The Lance+Jeff Guide To Planning Your Tropical Island Getaway

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Welcome to Hawaii Countdown Week on Lance+Jeff!  Lance and I will soon be off jetsetting around the world, leaving this dump of a city (Philadumphia? Filthadelphia?) for the tropical U-V rays of our nation’s 50th state, the Aloha Isles, the “Hawaii” in “Hawaii Five-O:” Hawai’i! (You have to use the apostrophe, just ’cause.)

Way back in the yesteryear of 2010, we thought we had just stumbled upon an unusually great deal to Hawai’i and were convinced we’d never go back.  As it turns out, this will be our third trip together to the islands.  I never would’ve believed years ago (and barely believe it now!) that we’d be fortunate enough to visit as often as we have.  Tomorrow, I’ll go over just how we got to Hawaii this time for a straight-up steal: flights and 10 nights across two islands for less than $1000 for the both of us.

Today, though, I’ll share some of the tips we’ve developed for a successful trip to Hawai’i.  If you ever find yourself visiting this crazy/beautiful place, hopefully these will help you out:

  1. The flight is long, especially from the East Coast, so be prepared.  This means: have stuff that will legit occupy you for 9-11 hours. On my next trip, I’m bringing my iPad, my Nintendo 3DS, my Kindle, and an iPod.  Puzzles books are good, too, if that’s your sort of thing.  And for Pete’s sake, if you are like us and fly in the cattle car called Economy, you’d better eat a proper meal first, otherwise it’ll be like our last trip: the flight attendants ran out of food for sale by the time they got to our row, so Lance and I had to split a cookie somebody spirited out of First Class for us.  One cookie, two people, 9 HOURS.
  2. If you can afford it, get private transportation from the airport.  The last thing you want to do after getting off a 9-hour flight is to sit on an airport shuttle to Waikiki for another hour, which is what Lance and I did on our last trip to save money.  It was excruciating, not only because we were stuck in traffic but also because the bus stopped at every damned hotel and ours was one of the last on the strip in Waikiki.  We eventually got out early and just walked the rest of the way.  Cabs from Honolulu to Waikiki can be expensive ($40+ each way; from Kona to Waikoloa was $80+ each way), so you might want to look into private, flat-rate cars like Hawaii23 (yup, $23 flat rate one-way, up to 3 passengers).
  3. Know what you’re getting in to.  Waikiki on O’ahu is the biggest tourist destination in Hawai’i and it shows–heck, there’s a Cheesecake Factory there, fer cryin’ out loud.  Waikiki is a walkable strip of chain restaurants, resort hotels, ABC Stores, and souvenir shops right on the beach.  It has enough familiarity to feel comfortable while still being relaxed and tropical.  If that kind of environment is not for you, consider staying in another area of O’ahu or on another island.  I can tell you that the Big Island is a much different feel from O’ahu, much less developed and much quieter.
  4. Coupons, coupons, coupons!  Most of the coupon books you find in Hawai’i (like Oahu Gold or somesuch) oftentimes don’t offer you a great deal but can be fun to peruse while on the beach.  I’d actually recommend looking into things you want to do (TripAdvisor’s Activities pages for the Hawaiian islands are a good place to get ideas) and shopping around ahead of time for the best deal–a lot of places will offer online or advanced booking discounts.  Also consider signing up for the Honolulu Groupon and/or LivingSocial for deals on activities (though 90% of the time, the deals will be for auto detailing or canvas photo prints).
  5. Know what kind of traveler you are.  As discussed before, Lance and I are very different in how we approach traveling/vacationing.  Like with basically anything you do in life, this might be your one and only shot at experiencing Hawaii, so do what you want–NO REGRETS!
  6. 90% of luaus are crap.  Do your homework. The Hilton Hawaiian Village luau is held on the top of a parking garage.  If that doesn’t sound like something you’d want to spend $100 on, don’t.  So many of these are tourist traps and aren’t terribly authentic.  If you’re on O’ahu, you should probably considering the luau/show combination at the Polynesian Cultural Center, which is owned and operated by Bringham Young University’s Hawaii campus.  We went with this luau because it’s supposed to be the most authentic on O’ahu, though I felt dirty giving my money to an organization tangentially related to a religion that’s trying to suppress my freedom to marry (but really, which religion isn’t? Ba-ZING!)
  7. Read up on Hawai’i.  Hawai’i is paradise to a lot of people, but like pretty much everywhere else in America, it has a tumultuous history, especially regarding how the West basically destroyed the culture of the native Hawaiians in the name of religion and capitalism.  You owe it to yourself and the Hawaiian people to learn about the island’s traditions, history, and beliefs–and do it honestly and respectfully; don’t come off as a patronizing jag.
  8. The best travel guides out there are, without question, the Hawaii Revealed books by Andrew Doughton.  Full color, brutally honest and pretty funny all at the same time, these books are broken down by island and are incredibly thorough.  There are also smartphone apps for each island, which Lance and I haven’t tried but get really great reviews.
  9. If you’re used to Manhattan prices, you won’t be shocked by the cost of being in Hawaii. With the exception of the $10 gallon of milk (which is totally for real), prices for food are pretty much on par with what you’d pay in any metropolitan area…or Disney World.  Rental cars are actually pretty reasonably priced given that there’s so much competition.
  10. Don’t worry about the “rain.”  Lance and I do this dance every trip, where the forecast says it’s going to rain and Lance is supremely bummed and lets it ruin his whole vacation before it even starts.  It’s a tropical island; it’s gonna rain, but oftentimes the rain is fleeting (think Florida afternoon rains, but quicker).  It may rain overnight or briefly in the afternoon, but 95% of the time it’s sunny as hell and you’ll probably burn like a lobster, just like me.

