Today was our last day in Hawaii, but, thanks to a late redeye, we were able to jam-pack it with plenty more touring for you!
We started the day with packing and a hearty breakfast (for Patrick) of the granola we’d brought, topped with chocolate-covered strawberries sent by our vow renewal planner, Elena! (I probably had a stale piece of that dreadful cake just because it was there.) I discovered the resort’s Celebrations menu on the TV as we were packing and felt compelled to shoot each and every treat for you, even though you can see all the same info on Aulani’s website. So I will not paste them in here…. OK, just a few!
Elena had requested that we meet up to say goodbye before we left, so we went down to the lobby. What a sweetie!
Patrick decided to document the lobby murals a bit more thoroughly before we left…
On the advice of our friendly concierge the night before, we decided to check our bags at Aulani and come back to get them before we had to leave for our flight, rather than take them with us as we toured the island. I was also looking forward to using the lounge Aulani provides for guests who’ve checked out but still need amenities like showers and TVs playing Disney Vacation Club infomercials.
We took another loop through the pool area before we left…
I hadn’t seen Donald the entire time we were at Aulani, so I got uncharacteristically excited about spotting him at the PhotoPass spot and made Patrick take lots of pictures.
Oh, yeah! So, this is the level you want to park on at Aulani:
And here’s THE closest parking spot!
We drove out of Ko Olina and up H2 to start our reverse tour of the north shore: lunch, Dole Plantation, pie at Ted’s Bakery and a pass through the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Our first stop was Poke Stop, a local two-store chain recommended on Chowhound for specializing in a bazillion different types of poke (cubed ahi tuna sashimi marinated with sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, limu seaweed, and chopped chili pepper). They even let you sample them, like an ice cream parlor…. of raw fish!
I knew the place wasn’t gonna be The Gilded Truffle, or anything, but it was still a little more grotty than I’d expected. But the people were friendly and the prices were reasonable. We got salmon poke plus avocado wontons and a combination platter with beef short ribs, fried fish, shrimp, potato salad and two scoop rice. It was pretty good but a little weird—the shrimp still had their heads on and were mushy and kinda reminded me of dissecting a crawfish in high school. Blech….
From there we continued on up H2 to the Dole Plantation.
The Dole Plantation is definitely a tourist trap, but it’s also pretty well done: bright and clean, with a variety of interesting merchandise and a fun opportunity to see real, live pineapples in their natural habitat. The joint was jumpin’ for a Wednesday morning, but it didn’t feel too crowded inside. We took a peek in the gift shop before heading out in search of the plantation’s one attraction, the Pineapple Express (snicker!).
Out back are tables where you can enjoy their pineapple-related delicacies…. more on those in a bit (can you guess what the top seller might be?).
Dole’s Pineapple Express is slow-moving train ride through the pineapple fields, set to a recently revamped soundtrack of Hawaiian music interspersed with narration. It’s a pleasant diversion and photo opp. I would not worry about buying tickets in advance or wait in a long line for this one. Tours depart continuously throughout the day and last about 20 minutes.
There is of course a pricey souvenir photo spot.
Adequate, I suppose, but I missed the disco figures found on Disney’s safety signs
I enjoyed the tour, although it made me miss the quaint, dated pre-show video from Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room—cuz suddenly I was living it! My No. 1 take-away from the tour is that most of the pineapples we eat in the US do not come from Hawaii anymore, but Dole generously maintains these fields so you have something to look at from the train.
Looky! Pineapples in the wild!
Apparently God really did not want man to eat pineapples. In addition to being designed with that tough hide and those pointy leaves, they grow out of pokey bushes that will slash you to ribbons if you’re not wearing enough protective gear. Yikes!
As at Disney, we skipped the PhotoPass at the pineapple stand and just used our own camera.
The highlight of the visit was, of course, Dole Whips! Outside of Disney!!!
I dunno, man… Despite the awesome addition of a souvenir pineapple cup/bank and even pineapple pieces, somehow these just didn’t taste as good as they do at Disney. Was it the lack of Disney Magic ™?
…Or was it the fact that we were sitting just a few heart-stopping inches away from the DEADLY employee break patio!!!!?
Not surprisingly, you can buy actual Dole pineapples at the Dole Plantation. What might be surprising is that it will set you back FORTY DOLLARS to ship two home.
We passed… However, I did pick up an attractive, inexpensive pillow cover quilted with pineapples in the traditional style native Hawaiians adapted from the quilting taught by missionaries. (Of course, it was prolly manufactured in China.)
From there, we headed up to the North Shore in the opposite direction from our trip with the Roots. The plan was to stop at Ted’s Bakery for its specialty, haupia (coconut) pie, on the way to the Polynesian Cultural Center. This was another recommendation I picked up from a few people on Chowhound, although the poster whose advice I trusted most said he could take it or leave it.
I kinda wish I’d left it. Ted’s was crowded and SUPER grotty in that battered, grimy, Venice Beach-skeezy sort of way. There were signs scribbled on paper towels, yet the pie pieces were sold in suspiciously mass produced-looking plastic packages with printed labels. Or maybe my opinion was colored by being in the middle of one of those awful road trip experiences most women have had at least once (you know, the one where you’re desperate for a restroom and the only one free is a filthy men’s room and your husband has to stand guard outside cuz the door won’t lock.) And after all that, the pie turned out to be just OK—I didn’t even remember to take a picture before shoveling it down as Patrick drove.
