One thing the entire world can agree on is Covid brought a whole new level of appreciation for things we took for granted. For us, one of those things was travel. We love the ability to book a flight, purchase train tickets or get in our car to just about any destination without a second thought. Those days are slowly returning and the light at the end of the tunnel is visible. Another concept to take front and center is to not let an opportunity pass you by. Our children have not listened to our requests to stop getting older, so time is slipping through our fingers and the chances for a family vacation are dwindling fast. So we did what any reasonable person would do and took everyone to Hawaii. Every time you say “next year” it is another lost chance at unforgettable memories. Book the trip and start making memories again!
As we mentioned in a previous blog, we chose Hawaii as our first post-Covid travel destination due to the ability to get there and back without the burden of quarantine. We are so excited to share fresh travel experiences with all of you! It has been just over two years since we sat on an airplane hearing the words, “Flight attendants please be seated, we are ready for takeoff.”
We booked our trip prior to becoming travel agents and learning all the benefits of going through an agency. Our trip involved a total of seven travelers, so we could not use some of the popular booking sites as they max out at six. This was our first major family vacation, and it was important that all of us were together the entire time. We did some comparison shopping, not only for prices, but also layover times and locations. We ended up flying with United Airlines out of Syracuse Hancock International Airport with a 90-minute layover at Chicago O’hare International Airport (we are groaning with you) and then off to Honolulu.
After what seemed like the longest wait we have ever experienced, it was finally the day to leave home for new adventures! Finally!! For those not familiar with northern New York you may think that there is nothing but desolate land north of Syracuse. We are three hours north, nestled right on the border of Canada. The closest major airport for us is in Montreal. We prefer to fly out of Canada not only for convenience, but for the cost of flights. Unfortunately, with the border just now partially reopening we had to look at airports state-side. Thanks Covid. With that comes additional travel time to factor in. Cities with airports have many convenient parking options that we took advantage of.
Our flight was at 7am. Three-hour drive, additional Covid red tape to deal with at the airport and you can do the math from here. Staying overnight was a must for us. We chose the Holiday Inn Express by the airport that offered long term parking up to 14 days, a complimentary shuttle for drop off-pick up from the airport and they even open their breakfast area at 4am for early travelers. This was the perfect solution for us and offered a cheaper option than parking at the airport over the course of our time away. If you have an early flight, check out the hotels nearby for parking options to save yourself some time and stress.
At 4:30am all seven of us were bright eyed and bushy tailed loading into the airport shuttle. (This is not a big fish story, the kids were wide awake ready to go!) We were there a few minutes before the United station opened which allowed us to pull out all necessary paperwork. Depending on your destination some extra items are required. We had a mixed bag of Covid vaccinations and testing, along with medical forms to be submitted to Safe Travels Hawaii. A part of the check-in process now not only involves showing your ticket and identification, but your proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test from an approved laboratory. (Please double check your destination for requirements.) The better prepared you are the quicker the process.
With our bags checked, passing security, we were finally ready to get an airport coffee and sit in our waiting area. This is something we will never take for granted again! It is the little things. The excitement of the unknown sights and sounds of a new city you are about to discover for yourself.
Finally, our group was called to board the plane and we were off to our layover in Chicago. We can hear the “Oh no’s!” of all our readers that have ventured through this airport. Every time we discussed our flight itinerary with anyone it never failed that we heard a “Home Alone” running through the airport story. Obviously, this gave us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside… Fortunately, we were landing and departing from the same terminal, so no sprinting across the airport for our family.
If the number of travelers at the airport is any indication, then travel is back! The crowds were a bit overwhelming and the lines to every food vendor were long. You would think the breakfast burrito at McDonald’s was lined with rare gems with the sheer number of people willing to stand for an hour for their meal. We preferred to stand around and complain about our hunger rather than wait.
Finding a seat at our departing gate was impossible. There was definitely some chaos and confusion going on. Remember the extra steps we mentioned; if traveling to Hawaii you need to complete the process prior to your last leg. United is one of many airlines partnered with Safe Travels Hawaii, meaning they are authorized to approve or deny your “Zero Quarantine” travel.
We hopped in line with identification in hand along with all necessary proof. We had uploaded our vaccine cards and negative tests prior to our trip, but you need to bring the original with you. Do not forget this critical step or else you will need to quarantine for ten days upon arrival. Even though you are in Hawaii, who wants to stay in your hotel for the entire vacation?! Fortunately, we remembered everything and received our coveted blue wristbands allowing all travelers to skip the long line at the Honolulu airport.
