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Discovering our aloha on Oahu
Using technology and a personalized Hawaiian guide to find your perfect vacation
Aloha. It’s a word synonymous with the Hawaiian islands. One word that holds many meanings. In Hawaii, “aloha” may be a greeting, a farewell, and can even mean love. But there’s an even deeper meaning to aloha in how Hawaiians interact with the natural world. On our latest trip to Oahu, we wanted to discover what aloha meant to us. To do that, we looked to Expedia’s new Discover Your Aloha tool.
Chris and I were excited not only to try the new facial recognition technology but to also be partnered with our animal guide to the islands. We watched the gorgeous video (which alone would have us pandering for a visit to the islands), smiled at the images that spurred something within us, and waited as we were paired with our Hawaiian animal guide.
Between the three Hawaiian animal guides, Pua’a (the pig) seemed like the most obvious choice. Pua’a, the pioneer, appeals to those that love the outdoors and are naturally adventurous. My husband and I are adventurers at heart. We’ve bungee jumped in Korea, received magical tattoos in Thailand, and trained falcons in Bahrain. We’re typically up for anything.
Imagine our shock when we ended up being paired with He’e as our animal guide. He’e (the octopus) introduced himself as the warm-hearted guide that loves sharing what makes Hawaiʻi special. It dawned on us that our animal guide was given to us based on where we are in our lives right now. And that means in the throes of parenthood.
Since welcoming our son eight months ago, our focus has shifted. We’re no longer chasing after the high that’s achieved from sky diving or swimming with sharks. Now, our primary focus is showing our baby the wonders of this world—even down to the little things. We were both ecstatic and anxious the first time we boarded a plane with our son. Our hearts melted when we introduced him to the ocean (and then were broken when he hated it). And we are absolutely tickled at the faces he makes when trying new foods. So like He’e, we truly enjoy sharing experiences with those that are closest to us. Both Chris and I were eager to explore the island using our customized itinerary from He’e.
The big recommendation from He’e was a visit to Kualoa Ranch. We had previously visited the 4,000 acre nature reserve three years ago on our honeymoon. And while Kualoa offers a variety of thrill seeking adventures from zip lining to ATV adventures, the ranch also boasts tot appropriate activities. We decided on the catamaran tour and the movie sites tour with a delicious buffet lunch in between the two.
Our ocean voyage tour was in the morning before the weather got too hot. We boarded the catamaran and sailed around Kaneohe Bay. Holden seemed to enjoy cruising on the water while I took in the gorgeous scenery of the windward side of Oahu. Mokoli’i island stood as statuesque as ever while the Ko’olau mountains beckoned from the shore. We stood at the bow with the wind in our hair and searched for baby sea turtles as we cruised past a small reef bed.
Once we docked and headed back to the ranch, we were ushered to the cafeteria. We were greeted by two long buffet tables stocked with delicious local food. I filled my plate with kalua pig, rice, kimchi, and ribs while making sure to leave room for the pineapple upside down cake for dessert. We had a few minutes to spare before our next tour and decided to wander around the property and love on some of the resident horses.
The afternoon movie sites tour was quite popular and we wanted to arrive early to ensure the best seating on the bus. Our guide drove us through secluded parts of the ranch where huge blockbuster movies were filmed. A few notable movies filmed on Kualoa were Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, 50 First Dates, and Battleship. Our driver made a few stops to let us off the bus to explore a few of the sets on our own and take as many pictures as we wanted.
And while we weren’t careening down a mountainside on a zipline or riding horseback through a lush valley, our family time at Kualoa was well spent. Seeing Holden take in the scenery on our catamaran ride and posing with him in front of the Jurassic Park sign were moments that I’ll treasure forever.
Polynesian Cultural Center
He’e also recommended a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It had been over a decade since I have last been to the “PCC” and I was excited at the opportunity to bring my family back with me. The Polynesian Cultural Center is an educational theme park that celebrates the beauty and diversity of the Polynesian islands. The PCC showcases six islands: Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, and Aotearoa (New Zealand) with traditional activities around every corner.
Once we entered the park, we gave into our senses. Our noses followed the incredible smells coming from Samoa where a meal was being prepared. We stopped for a few samples before heading on our way. A ukulele beckoned in the distance and we inevitably found ourselves in Hawaii where hula dancers were swaying to the music of a Hawaiian band. Chris’ favorite stop was in Tahiti, where he tried his hand a tolo, traditional Tahitian underhanded spear throwing. I was particularly enamored with the beautiful floral haku that Chris bought for me. I don’t think it left my head until we were back at our hotel.
Our Ambassador Luau Package included park entrance, a personal guide, and entrance to the Ali’i Luau and the evening show,“HA: Breath of Life”. We worked up quite an appetite after wandering the park and were more than ready to feast on traditional Hawaiian fare at the luau. After a lei greeting, we were seated front and center (mahalo, Ambassador status) with the stage directly in front of us. We were crooned by the MC as we dined on kalua pig, rice, fresh poi, and lomilomi salmon. I was happily satisfied, or at least thought I was, until I laid eyes on the dessert table.
It was a long day but hands down one of my favorites on the island. I love that the PCC is fun for the whole family. Even Holden enjoyed watching the shows and playing with my haku. Full disclosure: we had to dip out of the evening show a little early due to Holden’s bed time and impending meltdown but I look forward to bringing him back in the future.
As is tradition, our time on the island wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Byodo-In Temple. We’ve been visiting the temple since our first visit to the island together. Every time we return, Chris takes the same photo of me, in the same pose, in the same patch of bamboo.
You’ll see that things have changed over the years. Just like our photo, our way of travel has also evolved over the years. While we might have been guided by Pua’a in the past, He’e is the perfect animal guide for where we are in our lives right now. We are still outgoing and adventurous, but not tend to focus on sharing the world with our son.
To discover your aloha (and receive a customized itinerary for your next Hawaiian vacation), take the quiz and meet your animal guide at discoveryouraloha.expedia.com.
What animal guide did you get?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube