When Mastercard asked me to work with them to try out their Concierge service with a trip for me and my family to Honolulu, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. My wife and I got married on the Big Island of Hawaii 12 years ago and went back for several years with our kids, but I hadn’t been to Oahu since I was a child. This would be a great opportunity to see Oahu, gauge the performance of the Mastercard Concierge, and get some Priceless beach time with my two youngest kids after a summer of cultural, beach-less European travel.
The planning of the trip couldn’t have been easier. On a rainy day, we went to priceless.com/travel, entered our dates and desired destination (Honolulu) and short-listed flights (no red-eyes), hotels (beach access was a must) and activities (things appropriate for 6 and 8-year-olds). Then, as a World Mastercard cardholder, I called the Mastercard Concierge, gave my preferences, and we received back a proposed itinerary via email. I gave my go-ahead (no changes were necessary) and the next day our reservations were finalized. We had non-stop flights, an oceanfront room at the Moana Surfrider, and an afternoon parasailing session booked. I also took advantage of the special offers available to all Mastercard cardholders at priceless.com to reserve a table at Morimoto Waikiki. My kids were particularly excited about that one since they’ve been watching Masaharu Morimoto on cooking shows for years.
Packing for Hawaii is easier than packing for any other destination – swimsuits, goggles, shorts, short-sleeve shirts, underwear, socks, flip-flops, toiletries, and a couple dresses for my daughter were all that we needed. Oh and we threw in a beachball, Frisbee and beach paddleball set. That was pretty much it. After over-packing for our summer in Europe because of hot weather, cold weather, rainy weather and horseback riding, it was nice to be able to fit everything into three packing cubes.
We always prefer to take early-morning flights. They’re rarely delayed, and there’s no traffic heading to the airport, so it’s worth an early wake up. We left home at 4:30am, were checked in at LAX by 6:30am and early to our gate for an 8am departure. The only negative: when I carried my daughter to the car at 4:30am, I didn’t think to grab her glasses on her nightstand. Oops.
I’m used to flying to the Big Island, where you step off the plane, breathe in the unique combination of jet fuel and plumeria, walk down the portable stairs and arrive at baggage claim less than a minute later. Honolulu’s a little different – there are jet bridges and cafés, and there’s a decent walk to baggage claim. Once we got our one checked bag, we picked up our rental car at the terminal (actually easier than the Big Island) and drove to the hotel. The drive didn’t take more than 25 minutes.
I love iconic hotels, so the Moana Surfrider, Waikiki’s first hotel, was a perfect choice for us. And it’s certainly perfectly located, right on Waikiki Beach. Arriving at 11:30am we weren’t able to check in yet, so we dropped off our luggage and walked around, getting lunch nearby. When we were able to check in and we headed to the room, we immediately felt like we had the best room at the hotel. Look at this view! During the course of the week, if we were in the room we had the doors open. Yes, the water really is that color.
What We Did
Our second day we walked half an hour over to Ala Moana Center, the largest open-air shopping center in the world, to get new prescription glasses for my daughter. Once she was able to see clearly again, this is how we stayed busy.
Waikiki Beach and the Surfrider Pool
We spent a lot of time at the beach and pool, especially in the mornings before it was crowded and the day warmed up. I have a couple of kids who love the water! And the beach in the evening as the sun was setting was a great place for the kids to run and play. One morning my son brought his ukulele down to the beach for sunrise and played as the vendors were setting up their rental boards for the day.
We woke up early our third day, ate breakfast at 6:30am and drove over to Diamond Head State Monument to hike the volcano. The parking lot was almost full, but we managed to find a space, and we set off up the path. The hike is an easy one, even with two sets of steep stairs. We reached the top in half an hour and spent maybe 15 minutes at the top before hiking down. I would definitely recommend going early – we didn’t need sunscreen yet and much of the path was shaded, which is definitely not the case later in the day. My kids both gave the hike a big thumbs-up.
Kailua and Lanikai Beaches
Roughly an hour from the hotel are the two beaches that are most often mentioned as the most beautiful on the island – Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach. Since we had a rental car, we drove over and…unfortunately arrived at the same time as the wind. Were the beaches beautiful? Yes. But our swimsuits and Frisbee stayed in the car. We’ll try it again next time.
Far more successful was our Parasail outing. Hawaiian Parasail picked us up at our hotel and, taking the long way, arrived at the pier roughly half an hour later. We boarded their boat with one local family and one South African couple and headed a few minutes out into the bay. It’s a pretty efficient operation – we sat down into harnesses, the harnesses were attached to a parachute, and the boat took off as the parachute rope unspooled. We chose an 8-minute ride, which equated to a height of 800 feet. My 8-year-old son loved it and wished we had gone for the 10-minute, 1000-foot option. My 6-year-old daughter alternated between fear and joy, but overall enjoyed it. A highlight was when we were descending and the driver purposely dropped us into the water for a few seconds – we had no idea that was coming! The kids have already voted to go parasailing again next time we’re able to.
Waimea Gardens and Waterfall
The kids wanted to see a waterfall, so we drove an hour north to Waimea Valley. I was expecting a trailhead, a path and a waterfall, but in reality it’s a large garden with a ticket booth (adults $16, kids $8) and a fairly long walk on an asphalt path to the waterfall. The walk goes through nicely manicured gardens, and much of it is shaded, so it isn’t all bad – just not much of a natural experience.
The waterfall itself was fun. My daughter wanted to go swimming, so we put on life vests (required, and available at the waterfall) and slowly waded into the pond. It took some effort to swim against the current and make it to the waterfall, but it was worth it.
Dinner at Morimoto Waikiki
The reservation at Morimoto Waikiki that we booked at priceless.com included preferred seating and a complimentary glass of Champagne. We were definitely seated at one of the best tables, overlooking the water, and as soon as we sat down my Champagne was delivered. Priceless! We loved our meal. The chicken noodle soup appetizer was excellent (and could feed a village, so order sparingly). We also had the black cod, kakuni (braised pork), Peking duck and chicken katsu. It was our best meal of the trip.
I can’t leave out Waikiki. We walked around the area a lot, heading to and from various restaurants, doing a little shopping and enjoying the entertainment. As with seemingly everywhere in Hawaii, it’s not hard to find Hawaiian music and hula in the evenings. We stumbled upon this performance (below) near our hotel. Waikiki is largely about shopping, which isn’t the kids’ favorite activity, but we still found it to be a great base on the island given the beach and the restaurants.
This couldn’t have been an easier trip. Mastercard Concierge handled all logistics, and it was an easy 5-hour flight from LA. Oahu is definitely more crowded than the Big Island, but given how much smaller it is, it was easy to go everywhere that we wanted to, and the airport was nice and close to Honolulu/Waikiki. We loved the hotel. Overall it was a perfect trip!
Have you been to Oahu with kids? Where did you stay? What would you recommend for us when we go back?
Note: This trip was sponsored and paid for by Mastercard, but all opinions and photos are mine. Any companies mentioned in the text, or shown in the photos, should not be associated with Mastercard.