Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Family Trip to Hawaii, 2011

Aloha Sunshine! 

THE BEGINNING: 

I just returned from an amazing family vacation in Hawaii. This trip was very special because it marked our 7 year anniversary as well as our first "real" family vacation by airplane. Despite my worry about the 5-hour flight with children, the girls proved themselves old enough to handle a faraway trip and as I recapture our memories on this blog, I find myself smiling, dreaming about our next getaway.

We arrived at The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort in Waikiki on Sunday afternoon tired and cranky from the long travel. It didn't help that I only got 3 hours of sleep the night before and we had two extra hours by being in a different time zone.  Packing for a family of four was not easy and I was gripped with the worry of forgetting something important. Overall I did okay but I did forget the most important thing- a charger for my laptop! Thank God Waikiki had an Apple store that sold overpriced chargers at $80.

At check-in we were told to consider three rooms- one garden suite, one two-story suite by the pool and one regular room with an ocean view- and none of the three fit our needs. We told the front desk that were unsatisfied with these rooms and that we were looking for a spacious ocean view room with two double beds. My husband and I probably had something in our minds but couldn't grasp exactly what we wanted.  All we knew that these three rooms weren't it.

Ten minutes later we walked into the most AMAZING ocean-view suite next to the Presidential suite in which Hilary Clinton stayed two nights before. I could not have asked for a more beautiful home for our family for the next seven days. The best part of it all was that we didn't pay full price for the amazing room upgrade. Thank you Royal Hawaiian for your generous hospitality!

Waking up every morning to the sound of ocean waves and walking out onto the patio to this view was a dream. It also allowed my husband and I to share many hours of good conversation and sip on Mai Tai's while the girls were asleep at nighttime. After having visited Maui seven years ago, I prefer Oahu for this very reason.  Unlike Maui whose beauty involves an island preserved at its most natural state, Oahu embodies the perfect balance between the old and new, the historic & modern, nature & civilization with the same degree of charm and spirit of other Hawaiian islands. The only thing Oahu is lacking compared to Maui is the Road to Hana whose magnificence, in my opinion, stands in its own class. 

BEACHES

During our 7- day stay we visited several beaches including Waimea Beach at Northshore and Lanikai Beach at Kailua. Both beaches were beautiful but we preferred the Lanikai Beach because it was more private with softer sand and waves, better for families with children.  While Lanikai lacked a bathroom, lifeguards and other amenities of a more frequented beach park, it gave one the feeling of discovering a secret place that few people knew about. The calm waves were perfect for kids to go swimming and my husband even went snorkeling. I have this unexplainable fear of the ocean yet even I waded in there for some time, although I was too scared to go snorkeling.  If there is a past life, I must've drowned in the sea.

The next day, I was finally able to overcome my fear by snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. Hanauma Bay is an area that is designated for this purpose and its controlled environment with shallow waters eased my anxiety about coming across unknown sea creatures or worse, drowning (funny, considering the fact that I know how to swim). My husband was like a kid at a candy store as he is fascinated by the underwater world and I spent most of my time playing with the kids and taking pictures.  

It was amazing to see beautiful sea life- corals, rocks and schools of colorful fish- in their natural state but when a ugly big gray fish swam towards me, I freaked out and called it a day. The fishes at Hanauma Bay are so accustomed to humans that they have no fear of you and will swim right by you.  Awesome for some, creepy for others. Either way I'm proud of myself for giving it a try and I may even do it again one day but one thing remains true. I like to be BY the ocean but not IN it. I'll just swim in chlorinated swimming pools without having to worry about what lies beneath. 

WAIKIKI STRIP

Night time at Waikiki was beautiful, full of energy and God graced us with perfect weather every night.  We strolled around the strip, drank coconut water, purchased unique Hawaiian goods like the matching dress in above picture and enjoyed each other's company.  High-end designer and duty free shops were a nice touch for tourists, newlyweds and couples celebrating anniversaries like us.  It was like having a piece of Southcoast Plaza on a remote tropical island and you certainly don't expect to see Hermes, Chanel and Cartier in any other islands (I told you it felt like paradise- ;) 

The strip was always packed and vibrant with all kinds of people, mainly Japanese tourists whose eccentric style I admire greatly. I love seeing men and women dressed in their own styles rather than following seasonal trends and Japanese men are not afraid to shape their eyebrows or wear tight capris. And the women? They are so eccentric and defy the standard of beauty that Americans are so fixated by. So fashionable and unique. I'd love to visit Tokyo one day and share their free spirit. 

FOOD

One highlight of our trip was Giovanni's shrimp and shave ice. SOOOOOO delicious. Giovanni's shrimp was so flavorful, juicy and just damn good! We drove a second time to Haleiwa just for the shrimp. I don't think I can ever forget the taste of their shrimp scampi and spicy shrimp. Mmmmm. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. 

We tried shave ice from two places, Aoki and Waiola.  I personally liked the one from Aoki (pictured above) because it had a milkier taste (condensed milk?) but my husband preferred Waiola's.  Either way, you can't go wrong and before you say you're not into shave ice, try it in Hawaii.  It just does not compare to shave ice found on mainland. I'm not too into sweets but this is so refreshing and yummy.  I better move on, I'm getting hungry and it's almost 11 pm.

