom
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Honey I shrunk the Kids play area

Hollywood Studios was fun to visit, but it was a cool day.  We enjoyed our time watching the shows, Disney Junior, and the movies.  Hollywood Studios reminded me of California Adventure Park – same look and feel.  The Hollywood ride was a lot of fun, and walking aIMG_4203round the different sets was a good time as well.  The kids’ favorite part was hanging out in the play area of “Honey I shrunk the kids.”  They could have taken or left the rest of the day.  Fantasmic here is the same as the beautiful Fantasmic show at Disneyland.  So, feel free to skip it on a cold or rainy night, and catch it in a more relaxed setting at Disneyland.  The Beauty and the Beast show is nice, but in an outdoor theater.  I think The Lion King is the best we saw among both parks.  The rest is okay after that.  The show Bug’s Life in 3D is awesome but it is scary for kids under 8.  My girls were screaming and we had to run out at California Adventure Park, so we did not attempt it here, but I thought it was fun.  Character meetings are fun for the kids and make sure you get a photo pass too so you can see all your pics later.  Disney charges an arm and a leg to buy them later, but you can have the photo pass photographer take a picture of you and your family with your own camera too!  They take great photos by the way.

Magic Kingdom was our last stop to see the princesses.  As I said, this is the least favorite park for me – too big, and too much to do, and the one that won’t readily give you a fast pass plus unless you stay on site.  Might be worth getting a single room for one night at Cinderella2the cheapest resort you can find just for the speed, but totally your call.  If you get one night, remember, you can use that for 2 days at the parks.  We saw a lot of princesses at the Magic Kingdom, and the girls had a great time on their usual rides: Aladdin’s magic carpet, Little Mermaid (so not worth the line- this is the same ride that had a 2 min wait at California Adventure park).  I recommend getting there and standing in line for Belle’s Enchanted Ride, and leaving Fantasyland.  The kiddos loved the show in front of the Castle.  Best view in January was the 520pm show, when the castle IMG_9210literally went from daylight to night, with spectacular lighting and all.  The characters sing, dance, and my daughters loved seeing their favorites all in one place.  The parades are good for this too!

All in all, it was a good trip to Florida, but I think I definitely could have used more R&R time and if you want more R&R, skip Disney, and just do local fun things.

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Holmes Beach- Bradenton

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Beaches South of Tampa, on the Gulf Coast- We visited both coasts for beach, but the weather never seemed to cooperate with us.

I think when we return to Florida, we should try to get a beach house, and soak up sun, and play in the sand.  The beaches South of Tampa, near Bradenton, north of Sarasota look beautiful.  We were at Holmes Beach and these pictures were taken there.  The sand was whiter, and sea shells for all to find and adore.  I think I liked this beach even more than Cocoa Beach, but surprisingly the Gulf Water was not as warmer than the Atlantic on the Cocoa Beach side.

Ah, Floridahh, what a great family vacation – seeing family, doing fun things, and escaping the cold- well, a little.

 

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Aloha and Mahalo to our 50th State – Hawaii

IMG_8468We had an amazing opportunity to travel southwest to our 50th State and visit paradise – Hawai’i.  The Hawaiian Islands are beautiful, tropical, and just a quick trip away from Denver.  The beauty is beyond anything I have experienced anywhere on the mainland – even California, with all its beauty, mountains and ocean, doesn’t compare.

Diamondhead
Diamondhead – at Waikiki

The clear blue waters and sky of Hawaii have a beauty unlike any other State in the union.  Here, I share some tips, some places to stay near, and what to do but keep in mind in our 5 days, and 5 nights there, we only stayed on the island of Oahu.

Flying in and out of Honolulu (HNL) was just fine – it is cheaper than flying elsewhere, and renting a car at HNL is cheaper because of the competition.  I still think CostcoTravel has the cheapest rental cars if you are an executive member.  The only non-stop flights from Denver are with United Airlines direct into HNL.  All other airlines connect but if you don’t mind the extra travel time, you can get airline rates as cheap as $549-ish on US IMG_8485Airways or United connecting in Phoenix, SFO, LAX, or other such places.  You can book Hawaiian Airlines out of Seattle or LAX as low as $450 but will have to get there from Denver.  The direct, non-stop flights run from $680 to $750 depends on when you buy and when you go.   The return flights are tougher because you either have to depart first thing in the morning out of HNL or take the red-eye back to Denver.  Red-eye flights look great on paper, but in reality, are horrible.  Kids do sleep but they kick you, each other, and generally, it is uncomfortable for you, not the kiddos.

