Jenny's Travels

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kauai - April 2012

In April of 2012 our family of four (two adults, two kids -- ages 7 and 9) spent two weeks in Kauai.  We had a fantastic visit, and I feel so fortunate that we were able to spend time in such a beautiful place!  


This trip was a bit of a “bonus” for us, because we were able to cash in air, train, hotel and credit card miles/points that we have been accumulating for the past 8 years -- so it was basically “free”, aside from the paid activities that we chose to do, and food. . . .  
We based ourselves for the first week in the south at the Grand Hyatt, and our second week in the north at the St. Regis.  In my research, I, like many, sought for a good comparison between these two hotels, and I now understand why it is so hard to choose between them.  They cannot be compared because while both places offer a fantastic experience, they are just totally different!  In short -- I was really happy to split my stay between the two locations, and I’m glad that I spent our first week where it was sunny (it gave me my “fix”, having come from a New England winter!), followed by a second week of pure relaxation in an idyllic (if sometimes damp and gray) locale. . . 

The Grand Hyatt 

The Grand Hyatt is open, fresh, and bright . . .  you walk through the lobby and there is music playing, and people milling about everywhere.  The pools are beautifully landscaped, and just plain fun -- the kids just LOVED their stay! 

“Being there” was very EASY . . .  I could self-park or valet, I could bring my own bags up to my room, or accept the very polite offer (not at all pushy) by the bellman to take them up for me, there are dining choices for everyone, and it was easy for the kids to grab snacks from the Dock, poolside.  The shops in the hotel also carry most things you may otherwise feel the need to run out for (sunscreen, toiletries, snacks) at prices very comparable to local markets (the sunscreen was actually cheaper than what we saw in the supermarket!).  The service was wonderful -- we had to make a room switch midway through our stay, and they made it as easy as possible. Free onsite laundry was WONDERFUL!!!  Also, one morning of our trip (only once!) my husband HAD to be on an important conference call for his job at what was, locally, 4-9am!!!  Obviously, he didn’t want to do this from our room, so the hotel made arrangements for him to be in an unused space (it was a ballroom or something!) so that he could do his call, and have an electrical outlet, and all the privacy he needed!  We were both very grateful for this, and felt it was above and beyond what they had to do.  Shipwreck beach, as everyone mentions, is not for swimming, but it’s a nice “backdrop” for the resort -- it’s fun to watch the surfers, and one day we did see a Monk Seal who had come to shore for a rest -- he was a pup named Kimo Kai.

The weather in Poipu was wonderful -- plenty of sunshine (not a drop of rain all week), which was actually a fantastic way to start our vacation.  I knew that the north was considered the “green” side of the island, and so had expected that the south side would be a little “uninteresting” or “underwhelming” -- but it was BEAUTIFUL!  VERY green, lots of tall grasses, small mountains.  Really, the natural beauty of the south shore exceeded my expectations, and as wonderful as the Grand Hyatt was, I was always happy to leave, get in my car, and enjoy the natural scenery on the way to wherever I was going!

Overall, the only thing that detracted from our stay at the Hyatt was that there were several LARGE corporate events the week we were there.  It didn’t impact much, which is why I’m not making a HUGE note of it (I do think the hotel handled everything as well as they could have), but it did mean that the one night we ate at Tidepools, there was a huge function on the lawn off to the side with a very loud band playing, and lots of noisy people -- kind of a bummer since it was an expensive dinner, and we had really been looking forward to it . . . and one day, they shut down the lagoon area of the pool at 2pm for an event, which meant that the pool area became VERY crowded for that one afternoon . . . 

The St. Regis 

The St. Regis, on the north shore, is just STUNNING.  Jaw-droppingly beautiful.  The view out your window at this hotel is what draws visitors to Kauai in the first place. 

We arrived at about 5:30pm, checked into our rooms, showered (we had kayaked and hiked to Secret Falls that day), then went up to the lobby.  It was a beautiful evening, so we walked out to the terrace to view the gorgeous sunset (the prettiest we saw for the remainder of our week there, actually), and there were whales breaching in the distance!  The whales were SUCH a fantastic treat, as I didn’t expect we’d see any -- it was the last week of April!  We saw them again, in the same place and at the same time the next evening, but then they were gone.  I feel so lucky that we were able to experience them!  The St. Regis just has a magical feel to it.  You can imagine that Puff the Magic Dragon really does live in a mountain cave that you view out of those magnificent lobby windows. 

We found the service to be very good, and very polite -- we knew that there were daily parking charges, that it was valet-only, that things would be costly, etc. so we weren’t disgruntled about these things, and having accepted the fact, made for a very relaxing and “pampered” experience.  The rooms were beautiful, and the pool was spectacular.  There were actually plenty of kids while we were there (and a HUGE number of 5-7 month pregnant women -- honestly, at any given point by the pool, I could have counted at least 5.  I guess the “babymoon” is a new trend -- even in the past 8 years since I was last pregnant!), and all were well behaved. There was a small shop where basic necessities could be found, but everything here and elsewhere in the hotel (including “pool food”) was VERY expensive.  The hotel was kind enough to provide us with a small refrigerator in the room, so we stocked up on some snacks and things, which I highly recommend (there’s a small grocery store very close by).  

