Posts Tagged ‘review’

A good rental car is almost essential when visiting Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island. At least if you plan to explore the islands.  Oahu has a much better bus system, so it is not as important to have a rental car there. And parking is at a premium in Honolulu, so they are much less convenient there as well. Although if you are staying at Turtle Bay, or somewhere outside of Honolulu, it would likely be much more practical to have a rental car.

I took the photo below in 2008, on the day of our trip along the Northwest Maui Coastline. We had a red impala that I thought would make for a great photo against the red dirt there…
Rental Car, Maui
The best advice I could give on rental cars in Hawaii is to make sure you have your own insurance before you get there. They charge ridiculous amounts for their optional insurance. We did not realize you can get insurance at home that will cover all of the various rental car insurances, so we ended up paying way more than we had planned.

Here in BC the ICBC RoadStar package covers rental car insurance, and I believe it only costs about thirty dollars or so.

I believe some credit card companies cover rental car insurance as well, if you pay for the rental using their card, so keep an eye out for that as well.

Of course you can always go without the extra insurance if you don’t want to pay. But it seems like a sure way to ruin a vacation if something happens to the rental car that you declined the extra insurance on.

During our wedding trip of 2008 we pretty much had to pay the extra fees. We didn’t even realize there were extra optional insurances until we got to Maui. Our flight arrived in Maui at midnight, and we did not know if we had any extra coverage or not. We did know that we did not want to have our wedding trip ruined because we didn’t buy an extra $500 worth of insurance. But of course we were quite upset about having to pay so much.

In 2008 we used Budget Rental Car at the Kahului Airport. As with all the rental car companies at the airport they have shuttle buses to take you to their car lots. Almost everyone in our group rented from Budget, and most were happy, except us of course with the extra fees. It seemed we were one of the few who didn’t know you could get insurance at home. But we would have had to pay the fees at any of the rental companies there, so it was mostly our issue and not Budget’s.

But of course we still didn’t go back to Budget on our 2009 trip. Instead we decided to try Alamo. I checked the rates for each company online quite a bit, and Alamo always seemed to have the lower rates. They were good to deal with. Their shuttle bus takes you to their main building. And once we got through the paperwork, they send you out to their lot to pick a car. They have a group of cars from your car class, and you get to pick the one you want. The even offered us a free upgrade to a convertible, since they were running low on midsize. But we figured we would just get sunburnt more in a convertible, so we kept our midsize.

But as with any rental car, you should make sure to check it over very well before you leave the lot. We even took photos of the marks and scratches we found. We ended up having to return a few of the cars from Alamo. The first had a faulty set of keys. Not a big deal, but for a ten day vacation we wanted to be able to use the auto keypad to open the doors and trunk without putting the key in the actual lock, which is always handy if you have your hands full.

The second car had a bit of a gouge in the front tire. We drove on it for a few days before we noticed it. We checked the photos we had taken before we drove the car off the lot and could clearly see it was there before we drove it. We just didn’t notice when we first got the car. They gave us a new car with no questions asked, but we were happy to have the photos in case we needed proof that we did not damage the tire. Once again we got to pick a car from the lot. I really liked Alamo for that. But of course we checked it over very well before we left. Third time was a charm though, and we had no further troubles.

The photo below shows our third rental car on our adventure of the Hana Highway and the South Coast of Maui, which you can read about here.Highway past Hana
We also rented from Budget on the Big Island, and Alamo on Kauai. Both were good to deal with and we had no complaints.

One last tip would be to check the prices online quite often. We had a car booked, but noticed the same class of car was now listed at almost half the price. So of course I canceled the original reservation and got the newer price. Not sure if that happens often, but it is something to keep an eye on if you think  you got a bad deal.

Hope this all helps, good luck with your travels…


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We went for dinner at the Waterfront Restaurant in Ma’alaea one night during our wedding trip of 2008 . It was well recommended by the Maui Revealed guidebook, so we thought we would check it out as a romantic dinner for two a few days before our wedding.