At last we reached the Polynesian Cultural Center, a collection of simulated villages representing eight countries and staffed mostly by Brigham Young University Hawaii students from each of them. Oahu Revealed notes that people tend to dismiss this place as a sort of Polynesian Disneyland and tries to make the case that it’s much more authentic than that. I would argue that it’s more like a Polynesian Epcot, and not just because of the re-creations of the various countries and the educational slant. Although it opened nearly 20 years before Epcot, the PCC has the same kind of dated feel that Epcot does, almost like you’re stepping right into a washed-out Polaroid of a real place. In fact, all you’d need is a sideburned hipster and a few Instagram filters to fool people into thinking you’d uncovered a trove of vintage PCC photos!
Today we were Those People who show up to Disney at 1pm and pay full price to spend just a few hours in the park. (Fortunately, unlike Disney, the PCC puts buy-one, get-one-free coupons in the Entertainment Book!) So naturally, we had to wait in an interminable line at the ticket encounter, which had plenty of windows but only two staffers…. because the rest of them were busy gabbing behind the counter.
The weather was all over the place that day. When we got there, it was beautiful. But then clouds kept coming by to dump rain on us and move on before the next cloud showed up 10 minutes later.
You can wait to take a boat all the way to the back of the park and then work your way through the countries on your way to the front, where the luau is held in the evening (more about that in my coverage of Day 2). We didn’t have time, so we hoofed it.
Each village has a variety of cultural activities and exhibits from that country. You can watch demonstrations, musical performances, and dances or take part in games and crafts. They also usually have at least one re-created structure you can go inside. It all adds up to a place that is probably best experienced with a lot of curiosity and time on your hands—neither of which we had that day.
We felt bad that no one was stopping to see this girl’s game demonstration, so Patrick gave it a try. I’m not sure what the object of the game was, maybe “not whacking your opponent in the snoot with a stick”?
More stuff we saw…
The contestants of The Biggest Loser or possibly Keeping Up with the Kardashians welcome you to Tahiti!
In Tonga, Patrick participated in a spear-throwing game. The object was to hurl it into a small hoop on the ground some distance away. They divided the group into men, women and children and changed the size of the hoop accordingly.
Here he demonstrates proper form for you….
Patrick was one of the few who actually hit the target! I’m ashamed to say I was surprised, but I was also very proud of him. Who knew that the hand-eye coordination required of puppetry also makes one an adept Tongan warrior?
I think they should excavate the rest of this early Polynesian take on the Nautilus!
I guess they do some kind of show on the river during the day. I was not feeling so hot, and we were in a hurry, so we just took shots of the crowd and the performers getting ready so we could hit the gift shop while the crowds were otherwise occupied. Sorry!
….And it looks like that’s it for the Polynesian Cultural Center, cuz this is the next shot on the roll!
I think if I had been feeling better and we’d allotted at least half a day—maybe the whole day—we would have gotten a lot more out of the PCC. It’s definitely not worth $50 apiece for just a couple hours, but we didn’t feel so bad paying half that for our visit. It does seem like a great place to bring kids, who might be more enthralled with the demonstrations and craft activities, and for shutterbugs like my mother-in-law, who is certain to email me after this installment goes up to ask if they should stop at the PCC on their trip (yes, Moma, you should!).
We left the PCC and continued south on Kamehameha Highway toward H3 and Aulani, passing more of the landmarks from our trip a few days earlier and feeling nostalgic about them already…
Watch how the weather changes in just a few minutes of driving!
I have no photos of the World’s Most Beautiful Highway for you, but I do have this shot of the back of the Target closest to Aulani, so you’ll know it when you see it… as you’re passing the exit where you were supposed to get off to go to it!
Back at Aulani, we retrieved our luggage from Bell Services and went downstairs to use the Luana Lounge. This place is awesome—definitely one of the best ideas Disney has ever had at its resorts. The lounge is designed for use after you check out but before you depart the resort and offers showers, lockers, computers and printers (for boarding passes!), a monitor displaying flight departure times, water, towels, and two lounge areas with big TVs. It allows you to spend your last day at the resort taking full advantage of the beach and swimming pools even though you won’t have a room to go back to and clean up in. It’s also perfect if, like us, you want a place to shower and get in your travel jammies for a red-eye flight back to the mainland.
We took over half of the lounge area… maybe it’ll look less like a hobo encampment if I have the Roots show you:
We started some laundry next door, then I cleaned up for our flight to the sounds of a raging family meltdown precipitated by a little girl’s being entrusted with the combination to the locker containing all their valuables and promptly forgetting it. Meanwhile Patrick found these guys….
…And then he found these guys!
When we learned the Roots were still at the resort, we all decided to cancel their shuttle and have them ride to the airport with us. (It should be noted that Go808Express will not refund the cost of the shuttle if you cancel it that late in the game, no matter what the guy on the phone tells you at the time.) Even better, Patrick finally had the excuse he needed to leap into the lazy river fully clothed… cameras!
Patrick grabbed a few last shots of the resort…
One thing we hadn’t considered was how to fit four adults’ luggage into a compact rental car without having to strap one of us to the roof, but Nate and Patrick shoved and squashed bags into every nook and cranny til we all fit. It was nice to get to catch up with the Roots on the drive to the airport and hear how the rest of their trip went (they spent most of it editing wedding photos!).
We were all on the same flight, so I got to use my United Mileage Plus Explorer card to get us all one free checked bag and priority boarding. I also miraculously managed to get me and Patrick upgraded to an exit row right behind the business class divider, so we could sleep in undisturbed comfort. Our flight left at 10:25pm and arrived in LAX at 4:30am, which gave us plenty of time to make our 8am flight to Orlando. The Roots were also headed to O-town, but via a road trip from Nashville, so we bid them farewell in LA. I was sorry their Orlando wedding wasn’t a Disney one—it would have been fun to see them again a few days later in our old stomping grounds!