By Barry Osman
When my wife and I needed to go to Honolulu for business recently, we decided to add in a few extra days for holoholo (vacation) in Waikiki. Only a 20-minute flight from our home in Maui, Waikiki is a great escape from the neighbor islands and an easy must-visit for any local or visitor to Hawaii.
Traveling often for business, shopping and medical needs we had our established “routine.” Always using taxis, staying at the same hotel, and eating at the same restaurants; all of that was about to change on this visit.
Starting off, for the first three days we decided to stay at The Modern, a fairly new Ian Schraeger design (originally branded “Edition”). Taking advantage of a kama’aina (local) promotion, we booked an ocean-view category room at a terrific rate and requested a room on the side of the hotel that faces the Hilton Hawaiian Village Friday night fireworks.
The Modern is rated as a luxury hotel (4 stars); there are 353 rooms and suites with balconies, two restaurants (one is the famous Waikiki home of celebrity Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto). After a late dinner you can dance the night away in the brand new “Addiction” bar.
There is a warmly heated pool (a true luxury), a spa with several treatment options, two pool bars, friendly and very casual pool attendants and a sense of low-key luxurious serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of Waikiki.
Then there is the music, a steady Buddha Bar mix playing everywhere (including underwater in the aforementioned heated pool). You just feel like you want to be as hip as you can be, inspired by the casual yet thoughtful décor and the loungers around the pool.
It is a young vibe, the pool patio is the place to see and be seen amongst a mix of single, good-looking women and men in designer bathing suits. However, if you happen to be married for 36 years like me, you will appreciate the sprinkling of other older couples and young families.
It sort of levels the playing field, and we were very comfortable at this hotel. There is a signature scent that will follow you everywhere, including the elevators, and we enjoyed that too. Is there something that could possibly be “too hip?” Case in point, the shop is simply called “shop.”
The low platform bed was comfortable, the semicircular lanai had a spectacular view (including the fireworks!) and although the outdoor, oversized round chairs (like a lot of the furniture) took a little getting used to, our overall experience was wonderful.
Breaking “the routine,” we rented a car (for the first time!) , and armed with a talking, touchscreen navigation system, headed out of Waikiki for “the North Shore” and our prearranged visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center.
The last time we visited the Polynesian Cultural Center was 25 years ago (they are now celebrating their 50th year) so for sure this would be a totally new experience.
Our plan was to head to Haleiwa, the “famous” northshore town located just before the center, eat somewhere outdoors with a water view, stop and shop around, and then continue on to the cultural center (all with the aid of our GPS).
We drove past the endless shrimp trucks with the mile long lines; the longest was at Giovanni’s. We drove through Haleiwa looking for an outdoor spot and passed the crowds outside Matsumoto Shave Ice.
Jameson’s By the Bay was our pitstop and the food and the view confirmed: good choice. Fortified and ready to explore, we drove past the amazing blue water on the left, no consistent radio reception out here so bring your music. Total drive time each way (if you do not stop) is about 75 minutes, so plan your day around about 2-3 hours of driving.
Thirty three million people have traveled this same route since 1963 to see Polynesia in all of its glory on 42 acres of very lush gardens, waterfalls and lagoons. Originally planned as a way for Brigham Young University Hawaii students to earn money for tuition expenses, over 15,000 young people have danced and entertained their way through college working at the Center.
First stop, parking booth. Evidently, the admission does not include parking, so please stop and pay the attendant $8.00. Remember, the Center is always closed on Sundays. If you have Hawaii ID, there is a significant discount for entry into the park. Once in, we stopped to pick up our scooters, reserved through Scooterville.com.
The one thing we remembered from our previous visit was that there was a lot of walking, and with my wife preparing for hip surgery we had planned to scoot around together. The sign hung on the display scooter cutely proclaimed “42 acres of paths and walkways.”
Enough said. Scooting around in our matching Aloha shirts (our Midwest friends call them “steadies”), we were certainly a memorable sight, but not any competition to the Polynesian warriors dressed in native costume who roamed the walkways and starred in the many interactive “islands.”
The Canoe Pageant, my favorite event, takes place daily at 2:30 on the freshwater lagoon. Representing the islands of Tonga, Fiji, Aotearoa, Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti and the Marquesas, canoes glide effortlessly along while the dancers perform atop of the canoe decks, occasionally falling in the lagoon
After the pageant, we scooted around and through all of the island presentation villages where new, interactive demonstrations allow you to climb trees, race a canoe, throw a spear or try a Samoan cooking class. This is not your typical theme park, to say the least.
If you have planned to stay for the evening meal, you can choose from 3 dining options including the much-favored, authentic Luau Show and Dinner. The Luau starts at 5pm and is aptly called Ali’i Luau, which translates into “Royal Feast.” You can also try the Ambassador Prime Rib and Seafood Buffet, or if you want to know what a thousand people eating in the Pacific’s largest restaurant looks like, check out the Gateway Buffet.
Tired but happy, we returned our scooters around 4pm and made our way back to our rental car with its talking navigator screen ready to show us the way back to reality, Waikiki style. We will return(before another 25 years pass), and next time we plan to spend more time on the journey, especially to visit Waimea Valley and the botanical gardens and pathways that lead to Waimea Falls.
We don’t need the scooters anymore due to my wife’s new hip and can now freely roam through the acres of birds, trees and flowers on the “flip” side of Oahu. As for The Modern, we plan to return again (our “new” routine) and break out of our old “routine” more often.