We did not have difficulty finding it, but the parking lot seemed rather small. We did not have a reservation, although if you want an outside table, reservations are recommended.

Waterfront Restaurant, MauiWe got lucky though, and were able to sit out on the balcony. The outdoor tables are a bit close together, but it was still a great location for dinner right on Ma’alaea Harbor, with a view of South Maui and Molokini in the distance.
Waterfront Restaurant, Maui
We thought it was going to be one of the more expensive dinners during our trip, but once we saw that the menu’s did not have prices for any of the seafood we knew it would be for sure.

The server lets you know which types of fish are available that night. They only serve fresh fish, so their menu depends on what the fishermen were able to supply them with that day. While we were there some spear-fishermen actually came out of the water beside the restaurant with a net full of fish. Not sure if they took it right into the restaurant or not, but it was pretty neat to see.

I decided to try the Hapu’u – Hawaiian Sea Bass – baked with crab-meat stuffing. It was one of the best meals I ate during the entire trip.

Shauna tried the Mahi Mahi broiled with their Hawaiian Salsa. It was alright, but quite expensive for fish with fruit salsa on it. Not nearly as good as the Hapu’u.

During our 2009 trip, I tried to talk her into going back and getting the crab-meat stuffing option, but we decided against spending around $100 for one meal again. And we do not drink, so you can imagine what the bill would look like with some alcohol on it as well. But it remains one of the great memories from our wedding trip, and I am definitely happy we ate there. Maybe next time we will go back again…

Shauna has some additional photos at the Waterfront Restaurant posted on her Flickr account here.

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During our 2009 trip we spent ten nights at the Maui Banyan, and then it was off to the Big Island for three nights at the end of our trip.

On Hawaiian Airlines you get to pick your seats. We sat on the left side of the plane for our flight. It turned out to have the better views of the Big Island as we approached. But the right side had the better views of Haleakala and the Hana coastline as we left Maui.

The Kona International Airport was a sight to see. Rather than a large terminal like most other airports, this one was made up of Tiki-hut style buildings. It was a very interesting place. Like many things on the Big Island, the airport is located out on a lava field. It is about a 15 minute drive to Kona.

Based on the reviews we read on TripAdvisor, we stayed at the Hale Kona Kai. It is an ocean front condo with an amazing view of the harbor. We stayed in unit 411 on the top floor. It has a great view of the ocean, and overlooks the tide pool of the Royal Kona Resort next door:
Hale Kona Kai

We really enjoyed watching the fish from our balcony, and even saw a few eels. No turtles though, although other guests in the guestbook said they did see some.

The view was definitely our favorite part of the condo. Our room was noisy with something on the roof (the buildings ventilation system??) that made it hard for me to sleep at times. Luckily, the crashing of the waves on the rocks drowned out these noises for the most part. Which is fine as long as you like the sounds of waves crashing.

We had free wireless internet as well, which was great for surfing the net out on the balcony.
Hale Kona Kai
We might stay at the Hale Kona Kai again, but probably in a different room. As I mentioned above, the room we had was too noisy. Also, it is probably worth it to pay a bit of extra money to get a corner room to have a lanai that wraps around two sides. You can just see part of the corner balcony in the photo above.

On our first full day, we decided to go and see the volcano. Of course there were a number of stops to make along the way. The photo below shows Kahalu’u Beach Park. Like many of the beaches on the Big Island there is not a lot of sand. Instead there is very clear water and lots of fish. We could see the fish from the side of the road where we took this photo.

Kahalu'u Beach ParkWe might stay at the Keauhou Beach Resort on our next trip. It is just behind the palm trees at the upper left of this photo. I really wanted to snorkel here, but we did not get a chance on this trip. So I figure if we stay right at the beach, I will definitely get to check it out next time.

