Jump to content
  TPR Home | Parks | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Instagram 

Photo TR: Adam's 2023 Hawaiian Adventure

P. 4: Goodbye Aulani, Honolulu fun & the Dole Plantation

Recommended Posts

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii for the first time! While our main reason for going was a friend's wedding, we turned it into a trip to check off some bucket list items. Our first stop was The Big Island with the goal of visiting Volcanoes National Park and taking a night snorkel with manta rays...


Landing at the airport on The Big Island was a surreal experience. The airport is small and almost entirely outdoors. You walk to and from the planes from the ground and your board/debark via small gangways.


Funny enough, the first thought I had walking around the airport upon arrival was that this gave off old school SeaWorld Orlando vibes. If you know, you know.


The EPCOT fan in me was highly amused by seeing wall carpet somewhere not at EPCOT.


Our hotel, the Hilton Waikoloa Village is made up of several towers each about 10-20 minutes' walking distance apart (depending on your pace and if you have luggage in tow). To solve that, the resort has an automated tram/train that runs between the towers. I'd never seen anything like this outside of an airport or Walt Disney World, so naturally I was enamored.


My first Mai Tai of the trip, but certainly not my last!


While dinner wasn't anything unique (we ended up at the hotel's Italian restaurant due to the hour at which we were dining), this Calamansi Tart was authentic and delicious! Fair warning for those who haven't been to Hawaii before and are used to other tourism/resort destinations. Along our entire trip in Hawaii we found that most dining venues started to wind down operations between 7 pm and 9 pm. So if you plan to have a full day of activities, make sure you plan for where you could have dinner or else you might be enjoying limited fare at the bar or less exciting quick service or grab and go fare.


The next day we got up ridiculously early to make the 1.5 hour drive from one side of The Big Island to the other to get to Volcanoes National Park. Thankfully the Waikoloa Village Starbucks was open and even better, it was a Starbucks Reserve location!


We made it to Volcanoes National Park at 7:00 AM and had a half day allotted to see as much as possible before making the drive back to the other side of the island for our manta ray night snorkel. The National Park has awesome signage at the welcome station that helps you to plan for shorter visits or longer visits, prioritizing the main attractions in a reasonable order for visitors like us who wouldn't know where to start.


Also recommended, speaking to National Park guides who can make recommendations on where to go and how best to get there. With our limited time, our first priority was seeing lava. While there was fortunately an eruption going on during our visit, it was unfortunately a very small one with very limited options for viewing. It was highly recommended that we return that night to see the caldera lit up from the lava, but with our existing snorkel commitment that wasn't an option. One guide recommended we follow the Crater Rim Trail as it would be the best spot that we could see the lava at this hour.


The view from here is expansive for sure.




You don't see scenery like this every day!


I wish we could have seen more lava but I was glad we at least saw this.


And a lucky rainbow for good measure!


For those of you interested in these kinds of things.


Next we started our long trek down to walk near the caldera... Along the way you see a variety of unique landscapes and plant life that feel otherworldly.


Mind the sinkholes.


Very unique.


Real lava rock found on the trail. There's a local superstition that you do not bring lava rock home with you from Hawaii as it will bring bad luck that can only be ended by returning what you took. As tempting as it is to bring home a unique souvenir, out of respect to the island and its culture, don't do it.


Proof I was actually here!


Like we're on another planet.


After our two hour roundtrip hike to/from the caldera we moved next to the lava tube.


While not as big as we expected, this was still a neat experience.


Our last stop before heading out were the sulphur vents. And the look much better than they smell.


The lengthy drive back had us crossing mountainous terrain and having to control the brakes hard to ensure that gravity didn't take control. But the views were unreal!


Before our snorkel we had a little time to kill so we stopped by the Kona Brewing Co. Brewery & Pub. 


As it turned out this would be our final experience on The Big Island, as an unexpected storm filled with high winds, lightning and rain resulted in our night snorkel with manta rays being cancelled. We had some drinks at the Kona Brewery and made our way back to the hotel to get ready to fly to Honolulu the next day...


It should be noted that the Hilton Waikoloa Village also has boating excursions that take you along the waterways of the resort. Just such a cool setup!


Wouldn't be a visit to Hawaii without seeing some of these in the wild.


