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The Doubletree Alana Waikiki

This post is totally overdue — I stayed at the Doubletree Alana back in January during a staycation with my Most Awesome cousin and my favorite nephew. We spent one night there and took advantage of both a corporate rate and the More Points promotion (on top of the 25% point bonus for having Hilton Honors Gold status).

Although the Alana is a teeny bit of a walk away from Waikiki Beach (on the other side of Fort DeRussy park), we had a great time. Hilton Honors Gold gave us free parking and free continental breakfasts. We were welcomed with the Doubletree’s signature chocolate chip walnut cookies (and since my super amazingly adorable godson-nephew was present, it was really more like handfuls of chocolate chip cookies each, and we were “welcomed” every time we stepped in and out of the hotel). He was also very pleased with the fancy rainfall shower in our room.

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entertaining shower

The hotel is close to all the kitschy wonderfulness that Waikiki has to offer. Yes, I grew up in Hawaii, but I am far from bothered by Waikiki’s so-called touristy-ness. I find so much of it so charming. Waikiki Beach was more crowded than either I or my Awesome cousin had ever seen in our lives that weekend, but that left more time for eating Puka Dogs and shopping at the Japanese beauty shops.

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crowded Waikiki Beach in January

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Puka Dog! Polish sausage with awkwardly delicious and disturbingly toasted bun (they're toasted with a heated metal stake stabbed into the middle of the roll), lilikoi relish and lots of other good stuff.

Our comfortable beds wished us sweet dreams.Image

We checked out a couple hours late the next day (which we cleared with the front desk) after a day at a beach and meandering down Kalakaua and Kuhio Aves and then headed to our next destination on our Waikiki staycation — the Embassy Suites!

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Hello Kitty-themed flying

My Hello Kitty burger from Sweets in Taipei. It tasted not very good, but at least not like cat meat. Not that I would know what cat meat tastes like, I don't think.

There is a certain part of my incredibly dignified and studly personality that still allows for a little weakness when it comes to Hello Kitty. I share this weakness with The Awesome Nerd (although she doesn’t see it as weakness, more like full-blown obsession, and her 9 year old son sees the excess of Hello Kitty paraphernalia in their house as a form of child abuse. I asked him about this. He looked at me with terror-filled eyes and said, “They’re all looking at me.”). Because of this, the Awesome Nerd alerted me to this article  about EVA Air’s Hello Kitty plane. There are three Hello Kitty-themed Airbus A330-300 planes and they’ll serve Japan, South Korea and Guam. “Passengers get special baggage tags, Hello Kitty headrests and pillows, Kitty-chan soap, and Hello Kitty food.”

I want to fly on them SO BAD.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had the full blown Hello Kitty experience in Taiwan (the Taiwanese take Hello Kitty very seriously). I’ve eaten at Sweets, the Hello Kitty restaurant in Taipei (where my photo of the Hello Kitty burger above is from). There is also a Hello Kitty maternity ward in a hospital and should I ever decide to bear children, you can bet they’ll end up with Taiwanese residency because of it.

About three years ago, when I was teaching in Taipei for a summer, I hopped back to Hong Kong for a bit and miraculously, my flight took off FROM THE HELLO KITTY GATE. Here are the photos:


Hotel report: The Kohala Spa at the Hilton Waikoloa Village

The sad-looking nene goose I visited with right before heading to the Kohala Spa. What the heck is the Hilton doing with a nene goose? Aren't they endangered!?

The Kohala Spa was teeming with Big Island residents on staycations when I first entered early in the day. It turned out Hilton Gold status granted me free access to the spa facilities and the fitness room. Hotel guests ordinarily have to pay $20 for access and non-hotel guests, $25. I decided to get a 50-minute lomi lomi massage although I generally associate the term with the tasty salmon dish. (I love lomi lomi salmon! Yum! Sadly, there no salmon came with my massage.) There was a 15% kama’aina discount on the $145 price tag, which still wasn’t cheap, but there wasn’t much else to do and it had been years since my last massage, thus the massive knot in my back I usually refer to as my “Greek shoulder” (it gets exceedingly painful when I’m translating Greek for some reason. Homeric Greek makes it especially bad. Don’t even get me started on Pindar.). Sort of like tennis elbow, but more insidious.

