Tag Archives: hawaii

Whale Watching and Cocktails on Maui’s Teralani Sunset Cruise

12 May
Getting ready to set sail.

Getting ready to set sail.

When I signed up for the Teralani Sunset Maui Cocktail Sail on my trip to Maui, I was mostly after drinks, snacks, and some nice photographs of the sun sinking behind the volcanic islands. I hadn’t expected the National Geographic-style whale adventure my evening would become.

As the West Maui mountains gradually receded, crew member Liz gave us the run down on the ship’s parts: the all-important bathrooms, bar, and general guidelines for boat safety on the Teralani Sunset Cruise. Then she said we’d also be searching for whales.

Off to go searching for whales.

Off to go searching for whales.

I didn’t get my hopes up however. I knew I’d arrived for my trip to Maui at the tail end of the whale season, when most migrating humpbacks have already started their journey back to Alaskan waters. I specifically skipped an all-out whale-watching tour, thinking it would be a bust. But barely into my first drink, Teralani’s whale expert Mark announced the presence of humpbacks near a boat a few hundred yards away.

Whales emerging near the boat.

Whales emerging near the boat.

In the distance, occasional puffs of water, forceful jets of exhalation, sprung from the sea. The deck was instantly crowded with teetering tour goers hoping to catch a glimpse of the action, camera in one hand, drink in the other.

We approached slowly before Captain Pam idled the ship’s engines to stop our forward progress. Mark stood on the deck behind us, telling us that legal restrictions meant we could not approach within 100 yards of the whales. As we bobbed up and down in the water watching the puffs and the occasional dorsal fin, he narrated lots of whale facts, telling us that the whales we were seeing were a female and calf pair, about to make the trip to Alaska. The females come to Hawaii to give birth, fattening their calves up on rich milk and strengthening them for the long trip north through lots of playing.

As Mark described it, the intensely caloric feedings are “like giving a five-year-old a Red Bull.” The calf is so energized they hurl themselves to and fro.

Whales jumping out of the water!

Whales jumping out of the water!

And that’s when I mostly stopped listening, because the whales began leaping and somersaulting, twirling in mid-air before dramatically smacking a dorsal fin on the water’s surface. For a split second, the entire female whale would be visible, the bumpy blue-black skin in sharp relief against the evening sky, trails of water flung from her body. Then calf would follow, imitating its mother in perfect sequence, as if they were performing a well-rehearsed dance routine.

The next two hours were a blur of whale jumping. At one point, the curious whales swam towards our boat, their bodies distorted by the cerulean water. One even exhaled right onto the crowd of people clinging to the front of the boat. We had a few brief breaks in between sightings to grab a drink or an appetizer, but for the most part it was constant whale action. I’m not sure I even noticed the sunset.

Whale Watching and Cocktails on Maui’s Teralani Sunset Cruise

Oahu Submarine Scooter Adventure

30 Apr
A couple enjoying the Scooter Adventure.

A couple enjoying the Scooter Adventure.

If you’ve ever wanted to swim with the fishes but felt nervous about your skill level and knowledge of the underwater world, the Oahu submarine scooter adventure is a great way to explore under the sea without any dive experience. I got the chance to go on a two hour adventure out in the beautiful Maunalua Bay, just off of Hawaii Kai, motoring around on an underwater submarine scooter in 30 feet of clear blue water.

Captain Joey giving instructions

Captain Joey giving instructions

The tour started off as we boarded a large 40ft two-story vessel, and headed out to sea. Captain Joey manned the boat, while safety divers and crew, Mike and Kellen provided details of what to expect from the experience, as well as sharing Hawaiian folklore about historical sights. I took in the 360 degree view, with the distinct and iconic outline of Diamond Head Crater to my right, Koko Head Crater standing out proudly back on land, and whales spouting in the distance.

The crew getting the gear ready

The crew getting the gear ready

After we arrived at our dive site, Captain Joey brief us on how to operate the scooters, explaining that the scooters used the same theory as turning a glass upside down in a bucket of water, where air would remain in the space between. All we had to do was simply duck under the sub and emerge in the protected bubble, sit ourselves comfortably on the seat, press the air-controlled motor to move forward, and steer much the way we would a bike.

Safety divers

Safety divers taking photos

Three safety divers were in the water with us the entire time to make sure we were okay, and to point out wildlife and take photos for purchase after the tour. There were 14 people and five scooters in our tour group, so while some of us were underwater, the others could make use of complimentary snorkel gear or lounge on the boat and soak up the sun.

Sea Turtle swimming nearby.

Sea Turtle swimming nearby.

Entering the water on my scooter was a surreal experience. The fish swam toward me and I felt like I was in a giant aquarium, with colorful fish and sea turtles at arm’s reach. Kellen took photos and showed me various sea life, communicating with me through underwater motions. Turtles slowly glided by as I motored around and checked out the coral and sea urchins on the ocean’s floor and watched colorful fish swim under the waves.

