I am back! We spent much of the past week (spring break) in Hawaii at the Aulani resort. This is a very family-oriented resort run by Disney, and located about 30 minutes from the Honolulu airport. We made the strategic decision not to bring the 2-year-old.* The 6-hour time change, the long flights, and the unfamiliar sleeping arrangements would have made him miserable, which would have made us miserable. As it is, travel with a 9-, 7-, and 5-year-old is not easy, but there were quite a few moments of real relaxation, and not just courtesy Aunty's Beach House (the kids club).
We took a direct United flight from Newark to Honolulu (courtesy my husband's frequent flier miles). The flight left at 7:50 a.m., and Newark is 90 minutes from my house, so that was a very, very early morning. The kids watched movies much of the way on the 11-hour flight but still, it was long. Very long. And there was basically no food. I packed snacks, but not enough. The result was that we arrived testy, which was a perfect time for the Alamo shuttle to keep passing us, the drivers waving us off, unable to take us to the car rental location, because the buses were full. Finally — I mean after waiting close to an hour — we got there, got our car, and drove to Aulani.
Fortunately, after the first day, things perked up a lot. We had a nice 2-bedroom villa with a kitchen, and we were on the 10th floor, with two balconies overlooking the ocean. I spent a lot of time reading out there, making it all the way through Shadow on the Rock, and Death Comes for the Archbishop (I have been on a Willa Cather kick). I ran along a path by the ocean 5 times. It was a short run (2.5 miles out and back), which is just about right for vacation. The boys loved the water slides, and they're big enough that we could let them wander around the water park as they wished, as long as we were down there too. I could sit in a beach chair when we went down to the ocean, and just relax, knowing that no one was going to do anything too stupid if I looked away for 15 seconds (the kids can all swim — the 5-year-old is not great at it, of course, and she was not allowed in pools unattended, but she's also reasonably cautious, and unlikely to decide to jump into a deep pool just to see what happens).
The food was decent. The buffet restaurant was shockingly decent — I ate half a dozen oysters each of the three times we ate there. These were mild, juicy Pacific oysters. Yum. Twice, my husband and I went solo, and once we went to the fancy restaurant down at the water, sans kids. I put on my List of 100 Dreams that I wanted to go to a resort with a kids club, and now I have! The kids loved it: Disney characters, video games, Disney movies, a craft room. Something for everyone. Indeed, the 7-year-old kept begging to go there for the video games. So we got 3 date night dinners out of the deal, plus one daytime walk along the ocean, and one night of wine on the balcony when we ate with the kids but put them in the kids club after. The one downside: it was a popular week, and the club did fill up twice when I wanted to use it. Of course, the one night we had a dinner reservation it filled up, so I had to go to the restaurant and ask them to move it forward. Fortunately, they were very accommodating (when we were half an hour late).
Since we had the car, we did leave the resort a few times. Tuesday, we drove around Oahu, listening to this Shaka narrated guide. The guide had us stop at a Buddhist temple in that section of a giant cemetery, where we got to ring a giant bell to send up good wishes, and we saw a number of gorgeous beaches. We got snorkel gear and stopped at one that was supposed to be calm, but it was not. Only my husband and the 9-year-old managed to get anywhere in the waves. The 7-year-old took himself out, which I respected, given that he's usually a daredevil. So I stayed with the two littler ones on the sand. When we got back in the car, no one wanted to stop, except my husband, who wants to stop at everything. Since he was driving, we wound up stopping at the Dole Plantation, this giant pineapple-themed tourist trap. The parking lot was mobbed with buses. But then once we were in, he just wanted to look around. I maintained that if he was going to force us to stop at a tourist trap, we were going to spend money on silly things. So I took the kids through the Pineapple maze (it's in the Guinness Book of World Records!), we got pineapple ice cream, and we bought a painting of a fish with an unpronounceable Hawaiian name.
Wednesday, my husband took the two boys snorkeling, and I hung out with my daughter until lunch. She wanted to watch her Kindle a lot so I read a lot. I made sure to get on my computer at 7 a.m., though, to book my tickets to the USS Arizona memorial for Thursday.
Much like the Washington Monument, and the Statue of Liberty crown, this is one of those National Parks attractions where demand vastly outstrips supply. They release a certain number of tickets at 7 a.m. daily, and they tend to be gone by 7:05. So I logged on right at 7, and achieved success. We went to Pearl Harbor the next day, watched a movie about the attack, and then took a boat out to the memorial over the sunken battleship. The film had a brief overview of some of the debates going on in Japan prior to the Pearl Harbor bombing, and it occurred to me that I didn't really know much about the politics of the 1930s in Japan, compared to all I've read about the history of Germany in that era. Something to study up on — I welcome suggestions of books.
There was a light sheen on the water around the USS Arizona. Our guide said the ship was still leaking oil — 75 years later. I think the most amazing fact I learned in that trip was that almost all of the boats struck at Pearl Harbor were hauled up, repaired, and put back in service. In one case, the film described a captain consciously taking on water on the other side of his ship to counter flood it so it would sink straight, rather than capsize, making the recovery much easier. Talk about quick thinking under duress.
We ended our trip with a character breakfast on Friday, getting photos with Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy. Then it was back to the Honolulu airport, where this time we'd used enough frequent flier miles to get business class seats. It is really a lovely thing to be able to lie flat on a red-eye. I sat next to the 5-year-old and she slept for about 6 hours straight, right up to 15 minutes before landing when I had to get her up. And they fed us (though my kids still fussed about the location of the red sauce on their pasta -- sigh). We landed at 6:30 a.m., got the car, and drove home to a very bouncy 2-year-old.
These past few days have been a bit rough adjusting back. The 6 a.m. wake-up with the baby was not fun. I took a nap Sunday afternoon where I went into such deep REM sleep I almost couldn't pull myself up out of bed. It was a long way to go for a little less than a week, but we weren't going to leave the 2-year-old for longer. We managed to pack a lot in, and yet still feel reasonably relaxed, so that's good.
*G (nanny) stayed with him for the week. We offered to bring her to Hawaii to take care of him there, but she also thought an 11-hour flight with the 2-year-old sounded like pure hell.
Photos: The beach near Aulani, the 7-year-old's collection of resort wrist bands, the buffet, Pearl Harbor now.