One of the other places we really wanted to check out was Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park – the Place of Refuge. It was a very good place to stop, and I would definitely recommend it. They have tried to preserve much of the area. You can walk through at your own pace, or they also do guided tours. We started out on our own, but ended up tagging along with a guided tour after a while. The guide had lots of stories and info and we were happy we joined the group. We got a lot of great photos there as well:
Pu'uhonau o HonaunauThere was quite a few snorkelers in the water here. Although you cannot enter the water in the park, there is a spot nearby that many seemed to be using.
Pu'uhonau o HonaunauYou can’t really see it in the photo above, but there were a bunch of turtles quite close to shore in the shallow waters. We got some really good photos of them:
Turtle at Pu'uhonau o HonaunauThe buildings at the place of refuge were very interesting as well:
Pu'uhonau o Honaunau

After we had completed the tour at Pu’uhonau o Honaunau, we went to check out Kealakekua Bay. I really wanted to go kayaking and snorkeling there, but we just didn’t have the time. It was very busy though and we couldn’t find anywhere to park and look around.

We also stopped at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. There were lots of turtles here as well. We looked around for a bit and really enjoyed this beach. But as with the rest of the day, we couldn’t stay long as there was so much more to see. But of course we managed to get some photos while we were there:
Punalu'u BeachThere were turtles everywhere at this beach. I was trying to get as many turtles into one photo as possible. Often I could see four or five, but I could only get two in the photo at the same time. The others kept going under water, and I didn’t manage to time it right when they came up.

Turtles at Punalu'uThe sand here was different than the black sand beach on Maui. Shauna took a great photo of a white flower she found at the beach:
White flower, black sand

From there it was on to Volcanoes National Park. Apparently they had a 5.5 earthquake the day before, so we were a bit wary of going there. But having come all the way to the Big Island I really wanted to check it out. I was very happy we did though as it was one of the more interesting things we saw during both of our trips to Hawaii.
We also went to the Thurston Lava Tube within the park. I thought it was great, but Shauna didn’t like it as much. The lava tube is lighted, so you can walk right through, but she said it was too dark and wet. Since it was so dark I wasn’t able to get any good photos from inside. However we did get some good ones of the natural forest along the trail to the lava tube:

Hawaiian RainforestAnd from just inside the entrance:
Thurston Lava Tube Entrance
Part of the Chain of Craters Road was closed from the earthquake the day before, so we weren’t able to check it out. And we didn’t have time to get all the way around to where the lava was flowing.

By then we were getting tired anyway, as it had been a long day already. So we decided to head back as it was about a two and half hour drive back to Kona.

If you want to really explore the Big Island of Hawaii I would definitely recommend that you stay longer than three nights. There is so much to see and do that we found ourselves rushing to try and get as much in as we could. And not really taking as much time to enjoy it all as we would have liked. We bought the Big Island Revealed guidebook, and it was a great help on our trip, even though we were limited on time. We have their guidebooks for Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island, and found each of them to be among the best guidebooks we could find for the Hawaiian Islands.

Overall, we enjoyed The Big Island. It was more laid back like Maui and Kauai as well, which we really liked in comparison to our week spent on the island of Oahu. The Big Island was quite hazy though most of the time though because of the volcano. Apparently it has been that way since an eruption in March of 2008. We are hoping that it clears up before we go back to the Big Island next time, as we do plan to go back someday as there is so much more to see…

Shauna has some more photos of the Big Island on her Flickr account as well, such as this one of a plumeria tree:
Big Island Plumeria

You can also check out the other Big Island post for the rest of our trip on the Big Island.

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The day after we drove the Hana Highway, we decided to head back to Paia to see what we had missed. It was tempting to stop at Paia the first time we passed through, but we wanted to do as much exploring around Hana as we could.

Of course we had to stop at Maui Coffee Roasters as we passed through Kahului.