Oahu Submarine Scooter Adventure

10 Best Cities to See From Above

29 Apr

For the ultimate bird’s eye view of your destination there’s no more thrilling way to get your bearings than zooming over the landscape in a helicopter. Whether hovering over a kaleidoscope of corals at the Great Barrier Reef or soaring around the Statue of Liberty in New York, here are 10 of the best places in the world to see from above.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon View

Grand Canyon View

The world wonder of the Grand Canyon is so immense you’ll have to take to the skies to get a feel for its true magnitude – an incredible 446 km long and up to 29 km wide. Helicopter flights have become a hugely popular way of viewing the canyon, with various flight paths taking in Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Kaibab National Forest and the Grand Canyon National Park. Best of all, you can fly through the canyon itself, plummeting 1,500 feet beneath the rim for a spectacular journey through the Dragon Corridor, the canyon’s widest and deepest section where the vast expanses of colored rock showcase millions of years of geology.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Strip

Don’t blow all your cash on the slot machines because there’s an even better way to take in the dazzling lights of Las Vegas – by helicopter. Fly over the famous Strip at night for the most atmospheric views over downtown Vegas, the Stratosphere Tower and the Luxor Pyramid. Keep your eyes peeled for overhead views of New York New York, Bellagio, Paris, the Venetian, Caesars Palace and Treasure Island, as well as getting the chance to peek into the famous resort pools and hotels. Prefer a daytime flight? Combine it with a flight over the nearby Red Rock Canyon where you’ll get views of the Nellis Air Force Base, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Mt Charleston.


Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Swap the urban sprawl for an up-close encounter with Hawaii’s stunning natural scenery with a helicopter flight over the most tropical state in the US. Fly over dense rainforest, crashing waterfalls – including the epic ‘Wall of Tears’ – and volcanic peaks for a breathtaking airborne adventure. Best of all, you can look down on one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea, which is often oozing lava from its gaping crater.

New York

New York City Skyline

New York City Skyline

Few city skylines are as iconic as New York’s but the only way to cram all the city sights into one tour is by soaring overhead. Helicopter flights over New York head up the Hudson River, taking in the Financial District, the Yankee Stadium, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the George Washington Bridge and Central Park, as well as offering unbeatable aerial views over Manhattan, New York Harbor and Staten Island. The main highlight though, is the chance to circle the inimitable Statue of Liberty – the city’s most legendary landmark.

San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

If you can’t make it to New York, flying over the San Francisco skyline comes a close second, with its exhilarating mix of towering bridges, rolling hills and urban beaches. Flights swoop over the notorious Alcatraz Island, the magnificent 1.7-mile long Golden Gate Bridge, the picturesque San Francisco Bay and the historic Ferry Building, but for the most atmospheric views, take to the skies at night when the city will be aglow with neon.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Often deemed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ Australia’s underwater marvel is one of the country’s biggest attractions. Divers and snorkelers flock to the northern shores to experience the colorful coral gardens of the Great Barrier Reef, but to really grasp its size, take a helicopter ride over the ocean. Flights not only offer a bird’s eye view of the reef – an otherworldly mass of corals – but take in the World Heritage Rainforest of the Daintree National Park, the surrounding white sand cays and the nearby city of Cairns.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

There are few better ways to mark your arrival in Los Angeles than looping around the iconic Hollywood sign in your own personal VIP helicopter. Couple it with a glamorous aerial tour of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Hermosa, Redondo and Manhattan beaches, then soar over the celebrity studded haunts of Beverly Hills and Bel Air’s luxury mansions. Your guide can even point out the most iconic LA sights from above – the Hollywood Bowl, Sunset Strip, Downtown LA and Universal Studios.

French Riviera

Villefranche Bay, French Riviera

Villefranche Bay, French Riviera

Join the European jetset for a James Bond esque retreat to the star-studded French Riviera, where you can enjoy a taste of the highlife with a helicopter tour over the famous Mediterranean coastline. Floating overhead, the shimmering ocean, luxury yachts and endless beaches provide the perfect backdrop, but the real highlights are the panoramic views of sights like the Prince’s Palace, the Rock of Monaco, the Monte Carlo Casino and the Monaco Grand Prix race track.

New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

The self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world offers plenty of ways to take flight, but if you’d rather not jump out of a plane or turn yourself into a human yo-yo, get a view while safely strapped into a helicopter seat instead. Choose from a jaw-dropping flight over the glistening Franz Josef or Fox Glacier on the South Island’s West coast; a close up view of the iconic Sky Tower and volcanic Rangitoto Island in Auckland; a bird’s eye view of the famous Craters of the Moon and the mighty Huka Falls at Lake Taupo; or hovering over bubbling mud pools in Rotorua.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Taking the pilgrimage to the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue at the summit of Corcovado Mountain is a right of passage for visitors to Rio de Janeiro, but for an even better view of the holy man, take a helicopter flight over the mountaintop instead.  That’s not all; you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the legendary Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake and the Maracana Stadium. Make sure to toast your safe return with a Caipirinha – Brazil’s national cocktail.

10 Best Cities to See From Above

The World’s Strangest Beaches

29 Apr

While white sand beaches with azure waters and billowing palms are nice, they’re far from unusual. For those looking for a truly unique coastal experience, the following beaches provide just that. Barking sand, star-shaped fossils and natural underground hot springs are just a few of the strange experiences you can have on the following strangest beaches.