The other thing I will say is that, since the weather on the north shore is a little more “iffy”, I was glad that I had already had my “sunshine fix”.  It could have been much worse -- it actually didn’t really RAIN much at all (maybe 2-3 times for less than 20 minutes each) during our week, but it was often overcast, making it actually pretty cool at the pool.  I think that if I had ONLY visited the north shore and had that weather, I actually would have felt a little bummed.  Oh, another thought . . . We had debated whether to use our points for a room at the St. Regis or a TWO BEDROOM suite at the nearby Westin.  We settled on the St. Regis, and I’m glad we did, ESPECIALLY given the weather.  Our family does fine together in a hotel room -- we actually ENJOY the coziness, and since there were times that it was overcast, and not so nice to be relaxing by the pool (if we weren’t otherwise out exploring or hiking), I was glad to be able to lie in my room with those windows totally wide open and gaze out at the spectacular backdrop of ocean/mountains/waterfalls (we counted 7 waterfalls one morning!!) . . . I think I may have felt a little disappointed at those times at the Westin -- having come so far, I may have felt like I could be anywhere . . . I had come for the view, and I wanted to savor it!

All that said, the weather is the risk you take when visiting the north shore (especially in winter or transitional times of year), so I would just advise anyone visiting to set your expectations appropriately.  The rain is, indeed, what makes the North Shore so lush and beautiful!!  In any case, based on our experience, I would probably recommend a split stay to anyone I knew was going to the island.

The only negative experience we had at the St. Regis was our dinner at Makana Terrace.  It was very expensive, the food, I thought, was mediocre, and our service was terrible!  Our waiter was very nice, but I actually recognized him as one of the poolside attendants.  I don’t know if maybe they were understaffed the night we were there, and he was just stepping in?  In any case, he forgot to bring bread to our table, forgot to place the order for my husband’s appetizer, messed up one of the kids’ meals, and my coffee had grounds in it -- I couldn’t drink it!  We were actually so disappointed that we almost cancelled our reservation at Kauai Grill for later in the week -- thank goodness we didn’t because that meal was absolutely superb!! 

Now, some additional thoughts . . .

HIGHLIGHTS of our trip 

- Two-mile walk from the Grand Hyatt to Mahaulepu Beach
- Our day spent exploring Waimea and Kokee
- Our Zipline day with Outfitters
- The Luau at Mediterranean Gourmet -- FANTASTIC!!

If you are on the south shore, and you have the time -- please do the two-mile walk from the Grand Hyatt to Mahaulepu Beach -- it is SO beautiful, and a very easy walk!!

We spent one full day exploring Waimea and Kokee.  We headed out in the morning, stopping at Kalaheo Cafe for breakfast, which was great.  It was a crystal clear, beautiful day, so we went straight to the Pu’u o Kila Lookout, then to the Kalalau lookout, before stopping in at the park museum to chat with the volunteers about which hike they would recommend that day.  Since we knew that we’d be spending a good bit of time on the north shore, and none of us, in all of our travels, had ever been to a proper “canyon”, we decided on the walk/hike down to Waipo’o falls -- about 4-5 miles roundtrip.  We all LOVED the walk.  The kids were skipping the entire way, we saw goats along the canyon cliffs, and the views as you get close to the falls are SPECTACULAR!  You feel as though you are walking on air through the middle of the canyon.  Really, really beautiful!  Do note that you don’t actually see Waipo’o falls -- the walk took us to what was the top of the falls (actually just a trickle when we were there), but they are below you down a sheer cliff face -- you can’t see them!  Off to the side there is a tiny little swimming pool with a very small waterfall, where you can play and get wet, though, so that was nice . . .  We finished the day with some shaved ice on our way back to Poipu -- it was great!

We did the “Kipu Zipline Safari” with Outfitters -- their full-day 7(ish) hour tour.  It was great fun!  The guide, Nick, was a fantastic, laid-back guy who told neat local folktales, and just seemed to really enjoy what he was doing.  They are the only group to have access to what is Kipu Ranch property -- and the whole backdrop is just breathtaking -- open fields, small ponds, river, mountains. . .  REALLY beautiful!  We kayaked for about an hour, then walked through the woods, stopping to rope swing into a swimming hole, then took a tractor ride through the fields to the zipline course area where we were outfitted and had lunch (nice sandwiches, pasta salad, brownies, beverages) . . . we then did the ziplines, before ending at a fantastic swimming hole with more swinging/jumping opportunities. . . .   Again, we all had a great day!

During our second week we attended the luau at Mediterranean Gourmet (at the end of the road on the north shore), which I believe is only held on Tuesday nights.  It honestly may have been the highlight of our trip because it just really exceeded our expectations!  We had such a nice time!  It was a nice night, there was a wonderful mix of people in attendance, the food was really delicious, and the performers just had a fantastic energy -- they really seemed to enjoy what they were doing!  The whole event felt very intimate and just great.  