The next morning's grab and go breakfast at the airport was fried rice with Portuguese sausage and a fried egg on top. And it was honestly delicious!


Time to fly to Honolulu!


So our first day at Aulani was kind of a cheat day... When we originally planned our trip to only be in Honolulu we booked two nights at Aulani (for three days at the resort) but when we added The Big Island to our itinerary, we also added another day in Honolulu. We couldn't add an additional night at Aulani on the front end so we ended up at the Marriott Vacation Club Ko Olina (which was an awesome resort on its own) but spent much of our day visiting the neighboring Aulani because we simply couldn't wait another day.


I mean, could you blame us?


We certainly didn't plan it this way, but our cheat day at Aulani also happened to be a day that they were taping performances for American Idol.


Love it!


Very cool!


Everyone raves about these... I'd be back to try some later in the trip.


I would definitely be back to try these!


This was actually the second time I was present for a taping of American Idol, having been in the audience for a taping in Los Angeles in 2003.


Ulu Cafe, the resort's quick service venue, would end up being our favorite dining option at Aulani. And this build-your-own poke bowl option would definitely be the reason!


I might have had three of these throughout the course of our visit... I might have.


Over at the Wailana Pool Bar we had tuna poke nachos...


And crab rangoon!


That was the end of our time at Aulani for the day but we'd move into our room at the resort the next day.


It felt absolutely important for us to visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial during our time in Honolulu.


Out of respect for those lost, their families and the experience I won't share any photos beyond these but I strongly recommend visiting if you're ever in Honolulu. This is a sobering reminder of a critical moment in history and the experience is well curated and honoring of those impacted.


We returned to the Marriott Vacation Club Ko Olina for a restful evening but couldn't help but admire this sunset.




Any day that ends with pie (from Monkeypaw) is a good day!

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

agreed. . it's almost imperative to visit Pearl Harbor/USS Arizona Memorial if you're on Oahu.

did you get a chance to go to Punchbowl Cemetery. . that one is also a really moving experience, and offers possibly the best view of Waikiki beach/Diamondhead from anywhere on the Island.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

We were up bright and early the next morning to traverse the island, heading first to the Kualoa Ranch. This insanely picturesque, privately owned section of the island is famously favorited as the hottest spot to film movies and shows with tropical, mountainous or forested backgrounds. The ranch's notable filmography includes films from the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World franchise (earning the ranch as second moniker as "Jurassic Valley"), 50 First Dates, George of the Jungle, Kong: Skull Island, LOST and many, many more. 


The Kualoa Ranch offers a variety of tours and experiences, including a horseback riding experience. While tempting as that was, we were here for something a little more rugged. It is important to note that none of the individual tour options cover ALL that there is to see at the Ranch, so if you're tight on time like we were, you have to choose the one that visits the landmarks and points of interest that matter to you, or plan to experience multiple tour types to maximize your access. Reservations are absolutely recommended and walk-up availability is not guaranteed.


Today we'd be piloting UTVs across the grounds of the Kualoa Ranch, the best way to get a sense of adventure off-road while seeing some of the best locations across the property. 


Kualoa Ranch is expansive and has coastal sections with amazing views as well as inland valleys and forested areas where you couldn't feel farther from the ocean if you tried.


Over the years, film/tv production has facilitated the creation of sets that, rather than demolition when production has ended, the Ranch has maintained and reutilized, both for future productions as well as for tours to visit.

005.thumb.jpeg.fba9d2ef2a05369d664cef2a1bc28cc7.jpegThe money shot.


Fans of Jurassic World will recognize this as the station for the Gyrosphere attraction.


This bunker was featured in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom--a key location on Isla Nublar as the island is being engulfed in lava from the re-awakened volcano.


Absolutely unreal.


You do get a chance to exit your UTV for several stops along the tour.


This was the partially-built Indominous Rex paddock used in the filming of Jurassic World. Movie magic and digital effects completed the rest to make a fully constructed housing for the villainous dinosaur hybrid who wreaked havoc on the film's namesake park.


Iconic imagery from Kong: Skull Island can be found along the tour.


Seriously stunning.


Another bunker along the route... Notice the tour bus to the left and the open air bus to the right of the bunker. Both are different types of tour options to explore Kualoa Ranch. 