We could not find a parking spot in the big public parking lot near the west end of Paia, so we decided to head for Ho’okipa Beach first. It is considered to be one of the best windsurfing beaches in the world, and a great place for taking photos.
20090410_740There was a surprising lack of windsurfers the day we were here. Conditions were obviously better for surfing, because there was plenty of them out there. I found a great site for checking out the ocean conditions, although we didn’t look at it on this day since we did not plan to surf or to swim. But it has aerial photos, beach descriptions, hazard ratings, and of course surf conditions. It is definitely worth checking out before heading to the ocean for the day.

Our stop at Ho’okipa Beach made for one of my favorite photos of the entire trip… Surfing with the turtles at Ho’okipa Beach:


From there we went back to Paia to check it out better. We were able to find a parking spot this time. We ended up having lunch at the Paia Fish Market. They are one of the top rated restaurants in Paia according to TripAdvisor, and get the coveted Ono rating from Maui Revealed. We arrived right at lunch time and were surprised by how busy they were. But we figured they had to be good based upon the lineup.

Once we got inside we were surprised at the variety on the menu. They make fish in all sorts of dishes: pasta, tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, burgers, and of course grilled and deep fried. You can also get some of their dishes in chicken as well, for those who aren’t into fish. We went with the fish and chips for lunch, and were very happy with our meal.

Fish'n'Chips at Paia Fishmarket Restaurant, Maui

Our plan to explore around Paia on a separate day from driving the Hana Highway worked out quite well for us. We were able to explore what we wanted around Hana, as I have discussed in a previous post. And then we went back to Paia the next day to check it out without feeling rushed to get back on the road. It made both days much more enjoyable.

After we explored around Paia, we went up to Makawao. It was another interesting town with lots of shops. But by the time we got there, we were about ready for the beach again. So we didn’t look around too much. It was back to the Maui Banyan and Kamaole II Beach.

If you would like to look at Shauna’s photos for the Paia Fish Market you can see them on her Maui Photo Set.

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We stayed in Kihei at unit H-105 of the Maui Banyan during our 2009 trip. It was an amazing place to stay and we can’t wait to go back. Here is a shot of the Maui Banyan, taken from a second level parking spot:
Maui Banyan Condos

The condo itself truly was a home away from home. The king sized bed was very comfy. There are two A/C units, one in the living room and one in the bedroom, which was very nice since we were not used to the Hawaiian heat. The fully loaded kitchen had everything we needed. Most days we only ate breakfast at the condo, and then set out to explore or relax on the beach. We often ate out for lunch and dinner. Although there were a few nights we enjoyed using the bbq area to do our own cooking for dinner. We stocked up on groceries at the Costco in Kahului, so it was definitely nice to have a full kitchen with a regular sized fridge/freezer. We were much happier to have a fully equipped condo than a hotel type setup.
20090404_040The unit is a one bedroom condo. As you can see from these two photos, the kitchen, dining room, and living room areas are attached. The bedroom and bathrooms are to the right. The TV had a pretty sweet surround sound system as well, although we didn’t watch a lot of TV so we didn’t use it very much.

20090404_038The two bathrooms are another nice feature of this unit. The ensuite bathroom has a sink, toilet, and the jacuzzi tub. The other bathroom near the entrance door has a sink, toilet, and the washer/dryer. It was great that we didn’t have to find a laundromat during our stay, and could wash our clothes and beach gear when we wanted to.

Kamaole II beach is a two – three minute walk from the unit. I wrote an additional post for this beach with more information and photos if you want to check it out as well.

2008 04 13 017The Banyan itself has two great pool / bbq areas – one at either end of the grounds. Quite often we wanted to swim after dinner, but since it gets dark around 7pm we did not want to swim in the ocean. So the pools were the best option, and we certainly got a lot of use out of them.The pools are open until 10 or 11, although they don’t seem to kick you out as long as you keep the noise down. And if one pool was busy, you could just walk to the other and see if things were quieter there. The H building is in the middle of the complex, so it is about the same distance to either bbq/pool area.

