Aulani & O'ahu Nov 24-Dec 2 - First time in Hawaii, and leaving the kids at home!

This is totally a bucket list trip for us that I thought might never happen!!

We had some friends sell us their DVC points for super cheap, so in Nov-Dec 2021, our family went to WDW and did a split stay at BCV and Kidani Village (Savannah view 1br). It was our first time at a Deluxe and we felt like royalty! We had points left over that need to be used by Feb 2023, so DH and I were planning a January trip to Saratoga Springs. I was searching for flights to MCO with miles, and saw an ad telling me to check out deals to Hawaii. I found a flight we could do, and there was a DS room at Aulani during that time, so we borrowed a few points from next year, and now we are headed to O’ahu for Thanksgiving! It is our first time to Hawaii, and we are leaving DD15, DD11 and DS9 home with Grandma for 11 days!

March 2021 had our longest time away without them to UOR for 6 nights. This feels so long - 10 nights gone! DD11 and DS (we call them “the littles”) are not wanting us to go. But this is how they grow, right? Plus Grandma will come to our house, so they will get to stay at home in their own beds and with their pets. (I do also feel guilty for asking so much of my MIL! But she is happy and willing!)

One other note, DD15 had a stroke this past January, so we were out of town with her without the littles several times in Jan-Apr for the initial hospital stay at Children’s in Minneapolis (6 hrs away) and back other testing later on. She is doing great, but it’s still a little tough to think of being so far away - for me, not her. HA! I’m guessing that probably has an effect on the littles too. Ok - enough on my anxiety of leaving my kiddos! They will be FINE!! (and so will I)

So…Our exciting adventure… DH and I will be arriving in HNL 8pm Nov 24. Thankfully we used every mile we had to reduce the number of stops on our return flight, so we are flying MSP - SEA - HNL and avoiding LAX! After reading TR from @vcka and seeing all the trouble people have there, I had to go back and make sure we are going through SEA both ways! We are flying Delta, so hoping the pilot strike doesn’t affect us.

We will have a turo car the whole trip, and have an airbnb with kitchen and parking booked in Honolulu from Nov 24-27. Then Aulani from Nov 27-Dec 2; flying out 10pm on the 2nd.

We are foodies on a budget. We want to try lots of local food and COFFEE, explore mountains (see where they filmed LOST), hike, snorkel, and see cool nature stuff. I am a Veteran, but I’m not sure we will do Pearl Harbor, because I get so emotional and it sticks with me for days (PTSD). We might try to do the Punchbowl Cemetery. Any thoughts on Pearl Harbor or other smaller, easier sites would be helpful.

We are hoping to take the kids to WDW this fall (BCV and Poly) so were are definitely trying to keep this trip on a tight budget, That said, I don’t think we will be doing the Luau or AmaAma at Aulani unless it sounds like those are MUST Do’s. We would rather have fresh seafood and experience local food than do super fancy. I don’t drink alcohol (anymore), so we might buy refillable mugs at the resort for coffee and soda to help resist the urge to try the local beer, wine pairing’s and Mai tai’s. Coffee is on my list of must do and buy - also Dole Whip!

I just finished reading TR from @vcka, which seriously added to my excitement! Everything @Peggy808 said is added to my spreadsheet of what to do and eat. That TR was amazing!!

We are really open to trying whatever we can fit in, so all suggestions are welcome. I don’t see us relaxing by the pool much, and we are up to RD whenever - especially since the time change goes the right way for us from Central.

Some things I am debating.:

  1. Where to stay when we are not at Aulani: should we stay in Honolulu (Waikiki next to International Market) in airbnb with parking included or spend more and stay up north somewhere… (I looked at staying on post or at Hale Koa, but looks like it’s all full - I am Tier 3, DAV 50%) Basically, will it be easy to explore other parts of the island from Aulani and/or Waikiki, or do we need to stay up north?

  2. Do we spend an extra $200 and upgrade from the Jeep Patriot I have reserved to a super sweet Camaro convertible?

Also, any suggestions on what to do are great, and I am really hoping to manage a live TR. I will for sure put up pics if the Wifi is good enough.


Following! Excited for you.


We did a two week trip to Oahu last year so I could probably overwhelm you with suggestions.

