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Last week I mentioned that we jumped all over United Airlines’ fare sale and headed to Hawaii.  We weren't going to let the $280 round trip tickets pass us by... Oh no, life is way too short for that.  To put it mildly, that changed our plans and rapidly so.  We were going to take my Dad on a side trip to San Francisco, but Hawaii was a perfect destination to take him to instead and for a few of reasons: One, he and is his companion, Nancy, love the sun. Two:  The last time I took my dad to Hawaii was in 2000. Those of you who are long time readers know that that particular trip wasn't a trip to paradise, instead it was to hell! I'll quickly refresh your memory since the majority of you are new. First of all, it was a couple months after my Mom had passed away, so we were all walking around like Zombies (especially my Dad).  While visiting me in L.A. and the day before our trip to the Aloha State, my Dad breaks his back (vertebrae 7), playing catch with a football on the Strand.  He was rushed to the hospital via ambulance and naturally, I tried to cancel the trip. He said “NO”!  He would be OK to go to Hawaii (he had never been and really wanted to go).  BIG MISTAKE.  He was in so much pain (understandably) that we literally spent most of the trip visiting the immediate medical care, hospital and the pharmacy.  Every night, he was moaning and groaning so loud that I am sure the hotel guests must've thought something kinky was on going on in our room. The trip was true torture.  Don't get me wrong, I love my dad very much, but helping him put on his tighty whities every morning, in paradise, wasn't my idea of a vacation.  When he did walk, it was like Frankenstein. He was very stiff and hands, by his side of course.   My dad really wanted to go to the top of Diamond Head but, the doctor had said, “NO”, so he agreed that he would wait by the car while I ran to the top to take some pictures for Well, wouldn't you know who I ran into on the way down? Big Frank (my dad)!   I said, “What are you doing up here”? With sweat pouring down his face, hunched over and his hand clenched to the railing he said, "I can do it!"  It was the first time in my life I felt like a parent.  I said, "Dad, you turn around and get back down to the car".  He said,” but I really want to see the views”.  Again, I thought I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone or maybe Fantasy Island.  "Next time Dad, next time". Well, this was the next time, so did BIG Frank finally make it to the top?  We'll see…  
Our 5-hours and 50 minute  flight to Honolulu was very smooth.  I splurged with my miles so we could all sit in First Class.  Besides, who knows how long my United miles are going to last? 15,000 miles a piece (each way) to upgrade didn't seem too extravagant (of course, I am an optimist when it comes to United, so we did fly coach on the way back, it's only a 4-hour and 20 minute flight home to LAX).  It’s a two class airplane and it's really not that great up front, with no leg stand, no sleeper seat, and no personal videos. Here I am complaining about First Class, I know I'm just lucky to be on the plane.  I do have to tell you the extra leg room and the pancakes did make the flight go by a lot quicker. But, I do have to mention the disappointment for me was they did not have those nice pink bags of sweetened fruits and nuts made by Fisher.  Not too good for the belly but good for the palate.   An hour before landing is when you can get your first glimpse of land, the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island.  Around the same time they bring out more food.  We had had enough at breakfast, but who's going to turn down a nice fruit and cheese plate? 

We stayed at one of my favorite hotels in the world.  The historic Sheraton Moana Surfrider located in the heart of Waikiki Beach.  The hotel opened in 1901 and it has the famous Moana Banyan tree.  The Banyan tree spans 150-feet across and 75-feet high.  In my personal opinion, the tree and the history make this hotel.  Immediately when you step out of the car they have a Hawaiian dude to greet guests (lucky for Amber Airplane) with a lei .  There are different sections of the hotel.  Amber Airplane and I chose to stay in the historic section (it reminds me of the Ocean House Hotel in Watch Hill Rhode Island, except the surf rider is much nicer), while my Dad and Nancy opted for the more modern and better view of the tower wing.  