The photo below shows the lanai at unit H-105. It runs the full length of the unit, with doors on both ends – one from the living room and one from the bedroom. You can just see the building where one of the pool/bbq areas is.


The grounds at the Maui Banyan are very well kept and quiet. It was a nice place to walk and look around at the tropical plants. There seemed to always be people working away to keep things looking good.


Shauna really enjoyed taking photos of the many tropical flowers there. Here is one that she took, but you can also see the rest of her Maui Banyan photos on her Flickr Account here. She has some more photos from inside the unit as well.

Flowers at the Maui Banyan

Building H is far enough back from South Kihei Road that we could not hear the traffic. We found Kihei to be a great location to stay. The beach is right across the street so if you don’t want to drive, you don’t have to. But it is close enough to the beaches of Wailea, without having to pay the excessive prices of the Wailea resorts. Kihei is about a twenty minute drive to Kahului, and about a 40 minute drive to Lahaina.

The owners of this condo were very good to deal with.

Here is the link to their website: http://romanticmauicondo.com/


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The Maui Ocean Center was another great place we visited during our wedding trip of 2008.

The aquarium starts out with the fish you would find in a tide pool , and works its way down to the fish you would find at the depths of the lower ocean. We saw sea urchins, seahorses, sharks, turtles, angler fish, puffer fish, and much more.

My favorite part of the entire place was the massive shark tank found towards the end. There are numerous species of sharks, manta rays, tuna, and many more types of fish swimming about. You even get to walk through a tunnel at one end of the shark tank. There are literally sharks, rays, and fish all around you. It is definitely a sight to see.

They have a pretty good sized gift shop at the end, where you can find all sorts of souvenirs.

There is a bit of a mall right next door to the aquarium as well. One thing I would be sure to check out is Hula Cookies, where they make cookies and ice cream. You can even order two of their fresh cookies, and get them to put them in a bowl with some of their ice cream in the middle. Best ice cream sandwich ever.

Hula Cookies Ice Cream Sandwich

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The Seawatch Restaurant has been sold and renamed ‘Gannon’s – A Pacific View Restaurant’. As I haven’t been there since it was re-opened I am not sure whether things have changed or not. But Susan Jencks is still listed as the wedding co-ordinator, so it should still be a good place for wedding receptions.

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After a lot of research on the internet, especially theknot.com, we decided on the Seawatch Restaurant in Wailea as the location for our wedding reception. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we were married on the beach during April 2008 at Secret Cove south of Wailea.

We had a morning wedding to increase our chances of having the beach to ourselves – a plan that worked very nicely. After the wedding we went to the beach for the day, and then on to the Seawatch for dinner.

We had booked the Seawatch well in advance for our reception dinner. They were very good to deal with, which I suppose can be expected since they do so many weddings. We talked with a few other restaurants during our planning in order to find the best place for our reception. But Susan at the Seawatch was far and away the best to deal with so we decided to book there.

As impressed as we were with their booking service, we were even more impressed once we arrived on our wedding day. The Seawatch is located on the Wailea Gold Golf Course, which is very well kept. It is uphill from the ocean, which leads to some amazing views – with the green of the golf course and palm trees leading to the blue of the ocean and sky. You can also see Molokini and Kaho’olawe in the distance.

20090412_987These photos show the great view, in addition to the Lower Lawn area.

20090412_969Our reception was held at the Lower Pond. We were happy to find it was the wedding area with the best roof coverage. Although if it was blowing in during a storm you might still get wet.

In the end it didn’t matter, since there was no rain on our wedding day. But it might be something to keep in mind just in case. The Upper Pond is partially covered, but the Lower Lawn area is not covered at all. However both of these areas – especially the Lower Lawn – are better suited to bigger parties. We had a party of thirteen, and there was plenty of room for us at the Lower Pond. They had the table setup with a round table at one end, with a long table at the other end.