A breathtaking view which also serves as the perfect location for the finale shot of Jurassic World where the hero T-Rex roars over the remains of the park before the film cuts to the credits.

We filmed a ton of footage and took so many more photos over the course of our time at Kualoa Ranch but this magical place is best experienced in person and I can't recommend it enough.


Next we drove to the North Shore to experience CLIMB Works - Keana Farms for an amazing zip-lining tour across this side of the island.


After our ascent to one of the highest points of Keana Farms, we were met with an opportunity to crack open fresh macadamia nuts with rocks by hand and it was all kinds of fun and tasty.


The experience includes zip-lines, rope bridges, rappelling and even some climbing along the way. This was a very active (sometimes tiring) course so it is definitely recommended that you come prepared to work for the reward of getting across the course.


Keana Farms is an active agricultural farm as well as a wind farm, so you get some really neat views along the way.


You get all kinds of neat views along the way!


Did I mention that you rappel several times along the way?


The experience includes 8 dual lines (which was great for us as a couple being able to zip alongside each other), 2 rappels, 3 sky bridges, a floating staircase, an ATV ride and a few surprises (hope you have core strength in your body!).


Proof it was me who endured all of this.


The guides are awesome and ensure you have a safe, fun and funny trip along the way... They encouraged us on this one line to try experiencing it upside down, so this was my POV.


That's me on the left, just hanging out.026.thumb.jpeg.8dea215781e5e71f0bc52f0e2e971295.jpeg

I mentioned earlier that LOST was filmed at Kualoa Ranch, and while that is true, the production spanned much of Honolulu (and at times, beyond). One such famous location was the "Others' Camp" which is actually a YMCA on the far end of the island. With permission from the operating staff, you are allowed to visit the grounds to see this notable location. It has been repainted from its recognizable orange color but the Dharma Initiative houses-turned Others' homes-turned Oceanic Flight 815-survivors' homes are still the ones you would have seen on the show.


We made the long drive back to Aulani and checked in for our first official night at the resort. In case you're wondering what a room in Aulani looks like, here you go.


Such a fun touch!


Color me intrigued!


After a very active day we decided to take in some stargazing with our outdoor dinner at Makahiki.


The restaurant has a beautiful interior that really looks great at night.


Some incredibly fresh ahi tuna for dinner.


Leave it to Disney to help us celebrate in small but meaningful ways!


Roasted Pineapple Cobbler with a Haupia Gelato for the win!


And since it was Valentine's Day during our visit we picked up some special macarons from the resort to enjoy!


On the walk back to our room we noticed this neat mural.


Quite incredible.


The next morning we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise over Aulani.


And the view from our balcony...


We returned to Makahiki that morning for breakfast complete with a serenade...


And a first for us--Red Velvet Minnie Waffles (accompanied by more traditional Mickey Waffles)!


Punaluu Sweet Bread French Toast was my treat for the morning. 


Part of the benefit of breakfast at Makahiki is that you get to meet several characters in their Aulani gear!


Goofy's hard at work in the kitchen!


And Max has taken up being a server for the day! We also saw Minnie and Pluto during our visit.048.thumb.jpeg.b43387b642687e92c6f02123bd4320bb.jpeg

And yes, fans of POG Juice can rejoice that they have it available for breakfast at Aulani... I might have had so much that they sent me out with a to-go cup for the road.


Stitch caps this update off... But there was a lot more fun at Aulani still to come!


  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Following our character breakfast at Makahiki it was time to enjoy a full day of resort fun at Aulani including characters, water activities and a bit of food. 


Quite the view.


Hi Elissa!


I love that Angel is a featured character at Aulani!


Menehune Bridge is the resort's water play area which is a bit larger than you'll find at the other Disney resorts. 


Rainbow Reef is the resort's 3,800 square foot saltwater snorkeling lagoon, available to experience for an upcharge. 


Fans of Disney's Typhoon Lagoon will remember Shark Reef, which offered a similar snorkeling experience. Equipment is provided before you enter the water and then you can walk in. Fair warning: This water is exceptionally cold so the amount of time you'll want to stay in may vary depending on personal preference.


If you take the time to look for more than just the fish in Rainbow Reef, you'll find some hidden creatures in the rockwork.