Hoshizuna Beach, Okinawa, Japan

Hoshizuna Beach is one of the unique beaches in the world where you can find star-shaped sand (the other two are on Taketomi Island in Okinawa, Kaijihama Beach and Aiyaruhama Beach). The tiny stars are actually fossils from thousands of tiny crustaceans. That being said, locals have a mythical story to go along with why the beaches contain star-shaped sand. Legend has it that there once was a star mother and father who had a star baby. While they consulted God of Sky about the birth they left God of Ocean out of the decision making, who became infuriated and killed the baby star with a big snake. The snake’s feces became the fossils we see today on the beach. Additionally, God of Sky put the baby star into the heavens as a fossil, which is why you see stars in the sky today.

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain

Gulpiyuri Beach; World's Strangest Beaches

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain. Photo courtesy of guillenperez via Flickr.

While there’s nothing unusual about a beach with golden sand, crystal waters and waves, it is when its location is in the middle of a meadow. The 131-foot (40-meter) shoreline of Gulpiyuri Beach offers a whole new type of beach serenity, as you can cool off in the translucent salt waters while taking in both beach and rolling countryside hills.

Loango National Park, Gabon, Africa

For those who want a mixture of pristine beach and wildlife spotting, Loango National Park is the place for you. The park extends all the way to the white sanded coast, where you can watch hippos, gorillas, buffalos, leopards, elephants and wild pigs take a dip in the water — and sometimes even surfing. It’s definitely not your usual day of building sand castles and playing beach volleyball.

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. World's Strangest Beaches

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. Photo courtesy of brewbooks via Flickr.

Petroglyph Beach will take you back in time. Nobody is quite sure how the 40 rock carvings got there, but they make the beach quite unusual as you take in the boulders etched with faces, birds and fish, thought to be carved over 8,000 years ago. For a mix of mystery, history and culture, Petroglyph Beach is a must.

Barking Sands Beach, Kaua’i, Hawaii

Just as the name says, the sand on Barking Sands Beach makes a barking noise when rubbed. This means that as you walk over its 17 miles (27 kilometers) of coastline it will sound like a rambunctious dog. What makes this strange beach even more unusual is it’s also home to a rocket-launch site and missile-defense testing center.

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. World's Strangest Beaches

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. Photo courtesy of dany13 via Flickr.

While white- and golden-sand beaches are commonplace, when is the last time you laid out on a beach of striking pink sand? Pink Sands Beach is over three miles (5 kilometers) long and 50 to 100 feet (80 to 161 kilometers) wide. The cause of its unusual hue is Foraminifera, a coral organism that leaves behind its pink shell when it dies.

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. World's Strangest Beaches

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of eliduke via Flickr.

Due to intense geothermal activity on the Coromandel Peninsula, visitors to Hot Water Beach can dig holes into the sand to create natural hot spring pools. The water gets as hot as 147°F (64°C), and makes for a relaxing and unique beach experience.

Schooner Gulch, Mendocino Coast, California

Also known as “Bowling Ball Beach,” visitors to Schooner Gulch can witness thousands of boulders of equal shape, size and spacing sit lined up like soldiers defying the tides. What’s truly amazing about this rare phenomenon is it is completely natural, with no human interference. The geological explanation is that these concretions are created from resilient minerals and materials that have been able to withstand damage from the Pacific Ocean.

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland. World's Strangest Beaches

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway is home to 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, created by volcanic eruptions. These natural formations feature precise hexagonal shapes laid out like honeycomb clusters that disappear into the sea.

The landscape is so dramatic in appearance it has inspired local legends of giants walking over the water to Scotland, hence the word “causeway.”

Chandipur Beach, Chandipur, India

At high tide Chandipur Beach may appear like any other; however, at low tide the water recedes about three miles (five kilometers) from the shore, exposing the seabed to beach-goers. Visitors can see unusual seashells, driftwood, crabs and  other organisms  usually not exposed on the beach, giving them the feeling they’re walking into the sea.

Genipabu Beach, Natal, Brazil

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. World's Strangest Beaches

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. Photo courtesy of Leandro’s World Tour via Flickr.

Genipabu Beach offers much more than just swimming, as the landscape is a mix of beach and desert. Enormous sand dunes allow for sand boarding and camel riding, while the Atlantic Ocean provides opportunities for water sports. Basically, this unusual beach offers two completely unique experiences in one.

Perissa, Santorini, Greece

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece. World's Strangest Beaches

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece.

While we’ve all seen white and gold sand — and sometimes even strange beaches glowing with hues of pinks, oranges and reds — Perissa Beach in Greece is the complete opposite. The endless beach’s pitch black sand creates a strikingly eery yet beautiful landscape. These dark volcanic granules are extremely soft and fine, as well. From the beach you can also walk to the ancient city of Thira, thought to have once been a Spartan colony, by hiking up the Perissa’s backdrop mountain of Mesa Vouno. Warning: Because of the sand’s dark color it tends to get extremely hot, so bring your flip flops.