They will decorate for you, but my wife chose to do it since she enjoys decorating, and wanted to save a bit of money. So when we got there, it was an empty table with only a white table cloth, plates, glasses, and silverware.

Shauna had ordered some orchids and monstera leaves from Paradise Flower Farms up in Kula. She also ordered some woven lahula boxes from Alaina Kai and had them sent ahead of time to our wedding planner. She used some of the flowers and some ribbon to decorate the boxes:

Brown Ribbon Lauhala Box Wedding Favor
We used chocolate covered macadamia nuts from Costco as the candy for the favor boxes. We also bought a number of pineapples from Costco for the centerpieces. She brought some floral wire from home to make a ring of flowers to place at the base of the pineapples. It ended up looking quite impressive.

Apr 16 2008 0339Since the Seawatch requires that you choose a menu when you book with them, she was also able to make custom menus and found napkins to suit the color scheme at home prior to our trip. We chose the Plumeria Wedding Menu.

The food was very good. The drinks were very good as well. We had the Kula Greens for a starter. And most of our group tried either the Filet Mignon of Beef Tenderloin, or the Macadamia Crusted Island Fish for dinner. I managed to try a bit of both, and had a hard time choosing which was better. Hard to go wrong with either of those choices.

Anyhow, here is a view of the lower pond area, with the Wailea Gold golf course in the background. I also enjoyed checking out the pro shop there. It was a very fancy course.

Apr 16 2008 0343We ordered our wedding cake through Maui Wedding Cakes. I believe they have some sort of deal with the Seawatch, where you have to order through them and the Seawatch picks up the cake and takes care of that end of things.

We ordered a square, two tiered chocolate macadamia nut ganache, with chocolate covered strawberries. It was the best wedding cake we have ever eaten. (The fresh macadamia nuts and strawberries had a lot to do with that.)
Wedding Cake by Maui Wedding Cakes
The cake was amazing, and the fresh strawberries were unlike any strawberry we had ever tasted. (all the fruit we had in Hawaii tasted so much better)
Wedding Cake by Maui Wedding Cakes On our return trip of 2009 we looked into getting another one of these cakes. But they did not come small enough for just the two of us, so we decided against it. But if we ever go in a group again we will be getting another one of these for sure. Again, other than the tiki torches, my wife did the decorating, so I am not sure how the Seawatch itself decorates.

Apr 16 2008 0506

Below is a view of the Upper Pond area. You can also see the Lower Pond area in the upper right of the photo. On our wedding night, the wedding group at the Upper Pond had a musician playing. However, with the Lower Pond being so close, we were able to enjoy the music as well. It worked out perfectly for us – we had plenty of room, a roof over our heads, and still got to enjoy some live music.

20090412_981All in all we could not have been more happy with our wedding reception at the Seawatch Restaurant. We would recommend it to any couple looking for an amazing reception dinner location to celebrate your wedding. Just be sure to book early.




Non-wedding related review of the Seawatch:

During our 2009 trip we decided to go back to the Seawatch for breakfast. Once again we were impressed with the atmosphere and the incredible views. As a regular restaurant we found the food to be a bit overpriced though, as is the case with most of the restaurants in Wailea. We both ordered the crab benedict. It was good, but for almost $20 a plate we had hoped it would taste quite a bit better than $8 per plate smoked salmon benedict we had tried for breakfast at Maui Coffee Roasters in Kahului a few days earlier.

We will likely go back to the Seawatch again on our next trip, mainly to revisit the site of our wedding reception. But it seemed that weddings are definitely their specialty, and as I already mentioned, we would recommend the Seawatch to anyone for an amazing place to have a wedding reception.

Shauna has many more photos from our wedding reception at the Seawatch on her Flickr account here.

She also has more photos of the wedding favors and decorations here.

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