We stayed in three places over the two weeks. We started off at the Embassy Suites in Waikiki (loved the location–right next to Hale Koa). Then we went to Aulani and finally we stayed on the north shore in an AirBnB.
The island is small but it will take awhile to drive anywhere. Despite that staying in Waikiki makes it pretty central to all sides of the island.

I would rather drive a Jeep than a convertible so I am not the right person to answer that.


I am following along. I am planning a trip for next August so will love to hear about your stay. @Dreamer love the advice for the embassy suites because we were supposed to stay at Hale Koa but my DFiT can no longer travel with us. But my DH’s Hawaii memories are there.

We also plan to go to Maui - totally for the snorkeling. I hope splitting things up thay way won’t be a mistake.


If you have an ID that lets you get onto Ford Island, there are several historic sites you can just walk to and see up close without the emotional gut-punch of the Arizona memorial.

Punchbowl cemetery is an amazingly moving place, which sadly most people miss. We spent a good 2 hours there just reading the gravestones and noting all the different religions depicted from those who served. My father found a friend’s name who died in a chopper accident at the very end of Vietnam, in fact AFTER they’d started the drawdown.

The Mighty Mo has a nice tour offered and you can tour it and see the Arizona, but it’s also more of a tour and less emotional than the Arizona memorial.

Hale Koa luau may be worth looking into. It’s less expensive than Aulani, and they do an excellent job of honoring veterans. If you do go there, try for a seat in the back part (that is covered seating) as it will protect you from the rain. Strangely, those are the “cheap seats” but they work for us whenever we go there!

Call for reservations to Hale Koa. They frequently have availability for folks when they call.

Most locals eat poke from Foodland (grocery store). They will make you a poke bowl. It’s “Poh-kay” just like ok, not Poh-key. Which maybe you know already!

Dole whip is much mo bettah at the dole whip plantation. The train and garden tour are not worth it- you can get the gist walking around the grounds. They offer a military discount on the dole whip. Not sure if it’s for veteran ID cards but worth the ask, always.

Up the road from Schofield Barracks (all the military installations have little museums if you’re interested), there is the Waialua Coffee you can buy at the Old Sugar Mill. It’s a fun stop, and the owners are almost always the ones working the shop. We have bought coffee beans from there. They are expensive but it’s the most legit coffee you get on Oahu, as the other islands have the bigger plantations.

One splurge I’d recommend if you’re interested is the 21 degrees chocolate farm tour. ( They are veteran owned and offer a super interesting tour, with a military discount. This is real chocolate- think $15 a bar. Our family did the tasting tour, which was really fun.

LOST sites are sprinkled around the island. Up north past Waialua you get to what is now “Camp Erdman”, a YMCA camp that my kids all went to for their school camp experiences. It’s basically the village of the “others” from Lost. There’s a little sign outside. Most of the other movie tours/filming locations are located over on the Windward side (same side as the coffee farm). You’ll want to look at Kualoa ranch as they have a lot of options for tours. We’ve done bus tours there and a 5K. I hear good things about the ATV tour there too.

Back to the North Shore, past Camp Erdman (Lost), you get to the trailhead for the Kaena Point State Park. It’s a 2.5 mi out and back, flat, and it’s one of our favorite hikes. You walk out to the point, where they have a nature preserve with monk seals (usually) and nesting albatross. In the winter months, you’ll see lots of whale action off the shoreline there. You can do this hike from the West side too (so that is the same side as Ko Olina/Aulani). In the winter months we tend to do it from the West side and get the better sunset views from that side, vs from the Mokuleia side (North shore side).

Local foods- Helenas, Rainbow Inn, Aiea Bowl restaurant (it was on diners and dives)… There’s lots of hole in the wall places. I steer clear of Chinatown even tho lots of foodies love it. Just a little too much homeless all over for me, and I don’t feel safe.

I wouldn’t upgrade to the Camaro personally. It’s gonna be raining intermittently, and nothing screams “tourist” like a convertible.

Also I would likely avoid an AirBnB if you can. A LOT of them are terrible. Just TERRIBLE. And a good number are illegal here so, there’s that! Lots of scams unfortunately. I would just call every day to Hale Koa and I bet something opens up. Lodging on post at most spots is pretty awful and they’ve had a lot of housing issues for people stationed here, so on post lodging is even more stressed by that.

Unique not to be missed: Iolani Palace, Hawaiian Plantation Village (central OH- great local docents with tours), Bishop Museum.