The World’s Strangest Beaches

The Best Honeymoon Escapes in the US

29 Apr

Ahh, the honeymoon…. This splendid tradition has origins in the old days when bridal tours were the way young couples got to know each other, both physically and on an experiential level. Though initially not terribly popular – many frowned upon honeymoons as a spendthrift extravagance and a dangerous subjection of what doctors then called woman’s “frail health” – it didn’t take long for the honeymoon to become forever entrenched in our collective longing. During the late 1800s the honeymoon tradition caught fire and the flames of passion have since been continually stoked.

Today, most everyone jumps at the chance to run away with their love, and many see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore some far-flung corner of the world they’ve only dreamed about. They long for sleepy bungalows, abandoned beaches, rest and relaxation with a loved one, and who knows – maybe even the odd adventure or two. But making your honeymoon a great experience doesn’t mean you have to break out the passport. The United States of America has some wide borders – a continent’s width or more – and there are plenty of great honeymoon escapes in the US. If you’re looking to get out and explore the wild unknown with the love of your life, here are some great options.

Kauai and Maui Island Hop

Beach in Maui

Wakikki Beach in Maui

Hawaii has long been atop the list of best honeymoon escapes the world over. The easy-breezy lifestyle, glistening rainforests, rugged coastlines, and, of course, spectacular beaches mean that Hawaii has got it all. Ingratiate yourself in ultra-luxury or camp in sleepy bungalows or enjoy a Bed and Breakfasts in-between – whatever kind of island escape you’re looking for, you can find it in these magical islands.

Don’t like being stuck indoors? Not a problem – Kauai is the eco-lover’s paradise. Huge banyan trees and king palms lead the way down to the Wailuku and Wailua rivers where you can find lovers kayaking through the jungle’s birds of paradise. The flat roads and small hills make a sun-drenched bike for the local Hawaiian Shave Ice all the more enjoyable, and hiking the Na Pali coastline is both free and spectacular. If you want to make it an adventure, you can backpack through the Na Pali coastline, and see where they buried the bravest of the Hawaiian kings.

Maui, on the other hand, is often considered a mix of modern amenities and rugged nature. On Maui you can explore the wandering mountainside and bamboo forests of the Hana Highway, while returning to home base in, say, to go paddle-boarding and bar hopping in Lahaina at your leisure. Maui is all the aspects of Kauai with a distinctly Maui twist. And from Maui, it’s easy to hop over to the even-even-more-untouched island of Lana’i.

Stay: While in Maui, stay in the Ho’oilo House outside of fun and festive Lahaina, and wake up with rainbow mountains at your back. This wooden bungalow has personality, privacy, and an outdoor shower – a great to start the day before going to paddleboard or snorkel the cove.

Eat: Dinner is at Aloha Mixed Plate with traditional Hawaiian fare and feet-in-the-grass coastal views, and then on to Fleetwood’s for some rooftop live music. For a truly unique and romantic experience, eat and watch the Old Lahaina Luau right on Front Street. Tiki torches blaze against the open Pacific sky and you and your loved one will feast on traditional Hawaiian fare while watching one of the highest-rated luaus in all of Hawaii.

Do: Dawn at the Haleakala Crater is worth the trip alone, and probably one of the most romantic places on earth to propose (but I suppose that portion of the trip is behind you). Bike from the top of the crater down through Eucalyptus groves and take a road-trip out to Hana where you can ride horsebacks and explore old pineapple plantations and ancient horse ranches. Be sure to sample some of the Kona-grown coffee, as well as some delicious pineapple and the famous 7D dried Mangoes.

Napa, Wine Country and Spa

Napa and Sonoma

Napa Vineyard

Napa and Sonoma honeymoon escapes are not just for the wine and food lover, though the name might ring synonymous. There are so many romantic things to do in Napa and Sonoma. You’ll find quaint country charm, a small but lively nightlife, some great spa packages and, of course, the world class wine and food you’ve come to expect. But beyond just tasting wine, there’s plenty more ways for a culinary enthusiast experience the area. You can check out cooking classes, ride horses through the vineyards, take a hot air balloon to see the valley from above, and even custom-blend your own wine.

Stay at the Vintner’s Inn, an intimate, four-diamond luxury inn located on the hills of Sonoma. With a view of the 92-acre plantation from your window, as well as some excellent eats from the signature restaurant (John Ash & Co) in-house, a relaxing spa, and some of the area’s best Pinot Noirs on hand, this is an excellent wine and foodie escape for honeymooners. In Napa Valley, St. Helena’s Wine Country Inn is a bed and breakfast with large private cottages and plenty of spaces to relax (including a picture-perfect porch swing overlooking the vineyards); Younvtille’s luxe and modern Hotel Yountville offers free bikes to explore the town’s tasting rooms and gourmet restaurants, like the famed French Laundry.

Do: From here, consider spending a day on a biking tour of the area’s vineyards, or heading to Oxbow Market in Napa where you’ll see Napa living at its finest. Wine bars, beer stalls, oyster shucking, arts, crafts, and sustainable yields – all in this one market that’s a social meeting place as much as a market. Open from 9am -7pm daily, bring your wine to the oyster bar, grab a cupcake, and rub elbows with locals – Oxbow market is a great way get a bit of the local feel while indulging in your inner tourist. Afterward, catch some live music further down the road in the western-styled Opera House (built in 1880), or go kayaking in one of the nearby watersheds.

Eat at Tra Vigne. Cozy and candlelit, this beautiful Napa escape is a staple for its Italian cuisine redolent of Tuscany. Either dinner or Sunday brunch are great options, and be sure to take a peek at their wine selections – enough here to do Napa proud. Farmstead in St. Helena is the place to go for farm-to-table food with an upscale twist, and when you tired of all the wine, check out the creative cocktails at Goose and Gander.

Experience Southern Charm in Charleston

There’s no denying the charms of Charleston. A warm, hospitable people, a slower pace of life, and that easy way people seem to approach the notion of having a good time – the southern US sometimes feels like it’s a different country entirely. If you decide to take your honeymoon in the South, both New Orleans and Charleston should be on your radar. You’ll find love in every hundred-year-old oak tree, plantation house, sprawling lawn, and marshy waterway you come across. Shrouded in both history and mystique, the culture and sights and smells you’ll find here truly are in a class of their own.
South Carolina’s Charleston takes the cake as a historic town with a lively young feel. Long the bastion of powerful plantations, winding waterways, and beautiful boardwalks, today’s Charleston is undergoing a foodie-craze, and a bit of a cultural renaissance.

Stay: at Kiawah Island. Noted by both National Geographic and Frommer’s as one of the best honeymoon destinations around, this little island is a sanctuary far from the reaching hands of developers yet located only 30 minutes outside of downtown Charleston. Here you and your loved one will discover all that makes the Carolinas grand. You can walk secluded beaches, take sandy bike paths through forests that lead to marshy lagoons, and wile away the evenings watching the sunset from your wooden-planked porch waiting for fireflies to appear.

Do: See the Old City Market in historic Charleston. The neighborhood here is steeped in history, yet new in appearance and feel. Check out the local basket-weavers, eat some delicious local food, and stroll the downtown area looking for a place to grab some signature sweet tea and soak up some of the area’s fine atmosphere.

Eat at Slightly North of Broad. This eclectic bistro is rapidly gaining popularity for its locally sourced food, fun energy, and healthy alternative to the traditional Julia Child method of southern cooking traditional to the area. Drink some sweet tea – it’s a southern favorite.

Or New Orleans

New Orleans food

New Orleans Cajun Jambalaya

New Orleans is probably best known for its Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest celebrations, but the true meat of the city lies in its culture – which wafts from every corner Po-Boy deli and blues-filled bar. Honeymooners that escape to New Orleans find themselves in a long-parade of French Quarter mansions, Creole-cuisine themed restaurants, and soft, moonlit cicada serenades.

Stay: At the Hotel St. Helene, just next door to the iconic Napolean House (great for romantic cocktails and the ever-popular muffaletta). This historic and newly renovated luxury hotel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and known for its gorgeous courtyard, the ferns that sprout out of the rustic patina on the walls, and for being right in the middle of everything worth seeing in the French Quarter.

Do: Stroll Woldenberg Park at sunrise or sunset and listen to the saxophone wail alongside the wide Mississippi, or ride a gondola in City Park. Be sure to catch a plantation tour or two, or take an always fascinating exploration into the bayou on a fan-boat tour.

Eat to your heart’s content at one of New Orleans excellent restaurants. Café Degas is iconic New Orleans with hearty French Cuisine and a lovely lighted patio, while the Columns Hotel is as an Uptown mainstay.

Partying in the Florida Keys

Key West

Sunset in Key West.

Key West in widely known as a party destination, but its white sand beaches, pastel sunsets, and the warm waters of the Gulf make also make it an ideal honeymoon destination for those who prefer a more lively scene. With great views of the Caribbean to your south, an Afro-Caribbean take on seafood, and an active music scene, everything in Key West seems brighter, more upbeat.
Key West itself is a great honeymoon escape because it’s close to so much. Whether it’s underwater diving, relaxing on the beach, or seeing the various communities that comprise the Keys, Key West is your jumping off point.

Stay at the Southernmost House historic inn. A Key West icon, staying here is like journeying back in time. Carved wooden beds, brightly colored walls, and a sleepy Bed and Breakfast feel make the Southernmost House Historic Inn a place for lovers. In the morning you can sip your coffee while watching the sun rise over the rippling Gulf, take a dip in the zero-entry pool, or walk down to Duval Street, where the avenue awaits your window shopping desires.

Do: see Hemmingway’s House, dive with the sea turtles on a shipwreck dive, or watch the sunset in Mallory Square, the center of Key West’s historic district. Grab a glass of wine at one of Duval Street’s many restaurants, then walk the quiet beach at Fort Zachary Taylor to watch the moon rise in its large southern glory.

Eat at Louie’s Backyard – this Caribbean-American restaurant has one of the best views of any restaurant anywhere. For sunset and a glass of wine? Heavenly. With some signature Key-Lime Pie for dessert? Other-worldly.

Getting active in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park lake

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy of Andrew Kalat via Flickr.