Now time for the second pat of our journey. Eight and a half hours on a flight. No problem. We can do this. Prior to this, our longest flight had been six hours and we can tell you that we were ready to bolt the plane at the end. We kept repeating “It will be worth it” in our heads over and over again in preparation. Surviving to tell the tale, it honestly wasn’t horrible. We had Kindles and phones fully charged and took advantage of the inflight entertainment options.
Big tip- check the meal options for your airline. We were in Economy and although the time in the air was almost nine hours, we did not receive a meal. They handed out two snacks consisting of pretzels for toddlers and a wafer that appeared to be part of the NASA pantry. Pack your snacks and make sure you fill your water bottle after security check.
Finally, the tires are screeching to a halt on the tarmac… is there a sweeter sound? It is 1:30pm in Honolulu, but our bodies are still on New York time, which is 7:30pm. We set up a shuttle pick up from the airport with Speedi Shuttle. We were to be greeted at baggage claim and brought to our waiting car to be driven to our perfect vacation. (Can you hear the choir singing?) There were several shuttle services yelling out names and whisking smiling tourists away, while we searched for ours.
The singing choir was sliding off key and a bit of panic settled in. This then led to phone calls and waiting on hold while Craig went outside to see what he could find. We will not get into the details as we may have readers that need things censored. Let’s just say we do not recommend this company and to please find another service for airport pickup, there are several other choices in the city.
After a long wait we made it to our hotel (two hours later than expected), the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel. When choosing a hotel, we prioritize location above everything else. Give us a clean bed to lay our heads at night located in the heart of our favorite area and we are happy. This hotel is partnered with United, which is how we came across this little gem. It reminds you of the last standing family run hotel in the area holding out on selling to the big companies. The surrounding hotels dwarf this little hotel and just add to its character. The staff is truly exceptional. The warm smiles and friendly helpfulness were a warm welcome from our transportation debacle. We cannot recommend them enough!
The hotel is right on Waikiki Beach with an outdoor lobby. Directly in front of you is, in our opinion, the best place to swim and cool off for the day. You are literally in the middle of the action with multiple bus stops close by. There are many room options to choose from with varying prices depending on the views. We chose an ocean view room with a balcony because how do you not? When we walked into our room we literally gasped. Stunning. Breathtaking. Everything in between. All the pictures you see of the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii… no filter, not photoshopped. The water is really all those beautiful shades of blue. The sky really meets the water in that impossible way and the palm trees really seem to sway to their own music.
Now it is time for the most important part of your travels. Stay awake. Do not lay down until it is at least 8pm local time. Generally, you have some adrenaline coursing through your system, so this is a little easier than when you get home. Everyone dropped their luggage in the room and was on a mission to find food. Remember we just completed a long flight without a real meal. We were starving.
This should be easy. Major tourist destination, countless restaurants and endless possibilities. Well, Covid is still wreaking a little havoc in the hardest hit areas. During our stay, the local eateries were still not able to operate at 100% capacity, while the tourist numbers were back with a bang. This is not a good combination. Every place we stopped at was an hour wait. McDonald’s even had a line wrapped around the building. We came upon a local Mexican restaurant with a fast-food service operation. Our timing was impeccable as the line multiplied behind us. We were able to taste a little local flavor and fill up on much needed sustenance.
The next activity was a no brainer. Let’s dip our toes in that ocean. Craig was ready to dive in while Jen was a bit hesitant. To make a long story short it involves growing up watching Jaws and having an older brother. Jen was scarred. To anyone that has been to Waikiki Beach you will understand why the fear backed right off and Jen jumped right in.
Waikiki Beach is 100% man made. Every grain of sand was brought in, which means they needed to build structures to keep the sand in place, otherwise the sand would be gone in a matter of days. There are stone walls enclosing various sections of the beach which give you a sense of safety. Giant waves crashing the shore and rip tides do not pose any kind of threat in the areas surrounded by the wall. While waves do flow past the wall and with it some sea creatures, the likelihood of a shark making that journey are highly unlikely (or that is what Jen told herself.)
The water was crystal clear blue and was warm as a calming bath. It was the perfect way to immerse ourselves into Hawaii. We spent an hour taking in the coastline from the inviting waters of the Pacific Ocean and did a little people watching. When we were properly wrinkled, we dragged ourselves out to grab some refreshment from one of many ABC stores that line every part of Waikiki. This is your grab all store. Fresh salads, sandwiches, beverages (adult and kids), souvenirs, and every other convenience item. (Be sure to save your receipts to cash in on rewards before you leave.)
With essentials in hand, we made our way to relax on our balcony with the unbeatable view. We poured two glasses of wine to toast the beginning of another adventure. Welcome to Hawaii!!
Our upcoming blogs will detail each day, coming soon!
Thanks for reading! Feel free to contact us if you need help planning your own Hawaii adventure.
Craig & Jen