Day Five: Pearl Harbor & Resort Day
Our fifth day at Aulani was a balance of some activity and some resort relaxing. We knew visiting historic Pearl Harbor was a must do, and when originally planning we figured we would schedule that the same day as Kualoa Ranch. But once we realized the ranch would take up most of the day we decided to fit in a short trip to Pearl Harbor on a resort day instead. We also booked some dining reservations and activities at the resort this day as well. We started the day with a fabulous Character Brunch at Makahiki. You can read our full dining review HERE.
Price: Free (+$1.50/person ticket convenience fee)
After breakfast, we headed by car to Pearl Harbor. Tickets for Pearl Harbor and the Arizona memorial are free but there is a $1.50 convenience fee to reserve early. Advance tickets are available two months in advance, which we missed out on. But another batch is released 24 hours out. The day before at 7am we logged on to the recreation.gov to reserve. You can also do walk up tickets, but we liked being able to pick a time around our brunch plans.
The tour begins with an educational video about how the events of December 7, 1941 unfolded. It also includes images and video that are exclusive to this particular film. After the presentation, which lasts about 30 minutes, guests board a boat that goes to the USS Arizona Memorial, where we had roughly 20-30 minutes to walk around. The ride itself is no more than five minutes. The boat is covered to protect passengers from the sun but is open air so you get that nice Hawaiian breeze.
The picture below gives a pretty good idea of size of the memorial. On one end there is a large wall of names. Both sides offer a view of the sunken ship. There are two white buoys/balls, one on each side, to mark where the bow and stern of the ship are. The opening in the middle of the memorial provides a view straight down into the wreckagge. There is a park ranger on the memorial to answer questions. One question someone asked him was regarding the oil slick on the surface of the water. The ship still has a large quantity of fuel onboard which is slowly leaking, and will continue to do so for decades to come.
One side of the memorial offers a great view of the USS Missouri, where the official surrender of the Japanese took place in Tokyo Bay on September 9, 1945. Also, since Pearl Harbor is a busy port for active Navy ships to dock while transiting the Pacific Ocean, you can get lucky enough to spot one and get fairly close on your way to and from the memorial. On this day, there was a fairly large ship in port.
We had arrived just a few minutes before our tour time so after we docked back at the visitor's center, we toured the rest of the area. They do a good job of trying to put into perspective where all the ships were that day and the scope of the attack. Some of the items not pictured include the bell from the USS Missouri, lists of those killed by ship and on land, and a small museum of artifacts from that day including several torpedoes. We feel as Americans it is important to see such an important historical monument while visiting. Some people enjoy doing a full day of Pearl Harbor activities but we found just a small amount of time there was enjoyable and easy to fit in as well.
Resort Time & DVC Tour
After Pearl Harbor we headed back for some more pool time similar to other days. We also signed up for a Cultural Tour available exclusively for Disney Vacation Club members (available Wednesdays at 4:00). You simply RSVP and then meet in the Pau Hana Community Hall (which we didn't even know existed before this). Once the whole group checked in a guide arrived and the walking tour began. We were led around the resort in the main lobby, out front, and through the garden paths and koi ponds. We loved hearing more detail about design choices and hidden cultural meetings from the rocks on the ground to the beams on the ceilings. We know Disney is all about the details and every little thing at Aulani has a story to tell. Many activities at Aulani come with a charge, so if you are around on a Wednesday check out this free activity to appreciate Aulani even more. We did have to leave a few minutes early to head over to dinner at 5pm.
Ka Wa'a Luau Dinner Show
Price: $169/person for VIP tickets
When previously in Hawaii we attended a Luau and had a poor experience. For this trip we wanted to do it right. We figured if it was through Disney it must be top notch so we booked the Ka Wa'a Luau with VIP tickets. The show is only available a few nights a week and we were able to call and make reservations about 60 days out. We were excited to experience an authentic cultural show and a Hawaiian feast. Being VIP Guests, we were told we would receive early check-in, priority up-front seating, complimentary beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and an enhanced welcome lei. Check out our full dining review of this fun evening HERE.
Day Six: The North Shore
Our last full day in Hawaii was spent exploring the Northern side of the island. After a quick in-room breakfast, we loaded up the Jeep and headed towards the North Shore. We began our day with a 45-minute drive to visit Waimea Valley, a beautiful tropical area that is also famous for being in many films.
Once reaching the park, there is a short drive up the valley before reaching the visitor's center where there are restrooms, a shop, and a cafe. There were also some free roaming peacocks, one of which was just walking through the center without seeming to care about all the people hanging around. While no one touched it, it was close enough to do so.
