Sometimes you want your travel decisions to be simple, and what could be simpler than a vacation to the 50th state?
Hawaii’s 5 (ish) islands all move at a different pace, offer varied attractions and any color beach you’re in the mood for.
The past few years, we’ve been pushing our travel to the extreme, enjoying wintery trips to Iceland, France, Spain and Italy, and one dreamlike excursion to Bali. While we did have a unique and interesting adventure in Paris last December (more on that later), this year we wanted something a little simpler, and turned our heads towards the paradise in our back yard. No currency exchange, no language barrier, an easier version of jet lag than flying ahead, and, as it turns out, a really easy place to get married!
We decided over the Christmas holiday that our already-planned vacation to Hawaii would also become our personal destination wedding.
Oysterman’s parents have a Wyndham timeshare in Waikiki, and had booked a two-bedroom condo for the four of us mid-January. My new fiancé and I decided to enjoy some “engagement” time on Maui beforehand, with five nights at the Pioneer Inn in Lahaina, a cool old hotel where I’ve always wanted to stay.
Built in 1901, this historic hotel is the oldest on Maui, and the longest in continuous operation in Hawaii. Now run by Best Western, the Inn combines the best of old Hawaii and modern amenities and is located at the Lahaina Harbor — perfect if you want to roll out the front door right onto your sunset cruise or snorkel excursion.
The Inn has a terrific bar and restaurant, and is ideally located for strolling the streets of Lahaina, whether you want to gallery hop, grab a fresh fish sandwich at Paia Fish Market, or marvel at the largest Banyan tree in the U.S. at the adjacent Banyan Court Park.
Ono and Mahi Mahi burgers from Paia Fish Market
Our best Lahaina dining find was Happy Hour at Fleetwood’s on Front St., which generously runs from 2-5pm. We got shucked in by the $1.25 fresh oysters (we got a dozen) and 1/2 off all beer, wine and specialty cocktails. We enjoyed $10 glasses of Moet and a couple of Mick’s Mules, and also managed to polish off two orders of Ahi Poke, steamed mussels, a lobster shrimp roll, and of course, an order of Fleetwood Mac & Cheese.
Fleetwood’s also has some of the best daily musical entertainment you’ll find on Maui (we enjoyed local artist Paul West), and if your timing’s right, you might even catch a set with the namesake owner on drums!
Not Mick Fleetwood, but a great entertainer to take you through happy hours.
While other towns on Maui have better beaches for swimming, snorkeling or lounging (Lahaina doesn’t have much in that regard), we rightly figured that we wouldn’t actually get in much beach time because of the season. We spent our days taking long hikes in the mild rain, watching the Seahawks lose a playoff game at the Lahaina Sports Bar, and getting a marriage license.
We drove to some beautiful sandy beaches and poked our toes in the water, took a ubiquitous sunset cruise, where we saw several pairs of mama and baby whales, and did manage a snorkel excursion to Lanai where we saw pods of spinner dolphins, flying fish and more whaleos!
We even squeezed in a tight round-trip drive to Hana, a world away on this world-away island.
Once we decided that we couldn’t stay on Maui forever, we jumped on a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Oahu to enjoy the second half of our vacation. I’d never been to Waikiki, but it’s Oysterman’s favorite Hawaiian beach, so I had a feeling I would like it too.
I guess we’re as compatible as I always knew we were, because I found Waikiki and its adjacent beaches to be my perfect picture of paradise. Golden curves of sand with urban energy, a smack of old Hawaii and people-watching? You had me at Aloha.
We got in on Thursday afternoon, and planned to get married on Friday. But as of 4pm, I still had no idea who was going to marry us, or where it would happen.
After a half-dozen failed attempts to find a judge to perform a civil ceremony at the courthouse, I found the perfect solution (perfect for US, a previously married middle-aged couple) — HawaiiCivilMarriage.com. A weekday walk-in wedding (noon to 1pm! First come, first served!) suited our needs just fine.
The next morning, after a ukulele lesson and wedding serenade by the great Moon Kahele, we took an Uber to the downtown office mall location. There we waited outside with a gathering group of soon-to-be newlyweds (some happy, some not?), wrote a check for $65, and seven minutes later, we was wed!
In truth, it was a simple and moving ceremony, delivered with non-denominational sincerity by Judge Judith, and it brought both me and my now-husband to tears.
We celebrated with my new in-laws celebrated at a nearby Chinese restaurant, The Mandalay, where we had too much dim sum and too much champagne, but it was a blissful and sunny day, and Hawaiian afternoons are made for napping.
That evening, we took another sunset stroll north to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where every Friday night they have a free fireworks show. Mom & Dad made some new like-minded travel friends, and the newlyweds had a few celebratory mango margaritas while the fiery flowers bloomed overhead. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but it really was the best wedding day of all time.
The next day, we all took a long stroll down the strand for a hearty breakfast and mango mimosas at LuLu’s, overlooking Waikiki’s famous surfing beach. Afterwards, we parted ways, with husband and I venturing south towards Diamond Head Park to take on the hike to the top of the crater.
It’s a long, hot and strenuous walk to the crater’s rim, with uneven pathways, dark tunnels and 173 stairs (each way), totaling 1 1/2 miles round trip. You absolutely must take water with you, and you WILL want an $8 pineapple smoothie when you get back to the bottom. But the effort is worth it, because you won’t get views like this unless you’re piloting your own drone.
We’d scheduled a snorkel tour to Haunama Bay for the next day, our last on the island, but got a call early in the morning to say it had been cancelled due to an influx of box jellyfish. These small, squareish (hence the name) invertebrates arrive en masse on Oahu’s southern-facing beaches according to a fairly predictable schedule (WHO KNEW???), and unfortunately, this swarm coincided with the warmest, sunniest day of our trip.
We still threw caution to the wind and walked down to Prince Kuhio beach, where we snorkeled in its fabulously unchallenging protected lagoon.
Oysterman was braver than I and bobbed around in the shallow waters for hours playing with the fishes, but I was too squeamish, risking only a few dips to cool down after seeing (and brushing by) more than a handful of the little Baggie-looking creatures.
In the end, it was all good. We got in our beach day, learned a little something about planning for a snorkel vacation on Oahu, and actually decompressed on this crazy beach within a city.
After a nice last-night dinner with Mom & Dad, we ventured out for one of the most entertaining musical performances OF MY LIFETIME — the Beat-lele’s – Hawaii’s Fab Four on Four Strings at Hawaii’s Blue Note.
These four Beatles-loving musicians decided to put their own spin on a Fab Four tribute band — by playing their songs on ukuleles. It works like you can’t believe. It helps that they’re fabulous musicians with beautiful Beatles-like voices and harmonies, but really, for a Hawaii experience, you just can’t go wrong. If you ever get a chance to see them, please, please do.
While we only made it to two Hawaiian islands this time, our island vacation gave us the tropical bug.
Yes, we immediately started house-hunting. No, we’re probably not going to buy a house there.
Hawaii isn’t a perfect paradise (is there such a thing?) — mostly because it’s expensive. But, as with every vacation, a little planning goes a long way. Take advantage of happy hours, the All Blocks Covered ABC stores (for lunches, snacks and alcohol), and DO steer clear of timeshare salesmen disguised as tour guides.
Maybe Oahu isn’t your beach (we love it because we already live in a quiet beach town). Maui might be your scene, or the quiet gardens and beaches of Kaui. But there is nothing quite like an island vacation in your own back yard, a mai tai on a tropical beach, or a wedding to remember.