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04 January 2015

Jason's Hawaiian Vacation, Part 1: Waikiki

I'm in Hawaii! Finally made it to the 50th state (my 34th state visited). I'm here with my mom and uncle, and we are spending 8 days traveling around Oahu.

It is literally too perfect everywhere we go. The weather is amazing, warm (24°C / 75°F) every day, humid but not muggy.

Two days in Waikiki. We stayed at a time share rented through Airbnb - I had to rely on Airbnb for more than half of our stays because there were so few hotels available at this busy time of year (winter, especially over Christmas/New Years, is the tourist high season). Our stay was at the Ilikai resort, just at the start of the opulent Waikiki beach. It is a nice, albeit somewhat dated, resort, especially when juxtaposed with the huge Hilton resort complex next door. That said, I had little else to complain about; our 20th floor studio provided a kitchen and a beautiful lanai (balcony) with views of the city (i.e. views of the surrounding residential skyscrapers and congested streets).

For the first two days, we relied on ridesharing apps Uber and Lyft to get around the city, saving us two days of car rental fees and expensive ($30+ per day) parking charges at the hotel. Getting from Honolulu airport into the city is not possible with Uber (you are only allowed to request an expensive Uber Black or Uber Taxi when your phone GPS shows you at the airport). However, we were able to catch a Lyft. Our driver, Jenni, was very (and I mean very) friendly, as if unable to breathe if she weren't smiling broadly. She was happy to introduce us to the city and chat along the way. And I noticed that with every drive, regardless of them driving for Lyft or Uber - they were all friendly and open-hearted. This is my first time using these apps so intensively, so I don't know if it's the type of people who use these apps, or the Hawaiian spirit overall.

My impression of Waikiki, which is the tourist center of Honolulu (and of Hawaii overall) is that it is touristy, yes, but not overwhelmingly crowded. Walking by all the resorts gives me an impression similar to that of Las Vegas. The expensive stores further east remind me of Rodeo Drive or Miami Beach. Indeed, the beach itself is actually not that spectacular, with coarse sand (and at times no sand at all). The most amazing thing to enjoy is the view, with Diamond Head (peak) looming to the east and a gorgeous sunset guaranteed almost every day.

We spent New Years in Waikiki, which meant just walking to the beach and watching fireworks shot from a single barge at midnight for ten minutes. This was not that spectacular, nothing like London or New York by any means; however, it was still nice to stand on the beach, wearing shorts, as the clock struck midnight.

We also spent a day visiting Pearl Harbor. It was a moving visit, to see and relfect upon the events that struck the world that fateful December morning over 70 years ago. However, the process of visiting the site left much to be desired. The main attraction is the USS Arizona memorial, an enclosed blank white temple hovering above the untouched wreckage of the battleship in shallow waters. To get there,  you have to get a free ticket. The tickets are all given on a first-come, first-serve basis starting at 7am, and they are all time-stamped with your time of entry. So when we got there, we could only get a ticket for 2:15. Which meant that we had to wait around for 6 hours waiting for our entry time. We passed this time with a visit to the USS Missouri battleship ($25 per person) and eating at the snack bars there. Finally, we made it to 2pm. What I noticed immediately is that there is a standby line?! And over 15 people from that line got into the memorial with our group (which went every 15 minutes). Unbelievable! If someone had told us this beforehand, we would have saved half a day! And to add insult to our inconvenience, our Uber driver back to the hotel told us that it actually was possible to pre-book tickets to the exhibit. Ugh!

After two days in Waikiki, we rented a car and hit the road