Aloha! Hawaii is one of my favorite places on earth. Not only because of the great surf and the shaka lifestyle, but also because it is the place where my wife and I got married. I had been to Hawaii twice before in the Navy. The first time was for 48 hours, and the second time we were only in port long enough to resupply and then get back to San Diego. Most of my days as a sailor were spent like other sailors—drinking and making new friends. So I never got a real taste of the Hawaiian island lifestyle until I went with my wife.
I do, however, remember the first time I saw Hawaii. It was the first time I had ever left the continent and wanted to see my first overseas exotic place. I was doing Sea & Anchor detail down in the forecastle of the USS Belleau Wood LHA-3. I was in an enclosed room with a crew of few that manually controlled the two 15,000lbs anchors that were used to stop a 50,000-ton ship (just under the size of an aircraft carrier). I remember standing there waiting for my next command when Master Chief said we could stick our heads out of the porthole and get a real sailor’s view of Hawaii.
There were multiple portholes, but the ones with the best view were located on the forward keel of the boat. When it was my turn, I stepped up on the angle irons and stuck my head into what seemed like a dream. I was looking directly down at the keel of the ship as it was splitting crystal clear blue water. As it did so, dozens and dozens of flying fish were jumping off our wake and flying up to thirty yards before re-submerging. Then I looked port side and saw Oahu from about ten miles offshore. It had everything that I had come to expect from pictures. There were lush covered mountains, clouds that allowed for the sun to beam through, and a classic Hawaiian rainbow stretching almost the length of the island.
The rest of the Navy story spirals out of control from there involving two guys in a urinal cake–eating competition, a girl that accidentally got mule kicked unconscious by one of my superiors, and I got kidnapped by a 550-lb. Polynesian. But that’s a different story for a different time.
This blog post is about my experiences in Hawaii while I was getting married. The first leg of our trip was from Tampa to LA and then we paid to upgrade to fly first class for our trip from LA to Honolulu. But as luck would have it, they ran out of champagne in first glass, so we only had half a glass each for us to toast.
I was disappointed with Delta about that one. We landed in Honolulu and were picked up by my fiancées Tutu (grandmother in Hawaiian) upon arrival. Tutu and Grandpa have lived in Hawaii Kai for more than 20 years. They are no longer visitors; they are kama’aina, which is Hawaiian for “local.” So if you’re ever in Waikiki and find yourself getting harassed by vendors, just say you’re kama’aina and they will immediately move on to the next tourist. After a long flight, we finally settled into the guest bedroom at my fiancée’s grandparents’ home and waited as other family members arrived from the airport. We then went to bed to rest for the activities that we planned for the week.
The next morning, I woke up and went for a morning run to work out at the 24-Hour Fitness a couple miles away. Upon my return, my fiancée asked me why I was going for a run when we were just leaving to go hike a mountain? I had gotten the activities mixed up but met up with the rest of the family to climb Koko Crater. Koko Crater is a 1208-ft. ascension on an abandoned railway to a mineshaft and military bunker at the top. It makes for one of the best views in all of Oahu and is totally worth the climb. Plus, it’s free.
That afternoon, we went to our wedding rehearsal at Kualoa Ranch where our wedding would take place. Kualoa Ranch is famous because it was the shooting location for all of the Jurassic Park movies. After the wedding rehearsal, the family headed to Byodo-in Temple, located on the windward side of the island. It is a beautifully preserved Bushido Temple and cemetery. I’ve been to Japan, and I can honestly say that this temple and its surroundings completely reflect Japanese tradition.
For dinner, a whole lot of family and friends headed to Hale Koa Resort for their famous luaus. The whole show and dinner were impressive to say the least. I had seen fire twirlers in Thailand, but the Hawaiians bring a completely different act. Aside from the fire twirlers, the hula dancers fulfill the cultural gap that makes the show that much more authentic to Hawaii. The luau host played a little game asking for all the engaged, newlyweds, and married folks in the audience to stand. He then asked the engaged to sit down, followed by the newly weds, and then eliminated the married couples until he came to the oldest couple in the audience who were celebrating their 73rd wedding anniversary! WOW. After an entertaining show and a full belly, we all retired for the night so we could go SCUBA diving in the morning.
I love to SCUBA dive, and lucky for me so do almost all my new family members. That morning, we woke up and headed to the Patrick’s Diving Adventures, located on the other side of the island in Waianae. We went for a morning and early afternoon of beautiful SCUBA diving through lava tubes with tons of beautiful and colorful fish. I would have beautiful pictures of many reefs filled with fish, but my buddy whom I just loaned my GoPro to cracked the case before giving it back to me, so water unknowingly got inside. I didn’t realize this until I got back on the boat. By then, all the video and pictures were gone along with my GoPro. How do you even crack a GoPro case? We had even paid for a professional photographer to dive with us so he could take photos and videos with the GoPro. Fortunately, we salvaged some pictures from some other family members.
Once back on shore from SCUBA Diving, half of us headed to the North Shore for some surfing and some Matsumoto’s shaved ice. We park along the roadside at North Shore and went down the walk way to the beach where you can find plenty of surfboards for rent. So, I grabbed a board and paddled out. It was on my bucket list to one-day surf the North Shore of Oahu. I caught about a hand full of decent rides in time of maybe 30 minutes before heading back to shore. This was the middle of June, and the real action doesn’t start until November. There was nothing really special to write home about, but I did surf North Shore.
After surfing, I went in search of one of my favorite clothing lines from the ’80s that is only based out of Oahu—Town and Country Surf Designs (better known as T&C Surf Designs).
