Originally we were set to leave the Big Island and fly to Honolulu with go! Mokulele, a mistake I’ll be sure and never make again. We had purchased our inter-island flights for $79 (each way) two months prior, having heard that was the cheapest option. Six days prior to our departure, go! canceled our flight, citing…mechanical difficulties. What, does God run the airline? How else would one be able to predict mechanical difficulties that far in advance? And with such notice, why on Earth could they not fix the plane?
We called the airlines every day for the next four days, and they refused to help us. They had rebooked us on a flight later that Saturday night, which was not acceptable as we were originally set to arrive at 9am and had activities lined up that afternoon on Oahu. Go! could have easily put us on another airline and still get us there on time, if not earlier, as we checked the flight schedule and there were 30 or so flights traveling that same route on the same day, all of which had open seats. But they refused, no matter how many times we called and how many times we asked to speak to management. In the end, we finally got the airline—which is operated by Mesa Airlines, a company I will never again book with thanks to their terrible customer service and their overall rudeness toward us, oh and not to mention the fact that they are terribly unaccommodating—to refund our money and we bought tickets to Honolulu for $65 one way on Hawaiian Airlines the day of the flight.
That was a blessing in disguise. I would encourage anyone who is traveling among islands to fly Hawaiian. They’re incredibly efficient—our flights each way arrived early—the staff is super friendly, and they operate so many flights a day. That’s your public service announcement of the day, folks.
The good news is that we actually saved money during the whole kerfuffle, and we still arrived in Honolulu in enough time to pick up our rental car, drive the hour to the North Shore, check in and enjoy an afternoon at the resort. It was our first time on the island, and I went into our visit to Oahu with little knowledge of the place and absolutely no expectations. Of course, I’d heard a lot about the island’s famed North Shore, so before arriving at Turtle Bay Resort where we would spend the first two nights, I guess I just assumed it would be like most resort areas: hotel after hotel lining the coast, tourists filling every empty spot on the horizon. What I wasn’t prepared for was this:
No other property in sight; no people either, for that matter. It was truly what one would hope to expect from a luxury Hawaiian resort. When we checked in and saw so many families roaming the premises, I was a bit worried that I would be annoyed with so many kids running around and the screaming that that entails. (When I’m on vacation and trying to mentally check out, I have little tolerance for a lot of noise.) But that wasn’t the case at all. Turtle Bay is the kind of place that caters to all guests: young, old, families, couples. You see the long, rocky beach that fringes the water? We went on a walk out that way and didn’t run into a soul—curious, as there were definitely a couple hundred guests at the resort while we were there; it was at 100 percent occupancy.
And if you’re thinking, “hmm, that looks familiar, which is odd given that I’ve never actually been to Turtle Bay,” you’ve probably seen it before. It’s been the site for many movies, including Forgetting Sarah Marshall, nearly all of which was filmed on the resort’s grounds. I remember interviewing the cast back in 2008 and hearing them rave about what a great time they had at this Turtle Bay place in Oahu—how it was essentially one big island party for three blissful months—and I can’t believe three years later, I found myself eating lunch in the exact same spot where Jason Segel had a super awkward dinner alongside Kristen Bell and Russell Brand. (You know I love me some celebrity coincidences.)
The week before our trip, I was flipping through Us Weekly (yet another of my former employers) in the supermarket checkout line and saw photos of Courtney Cox shot at the resort’s pool that was just below our balcony. The whole cast of Cougar Town had been there filming. Hey, if it’s good enough for Monica Gellar, it’s good enough for me! Other films and TV shows that have shot here include Soul Surfer, Cougar Town, Lost, The Bachelor and Wedding Wars.
There’s not a lack of things to do on the grounds either, which is a good thing: Given that the North Shore traffic is so bad—at least at the time we were there, which was a weekend in April—we found ourselves staying put at Turtle Bay much of the day. On the first afternoon, we took a sunset horseback ride (more on that tomorrow), and the next day, we surfed. SVV, a born-and-bred San Franciscan, has been surfing half his life, and while my surfing experience is extremely limited, I have had a couple lessons from a surf champion in Barbados, so we decided to forgo a beginner group lesson at the famed Hans Hedemann Surf School and take boards out on our own instead.
That lasted all of 20 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, the waves on the North Shore—particularly here on Kahuku Bay—are incomparable. But with surfing in Hawaii often comes a rock bottom. After I fell a couple times and subsequently scraped up the bottoms of my feet, we decided to call it quits for the day and lounge by the pool instead. I had quite a few races on the calendar for 2011, including a half marathon I ran just after we returned from our trip, and I just didn’t want to risk hurting myself any further (particularly as I’m somewhat of a klutz, you might have noticed). It’s definitely a great place to hop on a board for a first time, though, thanks to the ever-present waves. When I first took lessons in the Caribbean, the water was much flatter, making it difficult to ride, particularly for a beginner.
But if you don’t surf and laying by the pool isn’t your thing either (in which case I ask, what is wrong with you?!), there’s plenty more to do without leaving the grounds: There are two championship golf courses (how did I grow up in the South and never take up golf?! that was a big mistake), clear bottom kayak tours, an exercise room (which SVV utilized and I…did not), a spa, tennis courts and copious hiking trails. You can rent mopeds, scooters, segways and electric bikes—all without leaving the property. And while we didn’t go up in one, we did frequently see the Paradise Helicopters land at the pad nearby.
But my favorite part of the resort was just beyond the main building. The land came to a rocky point that you could walk out onto and that was perfect for photo opps. SVV and I scampered over the rocks with the tripod on our final night there to do a few long exposures (unsuccessfully, thanks to the wind). Once again, we practically had the whole area to ourselves, which felt like much of our time at Turtle Bay. It was as if we had a faithful minion who would run ahead of us and clear out all the other civilians wherever we went. It was awesome.
The only other people out there were a couple who had just gotten married and their photographer, maid of honor and best man. What an amazing spot to say your vows and take your wedding portraits.
We got our iconic Hawaiian resort, we got our sunset…what more could we ask for?
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