If you’re thinking about a Hawaii vacation this year, maybe the time the president-elect spent on Oahu has piqued your interest. Hawaii’s local media are hopeful that Barack Obama’s two visits to his home state this year will provide a boost for a visitor industry that’s rising out of a difficult 2008.
Obama is a kamaaina — one familiar with Hawaii and things Hawaiian. The things he chose to do while here weren’t exactly what the brochures and lure advertising encourage you to do on your vacation. But the things he and his family did — including spending quality time alone with each other — would fill your time here very well. Let’s consider:
Obama played golf. Apparently he isn’t a particularly good golfer, but he enjoys the game and takes his swings with relish. Hawaii has spectacular courses, famous courses and challenging courses. (The Makaha Course is breathtaking, the Sony Open is played at Waialae, and Koolau is considered to be the most challenging course in the world). Obama chose to play close-to-home courses that are somewhat challenging, certainly beautiful and friendly in all aspects. Here, they are considered to be neighborhood courses.
Hawaii has hundreds of beaches, including the famous and the hidden, the big-wave sites and calmer body-surfing areas, the ones that welcome picnicking and camping, and the ones in front of the oceanfront hotels. Obama chose Kailua Beach Park, where Windward Oahu families gather to picnic under the trees and on the grass and enjoy friendly surf in a lovely setting. He also did a little body surfing at Sandy Beach on East Oahu, as he had done as a kid and where teenagers hang today.
He took his kids to the Honolulu Zoo. Now, zoo visits are not unusual in one’s own home town, but Honolulu Zoo’s annual attendance has increased by more than 100,000 over the past five years, and about half of the zoo’s visitors now are tourists. The tourist attendance is not surprising. The zoo is within easy walking distance from all the Waikiki hotels, the weather is almost always perfect for ambling through the zoo’s splendors, and neighboring Kapiolani Park, at the foot of Diamond Head, is always a great place to be.
The Obama family stopped by the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, a kind of must-see stop for any visitor, but a fun place any time to take in the amazing view and literally lean against the strong gusts of the prevailing winds.
Among the few touristy things the Obamas did was spend most of a day at Sea Life Park. It’s a great (albeit expensive) attraction, offering visitors the opportunity to swim with dolphins, see fun shows featuring dolphins, penguins, killer whales and other creatures, feed the seals and manta rays, and even take an escorted private tour of the "back of the house."
Add a couple of dinners in fine restaurants for the sensational Hawaii Regional Cuisine, some sightseeing and a show or two and you can have a full, enjoyable and memorable vacation.
If that sounds pretty good to you, pick an agent from the Hawaii-Aloha Web site (hawaii-aloha.com) or call 1-800-843-8771. We’ll package a vacation for you even a president would enjoy.
Posted by Jim Winpenny
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January 5th, 2009
Kailua is a bedroom community on the windward side of Oahu. It’s not touristy (although nearby Lanikai Beach is considered to be among the world’s best), and the residents go about life well insulated from the attractions of Waikiki and the clutter of Downtown Honolulu, which are "over the hill" from the Windward communities — a 40-minuute drive at rush hour.
Kailua is where President-elect Barack Obama is staying during his family’s Christmas vacation. Although his accommodations can hardly be considered "modest" (It’s a $7 million estate on the ocean), his vacationing lifestyle is notably ordinary. He has, indeed, been spending the bulk of his time with his family and visiting with old friends. Throughout his stay, Obama has kept his profile low, although he has moved freely though the community — visiting with his family the Sea Life Park attraction and stopping at a local shopping center for a little shave ice . He spent an hour or so with Marines at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Christmas night but he hasn’t held any public rallies or spoken to any groups. No public events of any kind are scheduled.
Mornings (except Christmas) he has worked out at the Marine Corps Base and gone golfing with friends from Punahou School and visiting from Chicago. He golfs at local Windward courses, eschewing the exclusive and the famous courses on the island such as Waialae or Ko Olina.
Local officials are gushing. Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said, "I’ve been very pleased and couldn’t be happier that the president-elect chose to spend so much time in the Islands. This is a significant part of his upbringing, and it reaffirms his affection and his ties to this place."