Snorkeling for that time of year-- if it’s calm, and you can get there, Electric Beach is awesome. But it’s a swim out there and do not attempt if there is any surf. There may be snorkel charters going out there.

A lot of “snorkel charters” (see them on Groupon) are fine- but they’ll go to Turtle Canyon which is more of a dive site (well- it’s only about 20-40ft depth so you can definitely snorkel there.). Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is expensive now if you’re not stationed here in Hawaii or active duty military. I don’t know what their policy is for veterans, but it’s not worth the $25 entrance in my opinion. Snorkeling North Shore is a very dangerous thing to do in the winter months- if it’s VERY calm, you may be able to do it at Sharks Cove or Three Tables, but I usually recommend to stay out of the water. There are nasty rip tides, and you can’t always tell from the water surface. Lots of cool lava tunnels and stuff up there and you don’t want a rip to suck you down into one of those.

Snorkeling outside of Aulani in the lagoons right there is totally fine- I enjoy it.

Anyway, I’ll read all the other responses now!!


Best snorkeling by a wide, wide margin is Big Island. They have all the volcanic rock over there that keeps the sand so much better/visibility amazing. I have a couple favorite spots on Maui, but it’s not my choice for snorkeling (or diving).

Plus Big Island (Kona) is where you can snorkel with mantas, which is basically life-changing.

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We really enjoyed our stay there. It’s one block off the beach but such as easy walk. It’s also one block off the big main street in Waikiki (lots of shopping and restaurants). There was a farmers market on the green space outside the hotel on two different evenings and some live music.
The full breakfast every day was delicious. And then there is an evening cocktail/snack reception.
The pool is tiny, but we spent our time on the beach.

There is some good snorkeling on Oahu too (just saying).


OMG did you just say snorkling with Mantas because that would be even better than cuddling with a mama koala and her baby.

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I was going to ask if it was worth island hopping, or if we should just stay put.

Sorry didn’t mean to hijack the thread. Sorry @HeepFab5! I am so impressed with your spur of the moment planning. You are on my hero list.


Yes. And having JUST petted a kangaroo/wallaby thingy in San Diego, can confirm that a Manta encounter is so much more amazing than any kind of animal. :slight_smile:

My son and I did the scuba, where we sat at about 30’ under the surface. My mom and daughters were on the surface watching the mantas/they were snorkeling, holding onto a board. The mantas swam in between us, doing loops, eating plankton. It was so awesome. They kind of fly right by you and their wings will touch you. Some of the mantas that frequent the spot are about 12-14’ wingspan! It’s amazing. It is at night, and the divers shine lights up, the snorkelers shine lights down, and so the manta can swim in between eating all the plankton that gathers bc they are attracted to the lights.

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We had wanted to island hop, but there were still some Covid restrictions in place (like random testing at the airport when you island hop) and we didn’t want to risk it.

All that said Maui is beautiful.


Yes- Maui is awesome as well. We like it in the winter months because the whales are absolutely everywhere. I just found out that there are sometimes some migrating hammerhead sharks so I really want to head there in the summer months to try to catch those guys- that’s a scuba dive thing I think.

All the islands have their special thing!


Also last recommendation for a while, watch for a sale on the Gypsy app or the Shaka app and pre-download whatever you choose. We tend to use the Gypsy app tour of Hawaii, but we have the full Shaka app Hawaii suite too. They both give good information, but I think the Gypsy is a little more of a standard tour. We always tour that way whenever we go to an outer island, or when people come visit us here on Oahu. We’ll just plug in the app and have a built in tour. Economical, convenient.


They really do.


I missed this in the first read-through.

I would stay with Waikiki/Town whatever AirBnB you’ve lined up. Having parking included is very nice. My son lives in town right now (he’s a student at the University)- it’s totally safe enough; just be aware like you are whenever you travel in general. For me personally, North Shore is fabulous to visit, but it shuts down by about 5PM (very sleepy). I like to eat at the Shrimp Trucks, but they’ve been a bit hit or miss for quality. Lately more folks are returning to Giovannis shrimp truck— all the way in Kahuku-- we used to only go to Romy’s (don’t go to Fumi’s), but just drive on… On the way, there is an amazing little Kahuku farm stand, with great organic and vegan foods. If you want to splurge a little, I love the smoothies there, and the ginger drink, but mostly the lilikoi mochi. It’s so good. This is a nice stop bc they have a very nice setup with examples of fruit trees and vegetables that they grow right there on the grounds, which makes for a lovely place to walk around. (They also have CLEAN bathrooms!!!). They aren’t open every day, but definitely worth planning for your North Shore Day…

