I will start at the end. Ed and I were watching the sunset from our table of the beautiful St. Regis Kauai Grill on our last night on the island, and he asked me if Hawaii was everything I hoped it would be. My wonderful husband was so excited to be fulfilling my lifelong dream, and I wanted so much to give him the answer he wanted. But I couldn’t lie, so I chose my words carefully.
Hawaii is unspeakably gorgeous and pure and breathtaking, and all of the clichés you ever heard about it are true. However, as a 44 year old woman, I have been fortunate to see a lot of the world, and the thrill was no doubt diminished by experience, age and privilege. In economics, this is called the law of diminishing marginal returns. In grandmother-speak, it’s called being spoiled. Life has, blessedly, given me many wonderful experiences, and as a result, the wow factor of Hawaii will never have the same impact as when I first saw it on tv in the 1970s. Those Bradys ruin everything! Nevertheless, it is an experience I will cherish forever.
For those of us living in the northeastern United States, Hawaii was almost like visiting another planet — a planet where everyone is unhurried, laid back, wearing flip flops and smiling for no reason at all. It is so far from our daily reality of rushing and traffic and deadlines and stress, and Kauai, especially, doesn’t resemble anything close to what we know as Real Life. It felt like dessert for dinner seven days a week. It was nice, but it didn’t feel real, and part of that is due to my uptight east coast breeding. Dessert for dinner can feel unsettling after a couple of days. So wrong and yet so right.
Hawaii’s natural beauty far exceeded my expectations. The feel and smell of the air, the temperature of the ocean, the exotic flowers blooming casually from the road like they’re no big deal, the beautiful birds, the crayon box of fish…all perfect. The food, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment, even with my low expectations. We had some decent meals (see link above), but I can say with certainty that I’ve eaten much better food right here in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
If you pick any recipe at random from my blog, chances are it will be something with strong flavors, often with a bit of heat. I’m not a lover of bland, boring food and definitely not afraid to go heavy handed on the spices, so keep that in mind while reading this criticism. I found the flavors used in Hawaii to be so strong, so in your face, that the taste of the food was lost altogether. The food didn’t make sense to my palate. As I told my mother, it was as if a child opened my refrigerator door, pulled out all of my condiments and salad dressings, poured them in one large bowl, then emptied my spice rack, mixed everything together, spooned it over fish and topped it with a pineapple. Voila!
The only thing worse than unappealing food is obscenely overpriced unappealing food. We went into this vacation knowing food would be expensive, and that’s just part of vacation we’ve come to accept.. As people who always appreciate a good meal, we don’t mind paying for one. We do, however, resent paying a lot of money for crap. Knowing what I know now, I would do more research about the best places to eat before going back. Don’t get me wrong, some great places do exist, but we chose badly more often than not.
We didn’t travel halfway around the world just to sit on a beach, even though sitting on the beach is one of my favorite activities ever. We planned four main activities for the week: a helicopter ride, a surfing lesson, a Catamaran sail and snorkel, and a luau. Every one of these activities was well worth it and enhanced our understanding and enjoyment of Kauai, and I’m glad we did them, but these are not the experiences I will remember when I’m old.
I will remember my boys playing in the stunningly blue Pacific ocean, hiking some pretty scary trails right out of a Jurassic Park set, eating Hawaii’s famous shave ice (and Nate attempting to order the disgusting flavor combo of pickles and grandma’s apple pie — he certainly got into the Hawaiian spirit!), playing the coconut instrument bought at Foodland while hula dancing in the living room. I will remember my boys chasing peacocks and chickens, and petting the sweet rescue dog wearing a lei in the t-shirt shop. I will remember the kindness of all the people and the waitress singing Happy Birthday to Andrew in her beautiful voice. But there were other times, too, where we were That Annoying Family. There was a fair amount of bickering and disharmony and snippiness. That’s part of vacation, too, and not a part I enjoy. Like overpriced dried out hamburgers, I accept it’s part of the package, especially with kids aged 16, 11 and 9.
I hope when they look back years from now, they will forget the bad stuff and only remember the sunshine and rainbows. Mahalo, Hawaii. You were worth the wait.
The daily rainbow
Napali coast from helicopter.
I took this picture above especially for my friend Marykate.
Surf school. One of these people didn’t graduate.
Dawn, did you not know that Hawaii is essentially tropical paradise Idaho? Unless you really like spam wasabi, or know someone who does backyard bbq, the food is pretty much meh, at least iwas when I was there 20 years ago. And time moves very slowly there (which is part of the charm) so I would not be surprised if it’s pretty much the same.
Rose, can you believe I had no idea?! It seemed like the food would be great – fresh fish, lush vegetation, etc. We did have great barbecue at Scotty’s and some very good sushi, but the food most places was not so hot. Blame my east coast ignorance!
Hey Dawn: I think that you’re spot on with your take of Hawaii. I felt the same way after our trip to Kauai so don’t feel guilty. Although I don’t think that it was Kauai that had anything to do with it. Kauai is an absolute Paradise. The Napali coast was so beautiful. Jon took the helicopter tour I opted out of it and later had regrets seeing that the pilot looked like Jon Bon Jovi. I was very happy to have gone but we don’t think that it’s on our list to return, too many other destinations to try!
Thanks, Linda! I am so glad we went, but it was a looonnng way to travel with three kids. Was there a rooster problem when you were there? In 1992, when Hurricane Iniki blew through Kauai, many of the chickens and (illegal) roosters used for cockfighting were set free, and they populated exponentially. There are chickens and roosters everywhere, which are kind of cute and folksy until they wake you up at 5:00 in the morning on vacation! It didn’t happen every day, but it definitely happened.
I can’t imagine a more beautiful place on earth, but next time I would spend the money on London, France or St. Barth’s again. Africa has always been a dream, too, but I think it will be a number of years before I recover from the Hawaii flight — AND we flew direct from JFK!
Wow, Dawn, what a refreshing, candid post you sent. Hawaii is great, but maybe not the be all and end all. Again, loved your very articulate writing. You need to turn this into a job!
What a nice compliment! Thank you, Ginny.
I’m glad you had a good trip, and sorry that the Brady’s ruined part of it. Yes, the food in Hawaii, leaves a lot to be desired, and is too expensive. It’s my least favorite part, but I like the relaxing, flip flop vibe, and I could live on Island Time. I also never get tired of the sunsets. Thanks for the recap, and I’m glad you finally made it to the Pacific Ocean.
Thanks, Tess! Your beautiful pictures through the years inspired me to get there more than ever. It was pricey, and we may be giving each other oranges for Christmas this year, but it was worth it, for sure.