This honeymoon escape destination is for those who love the outdoors and the great big expanse of North American sky. If your idea of a honeymoon retreat involves plenty of mountain air, horseback riding through forests, river trips, fly-fishing, or just hiking the great outdoors, Glacier National Park should be just the ticket.
Glacier National Park is more than the usual National Park, though. Taste a whiskey distillery tour, explore old logging towns, Stand-up Paddleboard, kayak, or just float down a lazy river – Glacier National Park has the all-star lineup you’re looking for.

Stay: You have some options on where to stay when you visit Glacier National Park. A great base of operations would be Glacier Park Lodge. Located in East Glacier Park, the glacier lake setting, available golfing, swimming, horseback riding and day spa are great for those who love to mix a little relaxation with their rugged outdoors.
For those that appreciate more seclusion and privacy will likely fall in love with the Swiss-styled Great Northern Chalets. Located just 1 mile from West Glacier, these garden lined chalets boast stunning views, seclusion, and a prime location for all outdoor activities stemming from Glacier National Park.

Do: Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road – this roadway and engineering marvel spans 50 miles of the parks interior and is best driven in the morning, with a camera planted firmly in the backseat. Take a private boatride on one of the park’s many lakes, or consider a guided horseback trail ride to learn about the areas abundant flora and fauna.

Eat: at the Belton Chalet. Located in West Glacier, Montana, this is the intimate fine dining experience you’ve been looking for. Dine among historic walls and candlelight with the wild outdoors just beyond the window.

Go over-the-top in Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Nevada

Welcome sign to Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is not only the shotgun wedding capital of the world – it’s also one of the preeminent honeymoon escapes in the US. Everything is bigger, grander, and more audacious here, including the area’s wonderful abundance of romantic activities, outdoorsy fun, relaxing spas, and unbeatable amenities that make Las Vegas a honeymoon escape destination of choice.

Stay at the Bellagio. This is top of the line when it comes to honeymoon suites, and definitely comes with the price tag to match. If you can stomach it, the Bellagio’s comfortable elegance can’t be matched. Floor-to-ceiling marble, the finest linens, king-sized beds, and fireplace suites overlooking the world-famous fountain show in the hotel’s entrance make the Bellagio the hot-spot for honeymooners.

Do get a couple’s massage at one of the many fine spas in the area. For the ultimate in luxury, head over to the Dragon Couples’ Suite at the Mandarin Oriental. Private steam showers, adjacent treatment tables, a view of the strip, personal soak tubs, and private vanities make this the best couple’s spa treatment in Vegas.

Eat at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas. Without a doubt the best view at dinnertime, the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas positions you directly across the fountain show at the Bellagio. With a fine wine list, excellent French cuisine, and superb service, all you need is your spouse, and your honeymoon retreat is complete.

The Best Honeymoon Escapes in the US

Visiting the Hawaiian Island of Moloka’i

28 Apr
Molokai. Photo courtesy of  BrentDPayne via Flickr.

Molokai. Photo courtesy of BrentDPayne via Flickr.

It’s Sunday afternoon as we wander the quiet streets of Kaunakakai, the only real town you’ll see when visiting the Hawaiian Island of  Moloka’i. Like Sleeping Beauty, this quiet community – which could double as the set for an old-time western – seems to be under a spell. Most of the shops and restaurants are closed, and few people are out and about.

We begin to feel a slight panic. What are we going to do on this languid island for three full days?

Several days later, my husband Alan and I regretfully boarded the nine-seat prop plane leaving Moloka’i, with a long list of things to do on our next visit. Although many businesses on this traditional church-going island with just over 8,000 residents do shut down on Sundays, we found more activities and adventures than we could possibly pack into a short getaway.

On Moloka’i, though, you have to look a little harder for things to do than you might in a more touristy destination. There are no big resorts with concierge staffs to plan your trip and few regularly scheduled activities. And while visitors are welcome, you need to adapt to the island’s leisurely pace. As a sign at the local airport suggests, “Slow down, you’re on Moloka’i.”

Here are our tips for planning your own Moloka’i escape:

Ride a Mule into Moloka’i’s Past

Moloka’i’s most-visited “attraction” stems from a dark chapter of Moloka’i’s history. From 1866 until 1969, Hawaiians who were suffering from Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) were forced into isolation on Moloka’i’s remote Kaluapapa peninsula, at the foot of a steep cliff that plunges nearly 2,000 feet into the sea. When the residents were allowed to leave and the area was preserved as the Kaluapapa National Historical Park, a small number of the former patients chose to stay and live out their lives in the community.

You can visit Kaluapapa only in one of two ways: by riding a mule down the three-mile trail from “topside” (as residents call the rest of Moloka’i) or by hiking down the same precipitous path. Either way, when you reach the village, you must join a guided tour. You can book through Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tours, outfitters Moloka’i Outdoors or Moloka’i Fish and Dive, or the Hotel Moloka’i.

Explore a Mill and a Phallic Rock

If you don’t want to make the trek down to Kaluapapa, you can learn more about the community’s history at the Moloka’i Museum, a small gallery on the site of a former sugar mill. Watch a video about the settlement and see photos and artifacts from the community and about Father Damien, the priest who lived and worked at the settlement for 16 years. You can also learn about the history of the island’s sugar industry and explore the restored R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill, which German immigrant Rudolph Meyer built in 1878. The museum is on Highway 470 in the center of the island.

