Every Day is Valentine’s in Hawaii

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Today is Valentine’s Day, where in Detroit the overnight low is 16° F.  For the past six weeks, the weather has been dreadful.  Drawing inspiration from Lady Gaga Grammy appearance last night, sometimes I’d rather just hide in an egg than deal with arctic winters.  On days like today, it’s important to think happy thoughts!   

I love the Valentine season, fresh flowers, rich dark chocolates, romantic evenings sharing peaceful intimacy.  I love everything romantic, and the one place that has never lost its idealistic appeal is Waikiki.  I remember back in 1977, when Don Ho had his ABC TV variety show, I would see him on school snow days; we were freezing and miserable in the Midwest, but over there in that wonderful paradise there were people walking hand in hand along the beach, sharing moments that remain priceless for a lifetime.  I vowed to myself: one day I’ll walk that beautiful Waikiki beach, hand in hand with my soul mate, and we’ll celebrate love – the most important emotion known to humanity.

Every day is Valentine’s in Hawaii, even after my 31st trip, I’m just as in love with Hawaii as I am my better half.  On our last trip, we stayed at newly rejuvenated Outrigger Reef on the Beach Hotel, the winner of the Orbitz 2010 Best in Stay Award.  Oh, it was heaven; every night we sat on the balcony and had a most perfect view of the Southern Cross, a constellation visible only a few months each year from the Hawaiian Islands. Our stay coincided with the Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower, which offer a dozen shooting stars each hour. When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true; and when you see 40 or 50 of them several nights in a row, it’s a good idea to take a treasure-chest-full of dreams with you.  The 2011 Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower will take place May 5 to 7; concomitantly with Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, and Mars all visible and aligned within a roughly 6° area of sky.  Add the Southern Cross, and you are in for stargazers’ glory each night.  A romantic evening under the stars of Waikiki can’t be beat.

Valentine’s is traditionally a day on which lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards.  This is the norm, not the exception at Outrigger Reef On The Beach.   Guests booked by Outrigger Specialist agents receive “Made in Hawaii” cookies, tropical flavored candies and chocolate covered macadamia nuts as a welcome gift.  The welcome basket in our room was loaded with goodies! One day, a beautiful woman named Luana Maitland arrived with a giant basket of fresh orchids and taught us how to create our own flower leis; she also led cultural activities throughout the week which were free for guests of the hotel.  Another day, this darling woman named Lynn Cook brought greeting card supplies to the main lobby, teaching us how to stamp Hawaiian petroglyphs in gold metallic inks to create unique Hawaiian cards with genuine aloha.  

“Outrigger Reef and Outrigger Waikiki sit directly on the sands of Waikiki Beach,” said Kimberly Agas of Outrigger Resorts, “For couples, it’s more than just a beautiful place; it’s Waikiki Beach, legendary as one of the most romantic places on earth.” 

“The rich displays of Hawaiian heritage woven throughout the resort, coupled with our pristine beachfront location, create an unparalleled product in Waikiki,” said Bill Comstock, general manager for Outrigger Reef on the Beach. “Our deep commitment to culture and genuine island-hospitality make for a truly unforgettable guest experience. The most dramatic display is hung behind the lobby’s new sit-down check-in desk: 18 stunning images created by internationally-noted historian and artist Herb Kawainui Kane. The collection pays homage to the incredible history of ocean voyaging, and depicts a variety of canoes from various Pacific Basin locations including the Caroline Islands, Cook Islands, Islands of Kiribati, Tahiti, Marshall Islands, Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand. In the lobby sitting area are three hand-crafted showcases displaying a revolving selection of curator-selected pieces on loan from private collections. Examples include a canoe paddle and crocodile-head canoe ornament from Papua New Guinea; shark-man figure and model bonito fishing canoe from the Solomon Islands; woven mat and navigational stick chart from the Marshall Islands; and hand-crafted bowls crafted from exotic woods grown in Hawaii.”

One of the bonus perks for guests of Reef on the Beach is a complimentary vow renewal ceremony, officiated by a Hawaiian Kahu priest, on the shores of Waikiki.  During our stay, guests participating in the ceremony were mixed-sex; in light of last week’s approval of the Hawaii Civil Union Senate Bill 232 for same-sex couples, it is best to inquire with the hotel about same-sex vow renewals. 

In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry’s wife’s perfume leaves the scent of plumeria (frangipani) to linger in the room, but in Hawaii, plumeria is ubiquitous.   The fragrance has been loved for centuries: 16th-century Italian aristocrat Marquis Muzio Frangipani invented a perfume emulating the scent.  We found plumeria flowers everywhere in the Hawaiian Islands, and local shops sold luxury toiletries (like herbal soaps, lotions and oils) fragranced by its heavenly extract.

The plumeria is most fragrant in the evening, just as Waikiki’s romantic torches are lit, and guests begin to dine ocean-side at the resort’s spectacular restaurants: The Ocean House and Shore Bird.  Both are exquisitely romantic, with the latter being more casual.    We reserved ocean-front seats at The Ocean House, so we had a perfect view of the Aloha Friday fireworks (displayed weekly). 

“I think you can say just about everything is new at the Outrigger Reef,” said Nancy Daniels, Director of Public Relations for Outrigger Enterprises Group. “The hotel is literally a brand-new hotel after a $110 million re-vamp of the property.  The library area across from the front desk has museum-quality displays; we partner with the Bishop Museum to showcase authentic Polynesian artifacts. Every evening we have phenomenal entertainment at the Kani Ka Pila restaurant featuring Hawaii’s highest quality artists.”