We quickly unpacked and ran down to beach and then stopping briefly at the pool side bar for a celebratory Lava Flow.  Then I talked everyone into going for an outrigger canoe   ride ($5 a piece).  It's pretty hard work paddling a few hundred yards out, but I thought it would be good training to get my Dad ready for the climb up Diamond Head, yes: Diamond Head! We caught three waves and then headed back (phew, our arms were getting tired) for yet another lava flow.   There is nothing more relaxing than sipping on a virgin lava flow and listening to live Hawaiian music and watching hula dancers under the almighty banyan tree.  I could've sat out there for hours; instead I went back to the room, laid on the bed and listened to the music.   After a quick cat nap we got ready and walked 50 yards to have dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world; Dukes .  How can you not love this place?  OK, it’s touristy, but come on. Its steps from the Pacific Ocean, much laid back (you can wear flip flops and shorts), and everything on the menu is tasty, not to mention reasonably priced.  Dukes Restaurant and Barefoot located at 2335 Kalakaua Ave. tel. 808.922.2268.  

Wednesday morning we walked back over to Dukes to indulge in their “all you can eat breakfast buffet” for only $9.95.   Because it wasn't a very good beach day (the trade winds were blowing), we jumped in the car and cruised to Aloha Stadium (where the Pro Bowl is played).  There, you will find one of the biggest swap meets around.  Over one-thousand booths (that I think may go all around the stadium, but we didn't make it that far).   They have everything from clothes to junk.   If you know what you are doing you can find some great deals . For example, they have really good quality t-shirts for cheap; 5 for $20).  This is a great place to stock up on souvenirs to take home.  The swap meet is open on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 8am-4pm. Cost is 50 cents per person (or if you are really cheap, get coupon out of one of the local “things to do” magazines). You can bargain with the vendors, but remember only a few accept credit cards or a check, cash is king at this swap.

After the swap meet, we were off to the famous North Shore.  It's about an hour’s drive, but who's really watching the clock when you are in Hawaii?  You know we stopped at the Dole Plantation for a quick lesson in pineapples.  They have the world’s largest maze, but we did that last year .  Amber Airplane talked us into going on a $7.50 Pineapple Express Train Tour  through the plantation (it's not yet completed).  The brochure makes the 20 minute train ride sound a lot more appealing than it really is, but now we know.  However it is relaxing, but it is loud and we didn't see anything other than miles and miles of pineapples.  It definitely wasn't worth $7.50 a piece.  The guide book said we would see Mango's, cocoa, lychee trees, but they were all right next to the entrance and it looked more like a garden shop then some lush tropic.  The best part about stopping at the Dole Plantation is no doubt getting the Dole pineapple whip cone, a chocolate covered pineapple, and fresh squeezed pineapple juice ( My Dad will vouch). Here's a tip on how to select a Pineapple.   Dole Plantation , located at 64-1550 Kamehameha Highway, Wahiawa   tel. 808.621.8408.  

After the Hawaiian snack, we got back in the car and drove 15 minutes to the North Shore. We stopped and walked around   Waimea Falls which is such a beautiful lush green sanctuary. We didn't plan on it, so we didn’t have time to see the whole park and take part in all of their activities which include:  watching a hula performance, acrobatic cliff diving, contemporary Hawaiian music, hula lessons, compete in a warrior skills contest, Hawaiian weapons demonstrations, and Hawaiian games.   It would've been nice to walk around the Botanical gardens and swim in the waterfall.  But since we didn't bring our bathing suits we didn't pay the $24 entrance fee.  Instead we just walked around the free area near the entrance.  Next time we will experience everything they have to offer.  Waimea Falls Park , is located at 59-864 Kamehameha Highway, North Shore  tel. 808-638-8511.

We continued north for a few more minutes in quest to see the gigantic waves (sometimes they can be 30 feet and higher).  Unfortunately, they weren't that huge, but nonetheless a beautiful a beach to hang out on.  If you go all the way to the North Shore, make sure you stop in downtown Haleiwa and visit Matsumoto's Shave Ice.  They have the world famous snow cones (shave ice) and they have a constant line out the door .   They have all kinds of flavors and my favorite is Lilikoi (passion fruit), Watermelon, and Lychee. Ummm Ummm!   Matsumoto's Shave Ice , 66-087 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa,  tel. 808-637-4827.