We opted for our own snorkel masks which allowed us to see more clearly in all of our snorkeling activities.


And yes, there are fish in here.


The location of Rainbow Reef is quite picturesque. 


When we were done we figured we would enjoy the Aulani Resort Beach at Ko Olina Lagoon.


A unique vantage point...


Next up  was the Waikolohe Stream, the resort's lazy river.


It even goes through a cave with a few water and lighting elements (revealed at night).


Aulani has two water slides (besides the small one on the side of Menehune Bridge). Tubestone Curl is a 1-2 seater tube slide and Volcanic Vertical being an enclosed body slide.


Tubestone Curl is neatly embedded into the rockwork.


Like with other rockwork across the resort, the queue for these slides reveals hidden creatures.


You get some decent speed on this slide!


These turns are surprisingly intense for a water slide!


This is a fun and accessible body slide that is a more thrilling option to enjoy on property.


This is the last time you see any kind of light before the slide gets pitch black.


Back over at Rainbow Reef there's another experience to be had...


This time (for an upcharge) we were able to feed the fish!


Ka Maka Grotto features an infinity-edge looking out into the ocean.


Another look at Menehune Bridge.


Keiki Cove Splash Zone is a fun water play area for the younger kids.


There are some pretty cool water jets in this play area.


You can't deny this view is cool.


I told you I'd be back to try the Mickey Spam Musubi.


Rainbow Reef also has a dry viewing area where you can observe from above and below the water line.


Goofy was out and about enjoying the pool day!


We decided to treat ourselves to a couples massage at the Laniwai Spa and let me tell you it was the greatest spa experience we've ever had.


Laniwai has the most immersive spa experience I've had the pleasure to enjoy, with the journey from check-in to your massage being absolutely mood-setting.


There are loungers to enjoy while you wait for your massage to begin, but the real magic lays beyond that doorway.


Not unlike the Rainforest Room in the Senses Spa on the Disney Cruise Line ships except outdoors, Kula Wai is a relaxation space with showers, jacuzzis and loungers.


There's something very unique about Kula Wai's outdoor location compared to other spa relaxation areas.


Next to Kula Wai's heated jacuzzi is a polar plunge pool and it hurts so good.


There's a koi pond near the front of the interior of the resort.


The Waikolohe Pool is the resort's largest and has multiple entryways. 


Pāpālua Shave Ice is the spot to get a cool treat to counteract the hot sun.


And they have a great mix of flavors to choose from including several Hawaii flavors like Liliko'i and Haupia. 


For $6 (the Mickey ears are $1 extra) you get this massive serving of fresh shave ice with up to three flavors and it is awesome!


Off the Hook is both a pool bar and another table service dining option at Aulani... And dare I say, the best dining value onsite.


This Garlic Shrimp Flatbread was one of the best dishes I consumed over this entire trip.


And the Crab BLT had one of the best crab-forward crab bakes I've ever had!


I still can't get over this beach view of the sunset.


We got lucky with an evening open house at Aunty's Beach House where we could meet Daisy Duck!


Pu'u Kilo glows beautifully at night.


Aulani really is something else and it is hard to describe just how special this place feels.


Our last full day at the resort was magical... 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah Aulani has always looked incredible, looks like an amazing trip.


Aulani has also always made me wish that the Disney Beach resorts over here on the east coast (Vero Beach and Hilton Head) we just a little bit nicer and more of a true resort type destination like what Aulani is.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

After our amazing full day of activities at Aulani, it was time to pack up and move on to Honolulu for the wedding we were attending... But we couldn't leave without taking in just a little more of the resort!


Ulu Cafe became a constant go-to for us during our visit for meals and snacks at all hours.


The breakfast flatbread with portuguese sausage was awesome!


I couldn't leave without trying that macadamia nut sticky bun and it was worth every bite!


Same with the monkey bread I had been eying since the beginning of the trip!


Aulani features several upcharge experiences including an opportunity to design your own Mickey Ears headband.


The process was really fun to observe and the choices were numerous. Due to limited timing, we had to take our kit to go but the end result is pretty neat!


I genuinely considered buying this for my office...




One more Ulu Cafe poke bowl before hitting the road...


The path from Aulani to the Four Seasons (next door) in Ko Olina provides some amazing views.