reception area of the Kohala Spa

The citrus and vanilla infused water readily available in the gender-segregated spa areas was quite delightful and I helped myself to a lot of it. Chris, my masseur, came to fetch me from the waiting area and led me into a private room. He had me oiled up with kukui nut oil like a New Years Day hog within moments (I’m not entirely sure what that means either but I like the sound of it). I instructed him to apply as much pressure as he could possibly muster. My Chinese logic tells me that the more pressure I receive, the more I am getting my money’s worth.

It was a pretty awesome massage and although Greek shoulder still continues to irk me, I wasn’t expecting to completely eliminate it anyway. It is really very insidious. I was asleep by the end of the massage.

Afterwards, I whiled away several hours in the women’s spa area, which had a sauna, steam room, rainfall showers and an outdoor jacuzzi that was artfully hidden from the rest of the world by high walls and palm trees. I took like four showers. I was also thrilled to find a basket of free plastic shower caps by the row of shower rooms (ARGH! My Chinese is showing).

Everything smelled appropriately spa-like and lovely: the steam in the steam room, the self-branded toiletries that spurted happily out of large dispensers in the shower rooms, the fluffy, white towels.

An hour before the 7pm closing, I had almost the entire spa to myself. Everything was peaceful and perfect. Except for the old naked lady who kept wandering around. She eventually settled herself in the outdoor hot tub, where I was longing to settle myself.

What is the etiquette in this situation?

Once, in a hotel in Munich, a naked guy eased himself into a tiny sauna that was populated only by myself and my friend. We left. It was too European for us.

But the old naked lady didn’t seem European enough for me to be able to join her nonchalantly in the not terribly large hot tub. I wandered between the sauna and the steam room like a hungry ghost for a bit.

At one point, I squeezed my eyes closed and slipped into the hot tub for a moment, pretending that I was just, uh, relaxing with my eyes closed.

It wasn’t all that relaxing, so I scampered off and took another shower.


Hotel report: Hilton Waikoloa Village, the Big Island

lagoon-like pool at the Hilton Waikoloa

I hate resorts. Hate them. But my dad got it into his head that we’d take a short trip to the Big Island and settled on staying at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. I figured I could shove my snobbish, intellectually-charged disdain aside for a couple days and endure some utterly manufactured and Disney-fied “paradise.” I also figured that maybe it was time to drag myself off my grandma’s couch.

I was further lured in by Hilton’s first quarter promotion entitled More Points and having registered for it, I would be receiving, well, more points — 1000 per night since we’d be staying during the week (you get 5000 points on weekend stays). In addition, I had just managed to get myself free and instant Hilton Gold Status (along with a number of family members and whoever would listen to me badger them about it on Facebook) through this scheme. I was eager to test out Gold benefits, which include a 25% bonus on HHonors base points earned, free breakfast and internet, etc.

We had a corporate rate which made a standard room about $191 per night. Taxes added on another $25 or so. Gold benefits at the property alloted us a total of four $10 food certificates in lieu of a free continental breakfast.

standard digs at the Hilton

standard digs at the Hilton in the Ocean Tower

spacious dressing area

Kohala Spa branded toiletries in said spacious dressing area

The Hilton Waikoloa Village turned out to be a pretty resorty resort. The lobby was graced (?) by a number of spunky parrots. There was a mini-train. It encircled the entire property, stopping at a tower inspired by a different Asian destination every few minutes. A recorded voice cheerfully announced each stop and interspersed those announcements with helpful facts: “One of the longest words in the Hawaiian language is the humuhumunukunukuapua’a and now we are arriving at the Ocean Tower!”

stupid mini train and spunky parrots

In this Truman Show-esque version of reality, there were several restaurants, including: Kirin, the Chinese restaurant, quite naturally packed with tour groups from Mainland China, and the Japanese-ish Imari, where we dined alongside quite a lot of Japanese tourists and some “aloha-attired” midwesterners who were surely stepping far outside of their comfort zones.

