Our plan for Sunday morning was to go to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, which is a sort of natural aquarium of a state park where you can go snorkeling and see a TON of tropical fish. All the guidebooks and trip reports tell you to get there early, because the parking lot fills up quickly, and when that happens you have to sit in your car waiting for somebody to come out before they’ll let you in. Although the books say you’ll be OK as long as you get there before 9am, we were trying to squeeze in a visit before a 10am site tour I’d scheduled with our Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings coordinator (in case I absolutely hated the Jacuzzi location for our vow renewal and wanted to see what the other options were).
So Sunday was our second day in a row of getting up early, but after our exhausting Saturday, we wanted to sleep in a tiny bit. Although Hanauma Bay opened at 6am, we aimed for 6:30am. Except it took us longer to eat breakfast and slather on sunscreen than we’d expected, so we got on the road late. And then I realized I’d left all the cash we needed to pay for admission back in the room, so we had to turn around and go back to Aulani! Fortunately there were still very few people awake at that hour to witness me sprinting through the lobby in my swimsuit and water shoes, swearing like a sailor.
At that hour on a Sunday the drive from Aulani to Hanauma Bay took less than 40 minutes. We rolled up at 7am, convinced there’d be a line, and… we were the only ones there! It was still dark out, and the shack where they take your parking fee ($1/car) was closed, so we just parked and headed toward the interpretive center.
(Apologies for the cell phone photos in this installment—we didn’t want to leave our camera on the beach or in the car so we didn’t bring it.)
The lights were on, but there was only one guy around, plus a HERD of feral cats! They were everywhere, darting in and out of the center and poking around the path down to the beach.
Normally you’re supposed to pay a fee of $7.50/person (cash or credit card) and watch a 20-minute orientation film before you walk or take the tram down to the beach (the tram is cash-only and costs $1 down/$1.50 up or $2 all day). But since nobody else was there to take our money or run the film, the fellow just waved us in the direction of some safety signs and told us not to step on the reef (which makes snorkeling in the bay something like a game of “Hot Lava” where there’s NO place you can stand when you really want to!).
The path down to the beach is pretty dang steep, but not too-too long.
The guide in the interpretive center told us which bench to sit on for the best view of the sunrise.
We waited just a little bit for the snorkel equipment rental stand to open so we could rent a locker for our cell phones and wallets. I think it cost about $7, and credit cards are accepted. We’d bought our own snorkels and fins in L.A. and shipped them ahead to Aulani cuz I didn’t fancy sucking on a snorkel that’d been in somebody else’s mouth! (Tip from a fellow DISer: Look for “dry-top” snorkels that prevent water from going down the pipe and into your gullet!) One thing I wish I’d sprung for was the mask defogging spray. The old spit trick didn’t really work for us. And it kinda grossed us out.
We straggled across the sand, looking for a good place to leave the towels we’d brought with us from Aulani (oh, yeah! Get a wristband for the pool using your room key and grab some towels to take with you to Hanauma Bay).
We’re so used to being Disney experts that it was a bit disconcerting to be doing something we’d no experience with. I mean, we snorkeled in pool at Typhoon Lagoon on our honeymoon, but as that had been a particularly traumatic experience for me, I’d sorta blocked it out.
So we strapped on our fins and snapped on our masks and chomped on our snorkels and staggered down to the water backward like a couple of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” rejects. I wasn’t even halfway there before my fins were filled with sand and my eyes were bugging out from an improperly adjusted mask. The water was cold-ish, but we eventually got used to it like you always do.
Our next challenge was figuring out how to use the waterproof disposable camera I’d brought. How long have digital cameras been around? That’s how long it took us to completely forget how to use a disposable camera. There we were, masks askew, stooped and shivering in the surf as we pawed at this confounding plastic case like a couple of monkeys.
“I can’t see anything to wind.”
“Do we open the case?”
“The shutter won’t click!”
“Maybe if you hit it?”
Eventually Patrick got it to work, but not before accidentally firing off some, uh, “artistic” shots like this.
Once we finally got our masks on and put our faces in the water to look down, there were FISH! Right at our feet! The water was not as clear as I’d expected, but you can still see plenty.
The photos we got with the waterproof camera were not great, but now that we’re all so used to Instagram, all I had to do was slap on some Photobucket filters and they look just as good as any grainy, overprocessed shot of some hipster’s tacos!
I had some trouble at first with hyperventilating every time I put my face in the water. And sometimes that made me suck in salt water that went down my nose and throat and BURNED! Also, my mask leaked unless I got it suctioned onto my face just right. And it was too foggy to see out of most of the time. Other than that, snorkeling was AWESOME! Patrick held my hand and gradually led me along until I could manage to stay under the water without incident for a few minutes at a time.
Meanwhile, Patrick was in heaven, splashing around in his flippers and shooting everything that moved. I could hear the clicking every time he wound the camera and used it to keep track of him.
When you eventually see the number of fish in we shot in Aulani’s well-stocked fake snorkeling lagoon, you might think Hanauma Bay isn’t worth the trip. But the thing is, this place is REAL! These fish don’t have to be here punching a clock every day. They’re in the bay cuz they actually live there (and because apparently they don’t mind being stalked by hulking creatures with flailing limbs and tubes for mouths). I had to keep reminding myself of that. It’s like if you could go to Yosemite and just walk into the middle of a herd of deer without them running away (OK, maybe something smaller than deer… a herd of marmots… non-bitey marmots…)
The only trouble is, the fish’s favorite place to hang out is in the reef, and you’re not supposed to touch the reef. But the water is pretty shallow in places, even at high tide, so sometimes you really have to suck it in to avoid scraping your tummy on the reef. You can only really make brief forays out over the reef until you can’t take it anymore and have to flail your way over to someplace where you’re allowed to put your feet down (or maybe this was just me).
I was done after about 45 minutes or so and went up to the (warm!) outdoor shower to clean up. Patrick stayed in the water a little longer and I kept my eye on him. He would have stayed in all day if we hadn’t had other plans!
We decided to hoof it back up the hill rather than wait for the tram to get back. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath—er, take some photos!
I guess I’m just used to the grotty, underfunded California State Parks, but I was pretty impressed with the facilities at Hanauma Bay. It was nice how they themed everything with the fake rocks and made it look kinda like it belonged on the hill there.
The feral kitties had pretty much cleared out after sunrise, but this guy stuck around cuz, you know, he owns the place…
The lot was more full by the time we left, around 9am, but there was still plenty of parking. A garrulous old timer was unpacking his car next to us and asked us how we liked our little silver… whatever we were driving. When he learned it was a rental, he asked how we liked our cars we own, which led to an ambling conversation about what kind of car he should buy, how much I love my VW Jetta, gas vs. hybrid, leasing vs. buying—I could have yakked all day! Less enamored with the local color and more mindful of our timeline for meeting our wedding planner, Patrick wrapped things up for us and off we went.
Just after you leave Hanauma Bay and head back toward town, there’s a turnout where you can snap a pic of this Waikiki/Honolulu view.
When we got back to Aulani, we showered and dashed downstairs to meet our planner, Elena, for a tour of all the Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings locations at Aulani. You can see what we saw and get my commentary in this installment of the after-the-fact planning journal I’m writing about our vow renewal.
At the end of the tour, Elena took us to her office to get my paper bouquet, which I’d had shipped straight to Aulani by the Etsy seller who made it. I’m always fascinated to see the real offices where the fairy tale wedding magic happens. In Orlando it’s a big bland office park on the outskirts of Celebration. At Aulani it’s a narrow, windowless vault wedged between a row of rooms that faces the front of the resort and a row that faces the pool.