Monday, November 19, 2007

Hawaii (Maui) Trip - Ten Recommendations & Tips

Planning your trip to Maui, Hawaii? Looking for suggestions and tips? Well, I have quite a few to share with you. Here you go...
  1. October is a nice time to visit Maui. The weather is very nice (not too cold or not too hot). It was not very crowded as well. Whale watching starts in December. Some activities are closed during that time.
  2. Plan your trip during a regular time/weekends as opposed to long weekends. Normally, everyone wants to go out during a long weekend. I believe Hawaii would get crowded during long weekends. First of all, the fares may be too high during a long weekend (I didn't travel during a long weekend and hence, I paid just $1600 for two people including flight, stay and rental car). Second of all, people are taken in small groups for most of the activities (snorkeling, parasailing, submarine tour etc.,). If you are traveling on a long weekend, you may have to wait for a long time for all these activities.
  3. Book a hotel with a kitchen. This is my first stay in a hotel room with a kitchen. We felt as if we were in home. We prepared all our food in the room. My wife and I are vegetarians. We hardly wasted any time in looking for a vegetarian restaurant. We had healthy food that was prepared by us (actually, prepared by my wife ! :)).
  4. We weren't able to see Nakalele blow hole & Dragon's peak in Maui. Hopefully, you can get better directions from the web, if you are going to visit these places.
  5. I would recommend you to stay in two different hotels during your stay. One hotel can be in West Maui and the other hotel can be in Central or East Maui. You can complete the activities and other West Maui attractions during your stay in West Maui. You can visit the places in Central or East Maui during your stay in the Central or East Maui. That way, you don't have to drive a lot.
  6. Don't try to squeeze-in visits to too many islands in one trip. 5 - 7 days is a reasonable time to spend in Maui.
  7. Maui's Best is a good website to book for your activities. You can also save more if you signup for the 2 hours seminar from Wyndham Vacations.
  8. If you are going to leave from SFO airport, I would recommend parking your car in "Anza Parking" as opposed to "Burlingame Parking". Anza has more frequent shuttle services and also the parking lot is guarded.
  9. Do not miss the "Hana Highway" drive. It is more scenic than you could imagine. The drive is very safe.
  10. Do not hesitate to plan for the Maui trip with your infant. We did it. So, you can also do it. The only draw back is that you cannot do the activities together with your spouse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maui Trip - Day 5 (Parasailing, Wyndham Seminar, Lahaina Cannery Mall)

October 29th, 2007

We couldn't believe that this is the last day of our trip. We vacated the hotel room, handed over the keys and went to Hyatt Regency hotel for para sailing. We had booked through West Maui Parasailing. The parasailing operators came to the beach only around 8.45 am. We were waiting for them since 8.25 am. They took us on a small kayak boat to the Parasail boat. We boarded the Parasail boat. Parasailing was a nice experience. We flew 800 feet above the sea level. I was expecting it to be windy at the top. However, it was very calm. My wife was taking care of the baby at the shore, when I was flying. I came back and let her do the parasailing. Around noon, we both were done.

We then went to Lahaina Center to attend the Wyndham Vacations Seminar. We had our lunch in the parking lot. The seminar went on for about 2 hours. We came back and went in search Nakalele Blowhole. We couldn't find it. So, we started going towards the airport. On our way back, we stopped in the Lahaina Cannery Mall to get an ice cream for my wife. She has been asking for an ice cream since we landed in Maui. The mall was decorated well for the Halloween. We took a few snaps there. My wife got her ice cream too. I had my favorite tall Soy Latte from Starbucks.

We then had a stop over in one of the road side beaches. Mitra had her evening snack. We spent about an hour in the beach. We met an Indian family there. They had come to Maui for a visit from Indianapolis. It is hard to see Indians in Maui. There are very few tourists of Indian origin.