Not terribly thrilling pork katsu

We received a 15% kama’aina discount on all meals, which I really appreciated. If you don’t know what a kama’aina discount is, you’re likely not eligible for it. The meals were, unsurprisingly, horrendously overpriced. We ordered five little pieces of hamachi for $18 and two entrees, miso butterfish and pork katsu, both around $25 and not that thrilling. My mojito was thankfully just strong enough to dull my senses and keep me nice.

The property is quite a bit lovelier at night. The pseudo-museum displays develop a sort of kitschy charm. The concrete Roman-ish statues are no less puzzling, but after several beers at a poolside bar, I finally ceased my struggle to cull any sort of mythological analysis from the scene pictured below. I also stopped wondering why the cherubs were so, um, well-developed.

puzzling statue group

On our second day, my dad and I split a rather unfortunate but extremely large loco moco at the Big Island Breakfast at Water’s Edge. The rice was hard, the hamburger patty was poorly seasoned and by the time it arrived at our table, the gravy had developed a skin. But our server was overwhelmingly sweet and gracious. My dad pointed out the hard rice and she brought over a heaping plate of assorted breakfast breads to compensate when we refused a replacement loco moco.

The loco moco that broke my heart

Looking at this photo of the loco moco makes me too sad to go on. I will have to finish up the Kohala Spa portion of this report some other time.


Flight review: HNL-KOA and KOA-HNL (and some Hawaiian Miles remarks)

Boeing 717 at KOA

For this Hawaii trip report, I’m assuming no one wants to hear about the two weeks I spent on my Grandma’s couch. In any case, there’s no point in me reviewing those accommodations, no matter how comfortable, since you’re not welcome to stay there.

I am therefore going to skip straight to the couple days I spent with my dad on the Big Island. It was a last-minute trip, which is not really the way I like to plan things.

We flew Hawaiian Airlines from HNL to Kailua-Kona. A round-trip ticket cost just over 200 dollars (not too awful, since it’s winter season), booked only two days beforehand. I’m not a Pualani elite (Gold level earns 50% flight bonus miles on revenue tickets and Platinum earns 100%), so I earned a measly 163 miles per flight. Each flight took about 25 minutes. I barely had time to drink the little container of passion orange guava juice the flight attendant handed out. Interisland flights are like that – you ascend and then two seconds later, you descend. The other airline I’ve flown in the recent past from one island to another is Go! Mokulele, which is shabbier than Hawaiian, but has exceptionally spunky flight attendants going for it.

I’m really grateful that the interisland aircrafts are Boeing 717s and not those stupid and horrible, tiny-ass propeller planes that fly to smaller airports on the mainland and are essentially glorified helicopters. I’ve never managed to deplane (de-glorified-helicopter?) one of those without at least a smidgen of projectile vomit.

boarding

It was kind of weird landing in the middle of a lava field at KOA, but it was also nice in an I’m-landing-in-the-middle-of-a-lava-field way. If you cross your eyes, you can’t tell where the runway ends and where the lava field begins.

On the flight back to HNL, we received free reusable tote bags, courtesy of Foodland, which Hawaiian is partners with (if you live in Hawaii, you should be aware that you can earn Hawaiian Miles when you shop at Foodland with your Maika’i card. Details here).

free Foodland tote

Also, from Feb 1-21, you’ll earn an additional 200 HawaiianMiles for each redemption of a My Rewards certificate.  I adore these bags and all the other local-food-themed products at Foodland. My collection is admittedly pretty impressive. I can wear my spam musubi t-shirt while eating a spam musubi and clutch my spam musubi grocery tote as I am lying on my spam musubi beach towel with my poke-bowl-shirted boyfriend, who may very well be clutching his own matching poke bowl grocery tote.