Moloka'i's Phallic Rock. Photo courtesy of 4nitsirk via Flickr.

Moloka’i’s Phallic Rock. Photo courtesy of 4nitsirk via Flickr.

Continue north on Highway 470 past the museum to the Kaluapapa Lookout, where you can get a distant glimpse of the Kaluapapa settlement below. (From here, you can check out how steep the cliffs are before you sign up for your mule ride or hike.) And a short walk from the lookout point is one of Moloka’i’s most unusual attractions, Kauleonanahoa, also known as the Phallic Rock. As soon as you see this stone formation, which is said to have powers of fertility, you’ll understand its name.

Talk Story with Uncle Pilipo

The island’s east end is its wet side, and as you drive east along Highway 450, you enter a rain forest lush with leafy trees and drooping vines. Your destination at the farthest eastern point on Moloka’i is the Halawa Valley. There’s a small beach here, but the main reason to follow the serpentine road to its eastern terminus is to take part in an unusual cultural adventure.

Septuagenarian Pilipo Solatorio greets visitors in the hale (thatch-roofed shelter) outside his Halawa Valley home and talks about life in this rural taro-growing village, where he was born in 1939 and is now the oldest surviving resident. He told us about his boyhood in the village, the devastating tsunami that hit the island in 1946, and how he left home at age 16 to join the military and see a bigger patch of the world. He explained about taro farming and traditional Hawaiian greetings, and shared photos of his extended family.

Mo’oula Waterfall in the Halawa Valley via Alan Albert

Mo’oula Waterfall in the Halawa Valley via Alan Albert.

After talking story with Pilipo, either he or his son will lead you on a 90-minute hike across the family’s ancestral lands to the Mo’oula Waterfall, which cascades down a rain forest slope. Pack a picnic lunch to eat by the falls, where you can go for a swim. It’s an easy walk, except that you need to cross two chilly streams; bring water shoes or take off your hiking shoes to wade across.

Crack Some Nuts

If you’ve never tasted macadamia nuts fresh from the tree, make a beeline for Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm, where owner Tuddie Purdy will teach you about how the nuts grow and then let you crack and shell some samples. You can also taste some of their freshly roasted macadamias. You’ll want to buy more than one bag to take with you, since you’ll likely gobble up the first one before you get home. The farm is located on Lihi Pali Avenue, behind Moloka’i High School.

Listen to the Sounds of Moloka’i

Every Sunday afternoon, the musicians of Na Ohana Hoaloha give a wildly popular free concert on the lanai at the Coffees of Hawaii Plantation, in Kualapu’u, not far from the airport. They play traditional Hawaiian music, and regulars often strum along on their own ukeleles. The locally-grown coffee is delicious, too.

Check out the weekly music schedule at the Paddler’s Inn, a restaurant and bar in Kaunakakai where we were lucky enough to hear a performance by Lono, a notable Moloka’i musician who plays updated Hawaiian folk music. To accompany the tunes, Paddler’s serves excellent local fish, burgers, and cold beer.

Have an Art Adventure

In Kaunakakai, visit Moloka’i Art From The Heart, a cooperative gallery that shows and sells jewelry, ceramics, and other works by local artists. If you prefer to make your own, check the schedule at the Moloka‘i Arts Center, a small studio space tucked behind the Coffees of Hawaii Plantation, where art classes are open to both locals and visitors.

Where the Beaches Are

Papohaku Beach extends nearly three miles via Carolyn Heller

Papohaku Beach extends nearly three miles via Carolyn Heller

Most of Moloka’i’s best beaches are along the west shore. Papohaku Beach seems to go on for miles, and in fact, it does; at more than two-and-a-half-miles long, it’s not only the island’s longest stretch of sand, it’s among the longest beaches in Hawai’i. Just avoid Papohaku on a blustery day when the wind kicks up the sand.

If it’s too windy, continue south past Papohaku to the end of the road, where you can sun and swim on a more sheltered cove at Dixie Maru Beach.

Dixie Maru Beach via Carolyn Heller

Dixie Maru Beach via Carolyn Heller

On the island’s east end, the smaller Kumimi Beach (also known as Murphy Beach) is located at Mile Marker 20 on Highway 450.

Where to Stay

Moloka’i has only one hotel, the comfortable, laid-back Hotel Moloka’i, just east of Kaunakakai, with 54 rooms in two-story Polynesian-style units. Ask for a room on the second floor; the vaulted ceilings in many of these upper-floor rooms give them a more spacious feel. Room rates range from $169-269. The hotel also charges a $2.50 per day resort fee that includes a light Continental breakfast, Wi-Fi, local phone calls, and use of beach chairs and snorkel gear.

The other option on Moloka’i is to rent a condominium. See listings at Moloka’i Vacation Properties, Moloka’i Resorts, and Moloka’i Land and Homes. You can find lodging options at AirBNB as well.

Where to Eat

When visiting the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, don’t come expecting elegant eateries or celebrity chefs. Instead, you’ll find traditional Hawaiian “plate lunches,” lots of burgers, and some Filipino influences. Most places to eat are in Kaunakakai.