We reached airport at about 6.30 pm. We had brought some fruits with us. We had them in the airport. I dropped Divya/Mitra in the airport and unloaded all the luggages first. Then, I went to Avis to return the rental car. They charged me $200 for insurance for 5 days. Hmm, the insurance cost was higher than the car rental cost :)

We had some snacks inside the airport. And thats pretty much was our dinner. Mitra was happy to walk around inside the airport. She learned to walk a few weeks back and she was excited to walk on her own. We boarded the flight at around 9 pm and the flight started on time. We reached SFO at around 5 in the morning. Came out of the airport, took the shuttle to Burlingame Airport parking. Took our car from the parking lot - it was safe :) Reached home at 6.30 am.

And, that is the end of our trip to Maui, Hawaii.

Maui Trip - Day 4 (Hana Lava Tube & Haleakala Crater)

October 28th, 2007

This is the 4th day of our trip to Maui. We left the hotel room very early in the morning - at around 6.30 am. The trip to Hana was very scenic and memorable. This is one of the best drives that I've ever made. We wanted to cover two places today - Hana Lava Tube and Haleakala Crater / National Park. It took us about 3 hours to reach the Hana Lava Tube.

On the way, you can do several stop overs to see beautiful parks, water falls and mountains. We did only a few stop overs in the interest of time. You can also get a glimpse of the ocean during the drive. On the way to the Hana Lava Tube is the Garden of Eden. We spent about an hour there and had the break fast that we had taken with us. It is a beautiful park with colorful flowers and fresh plantation. It will be a feast for your cameras and camcorders. You can see the famous Keopuka Rock where Jurassic park's introductory scene was shot. You can also get a glimpse of the Puohokamoa Falls from the park. You can drive for about 1/2 mile inside the park. They have restroom facilities also.

We reached the Hana Lava Tube at about 11 am. The sky started to drizzle. There was hardly any people in that area and no ticketing office as such. There was a tent at the entrance of the cave. A lady collected $12 per person and gave a flood light (for photographs) and a torch light to find our way inside the cave. I was disappointed that there will not be any lightings inside the cave. The cave entrance is a big hole with a stair case that takes you down. There were a few mosquitoes near the cave entrance, but the cave interiors were good. No mosquitoes, no odor or bats. However, rain water was dropping from the ceilings of the cave. You have to walk carefully inside the cavern because there are some uneven walk ways.

My little one and my wife enjoyed the self guided tour inside the cave. I was carrying a torch light on one hand and my little one on the other hand. I had the camera/camcorder on my shoulders. The view inside the cave was amazing. You could see the lava formations & meltdowns every where. We reached the end of the tour after a 15 minutes walk. We took a few pictures with the support of flood light. There are areas which are not safe for visitors and hence we weren't allowed to walk further. The whole self-guided tour lasted for about 30 minutes. It was an adventurous experience. I wouldn't say that the drive was worth it. But, the scenic drive itself was very enjoyable. It started to rain heavily when we left the cavern.

We started our drive to Haleakala Crater / National Park. We had our lunch on the way. The drive was for about 4 hours. It was not as scenic as Hana Lava Tube drive. The crater is at an altitude of 10,023 feet. We paid $10 at the entrance. We did a stop over in the Visitor's Center that is closer to the entrance. We relaxed for a few minutes and started to drive another 30 miles to reach the crater. It was very windy near the observatory desk. My little one was scared a bit on seeing the winds. The view of the crater was marvelous. I had not seen any craters before - so, I liked this, much. We were there in the observatory desk for 15 minutes and we started heading back to the hotel. We drove for another two and a half hours to reach the hotel at about 6 pm.

Wow ! What a day ! It was full of driving ... but we liked it. We had our dinner at the resort and spent our last night of the trip, in Maui.

Maui Trip - Day 3 (Iao Valley, Tropical Plantation, Snorkeling)

October 27th, 2007

This is the 3rd day of our trip. We started from hotel at around 8.30 am in the morning. We drove for about an hour to reach Iao valley. Some of the things in Iao valley, that are worth mentioning are:

  • the view of the needle point that was formed out of lava
  • a few hiking trails
  • a well maintained park
  • a small stream of water and a bridge on top of it
  • the view of several surrounding mountains
There are a few guys who were jumping into the stream from the top of the bridge. I took a shot using my camcorder. We spent about an hour in the Iao valley. We didn't hike in Iao valley.