We made it back to the hotel and I asked my dad what he wanted for dinner.  He said crab!  So I figured Sam Choy's would be a good bet.  Wrong, truly a rookies mistake.  Even though I have been there many times, it's been a year, so I should've asked the concierge or a local if Sam Choy's was still any good.  My first sign that it wasn't the same was that they had a reservation available at 8pm that night.  The second:  when we pulled up to the restaurant the valet told me to park it myself. What's up with that?  Third and final: We walked in and the place was three quarters empty. That's when we should've gone somewhere else, but it was already 8pm and everyone was hungry and tired.  This was the biggest disappointment of the trip and the worst meal we had the entire time (including the coach meal home).  The place was horrible.  The waitress told us Sam had to close most of his restaurants in Hawaii and abroad.  We didn't get into details but I'm guessing Sam got too rich so he stopped coming in to monitor his operations.  Who knows, who cares.  The best part of the meal was dessert; Mac Nut pie, do you want a bite? Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch & Crab located at 580 N. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu, tel. 808.545.7979. You'll be sorry.

Returning to our room was definitely a pleasure.  Opening the door brought the smell of the clean ocean (we had the windows wide open and the curtains were blowing in towards the bed because of the gentle cool trade winds.  When you stay at a great hotel like the Surfrider it immediately becomes your home away from home.  The chocolate  on the pillow don't hurt either.  (Amber's still mad at me because I ate hers :-).

Diamond Head.  Hawaii's most famous landmark.  No matter where you are on Waikiki Beach, you find yourself mesmerized by it.  Every time I'm lying on my surfboard in the warm waters of the North Pacific, I sit back and look at Diamond Head and think to myself "How lucky am I?"   How beautiful it glows at sunset when the suns last rays of warmth hit the side of it.  Diamond Head is sort of like the Statue of Liberty to locals. Not too many locals go there (except a few and they go early in the morning).  I grew up one hour from the Statue of Liberty and can I sadly say I have never been.  The locals on the beach who live 15 minutes away from Diamond Head took great pride to tell me that they and all of their friends have never climbed her.  To them it's one of the biggest tourist attractions; to me it's a sign of freedom.  Over the last few years I have seen all kinds of changes at the entrance.  This trip was no different.  They now have a   booth at the parking entrance where they implement a $5 parking fee.  You can park outside of the crater and walk a few hundred yards and pay $1 entry a piece, but when you have four people in the car it's not worth it.  

The park opens at 6am.  My advice is to go the first morning after you arrive.  You will be up early anyway from the jet lag.  This way you beat the crowd, because once the tour busses come in by 8am, it's not fun.  We arrived just before the busses did (thank God, because we saw the hoards of people when we left).   The sign at the beginning of the paved sidewalk is a perfect spot for a photo op.  After a quick picture we were off.  It was 80 degrees and luckily my Dad bought a bottle of water ($2) from the entrepreneur at the entrance.  The hike is only .7 of a mile, so people in good shape can do it round trip in 40 minutes or less.  People who aren't so fit can count on it to take double.  The pavement ends at the base of the mountain.  Then it turns into rocky unstable ground.  There are fences, so no worries about falling off.  I thought for sure my dad was going to make it to the top before we started.  But after a hundred feet in I wasn't so sure.  He was sucking wind early.  My Dad is usually in good shape, but this 6 week trip to California took him out of his daily workouts.  We made it to the first set of stairs.  Then those of you who know this area well, the next section is a long dark, narrow tunnel about 200 feet.  This is my favorite part when I am with people because at times you can't even see your hand in front of you. (This is when I run ahead of Amber Airplane and then I start crawling back towards her, on the ground.  I make wild animal sounds then I sneak up and grab her and I am sure you can hear her scream echo throughout the crater).  This time was no different and it was really dark because no one around us had a flashlight.  

When we made it out of the tunnel, we took another break to enjoy the view and to get Pops ready for the hardest part of the hike.  99 steep steps up.  You could hear him quietly counting every step he took 72 , 80 , 95 ...  He made it.  Next obstacle the spiraling staircase in the dark.  This is not that easy because some people were trying to come down which makes for a tight fit.  We slowly but surely made it out of the core of Diamond Head.  Yeah!  We weren't at the top yet, but my Dad could feel the accomplishment was in his grasp.  "One more set of stairs Dad, you can do it".  He stopped there and said I can't make it any farther and turned around.   Just kidding, of course he didn't.  My dad is a finisher .  The trip to the top is definitely worth the panoramic views .    By the way, everyone is very friendly with each other no matter if they speak English or not. Everyone either says good morning or nods passing by.  Well, on the way down my dad took the friendly greeting a step further.  Besides the friendly smile and good morning on the way up, on the way down his smile was a lot wider and he started telling passer by’s "piece of cake, piece of cake".  Then the whole rest of the trip he would remind us and tell who ever would listen of his achievement .