Sunset at Waikiki
Sunset at Waikiki

On Oahu, these are the must see/do things:  Waikiki Beach- First, you simply must hang out on Waikiki Beach.  It is a commercial, tourist trap with expensive shops and the look and feel of Newport Beach but it is not.  The waters are so clear you can snorkel right near the shore and still see fish!  It is clear blue water, perfect sand, and you can grab a bite to eat for a reasonable fare along the coast.  We stayed at the Hale Koa Hotel but only eligible military may stay here.  The Hilton Hawaiian Village right next door on the beach to the Hale Koa is a

Picture of Waikiki from atop Diamond Head crater
Picture of Waikiki from atop Diamond Head crater

perfect alternative- check prices and using points or miles here will be a high rate.  Hilton Waikiki is right up the road too!  Check hotel prices, but staying close to the beach is so worth it!  KOA services on the beach is great for renting umbrellas, paddleboards, snorkel gear, and fun boats.  Military get half price on almost all of these rentals.  It is a great deal so bring your ID card.  At Waikiki, you can get great pics of Diamond Head, and the sunset.  Waikiki Beach is on the South Shore and the sunsets over the Pacific here.  We had an oceanfront view at the Hale Koa, and were able to get some great pictures of the sunset.

IMG_8564Diamond Head State Park-   You simply must hike up the Diamond Head.  You can see the views of the entire island from here.  Diamond Head is a crater, and when you get to the top you can see the crater, and the shores of the east coast, and all of Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor.  It is simply the most breath-taking view you can imagine!  The hike up is treacherous, but get a trail map because a year ago, they opened a ramp so you can avoid the 99 steps and only have to climb about 10 of them.  Know where to detour for this, so you can avoid the insane steps.

Sunrise over Pacific from Diamond Head
Sunrise over Pacific from Diamond Head

It’s an alternate route up but the entire hike is about 1.2 miles up, and takes 30 minutes to the top, and one hour round-trip.  The sun rising over the Pacific is a sight to see because you can never see that from the mainland.  My husband ran from Diamond Head (the base) to the hotel in Waikiki and it is about 5.5 miles so be aware of that, but a beautiful, scenic run along the beach and shore.  Parking is $5.00 at the beginning of the trail head and worth it.  There is no other entry fee.  For food, and drink, a food truck is parked at the base, and they sell yummy fresh pineapple, water, and snow cones and it is good stuff!  You will need it after the long round-trip, or on the way up.  Also, restrooms are at the base, but nothing at the top or along the way.

IMG_8554Hanauma Bay Snorkeling- You simply must head to Hanauma Bay and see the beautiful coral reef, the beautiful clear blue waters, and snorkel (you can even snorkel near the shore) and see the fish, turtles, and other wild life.   The coral is beautiful to see too.  The water is clear (not foggy at all).  In fact, my kids who were with us saw fish without snorkeling gear.  You do not need it at all.  Walk slowly, and keep still and you can see your own feet and all the sea creatures you wish for.  Hanauma Bay is very kid-friendly, and the water is calm and clear.  It is hot and sunny here so do get a shaded spot if you can, or bring an umbrella.  IMG_8543Don’t forget sunblock and a hat.  Also, military get in free with their active I.D. but all dependents need their IDs as well so remember that.  They are not kind to military dependents who forgot their ID, even if the active member vouches for their spouses.  The parking is $1.00 and the entry fee is $7.50 and kids under 10 are free.  You have to watch a video to enter, and sign your name on the list so you can return without watching it again.

IMG_8679Polynesian Cultural Center- I thought we’d get a Lei off the plane but they don’t do that anymore, and the Leis will cost you now.  So, if you want to see some Hawaiian or Polynesian Culture, head northeast to the Polynesian Cultural Center, to see some dancing, ukulele playing, and you can take lessons too!  There are workshops and shows to attend, and kids activities.  You can spend at least 3-4 hours here if not more.  The tickets are cheapest if you get them from ITT/MWR (for military- available at all the local bases), or try to find a deal on-line if you are not military.  Regular admission tickets are $39.00 and that does not include the shows or the luau at night.  That generally will run you $94 per person for the entire package deal. The canoe parade with all the festive colors, dancing, and cultural explanations are beyond