Beyond that, driving towards Kahuku, is an old staple “Ted’s Bakery”. This is a place that will sell a plate lunch Hawaii style- so big, you can definitely share ONE plate lunch and get a slice of their famous pie. These are cream pies, made locally right there at the bakery. The owner, Ted, is active locally and was a big booster for my kids when they were in the high school band-- so it’s awesome to support local businesses like this with good folks.

In the big food truck area at Kahuku, there are lots of options. These are all gonna be fairly pricey. Sunset Beach also has plenty of food trucks (good Thai food).

Speaking of Thai food, in Haleiwa town, we really like the flavors and freshness of the Thai Rajanee restaurant. Yum. (But that’s the other direction…)

Driving along past Kahuku you go to the PCC (the Polynesian cultural center- big place with lots of shows and stuff). It’s a must-do to some people, but maybe you could look into grabbing a Groupon for the night stand up paddleboard up there, and that is a super fun tour to do. You can see the grounds but not all of the dances and what not. If you don’t do a luau, it may be worth your time to go to the PCC. If you do a luau, a lot of the dances will be repetitive bc they do similar things. I haven’t been to PCC since COVID, but I hear it’s back to full strength mostly. I don’t recommend their luau bc it’s a dinner THEN you move to an indoor venue for the show. It’s not as charming as a regular luau in my opinion.

It’s a beautiful drive all along this portion of the island, and it only gets more dramatic. I recommend a stop at the Tropical Mac Nut farm, which most people roll their eyes because 1) total tourist trap (it is) and 2) tour buses go there. Again, the owners are local and just very nice people. You can tell it’s beloved bc during COVID when the island was shut down tons of locals went to the business purposefully just to buy stuff and try to keep them afloat. They have a nice variety of Mac nuts and we always buy some (and try the samples!). I also get the coffee samples there (free), use their bathrooms (clean!), and usually pick up some kukui nut chap stick. My daughter bought some fused glass art from a local artist there which is so nice.

Anyway those are our main stops if we do a North Shore loop. We’ll go up from where we live (we are in the center of the island- an area called Mililani which is just south of Wahiawa where the Dole Plantation is), go by the Dole Plantation, up to Haleiwa town, over to Kahuku area, then down towards Kaneohe, and back over depending on how late the day is.

If you REALLY want to try some local food, there is a place called the Waiahole Poi Factory. Yeah, they sell poi. But this is REAL poi not the fermented paste they serve at luaus. So it’s actually good, but it doesn’t have a strong flavor. Anyway, they have treats and other stuff too- tons of locals line up there for food on the daily.

Whatever you do, you won’t do it all! So build in plenty time to RELAX and enjoy.


@heathernoel - I have no issues sharing my post!! And I am so honored to be your hero!


This is probably the BEST piece of advice! Do what you can (and really want to do) and save the rest for another visit.

As far as other locations to stay besides Hale Koa… I had a RET Army RN friend that stayed on Ford Island Navy Lodge 3-4 times a year and loved it. Also, Bellows AFB has cabins for rent right on the beach (dream/bucket list). My kids stayed at the Hilton Village on Waikiki before coming to Aulani and they didn’t like it. They thought it was run down.

I don’t’ think I can add much more. I just want you to have a fabulous time. And I hope you continue to post here, as time permits or wait until you get back home. ENJOY!!!


This is all so great! Thank you so much for taking time to share all this knowledge! I’m sure it’s fun for you like sharing about WDW is for me, but it still takes time…you are my people!

I am sticking with the Jeep - I think that is great advice! It’s a little older and will blend right in. Ha!

I almost canceled my airbnb, but then saw the second message, so I kept it. Hopefully it’s legit.

One other question I forgot to ask is how casual it is there. My guess is that everything is pretty casual, but will we be ok with tennies, jean shorts and t-shirts the whole time (thinking about Aulani and Waikiki)?


Casual. I wore some sundresses just because. It wasn’t necessary though.

I didn’t realize there were issues with illegal AirBnBs there. We had no issues with ours. Hope you have no problems.

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