Monthly Archives: March 2012

Hawaiian Vacation: Disney Concert Hall/LA

Lillian Disney hired architect Frank Gehry to design a symphonic music space in downtown Los Angeles in honor of her husband Walt Disney. Gehry was a favorite of previous Disney Corporation President, Michael Eisner. Several Disney corporate and theme park buildings have been designed by Gehry and given the Disney company’s and family’s connection to Los Angeles, his involvement in the Walt Disney Concert Hall project was apt.

But none of that is a reason for Ruth and Doug, in particular, to visit.

The reason we visited (and it is important to make a point here) is because it is a really cool piece of architecture and it has a free guided tour. That, combined with a three day layover on the west coast to moderate jet lag, gave us a good wintertime activity in LA. We did other stuff, too, but most of the pictures are of the Disney Concert Hall.

The Disney Concert Hall is significant in that the exterior has few, if any, right angles. It is a brilliant, literally shiny, centerpiece to a massive urban renewal project. Los Angeles did not have a large performance venue to rival the Met, so there was a movement to transform part of the city into a cultural Mecca.

Made of stainless steel, the exterior of the building is much like a theatrical facade. The sweeping curves are a freestanding cover that hides a more conventional interior building. The perimeter features cavernous “back stage” views of the structure. We got to see the exterior and lobby areas in detail, but sadly were not allowed to see the concert space itself. Unfortunate since we did not have time to see a performance.

Aside from the tour, we spent time hanging out in Santa Monica and Hollywood. Our suite at the W Hollywood (a fortuitous upgrade) was underutilized. We enjoyed dinner with our friend Chris and he questioned our choice of hotel as it is a renowned party spot. Indeed, the place was hopping and offered an entertaining walk through a line of bouncers to get to elevators, but we were there to avoid jet lag – not make it worse. We could have hosted a coke-fueled early morning after party with some of the revelers in the bar, but – oh yeah – we’re old. As to why we picked the hotel? It’s LA.

While we had no intention of doing anything “Disney” on this vacation we did end up spending a day at Disneyland. But only because Knotts Berry Farm closed all their good rides for maintenance.

Hawaiian Vacation: Maui

Our first hotel on Maui was the Hotel Wailea in the recently developed town of Wailea. Redundant statements aside, Wailea is home to the largest resorts on the island. The Hotel Wailea being the notable exception. It sits on a hill high above the ocean and the other hotels, providing shuttle service to the water and just enough tiki torches to provide atmosphere without competing with the big resorts.

Wailea was our home base for sea kayaking and shopping for tiki in Lahaina. The shopping was more fruitful than the kayaking in that we came home with an authentic koa wood tiki, but kayaked forever only to see whales that we could have seen from shore. We also took a drive to Haleakala National Park to view the extinct volcano from above the cloud line. Truly spectacular.

It’s worth noting that Maui has much better beaches than on Hawaii. The Big Island suffers from all-to-recent volcanic activity and does not benefit from Maui’s life experience in being pummeled by the waves long enough to soften its sand into a soft bed. We took advantage of Hotel Wailea’s allotment of chairs and umbrellas near the big resorts, but later opted for roughing it on towels to enjoy the scenic state park beaches.

It was at Makena State Park that we were asked by a group of locals to take their picture in a moment of reverse tourism. They were enjoying a beach picnic held monthly to celebrate their common roots: They were transplants from Massachusetts.

We also stayed at the Inn at Mama’s Fish House, just outside the hippie-centric town of Paia. The Inn provides very nice bungalows next to the ocean and right next door to one of the best restaurants on the island. Paia is the last point of civilization before starting down the Road to Hana, an all day trip driving through rainforest, past waterfalls, and over one lane bridges. The Road to Hana is also a plentiful source for banana bread (with roadside signs every couple of miles) and medicinal marijuana.

Maui had some fantastic places to eat including Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the only restaurant or tiki bar on the island that had an authentic Polynesian feel – which is to say that it met our tourist expectations for a restaurant in Hawaii. Plus, you have to love the name.

On to part 4 >>

Hawaiian Vacation: The Big Island

Our first destination in the state of Hawaii was the Big Island of Hawaii. Our vacation was extended by going to the Big Island to stay at the Hilton Waikoloa Village hotel. Staying there was made more affordable by the deep discount offered by Hilton in exchange for just a few hours of our time to hear a time share sales presentation.

This was the second Hilton time share presentation we have attended. They are fairly low pressure and a simple “I’ll pass” is all it takes to get out of the sales office, but we seemed determined to counter their position with the use of logic and math. No, we didn’t buy one.

The Hilton is not a bad place, but it really wasn’t us. It’s a massive, Disney-like compound with thousands of rooms in multiple buildings. The volume of customers allows for some impressive scenery: lava rock pools, dolphins and sea turtles, an extensive art collection, and expansive golf courses. But, of course, it’s all fake. The animals are real, most of them, but the environment is all man made. Very impressive, but we were there for the real Hawaii.

There is nothing more real than a volcano. If we had gone a few weeks earlier, we would have gotten to see the lava flow. On our arrival we got to see the volcano hissing at a distance. After dark the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park exposes a brilliant red cauldron. It’s difficult to take a picture of because of the steam and the distance. Best to see it in person.

Hawaii has vastly differing terrain. To get to the volcano we had to drive to the other side of the island – about 4 hours at a leisurely pace. Near the volcano is the Thurston Lava Tube which offer an interesting walk through massive lava caves set in lush rainforest. Along the way we got to see the significant changes in climate at different elevations. As we climbed higher, the countryside turns emerald green, leaving behind the charred black surface near the coasts. At the peak, there is skiing, but not on this trip.

Food-wise, the big island has good restaurants at the big hotels and not much else. A notable exception was Sensei in the mall near our hotel. We heard it was where the locals went on Sundays for half price sushi. If you don’t find the idea of discount sushi appealing, first imagine 100 people lined-up a 4 PM outside the restaurant. It’s an hour wait to be sure you’ll get a table. They have o-toro. They have foie gras maki. They have the most efficient sushi dispensary we have seen and it was one of the best and cheapest meals on our vacation.

On to part 3 >>