And Governor Linda Lingle said, "Hawai’i residents are proud of President-elect Obama’s local roots and the higher profile his election has afforded our state. The president-elect faces many challenges in the coming weeks and months, and the people of Hawai’i are proud that the Islands can provide him with an environment in which he feels comfortable and at home as he prepares to take office."
Military personnel are particularly pleased with the president-elect’s demeanor and approachability.
During two earlier visits to Oahu this year, he didn’t have any public appearances that involved greeting service members, but this time Obama is connecting with them. On December. 21, his very first morning here, he left the gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii and offered a salute to a couple of Marines in uniform standing nearby. He has returned to the base to work out almost every day since. Word spread quickly around the base that Obama shows up almost every day between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. Secret Service agents in aloha shirts arrive early and start searching people in the area, then the crowd seems to grow with each passing minute. Inside the gym, people tend to respect Obama’s workouts, but they aren’t shy otherwise about asking for photos or trying to shake his hand.
On Christmas, Obama went to the hall where mostly single Marines and sailors had gathered for a meal of ham, turkey and mashed potatoes. "I just wanted to say ‘Hi,’" he said, moving among the tables. A lot of the marines and sailors stood to greet him as he thanked them for their military service. He then returned to the rented beachside compound for a Christmas meal of turkey and ham.
For the record, here’s a typical vacation-day wardrobe for the president-elect: sunglasses, a white shirt, khaki shorts, white and brown golf shoes, and a red baseball cap emblazoned with the City and County of Honolulu’s Ocean Safety logo.
Ho-hum. Just another mainland vacationer. As we say, "Ain’ no beeg t’ing."
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President-elect Obama made a point of stopping for some shave ice at a local shopping center near his vacation residence. Shave ice is a year-round treat all local residents grow up with in the islands, and a treat they dearly miss when they’re away for any length of time.
The summer months, wherever you live, often bring stands that offer snowcones, snowballs, icies or some other form of crushed ice over which flavored syrups are poured. In most cases, the syrups drain quickly to the bottom of the conical container where they can be slurped up through a straw before the ice itself is attacked with a plastic or wooden spoon.
Hawaiian shave ice is a little different, and we who live here think they’re a lot better. With special ice shaving machines, ice blocks are shaved to a very fine consistency that results in a light and fluffy product. The syrups — there are countless exotic tropical fruit flavors and even root beer and bubblegum — are formulated specifically for shave ice. When they’re combined with the finely shaved ice they don’t drain to the bottom of the cup; they reman suspended. A scoop of vanilla ice cream (and optional Azuki beans, a Hawaiian tradition) may be added to the bottom of the cup before the shaved ice. It all blends when the shaved ice and syrup melts! Children especially go for rainbow shave ice, which is usually a combination of strawberry, orange and vanilla (blue), or three other colorful flavors.
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December 30th, 2008
Some come to see Waikiki, Diamond Head and the view from the Nuuanu Pali Lookout. Others want to see the lava flows or the telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea. Still others want to gaze at Waimea Canyon or the Na Pali Coast. Haleakala attracts more than a million visitors every year.
Now entrepreneurs are scrambling onto a new tourism bandwagon: Places with Connections to Barack Obama, who will become our 44th president in January.
Tour companies are reporting that there’s a growing demand from visitors who are eager to learn more about the Hawaii-born Obama, who spent all his formative years in the Islands, and they’re cranking up the tour machines. Several companies have modified existing bus tours to create smaller companies that offer special Obama tours; others are creating tours from scratch.
- Here are some of the stops being considered or already incorporated:
- A stroll past the apartment tower where Obama and his late grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, lived
- Another apartment building where Obama’s mother and sister lived briefly
- The Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor where he worked as a teenager
- Sandy Beach, on Oahu’s east shore, where he surfed as a teenager, and then swam during his vacation in August
- The Chowder House restaurant, a modest local eatery in a shopping center near Downtown Honolulu
- The site where Obama’s high-school basketball team regularly went to eat
- The bakery where the team devoured malasadas
- The local fast-food places where they consumed plate lunches
- His birthplace, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children
- The school where he went to kindergarten
- The University of Hawaii, where his parents met
- Halona Blowhole, where Obama scattered his mother’s ashes and tossed a lei into the water in her memory in August
There also are stops outside of Punahou School, where Obama attended from 1971 until high school graduation in 1979. The school is politely referring people to its Web site (www.punahou.edu) instead of the campus, where they are not equipped to handle public tours.
