The wonders of Hawaii are found in many forms on Oahu.
By Sarah Davis

Most people–even those who have never been to Hawaii–consider the state to be America’s paradise. Yet, even on these heavenly dots of earth in the Pacific Ocean, paradise is interpreted in contrasting ways. No place is that more evident than on the island of Oahu, the state’s most populated island.

The venerable Royal Hawaiian hotel in Oahu. Royal Hawaiian hotel photo
Oahu seems to possess two personalities–almost like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One part is bustling with nightclubs, high-rise hotels and shops; another part is engulfed in green lushness, culture and nature’s gems like Hanauma Bay. If you encounter only one personality from this island, you haven’t experienced it.

One island, many attractions

Honolulu, the state capital, is typically the first part of the island that tourists encounter. Seeming to blend with Honolulu is Waikiki where famous beaches are crowded and bustling even on an overcast day.

With a U.S. Naval base here, a strong military presence tends to keep the nightlife jumping in Chinatown and Waikiki. One of the hippest places is said to be the Cobalt Lounge on the 30th floor of the Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Ave. The lounge, located in the Hanohano Room restaurant, stages an event known as Skyline on the first and third Saturday of each month. With pulsating dance music and glittering night views of the city, the club–with its blue hues and cushioned leather seats–becomes one of Waikiki’s hot spots.

Other lodging with a more historic aspect include the Westin Moana Surfrider and Sheraton Royal Hawaiian hotels.

When it opened in 1927, the Royal Hawaiian (2259 Kalakaua Ave.) had all its guestrooms facing an inner courtyard–not the ocean–assuming the last thing guests who had just finished a cruise from San Francisco would want to see was more water. Since then, ocean-side guestrooms have been added to this Spanish-Moorish pink palace.

The Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort, (2365 Kalakaua Ave.), which opened in 1901, is a landmark on Oahu. Formerly a Sheraton hotel, the Moana Surfrider joined the Westin chain in June. Its famous afternoon tea resumes service in October. Don’t miss the waiters in white gloves and waitresses in silk dresses leading guests to large wicker chairs on the Banyan Veranda. Guests enjoy tarts, scones and other afternoon treats on fine china, but the teas are the highlight. Three of the eight teas on the menu are made exclusively for the hotel.

In 2008, the hotel will open Waikiki’s first beachfront spa.

But there’s more to Waikiki than fine hotels and nightlife. Once the sun rises, the place to be is the strip of shops on Kalakaua Avenue. Upscale brand names such as Chanel and Hermès are replacing touristy trinket shops.

Diamond Head

Ask about AAA rates at the Sheraton Royal Hawaiian and Westin Moana Surfrider hotels. Preferred travel partners–such as Pleasant Holidays and Travel Impressions –offer specials to AAA members. Book a Hawaiian package with Pleasant Holidays through AAA and you’ll receive a $30 per person certificate to be used for optional sightseeing in Hawaii. Travel Impressions offers a $25 food and beverage credit per room. Conditions apply; call your AAA Travel agent at (888) 366-4222 for details or visit

Order free information about Hawaii online at
From the hotel beaches, guests can look upon Diamond Head crater to the left. The view atop this volcano is fantastic almost any time of year, but the 0.8-mile hike up to the top is especially worth it during winter months when whales can be spotted from the top. The 1 1/2- to two-hour round-trip hike includes 175 steps, a few tunnels and an underground spiral staircase dating back to when the crater once housed artillery pillboxes ready to fire on any submarines approaching the island following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Cost is $5 per vehicle or $1 per person.

Military landmarks

Pearl Harbor, a National Historic Landmark, should be on any first-time visitors’ list of things to see. Plan to spend at least half a day to take in everything. Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial. Tour the Battleship Missouri Memorial and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.

The Pacific Aviation Museum recently opened on Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island. See some of the restored planes in Hangar 37, which survived the Pearl Harbor attack.

Admission to the Arizona is free. There is a combination ticket for a self-guided tour of the Bowfin sub museum and “Mighty Mo”–$20 for adults, $10 for children. Guided tours have additional fees. The aviation museum admission is $14 for adults, $7 for children. Guided tours, for additional fees, are available.

Experience sea life

While whale watching from Diamond Head can be rewarding, get closer to marine life on board the Atlantis Premium Submarine. Catch a 20-minute shuttle by boat from the Hilton Hawaiian Village, then board a 64-passenger submarine that dips up to 100 feet beneath the ocean surface. From there, guests can view coral reefs, two sunken ships, the remains of two airliners and maybe some massive sea life. It’s been said that whale sharks have occasionally scratched their backs on the submarine.

Fares are $84 for adults, $42 for children.

Smaller sea creatures are celebrities at Hanauma Bay, which offers arguably one of the most scenic underwater tropical experiences anywhere for veteran snorkelers or those who just want to stand in the water and feed colorful fish swarming around their feet. The volcanic cone, now beaten by the ocean into a horseshoe shape, is a state park that’s about 10 miles east of Waikiki off state Route 72. Cost to park at the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is $1 and admission is $5.

A must visit on the North Shore is the Polynesian Cultural Center, 55-370 Kamehameha Highway in Laie. Native islanders from throughout the Pacific illustrate village life and perform their traditional dances and rituals. Guests can learn about island life in Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Fiji and the Marquesas just to name a few. Performances are unique–watch a bare-footed youth climb a tree, get a coconut and show you how to husk it–and better than any show you’ll see in the Hawaii hotels.

Additionally, visitors can canoe through the scenic 42-acre park and stop by the IMAX theater. Admission to the center starts at $44 for children and $55 for adults, but various packages are available.

Oahu may have different personalities, but there is one common denominator–the spirit of aloha is present for each visitor to experience.

Sarah Davis is editor of AAA’s “Go Magazine” and is based in Charlotte, N.C.
Sept/Oct 2007 Issue

In support of Breast Cancer Awareness month (October), Pleasant Holidays and the Oahu Visitors Bureau have created a campaign, “Travel Pink, Travel Oahu,” which includes special room rates and added values, a nd will directly benefit the Hawaii affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

With every booking that includes a stay during select dates at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa or The Royal Hawaiian, Pleasant Holidays will donate a portion of its profits to the foundation.

Guests staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village from Sept. 1 through Dec. 20 will receive a care package containing a sports bag with bottle, work out towel, pink Breast Cancer Awareness pin and bracelet, $20 discount at the Mandara Spa, and a 20-percent discount on lunch at the Rainbow Lanai.

The Royal Hawaiian now to July 31, 2008 will provide pink champagne and its signature banana bread on arrival, along with a Royal Hawaiian beach bag, pink hat or visor and a 15-percent discount for treatments at Abhasa Spa.

Five-night, land-only vacations start at $708 per person, based on double occupancy and include accommodations, a fresh flower lei greeting, round-trip transfers in Waikiki, taxes and more. Price will vary, depending on selected accommodations.

For more information, contact your AAA Travel agent.

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