We then went to the Maui's tropical plantation. They had a plantation tour for visitors. The cost of the ticket per adult was about $13 for the plantation tour. We boarded the tram and the tour lasted for about 45 minutes with a stop over for coconut peeling demonstration. There were several tropical plants from different countries. The tram ride was nice but not very exciting. May be kids will enjoy it the most. If you are an avid photo or videographer, you would love to shoot the colorful flowers, fruits, garden and the plantation.

We forgot to bring our lunch with us. So, we had to go back to the room to get our lunch. We took the lunch from the room and went straight to Malea beach to board the ship for our snorkeling trip. We parked our car and had our lunch. We had to wait to board the ship. The ship started at around 1.30 pm. The ship was going up and down because of the strong waves. I felt like I was going to have nausea. Due to the winds, we weren't able to dock the ship in Molokini. They took us close to the Makena beach and docked the ship at a location where the water was 25 feet deep. They gave us all the snorkeling gear (goggles and fins). The captain gave a brief overview about snorkeling and the usage of the gear. It was useful.

I was quite excited to do snorkeling. One of the crew members helped me to adjust my goggles. I was one among the last few who jumped into the water. Many expert snorkelers have gone at least 50 feet away from the ship. I was staying closer to the ship, just in case I get tired. Finally, I jumped into the water. It was amazing that I was able to swim in the Pacific Ocean :) I learned to swim only after coming to the US and that too on my own. Snorkeling is an adventurous activity. The view of the coral reef and the underwater life was quite amazing. I saw a huge turle swimming close to me. I wish I was able to go farther and see what else is there. But, I wasn't a dexterous swimmer. So, I decided to stay close to the ship. I spent about 25 minutes in the water and came back to the ship. Wow ! What an experience. I still couldn't forget the moments of snorkeling.

The captain took the ship again to Malea beach. We went back to the hotel from there. We had a swimming session in the pool today as well. Mitra & I enjoyed our time in the pool. Divya (my wife) enjoyed watching us :)

Maui Trip - Day 2 (Submarine Tour, Big Beach)

October 26th, 2007

We had booked for two activities for today. A submarine tour in the morning and a snorkeling trip in the noon. However, I got a call from Pride of Maui informing that they've canceled the snorkeling trip for maintenance of the ship. I had to move the snorkeling trip to Oct 27th, noon.

We went to Lahaina at 8.30 am to board the submarine. There was a small ship that took us from the shore to the submarine. It was a 15 mins ride from the shore to the submarine. We boarded the submarine. There was a narrow staircase to get into the submarine from the top. About 40 people can be on board in the submarine. The submarine dived 107 feet deep under the water level. They took us to two coral reefs and showed us a submerged ship. The underwater visibility was obscure due to the lack of sun light. During the tour, we saw a congregation of underwater life.

Submarine tour was a nice experience, but I am not sure if it is worth the $$$s. The tour lasted for about 45 minutes. The submarine came back to the water level and was docked. By that time, the next batch of people were there in the ship to board the submarine. Infants weren't allowed in the submarine. Hence, my wife & I have to go in the submarine on two different trips.

I boarded the ship and got the little one from my wife. My kid and I came back to the shore. We waited under the Banyan tree (the Banyan Tree was close to the boarding point) for about one and a half hour. My wife came back from the tour at about 12 pm. We had our lunch - my wife got up early in the morning to prepare lunch for us (In fact, she gets up early in the morning every day to prepare lunch for us).

We then headed towards Ahihi Kinau Preserve. We lost our way and landed in Big Beach (Makena Beach). We spent about an hour in Big Beach. The sea water was very clear and in green color. We enjoyed our time drenching feet in the sea. Mitra didn't like to stand in the sea water. She was scared to see the waves. We drove back to go to the Maui Tropical Plantation tour. We couldn't find it and hence we thought we would see the Dragon peak. We couldn't find the Dragon peak as well. So, we returned back to our room. The afternoon session was full of disappointments, except for our visit to Makena beach which was not there in our original plan.

We came back to the hotel room at around 5 pm. We took Mitra to the beach. She was scared to enter the sea. We then went to the pool. Mitra resisted to enter the pool. She was scared on seeing the water in the pool. I swam there for a while. We let Mitra to first immerse her feet into the water and she tapped the water for a while. After doing that for a few minutes, she got excited. She came to swim with me. I held her to swim in the water for sometime. We went back and forth from one end of the pool to the other. She enjoyed it much.

We came back to room, had our dinner and went to bed. Unfortunately, the wireless access in the room was not working. I was disappointed. I complained to the hotel management. But no action from them. My wife was happy that I stayed away from the laptop and spent more time with her and Mitra.

Maui Trip - Day 1 (Banyan Tree, Jodo Mission, Luau)

October 25th 2007

Our hotel check-in time was only 3 pm. So, we decided to see some places before going to the hotel. We went straight from the Kahului airport to the Banyan tree in Lahaina. The drive from the airport to Lahaina was very scenic. There was sea on one side of the road and mountains on the other side. My wife had to take rest during the drive because she had some air sickness. It took us about 40 minutes to reach Lahaina from Kahului. Finding a parking space closer to the Banyan tree was quite challenging. So, I had to leave my rental car on a paid parking. It looks like this Banyan tree was brought from India when it was 6 feet in height. Now, it is about 60 feet in height. We spent about an hour there. Mitra (my little one) enjoyed playing there.

We then went to the Lahaina Jodo Mission. There was a temple and a huge statue of Buddha in that place. It was very close to the sea shore in Lahaina. There is a burial ground right opposite to the Jodo Mission. In Hawaii, you can see burial grounds everywhere in spite of the shooting real estate cost :) The Jodo Mission temple was closed on that day. So, we couldn't get into the temple. There were hardly any people except for us.

As per our original plan, we were supposed to go to Dragon peak. However, we were so tired. So, we decided to do some grocery shopping and go to hotel. We shopped in the Safeway store in Lahaina Cannery Mall complex and reached Resortquest Kaanapali Villas at about 4 pm. We were given a room in the ground floor in the Banyan complex. We were surprised to see that the room is like a home. It had a fully furnished kitchen, a sofa set, a king size bed, TV, DVD player, few DVDs, a double door refrigerator, microwave oven etc., All the appliances are very new. The room had a tile flooring and my little one enjoyed to walk on that. My wife liked the room very much.

We prepared noodles and had our dinner in the room.
We rushed to attend the Luau in Royal Lahaina. We reached Royal Lahaina at 6.30 pm. The Luau was scheduled to start at 7 pm. We were surprised to see that there were about 1000 people having their dinner there. We were the only family who were there just to see the show. Everyone else had booked for dinner+show. The show started on time. We were quite excited to see the traditional Hula dance. The fire knife dance was astounding. The show went for about one and a half hours. There were a few showers during the show. They gave us ponchos. But, the showers were just benign and we didn't use them.

We reached hotel at about 9 pm and retired for the day.

Maui Trip - San Francisco to Kahului Airport

October 25th 2007

We were looking forward for this day and the day finally arrived. We got up early in the morning and got ready. The little one got obfuscated wondering what these folks are doing so early in the morning. She cried when we woke her up. But, she realized that we are getting ready to go somewhere. Then, she became fanatic. We left our home in Milpitas by around 6.30 am in the morning.

We drove our car to Burlingame Parking Lot. I was disappointed to
see that it is a open parking lot facing the street and there was no one around to assist. Anza Parking was right opposite to Burlingame Parking Lot and I was so tempted to park there. At first I faltered, then, decided to take a risk. I parked my car in one of the free lots and went to the bus stop to wait for the shuttle. The shuttle arrived in a few minutes and took all the waiting passengers to the airport. It took about 10 - 15 minutes to reach the San Francisco Airport.

I checked-in the luggage and went to the queue for the security check. They asked me to get a boarding pass for the kido. I had to go back and get a boarding pass for the little one. We boarded the flight at around 8.45 am. The flight started on time and reached Maui's Kahului airport at around 11 am. The flying time is 5 hours. There is a time zone difference between Maui and San Francisco. San Francisco is ahead by 3 hours.

We had to wait for about 30 minutes to collect our luggages. We were so hungry and had our lunch right after coming out of the airport. There are shuttles that take you from the airport to the car rental offices. We boarded the shuttle to Avis. We were given a Chevvy Impala.

Imagine how it would be load and unload a set of 6 luggages (including the stroller and car seat) 5 times in a day. I had to load everything in my car when leaving our home. I unloaded them in the Burlingame parking lot and loaded them in the parking shuttle. Unloaded everything from the shuttle after reaching the SFO airport. Collected all the baggages in Kahului airport and loaded them again into the Avis shuttle to car rental office. Unloaded all of them in the car rental office and loaded them again into Chevvy Impala. I had to unload them again after reaching the resort.

Hawaii (Maui) Trip - Preparations

This is my first trip to Hawaii. I knew that there are many islands in Hawaii. But I didn't know about their specifics. A few of my friends had been to Oahu. They said "Oahu is very commercialized and so don't go there !".

I started to Google to find out some website describing the Hawaiian Islands. After some research, I decided to go to Maui. I compared the deals from Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity. I accidentally ran into this website called United Vacations from United Airlines. It had a cheaper deal. I booked for my stay, flight and car through this website. The whole package was for about $1600. At last, I finalized the travel dates. The stay was in Resortquest Kaanapali Villas.

A visit to Hawaii wouldn't be complete without doing any activities. So, I booked for para sailing, snorkeling, submarine tour through Maui's Best Activities. The price was very competitive. The customer service was excellent from these folks. A representative named Fernanda was helping me and I was amazed by the suggestions and alternatives proposed by her. My trip to Maui wouldn't have been smooth without Fernanda taking care of all the arrangements for activities. All the activities for me and my wife came to about $360. Maui's Best signed me up for a 2 hours seminar from Wyndham Resorts. In return, I got a concession of 50% for all the activities. So, I paid just $180 for all the activities.

I booked for Luau through Hawaii Web. This site is a little expensive for other activities. However, they were the only one offering Luau for just $37 per person. I booked for Royal Lahaina Luau through this website.

Trip Advisor gave me useful hints and suggestions to plan for the trip. In fact, all the places that I visited in Maui were based on the input that I got from this website. I contrived the activities for each day of my 5 days trip. I took print outs of all the maps and directions from Google Maps. I also took driving directions to the nearest Safeway, Walgreens - just in case I need them.

My flights were from SFO airport - which is 45 minutes drive from my home. Normally, I take Supershuttle for my trips to SFO. They charge ~$50 for two people. This time, I decided to leave my car in the long term parking. I got parking discount coupons from Long Term Parking. They carry coupons for many long term parking lots. I decided to leave my car in Burlingame Airport Parking. I paid just $36 to leave the car in the long term parking for 5 days.

My wife took care of all the packing for the trip. I helped her in buying a few items from Walmart and the local grocery store. I bought a couple of swim shorts for me. We went to at least 3 different shops to get swim suite for my little one. I was surprised to know that it is a seasonal commodity and may not be available during winter. Kaanapali Villas Resorts had a kitchen. So, we took some groceries and utensils with us. We didn't know that the kitchen is fully furnished (I didn't call to check with them in advance). Otherwise, we wouldn't have carried all the dishes.

COVID-19 Vaccination Experience in Chennai

Booking a vaccination slot in India through the CoWIN portal was similar to booking a H1B Visa appointment in US Consulate (not sure if that...