In six days, Lance and I will be enjoying mai tais on the beach on Kauai.  Until then, aloha and mahalo for reading, friends! We’ll be back tomorrow sharing how we got to Hawaii on a (relative) shoe-string budget.

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Photo Friday: Smitten With the Mitten

 

Given all the :-/ news about Detroit filing for bankruptcy, I thought it appropriate to draw some attention to some of the more wonderful parts of the Great Lakes State, and even Detroit.

I visited my parents this past weekend, who live about 40 minutes outside Detroit (though, growing up, my brother and I were trained to substitute that for “20 minutes from Ann Arbor, you know, home of the world-renowned University of Michigan. Did I mention that my mom went there? GO BLUE!”)

My quaint lil’ hometown (the photos below don’t do it justice, unfortunately, but you can find some swell pics at I Run These Towns) was hosting their annual Art in the Park, where the streets shut down and super-charming artisans attempt to sell their wares.  Given that it’s the Midwest, stuff is fairly crafty and doesn’t really appeal to my senses, but strolling down street after street full of vendors and artists was like stepping back into my childhood.

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My face as my dad tells what is probably an off-color joke. We’ve come to rue the day somebody created the “Shit My Dad Says” Twitter account before we thought of it.
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The fountain in Kellogg Park where, one summer, I sat for 10 hours applying very intricate face-painting to squirmy brats, and only got 50% of the profits.
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I modeled as my mom tested out the camera on her phone. This guy behind me seems very perplexed.
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The Penn Theatre in the center of town, where they show second-run movies at a pretty good price. It’s been around since 1941!

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We hit Art in the Park early on the Friday it opened, so crowds were sparser than they’d be just a few hours later.

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Our popcorn cart, which is now sponsored by Remerica and Auto-Lab, I guess?

We hit up Greek Islands Coney Island for lunch before we left the art fair.  For those of you who’ve never been to Michigan and are perplexed by Coney Island restaurants…you’re not alone.  There are probably hundreds of Coney Island restaurants in the metro Detroit-area, but they aren’t a chain, per se.  While there are some franchised Coneys (like Kirby’s, which has almost 30 locations), they’re all independently owned. Coney Islands are really their own type of cuisine, a mix of Americanized Greek food (think gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita) and…chili dogs.  Coneys are often owned and operated by Greek-American families, hence the unusual mix of cuisine.

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Your classic “coney dog.” You may think it’s just a chili dog, but you’d be wrong. The chili is very specific to Coney Islands, and it’s hard to find anywhere else.

I wonder if Coney Islands are the Lil’ Sebastian of Michigan. Lance didn’t seem to “get” Coney Islands when we last visited Michigan together.  “It’s a hot dog with ‘meat sauce’ on it,” he said suspiciously in his best Ben Wyatt.

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Scout, my parents’ 14-year-old pup, makes her first blog cameo!

Of course, the Midwest doesn’t have the reputation of being a bunch of fat, shapeless people for nothing! My dad loves preparing all of my favorite foods when I visit, so by Day 3 or so I always get “tummy troubles,” but it’s worth it.  Below, you’ll see my father’s Texas Toast Bacon Burger (yes, you read that right.)