- Queen’s Bath
- Hideaways Beach
- Spouting Horn

I had read here to exercise extreme caution if and when visiting Queen’s Bath, but I wanted to just get down to SEE it.  I’m glad we did!  The little walk along the path to the lava rocks is very nice, actually, and there’s a great little waterfall as you get close to the end that we played in on the way back up . . . The shoreline there is beautiful, and Queen’s Bath is a neat phenomenon.  The day we were there, there were quite a few people swimming in the pool, but I didn’t go in, and I wouldn’t allow the kids to go in.  Even though it did appear safe, there were occasional waves breaking over the edge, and I know that accidents are called “accidents” for a good reason.  My husband did, against my paranoid warnings (!) take a jump in the bath, but
kids and I were all very happy just to be there, take a look, watch the sea turtles that could be easily seen just looking out at the water, and seeing what we could find in the puddles of water that collected in the lava rock area (small fish, crabs, hermit crabs) . . . 

Hideaways Beach -- just a 5 minute walk from the St. Regis lobby, was a GREAT little beach with pretty good snorkeling!!

Spouting Horn, though fenced in and a bit “commercial”, was still nice to stop by and check out. 


- Plane tour
- Guided hike to Hanakapia’i Falls

We did a “Wings Over Kauai” flight our second day on the island.  There was nothing wrong with the flight.  It’s a great way to “orient yourself” on the island, and I think that it would be VERY worthwhile for anyone with mobility issues.  That said, we got out and explored a good bit over our two weeks, and, knowing what I know now, I’m not sure I should have spent the money to do it (or a helicopter ride).  The ride was great, Chuck (the pilot and owner) was super nice, and it was just what it was supposed to be . . . but there was some overhead -- getting into Lihue, waiting for the flight, etc., and it was still a lot of money, even if it was a lot cheaper than a helicopter ride.  I feel like I got better views from more pleasurable experiences throughout the rest of our stay through hikes and what-not, and so the flight, looking back, seems to have been a little unnecessary.  I think I’m in the minority, as most people RAVE about the flight experiences they have -- to each his/her own, I guess! . . .

The one thing that I had been MOST looking forward to during the trip, more than anything else, was hiking to Hanakapia’i Falls.  We had all been walking and hiking here at home to get ourselves ready, and I had totally prepped my kids (who are FANTASTIC hikers -- they LOVE it and can go all day) for the experience. 

Knowing that the hike could be difficult, and that the trail on the second half of the hike could be a little ambiguous, I actually hired a guide (found his name in a guidebook) to do this.  We had communicated a good deal, and he knew how excited we all were for the hike.  Now, the only reason I hired the guide was for the second half of the trail to the falls -- I knew that we could all go to Hanakapia’i Beach by ourselves, and without any problem.  For FREE. 

The night before we were supposed to go, I emailed our guide to say that conditions on the north shore seemed questionable -- there had been some rain and they were predicting more, and asked if he thought we should go forward.  He said we should.  The next day, he picked us up, and much to our surprise, there was another couple in the van . . .

Sure enough, we got as far as the beach, and this guide felt we shouldn’t continue.  He was the NICEST guy (I really enjoyed being with him and talking with him!), and so I hope with all that is in me that he really, genuinely had intended to go with us to the falls, but was surprised by the conditions at the beach and was exercising sound judgement.  To be fair, it was sprinkling (and who knew if the rain would pick up??), the trails were very, very slippery, and the river seemed high (thigh-height on the adults who were crossing). . . But, it also turned out that the couple who had come with us never had any intention of going all the way to the falls, and learning this raised a lot of suspicion in my mind.  I feel awful even feeling that way, but I can’t even tell you how heart-broken I was -- and my youngest was in TEARS, she had been so excited to complete the hike.  I would never compromise our safety, though, and I wanted to trust our guide, so we didn’t continue.  And maybe (probably?!) he was right.  I’ll just always have that lingering doubt in my mind.  AND, I was pretty upset that we paid hundreds (almost $500!) of dollars to do what we could have done for free . . . Granted, the guide didn’t “know” what the conditions would be like until we got there, but I HAD written to him the night before with my own reservations, and . . . well, I don’t know . . . it just didn’t turn out well.  Which is a bummer.  We did, though, see another Monk Seal on Ke’e beach when we finished our hike!  ;-)

FOOD . . . We had some great fish (Postcards!), and great shaved ice (actually, our favorite was from a little place right in Koloa town), some good breakfasts . . . you know, we live in the Boston area and have a lot of good food, so we didn’t really visit Kauai for the dining.  I’d say the only food we had that was truly worth mentioning, was our meal at Kauai Grill.  It’s super expensive, so it may not be for everyone, but I felt like we got what we paid for -- the food, service and views were all spectacular! 

Hope you enjoyed reading and that this "report" was able to offer something valuable!

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