Photos from around the Big Island

finding love in a lava field

 

driving from KOA to Waikoloa

 

Ma'Ona lunch counter in Hilo (really big, juicy burgers were consumed shortly after this photo was taken)

 

steam billowing from Kilauea

 

thrift store in Naalehu

 

Naalehu Theatre

 

Hawaiian quilt-themed flooring of Naalehu Theatre

 

Attack of the 50 foot Woman in Naalehu


PHL-SFO-HNL is why I keep flying United

I’ve flown the PHL-SFO leg on United’s Airbus A319 four times in the past four months (and I can’t remember how many more times previously) and it’s the flight that got me partway back to Hawaii for the holidays this time around. Since I’m so fond of the routine I’ve come to associate with the flight, I’ll run through the details of this uneventful trip (uneventful is a good thing).

1. I booked PHL-SFO-HNL using 40,000 United miles (as opposed to 20,000 since it’s winter and everybody seems to want to get to Hawaii) and spending 5 dollars in fees.

2. I chose my favorite seat after glancing at SeatGuru.

SeatGuru plan for A319

That would be seat 7A in Economy Plus. Snagging a window seat means I’m less likely to get motion sick and throw up on my seat mate. Row 7 on the A319 is also directly behind the First Class section and therefore bulkhead seating. The pitch in Economy Plus is typically 35 inches (as opposed to 31 in Economy), but there’s of course even more room in row 7. If you’re unfamiliar with SeatGuru, green is good and yellow is not so good. Avoid red.

As I already am fully aware and as SeatGuru will tell me, the armrests contain the tray tables and are therefore immovable in row 7. That’s fine, I’m traveling alone so I won’t be cuddling up to the person sitting next to me. (Unless they’re irresistibly cute or nice smelling. Just kidding.)

3. Having Premier status in 2011 means I’ve had access to Economy Plus (aka ghetto first class) seating at no charge and at booking, but the chart is changing next year. The 2011 status chart can be found here which you may compare to the 2012 program overview here. For the new lowest elite level, Premier Silver, Economy Plus will only be available at check-in and only one standard bag may be checked for free. This will mean one of two things for me: I’ll either fly United a whole lot more on revenue tickets to get higher status or I’ll be flirting with American. Elite qualifying miles can only really be earned by flying. All the other miles earned from shopping, dining, checking in on Facebook, etc — are redeemable miles and do not count towards status.

4. As my departure looms, I pack and prepare.

packing my hand-carry

preparations

5. Check-in online 24 hours prior to departure, show up at airport before the crack of dawn, drop off two tiny bags at check-in counter. (My cousin had borrowed my long-trip suitcase when she visited me last month. She maybe shopped a little too much. She’s lucky I don’t have to pay to check bags.)

6. Having elite status also means I don’t have to wait in line to get through security and this morning the line was super crazy long. I felt a little bad for the people in it who were wailing about potentially missing their flights.

7. Once boarded, I settle into my seat. I’m a rather small person (but large in personality) and I have so much legroom I’m quite literally flailing. It’s impossible to properly curl up in my seat (I fly like a sleeping cat) so I mostly just sprawl, which works, too.

stretching out a booted foot

I know, I’m more or less a complete waste of extra legroom, but I do get claustrophobic and then faint (you can always tell the quality of a flight attendant by how nicely they revive you). Access to United’s Economy Plus seating makes things soooo much better.

8. We get into SFO ahead of schedule so I have time to stop at Tomokazu to pick up a moderately thrilling and mildly yummy bento box for my next flight.

moderately thrilling pork katsu "deluxe bento" from Tomokazu

9. SFO-HNL on a Boeing 777. I like this flight a lot. People on it are generally quite cheerful. They are, after all, going to the most beautiful and most awesome place on earth. The flight attendants may be aged, but many still wear fake plumerias in their hair and treat you like you’re a human being. They’ve accepted my expired drink chits and called me “sweetie.” I have never fainted or vomited on this flight.

10. I did not win the Halfway to Hawaii game (the prize this time was a Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii. I wanted it.). I have never won the Halfway to Hawaii probably because I have no math skillz whatsoever and always try to cheat off of the person sitting next to me.

11. We arrive in Honolulu half an hour early. As usual, the air smells like flowers and rainbows.