Will this be a tourism boom, or will the interest fade after the inauguration in January? A lot of companies are betting on the boom, but only time will tell.
December 5th, 2008
When Hawaii became a state in 1959, our residents were relieved, excited, optimistic … and a little sheepish. We still were out here in the middle of the Pacific. Sure enough, we had been recognized as a tourist destination, but so had Tahiti and Bali. Most of our visitors referred to the mainland as “the states” as if we were pretenders. We were, it seemed, just “sort of” a state, not a full-fledged one.
Half a century later, presidential candidate Barack Obama’s citizenship was questioned during the campaign. After all, his father was Kenyan; Barack had been born way out in Hawaii and had attended schools in Jakarta until sixth grade when he returned to the islands.
In spite of ourselves, we Hawaii residents (Can’t call ourselves “Hawaiians” unless Hawaiian blood is pumped by our hearts) have felt a little like second-class Americans – proud of our islands and all they offer, but not quite fitting in with the contiguous states.
It would take something special for us to get over that hump.
The West Coast went through the same process. The “West” was part of history – the “Wild” West of pioneers, settlers, ranchers and gunfighters – but beyond the mountains lay an area the rest of the country cared little about although big cities had been established and Easterners were moving west.
In 1957, Walter O’Malley took the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and Horace Stoneham took the Giants from Upper Manhattan to San Francisco.
Virtually overnight, the West Coast was in the Big Leagues. The Bay Area and Southern California were recognized nationally as key players.
Half a century later, our islands began to creep into the hierarchy of national prominence.
No, we can’t be called “Big League.” Our professional sports remain restricted to surfing, a few pro golf tournaments and competitions such as the Iron Man Triathlon and the International Billfish Tournament.
But there have been strides.
Hawaii’s music now is being recognized and honored. Not so long ago, a laid-back Don Ho was our voice. Today, Israel Kamakawiwo`ole, posthumously, is leading the way, and our music is being heard and respected around the world.
Big-ticket international performers know they can fill our venues, including Aloha Stadium, with ardent and passionate fans.
Hawaii has become an international film center, hosting The Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) and gaining worldwide respect as an ideal location for myriad projects. Long-running TV series find ways to locate here for episodes – often several episodes.
The Sony Open, the UH football team’s undefeated 2007 season, the NFL Pro Bowl and the Honolulu Marathon all have attracted top-of-the-mind attention from sports fans around the world.
Our islands are among the more appealing travel destinations globally. Our better hotels are authentically world-class. Our beaches and natural wonders are many and splendid.
Our cuisine has become as distinctive as New Orleans’s. Hawaii Regional Cuisine uses our islands’ fresh produce, meat and seafood to concoct wonderfully creative and toothsome dishes, imaginatively presented. Not only has Hawaii Regional Cuisine taken Island dining to a lofty international level, it’s also established Hawaii-grown products as being among the finest in the world.
Our physicians, scientists and teachers are amazing the world with discoveries, new techniques and, yes, cures. Honolulu has become an international business center and technology mecca.
New York would trade its skyline for our climate. Philadelphia would jettison its slogan if it had our aloha. San Francisco would give up its bridge for our neighbor islands. How many Chicagoans have ever seen a rainbow?
But until very recently it seemed that we still were reflecting a sense of being “way out here in the Pacific.” We hadn’t had confidence in who we are and where we stand. We continued to think we were insignificant members of the USA community.
Boy, has that ever changed!
One of our guys is going to be President of the United States. Another one, Sen. Daniel Inouye, will hold the nation’s purse strings as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. One of our athletes, Shane Victorino, is a key member of the world-champion Philadelphia Phillies and acknowledged as the best center fielder in his league. Another, Bryan Clay, is the Olympic decathlon champion.
We’re making news – positive news. We sense the rest of the world has noticed us and has acknowledged our contributions to its progress.
Suddenly, we can consider ourselves players. We can feel proud of who we are beyond the beaches.
We’re prouder than ever to show ourselves off to you. Hurry on down.
Posted by Jim Winpenny
November 12th, 2008