“The guest room décor is in line with our commitment to promoting and celebrating the island’s culture; from the carved wooden pineapple posts on the beds, carefully selected textiles and Hawaiian bath amenities.  From the moment you step into the hotel, you know unequivocally you are in Hawaii,” said Daniels.

Roy and Estelle Kelley built the Outrigger empire on a few basic principles: offer clean, comfortable rooms for middle-class families that included “no surprises” on the bill.   “Here, you have free internet access, free telephone calls to the US mainland and Canada, a comfortable sit-down check-in desk, complimentary newspapers and in-room Hawaiian coffee,” said Daniels.  “But the free entertainment is my favorite aspect of this property – I brought my parents to the new Kani Ka Pila restaurant to hear the nightly talent numerous times, I truly love this place.”

Another place to love on Oahu is the new $56 million Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, which was dedicated a few weeks ago on December 7, the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  We visited the center as part of the comprehensive Stars and Stripes Tour by Roberts Hawaii.  The Roberts tour is quite different from any other operator’s itinerary we’ve taken in the past – it includes stops at places normally forbidden to tour buses. Tickets to the visitor center can sometimes mean a three-hour wait, but by taking the Roberts tour, someone got the tickets for us long before we arrived, and we simply walked straight in.  That alone is worth the price of purchasing a package from Roberts.  Included in our day-tour was the recently remodeled Battleship Missouri, which displays historical documents from the Japanese surrender, and is guided by veterans of the military who are WWII buffs.  We also were taken to a government installation where we had lunch with active military personnel; that was way cool !

Perhaps the most romantic way to spend an evening with your perfect Valentine, is a sunset cruise on Atlantis’ Navatek II.  “Our dinner cruise focuses on the splendor of Hawaii’s ocean experience while guests enjoy dinner, entertainment, incredible ocean views, and Hawaii’s smoothest ocean ride on Oahu,” said Ken Kessler, General Manager of Atlantis Oahu Cruises.  The ship has been completely renovated: “We changed all the carpeting and wallpaper, and added a wall to the downstairs room to give it an extra touch of class,” said Kessler. 

Although the ocean was a little rough the evening of our cruise, the ship’s design let us glide smoothly all the way to Diamond Head in comfort.  “We had a trade swell of about 4 feet,” said Kessler, “but we just cut right through it.”

“In the winter, the sun sets as early as 5:48 pm, and those cruises allow for starry night views.  Full-moon cruises are spectacular: the moon rises at the same time as the sun sets,” said Kessler.  “This cruise is very popular with stars of the human kind, too  – we’ve had the Crown Prince of Tonga as well as several presidents of the US as guests on board.  A lot of times we’ll have dolphins swimming alongside us, and of course, there are whales frolicking about in the winter season.  It’s one of the finest dinner cruises available.”

I love the Navatek for its romantic ambiance.  We had a table for two, with beautiful linens, candle light and flowers, adjacent to the window, giving us a million-dollar view of the sunset.  The sunset dinner included a seasonal appetizer, Navatek Royal salad, roasted tenderloin of beef, steamed Maine lobster with melted butter, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, garlic sautéed carrot and zucchini baguettes, taro rolls with macadamia nut butter, chocolate mousse cake, and three premium cocktails.  Following dinner was a Hawaiian and contemporary revue of music, song and dance.  After the show, a stroll to the top deck is a pure treat, where a million sparkling stars compete with a million twinkling lights emanating from Waikiki.  In the distance, we saw planes taking off from the Honolulu airport; each had their own twinkling lights in reds and whites. As they ascended and soared away, they blended into the starry night, creating a scene reminiscent of a Vincent van Gogh painting.

We always watch airfare prices and purchase them when the rates are low.  At the time of this writing, a round-trip airfare from Detroit to Honolulu in May is $442. (see http://bit.ly/DTW442HNL)  On our last flight to the islands, we redeemed airline miles to upgrade to first class, so we had seats that reclined into beds for gentle napping.  Most people find that purchasing an air/hotel package is the most cost-effective way to visit Hawaii, because the tour wholesalers purchase both flights and hotel nights in bulk from the suppliers; their huge buying power translates into savings for travelers buying a bundled package.

Just for fun, a day trip around Oahu is very romantic.  First, rent a car from one of the many vendors in Waikiki.  Start out the morning by driving by Leonard’s Bakery and picking up a couple of coconut-filled malasadas, a local pastry filled with twenty gazillion calories, then continue to Oahu’s north shore for a day at one of the many beach parks. Our favorite lunch venue is a little ocean-side restaurant lanai, Jamesons by the Sea, filled with romantic ambiance and serving fresh seafood direct from Hawaiian waters. In the back of the building is a quaint gift shop, where I bought Christmas cards printed in the Hawaiian language on clearance at 75% off.  Not only are Hawaiian cards impossible to find here in the Midwest, the ones I found were absolutely gorgeous, and have the Hawaiian greeting, “Mele Kalikimaka” in heavy red foil imprint. 

According to my facebook map, I’ve pinned 290 cities in 41 countries over the last 25 years, and no matter how many places I visit and love, my heart still keeps longing for Hawaii.  To learn more about Oahu, kindly visit the fine folks at OahuVisitorsBureau.com.   To check current prices on air and hotel packages to the island paradise, kindly visit http://bit.ly/paradise2011.

By Dr. Anton Anderssen