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On one of the last days I was home, we swung in to Detroit, which just got its first Whole Foods (which is, I’m not kidding, a seriously important thing and a sign that there’s budding hope in the revival of the city).  When I was a kid, I never spent a lot of time in Detroit, a city plagued by crime, corruption, and nothingness for years.  Seriously, the city’s lost more than half its population since the 1950s, so it’s understandable how the tax base dried up, leaving the city in shambles.

Now, as an adult, I’ve become more protective of “The D” (it’s not going to catch on, folks, let’s give it up).  I’ve become very interested in the new urban farming initiatives in a city which so badly needs access to fresh (and cheap) produce, or the Midtown section that is being infused with a lot of young, 20-something money (hey, it’s cheap to live there and young people gravitate to city centers).

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While we were downtown, we got pretty close to the sets they’re building for “Transformers 4.” A couple of the other “Transformers” movies have also filmed in Detroit, though probably because it doesn’t take a lot of money to make the place look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

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Hang in there, Detroit!

On the way out of the city, we stopped by Slows-To-Go Barbecue. My parents have been raving about Slows for months, and they weren’t wrong.  For those of y’all familiar with Fette Sau in Brooklyn or Fishtown in Philly, it’s a similar idea.  Very good and well worth going out of your way for.

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Detroit is going to turn around eventually, though it’s going to face even more growing pains as, I’m sure, city employee pensions and even more of the government workforce will be cut.  There are signs of hope in the city (when did Detroit get a Starbucks??); I remain hopeful.

Oh, and of course, we also had to check on the progress on Michigan’s first CHEESECAKE FACTORY!!!  Lookin’ good, CFac, lookin’ good.

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Legends of the Fall

 

Friends, it’s fall! Fall is here! Hip hip!  So long, summer, you horrible, humid beast! (Keep in mind that it’s currently, like 110% humidity in Philly and 85 degrees. It’s all psychosomatic.)

There isn’t a time of year Lance and I love more than this increasingly crisp stretch of reds and oranges and yellows, of sweaters and fingerless gloves, hot cider and college football (okay, maybe that’s just me) leading up to Christmas, than fall.  It’s our element.  Maybe it’s because our birthdays are both soon approaching (hint hint) and we’re therefore just biologically predisposed to this time of year.

Even eclipsing our birthdays (wink wink nudge nudge) is our anticipation of fall products, the very items that evoke a sense memory every time you sip or sniff (because, I mean, what’s tradition without buying consumer goods? Yay capitalism!):

  • Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. Duh, this one is pretty obvious, and although they released them toward the tail-end of August this year, we both had to wait until today, the first unofficial day of fall, to get one.  Much like the Gingerbread Latte around Christmastime, the PSL is an amazingly rich fall explosion in your mouth.  I’m a cheapsake, though, so I’ll spend the $6 once to get one, then resort to the spice-less pumpkin latte at Dunkin’ Donuts for half the price for the remainder of the season.
  • Cider and donuts from the orchard. Getting them from the grocery store is not the same!  That’s why you must spend the extra $5 in gas to get to the orchard and then pay whatever upcharge applied by the orchard.
  • Sweetzels Spiced Wafers.  Though these are available year-round in the Northeast (at least), they become omnipresent starting in August. I love chucking one or two of these into my mouth at once and sucking the ginger flavoring out of them until the wafer dissolves from a rock-hard cookie to a mushy mess. Evocative!
  • Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory.  The Cheesecake Factory is kind of a gigantic mess, a cacophony of menu items served in a weird, pastel Egyptian/stencil-paint theme.  Nevertheless, the food is solid and this cheesecake is bangin’.  It’s only offered from mid-October on (and I missed it last year since we were in Hawaii and Hawaiian Cheesecake Factory doesn’t believe in pumpkins!!!) and I will move mountains to gorge myself with it this year.
  • Bath and Body Works’ bajillion fall candles.  Don’t ask me to justify the difference between the Autumn and Autumn Day scents, but I do admit there is a difference.   One probably has notes of “cider” and “cool breeze through the orchard,” while the other is mixed with “the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.”
  • Little Debbie Fall Party Cakes.  Actually, not only the Party Cakes, but anything fall-themed, regardless of how loose the theming or how awful the actual product, is something I will probably enjoy.

This is understandably the time of the year when Lance and I both gain about 10 pounds each through pie/dessert coffee consumption. But that’s okay, since it’s also the time of year when you move away from shorts and tees and into more forgiving sweaters and hoodies.