We paid the $16.00 rate per adult for entry (they do offer student, military, and Hawaiian residents discounts as well). The park offers wagon rentals, to haul your stuff to and from the falls. If you don't feel like hiking to the falls, there is a shuttle that will take you for $6.00 one way or $10.00 round trip. But we love a good walk and enjoyed the trek up by foot.
The hike from the ticket booth to the falls is about 3/4 mile, and the entire walk is surrounded by various plants and quite a few birds as the valley is also a botanical garden. There are only one or two somewhat steep hills along the way. Most of it is just a slight include or decline. There is also the option to walk along the river at the very bottom of the valley, which is well below the walkway for most of the distance.
Near the top of the valley, there is a tram drop off area with restrooms and and snack bar. Right past that guests get their first glimpse of the falls from a bridge crossing the river. Between this bridge and the falls, there are a couple of changing rooms. At the top of the valley, there are bleachers, some covered, overlooking the waterfall and the pool at the bottom. There is also a lifeguard tent where you pick up your life vest, (which is mandatory to wear if you want to swim in the falls).
The water in the pool reaches a depth of 30 feet. And by the way, the water was freezing! Three of us went in right away but Andrew took some convincing to join. In his defense, the water wasn't clear and inviting as one would expect in Hawaii. It was quite murky. Just a note, we didn't have water shoes but they would have been nice. The area to get in and out of the water is all rocks, including many submerged that can't be seen. It was rough on the feet. It was cool to float around in such a natural area. We even swum up to the falls where there was a little ledge to stand on. Once everyone got out, dried off, and changed, we took a few more pictures and headed back down the valley. We are on the fence about whether or not this is worth the price of admission. It was beautiful and for flora and fauna lovers I'm sure a must do. But for us the water wasn't what we expected when you think about Hawaiian waterfalls, so this place is most likely a one and done for us.
North Shore Surfing Beaches
After our visit to the Waimea Valley, we headed off to the North Shore to find a nice beach to have a picnic lunch at. We stopped at a few beaches along the way only to find there was no parking. We finally came across Ehukai Beach, which had some parking and a few picnic tables available. It was awesome to watch the surfers hanging ten while we ate. We then followed up with a nice walk on the sand.
Price: Activities Vary
After lunch, we got back in the car to drive around a bit more. We went through the town of Haleiwa, which seemed like the quintessential North Shore Hawaiian town. It seemed to have some cool restaurants and shops which we may check out on the next trip.
We then made our way to the Dole Plantation on the way back to the resort. This is a touristy spot but it is fun to pop in if passing by. In the past we have done activities like the Pineapple garden maze ($8). On this quick visit we took a peek around the gift shop, enjoyed a must have Dole Whip dessert and posed for a few photo opps. This stop wrapped up our day before heading back to Aulani for some pool time and another visit to Just Tacos for dinner and drinks.
Day Seven: Aloha (The Goodbye kind) to Aulani
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. It was time to wrap up our time in Hawaii. Luckily most flights to the main land leave fairly late in the day so we had some time to still hang out and enjoy the resort a bit more before leaving. We spent some more time poolside that morning before packing up. We also stopped by to do some souvenir shopping at the resort. Julie was excited to pick up some exclusive merchandise to include an Aulani Dooney and Bourke bag and Pandora charm. #spoiledDisneywife
Once leaving the resort we drove through downtown Honolulu to take a look around and stopped at a couple more shops for some small Hawaiian souvenirs before heading home. At the airport we enjoyed a leisurely meal at the Kona Brewing Company before having to get ready to leave. We had a red eye flight home and did our best to sleep as much as we could before heading back to the real world.
Overall, this was an amazing trip. One thing that really stuck out was how much we enjoyed the resort itself. We are the type who likes to do a lot and stay active on a trip so we had planned a ton of activities not anticipating how much we would enjoy Aulani and all its amenities. While we had a great time experiencing things all over the island, we always found ourselves looking forward to going back to Aualani to hang by the pool, do the water slides, and take some laps around the lazy river.
On the plane ride home, we discussed what our next Hawaii vacation might look like down the road. We think a good plan would be to start on another island we haven't been to yet (Maui perhaps?) and then end the trip by spending a few more days in Aulani. Since we have covered a good bit of Oahu now, and now realize how much we love the amenities we would probably not plan much of anything except resort time. We would probably have some time to try some of the daily activities and check out some more dining options like Ama Ama and the Olelo Room. Until the next time, Aloha!