Monday, 20 August 2018

Waikiki - Should you return to a place that holds magical memories?

Thirty years ago my husband and I took our sons to Hawaii for two weeks. We rented an apartment in Waikiki and, much to the boys, (all the boys!), delight, hired a bright red Mustang convertible.  We did all the sights; Pearl Harbour, Sea Life Park,  a walking tour of Chinatown, downtown Honolulu, the Bishop Museum. We snorkeled at Haunama Bay and drove right around the island of Oahu with the hood down, the boys squashed in the back and all of us singing at the top of our lungs. We visited Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline, where we ate the famous snow cones with sweet beans at the bottom and stopped at a quiet local beach where we ate coconuts fresh from the tree.  We were enchanted by the Byodo-In temple, had lunch at The Willows restaurant and were privileged to see the famous musician Irmgard Farden Aluli perform there. The boys reveled in Perry's Smorgy's 'all you can eat' buffet and were thrilled to buy a 6 pack of coke for a dollar (even then that was an amazing bargain). Every afternoon, around 4pm, when the day was a bit cooler, we went to the beach and swam or sat on the sand outside the Royal Hawaiian watching people waltz and foxtrot at the tea dances held in the hotel ballroom. We loved people-watching on the beach, there seemed to be a constant stream of fascinating characters passing by.  On our way home we picked and poked in the small shops and stalls at the International Marketplace.  It was a marvelous, magical family holiday and despite the fact that the whole family is now much traveled this is the holiday we often talk about.

    Above: 30 years ago, me and my boys at 444 Nahua, our apartment.

Right: 2018 my sons were keen to revisit 444 Nahua to remember good times  

Left: 30 years ago, my husband and son at Byodo-In temple

Right: 2018 my son and grandson in the same spot

So, should we return? Would things have changed so much our memories would be ruined? My late husband refused to return for that reason.  He cherished the memories and wanted it to stay that way. However, recently I had a special birthday and wanted to have the whole family together.  Since one son and his family live in England and myself and a son and his family live in New Zealand I was searching for a family friendly place, sort of central, where we could all meet and Hawaii seemed to be the obvious destination.

There are nine in our family, four children and five adults, so we booked two apartments at The Embassy Suites, Waikiki, one road back from the beach. Embassy Suites is family friendly with a generous breakfast included in the price and the best happy hour I have ever come across - drinks are free for two hours every evening! Our days were happily busy, plenty of time for the children to swim in the pool and time for sightseeing as well.  Some of the family went to Pearl Harbour and we all took an excellent round island tour one day. We watched the Hilton Village's fireworks from the beach one night and during the day walked along the beach watching the multitude of surfers riding the waves. We had cocktails at the Royal Hawaian and at The House Without a Key and drank cool juices and beer at Maui Brewing and The Yard Bar. We had professional photos taken at the beautiful Kahala Resort and drove there in a stretch limousine, since the hotel told us it would cost the same as two taxis!  That was fun and a novel experience for the children. We rode the Waikiki Trolley and shopped at the vast Ala Moana Mall and the Waikele Outlets. We enjoyed the band playing by the pool each evening and took full advantage of Happy Hour while the children swam or ran races or danced to the music.

Palm trees, golden sand, balmy temperatures, trade breezes....what's not to love?
My birthday was very special and everything I could possibly wish for especially having my family together. I woke to find the lounge full of pink balloons and a cake with, I forget how many candles on it 😉. The children were fizzing with excitement.  I love how children enjoy birthdays regardless of whose it is. That evening my family took me to a luau at the Hilton Hotel.  It was an absolutely wonderful evening with great food, music, hula dancing and entertainment all under a stunning sunset and then a clear, bright starry sky. Walking back to our hotel that evening I felt incredibly blessed to have such a lovely family and such a perfect birthday. It was romantic walking along the beach under the stars with waves gently shhhhing on the shore and the faint sounds of Hawaiian music floating across the water from the hotels.

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

So, back to my question: "Should you return to a place that holds magical memories?" 

Waikiki has changed substantially from the Waikiki of 30 years ago.  It is busier, there are more people and more traffic but it still manages to retain a laid back charm somehow. There is a happy vibe about the place.  Perry's Smorgy has gone, although judging by the queues outside Eggs and Things that must be the new 'popular'.   There are many, many places to eat, you are spoilt for choice. Unfortunately the  International Market Place has been demolished and replaced by a large modern mall which is just a replica of the many other malls around Waikiki.  I had read differing reports about The Willows restaurant which had been fantastic 30 years ago so rather than destroy that memory we decided not to return there. It may still be good, I don't know.
My husband and sons at The Willows August 1988

Much of the beach along Waikiki is sadly diminished after several big storms and general erosion over the years.  On our first trip it was wide and safe with a gentle slope off into the sea, now it is narrow and has a very steep drop off in places, too dangerous for our young children to swim in, but there are plenty of spots they can.  The tea dances at the Royal Hawaiian are now a thing of the past too. Our accommodation was superb and the free fireworks on the beach were fun. We were there for just one week and had two very young children in tow so had less time and flexibility to do all the things we had done 30 years ago. Nevertheless it was a fantastic family holiday and we were glad we had returned enjoying it just as much as the first time but differently. My well traveled eldest grandchild summed it up " That is the best holiday I have ever had!" So, we made new memories which in no way alter our original ones and they are memories our whole family can share. I have to admit I felt deeply nostalgic at times, though, thinking of the times spent there with my husband and youngest son, both, sadly, no longer with us.
Preserve those memories

I think the key to enjoying a return visit to a place of magical memories is not to expect it to be the same and not to try to replicate your first holiday there.  We did things differently but enjoyed some of the places and memories from the past. It was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday.

At my birthday luau, Waikiki Hilton