Ah, Waikiki...

We stayed in the Waikiki area while on the Island of Oahu for a family wedding. It is the perfect place to stay if you are energetic; thrive in crowds; love shopping at Gucci, Tiffany & Co or Prada retail stores; and if you are an avid walker. However, with a young family and a rented minivan for which to find perpetual parking, well…it wasn’t quite ideal.

I said to my husband one day as we walked the two blocks from our hotel to the parking garage, “It feels like the buildings here are torturing the plants.” – all those high rises and their tiny entrance lawns with flowering bushes and palm trees. I wondered what the island had looked like, how wild and free, before the advent of city life and tourism.

Still, I appreciated the relatively peaceful stroll to the parking garage, believe me. Driving Waikiki is no fun. My poor, brave husband! All you see is the six-inch wide, winding lanes on crazy, congested one-way streets with houses and businesses pressing on one another. There is no parking anywhere except the zoo, it seems, and that fills up at 9am.

The first afternoon was a rough awakening, an adjustment of expectations. Then in the evening we went to my husband’s brother and sister-in-law’s house, out of Waikiki. There was a bright rainbow in the sky on the drive there. When we arrived at the welcoming home of our relatives, we saw a miniature lawn, a beautiful tropical garden, a stream tumbling under a culvert and a (for that city) huge green park across the street in which stood a massive and ancient tree. And we breathed, exhaling all the stress of a family that had just been dropped out of the wide southwest into contained island life. I took the kids to the park to run as soon as possible, and my brother-in-law took us all for a drive to a lookout above their home from which we could see the vast ocean and iconic Diamond Head State Monument and, alas, the city sprawling to the edges of both those natural wonders. The rainbow was still there, arcing in friendly clarity above the vivid landscape of this strange, diverse place.

Our gratitude for that drive amid mostly uninhibited plant life and for that caper in the park was also due in part to the great relief we felt in being somewhere other than our hotel - so great a relief, in fact, that I hugged that ginormous, old tree.
Now I have always said that when you’re staying in a beautiful locale, the hotel room is just a place to sleep before you go exploring. But the moment my husband and I walked into our suite, our mouths dropped and our shoulders sagged. I swear never again to look at a hotel that advertises kitchenettes for families, because it also means - without a doubt - that the carpets will be sticky, the futon mattress will consist of metal rods and old newspapers, the shower will be scary and poorly lit, and the railings on the six-floor balcony will be at least 15 inches apart to accommodate your four-year-old’s dardevil spirit.

The hotel suite had five doors leading to the general walkway and the balconies. All the latches on the sliding glass doors were coming apart from the flaking walls and one was completely broken. That first night my husband and I slept apart to guard the children against anyone who might pry their way in from the walkway or against any Dracula-like being who might decide to scale the exterior walls and balcony partitions. It was an irrational fear, but Oahu had rattled me.

I needed some perspective, and I got it that night when I found my oldest boy crying into his stale white pillow.

“Berto, what is it?”

“This stupid hotel room is going to ruin our vacation of a lifetime!”

Or his stupid mommy might. My belly dropped. Someone – and I knew who – needed to stop complaining about the rooms that were, in fact, just for sleeping and start concentrating on all the wonderful things her family was going to experience in the next few days. Besides, there are people in this world who spend their whole lives in slums. I could certainly survive a short time in a dump on beautiful Oahu.

After that Waikiki grew on us. We started walking most places, and I realized just how clean that part of the city was with all its fancy storefronts and crowded but still inviting beaches. At one of those beaches, our children and their many cousins had a blast swimming with aunts and uncles, collecting shells and burying each other in the sand. Our family began to frequent the ABC Store on the corner where a tourist can get just about any vacation essential her heart desires. And I stopped thinking the trees and other plant life were being tortured by people and their tall buildings; they seemed to have adjusted to the frenetic environment.

One of my favorite memories of Waikiki began when my son and I decided to leave the rest of our tired family vegging in the hotel room and go exploring on our own, not wanting to miss the chance at any new experience. On a street corner we found a beautiful tree - one of the special things about the Hawaiian climate being its huge trees with broad, happy leaves - that had enormous branches growing into and winding around each other in a mind-blowing arrangement. We also discovered two nicely manicured city parks. We ate chocolate and yogurt on a bench, chatted as we people watched and then learned a bit of local history from the parks’ many statues, monuments and plaques – just my son and I.

And I didn’t complain anymore – hardly ever. I was too busy having fun.

Today you can also find my piece, LOST: A Hawaiian Family Vacation, at humorwriters.org. Thank you for publishing me again, Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop, and thank you for supporting me, my friends and readers!



  1. Oh, Hillary! No high expectations: the family vacation of a LIFETIME ruined by a dumpy hotel room. ; ) Your post gave me a good laugh. (And I've had a similar wake-up call when my expectations caused tears from my own son.) (Camille)

    1. Ah, those familiar family vacation travails, huh Camille? Well, at least we can laugh together about them, grateful for the friendship between our families.


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