Once I was successfully outfitted, we returned to Waikiki to meet up with the Asian side of my wife’s family. Before I go any further, maybe this would be a good time to point out that my wife is half white and half Asian. I tell her she is “White Rice,” haha! The Asian side decided that they wanted to do Korean BBQ for dinner, and Waikiki was host to one of the best outside of South Korea (probably North Korea too). The name of the restaurant was 678 Hawaii, and all your meals are served and cooked with grill-at-the-table yakiniku barbecue style.
The next day, while the rest of the family was off at the famous Aloha Stadium Market Place, I was taking my first flying lesson. My wife’s grandfather who is living in Hawaii is a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot instructor. Needless to say, he doesn’t have a jet fighter plane anymore, but he does have a single engine Cessna that is perfect for island hopping.
We went over our flight plan, radio checks, and next thing you, know we’re taxiing the runway. Grandfather Richard, as we call him, obviously took controls until after we took off. But once we were at safe cruising altitude he started instructing me on instrument gauges, throttle control, and simple plane movements. After 20 minutes of getting a feel for how the plane was reacting to my movements, I was flying between the Hawaiian Islands!
I saw everything from old and new shipwrecks to rainbow-infused waterfalls as I banked between the lush, green mountains. My nerves were a complete wreck because of the exhilaration of the first time you actually fly a plane. Then Grandfather Richard said we should try and little touch and go. Touch and go is when you land a plane just to take off from the runway again. There was a small airport just a couple miles away on Molokai in Kalaupapa. Kalaupapa is an old leper colony set up in the late 19th century to quarantine people during a leprosy outbreak. Grandfather Richard obviously landed the plane, but once we were on the tarmac he turned all the controls over to me and said, “Let’s go back up.”
The first time you take off in a plane that you are in complete control over, you’d better have your balls screwed on tight for that one. You have to completely commit to the ascension and what was earth showing through the window a second ago is now a tilt back with only the light blue yonder and a couple clouds staring back. Just when I thought that this flying experience couldn’t get any better, Grandfather Richard radioed in a request for us to fly over Pearl Harbor. They approved, and I changed my course heading. As we got closer, I encountered a cluster of clouds that blinded my view, but I was still flying off my gauges and GPS unit. And just as I got through to the other side of the cloud cluster, the clouds parted and I was just approaching Pearl Harbor. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to see the same view as the Japanese Kamikaze pilots saw more than 70 years earlier. We circled over Battleship Row and saw the USS Arizona like this sailor had never seen before. I’ve come in and out of that port as a sailor, but never as a pilot. After circling a couple more times, we flew back to the airport where Grandfather Richard stored his plane, and I thanked him for one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. He has inspired me to get my pilot’s license in the future. To end an emotionally draining day, we went back home to some single malt scotch and fine cigars.
The following morning, the next item on our wedding itinerary was to relax most of the day at Hanauma Bay. Hanauma Bay was just a short walk from the grandparents’ house and is a State Park, Nature Preserve, and a National Treasure. It’s a beautiful bay that is filled with thousands and thousands of fish and aquatic life. You have to watch a short video presentation about preserving the bay, but after that, you’re allowed to enter. You can easily see why the State of Hawaii goes to great lengths to protect it from tourists.
That evening, the whole wedding party gathered back at the grandparents’ house for the rehearsal dinner that was nothing short of classy and classic. We drank and dined into the night and then I headed back to stay with one of my groomsmen to stay at his hotel because I couldn’t see the bride before the wedding. A couple of my groomsmen and I went out for one last hoorah in Waikiki. We went on a short pub-crawl until we ended up at a fully authentic Japanese karaoke club with multiple enclosed rooms for drinking having your own small private Karaoke parties. After a short-lived time in the karaoke bar, we headed back to the room to crash so that I wouldn’t be hungover or late for my own wedding.
Without going in to too much detail, the wedding was perfect, I cried, and we got married at one of the most beautiful places on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Getting was clearly the best and most moment in my life so far. After the wedding ceremony, my wife made us all take a picture pretending that there was a T-Rex at the wedding so she could Photoshop it in later.
After we took more wedding photos at Kualoa Ranch, we hopped into our limo and met the rest of the wedding party downtown at the exclusive Plaza Club in downtown Honolulu. My wife even designed our cake to look like suitcase luggage with multiple travel stamps covering it. Our reception was on the top floor with a 360 view of all of Honolulu.
After much dinner, drinking, and dancing, my new wife and I returned to our Honeymoon Sweet at the world-famous Moana Surfrider Hotel right on Waikiki.
The next morning, while the wife was sleeping in, I grabbed my best man who was staying down the hall at Surf Rider and we went out to catch some morning waves as the tide was coming in. We caught about a dozen each and then grabbed our girls for some lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise. This is one of my favorite places to eat in Waikiki because it’s reasonably priced, you get good size portions, it’s delicious, and they have a killer breakfast special. The one thing that I regret that I didn’t do while I was there was the Cheeseburger Challenge.
That afternoon we laid around on our balcony that overlooked the Pacific and sipped champagne until it was time to go to Disney’s Aulani Resort for final wedding photos and a world-class Hawaiian buffet that went on for miles
The next day, we all had lunch at the Hard Rock Café before returning back to the grandparents’ house to pack our final things before catching our flight home that evening. I absolutely love everything about Hawaii, and I now understand why so many people want to live and retire here. Every day was amazing, and I can’t wait to return in the wintertime to SCUBA dive with the humpback whales. This purpose of this blog was to talk more about my experience with Hawaii and not focus too much on my wedding directly. Later I will post a separate blog section explaining how to get married in Hawaii and how to plan a wedding around a travel theme. I look forward to sharing soon. Aloha and Mahalo.