Next week I will tell you about the latter half of our trip and...

Aloha – Johnny Jet

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 How do I save money on flights?  The best way to save money is by doing some research.  Now this takes time, but it will pay off in the end.  First, you need to log on to :-).  We have all the websites you need to begin your bargain hunting.  I usually start out by searching these websites:  Expedia , Travelocity , Orbitz , and .  Keep in mind, I have also downloaded the software to .   Every time I do a search with a travel site, the sometime annoying, Sidestep pops up and searches about 140 different travel providers at once.  The great thing about them is they are able to search the low fare carriers like Southwest and Jet Blue and these guys usually have a great price.  After I find out who is the cheapest, I log on to ), to see if the airlines website itself is offering a better deal than the online travel agents. I then call the airline's 1-800 number to see if what they have to offer and to see if the agent has any insight on how to get a better deal (ie. maybe if I depart a different time or day it will be cheaper ....) usually not, but you never know. Also if you just want to find out which airlines fly certain routes then access.

If you are very flexible and don't care about times or schedules, try Priceline or Hotwire .  Also:  If you have a travel agent, give them a call and see if they can do for you, then compare and go with the cheaper, more direct route.

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Know What You're Getting Into With Extra Charges On Car Rentals(From
If you require more than a straight ahead car rental (one driver, returned to rental location and no optional extras), you have more to compare than the basic rate if you want the best deal. As you will see from the information that follows, rates can vary considerably from company to company -- even within the same company. Be sure to confirm rates and policies with each specific rental.

Hand controls for travelers with disabilities are almost always offered with no added charge. Dollar is the notable exception, charging about $5 a day. Be sure to reserve in advance (48 hours should be adequate) and ask if there is a special number you need to call.

If you're under 25, New York insists that all car rental companies allow you to rent, but vendors responded by tacking on hefty per-day fees (a situation you can encounter in a few other states as well). Avis charges about $80, Hertz charges about $50 and National and Alamo charge $25. In most states, you'll either be denied a rental (unless you are part of a negotiated corporate plan) or assessed a fee of $5 to $75 a day. It pays to ask before you book.

If you want additional driver rights, you're subject to a web of confusion. Hertz doesn't add a fee in some states if the additional driver is your spouse; in other states, they do. You can avoid the state-by-state variance if you are a member of Hertz #1 Club Gold. National doesn't charge if your additional driver is related to you in any way; if not, the fee is $5 to $10 per day. Avis generally charges $5-25, Enterprise charges $5, Thrifty charges $2-15 and Alamo charges $4.99.

Travelers who need to rent a car seat pay a big $20 a day with National, $5-8 per day (or $30-50 per week) with Hertz, $2-5 a day with Budget, $5 a day with Avis, Dollar, Thirfty or Enterprise and $5.99 with Alamo.

One-way rentals (when seasonal specials aren't offered) require careful comparison shopping. In general, your best bets will be Dollar (free to about $30) and National (about $45). Rates can vary according to your planned drop-off city and, in some cases, a company will not be able to accommodate you. Hertz can charge as little as $40 (Los Angeles to Las Vegas, for example), and many times that amount for longer distances. Budget typically double or triples the rate you'd pay for returning your rental to the pick-up location. Finding a Thrifty location that even does one-way rentals is unlikely (only about one percent of their locations offer them).

If you return your car late, you can almost always expect a 59-60 minute grace period (that one minute can actually make a difference). You can be charged a full added day's rental if you return the car two hours late (Avis and National), three hours late (Budget, Hertz and Thrifty) or four hours late (Enterprise). Fees for returns more than one hour but less than two (or three or four) hours late can be as low as $10 and as much as $60.

For rates specific to your rental, contact Alamo , Avis , Budget , Dollar , Enterprise , Hertz , National , and Thrifty .


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