I went to Hawaii last year and I still miss the place!

Going to Hawaii is a lot of fun. You’ll come home with a big list of things you wish you would have done and a big bag of stories of things you did get to do!

Hawaiian hotels can vary from amazingly ugly to surprisingly fun places to hang out. You have got to check out the beachfront lounge at the Royal Kona resort in Kailua Kona, Big Island, the hotel shaped like a cruise ship (it’s rather funny). The price of staying there, by the way, is quite average, but you don’t have to be staying there to enjoy the lunge – you can just visit. Anyway, this lounge is Da Bomb, to use a 1992 expression! James Bond would hang out in a lounge like that. It is open air, like a porch or patio, facing the sea, overlooking rocks the waves crash on, full of very comfortable furniture. When the sun goes down and you no longer can see the waves crashing, wander off the patio section and into the gimmicky Don The Beachcomber bar (built into the resort) for an original recipe Mai Tai, even though they’re pricey (about $18 for one Mai Tai). The real, original Mai Tai is a heavenly delicious alcoholic drink, and I bet they make an awesome virgin version of it. But for me, the leaded version, please! Don The Beachcomber is a chain that claims to have originated the Mai Tai. A competitor makes it differently and claims theirs is the original: Trader Vic’s. I’m sure both are quite good. It’s like Coke and Pepsi.

Other resorts have swimming pools and gardens that will make you at least say “wow” once, like the Fairmont Orchid in Puako, located on the hot, dry north end of the west shore of Big Island. Even though you can see Maui just across the water from there, the Puako area will remind you of Death Valley! The Fairmont (formerly Ritz-Carleton) Orchid has a vast courtyard with hidden hot tubs and cute garden spots and lots of running waters – sort of a Fairy-tale Storyland from your local large city park for adults, plus a huge freeform pool made with of volcanic rocks you could swim in all day. The best thing they had there was a little hot tub under the coconut grove (don’t worry, they’ve been careful to secure the coconuts). It is a shallow hot water spa with sand for a floor! SOOOOO comfortable!! Must be seen to be believed.

But as fun as resorts are, my taste is less resorty and more “rough guidey”, and one of those old 1930s hotels in downtown Kailua Kona would be my place to stay in Hawaii! I want to be immersed in that funky ukulele atmosphere of Kailua Kona, where under the cloudy slopes of Mount Hula, the exotic hula dance was first made popular!

Everybody’s got to ride the helicopter. It’s quite pricey, but there’s one thing that will ruin your fun: a sick passenger on your ride. The passenger who got sick on our ride was the wife of a newlywed couple from Japan.
Not all helicopter rides are created equal, with different treats for the passengers. Some fly right down to the water where the hot lava enters the sea, literally touching the waves. WHICH company or pilot does that, I don’t know. OURS didn’t do that. But that may have been due to our SICK PASSENGER. Others touch down at the home of that guy named Jim who lives surrounded by lava. His is the last house of a lava-overrun subdivision, and he refuses to leave until the lava overruns his house. His is literally the last piece of real estate left to this subdivision and there his house stands on an island surrounded by lava. He once had amenities, but no more sewer, no more water service, no more electricity. He welcomes drop-in’s from those taking the helicopter rides! They literally land in his driveway. You can then walk out into his back yard and watch red hot lava flow. WHICH helicopter ride company does this stop I DON’T KNOW. OURS didn’t make that stop.

An interesting activity we didn’t do but heard about from locals was the midnight manta ray swim. You go down in scuba gear with a small group into the dark waters and everyone has a powerful flashlight to shine through the water. They attracts tiny fish to the light just like moths. There is a spot you go to to meet the rays. Once there, everyone points their flashlight straight up, then these HUGE, 14 feet across manta rays come in to eat the fish, swimming right over you – inches over you, in a most thrilling experience. It’s supposed to be one of the best activities you can sign up for in Kailua-Kona. The locals rave about it. The locals know.

The middle of the Big Island is very high in elevation. Heading inland from the coast is a steady climb up to Mauna Kia via narrow twisty highways. At 14,000 feet, Mauna Kia is topped by a huge complex of an observatory. YOU HAVE TO STAY UP ALL NIGHT FOR THIS ONE BUT CHECK IT OUT: you can, with a group, tour the facility and you get to spend the night under one of the telescopes looking at stars and galaxies!! That sounds like a frikkin’ blast and my next trip to Hawaii will not happen unless I get to do that! And that’s FINAL!

The drive from Puako to the north coast of the Island, where King Kameamea was born, is a very pleasant drive that reminds one of the drive to Oakhurst from Fresno in Highway 41! Only, where you end up is a beautiful, rugged and spectacular coast similar to Kauai with frequent steep canyons and tall waterfalls. At the end of the road, which passes through picturesque small Hawaiian towns that will remind you of any other stretch of small town America, is a hiking trail. It is really pretty! There are some eateries along that road, none of which score very high in ambiance of cooking quality but are a trip to dine at for their sheer Island whimsy. They are at best failed food joints if on the mainland but because Islands don’t have a lot of resources, they are what the non-touristy areas have as for places to eat. Really rustic is typical for any Island far from any mainland.

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  1. Aloha, Dave!

    You certainly wrote beautifully of those lovely islands that so inspire us! My wife Delia and I hope to get there early next year and spend our time following Don the Beachcomber around the island. You may not have known that Donn’s last resting space is in the US Military Cemetery, where he has lain since his death in 1989.
    My wife Delia and I, about 16 months ago, on the 20th anniversary of the closing of the last Don the Beachcomber, which was also the first Don the Beachcomber, in Hollywood.
    However, we chose for our location an 83-year-old structure that had been a famous fish restaurant (Sam’s Seafood) and then the biggest Tiki restaurant in Orange County.
    As a result of the recent settlement of a lengthy court case, Pleasant Holidays, Inc. now has the right to this most revered name in Hawaii, and Marisol, LLC.
    I don’t know where you live, but I hope you take an opportunity to enjoy this very old but young restaurant and compare our Mai-Tais with those of of the former Kona Hilton, where you enjoyed them so much.
    Art & Delia Snyder, owners
    Don the Beachcombers
    Huntington Beach (Surf City),
    CA 92649


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