Canoe Parade
Canoe Parade

ITT or MWR on bases sell the Polynesian Cultural Center tickets for $15 per person (over age 5- kids under 6 are free).  This is a screaming deal!  Honestly, if you want to do a Luau, try the one at the Hale Koa on Waikiki- I have heard great things.  Kids under 12 are free, and adults are $49.50 all inclusive.  We did not do a luau because I do not eat meat or fish, and luaus are set menus.  But I hear the experience is worth it.  Honestly, after visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center, I feel I received a lot of culture and experienced it all in one place.  IMG_8670All in all, I didn’t feel I was experiencing any island culture until we hit the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Dole plantation & North Shore Beaches– Dole plantation is a tourist trap, overpriced, and ridiculous but you still have to go there and do it but just be aware of what NOT to do whilst there.  So, there is a corn maze, a train ride, and a plantation tour that you have to pay for.  I recommend picking one.  It is expensive even with the military discount.  The train ride is bogus- we did it for the kids and wish we could get that hour of our lives back.  Sadly, we cannot. IMG_8591 I recommend heading there, eating the dole whip (not the one with topping) and the corn (outside the visitor’s center) which is the yummiest thing ever, watching the pineapple cutting demonstration, walking the grounds, and then heading out to the north shore for food and beach fun.  The corn maze, I hear, is fun for kids, but again, I recommend only doing one paid activity.  The kids really enjoyed the dole whip as did we.  IMG_8582Sometimes they run specials on the souvenir cup with dole whip so I recommend doing that buy one, get one half off deal to get a cheap souvenir.  Enjoy walking the grounds and seeing the pineapple demonstrations (get to try some free pineapple too), and then head off north 10 mins to the north shore.  We stopped at Waimea Beach on the north shore but you can go further east on the north shore to see surfers at Turtle Bay and Sunset Beach- GORGEOUS!

Waimea Bay & Beach NORTH SHORE
Waimea Bay & Beach NORTH SHORE

The waves are higher on the north shore in the winter so it is not safe for kids, but it is fun to jump and hop over waves.  There are some great restaurants along the north shore as well – near Sunset Beach, but we had to head back towards Waikiki to meet friends for dinner.  It is about a one-hour drive south back to the Waikiki/HNL area, and with traffic it can turn into 1 hour 15 mins.  Keep in mind that traffic INTO Waikiki and Honolulu (the city) on

Sunset at the North Shore
Sunset at the North Shore

the H1 is bad, and leaving the city in the evenings, so when you make your plans, try to go against traffic.  We got lucky each time, going in the opposite direction of the traffic.

We stayed at a military installation towards the end of our journey and it had its own private beach and unique features too which really made our enjoy pleasant and enjoyable.  The Navy Exchange which is off-post near Pearl Harbor is amazing and huge, and open to all for the food court.  I recommend eating here, and if you are eligible, you can shop at the commissary and on-site Exchange.  The chocolates, dresses, shirts, and souvenirs are very cheap and great quality here.

IMG_8640Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona and War In the Pacific MemorialsFinally, on Oahu, you simply must visit at least one or all the Pacific Memorials for World War II.  It is not to be missed.  We visited the USS Arizona, and saw the film before hand.  If the film does not get you, walking into this memorial, and knowing what rests below will bring tears to your eyes, and the history is just all around you.  You can see all the sites, and visit the submarine, and take a boat to Ford Island to see the remaining ships and memorials.  I highly recommend going early (before 0930) and it will take you at least one hour per memorial.  IMG_8645There is also enough to do around here – walking around, reading all the placards, and seeing all the exhibits for free.  It will take at least 2-3 hours from start to finish so plan accordingly, and remember to show your respect. The December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor was the costliest for the U.S. Navy and our military – EVER!  I had no idea over 2,100 sailors, soldiers and airmen lost their lives.  I thought the number was in the hundreds.  It is quite eye-opening.  Keep in mind that you will explain the film to young kids – there is a lot talk of death, war, and casualties, and young kids do not understand this quite yet. IMG_8649 Tickets to USS Arizona are free – it is a National Park Service and federally appropriated monument.  All others cost some concession fee and military in uniform are free to all exhibits.  Food on site is snacking only, and expensive, so drive a mile down the road to the Navy Exchange for an awesome food court open to all the public.

We also drove to the East shore, and it is beautiful.  If you can go to Kailua do so, but it was a small detour out of our way to and from the Polynesian Cultural Center.  You simply must take the LikeLike Highway from Waikiki area towards Kailua, and the Cultural Center.  This is a gorgeous drive through the mountains towards the east shore and just gorgeous!  IMG_8704The shore drive NORTH up the eastern shore towards Brigham Young Hawaii Campus and the Polynesian Cultural Center is narrow, winding, and only two-lane, but is gorgeous! You can stop on any of these clear, blue beaches and can’t go wrong.  The waves are a bit higher here, wateIMG_8487r saltier, and sand washes onto you along with the water, but hey, it’s beach!  Hawaii, our 50th State, a beautiful paradise, and an amazing destination to visit if you can.  You will not regret it.  We only visited Oahu, but hope to return soon to visit the other islands. Mahalo, Hawaii, and all its residents, til we meet again.

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