I'd definitely consider this excursion for a future visit.


We ran out of time to give this the full experience but we had enough time to try about an hour of the Menehune Adventure Trail. This is kind of like the Midship Detective Agency on Disney Cruise Line or even "A Pirate's Adventures: Treasures of the Seven Seas" at Magic Kingom, but instead of using cards or RFID tags, you use a tablet to navigate the game. The experience triggers physical, audio and visual effects throughout the resort which was a fun added activity to enjoy onsite. This is free to experience as long as you are registered resort Guest.


Varying types of cultural performances take place in the central lobby of Aulani.


Some last minute rockwork detail I noticed as I was staring longingly, delaying my required leave.


As a consolation for having to leave, our hotel in Honolulu was near a mall with a Mitsuwa Marketplace...


The lover of Japan in me took solace that I could splurge in Japanese style groceries to drown out my sorrows for the trip nearing its end.


They even have gashapon and claw machines!


It felt like home to me.


The rehearsal dinner for the wedding was at Honolulu Brew Works, so it felt wrong not to try the local brews.


Our hotel was right around the corner from the famous Moana Surfrider, so I had to stop by to see it firsthand.


It didn't make sense not to get some fresh loco moco from their kitchen since I was already there.


We found another Starbucks Reserve!


Yes, it was very busy...


But yes...


It was very much worth the wait for curry udon this good!


We ended up at the Kaka'ako Farmers Market for some local foods...


Fresh mochi!


I indulged in some delicious crab rangoon spring rolls.


And some great sushi!


My wife enjoyed these hand-made everything bagels... For an authentic local experience I guess?


Our final stop of the trip before heading to the airport was the Dole Plantation... We were very conflicted about whether or not this would be worth the visit having heard/read mixed reviews.


The grounds are very pretty but the "attractions" are all kind of overstated/oversold in their value. This section of the "botanical gardens" was actually about 1/3 of the overall gardens that you paid extra to access... We were done in minutes and were left wondering what we actually paid for.


True to advertising, you do get to see pineapples growing naturally here.


Along with other fruits...


The Pineapple Express felt like the best chance we had to make the value out of our visit... The operation was slow but we eventually got our chance to board after waiting about 45 minutes in queue.


The train takes you through a large portion of the grounds of the Dole Plantation and you get to see lots of fruits and vegetables being grown in sections along the way.


Pineapple fields forever...


But as you roll along the tracks you start to notice that much of the advertised equipment, vehicles and machinery used to harvest these crops look like something out of a zombie movie...


Some portions of the train ride are very pretty and others are pretty desolate. The train ride itself is only narrated for about half of the ride (a portion of which is just listening to a musical soundtrack you can buy in the gift shop). We were hoping for a live narration or at least a recorded host that spent time telling us about the grounds throughout the ride but what we got was lots of silence at times, staring out at post-apocalyptic sections of farmland with no explanation as to what we were supposed to be seeing.


They grow cocoa here too.


I mean... Do you even Dole Plantation if you don't have Dole Whip while you're there? 

My main gripe with the Dole Plantation is that there's not much to really experience... But for the crowds and the prices you wait as if there is. And one minor gripe, is that there's no small option to try fresh pineapple on the plantation. There are frozen fruit spears or you can buy a whole pineapple but there's no easy option for a quick traveler to taste the produce without wasting an entire fruit. The pineapple stick in my Dole Whip was the closest I got to trying the product.


We made our way to the airport and headed towards Dallas where we would have a layover of 7.5 hours...


So what did we do? We left the airport to see the first showing of Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania in IMAX at a nearby theater.


It's one way to burn through a lengthy layover with a ton of luggage... I'll let you decide if it was a good idea.

Our flight home from Dallas was quick and easy and it brought an end to our amazing vacation in Hawaii. Hawaii isn't a cheap destination (a week here cost us more than 2.5 weeks in Japan) and there is less to do when it comes to themed entertainment and attractions, but there is a natural beauty to the destination that makes it worth at least one visit in your lifetime... And yes, Aulani blew us away and I'd be lying if I said we weren't already thinking of more excuses for us to go back!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...

Important Information

Terms of Use https://themeparkreview.com/forum/topic/116-terms-of-service-please-read/