Lechon from the Moloka'i Roast Pork House via Carolyn Heller

Lechon from the Moloka’i Roast Pork House via Carolyn Heller

We enjoyed the lechon (crispy roast pork) at the modest Moloka’i Roast Pork House (33B Ala Malama Avenue), which serves plate lunches and Filipino fare. We can also recommend the hearty and comforting pancit, rice noodles with vegetables.

For simple, well-prepared plate lunches like katsu chicken or kimchee burgers, served with the classic two scoops of rice or macaroni salad, stop into friendly Mrs. K’s, opposite the town library in Kaunakakai. If you find the standard Hawaiian portions too hearty, Mrs. K’s will make you a “mini” version of several of their dishes.

Vegetarians don’t have a lot of options on Moloka’i, so look for Outpost Natural Foods, a tiny grocery with a vegetarian lunch counter inside. They make smoothies, veggie sandwiches, and a daily hot dish. It’s on Makaena Place, behind the gas station.

Kanemitsu's Bakery. Photo courtesy of crispyteriyaki via Flickr.

Kanemitsu’s Bakery. Photo courtesy of crispyteriyaki via Flickr.

It’s a Moloka’i tradition to pick up a loaf of hot sweet bread available only after 8pm from Kanemitsu Bakery (79 Ala Malama Avenue). The bakery itself is closed in the evening; you buy your bread from a counter in a dark alley behind the shop. These puffy loaves are filled with your choice of cream cheese, butter, cinnamon sugar, or strawberry jam (or a combination), and they’re big, so bring a friend and share.

Getting To and Around Moloka’i

You can fly to Moloka’i from Maui or Oahu; it’s about 25 minutes by air from either island. When we flew from Maui, we had spectacular views of the cliffs on Moloka’i’s north shore (taking a helicopter tour over Moloka’i offers some fantastic views).

From Maui’s Lahaina Harbor, Moloka’i Ferry sails to Kaunakakai in 90 minutes, but it’s not necessarily cheaper than flying. Check the weather first, too, as the crossing can be choppy.

Moloka’i measures 38 miles long and 10 miles across. Although there is a taxi service, it’s difficult to get around without renting a car, which you should book in advance. Traffic is light, so bicycling is a possibility; the road along the south coast is relatively flat, but the rest of the island is quite hilly.

For more information about visiting Hawaii’s Moloka’i island, contact the Destination Moloka’i Visitors bureau. And plan to stay more than three days. As we found even on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, there’s plenty to see and do on Hawaii’s most Hawaiian island.

Visiting the Hawaiian Island of Moloka’i

Big Island ATV Tour Through Waipio Valley

11 Mar

To be perfectly honest, I’m not much of a driver. Sure, I hold a driver’s license, but as a New Yorker, it merely serves as a means as identification. I don’t own (or operate) a vehicle and I take the subway to work. So when the van pulled up for my Big Island ATV Tour Through Waipio Valley, and I saw the rows of rugged-looking four wheelers lined up—I could hardly contain my excitement.

After a brief (yet thorough) tutorial, our guides let us hop on the ATVs, and I felt like Cinderella in her carriage … or maybe Danica Patrick in her Chevy. Either way, we went for a test run and soon were off!

Big Island ATV Tour Through Waipio Valley

Big Island ATV Tour Through Waipio Valley

Since I’d never been on an ATV before (and was a bit nervous), I started out slowly, but had the hang of it after a few minutes. Soon after, I was flying through the Waipio Valley like a pro. The most amazing part? The scenery. Four wheeling has always conjured up images of tractor-trailers, stinky farm animals and flat lands, but it was here that I saw bigger-than-life trees, incredible black sand beaches and the tallest waterfall in all of Hawaii. Middle America, this is not.

The guides, a group of locals completely immersed in the Hawaiian culture (the types you want to hang out with and be their best friend), helped to make me feel totally comfortable as a newbie. Also, I loved the non-boring tidbits of info they’d weave in about Hawaiian culture, history and what locals do for fun (real Hawaii!) during the entire tour.

Big Island ATV Tour Through Waipio Valley

With plenty of turns, rugged bumps and mud puddles, I took every opportunity to get as filthy as possible (seriously, who knew racing though mud could be so incredibly exhilarating?), and when it was time for the first break, I needed that refreshing swim in the base of a waterfall. I use the word refreshing because the water temperature registered somewhere between brisk and limb-numbing, but I was covered in mud and needed to wash off what they call my “Hawaiian freckles.” After our group swim, we had time to snap a few photos and a quick snack, but there was more thrilling four wheeling and a stop at Hiilawe Falls.

Big Island ATV Tour Through Waipio Valley

“Hawaiian Freckles”

Big Island ATV Tour Through Waipio Valley, Hiilawe Falls

Hiilawe Falls

This was my first trip to the Big Island and I packed-in a lot activities that a city girl never gets to enjoy: snorkeling, surfing (okay, surf lessons), whale watching, hiking and loads of beach time. But this ATV tour was by far my favorite part of the trip. I was able to leave the “tourist” area of my resort, got incredibly messy and met some really cool locals. And though my drivers license probably wasn’t required—I busted out my racing skills all the same.

Big Island ATV Tour Through Waipio Valley Big Island of Hawaii , hawaii , USA