We saved the nice dinner for our last night at Azure restaurant at the Royal Hawaiian. I had the November special tasting menu with wine pairing and it was delicious.  Our waiter John provided us with excellent service and we were seated at the patio overlooking the beach during sunset. At one point one elderly couple seated at the next table looked at us like we were crazy for eating their with kids and requested to be moved elsewhere. I felt a slight annoyance by it but our waiter told us he would much rather wait on us than rude people like them and comped us a free dessert for the kids. (Did I mention the Hawaiian hospitality is much different than the superficiality found in LA?) It was a perfect way to spend our last night in Hawaii and the beauty of the night made our farewell even more difficult. 

We also tried 1) Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin- the BEST tonkatsu I ever tried- so soft, moist and juicy and perfectly crispy on the outside, 2) Marukame Udon - affordable, good broth/noodles, sometimes long lines, and 3) Rai Rai Ramen in Kailua. It was a hole in the wall kind of place but their shoyu ramen was so tasty. Good for quick lunch but don't expect to have a nice sit down meal of course. We love Japanese food and loved the selections available in Honolulu- another perk of Oahu over Maui.  Blue Water Shrimp & Fish Market is another good place for casual dining for unique seafood dishes. The food court at the Royal Hawaiian Center also has decent selections of quick eats from pizza, ramen, Korean to Chinese- all affordable for lunch or dinner. 

HOTEL: THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN

We had originally booked a room at Moana Surfrider but changed to the Royal Hawaiian mainly because of the Sheraton Pool (it's known to be the best for kids) and it turned out to be an excellent decision. It was a beautiful, historic property surrounded by lush tropical greenery, filled with distinct Hawaiian hospitality that can only be experienced in Hawaii.  The hotel was luxurious but not pretentious like ones in LA or Beverly Hills and the staff- including maids, valet guys to front desk- seemed genuine rather than over-trained. Everyone greeted you with "Aloha" and never failed to ask what we're doing that day and make our children smile.  We were treated like family during our stay and they were eager to give us insider tips on where to go, where to eat and what to avoid when we ask.  Overall it was a wonderful experience and I would definitely recommend this hotel even for families.  The best part of it all- everything is in pink! It lives up to its nickname "Pink Palace"- can it be any more perfect? 

Royal Hawaiian hallway

Sheraton pool available for RH guests

Aside from the beautiful hotel, exotic beaches to excellent dining and shopping choices- the best part of this vacation was spending everyday with my family without work, school, appointment and to-do lists. For the first time in a long time we were able to enjoy each other's company and just play together for a whole week without worry about yesterday or tomorrow. It not only brought us closer together but helped us to realize once again how fortunate we are to have each other to call family. 

Past seven years of marriage and children were not easy and there were moments of despair when I just wanted to give up and hide.  There were moments of tears, sadness, disappointment and anger and there were even moments when I thought I was not ready to be a mother and wife. Now looking back I realize that God and the Universe has wonderful gifts in store for us as long as we continue to hold onto what is really important in life, which comes in the form of family and unconditional love. 

There wasn't a single day of frustrations or tantrums and considering the fact that we were traveling with two kids- this is surely a blessing, a precious gift from God.  It erased any concerns about celebrating our wedding anniversary as a family and my husband and I kept saying how glad we are that our children were there with us. Without them, we would've spent the entire week missing them and wishing that they were present with us. We are far from perfect and so are our lives- but we are family and we have each other to love, to hold, to lean on and share memories with- and this is more than enough for me to be grateful for all that I am, for all that I have, even for all that I don't have. 

All good things must come to an end and our vacation too, passed by quickly.  Today it all feels like a distant dream and all I have left are these pictures, this blog post and a tan that will eventually fade. Today a list of things to do awaits me and I will partake in ordinary duties like cooking, cleaning and taking care of children. If one thing did change, however, it is my rediscovered ability to be grateful in the present- not yesterday or tomorrow but in this very moment. Like all things, the present is always passing but if we continue to remind ourselves of the most important facets of life and keep moving, life WILL reward us with good things, things we only dream about.

Now it's your turn- go ahead and say a little prayer of gratitude for this very moment- and let any worry or anxiety wash away into thin air. It's okay, it WILL pass.  Rechannel your thoughts to your family, your spouse & your child and be grateful that you're here- alive, well and breathing. Keep your vibrations high, continue moving and one day, the universe will send you her gift. Don't worry about when or how. It WILL happen...I guess this is where a little prayer and faith are most needed. 

Mahalo for the wonderful memories! 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halloween 2011

Halloween 2011
                                                               
I dressed up as the Queen of Hearts this year for my princess daughters who begged me to dress up with them. Tess dressed up as Cinderella - following Belle from 2010, and Elise dressed up as Alice from Alice in Wonderland. To complete our theme, my husband was the Burger King King (LOL). He brought many chuckles in the neighborhood and people asked to take pictures with him. I think he too, had a great time.

Frankly I was a little embarrassed to be dressed up like this but I had so much fun thanks to my daughters. We even got to celebrate Halloween in Vegas for my husband's 32nd birthday (sorry no pictures from there, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas) :)

Being a mom is definitely more fun-filled now that my girls are older. I think I'll continue to dress up for Halloween since this is one holiday that my children will always be a part of.