My First Trip to Hawaii
I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on a picture of Hawaii. Actually, it was a film in my fifth grade class. I had never heard of Hawaii or seen anything so beautiful before. I determined at that moment, one day I would visit this magical place. I loved the green jagged mountains and the lush tropical rain forest, the magnificent waterfalls, and the ever swaying palm trees...I think this is where I first fell in love with palm trees.
As soon as I was old enough, I got a job changing oil and tires at a gas station. I worked for a couple of years and saved enough money to fly both my sister and myself to Hawaii for our first vacation without mom and dad. During the time I was saving my coins, I would visit the local travel agency and collect everything I could find related to Hawaii. I had a huge folder full of pamphlets, pictures and brochures of this magical place that I reviewed often. It was hard for me to imagine this place was real. But real or not, I was going to visit and find out for myself.
Our flight to Honolulu started in Kentucky where I was living at the time. We changed planes in San Francisco and boarded a Boeing 747. The airline knew how to sell the dream. Hawaiian music was playing on the loud speaker system as we walked down the aisle to our seat and waited for everyone else to board. The flight attendants used the Hawaiian words "Aloha" (greeting) and "Mahalo" (thank you) as often as possible. I remember being filled with so much anticipation and excitement. A lifelong dream was finally coming true, actually, two of them. I had always dreamed of flying on a 747 and this was a second dream come true for me. Yes, I still love to fly. I don't get quite as excited as I did when I was younger but it is still a lot of fun.
"Hawaii; the place dreams are made of."
When we arrived at the airport in Honolulu we were greeted by the tour company and each given a flower lei and a kiss on the cheek. I still remember the smell of fresh Plumeria, the warm tropical air and gentle breezes. It was exactly as I had imagined it.
It was nearly dark when we landed. By the time we picked up our luggage and got the rental car, it had started to rain. The underground parking garage was well lit so I didn't realize that I hadn't turned on the headlights when I barreled out of the garage into the dark street. I quickly realized my mistake and had to pull over. Rain and darkness are not a good combination for trying to figure out the controls on an unfamiliar car.
I remember driving down Ala Moana Blvd headed toward Waikiki Beach. I was taking in every moment of the experience of being there. When I made a right turn onto Rainbow Drive towards our resort, I will never forget my exclamation of excitement. I couldn't believe this was the place I was going to spend the next seven nights.
After we checked in and was shown to our room in the rainbow tower, we had to explore the grounds. This place was like a city unto itself with shops and restaurants. The foliage was so tropical with every kind of sweet smelling flower you could possible think of. The pools were beautiful. But most of all, I wanted to see the beach. Even in the dark I knew I was in paradise.
The next morning I could hardly way to pull back the drapes and get a glimpse of Diamond Head, the iconic symbol of Hawaii. Because we were still on eastern standard time, we were up early enough to see the sky turn from purple to blue to light blue as the sun's rays pierced the early morning Hawaiian sky.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat, grabbed our towels and suits and hit the beach. It didn't take very long for us to figure out the sun in Hawaii is very intense. It may not be hot, but you will burn easily without the proper amount of sunscreen.
After a few days of baking in that golden Hawaiian tan, we jumped on Kalanianaole Hwy and headed south for a road trip around the island. Mind you, there was no GPS back then so yes, I used a paper map. We drove around to the east side of the island and stopped at every scenic lookout and beach I could possibly find.
My favorite beach was Lanikai Beach. Sports Illustrated shoots some of their swimsuit layouts here. The beach has the whitest sand and clear turquoise water that makes the perfect backdrop for your "you should be here" selfie to post on social media.
By the time we made it up to the North Shore, it was mid-day. We stopped at the Polynesian Cultural Center and spent the rest of the day there. I really wish we had planned better and made a day out of it. There is so much to see with all the native villages, activities and shows they put on with the best Luau ever.
I will never forget sitting on the front row of one of the hula shows. Unbeknownst to me, the hula dancers like to grab people from the audience and teach them how to hula. I was a nineteen year old insecure punk who didn't know how to seize the moment. I had a beautiful hula dancer trying to teach me to dance and all I could think about was what I looked like. Ah, you live and learn.
After a good long stay at the Polynesian Cultural Center, we hopped back in the car and continued our journey back towards Waikiki. We stopped along the way and sampled fresh pineapple at one of the roadside stands. I HATED pineapple until then. As a kid, I had only had pineapple out of a can. I never knew anything like this could taste so good. Needless to say, pineapple is now one of my favorite fruits.
We made it back to Waikiki by nightfall and I got that same feeling every time we made a turn on to Rainbow Drive; this just can't be for real but it is. Hawaii is a beautiful place and should be on everyone's bucket list to visit at least once in your life.
I have been blessed enough to make it back and visit several of the islands since my first visit. I took my beautiful new wife to Maui for our honeymoon and enjoyed 10 days in Wailea at the Kea Lani Resort. I highly recommend it. Kauai is another favorite of mine and I've often said, it must be "the original Garden of Eden."